"So there it was [the corvette] bobbing like a cork. So the only way they could get us on board was to throw these huge nets over the side. And you had to jump for it. If you missed, well, you‘ve had it."
This happened at night. I was sitting at the chief engineer‘s table. We were a… It was a banana boat, a 5,000 tonner banana boat that had just… I don‘t know where it had originated from, but it was carrying some ammunitions and that. But we were part of a convoy. I was watching the engineer‘s face when the torpedo struck us.
And I never saw such a big man leave that table so fast. He was up, up and on the deck. This boat carried about 80, 70 or 80 crew and we were 10 officers as passengers on this. So that meant we were around 80 all together. And there were four lifeboats. But at that time — that was March — and two boats couldn‘t be launched. The boat that we were supposed to… Two of them you couldn‘t. So that meant that it was going to be a problem. Not everybody was going to leave the ship. And then we had pulled out. When a boat is hit, it pulls out into the lane so that the rest of the boats can go through.
So we pulled out and there we were sitting all alone. And we saw this other boat come along. And thought, oh, there‘s the sub that it had risen. So that we could see, in the darkness, you could make out as a boat. But fortunately, it was a Free French [naval forces]* corvette.** So they told us they could take us all on board, and we‘d have to make two trips, 20 in each boat. So the passengers — the 10 of us — were in the first boat. So we got on and this. The thing I remember a lot was getting away from it.
Because it was a heavy sea, and the stern was rising and falling. Every time it would sink, it would draw us back. So we had to row, everybody. I was on an oar. Everybody was rowing like mad, you know, to try and get away. We finally did get far enough away. But in that rough sea, it was hard to get close to the corvette, because a corvette is designed to fight subs by being buoyant. And they rode so high in the water that the torpedo would slide underneath. Miss it. So there it was bobbing like a cork. So the only way they could get us on board was to throw these huge nets over the side. And you had to jump for it. If you missed, well, you‘ve had it.
*The Free French naval forces was the naval arm of the Free French Movement organized by Genderal Charles de Gaulle during the Second World War.
** Corvettes were anti-submarine vessels, particularly useful as convoy escorts.