John Randolph


The history of the SS John Randolph is short, yet she served her purpose, if one can call it that, in doing what she was built to do, ferrying vital supplies for the war effort.

She was a standard EC2-S-C1 cargo vessel built in Baltimore, Maryland USA. Her keel was laid down on July 15th, 1941 and she was launched on the 30th of Dec of the same year. From this date until May, one can only presume she underwent sea trials and was finished being fitted out and loaded with cargo for her one and only voyage*.

She was part of convoy PQ16, consisting of 35 ships, that left Iceland on May 20th of 1942, 

heading for Russia. These voyages, like all  voyages to northern Russia, amongst other things, many floating mines were encountered along with horrendous weather. The Germans, whose mission was to destroy all allied shipping taking supplies to Russia, discovered the convoy on the 24th of May and for the next six days it was attacked more than 25 times. This, partly due to the fact that at this latitude there was more or less 24hrs of daylight. In the early morning of May 26th, at 0105hrs, as the convoy was off the north coast of Norway, submarine attack developed. A torpedo passed just astern of the ship. She actually led a charmed life on the outbound trip. She experienced four near misses from bombs and two from torpedoes.

The convoy split on May 29th. Part of the convoy sailed for Archangel, arriving on June1st, the largest part of the convoy, including the John Randolph, arrived at Murmansk on May 30th.
After unloading her precious cargo, I cannot find any knowledge of what she actually carried in her holds, she was part of convoy QP13 that departed from Murmansk on June 27th bound for Reykjavik, Iceland where facts paint a grim story. Her luck ran out on July 5th 1942 while transiting the Denmark strait near Iceland. There, convoy QP13 ran into an inaccurately charted Allied minefield*.

Here we can possibly come to a couple of theories about the minefield incident. It could have been because the escort commander was unable to get a good fix on the position of the convoy because of foul

 weather conditions;  or that the lead ship mistakenly identified an Iceberg as a landmark, thus giving the convoy a wrong position of the minefield. Alas, here four merchant vessels were lost, including the John Randolph, plus a minesweeper. She fouled two mines and broke in two; 5 men died in the incident but none of the 12 passengers or the 12 man Armed Guard were lost. Other ships in QP13 rescue the survivors. The ship’s bow section is recovered and salvaged but the stern section sinks. As seen in the above picture, there was an issue with the ships structure in that it tended to have a clean break when excess force was applied in a certain way. Could that have happened here?

 Her front half ended up being towed to Iceland to serve as a floating dock.

 The captain of the vessel was Captain Alex Emmanuel Andersen Jr. Born in Roanoke Virginia in 1917. This was also the birthplace of John Randolph, the US statesman, who the ship was called after. Coincidental?
 He was commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy and after the loss of the John Randolph he was redeployed to the Pacific and served on the destroyer escort USS Whitman.
 Captain Andersen passed away in Sept 2010, aged 93.

The John Randolph was being towed by the Dutch tug “Oceanis” , from Iceland in September 1952, on her way to be scrapped at Bo’ness in the Firth of Forth, when she broke loose from her tow about 150 miles NW of the Hebrides. She went ashore on the 5th of September 1952 on Torrisdale beach. She had actually made two if not three attempts at grounding herself, before finally finding her last position.
 Local opinion at the time was that unless early efforts were made to refloat the hull, it would become firmly embedded in the sand.
 There was an attempt to refloat her using the famous tugboat "Turmoil". This was done after the sand had been blasted away from around her, alas this was without success.
 Here , and until well after April 1954, (the last known reference I have of her), she remained.
  However she was eventually cut up for scrap, which was stored for onward transportation at the little plot of land near the well at Dall.

Liberty Ship built by Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard Inc. Baltimore, Maryland
EC2-S-C1 Type Standard 01941-07-15 15 July 1941 01941-12-30 30 December