Cordua, James Sinclair

James Sinclair Cordua
Born: January 14, 1922
Hometown: Lost Creek, WV
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: March 10, 1943 / North Atlantic,
51-35’N, 28-30’W
Date / Place of burial: March 10, 1943 / North Atlantic,
51-35’N, 28-30’W / Lost at sea
Age: 21

James S. Cordua signed on aboard the Liberty Ship SS William C. Gorgas as Deck Cadet in Mobile, AL on January 27, 1943, shortly after the ship was delivered to the War Shipping Administration from its builder. Joining Cadet-Midshipman Cordua were three of his classmates, Edwin Hanzik, James Moon, and Edwin Wiggin. Six weeks later, on March 10, 1943, the Gorgas was traveling in convoy HX-228 en route from New York to Liverpool loaded with general cargo, including 900 tons of explosives and a deck cargo of an LCT and two PT Boats. The ship carried a crew of 41 merchant mariners and 26 Naval Armed Guard Sailors.

At around 2030 on March 10, another ship in the convoy was torpedoed, and the
general alarm was sounded. The crew remained on alert, with the Naval Armed Guard
manning the battle stations. The weather was hazy, with moderate to heavy swells,
and bright moonlight. At 2330, the Gorgas was hit on the starboard side amidships by a
torpedo fired by U-757. The torpedo blew open a hole about 15 feet in diameter, and
the engine room was destroyed and flooded, killing the three engineers on watch. The
master ordered the crew to abandon ship. By 2350, 51 survivors in lifeboats and rafts
had left the ship in driving snow and high seas. The U-757 located one of the boats
and questioned the survivors. Shortly thereafter the submarine found the ship still
afloat and fired another torpedo to sink it. Immediately after the ship settled under the
waves it’s ammunition cargo exploded, damaging U-757 so much that it was unable to
dive. The submarine was escorted on the surface back to France by another
submarine.

The Gorgas’  51 survivors were picked up at about 0700 on March 11th by the
destroyer HMS Harvester (H 19). Shortly after rescuing the Gorgas’ survivors, the
Harvester sighted U-444 on the surface. Although the submarine dove to escape the
Harvester’s gunfire, a depth charge attack brought the submarine to the surface. It is
unclear why the Harvester’s commander made his decision, but U-444 was rammed at
full speed by the Harvester, severely damaging both ships.

Although U-444 was able to break free of the Harvester, it was rammed and sunk again
by the Free French corvette Aconit (K 58). However, the almost motionless Harvester
was easy prey for U-432 who fired two torpedoes, quickly sinking the destroyer with
nearly all of its crew and 39 of the Gorgas’ survivors. The Aconit was immediately on
scene attacking the U-432 with depth charges and forcing it to the surface. The Aconit
fired at the surfaced submarine and then rammed it, sending the U-432, and all but 20
of its crew to the bottom. With this vital task accomplished, the Aconit rescued twelve
Gorgas survivors, 48 survivors of HMS Harvester, and 24 German Sailors from U-444
and U-432.

After the Harvester sank, the Master of the Gorgas, James Calvin Ellis Jr., was seen by
some of the survivors floating in a life ring in the cold seas. When he was offered a place
on a life raft by one of the seamen, he declined, telling the man to keep his place. Soon
after, he lost his grip on the life ring and was lost in the icy waters.

James Cordua and his three U.S. Merchant Marine Academy classmates were among those lost. It is believed that all four survived the initial attack, but were lost in the subsequent sinking of HMS Harvester. A 1942 graduate of the US Merchant Marine Cadet Corps, Rafael Ramirez Rivera, was also killed in the attack. A native of Puerto Rico; Rivera was serving as third mate on the Gorgas

Cadet-Midshipman James S. Cordua was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.

James S. Cordua listed his sister, Marcella K. Cordua Grazzini, who was living in Washington, DC, as his next of kin. No other information about his background could be located.

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