"And the message was, “Commence hostilities on Japan, repetition Japan, at once”. This was three, four days before Pearl Harbor"
[Editor's note: Please be advised that this veteran’s personal experience includes elements of a graphic nature and may not be suitable for a younger viewer]
The first experience that I had of note [on HMCS Kenogami] was the convoy called SC [Slow Convoy]42. It was in October, November 1941. It was my second convoy. I had taken the first one over without too much incident. But this particular one, we were going, we had 125 [merchant] ships and four escorts: three corvettes and one destroyer. The wisdom of the people who were in charge was that we would go up north towards Iceland and then drop back down, avoiding the U-boats at that time. However, we were spotted as we were approaching Iceland. And for the next six days, we had U-boats attacking the convoy on a constant basis. As soon as the eight subs would come in, discharge their torpedoes, they’d leave; eight more came in. And this went on for six days. We lost a lot of ships, a few tankers, we were pulling burning sailors out of the water and none of them survived. It was too bad because they were alive when we picked them up. We had other ships, munitions ships, blow up with a lot of loss of life; there was a lot of loss in that period.
I was on another convoy in December of 1941 and we were just approaching the coast of, half-way across the Atlantic, it was the third of December where we were; it was the fourth of December in Hawaii, on the other side of the dateline. And I got the only message I ever received in plain language and it had a “O-break-U” designation, which was highest priority. And the message was, “Commence hostilities on Japan, repetition Japan, at once”. This was three, four days before [the surprise Japanese military strike on] Pearl Harbor. And I remember taking the message into the captain, who looked at it and he says, “Is this a joke?” and he threw it in the air and that was the end the conversation.
After the 7th, we started getting, we were close to the coast of France; we were picking up German radio. And the Germans were reporting at that time that the Japanese had landed on both coasts, the west, both Canada and the United States and were invading. So the captain called me back in and he apologized for his attitude towards that message. So that’s one incident that I can remember that sort of belies what Roosevelt said at the time.
Only on one ship [HMCS Battleford], there was another Jewish guy on it. He was originally from South America and he was an engineer and went to university in Montreal and enlisted there. And we shared one experience together that, this would have been 1943 I guess. We, we, the only sub that we had credit for sinking -because we picked up the survivors, so we knew we sunk it -but what was happening, at that time, we, we knew that the Germans were pretty ruthless, even for survivors at sea. They used to machine gun the lifeboats. That’s what they were doing. So we got together and we were, we had eight of them, we picked them up on one side, tore their life jackets off and threw them over on the other side. We did that to eight guys and then we got caught.
And we had a little meeting with the captain about it, you know, and we just told him our side of the story, why we did it. And he said, okay, I won’t bother you this time but don’t do it again!