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North Atlantic Patrol


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Between the North Atlantic and Pearl Harbor

Victory at Midway

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North Atlantic Patrol

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October 23rd, 1941

A black night. The dim shapes of the officers with their binoculars peering through the small round ports of the wheel house. Men with head-phones. The dark loom of the watch on the bridge wings. All hands at their stations, competent, alert. "She is up and down, Sir." The slight throb of the powerful engines, and we lean gray wolves steal stealthily out in single file to the secret meeting with the oncoming almost helpless flock. The black loom of the hills of Newfoundland diminish into the obscurity of the night. "Secure anchors for sea." And with the first roll of the northern ocean, we feel that sensitive, live movement known only to men who have been in "Tin Cans", the Navy's nickname for destroyers.

There is a heavy knock at my door: "Good morning, Sir, 0700." In the utter blackness of my sealed-up cabin I find the light switch and dress. Opening the door into the tiny hall dim in the blue battle light, I grope my way up the reeling iron ladder to the wet metal bridge, and am struck violently in the face with icy spray. Morning, harshly raw, gray and cold. Head-on into twenty foot seas. "This is a great baby!" said the Captain, looking with affection over his narrow fo'castle-head. Then with no diminishing of sea or wind, our sister ships disappear before our eyes in dense wet fog, and with no lessening of speed we knife straight for our rendezvous. We are equipped with inner sight, and at quarter to eleven know that the convoy is six and a half miles dead ahead. At eleven o'clock the heavily laboring forms of the ships appear as by magic before us. "Left rudder one seven zero!" "Left rudder one seven zero, Sir." And we range along their flank and take up our station as the leading ship. As quickly as it descended, the fog lifts, and astern we see forty-three tired, dreary rolling ships in seven columns. Astern of us, two of our destroyers on either flank at the head, and two on the end chasing along the sheep that fall behind. Every kind of vessel - lots of tankers. Brave men these, that ride the tankers. One well aimed "fish", and up they go - a torch. A Canadian destroyer comes dashing across our bow, her signal light blinking: "Thanks. Bon voyage. Good luck!" "Why did they use French?" said our Skipper. He has never forgiven the French for folding up! This is convoy, and we American destroyers start to herd them along.

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Pay Day, "Newfie" Workmen

October 25th, 1941

Today is fine with a long swell and I now have two good sea-legs. At three-fifteen two of our bombers fly over the convoy, circle and disappear astern These men will dine tonight aboard my old ship in Newfoundland, and we are out two days and three nights. The convoy ships had a drill today. We watched them blowing whistles and making a hell of a lot too much smoke, zig-zagging about like mad. At dusk we roar down past the convoy to take up our customary station astern, after a twenty mile sweep behind to discourage any subs from sneaking up during the night. There are two dull explosions in the darkness and one of our destroyers has let go a couple of depth charges as cryptic calling cards, but I am too sleepy to find out what it is, and propping my life jacket on the outboard side of my bunk and my foul weather gear on the inboard, I pull up my blankets and fall asleep to the delicate dancing movement of the ship.

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 rough oil sketch

October 27th, 1941
Gale at sea

At midnight it starts to blow and I am unable to sleep a wink for staying in my bunk. It is hard to determine the next jump, drop or slide that a "tin can" is going to make when your ports are sealed tight and there is no horizon. A11 the Chief's photographic and motion picture gear had been securely lashed up in my cabin, as the quickest place to get at it in an emergency, and now in the hollow blackness of my steel room I hear it going adrift. My heavy foot-locker breaks loose first, and like the mate in Conrad's "Typhoon", I spend a half hour dripping with sweat, getting it before it gets me, and finally secure it with new lashings. Running steeply uphill, I make the chair that is lashed to my desk, squirm into it, only to have the whole damn thing carry away and land me in my shower bath. The wind is roaring and the water smashing against my cabin bulkheads.

Up to the bridge after breakfast and start across pilot house. Misjudge the swing of the ship and go bouncing all over the place from one gadget to another, just missing the quartermaster steering. End up in a hard iron corner, very embarrassed. No one laughs due to my rank. Then in come two seamen and again the ship's motion is so quick that they both misjudge, go down and slide on their backs right across, fetching up against the signalman. Everybody laughs. A wild scene, great black seas rushing at our starboard bow, smothering the fo'castle in white water, ship plunging and rolling all at once like a wild thing. Holding on with bruised hands, banged elbows and sides, it is the first time my shipmates aren't saying "Wait till you see a real one!" At lunch the "monkey cage" is rigged. The cage consists of metal poles from floor to ceiling, between each chair down both sides of the long wardroom table The arms of the chairs are hooked securely to the poles, to keep the officers from going adrift and sliding about the room. Everyone that got there is swearing good-naturedly, as with one arm around a pole, they try to drink hot soup from a cup. I look up to speak to a shipmate a second too long and half of my soup shoots over the table. He roars: "Doing pretty well for a landlubber." That cost him all the jelly he got so carefully on his bread! Ship's little radio newspaper tells of strike after strike. Lewis's name is heartily booed by our Mess, and we wish that all agitators and isolationists could serve in the Atlantic Patrol.

By afternoon it is much worse. Amidships the gun watchers are huddled behind the anti-aircraft shields, watching first one rail and then the other go under a thunderous avalanche of tons of green water. Wind roaring at 65 knots across forty foot black ugly moving hills of heavy water. North, very north all this -- gray and black the scene, with white flash of foam. "No subs up today!" says the Skipper, an old sub man himself, in 'em and knows 'em. For a while we roll forty-eight degrees every six seconds -- the Captain jerked his thumb toward the indicator and I saw. Telephone says two of our ships have carried away their bulwarks. Then there is a flash that a Lieutenant J.G. has been washed overboard from one of them -- we hope they get him, but can't see how. Ship's roll from bridge unbelievable, screws racing out of water, and ship falling on seas like thunder. We have sandwiches for dinner. Everybody all in but gay and kidding, wardroom a din of charging gear, water everywhere. Sore, exhausted, I judge the fast roll and land in bed on my face, snug myself in to get a fair night's sleep. A wild, beautiful and thrilling day is ended. I am baptized.

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Leaf From Sketch Book

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