William Bernard Ginnelly
Born: October 8, 1922
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: November 14, 1942 / South
Atlantic 12 N, 30 W
Date / Place of burial: November 14, 1942 / South
Atlantic 12 N, 30 W /Lost At Sea
William B. Ginnelly signed on as Engine Cadet aboard the SS Scapa Flow on August 1,
1942 at Lynnhaven Roads, Virginia. The Deck Cadet, Robert E. Benson, signed on the same day. The Scapa Flow was built in 1914 at a German shipyard. In December 1941 less than three weeks after attack on Pearl Harbor the Finnish flagged ship was requisitioned by the War Shipping Administration. Renamed, registered in Panama and crewed with a combination of U.S. and non-U.S. sailors, the ship began serving the U.S. war effort.
The ship sailed shortly after the new cadets signed on bound for Trinidad and Takoradi,
West Africa. At Takoradi, the ship picked up an Armed Guard Sailor who had been left
behind in the hospital there and loaded a cargo of manganese. The ship proceeded on
its scheduled calls to ports on the West Coast of Africa, including Marshall where it
loaded additional cargo of latex in drums and bales of rubber. At Freetown, Liberia the
ship picked up another Armed Guard Sailor, a survivor from the sinking of the Liberty
Ship SS John Carter Rose a month before. The Scapa Flow also loaded the metal
lifeboat from the John Carter Rose to replace one of its own boats. On November 7,
1942, the Scapa Flow sailed unescorted from Freetown bound for Trinidad and the U.S.
East Coast with a crew of 47 and a thirteen man Armed Guard contingent.
Seven days later, approximately 700 miles northwest of Freetown, and 350 miles
southeast of the Cape Verde Islands, the Scapa Flow was located by U-134. Due to a
boiler casualty the ship was making a little more than six knots and was not steering
evasive courses. According to German Naval Records, the U-134 had to request
permission from German Naval Headquarters to attack the Scapa Flow. After receiving
permission to attack the Scapa Flow U-134 positioned itself and fired. The Scapa Flow
was hit almost simultaneously by two torpedoes on the port side at #2 hatch and
amidships, just below the bridge, at about 1430. The damage caused the ship to sink
within 45 seconds of the impact.
In the words of Cadet-Midshipman Robert Benson, the torpedoes simply “ripped the
ship apart.” Another survivor reported that the “bottom seemed to fall out of the ship.”
Of all the ship’s life boats and rafts, only the life boat from the SS John Carter Rose
could be launched although a hole in its hull had to be plugged with life jackets to keep
the boat afloat. In the hours after the sinking, this boat was able to pick up 21 members
of the crew, and seven Armed Guard Sailors. However, the survivors did not include
Cadet-Midshipman William B. Ginnelly.
According to survivor’s accounts, sometime within an hour of so of the sinking, U-134
surfaced. After questioning the survivors the submarine’s commander and its crew
offered the survivors bandages for the badly injured, gave them their position. Although
the Cape Verde Islands were closer, adverse wind and current conditions prevented the
life boat making the course. Sailing with the wind they set sail for Freetown, instead.
The survivors spent 17 days on board the lifeboat under the command of the ship’s
Fourth Officer, Mr. Keel. On December 1, 1942 the boat was spotted and rescued by
an escort for a convoy bound for Freetown, HMS Armeria (K 187).
Cadet-Midshipman William B. Ginnelly was posthumously awarded the Mariner’s
Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the
Presidential Testimonial Letter.
William B. Ginnelly was the youngest of John Ginnelly and Nora Ginnelly’s two sons
and daughter. William’s siblings were Catherine (12 years older) and John, Jr. (7 years
older). William’s father and sister worked at an electric storage battery manufacturer
where John was a molder and Catherine an inspector. Documents from Kings Point
show that William Ginnelly reported to Kings Point for Basic School on the afternoon of
April 6, 1942.
Photo of SS Scapa Flow follows