We arrived in Durban for bunkers.  I think we had repairs to do there which delayed us several days.  While we were there some warships and troopships arrived and it was rumoured that Madagascar was to be attacked.  This proved to be correct.

Colombo and the naval base at Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) had both been under heavy air attacks so the main naval base had shifted to Mombasa.  Also a Japanese fleet had been operating in the Bay of Bengal, knocking seven bells out of our shipping, so the east coast of India was closed to shipping.  We had some stuff for the Navy in Ceylon and this we now had to take and discharge at Mombasa.  We had quiet voyage up.  We were lucky.  Shortly after we passed up, Japanese subs were operating in the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and Mozambique.  They got a large number of ships.  A little later we took Madagascar and drove them further away.  From Mombasa we went independent to Colombo.  We certainly expected some sort of trouble en route.  The Japs were well on top now, but again we saw and heard nothing.  Much to our surprise we heard we had to go independent to Madras and Calcutta.  That was a poor sort of joke, anyhow on we went.  Quite quiet to Madras.  Between Madras and Calcutta we certainly anticipated some sort of trouble.  Submarines would no doubt be operating between those ports and when you got near the head of the Bay you were only 100 miles or so from Jap held territory.  Just a nice hop for his planes.  He was using some of our planes he had captured.

The last part of the run at the head of the Bay, the most dangerous, had to be done under cover of darkness.  We had a nice quiet journey.  A plane approached us but he kept his distance.  We watched him with apprehension and caution, but he proved to be one of ours.  He didn’t have a nice job.  He had to establish our identity and he knew if he came to close we’d give him all we’d got.  A day or so later a merchant ship did shoot one of ours down.  Very unfortunate, but accidents were bound to happen.  We couldn’t afford to take risks and he had to identify vessels.  I believe quite a number of American planes were shot down off our east coast, that instructions were issued not to fire until ordered to do so by the escort.  These American planes would probably be limping home, injured in a raid.  They were not supposed to fly low over a convoy, but couldn’t probably help themselves.  This latter part is only hearsay, but I would think correct.

Back we go to the head of the Bay.  We just failed to get to the spot in time to cover the last part at night.  Thus we had to turn back and wait until the next night.  That wasn’t at all to our liking, messing around, only a few miles from the Japs and no air protection.  No fighters to spare for our protection out there in those days.  Once again all passed off well and we arrived in Calcutta safely. 

The port was empty and I think we were the first merchant ship to arrive in Calcutta since the port was closed, after the strafing by the Jap fleet.  I believe he got about 30 ships in that little episode.  From Calcutta we went to Vishakhapatnam, just north of Madras (Map16) and then on to Lourenco Marques for bunkers.  I think all this was quiet, the odd submarine was operating in the vicinity of the Mozambique Channel and I heard one ship torpedoed off the South African coast, but our run was unmolested.

We often got submarine reports, but if they were not in your path, you ignored them – or pretended to.  I know I used to work out how far he was away and if he could intercept us.  Between Cape Town and Sierra Leone (independent) we had a little excitement.  About 10pm one night we were roughly 120 miles south of Takoradi (Gold Coast) steering due west, when a ship was torpedoed 50 to 60 miles south.  The sub wouldn’t stay too long in that vicinity and if she came in our direction she might connect up with us, but we got safely clear.  The next day we had a raider warning right ahead in our path.  That was later cancelled.  We had another scare the day before entering Freetown.  They though they’d sighted a periscope from the bridge.  We turned away and zigzagged a bit.  Later we saw the same thing again and was able to establish that it was a fish, so we resumed our course, prepared to be peaceful with the whole world – fish as well.

We left Freetown in convoy for the east coast of the UK about September 1942.  Things were still very bad for us, so we did not expect a picnic.  Actually we were not attacked, although subs were often in our vicinity, but it was a most comfortable voyage for us aboard the Macbean.  About a week out of Freetown we developed engine trouble.  It really wasn’t much, a slack nut on the main engines, but to get at it properly other gear would have to be taken adrift and the whole job would take about 6 hours.  The convoy would go on.  It would take about three days for us to rejoin the convoy – if ever.  We signalled the Commodore and he strongly advised us not to stop.  “It’s most unhealthy,” said he.  We managed to carry on, stopping every other day or so for about ½ hour to tighten the nut as much as practical.  Even that ½ hour stoppage, left us 3 to 4 hours astern.  Stragglers to a convoy were submarine meat.  Escorts were still not numerous.  We could hear the knocking of the engine from Deck and we spent half our time listening to see if it had got any worse.  If we ran into bad weather I’m afraid we should have had to stop.  Luckily we had fairly fine weather and after about 14 days of this sort of thing we arrived in Loch Ewe and the job was finished properly.  We arrived in Hull without further incident, October1942.

Here we immediately got a shock.  The Admiralty were taking us over, fitting many extra anti-aircraft guns.  What it could be fore we couldn’t guess, might be Madagascar, might be Russia, might even be “The Storming of the Bastille”.  We imagined all sorts of things and then we heard of the North Africa landings and of course guessed we were for that run.  It seems incredible how they managed to keep things like that completely secret, but they did.

From Hull we went to Penarth (in Wales, just south of Cardiff) via North of Scotland and there loaded military stores with ”100 octane” in her hold.  “100 octane” is a high-grade aeroplane fuel, not the sort of thing you go looking for with a match – if you found it, you wouldn’t.  Special precautions were taken with this cargo and we got extra money.  Funny isn’t it, why you should get extra money – I suppose explosives aren’t considered dangerous –ha ha ha.

 

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