In Gibraltar you weren’t left alone.  Enemy agents swam from Spanish territory at night, fixed small mines to ships and then cleared off back.  These mines were enough to damage a ship and she would sink in the shallow waters.  Later she would be salvaged, but for the time being she was finished.  To counter attack this, our motorboats patrolled the Bay all night, throwing depth charges over at intervals.  There’s a heavy concussion from these small depth charges and anyone in the water near by would get a terrific shock.  Any Spanish boats coming close you fired on with a rifle.  He still got an occasional ship by these mines.  These bangs from our depth charges kept you fairly jumping all night.

We now come to the really dangerous part of the voyage.  It was only about 450 miles from Gibraltar to Algiers and would take about two to two and a half days.  In convoy you generally did about 7 knots – that is, 7 nautical miles per hour.  There were faster convoys, but the Macbean was invariably in the 7 knots one.  Her speed being about 9 ½ knots – full out.  Mines, subs and planes.  The enemy would know exactly were we are.  His agent’s in Spain would watch us leave and which way we headed.  Our first spot of bother came when we least expected it.  Off Cape Tenez, about 100 miles from Algiers.  4pm, beautiful clear weather, dead calm.  We felt perfectly safe.  Fighters were up and we never expected any sub attack.  However bang, bang, the ship right alongside us got it.  She carried octane and immediately was enveloped in flames from stem to stern – sea as well.  It was a horrible sight (we carried octane ourselves).  It seemed impossible any soul could escape – men were jumping overboard in the water as she slowly fell astern of the convoy.  At first the vessel completely disappeared in the mass of flames, but after some minutes the heavier flames died away and she burnt less fiercely as the bulk of the octane spread out.  Escorts were now attacking the sub, others were on rescue work.  Gradually we left her behind.  On our homeward passage we carried survivors.  Only 40 people (mostly soldiers) were lost out of 300.  That seemed incredible, for we thought only a few would get away.  Their worst time was in the water before being picked up.  The escorts were dropping depth charges, which if they can sink a sub must be unpleasant for the human body.  It seemed to lift their stomachs right out of their bodies.

About 8 to 9pm that night I could hear over the wireless that the outward convoy from Algiers was being bombed.  Now I know it’s unchristian like but I was quite content with this, but it was not to be.  The outward convoy was lightship; the inward (us) was loaded with munitions of war.  If he found us, he’d leave the other fellows alone – he found us.  He started on us about 9pm and didn’t give up till 3am, just before daylight.  I think we had about 35 ships in our convoy.  They can put up quite a barrage of light aircraft stuff.  We fire red tracers.  The escorts fire heavy stuff.  We have one 12 pounder anti-aircraft gun.  That’s seven anti-aircraft guns on our ship.  Six firing heavy bullets.  With all ships with the same idea there’s quite a to do.  I daresay it must look lovely all those red tracers flying around, but I’m afraid the beauty of the barrage in no way affected us.  You seldom heard the bombs drop.  As soon as you heard his engine as he came in to attack, you fired and 35 ships with the same idea: caused a bit of a racket.  One plane dropped a salvo just astern of us – we heard that all right.  The convoy shot one plane down and our escort picked up the crew.  Our fighters were up, but they would be well clear of the convoy, waiting for the enemy when he went in or came out from the convoy.  I believe they bagged five.  As far as I could judge they attacked singly.  I don’t suppose they would be able to pick out any individual ship, it was too dark; just bomb the convoy as a whole.  We were very glad when dawn came and he cleared off; we’d had 6 hours of it and that was quite enough for anyone.  I’m not certain, but I think two ships were hit, one I know for certain.  Also I think there were no casualties from this strafing.  No ship was sunk.  

One of the damaged ships entered Algiers with us.  She’d been hit in No 1 (full of octane).  The octane was blown all over the ship and she didn’t explode or catch fire.  You’d say impossible but there it was.

It is hard to convey our general reactions.  It wasn’t the bombing that upset us mostly, it was that !?!! octane.  Having seen one ship hit, the vividness of it remained all too clearly with us.  By dawn we were all somewhat tired out and glad to enter port.  If anyone though they were in for a quiet spell in Algiers they were sadly deceived.  We were there for 10 to 12 days and there was a raid every two or three days.  Shipping was the enemy objective.  There were no docks.  The wharfs lay along the waterfront in almost one direct line.  So once he had established his position he could make a run right across the harbour and bomb the ships.  He’d start about 11 or 12 pm and be on and off till dawn.  Most inconsiderate: kept us on the hop all night.  Several bombs fell most unpleasantly close.  The blast from one blew our blackout curtains in.  That was past a joke.  

I know we were glad to leave the place in spite of the Algiers-Gibraltar run.  Only one ship received a direct hit during our stay.  She’d already been torpedoed at sea and was under repairs.  That bomb wasn’t calculated to improve things.  The Macbean was to go into Gibraltar for orders.  About 11 pm the first night out, pitch-black dark, an enemy plane came over and put down flares right round the convoy.  We had been ordered not to fire unless attacked.  Sometimes planes couldn’t find you, even with flares.  He must have seen us.  These flares illuminated the whole area.  They fall slowly in the form of chandeliers.  The whole convoy was silhouetted.  Must have looked lovely, but we weren’t in a position to appreciate beauty.  We thought now we’ll get it.  We waited and waited for the attack, but it didn’t develop.  We eventually gave up and turned in.  It left us puzzled, for he must have seen us.  Later, as you will see, we weren’t so puzzled.  We went into Gibraltar and the rest of the convoy went on through the straits.  They ran right into a minefield and 4 or 5 ships were sunk.  Hence the plane.  He got our position and thus could estimate when we would pass through the straits.  His subs then laid mines accordingly.  These subs no doubt were using Spanish waters as a hideout.  Later when we got stronger, our destroyers did not hesitate to enter Spanish waters after subs.  We were lucky we found out, we should have carried on homewards, with that convoy and not gone into Gibraltar.  

 

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