Dec 11

Honoring USS Eagle (PE-56)

Wednesday, December 11, 2019 10:49 AM

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The Current USS Eagle (PE-56) Memorial Plaque in Cape Elizabeth, Maine

I received an email this morning from a Naval Institute friend that I wanted to share about a new memorial which is replacing an old one. In part, the email read:

During World War II, on April 23, 1945, the USS Eagle 56 was sunk by a German submarine about five miles off the coast of Cape Elizabeth. 49 sailors were killed in action; 13 survived. A memorial is currently located at Fort Williams Park to the right of the lighthouse, when facing the water, between the two binoculars. On November 21, 2019 Steve Lyons, Cape Elizabeth, and Paul Lawton, Naval Historian presented a request to the Fort Williams Park Committee to replace the USS Eagle 56 memorial with a new granite monument at the same location. The monument will list the names of the sailors onboard noting those who were killed in action; family members will cover the cost. In addition, they requested approval for a 75th anniversary commemoration at the memorial on Saturday, May 2, 2020, 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. The Fort Williams Park Committee approved the recommendations 5-0. 

After viewing the email, I checked the Naval Institute’s archive to see if we ever published an article about this incident. As recently as the July 2014 issue of Naval History, there was a paragraph about the USS Eagle (PE-56) in Robert Cressman’s historic fleets piece, “Prepared for the Work of War” which I will share with you here:

“Ironically, the only Eagle to be lost to enemy action proved to be the victim of a U-boat. On the afternoon of 23 April 1945, U-853 torpedoed the Eagle 56 (PE-56), commanded by Naval Reserve Lieutenant James G. Early, south-southeast of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. A massive explosion tore the Eagle 56 in two, the stern section going down in two minutes, the bow about 15 minutes later, taking Lieutenant Early and 47 other men with her. Only Lieutenant (junior grade) John P. Scagnelli, USNR, the engineer officer, and 12 enlisted men survived the sinking to be picked up by the Selfridge (DD-357) about a half-hour later. The destroyer then dropped nine depth charges on a sonar contact but with no visible effect.”

The USS Selfridge rescued the survivors of the USS Eagle (PE-56).

Previously, in the August 2008 issue of Naval History magazine, Lieutenant Robert Bent, USNR shared another interesting detail:

“Many of the survivors believed they had been torpedoed and reported seeing the conning tower of a submarine with a distinctive insignia painted on it. The Navy, however, claimed the Eagle had exploded from a faulty boiler, and did not accept the U-boat sighting as factual.

Subsequent visits to the wreck of the U-853 showed the identical insignia still visible, and it was not until 2001 that the Navy accepted what had really happened. Purple Heart medals were awarded to surviving and deceased Eagle crew”

 

Seventy-five years later, the family members of the sailors killed in action will finally see the lost crew members’ names memorialized at the Cape Elizabeth, Maine site. They are not forgotten.