On Friday, Feb. 18, 2005 at 12:58, I turned on the history channel and heard “The Rohna is still at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea”. I had missed the hour program but knew and was somewhat involved with knowledge of her sinking. After 62 years, memories came back to me of the attack and subsequent sinking of the Rohna. The following is the best as I can remember of that occurrence.
My name is Herman Pruskin, a WWII Army Veteran and eye witness to the sinking of the HMT Rohna. It all started in Oran, North Africa! We boarded, as I remember, 12 British ships. We were told we were headed for Salerno, Italy. My ship was called the Egra. We were alongside the Rohna, and just in front and, in between our ships, was a British submarine. The Egra was the last and outside ship of our convoy. To the rear was a British corvette. We left Oran at noon time. The following day at about 3:30 pm we heard sirens which the British called ” stand to” (battle stations). My company was one level below the deck and parallel with the water. I was assigned to care for a fellow in my company who had a broken leg with a cast to his hip. I put two life preservers on him and escorted him up the stairs to the deck and near the edge of the ship in case of evacuation.
I then saw a formation of German planes 30-50 in the distance. Our British gunners were already firing in their direction, the tracer bullets still falling short of the formation. I then started to drag cartridge cases of 50 caliber machine gun ammunition from a shed which was about 30-50 yards from my gunners. A group of planes peeled off and attacked the British corvette. At one point I thought I saw smoke with every gun blazing at the planes. At that point the planes dispersed and started to attach our convoy some to the front and some at mid-ship. My gunner shot one plane down, still in the distance. Two more planes got closer to us and our guns got a second one. As the third plane approached, we hit him and I noted another ( I thought) plane go straight over my ship. It actually was a radio controlled glider bomb the Germans were testing for the first time. I heard a tremendous explosion and turned to see the Rohna with a 6o foot or so hole in her side.
People were immediately jumping into the water, as we were zigzagging. The British corvette was heading for us and the people in the water. As they approached us, they were spraying smoke around us and the area with the poor souls in the water. The British sub, which was in between us, was firing with her gun and did not dive below the surface. I saw other planes up front get shot down, 8 all together, as we continued to go as fast as possible, until we finally saw British spitfires join the fight. Then as the sun started to go down, one spitfire came straight at us and twisted his wings vertically as he went between our smoke stacks. I saw his hand and fist with thumb sticking up, telling us they had chased the Germans back to Crete where they came from. As darkness fell our motors stopped and we floated thru the night. The following day we heard a communique‚ that “WE” shot down 8 planes and our losses were “light” (We knew better)! We continued the following day and were attacked again and I saw 3 German planes shot down. We continued and arrived at Port Said, Egypt.
Postscript: When issued our life preservers, we were instructed, for evacuation of ship, to remove helmet and blow up 2 cylinders around our waists after landing in water. We learned later that victims on the Rohna turned upside down from top heaviness- preserves should have been under our armpits. After the end of WW11, 25 or so years passed. One Friday evening ABC program showed 20/20 with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs. They related a story of American troops stationed in England in a training amphibious landing. The ship carried the troops off England and turned in a mock invasion landing. A German sub was there and torpedoed the ship. Seven hundred American troops died. They all drowned-turning upside down when their preservers were around their waists and not under their arm pits.
This tragedy occurred eleven months after the sinking of the Rohna and still the life preserver incident wasn’t corrected, from the knowledge of the sinking.