It must have been a cold day in hell. More like a cold month. We had managed to get halfway across the Atlantic with absolutely no trace of German U-Boat. Bloody hell, we’ve barely got enough escorts to cover our flanks – our convoy would have been wolf chow already had they known where we were.
Who knows how many other convoys had been crippled by those jerry bastards; they sneak in under the cover of darkness, raise their little periscopes and leer at us with a devilish grin while dealing death with their damn torpedoes. Quite a few of my mates died to those damn swimming boom-sticks. You can only understand that after news reached us that some of our other convoys got attacked, we were getting goose-bumps every night, jumping at every shark or dolphin yelling that it’s a torpedo.
This is one such night. I couldn’t sleep. Everybody was especially jumpy; there were rumors around that there were big groups of submarines prowling around, something which was unheard of, let alone terrifying. They were actually hunting in packs now. That was enough to permanently get our panties in a bunch. Everybody was silent. Gone was the lone cheerful cry responded by cheers from the rest of the crew, gone were the jokes said in the bunks making everybody fall down laughing. Everyone was just grim and silent. The irony of it is that the submarines we were eventually going to face were just like that as well.
The searchlights were slowly scanning the surrounding waters of each ship, making it seem like the dancing lights of the aurora borealis up north, only in blue murky depths. Some of us were just lying in our bunks, playing with some lucky charm, re-reading a book for the tenth of eleventh time, or just looking out the porthole thinking of when they might see their families again, if ever.
I was just leaning on the railing at the bow of our trusty Liberty. One of many – apparently the Yanks’ strategy is to just build more ships than the Germans could sink. It has worked thus far; our Liberty survived three trips across the whole damn Atlantic Ocean despite our convoy having been attacked. Twice. I guess we were just one too many to sink. One torpedo hit us once, thankfully a dud that thumped off leaving a dent we haven’t repainted yet. I don’t know if we’ll ever repaint that again. It’s a lucky spot, after all.
My eyes were fixed on a meaningless spot in the water. It just moved up and down, to and fro, never standing still for a moment. Like the men in this war, I thought. A constant state of conflict, one that will never truly be resolved. I looked up, reluctantly. Those floodlights were just itching to get into my eyes again. Everybody was doing what they had to; everything was silent, save for the constant humming sound of the engine at the prow.
To the left, one of the ships had a malfunctioning searchlight. It flickered a few times while some electrician was working on it, then it died. As much as I hated getting blinded by the blokes in the other ships, I couldn’t help but feel a bit helpless not having that searchlight covering our 10 o’clock.
Something was causing a commotion. I guess it was right then that I felt my heart sink. Surely it’s bad. It was just a bloke that dropped some garbage on the deck by mistake though. He was scolded for his clumsiness by some high ranking deck hand with a loud squeaky voice. The others were laughing. A comforting thought.
The explosion however wasn’t comforting at all. A ship to the portside had a huge column of smoke hanging over it, while another had a torpedo explode at the bow, throwing a mass of water up into the air. I could feel some of its spray on my face as it was taken by the wind. I was terrified.
But I couldn’t just stare. Two torpedoes exploding in such quick succession? Must have been a salvo shot. But then there was another, and another, and yet another, each and every one from a different position. They had us surrounded. The explosions howled in my head. They were going into our lines, our searchlights trained on a periscope to our starboard. I knew we didn’t have long left until our bones will ache from the terrible impact of a torpedo. It wasn’t long indeed.
It crashed into us at 2:12AM right before the stern. The explosion was so strong it blew out all the portholes on the other side and left a big gaping hole where the not-so-pristine hull once was. We were taking a lot of water, and quickly. I was barely conscious, rocked, dizzy, and hurt. I couldn’t move my arm and had some trouble breathing. I broke a rib or two for sure. I can’t remember how I managed to hurt myself, but I do remember flying up in the air for a bit.
When I regained consciousness, the ship was about 5 meters lower than it should’ve been. The deck was pretty much clear, aside of a few crackling fires from spilt petrol and bodies of the more unfortunate. I gasped for air and felt it searing hot. I had to get off this ship if I wanted to see daylight again.
One of the cranes groaned violently as it fell in front of me under the heat of the flames. I could see the water coming up to the deck slowly but surely. Fire was eating the ship like a spider its prey. I could faintly hear cries for help from within the ship as well as without. I felt broken as I couldn’t heed them. I collapsed in what I thought would be hell over water thinking that I would succumb to a watery grave. While my eyelids slid together I caught a glimpse of a dark form getting up from the water.
I woke up later, on a dingy. There were some other people there, some from my ship, some from others. I tried to get up, but pain shot all through my body. I asked what happened. I was told that they saw me on the boat, still alive, and got there in time to get me out of the burning wreckage that was once my home away from home.
It was daytime then – a beautiful day too, considering the carnage the last night. We were lying there, wondering what to do. A dark form emerged from the water. Not so dark now though, it was just a light grey underwater hulk in the daylight. We’ve all heard stories about Nazis, and the fact that they leave no prisoners behind, but right now, after the ordeal we had been through the other night, we didn’t flinch much when we saw the captain of the underwater vessel.
We expected him to pull out an MP44 and blow a hole in each of us. He just saluted and asked us in flawless English if we’ve sent any SOS. On our negative reply, he offered to send a SOS for us.
I was surprised. All I could say then was: “I guess these blokes aren’t bastards after all”, before fainting from the pain.