Palmer, Robert V.

Robert Valentine Palmer 

Born: October 22, 1922
Hometown: Richmond Hill, NY
Class: 1943
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: September 24, 1942 / 8-05N, 58-
Date / Place of burial: September 24, 1942 / Lost at
Sea — 8-05N, 58-08W
Age: 18


Robert V. Palmer signed on as Engine Cadet aboard the SS West Chetac in June 1942
at the port of New York. He was joined by Cadet-Midshipman Arthur Z. Brown who
signed on as Deck Cadet. The ship sailed from New York on June 22, 1942 stopping at
Philadelphia and Norfolk to load additional cargo bound for the Persian Gulf. After
sailing from Norfolk in convoy TAW-14, the ship called at Key West, FL, Aruba and
Trinidad, where the convoy disbanded on September 23.

On September 24 the West Chetac was about 100 miles north of Georgetown, British
Guyana proceeding on an easterly course at seven knots without zig-zagging when it
was located by U-175. According to German Naval Records, the submarine fired a
spread of three torpedoes at the West Chetac earlier that morning which missed. The
submarine also reported that the ship had been escorted by an aircraft for some time.
Some of the survivors reported that the ship had been circled by a twin engine patrol
plane which they believed gave the ship’s position away, not knowing that they were
already being stalked by a submarine.
At 0715 the ship made a complete circle to avoid what was believed to be the wake of a
submarine’s conning tower. Fifteen minutes later, when the ship had steadied up on its
course a torpedo fired by U-175 hit the port side of Number 2 hold, destroying the hatch
covers and causing the vessel to sink by the bow in less than two minutes. Between
the rush to get the boats launched and the high sea running, all four life boats capsized,
throwing their occupants into the water. In his report of the sinking, Cadet-Midshipman
Arthur Brown stated;

“I had been standing near the after part of the amidships house talking to
a crew member and had just left, on my way to my quarters, when the ship
was hit. I immediately got my lifebelt and went to my station on the boat
deck. The order to lower away was given by the Chief Officer. I released
the pelican hook to the bridle, and then proceeded into the boat to secure
the plug. Since another man was doing this I started to unlash and clear
the gear in the boat. At the time water was coming over the Number
Three hatch, the vessel was settling fast. There was a heavy swell which
caused the lifeboat to turn over, towards the outboard side. Falling out of
the boat I swam for a hatch cover. I then sighted a raft and proceeded to
swim for it. Aboard the raft was a messman. He and I assisted others in
getting aboard the raft. No boats had been able to get away.”

After the West Chetac sank, U-175 surfaced, interrogated some of the survivors and
they departed on the surface. Cadet-Midshipman Brown reported that he had been told
that his shipmate Robert V. Palmer reached the boat deck but was not one of the
survivors. Of the fifty men aboard the West Chetac only 17 crew members and 2 Naval
Armed Guard Sailors survived the sinking. The nineteen men were able to get aboard
three rafts and keep them together until they were picked up by the USS Roe (DD 418)
on October 1 eight days later. The survivors were taken to Port of Spain, Trinidad.

Cadet-Midshipman Robert V. Palmer was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and the Presidential
Testimonial Letter.

No information on Robert V. Palmer’s next of kin was available.



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