Wiggin, Edwin Parslow

Edwin Parslow Wiggin
Born: July 9, 1924
Hometown: Quicksand, KY
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: March 11, 1943 / North
Atlantic, 51-35 N, 28-30 W
Date / Place of burial: March 11, 1943 / North
Atlantic, 51-35 N, 28-30 W – Lost at Sea
Age: 21

 

 

Edwin P. Wiggin signed on aboard the 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. Six weeks later the Gorgas was traveling in convoy HX-228 on March 10, 1943, 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 43 merchant mariners and 27 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’ survivors 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.

Cadet-Midshipman Edwin Wiggin, his three U.S. Merchant Marine Academy classmates and 1942 graduate Rafael R. Ramirez were among those lost. It is believed that all five survived the initial attack, but were lost in the subsequent sinking of HMS Harvester. He was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.

Edwin P. Wiggin was the son of Gilbert Henry “Bertie” Wiggin and Mabel Helen O’Dell Wiggin. At some point before attending Kings Point he attended the University of Kentucky where he is listed on their roll of World War II dead.

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