THE ROHNA STORY
“It’s not that we forgot. It’s that we never knew.” —Charles Osgood
The HMT Rohna left North Africa on November 25, 1943 with 1,981 American soldiers on board. The Rohna was part of a 24 ship convoy heading to the China-Burma-India Theater to support the allied war efforts against Japan. The ships were venturing down Suicide Alley, a dangerous stretch of the Mediterranean Sea known for German attacks.
The following day, 21 German bombers carrying one of Hitler’s secret weapons attacked the convoy in two separate waves without any successful hits. As the allied troops within the convoy let out a sigh of relief, one last bomber plane returned and launched the last radio-guided missile of the attack straight into the side of the Rohna.
It was the greatest loss of troops at sea by enemy action in US history.
The attack killed 1,015 US soldiers. It’s estimated that 300 men were killed on impact, and most of the remaining soldiers died either trying to get off the sinking ship or in the water waiting to be rescued. Unbeknownst to the troops who were aboard the overcrowded ship, there were only 22 lifeboats — and most of them were non-functioning.
The first guided-missile ever used against the US.
The Rohna attack was historic in many ways. Beside’s being the largest loss of troops at sea by enemy action in US history, it was the first time a radio-guided missile was ever used against the US. The War Department swiftly classified the attack ordering all of the 966 survivors not to talk or write home about it under a threat of court-martial. By the time the war was over, most of the survivors went home with their painful story buried deep inside as they tried to forget their secret tale of that fateful night.
The War Department classified the Rohna attack indefinitely.
The War Department’s decision to cover up the attack kept the story out of WWII history books and was virtually never mentioned for 50 years. The families of those who were killed in the Rohna attack were never told what happened to their loved ones. There were no War Department phone calls, letters, or visits made providing information that would bring closure to the families. Most of the bodies of the soldiers were never recovered and in most cases, there were no funeral services or burials for the forgotten soldiers. Six months after the attack, the Gold Star families back home finally received one short paragraph confirming the demise of their sons and husbands in a telegram that also stated that there was no information available. That was it; the boys just never came home.
The the Rohna attack was left out of the history books.
While the War Department was holding back information about the Rohna attack from the public, they were also misleading 1,015 families giving them false hope that their loved ones were still alive even though the War Department confirmed the casualties shortly after the attack. All of the Gold Star families went through unnecessary pain and anguish from not knowing the truth. Things only got worse for the families who were desperate to find out information about how their boys were killed. The stonewalling continued as most of the Gold Star families went to their own graves never knowing anything about the Rohna attack or how their hero died. The historic attack was covered-up, left out of the history books and forgotten along with the men who were killed that day.