(Story as told by late John Angus Fraser – a cousin of ours – CAPER)

Kismet II during WWII – Liberty Ship (note gun forward and both sides at midships)


Allow me to permit John Angus to introduce the story in his words and here they are. It happened during the early morning hours of November 27, 1955. A very cold morning during the time of year when you can get some pretty bad storms especially here on the Northern tip of Cape Breton Island. It was blowing a gale and snowing.  For the full and detail account of this event please see, Cape Breton’s Magazine Issue Number Seventy.

Early that morning at 6 a.m. I woke Ronie up and told her I heard moose bawling. My wife Ronie looked at me as if I was crazy but it wasn’t long before we heard it again and I said, “Now, Honey wasn’t I right? Isn’t that a moose bawling? Ronie said, “If it is then he is firing rockets out of his nose.”

Sure enough this meant a ship ashore under the cliff in our front yard. The first thing was to call the R.C.M.P. and the rescue party. It was too rough on the water for any type of boat to get near the Kismet which hard against the cliff and being pounded by the heavy seas. As well, there was no way you could get the crew off by land although we got a small cable ashore and anchored it down.

Offshore, the tanker Gulfport had been standing by but the weather forced her to leave.

The Navy rescue operation went into full operation. The breeches buoys, lines and other rescue equipment were transferred to a truck. Headed by a snow plow, the convoy started over the Cabot Trail. They were stopped short of their goal by narrow mountain roads, covered with ice, and small, unsafe bridges. The journey had to be completed on foot.

Sikorsky to the Rescue – Not the Kismet II

Meanwhile, the crew of the Kismet II were cold, wet, their food ruined and now into their second day trapped on the rocks at the foot of the cliff at Meat Cove. An unsuccessful attempt was made to reach the ship by helicopter that first day. But due to the high winds and associated danger was unsuccessful. The helicopter returned to Sydney. Next morning, rested, they returned to the Kismet. The wind was still blowing at from 25 to 45 knots, but it had shifted slightly, perhaps not more than 10 degrees, though there was a chance there might be relatively smooth air hear the ship in the lee of cliff. Arrangements on deck were made enabling the helicopter to land with the motor running and remove the crew, parrot, budgie, ship’s mascot and later found a cat. Several trips were required because of the limited number of crew that could be carried in the helicopter. Navy crew members were left behind on land to accommodate the removal of the ship’s crew.

Sikorsky type used in resue of Kismet II crew

The ship was as described in the table below with a crew of 21, a parrot and a budgie and the ship’s mascot a small dog. She was empty en-route from Philadelphia, P.A.  to P.E.I. for a load of potatoes for Europe. The only way to get those men off was by helicopter and then only when the weather settled down somewhat. Late the following day the wind lightened and a Royal Canadian Navy helicopter from HMCS Shearwater got the crew off and settled at the Navy League Home in Sydney, N.S. where they were provided with a hot meal, warm dry clothing and comfort.

Navy Helicopter Crew – The helicopter crew responsible for the rescue operation, from HMCS Shearwater Naval Station near Dartmouth, N.S. were: Petty Officer Paul Smith; Able Seaman Lawrence Vipond; LCdr Roger Fink, co-pilot of the helicopter; and LCdr John H. Beaman, pilot of the aircraft. The pilots, Jack Beaman and Roger Fink, were awarded the George Medal (presented by the Queen), an award for “acts of bravery and military service. Lawrence Vipond and Paul Smith were each awarded the Queen’s Commendation for this combined effort.

John Angus Fraser wrote his story 14 years after the event. He wrote it as something to hold onto during the rough months after his wife Ronie died – killed in a car accident. The pain of his loss comes through clearly in his story. But what comes through as well is a vigourous storyteller at the centre of his tale. Our thanks to John Angus for sharing this story with us. We admire, especially, his ability to keep alive the feel of good spoken storytelling in his writing.

Kismet II on the rocks hard against the Meat Cove Cliff

We are grateful to the Rasmussen family of Bay St. Lawrence for having encouraged John Angus’s writing and for preserving his work. Over the years after the disaster, more and more people went aboard the Kismet II. They came from all around Cape Breton. Joe Curtis of Bay St. Lawrence told us that when they would be out lobster fishing, it seemed that “you just couldn’t pass her without going aboard again.” As an example, he took off 35 cans of paint, towed them away in the ship’s own lifeboat. The Kismet was so completely stripped that a salvage crew from Halifax arrived; they found virtually nothing left but the shell of the ship. It was a marvelous example of salvage, and of recycling! Brass pipes became drain pipes. Clocks and barometers and valves found new homes. Even the anchor chair was gone. Not surprising, the beer and booze was the first to go.

Wreck Data

Vessel Name Kismet II
Other Names Empire Lorenzo and Baron Elcho
Vessel Type Liberian freighter
Length / Beam / Draft (feet) 315′ / 46′ / 
Tonnage 2,865 GT
Hull Construction Steel
Propulsion Oil / Screw
Cargo In ballast only
Built 1942 as Empire Lorenzo at West Hartlepool, UK (William Gray & Co.)
Date of Loss November 25, 1955
Reason for Loss Grounded in storm
Fatalities None
Last Trip Philadelphia to Summerside, PEI
Wreck Location Off Cape Saint Lawrence, west of Meat Cove, Cape Breton




2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John S Beeman on February 13, 2011 at 16:55

    To the author,

    A very well written account of the rescue. We listened in complete awe when we were able to get my father to talk about the rescue. he was a modest man.

    Sadly my father the pilot on this rescue past away just a few weeks ago (Dec 21 2010) with his 7 kids at his side. We all miss him terribly, not only was a hero in wartime and in peace time, but an amazing father and patriarch.

    I have a few more photos I would be glad to send along such as the portrait of my father receiving the George Medal here in Ottawa from Queen Elizabeth II.

    Also we had the privilege of visiting the actual aircraft with my father as it now sits here in his home town in the Aviation Museum in Ottawa.

    Another great picture I can send along is one of my father shaking the hand of the ships Captain just after the rescue still in his mae west and drenched in sweat.

    Would the author know by any chance if any of the survivors of the Kismett II are still alive today?

    Kindest regards,

    John Stewart Beemen


    • John Stewart Beeman. What a pleasant surprise to hear from the son of a Royal Canadian Navy aviator hero. Please send along those pictures you referred to and I will use them. The gentleman who wrote the story and was on the scene (he lived next to the top of the cliff above where the SS KISMET went ashore.) His name was John Angus Fraser a relative of mine. We visited with him several years ago. He went overseas in WWII as a 16 old and was captured and spent most of the war in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. I too spent 28 years in the Navy and was in during the time your father was flying choppers. Thanks for the comments.


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