America lost thousands of
soldiers to the sea During World War II. Many died while serving on the
U.S.S. Arizona, bombed while docked at Pearl Harbor on December the 7th,
1941 by the Empire of Japan: also with the tragedy of the U.S.S.
Indianapolis, returning from her secret atomic bomb mission in August of
1945. But you may have never heard of the Rohna.
Why? The sinking of the Rohna represented an
historic first. It was the first U.S. ship destroyed by a guided
missile in the history of warfare. Its destruction by those means was deemed
classified, so that even the families who lost fathers, brothers, and sons were not told the
circumstances of their loved ones deaths.
The Rohna began its fateful
journey on November 24th 1943 at the port
of Oran in Algiers,
North Africa. There, over 2,000 American
enlisted men boarded, And in the end, 1, 015 American men lost their lives.
Another milestone representing the greatest loss of American Military
personnel at sea, ever.
One Monroe County
serviceman was a passenger on this British transport ship – Pvt Archie Arlie Dalton. Archie
Dalton was born in the community of Epperson in 1923 to John
Ervin Dalton and Bessie Lucinda West . On January
11th, 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was proudly serving
his country with the 853rd Engineer Battalion,
November 25, 1943 at Oran, Algeria,
Archie boarded the Rohna headed for the
China-Burma-India theater. Destination was Port Said, Egypt.
There was a crew of 195, along with 1,981 American troops and 7 Red Cross
personnel. The Rohna sailed along with four other
ships and joined a convoy that same day; she was the second ship in the port
column, for a total of 24 ships. The following day the USS Pioneer
joined the convoy. According to 2nd Officer Wills of the Rohna, there were no warnings of enemy aircraft received.
On November 26th, 1943 the 24 ship
convoy was in the Mediterranean as three
Luftwaffe squadrons descended on them. The men on board each ship knew that
the probability of attack was great, but no one guessed that the German
bombers carried the latest in technology.. rocket-propelled, radio-controlled Henschel
HS-293 glide bombs. British, American, and free French fighter planes rushed
from bases in North Africa to aid the
besieged convoy. Finally a Heinkel 177 bombardier
set his sights on the Rohna, guided the payload
with deadly accuracy. Hundreds died upon impact. After the
explosion that destroyed the Engine Room, the ship was engulfed in flames and
started to sink. It was impossible to lower the lifeboats on the
portside due to the side plates forced outwards by the explosion. Many
of the lifeboats on the starboard side were lowered but were soon capsized
because of the hundreds of troops that were already in the water and trying
to climb into them. Others perished from cold and exhaustion while
darkness and rough seas hampered rescue efforts. A total of 1,015
American troops, 3 Red Cross personnel, and 120 crewmen perished.
Stories were told of
desertion of the Indian crew, equipment failures, and the deplorable
condition of the lifeboats and rafts. Then there were the cold waters
of the Mediterranean Sea, the darkness and
the heavy seas, which made the rescue operations difficult. The United States,
British, and French rescue ships worked courageously to save the passengers
and crew who made it off the Rohna. One U.S. ship,
the USS Pioneer, picked up 606 survivors.
January of 1944 Dalton’s
family received word from the War Department that on
November 26, 1943, he was missing No other details were given. So
many other families received the same message.
Click here for
The Casualty List