Peter John Biemel
Born: September 13, 1924
Hometown: Cleveland, OH
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: November 1, 1943 /
off Naples, Italy
Date / Place of burial: November 3, 1943 / Grave 27,
Row 8, Plot C, Sicily-Rome American Cemetery,
Peter J. Biemel signed on aboard the Liberty Ship SS Salmon P. Chase as Engine Cadet at New York, NY on July 19, 1943. By October 23, 1943 the Salmon P. Chase, which was carrying troops and cargo between Mediterranean Ports, sailed from Algiers, Algeria bound for Naples, Italy via Augusta, Sicily. Among the ship’s cargo were troops and equipment of the 450th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, an all-black unit. The ship joined Convoy UGS-20 for the Algiers to Malta leg of its voyage, breaking off from the main convoy on October 26 in a smaller five ship convoy to Augusta. After arrival at Augusta on the following day the ship worked cargo until departing on October 30 for Naples. The ship arrived in Naples on the morning of November 1, 1943.
At 1845 while the Salmon P. Chase was at anchor in Naples Bay thirty-eight JU-88
bombers attacked the area. According to the report of Lt. (j.g.) William F. Saunders,
USNR, the Armed Guard Officer, the ship’s General Alarm sounded simultaneously with
the air raid signal ashore. The Armed Guard’s Sailors immediately manned their guns
while the Army unit, under the command of Lt. Whiteside, USA, broke out two 40mm
guns and four .50 caliber machine guns and readied them for action.
Although the gunners aboard the Salmon P. Chase initially withheld their fire so as not
to disclose their position within five minutes of sounding the alarm flares illuminated the
Solomon P. Chase and the order was given to fire on the attacking aircraft. At 1920 an
aircraft attacked the ship’s starboard bow and was taken under fire by the 3″ gun
manned by Navy Sailors spoiling its attack and shooting it down. Ten minutes later
another plane attacked the port bow. While the 3″ gun could not take it under fire one
of the Army 40mm guns could, and shot it down. Shortly thereafter the smoke screen
being laid by naval escorts shrouded the ship concealing it from the attacking planes.
The attack ended at 1950 with the sounding of the “all clear” signal. During the attack
Sailors, Soldiers and Merchant Mariners aboard the SS Salmon P. Chase crewed and
fired fifteen guns expending 28 rounds of 3″, 800 rounds of 40mm, 1,595 rounds of
20mm, and 1,000 rounds of .50 cal ammunition.
Except for Peter J. Biemel, none of the ship’s crew, Armed Guard Sailors or Army
“passengers” were injured in the attack. Biemel, whose battle station was at the
Carbon Dioxide Fire Fighting unit in the Engine Room, insisted on going on deck during
the attack. According to Lt. Saunders’ report, the crew attempted twice to restrain
Biemel from going on deck to observe the action. However, on his third attempt Biemel
made it out onto the boat deck. Soon after, he staggered back inside bleeding from the
nose, mouth, and ears. Although he had no visible wounds other than the tip of his
tongue and a front tooth was missing, the ship’s first aid party and Army medical
personnel they were unable to stop the bleeding. At 2030 a doctor from the British
destroyer HMS Lookout (G32) came on board in response to the ship’s request for
medical help. However, Biemel died at 2100 while the doctor was working on him.
Engine Cadet/Midshipman Peter J. Biemel’s body was taken ashore the following
morning, and turned over to Army medical authorities for autopsy and burial. According
to Lt. Saunder’s report, Army medical personnel concluded after the autopsy that Peter
J. Biemel’s death was caused by a hemorrhage at the apex of his lung from piece of
lead, possibly from a .50 cal bullet, which entered through his right nostril and passed
down his throat. The Salmon P. Chase left Naples at 1000 on November 2, 1943 and
Lt. Saunders did not have a chance to dispute the findings of autopsy with Army
medical personnel although he questioned their findings in his report. Peter Biemel’s
body was interred in a temporary cemetery and permanently interred at the Sicily-Rome
American Cemetery after the war.
Peter J. Biemel was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar, Atlantic
War Zone Bar, the Mediterranean-Middle East W ar Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and
the Presidential Testimonial Letter.
Peter John Biemel, was the youngest of three children, and the only son, of Peter and
Anna Radler Biemel of Cleveland, Ohio. According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Mr.
Biemel was a crane operator for an automotive business in Cleveland. Peter’s older
sister Marie describes him as a quiet and dignified young man who was very close to
her, and his mother, during his youth. An above average student and a hard worker, he
graduated from West Technical High School’s Machine Shop program in 1942. At
West Technical he was known as “Bruno” and was involved in Student Government.
His sister Marie noted that Peter was quiet and dignified and drew to himself a number
of lasting friends. She also noted that the unsung hero of Peter’s short life was his
mother who sacrificed not for herself, but to shape and make a life for her son.
“My Mother was the making of me.”