Stalin's Silver; The Sinking of the USS John Barry

New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1999. First U.S. Edition [Stated]. First printing [stated]. Hardcover. [8], 216 pages. Map Illustrations (mostly in color). Includes Acknowledgments, Preface. Also contains Appendix I: The Significance of U859's Secret Cargo, as well as Appendix 2: The Key Documents, and an Index. The author was a well-connected journalist who spent a large portion of his life as a British expatriate. He was a member of Britain's Voluntary Service Overseas. He was later Press Secretary to the Prime Minister of Fiji and them Press and Private Secretary to the Prime Minister of Vanuatu. He later served as Press Secretary to the President of the Maldives before journeying into Arabia. On August 28, 1944, off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, three torpedoes fired by German submariners aboard U-859 rammed an American merchant ship, the USS John Barry, which was caring Saudi silver riyals worth $80 million, and another $300 million in silver bullion. For 45 years the wreck lay inaccessible on the ocean floor, but in 1989, Sheikh Ahmed Farid al Aulaqi acquired salvage rights, and enlisted the help of the French International Maritime Institute and Jean Roux. Roux had led an expedition recovering artifacts from the Titanic, and now he and his team would develop the technology and the technique to permit an operation of deep-sea recovery never before deemed possible. SS John Barry was a 7,200-ton American Liberty ship in World War II. The ship was built at one of the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon, and launched on 23 November 1941. The John Barry was torpedoed and sunk in the Arabian Sea at position 15.10°N 55.18°E. The ship left its convoy under radio silence to go on a mission to Dhahran in Saudi Arabia when it was torpedoed 185 kilometres (115 mi) off the coast of Oman by the German submarine U-859 on 28 August 1944. Two crewmen were killed in the sinking and the survivors were rescued the next day. The SS John Barry was carrying a cargo of 3 million American-minted Saudi one-riyal silver coins as an American payment associated with ARAMCO. The reason for this shipment (one of several during the war) was that Saudi Arabia did not use paper money at the time and this led to a war-time shortage of currency with which to pay workers building new oil refineries and other US facilities at newly founded Dhahran.

Because the exact nature of the cargo was a secret, rumors spread that the SS John Barry carried a vast shipment of 26 million US$ (1944 value) worth of silver bullion to India as well as the smaller cargo of coins. After the recovery effort of this purported treasure failed, it was discovered that all silver shipments to India were accounted for and a new destination for the silver bullion was theorized, the Soviet Union.

The ship had sunk to 8,500 feet below the sea surface, far beyond the reaches of most undersea recovery methods. Forty-five years later, however, Skeikh Ahmed Farid al Aulaqi was granted salvage rights. Retired U.S. Navy Captain Brian Shoemaker, former General Counsel of the Navy, Hugh O'Neill, attorney H. McGuire "Mac" Riley of Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C., and Jay Fiondella, owner of "Chez Jay", a celebrity-renowned seafood dive in Santa Monica, California, successfully bid for the salvage rights from the U.S. Government. In order to raise the money to retrieve the John Barry they formed a partnership called "The John Barry Group". Contractors from Houston, Texas, were initially involved in the search, and their efforts were later augmented by the Toulon-based Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer (IFREMER). In October 1994, a modified drilling ship (Drillship was the FlexLD, formerly Sedco 445 and later Peregrin VII and now Deepwater Navigator), carrying a 50-ton video-equipped grab designed by IFREMER, sailed to the location of the John Barry. By early November, much of the ship had been excavated, revealing vintage U.S. Army trucks, tanks, and military equipment. Soon after, the first sign of silver was seen. Over the next five days, the grab brought up 1.3 million Saudi riyals weighing 17 tons and showered them onto the drill-ship's deck. The purported Indian/Soviet silver was nowhere to be found, although the salvagers were unable to access all the locations they suspected the silver might rest.

German submarine U-859 was a Type IXD2 U-boat built for Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine during World War II. She was one of a select number of U-boats to join Monsun Gruppe or Monsoon Group, which operated in the Far East alongside the Imperial Japanese Navy. Her second victim was her most famous, and became one of the most famous treasure shipwrecks of the Twentieth Century. The unescorted Liberty ship SS John Barry was transporting a cargo of 3 million silver one-riyal coins from Aden to Ras Tanura in the Persian Gulf as part of an American government agreement with the Saudi royal family; the silver coins had been minted in America for Saudi monarch King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud and were stacked in huge boxes in the hold, and went down with the ship when she was torpedoed at 15°10 N 55°18 E, about 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) south of the entrance to the Arabian Sea. A massive salvage operation in 1994 succeeded in retrieving many of the lost coins. Three days later another unescorted merchantman, the British SS Troilus was also sunk, with six hands drowned. On 23 September 1944 U-859 was running on the surface, within 23 nmi (43 km; 26 mi) of Penang and the end of her voyage, when she was intercepted in the Malacca Straits by the British submarine HMS Trenchant, which had been forewarned of her arrival date and route by decrypted German signals. In difficult conditions with a heavy swell running and a second U-boat thought to be lurking, Trenchant's commander Arthur Hezlet carried out a snap attack using his stern torpedo tubes, hitting U-859 amidships. The U-boat sank immediately in 50 m (160 ft) of water with several compartments flooded, and 47 men drowned, including her commander.
Condition: Very good / Very good.

Keywords: WW2, Naval Operations, Submarines, Treasure, U859, USS John Barry, Straits of Malacca, Joseph Ellerwald, U-859, Sheikh Ahmed Farid al Aulaqi

ISBN: 0312205902

[Book #79550]

Price: $30.00

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