Escape from Archangel
An American Merchant Seaman at War
Publication Year: 2007
During World War II, merchant marine tankers in convoys plied the frozen North Atlantic through the flaming wreckage of torpedoed ships. Working to keep sea lanes open, valiant merchant seamen supplied food, fuel, and goods to the Allies in the last pockets of European resistance to the Nazis.
This exciting book acknowledges that the merchant marines, all volunteers, are among the unsung heroes of the war. One of these was Jac Smith, an ordinary seamen on the Cedar Creek, a new civilian tanker lend-leased to the U.S.S.R. and in the merchantman convoy running from Scotland to Murmansk. Smith's riveting adventures at sea and in the frozen taigas and tundra are a story of valor that underlines the essential role of merchant marines in the war against the Axis powers.
This gripping narrative tells of a cruel blow that fate dealt Smith when, after volunteering to serve on the tanker headed for Murmansk, he was arrested and interned in a Soviet work camp near Arkhangelsk.
Escape from Archangel recounts how this American happened to be imprisoned in an Allied country and how he planned and managed his escape. In his arduous 900-mile trek to freedom, he encountered the remarkable Laplanders of the far north and brave Norwegian resistance fighters. While telling this astonishing story of Jac Smith and of the awesome dangers merchant seamen endured while keeping commerce alive on the seascape of war, Escape from Archangel brings long-deserved attention to the role of the merchant marine and their sacrifices during wartime.
Published by: University Press of Mississippi
Title Page, Copyright
The following story is true. It was told to the author by O. M. (Jac) Smith, Jr., retired merchant seaman, (Merchant Marine Combat Bar, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Pacific War Zone Bar, Korean Service Bar, Vietnam Service Bar), during interviews conducted from August 1988 through August 1989 at his home in Biloxi, Mississippi. ...
Prologue: Just an Old Bridgetender?
Quietly a man came home from the sea, from more than thirty years at sea. He had sailed across all the oceans, past all the islands, round all the continents of earth. Home to Biloxi, Mississippi. Home because he grew up there. Home to care for his aging mother. Home. ...
O. M. Smith, Jr., answers to "Jac." He never liked the names his initials stood for—you called him Oswald Marion at your own risk—and early on he let it be known that he would be called Jac, without a k. He was tall and thin and had fire-red hair. A quiet young man, he could be stubborn at times, ...
Mama, I'm Going to Sea
The European war remained far off at first, something exciting you heard on the radio or read about in newspapers. But it brought unexpected economic expansion to the farms and factories. Ingalls Ship Yard in nearby Pascagoula suddenly came out of the depression doldrums as steamship lines placed orders for new vessels, and clangs and bustle filled the once silent ways. ...
Four Dollars, Thirty-Five Cents and a Sack Lunch
The sea was hungry for men. Five days after he returned from New Orleans, Jac received a letter telling him to report to a new maritime training facility recently established at St. Petersburg, Florida. The U.S. Maritime Service was a branch of the War Shipping Administration. ...
The truth was known only to those already at sea. The North Atlantic itself was often more deadly than the enemy torpedoes and bombs. If the order was given to abandon ship, the crew had only minutes to reach the relative safety of a lifeboat or raft before the cold incapacitated their muscles and they died from hypothermia or drowned. ...
Early in the war, Britain had instituted the practice, invented in World War I, of moving merchant ships by convoy, escorted by as many naval vessels as could be spared. This did not guarantee safety for the cargo carriers, but it cut down on losses. ...
From Halifax they made their way toward Iceland. The few escorts they had, some Navy, some Coast Guard, were seen one day to turn back toward North America flying a flag signal that said, "Good-bye and good luck." The crew was at first alarmed, but soon realized that the convoy was simply being handed over to a new Navy escort sent out from Iceland. ...
There were times when the stress of the voyage was eased by camaraderie among crew members who, when off duty, gathered in the galley for meals, or maybe just for hot coffee and the company to be found there. The coffee came in special cans which had a victory ship, a tanker, and a liberty ship painted around them with the words "Coffee for Men of Action." ...
Under attack warnings most of the way, Jac's convoy crossed to a point just north of Ireland without a loss, in part because of the terrible weather they encountered. This had improved to a reasonably tolerable level, nasty but tolerable. All they had to do now was round Northern Ireland, enter the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, ...
Back to the States, they remained barely long enough for the crew to go ashore, phone home, and let off a little steam. Then, her tanks filled again with gasoline, the Cedar Creek once more journeyed to Canada, took her place in a convoy, and faced the cold misery of the icy seas of February. ...
A Russian Captain
The Cedar Creek continued to make crossings carrying gasoline to Britain without serious mishap. Her crew came home unscarred on the outside, but from each crossing there were more visions of dying men and ships to crowd the deep black corners of their memories. ...
The Murmansk Run
By early 1943, the run to the northern Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangel (Arkhangelsk) had become so costly— out of fifty ships in one convoy, only sixteen survived—that they were stopped. Stalin badgered the Allies unceasingly to resume them. ...
Jac's convoy, what was left of it, stayed far out toward Bear Island, carving as wide a path around the tip of Norway as the Arctic pack ice would allow, until it arrived off Murmansk, well inside the Arctic Circle and only fifty-five miles from German-occupied territory. ...
Twenty Minutes Too Late
They turned the corner and could see their hotel. That was when a police van pulled up, and they were ordered to get in the back. They asked why. The uniformed Russian policemen growled something at them which they could not understand, but it didn't sound friendly. ...
When Jac was arrested, his reaction had been anger, rebellion, fury. Now as he walked toward an empty bunk past dirty sad people—some talking in low voices, some coughing, one throwing up in a slop jar, most silent—he felt disbelief and bewilderment. How had he gotten to this hellish place? ...
Finally the shock of their internment and the daily life in the camp settled over the Americans. At first they had shown spirit. The guards did not find it amusing to be talked back to, and the Americans were physically beaten to their knees. Reason began to rule. ...
You'll Die Out There
At night a small group would gather around the stove for warmth. There was very little conversation. Jac guessed that it was a feeble attempt at sharing some remnant of human society. In a place where all one's waking hours were expended upon one's own struggle to survive, kindness and comradeship were luxuries no one could afford— ...
The Reindeer Spoke
The men, all shorter than Jac, gathered around him. Strange, he thought, funny language. His eyes began to focus steadily once again. Slowly he began to think again. With great and agonizing effort, Jac lifted his hands in front of him and crossed his forearms at the wrist, showing by sign that he had been tied, had been a prisoner. ...
In the Hands of Strangers
On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded the neutral countries of Denmark and Norway. The Germans did not want their navy to be bottled up again in the North Sea as in World War I, and occupation of the two Scandinavian countries gave them free access to the Atlantic. Little Denmark could do nothing but submit, but the Norwegians resisted. ...
Long after he had lost count of the endless changes of guides, each handoff a repetition of the one before, Jac was brought to his first family setting in Norway. He and the guide were moving southwesterly now on slopes that descended through heavy forests. ...
The Shetland Bus
The Export Group of the Norwegian Resistance ran this hazardous service. Using the cover of Norway's fishing fleets, composed of small trawlers and smacks, the Export Group made clandestine runs between Norway and the Shetland Islands or mainland Scotland. ...
Just What Were You Doing in Norway?
The British naval officers simply did not believe Jac's story. They did not say so outright, but with cool reserve they told him, "We're afraid you'll have to come with us to the Admiralty. Routine in a case like yours, you know. They'll have a few more questions to ask" ...
It was September 1, 1944. The tanker was the White Horse, identical in every way to the Cedar Creek. Her captain was a Norwegian named Trygve Wold. Although a passenger, Jac felt at home. Members of the crew, true to the custom of respecting the personal life of fellow crewmen, did not pry into the circumstances that had led Jac aboard their ship ...
Jac went back to sea, back to the convoys and the cold. Eventually the White Horse was ordered to the Pacific, and he served many months carrying fuel to fighting units all over that ocean. Japanese submarines had been pretty much wiped out by then, but the White Horse had her share of kamikazes to fight off at the invasion of Okinawa. ...
Page Count: 168
Publication Year: 2007
OCLC Number: 655628843
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