BY STAS MARGARONIS
The movie “The Finest Hours” is based on the true story of the U.S. Coast Guard rescue of the crew of a T-2 tanker that broke up in a violent storm off the Massachusetts coast in 1952.
The successful rescue of the T-2 tanker crew was the result of the heroism of the U.S. Coast Guard Lifeboat Station crew at Chatham, Massachusetts and the U.S. chief engineer and his shipmates on the stricken tanker, S.S. Pendleton.
The movie is a testament to the U.S. Coast Guard’s vital role in maritime safety and rescues at sea.
On February 18, 1952, the T-2 tanker, S.S. Pendleton, broke in half in 40-60-foot seas and 70-knot winds off the coast of Cape Cod. The U.S. Coast Guard Chatham Lifeboat Station dispatched Petty Officer Bernie Webber with a crew of three in a wooden, 36-foot-long Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat CG 36500 to search for the S.S. Pendleton. In almost impossible conditions, Webber and his crew crossed Chatham bar, located the ship and rescued 32 of the S.S. Pendleton crew survivors in a boat designed for 12 people. During the crossing of the Chatham bar, huge waves smashed against the rescue boat causing the windshield to shatter into pieces and tearing the compass from its mounts. The result was the U.S. Coast Guard crew had no compass to guide them to the tanker. The crew was left with only a searchlight to help them locate the Pendleton in the darkness.
It is considered to be the greatest small boat rescue in history.
Remarkably, the stern of the S.S. Pendleton remained relatively intact after the ship broke apart. Chief Engineer Raymond Sybert organized the 33 surviving crew members who manned the pumps and kept the aft part of the tanker afloat until the Coast Guard boat arrived to rescue the crew. One Pendleton crew member was killed during the rescue.
The movie, “The Finest Hours,” starring Chris Pine and Casey Affleck is in movie theaters now.
The movie is based on the book “The Finest Hours” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman. It goes into more detail and provides the factual record and history of the rescue. A U.S. Coast Guard investigation in 1952 stated T-2s were prone to splitting in two in cold weather and they were then “belted” with steel straps. This occurred after two T-2s, the Pendleton and Fort Mercer, split in two off Cape Cod within hours of each other. Engineering inquiries into the problems suggested at first the tendency of the tankers to split in two was due to poor welding techniques. Later, it was concluded the steel used in the war time construction had too high a sulfur content that turned the steel brittle at lower temperatures. For mariners interested in the rescue boat crew’s challenges and the success of the chief engineer and crew in keeping the aft of the Pendleton afloat, please read the Tougias book.
A more detailed review of the movie by Rick Spilman appears in the mariners’ news site, gCaptain: https://gcaptain.com/finest-hours-greatest-small-boat-rescue-history-review/?utm_source=gCaptain+Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=99ad13bce4-Mailchimp_RSS_CAMPAIGN&utm_term=0_f50174ef03-99ad13bce4-151817317#.Vri0FCm9Kc0