Early in November 1941 we left the Clyde to form our convoy which consisted of a number of middlesized passenger liners fully loaded with people in army uniforms, a few more freighters, and four destroyers busying themselves to follow the orders of their Commodore. The whole scene had a restful ambience about it.
As was usual the freighters were stationed on the outside of the convoy which appeared nice for the troopships but it happened quite often that a submarine would submerge during the night in front of the convoy and come to the surface in the middle of the convoy to attack the biggest prize.We were hoping that it would not be us that would be attacked. Me,Me,Me and bugger the rest. That of course was not our official motto and nobody would say this aloud but we may have thought so. After all I was only twenty two years old and still had a lot of living to do.
Slowly we sailed on the Atlantic Ocean at a speed given by the Commodore. In order to sail at the highest possible speed the Commodore asked all ships by means of signal flags to declare the highest average speed they could maintain. To our surprise our ship was the fastest with our seventeen miles. The convoy could only proceed at the highest speed of the slowest ship which was 13-14 miles and so it happened.We got a nice surprise in the form of a ‘man of war’ called HMS Warspite, together with entourage, which was added to our defences. An imposing mighty grey colossus about which you thought; how is it possible that such a hunk of steel stays afloat?? Later when the weather deteriorated quite a bit, the barrels of the big guns were turned backwards to prevent too much of the water that came on board from entering and flooding the gunneries. The ship itself hardly moved even though the storm water flew halfway down the ship. If you did not know better you would have thought the ship was on its way down.
It was a mighty sight of a mighty ship.
It had to happen! After a couple of days slow sailing the motors created a lot of dirt and this settled in a thick film on the exhausts and the noise dampers with the result that during the day we emitted a thick blue-grey smoke and at night a nice rain of sparks . The convoy was not amused and the Commodore ordered our Captain to reduce these emissions to nothing. The chief officer and chief engineer had a meeting and they concluded that the motors had to run for a while on full speed to burn off the oil. This was signalled to the Commodore, who allowed us one hour before sunset to leave our station and run around the convoy at full speed. The higher temperatures burned off the oily substance and cleared the exhausts. Do not ask what happened to the fresh air above the chimney. In any case we did not have any more rain of sparks to alert the submarines. This ritual had to be repeated every day.
The rest of the journey to Cape Town** was completed without any problems.