October 28th, 1941
On bridge at six-fifty. Beautiful dawn after gale. Aft in the chart house to see where we are, and find we are 1200 miles from Iceland as we have run far from our course to dodge reported submarines waiting for us. The chart shows fifteen submarines that we have safely passed since leaving. Data from the British and our own air patrol is guiding us through this infested sea. Contact on listening tubes of destroyer astern, and we spin about with engines full ahead and roar away like two hounds on a scent.
October 29th, 1941
At six-twenty had movie and photographic gear taken to bridge above pilot house, and the Captain ran right through central line of convoy, as queer light broke over black sea. Very little swell and we worked till eight on movies and stills. Lord, did java taste good in wardroom after two hours on high cold bridge. Got orders to go twenty-two miles astern after tanker that had strayed off during the night. Found her lonely and black against the horizon. Gave her position and course. Doing ten and a half knots and the convoy nine, so she will catch up by nightfall. Then back to our station. At eleven o'clock the REUBEN JAMES lets off a blast on her siren, and dashes off to port with a direct contact. At some distance we see the white columns of water rise astern her, as she drops her pattern of depth charges. We ourselves get contact later in the day, but find nothing.
October 30th, 1941
Just as near to England as we are to Iceland. Subs are ahead of us so we have detoured far to the south. Message just received -- "SALINAS TORPEDOED". We were on that exact position two days ago. Another message -- "CONVOY BEING ATTACKED THREE DAYS ASTERN OF US." On the bridge all day, lots of bearings coming in. All ship's company alert. Same tanker strayed astern. We went back two hours, found her repairing engines. Left her and rejoined. Getting quite used now to the peremptory da-da-da-da-da, sounding General Quarters throughout the ship. Men are on the run to their battle stations before the sound is finished. Three quarter moonlight bright on water, making ships good targets. With a strange feeling of impending disaster, I printed a letter to my little daughter, turned in mostly dressed, and fell instantly to sleep.
October 31st, 1941
Half awake because of the unusually easy motion of the ship, in the unaccustomed quiet I am conscious of the monotony of her listening tubes. A sudden loud explosion brings me upright. I know instantly that it is a torpedo and not a depth charge. Spring from my bunk, jump for the bulkhead door, spin the wheel releasing the dogs, and land on the deck in a split second, with General Quarters still rasping. It is not us. A mile ahead a rising cloud of dark smoke hangs over the black loom of a ship. With a terrific roar, a column of orange flame towers high into the night as her magazines go up, subsides, leaving a great black pall of smoke licked by moving tongues of orange. All the ship forward of #4 stack has disappeared. We move rapidly down upon her, as her stern rises perpendicularly into the air and slides slowly into the sea.
Leaving a Great Pall of Smoke
A moment, and two grunting jolts of her depth charges toss debris and men into the air. Suddenly my nostrils are filled with the sickly stench of fuel oil, and the sea is flat and silvery under its thick coating. Before we know it, we hear the cursing, praying and hoarse shouts for help, and we are all among her men, like black shiny seals in the oily water. The Captain leaps to the engine telegraph and stops her, rushes to the bridge side, sees all at a glance and gives a sharp order to put her slowly astern, for our way has carried us through them and over the spot where she just has been. In a minute we have backed our way carefully among them and stopped again. Orders calmly barked, and every man acting with cold precision. Cargo nets rigged over the side, lines made ready for heaving. "We are the REUBEN JAMBS' mends comes a chorus from one raft, and then we know. The spirit of these huddled greasy forms, packing the overloaded life rafts, is magnificent, and their team work in shouting in unison is a fine example of quick return to initiative and organization in a crisis. But the bobbing blobs of isolated men are more pitiful. Thrice blown up and choking with oil and water, they are like small animals caught in molasses. We are now in a black circle of water, surrounded by a vast silver ring of oil slick. The men to port are drifting toward us and the hove lines are slipping through their greasy, oily hands. Soon many eager hands are grasping our cargo net, but our ship's upward roll breaks their weak and slippery hold. Instantly officers and men are begging permission to go over the side, and in no time three of our officers are ten feet from the ship on a reeling raft, and several chief petty officers are clinging to the net, trying to make lines fast around the slimy bodies of the survivors so that dozens of strong arms above on the deck can heave them aboard. The first man is hauled over the amidship rail, vomiting oil. Forward from the lofty bridge I see-an isolated man below me and hear his choking curses. Half blind, he sees the bridge above him. His cursing ceases -- "A line, please Sir!" I cup my hands and shout. A line is hove and he is towed amidships to the nets. Crossing to the starboard side, I see the obscure mass of another loaded raft. One man ignites a cigarette lighter and waves it in the darkness. They shout in chorus, but our lines fall short. They are drifting away to leeward. We shout through megaphones: "Hang on! We'll get you!" One man alone is trying to swim toward us. "Come on, buddy!" I bellow, "you can make it!" But the line hove with great skill falls short -- and we chart the course of their drift. It is a lengthy and desperately hard job to get these men aboard. Our men are working feverishly, but less than half have come over the rail and thirty-eight minutes have passed. The horizon is dull red with the coming of the dawn, and the increasing light makes the mass of our inert ship an easy target for the submarine which must be lurking near.
Like Black Shiny Seals in the Oily Water