Amazing Rescue

USS Pioneer

USS Pioneer

The USS Pioneer and its crew along with four other ships was assigned to sail with Convoy KMF26 to provide protection and rescue service in the event of need.

When they first set sail, it would have been impossible for them to imagine the incredible, historical life saving experience they would undertake; the role they would play, in uncompromising seas, on November 26, 1943 when the Rohna was bombed and sunk.

The daunting task of hauling over 1000 men from the all-consuming Mediterranean waters to safety was but another dramatic chapter in the unfolding events of the Rohna Disaster.

The five vessels assigned to assist convoy KMF-26 included the USS Pioneer along with the British destroyer HMS Atherstone, Cargo Ship SS Clan Campbell, a British Corvette the HMS Holcombe and a tug called Mindful. Together, they plucked between 850 to 1000 men from the turbulent Mediterranean waters onto the relative safety of a vessel. The exact number of survivors rescued may never be known since even the total number of people on the Rohna was never exactly known.

But it is clearly known that the crew of the pioneer did extract 606 men from the sea while the Tug Mindful is thought to have brought 220 survivors on board. The rest were rescued by the other three vessels. The cargo ship Clan Campbell with a 30 foot freeboard, in spite of their best efforts was the least suitable for rescue operations, especially for the extremely tired and weakened.

When the Pioneer had taken its human cargo aboard, it returned to Phillipville to deliver them to safety and medical attention. Six passengers died en route. According to some reports the pioneer discontinued its rescue activity due to concern of becoming overloaded. Others, however, believe that the Pioneer was under orders to withdraw and reconnect with the convoy, which had continued on its way.

Accounts of courage and heroism by crew members during their rescue efforts continue to surface even to this day. Some of these acts can be found in the Stories section. Other personal accounts of the rescue effort follow this introduction.

Many survivors have tried tirelessly, though in vain, to win United States Government or Navy recognition or commendation for the Pioneer crew. Unfortunately, their voices fell on deaf ears. On a more positive note, the United State Congress acknowledged their exceptional service with passage of House Concurrent Resolution #408 in October of the year 2000.

At the time of this entry, less than half of the names of the 120 man Pioneer crew have been located for posting and honoring on our web site. With time we are committed and confident we will add to the following roster

This page is dedicated to and to honor the crews of the Pioneer and all the other ships that took part in the rescue. Carlton Jackson, in his book Allied Secret: The Sinking of HMT Rohna, expressed it best.

To the personnel of the Pioneer, Holcombe, Atherstone, Mindful, and Clan Campbell must go the greatest accolades that can be given to seafarers. They did not simply rescue many survivors from the Rohna, they proved they were willing to lay down their lives for their fellow man. It is an action that is part of the best tradition of sailors everywhere.

Partial Roster of the Pioneer

Lewis Allison Russell M. Applegate
Clyde Bellomy * William L. Blake
Donald E. Brassington * Andrew A. Brumbach *
John Coltec, Jr. John Cooper Jr.
Ernest Croyle Ralph Cundiff *
Sam Cunigan * Jay Curfew
Jesse Curl * Wayne B. Dana *
Jack Davis * Herbert C. Dawes *
Louis J. Difolco Louis Drogo *
James O. Dunlap * Don Dupre
Duane Essenpreis John Golian
Steven Horvath Carrill C. Hendricks
Frank Higgins * Melvin D. Humes
Harrell R. Jones * Clarence Kneser Jr.
John Knight * Fred L. Korf *
Frank Knopik David W. Lewis *
Ed Linville * William D. Mathews
Alvin Milstead Leroy W. Osick
Daniel Penoske * John Poirer *
Harry C. Rhodes Leroy E. Rogers *
Airieal Shaw Elmer A. Skold
S. E. Waggoner Ron Wright *

 

Pioneer Log Entries

From the log of the U.S.S. PIONEER, Declassified

UNITED STATES SHIP _U.S.S. PIONEER (AM 105 Friday 26 November 1943

“16-29 Steaming as before. 1640 twenty four to thirty enemy planes attacked convoy. Manned battle stations and commenced firing.1647 three enemy bombs dropped close aboard. 1715 S.S. Rohna, third ship in second column of convoy, hit by bomb, disabled and set afire. 1745 On order of Escort Commander, stood by S.S. Rohna to rescue survivors while convoy continued on its course. 1800 ceased firing, ammunition expended. 59 rounds of 3”/50 AA, 221 rounds 40mm, 950 rounds of 20 mm, and 150 rounds of .30 caliber machine gun. Casualties to personnel: Croyle, Ernest Floyd … Shrapnel wound, left leg: Bauer, Martin Conrad . . . shrapnel wound, right foot: Peck, Harold . . . Shrapnel wound left leg. Casualties to material: Barrel catch arm sheared off on port (?) 40 mm gun after firing 8 rounds. . . .”

And later that day another entry in OPERATIONAL REMARKS (WAR DIARY)

“20-24 Continuing rescue of survivors of S.S. Rohna on various courses and at various speeds. Rescued 606 persons, most of whom were U.S. Army personnel and a few of whom were members of the S.S. Rohna’s crew. Senior officer among U.S. Army personnel rescued was Lt. Col.  A.J. Frolick, their commanding Officer.”

 

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