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Warsailor Stories - Page 2

Experiences of Walter Schwartz
US Merchant Marine 1944 through 1946

After volunteering to serve in the US Merchant Marine, I was assigned to the San Mateo, California Cadet Basic School early in 1944 as an Engine Cadet Midshipman US Naval Reserve, Merchant Marine Reserve. Since I had a Chemical Engineering degree, I was to complete basic training and six months sea time as a cadet midshipman and then sit for my third engineer’s license rather than return to the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kingspoint NY to study for a marine engineering degree.

SS Sea Pike
After completing basic training I was assigned to the SS Sea Pike which was a C3 cargo ship converted to a troopship. My duties were to perform administrative and maintenance functions under the cognizance of the Chief and First Engineers.

After 1500 army infantry personnel were boarded, the SS Sea Pike sailed February 19-1945 from the Oakland Army Base destination unknown. After two weeks without escort we landed briefly at Finnschafen, New Guinea and then proceeded to Hollandia, New Guinea where a convoy of about 40 ships was formed. The convoy proceeded to Leyte Island in the Philippines and then on to Manila Bay to discharge the troops who were to supplement the troops coming south from Lingayen Gulf to liberate Manila. Although the rumors were that we were to sail to Okinawa, the SS Sea Pike returned to Leyte.

About 450 mentally disturbed (shell-shocked) GI’s, to be shipped back to the states were brought aboard. Many were so in shock that they had to be hoisted on deck in litters or on pallets by the cargo cranes. A convoy was formed of the SS Sea Pike, the Noordam (a Dutch passenger ship converted to a troop carrier) and two destroyer escorts (DE’s). Two or three days out two Japanese submarines were encountered. The DE’s dropped depth charges and ordered the ships to disperse. Shortly thereafter we were alone with two submarines in pursuit. We accelerated to a speed of 20 knots which resulted in violent vibration and rupture of the main condensate pipe. We lost vacuum and after taping with duct tape could only proceed at 5 knots. Although the subs followed for a few days, they did not try to overtake or engage us. That period of time was made more hectic because the troops were not to be made aware of our predicament. There were no alarms or communication over the loudspeakers. The troops were kept below decks. The subs eventually broke off and we proceeded to Enewetok for repairs. Since the repairs were not adequate, we sailed into Pearl Harbor. By that time the war was over in Europe. Pearl Harbor was full of ships and troops anticipating the invasion of mainland Japan.

The SS Sea Pike returned to the Oakland Army Base where the troops debarked. We then sailed across the bay to San Francisco where provisions were loaded and June 2-1945 headed south to the Panama Canal. It was rumored that our orders were to pick up troops at Marseilles and head through the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean and sail to the Pacific Theater. Actually we sailed through the canal to Le Havre, took on troops and discharged them in New York on July 11.

Since my six months of cadet-midshipmen sea duty was completed, I expected to take a test for a 3rd engineer’s license as previously agreed and continue sailing. The powers that be unfortunately decided that I should go to the academy and finish my marine engineering training. The war was still on and further education would not benefit me or the war effort. So I resigned from the US Merchant Marine Academy.

SS Pan Georgia
The US Merchant Marine is under the cognizance of the US Coast Guard. They agreed that if I would serve in one of several unlicensed engine-room positions for three months I could sit for the 3rd engineer’s license. I was tested for these positions, passed the tests and signed on the SS Pan Georgia as a fireman-watertender. The Pan Georgia was a small tanker which, I was told, had been a Hog Island freighter during the first World War and had been sunk, sunk again during World War Two and then converted to a steam turbine driven tanker and fitted with two boilers from the Morro Castle. We sailed out of New York for Beaumont, Texas on August 7 and returned to Boston with a load of oil September 1.

I continued sailing as a Junior Engineer in the Atlantic Theater as follows:
Sept. 4 on the Brandon Victory, Boston to Le Havre to Boston.
October 2, Boston to Le Havre to New York on the Liberty Ship SS Kemp P. Battle.
December 12, New York to Brazil and return to New York on the Motor Vessel Cape San Antonio.

