I will always remember my first day ashore in Scotland, 15 August 1942, because on that day I witnessed the most spectacular event that I had ever seen.
USAT URUGUAY had anchored in the Firth of Clyde and disembarked almost five-thousand GIs into paddle-wheel vessels that transported them to the Gourock pier that also serves as a train station. When landed, the Americans had to pass through platoons of German prisoners who were being closely watched by stern Polish guards and through files of unguarded Italian prisoners.
The GIs occupied the still-warm seats in the steam-engine pulled coaches that the prisoners had just vacated. The prisoners then boarded the same small vessels for the first leg of a journey to prison camps in Canada. Throughout the efficient logistic operation kilted bagpipers and drummers, in their full-dress uniforms, played while marching back and forth.
The jam-packed pier was sprinkled with naval personnel and merchant seamen representing different countries. I had turned nineteen four-months before, had already completed two voyages across the Pacific delivering troops to Australia and New Zealand, and thought that I had already seen it all.
I also remember Sunday, 30 August 1942, because three-days earlier, URUGUAY returned to Scotland after unloading indispensable war material, GI beer, in Swansea, Wales. My buddy Earl Frank and I went to legendary Loch Lommond. The following letter, which my mother saved and that reflects the emotion of the time, is a consequence of riding the bus to Balloch:
The period 27 August to 26 October 1942 is also memorable because URUGUAY remained at anchor in the Firth of Clyde. Her crew was told each day during that period, “This is your last time ashore.”
So for two months I was in the greatest danger I was ever in during the entire war. I survived sixty farewell parties in all the pubs in the thoroughly blitzed area from Gourock to Glasgow! Afterwards, URUGUAY was one of the ships that made up the Royal Navy force that landed American troops in Algeria during operation Torch.
The invasion of North Africa was peaceful compared to the parties in Scotland.
“America could have been defeated, or at least been forced into a humiliating peace to buy time. The Battle of the Atlantic was the key. It was probably the only battle of World War Two that could not be lost.”
The U-Boat War in the Caribbean by Gaylord T.M. Kelshall, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, 1988, ISBN 1-55750-452-0, p. 18.
“The last six months of 1942 marked the zenith of the U-boats’ success. Starting in August, after the tonnage sunk off the American coast had begun to decline, Admiral Donitz resumed a day-and-night offensive in the North and Mid-Atlantic, maintaining for four months a force of over one hundred U-boats at sea against the Allied convoys.
“This was the heyday of the wolf packs. Pressing home their attacks with confidence and skill, they sank in this period over two million tons of shipping.”
U-Boats at War by Harald Busch, translated from the German by L.P.R. Wilson, Ballantine Books, New York, N.Y., 1955, p. 88.
During her first two war-time voyages, the armament in URUGUAY was a stern-mounted 5″/38 gun plus four 50-caliber machine guns; all World War I vintage. In July 1942, the machine guns were replaced with four 3″/50 dual-purpose guns and four 22-mm Oerikons were added. This photo was shot from between the inner and outer stack at just under the stack cap while in the loading basin at Swansea, Wales.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo