West Maximus—a single-screw, steel-hulled freighter built at Seattle, Wash., by Skinner and Eddy Corp. in 1919 for the United States Shipping Board (USSB)— was inspected by the Navy for duty with the Naval Overseas Transportation Service and was designated Id. No. 3924; but she was never taken over.
Serving under the USSB and its successor, the United States Maritime Commission, West Maximus operated in the mercantile trade and eventually flew the flag of the Moore-McCormack shipping lines of Baltimore, Md. While in the service of this line, she operated into World War II as part of the vital lifeline of ships to Britain.
While filling this role, she left Milford Haven, Wales, in ballast on 23 April 1943 bound for New York with Convoy ONS-5. On the night of 4 and 5 May, the convoy ran into a trap set by an exceptionally large group of U-boats. German submarine U-264 drew a bead on the lumbering merchantman and launched a torpedo which struck the ship on the port side, aft, at 2308. The missile blew away much of the stern, demolished the living quarters, aft, and disabled the after guns.
U-264 struck again at 0110 and at 0130 on the 5th. The latter attack gave West Maximus the coup de grace which sent her under, bow-first, at 0140. Of the 62 men on board, 56 were rescued by trawler HMS Northern Spray.