by Marshall Jamison
The Time: January 1944.
Men who’d sailed the North Atlantic in convoy for up to four or more years began to breathe a little easier on the crossings from Boston and Halifax to the waiting ports in England. It looked then as if the U-Boat Wolfpack that had used the merchant ships as targets for their torpedoes for those years were almost cleared from the North Atlantic.
The so-called “Victory” and “Liberty” ships together with the old hog backs began to enter Britain’s channel ports like South Hampton to discharge their cargos of ammunition, tanks, jeeps and combat equipment in preparation for the Allied invasion of Europe.
The Liberty ship, subject of this history, was making its sixth or seventh Atlantic crossing of the war. On those previous trips she had visited the reception ports of Liverpool, Cardiff, Wales, Belfast, Ireland and several ports in Scotland.
Somehow the Vessel had weathered three or four years of North Atlantic gales in comparative safety. Sailors who have experienced such crossings will tell you without exaggeration that in Winter the Atlantic is a very tough body of water to cross. And on January second, the ship emptied of its military heavy cargo sailed from the Clyde river in Scotland for the port of Boston, Massachusetts, with orders to join a small convoy en route. It was a trip to be remembered over fifty years later. With fear.
The fury of a North Atlantic storm hit the convoy on the first night out. Blown apart, the ships never regained their convoy positions but sailed on into the wild elements alone. A Liberty ship is a virtual big tub which will travel through the sea, loaded or laden with cargo or ballast pretty well.
When empty or without sufficient ballast to steady the rolling side to side movement, the vessel rolls. Left, then right, left again, right so far that it seems it will never be able to come back. It’s a heart stopping moment for the most experienced sailor.
On that trip veterans who had sailed for years wept openly in fear for their lives. The Captain, a seasoned master, who had been torpedoed earlier in the war, took to his bunk, sea sick, except for a brief visit to the flying bridge to verify the ship’s position on occasion. That showed very little progress against the gale winds that raked her bow to stern.
The ship’s stores of food were depleted after two weeks but the listless crew seemed almost uncaring. Fear was all consuming.
The few men who were able to eat found that the stores which were left consisted of Army K-Rations, rat cheese and kidney stew! Even that poor fare ran out two days before the Boston lightship was sighted. The frightening fear that ruled the ship from stern to stem for weeks began to fade at that glorious moment.
So a trip that usually took almost ten or eleven days lasted for what seemed an eternity of thirty! Thirty days from the River Clyde to Boston Harbor! Unbelievable!
The next trip for the ship and her veteran crew several months later seemed a far less dangerous assignment weather-wise. There they carried seven hundred combat troops across the English Channel to Omaha Beach.
But as the Bosun later reported that was pretty easy ” ’cause the Channel water was flat calm!”