Wireless operator was stricken steamer’s connection to the world



By SB Anderson

Lee wireless operator certificate

Photo courtesy James Kreuzer, assistant curator of the Antique Wireless Association (AWA).

Another heroic effort involving the Robert E. Lee grounding was that done by the ship’s wireless operator, Maurice D. Holland.

Holland’s nimble fingers dashed off distress signals that were quickly relayed to the Coast Guard as the ship was taking on water and its generators and engines swamped.

“Early radio signals from the Lee indicated that the steamer was in grave danger of breaking up on the rocks,” an Associated Press story in the next day’s Chicago Tribune said. “The wireless operator hardly could keep his hands on his radio key because of the heavy pounding and it was impossible to launch the ship’s life boats because of the heavy seas.”

Holland a month later was honored with a distinguished service award by the Antique Wireless Association (see above). James Kuerzer of the association has a framed copy of the certificate and contacted us to share the photo after discovering ManometPointMemorial.com.

Below is a short summary of Holland’s wireless dispatches, taken from the AP story. The Chicago Tribune’s story is also reproduced below in a PDF. You can use the zoom buttons to enlarge it and make it easier to read.

Sends Out S O S

Boston, Mass., March 9 –(AP) — A
tale of the wreck of the Robert E. Lee
was told piecemeal tonight in a series
of wireless messages from the stricken
ship.

The first message was sent a few
minutes before 8 o’clock and read:
“On Boston end of Cape Cod Canal.
Trying to get off ourselves. Our lights
gone. Running on batteries.”

At 8 o’clock the vessel sent out an
S O S and the following message:

“On Mary Ann rock hard and fast.
Unable to keep free of water. Send
boats. One hundred and fifty passen-
gers. Pounding badly.”

Rescuers Are Warned

At 8:10 the Coast Guard cutter Tus-
carora notified the Robert E. Lee by
radio that she was proceeding to her
assistance. At 8:44 the Lee sent this
message:

“Six feet of water in the engine
room. Using gas engines. Running
radio on batteries. Power is running
off.”