LeRoy William Kernan
Born: October 5, 1917
Hometown: Elgin, IL
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Third Mate
Date / Place of death: March 17, 1943 /
North Atlantic 50-38 N, 34-46 E
Date / Place of burial: March 17, 1943 / North Atlantic 50-38 N, 34-46 E / Lost at sea
February 1941, although he had received his Coast Guard papers as Deck Cadet on
April 30, 1940 at New Orleans. He attended the Maritime Commission Cadet School at
Algiers, LA and had begun sailing as Deck Cadet aboard the SS Arizpa on May 1,
1940. Following receipt of his Unlimited Third Mate License on August 15, 1942, LeRoy
Kernan signed on as Third Mate aboard the SS Hawaiian Shipper at New York on
November 19, 1942 for a voyage to Casablanca and return.
On March 2, 1943 LeRoy Kernan signed on aboard the SS Harry Luckenbach as Third
Mate at New York, NY. The Harry Luckenbach also had four Kings Point Cadet-
Midshipmen aboard; Lee T. Byrd (Deck), Walter J. Meyer (Engine), Francis R. Miller
(Engine) and William H. Parker (Deck). The ship sailed from New York on March 8 as one of 40 ships in convoy HX-229, bound for Liverpool with a general cargo of war
supplies. A second HX convoy, HX-229A with more ships sailed about 10 hours after
the ships of HX-229. During their transit of the North Atlantic the two convoys overtook
a slower convoy, SC-122. The three convoys, with a total of 110 ships, but less than 20
escorts, would be the centerpiece of what has been described as the greatest convoy
battle of World War II.
(Photo of SS Harry Luckenbach)
The ships of convoy HX-229 had proceeded without incident or attack until March 16.
For the next three days the convoy was under attack by over forty U-Boats. On the
morning of March 17, when HX-229 was about 400 miles east-southeast of Cape
Farrell, U-91 fired five torpedoes at the convoy, not aiming at any specific ship.
However, the Harry Luckenbach, sailing in the starboard forward corner of the convoy,
was hit by two of the torpedoes at the engine room. The ship sank in minutes, but
amazingly, three lifeboats were able to get away from the sinking vessel. One or more
of the boats were later sighted by HMS Beverley (H-64), HMS Pennywort (K-111), HMS
Volunteer (D-71) and, possibly, the HMS Abelia (K-184). However, none of these ships
were able to pick up the survivors from the boats. None of the 54 crew members and
26 Naval Armed Guard of the Harry Luckenbach survived the sinking.
By March 20 the surviving ships of the three convoys arrived in the United Kingdom,
having lost twenty-two ships and their crews, while sinking just one of the attacking UBoats.
According to a Royal Navy report on the convoy battle,
“The Germans never came so near to disrupting communications between
the New World and the Old as in the first twenty days of March 1943”
The fact that the Germans were unable to do so is a testament to the courage of
Merchant Mariners like LeRoy W. Kernan, and the example that he set for the Kings
Pointers that came after him.
Based on his sailing record LeRoy W. Kernan was posthumously awarded the Mariners
Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Mediterranean – Middle East War
Zone Bar, Pacific War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and Presidential Testimonial Letter.
LeRoy was the oldest of three children and only son of William W. Kernan and Cresentia
Kernan. LeRoy’s two sisters were named Lois and Lenore. According to the 1940
Census, William Kernan was a carpenter while LeRoy’s occupation was listed as being
a finisher in a pottery factory. However, Leroy had attended Illinois State Normal
University at Normal, IL in 1938 where he studied Music after graduating from Elgin
High School in Elgin, IL. In high school he played violin in the school orchestra.