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Tales of the Sea, As told by the men who lived them...
The American Merchant Marine
Al D'Agostino AQ Class of 1945

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Tales of the Sea, As told by the men who lived them...
The American Merchant Marine
Al D'Agostino AQ Class of 1945

Maritime Tales of the Sea


INTRODUCTION by Al D‘Agostino & Willard Byrd


TESTIMONY by Bruce Felknor

WE WERE THERE – author anonymous

PREFACE by A.J. Wichita

FOREWORD Maritime Tales of the Sea by Congressman Bob Filner

Whistles Over the Water by George Leonard Hirsch

U.S. Navy Armed Guard
- ―Tribute to the U.S. Naval Armed Guard‖ by Charles A. Lloyd
- ―The Navy‘s Armed Guard…‖ by Van C. Mills
- Armed Guard Veteran Chester A. Popke

Allies: Canadian and Australian Mariners Participation
- Valour at Sea – Canadian‘s Merchant Fleet
- The Formation and Operation of the US Army Small Ships
- Letter to Australian Politician by Ernst Flint
- Australian ship NORAB

American Merchant Marine Page hosted by Bruce Felknor
A Merchant Mariner at Omaha Beach: Les Ellison Looks Back
The U.S. Merchant Marine and War and Peace by Henry B. Rowland







Maritime Tales of the Sea


In 2005, included as the program of the American Merchant Marine National
Convention held in Irving, Texas, many living Merchant Seamen were invited to submit
stories of their experiences or biographies during World War II as a Merchant Mariner.
As a result, and due to its popular acceptance, in the early part of 2007 it was decided
that a more expansive book should be prepared to be included with the gallant history
of the Merchant Marine during WWII and available worldwide via the internet.

At that time, a committee was formed from the SS Stephen Hopkins Chapter of Texas
to accomplish this. Since Al D‘Agostino, current skipper of the chapter, was the
publisher of the first book, he was once again a part of the new committee which
included Willard Byrd, R. Nelson Smith and Sam Lane, encouraged and assisted by A.J.
Wichita, president of the National AMMV, and John McSpadden, past president of the
chapter; as well as many chapter members were pressed into service.

In putting this book together we have talked to and worked with former Merchant
Marine and Armed Guard from all over the United States, Canada, Newfoundland, and
Australia. These were young men during World War II, who volunteered their services
to man the ships and deliver troops, supplies such as food, equipment, ammunition,
and petroleum products to over 97% of the war fronts around the world.

We as Merchant Marines were every bit in harm‘s way during the invasions of North
Africa, Italy, Sicily, France, Normandy, Philippines, and numerous other islands in the
Pacific warfronts. Supplies and Men had to be delivered and the job was ours!!!

The stories in this book are only a sampling of what we as sailors who manned these
ships were subject to. Over 8,000 men lost their lives in combat due to torpedoes and
bombs from enemy submarines and aircraft; and over 600 men were in prisoner of war
camps. Many men lost limbs or was permanently injured for life.

After the war, we were charged with returning the troops and supplies, which we had
taken overseas, back to the United States; as well as returning displaced persons from
all over the world back to their home countries. Additionally, the Merchant Marine
carried humanitarian supplies to devastated and starving countries all over the world --
together they kept the free world's shipping lanes open after the fall of Europe.

It is hoped that this book will give the public, and descendants of the men who served,
a true understanding of what we accomplished during the War.

By Al D‘Agostino & Willard Byrd
Book Committee Chairmen



Maritime Tales of the Sea


Dedicated to all WWII Merchant Mariners, who manned the ships without any
distinction as to color or ethnic origin (at a time when U.S. Armed Forces were
segregated) together with Mariners from other Nations to support an even greater
armada of global cargo, troop ships and tankers. To all the seamen who served in
WWII and then were subsequently drafted under the Selected Service Act of 1948 with
many serving in the Korean and Vietnam Wars.



This book belongs in the home of every child and grandchild of a merchant marine
veteran of World War II. Now that most of us, once 250,000 strong, are dead, perhaps
I should add great-grandchild. And it should be in every public library.

Most of our descendants know we served, but very little about where and how we
served. The most frequent questions I get from readers of my history page at the
merchant marine website ( begin like this:

"My father was in the merchant marine in World War II, but he never talked about it.
How can I find out what he did?"

My best answer is, read this book. Some of the stories are spare, almost taciturn (like
Daddy); others are richly detailed. But when you have spent a leisure hour or two
sampling its accounts, tasting its memories, you will have a fine grasp on the world in
which he helped to deliver all the goods of war that kept our country free. And on the
diversity of the men who shared his risks every time they left port.

That's why the book belongs in the public library: our 250,000 were a tiny fraction of
the 30 million whose food and ammunition and gasoline and every need we delivered
across all the oceans of the world: so children of those we armed and fed can learn who
it was that delivered all their needs despite all the perils of war. Hint: not the tooth fairy.

All the best,
Bruce Felknor

"Felknor is author of The U.S. Merchant Marine at War 1775-1945 and retired executive editor of
Encyclopedia Britannica.


Maritime Tales of the Sea


We were there before the beginning.
Young and old men from sea to shining sea
We sailed the ships on the oceans of the world

Supplying our troops on the battlefields
Of Europe and the islands of the Pacific.

We served our country honorably,
Bravely and with our whole being.
The night of war is forever with us.
For it was in the darkness of the raging waters

That we came to be.

We are a brotherhood of the sea.
Woven together in a fabric of love
Of country, courage, and determination
That helped to destroy our enemies.
No battle was fought without us.

Yes, we were there.

And we left many there.
Our brothers died in the seas of the world.

From the freezing Baltic Sea,
And dark Atlantic, around the world to
The shark-filled waters of the Pacific.
No crosses mark their watery graves.

No trumpets sounded for them.
The tears of loved ones would come later.
Those left only with memories and pictures

Of their loved ones who gave their
Lives in the service of our country.

And we the living remember them.
Their memorial is not a statue.
Nor is it ribbons and medals.
No! It is much more that that.
We who sailed with them
Carry their memory within us,

Etched not in stone but in our hearts.
We are the brotherhood of the Merchant Marine.

The few who supplied the many.
We were there.

Author Anonymous


Maritime Tales of the Sea


The purpose of this publication is to document individual experiences of World War II
Merchant Mariners. The subject matter was written by merchant seamen who survived
enemy‘s every conceivable effort to sink ships, close sea lanes and obstruct delivery of
essential war materials from reaching the world wide battle zones.

The seed for this book was planted in May 2001 at the American Merchant Marine
Veterans Convention held in Dallas, Texas. The 156 page convention magazine
contained several personal wartime accounts by merchant mariners. The stories proved
interesting reading and members began asking for extra copies. Schools and veteran
groups took all remaining copies.

When the 2006 convention again came to Dallas, the host chapter, The S.S. Stephen
Hopkins, published the convention magazine into a book with close to 100 short
biographies submitted by the seamen themselves. It became a 250 page book and 1000
copies were ordered. The extra copies found their way into schools and libraries as far
away as Canada and Australia. Meantime more stories and biographies kept on coming.

This book needed to be published because the majority of these stories have never
been told before. If only to do justice to the heroism of these men. They ran the
gauntlet of enemy submarines, raiders, aircraft, floating mines and braving foul weather
to deliver necessary war supplies to our troops. This was rarely acknowledged by the
news media due in part because of secrecy surrounding ship movements during the

After the hostilities the Armed Services were rewarded with the GI Bill and many
veterans were able to go to college, receive favorable loans and get first opportunity for
job openings as veterans. All major theater of operation commanders publicly
acknowledged the Merchant Marine as the most essential arm of victory. However,
merchant seamen were considered civilians and not eligible for benefits. This was
contrary to President Roosevelt‘s desire for seamen to receive equal treatment because
of their extraordinary casualties during the war.

The biographies in this book came from men in a wide age range. Some tell of leaving
school at 16 and 17 years of age and responding to creative government patriotic
advertisements. There was a desperate need for merchant seamen. They signed on as
boys but on board ship they were given man sized duties. Others too old or with
physical impairments were welcomed also. One volunteer with only one eye, we all
know from TV fame as Detective Lt. Colombo, Peter Falk, worked in the Stewards
Department. Hugh Battaile from Seagoville,Texas, lost a leg while serving on a tanker.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Nine months later he was able to return to the sea as a ship‘s Purser with a prosthesis
he had made to order and which he paid for.

Some of their stories reflect on what they were doing before volunteering for the
Maritime Service, what transpired during their shipboard service and then their re-entry
into civilian life. Their success in returning to civilian life is just as unique as how they
became maritime warriors in 12 weeks or less. The self-reliance, fortitude, and survival
instincts developed as merchant seamen were an essential survival asset at sea but it also
helped them in civilian life. They were not considered veterans and were not allowed to
compete for jobs with armed service veterans. You will find their return to postwar life
as unique as their war stories.

God bless these patriots!

A. J. Wichita,
National President,
American Merchant Marine Veterans



By Congressman Bob Filner

More than words can say, I appreciate this opportunity to write a few words about the
Merchant Mariners of World War II who came to my office one day in 2004 and about
the story of their service to our nation and of their quest for equity and compensation
for years of lost benefits. I was moved by their story, and from that day I have been
honored to carry their message to my colleagues in Congress.

The life stories of the Merchant Mariners, so vividly presented in this book, are stories
of adventure, youthful exuberance, patriotism, dedication to their duty, pride in a job
well done, bravery in the midst of battle--and sadly, of a nation who forgot these heroes
for over 40 years after the war‘s end. Our troops were trained, and supplies,
ammunition, and equipment were manufactured in the United States and used overseas.
The Merchant Mariners were the necessary link between the two. Without them, we
would not have been able to win the war. It is as simple as that!

They took part in every invasion from Normandy to Okinawa, often becoming sitting
ducks for enemy submarines, mines, bombers, and kamikaze pilots. Fighting was


Maritime Tales of the Sea

particularly fierce in the Atlantic, where German submarines prowled the ocean,
destroying Merchant Marine ships in an attempt to isolate Great Britain.

The Merchant Mariners of World War II suffered the highest casualty rate of any of the
branches of service while they delivered troops, tanks, food, airplanes, fuel and other
needed supplies to every theater of the war. The chance of a Merchant Mariner dying
during service was extremely high. It is said that the enemy almost sank the boats faster
than they were made. 9,000 Mariners lost their lives, 600 were prisoners of war, and
11,000 were injured.

And what were the thanks heaped upon the surviving Mariners? This group of brave
men was denied their rights under the G.I. Bill that Congress enacted in 1945. All
those who served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, or Coast Guard were
recipients of benefits under the G.I. Bill. Only the United States Merchant Marine was
not included. The Merchant Marine became the forgotten service. For four decades,
no effort was made to recognize their contribution. After years of fighting the system
and a court battle, a portion of the G. I. Bill was given to the Mariners, but the
educational benefits were never available to the veterans of the Merchant Marine.

What did this mean in practical terms? First, and probably most important, it meant
that instead of studying to become a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, or any of a number of
other life-long professions that require a higher education, many Merchant Mariners
relied on their high school education to get a job. Lost opportunities, lost careers, and
lost wages were the result. In addition, no low interest home loans were available to
help Mariners and their families move into the middle class, no lifetime compensation
for war injuries and disabilities, no access to VA hospitals, no priority for federal jobs,
no Social Security credits for veteran service leading to lower Social Security benefits.

There is overwhelming support for the legislation that Senator Benjamin Nelson and I
have introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Belated Thank
You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act. There is support from Senators
and House Members coast to coast. While it is impossible to make up for over 40 years
of unpaid benefits, our bills acknowledge the service of the veterans of the Merchant
Marine and offer compensation in their elderly years.

In the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, while he was General of the Army‘s
Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, ―When final victory is ours, there is no
organization that will share its credit more deservedly than the Merchant Marine.‖ In
the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, ―The Mariners have delivered the goods
when and where needed in every theater of operations and across every ocean in the
biggest, the most difficult, and most dangerous job ever taken.‖


Maritime Tales of the Sea

As you read the Maritime Tales of the Sea, you will join me in the conviction that we
must continue to fight until full equity is achieved for the surviving Merchant Mariners
of World War II.

Congressman Bob Filner is serving in his 8th term in Congress, representing California‘s
51st Congressional District. He is the Chairman of the House of Representatives
Veterans‘ Affairs Committee. His bill, the Belated Thank You to the Merchant
Mariners of World War II Act (H.R. 23), would provide compensation to World War II
Merchant Mariners and to their widows.



Whistles Over the Water
© 2007 All Rights Reserved
By George Leonard Hirsch

In Memoriam
For Paul S. Hirsch and his shipmates on the S.S. Hurley
With special thanks to George Goldman

The S.S. Patrick J. Hurley took on her complete cargo and crew at Aruba on August 10,
1942, the day my father put aboard with 17 other men of the U.S. Naval Armed Guard
and 44 seamen of the United States Merchant Marine. She set sail on August 12th.

