Disappearance of the S. S. Miraflores

It is February 19, 1942. In the darkness of the cold winter morning, the stealthy German submarine USSmiraflores-432 follows the silhouette of a lone freighter steaming north fifty-five miles east of Cape May. On board the steamer, most of the crew members are off duty, sleeping in the early morning hours. The drone of the pounding steam engine is abruptly interrupted by the detonation of two torpedoes that slam into the targeted ship.

Within minutes the force of the sea draws the tortured hull to the sandy bottom. Thirty four merchant sailors are lost without a word relating the circumstances of their deaths. Only a short entry in the German U-boat’s log gives a vague description of the victim with no name.

The next day the British freighter S.S. Miraflores is reported missing after failing to reach her final destination, New York.

Built in 1921 in Philadelphia, the Miraflores was 270’ long, weighed 2755 tons and carried 34 in crew. Owned by the Standard Fruit Company, the ship usually carried tropical fruit from Central America to New Orleans. However, with the US entry into World War II, Captain Charles Thompson was ordered to pick up a load of fruit in Haiti then sail north to New York. Miraflores was on that route on this fateful day.

After World War II, the US government presumed the ship had been torpedoed and sunk almost immediately. But there was no proof, no location, nor official report of the tragedy. Standard Fruit Company also had no answers. Soon the Miraflores was to become buried beneath the sands of the Atlantic Ocean, a memory only to those that were directly affected by the sinking.

Fast forward a half century to 1992. Capt Bill Dumeze of the clammer Arlene Snow in Cape May snagged a line while fishing. He took wreck diver Jim Bowen out to find the wreck. In 2007 Gene Peterson was researching unidentified wrecks he had dived. He had recovered artifacts from the ship off Cape May, but nothing that could be used for identification. Finally, tracking the brass helm made in Glasgow, Scotland, and help from Glasgow University archives, the mystery was solved.

Captain Schultz of U-432 was credited with sinking the freighter Miraflores, although his log book entry has no named vessel, only an estimated tonnage. He fired two torpedoes. The first struck forward of the wheelhouse cutting the ship in two. The second followed striking amidships. It is probable this enormous explosion caused the Miraflores to sink within a few minutes.

The possibility of the crew escaping the doomed ship was nil. Had anyone survived the tremendous blast, the icy cold water and confusion in darkness diminished all hopes of escape to less than a few minutes. Hypothermia would spare no one in such an inhospitable frigid sea so far from land. No distress call could be made due to the direct and devastating blast near the bridge that probably killed all officers and crew in that proximity instantly.

For Captain Thomson and his crew, there was no hope of a rescue this night in the cold bitter North Atlantic.

Written by Gene Peterson and Gary Gentile. Edited by Gretchen Coyle

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Showing 4 comments
  • Fred Fons

    Mrs Maggie Thompson never remarried. After the war she met my grandfather and they lived out their lives together in a Boston co-op. Maggie died in the 1980’s and never knew for sure how her husband Robert, Captain of the Miraflores, met his demise. I have her letters to Robert’s family showing the anguish of a young woman who could find no closure from Standard Fruit or the U.S and British governments. She even wrote to President Roosevelt in desperation for an answer to what happened to the Miraflores,

  • Dru Clementz

    My Dad’s cousin, Walter Norman McHenry, age 19, was a relatively new crewman on the SS Miraflores. He was an only child, and his poor Mother and Father, Jeanette Johanna E, nee Nami and Fred Emmer McHenry, never knew what happened to their beloved son – they hoped clear up to 1996 (when Fred died; Jeanette died in 1976) that their boy had been captured, was still alive, and was soon coming home. They had always been told that the ship must have sunk, but no one knew where or why. My Dad and I tried to get information for years. I was so elated to find out that the SS Miraflores had been found! I learned about her story in 2008, two years after my Dad died. My humble thanks to the New Jersey Maritime Museum for this story.

  • David R. Shields

    My Grandfather Willard Charles Ebanks, was the Miraflores ships Carpender, when his ship was torpedoed and sunk no family members had a clue what happened, my mother was 10 years old when she lost her father , back in 2008 I scanning for information on the Miraflores when I came across an article by Gene Peterson , he’s the Diver that went down to investigate the ship and confirm it was the Miraflores, I contacted Gene, he informed me they were making one more dive to the ship and would I like some memorabilia, he sent me two pieces of wood from the deck of the ship, I framed the wood along with a picture of the ship and my Grandfather, I presented it to my mother for Christmas 2008, that was the first time since she was 10 that she knew what had happened to her father, our Christmas celebration went from chaos to complete silence, everyone was in complete awe of the gift, of course mom started sobbing, looking back at that moment I couldn’t help but think, what were the odds that my mother’s oldest son would be the one to find the mystery that haunted her most of her life , this is a time I will never forget and I owe it all Gene Peterson, thanks again Gene.
    9 years after that Christmas my mom passed, my thoughts were , she’s back together with her family, she was the last one to survive, my siblings and I miss her terribly, Dad passed 5 years earlier so we were already getting used to the idea of not having them with us.

    When the SS Miraflores left Haiti the ship sailed through the Devil’s Triangle and some people feared that’s where the ship was lost but the Federal Government figured the ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat, they were right.

    It’s nice seeing this write up about the Miraflores, it makes me feel like the Crew are not forgotten.

    • Dave

      David, thank you for sharing your family connection to the loss of the Miraflores. Gene Peterson is a good friend of the NJ Maritime Museum and keeps a display of his artifacts with us. Your comments reinforce our high regard for Gene as a very accomplished shipwreck diver, historian, speaker and, especially as a very compassionate person. I passed your comments on to Gene. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

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