After two and a half weeks leave I travelled up to Glasgow again to join a new vessel. After loading, we proceeded to Lock Ewe to join a convoy and set off once more for Calcutta via the Mediterranean. We were transporting 120 army personnel to be landed in North Africa and they set up their armaments around the ship. We must have been the best armed ship in the Merchant Navy. She was also fitted with Asdic, a (then) new system to detect submarines under water, a rare privilege.
We were in the Med when I experienced my first concentrated aerial attack. The planes were quite low and we could actually see the bombs leaving the bay. Only one ship in the convoy was hit but she stayed afloat. What did impress me, however, was the incredible barrage our American escorts put up. It was like a total eclipse. I was amazed that any warship could carry that amount of ammunition but in spite of that, I only saw one aircraft stagger away leaving a trail of smoke.
Dad as a cadet
The rest of the voyage was free of enemy action until coming home up the Atlantic. I was on gun watch when I spotted a Fokke Wolf Condor flying very low up the side of the convoy. He then turned 90 degrees to cross ahead of our ship. He was presumably counting the number of ships to report to HQ and so it proved. That night all hell broke loose. A wolf pack started their attack in the evening. I was on watch at the time and spotted a torpedo track coming for us on the starboard bow. I lay flat on the deck and waited for the bang but when nothing happened I raised my head “above the parapet” just in time to see a tanker on our port beam go up in a massive ball of flame and smoke. The torpedo had crossed ahead of us and she was the unlucky recipient. My heart went out to her crew and the last I saw of her was a glow on the horizon astern. It was, of course, impossible to stop and help, otherwise we would literally be a sitting target.
Fokker Wulf Condor
Next morning when I came back on watch, I was astounded to see the same ship back on her station. Being a tanker she was divided up into small compartments and it was this that saved her. In all we lost ten ships, but the Radio Operator told us that six subs were sunk in twenty four hours, a figure I found hard to believe but he assured me it was true having got the news from one of the escorts.