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66 years ago tonight...

Discussion in 'Convoys and Troopships' started by Phantom of the Ruhr, Dec 24, 2010.

  1. Phantom of the Ruhr

    Phantom of the Ruhr Member

    May 13, 2008
    Likes Received:
    Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
    ...One of the war's many tragic-yet forgotten-episodes played out on the waters of the English Channel. I of course speak of the Belgian liner/troopship Leopoldville. For those in the dark, I will elaborate somewhat. On December 24, 1944, the Leopoldville left Southampton on a short crossing to Cherbourg, France carrying American Soldiers from the 262nd, and 264th Infantry Regiments of the 66th "Black Panther" Infantry Division, part of the US re-enforcements heading to Belgium to help check the Whermacht's offensive through the Ardennes.

    A few minutes before 6 p.m. on that same night, a mere five miles from Cherbourg, a torpedo fired by Unterseeboot 486, commanded by Oberleutnant Gerhard Meyer, struck the Leopoldville near her stern, bringing the ship to a stop. The troopship remained afloat for over two hours and thirty minutes, surely enough time for everyone aboard the Leopoldville to abandon ship, but owing to communications errors by both the Leopoldville's destroyer escort, and those on shore in Cherbourg, an organized rescue was slow in coming. At 8:30 that night, the Leopoldville, rocked by heavy explosions, began her final plunge, stern first, into the the channel's depths. Up to that point, hundreds of GI's had escaped by jumping down to the deck of one of the Leopoldville's escorts, the destroyer Brilliant, or were picked up in the frigid waters by ships steaming belatedly from Cherbourg. However, five of the ship's crew (including the captain), and undisclosed number of British soldiers, and around 763 American soldiers died. The relatives of those servicemen who were lost were informed that their next of kin were simply "Missing in Action."

    The Leopoldville tragedy remained clouded in secrecy by the US Army until around 1958-1959. Some British documents pertaining to the sinking were not made public until 1996. Some still remain secret. In 1984, Author Clive Cussler and some of his colleagues from NUMA discovered the Leopoldville's decaying hulk 150 feet below the surface. The find is described in his book "The Sea Hunters"

    Despite all of this however, the Leopoldville's final voyage often overlooked in most WWII histories, or barely touched on, yet it was the worst loss of life of American Soldiers at sea during that conflict. This Christmas eve, please keep in mind the memory of those soldiers who, as Dr. Cussler put it in the dedication of one of his books, are "forgotten by many, remembered by few."
    sniper1946, belasar and George Patton like this.

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