Stan Mayes (Part 2 of 7)
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This section describes Stan's experience with Deep Sea sailing for the first three years following time on sailing barges.
From June 1941 I went "deep sea" sailing as AB and bosun in cargo ships and tankers owned by various shipping companies. Following 4½ years service in coastal sailing barges owned by Goldsmith's of Grays Essex, 15 June 1941 I was to be found at anchor off Grays in Celtic and awaiting orders.
You can find a history and details about Adula on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
Two large tankers were also at anchor off Grays — Adula and Acavus of Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co. A crowd of seamen were awaiting a launch to take them to the ships, and on hearing that an OS was missing, I told the accompanying B.O.T. shipping master I was mate on barges and could I have the job. He gave me half an hour to get my gear and return.
I boarded Celtic for my gear — then ran to my home nearby and told my parents I was going "deep sea". My father pressed a £1 note into my hand and I ran back to the beach and joined ship. I signed on Adula; both ships had discharged high octane at Purfleet and the Chinese crews had refused to sail with hazardous cargoes.
Designed for Chinese crews, the accommodation was for'ard — a large cabin for ten seamen in the starboard bow and a cabin for six firemen/greasers in the port bow with a communal messroom.
Voyages in Adula
We sailed that evening and from Southend we joined convoy EC 34 for Loch Ewe. The channel was closed to shipping so we sailed up the East coast escorted by units of the Royal Navy. From the large convoy port of Loch Ewe in Northwest Scotland we sailed in convoy for Canada.
During this period it was a time of intense activity by packs of U-boats. Before arriving at Loch Ewe the convoy was attacked by Focke Wolf bombers off the Tyne, and again as we passed through Pentland Firth. Some of the ships suffered damage but we suffered no casualties and arrived at Halifax Nova Scotia - another large convoy port, all ships anchored in Bedford Basin. Later we sailed in convoy but after 24 hours all ships dispersed and sailed on independently for various destinations — ours being Trinidad where we arrived at Point Fortin on 11 July 1941. It was a 10 day uneventful voyage from Halifax. At Port Fortin we loaded 12,000 tons of aviation spirit and sailed independently on 18 July for Halifax arriving there on 28 July. (One memory of Trinidad was that there was much Victorian coinage in circulation.)
On 1 August 1941 we sailed from Halifax in convoy HX 142. This convoy had 72 merchant ships and 31 escorts including an Armed Merchant Cruiser - AMC Ausonia - ex Cunard liner. A few days into the voyage, a DEMS gunner on our ship accidentally shot himself with a Hotchkiss machine gun while he was cleaning it and some bullets passed through his body below his shoulder. A message to Ausonia brought a doctor to our ship in a launch and the lad was taken to Ausonia. Sadly the gunner died and a burial service was conducted from Ausonia next morning.
Another ship in the convoy was Northumberland of Federal Line and in service as a troopship - she was carrying units of the Canadian Army to the UK including a Drum and Pipe band. Ausonia, Northumberland and Adula reduced speed for the burial service. 'The Last Post' was played by the band and with the service quickly over it was full speed ahead to rejoin the convoy.
There was little activity by U-boats and we all arrived safely - Adula in the Mersey on 18 August 1941 and we discharged our cargo at Stanlow. In the Mersey I recall seeing the wrecks of two ships which had been sunk by parachute mines on 13 March 1941. They were between Liverpool and Birkenhead. Tacoma City of Reardon Smith (four dead) and Ullapool of Ropner & Sons (15 dead).
When joining the ship at Grays in June we had signed 6 months Running Agreement Articles so could not pay off ship until articles expired. Arriving at Stanlow and sailing time fixed for noon next day, a shipmate and I went over to Liverpool for my first visit to that city. A few beers and we stayed overnight in a Seaman's Club called Ocean House. Returning to Stanlow at 10 AM we found our ship had sailed so we had broken our contract. The Essential Works Order was in force and we were liable to be fined or get a prison sentence. On reporting to the Shipping Office in Liverpool we were told no charges would be made against us and to report to Tilbury Shipping Office. This of course surprised us but maybe were let off because the ship had sailed before its scheduled time - either that or the official had some sympathy with us in knowing we had made a voyage of several thousands of miles with such a hazardous cargo.
A sour note to this story is that when my shipmate and I were in a pub near Lime Street Station, two girls began abusing us and calling us 'Army dodgers'. Later they came back to us and tried to hand us white feathers. This in a great port like Liverpool where many of their seamen became casualties of war! A few RN matelots were in the pub and, seeing our MN badges, took the girls by their arms and ejected them. I had already experienced this in Ipswich. Many of my pals experienced similar shameful incidents simply because they were not wearing uniform. Some of them bought navy blue battledresses to wear in a port where they were not known - it avoided confrontation. We had a small badge with the letters MN and we had as much pride in wearing it as did men and women in the Services in wearing their uniforms.
Tilbury Reserve Pool seamen on Adula were - Mayes., Austin, Griffin, Bibby, Hurdle, Colyer, Brett F, Brett J, Tindale and Billinghurst.
During 1943 Adula was converted into a convoy escort aircraft carrier for service in escorting North Atlantic convoys. During this service she escorted 18 convoys - Clyde to Halifax and Halifax to Clyde. She loaded fuel oil in Halifax and was also an escort oiler to other convoy escort ships.
You can find a history and details about San Emiliano and her loss on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
Joining San Emiliano
Following my leave from Adula I reported to Tilbury Reserve Pool and producing proof of 4½ years service in sailing barges I was promoted to Able Seaman. San Emiliano was in Tilbury drydock and I signed on her on 18 September 1941.
Known to merchant seamen as the Western Ocean, I made four return voyages on the North Atlantic and each cargo was 12,000 tons of Avgas - aviation spirit. Three of the voyages were made during a 6 months running Agreement of Articles - a contract, and a seaman could only pay off with a good reason. My four voyages totalled 7 months and 23 days from 18 September 1941 to 23 April 1942. Master of San Emiliano was Captain J.W.Tozer.
Her Chief Officer for my first two voyages was Mr A.J.Hawkins O.B.E. who had been 2nd Officer of San Demetrio during her epic voyage in convoy HX 84 in November 1940 - "Jervis Bay" convoy. Her crew had abandoned ship after being shelled and set on fire by German warship Admiral Scheer. Later Mr Hawkins and some crew re-boarded the ship and sailed her to the Clyde in nine days. I have a pal Cliff Cottis of Tilbury who was Ordinary Seaman on San Demetrio and helped to salvage her.
San Emiliano: Voyage 1
Sailing from Tilbury we joined convoy FN 521 of 10 ships and sailed North to Methil. The Channel was closed to shipping at this time. The convoy had air cover from Coastal Command with aircraft constantly overhead and all ships arrived safely. While at anchor off Methil, ships from East Coast ports began arriving and later convoy EC 76 of 90 ships was formed and we sailed for Loch Ewe.
