|Continued from Part One
It was the end of February, by the time we set sail for
en route to
Karachi in India. Our cargo of mules
was destined for
the Burma Front
where they would become the only possible way to
move supplies over the mountains, the famous
The weather man was good to us. That meant we had bad weather that would keep the submarines down where they couldn't attack us. The mules didn't seem to mind but most of the horse soldiers were pretty sick. The winds and seas were once again in the right direction so we made good speed to Gibraltar. As we settled down into our sea routine, we all enjoyed the animals. Walking forward on deck at night was a trip. With each roll of the ship a row of heads or rumps would come out of the stalls depending whether they were loaded head first or tail first.
Thanks to the bad weather we neither saw nor heard from the enemy during the crossing and we arrived in Gibraltar unscathed. As we had no business other than waiting for a convoy through the Mediterranean, we were directed to an anchorage in the Bay.
Now the waters of the Bay washed up on the shores of Spain which, while a neutral country, was known to be friendly to the enemy. Earlier that year, German skin divers entering the waters from this
We had no sooner dropped our hook than a picket boat was along side and passed boxes of hand grenades up to us. After a ten minute instruction in their use, we were ordered to set up an anchor watch. We were to walk around the ship from dawn 'til dusk and we were to throw hand grenades at any kind of air bubble trails that we saw. From dusk 'til dawn we were to make the same circuit, only this time we were to throw a grenade over the side every half hour. Because our port and starboard sides were lined with mule stalls we did our patrols on the roofs of the stalls. The mules didn't like this much but soon got used to it. As you can imagine, it was pretty noisy at night but there were no more sinkings after this procedure was adopted. As it happened we only stayed one night in the Bay. The following morning we went alongside for bunkers and other supplies.
We left Gibraltar the following day for our run up the Mediterranean. We knew that we were in range of both German and Italian Air Forces to say nothing of enemy subs, until we were well past Italy. So while the mules and soldiers enjoyed the sun and warm shady areas of the ship, we gunners cooked at our lookout stations.
We took on coal at Port Said and this was an eye opener. Two large,
long planks of wood stretched up from the coal dock to the ship's
side where the bunkers were located,
and then a huge crowd of natives
appeared at the coal pile. Some of the men filled baskets with
coal, others picked up filled baskets and lifted them on to yet other
men's heads and these men ran up the planks, dumped the coal into
bunker, and pretty soon there was a
continuous line going up one
plank and down the other. In this manner we took on hundreds of tons
of coal. I remember thinking, "this is how they built the
With the bunkers refilled and the necessities of life for crew,
soldiers and mules replenished, we were boarded by the
would see us safely through the
Suez Canal. As we got underway, we
were also boarded by an assortment of Egyptian merchants, fakers
and entertainers. These people sold everything from carpets, silks,
satins, and every kind of leather goods imaginable. There were
silver smiths who made beautiful filigree bracelets and other
jewelry while you watched. The first day was interesting because of
the newness of it all. We passed the occasional ship west bound
and on the banks we would see men riding camels as well as the odd
group of soldiers. After about a day and a half we came to the oasis
Ismailia and a good sized lake.
This was King Farouk's summer
residence and we saw his beautiful yacht. I believe we stayed
the night there, and as I remember, there was no traffic at night
on the canal.
All the way east, every ten miles or so, there were staging areas where we would pull over so other ships going west could pass, and occasionally an eastward bounder which had a higher priority than we did. While waiting in these areas, we often would attract a few bum boats. These were more like rowboats as I remember and were usually manned by rug, leather and pottery merchants. They also nearly always sold American cigarettes, but these were usually very old and full of weevils.
We finally cleared the Canal at Port Tewfick and entered the Red Sea. The further east we went the hotter it got and the smell of mules and hot urine became grim. It was then that there were rumblings from the black hand gang about the heat. The Captain issued side arms to the engineering officers and the threat of the guns kept the men working.
The weather was outstanding, the days hot and sunny, and the nights warm and breezy. There is a great deal of phosphorus in the Arabian sea, and at night we would watch the dolphins which were leading the ship. It was a favorite pastime for off duty crew members. There would often be as many as eight of these large and beautiful fish crisscrossing our bow, and the phosphorus lit them up in green streaks. Truly a beautiful sight, the Arabian Sea is without a doubt one of the world's most beautiful seas.
The down side of the Arabian Sea was that we had the usual submarine threat to deal with and an additional threat from the Japanese who had armed merchant cruisers operating in the area. Karachi was a main supply port for all war materials for the Burma Front. In fact that's why our mules were destined to arrive. I have forgotten how long it took us to get from Aden to Karachi, probably not more than five or six days. We arrived safely and pulled along side a dock that was open to two large corrals.
What a sight to see, the horse soldiers were met by others already stationed there and soon established a large corral just off the dock side. Gangways were again rigged and first the mules on deck were walked to the gangways. They needed no encouragement at all, down they went into the corral.
At about six a.m., trucks arrived with long planks similar to what we saw in Port Said when we took on coal. These were placed against the ships side, only this time they were steeper as the ship road higher in the water after the mules were gone. Similar planks were set up leading down into the holds. Then more trucks arrived carrying about two hundred young girls with a few older boys. What took place next was outrageous and most of us were horrified.
Overseers with whistles and whips organized these children into two groups, boys to fill and lift baskets onto the heads of the girls and girls to carry the baskets up the planks to our main deck, then down the planks to the shore side. As you can imagine the flimsy baskets were soon leaking their contents onto the heads, faces, shoulders of these poor kids and anyone showing signs of slowing down caught a taste of the whip. It wasn't long before these children were soaked in filth and were all crying. That was my introduction to the mysterious east.
That evening most of us went ashore to look around and we needed distraction. We explored the bazaars and bought strange fruit and food, and mixed with people all of whom seemed to be wearing bed sheets with a smattering of turbans. All of the women we saw wore saris and we noted the beautiful bearing of most of them. We also noticed a high proportion of crippled people and beggars. Before we returned to the ship we knew the word baksheesh (give me some money) and would hear it often for the next year or so.
Once the ship was clean again we were ordered to proceed to Bombay prior to returning to Virginia for another load of mules. Bombay was about 500 miles south, several days down the Arabian Sea. We knew that the weather would be good and we expected a quiet safe trip.
I neglected to tell you about one of the good things about having the American soldiers aboard. They had food and other goodies which they most generously shared with all of us. When they went ashore in Karachi their unused stores were left on board for the use of the next contingent. We all knew of this and paid many visits to the hold where their goods were kept, gaining entrance by sliding down a ventilator into the hold. This was all done late at night and soon we took our turn with other crew members and shared the loot. We stole O'Henry bars and gum by the case, canned fruits etc. etc. and generally lived like kings for almost a week until the bubble burst.
Somehow the Old Man got wind of it, and started to search the crew's quarters. We heard of the search and started to pitch cases of goodies through the port holes in our mess deck. We tore up cartons and pitched them through as fast as we could. Meanwhile the seamen and stokers not on watch did the same until the Old Man arrived with the First Mate and the Chief Steward. He caught the seamen and stokers red handed then started on our quarters. We came up smelling like a rose, although he did find a couple of O'Henry bars. We tried to persuade him that the candy was a legitimate purchase from the soldiers but he didn't believe out story. After the skipper left we went on deck and looking astern, as far as the eye could see, were cardboard boxes and cans of fruit. The word soon came back that when we reached Bombay, he was going to turn us all over to the authorities and charge us with broaching cargo, a very serious offense.
This page is maintained by Maureen Venzi and it is part of the Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.