Arthur Jack Gradus
Born: June 17, 1923
Hometown: Long Island City, NY
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: March 10, 1943 / North
Atlantic 66-53 N, 14-10 W
Date / Place of burial: March 10, 1943 / North
Atlantic 66-53 N, 14-1 W /
Lost At Sea
Arthur J. Gradus signed on aboard the Liberty Ship SS Richard Bland as Deck Cadeton April 17, 1942 at Philadelphia, PA. He was joined by his academy classmateCharles W. Tamplin who also signed on as Deck Cadet. Although the Richard Bland was originally assigned to the infamous Convoy PQ-17 to Murmansk, Russia, the ship apparently ran aground shortly after leaving port and was towed back for repairs. After completing the necessary repairs the ship subsequently sailed to deliver its cargo to Murmansk with Convoy JW-51A which arrived in Kola Inlet, Russia without the loss of a single ship on December 25, 1942.
After discharging its cargo the Richard Bland, loaded with 4,000 tons of lumber, general cargo and deck cargo sailed from Kola Inlet, Russia on March 1, 1943 with the other ships of Convoy RA-53, bound for Loch Ewe, Scotland. At about 0930 local time, March 5, 1943 U-255 fired three torpedoes at the convoy. Two torpedoes hit the SS Executive sinking the ship. The third torpedo fired by U-255 hit the Richard Bland on the starboard side at #1 hold and went out the other side of the ship, causing the deck to crack and creating other structural damage. Although the ship did not sink, the impact of the torpedo partially disabled the ship, leaving her unable to keep up with the convoy for several hours. Although the Bland was eventually able to rejoin the convoy, heavy weather that night found the ship falling behind again.
At about 1530 local time on March 10, U-255 found the Richard Bland again, about 35
miles off the coast of Langanes, Iceland. The Bland was hit by one torpedo on the port
side at the Number 4 hatch. but the Bland remained afloat. Although the boats were
lowered to their embarkation stations, the ship was not abandoned. A distress signal
was sent and acknowledged by a shore station, and the ship’s confidential papers were
thrown overboard The Captain decided to lower the windward boats to see if they could
be brought around to the leeward side of the ship should they be needed. However,
the four men in each boat were unable to bring them alongside in the heavy seas. The
Armed Guard remained at their stations, but after an initial periscope sighting astern,
nothing more was seen of the submarine and the Master requested the gun crews to
stand down, hoping the submarine would leave them alone. At about 1835, local time,
the ship was hit amidships by another torpedo from U-255. The explosion caused the
ship to break in half, just forward of the bridge. The forward half broke free and
remained afloat while the after portion sank.
As the ship began to break up the Captain ordered the two remaining lifeboats lowered
and life rafts launched. There were heavy seas at the time of the attack, as well as
intermittent snow, and several life rafts were lost as the crew attempted to launch them.
The nearly 60 remaining crew and Armed Guard quickly abandoned ship into lifeboats,
designed to hold 20 persons each. One survivor, Lt (j.g.) William A. Carter, USNR,
reported that his boat was so overloaded that they had only a few inches of freeboard,
and were shipping much water.
After a long night in a cramped lifeboat in high seas, 27 survivors in the boat
commanded by the Third Mate were picked up by the HMS Impulsive (D11) at about
0730 the following morning. The Impulsive also rescued one of the windward boats
and its crew of four while another destroyer rescued the other boat and its crew of four.
The last lifeboat, under the command of the Master was never seen again. Of a total
crew of 69, 35 survived. Fifteen Armed Guard and nineteen merchant crew members
were killed, including Cadet-Midshipmen Charles Tamplin and Arthur Gradus.
Arthur J. Gradus was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar with
star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.
Arthur was the only son of Jacob and Martha Gradus. According to the 1930 and 1940
U.S. Census Jacob Gradus was a Foreman and Clerk for Post Office.
Photo of SS Richard Bland
Photo of Louis Chirillo (with camera) and Arthur Gradus outside Wiley Hall – 1942