Passing through Pentland Firth, a few German aircraft attempted to attack by were driven off by RAF fighter planes. The convoy arrive safely at Loch Ewe in NW Scotland. Loch Ewe was another major convoy port - always busy with many ship movements. On 28 September 1941 we sailed from Loch Ewe in convoy ON 20 which was comprised of 57 ships and 12 escorts. The Commodore ship for this convoy was Port Freemantle. U-boats were in the vicinity for the first few days as we heard detonations of depth charges.
On 9 October the convoy was dispersed and all ships continued on to various destinations and, following a call into Halifax, we then sailed for New York and arrived there on 15 October. At Elizabeth NJ we loaded 12,000 tons of Avgas and on 19 October we sailed independently for Halifax. Halifax was a large and busy convoy port with a natural harbour, and at times more than 100 ships could be seen there in Bedford Basin awaiting orders to join a convoy. There were also shipbuilding yards and facilities for ship repairing and it was a major base for the Royal Canadian Navy.
On 22 October we sailed in convoy HX 156. This convoy consisted of 52 ships and 16 escorts - 10 of the escorts were of the US Navy although the Americans were still neutral at this time and they did not enter the war until 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The Americans escorted our convoys to within 500 miles of the UK. The average British public were unaware of this great help in providing protection to our convoys but merchant seamen knew of it and will be eternally grateful.
The Commodore ship for HX 156 was Nestor. There were also three CAM ships (Catapult Aircraft Merchantmen) in the convoy - Empire Day, Empire Foam and Empire Rainbow. It was an uneventful voyage until 31 October 1941 when an attack on the ships was made by U-552. The US destroyer Reuben James was torpedoed and she exploded into a huge fireball which lit up the sky and I witnessed her loss just before dawn from our position in the convoy a mile from her. Reuben James broke in two with a heavy loss of life; 115 crew were killed but 45 were rescued. U-552 and Erich Topp escaped. The tragic incident occurred 600 miles SW of Iceland. Reuben James was a four-funnelled destroyer; the Americans gave us 50 of these in exchange for the use of Trinidad and Bermuda as naval bases.
The convoy dispersed in the Irish Sea and our ship entered Belfast Lough on 4 November 1941 to await a convoy Southbound to the Bristol Channel.
On 6 November we joined convoy BB97 - 19 ships and 2 escorts and sailed. We arrived and berthed at Swansea on 8 November and discharged cargo. There was much devastation in Swansea from the air blitzes during 1941.
San Emiliano: Voyage 2
Following discharge of cargo we sailed to Milford Haven on 10 November 1941 and we joined a convoy for Bangor Bay and from here we joined Convoy ON 36 of 47 ships and 15 escorts.
The Commodore ship was Glendale and two sister ships of San Emiliano were also in the convoy - San Cirilo and San Delfino. CAMships Empire Ocean, Empire Rowan, Kafiristan, Empire Day and rescue ship Zaafaran were also in the convoy. The voyage was uneventful and the convoy dispersed at 49.24 N, 46.15 W on 25 November 1941.
San Emiliano sailed on to her destination New York and arrived on 1 December 1941 and berthed at Bayway NJ. During our visits to New York we found the people to be very friendly and sociable and many of them came to ships with invitations to visit their homes and we were entertained at theatres and restaurants and were given food parcels to take home to our families. We were also given books and magazines. On one occasion, three shipmates and I were taken to see a performance of Frank Sinatra and as it was in his early career as a singer we experienced the mass hysteria of his numerous young fans - an unforgettable experience.
Normally a tanker is on a quick turnaround and way to sea, but during the war years there was a period of waiting at anchor until enough ships had assembled to form a convoy. And so it was in New York with 3, 4 or 5 days to enjoy shore leave after loading a cargo. There was a large seamens club in South Street. This time we sailed on 3 December independently for Halifax to join a convoy there, and arrived on 6 December. The following day while we were at anchor in Bedford Basin we heard of the attack on Pearl Harbour by the Japanese. Next day, 8 December 1941, convoy HX 164 was formed. This convoy had 46 ships and 12 escorts - 5 of them were US destroyers now officially at war. The Commodore ship was Glenaffric and we had CAM ship Empire Day.
Although there was much activity by U boats in the North Atlantic at this time, we had an uneventful voyage and the convoy was dispersed in the Northern Irish Sea and our ship entered Belfast Lough on 23 December 1941. Here we lay at anchor Christmas Day and on Boxing Day we joined convoy BB 116 for Milford Haven, arriving there on 27 December 1941. BB 116 consisted of 9 ships and the Dutch destroyer Heemskerk was the only escort.
We discharged cargo at Swansea and Chief Officer Hawkins was relieved by T.J.Finch.
San Emiliano: Voyage 3
We had New Year in Swansea - I remember a pub named 'Red Cow', and on 4 January 1942 we sailed for Milford Haven arriving the same evening. On 5 January 1942 we joined a convoy, sailed North and later rendezvoused with convoy ON 54 from Liverpool - the Commodore ship was Melmore Head. The tanker British Destiny was in this convoy - 2nd column/2nd ship and we were 2nd column 4th ship. After 10 days sailing the convoy dispersed and all ships continued on to various destinations. San Emiliano and British Destiny both for Aruba.
We arrived at Aruba on 28 January 1942, loaded and sailed for Halifax on 30 January 1942. After passing through Mona passage we began to receive calls from ships reporting the sighting of U-boats off the East Coast of the USA. This was the beginning of the period known to U-boat crews as 'The happy times'.
More than 500 ships were sunk off the East coast of the US before Admiral King of the US Navy introduced a convoy system. One of the ships sunk there was Canadian passenger ship Lady Hawkins on 19 January 1942 by U-66. About 250 passengers and crew were killed.
On hearing an SOS from a ship ahead of us we diverted course and entered Hamilton Bermuda on 6 February 1942. When darkness fell we sailed for Halifax on 10 February 1942.
At Halifax, the Master of British Destiny stopped shore leave for the crew as many of them had been logged heavily in Aruba for various reasons. During darkness some of the crew launched a lifeboat and went to the shore where they were soon arrested and imprisoned in Halifax. I did not know this at the time but some weeks later a brother of one of the seamen told me of it. Three of them were from my home town Grays.
While at Halifax another shameful incident occurred concerning British seamen. The American passenger ship George Washington had been loaned to us and was undergoing repairs. Many of her crew went on the rampage and caused havoc and damage in the town. A seamen's club which had been recently opened by Gracie Fields was wrecked.
At Halifax, convoy HX 175 was formed and sailed on 13 February 1942. It consisted of 27 ships and 12 escorts. The Commodore ship was Norwegian of Donaldson Brothers.
British Destiny was also in the convoy. A fairly uneventful voyage of 12 days hearing a few detonation of depth charges and the convoy dispersed in the Irish Sea on 25 February 1942. Many ships including San Emiliano entered the Mersey and we berthed at Stanlow. Following discharge of cargo we entered a dry dock at Birkenhead and here the 6 months Articles were ended. The crew were asked if they would sign on again. Some of us agreed on condition it would be for single voyages only and the Master concurred. So we signed off on 2 March 1942 and signed on again the following day.
