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The Armistice Day Storm

To the memory of those who never reached port,
the families they left behind,
and the survivors who told the tale.

November 11, 1940

The fall had been unseasonably warm across the midwest. In the early morning people in Chicago awoke to a balmy 55 degrees, oblivious of what lie in store. An intense low pressure area was racing northeastward from the southern plains, covering approximately 825 miles in 6 hours, pulling warm gulf air with it from the south to collide with cold artic air from the north. On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan the storm was first felt at about 2:30 p.m. when the winds veered suddenly and struck from the southwest. By nightfall the temperature had dropped by 50 degrees as all Hell rode in on the back of a screaming gale. Sloshing, much like a gigantic bathtub, water levels in Lake Michigan fell by over four feet in Chicago and rose by an equal amount on Beaver Island as the blinding snow and hurricane winds ripped the lake.

It was near 8 p.m. when the 390-foot Pere Marquette carferry City of Flint 32 was driven aground 300 yards from shore while attempting to make the harbor at Ludington and scuttled to avoid being pounded to bits by the crashing waves. On the 13th her four passengers were taken off by a coast guard surfboat, the crew remaining aboard to assist with her refloating.

The 253-foot pulpwood carrier, Novadoc, was bound from Chicago to Port Alfred, Ontario loaded with powdered coke and was running close to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan when the wind suddenly shifted and roared to a gale. Captain Steip attempted to turn her bow into the wind but became trapped in the trough of the waves off Little Point Sable and was shoved hard aground off Juniper beach north of Little Point Sable lighthouse. The stricken freighter was spotted at daybreak, her back broken and mighty waves crashing over her, as hundreds of local citizens gathered on the beach waiting for the coast guard to make a rescue attempt. After 36 hours of waiting the patience of local fisherman, Capt. Clyde Cross, ran out. Along with his two man crew, Gustav Fisher and Joe Fountain, Capt. Cross fired up his aging fishing tug, Three Brothers II, and headed out into the storm. Coming alongside the Novadoc they took off the 17 surviving crewmen, two having been washed overboard during the night. As the Three Brothers II headed back to shore they met the outbound U.S. Coast Guard, stuggling to keep up in the absence of the cutter, Escanaba, which had been sent to Manitowoc for maintenance in October.

While attention was focused on the City of Flint and Novadoc, a short distance away, the storm claimed two more vessels when the 380 ft. Canadian freighter Anna C. Minch and the 420 ft. William B. Davock, enroute to South Chicago with a cargo of Pennsylvania coal, succumbed to the roaring gale and monstrous seas. For years it was speculated that the Minch and Davock had collided, sending both to the bottom. Investigation of the Davock wreckage, which was located off Pentwater, MI in 1972, indicates this wasn't the case.

The beaches from Big Point Sable to Grand Haven were strewn with debris and bodies of crewmen from vessels lost to the storm. The Salvation Army building at Ludington was turned into a temporary morgue for victims from the William B. Davock and Anna C. Minch who were taken there to await identification.

Most of the 16 bodies that washed ashore were identified. Those that weren't were buried in Lakeview Cemetery. A gravestone, erected by local members of the National Maritime Union, identifies them as crewmen of the Davock and Minch. The grave is located in the northwest portion of the cemetery and is well cared for.

An investigation was later launched to determine why the crew of the Novadoc had to endure 36 hours in life threatening circumstances before any rescue attempt was made and thus began one of the most controversial episodes in local Coast Guard history. The findings were never released to the public and it is said the report burned in the St. Louis fire of 1960.

Also lost in the storm were the fishing tugs Richard H. and Indian, carrying eight men, out of South Haven, Michigan.

Crew Lists

News Abstracts

Storm Lowers Bay, Hunters Walk to Shore

Rescue 17 Men From Freighter

Storm Deaths, Damage Mounts

Guardsmen Safe In Chicago Port

Total of 12 Bodies Held in Ludington

Crew is Removed From Wreck Today

No. 1 Daredevil

Beach Patrolled Throughout Day

Storm Elsewhere

Where's The Escanaba?

Naval Vessels Will Leave Port

Icy Blasts Sweep Parts of Nation

Battered Tanker Safe in Harbor

Hulk of Anna C. Minch is Located

Half of Steamer Minch is Gone

Hear Witness in Marine Inquiry

Added Witnesses Prolong Inquiry

Inquiry at Pentwater


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