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