Three days later on August 15th Unterseeboot (U-512), IXC U-boat of the
Kriegsmarine, left the Port of Kiel on the southeast coast of the Jutland Peninsula
connecting the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, headed for a deadly rendezvous in the
southwest Atlantic.

The island of Aruba, once part of the Netherlands Antilles, Dutch West Indies, is 69
square miles of flat, riverless terrain. It is northeast of Curacao, just a few miles
northwest of the Paraguaná Peninsula of Venezuela, which puts it in the midst of one
of the richest oil fields on earth. Sheltered from the fierce ocean currents that batter the
east coast, the Hurley was berthed at the port of Oranjested on the west. There she was
loaded with 75,000 barrels of high octane aviation gasoline and 60,000 barrels of #2
diesel oil bound for Avonmouth, England to help stave off the Nazi onslaught.

The Hurley was a converted tanker, part of the U.S. Merchant Marine lifeline that
provided the troops and supplies without which World War II would have been lost.
She was chartered to the War Shipping Administration because there were so few
seaworthy ships of the 1,340 merchant marine fleet that could be refitted for service in


Maritime Tales of the Sea

the Atlantic sector. She was at 10,865 tons ―a big ship and a fast ship in its day1‖, 508‘
long (a little more than one football field), 72‘ abeam (24 yards) with a draft of 38‘ (the
depth of water a ship draws).

One of the men who helped build her in November 1941 at the Federal Shipyards in
Kearny, New Jersey was Al Forster. George Goldman who sailed on the Hurley,
recalled that Al ―had done a hitch in the Navy before the War. Then he was drafted
into the Army. He was discharged from the Army during wartime so he could go to sea
in the Merchant Marine. That‘s how desperate they were for men.‖

After six months of outfitting between April and August, the Hurley was ready for her
return trip across the Atlantic. The routine ―Instructions for Scuttling Merchant Ships‖
had been issued in March to veteran Captain Carl Stromberg, and the armament
installations had been completed and tested in April.

These consisted of steel gun foundations, two magazines (one forward, one aft), and
splinter protection for the bridge and for the two 50 caliber machine guns mounted
fore and aft. There was one 4‖ 50 caliber gun mounted astern and one 3‖ 50 caliber at
the bow. Each of the larger weapons had a supply of 2,000 rounds and required two
men to operate it. Officers of the Bridge were issued two 50 caliber browning

Other precautions included painting the ship a deep grey, darkening facilities on board,
and a fire control communication system. There were 4 life boats (10 men per boat), 4
life rafts (18 men per raft), but only 17 life jackets and 23 steel helmets.

In those early, desperate days of the war, fascism triumphed on every side. German U-
boats were in complete command of the seas sinking 33 Allied ships a week, and 1,716
ships a year. They ranged with impunity along the Atlantic coast, destroying 70% of
allied shipping in 1942. In Germany it was called ―The American Shooting Season‖.

Merchant Marine casualties were steady and huge; over 9,000 merchant mariners,
ordinary men with extraordinary courage from all walks of life lost their lives, ―a greater
percentage of war-related deaths than all other U.S. Services.‖2

By June 1942 in the American defense zone, losses were so high and the amount of
material and fuel destroyed so great that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
cabled President Roosevelt: ―I am most deeply concerned at the immense sinkings of
tankers west of the fortieth meridian.‖ It was into this maelstrom of death at sea feared
by every sailor that the S.S. Hurley sailed in her fateful encounter.

1 George Goldman
2 Retrieved from


Maritime Tales of the Sea

My father‘s ship embarked on a mild, tropical day with a slight head-wind under a
cloudless blue sky and a calm and beautiful Caribbean Sea. Hurricanes that generally
form between August and November were late that year. The Hurley cruised along the
azure coast of the Lesser Antilles, navigated through the idyllic Windward Islands past
Granada, Trinidad and Tobago. The nights were filled with the brilliant southern stars
just 12° north of the equator.

―Who the hell ever thought of a war or could think about a war in these
conditions?‖ George asked rhetorically. He was the gun crew‘s mess boy and
complained good-naturedly, ―You guys are eating me out of ship and home!‖

They turned out into the Atlantic on a prescribed course 68º true at 15 knots, making
their way through the fabled, notorious Saragossa Sea and over the Mid-Atlantic ridge
in the depths below.

There was no convoy of ships to bolster morale or rescue survivors for the Hurley in
the event of disaster. Since she was able to run at 15-16 knots, which was considered
top speed for her day, this was the reason she traveled without a convoy. Nonetheless,
Captain Stromberg tacked leeward and windward on course, preferring the relative
safety of the evasive maneuver to a more direct, faster route that could not in any event
outrace a U-boat that glided at 17.5 knots on the surface and propelled 7.5-8 knots
under water.

U-512 was ―detailed to cross the Atlantic Ocean and operate off the northern coast of
South America to catch unescorted allied shipping heading for or leaving the Panama
Canal…U-512 sailed southwest into the Atlantic ―arriving in her designated patrol zone
by the second week in September3.‖

On the night of September 12, 1942, the Hurley was running properly blacked out at
her top speed of 16 knots in a sea that was generally calm but choppy with alternating
light southerly swells. Captain Stromberg chose to point into the wind coming
southeast at Force 3 rather than continuing to zigzag, perhaps because the night was so
completely dark; perhaps because it was almost impossible even to distinguish the
diminishing skyline on the horizon; perhaps because it was a night of watching,
listening, and waiting.

Men in the bunkers played cards indifferently, not caring about the cards that were
dealt them but knowing very well what hand might be their lot, and that the ante in that
game was highest of all. Some sailors fretted for their cigarettes while the smoking lamp
was out; still others wrote letters home quickly.

3 Retrieved from


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Eight lookouts took their stations with binoculars: one aft at the gun, one forward at
the gun, two on the upper bridge, two on the after house, and two on the flying bridge,
the highest 50 feet above the waves. All radio reception and transmission had been shut
down, and conversation among the men ordered curtailed or muted.

They were now 950 miles northeast of Barbados at 22.59°N and 46.15º west of
Churchill‘s 40th Meridian. The ship was a silent ark sailing alone on an empty sea, except
for one other.

Paul S. Hirsch, Seaman 2nd Class, was on watch on the bridge at the 50 caliber machine
gun, starboard side, scanning the blackness back and forth, eyes and ears strained for
something that lurked out there, shouldn‘t be out there this far south, but was.

At 2030 hours he saw it--a very faint light 3 to 4 points off the starboard bow! Blackout
was gone. He flicked the intercom switch for the lookout at the bow.

―Renfro! Light just off starboard! I guess 100 yards parallel course. The damn
thing‘s surfaced! You see it?‖


They both hit the alarm simultaneously, the signal for the armed guard to go
immediately to their assigned gun stations. As my father bent to pick up his helmet a
hail of machine gun fire screamed over his head and ripped into the bridge. Then the
sub, running on a parallel course, opened fire with two heavy caliber 6‖ deck guns and
armor piercing shells, simultaneously raking the decks and catwalks with continued
machine gun fire and green tracer shells from a rapid fire 37 mm gun.

Huge shells one after the other slammed into the ship and smashed the cabin
amidships. Snapping the radio antenna like a stick, they ruptured the starboard wing‘s
bunker, exploded the combustion control board, blew the starboard life boats to bits,
demolished the forward 3‖ 50 gun, and blasted the engine room at the water line
enflaming other tanks that had been shelled. The firing was intense, and the splinter
shields were just that, splinters!

Captain Stromberg immediately called for all available speed and took evasive action
swinging hard to port, but the U-boat followed his every desperate maneuver and
closed in for the kill. George Goldman remembers that

―The whole starboard side was ablaze! The armed guard fought back with the 4‖ gun
astern and the 20mm‘s, but because of the smoke and the flames they couldn‘t be sure
of their target. The wounded were brought down into the crew‘s mess where we did
what we could with dish towels.‖


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Everything was on fire! Burning oil and gasoline from the burst tanks encircled the ship
in a wall of flame. The sub circled closer. Machine gun fire and rapid-fire tracers
continued to rake the decks fore and aft, mercilessly cutting down men who were on
the catwalk running to their stations. The heavy dense smoke made visibility almost
impossible on the ship itself.

―My station at the 3‖ 50 bow gun was a twisted pile of wreckage. I ran back to the
bridge to reach the port side, but when I stepped into the bridge I found the executive
officer lying on the deck, his mid-section ripped open and bleeding profusely. I
immediately grabbed the first-aid kit and tried to put on a pressure bandage, but I
realized it was futile.

‗Hey, Paul,‘ the exec gasped, ‗it‘s no use. I‘m gone. Get out of here. Save
yourself!‘ His eyes closed, his head fell to the side, and I was sure he felt no
more pain‖.

―Stunned and sick, but still determined to get to any gun station, I got up trying not to
slip on the bloody deck and ran out the hatchway toward the port bow gun where Lt.
Patrick J. Walsh was attempting to return fire. Just as I turned the corner, I saw him hit
by shrapnel in the throat and I almost reached him when an armor piercing shell
blasted out the starboard bulkhead, obliterated the bridge and the crew‘s quarters and
blew me overboard into the burning water.

I felt the force of the explosion against my body. The next thing I knew I was spinning
and tumbling head over heels in the water. It seemed I was a thousand fathoms down,
but my life jacket slowly raised me to the surface where I saw a scene from hell. The
heat was intense and the sounds were unreal. Flames danced on the waves slick wit
burning oil, the ship was cracking to pieces, men were screaming‖.

Some tried to lower the forward lifeboat but the ship was running full speed out of
control. The engines were unsecured. If anyone had given the order to abandon ship,
no one heard them in the din. It was clear she was lost. The executive officer, the first
mate and the gunnery officer were dead and the captain had been killed when his head
hit the hull as the lifeboat flipped. All ships papers and confidential documents went
down with him.

When George Goldman and others fled the mess room, they found that the port side
lifeboat had already been lowered. That had also flipped over in the churning sea. Tim
Gates, nicknamed ―The Preacher‖ by his mates, left them at the rail, ran down into the
blazing cargo deck, released the life raft and jumped into the sea after it.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

―Buster, there goes the raft. Let‘s jump for it!‖ George yelled to the sailor next
to him.

―Not me—I‘m bleeding—the sharks will get me.‖ The young oiler gripped the
rail in pain and fear.

―I didn‘t stop to argue. I leaped into the sea and swam to where I thought the
raft should be.‖

One of the Navy lads came alongside him. ―How you
doing?‖ I asked him, keeping my head above water.

―I‘m okay. I‘m shot through the legs, but I‘m okay‖. He kept on swimming and
passed me like he had an outboard motor on!‖

Anyhow I found the raft and climbed aboard.‖

My father was still fighting for his life in the roiled tumult of the ocean.

―I groped through the waves gagging on seawater and trying to keep the flames away
when I heard ‗Over here! This way!‘ I swam toward the voice, but when they pulled me
on to the raft, a stinging, searing pain flashed through my head. ‗You‘ve been hit!‘ I put
my hand to the left side where the blood was pouring profusely from a shrapnel wound
and it felt like the peeling of a thick grapefruit; but I was lucky; if that had hit me
anywhere else on my body, it would have killed me.‖

While his mates cleansed the wound with sulfur powder and bandaged him, the ghastly
light from the burning ship illumined their determined search for other survivors.

―Hey, over there! Look!‖

Three men clinging to a capsized lifeboat managed to come along side with another not
far behind. The men righted the overturned craft and climbed into both; all the 23
wounded in one boat, 22 in the other, and each one with room for only ten men. The
two boats were drifting from the blazing hulk when they heard more shells blast her
apart Drifting away they watched their ship run ahead toward the horizon like a person
in the agony of fire. Burning and exploding all night she sank stern first.

―Quiet men! Down!‖

The sub continued circling from starboard to port like a prowling beast. They could
hear voices from the conning tower and crouched low, not talking, barely breathing,
not moving a muscle. They had heard stories of survivors being machine gunned in the


Maritime Tales of the Sea

water, and also stories to the contrary but those were rare. Finally the putt-putt-putt of
the sub‘s engines died off. Exhausted, lost, hurt, and grieved, they slept the sleep of the

Dawn came with the flotsam and jetsam of a wreck that was once a ship, a home away
from home. The stench of oil and gunpowder was still in their nostrils. The roiled
waves lifted them to the top of swells and plunged them down twenty foot walls of
water; it was impossible to make headway by using the crowns and troughs of a sound

My father‘s wound ached terribly. ―I can‘t stop this whistling in my head!‖

―That‘s not just in your head, Paul,‖ the third mate said. He was the navigation officer,
the ranking seaman among them, therefore the Officer of the Day (OD), and they paid
attention. ―Listen men!‖

Since their lifejackets had been equipped with a Distress Signal Flasher and a whistle,
even amidst the rough slaps of the white caps they could hear the high- pitched sound
of another man alive!

