The Red Sea was perfectly safe, there was an occasional mine, but little to worry about.  After Aden would be our next worry.  At least it was mine.  I had a distinct aversion to Jap subs.  If you got away in the boats they would machine gun you and I had a worse horror of being taken prisoner.  Actually the Jap sub was never so dangerous as the German.  He seemed to have a strong objection to engaging any ship in a gun duel.  We got a lot of sub sighting reports without the reporting ship being attacked.  It was as though he was using his subs as reconnaissance units and also for landing agents along the coast at night.  Therefore they only attacked ships if they presented a perfect target.  There was a sub reported right in our path as we left Aden (independent) for Karachi.  He was right in the entrance to the Persian Gulf.  About every other day we’d get a sighting report but we got no diversion order from the Admiralty so had to go on.  Or final real alarm came when we got a raider warning about 60 miles ahead.  Later that was cancelled.  We had to pass right through the area the sub was operating and we were very much on our toes.

About 8 pm that night we were in that vicinity we saw a strange stationary light in the sky.  We couldn’t make out what it was and could only suppose it was a ship just been torpedoed and sending up a flare.  It was a long way away and suddenly disappeared.  About 4 hours later we heard a plane and guessed what the light was.  It was the plane using his “Leigh light” looking for subs.  He was so far away and was at that time heading towards the ship that his light appeared stationary to us.  That was a relief.  

We arrived at Karachi without sighting anything.  From Karachi we went to the Persian Gulf and discharged and loaded bitumastin at Abadar for Karachi.  After discharging at Karachi we loaded wheat for Cochin.  From Karachi we went to Cochin via Bombay in convoy.  Nothing to report.  Cochin is in south western India.  At Cochin we loaded mats, matting, tea and other Indian produce for home.  The ten days run across the open water ? of the Arabian Sea would probably be our most dangerous part of the voyage.

By the way, as we left Basra in the Persian Gulf, I heard an American ship sending out a warning about a strange light in the sky.  He must have sighted a Leigh light.  The Yanks didn’t hesitate to us their wireless.  We thought it better to keep quiet and not give your position away.  90% of the false alarms came from the Yanks.  I’m not throwing mud – it was their policy.  Personally I think ours was the best – be a little cautious about using the wireless.

We left Cochin for Aden (independent) about the end of March 1944.  I got an occasional sub report but nothing in our way.  We only had one bit of excitement if you can call it that.  We sighted a ship’s lifeboat in sail. When you sighted anything at sea in wartime you imagined it a sub.  The sight of a ship’s lifeboat makes you think.  It points to the fact that a ship has been sunk and there are subs about.  After we had definitely identified the object, we approached with caution.  It seemed as if a number of men were hanging over the stern of the lifeboat.  As we approached closer these were found to be birds sitting on the stern.  The boat was empty and water logged, but still in full sail.  We concluded that the crew had been taken abroad another vessel and this other vessel wouldn’t waste a second in getting away from the area and so didn’t stop to sink the lifeboat after rescuing the crew.  We didn’t waste any time either and for the nest 24 hours we were very uneasy but we heard and saw nothing.  To whom the lifeboat belonged we never found out.  Still we knew that quite a number of ships had been sunk off the African coast.  As a matter of fact if things got hot you went in convoy in the Arabian Sea.  A couple of days before we left Cochin, a convoy was the ordered but it was cancelled and we came independent.  Personally I much preferred convoy.

We arrived Aden and proceeded to Port Said for convoy.  The journey through the Mediterranean was very much as outward: we weren’t attacked.  There was a sub operating off Cape Tenez again, but he left us alone.  As we passed Gibraltar a large number of landing barges joined our convoy.  Also HMS Centurion.  The Centurion was an old ship, sometimes used by the Navy as a target ship.  Other times they disguised her as some battleship and so deceive the enemy as to the disposition of our ships.  She had with her the landing barges for “D” Day.  I think the Centurion finished up as a block ship in Mulberry Harbour.  We didn’t like these barges or the Centurion around us.  There was much talk of “D” Day and if he spotted our convoy with landing barges – well he might think we were “D” Day.  Bad enough being “D” day when you are “D” day, but to be mistaken for ”D” day wasn’t our idea of a joke.  However he didn’t sight us and we sailed merrily on for the Tyne.

I’ve just remembered another little item on the outward passage through the Mediterranean.  Just off Bizerte(?) we passed a large number of kaki-clad bodies in the water with lifebelts on.  Some troopship had been sunk in this area recently.  That shook us.  I’m afraid you don’t think of those that have gone so much, as that it could happen to you.  Probably you are sailing along without a care in the world and you run into this sort of thing and you start thinking again.  It passes away – you easily forget – or do a little of the “shut your eye” business.

 

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