San Emiliano: Voyage 4
This voyage was entered as "Admiralty Orders". Leaving dry dock after a few days we went to anchor and later joined convoy ON 79 and sailed 23 March 1942. The convoy consisted of 39 ships and 11 escorts; the Commodore ship was Lochkatrine.
Occasional detonations of depth charges were heard and all ships arrived at Halifax on 7 April 1942. We loaded at this port and next day sailed in convoy HX 184. This consisted of 32 ships and 12 escorts; the Commodore ship was Cristales.
There was very little activity by U-boats and the convoy was dispersed in the Irish Sea on 20 April 1942. San Emiliano entered Belfast Lough to anchor and on the following day we joined convoy BB 165 for the Bristol Channel. This convoy consisted of 20 ships and one escort Pozarica - an ex MacAndrews ship converted into and anti-aircraft vessel. We arrived at Swansea, discharged cargo and paid off ship after 7 months 23 days.
The cargo capacity of San Emiliano was 12,000 tons and she delivered many cargoes of aviation spirit to various ports in the UK during the first three years of WW2 - up to her tragic loss on 9 August 1942. An estimated of in excess of 250,000 tons of aviation spirit carried would have enabled many warplanes to operate during those eventful years.
Six Months Articles - Running Agreement
The forced rule was a travesty on the part of the shipping companies in forcing a seaman to remain with a ship for six months - especially tankers carrying extremely hazardous cargoes. Also there was a considerable gain financially for ship owners in not having the expense of signing off and on so frequently and not having to pay for fares so often.
If my pals and I had signed another 6 moths Agreement there is no doubt it would have been our final voyage as San Emiliano was torpedoed and sunk with a heavy loss of life a few weeks after we had left her.
The Loss of San Emiliano
Sailing together for four voyages were four pals from Grays. Myself (AB), Pat Cousins (AB), Mick Snashall (AB) and his brother Ron Snashall (Steward). We three seamen paid off at the end of voyage 4 but Ron signed on again on promotion to 2nd Steward.
San Emiliano sailed from Swansea on 29 April 1942 and later joined convoy OS 27 Southbound towards Freetown. OS 27 consisted of 48 ships and 11 escorts and the Commodore ship was Elder Dempster's Sobo. Before Freetown, San Emiliano detached and continued on voyage independently for Curacoa arriving there on 27 May 1942. She loaded petrol and sailed in convoy to Trinidad on 29 May 1942, then sailed independently for Takoradi arriving 16 June 1942. After discharging cargo she sailed independently for Curacoa arriving 17 July. On arrival at curacoa Ron Shashall was taken off ship to a hospital suffering from malaria. San Emiliano loaded high octane and sailed for Trinidad on 29 July and arrived on 31 July. On 6 August she sailed independently for Capetown.
On 9 August 1942 she was hit by two torpedoes from German submarine U-155 and exploded in a huge fireball. There were 8 survivors from a crew of 48. Captain Tozer was among those lost.
Chief Office Finch a survivor was awarded the George Medal and Donald Clarke was awarded the George Cross posthumously.
San Emiliano Postscripts
Following a spell in a Curacoa hospital with malaria, my pal Ron Snashall, ex. 2nd Steward of San Emiliano, boarded San Fabian for his return home as a D.B.S. San Fabian joined convoy TAW 15 consisting of 19 ships and 4 escorts and sailed from Curacoa for Key West on 25 August 1942. On 28 August 1942 she was torpedoed by U-511. Of her crew, 26 were lost - many of them died after swallowing fuel oil whilst in the sea. Ron survived this disaster by being fortunate in taking to a lifeboat before the ship sank. A US destroyer rescued them and they were landed at Guantanamo in Cuba. Ron arrived home safely after another spell in hospital.
The Shashalls were a well known Tilbury family and father and sons were a credit to the Merchant Navy:
Apart from sinking San Fabian in convoy TAW 15, U-511 also sank the Dutch tanker Rotterdam and damaged Esso Aruba.
- Father Sid was a Pumpman with many years service with Eagle Oil Co
- Arthur (Mick) was an AB
- Charlie was a greaser
- Ron was a 2nd Steward
- David was a cadet and 3rd mate with Eagle Oil
- Fred served in the Royal Navy
You can find a history and details about Viking Star and accounts of her loss on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
Joining Viking Star
Reporting to Tilbury Reserve Pool at end of my leave and finding coasters were signing on crews but no deep sea ships for a while, I asked for and was given a railway warrant to Liverpool on 20 May 1942. Arriving at this great and busy port I booked into the Angel Club in Dale Street - a hotel which was now being run by the Flying Angel Seamen's Mission. I then reported to the Shipping Office and was told to sign on Viking Star on the next day. So on 21st May 1942 I signed on and joined Viking Star as an AB.
Convoys OS 29 and ST 26
On 22 May 1942 we sailed from the Mersey in Convoy OS 29 and later a few more ships from the Clyde joined us to make a total of 47 ships and 10 escorts. Our Commodore ship was Elder Dempster’s Sansu and Viking Star was in position 41 - lead ship of Column 4.
The convoy was bound for Freetown and it took 21 days. In peace time this voyage in a 10 knot ship from Liverpool would be 10 days - South through the Irish Sea - but wartime took the convoy North around Ireland and well into the Atlantic to keep clear of large marauding FW aircraft operating from French occupied bases. It was an uneventful voyage until arrival at Freetown on ll June 1942. At this port the nine Army DEMS left the ship as they were no longer required as we were beyond possible air attack. 5 Royal Navy DEMS gunners remained to man the 4" gun on the poop - defence against attack from the sea. Myself and another AB had gunnery certificates and would have made up the number on the gun.
On 16 June 1942 we sailed in convoy ST 26, but after 24 hours all ships dispersed and continued on independently for various destinations - ours being the Argentine. It was an uneventful voyage of 21 days and only saw one other ship - the American sailing ship Tango bound for Capetown. In recent years I researched Tango and found she had an interesting history.
Arriving Buenos Aires on 7 July 1942, we commenced discharging our general cargo which included 4 racehorses in wooden stalls on the main deck at No 4.
While at Buenos Aires we had a serious fire in the ship's paint store and it was caused by saboteurs who were sympathetic to the German cause. Other allied ships suffered similar incidents including Albion Star. This ship had arrived at Buenos Aires with damage from bombing and heavy weather during January 1942, and it would be 11 months before she left that port again.
Graf Spee had been scuttled off Montevideo and the crew had originally been interned in Uruguay but many were now living in the Argentine as they had elected to live there rather than return home to Germany. We often saw groups of them in the City or at football matches. Also while at Buenos Aires four crew from our ship were admitted to hospital and they were replaced by crew from Albion Star.
From Viking Star 4th Mate J Bleasedale was replaced by 4th Mate W Fox of Albion Star; Chief Steward R. Warren was replaced by Chief Steward C Hill; Chief Cook A Oram was replaced by Chief Cook F Thompson; and 2nd Cook W Bouchereaux was replaced by 2nd Cook P Quinn from Nagara of Royal Mail Line - he had been released from hospital.