Toiling with their burned and bruised hands through the choppy sea, they finally
spotted him at the bottom of a swell going under. Somehow they reached him and
pulled him aboard. He was as water-logged as the lifejacket that was soggy with water
up to his lips.

―Thanks, guys!‖ he hawked and wretched and spit out the sea, barely catching
his breath. ―I was in the water all night…sure I was done for…if you hadn‘t found me,
I was gonna give up and sink.‖

The look in their eyes prompted his answer. ―I didn‘t see…anybody else…I
don‘t think…nobody left but us.‖

―All right, men,‖ the OD said somber but matter-of-fact. ―Let‘s continue
searching for survivors, and then we must decide how to best help ourselves. We must
move quickly before nightfall.‖

Their efforts, however, were in vain. The sea is a harsh mistress and does not
readily yield up her victims.

―At first we thought it would be a good idea to tie the boats together,‖ my father wrote,
―but it wasn‘t long before we realized that it was a bad idea because of the turbulent sea
we were in. If we didn‘t cut that line, one or both of the lifeboats would capsize. We
couldn‘t risk it.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Reluctantly the line was cut, and we waived each other farewell with good wishes. They
were out of sight within 15 minutes in the swift current, and were fortunate to have
been picked up 7 days later by the S.S. Etna, a Swedish freighter out of New York. We
were left to the mercy of the elements and the immense, open sea of the deep ocean.‖

The situation in that remaining craft was precarious for those other 23 men. They had
to ration their provisions (26 ounces of water per day, pemmican, hardtack, and malted
milk tablets), they had to care for their personal hygiene and the boat‘s, and they had
two wounded men, my father and the chief engineer.

My father was able to cleanse his wound with seawater, but the CE was in bad shape.
A machine gun bullet had severed an artery in his right ankle.

―Although our signalman and corpsman, Tillinghast, applied pressure bandages, these
only exacerbated his terrible agony. When he struggled against it and kicked off the
wraps, the blood shot out like water from a burst garden hose.

This he did several times and it caused him to lose a great deal of blood. Each time
Tillie opened the wound to apply a new bandage the bilges were filled with blood.
Since hygiene was critical, we immediately flooded the bilges with sea water and
pumped out the bloody water using a hand pump.

The moment the blood hit the sea we were surrounded by sharks. These guys came in
all sizes and shapes from 6‘ to 12‘ or 16‘; and what looked like huge killers of 18 feet,
and they seemed almost as wide.

Several times the biggest creatures would nudge the boat, causing us to fear they might
swim underneath and upend it. We had nothing to drive them away, and even if we had
used a gun a wounded shark in the water would send them into a feeding frenzy that
would surely capsize us‖.

―Okay,‖ the OD gave the order. ―No one moves without saying so first, got it? One
false step and we‘ll all land in the drink with these man-eaters.‖

Whenever a man became muscle cramped and needed to move, everyone had to move,
one after the other; 46 legs crossed over and under each other in a space designed for
10 men.

The OD also called to their attention that if the enemy found them, they would become
prisoners of war.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

―If the enemy finds us, we‘ll become prisoners of war. You may refuse to be taken
prisoner,‖ he said with a straight face, ―and stay in the lifeboat; but then, you won‘t
have any choice in the matter.‖

By the third day the waters became calm enough to hoist a sail. There were two in the
boat; yellow meant quarantine, red was ‗The Pink Lady‘—‗Survivors in need of Rescue‘.
There was a steady wind blowing, and the OD set a course due west with the hope of
reaching the free islands of the Lesser Antilles.

They made good progress at first doing as much as 10-12 knots (20-25 mph) on a
white-capped sea, but on the 12th day they awoke to a morning without a breeze and
without a sound from the ocean around them. They had reached the dreaded Horse
Latitudes where subsiding dry air and high pressure literally evaporate the winds.

―We‘re in the doldrums,‖ the OD said grimly.

The sails hung slack. The ocean was a sheet of glass without a ripple on the surface
except the slow interminable slicing of the sharks‘ fins; no sound, no movement, no
sight of plane or boat. The days dragged on as hopeless as the sameness of sea, and the
rations decreased with each bite and every sip. The sun burned hotter and scorched
them without relief. Water was rationed only at night to avoid dehydration.

―The chief engineer lay very still, not even rubbing his left foot against his bandaged
right ankle. We fashioned a makeshift canopy from the sail that shaded him from the
sun, but the unrelenting rays penetrated right through.‖

―Why is it so dark? Why is it so dark?‖ he moaned.

Thinking that he might be going blind, they persuaded him to keep a bandage around
his eyes, and took turns applying a wet cloth over his eyes. He did not protest at all.
They saw that he had no hope; he was past it, he was just going to die, and it was then
that they began to pray, for him and for themselves because now they had no way of
guiding their boat. They had reached the end of the world where the ancient mariners
believed that one falls off into endless space.

The one thing they could not afford to lose was hope. They had kept their civility, their
self-respect, their hygiene, and their courage. They had shared their rations and with
them faced the dwindling resources they had left upon which hung their chances of
survival. As each long day slipped away and sapped their strength, they confronted the
perils of starvation and capture against the slim possibility of rescue. What doubts they
had, what despair they felt, they kept to themselves.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

―In fact, I don‘t think we stopped praying since we were hit,‖ my father recorded in his
memoirs. ―One man declared he was an atheist, would not join us in prayer. There was
a mutual respect among us regarding this, too. He went to the other end of the boat
and rejoined us after we finished praying.‖

That was all they had left until they were awakened by gunfire on the 21st day! Some
thought that they were dreaming, but the ship coming toward them was the British
freighter H.M.S. Loch Dee.

―She was a rusty old tub,‖ my father noted, ―but the most beautiful ship we ever saw!
Captain White, who by our great good fortune was also an M.D., told us that our Chief
Engineer would not have lasted another day.

When we asked about the gunfire he replied in a bristling Scottish brogue:

―We didna hold with any sharks comin‘ round ye in the rescue at all!‖

The last survivors of the S.S. Hurley were taken to a hospital in South Carolina, where
they recovered and received Purple Heart medals for their bravery and fortitude.

Those men who did not survive are still remembered for their courage and stout hearts.

―There were 22 of us in the boat,‖ George Goldman said. ―We looked for survivors,
but the sea was too rough. It was choppy and visibility was limited by the waves. We
could hear guys somewhere in the water blowing the whistles that were attached to
their lifejackets; calling for help--long, high plaintive notes. We lost our Captain, our
executive officer, our first mate, 13 crew members, and four Navy gunners. I can still
hear those whistles blowing faintly over the water.‖


―In the same boat—on the same ships‖

The Merchant Marine veterans of World War II wish to thank Charles A. Lloyd, Alex
Lombardi, and all the U.S.N. Armed Guard veterans for their past support of the
Merchant Mariners endeavors to obtain Veteran‘s Status – also for their support to
extend the ―cut-off‖ date of 8-15-45 to 12-31-46.

We sailed together in World War II and now we work together. Thanks fellow


Maritime Tales of the Sea

The following letter to Senator Trent Lott (R – Mississippi) is a fine example of how
the U.S. Naval Armed Guard veterans have helped and are still helping American
Merchant Marine Veterans obtain proper recognition from the U.S. Government.

Many thanks to Charles A. Lloyd for permission to reprint this letter.


October 20, 1997
Honorable Trent Lott
4X7 Senate Russell Office
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Lott:

Enclosed is a letter I sent to you 1/12/96. Did you receive it? It concerns giving
credit where credit is due to the Merchant Mariners of World War II. They helped us
man the guns when needed and brought up the ammunition from the ammo magazines
when under attack. Contrary to isolated cases, these men served not only their country,
but those countries to which they delivered material and supplies after the war was
over. If it were not for the skills and desire to deliver these goods, many entire families
would have died of starvation. Please think about this when you bring Bill-S-61 and
HR-1126 up for a vote.

As a schoolmate and Merchant shipmate of WWII said to me one day, ―C.A., I
wish I was half the Christian today as I was in the engine room when those depth
charges were going off almost all the way over and back.‖ As he told me this, I could
see the fright in his eyes, some 50 years later. I don‘t show that fright in my face
because, I was one of the lucky ones to be topside when the depth charges went off
and I could see the destroyer escorts when they threw out the ―ASH CANS‖ and I
knew what it was that exploded.

There were five of us brothers in the service of our country. Three of us were
in the U.S. NAVY ARMED GUARD on board ships run by the merchant seamen.
One was a merchant mariner carrying supplies to Italy and who also rode out the
typhoon later at Okinawa and was due to be in the invasion of the Japanese mainland.
The other was a regular marine and due to his age and marital status with a child, he
was a sentry guard at Treasure Island, one of the three Shipping and Receiving Stations
for Armed Guard.
(He apologized for taking the cigarettes.)

Brother Whitson, one of the first armed guard, entering navy service 12/28/41
and volunteered for that special branch of the navy when it was known as the
―SUICIDE SQUADRON.‖ I remember when he came home from the ―MURMANSK
RUN‖ when he told my Mother and Dad, and I quote, ―If it was not for the merchant


Maritime Tales of the Sea

crew bringing us our ammunition, I wouldn‘t be here today. Mom, they brought us
food and water 3 days and nights and there were not nights due to the time of year and
we did not sleep. If we did, we would not have made it.‖ Unquote.

Whitson made it back to England several times; to the North Africa Invasion;
was at Bari, Italy, right after the ―DISASTER AT BARI‖ took place, and he sailed
through the Pacific to Australia and Bombay, India on a load of ammunition. The
merchant mariners were aboard these ships in the engine room, on the bridge, in the
―CROW‘S NEST‖ and with the gun crews in practice and under fire from the enemy.
That‘s why the armed guard and I stood up for merchantmen to get their veteran‘s
status in January of 1988. That‘s why our crew and I stand up that they be granted
December 31, 1946, as their ―CUTOFF DATES‖ of in-time service.

You see, the eleven merchant seamen who were killed May 5th, 1945, along with
my brother, Lonnie Whitson Lloyd, would have gone on to serve until December 31st,
1946, if they would have been given a choice. Two of them had just finished up their
Maritime training and came aboard the S.S. BLACK POINT at Newport News, Va.,
just a few days earlier. Honor these men and those who survived. Let us not forget
those who gave their all and those who were willing to, also.
Sincerely, Charles A. Lloyd, Chairman 1985-98
U.S.N. Armed Guard WWII Veterans


The Navy's Armed Guard Served the Nation Well During World War II

The merchant marine alongside the armed guard served the nation well.

In May of 1942, following graduation from a Navy Communication School in Los
Angeles, about 25 or 30 radiomen and signalmen were sent to the Armed Guard
Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. On the way to Brooklyn some of the armed guard personnel
started referring to the Armed Guard as a "suicide squad." They had lived near the
East coast and knew about the merchant ships being sunk by the German subs.

As a member of the armed guard, I started shipping out of the East coast in June of
1942. Some of the East coast harbors looked like graveyards with the masts of ships
sticking out of the water. It seemed like every day we saw empty lifeboats floating in
the water. We were going from Norfolk to Key West.

The U. S. Navy Armed Guard was first organized during World War I when allied and
American shipping was being attacked and sunk by the enemy in wartime. It was
deemed necessary that guns be put on ships for protection. The navy was called on to
furnish the gun crew for these weapons. These men were known as U.S.N. Armed
Guard. Their main purpose was to maintain the guns and ammunition, protect the
ship, ship's crew and cargo from the enemy. They had orders to stay aboard the ships


Maritime Tales of the Sea

and fire the guns as long as the ships were afloat. This was to keep the enemy from
crippling-the ships;-and boarding them for provisions they needed to stay on patrol
longer. The enemy had also been known to kill the ship's crew before sinking the ship.

The Armed Guard served on 384 ships during World War I. This was a small number
compared to the 6,236 ships they served on in World War II. The armed guard also
consisted of officers in charge of the crew with radiomen and signalmen operating all
transmission of codes and messages. The armed guard was deactivated following
World War I.

With the war in Europe spreading over boundaries of neighboring countries, and the
horizon of war eminent, measures were being taken to man ships again since the allies
had lost so many ships from 1939 until we were drawn into the war with the bombing
of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The merchants M/S City of Radville was the
first victim of who would, one year later, be our greatest enemy. It struck a German
mine that had been laid in the western entrance of Bass Strait, six miles off Cape of
Way, Australia. One merchant seaman was killed. He was the first of over 6,000 of the
merchant crew to lose their lives during WWII.

Even though the Allies were having a lot of ships sunk during the 1940-41 era,
Congress could not authorize placing guns aboard cargo ships due to the 1939
Neutrality Act. This act prohibited the arming of American Merchant ships during the
existence of a proclamation of a state of war between foreign states or countries. It
was not until the Act of November 17, 1941, Section 2 of the Neutrality Act that
repealed Section 6 before steps were enacted to arm the vessels and even before then
five more merchant ships were sunk before December, 1941.