The return from Le Havre to New York on the SS Kemp Battle was probably weatherwise the worst experience of my short career. Five hundred of General Patton’s troops were aboard for return to the states. Although we were to sail the next morning, all ships were suddenly ordered out of Le Havre. A bad storm was brewing in the Atlantic. About half the engine room crew were left ashore. My rating suddenly changed from maintenance engineer to oiler. The storm was so intense that we were driven fifty miles northwest in the English Channel. A number of ships ran aground. Since we were not carrying cargo or ballast, the ship rode high and was difficult to maneuver. The two aft cargo holds were partially filled with sea water to serve as ballast and so improve the maneuverability. Since the sloshing of the water in the holds caused an unusual rocking sensation, the holds were pumped dry.

Since the large reciprocating engines of the liberty ships were manually oiled, the oiler's job was especially demanding under normal conditions. The oiling can would have to be raised and lowered in synchronism with the movement of the cranks or the can would be knocked out of the oiler's hand. With the ship gyrating so wildly oiling was especially demanding. Under the storm condition when the ship went into a trough the propeller would be uncovered. With no water resistance the engine would accelerate. Between oilings the oiler would alternate with the engineer on watch to operate a large butterfly valve to reduce steam to the engine when the prop came out of the water. A normal ten day trip across the Atlantic took us thirty hectic days.

Since there was a shortage of electricians in the Merchant Marine, the Coast Guard requested that I take a course that would lead to a Chief Electrician’s rating. This was preferable to the 3rd engineers rate. After successful completion of the course, I signed on the Motor Vessel Cape San Lucas May 28-1946, and sailed two trips to Venezuela as an assistant electrician.

SS Creighton Victory
On August 12-1946, I signed on the victory ship SS Creighton Victory as a Chief Electrician. The ship carried 500 horses. We completed three trips from Montreal, Canada to Gdynia, Poland. This effort was sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.(UNRRA). Since there were many outstanding contract grievances that had not been resolved during the war, the Masters, Mates and Pilot’s Union went on strike. The SS Creighton Victory sailed into Savannah, Georgia where she was tied up for the duration of the strike. On October 14-1946 I signed off and went to Washington to receive an honorable discharge from the US Merchant Marine. Many years later I also received a discharge from the US Coast Guard.

Walter Schwartz

Great Storm in the Autumn of 1944 Cherbourg France area on S.S. Mari
Received from Reg Jones

"I was a mess-boy on the Norwegian vessel Mari which I joined in Fowey Cornwall in August 1944. I was very young, having put my age up to get into the British Merchant Navy. I had worked as an oiler on a tug owned by the U.K. company Gayslee Tug Company and did many night runs along the River Thames London docks when air raids were taking place. Our job was to move any vessel that might be damaged and hinder river traffic. Having a yen for boats I wanted to get on to something bigger and after 6 weeks training on the Vindicatrix in Gloucester I was sent to the MN manning pool at Dock Street in London where a Mr. Becker said "A Dutchman, or a Norwegian" what would you like. I chose the Norwegian and took the night train to Fowey which was crowded with troops. On arrival I went to the dockside and as there were many ships at anchor called out the ship's name. Finally a rowboat came and picked me up and took me to the Mari. The ship was loaded and sailed the next morning. What a wonderful experience it was to me as a young lad who loved ships. There were 21 in the crew and 3 gunners one of whom was the senior gunner being a sergeant and the other 2 were Royal Navy ratings who taught me much about the Oerlikon 20mm cannons of which the Mari had 3. The Captain was Ole Stidal, a very fine captain and seaman. He had a dog called King. Whenever we went ashore in France the Captain and King were the first down the gangway. Capt Stidal carried a Smith and Wesson 38 cal sidearm at all times ashore. I soon settled into my routine which was basically looking after the 4 officers' meals and cabins, 2 deck and 2 engineering. The Chief Steward looked after the Captain.

