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“Two Tankers Down,” Story of Coast Guard’s Greatest Cape Cod Rescue, Releases

2008-07-21 02:00:00

“Two Tankers Down,” Story of Coast Guard’s Greatest Cape Cod Rescue, Releases

“Two Tankers Down,” the story of the rescue of officers and crew from the tankers the SS Fort Mercer and the SS Pendleton, has been released by Lyons Press. Maritime Writer Robert R. Frump, author of “Until the Sea Shall Free Them,” is the author of the new book, which tells the story of Bernard C. Webber, a young Coast Guardsman who steers his small boat through mountainous oceans. It is considered the greatest small boat rescue in U.S. Coast Guard history.

Chatham, MA (EMWNews) July 21, 2008 — “Two Tankers Down — The Coast Guard’s Greatest Small Boat Rescue” ships to bookstores and customers today.

“My biggest concern is that those involved in the rescue operation feel this does the rescue justice,” said Maritime Writer Robert R. Frump, the book’s author. “I don’t believe there has been a complete history of both rescues of the crew and officers from the tankers Pendleton and Fort Mercer; I hope this book fills that gap.”

Until the Sea Shall Free Them

Monomoy Surfboat launches
Monomoy Surfboat launches

The SS Pendleton and the SS Fort Mercer were two T-2 tankers left over from World War II. Both split apart within hours of each other on February 18, 1952, off Chatham, MA., on Cape Cod. Mountainous waves up to 60 feet high kept Coast Guard cutters at bay in the day before helicopter rescues were common.

The situation left only Webber and the other crews of 36-foot lifeboats available to attempt the rescue. Webber and his colleagues steered the boats through huge breakers and swells in an attempt to rescue the men. Webber and his crew of three all received rare Coast Guard Gold Medals for their efforts.

“Bernie Webber is a part of the folklore of Cape Cod and the Coast Guard,” Frump said. “But ‘Two Tankers’ down gives some new insight into the downside of being a hero and how it adversely affected his life. The heroes here paid with more than a few hours of discomfort and risk; their whole lives were impacted.”

Less well known than the Pendleton rescue was the rescue of the officers aboard the bow of the Fort Mercer. “If the Fort Mercer rescue had occurred independent of the Pendleton rescue, it would be considered one of the all-time great rescues in and of itself,” Frump said. “I believe ‘Two Tankers’ down gives a greater perspective of the intricacies of that rescue than any previous account.”

To write the book, Frump combed through the archives of the U.S. Coast Marine Board of investigation for each ship. His examination dispelled many of the stories that originated at the time, but did not in any way deflate the heroism involved.

“It is impossible to overstate what happened in the course of this rescue,” Frump said. “These were storm conditions where 100 -foot cutters were forced back to port, and yet these small boats got through.”

“This was before the era of rescue swimmers and helicopters and yet these men improvised and with equipment primitive by today’s standards, accomplished miracles,” Frump said.

Frump’s web page with photographs and background on the ships can be found at

The book can be ordered at Amazon at

Frump’s first book, “Until the Sea Shall Free Them” told the story of the SS Marine Electric, a modified T-2 tanker that sank off the Virginia coast in 1983.

As an investigative reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Frump was able to show that T-2 tankers and other WWII surplus ships often had defects in their metal that caused them to fail at sea. The Coast Guard forced owners to scrap more than 70 old ships following a Coast Investigation and a series of articles by Frump and Tim Dwyer. Frump and Dwyer won the George Polk Award for their series.

Frump also won the Loeb Award for National Business reporting for his maritime reports and served on a Pulitzer Prize winning Inquirer task force. Frump lives in Summit, NJ. He grew up in the small town of Paxton, Ill., and attended the University of Illinois and Northwestern University. He and his wife, artist and photographer Suzanne Saxton-Frump, spent many summers on Cape Cod and first learned of the famous rescue in Chatham. He began writing Two Tankers Down in 2002.

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