Oscar James Williams
Memorialized at Sicily-Rome American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy
|From the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships: The USS Maddox DD-622 was commissioned on 31st of October 1942. “On 8 June 1943, Maddox departed Norfolk for Oran, Algeria, where she became a unit of TF 81, the assault force for the Sicilian invasion. As the assault troops landed 10 July, Maddox was on antisubmarine patrol about 16 miles offshore. Steaming alone, the destroyer was attacked by a German dive bomber. One of the bombs exploded Maddox’s after magazine, causing the ship to roll over and sink within 2 minutes. The commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. E. S. Sarsfield, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism displayed in supervising abandon ship. His action was responsible for saving the lives of 74 of the crew. Maddox was struck from the Navy list 19 August 1943.”
Casualties were 210 Officers and Sailors. It was believed at the time that the ship had been sunk by dive bombers of the Italian Air Force. The story of how the ship was sunk was found by Brian Linder. The story is as follows.
“Over the years I have inherited the function of corporate historian for National Life Insurance Company that is headquartered in Vermont. We are a 150 year-old, 13 billion dollar life insurance Company.
In researching our history with the military, I learned that one of our rising attorneys left the company to accept a direct commission in the USNR early in World War Two. On our corporate plaque honoring men and women who resigned to join the armed forces during WWII only his name has a star next to it. His was Ensign Robert A. Crathorne. Further research revealed that he was on duty in the CIC of USS MADDOX DD-622 and went down with the ship. Having undertaken many military history research projects in the past, I decided to dig further into this story since our corporate archives had very little on Crathorne and nothing on the MADDOX.
I learned of the MADDOX Association and went to the reunion in Bath, Maine where I met several survivors of DD-622. At the farewell dinner, I nervously asked the 622 vets at my table how they would feel if I tried to track down the Luftwaffe crew that sank their ship. I was surprised to get an instantaneous response that, “If you can find them, we’ll invite them to a reunion.” The challenge was on.
Having previously worked closely with Germany’s most widely respected aviation historian, Gerhard Bracke of Braunschweig, I sent him a letter with the best information I had uncovered from USN files on the type of plane that dropped the bombs.
Veterans groups in Germany exist but, for obvious reasons, are less well known than in the U.S. It took Gerhard many months before he found the historian for KG-54 (Bomber Group 54). The historian had limited information that one of their crews had sunk the MADDOX and he contacted Adolf Knoblauch who had been the Radio Operator on the Kurt Fox bomber crew.
By cross-referencing Knoblauch’s personal flight log with the known date, place and time of the sinking, it became obvious that they had been the crew who had dropped the fatal bombs. (They knew they hit a warship but had never confirmed that it was the MADDOX or that it had sunk.) Knoblauch was extremely helpful and provided Gerhard with photos and other recollections of the sinking. Gerhard passed them along to me and I to the Association. Herr Knoblauch loaned his photos without reservation and without any restriction on their use.
It is important to note that this four-man crew entered the Luftwaffe years before the war and were military professionals. None had any affiliation with the Nazi party and each served honorably as members of the German Air Force.
This crew outlived over 90 others that arrived in combat within their unit. The pilot, Dr. Kurt Fox, has said they survived for three reasons: 1) they had years of training before the war broke out. 2) luck. 3) they were well-educated. In fact, after the war, the crew accumulated a total of five (5) doctorates degrees between the four of them.
Dr. Fox has also provided a wealth of photographs of the crew but it is his wish to not have them published.
In May of 1998 a “reunion” was held in Thomasville, NC with Dr. Fox and several of the DD-622 survivors. Herr Knoblauch was unable to attend due to illness. The remaining two members of the Fox crew were deceased in recent years.
It was a remarkable event with a deep sense of history. Each veteran in attendance was video taped telling his memories of the sinking with Dr. Fox providing the story from the opposite side. Everyone parted with new friendships and mutual respect.
For me, it had been a fantastic journey from a name on a bronze plaque in our Home Office to meeting the vets from both sides that made history.”
——— Brian Lindner
The crew of Kampfgeschwader 54 (KG-54), flying a Junker 88 (JU-88) side marking B3+GR, were Pilot: Dr. Kurt Fox, Navigator: Siegler Vaegler (deceased 1970’s), Radio Operator: Adolph Knoblauch, and Gunner: Werner Hahrhaus (deceased 1980’s)
Below: The USS MADDOX DD-622, a JUNKER-88 with crew, and the JUNKER-88 that sank the MADDOX.