DIARY OF RICHARD C. SCHMITTER This story is taken from the diary I kept at sea and in port during WWII. All of it is true and I thought you would enjoy a little of the life of two HOMETOWN BOYS on the Murmansk Run aboard the S.S. LEWIS EMERY, JR. Tom Repeta and I lived in the same New Jersey town and went to the same UNION HIGH SCHOOL. I knew him by sight because he was dating Vera, a very smart and very good looking girl in my class. Unbeknownst to each other, we both enlisted in the U.S. NAVY and the next time we saw each other was in the "OUTGOING UNIT" at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Tom was writing a letter and had a picture of Vera propped up in front of him. This was in May of 1943. Tom and I were just out of separate boot companies at Great Lakes and we were both being sent to the same signal school and were in the same division at the University of Illinois. We both earned our SM3/C rating and were assigned to MERSIG (Merchant Signals) School in Connecticut. "WE WERE ANXIOUS TO GET INTO THE NAVY'S WAR!!" We were sent to the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, New York and we tried to ship out together. IT WORKED!! And we were assigned to the S.S. LEWIS EMERY, JR., a brand-new Liberty Ship docked in Baltimore, Maryland. Shortly after arriving, we were issued ARCTIC WEATHER GEAR and COLD WATER SURVIVORS SUITS!! The focsles were given extra insulated bulkheads. Things were adding up quickiy-MURMANSK!! At midnight, November 18, 1943, we sailed from New York Harbor in position 61 of a convoy; the fh'st ship in the sixth column, next to the Commodore's ship. We were two 19 year old greenhbrns and were responsible for relaying messages from the Commodore to all the ships in column 1 through 6 which was upwards to 40 ships. Tom and I thought we had the best job in the world. Beginning November 26th, messages from the Commodore indicated "THERE WERE 8 OR 9 U-BOATS AHEAD OF THE CONVOY" and on the 29th at 2030 hours, a flash and tracer bullets were seen on the convoy's port beam. GQ was sounded!! Depth charges could be heard on our Mark 29 gear's listening panel. The next morning, the Commodore signaled that the escorts' hunt had been successful. There were more GQs, dangerous fog and heavy rolling before we made it to Scotland. At dusk (1530 hours) on December 12, we sailed from Locke Ewe to Murmansk, Russia It was the first convoy of the dark season. Our convoy consisted of 21 ships, seven columns wide and 3 deep. No one was to take showers and everyone was to sleep with their clothes on so as to minimize the time to get to their battle stations. We were encouraged to wear life jackets at all times. Our Navy lookouts were doubled, making sleep a luxury for all of us. Tom and I stood continuous signal watch - 6 hours on and 6 hours off. All of us were aware of the terrible reputation of the "Murmansk Run" and of the pocket battleships of the Germans that were in hiding in the Norwegian Fjords on the North Cape, near the route we had to take. We were concerned about the cargo in No. 1 and 5 holds- AMMUNITION!! Respect for that created a tendency to fall dangerously behind the convoy from time to time. Joe Millard, SI/C, our guitar picker from Techonchia, Michigan had the uncanny ability to see objects through thick fog. and while securing from an 0300 general alarm on December 13th, he spotted a ship ahead at right angle to our course, barely missing a collision. The weather continued to deteriorate and heavy seas swamped our quarters through the porthote's backout screens and high winds and snow squalls made it difficult to keep convoy stations which added to the already high tensions of the trip. Off Norway's North Cape, some 375 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in the dark afternoon of December 18th, our ship had fallen behind the convoy when the general alarm sounded. The escorts off to our starboard beam and quarter were firing snow-flake rockets, turning our dark world into an eerie, silvery daylight. They began dropping the first of 35 depth charges that afternoon, some of which were so close that the repercussion on our hull sounded like monstrous bashes on the bass key of a piano. One was so loud that the mate, who had been torpedoed before, was so sure that we had been hit that he ran to the Christmas Tree signal board in the wheelhouse to mm on the appropriate red light to signal - "I HAVE BEEN TORPEDOED." He frantically tried to f'md the switch for one red light and got greens and whites until he realized that we had not been hit - YET!! The escort nearest us frantically signaled us to catch up to the convoy. The depth charges had