Photographs taken by Henry R. Orndorff ’44 when the SS James B. Stevens was sunk off of Durban, South Africa.
On March 8, 1943 the ship was torpedoed off of South Africa, about 150 miles from Durban. Orndorff was in bed when the first torpedo struck and immediately went to his boat station when orders were given to abandon ship. The Gunnery Officer saw him in the lifeboat before it was lowered and thrust a brief case on him for some reason. They lowered the boat and he was in it when the 2nd torpedo struck; the explosion caused flaming oil to be cast upon him and everyone in the boat. Many men were still climbing down the ropes and were thrown in the water; some in the boat jumped into the water. He was glad he was taught at Kings Point to stay in the lifeboat; he just lowered his head and the flames went out but the oil remained everywhere. They used any cloth they had to wipe the oil away so they could man the oars. One of the Armed Guard tore up a nice gown he had purchased for his wife in Egypt and used it to clean off the oil. The ship split in half and was on fire. The Third Mate, Tommy McCarthy, and Orndorff traded off manning the tiller; they steered at night toward the Southern Cross. It was good they had the briefcase since it contained a bottle of whiskey and a camera. One of the 13 men in the boat had a badly damaged thumb that had to be amputated with a scissors so the whiskey helped him. They used the camera to take photos of the men in the boat. Apparently they were south of Durban when they saw a light that turned out to be at a power station. The radio operator in their life boat communicated with the station by Morse code flashing light and was told to lay off shore until next morning as it was not a safe shore to land. In the morning they were picked up by an unarmed crash boat that was sent for them to take them to Durban.
1st Photo 3rd Mate McCarthy, Cadet Orndorff and Oiler Hansen
2nd Photo shows Orndorff on left
3rd Photo Pumping Bilges
4th Photo Rescue Boat with part of Stephens crew