There were many experiences between then and the end of the war but the one I will refer to here was a great storm that we found ourselves in. The French railroads in Normandy and the Cherbourg Penisular were being operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and they required soft coal and lots of it to move supplies to the invasion forces. With 5 other ships we loaded soft coal in Barry, Wales and set off as a six ship convoy. Our destination was Granville. A Canadian frigate escorted us part way and then a U.S. Army tug took over. Having worked on a Tug on the Thames River I was impressed with the size of this vessel. It seemed to be about 90 ft long and was painted in khaki colors which I suppose meant it was U.S. Army assets as we refer to it today. The weather began to turn stormy with high winds and large waves which seemed to get bigger as time went by. I liked being on deck and was standing by the galley before getting ready for the evening meal in the officers mess, watching these huge bodies of water rising up and plunging us down into a chasm which our bow plunged violently into, throwing huge mountains of water back over the ship. The other ships in the convoy became scattered and became harder to see in the diminishing weather. While standing there, the Captain came by and told me to put on my lifejacket. I then noticed that the ship had begun to list to port. I soon found out that activity was taking place on our hatches by all the deck hands and that one of our hatches was letting in water and as it mixed with the soft coal in the hold caused the list which was beginning to increase.

The U.S. Army tug came to observe our situation and was on the starboard side of the Mari when I saw something that I did not think was possible. In one dive into the bottom of a trough the army tug leaped to the top of the crest and for one instance I saw her complete bottom out of the water from stem to stern, the rudder thrashing furiously as it cleared the water and then the vessel plunged in again in a huge spray of water. The captain of the tug on his bullhorn told Captain Stidal that it would be wiser for us to turn back for the British coast. Captain Stidal acknowledged and the tug left to escort the other 5 ships that were now scattered. We turned very slowly because of the list and slowly made our way back. I should point out that the Mari had no electrical power and our source of lights were oil lamps.We also had no running water, but filled containers from a water tank. We bathed in between ribs in the engine room heating the water from a steam pipe.

What none knew was that at that time a German Commando group that still occupied the Islands of Jersey and Guernsey were at that moment preparing a raid on Granville. The next morning, after the other 5 ships had arrived, the Germans landed by boat in Granville and immediately attacked the port sinking and damaging the 5 ships of our original convoy. Some crewmen were killed. The port was under the command of a small detachment of U.S. Army Engineers and the Germans must have known where the officer in command was located because they went to his house and when they knocked he opened the door himself and was cut down with machine gun fire. He was 23 years old. Our damage repaired we were sent back to Granville with our cargo and arrived a few days after the raid. We could not help but think, that if it had not been for that fierce storm we would have been there when the raid took place. I would like to know if any of your readers were on any of the 5 ships of the convoy that arrived in Granville and were there during the commando raid. I regret to say that based on information from Sjøfartsdirektoratet it appears that I am the sole survivor of the Mari crew. I remember her and the great men who sailed her with great affection and respect. I would appreciate hearing from any other Norwegian ship crewmen who were part of that great time in history.

God Bless,

Reg Jones, Kingston, Ontario, Canada"

(Plesae note that the raid mentioned in this story took place on March 8/9-1945 - Again, see my page about Mari for details on her voyages in the fall of 1944).

NOTE: Sadly, Reg Jones' wife has contacted me to tell me that he died suddenly on Febr. 5-2004.

Letters from Aasmund Kleve - Steward aboard Solferino

(Submitted by the steward's son, Knut Kleve - I've left them largely unchanged (see his message in my Guestbook). These 2 letters give a very clear indication of what a seaman thought about. The family at home and how they were going to make do if he was to perish seemed to be first and foremost in his mind. Steward Kleve died when D/S Solferino was sunk while in Convoy OB 290 on Febr. 26-1941. Follow the link to Solferino for more details, and also this link to M/S Samuel Bakke's log as well as Commodore Admiral Hornell's report about the attacks on OB 290).

North Atlantic Ocean
December 1940

Dear Colbin and Lou

I’ve just received you short note via the New York Office. It’s been opened, apparently by the officials there. Thanks very much, but why the Dickens cannot you American fellows write night and not “nite”- Oh, don’t mind me, I’m a fussy old cuss, and now I’m rather low with rheumatism, and cross as anything on earth. I guess I misspell quite a few words of the language myself. Yes, boy I expect this rheumatism is going to be my undoing. I’ve been bad with sciatica a few weeks, was well for 3 days and now it’s caught me in the shoulder and left side of the chest. I most sincerely hope that your Lou is better again, I myself felt some pain after the appendix operation, and womenfolk should be still more careful after such cases.

