Naval Q-Ship Atik’s Last Stand
By James Donahue
Q-ship was a heavily armed merchant ship, with concealed guns, designed
as decoys to lure German submarines to make surface attacks. If things
went right, the Q-ship had the fire power to sink the U-boat during a
traditional gun battle at sea. Q-ships were used on the North Atlantic
during both the First and Second World Wars.
were virtually sacrificial lambs during the war. Few of them lasted
more than a few months. The idea was that they would be backed up by
other naval vessels during an engagement. If sunk, the other ships would
come to the rescue of the crew.
1942, during the early months of World War II, the 30-year-old
freighter Carolyn, a veteran of the old A. K. Bull Steamship Lines, was
chosen by the navy to serve as a Q-ship. The old ship steamed to
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where it was loaded with hidden main and
secondary batteries and sound gear and given its official naval name,
Atik. The holds were packed with pulpwood, making them flammable but
harder to sink.
Atik went into commission
in March, 1942 under the command of Lt. Harry Lynnwood Hicks.
the time Atik put to sea on March 23, all of the other available naval
ships were heavily involved in either the war against Japan in the
Pacific Theater, or were on convoy duty in the North Atlantic. Thus
Commander Hicks and his crew were on their own as they steamed along the
was not long before U-123, under the command of Kapitanleutnant
Reinhard Hardegen, came upon the Atik. The submarine surfaced, as
predicted, since the crew was not expecting a problem. One torpedo was
fired. It struck the old steamer on the port side just under the bridge.
A fire broke out and the Atik began to list. U-123 stood by to watch
the vessel sink.
to their surprise, the old steamer suddenly gathered steerage way,
turned toward the U-boat, dropped her concealment and opened fire. The
big guns failed to hit the sub but a blaze of machine gun fire killed a
midshipman standing watch on U-123’s bridge.
managed to get his submarine submerged and turned back for a second
attack. This time a torpedo hit the Atik’s engine room putting the ship
out of commission. Then as crew members were escaping in the ship’s
lifeboats, the Atik exploded. The entire crew of 141 officers and men
any of the Atik’s crew did get away in lifeboats, they were apparently
lost in a severe gale that swept the area just after the engagement. A
naval search of the area the following day turned up no survivors.
Carolyn was launched at Newport News in 1912. She measured 382 feet in
length. The ship faithfully carried freight and passengers between the
West Indies and ports on the eastern seaboard. During World War I the
ship was armed with a battery of guns and a Navy armed guard detachment,
but never saw action.