Alexander Ramsey

SS Alexander Ramsey

Story of the S.S. Alexander Ramsey

Sent in by Charles R. Amidon, Jr., 522 Brandon St., Owosso, MI 48867-1833

This story is dedicated to all the men who sailed aboard the S.S.
Alexander Ramsey Voyage #7, August 4, 1944. It was started by our
signalman Vern Anderson and completed by Charles Amidon, also in
remembrance of Eldor Goes GM2/c.

Yesterday we left Loch Ewe at 1945. Heavy fog set in at 0830. By 0845 we
had our first close call, nearly hitting a tanker on our port side.
Rudder hard right, engines stopped. Rudder kept on hard right til
another ship loomed out of fog on starboard side. Rudder hard left.
Everyone was on his toes, as forward holds contained bombs with
detonators already attached, and remaining detonators for other six
thousand tons of demolition bombs which completed our cargo. Rudder was
put hard left until still another ship suddenly appeared off our port
bow. About this time, the general idea in mind was to get out of fairway
and drop the hook until the fog lifted. "'Chips,' the ship's carpenter,
take a sounding" was the first order heard from the bridge. "Sixty
fathoms," came the reply from the bow. Orders were given to report depth
regularly. Second report fifty fathoms, third report forty fathoms.
Fourth report four fathoms, but before report reaches bridge, ship was
reported on port bow. "Engines full astern, redder hard right." Mate
sings out, "Captain can't clear beach." Altman and aft gunner ring
general alarm.

Everything seems to happen all at once. Shoals are spotted, breakers are
heard on beach, and extremely high cliff looms up on port side. Charles
Amidon was on the bow and was thinking the wake in front of our ship was
a fog buoy on a cable, but it was land, as our ship was climbing the
rocks. Ship is vibrating violently as result of engines full astern with
way on, and bottom scraping rock. At this time all hands have answered
alarm, some having only dungarees and life jackets on. We have come to a
halt on the rocks, engines are stopped. All hands are very badly shaken
and shocked, but nothing compared to our captain who has been a complete
nervous wreck since our cargo of demolition bombs were loaded.

Hardly taking time to look the situation over, engines were put full
astern again, with helm still hard over. Ship again shook violently as
she inched her way off the rocks. Finally cleared engines were changed
to half ahead, with intentions of clearing cliff. Gunnery officer
suggests to captain to wait until fog lifts before proceeding. Being a
headstrong master and believing his navigational ability not to be
questioned, he decides to proceed against protest by mates and gunnery
officer, who have safety of crew in mind. As ship begins to make
headway, captain states, "Look, we are clear, we're making headway." At
this moment a deep ramble was heard forward and we were almost shaken
off the bridge as she swayed from side to side. Men on the bow were
thrown to the decks as she finally jumped to a distinct halt. Engines
were put to full astern for some time but to no avail.

Here we are high and dry with twelve feet forward instead of our usual
twenty-four. Tide is maximum. Radio silence is broken, distress rockets
are fired, colors are hoisted upside down, and ship's bell is being rung
continuously. When sharks are reported swimming nearby, some wise guy
reports vultures hovering overhead. Johnston, who just this morning
offered Andy thirty dollars for his watch, now flashed a "fin" in his
face in hopes of making a fast deal. Heavy oil slicks appear around the
ship, giving evidence of punctured fuel tanks and bilges.

As fog begins to lift, we realize that our distress signals have not
been in vain, as the image of a man is spotted on top of the cliff. Oral
communication is difficult, but after some time, we manage to understand
"Spearhead." The charts reveal that this position is four miles off our
course. Our radio operator sent out a distress signal; later on, I did
find out the radio distress signal was received by Joe Marrah of my home
town of Owosso, Michigan. I met Joe on leave in an Owosso ice cream
parlor. I was telling him about our going on the rocks and he advised me
that he received the SOS as he was stationed in Ireland as a radio
operator for the navy. Later we learned that four miles off course in
these waters put us in about the most dangerous spot in this hemisphere.

At 1015 merchant ships spotted off starboard quarter. Pete fired
distress signals and Andy tried to contact it with blinker, but ship
continued on without answering either signal. Captain sends "Pat" down
for coffee for mate and himselfi Pat being a bit on the jumpy side
hurriedly made his way below. In no time flat he was back with a pitcher
and two cups. As luck would have it for Pat's sake, the mate tried the
coffee first and was astonished to find the coffee salted instead of
sweetened. Pat was full of apologies and rushed below again to make a
fresh batch.