Whilst in conversation with the Padre of the Seamens Mission and telling him I was from Grays Essex, he told me he had recently conducted a burial service for a lad from Grays who had been killed when he fell into the hold of the Nagara while berthed at La Plata. Harry Barrell was well known to me as being the son of the publican of the Theobalds Arms in Grays. The Padre gave me a photo of the grave to take home to Harry's parents but they never received it as it went down with Viking Star about five weeks later with among other things a ring for my 21st birthday presented by my parents when I left home to join the ship.
We loaded 6,000 tons of meat into many compartments and then came the long laborious job of replacing many plug hatches and then sealing them with oakum and pitch.
On 3 August 1942 we sailed for Montevideo arriving on the 5th and passed close to the burnt out wreck of the Graf Spee outside the harbour. At this port we loaded 1,000 tons of fertilizers and sailed on the 9 August 1942 where we would join a convoy for the UK.
Viking Star Torpedoed
Sailing independently the voyage across the South Atlantic was uneventful until midday on 25 August 1942 when a Sunderland flying boat appeared and began to circle around the ship. Although we hoisted recognition flags and tried contact with an Aldis lamp there was no response and after a while she flew away.
At 16.45 we were in a position of 6.00N and 14.00W - 180 miles SW of Freetown, when two violent explosions caused the ship to roll over to her port side then came slowly upright again. Two torpedoes had struck the ship on port side amidships in the engine room. I was off watch and in my cabin at below deck - all lights went out and with much shouting we groped our way in the darkness to the companionway up to the poop deck and as we ran along the deck to our boat stations we were showered by debris thrown up by the explosions.
Both port side lifeboats had been demolished in their davits, No. 3 derricks (wooden) were shattered and No. 3 lifeboat was damaged by falling debris and filled with water as it was lowered to the sea. My boat station was No. 3 the only surviving boat, and as soon as we had it in the water and boarded it we began taking men from the sea until it was overloaded with 36 survivors - its capacity was 28 persons.
Captain Mills had been helping to launch the boat then ran aft and took to a raft on his own - he was never seen alive again.
Rafts were launched and men were getting into them. The rafts of that time were constructed of empty 40 gallon drums and encased in timber, but were the means of saving countless lives.
Although sinking, the Viking Star was still moving slowly ahead and was some distance from us when another torpedo struck amidships on port side. This caused the funnel to crash down and the ship broke her back. With bows and stern pointing to the sky she sank in the shape of a huge V - it was a very sad sight to behold. Shortly after our ship had disappeared, masses of wreckage and oil came to the surface and at this time the U boat had surfaced and was approaching us in the boat. We were asked the name of the ship - cargo carried and if any officers were in the boat - to this question we replied they had been lost with the ship. The Chief, 2nd and 4th Officers were in the boat and the 3rd Officer on a raft but none were wearing uniform.
The U boat crew accepted our replies and after taking photos they sailed away and submerged. The crew in the conning tower had included a tall man with a red beard now known to be Commander Ernst Kals and U-130. A few hours after sinking Viking Star, U-130 sank another British ship Beechwood of John I Jacobs Co.
Kals was later credited with sinking 24 Allied ships including three American troopships at anchor in Fedala Roads Casablanca on 12 Nov 1942. He also shelled a refinery at Curacao, and in February 1943 he became Commander of the U-boat base at Lorient France.
Six crew had been killed in the engine room of the Viking Star.
Aboard the Liferaft
Following the departure of U-l30, we soon found ourselves surrounded by many sharks and barracudas and they were after the sides of beef coming to the surface from our sunken ship. We made a line fast to two rafts and used them as sea anchors, other rafts were in the distance. We remained with the two rafts through the night and occasionally sent up a distress flare and these were replied to by the distant rafts. Captain Mills was on one of those rafts and after that first night he was never seen alive again.
At dawn we hoisted sail and attempted to tow the rafts but it proved futile so Chief Officer McQuiston suggested we try to make land in the boat and have help sent to the rafts. This idea was not accepted by the men on rafts and they pointed out that we had been seen by the Sunderland flying boat and our non arrival at Freetown would prompt a search for us. We began rationing the food and water. For each man - two pieces of chocolate a.m., two biscuits and pemmican and a spoonful of condensed milk at midday, and in the evening it was two pieces of chocolate and a malted milk tablet. Water was issued three times daily - half a cupful each time.
The lifeboat was of wooden construction and was leaking badly. Having 36 men in it, we only had 14 inches of freeboard (side above water) so it was being bailed out constantly. During the second night a strong wind caused a choppy sea and there was frantic bailing out as water came over the gunwhales. During daytime the heat of the sun was unbearable, but during the night-time it became very cold and, as most of us were wearing very little clothing, we suffered from both extremes. Our position was a few miles North of the Equator.
At dawn on 27th August the Chief Officer decided to leave the rafts and try to sail to the land, so we took G Patterson Cadet from a raft onto the boat and I then witnessed a very heroic act by AB J. Daintith of Liverpool. He gave up his relatively safe place in the lifeboat to an injured DEMS gunner A. Hancock from a semi-submerged raft knowing he had far less chance of survival or none at all in the shark infested seas. After passing water, provisions, blankets and a large yellow flag to the men on the rafts we set the sail and departed. The Bosun and myself steered the boat as we both had experience, mine being four and half years in coastal sailing barges. We had four hours on and four hours off at the tiller while others were on a rota in bailing out the leaking boat. A metal bailer and empty biscuit tins were used. We steered by the sun and stars as our lifeboat compass had been stolen in a recent port of call. We were constantly accompanied by sharks and often saw many barracudas, dugongs, large rays and myriads of small fish. With so many men in the boat there was much discomfort from lack of space.
Before we reached land, a dispute began among the men who were bailing out the water and attempting to settle the problem the Bosun was struck above an eye with the metal bailer causing an injury, so I remained at the tiller for the following 30 hours. I later received a Commendation from Chief Officer McQuiston. The dispute was caused by some of the crew trying to avoid their turn on the rota. It is incredible that this could occur at a time when we were fighting for survival against the sea, but such was the apathy of some of those men. What a contrast with the heroism shown by Jim Daintith a few hours earlier.
Nearing midnight on 28th we realised we were close to land with the different motion of the sea. The long rollers had become short choppy waves and about three hours later we could see the moonlit land and hear the heavy surf breaking on the beach. We lowered sail to await daylight to assess our chances of finding a landing place but the boat was being swept toward the shore and our attempts to keep the boat at sea with oars was futile. Suddenly the boat was picked up by a huge wave and we were capsized throwing everybody into the seething surf. Then followed a desperate struggle for survival - but survive we all did....
We were very fortunate in having had a following wind from the South West while sailing the boat as we could not sail against the wind in the conditions prevailing - we would have been adrift for many more days unless seen by a ship.
