The S.S. Antoine Saugrain was a Liberty Ship class merchant vessel. She was built at the Richmond, California Shipyard #2 of Henry J. Kaiser’s Permanente Metals Corporation, and christened on August 16, 1943. She was later assigned for duty to the Pacific Theater. There were over 2700 of this class ship that were built during World War II.
I had volunteered to be part of an advance echelon for my army engineer company to support the landings made on Leyte Island in the Philippines on October 20, 1944. In November 1944 we loaded our trucks and supplies aboard the Antoine Saugrain while she was docked at Humbolt Bay, Hollandia, New Guinea.
The 39-ship convoy left on November 29th and steamed north for the Philippines. The Saugrain was almost last in the formation that stretched about seven ships wide and over several miles of the Pacific. The only ship behind us constantly flew a red flag because its cargo was ammunition—a warning for other ships to keep their distance.
To provide protection for the convoy from enemy submarines and aircraft, five Coast Guard frigates patrolled the flanks. The ships looked like destroyer-class ships of the U.S. Navy, but did not have as much firepower.
Around noon on December 5th, the convoy came under attack from Japanese B5N torpedo-bombers. They were based on the southernmost Philippine island of Mindanao that had been by-passed when the invasion took place in the central Philippines. The Antoine Saugrain was selected for attack.
The first torpedo struck just under the fantail sheering off the rudder and the propeller. Down in Hold #5, thirty feet from the impact point, just after the explosion, I found myself suspended in midair for a fraction of a second, then came crashing down to the deck. This left our ship dead in the water with no forward motion possible. The rest of the convoy continued on their journey northward. We were alone. Fifteen minutes later, the Japanese torpedo-bombers returned. Two Coast Guard frigates, the San Pedro and the Coronado had come to our defense. None of the puffs of black smoke hit a target.
The second torpedo struck just forward of the superstructure, below the water line. The ship’s whistle tooted madly! This was the order to abandon ship. I jumped into the Pacific and later was picked up by the Coast Guard Frigate U.S.S. Coronado. One month later I again volunteered for my company advance echelon for the invasion of Luzon Island, but this time aboard a Landing Ship Tanks, (LST-1017) in the South China Sea.
Many years after the war ended, I continued to stay in contact with sailors who were part of that combat action in the Pacific off the coast of Mindanao. They provided me with the photographs shown below. All except one photo was taken by sailors aboard the seagoing tugboat LT-454. The photo of the last glimpse ever of the Antoine Saugrain sliding into the Pacific was taken by a sailor aboard the destroyer, U.S.S. Halford.
This past Memorial Day I was in one of my melancholy moods so two days before, I wrote this poem about the S.S. Antoine Saugrain. I was able to assemble the pictures and organize them as you will see.
My bones belong at the bottom,
The bottom of the Pacific deep,
Where once in wartime fierce,
My generation had a destiny to keep.