The picture was published on the 23 March edition of the Portuguese newspaper “Século Ilustrado”, with some other pictures and a very simple note: “The crew from the steamer Sines that saved 71 shipwreked men from one American ship torpedoed in the Atlantic”.
It was a small note in a conflict that brought to the Portuguese ports hundreds of shipwrecked men from all nationalities. It was not by chance that, already in April 1940, a delegation of the “British Seaman Institute”, was created in Lisbon, in order to support those arrived in the Lisbon port but also, and especially, to support those that came to Portugal, brought by different kinds of ships, after seeing their own sunk.
In fact the 71 men saved by the Sines never arrived in Lisbon, as they were delivered in the port of Horta (Azores), one island much nearer from the place where they were torpedoed by the German submarine U-172, about 450 miles west from the islands.
They belonged to the “Keystone” a 5.5 Ton ship that was part of a convoy with 45 ships (named UGS-6) that started from the USA (on 12 March) on the way to Gibraltar (Arrived on 19 March).
The “Keystone” was the first victim of this convoy from a U-boat pack that was patrolling the area in the vicinity of the Azores. The ship had problems from the start in the engine room and, after a while, he was alone, away from the rest of the ships. When the first torpedo hit her –at 22.28 hours of the 13th – she was already 50 miles behind.
The first explosion killed two of the crew and left the ship incapacitated. After the rest of the men left, the “Keystone” was hit by another torpedo that broke her in two.
She would not be the only victim of this confrontation. Between 13 and 18 March the U-Boats would claim three more ships and damage another, continually escaping the eight American destroyers that were escorting the convoy.
The crew of the “Sines” found the survivors seven hours after the sinking and made their duty as seamen, taking them on board.
They would not be the first or the only Portuguese crew to do it during the war… but they certainly deserve the proud look in the picture.
Sources: www.uboat.net / Século Ilustrado - Arquivo Municipal de Portimão / War Diaries 1942-1945 – NARA – Footnote.com