"It took a lot of rules and regulations on keeping station. You were so far away on each side of you between the other ships and so far ahead and behinds in the columns. And you did your best, tried to your best to stay in proper position."
They were lined up, ships in line, side by side. And then another line behind them and supposedly the convoy was in two lines. I can remember when we were number 22, that meant we were in the second ship, in the second convoy, in the second line and the ship before us, number 12, and then the ship behind us would be 32. You see. There was lines one way and columns the other. And then of course, the escorts would be speeding around and around and around, outside the merchant ships.
It took a lot of rules and regulations on keeping station. You were so far away on each side of you between the other ships and so far ahead and behinds in the columns. And you did your best, tried to your best to stay in proper position. And it didn’t always work.
Now, before I started going to sea, a friend of mine was torpedoed and he told me that at one time, the subs would come right up between the columns and they’d come up on the surface and go up through the columns and send firing torpedoes right and left. But when I started it, by that time, 1942, and when we were leaving England to come home, I spotted a ship with a catapult on the bow, on the upper deck. There was a catapult with a fighter plane on it. The idea was if there was aircraft around or if there was torpedoes or there was subs on the surface, they’d shoot this aircraft off with a catapult and the fighter pilot would do what he could and then he couldn’t come back to the ship, he’d have to crash land and hope that some of the escort vessels would pick him up. I don’t know if anybody ever did that. I don’t, I never saw it.
But shortly after that, they got these, they called them baby flattops. They were tankers or grain ships and they put a flight deck on them and they got pilots from the fleet air arm. And they could take off and land. So after that, the subs, they never attacked on the surface, they always attacked from down underneath you, so you never saw them but you knew they were there.
We could tell when the escorts were dropping depth charges, we could hear them. If something or another banged on the bottom of the ship, you knew what was going on. It sounded as if there was a big hammer struck the ship, struck the bottom, so you knew they were dropping depth charges, so you figured that they thought there was something down there and they were trying to, they called it ASDIC and then they changed to sonar, that’s what they did with the search for the subs with.
Some of the ships, there was aircraft bombing convoys too but it wasn’t too … But the time that I, in 1942, after 1942, we knew there was aircraft on the go, looking for the subs and all that sort of thing. I knew what to, if there was aircraft around, if we didn’t see them, if I heard this CFRCF, I’d know that that was a Royal Canadian Air Force plane was up there someplace.