Boat Compass

This boat compass was used by merchant seamen aboard one of the lifeboats from the SS Alcoa Guide, an American freighter sunk by the German submarine U- 123 three hundred miles east of Cape Hatteras on April 16, 1942. The donor, Waldemar Semenov, was a Junior Engineer aboard the vessel and one of twenty-seven men who survived the attack. After drifting for three days, crowded into two lifeboats, they were spotted by a search plane and rescued a day later by the USS Broome, a navy destroyer. A life raft carrying another four members of the freighter’s crew was not found until three weeks had passed, at which point only one man was still alive. Seven lives were lost in the attack.
Nineteen forty-two was a deadly year for shipping in the waters of the Atlantic. U-boats roaming the seas destroyed over 400 ships, including 82 American merchant vessels, in the first six months alone. The Alcoa Guide was the fourth U.S. merchant ship sunk by U-123 in the first two weeks of April. Unarmed and without an escort, the ship was vulnerable as it steamed from New Jersey toward the island of Guadaloupe with a load of U.S. Army equipment for troops stationed in the West Indies, and a cargo of flour for the island. After detecting the freighter, U-123’s commander, Lt. Reinhard Hardegen, ordered the sub to the surface and began firing. Desperate to defend his ship, the Alcoa Guide’s master, Capt. Samuel Cobb, attempted to ram the sub, but to no avail. The bombardment continued and, after two hours, the freighter sank.
Object Name
date made
late 1930s
Alcoa Guide sank
captain of Alcoa Guide
Cobb, Samuel
Marine Compass Company
Physical Description
metal (overall material)
overall: 2 in x 4 1/2 in; 5.08 cm x 11.43 cm
Place Made
United States
Alcoa Guide sank
United States: North Carolina, Cape Hatteras
Alcoa Guide sailed from
United States: New Jersey
Alcoa Guide sailed to
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
On the Water exhibit
The Great Depression and World War II
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Waldemar Semenov
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.