Union Oil tanker remains part of history off San Simeon coast
Times Past: Union Oil tanker remains part of history off San Simeon coast
By Dan Krieger, professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly.An illustration by George Cooper, an official U.S. Coast Guard artist, called The Sinking of the S.S. Montebello. The Montebello was found in 1996 under 850 feet of water, http://georgehcooper.com/montebellolg.htm.
T he broken hull of the Union Oil tanker S.S. Montebello rests on the sea bottom about six miles off the coast of San Simeon.
On Dec. 22, 1941, the tanker loaded more than 3 million gallons of Santa Maria crude oil at the Union Oil wharf at Avila Beach. The ship was set to sail to Vancouver, British Columbia, to supply the needs of the West Coast, Alaska and Aleutian Islands defense effort.
Three weeks earlier, Japan attacked U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor without warning. There were reports of Japanese submarines shelling and torpedoing merchant ships along the California coast.
We have described how the Navy and the West Coast Defense Command officially denied these submarine assaults. No mention of the attacks will be found in the Navy Departments 15- volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II edited by Samuel Eliot Morison.
At 1:30 a.m. Dec. 23, 1941, the Montebello sailed on a northbound course.
A Japanese submarine attacked the Montebello. The statements made by Capt. Olaf W. Eckstrom at the Camp San Louis Obispo Army Hospital were written by E. F. James, deputy collector of Customs, Port San Pedro. They can be accessed through the National Archives and Records Services Centers at Laguna Niguel and San Bruno.
Eckstrom stated that a submarine was sighted at 5:40 a.m. about a half-mile off his starboard quarterdeck. He tried to zigzag to get out of the way.
The submarine appeared to be 300 feet long with a large gun mounted on its forward deck. A torpedo struck the Montebello on the starboard side forward of the No. 2 and No. 3 tanks. Entering the hull, it exploded, destroying the deck house, radio room and tankers superstructure.
The Montebello settled forward quickly and sank at 6:45 a.m. An alarm was sounded, lifeboats were lowered, manned and pulled away. As it sank amidst the bursts of flames, the lifeboats headed to shore about four miles away.
The submarine opened fire on the lifeboats with its deck gun. No one was hit. The boat containing Eckstrom and four other men was struck and then wrecked as it landed on shore. The other survivors were picked up by the Standard Oil tugboat S.S. Estero Bay and the Alma from Morro Bay.
The official denials continued throughout the 1950s, even though local and several San Francisco newspapers reported the incident with photos of the rescued crew. Government agents in San Francisco were sent out to buy all copies of the Hearst paper, The Call.
People involved in the rescue such as Cayucos resident Merle Molinari, a member of the crew of the rescue tugboat Estero Bay, didnt talk about it much, in part for security reasons during the war, and in part afterward because of popular incredulity.
In the 1980s, Jane Bailey and Dorothy Gates described the event in their Morro Bay Yesterdays and Patrick and Eleanor Brown, Stan Harth, Liz and I did in our San Luis Obispo Goes to War.
Patrick Brown, our coeditor, actually stood guard over the Montebello with a short steel rod as it was loaded at Avila before its fateful departure.
On Nov. 7, 1996, the research ship S.S. Cavalier, with marine archaeologist Jack Hunter using the submersible craft Delta located the Montebellos hull under 850 feet of water.
Noted marine artist George Cooper, an official U.S. Coast Guard artist, has painted a vivid and historically accurate image of The Sinking of the S.S. Montebello that can be seen on his Web site at http://georgehcooper.com/montebellolg.htm.
You can see it in person at Sally Segos Gallery by the Sea, appropriately at 6100 Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria, where the flash explosion of the torpedo could be seen and heard 66 years ago next Sunday.... lifeboats and then an order to abandon ship, and there was something in the way ... of Japanese submarines attacking merchant ships along the California coast. ...
www.militarymuseum.org/Montebello.html - 26k - Cached... still to be in the ship 900 feet below the ocean surface, according to officials ... to researchers, two of the Montebello's 10 onboard storage tanks were ...
sfgate.com/cgi-bin/examiner/ article.cgi?year=1996&month=11&day=30&... - 40k - Cached18-SEP-03 - A team of scientists will investigate the Montebello, a tanker sunk near Cambria in World War II, amid ... Close ship anchored Monday through ...