(1100) The man on the cliff was spotted again and by this time
visibility was clear enough to make out his uniform to be that of a
British Naval officer. He brought news that help was on its way.
Evidently we were near some lighthouse or lookout station. (1115) Ship
sighted on starboard beam. Rockets are fired, whistles blown, bell rang,
20mm gun fired and blinker used to draw his attention. He turned out to
be a HM Man of War. After revealing our plight to him, he said that he
could be of no assistance but would stand by for our protection against
enemy boats or submarines who evidently must have picked up our position
from our radio message. 

(1130) Small boat with a British Naval Lt. Comdr. alongside followed by
two salvage tugs. After a slight conference by the officers attempts
were made to free us from the rocks. The boats, being too small were
unable to move us. At this time word was received by man on cliff that
Navy salvage trawlers were on the way to our rescue.

(1330) Salvage crew arrived, salvage officer (Robinson) boarded ship.
Upon boarding, the salvage officer finds by checking out draft that we
are aground aft as well as forward. By this time the tide is receding
fast and ship is creaking, particularly midships, caused by the strain
of the weight of the cargo. Realizing that low tide might cause friction
enough to ignite our cargo, Lt. Harper suggested that we abandon ship
during low tide. Ship was abandoned at 1530, including kittens. Draft is
seven feet forward and 19 feet aft. Sure are sitting high. We all put to
sea on the trawler "Melinda." No one got sea sick. We were taken to
Scapo Flow, Scotland, a British Navy base. I remember staying in a
hospital in Scapo Flow, where I met a British sailor. He never could
pronounce Amidon right. He used to perform by eating razor blades. He
said he did this in a circus in England. Reboarded the Ramsey at 1730
and the cooks got busy with chow, as we were all starved. The following
three hours were spent waiting for high tide before salvage work could

(2030) Tugs have begun work, as tide is nearly maximum. They are rocking
us a lot but so far we haven't moved so that anyone can notice it. The
boys hope those potatoes (bombs) from Maine can stand the bumps. The
gunners are all on deck enjoying the weather and scenery on top of the
cliff, and I do mean scenery. "Whoops, where is Pete? .... Yep, that's
right, in the sack as usual. Whatta man." We have quite a gallery on the
cliff top. About a dozen gals are the center of attraction for the boys
aboard ship. Amidon decided the girl in green was pretty nice. All in
all, the gunners seem more interested in the gals than the rocks below.

(2045) The stern has finally moved out about a foot. The chief engineer
just called the bridge saying he had the forward pumps going like hell.
The oil slick is getting thick and the sides are taking an awful
beating,. Looks like rocking around isn't doing us much good. Hope she
doesn't get a notion to blow up. Look-out very alert. He just spotted
the girl in green sitting on some guy's lap. All the boys are hoping it
gets better as time goes by. 

(2120) Stern is finally clear, bow still hanging. Captain tries to be
funny at this point and calls the bow telling Bos'n to shove off with a
boat hook. Bow must be hung up on starboard side as ship is listing to
port. Things are beginning to look better, everybody seems happy. Even
Pete is out of the sack. All we are hoping for now is that she doesn't
sink when she does finally come clear. A small boat full of native
sightseers are approaching our bow, showing off some dandy fish they
caught on the way out. Seems like the boys on the bow talked them into
giving them up. Somebody reported them to be six feet long and that they
were going to haul them on board with the winch, but I see they finally
agreed to three feet and six are now hauling them aboard by hand. They
really are some nice looking fish though. If these people only knew what
we were loaded with, I don't imagine they would come alongside.

Our bow is finally starting to move and the gang is praying that it
doesn't part with the rest of the ship. It's coming slow but sure. A few
bumps and a lot of noise. That's all and we're clear. His Majesty has
done it again and sure saved the taxpayers back home a lot of money this
time. Whistle blowing like it is the Fourth of July or something. Sure
feels good to be afloat again and we are actually floating. Show is over
for the audience on the cliff. It is now 2144 and we are on our way
again. Hope it is smooth sailing from here on in.

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