Born: June 1, 1924
Hometown: Oklahoma City, OK
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: March 16, 1943
North Atlantic / 50-38N,34-46W
Date / Place of burial: March 16, 1943
Lost at Sea – North Atlantic
According to Academy records, Richard M. Record signed on as Engine Cadet aboard
the SS James Oglethorpe in February 1943 at Savannah, GA, just a few days after it
was completed. Around the same time two other Cadet-Midshipmen also signed on;
Wayne D. Fajans (Engine) and William H. Ford (Deck). Another Cadet-Midshipman,
John Lambert signed on as the second Deck Cadet a few days later. After the SS
James Oglethorpe completed the installation of its armament and final fitting out and
adjustments, the ship sailed for its first loading port. The ship joined convoy HX-229 in
New York on March 9, 1943 for a journey to Liverpool, England. The James
Oglethorpe was loaded with a cargo of steel, cotton, food in the holds and a deck cargo
of aircraft, tractors and trucks. It had a crew of 44 merchant sailors, 26 Naval Armed
Guard, and 4 Navy passengers.
Cadet-Midshipmen Fajans later reported that,
“The weather was the usual kind experienced during this time of year in
the North Atlantic, i.e., dirty and heavy seas.”
In his report of the sinking, Cadet-Midshipman Ford stated,
“The day before our vessel was lost No. 2 boat was carried away by
heavy seas and Nos. 1 and 3 extensively damaged. As a result of this
damage, our available life savings equipment was materially reduced.”
Early in the evening of March 16, Cadet-Midshipman Wayne D. Fajans reported that he
had seen the conning tower of a submarine on the starboard side of the ship while at
his gun station and reported this fact to the gunnery officer. However, no action was
taken by the ship’s gun crews. Analysis of German Navy records found that the
submarine reported to have been seen by Cadet-Midshipman Fajans was not one of
the submarines that later attacked the James Oglethorpe.
At 2120 GCT on March 16, 1943, U-758 fired a “spread” of four torpedoes at convoy
HX-229, hitting, and sinking, the M/V Zaaland with one torpedo and the James
Oglethorpe with another. The U-758’s other two torpedoes missed. The James
Oglethorpe was hit in either Hold #1 or #2 (survivor reports differ). The torpedo’s
impact started a fire in the cargo which was quickly extinguished, very likely by the
water flooding into the hold. According to the accounts of survivors, although the ship
settled about three feet lower in the water it did not appear to be in danger of sinking.
However, the Captain did give permission, or at least some crew members believed
that he had given the crew permission, to abandon ship despite the ship being in a hard
left turn with its engines still running. Of the remaining lifeboats (Number 4, 5 and 6)
only the Number 6 boat was safely launched. Cadet-Midshipman Fajans, who was in
Number 5 boat, fell into the sea when the boat’s forward fall broke. Seeing the chaos
occurring with lowering the boats, the Chief Mate and Cadet Midshipman William Ford
jumped into the sea, joining the men from Number 4 and 5 boats in the water. The
crew of the Number 6 lifeboat were able to pick up some of the men in the water. The
nine men in this boat were rescued the corvette HMS Pennywort (K 111). The
destroyer HMS Beverly (H 64, ex-USS Branch (DD 197)) rescued 21 other men from
the water. These men were landed in Scotland (HMS Pennywort) and Northern Ireland
(HMS Beverly). Some of the men, including Cadet-Midshipman Ford, returned to the
U.S. aboard the SS Queen Mary.
About 30 members of the crew stayed on board to help the Captain sail the ship to St.
John’s, Newfoundland, the nearest harbor. The James Oglethorpe was last seen by
those in the lifeboat and in the water at about 0200 GCT still afloat and underway. The
ship, and its remaining crew, were never seen again. Although some accounts credit
U-91 with sinking the crippled SS James Oglethorpe on March 17, German Navy
records only credit U-91 with sinking the SS Irenee Du Pont and SS Nariva. It is likely
that the SS James Oglethorpe foundered due to the torpedo damage and high seas.
From the accounts of the thirty survivors it is unknown whether Cadet-Midshipmen
Richard Record and John Lambert were among the seventeen men who perished
abandoning the ship on March 16 or were among the thirty men lost when the James
Cadet-Midshipman Richard M. Record was posthumously awarded the Mariner’s
Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and the
Presidential Testimonial Letter.
Richard M. Record was the oldest of Marion Record and Louise G. Record’s two sons.
Richard’s little brother, Jack, was four years younger. According to the 1940 U.S.
Census, Marion Record was an electrician.