On August 16, 1918, a German U-boat fired a torpedo at the Mirlo, a British tanker hauling gasoline off the North Carolina coast. The torpedo hit the tanker midship, resulting in a giant explosion. Initially Captain William R. Williams ordered the ship beached. However, when two more explosions broke the tanker in two, he ordered the crew to abandon ship. The men boarded three lifeboats and began heading away from the burning ship. Two of the lifeboats made it a safe distance from the ship, but the third capsized. Another blast surrounded the men in the water with burning gasoline.
Onshore, Leroy Midgett of the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station sounded the alarm to Surfboat Crew 1046, and they set out to rescue the distressed crew of the Mirlo. It took four attempts for the rescue team to make it past the breakers of the stormy waters, but the men reached the site. As the rescue team approached, a wall of fire blocked the crew’s way to the victims and, by the time they reached them, nine already had died. The rescuers brought the remaining six men to safety.
For the Mirlo rescue, England and the United States gave the Chicamacomico Lifesavers their highest awards for bravery.
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