Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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Interesting story of 8 Latvian freighters that were out of the country when it was occupied first by the Red Army and then the Nazis. They continued to help the war effort and by the end of the war all but two had been sunk.
"In their minds, they were fighting the Germans to free their country," said Irina Shneidere, a Latvia University history professor familiar with the ships.
The ships ran a gantlet of German U-boats as they plied the ocean between South America, Europe and North America. Only two survived the war, which left Latvia back again under Soviet rule.
Off the coast of the U.S. state of North Carolina -- later dubbed "torpedo alley" because U-boats sank dozens of merchant ships there -- the first Latvian freighter, the Ciltvaira, was torpedoed on January 18, 1942. Thirty of the 32-man crew survived.
"When it was sunk, it was as if one eighth of what remained of an independent Latvia was gone," said Alex Krasnitsky, the Chas journalist who researched the story with the help of Latvian emigres in the United States.
The Ciltvaira shipwreck near Nags Head, N.C., remains a popular site for scuba divers. On land, a Nags Head street bears the ship's name.
"We couldn't fight back this time, but probably our next ship will be armed, and then we can do something about it when the devils attack," the Ciltvaira's radio operator, Rudolph Musts, was quoted as saying in a 1942 story in The News and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina.
While the Latvian freighters had no significant weaponry, some went down with a fight anyway.
Off the coast of Barbados on February 27, 1942, the Everasma rammed and sank a surfacing German U-boat. But a few hours later, having suffered collision damage herself, the freighter proved an easy target for an Italian submarine. It torpedoed the Everasma, then finished her off with its deck guns.
Most Latvian sailors who survived the war received U.S. citizenship and never returned home. None are believed to be alive today.
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