taken their toll. We began taking on water through cracked plates in No. 3 hold and pumps were activated and we managed to regain the convoy and hold our own. December 19th saw us in a howling Arctic storm with blinding snow which made the taking and relaying of flashing light signal with a reduced light blinker gun almost impossible. Five course changes came through O.K. The storm continued all night and into the next day when we again lost contact with the convoy. We regained station just in time to pick up a very nervous Kola River pilot to take us to Murmansk. He began screaming for our captain even before his boat reached our starboard gangway. He mn, shouting to the bridge and for the next several hours, was in a state of severe agitation, breaking the binoculars he had borrowed - from me!! He tried to explain later that he was not a real pilot, but a Navy Ensign assigned to take us through the river's mine fields. His comments, as he left the ship were interpreted as: "WE WERE LUCKY TO COME THROUGH IN ONE PIECE." Our time in port covered 6 weeks while we discharged our cargo, took on chrome ore for ballast and had our slit plates repaired. There were day and night alerts and raids and Russian and German dogfights high in the cold, crisp air. Liberty meant walking to town, trading cigarettes with the kids; usually for Russian medals; walking to the Tourist Hotel for a shot of vodka and chocolate and perhaps a Laurel and Hardy movie. Tom wrote Veto every day. He and I went ashore with buddies Bill Quinn from Boston, Ma., Art Bressette from New Bedford, Ma., Jim Heisler from Hackensack, NJ and Jim Falci from the Bronx. Cargo handlers were made up of Russian soldiers on leave from the front lines, political prisoners and women, all of whom seemed terribly tired. Indeed, one was killed while sleeping one night in #3 hold being crushed to death between two large crates. One of our gunners narrowly missed death when a wooden ladder he was using to return aboard ship broke, throwing him into the water between the ship and dock. Just as the ship began closing, John Warsaw from Milwaukee, Wisc. and a former Chicago White Sox pitcher, pulled him up just in time. Unbeknown to us, our convoy and the one after ours were bait for the German pocket battleships, SCHARNHORST and the TIRPrI'Z. The British had warships following our convoys. The trap was sprung on December 26th and the SCHARNHORST was sunk with a loss of nearly 1900 lives. The TIRPITZ was sunk in port later by aerial bombings. On January 28, 1944, we were set for departure when a new convoy arrived with survivors. They had been mauled by U-Boats two days from Murmansk. The ship of the commodore was hit by three torpedoes and sank immediately with a loss of 30 men. Two Libertys were sunk with a loss of 15 men on one and 2 on the other. The British escorts lost one destroyer. We took on board 12 survivors from the S.S. PENELOPE BARKER, sunk 1/25/44 in convoy JW-56A with the loss of 5 Armed Guard, 10 merchantmen, and one doctor. The doctor had gone on board to treat one of the Armed Guard for appendicitis. When the BARKER was being abandoned, the Armed Guard Officer and the British doctor went below to assist trapped seamen and both were lost. At this point, we fully expected to see action going back and on February 3rd, we sailed in convoy out of Murmansk. Tom, the gunners and I were on double watch again. Heavy weather set in almost immediately and half the crew got sick and this was not the best situation for firing the guns or going overboard. The temperature ran from 26 to 32 degrees with a sea temperature of 46 degrees and winds of 45 degrees. Eating and sleeping was almost impossible because of the rolls of 35 to 40 degrees with seas breaking over the stack. While it was so uncomfortable to us, it limited the submarine and air operations. There were GQs and hull clanging depth charges, flares, rockets, and reconnaisance planes. On February 10, 1944 at 1500 hours and one day out of Loch Ewe, Scotland, the commodore flashed all ships a congratulatory message wishing all hands a "GOODBYE, GOOD LUCK AND A HAPPY HOME COMING." The survivors were landed in Belfast and on February 14th, we sailed for home in a convoy of 104 ships. Tom and I shipped out on four more trips together on the S.S. LEWIS EMERY, JR. and the S.S. HENRY BARNARD, which took us to Iran, England and the Pacific. Tom and Veto, you ask???? Yes!! They were married before the war ended, they have 7 children, 16 grandchildren and live happily in New Hampshire - U.S.A. Richard C. Schmitter 25 Fairfax Terrace Chatham, NJ 07928 201-635-1435.
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