The S.S. Robin Moor, was torpedoed and shelled by the Germans on May 21, 1941,
700 miles off the west coast of Africa with no loss of life; the S.S. Steel Seafarer was
sunk September 5, 1941 by German bombers in the Gulf of Suez with its lights on and
a large American Flag on the side. No crew members were lost; the S.S. Lehigh was
torpedoed October 19, 1941 by the Germans with four slightly injured; the S.S. Astral
was sunk by a German sub December 2, 1941 with a crew of 37 and there were no
survivors; the S.S. Sagadahoc was sunk December 3, 1941 with the loss of one
merchant seaman; the S.S. Cynthia Olson was the first American flagship sunk during
World War II by the enemy on December 7, 1941, 1,200 miles west of Cape Flattery,
Washington, with 33 merchant crew and 2 U.S. Army personnel; there were no
survivors. The S.S. Black Point was the last merchant ship sunk in the Atlantic Theater
of War. It was sunk on May 5, 1945, with the loss of 11 merchant seamen and one
U.S. Armed Guard. All German sub commanders had been notified of Germany's
surrender. The sub commander said he did not get the notice. Some say he ignored the
order, because he wanted to sink one more ship.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

The first WWII Armed Guard crews were taken from the regular Navy in April, 1941
and sent to Little Croch, Virginia to set up and train gunners in the event of war
breaking out. These were the first men to man the few guns that were available at that
time. The casualty rates were high among the armed guard and merchant marine crews
at the beginning of WWII due to the fact the enemy ruled the sea. Because they
shipped out with no guns or escort protection, the ships were sitting ducks, for the
enemy had very little resistance. The first ship that I was on in June of 1942 had only a
sub-machine gun. The armed guard crew consisted of myself (radio operator) and one
signalman. Many armed guard and merchant seamen lost their lives in sight of the
American shoreline. The shores were lit up at night off the coast of the Carolinas and
earned the name of "Torpedo Alley".

In the first seven months of 1942, German subs sank an appalling total of 681 allied
ships at a small cost to them. One convoy ,SC-42 (New York to England) was hit by
U-boats off Cape Farewell, Greenland and lost 22 out of 63 ships before fog blew in,
saving the rest from annihilation. The armed guard met its supreme test in the long
and dangerous-voyages to North Russia. Without a doubt there were more hazards in
these trips to Murmansk, Russia than any other kind of Naval duty. Gales were
frequent. Ice fields were a common menace to navigation. Magnetic compasses
became completely unreliable. Floating mines were often encountered. Choice of
routes was limited. German subs and surface craft were able to operate from nearby
bases in German-occupied Norway. German planes could shadow convoys for days
and bomb ships from bases within twenty minutes flying time of Murmansk. Before
escort aircraft carries were used, only the weather and the guns of the escorts and
merchant ships stood in the way of wholesale destruction of every merchant ship
which ventured to relieve the hard-pressed Russians. Convoys battled their way to the
approaches of Murmansk and then underwent constant attacks in the harbor as they
patiently waited to unload their precious cargoes. Cargo handling facilities were very
limited, and the constant bombing of the city was not calculated to improve the
situation. The story of the voyages in Murmansk, therefore, is one of almost
unbelievable horror, of matchless courage, and unlimited devotion to duty. There is
nothing quite like it in all history. Ships which left the ports of the United States for
Russia had about one chance in three of returning prior to the spring of 1943. After
that date the odds were much better. Chances of rescue from sinking ships in sub-zero
weather were not very good in spite of all efforts to save personnel whenever possible.

The records of the Arming Merchant Ships Section of the Fleet Maintenance Division
indicate that some 347 merchant ships were dispatched to North Russia through April
26, 1945. Most of the losses were sustained between January 5, 1942 and March 14,
1943. In this period, 143 ships departed for North Russia and 111 arrived.

There are outstanding examples of Japanese cruelty to survivors from ships which they
had torpedoed which should not go unmentioned. These cases illustrate the fanatical


Maritime Tales of the Sea

nature of the opponent with which the armed guards and merchant seamen had to deal
with while on duty in the Pacific and Indian Ocean waters.

The S.S. Richard Hovey was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean on March 29, 1944, just
two days after she left Bombay. The Japanese sub fired at No.2 and No. 4 lifeboats and
actually rammed No. 2 boat. The sub took No. 1 lifeboat in tow and took four
prisoners, including the master. The only persons who died were on Armed Guard and
three men who were lost in the engine room. The men were able to avoid machine
gunfire by diving into the water behind the boats and the rafts which were being towed
by the lifeboats. One of the most interesting facts about the struggle of survivors for
life is that a merchant marine junior engineer constructed a still. The water which was
distilled helped save the lives of several men.

The Jean Nicolet was also torpedoed in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese shelled the
ship and then forced about 95 men to come aboard the sub from the boats. They
forced the men to give up on their possessions and tied their hands behind their backs.
They were then forced to run through a gauntlet where they hit them with bayonets
and pieces of lead pipe. Others were taken to the after section of the sub and beaten.
About 60 people were killed in this awful ordeal. The approach of a plane forced the
sub to submerge. A few men were able to untie their hands and escape.

The S.S. John A. Johnson was torpedoed between Hawaii and San Francisco. The ship
broke into two parts and both sections were set on fire by shelling. The submarine
machiner gunned lifeboats and rafts. Of the eleven dead or missing five were armed
guard sailors. There are many stories about armed guard and merchant marine
personnel who had to take to lifeboats and life rafts when their ships were sunk by the
enemy. Basil Izzi was one of these stories. He joined the Navy in April of 1942 and
was assigned to the armed guard and the S.S. Zuandam, a Dutch luxury liner that had
been converted to a cargo ship. The ship was torpedoed off the coast of Brazil
November 2, 1942. The ship was sinking rapidly and he jumped overboard. He was
picked up the next day by a raft with four men on it. This would be his home for the
next 83 days. Their food lasted for 16 days. They caught a shark but it was tough
eating. They caught birds and small fish which helped some. On the 20th day they
burned flares but the passing ship did not see them or just ignored them.'

Sometimes they would go without food for 2 or 3 days and without as much as six
days. On the 65th day, one of the sailors died who had been very sick for days. The
gunnery officer died on the seventy-sixth day. He had been sick for a number of days.
On the eighty-second day they saw their first airplane. On the eight-third day they were
picked up by a Navy PC boat that was protecting a convoy. Their first meal was
peaches. They flew from Miami to Washington D.C. and eventually recovered from
their ordeal.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

On September 27, 1942, the German surface raider "J" (Stier, ex Cario), while
searching for easy prey in the South Atlantic, surprised the outgunned U.S. liberty ship
Stephen Hopkins. In a violent engagement that lasted three hours, both ships went to
the bottom. Some easy prey! Forty-two brave American sailors were lost including
gunnery officer, Ensign Kenneth Willet, who was last seen grievously wounded,
helping men to dislodge the rafts. He was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously.
There were other accounts where courageous Navy Armed Guard crewmen and
merchant marine sailors grudgingly but unselfishly gave up their lives delivering much
needed supplies to the fighting troops overseas.

A total of 1,810 armed guard personnel were classified as dead, missing or prisoners of
war from December 7, 1941 to September 1, 1945.

Information for this article was taken from The Pointer, Department of the Navy-
Navy Historical Center, and my own personal experience from April 1942 to
November 1945 while I was in the Armed Guard.
Van C. Mills - San Angelo, Texas 76904



After Pearl Harbor, my brother Cle joined the navy and was involved in many of the
major sea battles with Japan. I was in high school and I decided when I was old
enough I would also join the Navy. Therefore, when I was a 17-year-old senior, several
of my friends and I went to the recruiting office in Oshkosh and enlisted in the US
Navy. Most of my friends were older than I was. They were mostly 18 years old,
therefore, the Navy called them in to active service almost immediately. However, at
that time, I was only 17 and my birthday was coming up after high school graduation,
my birthday being July 9. I was so excited about going into the Navy that I quit going
to classes at high school and the Navy called me to active duty on July 10, 1944. They
shipped me to Milwaukee where I got all my physicals and screening and thereafter to
Great Lakes Naval Basic Training. While at Great Lakes, I took some tests and found I
was qualified to take some college courses and probably finish high school. I also sang
in the Great Lakes Choir. I took several college correspondence courses while at Great
Lakes and those were from a training school in Corpus Christi, Texas.

After basic training in the Great Lakes, I came home on a brief leave, and then was
assigned to an Armed Guard Gunnery Training School in Gulfport, Mississippi.
Following my training at Gulf Port, the Navy took us on a brief tour on a ship at
Biloxi, Mississippi to give us an idea of how it felt on a ship on the ocean. The ship


Maritime Tales of the Sea

happened to be an aircraft carrier and several seamen were training to be pilots, which
we were also given that opportunity. While on that ship outside Biloxi, one of the
planes took off with a student pilot and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. That helped
us in the Armed Guard Crew make up our minds that we did not want to be pilots in
the Navy. Then we were transferred to Algiers Navy Station in New Orleans to await
the completion of a new Liberty Ship being built there.

The name of the Liberty Ship was S.S. Helen Majeska. In a few days, the ship was
completed and our Armed Guard Crew of about 28 sailors went aboard and rode the
ship up the Mississippi River and back down before it sailed out into the ocean waters.
On our first tour onto the Gulf of Mexico in rough waters, we had a relatively hard
storm and I had volunteered to stand my watch on the bow of the ship. Needless to
say, most of the sailors including myself became somewhat seasick. We continued our
sail down to the Panama Canal and in a few days reached the canal. We took our turn
and entered the canal and as we were continuing through the canal something went
wrong with the main hydraulic steering apparatus on our ship and it rammed a big
concrete slab wall in the canal, which put a big hole or dent in the bow of the liberty
ship. It needed then to be inspected and repaired before we entered the tour into the
Pacific Ocean.

While waiting for this work to be done on the ship, several of us in the crew took a
brief tour south into South America. Inspectors determined that the damage done was
not bad enough to keep us out of the Pacific, so we sailed the Pacific with the
damaged bow. Several weeks passed as we crossed the Pacific and several times, we
observed enemy aircraft in the sky, but they did not attack our ship directly. We did
have the opportunity to man our guns and fire a few rounds at the enemy planes.
While crossing the Pacific Ocean, our ship was steered in a zigzag manner to reduce
the risks of submarine attacks. Our first stop in the South Pacific was at the Admiralty

From there we traveled to New Guinea and unloaded our ship's goods for soldiers' PX
stores. After the stop in New Guinea, we were pleased to learn we were heading for


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Sydney, Australia. Our dock number while in Sydney was called Piermont 25. It was a
welcomed site to approach Sydney and dock in a civilized country. While in Sydney,
our ship was loaded once again with bombs and explosives, which we were assigned to
carry to U.S. airports in Southeast Asia and Pacific. Our ship when loaded sailed north
toward New Guinea and headed through the Torres Straits toward Indonesia. Our
ship unfortunately was heavily loaded and it landed on one of the reefs in the Torres
Straits. After we were pulled off by a tugboat, we continued through the sea north of
Australia and made a stop at Darwin, which is just off the Timor Sea. Our crew found
a place that we could go ashore and play a game of softball for exercise and relaxation.
While playing the game, we were surprised by Japanese army approaching us from in
the woods. We hastily got back aboard our ship and were ready for combat. No
combat occurred because the Japanese disappeared.

We proceeded to the west towards Sumatra and as we approached Java, a volcano
erupted and we were showered with clouds of ashes. We continued the trip to the
north into the South China Sea past Singapore and landed in Brunei, Borneo. While in
Borneo, which was a pretty land, some of us armed guard crew and Australian soldiers
we had taken aboard left the ship and started walking a trail toward an airstrip to pick
up possible mail deliveries. While walking along the trail, we were fired upon by
Japanese hiding behind buildings and in the brush. The Australian friends saw the
Japanese officer that fired at us and they returned his fire, killing him on the spot. We
got to the airport and picked up very little mail for us. After our visit in Borneo, we
proceed north in the South China Sea toward the Philippines and our ship was aimed
at by someone who fired a torpedo. I saw the torpedo skim past our bow as we moved
in our zigzag pattern. We were not hit. We continued on our tour.

