Master John Frazer Jefferson served in the Merchant Navy during World War Two. Born in 1897, he was the son of Jonathan Jefferson and Agnes Jefferson of Belfast, Co. Antrim. He was the husband of Margaret AV Jefferson of 2 Walmer Terrace, Holywood, Co. Down.
He served an apprenticeship with Lord Line before joining the Royal Navy. He served in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary during World War One before joining the Anglo-American Oil Company in 1920.
When not at sea, Jefferson was a member of TVP McCammon Memorial Masonic Lodge No. 540. He and Margaret had a son named Thomas Jefferson who served in the Royal Air Force during World War Two.
John died on 1st March 1941 aged 44 years old. He was on board SS Cadillac when U-552, captained by Erich Topp, sank the 12,062 ton tanker. Only 4 crew members of a total of 42 survived. Several of the crew members hailed from Northern Ireland.
Sinking of SS Cadillac
SS Cadillac was part of Convoy HX-109 carrying 17,000 tons of aviation spirit. The tanker departed from Aruba on 23rd January en route to Avonmouth, United Kingdom. On 13th February, it sailed from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada on the final leg of the journey.
En route, the ships scattered due to gale force winds and heavy snow on 26th-27th February 1941. At 1023hrs on 1st March 1941, U-552 spotted SS Cadillac and another ship separated from the rest of the convoy. The submarine could not manoeuvre into an attacking position. It had to twice evade Sunderland planes patrolling the area.
HMS Malcolm (D19) followed a guide plane to the straggling ships and formed an ad hoc convoy of 5 vessels with SS Cadillac the outermost on the port side. HMS Mallow (K-81) provided a second escort.
U-552 was still in pursuit and at 2356hrs on 1st March 1941, 2 torpedoes struck the port side of SS Cadillac. The highly flammable cargo immediately caught fire and the ship exploded about 150 miles north of Rockall.
As the fire devastated the tanker, the small lifeboats became swamped. Larger rafts were too cumbersome to unload and those who made it to safety found themselves surrounded by burning fuel and toxic fumes.
Remembering John Frazer Jefferson
SS Cadillac had also come under attack on 8th September 1939 when U-52 fired a torpedo at the unescorted tanker. The U-Boat captain claimed the tanker began to sink but the torpedo detonated before striking the vessel and caused no damage.
Confirmation of John Frazer Jefferson’s death came in November 1941. The Belfast-born seaman has no known grave. His name is on Panel 22 of the Tower Hill Memorial, London, United Kingdom. His name is also on the Holywood War Memorial and in 1st Presbyterian Church, Holywood, Co. Down.