In an earlier post, I shared the work of Dick Levesque, a marine painter and historian who developed a fascination with the WWII story of the USAT Dorchester, her Coast Guard escort on her last fateful journey, and her heroic Four Chaplains. Recently, Dick completed his second painting inspired by this story, an illustration of the sinking of the Dorchester.
Here is Dick's commentary about this piece:
"This painting represents the sinking of the USAT Dorchester in wintry seas 150 miles south of Greenland on Feb. 3, 1943 during the Battle of the Atlantic. At 12:55 a.m., two torpedoes fired from German submarine U-223 hit amidships just aft of the stack and below water. Almost immediately, the Dorchester lost power continuing a short distance under her forward momentum before becoming 'dead in the water.' She then settled slowly towards the stern, rolled to starboard sinking bow first within 20 minutes of the initial blast.
"The painting illustrates her starboard side. On the upper deck, men frantically try to cut a frozen drum raft free while others attempt to clear two lifeboats.* Many men can be seen slipping on the ice-covered deck, others are only partly clad, having ignored their captain’s orders to sleep fully clothed and with their lifebelts on, and others, dazed, contemplate jumping into the frigid water, where they might last 20 minutes before succumbing to hypothermia, or taking their chances with the ship. The Dorchester’s famed Four Chaplains [link to Chaplains page] are depicted on the lower left of the main deck as they give their last life jacket to a man who had lost his own.
"Several survivors said the sinking ship looked like a 'giant Christmas tree of humanity with hundreds of glowing red lights on the life jackets.' There were 902 men aboard the Dorchester as it sailed into an area alternately known as 'Torpedo Alley' and 'The Black Pit.' Only 227 survived.
"The USAT Dorchester Sinking is now on permanent display in the Immortal Chaplains Memorial Sanctuary aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA."
*The port side life rafts could not be released due to the severe list of the ship to starboard, some of the starboard side rafts were damaged from the blast, and the remaining life rafts were frozen into place by the severe weather. Based on a contemporaneous survivor report by Lt. William Arpaia, I believe my grandfather, was on the upper deck helping the merchant marines and Army troops try to free the rafts. They managed to free only two larger rafts, and, In the end, they freed as many of the smaller drum rafts as they could hoping that when the ship sank, these smaller rafts would survive the suction of the ship and be available for the men who had jumped into the water.USAT Dorchester Sinking
Size: 5' x 3'
Painter: Dick Levesque
World War II Four Chaplains heroism faith honor USAT Dorchester writing