Sea Mail


LIBERTY SHIP ADVENTURES

I discovered your fascinating magazine when a friend sent me the March 1983 issue with an article about the USS Liddle (APD-60), named for a distant cousin of mine. As an old WWII Merchant Marine veteran of the "Ugly Duckling Liberty Ships," your June 2005 issue stirred a few memories. The Liberty ship article in the January 2006 issue covered an incident very familiar to me.

On 11 May 1944, I was an oiler on the Liberty ship James W. Fannin in the convoy off the coast at Algiers when we were attacked by a group of enemy airplanes. One of the Ju 88 bombers had its bomb bay door open and was headed toward the Fannin. Just as the torpedo was dropped, the armed guard gun crew in the gun tub on our after deck hit the Ju 88 and there was a massive explosion. The downed plane was confirmed and one other Ju 88 was also likely destroyed by our gun crew.

When the air raid was over, the only visible evidence was a trace of smoke from a ship near the shore at Algiers. The next morning, a thorough check of our ship was made; our entire crew and the 550 US Army soldiers that we were taking to Europe had come through the attack without any injuries or material damage.

Two days later, we had no further concern about torpedo bombers or submarines, so our anti-torpedo nets were raised out of the water to be folded and secured. That was not to be. When the net was raised clear of the water, we discovered that the Ju 88's torpedo had not been destroyed with the plane but was caught safely and intact by the net! One of our Navy escort vessels came alongside, gave it a good look and told our skipper to leave the convoy and head for Valletta, Malta. There, a British demolition crew could safely remove and disable the torpedo. The net was lowered to get the torpedo safely back under water and we left the convoy.

It was a little scary sailing alone with no escorts, but the voyage to Valletta was uneventful. On Sunday, 14 May 1944, we anchored in the harbor, raised the net, and waited for the demolition crew to come and relieve us of our unwelcome attachment. Some of the citizens of Malta came out to the Fannin in their small boats, bringing us newspapers, fresh fruit and snacks. The removal of the torpedo took considerably longer than expected, but was safely accomplished without any unexpected problems.

To our surprise, a US Navy destroyer escort came sailing into the harbor. A sailor on the bridge yelled over to our ship and asked, "Are you the James W. Fannin?" When one of our crew confirmed that we were, the Navy man said, "Great, I have mail for you." There had been no plans for the Fannin to sail to Valletta - the torpedo was a crisis demanding prompt attention. To me, one of the mysteries of the sea is how the Navy ship with our mail found us. Since 14 May 1944 happened to be Mothers' Day, maybe our mothers were making sure we knew that they were thinking of us.

The article, "Heave Ho, Lads" in the February 2006 issue really got me to thinking about the training of the Merchant Marine in WWII. There should be many stories on that subject. In addition to the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, New York, I am sure that you are familiar with the training centers at Sheepshead Bay, New York and St. Petersburg, Florida, as well as one on the Pacific Coast. I spent over four months at St. Petersburg in 1943 and 1944. I remember how thorough the training material was. I found it much more complete and practical than anything that I had encountered in the Navy. I hope you may publish some material of that type of training. I'm sure that it would be interesting to other former Merchant Marine and Navy veterans.

During WWII, I spent a few months sailing coastwise between Norfolk, Virginia, and New England on a former US Navy fueling ship. I sailed on one Liberty ship carrying cargo and troops to Naples and Anzio, Italy; cargo only on another Liberty to Bari, Italy; automobiles and household gear on a WWI Hog Island freighter to Cartagena, Colombia, bringing coffee and tanning bark back to New York from Venezuela. …

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