Lewis Emery

SS Lewis Emery, Jr.


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

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 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

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

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
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

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