The Toonerville Ferry*


While an invasion convoy formed in Scotland’s Firth of Clyde during the fall of 1942 a small paddle wheeler served as a water taxi; it carried mariners between their ships and the shore. There were Brits, Russians, Norwegians, and Americans supplemented with Poles, Danes and others who had escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe.


During the return trips it seemed that nearly all were drunk and as September became October, due to more ship arrivals, there were many more seafarers to ferry. The trips took longer and as the weather became wetter and colder the Firth of Clyde became stormier and the motley passengers became wilder.

The seamen were exposed to the weather seated on wood benches or standing but always crowded as if they were a colony of ants on a gum drop. One night some of those freezing drunks in order to get warm, broke up a few benches and started a fire on the wood deck!

During another night that was wilder than all others, the sole engineer on watch below allowed a few of us from URUGUAY’s black gang into the warm machinery space because we had a bottle of whisky. He upended it and got manifestly drunk during one long swig. We had arrived carefree enough to take over operation of the horizontal steam reciprocating engine.

Just as our Toonerville Ferry was being maneuvered alongside an anchored ship one of our gang decided to show us how he had oiled a recip years before. His beard caught in the crosshead and we had to quickly stop the engine because his head was getting pulled back and forth. The pilot thus lost control and the portside paddle wheel was smashed!

We managed to get enough instructions from the Scottish engineer who was more or less hors de combat, decoupled the damaged paddle wheel, and then responded to the annunciator’s commands. The Toonerville Ferry then limped from ship to ship in a near gale dropping off revelers, while being maneuvered by just its starboard paddle wheel and its rudder.

By the time we approached URUGUAY the waves had increased significantly and some other passengers had taken over below. During the first attempt at coming alongside the paddle wheeler smashed URUGUAY’s Jacob’s ladder; the lowermost treads were splintered and hanging from shredded ropes. The first intact rung was barely reachable.

But God sometimes takes care of those who follow the sea. All of us were able to take hold and shin up while the raging seas continued to cause the paddle wheeler to resoundingly smash to and fro against our ship’s side just a few feet below.


* Toonerville Trolley, was a popular cartoon published from 1908 to 1955.


Toonerville Ferry is the marine version.


Approaching the Mediterranean

“Far away were intermittent flashes that looked like heat lightning playing below the horizon but which actually came from the beacon on Cape St. Vincent, at the southwest tip of Portugal. It was precisely such a night, such a spot, and such a target as has gladdened the hearts of U-boat skippers.

“A streaky pall of smoke hung low over the bay. Most of it was coming from the funnels of the anchored convoy that filled the roadstead. Rising above it against the dazzling noonday blue, the Rock of Gibraltar loomed like a gigantic lion basking in the sun.”

The Canny Mr. Glencannon, by Guy Gilpatric, E.P. Dutton, New York, 1948.


In the Mediterranean

“Almost fifty Axis submarines operated in the Mediterranean or off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Morocco in an attempt to hamper the landings. From 7 to 17 November a series of attacks, combined with aircraft, failed to do sufficient damage to prevent the invasion.”

The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943,
by Jack Greene and Alessandro Massignani,
Chatham Publishing, London, 1988, ISBN 1 885119 61 5.


The New Zealand troopship SS AWATEA was hit by a German bomb during the invasion of North Africa and sunk off Bougie, Algeria in the Mediterranean on 11 November 1942.


“Along with Stalingrad and Midway, North Africa is where the Axis enemy forever lost the initiate in World War II.”

“No large operation in World War II surpassed the invasion of North Africa in complexity, daring, risk, or as the official U.S. Army Air Forces history concludes the degree of strategic surprise achieved.”

An Army at Dawn, The War in North Africa 1942-1943, Vol. 1, by Rick Atkinson, Henry Holt & Co., New York, N.Y., 2002, ISBN 0-8050-6288-2.


Troopship Torpedoed

“The most important success by German U-boats against TORCH shipping was made early on November 11th by U-407 north of Oran. Kptlt. Ernst-Ulrich Bruller sighted a small silhouette off his starboard bow and as the U-boat closed he could see clearly the target’s two funnels above a gleaming bow wake. Bruller fired a spread of torpedoes from a range of 2700 meters, then a finishing shot from the stern tube and withdrew. Although his final torpedo missed, others had hit the 19,600-ton Viceroy of India and at 0830 she slipped beneath the waves. HMS Boadicea rescued her 425 survivors.”

With Utmost Spirit: Allied Operations in the Mediterranean, 1942-1945 Chapter 4; by Barbara Tomblin.


“In the Mediterranean, the S.S. Viceroy of India, British ship carrying Yanks to North Africa landings, keels over after being torpedoed off Oran, 11 November, 1942. No substantial loss of life was reported.” New York Daily News, December 7, 1944.




Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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