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Honoring Service: Fallen Veteran Richard Traill Chapin, WWII

Our reporting on local veterans is a collaboration with RyeVets.org to highlight those from Rye who have served our country across times of war and peace. There are over 2,100 veterans from the City of Rye. Learn more about how you can help research and write biographies of those that have served.

Honoring Service - 062023 - Richard Traill Chapin
Richard Traill Chapin

Richard Traill Chapin was born on April 14, 1914, in Rochester, NY, to Charles H. and Dorothy Traill Chapin. He grew up alongside his older siblings, Emily and Charles Jr., in Rye, NY, residing at 291 Rye Beach Avenue. Richard’s father worked as a sales manager while his mother took care of the household.

Date of Birth: 4/14/1914
Died On: 4/16/1942
Street Address: 291 Rye Beach Avenue
Service Number: 63490
Branch of Service: Merchant Marines – Merchant Marines – SS Robin Hood

During the Great Depression, at the age of 19, Richard enlisted and served in the Merchant Marines. He embarked on his maritime journey, starting with his first ship, the SS Exiria, departing from New York in October 1933. Richard, described as having a fair complexion with brown eyes and auburn hair, stood at a height of 5’10”. Throughout the 1930s and into World War II, he continued his career in the Merchant Marines, sailing the seas and exploring various parts of the world. His base remained in New York.

In early April 1942, Richard embarked on the SS Robin Hood, a 6,687-ton steam merchant ship departing from New York. Its journey would take it through Capetown, Trinidad, and eventually Boston, Massachusetts. As they sailed through the night, the ship followed British zigzag patterns to evade potential threats. Richard, serving as the third officer, manned the starboard bridge wing, along with two other lookouts.

Unbeknownst to the crew, the U-575, under the command of Günther Heydemann, was lurking nearby. At 9:42 pm, while Captain O’Pray was in the chart room, Second Officer Curtis W. Denton alerted him that a torpedo had narrowly passed along the ship’s starboard side. Reacting quickly, Captain O’Pray ordered a hard turn to port.

However, despite their efforts, tragedy struck on April 16, 1942. The unescorted and unarmed Robin Hood, steaming at 11 knots on a zigzag course in rough seas, was hit by two torpedoes from U-575. The torpedoes struck the starboard side, causing damage. The first hit amidships, resulting in casualties and a boiler explosion. The second struck forward, causing further damage and leading to the vessel’s rapid flooding and subsequent sinking within a mere seven minutes.

While most of the crew managed to abandon ship in a lifeboat, unfortunately, three officers and eight crewmen were lost. After spending seven days adrift, the survivors were rescued on April 23 by the USS Greer DD 145 and brought to Hamilton, Bermuda.

Third Officer Richard T. Chapin, a member of the U.S. Maritime Service, was not among the survivors and was reported missing in the Atlantic. Although it took until late 1945 for Richard to be officially declared deceased, his loss was deeply mourned.

German submarine U-575 responsible for the attack, met its fate on March 13, 1944, when it was sunk by a combined effort from the Canadian frigate HMCS Prince Rupert, the American destroyer USS Hobson, the destroyer escort USS Haverfield, a British Vickers Wellington aircraft, two B-17 Flying Fortresses, and a TBM Avenger from the USS Bogue. The attack on U-575 resulted in the loss of 18 crew members, while 37 managed to survive. More on Chapin.

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