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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  • 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.

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