|Sgt. King Gunther was killed when the HMT Rohna was sunk by a German radio guided missile.|
King P. Gunther never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on May 14, 1917 in Michigan. His parents were also both born in Michigan. His dad's parents were born in Germany. His father was a farm bureau salesman and later a seed handler. Gunther had one younger sister. By 1940 Gunther had completed 4 years of high school and was working as a clerk and salesperson while still living with his parents.
In the spring of 1941 he traveled the 500 miles from Lansing to Detroit and enlisted in the US Army as a warrant officer. He was assigned to the 322nd Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group and was promoted up to the rank of tech sergeant. Sgt. Gunther's unit flew P-47 Thunderbolts. Normally Sgt. Gunther would not have been at high risk to death operating from an airbase miles from the front lines. However Sgt. Gunther died in a tragic sinking that claimed more lives than the USS Arizona but remains largely unknown to this day.
Just after noon on Thanksgiving Day (November 25, 1943), Sgt Gunther was one of more than 2,000 American troops that steamed out of Oran, Algeria on the British passenger liner HMT Rohna. Thanksgiving Dinner this day was watery canned chicken and weevil-filled bread. It joined a convoy on the way to Egypt before continuing on to the Far East.
The next day, in the late afternoon, the convoy was attacked by a squadron of 30 Heinkel He 177A heavy bombers. Rather than using conventional bombs they were armed with Henschel Hs 293 radio-guided, rocket-boosted glide bombs; in other words a primitive cruise missile. Via line-of-sight remote control, the Germans in one of the bombers guided the glide bomb to hit the 461 foot long ship and pierce the port side. The blast created holes in both sides of the ship big enough "you could drive a truck through" plus flooded the engine room. The explosion also started fires and knocked out all electrical -- rendering the pumps useless. The crew discovered that all 11 of the lifeboats on the port side were either destroyed or unusable due to the listing of the ship. They were able to use 8 of the lifeboats on the starboard side but most became overloaded and capsized.
Other ships in the convoy were able to rescue more than 1,600 survivors, but 1,318 troops and sailors were killed. No other single sinking claimed more Allied lives during World War 2. There was no immediate reporting of the tragedy. The Allies did not want to let the Germans know their new wonder weapon worked. In February 1944 a press release reported the sinking of an unnamed ship and the loss of 1,000+ soldiers by a German submarine. In June 1945 the US government finally identified the Rohna and the accurate casualty figures plus admitted it was a loss due to bombing, although no mention was made of the unique guided bomb. In 1948 a history of the shipping line that owned the Rohna finally revealed the ship was sunk by a wireless guided bomb. The US government did not confirm this until 1967.
Sgt. Gunther's death is memorialized at Evergreen Cemetery in Lansing, Michigan.
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