#5 South America

One-dollar bill from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, 1939.

On May 4, 1943 we arrived at Bahia, Brazil and stayed for 10 days. I do not remember why we stayed so long unless it was for some engine repairs. We then proceeded to Paramaribo, South America (you can find on your wall map and globe) for a load of bauxite which is the ore that aluminum is made from. We had been traveling empty since the Persian Gulf. We loaded in a relatively shallow river and then went to Trinidad to top off our cargo. We left for the United States on May 29 and I guess I lost interest in my log and did not make any notes again.

Paramaribo is the capital of Suriname in northern South America. Suriname was a Dutch colony at the start of the war (called Dutch Guiana), but the Dutch government in exile allowed the United States to occupy the country in order to protect the Bauxite mines.

Charlie with an uncharacteristic mustache, ca. 1943.
Postcards from Bahia, Brazil, ca. 1943. (This image and below).
Document outlining Shore Liberty rules in Bahia, Brazil, 1943.
Letter from Charlie’s commanding officer recommending him for the V-12 Navy College Training Program, 1943.

When I was waiting re-assignment at the Armed Guard Center I learned of a new program designed to train enlisted personnel to be officers. Not only line officers but other jobs. One was to become a dentist. I figured this would be a good deal and after the war I would have a chance to have a practice. Also officers lived better than the enlisted men. I [took] a test and passed. They sent for my high school records, which I knew wouldn’t qualify me for anything, [and] they politely turned me down. It is probably just as well, I can’t see myself saying “open-wide” every day for the rest of my working life.

We finally arrived back home probably sometime in June. Our ship docked at Hoboken, NJ, and we, the Armed Guard crew, were relieved of our duties and reported [to] the Armed Guard Center at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for re-assignment. I had had enough of slow freighters and I also didn’t want to be assigned to a ship headed for Murmansk, Russia, which was very dangerous due to the German wolf-packs and dive bombers.

Charlie was right to be wary of North Atlantic convoy duty, especially to Russia (Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in particular). German U-boats wreaked havoc on Allied convoys, and those bound for Russia were also subject to attacks from the German Air Force based in Norway. The situation did not change for the Allies until 1943, when the tide was finally turned against the U-boats. May 1943 (called “Black May” by the Germans) saw the sinking of 43 U-boats, which constituted 25% of the U-boat strength at the time. The Allies would continue to refine their Anti-Submarine Warfare techniques throughout the war, and the introduction of the Escort Aircraft Carriers brought Allied air cover to the entire Atlantic. The U-boats remained a threat until the end of the war, however, and the last sinking of a merchant ship by a U-boat occurred just one day before Germany surrendered.

Map showing Allied convoy routes. Image: © Infobase Publishing.

One thought on “#5 South America

  1. Cheryl Rogan
    Cheryl Rogan says:

    Excellent info Matt. Glad he didn’t become a dentist!

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