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Buena Ventura

A Spanish phrase meaning "good fortune," and also the name of a seaport town in the Valle district of Colombia, South America.

(Freighter: dp. 8,200; l. 419'; b. 52'; dr. 25' (mean); s. 10 k.; cpl. 93; a. 1 5", 1 6 pdr.)

The steel-hulled, single-screw freighter Buena Ventura--sometimes spelled Buenaventura--was launched in 1913 at Howden-on-Tyne, England, by Northumberland Shipbuilding Co., Ltd. Owned by the United States Steel Products Co., of New York, she was requisitioned by the United States Shipping Board in 1917 for use by the Army and was given a naval armed guard detachment to man her battery. Transferred to the Navy on 25 July 1918 for operation by the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS), Army account, Buena Ventura was commissioned on 26 July 1918 at Philadelphia, Pa., Lt. Comdr. Howard Fitzsimons, USNRF, in command.

After loading cargo, Buena Ventura sailed for New York on 9 August and thence in convoy on 13 August for Europe. Sailing first to La Pallice and thence to Royan and Bordeaux, the cargo ship proceeded to Verdon-sur-Mer to take on fuel for the return voyage to Philadelphia. Buena Ventura cleared Verdon roads in ballast on 14 September as part of a 25-ship convoy, shepherded by seven escorts until that evening. Two days out, at about 2045 on 16 September, the German submarine U-46 ten days into her war patrol--came across the by then unescorted convoy and fired two torpedoes into the unsuspecting Buena Ventura. The first struck amidships, directly beneath the flying bridge about four feet below the waterline and tore a hole that measured 10 feet long by four to six feet wide. The blast from the explosion coursed upward, splintering the lifeboat suspended in its davits just above and knocking the wireless out of commission. The second "fish" hit in the after end of the empty hold number four.

Buena Ventura, mortally stricken, soon slowed in the rising swells, listing to port. Her siren blasted out the submarine warning signal while her after gun boomed out one shot. After throwing the confidential publications and codes overboard in weighted bags, the crew abandoned their rapidly sinking ship in the four undamaged boats. Lt. Comdr. Fitzsimons remained on board to be sure that everyone who could abandon ship had done so and, when thus assured, stepped into the last boat and ordered it lowered away.

That boat, damaged in bumping against the side of the ship due to the freighter's port list, required unceasing efforts to bale out the water that had gained entry through several leaks. Lt. Comdr. Fitzsimons, his executive officer, and the 27 men in the boat, separated from the other three boats in the darkness and rising seas, steered in the direction of the Spanish coast. On the 18th, the French destroyer Temeraire rescued 45 of Buena Ventura's crew, while on the morning of the 20th, the Spanish coaster Lola took Lt. Comdr. Fitzsimons and his remaining sailors on board and landed them at Corunna, Spain, on the 22d. A final tally revealed that three officers and 15 men had lost their lives in the loss of Buena Ventura.

Robert J. Cressman

25 November 2005