Oh yes, you think that letters from here to America are not subject to censorship, well, that be as it may, and I seldom worry much, but I try to write about things without mentioning anything harmful. Have I then been a bad judge, and the thing is censored away, it has been no intention of mine to do any harm. But now, seeing that last letter of yours was a very short one, and nothing has been struck over but what I do think they may do in such cases where ships movements are mentioned, is that they freeze on to it for a goodish while before they let it loose again. You see? After that much time has passed, whatever possible information such communication contained would be of no possible value to anybody.

You notice that I do not date my letters, we’re not allowed to. I do not mention places, ships, waters, cargo, temperatures or weather. No go for such things from us you know. And mind you ,this is not on account of possible censors but just because it is not done. If and when I make slips on other points: out it may go.

I’ve been thinking that it may be the best idea for me to write you as often and as much as I possibly can, and then if anything happens to me, you’ll be in a position to relay the tale of my last days to the rest of the family and my children when they grow up and to Mossa and everybody.

I write then, about many things, some of interest to these, some those, I cannot help but pointing out the particular viewpoint that I hold as seafaring man sometimes. And if you got my last letter, which I wrote about a week ago, you’ll be kind and tell me, because that letter contained quite a lot about what little tiny part we of the M.N. (Mercantile Navy) have in this emergency.

But now I’ll tell you about something that I’ll bet they’ll strike out if this letter is censored: You know about Hell-machines, and traps with hidden mines in them? Now, if this is worked out in disguise of cigarette boxes and soldiers who’ll always be on for a smoke pick it up and the devil explode in their very hands, that would be a nice thing ,eh ? And so with inviting looking parcels, chocolate boxes etc, what ? And almost anything has been tried on them in this line, dropped from non-bombing planes of a dark night. You’d be surprised how easy they find it to resist the temptation of such inviting little items. Ha, ha!

And here’s another thing that I expect will be scratched out: These days affect us in a funny way. You say chin up, or thumbs up to us. Yes. But these are times, days, weeks in which we cannot take one specific interest in anything. We loose the grip on the continuency of our days. We cannot conceive, not even for a moment, that there is a day tomorrow- or a future time some time,- and at the same time we know that we are wrong, look upon the eternal high sea, was it not there yesterday too, and is it not staying put for all time to come? - How is it then that there is not a time to come in which we may spend our measly lives? And suddenly we are wary of the “spell” and life goes on, and the time of course “wars” on. And although we may get restless and even jumpy, nobody would say that we ever were ever downhearted. Our spirits are not killed, we may be affected by the times, we may be addicted to habits of drinking and such, but we will win a world for them who survive.

Some of the officers and men have had letters from home today, but I still do not hear from anybody.

Well, they can laugh now, some of them that laughed at me when I advised them to dig shelters and be prepared. The papers which turned back my communications predicting imminent danger and warned them of the spies. Laugh! Tell this to my children, and tell them of the shame their father felt when we did not rally ‘round and help the Finns. Well, they may say now that in regard to the Norwegians compared with the Swedes, “they have, al least, their honor”. But we owed that much to the history of our people, lest they, our children should have to hide with shame.

We left Norway just before the treachery broke out. Passing in and out of the Bergen harbor, we went by the ships laden with enemy soldiery flying the Finnish and Danish flags. Our little chasing? on shore poking? Individuals suspected of spying could but be of little avail in view of these bigger things. But still, they did not get US. And we’ve been alone for long voyages on the high seas, and sometimes it is quite dangerous. Once, failing to notice signals from an allied Man o War, we were shot at. You know, only with a “P”, or practice shell, for warning. Good shots, those blokes were quite close with it. A ”P” (Black shell, yellow band, by the way) dumb ones and carries no explosives inside. In daylight you may see them if they are fired at you, but those who fire can better see them in the dark, and then they are invisible to those at the target. Funny things, those.

Well, I’ve held on to this some days expecting an answer on my last letter. But as time goes I’d better get tbis done with so that you may have it. I’ve been with the flu, and then they had to get me a specialist for my back. That rheumatism is certainly a trying business. Anyhow, we had a nice'ish Christmas, and got quite a number of gifts, such as from the woman’ league, the Norwegian Shipping, and also a sending to each man from the owner. He and his wife sent a personally written card with each parcel. I was lucky to get a sort of a headgear to use under the steal hat. That helmet is rather aiiy, you see. I left a bank book with the vice-counsel in St.Johns, will you be so kind as to save the receipt for it. TheCouncil also have your name and address. I’m thinking of the children, they may need it when the war is over and I may later add some to the account. Also, You may as well know that I have some money (125.-) in.... (here he gives details about the account and the bank) to be sent home if I perish. At the ..........I’ve Deposited L30.-; to get hold of these amounts, my survivors will have to prove their identity.