Struggling from the surf and reaching the beach safely, we realised it was very cold so we began to salvage the oars and sail from the surf to make a shelter from the biting wind and we were doing this when we saw a native watching us. The Chief Officer spoke to him but he ran away and then stopped and watched us again. Eventually he was satisfied we were friendly and the 2nd Mate went with him to his nearby village and soon returned with many others and among them was a young woman who told us she was a missionary and had been trained in Freetown. She informed us we were in Sierra Leone and close to the border with Liberia. After she had explained who we were to the villagers we were taken to their village and given a meal of rice and yams. We then entered mud huts to sleep a while.
Emerging from the huts later on we found every piece of our boat had been carried from the shore and was in the village. We were asked if we wanted any part of it but of course we did not. Later we left the village and began walking through the jungle in single file with natives escorting us and they were making sure the way was clear of snakes and animals. After a few hours we stopped at another village and stayed overnight. Our escort returned to their own village but the missionary stayed with us. Here we were given a meal and again slept in mud huts. Next morning we left and again we were escorted and accompanied by the missionary and later that day we arrived at a creek and stayed overnight in a village. A native was sent ahead to Bonthe to inform the District Commissioner of our presence, and next morning we were taken through swamps in canoes to deeper water where a large launch was waiting for us. After thanking the missionary and the escorts we left, and three hours later we arrived at Bonthe Shebar - nowadays know as Sherbro. We were accommodated in the homes of Swiss and French traders - they exchanged clothing, knives, tobacco and trinkets for animal hides, snakeskins and horns. Groundnuts were also produced here and occasionally a ship arrived and loaded the products.
A radio message was sent to Freetown and two days later an MTB arrived and we were taken to Freetown where on arrival we entered a hospital suffering from malaria and other tropical diseases. Freetown was a convoy port, being ideally situated geographically with a large natural harbour. It was also a Naval base and the old Union Castle liner Edinburgh Castle was moored there and in use as a Naval accommodation ship (she was rat infested and at end of war was towed to sea and scuttled). Philoctetes of Blue Funnel and City of Tokyo of Ellerman Line were in use as RN repair ships.
At Freetown we were informed that telegrams had been sent to our next of kin - Ship missing - crew presumed dead. Viking Star had been due at Freetown on the day after her sinking and it was now nine days later. We also heard that the Sunderland flying boat which we had seen had been captured by Germans who had control of Vichy French Dakar - just North of Freetown. They used it to locate Allied ships and would then radio the position to U Boats in the vicinity. The Sunderland was destroyed by a Spitfire operating from Freetown.
As days passed men were being released from hospital and accommodated in a school taken over for this purpose. A hundred or more survivors were already there. Each man had a cot bed which was protected by mosquito netting and here we were provided with essential clothing - suit, shirt, underwear, socks and shoes. Three days in the school and then some of us boarded the troopship Otranto of Orient Line for our return home. Other survivors from Viking Star returned to the UK in Esperence Bay.
On Otranto we met survivors from Tuscan Star. On her voyage from Capetown for UK the Otranto had sighted a lifeboat full of survivors from Tuscan Star which had been sunk by U-109 on 6th September. The Captain, some crew and women and children passengers were in the boat. Two other boats with survivors were rescued a few days later, nine crew had been killed.
Of Viking Star survivors on rafts, they had made the coast of Liberia in 12 days and landed 40 miles beyond our landing place. They suffered terrible agonies of sunburn and salt water boils. Unfortunately R Boardman a DEMS gunner was killed when the rafts were capsized in heavy surf. In Otranto we sailed independently and the voyage was uneventful up to our arrival in Liverpool at end of September 1942.
I was an Able Seaman on Viking Star and my pay was £22.12 s 6d per month. £10 12s 6d paid by ship owner and £12 War Risk Money paid by the Ministry of Shipping. From the day your ship was sunk all wages for the crew were stopped as in my case and was only paid again on my arrival in the UK when I reported myself alive at Tilbury Shipping Office. (Shipowners regarded us as unemployed - without a ship). My wages from Blue Star Line were backdated to the date of sinking and to the day of arrival at Liverpool. The War Risk Money paid by the Government ceased with the loss of the ship. The next of kin of seamen who lost their lives received no payments.
Viking Star Postscripts
Some years ago I tried to contact survivors of Viking Star. During 1967 I contacted Captain John Rigiani of Blue Star Line. He was 3rd Officer of Viking Star at time of her loss and with other survivors he suffered terrible agonies while on rafts for 12 days. We corresponded for many years and on leaving the sea he became Marine Superintendent of Blue Star Line in Liverpool. On retirement he went to live in Chicago - sadly he crossed the bar in 1994. Eight years ago I contacted Cliff Maw in Leicester. He was Deck Boy in Viking Star and later in the war we again sailed together in Dolabella and saw service for ten weeks off the Normandy Beachheads. Cliff and I enjoyed a reunion shortly after our contact. I have also made contact with relatives of crew who were in Viking Star on her final voyage.
Following their leave from Viking Star, three of the survivors of this tragedy - W. Belford 2nd Engineer - H. Wilkinson Bosun - G. Patterson Apprentice, joined Empire Lakeland mid December 1942 for her maiden voyage. Sailed in ballast from Clyde in convoy ON 155 on 19th December 1942. Atrocious weather was encountered on 22nd and the ship lost the convoy, Captain F Gudgin hove to for 12 hours and the ship suffered much weather damage. Foremast heavy derrick crutch carried away signal mast broke adrift - one raft washed overboard - No. 3 and No. 4 lifeboats damaged - several leaks into Masters accommodation, Radio room and crew accommodation all due to bad welding. The ship builders were John Readhead & Sons South Shields. Also the vegetable locker containing 2 tons of potatoes was lost overboard.
With so much damage occurring the Master decided to return to the Clyde. Following a few days under repair, Empire Lakeland sailed in convoy for New York, and at this port she loaded war materials and later joined convoy SC 121 for the UK. West of the Hebrides they met severe weather conditions and the ship lost contact with the convoy. It was 11 March 1943, and a few hours later she was torpedoed and sunk by U-190. There were no survivors from her crew of 56 plus 6 DEMS gunners. Gerald Patterson Apprentice aged 16 of Liverpool only sailed in two ships, both sunk. It was considered by many that bad workmanship by shipbuilders were largely responsible for this tragedy. If the ship had not been forced to return to port which completely changed her schedule she may have survived the war.
This was another example of incompetence and a couldn't care less attitude which unfortunately existed in British Industry during WW2. Strikes in factories producing vital war materials, strikes in shipyards, strikes in docks - but never a strike by merchant seamen. If they had gone on strike the consequences would have been catastrophic. Think about it ! ! ! !
You can find a history and details about Winha, and an eye-witness account of her deployment as a blockship protecting one of the Mulbery Harbours used during the Normandy Landings on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
When Stan sent me these details, the title of his email summed it all up really - "Anything that floated was sent to sea".
Following my leave from Viking Star, I reported to Tilbury Reserve Pool and signed on Winha as AB. Two pals Bob Gow and Pat Cousins also signed on - the date was 3rd November 1942.
