Due to Enemy Action: The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle-56

Overview

Due to Enemy Action tells for the first time a World War II story that spans generations and straddles two centuries, a story that begins with the dramatic Battle of the Atlantic in the 1940s and doesn't conclude until an emotional Purple Heart ceremony in 2002. Based on previously classified government documents, military records, personal interviews, and letters between crew members and their families, this is the saga of the courageous survival of ordinary sailors when their ship was torpedoed and their ...
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Overview

Due to Enemy Action tells for the first time a World War II story that spans generations and straddles two centuries, a story that begins with the dramatic Battle of the Atlantic in the 1940s and doesn't conclude until an emotional Purple Heart ceremony in 2002. Based on previously classified government documents, military records, personal interviews, and letters between crew members and their families, this is the saga of the courageous survival of ordinary sailors when their ship was torpedoed and their shipmates were killed on April 23, 1945, and the memories that haunted them after the U.S. Navy buried the truth at war's end. It is the story of a small subchaser, the Eagle 56, caught in the crosshairs of a German U-boat, the U-853, whose brazen commander doomed his own crew in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to record final kills before his country's imminent defeat. And it is the account of how one man, Paul M. Lawton, embarked on an unrelenting quest for the truth and changed naval history.
Author Stephen Puleo draws from extensive personal interviews with all the major players, including the three living survivors (and a fourth who emerged as the book went to press); a senior U.S. naval archivist who worked with German historians after the war to catalog U-boat movements; and the son of the man who commanded America's sub-tracking "Secret Room" during the war. Due to Enemy Action also describes the final chapter in the Battle of the Atlantic, tracing the epic struggle that began with shocking U-boat attacks against hundreds of defenseless merchant ships off American shores in 1942 and ended with the sinking of the Eagle 56, the last American warship sunk by a GermanU-boat.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592287390
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/1/2005
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Puleo is the author of Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919, a critically acclaimed Boston-area bestseller, an Associated Press round-up selection, and a finalist for the Boston Authors Club's prestigious Julia Ward Howe prize given to books of literary merit. He has a master's degree in history and has contributed feature stories and book reviews to American History magazine. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter, he currently works as a corporate communications and public relations consultant. He and his wife, Kate, live in the Boston area. To learn more, visit www.stephenpuleo.com.

The author donates a portion of his proceeds from this book to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the leading charitable funder and advocate of juvenile (type 1) diabetes research worldwide. To learn more, visit www.JDRF.org.
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Read an Excerpt

Due to Enemy Action

The True World War II Story of the USS Eagle 56
By Puleo, Stephen

The Lyons Press

Copyright © 2005 Puleo, Stephen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781592287390

April 23, 1945, 12:14 p.m., Helmut Froemsdorf, aboard the U-853

Helmut Froemsdorf had the U-853 operating under power of her electric motors as she crept toward the Eagle-56, the sound masked by the noisy wake of the American destroyer Selfridge seven miles away. He could hardly believe his good fortune. The American subchaser was at a dead stop, and made an easy target for his torpedoes.

***

"The honor of our flag on board is sacred to us," [Admiral] Doenitz had reminded the U-boat officers and captains two weeks earlier. "No one thinks of giving up his ship. Rather, go down in honor...The Kriegsmarine will fight to the end. Someday its bearing in the severest crisis of this war will be judged by posterity. The same goes for each individual."

The U-853 was approximately 600 yards from the Eagle-56 when Froemsdorf ordered his torpedo crew to fire.

The U-853's torpedo detonated under the Eagle-56's starboard side amidships, lifting the subchaser out of the water, which broke her keel, tore her in half, and unleashed a geyser of water that shot nearly two hundred feet in the air. The blast killed 49 members of her crew, most of whom were rendered unconscious by the explosion and entombed forever in the ship's bow section, which sunk in seven minutes.

John Scagnelli wasthrown from his bunk and smashed his head against a nearby bulkhead, which most likely saved his life; he was the only Eagle-56 officer to survive and the only crewman to escape from the forward section of the ship. The stern stayed afloat for nearly fifteen minutes, allowing men time to jump into the frigid North Atlantic water. Many clung to debris for a few moments, and then succumbed to the terrible cold, slipping beneath the surface and drowning before rescue ships could arrive. Johnny Breeze, Harold Peterson, Oscar Davis, and nine others from the stern section of the ship held on long enough to be rescued. Along with Scagnelli, they would become known as "The Lucky Thirteen."

***

As they jumped from the fantail of the doomed ship's sinking stern, at least six men, including Breeze and Davis, saw a dark-colored submarine momentarily surface several hundred yards away, before it dove and quickly disappeared. "Look, Breezy, there's a sub," Oscar Davis said to Johnny Breeze as they prepared to jump. Breeze said: "It was completely surfaced and all black. But it didn't stay there very long." Radarman 3rd Class John A. Wisneiwski later testified, "I saw the submarine, roughly speaking, I would say about 500 yards away." In his testimony, Seaman 1st Class Daniel E. Jaronik added: "I looked at the sub for a couple of seconds. It looked all black and I could see red and yellow markings." At the time, not even the U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), had any way of knowing that one particular German U-boat operating in the Gulf of Maine, the U-853, bore a red-and-yellow conning tower insignia.




Voices from Due to Enemy Action -
the final chapter in the Battle of the Atlantic



"How can he be missing? How could you have lost him ? He was with me last night."
Phyllis Westerlund, April 1945, Brockton, Mass., when informed that her husband,
Eagle 56 crew member Ivar Westerlund was missing and presumed dead



"Look Breeze, there's a sub."
Eagle 56 crew member Oscar Davis to his buddy, Johnny Breeze, as they prepared to jump from the sinking Eagle into the water



"I looked at the sub for a couple of seconds. It looked all black and I could see red and yellow markings."
Eagle 56 crew member Daniel E. Jaronik testifying before the Court of Inquiry


"One U-boat estimate in the Gulf of Maine from the PE (Eagle 56 Patrol Escort) incident."
Previously classified ULTRA document, from U-boat tracking room ("Secret Room")
to Commander Eastern Sea Frontier, April 25, 1945 (declassified 1987)


"A boiler explosion? A physical impossibility - It just couldn't happen. Yet they let a decision like that stand for more than fifty years. An unbelievable outrage."
Johnny Breeze, Eagle 56 crew member


"What's right is right. This took a long time to get right, but it's finally happened. Every time I'd think of those guys, and I did it often, I'd be sick to my stomach that the official word was 'boiler explosion.' Now, when I think of them, when I see their faces in my mind, I see guys who died as heroes, serving their country. It means something, not just to us, but to everyone. The truth is important to everyone."
Harold "Pete" Petersen, Eagle 56 crew member


Continues...

Excerpted from Due to Enemy Action by Puleo, Stephen Copyright © 2005 by Puleo, Stephen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Prologue: Honor and Redemption 3
Part I The Hunters and the Prey 9
Part II The Kills and the Court 95
Part III The Quest and the Truth 189
Epilogue 275
Author's Afterword 285
Appendix 1 Casualties and Survivors 289
Appendix 2 Vessels and Aircraft Involved in the USS Eagle 56/U-853 Incident 293
Bibliographic Essay 295
Acknowledgments 307
Index 313
About the Author 321
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2005

    This will be a movie

    This is a true story that some studio will make into an action movie. It has WWII intrigue, action, government secrets and plenty of drama. And it ends with delayed justice, but justice nontheless. Extemely well written and tightly coreographed juxtoposition of the German vs. the American actions as it unfolds. Puleo has complete command of his facts and unfolds them as a great, if sometimes sad story. Read this one before it is a movie.

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