Frederick Cowper Whitehead, Jr.
Born: December 16, 1918
Hometown: Roanoke, VA
Service: U.S. Navy
Position / Rank: Assistant Engineering
Officer / Ensign
Date / Place of death: April 20, 1944 /
Date / Place of burial: April 20, 1944 / Mediterranean- Lost at Sea; Tablets of the Missing at North Africa American Cemetery, Carthage, Tunisia
Frederick C. Whitehead was sworn in as a Midshipman, USNR, at the U.S. Merchant
Marine Academy on September 18, 1942. Just a few weeks later, on October 6, 1942,
he signed on as Engine Cadet aboard the passenger ship SS Santa Paula, which was
serving as a U.S. Army Troop Transport. He completed his at sea training aboard the
Santa Paula on April 5, 1943 and returned to Kings Point to complete his education.
On December 24, 1943 Frederick C. Cowper, along with his classmates in Section A-
240, graduated from Kings Point. After a few weeks of leave he was sworn in as an
Ensign, U.S. Naval Reserve on January 15, 1944. He reported to the U.S. Navy
Supervisor of Shipbuilding, New York, NY on January 20, 1944 for further assignment.
One week later he was assigned to the destroyer USS Lansdale (DD 426), a USS
Benson (DD 421) Class Destroyer, then on duty in the Mediterranean. U.S. Navy
records indicate that Ensign Whitehead reported aboard the Lansdale on March 26,
1944 at Oran.
Between April 10 and April 20, 1943 the USS Lansdale was assigned to escort
convoys along the north coast of Africa from Oran to Bizerte, in the face of determined
air and submarine attacks, including attacks by German radio controlled bombs, the
first so called “smart” bombs. On April 18, 1944, the Lansdale sailed from Oran to join
convoy UGS-38, bound for Bizerte. Because the Lansdale was equipped with
equipment to “jam” the radio frequencies the Germans used to control their smart
bombs, the Lansdale was assigned to the convoy’s port (seaward) forward corner.
On April 20th, the convoy was making way past Cape Benegut off the Algerian coast.
As twilight came, about two dozen German JU 88 and HE 111 bombers armed with
torpedoes attacked the convoy in three successive waves. The first wave destroyed
the SS Paul Hamilton, killing Kings Point Cadet-Midshipman Edward Zapletal and
everyone else aboard.
The Lansdale, silhouetted by the explosion of the SS Paul Hamilton, was targeted by several aircraft from the second and third waves of German planes. In the ensuing action the Lansdale’s gunners shot down two attacking plans while the Commanding
Officer, Lieutenant Commander D. M. Swift, dodged torpedoes launched by others. However, the Lansdale could not dodge all of the torpedoes. At 2106 the Lansdale was hit on the starboard side at the Forward Fireroom, where Ensign Whitehead, the Assistant
Engineering Officer, was on duty. All of the crew in the Forward Fireroom, including
Ensign Frederick C. Whitehead, are believed to have died instantly. The ship took an
immediate list to port and began circling clockwise due to jammed steering gear.
Despite the best efforts of the crew the, Lansdale’s port list increased to 80 degrees at which point the Commanding Officer ordered the crew to abandon ship. When the survivors were mustered, 47 men, including Ensign Whitehead were missing and presumed dead.
Ensign Frederick C. Whitehead, USNR was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart
and European-African-Middle East Area Campaign Medal. Based on his merchant
marine service a Cadet-Midshipman, he was also awarded the Atlantic War Zone Bar,
Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and Presidential
Frederick C. “Fred” Cowper was the oldest of Frederick Cowper Whitehead and Myrtle
Lee Whitehead’s three sons. Fred’s little brothers were John and Richard. According
to the 1940 U.S. Census, and city directories, Frederick Sr. was employed as an
engineer for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company. The 1941 year book
of High Point College (now High Point University), lists Fred Cowper Whitehead as a
member of the school’s Sophomore class.
Photos of USS Lansdale (DD 426) and Destruction of SS Paul Hamilton