Not having heard of this ship before, we were dismayed when we joined her. She was nearly 40 years old and, as the navigating bridge tended to move when the ship was rolling at sea, large steel girders and heavy wires had been fitted to hold the bridge in a rigid position. The steering was controlled by rods and chains.
The seamen's accommodation was in the poop with very small cabins - six ABs in one, and three OSs in another.
Voyages in Winha
The day after signing on we moved the ship up river to West India Docks and began loading military stores with Army vehicles stowed and secured on deck. As a lorry was being lifted by derrick and then lowered to the deck, the mainmast collapsed. It was set upright again by ship repairers and railway tracks were welded into position vertically to support and stiffen it.
During our time in this dock I saw my first 'Fort' type ship; she was Fort Pelly arriving on her maiden voyage -and she was equipped with torpedo protection nets. I went aboard for a 'look around' and found she was managed by Ropner & Sons. Completing our loading we sailed down river and anchored off Thameshaven where we loaded munitions into No 1 hold.
Our cargo was for the 8th Army in Egypt and it would have been a long slow voyage around South Africa as the Mediterranean was closed to through shipping. Later as we were assembling in a convoy off Southend, the ships were attacked by Stuka bombers. Two ships were damaged and two aircraft destroyed. A few hours later as the convoy was passing Sunk lightship, one of our ships boilers collapsed so we were taken in tow for Harwich by a tug.
Following temporary repairs we sailed for the Tyne where permanent repairs would be carried out. As we could only make four knots and were too slow for a convoy, we had an armed paddle steamer as escort. Passing off the coast of Norfolk we entered into a North Easterly gale and making no headway we anchored in Yarmouth Roads using both anchors. The paddle steamer entered Yarmouth for shelter.
Winha carried a large balloon for defence against low flying attacking aircraft and it was attached by a wire to a winch on deck - the wire then passing through a sheave at head of the wooden topmast. During the night the topmast shattered and fell to the deck where it damaged four Army trucks stowed there.
As the wind decreased we continued on voyage and now escorted by a an Armed trawler William Cale LO79.
The following day we were seen by a lone Stuka bomber which attacked us. Four bombs were dropped which were all near misses exploding in the sea but our ship suffered some damage to superstructure. Fortunately there were no casualties.
Sailing off the coast of Yorkshire during the hours of darkness, our escort was in collision with our ship causing much damage. For many years I had believed that the escort had sunk, but much research has only shown a report of the collision and no sinking 6th Dec.1942. As it was we could not have helped in rescue in the total darkness as our ship was equipped with oil lamps only.
Inspecting the damage to our ship we found a large gash on the waterline on the starboard side and much water had entered No. 2 hold. Arriving at South Shields it was decided that the ship would be in port for a long time having repairs to her boilers, and the bombs and collision damage so the crew were paid off on 14th December 1942.
So due to the mishaps of Winha I spent Christmas 1942 at home with my family in Grays instead of being in a slow convoy in the Atlantic. The next time I saw Winha was early June 1944. I was in Dolabella operating off the Normandy beach heads and saw Winha and other elderly ships arriving to be scuttled to form a breakwater during construction of the Mulberry Harbour.
After the war she was raised and towed to Troon for breaking up.
I worked by a ship before Christmas and another early New Year and was then told to join a coaster Yokefleet which I refused. The accommodation was filthy and I was expected to supply my own bedding, mug, plate and cutlery.
I was fined £10 at Grays Court. The Essential Works Order was in force.
You can find a history and details about Cape Howe on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
Joining Cape Howe
With Ron Wood a pal from Grays I went from a refresher gunnery course at Southport to Glasgow. Few 'deep sea' ships were coming to London and there was a better chance from the busy West Coast ports. Ron had recently paid off a troopship Orontes. Prior to that he had been in an old Welsh tramp Llandover when she was torpedoed and sunk by U-124 in convoy ON 92 on 12th May 1942. All 45 crew were rescued by Rescue ship Bury before the ship sank.
Ron and I reported to the MN Pool on arriving in Glasgow and we signed on the newly built Cape Howe and joined her at Port Glasgow. She was a Standard cargo ship of Y-4 type and was equipped with A.N.D.gear - torpedo protection nets.
Voyages on Cape Howe
Her Master was Captain P.Wallace and Chief Officer D.Allan. Many of her crew were from the Western Isles and were a good crew to sail with. Following engine trials and checking the A.N.D. gear we went up to Glasgow and loaded 600 tons of ballast which was brick rubble from bomb damaged buildings.
Convoys ON 166 and ON 169
On 13th February 1943 we sailed from the Clyde to join convoy ON 166 from Liverpool but returned to port next day to land an injured seaman. ON 166 was 31 ships and the Commodore ship was City of Canberra.
A few days later we sailed to join convoy ON 169 from Liverpool and we took Position 114. This convoy had 37 ships and the Commodore ship was the Norwegian Geisha. From the first day we experienced atrocious weather of gales and blizzards and on fourth day we became a straggler during the hours of darkness. Later Baron Kinnaird also became a straggler from that convoy. She was sunk by U-621 - there were no survivors.
We in Cape Howe received a radio message to proceed to Canada independently. We sailed North toward Iceland until we entered slush ice where U boats could not operate and then to a Westerly course for many days until we became frozen in within sight of the coast of Labrador. It was impossible to use the protection nets during this time.
About three days later we were seen by a patrolling Catalina flying boat and after an exchange of signals it flew away. Next morning a Canadian corvette arrived to assist us - tossing a depth charge onto the ice it then steamed clear until detonation. This procedure was repeated until our ship was freed from the ice and we could sail clear.
The corvette then escorted us to Halifax arriving on 16th March 1943. Our ship was leaking due to the crushing ice and series of explosions so we entered a drydock for repairs. Sea water had mixed with the old mortar in the ballast rubble and it was a difficult job to discharge it as it had hardened and set. It had taken 30 days Clyde to Halifax.
A few days in drydock and we then moved to a wharf and here we loaded Army tanks into the lower holds. These were sealed and covered with tarpaulins and then 8,000 tons of grain was loaded into the same holds. Loading completed we went to anchor in Bedford Basin to await assembly of a UK bound convoy.
On 8th April 1942 we sailed with other ships and rendezvoused with convoy HX 233 from New York making a total of 51 ships; Devis was Commodore ship.
More Convoys with Cape Howe
A few days later we met a blizzard and lost touch with the convoy. Sailing independently, we came across a New York bound convoy ON 177 on 16th April 1943 and joined them - but diverted into St John's NFL next day.
Moored to buoys in St Johns harbour was a Dutch cargo ship Madoera and we berthed alongside her. Madoera was a survivor from ON 166 our first convoy. A huge hole was in her bows caused by a torpedo from U-653 on 24th February 1943.
The ship was abandoned by her crew but was re-boarded next day by the Captain and 16 crew who then sailed her to St Johns arriving 3rd March 1943.
U 591 and U 753 came across two lifeboats full of survivors. They took the Dutch crews as POWs but left many native crews in the lifeboats; they were found some weeks later all frozen to death.