We were heading back toward the Pacific Ocean and we heard that US bombers were
going to drop bombs on Japan. As we were halfway back to the US, the first bomb
was dropped on Hiroshima and shortly after that, a second bomb was dropped on
Nagasaki. We were by then approaching the North American coastline and we were
due to enter docks at San Pedro, California. We docked our ship in San Pedro, enjoyed
the stay in California cities, and visited Hollywood celebrities and in a short time, we
were aboard our ship in dry-dock and Western Union delivered a telegram, which
stated VJ Day. Japan had surrendered and they were about to make ready to sign the
peace treaty. The dry-dock shipyard in San Pedro was emptied from people almost

My next orders were to go home on leave, which I did in the fall of 1945. While I was
home on leave, my neighbor brought the Sunday paper over to our house and showed
us a picture on the front page of the newspaper. The ship was the S.S. Helena Majeska.
The ship had acquired a new crew, sailed back through the Panama Canal, across the
Atlantic to England and was caught in a storm in the English Channel, and was broken
in two and sunk in the English Channel. No lives were lost and the ship was later raised


Maritime Tales of the Sea

and towed into port to salvage to build more ships. I was later assigned another ship,
traveled to Treasure Island, California, and got on that ship and they cruised us to
China. I spent several months in the east visiting China, the Great Wall of China, was
detained in Beijing for a day by the Communists, and later sailed back to the US and
was discharged in June 1946. After my tour in the Navy, I reenlisted into the Army Air
Corp, which was later changed to US Air Force. My travels in the service have taken me
to every continent in the world, except Antarctica and to every state in the US. That
was my tour of duty.


The Merchant Fleet
In 1939, Canada had only 38 ocean-going merchant ships, each averaging a little more
than 6,000 tonnes dwt, with a total of about 290,000 tonnes cargo capacity and manned
by approximately 1,450 Canadian seamen. They included 11 vessels – cargo ships and
―Lady Boats‖ – of the Canadian National Steamships Company and 10 tankers of
Imperial Oil Limited. Following the outbreak of the war, captured enemy ships and
ships of occupied nations were added to the roster.
The importance of the Canadian Merchant Navy as a lifeline to Britain was major. It
has been estimated that a Canadian merchant ship of 10,000 tonnes dwt could carry
enough foodstuffs to feed 225,000 people for a week. Cargo could also include
clothing, fuel, steel, aluminum, lumber, aircraft, tanks, jeeps, trucks, guns, munitions,
and whatever else was required for the war effort. Not surprisingly, merchant ships
became prized targets for enemy surface raiders and U-boats.10
There was also a large Canadian Great Lakes fleet. It comprised many ships of 6,000
tonnes dwt or less, including the ―canallers‖ – so called because they were small enough
to navigate the pre-St. Lawrence Seaway lock system. In the desperate wartime
situation, even they became ocean-going vessels. In all, 133 lakers were transferred


Maritime Tales of the Sea

from inland waterways to ocean convoy duties. The first 25 crossed the Atlantic in the
spring of 1940 to shore-up the hard-hit British coastal fleet. A half-dozen took part in
the evacuation of Dunkirk, France, as the German Forces overran France. Only nine of
these first 25 survived the war. Other lakers carried bauxite ore from South America to
Canada‘s aluminum smelters.

Survivors of torpedoed merchant ship
aboard HMCS Arvida, St. John‘s, Nfld., September 1942. (NAC PA136285)
Many Canadian seamen sailed aboard ships of foreign registry. For example, 14
Standard Oil tankers under Panamanian registry were managed by Imperial Oil Limited
and manned by Canadian or British officers and crews supplied by this Canadian
On June 15, 1940, off Land‘s End, England, the Erik Boye 11 was torpedoed by U-38
and became the very first Canadian-flagged merchant ship to go down as a casualty of
the Battle of the Atlantic. It would not be the last.
As the war continued, Canada‘s Merchant Navy was supplemented by new ships
pouring from our revitalized shipyards, but it was this early vanguard fleet of Canadian
flag and Canadian-managed foreign flag ships that suffered the worst of the losses. In
fact, it is estimated that 88 per cent of the casualties suffered by Canadian merchant
seamen occurred by the end of 1942.
The merchant fleet was engaged from day one and soon suffered grievous losses in
ships and men. By the end of the war as many as 72 Canadian merchant ships would be
lost to enemy action – torpedoed, bombed, mined or shelled. Storms at sea, operational
accidents and structural shortcomings also took their toll. For example, the Hamildoc, a
small Great Lakes freighter that was built only for operation in the sheltered waters of
the Great Lakes, floundered in heavy seas in the Caribbean in January 1943.12
The Merchant Crews
―The Battle of the Atlantic was not won by any navy or air force, it was won by the
courage, fortitude and determination of the British and Allied Merchant Navy.‖ said
Rear Admiral Leonard Murray, Commander-in-Chief Canadian Northwest Atlantic.13


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Merchant Navy survivors from sunken British
vessels S.S. Ashantian and S.S. Wanstead, St.
John‘s, Nfld., April 1943. (NAC PA137795)
In Halifax, where the major convoys were assembled, the cost was counted in more
than tonnage. The toll in human life was mounting steadily, and the harbour city knew
only too well the harsh realities of such casualty figures. Seamen whose vessels were hit
hard had only a 50 per cent chance of survival. Death by explosion or fire or scalding
steam, or by drowning in the malevolent grey waters as a ship was sucked under – all
were horrific enough. Harshest of all, floundering men from fatally hit vessels
frequently had to be left behind so as not to make sitting ducks of the ships still under
way. Drowning sailors had to be abandoned to the cold Atlantic so that the greater
number would survive. The harbour was a daily witness to this grim war at sea. Stricken
vessels limped back to port, their open wounds slicking the sea with oil. Men who had
seen the battle told their appalling stories, while the pace of activity in the shipyards and
recruiting stations took on ever-greater urgency.14
The outcome of the war depended on those embattled, rust-streaked ships sailing
through the long, bitter years. The merchant seamen who sailed them were true heroes.
They hung on and stuck it out during the dark days when they were subjected to fierce
attacks against which there was only the lightest defence.
The merchant crews – men of every nationality, thousands of them with homes in
enemy-occupied Europe – sailed back and forth across hostile seas facing the prospect
of death by freezing water or flaming oil. They had no uniforms or recognition and
were poorly paid. Freedom was gone, too, for the ships had to be sailed and these men
had to sail them. They sometimes sailed in rusty old tramps, but just as often in highly-
flammable tankers or in freighters loaded with ammunition and other dangerous
cargoes. With each voyage the odds of survival seemed to grow longer. Still, voyage
after voyage, men who had been torpedoed or who had seen ships go down about
them sailed and sailed again.
Canadian merchant seamen not only plied the North Atlantic route – they sailed the
oceans of the world. They carried their cargoes to and from the ports of Europe, Asia,


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Africa, South America, Australia/New Zealand, and the Far East. They carried
foodstuffs and ammunition, clothing and steel, oil and aircraft – whatever was required
for the war effort. After Hitler invaded Russia, they sailed the deadly Murmansk Run to
northern Russia.

Excerpts taken from the following website:
Valour at Sea – Canada‘s Merchant Navy - written by Patricia Giesler


The Formation and Operation of the US Army Small Ships in World War II
An address to members on 25 January 2005 by Captain E. A. Flint, MBE, ED (Retd)

The Fahnestock Expedition
The United States Army Small Ships was a unique organisation which owed its
formation to John Sheridan Fahnestock, later Colonel. His commitment and dedication
to his beliefs, and his outstanding leadership, ensured its success.
In mid March 1940, the Director 11, a 130 foot, 3-masted Grand Banks fishing
schooner, left New York harbour for a two year cruise in the South Pacific. The
purpose of the "Fahnestock Expedition" was to record bird calls and local music and to
make oceanographic studies of the islands visited. The expedition was commanded by
Sheridan Fahnestock and the crew consisted of his brother, Bruce Fahnestock,
Ladislaw Reday, engineer, and George Peterson, Thomas Folster, Rollin Grant, Phil
Farley, Dawson Glover and Bob Wilson. Also on board were Mrs. Mary Fahnestock,
Mrs. Margaret Steele Fahnestock and Mrs. Helen Folster.
All went well with the expedition until late 1940 when, attempting to enter Gladstone
Harbour, Queensland, the Director 11 hit a reef and was wrecked. There was no loss of
life and all on board took a steamship passage back to the United States.

Mission X
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, Sheridan Fahnestock, whose family were
close friends with the Roosevelt family, proposed to the military that the forces in the
Philippines be re-supplied by the use of sailing ships, trawlers, and old freighters --in
fact any sort of vessel that could escape the scrutiny of the Japanese forces - and for
these vessels to slip into one of the countless harbours and bays in the islands in the

The plans of Sheridan Fahnestock finally came to the attention of a newly appointed
US Army Brigadier General, Arthur H. Wilson, who also had friends in the Presidential
circle. The general philosophy of that age group in 1942 was of patriotism and anger
against the sneak attack on Pearl Harbour that President Roosevelt had called "that day
of infamy." It was the triggering factor that induced the Fahnestock brothers and other
young men to rally to the forces.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

When the concept of using the crew of Director 11 in the Mission X plan as it became
known, was accepted, it was only necessary to round them up and get them to
Washington to join the Mission X expedition. Many of the old crew were easily located.
Phil Farley and Bob Wilson were in Yale. Dawson Glover had been kicked out of Yale,
and "Laddie" Reday was in the Artillery at Fort Monroe. When they all arrived in
Washington, Sheridan Fahnestock was given a captain's commission, his brother,
Bruce, a 1st lieutenant's commission, and the others were made 2nd lieutenants in the US
Army by Brigadier General A.H. Wilson.

The initial plan was to take their vessels, once they acquired them, to the Philippines
and somehow relieve Macarthur's forces on Bataan. Just how they were to do this
desperate task was extremely vague. In fairness to the planners, it all depended on how
long Macarthur could hold out against the Japanese. It also depended on where they
could get the vessels, how long it would take to get to the Philippines and whether
other people could be enlisted into their group.

Eventually, they were flown to the US west coast, then taken by ship to Honolulu and
then flown by B26 bomber to Melbourne, Australia, via Brisbane, island hopping on
the way. When they arrived in Melbourne they were greeted with the news that Bataan
had fallen and that General Macarthur had arrived in Australia with a small staff.

Early 1942 in the South-West Pacific
The position in Australia was critical. The Japanese were swooping down the New
Guinea coast. They were in Buna, Lae, Finschhafen, Madang and Hollandia. They had
landed at Rabaul and in the Solomons, and were moving overland to take Port

Once ashore in New Guinea, however, the Japanese found, moving rapidly difficult, as
did the Australians facing them, on the precipitous mountain passes and through the
almost impenetrable rain forest and the muddy swamps. Impassable New Guinea
jungle slowed advance to a snail's pace and reduced re-supplies to an inadequate trickle.
The jungle will lick them, General Thomas Blamey was quoted as saying, and it did with
the help of the Australian Army on the Kokoda Track in mid 1942. The Japanese never
did reach Port Moresby.

In early 1942, there was considerable rivalry between General Macarthur and the U.S.
Navy and there was little co-operation between the two areas of command. The net
result was that there were no U.S. Navy ships, landing craft or marines available in 1942
for operations in New Guinea. On 30 March 1942, it was decided that the Pacific
Ocean would be commanded by Admiral Nimitz and General Macarthur would
command the offensives to recapture New Guinea and the islands to the north of
Australia. This command arrangement was formally endorsed by the Australian
Government on 14 April 1942. New Guinea was to be an Australian and American
Army Show, even though the amphibious nature of the struggle was becoming evident
to the Australian and American authorities.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Formation of the US Army Small Ships
The Australian and American army headquarters soon recognised the importance of the
amphibious capabilities offered by the Mission X plan, so the Mission X team was
allowed to commence an unorthodox acquisition of small vessels and supplies and the
needed number of officers and men to man the vessels. The proposed modus operandi
for this new fleet of ships was to be entirely different from the original concept of
running vessels into the Philippines, necessitating the small band of skippers and men
assembled for the Philippines to be quickly enlarged.

The first man to be employed by the US Army Small Ships was John B. (Jack) Savage
of J J Savage and Son Boat Builders of Victoria. Jack was looking for action and was
more than happy with the opportunity to serve in the US Army Small Ships. Jack was
responsible for inspecting and approving or rejecting vessels that were commandeered,
purchased or leased by the US Army. He was also responsible for the installation of the
slipways and repair installations in New Guinea. Jack was once offered a bribe to
upgrade a vessel that was being inspected for sale to the US Army. He told the owner
that he would have to re-appraise the vessel. The owner was delighted until Jack told
him that he had found other defects and that he would have to reduce the price by 20
per cent. He said he was never again offered a bribe.

There is another facet of the US Army Small Ships that is not generally known. The US
Army also were allowed to hire carpenters, mechanics, shipwrights and labourers who
built and manned the slipways and repair facilities, always either under or in danger of
air attacks, as theses facilities were prime targets for the Japanese air force. The United
States Government and the Australian Government, however, still refuse to recognised
the service that these men gave. Without their support, the US Small Ships and other
Australian Army and Navy small vessels would have been unable to continue to supply
our forces and the war's outcome could have been entirely different.

Armed with reverse Lend Lease Authorities, and promised funds to compensate
owners, the Mission X team fanned out to all ports on the east coast of Australia,
Tasmania, and New Zealand, seeking vessels that were suitable to transport guns,
ammunition, stores, food, medical supplies, and troops along the uncharted coast line
of New Guinea.

