docking in molotovsk

Marty Verdi contacted me after he came across a story by James A. Hamlin. Marty is also a WW II veteran, who spent time in Molotovsk at almost the same time as James. This is his account of his experiences in war-time Molotovsk.

We were in Liverpool, England, when they started to outfit the ship with plenty of insulation. When we saw that they were putting in all of that insulation, we knew that we were going up to Russia. Sure enough, they loaded us up with trucks, jeeps, etc. and on deck we carried four locomotives. We left Liverpool and went up and formed a convoy in Loch Ewe. From there we were on our way to Russia. We all figured that we were going to Murmansk, but found out later on that it would be Molotovsk.

We finally docked and before you know it, the people there were swarming all over the ship. They started unloading the supplies as soon as they got the winches going. (I'm not too sure of the dates, but I think it was some time toward the middle of November that we left Loch Ewe). Of course the first thing that most of us thought of was shore leave. That came later on. But I noticed that there were a lot of soldiers around and then realized that this was some kind of a prison camp. The people were Russian and we found out later on that they were prisoners who committed crimes or were some kind of dissidents They were very friendly and some of them that were working on the ship asked for food. We were told not to give them anything (by the Russian authorities) but managed to slip some food their way. The workers on the ship wouldn't let us throw out the left over food, that the crew and sailors left on their plates and was usually thrown into slop barrels. I found out why when I saw them pick out whatever food was salvageable and eat it. I even saw one poor soul, stick his whole arm into the barrel and pull out a ham bone and started to chew on the little ham meat that was left on the bone. Coming from a land that had plenty, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, I felt so sorry for these people. Of course any chance that I and many other crew members had, we would try to sneak some food to these people.

The worst incident that occurred was when one of the workers fell into the frigid water. He was fished out right away but was soaking wet. We tried to get him to come onto the ship to dry off. We have a place called the "fidley hatch" (I hope that fidley is the right spelling) it's right next to the smoke stack and it's one of the warmest places on the ship. We usually hang our clothes in there, after washing them, to get them to dry real fast. When the poor soul, who fell in the water, tried to come aboard, the guard wouldn't let him go up the gangplank. He was not a worker on the ship, therefore he wouldn't let him come onto the ship. We signaled him to go to the stern of the ship, which was away from the gangplank, and would have the workers on the ship hoist him aboard with the cables that they were using the unload the cargo. He grabbed on the line and we had him half way up when the soldier guarding the gangplank saw him, hollered a few commands in Russian, but they kept trying to bring him aboard anyway. But when the soldier pointed his rifle at the man, they stopped bringing him aboard, let him down onto the dock, and the last time we saw him that day, he was running back and forth trying to keep warm. Marina, he never made it. I don't know why or how, but they did not take care of that man. The next morning, that man was dead, laying right there on the dock. I imagine that he froze to death and was left there as a reminder to the other prisoners to obey, or else. Very Sad.

Of course we finally made it to town and as I remember it, it was a very long walk and cold as heck. When we finally made it to the local place where they served vodka, that's where we parked. They only allowed us three hefty drinks (I can't recall if the drinks were about three or four ounces). I don't know if they were rationing it or they figured that three of those drinks were enough to satisfy even the best of drinkers. I must admit, after those drinks, I was mighty high. The people there were very friendly. I wanted to ask a lot of questions about the town and people,etc. but my friends said we were there for drinking, not history or geography lessons, so that put a stop to that kind of conversation.

Finally, we were unloaded and they wouldn't let us depart from the dock unless we turned over all the Russian money that we had. Most of us wanted the rubles for souvenirs, but they said "Nyet". However they would let us keep the rubles if we gave them the equivalent back in US dollars. That's when my captain got mad and told them that we were sailing with or without their permission. If we didn't get out them, the captain was afraid that we would be iced in and wouldn't be able to leave until the spring thaw. Well we finally sailed and on the way back to Scotland, that's when we were attacked by the battleship Scharnhorst. It just so happens that Jim Hamlin was in another convoy going up to Russia while we were leaving Russia. Some where, on Christmas day, we passed each other, him going up and us going down while the battle between the warships was taking place. When we got back to Scotland, they showed up pictures of the German sailors that they fished out of the water. They were alive but shaking so violently---besides being scared out of their wits, I'm sure that the frigid water took it's toll. Thank God we made it home safely.

Please contact me if you would like to share your story related to Molotovsk.




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