Updated July 27, 2020
The photo of shipwrecked sailors rescued by a German warship comes from a book in Alfred Kühn’s collection. It does not show sailors from the Athabaskan.
On April 26, 1944 the T24 was hit by a shell on the deck, the radio cabin was hit and caught fire, the fire was quickly brought under control, my father was wounded. There are 5 dead, one of my father’s best friends was one of them, a man named KURT HASEBRINK from Stuttgart.
During this battle the T29 is sunk.
During the night of April 28th to 29th 1944, at 2:58 a.m., two German torpedoboots (torpedo boats) were detected on the radar screens and identified as T24 and T27. Ironically, these two German ships are none other than the T24 and T27 which, three nights earlier, had been seriously damaged by the Allies, including the Haida off Sept-Îles. During this engagement, the Kriegsmarine even lost its T29 while the T24 and T27 which were quite seriously damaged took refuge in Saint-Malo. It is for this reason that they set sail again on the night of April 28th to 29th and are heading for Brest, the only port close by where they will be able to repair their damage.
In front of Brignogan and Plouescat the Canadian destroyers Haida and Athabaskan engage the two German destroyers.
Suddenly the Athabaskan was hit, ravaged by fire and explosions, it sank in 10 minutes in front of the Aberwrac’h.
Image taken from the book Unlucky Lady
The Haida took in some survivors, others were taken prisoner, and still others escaped to England through the mined area. A few days later, the sea dumped dozens of bodies of these sailors, including the body of Commander John Stubbs.
They will thus be 59 bodies recovered and buried in the Plouescat cemetery.
48 survivors were rescued and rescued by my father’s boat, the T24.
When Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Meentzen received the message that there were “black men” in the sea at the spot where Athabaskan sank, he increased the speed.
No matter what colour of skin they are,” he says, “they are human beings and we are going to save them. »
And when he arrives on the scene, he soon discovers that these “black men” are in fact only men covered with fuel oil.
The prompt return of the Germans to the torpedoed area would save a number of shipwrecked men who would have perished within the next hour. They will be taken prisoner, it is a fact, but they will all be saved.
“Wilkommen Kameraden! “Welcome, comrade!”
It is in these terms that Canadians are welcomed aboard German ships. Among sailors, there is always a solidarity that makes a mockery of flags. And they too, just like the sailors of the Haida, the T24′ sailors will go down along the nets that hang from their hulls to help the weakest. Such an attitude has a name when one makes war; it is simply called chivalry.
Continuation of the story told by my father:
The flotilla of T24 and T27 during the passage from Saint-Malo to Brest between midnight and 4 o’clock in the morning, there were several American, English and Canadian ships in the area and at the beginning of the battle we didn’t know which ships were approaching to attack us. Artillery and torpedoes were used; the torpedoes launched by the T27 passed close by and we saw through the phosphorus line in the water the movement of the torpedoes.
The T27 that was next to us was hit and it was burning on the right side. It went past us again.
Our ship turned out to sea… at about 4:15 we saw an explosion, but we didn’t know which boat had been hit; it could have been one of ours or one of theirs. At about 5:30 we returned to the scene of battle, it was 6 or 7 o’clock, we saw men at sea. Captain Lieutenant Wilhem Meentzen gave the order to do the rescue. So we prepared the boat for the rescue, which was difficult, because at that time we were alone on the sea, the other boat, the T27 had run aground on the coast. When we got close to the people who had been shipwrecked, we found that they were black. At first we thought they were Africans, but we realize that they were white people covered with fuel oil. We first cleaned their faces and hands and took off their clothes. We also made them spit out the fuel oil they had swallowed. We rescued 48 of them, I’m sure there was one who was sick, and another one, a young one, died on our boat.
In the daily logbook of Lieutenant Commander Dunn Lantier of the Canadian destroyer Athabaskan rescued and saved by the T24 is reported as follows:
April 29th, 1944:
At about 7:15 a.m. I was picked up in a destroyer and wrapped in a blanket. We are 48 survivors. We all rubbed ourselves because our clothes were soaked. The seriously wounded were also wrapped in blankets. German coffee, cigarettes were handed out, these provisions were enough for that first hour. In the first half hour one of the wounded died, he was taken to us on a blanket. The Germans were taking care of our wounded as best they could, most of them were burned, there was not much to do, they were resisting the pain. It should be noted that we were all in shock as we had spent over two hours in the icy water of the sea. At about 11:00 a.m. the captain of the ship brought us a bottle of “weinbrand” alcohol for the seriously injured, I gave them a big shot to drink, and the rest of us a small one for just a sip. In front of three officers Steve (Dick Stevenson) who is badly burned and had a great blow to the head. Nobby (Bill Clark) with 3rd degree burns on his hands and a slight burn on his face. I also got a cut on a finger, I was comforting my buddies knowing there was not much to do. Around 12:30 we were brought soup and bread. At about 2:30 we were told to open the portholes, we saw a tugboat approaching, and they let us know that in an hour we would be landing in Brest.
In this confrontation the T27, after being hit three times, will run aground on the reefs of the island of Batz!
On 29 April 1944, the Canadian destroyer Athabaskan was sunk by the Germans off Île Vierge (Finistère). 128 of the 261 sailors perished. 85 survivors, including the 21-year-old gunner Herman Sulkers, with burns on his face, were captured by the Kriegsmarine and taken to the Aber-Wrac’h, plus the 48 survivors that were picked up by the T24.
Collection Herman Sulkers via his son