On October 1, the US Naval Institute tweeted this story of Seaman Apprentice John Urtchok who, in 1943, was swept off the deck of his destroyer. He flailed in rough seas for 40 minutes before another huge wave lifted him onto the deck of a different destroyer. Where did this story originate?
It’s a terrific story and, given the improbable things that take place in war, totally believable. The Associated Press confirmed its veracity in 1943, and the saga of John Urtchok was widely reported throughout the world on April 30 of that year.
But apart from the AP’s syndicated account and this one below reported in the Bureau of Naval Personnel’s Information Bulletin for June 1943, I’ve not found details of the story such as the location it took place and the ships involved. When it was reported, the war was still young, and disclosure of such details would have been forbidden.
Here’s the Bureau of Naval Personnel’s story, verbatim:
Wave Washes Seaman Off Ship. Second Wave Tosses Him On Another
John Andrew Urtchok, S2c, USNR, New York City, had just finished evening chow and was making his way aftto the crews’ quarters via the torpedo deck and after deck house to escape the foul weather. Just as he arrived at the after gun, a mountainous wave hit the vessel, sweeping Urtchok overboard.
“The waves looked like three-story buildings,” the seaman told shipmates later.
Just before darkness, second destroyer with her searchlight trained on the seaman closed in, hoping to throw him a line.
As the stern slid by, Urtchok was lifted by a wave, slammed on the fantail of the destroyer and was grabbed bya seaman who had been aiding in the rescue efforts.
Said Urtchok when it was all over (40 minutes after it began): “Even with the life ring, I thought I wasn’t going to be home again ever.”
And here’s the AP version, as it appeared in the Pittsburgh Press on April 30, 1943:
From One Warship To Another
By The United Press WASHINGTON, April 30
Seaman John Andrew Urtchok of New York City, was washed off the deck of his destroyer by a big wave and deposited on the deck of a sister ship by another wave after he had bobbed around in rough seas for 40 minutes.
This astounding story was vouched for by the Navy today. And it had the official report of Urtchok’s commanding officer to back It up.
Urtchok had stopped for a word with a friend at an aft-gun position. He expressed hope that he would be home on the morrow. His friend answered, “Maybe.” “What do you mean; what could happen?” demanded Urtchok.
He got his answer almost im mediately. A mountainous wave hit the after part of the ship. Urtchok was washed overboard.
A challenge to history sleuths and WWII fans worldwide: find the names of the ship involved and the fate of John Urtchok, history’s luckiest sailor!