My Darling.

Here we are on our travels again.  We loaded that voyage for S.T.O. Port Said and left Newport late August 1940.  We were not long finding trouble.  We left in a local convoy and had 15 join the main convoy coming out of Liverpool.  Early one morning I was standing outside the wireless room with the phones on, talking to Chippy.  I saw three planes, but I never thought but what they were ours.  Chippy said,  “They seemed to making a deuced of a noise.”  Said I, “Oh, that must be the combined effect of the three engines.”  It was – they were dive-bombing.  Hence the scream.  As I stood watching them sweep over the convoy, a large number of black objects fell towards the next ship abeam.  I didn’t need any second thought; I dived into the wireless room, stood behind the door and shut my eyes.  They screamed over crash bang, crash bang they dropped the remainder of their bombs all around us and us.  They missed the other ship and they missed us.  Our gunmen got one shot at them.  Our guns were soon all manned now, apparently having no more bombs they started to machine on individual ships. 

I stood and watched one coming in from the stern to attack us.  The gunman put the shell very close to him and he turned round sharply and was last seen flying low over the horizon.  Whether on not he had been damaged, no one could say.  Now one of our seaplanes came in and started to mix it with the two Huns.  He was too slow and hadn’t a chance and should never have attempted to make a fight out of it.  Anyhow it was somewhat misty and we could just see the scrap going on.  Suddenly out of the melee a plane flew straight towards us.  “Let him have it,” says the old man and our guns did; machine guns and the heavier guns aft.  He must have had a few holes in him.  By the time he was over us we had discovered he was our own seaplane.  Of course he should never have crossed over us, that’s what is known as hostile action, but I suppose he found himself in a fix and that’s the only way he could get out of it.  We couldn’t recognise him until he got quite close.  Naturally we couldn’t afford to wait and identify him.  Had he been a Hun it would have been too late for us.

After about ¾ hour action the planes cleared off.  The convoy was undamaged and no casualties.  We joined the main convoy late that evening.  It was a most unpleasant run up, as I heard other ships being attacked by planes in the Irish Sea.  I thought our time would come but it didn’t.  As we fell into the main convoy an escort came alongside and shouted over,  “Step on the gas, Macbean, there’s lots of subs about”.  How cheerful.    If that was his idea of a joke it wasn’t ours.  We carried on quietly.  I suppose there would be the usual alarms and excursions with a little depth charging to cheer one up.  They generally happen at night and a depth charge dropped close is apt to shake the ornaments off the mantelpiece.  Most unpleasant.

We sailed well out to the west in the Atlantic and one morning early, dispersed and began our long journey to Cape Town, independent.  The first 24 to 48 hours after dispersal is very trying.  You have now no protection and no one to pick you up and naturally if you have been spotted and trailed this is the ideal time for the subs to attack and on one or two such occasions they have made the best of their opportunity.  We dispersed one morning in daylight and about 3.00pm that day we saw what at first looked like a shell splash, but it hung in the air sometime.  We wondered what it could be and eventually made out two boats.  We approached very warily with machine guns at the ready.  As we drew nearer we saw they were ships lifeboats with crew.  “How long have you been in the boats?” said we.  Five days was the answer.  Seems callous, but that remark pleased us.  We thought it was one of our convoy just been sunk.  That would have meant the sub was still hanging about.  We quickly took them aboard, for we had no wish to hang about in that vicinity.  I think they numbered about 35.  They only lost one man when the ship was torpedoed  - the engineer on watch.  I wouldn’t ant an engineer’s job in Wartime.  Considering they had been 5 days in the boats they were in very good condition.  They were given a bath and lots of rum and a good meal and then they settled down to a comfortable sleep.  We spread them about the ship, each cabin taking what it could.

Here’s another little point I don’t think I told you.  When you disperse and proceed independently, each ship gets a different track, so that you all disperse over the ocean.

The Skipper decided that he would land them at Freetown (Sierra Leone).  We couldn’t take them on to Cape Town owing to shortage of water.

About three days after we picked them up we ran into bad weather. Blowing half a gale with rain and mist.  One afternoon the alarm was sounded – a periscope had been sighted. We all stood by peering into the mist.  A shout came from the starboard side that they had seen the sub.  I went over and low and behold I spied what I thought was a periscope.  Much discouraged I went back to the wireless room to tell my junior, when I saw a similar sight on the portside.  It was a bird.  There was a big sea running and the bird would appear out of the hollow between waves and then disappear.  Just like a periscope sticking it’s head up and down.  We weaved and turned to shake off the supposed sub.  Night came and the weather was bad and we stood by all night.  Nothing more happened and I don’t doubt it was a false alarm, none the less unpleasant, to us at the time.  

We proceeded to Freetown and discharged our survivors.  From there we went onto Cape Town.  We had an extra good radar scan en route to Cape Town.  Early one morning we sighted a strange warship.  We couldn’t get away, so just carried on as if she wasn’t there.  She ignored us also.  Shortly on we saw one of our own cruisers.  This was a French warship she had captured and was escorting to Freetown. 

As we left Freetown our fleet was attacking Dakar, about 400 miles northward.  I could hear our warship telling Dakar what they thought of them.  Dakar had fired on envoys with the white flag.

We sailed independently right up to Aden calling at Freetown, Cape Town and Durban.  The Italians of course held that part of Somaliland covering the approaches to the Gulf of Aden.  That didn’t make us too comfortable but we saw and heard nothing.

From Aden we went in a convoy to Suez with a fairly good escort, including an anti-aircraft cruiser.  That’s a cruiser especially fitted with anti-aircraft guns.  The previous convoy had been attacked by surface Italian warships coming out of Massawa , in the Red Sea.  The convoy’s escort had given the Wops (Italians) more than they had bargained for.  A Wop plane had bombed us one morning.  He was flying so high few saw him and his bombs dropped over a mile away from the convoy so he caused little excitement.  We arrived in Suez and passed through the Canal without further trouble.  We always expected trouble passing through the Canal, but the nearest enemy planes were Wops and they were far from enterprising.

We had about 3 weeks in Port Said, one or two alerts, but no raids.  We discharged our S.T.O. cargo and loaded emery stone, some kind of ore and some odds and ends.  This stone and ore is heavy.  Thus you have a full cargo in weight, but plenty of space left.  Should you be torpedoed with a cargo of this description, the water rushes into the holds and down you go almost at once.  Then of course with an unbalanced weight you would very likely break into two after a smack with a torpedo.  One ship in one of our convoy went down in seconds and only 5 were saved and it was calm weather.  All those things pass through your mind, but they pass out again, you become more or less fatalists.  We were now ready to proceed to the UK via the Cape, but the Indian crew refused to take the ship home.  They wanted to go back to India.  We went to Bombay and got a new crew.  Those of the old crew who had refused duty were put in jail.

Love Jimmy

XXX

 

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