An Allied troop maneuver in response to Operation Watch on the Rhine, aka Battle_of_the_Bulge. en.wikipedia.org...
Part of the 66th ID, my Uncle Reginald Clark Junior was aboard the Belgian ocean liner converted to troop transport, the SS Leopouldville. A crossing
of The Channel was hastily arranged in response to the German offensive. Christmas Eve, and the Allies being under a false impression of the war near
it's conclusion, no proper escort, screening nor rescue or recovery forces were on station.
Under darkness, Christmas Eve 1944, the ship was torpedoed as part of Axis combined forces action, and most of the crew was lost at sea, as the
British Navy destroyers mistakenly chased the submarine, rather than tow or beach the stricken ship. Concern over a non-existent mine field and
communication delays turned to attack into a disaster. In fact, no persons were manning the radio station at Cherbourg to receive the SOS, 6 miles
from the wreck.
My grandparents were notified of the KiA, and were presented w/a Purple Heart, which I have to this day. They went to their grave never knowing how or
where their son died, except he was in the European Theatre. Survivors were ordered not to speak of the incident, and a full-scale coverup was enacted
by Roosevelt and Churchill....due to the blunders and to "keep up morale".
It was late in the 1990's when History Channel's "History's Mysteries" researched and produced a show on the topic, featuring my Uncle Junior and my
Aunt Evelyn speaking on the family's behalf. It's pretty depressing, and was SELDOM broadcast. In fact, I don't remember it being on more than once,
maybe twice. So many family members looking to find info about the disaster, I wrote History Channel for permission to put my VHS copy on youtube. I
intended to remaster it again some time, but for now it's 3 sections, with my uncle's being last, listed here first since it is quite a slug to watch
the entire film.
I make the post here for the sake of awareness, and as an example of how the suffering of the average soldier, and their family, can be overlooked by
TPTB, in this case the Supreme Allied Command...
I plan on adding piecemeal to this post, but my time is limited the next few days...
On December 24, 1944, Lt. Gerhard Meyer, German submarine commander of the U 486 fired a torpedo that sank the S.S. Leopoldville as it transported
2,000 American soldiers to reinforce the Battle of the Bulge. Of these men, mostly between the ages of 18 and 21, 763 were killed. Forty-seven of the
then forty-eight states were represented among the dead.
On April 12, 1945 (the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt died), the U486 was torpedoed by a British submarineno survivors.
The S.S. Leopoldville DisasterDecember 24, 1944 recounts the incident through the stories of the survivors. It also tells the emotional stories of the
families and loved ones back home through the letters sent to and from those killed. Some of the most emotional and poignant letters are reproduced in
The vulnerability of the S.S. Leopoldville and the lack of emergency preparation, which caused so many soldiers to die, was an embarrassment to the
various Allied governments involved, resulting in what might be considered a cover-up, even long after the incident was declassified in 1959. It was
only through the authors research, 50 years after the event, that some siblings, wives, and children of the men lost discovered what really
The author, Allan Andrade, a retired NYC police lieutenant and a trained investigator, has done exhaustive work, well beyond the writing of this book,
by bringing public attention to this event. His enthusiasm and drive have resulted in several state and local governments issuing proclamations
commemorating the incident, as well as a national monument in Fort Benning, Georgia. For many families it brought closure to a horrible time in their
The Appendix contains both a by-state list of the men killed, and a list of survivors by rank, Company, and Division (all were members of the 66th
I understand that your family was involved, but considering the state of the war at the time this happened, do you think it was a good idea for them
to cover up this blunder for morale sake or do you think morale be damned and they should have come forward with the truth immediately? It is a bit
disconcerting that it took until the 90's for anyone to take notice though. That is rather unfortunate, but I think I may be able to see why something
like this was covered up. I mean for the longest time, the Allied forces were the losing side of the war.
My father served in Europe in WW2, arriving in France about three weeks after the Leopouldville tragedy. As a kid, I knew he had "fought in Europe"
and had been on the (converted) Queen Mary, but I never thought, "How exactly did he get to France?" Now I know; it was most likely on a ship like the
I think that the tragedy coverup must be taken in context of the times. This was not any war as we have seen since. Civilians back home were directly
involved via rationing of food, fuel, materials; drives were always held to collect this or that for the "war effort". Not only were families sending
their loved ones to war, those not overseas were asked to sacrifice normalcy. My Mom remembers being overjoyed to get heavy material to sew winter
coats for my older sisters.
The men who left knew that their families back home were also having hardships. My parents lost their house when my Dad was drafted. My Mom had two
small children and was pregnant with a third. My parents never believed my Dad would be drafted, as he was in his later 20's, married, small children,
and flat feet. But war had used up so many soldiers, that men like my Dad were now being called up.
Also, those soldiers who were arriving in Europe at that time were considered replacements. My Dad trained with a unit in the States, but once in
Europe all the men were dispersed to wherever each one was needed.
Secrecy and fear for national security during the war years was at the highest level all over. Such secrecy any other time might be a subject for
discussion, but life as usual was gone and secrecy was a given.
I think taking all the above into consideration, it would have done nothing to help families or soldiers to have been informed of the truth at the
time. All was for the war effort, which included the morale of soldiers and the civilians they left behind.
War is hell. Period. With or without disasters that could have been prevented. Thanks to the author, we can now know what happened, which could give
some comfort to families who now know how their loved one died.
I accept this coverup during WW2, over any coverup of pre-war activities that led to subsequent wars.
I am glad that you have your uncle's Purple Heart, as it seems to have found a worthy resting place. I passed along my Dad's Marksman insignia to my
Family history and how it entwines with national events is always interesting. Does your family know why your uncle was pulled from pilot school to go
to Europe at that time, what his specific job would be, if he was able to tell them?
I had a Great Uncle who was killed in WW1 just hours before the Armistice. He had a brother who came home but suffered from the effects of "mustard
gas"; the family said he "was never the same", and he died within a few years. It broke my Great grandmother's heart to lose her youngest child.
There is another WW2 accident disaster that I remember hearing about in recent years from a television program. Operation Tiger I think was the name.
It was also held in great secrecy at first.
Sigh.... it's like Cobaltic1978 wrote, "The theatre of war is a curious one, filled with heroic actions and calamitous decisions in equal measure." So
very well summed up.
This content community relies on user-generated content from our member contributors. The opinions of our members are not those of site ownership who maintains strict editorial agnosticism and simply provides a collaborative venue for free expression.