1940-06 The Awful Egg

Cover Date: June 1940
Volume 15 # 4
Copyright Date: Friday, May 17, 1940
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Story Length: 38,059 words
Cover by Emory Clarke
WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f.657-664
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

The Awful Egg by Kenneth Robeson
Drums of the Dead by Kenneth Mac Nichol
No Wings for Murder by Norman A. Daniels
Editor’s Page
Doc Savage Club
Letters From Readers

The cover of this issue features Monk Mayfair. This is the first of a planned set of covers featuring all of Doc’s aides.


The story centers around a cache of gold hidden on an island in the Bahamas. The gold was aboard a German passenger ship, South Orion, traveling from South America to Germany. The German captain was worried about a nearby British destroyer capturing the gold and elected to hid it on an island. The ship was sunk later sunk.

Many of Lester Dent stories have some kernel of fact upon which the story grows. In this case, Dent may have been inspired by the sinking of the British liner S.S. Athenia. The ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on September 1, 1939, just hours after the declaration of war by Great Britain and France against Germany. The Morning News of Wilmington, Delaware in its September 5, 1939, edition carried a long article on the sinking. There was no mention of gold being aboard the Athenia at this time. However, on page six, next to the continuation of the headline story, there is an article about the Queen Mary arriving in New York today with $44,550,000 in gold.

An article appeared in the Chicago Tribune dated Tuesday, October 17, 1955, about the Athenia sinking. Gus Anderson was an American citizen who was aboard the Athenia at the time of the sinking. He was picked up by the City of Flint which landed the passengers at Halifax, Canada. Andersen made his way from there to Washington, DC where he told his story to three congressmen with whom he was acquainted.  

Incidentally, The City of Flint went on to become another famous “firsts” of sorts when it was captured by the German Navy in late October. The ship was enroute to Great Britain with war supplies. The Germans boarded the vessel and declared the cargo contraband and seizing the ship.

Anderson made a sworn statement at the request of the State Department that the ship was carrying gold and armaments. He also claims that the ship was to be refitted as a raider at port in Canada. He based his statement on comments made by the ship’s officers prior to the sinking.

The story becomes even more interesting with an article from Fort Myers, Florida. The News Press reported on October 36, 1939, that the United States Department of Justice was investigating “impressive evidence” that the Germans believed the Athenia was carrying some $22,000,000 in gold and $37,000,000 in negotiable securities. The article reported that the German salvage firm Krupp had designated it “the world’s richest wreck.”

The Athenia was sunk by the U-30, but this was kept a secret until the Nuremburg trials in 1946. The Germans feared that the truth of the sinking and death of 28 US citizens might bring the United States into the war. To this day, there has been no official acknowledgement of any treasure aboard Athenia nor any known salvage of such. The wreck currently rests some 200 meters deep resting on the Rockall Bank near Ireland.

Was the S. S. Athenia the ship Lester Dent used as the foundation for “The Awful Egg?” A clew in the story may answer this question. Ham Brooks makes this statement about the ship South Orion:

“The only South Orion I could find was the name of a steamship. The vessel was of German registry, and it was one of the first ships sunk in the war. It went down months ago.”

In reality, there were no German passenger ships sunk during 1939. The only vessel that matches this description is S. S. Athenia. Dent changed the nationality from British to German for political reasons and made the treasure much smaller.

There are three separate gangs seeking the treasure.

Sam Harmony turns out to be a vicious killer having killed no less than three men. He is the recipient of some extraordinarily rough justice at the story climax.

Elements from “The Sea Angel” are recycled in here.  And of course, there is the dinosaur connection from “The Land of Terror.”

The first page of “The Awful Egg” shows a newspaper page with an article on Doc Savage. Portions of several other articles appear in the artwork. It turns out that these are genuine newspaper articles.

The first page of “The Awful Egg” shows a newspaper page with an article on Doc Savage. Portions of several other articles appear in the artwork. It turns out that these are genuine newspaper articles from “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle” from February 22-23, 1940. Unfortunately, I could not find the article on Doc Savage.  The Doc Savage story went on sale Friday, May 17, 1940.

I doubt that Street & Smith management was aware of the specific detail in this artwork.

Imagine getting arrested for trespassing and then finding your name in a Doc Savage magazine!

German Chemist Arrested