1944, The Henry Bergh, ran on the Farallon Islands


During World War II thousands of Liberty Ships were built to transport war material to Europe and across the Pacific. The Henry Bergh was built at the Kaiser shipyards at Richmond, California in June of 1943 and became one of a only thirty-three liberty ships converted to carry troops.

Her official capacity was 564 passengers but a year later she was overloaded with 1300 home-bound sailors and a crew of 100 as she sailed from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco. As the ship approached San Francisco, a raucous party started that lasted into the early hours of the morning of May 31. A thick fog had hung over the ship for thirty-six hours, but it did nothing to dampen the celebration. A fog whistle from the nearby Farallon Islands, located just north of the entrance to the Golden Gate, could not be heard over the party's din. Currents and wind had thrown the ship's course to the north and at five o'clock in the morning, traveling at a full speed of eleven knots, the ship ran on the rocks of Southeast Farallon Island.

Hours spent in lifeboat drills paid immense dividends.  In the first three hours after grounding nearly 600 troops safely made it to shore -- twenty-five at a time in eight lifeboats and by a breeches buoy set up between the ship and the cliffs of the island. Many arrived on shore after swimming through the frigid water. Rescue ships from San Francisco began arriving later in the morning and by early afternoon the entire company of passengers and crew had been rescued. Despite freezing cold water, treacherous surf and currents every one of the 1400 aboard was saved.

     The ship broke into three pieces  and sank within a few days. The captain was found to have made errors in plotting the course, failing to take soundings and allowing the passengers to be so loud that they prevented the lookouts from hearing the fog signals. Despite his achievement at seeing to the disciplined evacuation of the ship he was demoted to the rank of first mate.


Liberty Ship

My name is Henry Bergh.
Some say I was a dilettante
but I abhorred cruelty and
my widow wept at my funeral.
My name is Henry Bergh.
I'm made of iron and steel.
My turbine is my heart and
my will cuts me through the waves.
The last time I let my joy
seep through my sharp-edged discipline
it made me giddy.
I did not see the island.
I did not hear the whistle.
But I would not leave
before the souls I carried
found a safe place to stand.
And the order of my life,
abandoned for a moment,
held open a window
for a homecoming
to scramble through.