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The First and Last Voyage

of the Fort Crevier, Part Three

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Continued from Part Two


The Beginning of the End


Map of Bombay

We arrived in Bombay late on the evening of Thursday April 13, 1944 and after closing up the guns and ammunition lockers we turned in, all of us wondering what the next day would bring. The following morning when I went on deck, the first thing that I noticed was that an armed policeman was on the gangway and he told me that the Captain was ashore and that no one was allowed ashore until he returned. I went up to the bridge and the Second Mate confirmed the policeman's message. However the mate was not sure whether that included us gunners or not; he didn't think so and left it up to me whether I would go ashore to report to the DEMS office. During breakfast I talked it over with the other gunners and we decided to stay put until the Old Man returned, and in the meantime we would clean up and dress in our clean dress whites (we never wore a uniform at sea) and worry about our fate with the rest of the crew.

The dock was a tidal dock which means it had a gate like a lock gate that was closed on the turn of the tide in order to maintain enough water in the dock to float the shipping, and this morning there were eleven ships of various sizes in the dock. The Fort Crevier was one of the largest and we saw that our sister ship the Fort Stikine was lying directly across the harbor from us about four hundred yards away.


SS Fort Stikine

This photo is of Fort Crevier's sister-ship, SS Fort Stikine. Like Fort Crevier, Fort Stikine was a coal-burning "North Sands" type of "10,000-tonner". For detailed information on the "Parks" and "Forts" see Fort Ships of WW2.

This photo is also from The Unknown Navy: Canada's World War II Merchant Navy Robert G. Halford, Vanwell Publishing, 1995.


About 11:00 am, a crew member pointed out to me that a thin coil of black smoke appeared to be coming out of one of the Stikine's ventilators. I went into my quarters and told a couple of the boys sitting in the mess deck, then grabbing a pair of binoculars, I returned to the deck. I got myself a seat on a bollard and focused on the Fort Stikine and that side of the dock. Sure enough, black smoke was spiraling up from a ventilator but nothing else seemed to be amiss. Behind the ships was a long stone and brick warehouse and along the top of the building were huge cranes used to unload the ships. There were probably eight to ten of these monsters. On the gangway side of the ship, there were identical warehouses and the same number of cranes.

After lunch, I went back to my bollard perch and noticed much more activity going on. The smoke was now a dense pall, and obvious measures were being taken to put out the fire. At about 2:00 pm, I was called to the gangway where the gunners from the Fort Stikine were asking for me. I invited them aboard; they were quite agitated. They informed me that the Fort Stikine was a bomb waiting to go off and they urged me to leave the ship and get out of the dockyard. My immediate reaction was that they were exaggerating but when I looked over at the Stikine again, there was what seemed to be a fireboat there. In any event, there was now lots of action going on and the Fort Stikine gunners left for the DEMS office downtown.

About 3:30 pm, I was back on my perch, feet on the rail and glasses trained on the burning ship. The other gunners had gone below for a nap and I was sharing my glasses with the Third Engineer, John Walsh, who was standing on my right. About 3.45 pm, John had just given me back the glasses, and as I focused them on the ship, she blew.

I was picked up by the blast and in a sitting position carried about twenty feet across the deck and dropped like a sack into an open coal bunker. When I came to, a steel covered hatch board fell into the bunker and burried itself in the coal by my head. It is true about your life flashing before you, it sure happened to me. The ship was rolling like it was in a gale at sea. I am not sure how I got out of that bunker but I did. I looked around and it was like an inferno. The cranes I mentioned earlier had disappeared, we were no longer secured to the dock, the lines had parted like string and ammunition was exploding all around us. The hay and straw, as well as the wooden mule stalls, were all blazing. From where I was standing in the aft portion of the ship, there was no one to be seen so I headed for the bridge.

As I approched the midships section I was met by the Second Mate who was bleeding badly around the face. When he saw me he asked me to look at his eye. The injury was not that bad, a piece of steel had cut his eyelid and was bleeding profusley. I balled a hankercheif and held it to his eye until he got his bearings. He had just come from the bow and said the deck plates were turning red with the heat and told me to pass the word "abandon ship." As I made my way back aft, I saw Davy, one of our gunners. I sent him below for a couple of life jackets and the keys to the main ammunition locker. He returned with the life jackets but could not find the set of keys so we broke the padlocks on the flooding valves with a fire axe and managed to flood the main magazine locker. By this time the stern of the ship had drifted out about a hundred yards or so from the dock side but I saw a steel ladder up the dock wall some distance away. I knew that Davy couldn't swim but I pointed out the ladder to him and told him that I would go first. From the stern it was a good thirty feet to the water and after making sure it was clear, I went over the side, and with a little encouragement from me, Davy followed. We made for the ladder and climbed onto the dock. Ammunition was exploding all around us -- in fact, it was a little like a fireworks display gone wrong. We were a couple of cold, wet and very scared kids.

