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Name: Maurice Poba Rank: Seaman, 2nd Cook Service: Free French Naval Forces, SS Fort Binger (London), Merchant Navy Date of birth: Approximately 1900 Place of birth: Mayumba, South West Africa (Modern-day Gabon) Date of Death: May 18, 1942 Age at Death: 42 Cemetery: Our Lady of Calvary Cemetery, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia Commemorated on the Merchant Seamen's Memorial (Second World War) at the Tower Hill Memorial in London, England Little is known about Maurice’s family or personal life except that he was a black man, born in the year 1900 (approximately), in French Equatorial Africa. Based on his surname he was likely from an ethnic group known as the Vili people. Records indicate he was born in Mayumba which is in South West Africa in Gabon. Other records show his birth place as Senegal, and there is a ‘Mayamba’ in current-day Gambia which is surrounded on all sides by Senegal. But - Mayumba, Gabon is more likely. Maurice was 5 feet, 10 inches high and weighed 69 kg (152 lbs.) in 1942. It is not known exactly when Maurice began serving in the French merchant navy but eventually, he would find himself in the SS Fort Binger, a 5250-gross-ton freighter serving in French West Africa. The Binger was seized by the British Ministry of War Transport at Douala, Cameron on August 29, 1940. The ship was used to ferry Free French troops to Port Sudan from December 1940 to May of 1941. The Binger’s crew, mastered by Captain Andre Jean Jacques Joly, included 61 officers and men now serving as Free French, fighting against the Nazi-backed collaborationist Vichy government established in southern France. Based on New York port records, it appears Maurice Poba and the SS Fort Binger made a successful Atlantic crossing in March of 1942, arriving in New York March 17. Two months later, in May of 1942, The SS Fort Binger was attached to Convoy ON 92 with over 40 ships, protected by 4 Royal Canadian Navy corvettes (HMCS Algoma, HMCS Arvida, HMCS Bittersweet, and HMCS Shediac) along with a US Navy destroyer, the USS Gleaves, and a US Coast Guard cutter, the USCGC Spencer. The convoy departed Liverpool May 6th, with the group of over 42 ships coalescing off of the Isle of Islay, Scotland before departing as a group across the Atlantic May 7th. The convoy did not cross the Atlantic without trouble. Wolfpack Hecht located the convoy a few days into the crossing and over the course of 3 days, 7 ships were lost. The remainder of the convoy continued on to Halifax, NS; arriving May 21, 1942. Although the Binger also departed Liverpool on May 6th, it stopped in Belfast, Northern Ireland the following day in order to land an ill crew member - until May 8th, then sailed for New York. As a result, the ship fell out of convoy and had to sail alone, unescorted. By the night of May 17th, the ship had left the dangerous open expanse of the Mid-Atlantic behind, but was less than a third of the way across the mouth of the Gulf of Maine, between Cape Sable Nova Scotia and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was roughly 60 miles south of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in roughly 600 feet of water. Though it was a very dark night, a battle between lookouts of the SS Fort Binger and a nearby German submarine ensued after roughly 10:05 pm local time on the 17th, with the eager eyes on U-boat U-588 detecting the ship and the sub’s skipper Victor Vogel sending two well-aimed torpedoes in the direction of Binger. The Germans were however, outwitted by the Free French, whose lookouts managed to see and anticipate the torpedoes off the port bow. The ship jammed the rudder left to turn to port, with the result that a torpedo passed harmlessly astern and another caused just a glancing blow off the port bow. Fort Binger’s crew, now fully alert, manned their guns and a surface battle ensued. The ship passed over the firing position in an attempt to ram the submerged U-boat, which surfaced 20 minutes later and opened fire with the deck gun from a distance of about a half mile. In all, reports state up to 50 rounds were fired at the Binger, with 7 hitting the ship. No serious damage was done but the shells and shrapnel killed one man - the Second Cook of the SS Fort Binger – Maurice Poba, and wounded four other crew members. The ship stopped briefly after a hit near the boiler room, but then proceeded after sending distress signals and returned fire with the 4-inch stern gun (SS Fort Binger was also armed with six machine guns), firing four rounds which all fell short. After U-588 scored a few more hits on the bridge and the side of the ship, the Fort Binger turned around in another attempt to ram the attacker but failed to build up speed due to damaged steam pipes and then headed towards Nova Scotia. Other accounts state while the freighter maneuvered frantically, trying to ram the U-boat, U-588’s deck gunners fired at least seven shells into the ship without serious effect and that when the range opened sufficiently to allow Binger’s single, four-inch gun to bear, its crew placed four rounds close enough to force Vogel, the U-boat captain, to submerge. In the Madera Tribune (a California paper) of May 19, 1942, it was explained that the Binger waited until the U- boat was within 100 yards of their ship until the crew opened up with their deck gun. It was reported optimistically by the Fort Binger’s captain that he believed they scored a direct hit, because the U-boat disappeared in the darkness. Closer to the coast, fog set it and the U-boat lost contact with the ship at a position of 43°12N/67°05W. Fort Binger headed for Yarmouth and anchored near the coast in the reduced visibility to repair the steam pipes. A lifeboat with six men commanded by the second officer was sent to the harbor for medical assistance, and Yarmouth’s RCAF crash boat, the Arresteur (M-305), brought a doctor to the ship who cared for the wounded until Binger could dock at Yarmouth at 4:30 pm on May 18, 1942. Maurice Poba was laid to rest in the Catholic Cemetery, Our Lady of Calvary, in Yarmouth. The incident triggered a full search for U-588 and it would later become known that she was spotted on the surface the following day, May 19, by the British SS Ocean Honour. U-588 had survived the encounter SS Fort Binger engagement, but less than three months later, the U-Boat was destroyed with all hands July 31, 1942, by HMCS Wetaskiwin and the Skeena. Sadly, a second crew member of the SS Fort Binger, French Messman Hervé (Edward) Girardin (Born in Saint Pierre, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon on March 19, 1893), died June 17, 1942 (age 49) while in port in New York at Pier 19 when he accidentally fell through a hatch on the ship into the No., 3 hold. He is buried at St. Peters Cemetery, in NY (his burial records record his name as Edward Girarden and Edouard Girardin) Madera Tribune: “MERCHANT SHIP BATTLED DIVER Gun Battle Followed Failure of Torpedoes to Reach Their Mark AN EASTERN CANADIAN PORT, May 19 — A shell-battered merchant ship, manned by a free-French crew, has limped into port here after a three-hour running battle with a submarine, in which she dodged three torpedoes, withstood a hail of gunfire and scored a direct hit on her attacker. One sailor lost his life and four were wounded by shrapnel during the shelling attack. In the dead of night, a lookout spotted the white trail of a torpedo heading toward the ship. The helm was thrown hard over, and the torpedo hit the bow a glancing blow, failing to explode. A second and third torpedo were dodged similarly. One narrowly missed the stern, while the last glanced off the bow, and like the first, failed to explode. The U-boat then surfaced and swung her deck guns on the ship, sending 10 shells into her superstructure, smashing the bridge and raining the deck with shrapnel. During this attack Seaman Maurice Poba was killed and the others wounded. The undersea raider then raked the deck with machine gun fire.”
Maurice Poba
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Gabon, Africa
Merchant Seaman rescued from other ships lost in Convoy ON92, aboard HMCS Shediac, May 1942
Sources: Madera Tribune, Number 68, 19 May 1942 Legion Magazine In U-Boats Against Canada: German Submarines in Canadian Waters by Michael L. Hadley