|Operator:||Merchants and Miners Transportation Company|
|Builder:||Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company|
|Launched:||March 20, 1926|
|Fate:||Transferred to United States Army|
|Fate:||Sunk by torpedo, February 3, 1943|
|Type:||Passenger ship / Troopship|
|Tonnage:||5,649 gross register tons (GRT)|
|Length:||368 ft (112 m)|
|Beam:||52 ft (16 m)|
|Draft:||19 ft (5.8 m)|
|Speed:||12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph)|
|Capacity:||SS Dorchester : 314 passengers
USAT Dorchester : 751 troops
|Complement:||SS Dorchester : 90
USAT Dorchester : 130 + 23 Navy Armed Guards
|Armament:||USAT Dorchester :
• 1 × 3"/50 caliber gun
• 1 × 4"/50 caliber gun
• 4 × 20 mm guns
USAT Dorchester was a United States Army Transport ship that was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat on February 3, 1943, during World War II. It was sailing to Greenland as part of a naval convoy.
The loss of the ship became especially famous because of the story of the death of four Army chaplains, known as the "Four Chaplains" or the "Immortal Chaplains," who all gave away their life jackets to save others before they died.
The ship was built as the SS Dorchester, one of three identical ships built for the Merchants and Miners Transportation Company by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company. Launched on March 20, 1926, she carried up to 314 passengers and a crew of 90 along the East coast between Miami and Boston. Requisitioned by the Army, she was converted to a troopship by the Atlantic, Gulf and West Indies Steamship Company in New York, and fitted with additional lifeboats and life rafts, as well as four 20 mm guns, a 3"/50 caliber gun fore, and a 4"/50 caliber gun aft.
The USAT Dorchester entered Army service in February 1942, crewed by many of her former officers, including her master initially, and a contingent of Navy Armed Guards to man the guns and to handle communications.
On January 23, 1943, Dorchester left New York harbor.
In February 1943, Convoy SG-19 left St. John's, Newfoundland, bound for the Army Command Base at Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland. SG-19 consisted of six ships: Dorchester, two merchant ships (SS Lutz and SS Biscaya) that were leased by the United States from the Norwegian government-in-exile, and their escorts, the small United States Coast Guard cutters Comanche, Escanaba (both 165 feet), and Tampa (240 feet).
During the early morning hours of February 3, 1943, at 12:55 a.m., Dorchester was torpedoed by German U-boat U-223. The damage was severe, boiler power was lost, and there was inadequate steam to sound the full 6-whistle signal to abandon ship, and Dorchester sank by the bow in about 20 minutes. Loss of power prevented the crew from sending a radio distress signal, and no rockets or flares were launched to alert the escorts. A severe list prevented launch of some port side lifeboats, and some lifeboats capsized through overcrowding. Survivors in the water were so stiff from cold they could not even grasp the cargo nets on rescue vessels. The crew of the Escanaba employed a new "retriever" rescue technique whereby swimmers clad in wet suits swam to victims in the water and secured a line to them so they could be hauled onto the ship. By this method, Escanaba saved 133 men (one died later) and Comanche saved 97 men of the 904 aboard Dorchester. The sinking of the Dorchester was the worst single loss of American personnel of any American convoy during World War II.
Life jackets offered little protection from hypothermia, which killed most men in the water. Water temperature was 34 °F (1 °C) and air temperature was 36 °F (2 °C). When additional rescue ships arrived on February 4 "hundreds of dead bodies were seen floating on the water, kept up by their life jackets."
Notable passengers and crew
The American writer Jack Kerouac served on the Dorchester, where he befriended an African-American cook named "Old Glory," who died when the ship sank after the torpedo attack. Kerouac would have also been on the ship during the attack, but for a telegram he received from coach Lou Little, asking him to return to Columbia University to play football.
The Four Chaplains
Dorchester is best remembered today for four of the Army officers among the military personnel being transported overseas for duty: the Four Chaplains who died because they gave up their life jackets to save others. These chaplains included Methodist minister George L. Fox, Reformed Church in America minister Clark V. Poling, Catholic Church priest John P. Washington and Rabbi Alexander B. Goode. Congress established February 3 as "Four Chaplains Day" to commemorate this act of heroism, and on July 14, 1960, created the Chaplain's Medal for Heroism, presented posthumously to the next of kin of each of the chaplains by Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker at Fort Myer, Virginia on January 18, 1961.
Commemoration on US postage
In 1948 the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in honor of the heroism and sacrifice of the chaplains. It was designed by Louis Schwimmer, the head of the Art Department of the New York branch of the Post Office. This stamp was highly unusual, because until 2011, U.S. stamps were not normally issued in honor of someone other than a President of the United States until at least ten years after his or her death.
The stamp went through three revisions before the final design was chosen. None of the names of the chaplains were included on the stamp, nor were their faiths (although the faiths had been listed on one of the earlier designs): instead, the words on the stamp were "These Immortal Chaplains...Interfaith in Action." Another phrase included in an earlier design that was not part of the final stamp was "died to save men of all faiths." By the omission of their names, the stamp commemorated the event, rather than the individuals per se, thus obfuscating the ten-year rule in the same way as later did stamps honoring Neil Armstrong in 1969 and Buzz Aldrin in 1994, both of whom were still alive.
- "S.S. Dorchester Memorial Marker". hmdb.org. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
- Stanley Brewer. "S.S. Dorchester". greatships.net. Retrieved September 7, 2010.
- "USAT Dorchester Files". World War II U.S. Navy Armed Guard. Retrieved February 5, 2008.
- "Top Ten Coast Guard Rescues". U.S. Coast Guard. Archived from the original on November 13, 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2008.
- Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet; Commander, Tenth Fleet. "United States Naval Administration in World War II History of Convoy and Routing". Naval History & Heritage Command. United States Navy. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
- Morison, Samuel Eliot (1975). History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume I The Battle of the Atlantic 1939-1943. Little, Brown and Company.
- Julian Guthrie (August 15, 2009). "Kerouac's unintended legacy? A legal limbo". San Francisco Chronicle.
- FourChaplains.org, retrieved February 6, 2011.
- "Federal Military Medals and Decorations". Foxfall Medals.
- Scott Specialized Catalogue of US Postage Stamps.
- StampCenter.com, "A sweet tribute to Four Chaplains on a Postage Stamp," Pt III of III, retrieved February 6, 2011.
- "Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee". USPS. September 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-29.
- Four Chaplains Stamp
- StampCenter.com, "A sweet tribute to Four Chaplains on a postage stamp, part II of III", retrieved February 6, 2011.
- "First Man on the Moon" 10₵ United States Air Mail stamp
- "First Moon Landing, 1969" 29¢ United States postage stamp, based on a photograph of Aldrin captured by Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969 (July 21, UTC). Aldrin, conversely, captured no photographs of Armstrong.