We ran, not sure where we were going, hopefully away from the burning dock when we heard a shout of "Hey you two, come here". We looked up and saw to our amazement a full R.N. Commander, dressed in a spotless uniform, gold braid and all. We ran over to him and he asked what the hell we were doing. I chopped him one off and told him we were survivors from the Fort Crevier. He asked if there were others but we couldn't answer; we didn't know. He pointed in the direction of the exit to the dock and told us to run for it and turn left when we got outside. He told us that the road would take us down town and to ask for the DEMS Office. As we ran looking for the exit there was another horrendous explosion and I was airborn once again, as the blast picked me up and tossed me on my way. We found that we weren't hurt and continued on our wild dash for safety.
Royal Navy White Ensign

The White Ensign was flown by ships of the Royal Navy and by naval establishments ashore.

After half an hour of steady running, we found ourselves in a modern part of the city and as I looked around I saw the white ensign flying on the top of a building and we knew that we were home. As we entered the building a young woman dressed in a beautiful sari was coming out. When she saw us, she screamed so loud that naval police came running out. Remember, we were both wearing dress white uniforms, mine was mostly black from the coal dust in the bunker and my white shirt and jumper were covered with the second mates blood, my right trouser leg was also bloody from a shrapnel cut, and my right hand was bloody with fresh blood. On top of that, we had both been in the drink. We must have looked pretty scary.

The Naval Police took us inside where we found lots of company; no one that we knew, but all DEMS. We were given first aid and hot tea, then loaded into trucks and taken to H.M.S. Braganza, a shore station on the outskirts of the city. There we were shepherded into a large mess deck which was already occupied with survivors and regular navy types who waited on us hand and foot. Each time a new group trickled in the cries and cheers as shipmates were united was overwelming. I remember having a hot shower and then back to Sick Bay for a more thorough examination. As it turned out, my physical injuries were all minor.

By 9:00 pm all my people showed up and we started to put things together. Although we must have discussed it, I don't recall how the other gunners got off that ship; I only know they got off after Davy and I did. The Fort Crevier lost one man, Third Engineer John Walsh, who was standing on my right at the time of the explosion. He was picked up by the same blast that got me and was slammed into the bulkhead behind him while I was thrown clear. Our Chief Steward got to the dock in shock. Later I was to learn he had a heart attack. Someone laid him out on the dock and an ambulance, tearing round a corner, ran over both his legs.

Many of the Indian workers on deck were killed . One of the boys saw the ship break her mooring lines when the tidal wave, created by the explosion, hit us. He said that as the ship rolled away from the dock the gangway dropped twenty or thirty people into the water and when the the ship rolled back they were all crushed against the wall. I never saw any of the Fort Crevier's officers and crew of merchant seamen again. Incidentally, our Captain was ashore during the explosion and I was never to find out, nor care, if indeed he reported us for stealing those O'Henry bars.


My Last Look at the Fort Crevier


John's Dock Pass for April 13th, 1944
John's dock pass dated April 13th, 1944,
the day before the explosion.


A couple of weeks after the explosion Davy and I had an opportunity to board the Crevier again. I no longer remember how or why we were able to do this. We went out to her by boat; she was probably anchored out in the roads with the other burnt out hulks.

I recall the buckled deck plates as we went aft to our quarters and the companionway down into our mess was buckled and twisted. Our sleeping cabin was a disaster. Everything that would burn was gone, our lockers had melted and we saw the remains of some English money that had melted down and welded to the deck. Our mess deck was in the same condition. It was a shocking sight to us and we left.

On the way back to the dock I noticed a strange sight on a ship in the roads. One of the Fort Stikine's anchors was blown out to sea. The twenty or thirty feet of chain, had caught on, and had wrapped itself around the mast.

THE END


WRITTEN by:
John Garside
Royal Navy DEMS Gunner
DJX/ 551722
E-mail: JGarside@cogeco.ca


Ship Line

Please CLICK HERE for a list of the ships sunk in the Bombay Explosion.


The First and Last Voyage of the Fort Crevier is continued in the EPILOGUE


INDEX PAGE




This page is maintained by Maureen Venzi and it is part of the Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.