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The Ordinary Life and Heroic Death of the SS Bearport

The SS Bearport, launched in 1920, would freight goods across the oceans of the world for two decades--before a fatal encounter with a German U Boat. Source: Vancouver Port Commission, Photograph Collection, 1917-1952.

The SS Bearport began its long and adventurous life at the Port of Vancouver in 1920. The ship spent its first decades as a civilian freighter. In 1927 its owners changed the name to Golden Mountain, and in 1938 it was renamed the Olapana. When the Second World War broke out, the 6,069 ton ship was drafted into the U.S. Navy as a cargo steamer. In the summer of 1942 the Olapana joined 34 other ships in convoy PQ 17 to get much-needed supplies to the Soviet Union. The convoy began the dangerous Murmansk Run through the U-boat infested waters of the North Atlantic on the 27th of June, 1942. The convoy ran right into an underwater ambush. A wolfpack of German U Boats found the convoy in the mid-Atlantic. The ships scattered and submarines began to pick them off one by one. At 11 p.m. on July the 7th the Olapana was torpedoed by German U-boat U-255. The crew was forced to abandon ship. As the Olapana was sinking into the frigid ocean, the German U-255 surfaced. A German naval officer asked the survivors in English what ship they had been on, the captain’s name, home port, cargo, and the destination of their ship. The Germans offered information to the stranded men on where the nearest land mass was and checked if they had enough food and water. The ship lost only seven of her forty-one men and the survivors made it to shore on their life boats with varying degrees of frostbite. Convoy PQ-17 experienced some of the worst losses of all convoys completing the Murmansk Run. Only 11 of the original 35 ships made it to their destination and they lost roughly 100,000 tons of cargo. You can see this image of what was the SS Bearport and other ships being built and launched in the Vancouver Port Commission, Photograph Collection, 1917-1952.

Written by Allie Hounican