On 22nd April 1943 we sailed from St John's and later rendezvoused with convoy HX 235 from Halifax. This convoy had 40 ships with 19 escorts. Another ship in that convoy was Clavella - a Dutch Shell tanker and I found recently that Bernard McIver was a Radio Officer in her at the time. So Bernard and I were sailing within a mile of each other for many days - 66 years ago!! Commodore ship was Pacific Exporter.
It was a reasonably uneventful convoy to the UK with the occasional sound of detonating depth charges. Approaching the Scottish coast, Cape Howe and a few other ships diverted into Loch Ewe on 3rd May 1943. Next day a convoy of 35 ships WN 423 left Loch Ewe for Methil and arrived there on 6th May. On 7th May we sailed in FS 1109 - six ships for the Thames - and arrived London on 9th May 1943 and berthed in Millwall Dock. We paid off the following day.
Research has shown that Cape Howe as a straggler from two convoys in the North Atlantic for many days had sailed through thousands of miles of U-boat infested ocean. It is incredible that our ship passed through the operational areas of 40 U-boats and came through unscathed.
You can find a history and details about Largs Bay on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
Joining Largs Bay
Following my leave from Cape Howe I reported to Tilbury shipping pool and again found that very few deep sea ships were coming to the Thames and after a week had passed without a chance of a job my pal Ron Wood and I decided to go up to Liverpool.
We arrived at this great and busy port early in June 1943 and booked into the Angel Club in Dale Street. This had been a hotel but now taken over by the Flying Angel Seamens Mission. Next morning Ron and I reported to the Shipping Office and signed on Largs Bay and joined her in Birkenhead Dock the same day. The date was 10th June 1943 and we paid off in Cardiff on 5th November 1943. Largs Bay had been a well known passenger ship in the Australian service pre-war but was now a troopship.
Voyages in Largs Bay
Convoy KMF 17
Embarking 1,500 troops of the 8th Army, we sailed in convoy from the Mersey on 17 June 1943 and later joined convoy KMF 17 from the Clyde. Our destination was Algiers where the troops would be engaged in the forthcoming invasion of Sicily.
The ships in this convoy were Britannic (Commodore ship), Largs Bay, Samaria, Silverteak, Tamaroa and US troopships Santa Rosa, Cristobal and J.W.McAndrew. We were escorted by 8 ships of the Royal Navy.
The convoy arrived at Algiers on 27th June.
I had the privilege of meeting late Lieutenant-Commander Arnold Hague during 1991 and he kindly provided me with much information of my voyage in Largs Bay.
Convoy MKF 17
Following disembarkation of troops at Algiers, we sailed in convoy MKF 17 on 28 June 1943 for Gibraltar. The ships were Samaria in position 11, Britannic in position 21 [Commodore ship], J.W.McAndrew US in position 31, and Largs Bay in position 41 - so all four ships were sailing abreast of each other. We were escorted by two destroyers and three frigates of the RN and arrived at Gibraltar 30th June 1943. Arnold Hague has recorded Largs Bay as sailing independently from Gibraltar on 4 July 1943 and arriving at Freetown on 11 July. I have also seen a report of Largs Bay being escorted as a single ship in RS 7 by HMS Ness.
Other Voyages in Largs Bay
Our movements on the West African coast were all without an escort although U boats were still operating in that area. On 15 July 1943 we sailed from Freetown for Lagos arriving on 19 July. Soon after arrival we were having boat drill when the Bosun's Mate fell overboard and drowned. His job was taken by Paddy Fay who went on to serve as Bosun in Shaw Savill ships for many years.
At this port we embarked 2000 Nigerian troops and sailed on 23 July 1943 and arrived back in Freetown on 28 July. At anchor in Freetown were the larger troopships Britannic, Maloja, Tamaroa and Strathmore - these ships were too big to enter Lagos so we transferred our troops to them -they already had other troops aboard from Sierra Leone and Gold Coast.
On 1 August 1943 we sailed for Takoradi independently arriving on 5 August, and embarked a few hundred Gold Coast troops. We sailed on the 6 August 1943 for Lagos arriving the following day. Here we embarked more Nigerian troops.
On 8 August we sailed from Lagos and later we rendezvoused with the troopship convoy WS32 - WS denoting Winston Special. WS 32 had sailed from the Clyde on 19th July 1943; this convoy was well protected by many Royal Navy escorts.
The African troops in the ships were bound for Bombay and on to Burma where they would be deployed in fighting the Japanese in the jungle. An uneventful voyage and the convoy arrived at Capetown on 18 August 1943; here the ships would take on bunkers and stores. The following day we sailed for Bombay and the convoy was reduced to the ships with the African troops. This was still WS 32 and we were then escorted by the destroyers Rapid and Relentless and Australian destroyers Norman and Quiberon.
A few days later we received a report that a Japanese Naval force was in the Indian Ocean so the convoy was diverted into Durban on 22 August. We berthed on Maydon Wharf for six days. Naturally there was shore leave for the ships crew, but the African troops were barred from going ashore. This decision led to a rebellion among the troops with disobedience from orders and fighting among themselves. So a compromise was reached - about 200 were allowed onto the quay to exercise and play football etc for two hours, then another 200 and so on. South African soldiers were employed to prevent them going beyond the dock limits but, come sailing day, about 40 were missing.
We all sailed from Durban on 28 August 1943 and the convoy was now the same five troopships and same destroyer escorts with the addition of two cruisers - Hawkins and Emerald. The voyage of 12 days was uneventful and we arrived at Bombay on 10 September 1943. With the troops disembarked we entered a drydock for repairs and a thorough fumigation of the troop decks -it would be 16 days before we sailed again.
During that time I met a shipmate from Winha - Joe Perreira. He was then on Empire Record his next ship after Winha. Joe had sailed from UK in January 1943 and did not return to UK until after the war ended two and half years later.
We sailed from Bombay independently on 26 September 1943 and arrived at Aden on 2 October 1943 to take in bunkers, then on to Suez and through the canal on 7 October.
At Port Said an Army unit boarded our ship and began to place barbed wire in certain areas. Later 1,000 Italian POWs embarked and they would be taken to Canada. That was changed a few days later when they were taken off again.
Three days later we embarked 1,000 troops of the 8th Army [they had been on a 3 weeks rest period in Egypt] and we sailed on 17 October 1943 in convoy MKF 25 for Augusta Sicily. At Augusta among the wrecks of ships I saw was the wreck of Fort Pelly - she had been attacked and sunk by German aircraft on 20 July 1943; there was a heavy loss of life. Just a few months before I had seen Fort Pelly arrive in London on her maiden voyage.
We were at Augusta from 21-23 October 1943 and embarked many British and American walking wounded servicemen, then to Algiers to embark troops for the UK. We sailed from Algiers on 27 October (convoy not known), and arrived at Cardiff on 5 November and crew were paid off.
On her next trip Largs Bay was severely damaged by a mine as she approached Naples.
Note: You can find a history and details about Neritina on the Benjidog Ship Histories website HERE.
I was on Articles from 7th December 1943 to 1st May 1944.
