My Dearest Darling. 

Once again I write about the War.  Don’t feel like it after one attempt but here goes.  We left Cochin for Mombasa (for orders) homeward bound the day war was declared .  Took about 10 days and was without incident although we felt somewhat tense seeing that this was the beginning and we expected raiders would be on patrol.  At Mombasa we had our first bit of luck.  The Mediterranean was closed, as we didn’t know what Italy might do, so ships were going round the Cape home.  We had cargo for Port Said so we waited at Mombasa while London was deciding what was to be done with it.  We were there two days and in that time they had reopened the Mediterranean route and so we sailed northwards.  Two ships which left to the Cape were caught and sunk by the Graf Spee.  Had we not been delayed we should have gone south and no doubt suffered the same fate.  We were of course independent from Cochin to Mombasa and Mombasa to Arden and Port Said.  Independent – sailing on our own unescorted.  From Port Said to Gibraltar we were in convoy and escorted and here again without incident.  We left Gibraltar October 13th Friday (not a nice day and date for the superstitious sailor) 34 ships I think.  We had a destroyer escort for about 2 days and then the 34 ships went on their own (altogether of course).  They just hadn’t the destroyers to protect us all the way home.

We should I imagine have picked up another escort as we neared the home coast but we didn’t reach that far in convoy.  It was a most unpleasant voyage.  All we had in the whole convoy was two 6” guns aboard two merchant ships.  Each time I went on watch I heard calls from ships being torpedoed in the approaches to the home coast.

One morning some where in the vicinity of 44N 16W we sighted a merchant ship firing and as I went on watch he was reporting engaging a submarine.  We turned away to the west but we knew we must have been sighted and naturally when he found we had no escort he would be at us with all his pals.  About 3.30pm we were attacked.  Two heavy bangs and I saw the stately SS Yorkshire, a passenger ship enveloped in smoke and slowly sink.  There was nothing for us to do but scatter.  There were women and children aboard the Yorkshire but of course we couldn’t help them, it would have meant us getting it also and our orders were to beat it.  I heard an American ship (neutral then) answer the Yorkshire’s call for assistance and she picked up a large number of survivors.  The Commodore and all his staff were lost on the Yorkshire.  The Commodore was an RNR Officer in Charge of the Convoy.  Before each convoy the Captains and Wireless Operators attended a conference for instruction and discussion.  To carry on, he got three ships out of our convoy that day.  These I heard making wireless reports.  We had special signals - 

SSSSSSSSSSSS Submarine attack

AAAAAAAAAAAA Air Attack

RRRRRRRRRRRR Warship attack

QQQQQQQQQQQQ Armed Merchant Ship attack

We sailed alone that night, but I could hear submarines working their wireless close by.  When the dawn came the fun started again and a number of our convoy were being chased, in some instance by 2 submarines.  However we saw nothing in our vicinity except a scouting plane and we endeavored by a large blackboard and chalk to tell him in what direction the attacks by submarine were taking place.  I think he must have got it, for he went away in the direction.  What success he had I don’t know, we saw no more of him.  That afternoon we sighted a strange sail in the horizon and we kept clear.  There’s little doubt but that this was a submarine with a sail up to disguise itself.  

That evening about 7.00pm the Clan Macbean had her first real attack.  A torpedo was fired point blank at us but the Chief Officer saw it coming and was able to turn the ship slightly and it just missed us. The submarine then surfaced (I expect he was so sure of hitting us).  The Captain was now on the bridge and he took charge and immediately went straight for the submarine.  The submarine now opened fire with her gun but again at point blank range missed us. The submarine being more or less stopped, could not get up enough speed to get out of our way and to avoid being rammed she had to crash dive.  Crash dive – dive as fast as possible, only done on a submarine in an emergency.  It was a moonlight night and all aboard watched the manoeuvres of the submarine as she tried to get out of our way.  I saw none of this – I was engaged in the wireless room sending out SSSS.  After the submarine crash dived a number of cries were heard in the water and there is no doubt he had to leave his gun crew in the water.  We ourselves had lost a man and lifeboat.  As we never expected to get away the boats were being got ready and the natives a little excited let one boat right down to the waters edge with 2 men in it.  One managed to scramble up the ropes and get aboard, the other was swept away with the boat and as we were going full speed he was lost. The sub may have picked him up but nothing more was heard off him. – to get on with it -  we didn’t stop to loiter but beat it.  Some people thought they saw the sub surface astern of us, but that’s not too certain.  We certainly expected another attack, but it didn’t come off.  He might have stopped to pick up his gun crew, or he may have damaged himself as he crash dived.  However we pushed along all that night expecting the crash but with dawn our hopes rose again and when in the evening we sighted the French coast at Ushant we felt we had a good chance of getting into port safely.

 

 

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