Posted by: nancy328 | January 26, 2011

Messy Ride on the Rockhill Victory

Do you ever wonder about the story behind those old newspaper stories pasted in a scrapbook? This clipping was from the Boston Herald late in 1945.



NEW YORK (INS) – The transport Rockhill Victory carrying 1543 members of the famed 26th, “Yankee Division,” arrived in New York yesterday after a rough two-week Atlantic crossing. The ship docked in Staten Island with a patched hull and seven life rafts missing. The soldiers aboard are members of the 104th and 328th regiments of the Yankee Division. Five of the men suffered bone fractures as a result of being pitched about on the ship during a storm that lasted 13 days. Army Capt. George S. Schuster of Milwaukee said: “The men were the sickest bunch I’ve seen on any troop transport.” Capt. N. D. Scull, skipper of the ship, called a 52-degree roll at which the vessel pitched, a “record.” The patched hull was the result with another troop ship at Marseilles.

Also docking at Staten Island was the Andrew Moore, with 552 members of the 357th and 358th antitank companies of the 90th Division. But they told a contrasting story. Lt. Charles Hornbuckle, of Poplar Bluff, Mo., said it was an extremely pleasant voyage. “We traveled ahead of one storm and behind another, taking the southern route.” Hornbuckle revealed two soldiers were court-martialed aboard ship for stealing $752, fountain pens and watches. One already has been sentenced and the other is awaiting sentence. First Sgt. Gus Vlahakis of Gardens, Cal., said that many of his men were gloomy over the length of the 18-day voyage.

Rough two-week crossing . . . what an understatement! Wayne certainly agreed with Army Captain George Shuster that “The men were the sickest bunch I’ve seen on any troop transport.”

In his book, Patton’s Lucky Scout, Wayne devoted a three-and-half-page section to his late December crossing, which he titled: “How the slab of concrete saved my life at sea.” Wayne had been wary of boarding the concrete-patched ship to go home.

Wayne explains the situation in his book:

“An announcement was posted saying that anybody wanting to get on this ship could do so individually, on a volunteer basis, instead of waiting to sail with their unit. It would depart as soon as enough people had volunteered to fill it. Also, as the other ships in its group had departed, it would cross the Atlantic alone.

Although I was skeptical about the ship’s seaworthiness, I decided to look into it more closely. The thought crossed my mind that the Marseille harbor master might just want this injured ship out of the way, so it didn’t sink in the harbor and interfere with the necessary traffic of the very busy port.

I went to the dock where the ship was tied up and asked some of the merchant mariners if the same original crew would be aboard—and if they had been given the same choice of going aboard on a volunteer basis.

I found that all of the original crew had volunteered to serve aboard her. For me, that was good enough. After all, nobody knew this particular ship better than her crew.”

If only they had calm seas for their crossing, but that was not to be the case.

How the Slab of Concrete Saved My Life at Sea

“The ship lurched and rocked back and forth so far that if you put anything on your bunk and let go of it, the item was likely to shoot off, to land in the foot-deep bilge water sloshing on the floor. At one point, I was using my mother-of-pearl penknife to cut a tangled shoe-lace. I set it down it on the bunk next to me, and before I knew it, the knife was launched into the bilge water.

It was a certainty that seasickness would start to be widespread.
As the storm got worse, so did the seasickness plague. It soon became impossible for the victims to get to the head (toilet) because it was overflowing with people too sick to move on or even care.

So those suffering had to make alternative arrangements. And it was far too rough and dangerous to go on deck to relieve yourself.

Everywhere, all over the ship, it was the same, and the stench was becoming intolerable.

Accordingly, when I wanted to go from one end of the ship to the other, I would go out on deck to do it.

…One evening as I did this, I noticed that I was the only one on deck. I had simply wanted to get some fresh air and get away from the stench for a while, to nibble one of my apples before I turned in for the night.

As I tried to re-enter the ship’s hold, I found the door locked. I went all around the deck of the rocking ship, trying every deck-level entrance that I passed. They were all locked.

Fortunately, when a storm of this magnitude hits, it always is standard procedure to string safety ropes around the deck to give sailors something to hold on to. I looked for the ropes and clung to them as I made my way around the lunching deck.

As far as I could see, there were no lights on anywhere. As I stood there trying to find a way in, some large chains broke loose and started to sweep back and forth on the deck.
. . .
I did venture on deck the next morning. What a mess! The loose chain flailing about had destroyed all of the lifeboats. It had also smashed to pieces the lockers containing the life jackets. In addition, some lockers full of cans of unthinned paint had been crushed. Pieces of the cans were stuck between the chains that formed the railing around the ship. The paint was a thick goo, roughly the consistency of caulking compound. The goo had coated the loose life jackets, so there were now dozens of them stuck everywhere—on the side of the cabins, rails, just about every above-deck structure that I could see. It had been a rough night.”


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