James Jolly

USMS, Ensign on tugboat Edmond J. Morgan

JAMES JOLLY – USMS, Ensign

James Jolly signing The Log Book.

On 10 March 1942, German submarine U-161 entered Castries and torpedoed 2 ships, the Lady Nelson and the Umtata. James Jolly arrived in St. Lucia in June 1942 as a recently graduated radio operator aboard the Edmond J. Moran, a US Navy vessel dispatched to tow the Umtata to the USA for further repairs.

They got as far as Florida when another German submarine caught up with the laboring Umtata and sank her for good. Mr. Jolly recalls having to cut the tow line to the Umtata to avoid sinking themselves. The crew and passengers were rescued and deposited in Miami.

Thus began Mr. Jolly’s event filled WWII service. Jolly would survive several encounters with German submarines around the Caribbean including having the conning tower of one strike the hull of the Edmund J. Moran as it attempted to dive directly under. Later, Jolly would be involved in the retaking of Attu and Kiska islands from the Japanese in Alaska. He would serve out the rest of the war in the Pacific. On one occasion the ship he was on, the Liberty ship SS Samuel Williston (hull no 2163), collided with something en route to their destination during the night. Arriving safely in New Caledonia they discovered that the round collision indent along the ships steel waterline was caused by a dud Japanese torpedo. Had it detonated the shipment of aircraft fuel on-board would have exploded leaving no trace of the SS Samuel Williston. Jolly was one of 5 brothers to serve during WWII, all of whom would return safely. Two saw action during D-Day with the army. The other two served with the Air Force, one as a P2 pilot in the South Pacific. (The record for service from a single family is 8, more on that in a subsequent post…)


I was naturally intrigued to find out about Mr. Jolly given his connection to the Umtata and St. Lucia. He had a distinguished academic and professional career that saw him involved in the early days of what is now Silicon Valley. He lost his beloved wife Rose of over 70 years in early 2018 and nevertheless agreed to receive and sign the Log Book.

He graciously loaned me a copy of the memoir written for his family “And So It Was” and gave me permission to quote from it. I have included his firsthand account of towing the Umtata from St. Lucia. By pure coincidence, Mr. Jolly signed the Log Book on 9 March 2018, the 76th anniversary of the torpedo attack in Castries.

Last Updated on 27 October 2020 by Lars McKie

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