The first acquisitions to the Small Ships fleet were heavily-built wooden trawlers, 42 to
62 feet long, of deep draft and diesel driven. Their bluff bows could withstand the
rough seas of the Australian coast and Bass Strait. They were sheathed in Kauri pine,
which repelled the marine termites that bore into wooden hulls in the tropics. Heavy
duty coiling winches, which made excellent towing engines, were connected to the main
engines. These winches saved many a vessel and its crew. The winches were invaluable
for beach landings, as a stem anchor could be dropped off when approaching the beach


Maritime Tales of the Sea

and, once the vessel had been unloaded, the stem anchor and the coiling winches could
be used to help the trawler pull itself off the sand and into deep water.

One of the first trawlers to be purchased was the King John, 62 ft long and skippered
by Bill Priest. The next purchased were the Ulladulla, under skipper Jim Allsop, and the
Kelton, with an all Filipino crew skippered by Lieutenant Ames, who had been a mate
on the Mactan, one of the last vessels to escape from the Philippines. The next
purchased was the Willyama 11, skippered by Ralph Andrews, then finally the Minston
Brae, skippered by George Ling.

Reckless courage and a great disregard for the odds and hardships played a great part in
the success of the US Army Small Ships, plus a complete lack of knowledge of all the
dangers and difficulties that lay ahead for them.

Take the case of George Ling, forging alone out of Townsville across the Coral Sea
with orders to go to Milne Bay early in 1942. He had no knowledge where the enemy
was at the time. His ship, the Minston Brae, was only armed with two 30 calibre
machine guns and George had no idea where Milne Bay was. He finally sighted Samurai
Island and tied up to the copra wharf, when a Royal Australian Air Force crash boat
pulled up alongside and asked him where he thought he was going. "Well, if it is any of
your business", George replied, "I am going to Milne Bay". "Looks like you are going
straight to hell, as there is a Japanese cruiser up ahead just outside Milne Bay", the crash
boat skipper replied. "Are you going to take them on?"

George did not believe the crash boat skipper and sailed on up the channel. When he
did see the Japanese cruiser, it looked to him like a battle ship. He hastily headed back
the way that he came. The cruiser decided not to follow George into shallow water and
instead fired over 100 rounds at George who hugged the coast at 10 knots all the way
to Port Moresby. The crash boat skipper was not so lucky.

"Sorry about that George", the Army apologised. "Thought that we would have it all
secured by the time you arrived. They are still waiting for your cargo." So George went
back to Milne Bay, this time accompanied by Ralph Andrews in the Willyama 11. The
delivery was made just a little late.

Sailing Craft
After the trawlers had been purchased, sailing craft were acquired. The tiny ketch,
Melanesia, 31 tons, 54 x 15.2 x 7.3 feet, built in 1917, was one of the first vessels to see
action in the early fighting in Oro Bay and Buna. Formerly owned by the Seventh Day
Adventist Church, she was skippered by Alan Reynolds, with Ray Parer as the engineer.
Parer was a World War I pilot with an Air Force Cross, who had been one of the first
airmen to fly from England to Australia. In World War II, he was told by the Royal
Australian Air Force that he was too old for active service. Ray carried a sheath knife
that he took from a Japanese soldier who had attempted to take over the Melanesia one


Maritime Tales of the Sea

night. Ray killed the Japanese bare-handed and kept the knife. The Melanesia served for
many years after the war in New Guinea for the Seventh Day Adventists.

The auxiliary ketch, Harold, of 96 x 23 x 7.1 feet and 105 tons, built in 1906 in
Bermagui, came next. It was a former grain carrier from South Australia. Then came
the Leprena, an auxiliary ketch of 92 x 22.8 x 6.6 feet, built in 1906 at Lake Macquarie.
Slightly smaller than, the Harold, she had served in the Royal Australian Navy in World
War I. When released from the Small Ships at the end of World War II, she converted
to a trawler and was later beached and burnt.

The 3-masted steel schooner, Argosy Lemal, of 119 x 24.5 x 12 feet, was equipped as a.
radio communication ship, the hope being the Japanese would overlook her whilst she
was serving as a communication ship in combat areas.
Next, the Margaret Thwaites, a big cargo carrying ketch, was acquired followed by
several 50 to 70 foot New Zealand scows and a 50 foot Thursday Island Pearling
lugger. These vessels were slow and awkward to maneuver in reef strewn waters, but
they had the natural camouflage of innocent sailing craft and they were the only vessels

Larger Ships
A few commandeered Dutch freighters and an unarmed old converted four stacker
destroyer from World War I, the Maysaya, which had been serving as a banana boat,
made up the larger vessels in this odd fleet. The Kooraka, a 130 x 24.4 x 7.5 foot, 340
ton, motor ship, was purchased from the Coast Steam Ship Company of South
Australia for 22,000 pounds. She could only make 8 knots and was extremely
cumbersome. She saw out the war and was wrecked in New Caledonia in 1966. The
motor ship, Moa Moa, of 134 feet and 554 tons, was purchased from the Colonial
Sugar Refining Company for 62,000 pounds. The Kurimaru, a Burns Philp steel island
freighter, of 1215.7 x 25 x 7.2 feet and 285 tons, saw early action in Milne Bay and took
Brigadier Secombe on his foray into Oro Bay and Porlock Harbour prior to the
Australian Army landings in 1942. It was later crippled by enemy action.

Finally, the flagship of the fleet was the M.V. Lorinna of 1100 tons. She was hired on a
daily basis from 30 September, 1942, to 29 May, 1945, for a total 65,050 pounds. Her
skipper was Captain Elmer Malanott, an ex World War I U-Boat skipper. She survived
the war, but has since disappeared from the sea.

Landing Craft
Finally, a few plywood landing craft were acquired. These were highly vulnerable. They
were gasoline driven. The hulls were plywood. The coxswain's pulpit was a raised
platform at the stern and was a natural target for the Japanese. It is no wonder that the
Australians and Americans who manned them did not like them.

Fitting Out and Crewing Vessels


Maritime Tales of the Sea

10 Walsh Bay became the US Army Small Ships victualling wharf where the vessels that
had been purchased, leased, or commandeered were provisioned, fuelled and fitted out,
then armed with 30 or 50 calibre machine guns. In some cases, the weapon was of
World War I vintage and, in one case, the weapon was a light cannon, which was more
of a threat to the vessel and crew than to the Japanese.

The 'Stars and Stripes' flag was 'run up the mast' to show that the vessels were
American. I have since found out that the vessels were not legally American. Only
American-registered vessels were legally American. British-registered vessels legally
remained British. [There was no Australian registration in 1942]. The Americans never
re-registered the vessels that they took over, as an inspection of the records at Lloyds
Shipping Registry will confirm. Professor Edgar Gold, CM, QC, a professor of
maritime law, has also confirmed this. Thus, the vessels that we served on were not
foreign, but British-registered vessels.

The crews of these vessels came from two sources. Firstly, crews on the vessels that the
US Army acquired were offered a 6-month civilian contract to sail the vessels to New
Guinea. This contract was later extended to a 12-month contract, if their work was
satisfactory. Secondly, the Australian Government allowed the US Army to hire
Australian men and boys, who were too young or too old or medically unfit for service
in the Australian Military Forces, for service in the US Army Small Ships, providing that
these men and boys had been released by the Australian Manpower authorities. Their
ages ranged from 15 to over 70 years of age. There were men with one arm and, in one
or two cases, one leg, but they all had to pay tax to the Australian Government.

The Grace Building on the Comer of York and King Street, Sydney, now the Grace
Hotel, became the administrative offices for the US Army Small Ships and all the hiring
of men and boys for the various positions in the US Army Small Ships was done there.
Despite what Government sources have said over the years, we did not swear allegiance
to the United States. Our contact was a civilian contract of hire.

Early Operations in New Guinea
So, in mid 1942, a straggle of non-descript wooden fishing trawlers, a gaggle of sailing
craft, a few rusty freighters and some plywood landing craft, sailed north through the
Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Some struck boldly across the Coral Sea to Port
Moresby and Milne Bay in New Guinea. None attracted the attention of the Japanese
Forces, which were rapidly advancing southward fresh from over whelming victories in
Singapore and the Philippines.

This ragged flotilla could have been a Dunkirk-type evacuation fleet assembled to pick
up retreating forces of a defeated army. In fact, this improbable fleet was the ocean
going attack division of the allied forces in the South West Pacific. Moreover, this
mixture of strange surface craft, with the addition of eight antiquated plywood landing
craft, some plywood dories and a few steel tank barges, comprised the US Army's entire
fleet, the US Army Small Ships.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

The mission of this fleet was to carry Australian and American troops into battle, to
meet the Japanese forces head on. After landing the troops, the small ships were then
tasked with the responsibility of bringing up arms, ammunition, fuel, medical supplies
and food, then bringing up fresh troops, then taking back the sick, the wounded and
the dead.

It seems incredible that this motley collection of aged hulls would be considered for
such an adventure, but General's Blamey and Macarthur had no other choice. The US
Navy had been decimated only months before at Pearl Harbour and now was
engrossed in landings and supporting the US Marines at Guadalcanal and other Pacific
Islands. The few Australian corvettes available did supply protection and transport
troops when possible, but, for the most part, Macarthur and Blamey had to use the only
craft on hand, the US Army Small Ships, to move men and materials to and from the
landing areas.

First into battle was Captain (later Colonel) Sheridan Fahnestock, formerly the skipper
of the Director 11 on the Fahnestock South Seas Expedition, with the plywood landing
craft. It was in these early days that the men and boys of the small ships learned of their
first officer casualty. 1st Lieutenant Bruce Fahnestock, formerly director of the South
Seas Expedition and brother to Sheridan, whilst attempting to ferry a small ship to an
assembly point in the Buna area, was strafed by a U.S. aircraft. Somewhere there was a
breakdown in communication, and the air force was not advised that there were U.S.
Army Small Ships in the area. Also killed in this attack was Barney Daunton, a well-
known correspondent for Time magazine, and a number of soldiers.

Navigation in New Guinea
When the US Small Ships set up office in Milne Bay, they found that they were really
handicapped. The much needed arms and ammunition were unloaded directly from the
large ships that arrived there from America and Australia into the small ships' trawlers,
ketches, small motor ships and dories for delivery to the combat areas. There was,
however, only one antiquated admiralty chart of the New Guinea coast available. "Call
this a chart," said one skipper when he was handed a strip of toilet paper with carefully
traced coast line and inked in islands and reefs and other navigational hazards. "All we
have" was the reply. "Please mark in any thing else that you find.‖

The smell of the land by day and the bark of a dog at night were the main essentials for
coastal navigation. The skippers began to acquire an uncanny skill locating and dodging
coral reefs, enemy float planes and hostile shore fire, and finding their way up and
down the unknown and hazardous coast line.

Passage north on the New Guinea Coast, through reef infested areas to the small
mission station and copra port of Wanigela, was possible if one could spot the tufi leads
on the tip of Cape Tufi. They were two home made beacons on the shore, one above
the other. Lining them up gave a safe passage through the reefs.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Porlock Harbour, a few miles up the coast near a small copra plantation, was a natural
deep water harbour. A north cut in the hills surrounding the bay was a natural beacon.
Keeping this notch due west, one could find a safe passage into Porlock Harbour.
Unfortunately, the enemy also knew of this beacon.

The base at Oro Bay lay across 22 miles of open water and was safer. To get from Oro
Bay to Buna was a navigational nightmare, as well as a test of skill and courage in
avoiding the enemy, now very close and patrolling all around Oro Bay. Reefs infested
the whole area. None of the reefs were marked or previously known. Nothing showed
on any charts.

To make matters more difficult from a navigational point of view, the small ships only
sailed at night as it was the only time that they could be relatively free from constant air
attacks by the Japanese float planes, which would bomb and strafe us using flares that
would turn night into day. But if there happened to be a rain squall, they could be

Allied planes could not be in the area until noon as the fog and mist over the Owen
Stanley ranges did not clear till then, so the Japanese had control of the sea and the
skies until noon. Reef strewn passages could not be avoided. Oro Bay, our largest
staging area and a new base, had deep water where larger vessels could call and
discharge cargo for trans-shipment to our trawlers and barges. But from Oro Bay
northward, the water was shallow and the passage to Buna was strewn with uncharted

Inside Cape Sudest, there were reefs with only three feet of water cover. The Japanese
occupied the plantation and Endaiadere in force. If, however, the ship gave Cape
Sudest a too wide a berth, the vessel would run aground on more vicious reefs on the
outside. Once the enemy could be routed from Cape Sudest and Cape Endaiadere, we
felt we could procede closer inland without risk of shore attack.
It was a great day for the small ships when a native returned to the plantation at Cape
Sudest and hung a kerosene lantern out each night as a guide for the small ships
creeping up the coast. This allowed them to get a fix on two sets of reefs. This native
was never recognised for his actions, which would have saved countless lives. It would
be nice if the Australian Government together with the American Government gave a
school or a library to this area in recognition of this brave act.

