Born: November 6, 1922
Hometown: Saint Louis, MO
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: September 20, 1943 / 57-3N,
Date / Place of burial: September 20, 1943 / Lost at
Sea – 57- 3N, 28-8W
Cadet-Midshipman Alan A. Atchison, Jr. signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the Liberty Ship SS Theodore Dwight Weld at Mobile, AL on July 27, 1943. After sailing to England the Weld, loaded with 1200 tons of sand ballast, sailed from Liverpool, England on September 15, 1943, en route to New York in convoy ON-202. The ship had a crew of 42 merchant mariners, including two Cadets, and 28 Naval Armed Guard.
This “fast” convoy was composed of thirty-eight ships, escorted by a Canadian Navy escort group composed of two Destroyers (HMCS Gatineau and HMCS Icarus), a frigate HMS Lagan and three corvettes, HMCS Drumheller, HMCS Kamloops and HMS Polyanthus. A “slow” convoy of 27 ships bound for Halifax, NS, ONS-18, sailed on September 12 with seven escorts followed an almost identical route as ON-202. On September 19 U-270, one of 21 submarines assigned to Wolf Pack Leuthen, damaged HMS Langan. Aware that Convoy ON-202 was heading into a large wolf pack, the British Admiralty ordered Convoy ON-202 to join up with ONS-18 on September 21. In addition, another escort group with a destroyer, frigate and three corvettes was ordered to reinforce the combined convoy. Thus began one of the major convoy engagements of the Battle of the Atlantic.
On the morning of September 20, the Theodore Dwight Weld was the first ship in the second column of Convoy ON-202. The convoy was making 9.5 knots in clear weather and choppy seas, but was not taking any evasion action. The Theodore Dwight Weld had posted numerous lookouts. At 0736 GMT one of four torpedoes fired by U-238 struck the SS Frederick Douglas in the next column over from the Weld. The Weld’s alarm bells immediately began ringing. One minute later, at 0737, when the ship was about 500 miles southwest of Iceland, the ship was hit by at least one of the other three torpedoes fired by U-238.
Cadet-Midshipman Frank H. Cain later reported that he was just beginning an
inspection of the degaussing system that morning when he heard a series of short rings
on the general alarm. Noting the urgency of the ringing, he rushed to his quarters on
the bridge deck to don his life jacket. There he crossed paths with Alan Atchison.
According to Cain, Atchison had just put his own life jacket on, and was proceeding to
the lifeboats. Just after Atchison left the room, the torpedo hit the vessel on the port
side, amidships, at Number 3 hold. Observers noticed a large white flash, but no
smoke. About 20 seconds after the impact, the engine room blew up, breaking the ship
in half, just forward of the accommodation house.
Cain reported that he was blown into the air by the force of the explosion and nearly fell
through a gaping hole in the deck. Fortunately, he was able to pull himself up and
rushed to the starboard boat deck. The ship was listing heavily to starboard, and
beginning to break up. Cadet-Midshipman Alan Atchison, along with the First Mate and
several other crew members had lowered the Number 3 boat into the water. However,
the sea was already breaking over the Weld’s main deck and the lifeboat, the only one
not damaged by the torpedo explosion, was destroyed before it could get away from the
ship. Several crew members, including the Captain, were washed overboard by the
breaking seas, including Cain as he tried to help the Captain back aboard. In the
process, Cain reported that he became entangled in the lifeboat falls as the ship sank.
After freeing himself from his entanglement, Cain swam to the surface. He said he
could see the after gun mount of the ship going under, and managed to cling to a
fragment of one of the Weld’s lifeboats. After about two hours in what he nonchalantly
termed “cold” water, Cadet-Midshipman Frank Cain and thirty six other survivors were
picked up by the rescue ship SS Rathlin. Cadet-Midshipman Alan A. Atchison, Jr. was
among the nineteen crewmen and thirteen Armed Guard that were missing and
Cadet-Midshipman Alan A. Atchison, Jr., was posthumously awarded the Mariners’
Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Victory Medal, and Presidential
Alan A. Atchison was he only son and youngest of Alan A. and Cecelie Atchison’s two
children. Alan’s big sister was Alice, who was nine years older. Alan, Sr. was the
President of Lacquer Service Corporation and later the owner of the Atchison