Jim W. Dean: One Torpedo 7000 Tons of Explosives, 580 Men Gone!

Friendly Planes Do Not Fire, a Personal Story. This is the third anniversary that we have run the SS Paul Hamilton tragedy, the largest loss of life on a Liberty Ship during WWII. Each year a few more families of the 580 killed, find the article and contact me, most have known nothing but the date their ancestor was killed. Bob Jones widow Helen passed on all the archival material they dug out, after the 50 year classification had run out. I was in the unique position of course to publish it here, and will every year, as we continue to find more and more families. The surprise this year was to have the radio operator, Wayne Witt Bates, on the USS Mosley contact me with the startling revelation that when the torpedo bombers were coming in on a bow attack, they received a message of Friendly Planes Do not fire. This first wave went by the Mosley unmolested, and got the Paul Hamilton, the fortune of war. But in all the post action reports, this key radio message fell through the cracks. So we say thanks to Al Gore for inventing the Internet, without which we would never have been able to do any of this. It is all amazing teamwork from people who care, and that is a set up for a favor I want to ask you all. We have been posting queries on surname genealogy forums fishing to find more families of the 580 men, but the initial test got no bites. The KIA link has all the names in alphabetical order. If any of you readers have any of these surnames among your family, let's see if we can let more of these families know what really happened, and why. After the first publishing in 2011, I had been contacted by Chuck Wales, formerly the Navy Lt. and torpedo officer on the USS Landsdale, who was also torpedoed, and sunk during the same convoy attack. As luck would have it, he had lived 15 minutes from my mother's house for 55 years, and they had never met. I was able to arrange a surprise visit with a print new reporter along to record the event, for the photo above. Chuck is 91 now, still snow skiing, but sold his glider last year and I don't think he does canoe racing anymore. On this day, April 20th, 1944, the largest loss of life on a WWII Liberty ship took place when the SS Paul Hamilton was sunk with all hands. But these men were killed not once, but twice. Yes, the German Junkers torpedo bombers did their work. But as their various body parts rained down on the nearby ships of the convoy, no one knew then that details of the incident would be classified for 50 years. 

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