On the 81ST anniversary of the sinking of the USS Atik, remembering a local man lost

March 27 is the 81st anniversary of the sinking of the USS Atik (AK-101) by a German U-boat off Virginia’s coast. The World War II tragedy resulted in the deaths of all 141 US sailors aboard. Volunteers from the non-profit Stories Behind the Stars have memorialized the Atik’s seven Pennsylvania victims, including a native son of Adams County.

Ralph Morgan Deatrick was born on September 29, 1918, in Gettysburg, PA, to Ralph C. and Amy C. Henderson Deatrick. He enlisted in the Navy on June 9, 1936, in Philadelphia, PA. Deatrick served most of his first term of enlistment aboard the light minelayer USS Preble, finishing on the transport USS Henderson. He attained the rank of Fireman Second Class. Deatrick re-enlisted on June 23, 1941, in San Francisco, CA. 

photo USS Atik ex SS Carolyn

Deatrick was assigned to the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and boarded the Q-ship USS Atik on the day of her commissioning on March 5, 1942. The Q-ship program was a secret initiative that armed former merchant vessels with concealed weaponry. The mission of the disguised ships was to sink German U-boats after luring them onto the surface.

On March 23, the Atik embarked on its first mission in the Atlantic. On the night of March 26, a U-boat began stalking Atik. Early on March 27, the U-boat submerged and hit Atik with a torpedo from 700 yards away. Atik radioed her distress under disguised call letters. The sub surfaced and sailed closer to Atik to finish her off. Atik dropped her concealment and opened fire with all weapons, including depth charges. The U-boat evaded Atik’s counterattack, returned, and fired a torpedo into Atik’s machinery spaces. A cataclysmic explosion blew the Atik to pieces. Persistent air and sea searches found no evidence of the vessel or crew until March 30, when the wreckage was sighted about ten miles south of Atik’s original position. 

Deatrick posthumously received the Purple Heart. He was memorialized in the Evergreen Cemetery, Gettysburg, PA. Deatrick was listed on the Tablets of the Missing, East Coast Memorial, Battery Park, New York City, NY. Deatrick was the first native of Adams County from any branch of the service during World War II to become missing in action. The bereaved of Atik’s victims did not receive full details about the fate of their loved ones for over two years. 

Stories Behind the Stars is a nonprofit initiative with volunteers from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries. Its mission is to research and write the stories of all the 421,000+ US WWII fallen and to make them accessible for free on the internet or via smartphone app at each fallen’s gravesite or memorial. PA was home to more than 31,000 of World War II’s fallen. For information on how to help honor these heroes, contact Kathy Harmon at kharmon@storiesbehindthestars.org. See www.storiesbehindthestars.org

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