David Chadwick  



High Seas to Home

Posted on October 3, 2014 at 10:40 AM

Life aboard a little ship in a heavy sea

Escorts vessels – destroyers, frigates, sloops and corvettes – were especially comfortless in bad weather. Crews were often exhausted even without encountering the enemy.

When Atlantic waves came crashing over the forecastle, water levels could quickly rise to two inches on the mess decks. This became even more unpleasant if it was contaminated by fuel oil. Space was also a problem. Most escorts had been designed for a crew of about 100 but often had to accommodate more than 150.

One medical officer complained that there was only 81.5 cubic feet of air per man, compared to the recommended 200. Wet weather often meant there was insufficient space to dry sodden clothing. Sailors often slept under wet blankets that sometimes froze when temperatures dropped.

In heavy weather the ship would roll so far that she seemed in serious danger of capsizing. In these conditions, simple movements became extraordinarily difficult: drinks would spill, food would slide of the plate; cutlery would fall onto the deck. Heavy objects would roll away, then roll back and bang into people. Walking a short distance would be impossible without falling over as if drunk.

Perhaps the most astonishing of all was that the crews not only managed to cope with these conditions, but did so in a way that enabled them to take on and ultimately defeat the U-boats. 

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