On days where we remember or celebrate our veterans, I feel compelled to cite this story to recognize all who served especially those whose story was never told.  In WWII the most U.S military lives lost while at  sea was on ship I am confident you never heard of.

The Sinking of the HMT Rohna:  The Greatest Loss of U.S. Troops at Sea During World War II
Few people have ever heard about the sinking of the HMT Rohna, in high seas, off the coast of North Africa the night of November 26th , 1943.  Ed (now deceased) was a survivor of the Greatest Generation’s, greatest loss of US troops at sea during WWII – 1,015 soldiers killed, plus 120 crew, 3 Red Cross and 11 gunners.  During the war, news of the disaster was deliberately suppressed.

Ed was part of the Army Air Corps and headed to India then Burma on the out-dated British transport, HMT Rohna, with close to 2,000 on board.  Ed recounted how hours before the attack, a soldier was reading tea leaves and saw an image of a plane above a ship.  As darkness fell, the Rohna was attacked and sent to the bottom by a remote radio controlled glide bomb.  Whether the incident’s secrecy was the need to be quiet about the new type of weapon, or maybe the great loss of life was an embarrassment, we’ll never know, but it has taken many decades for us to learn what we now know of this fateful day.  

The glide bomb made a 10-15 foot hole at the waterline.  As the Rohna started to roll, each wave rose higher up the side.   Ed and fellow officer, Harry Sosnofsky, timed their escape into the cold November Mediterranean, into the waves and darkness.  Ed left on a wave right after Harry’s.  Ed survived yet Harry did not.  Harry’s body was found in the sea the next day.  

That evening Ed spent six long hours in the blackened sea.  He found a crowded raft and floated near it thru the night. The raft’s hemp rope handles crumbled in his grasp.   The mine sweeper USS Pioneer had already departed with 606 survivors, many badly burned.   Fortunately, one soldier had a single cell light and the group was found by the British freighter, the Clan Campbell. 

Military command instructed survivors not to speak of the disaster.  From North Africa they made their way to their destination to India and on to Burma to work on army airways communications systems at new airfields for potential use by B-29’s.  Decades later, Ed discovered he and soldier friend Winton Smith were both Rohna survivors, but neither had mentioned the disaster as they served together for a year in Burma.  Many family members never did learn how their son, spouse, father had died.  It took the 1967 Freedom of Information Act to begin to learn more details of the Rohna disaster.  

Ed Caffrey is my father and I am proud to tell his story and acknowledge his service.  He is typical of so many unnamed veterans.   Vets know what it means to serve; the rest of us can only imagine.  To those who served , let me say ‘Thank You’ .

Ed Caffrey, a retired major in the Army Air Corps and a veteran of World War II.

for more see www. rohna.org

Here is another survivor story: