The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JULY  2006

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






Roosevelt's Secret Treasure Ship

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

The cargo ship SS John Barry was zigzagging merrily along at 12 nautical knots. (About 13½ miles per hour.) The time was 2200 hours Navy time. (10:00 pm) and the date was August 28, 1944. It was a bright moonlight night with a full moon, so visibility was very good. Seven lookouts were on duty, two forward, three amidships, and two aft (back).

The SS John Barry was in the Arabian Sea, 127 miles southeast of the Arabian Sultanate Nation of Oman. It was destined to dock at the sea port of Ras Tanurah, in Saudi Arabia. Three million silver "Riyal" Arabian coins would be unloaded there. These silver coins were minted in America for Saudi Monarch King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. The ship had left Philadelphia, New York, with a big convoy. They traveled completely across the Atlantic Ocean and then the Mediterranean Sea. But the SS John Barry came through the Suez Canal alone, and across the Arabian Sea. It was long tedious and uneventful cruise. As the ship entered the Straits of Hormuz, everyone was glad that they were almost home.

All seven lookouts reported to the Bridge, "Four Bells and all is well." Then suddenly, without any warning, a torpedo slammed into the ship, amidships, on the starboard (right side). It exploded into the bulkhead below the water line, behind cargo hold number two. The John Barry came to a complete stop as the

Cecil Owen

engines conked out. There was no fire but the entire forward section filled up with sea water. Flooding went through the hatches, as only one was closed. There was no indication that the ship was beginning to sink. But the crew was lowering all lifeboats, and four life rafts in order to abandon ship. Within ten minutes the Skipper Master Joseph Ellerwald gave this dreaded order ...."Now hear this, all hands abandon ship." This drama was being closely watched through the periscope of a Nazi German U-Boat, the submarine U-859. The Skipper was Korvetten Kapitan (Lieutenant, Commander) Jan Jebsen, a twenty seven year old professional Navy officer. He was also a good example of the chivalry that existed among many of the German U-Boat skippers of World War Two for he deliberately waited for thirty minutes before firing another torpedo. This was to make sure that every crew member from the John Barry

was a safe distance away from the ship. That is why sixty six survivors out of a total ship's complement of sixty eight were saved. Then the Skipper of U-859, Jan Jebsen ordered another torpedo fired into the ship. It also exploded squarely amidships, but this time on the Port (left side). This torpedo finished cutting the Barry in two, and both halves rapidly disappeared beneath the waves. Thus the 'secret treasure ship' of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sank down, down, down to the bottom of the Arabian Sea. (8,500 feet). Besides the silver coins for the Sheik of Saudi Arabia, it carried a small present from President Roosevelt to Russian Premier Joseph Stalin. Two thousand tons of solid silver bars worth twenty-six million dollars!

President Roosevelt had spent the last two years cultivating a special relationship with Russia. This present was to be the "Icing on the cake." Most people today still do not understand the reason for this gift because through the "Lend-Lease" aid program of the United States, Russia owned a cool 5.9 Billion dollars! And most of it was never repaid. This was the reason for all of the hush-hush top secret stuff. President Roosevelt did not want to offend our staunchest Ally, England.

Now let us find out just what kind of ship the SS (Steamship) John Barry had been. First of all the ship was named after Commodire John Barry of the United States Navy. John was Captain of a man of war gun ship, the Lexington in 1776. He captured the first foreign vessel, the Edward, ever taken by a U.S. Navy commissioned officer.

The SS John Barry was a United States Merchant Marine Cargo Liberty Ship, especially modified for this top secret mission. The ship was operated by the Lykes Brothers, New Orleans shipping company. But it was owned by the United States Government's WSA (War Shipping Administration). The Barry was a rather large cargo ship, one of over 2,700 wartime liberty ships. It was 441 ft 6 inches long and 57 ft wide, and could carry almost 10,000 tons of cargo. It had already made several Atlantic convoy trips to England and Russia.

The SS John Barry was in the middle of a convoy in the Caribbean Sea when she was ordered by the WSA leave it and proceed to Portland, Maine. Docking there her cargo of 9,040 tons was hurriedly unloaded to be picked up by another liberty ship. Then it was full speed ahead until the John Barry put in to Fletchers dry dock in Hoboken, New Jersey. Here the entire crew including the skipper, were handed their "pink slip" (walking papers). From this time on, everything was shrouded in mystery and was a closely guarded secret.

The ship's new skipper, Master Mariner Joseph Ellerwald had to handpick his entire crew. One of the modifications while in dry dock was a 30 ton crane for cargo hold number 4. Another radical modification was a large vault constructed in cargo hold number 3. It was 25 ft wide, 40 ft long and 8 ft high. It was made of two inch thick timber planks. They were double layered with the planks laying at right angles to each other.

After the ship left the dry dock it proceeded to the Philadelphia, New York Navy shipyard. Fourteen tractor-trailers (18 wheelers) hauled a total of 84,940 silver bars from the National Silver Bullion Depository in Westpoint, New York. The weight was 90 million troy ounces (2,000 tons). This treasure was worth twenty six million dollars! No wonder that it was such a top secret project supervised and guarded by the FBI. And besides all the silver, the SS John Barry was supposed to be carrying two million, four hundred thousand dollars worth of industrial diamonds!

Well, what about the Nazi German submarine U-Boat 859? Believe it or not, the U-859 was also on a special secret

mission... and with special secret cargo.  U-859's secret cargo was 31 tons of Quick-Silver (Liquid Mercury) stored in small metal flasks.  The super submarine U-859 sailed out of Liel, Germany, their home base, on April 4, 1944. Their final destination would be Penang, Malaysia, which was occupied by Japan. But on the way, the U859 would sink 30,000 tons of allied shipping!

Before the ship left port, the skipper's wife begged him not to sail on that date for she had a  terrible premonition that if

he did it would be a one way trip.  Although the sub was very overloaded for the the extra long voyage ahead, even in the crew's quarters they could only move around on all fours and they had to eat their chow lying down. Sacks, boxes and crates were stacked and crammed everywhere. 

The crew consisted of sixty-three submariners and six officers. Two officers were remorseful because they were leaving newly wed brides back home. The youngest officer was Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Horst Klatt, Chief Engineer, who was only 21 years old. 

For fourteen consecutive days in the cold North Atlantic, the temperature never rose above 36° Fahrenheit. And the crew had been issued tropical khaki vests and shorts and because of the increased Allied patrols that were searching for Nazi subs, U-859 had to remain submerged twenty three hours every day. It could only surface at 2300 hours Navy time (11:00 pm) for just one hour. Then it had to be reduced to just fifteen minutes.

Everyone was mighty glad to at least reach their war zone in August. On the 147th day of patrol the U-859 sub came across the SS John Barry. Two Allied ships had already been sunk by U-859.

Then the war patrol was over, it had lasted for around six months. Now it was time to head to the port of Penang and unload their secret cargo of quick-silver. In fact, when the Nazi sub was within twenty three miles from Penang in the straits of Malacca the Japanese were notified of the time of arrival so a  big celebration could be prepared. At Swettenham dock, a Japanese navy brass band was warming up. Garlands of flowers were prepared for the whole crew. A large delegation of Germans and Japanese were assembled along the dock.

Now the U-859 was cruising along on the surface of the water, it could travel much faster that way and everyone was looking forward to a hero's welcome. Then suddenly, without warning, a torpedo slammed into the sub, just forward of the conning tower. It exploded 14 ft below the water line. Twenty seven days earlier the sub had cut the John Barry in two, now this torpedo cut the U-859 in two. Both halves sank very quickly, taking the skipper Jan Jebsen and forty-nine German sailors to their death. Out of a crew of sixty-nine, only nineteen survived. The torpedo came from the HMS Trenchant, a British Royal Navy submarine, the skipper was Arthur Hezlet.

The only officer on the U-859 to survive was First Lieutenant Horst Klatt. Twenty-nine years later, 1973, Klatt returned in an expedition. They recovered 30 tons of the quick-silver for Germany.

Now hold on to your hat! Another expedition recovered 1.4 million of the silver Arabian Riyal coins (17 tons). A giant pincer "grab" was lowered 8,500 feet down to the wreck of the SS John Barry. It peeled back part of the deck like a big can opener. Then it reached in with its jaws and made one huge grab. When the jaws were released on deck everyone was knee deep in silver coins. How would you like to help count that many coins? 

Until bigger and more specialized equipment is developed....  the 84,940 silver bars still belong to King Neptune down in Davey Jones' locker (way down at the bottom of the sea). That would buy a lot off fur coats for a lot of mermaids.