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The Russian Run

Discussion in 'Merchant Navy During WWII' started by Jim, Aug 23, 2010.

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  1. Jim

    Jim New Member

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    Ernest Charles Goodwin saw action on the Russian run as a 'gun sweeper' on a First World War escort ship, HMS Westcott. His ship was one of many U-boat victims.

    “The Germans had what they called an 'acoustic' torpedo, which worked by picking up the vibrations of your propellers. They would get within a mile of the boat, then fire. To counteract them, we attached two trailers to the boats called 'rattlers'. We towed them half a mile astern and the torpedoes would be attracted to them. We had both ours blown off several times. We couldn't spend too many days in Russia, only enough time to refuel, because there was always a danger of being iced in. We saw lots of Russians, but most of the guards on the jetties were women, the men were away, fighting. The people seemed very poor, I remember seeing an old woman dragging a sledge across the snow with her husband's body on it. She had to dig a grave to bury him herself. There was a cinema, but of course, there was no way we could understand the films. The first time there were about 18 of us, all smoking. They turned the lights down and put the film on then the lights went up again. Smoking wasn't allowed, but we hadn't been able to read the 'No smoking' signs.

    German Type VIIB U-boat refuels and her crew enjoy welcome fresh air.​


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    In winter there was about one hour's daylight, from around noon to I o'clock. There was one particular winter storm which was worse than all the U-boat attacks. We ran into what's called a 'stern sea', which means that it's coming up behind you. On a destroyer such as ours, it's particularly dangerous because you've got a low deck. If the water comes swilling over and the water tight doors aren't closed, it will go in and take the ship down immediately. The storm got so bad that the skipper decided that the only way to get through it was to head into the storm. We did a hard starboard turn. As the ship rolled, I could have reached out and touched the water with my hand.

    Navy escort ships stand by in the icy waters of Hval Fjord ready to run the gauntlet again. ​


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    The storm went on throughout the four hours that I was on watch. After I had gone off watch, I was called back at 2 am because the direct hit shells had got loose and were rolling around all over the gun deck. When you wanted to use a direct-hit shell, you took off the cap, and they exploded as soon as they hit something. Nobody knew if the covers were on or not and there was a big danger that they might explode. I knew exactly where everything was, so they tied two safety ropes around me, as the storm was still going on, and I had to throw all the shells over the side … very hairy!
     

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