Well, guess it’s cease fire for now. You’ll both be good to yourselves. I wish you a Happy New Year.

From Aasmund

Last letter from Aasmund
Received 18 Jan 1941

Dear Colbin,

I thank you very much indeed for your very welcome letter I received tonight. In fact it is more one o’clock than anything else now, but as you understand, things are very uncertain, so that I think that I better write so that you get a line, just in case. I have sent you another letter than the one you answered now, the one written on Christmas Day. I am glad it was not censored, you will find, in the second letter I’ve sent to you, that I’ve put Can Dls 300.- in .........and left the account book with the Norwegian Counsel there. The receipt for the Bank-book I sent to you, so that you could claim it, in case I perish. If so, I think it would be right that you kept 100.- Dollar for yourself to buy something. I also mentioned the other places I had money stowed away, altogether round about kr. 3000.- by now.

It’s funny, I just wrote Leif some time ago and boasted New Orleans way up in the sky. You remember that city, it was more or less my home for 2 years,- and I’ve been longing back too. Oh ! No, it’s too far for you to go in a car from up Montana way. Our chances to come to the West Coast is very small. And Leif’s ship will not come there any more either, that’s my bet.

You are wondering about our sailings, I cannot tell, I don’t want to tell. If you remember the places you mentioned in your letter of Christmas Day, they are our places, right enough. A number of times we have been hard by when things have started. Other times the starting of things began just after we left, or was over when we came. In my second letter I told you a few things which we must not write or say. Little by little, however, you get the hang of almost everything. I can tell you now, that I’ve seen big ships of 25,000 tons be sunk. Also others, and life and death was a matter of seconds. I had other things to attend to and would not have been able to notice details, but from quite a distance, the shock in the water hit the hull of our ship like a majestic blow.

I also saw the haggard refugees of the Belgian campaign, spoke to them, looked for acquaintances, you know. I have been a lot in Belgium in my time. There were terror stricken children, women suffering from shock, from insanety. There was an old woman who’d run through the streets of Antwerp with her grand-daugther when the bombs came, she’d run on just the same but looking down she suddenly was aware that she was carrying the arm of the little girl only. Crying, suffering Belgium; but the day will come when the troops will leave their country again, feet first over the border, never to return any more. The blood soaked soil of Flanders will return their couragues dead this time. And there shall be no thereafter for them. The thereafter is ours. I never worried much about who wins, Britain will prevail, I think more of winning the peace which comes afterwards. And that’s something that no time can do.

Oh’ it is as if your letter comes from another world, what with hunting ordinary game and all!

I hope Leif and I shall be able to take that trip I wrote him about. Buying a car in the East and go out together, if we live that long. I expect that we could buy a suitable 2nd hand car for something around $100.- Even if it’s more it pays compared with the high railroad fares. But then again, as things are developing on the other side, we may get some other run, we may go some place were it has been “cleaned up” and that's also nice. Work will pick up quickly now, and in your trade, you’ll be busy, any time.

I had the first letter from N. just the other day, from Jenny, she says I’ve gotten a daugther. Well she or any of the kids at all wont live long with all those Germs around the places. No of course, the letters sounds all right, if they did not, you would not get them and the sender would be sent to C Camp doing early morning stretches and dig in the ground, graves perhaps.

Is Arne and Erland and Torstein at home? Or have any of them gone away? That may be to Germany they’ve been sent, you know.

Well here is Luck to you both. I’m sleepy now, it’s 2 o’clock, and I’ve many things to arrange in the morning.

Mail ordinary letter for this, c/o Fred Olsen Line, 15 Moore Street., New York, N.Y. it will be forwarded to me, make space for the forwarding adress. Happy New Year!!


PS. What do you do with the skin of such Bucks? Nice Pictures!
If father writes, remember to steam off the stamps.
Old magazines would easiest come through by New York too.
Thank you.

Warsailor Stories - Page 1

I would again like to encourage others to send me more personal stories for inclusion on this page, these stories are very valuable.


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