The Charles Cam Reef was named after a small ship of that name that ran aground on
the reef and was strafed. The trawler stayed there as a marker until it broke up. With the
reef of the Charles Cam abeam, trawler skippers would head straight for Cape Sudest,
passing the bar to the Embogo River to their port side. The white surf over the bar
usually gleamed in the moonlight. From there to Hariko Village near Cape Endaiadere,
they would be in four fathoms of water and a safe passage to Buna Plantation, the
scene of the famous battle for Buna.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Importance of the US Small Ships
Most of the night landings were horrific, as ships were harassed by enemy float planes,
whose flares turned night into day, and fire from the beaches at Buna, Gona and
Porlock Harbour. They were confused nightmares for the crews of the Small Ships.
Stores, guns, ammunition and even troops were tossed into the dories or even the surf
and left to float to the beaches. The trawlers saved the day in these perilous times, by
delivering stores and reinforcements to the beaches and then fish tailing from the
beaches with their anchors and winches.

The importance of the US Army Small Ships to the Australian and American forces is
highlighted by the following report from Major General Harding, commanding the
American 41st Division, to Lieutenant General Herring, commanding allied armies in
New Guinea:

During the Buna campaign all was going well until the 16/17 November when six small
ships were lost with their cargoes. The small ship situation has since gone from bad to
worse; another small ship went on a reef yesterday, another got stuck on a sand bar and
was bombed, another three vessels have been bombed and sunk, and today there is
only one vessel available.

The US Army Small Ships were invaluable to the military as they could carry at least 10
tons, whereas the Dakota supply aircraft could only carry two tons and when loads
were dropped, it was anyone's guess where the loads fell.

In the Buna Campaign, the Australian Army field regiments were supplied with 25
pounder guns together with their ammunition. Small ships brought the first tanks
ashore, towing steel barges for the operation at Finschhafen, as well as barbed wire,
ditch diggers, fuel, and reinforcements. Another small ship transported 52 sheep,
without regard for the smell and the condition of the vessel afterwards.

Later Additions to the Small Ships Fleet
In 1943, the US Army began to order vessels of various types from Australian boat
builders. There were 40 foot wooden tugs that had a large deck area and only needed a
three man crew; and 60 foot steel tugs capable of towing a variety of tows, from
concrete refrigeration barges, crane barges for heavy lifting, fuel barges, workshops and
many other types. One of the first vessels hit by the Japanese at Leyte was one of these
steel tugs.

There were a number of Fairmiles built, which could carry arms and ammunition to the
beach heads and take the wounded to the hospital ships lying off shore. They were 112
feet long, carried 5,000 gallons of gasoline and were of marine ply construction.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

There were also ocean lighters (OLs), 120 feet long with two hatches. One was fitted
out as a casualty clearing hospital. Others carried stores. Some were fitted out for
refrigeration, others as water carriers.

From the US came large steel tugs of 500 tons. They were steam driven with the
capacity to tow 20,000 tons. Most of these vessels were adopted by the Australian
Army Water Transport as well as the Royal Australian Navy.

Final Operations
The U.S. Army Small Ships participated with the U.S. Army in the landing at Cape
Gloucester, New Britain, in December 1943. They landed 10 days prior to the well-
publicized landing of the U.S. Marines whom they also assisted. Then it was on to
Hollandia in May of 1944. Hollandia was to become the staging area for the landing at
Leyte in October, and it was the last hurrah for the beach landing section of the U.S.
Army Small Ships. The day of the landing craft mechanical (LCM), landing ship tank
(LST) etc. had arrived.

The small improvised assault force, with its ragged small ships, was replaced by a huge
co-coordinated battle force engaged in the gigantic and complex war in the Pacific. It
was obvious that soon there would be little need for the fiercely independent and odd
ball assault ships of the US Army Small Ships Section.

Some of the US Army Small Ships spent the last year of the war contacting guerrilla
units still fighting the Japanese in outlying islands in the Philippines. Others took part in
the landings at Leyte, Lingayen, Cebu and Dagupan. Others served at Okinawa, or were
in Tokyo Bay when the Peace Treaty was signed, or were in the liberation of Chosen as
Korea was known then.

The men and boys of the U.S. Army Small Ships, who by their age or physical
condition were not eligible for service in their own country's military forces and were
hired by the U.S. Army Small Ships Section, helped to create history in the battle for
the South West Pacific during World War II. These men and boys of the small ships
proved once again the military adage that while military operators plan wars, it is the
logisticians who win them.

The Author
Captain E. A. (Ernest) Flint, MBE, ED (Retd), a former citizen soldier, served in the
US Small Ships Section during World War II. He is currently President of the US Army
Small Ships Association and is a member of the Institution.

Postscript: An Appeal for Australian Recognition
In recent years, I have sought Commonwealth Government recognition of the men and
boys of the US Army Small Ships Section for their service to Australia in World War II.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

The Government has not acceded to this request. Various Ministers replied in the
following vein:

1. We chose to enlist in a foreign defense force rather than our own.
2. We did not support the Australian forces.
3. We wore American Army uniforms.
4. We served on American vessels.
5. We received American medals for our service.

Believing this response to be based on unsound advice from officials, on 15 October
2004, I met with the Director of Honours and Awards. I provided written evidence that
we did not enlist, but were hired as civilians on a civilian contract. I also provided
photographic evidence that we supported Australian forces. Other points made were:
We were without exception too young or too old or medically unfit for the Australian
military forces.

We paid tax to the Australian Government for the term of our contract.
We were issued with US working dress consisting of two pairs of trousers, two shirts,
underwear and a pair of boots. This was not a uniform.

The vessels did fly an American flag, but the vessels were British registered, as the
Americans did not change the registration when they took the vessels over.

We should be treated the same as Australian merchant seamen who sailed in foreign
vessels during World War II. They received Australian and Imperial campaign medals,
in addition to medals from the country whose vessels they sailed on. They did not
specifically serve Australian forces. They served the allied war effort.

The Honours and Awards Secretariat is yet to respond to this evidence. I have sought
an interview with a member of the prime minister's staff, as I believe that the prime
minister has been incorrectly advised on this matter and I wish to correct the record.

Ernest A Flint, MBE, ED
President, US Army Small Ships Association 25, January 2005


US Army Small Ships

Today we celebrate the formation of the U.S. Army Small Ships, an organization that
Colonel Michael J Baier, U.S. Army Military Attaché to Australia, in 2000 stated that no
other Allied country involved in WWII had a similar formation. It was very unique. In a
crucial time in Australia‘s history the US Army Small Ships was formed and would
change the course of WWII in the South Pacific.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

In the early attack on Buna by the Australian and American Forces, six small ships
vessel were lost in one day necessitating a delay in the taking of Buna. In early 1943, the
crew shortage was critical as with the loss of vessels by enemy action and grounding on
unchartered reefs, new vessels coming available, a request was made for 100 seaman
from the United States but they would not be available until late 1943 or early 1944.

To relieve this shortage that Australian Government allowed the US Army to advertise
for boys 15 and 16 years of age to attend a 4-week course at 10 Walsh Bay. The course
ran for six days a week, and they were taught rules of the road at sea, aids to navigation,
communication radio and semaphore, Morse Code, lamp & sound management of
small vessels, practical seamanship, operation of winches & derricks, anchoring &
mooring of small vessels, towing & being towed, compasses, life rafts, and two days a
week went out to sea on the Dover, an ex-Tasmanian River boat for practical
seamanship, and gunnery practice on 30 & 50 caliber machine guns.

I am sure that ex-Navy members would be surprised to learn that all this was achieved
in 4 weeks. The first course started with 50 boys and finished with 46; of these 30 went
by air to Milne Bay and 10 went to Newcastle and sailed on the SS Patris. There was a
second course following this one: the first course went from 2nd May to the 28th May
and the second course went from the 24th May to 21st June, 1943. Once again it started
with 50 boys and 45 completed the course. The courses were conducted by A.E.
Morgan, who was an ex-volunteer coastal patrol officer and at the conclusion of the
second course he went on to be the captain of the OL 1 and served in New Guinea.

This little known exercise achieved 91 crew members. Some of the boys are here today
when you realize that this was done with the Australian Government‘s approval as the
position was desperate. Everyone who was HIRED by the US Army Small Ships had to
have approval from the Australian Manpower office that they were not in a protected
industry, and that they were not eligible for service in any Australian service and that
deductions for the Australian Tax Office were to be authorized.

Many of those who served in the small ships went on to serve in the army, navy, and
the air force; many continued long periods in the Australian Merchant Marine so the
service that we gave in the small ships bore fruit in many ways.

Another facet that is little known of the U.S. Army Small Ships was that in the early
days of 1942 it was foreseen that there would have to be slipways and repair facilities as
it was impractical to send vessels to Australia for repairs. So, once again, the U.S. Army
sought the Australian Government‘s permission to hire carpenters, mechanics, ship
builders, ship wrights, and labourers so that a major repair facility and slipways could be
established. They were offered a six months contract and later extended to 12 months.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

When the facility was established in Finchaffen it not only serviced the US Army Small
Ships but also vessels from the Australian Army Water Transport (many of whom were
trained by the US Army Small Ships) and the Australian Navy. This facility was bombed
and strafed numerous times. One of our members, Lloyd Marsh who passed away
recently, despite many approaches to Veterans Affairs he was denied the Gold Card as
all those who served in this capacity have been denied.

Another example of the ingenuity of the U.S. Army Small Ships was the SS Half Fufus,
previously known as the SS Rufus King, a liberty ship which went aground on North
Stradbroke Island in July 1942. She was carrying 10 bombers, aviation gasoline in 44-
gallon drums, x-ray equipment for three hospitals, and other supplies for 14 other
hospitals. After running aground the ship broke in half at the after end of no. 3 hold.
The forward part of the ship was towed to Port Brisbane and over a 3-week period
98% of the cargo was recovered with the exception of the X-ray equipment which was
lost when the hold was breached. The forward end was then towed to Pinkenbar to be
fitted out as a machine shop and a storage facility. The no. 3 hold was loaded with
2,000 tons of coal so it would be used to recoal ships in New Guinea.

The task of refloating the after end failed so she was stripped of all derricks, winches,
ships gear, guns and crude oil then she was taken out to sea and became a diving centre.
In May 1944, the Half Rufus was towed across the Coral Sea to Milne Bay and then to
Finchaffen where she saw out the war, and then was taken out to sea for target practice.
One of our members who sailed on the Half Rufus, Len Watson, passed away last

I have in the past 5 years endeavored to prove to Australian Government that the
Department of Honours & Awards do not know of our service and either through
ignorance or malice wrongly advise the Minister for Veterans Affairs. They state that
we chose to serve and enlist in a Foreign Defense Force, which I find most offensive,
as we served our country in the only way possible in its hour of need. We did not enlist
but were hired as our contract clearly states. The Minister De-Anne Kelly stated that we
had to sign a T 124 to be eligible for medals, which was ludicrous as this agreement is
to allow merchant seamen to crew a vessel commanded by a naval officer and has
nothing to do with medal entitlements, only discipline.

They state that the vessels were American when they were British registered (there was
no Australian registration until 1982, this registration was never changed -- this can be
verified by Lloyds registry in Sydney. The Stars & Stripes at the mast head does not
change the registration of the vessel so therefore the vessel was British.

They also state that as we did not support the Australian Army we are not eligible; this
is despite having photographs of small ships loading 25-pounders for the Australian
Army Field Regiment and the first tanks into Finchaffen was by small ships towed on


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Japanese captured barges. Also, Major General Herring, Commander of the Australian
Army in New Guinea stated that they could not have achieved their aim without the
Logistic Support of the U.S. Army Small Ships.

The present Minister for Veterans Affairs ―call me Bruce Billson‖ refuses to accept that
we were merchant seamen even though his department recognize our service as
merchant seamen with the Gold Card thanks to Con Sciacca and Peter Morris,
although ―call me Bruce‖ claimed on national television that the Howard government
was responsible for the Gold Card to us, but he did not state what we got the Gold
Card for, if, as he states we are not merchant seamen.

He also states that we are not entitled to any recognition as we were under American
command. He and his advisors are not aware that as from 17th April 1942 General
Douglas Macarthur was assigned command of all combat sections of the Australian
Defense Forces by the Prime Minister of Australia, who stated that ―all combat
operations would be approved by the supreme commander and were to be considered
as emanating from the Australian Government.‖ During WWII, all Australian forces
overseas were under command of either British or American Commanders.

Approximately 3,000 served in the US Army Small Ships in various capacities: sea
going, repair, and maintenance, there would be approximately 300 to 400 left and when
you realize that it was 65 years ago when we were 15 and 16, and others like my late
father were 60 years of age. We will soon be like dinosaurs – we will not leave a foot
print in the sands of time unless our government realizes the debt that they owe us.

The Battle of the Beaches from Buna to Hollandia was our finest hour, without us and
the logistics needed and supplied by us, victory would not have been achieved in the
time that it was.

