AMMV, St. Johns River Chapter, May 2000

Another Trip on a Liberty Ship

THE SS JOHN G WHITTIER
by E.C. Haddock

A former member of the Navy Armed Guard

As told to John Lockhart

We had loaded cargo in New York which some of the Longshoremen had told us
was going to Northern Russia but due to problems with the engine or boilers
we were delayed in meeting our convoy. We were later reassigned to another
convoy headed for Gibralter and we found later we would transverse the Med,
go through the Suez, Red Sea and Persian Gulf and up the Euphrates river
then into Iran's port city of Khorkamsahahr to unload Russian Supphes going
into what was called the back door to Russia. 

After weeks there we finally got our cargo discharged and running alone
back up the Persian Gulf and going through the Strait of Homas and then
into the Gulf of Oman which would lead us into the Arabian sea. As we were
about to depart the Gulf of Oman into the Arabian sea and it happened that
I was on look on watch on the bridge, The Captain appeared who I was welI
acquainted with and he was wearing a pistol on each hip. In all the months
I had been on this ship, I had never seen him wearing even one pistol. In
his left hand he had a weighted canvas bag. He spoke to me saying " the
radio reported that several U-Boats were where the Gulf of Oman met the
Arabian sea and it further reported that there were many merchant ship
sinking's." 

He then told me we were going to make a run for it and he had told the
Chief Engineer to get every RPM possible out of the engine. I could already
hear safety valves sizzling. I happened to look up at the stack and orange
flame was actually coming out the stack. I said "Captain look" while
pointing at the stack, he immediately got on the speaking tube and the
orange flame slowly disappeared. That was all we needed, an orange flame
lighting up the evening sky for a sub to home in on. 

Later on as we had cleared the Arabian sea and entered the Indian ocean for
our run along Africa's East coast as we were taking the route around the
Cape of Good Hope into the South Atlantic and thence to home we hoped. A
high flying reconnicence plane flew over and it was identified as German.
We opened up with the 3"50's and the 20 millimeters. The 20 mm is suppose
to lock and not throw another rotund in the chamber but in this case the
whole front of the shell casing must have broken off as the casing was
being ejected and the gun did not lock up but threw a live round in on the
ruptured casing, causing the new round to explode before the breech closed.
This threw pieces of brass casing into the gunners face, one piece hitting
him in the eye. The Armed Guard Officer, a Lt jg along with the Gunners
mate got into the tub and were picking brass out his face and doing what
they could for him, also the ships purser pharmacist was there. The Captain
came down from the bridge looked the gunner over and said "This boy needs
expert medical attention so we are going to put into Durban South Africa."
Upon entering port we got the Gunner ashore to the hospital and we were to
leave him there for his recovery but possibly due to the hard steaming
coming down by Lorenzo Marques, we suffered an engine room break down that
required us to stay in port for over two weeks. This was a happy time for
all of the armed guard.

Our Officer let everyone haave Liberty except just the necessary few
who were required to remain aboard. The South Africans are a wonderful
people. Me and two of my mates met a South African Major and his wife. The
Major was on leave. The Major and his wife had a car and they took me and
my Buddies all around Durban and even out into the country, Here I am, a
boy just out of my teens seeing a land I had only read about. When repairs
were completed we loaded cargo. We truly hated to leave. Who but only God
knew what awaited us after we started our run around South Africa into the
South Atlantic. 

The one consolation was we has taken on fresh fruit, vegatables and meat
and everyone knows that we young Amed Guard boys had a reputation for
eating good merchant ship chow. We did not make it across  to the South
Atlantic and along the coast of South America and home. Our orders had been
changed to Australia. From Sydney we steamed across the Pacific through the
Panama Canal and back to New York making this a round the world voyage. The
young gunner who lost his eye survived and lives in South Dakota. E. C.
Haddock keeps in touch with him. They had a reunion in Gatlinburg a few
years ago.
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