In early December 1943 my pal Ron Wood of Grays and I went up to Glasgow to look for a job on a 'deep sea' ship. Most of the ships coming into the Thames at this time were coasters as the Channel was still closed to shipping. The few ships that did come to London were in convoys down the East Coast and escorted by units of the Royal Navy. By this time there was also good air cover from Coastal Command. So on 7th December 1943, Ron and I signed on the newly built tanker Neritina at the shipyard of Harland and Wolff Ltd at Govan.
Neritina was equipped with torpedo protection nets, A.N.D. Admiralty Net Defence and her armament was a 4" gun aft - anti-aircraft gun for'ard - plus 4 Oerlikons and 4 machine guns. Her Master was Captain W.Shaw Commodore of Anglo Saxon Co. - he was known as 'Butcher Shaw'.
Voyages on Neritina
Convoy ON 215
After joining Neratina we took part in engine trials in the Clyde we sailed and later rendezvoused with a convoy from Liverpool ON 215 which departed on 9 December 1943.
The total number of ships in the convoy was 58 with 17 naval escorts. These included four ex US four funnelled destroyers, British and Canadian corvettes and Empire Macalpine - a small aircraft carrier. The convoy rescue ship was Accrington of Associated Humber Line. We experienced many days of atrocious weather - gales and blizzards - and a few hours before arrival at New York we had problems with the steering gear which caused difficulty in maintaining our course. Being light ship we drifted across the sea into the other columns and were in collision with the tanker F.J.Wolfe.
Our bows cut a huge gash into the counter stern of F.J.Wolfe and I believe an engineer was killed in his bunk. Our bows were crushed back about 20 feet and the gun on the fo'c'sle head was carried away and rolled overboard in the heavy seas. Our position in convoy was 54 - fifth column fourth ship - and F.J.Wolfe was 75 so we must have had some near misses with other ships before F.J.Wolfe. After repairs to our steering gear we returned to our position in convoy.
According to correspondence quoted by Tom Proctor - , F.J.Wolfe was rather unlucky.
- On 10 Sep 1942, F.J.Wolfe was torpedoed and damaged by German submarine U-96 whilst in convoy ON 127. Incidentally, U-96 was the inspiration for the novel Das Boot by Lothar-Günther Buchheim, which was later made into a famous film of the same name. F.J.Wolfe was damaged between No7 and 8 tanks port side in position 51.30 N, 28.25 W. She was able to continue as part of the convoy.
- On 16 Sep 1942 Empire Soldier sank after collision with F.J.Wolfe at 06.30am.GMT in position 47.35-N, 51.44W. Strangely, according to the Warsailors website - , Empire Soldier was listed as in convoy SC.100 though F.J.Wolfe is not.
On arrival at New York on 28th December we entered Brooklyn dry dock to have our bows rebuilt and this took us well into the New Year of 1944.
As we were restricted by the shipyard from doing work on our ship, some of us crew found employment in the shipyard and docks [with permission from our Chief Officer] and we painted newly built Liberty ships and lashed and secured cargoes on them. We usually worked an 8 hour day for a dollar an hour.
Convoy UGS 31
With repairs completed we sailed for Philadelphia on 21 January 1944, loaded aviation spirit, then rendezvoused with convoy UGS 31 from Hampton Roads for Port Said on 25 January 1944.
In UGS 31 were 106 merchant ships and 26 US Navy escorts. Included were 48 Liberty ships with many of them carrying troops for the North African campaign. Another six Liberty ships were 'Sam' boats flying the Red Ensign. Research shows that we had a reasonably quiet trip with little attention from U boats.
On 11th February a few ships including Neritina left the convoy and diverted into Casablanca where we found total devastation in the port area. Three months earlier on 8th November 1943 Casablanca had been bombarded by US naval ships. 10 passenger and cargo ships of Vichy France were sunk alongside berths, and 11 of their warships, which included 3 submarines, were also sunk - hundreds of casualties were caused during the onslaught. It was the Western area of Operation Torch - the Allied invasion of North Africa.
As all berths were occupied by sunken ships, we lowered both anchors and moored our stern to the breakwater.
A postscript to this is that four days after the occupation of Casablanca by US forces, U-130 Commander Ernst Kals sank three US troopships at anchor in the heavily guarded area outside the port. U-130 was the U boat which sank my ship Viking Star on 25th August 1942.
Convoys TAG 123 and TAG 124
We took on bunkers and stores and joined convoy TAG 123 for Curacao - Arnold Hague records 35 ships in this convoy which included two neutral ships - La Salina Venezuelan and Marques de Comillas Spanish.
TAG convoys operated Trinidad-Aruba-Guantanamo and ships for Curacao would divert into that port as we did. At Bullen Bay Curacao we loaded petrol and diesel for Dublin. Five days in Curacao which was very welcomed [my sub book records a £10 sub] and we then sailed on 31 March 1944 and later rendezvoused with convoy TAG 124 and arrived at Guantanamo Bay on 3 April 1944. This convoy was 18 ships and Arnold Hague records one of them as the neutral ship Harpon of Argentina.
Harpon was built in 1897 in Germany and I saw her again in 1957 in Tilbury Docks. Among her cargo she had rotting sacks of hoof and horn and it was infested with maggots. Dockers refused to handle it until 'the price was right'. I believe the ship went to the breakers from Tilbury - 60 years old.
Convoys GN 124 and HX 287
From Guantanamo we joined convoy GN 124 and sailed same day. This convoy was from Guantanamo to New York and consisted of 29 ships. We arrived at New York on 10 April 1944 and sailed again on 12 April in HX 287.
With more ships joining from Halifax we then had 72 ships. Of these, 42 were US flagged Liberty ships all deeply loaded with war materials and having deck cargoes of small invasion barges and crated aircraft for the planned invasion of Normandy.
One of the Liberty ships was Jeremiah O'Brien on her maiden voyage and I would be seeing her again very soon off Omaha beach head during the invasion - I was then in Dolabella.
We had 17 escorts for this very important convoy and MacAndrews Pinto was Rescue Ship - the voyage was uneventful. The convoy arrived Liverpool 26 April 1944, but before that our ship had diverted to Belfast Lough and anchored.
A Royal Navy unit boarded us and removed the breech blocks from guns and these with the machine guns and all ammunition was taken ashore. The reason - we were bound for Dublin and Ireland was neutral. Most of the crew were very upset in hearing of our destination. There were many rumours that U boats were using small remote ports in Southern Ireland - and President de Valera was not pro-British.
We made the trip from Belfast to Dublin during the hours of darkness. At Dublin we had a bad start from the Customs when they confiscated all books, magazines and newspapers which we had been given by the Seamen's Mission in New York - but this was more than compensated for by the wonderful welcome of the very friendly people we met there. We had arrived Dublin 26 April 1944.
Our visit to Dublin will be forever in my memory as one of the happiest times in my sea life. A pub only 50 feet from the gangway and the company of some of the nicest people I ever met who knew how to enjoy life. We had sailed from Dublin for Liverpool where we were paid off on 1st May 1944.