There isn‘t another unit which was as successful as we were. With little or no training,
we achieved the impossible in the early days of WWII. The vessels used would never
have been to sea, most were for lakes, rivers, or coastal voyages.

All I ask Mr. Griffin is that when you become Minister for Veterans Affairs, please hold
an enquiry into our entitlement, allow us to have a representative on the enquiry, and
you will earn our undying gratitude, dying being the operative word. THANK YOU.

Ernest A. Flint, MBE ED, President, 15th May 2007

* 3,000 Australians volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Small Ships Section. Many
had a seafaring background and were unable to join the wartime armed forces, or had
been discharged unfit for service, and many transferred from the Australian shipping
companies. The volunteers included teenagers as young as fifteen as well as veterans of
earlier wars and merchant seamen as old as seventy years of age joined.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

* Source:,0,0,1,0,0


Millionaire's Yacht taken over by
US Army Transport Service-AUSTRALIA

During World War II, one of San Diego's most
respected businessmen was Mr. Baron Long, a millionaire businessman who was the
owner of the Biltmore Hotel and many other investments. His memory is still very
highly regarded in San Diego today as having been a very generous philanthropist to
the community.

He had a beautiful little yacht, the Norab. (The name Norab is the word Baron spelt
backwards) which Baron Long had used for many years to commute between his
business interests in Mexico and San Diego. It was also very well known for the
wonderful parties held in San Diego harbour.

Once it was taken over by the US Army Transport Service, the beautiful staterooms
were ripped out and converted into hospital wards with four tiers of bunks close
together. It was intended to use it as a sea going ambulance, retrieving wounded
soldiers from the front line. Once the refit was done, it set out alone and unarmed
across the Pacific war zone to join the US Army Transport Service Small Ships fleet.

There was great difficulty supplying the troops-who were fighting the Japanese in New
Guinea, because most of the little bays and inlets, where supplies could be dropped,
were virtually uncharted and full of coral reefs whose locations were unknown. It was
impossible for large ships to get supplies to the front-line troops.

A few American Army officers flew out from the Philippines to organise a fleet of
small ships which could get in and out of these difficult areas. They scoured the
country for any ships that could be used, and assembled a collection of old tugboats,
barges, sailing boats, fishing trawlers, etc., even large sailing ships and trading


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Because Australia was so desperate for manpower for the army, navy and air force, the
Government decided that the only people eligible to join this fleet would be those who
were too old or too young for the armed services, or those who had tried to join the
navy but had been declared medically unfit. Of those who joined at the same time as
myself, our Chief Steward, and one of the cooks were in-their seventies, our galley boy
was 15, as was one of the dockhands. I had not yet turned 18.

Crews were so short that some of the captains and officers had very little ocean going
experience and had to navigate by dead reckoning. However, they did the job and
supplied the troops, often under severe attacks from the Japanese.

As soon as the Norab arrived in New Guinea, she was immediately sent right up to the
current battle area to evacuate the wounded to hospital. For several months she went
up seven days a week, and each day brought back about 70 stretcher cases and 100
walking wounded.

Later in the war, when the fighting had moved much further north, the Norab was back
in the Port of Lae in New Guinea, anchored just off shore. Film star Gary Cooper and
a group of famous actors were in Lae to entertain the troops. His party consisted of
Red Buttons, Phyllis Brooks, Una Merkel, and some others.

Gary Cooper was on the foreshore one day and recognised the Norab anchored out in
the harbour. Having cruised and partied on the ship many times, he said, "I know that
ship" and asked the Port Commander if he could arrange for his party to visit. And so
we had dinner with this very distinguished group of actors.

After about 10 months in New Guinea, the articles expired. A few of the Americans
stayed on, but many went home on leave, and were replaced with an amazing collection
of nationalities.

Happily we survived the war though the ship was fairly bruised and battered by the
end, having been shipwrecked on a reef, and having had many other misadventures.

She lay at anchor in a quiet area of the Port of Sydney for two or three years and was


Maritime Tales of the Sea

finally sold to a company which collected lobsters from the coast of Tasmania, a small
Australian State.

The entrance to the harbour she worked from was extremely dangerous with many
treacherous tides and currents. It is commonly known as "Hell's gate.‖ One dark
stormy night when attempting to enter the harbour, the Norab hit the rocks and sank
to the ocean floor.

Some thirty years later I made a sentimental trip to Tasmania to see her resting place.
On the sightseeing boat which took passengers around the harbour, I was amused to
find that the guide was saying that "General Macarthur's yacht was sunk below." He
was very disappointed when I told him that was simply not true.
I have attached a list of as many of our American crew as I can remember, in the hope
that one or more of them might be members of your Association and know that their
Australian shipmates have not forgotten them. The photo of the crew is not complete
as a few are missing. However we had about 50/50 Americans and Australians. Some
of the boys were only 15 years old. I apologise to anyone I may have missed out.

NORAB Crew: John Leroy Goff (Captain) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, a great captain,
tremendously supportive in difficult times; Chester Morris Wheaton (First Officer) of
Long Beach, California, also Bakersfield, California; Carl Duke (Engineer) of
Bakersfield, California; Gail L Halbakken (Second Officer) Washington, Gene E.
Burton (Bosun) California; Bob Riddle (Oiler) Washington; Herbert Sladinsky
(Engineer) Minnesota; Wallace Wilbur (Seaman) Oregon; Clarence Myers (Seaman)
Oregon; Dr. Howard Deshong, (US Army ship's doctor) Pittsburgh; Fred B. Hammer
Jnr. (First Engineer) New York (pre-war Staten Island Ferry engineer); Robert H.
Simmons (Seaman) Massachusetts; J.M. (Red) Vaughn (Seaman) California; Arthur
Hollis, (Seaman) Liverpool, UK.; James G. Butler (Engineer) South Carolina; Louis


Maritime Tales of the Sea

Levy, (Seaman) Portuguese, East Africa; Edward Lauren (Engineer) British Honduras;
plus two medical orderlies, and two U.S. Army gunners whose records I have
misplaced; Laurie Long, cook (Australian, lived in U.S. after war).

By Leslie Bullock, radio operator, aka "Sparks" PO Box 667, Manly, Sydney, Australia
#1655 Phone 61-2-9977 5200 Email: [email protected]


By Les Bullock (aka Sparks) - Radio Operator

On Friday 13th of October, 1944, the "Norab" left Milne Bay in New Guinea with over
100 hospital patients being transferred to another hospital further up the coast.

She was only a very small ship, a private yacht before the war, only 103 feet long. She
was part of the U.S. Army Small Ships fleet and had been converted into an armed sea
ambulance and was part of the U.S .Army Small Ships Fleet.

It was a very dark stormy night and our Captain thought very seriously about delaying
the trip, but decided to go ahead. After a few hours of sailing, we were to see a flashing
light on a dangerous reef. When we saw this light, the officer on watch was to change
course. This was such a rough sea, and the waves were so high and the wind so strong.
When the light didn't appear at the appointed time, the officer on watch thought it was
because we were going so slowly because of the terrible conditions. So he held his
course hoping to see the light soon.

Unfortunately he held the course too long, and just about midnight there was a terrible
crunch and we were high and dry on Dart Reef, off Oro Bay.

The heavy seas were lifting the ship up high and then dashing it down onto the reef
with a terrible crunch. Time after time she was raised up and brought crashing down.
As we had a wooden hull, we knew it wouldn't be long before she broke up.

We had the problem of the 100 or so hospital patients we were carrying. Our lifeboats
had just been taken off for maintenance, and had been replaced temporarily with a
number of life rafts.

Luckily there was a much larger ship stranded on another reef about a mile away, so the
captain made the only decision that was open to him, send the patients over in the life


Maritime Tales of the Sea

A number of rafts were roped together and the crew paddled the patients through the
intolerably, dangerous conditions over to the other ship. It was an extremely difficult
exercise, but we really had no alternative.

As radio operator, I was left aboard as part of the salvage team, together with the
captain, chief engineer, a cook and a seaman. By good luck, the heavy seas died down
very soon, and we had very calm weather for the next few days.

Five days later a big ocean going tug arrived. They lashed us alongside their ship, and
put a very large hose down into our engine room. The water was sucked out of our
bilges as soon as it came in through the big gaping hole in our hull.

All things happen for the best. After temporary repairs, we were sent back to mainland
Australia for a complete overhaul, and had a very unexpected and enjoyable holiday.

Les Bullock wrote:
―We have a large (Australian) National Maritime Museum in Sydney, and in a few
weeks time they are having a special display about the U.S. Army Small Ships fleet. Our
first story ever…
We have been waiting 62 years for our government to acknowledge the work we did,
and to give us some medals. The youngest of us are now in our 80‘s, so if they wait a
few more years we‘ll all be gone and they won‘t have to worry about us any more.
Thanks for the opportunity to tell the story of our little fleet.‖
For more information on how Australia and America work together during times of
war, please visit the Australian National Maritime Museum website below:

Most of the ships in the fleet were old fishing boats, sailing boats, small tugs etc which
had been purchased in Australia. In the early days, 99% of the crews in the rest of the
fleet were Australian. The Norab had originally come out to Australia under ship's
articles of the Army Transport Service, and had changed to a small ships contract when
they finally expired. The ship was always referred to as the "ATS Norab". The Norab
was unique in that she came out from America alone and unescorted, with a skeleton
American crew. Upon arrival in Australia, she picked up Australian crew, so that we
were crewed 50/50 by Americans and Aussies. We all got along very well together and
we'd like to hear from any of our shipmates who happen to be members of your
veterans' association.



Maritime Tales of the Sea

American Merchant Marine Page hosted by Bruce Felknor
Bruce Felknor was a radioman in the merchant marine in World War II. After ten years
in public relations, became an expert on election ethics as Executive Director of the
Fair Campaign Practices Committee, and published the classic Dirty Politics. He spent
many years as an Executive and Editor with Encyclopedia Britannica.
Felknor edited the comprehensive The U.S. Merchant Marine at War, 1775-1945
published by Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1998
The Forgotten Heroes of World War II, by Bruce L. Felknor
National Maritime Day is celebrated every year on May 22. In its 72 years it has become
the nation's most ignored national day, memorializing its most forgotten great
accomplishment, and honoring the most ignored vital element of its military capability,
the U.S. Merchant Marine.
A joint resolution of Congress created it to celebrate the beginning of transoceanic
transportation by steam instead of sail. On May 22, 1819, the American steamship
Savannah left the port of Savannah, on the first successful transoceanic voyage by
The 73rd Congress adopted the resolution on May 20, 1933, and President Franklin
Roosevelt, two months into his first term, proclaimed it that day. Over the remaining
dozen years of that president's life, the focus of Maritime Day steadily shifted toward
the coming "European War" and the building of a modern merchant marine with ships
and men essential to winning it. Roosevelt signed his last (1945) proclamation less than
a week before his death, and Harry Truman issued it.
Every succeeding president proclaimed it, and every succeeding generation ignored it:
Victory was easy to remember, but the logistical miracle that enabled it was easy to
The service that carried all the means of war -- men, machines, guns, gasoline and more
-- was invisible. No unified national service, it consisted of privately owned shipping
companies large and small, that had a handful of fast modern ships and a fleet of World
War I or older freighters, plus oil companies, and their tanker fleets of various ages.


Maritime Tales of the Sea

The ship solution.
Although a fast modern freighter, the C2, had been designed and a few built, speed in
delivering ships trumped speed in knots per hour, and the design of a virtual relic was
adopted. C2s continued to be built (173 of them in 6 years).

The relic was a reliable old British tramp steamer being built in American shipyards for
the British merchant fleet. Simple to build, reliable, capacious, but slow, reborn as the
Liberty Ship, it became lovingly known as the ship that won the war.

It was slow, but easy to run and maintain. And by building its hull in sections it could
be welded together -- a conspicuous application of modern technology -- and turned
out in 30 or 40 days; the record was four days. It was joked that they were built by the
mile and chopped off by the yard.

Shipyards on all three coasts cranked them out 2,710 of them from September 1941
through the end of the war, the greatest number of oceangoing vessels built to a single
design in all history. (That total was swelled by 60 of the same basic design for the
British and more for Canada.)

An excellent modern tanker design had been adapted from new ships in the Mobil fleet
and this became the Maritime Commission's fast, turbo-electric T2, carrying almost 6
million gallons of aviation gas (or any fluid) at nearly 16 knots. A few were launched in
1940, and 527 by war's end. It became the workhorse tanker, and many are in service

minutes Launching of S.S. Robert E. Peary built in 4 days, 15 hours, 29

The manpower solution.
There was no draft of merchant seamen. The government‘s modest merchant marine
public relations effort concentrated on recruiting. Government training schools
graduated more than 250,000 officers and unlicensed personnel (many from more than
one program.)

But there never was a mass of grass roots support. The eventual 13 million men and
women of the army, navy, marines, and coast guard had professional cheerleaders in


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