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WORST WWII LIBERTY SHIP DISASTER CLAIMED LOCAL SOLDIER

Submitted by Chris Moyer

April 20 is the 79th anniversary of the worst US Liberty ship disaster of World War II, the sinking of the SS Paul Hamilton in the Mediterranean Sea by a German torpedo bomber. Volunteers from the non-profit Stories Behind the Stars have written memorials honoring all forty-one PA natives who died in the disaster. Franklin County was home to one of them.


Robert George Boggs was born on March 31, 1921 in Fannettsburg to Robert Mort Boggs and Frances May Boggs. His father was a plumber for a highway construction company.

When Boggs registered for the draft on February 13, 1942, his employer was the Metal Township School District in Fannettsburg. Boggs stood 5-foot 8-inches tall, weighed approximately 132 pounds, and was still unmarried. He fell in love with Helen Diffenderfer. The couple exchanged wedding vows and welcomed a daughter, Kay, on April 6, 1943.

Boggs entered the service July 23, 1942 and was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia for basic training. He also trained at Spokane, Washington, Gainesville, Texas and in Alabama. Boggs was a Sergeant in the 32nd Photographic Squadron, 5th Reconnaissance Group.

Boggs and his unit embarked on the SS Paul Hamilton (Hull Number 227) on April 2, 1944 bound for Venusa, Italy and the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. The Liberty ship departed on her fifth voyage from Hampton Roads, VA as part of Convoy UGS 38. She was carrying supplies, ammunition, and ground personnel of the 485th Bombardment Group and the 5th Reconnaissance Group of the US Army Air Forces. The convoy included dozens of merchant ships, two Navy tankers, and a Coast Guard vessel.

On the evening of April 20, 1944, the convoy was attacked by twenty-three German Junkers Ju-88 torpedo bombers. The location was approximately 30 miles from Cape Bengut near Algiers, Algeria in the Mediterranean Sea. One aerial torpedo hit the Hamilton, igniting the high explosives in the hull. The ship, her entire crew and passengers, a total of 580 men, were lost in thirty seconds. The 831st Bombardment Squadron lost 154 officers and men; the 32nd Photoreconnaissance Squadron lost 317 men. Forty-one of PA’s native sons perished in the sinking of the Hamilton.
The Hamilton’s losses were the worst suffered by any US Liberty ship during World War II. Only one body was recovered from the tragedy. The destroyer USS Lansdale (DD-426) and SS Royal Star were also sunk during the attack.
Boggs was listed on the Tablets of the Missing, North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial, Carthage, Tunis, Tunisia. Bloser posthumously received the Purple Heart.

Stories Behind the Stars memorials are accessible for free on the internet and via smart phone app at gravesites and cenotaphs. The non-profit organization is dedicated to honoring all 421,000 fallen Americans from World War II, including 31,000 from Pennsylvania. To volunteer or to get more information, contact Kathy Harmon at kharmon@storiesbehindthestars.org or visit www.storiesbehindthestars.org.

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