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Torpedoed by Subs - Lifeboat Sails to Brazil

Submitted by Editor - June 16, 2009

This article about Merchant marine Eldon Peters was printed in the December 10, 1942 edition of the Minonk News-Dispatch.
Torpedoed 200 miles off the Brazil coast in the South Atlantic and adrift for three days with ten companions in a life boat was the experience of Eldon I. Peters, 18, son of Mr. and Mrs. Harm Peters of Long Point, but residents of I Minonk until last September, when the family moved from the Mrs. William McNamara farm where they had resided for six years previous.

Young Peters is now at the home of his parents, having arrived there last Friday night, after being a member of the Merchant Marine since last July 15 when he set sail on a cargo ship from Ban Francisco, Calif., on a voyage that took him around the world. He estimates that he had traveled nearly 35,000 miles by ship, 3,340 by air and nearly 6,000 miles by rail throughout his journey.

The ship carried war materials and was manned by a crew of 41 officers and men, ten navy gunners and one navy lieutenant. The course was zigzag but was generally southwest and they first stopped at New Zealand and then went around the south side of Australia and through the Indian ocean and headed into the Red Sea with 'Suez as the destination but "the bombers were getting too hot" and the skipper put in at New Port Sudan across from Arabia, where he unloaded his cargo.

The return voyage took them down the east coast of Africa through the Mozambique channel where they were hailed one night by a warship but when they hoisted the American flag, were allowed to proceed. He afterwards learned that there was a big battle going on in the vicinity at that time. Heading on south they rounded the Cape of Good Hope and struck out I across the Atlantic ocean and it was at 9:38 on the night of Nov. 9, that his ship, without cargo, was struck by two torpedoes from two submarines which had evidenly been following .them for some time. They were about 200 miles from Natal, Brazil.

Peters was in bed at the time and did not realize that they had been torpedoed as he heard only sort of a thud and when he got out on deck was told that the ship had been torpedoed and would be abandoned, he went back and dressed but took only his watch, I his holster knife and two cartons of cigarettes. Many of the men did not take time to dress and had few clothes on. The whole crew was off the vessel in ten minutes, loaded into four boats, each fitted with a sail and 30 days' emergency rations but the skipper loaded in 300 pounds of extra provisions and ten cartons of cigarettes in each boat, as they started their 200 mile trek for the Brazilian coast. A life raft had also been launched but was not needed.

Fortunate it was that Peters took his knife as it was the only one aboard his boat and they could not have opened their canned goods without it. Probably the narrowest escape of the whole 45,000 miles was when a whale, fully 80 feet long, followed their boat, then came alongside and finally dived under it. Their boat was only 40 feet long and could have been easily overturned had the whale hit it in the right place. The sword fish were numerous and followed them too, but were smaller and caused no alarm.

"We finally landed our boat at Parabia and were met by many natives, who, when we told them we were Americans, treated us fine", said Peters. "We were taken to Recife, where we were quartered in the best hotels, given clothes and had the best of everything. When our skipper landed with his boat crew about 30 miles from where we landed, the Brazilians thought he was a German and had him in jail for a short time. All four boats landed in Brazil safely and not a single man was lost" said Peters. "We soon lost each other after the sinking of the ship on account of the high waves and each crew headed for land the best they could.

He was taken by rail to Natal, Brazil, and by air from there to Miami, with stops at Belem, Brazil, British Guiana, Trinidad and Puerto Rico, taking parts of three days. From Miami, Peters made the long rail journey back to San Francisco, Calif., to get his discharge and pay and from there came on to his home in Long Point. He expects to re-enlist again after Christmas and hopes that he will get to go to Brazil again, where he was sold on the hospitality and upon the fine looking girls. He was in that country for nine days from the time the lifeboat landed until he hopped on a clipper.

On August 19, the day he was 18 years old, he was in New Zealand. Several years ago Peters attended the Minonk grade school and later was in the Dana high school for two years. His brother, Lloyd, 23 years old, is with the American forces in North Africa. Eldon is modest and it took more or less persuasion by the News-Dispatch representative and his family to get him to consent to allow the story of his adventure to be put in print.

Pictured above is the 40 foot life boat in which Eldon Peters and 10 shipmates traveled 200 miles to the coast of Brazil after having been torpedoed by an enemy submarine.