Seventy years ago today . . .

30 Oct

Last night while thinking about this first voyage of Tryon, it occurred to me that it was seventy years ago THIS WEEK she was steaming toward her south Pacific destination. Mac Perry provided perspective on what was happening seventy years ago aboard Tryon:

“Crossed the equator at about 1400 on October 29th and shortly afterwards had our first breakdown as the blowers went out and we were soon dead in the water. Watched the rest of the convoy steam away and out of sight as the engine room gang worked frantically to effect repairs. When this was accomplished, the Tryon made its first of many “runs” and we overtook the convoy before dark.

“The Captain came out on the bridge during my watch and asked what watch I would have the next afternoon. I had the first dog-watch, so he told me to have my relief report early as he wanted to see me in his cabin at 1800. I must admit that it frightened the devil out of me. I wondered what I had done, and thought of everything and decided that he might beach some of us when we arrived at our destination.

“The next day, October 30th, was a busy one and I didn’t have much time to think about my appointment or the date. We were nearing “torpedo junction” and at 1000 had General Quarters drill. Fired all guns and our pattern of fire was the best yet. Other drills and work occupied the rest of the day. Our noon position was 5° S latitude, 156° west longitude.

“At 1800 I reported to the Captain’s cabin and of all the surprises! This was my birthday and the Captain was beginning a custom of entertaining each officer for dinner on his birthday. I had forgotten all about it. There was a fine dinner, topped off by a gaily decorated cake. The Filipino steward was beaming when he brought it in.”

Although Perry didn’t mention it, which is surprising, as they crossed the equator the crew of Tryon almost certainly took part in the customary “Crossing the Line” ceremony, a mariner tradition that had played a role in initiating new sailors into the ranks for over a hundred years. Organized around “Neptune’s Court,” sailors are organized as Shellbacks, those that have crossed the equator before, and Pollywogs, those that have not. Pollywogs are put through a series of physical tasks, outrageous taunts and disgusting indignities (all intended for fun), and after completion of the initiation are given a certificate declaring their new status as shellback. When it comes to performing the initiation, rating and rank are irrelevant. One of these ceremonies was briefly mentioned by nurse Lena Gelott, aboard Rochambeau, in the convoy with Tryon (mentioned in an earlier post). I hope to look at these celebrations more closely later.

Perry reports that shortly after crossing the equator Tryon broke down, dead in the water, with the rest of the convoy steaming on without them. Once repaired, Tryon was able to go full steam and catch the rest of the convoy before dark. This was possible at least in part becuase Tryon was faster than any of the other transports in the convoy, having a flank speed of 19 knots – only the two destroyer escorts were faster. Catching up with the other ships wasn’t a problem for Tryon – but being a solitary ship in submarine-infested waters was. I’m sure that they felt like sitting ducks until they caught up to the relative safety that numbers – and a destroyer screen – provided.

By the way, if you’re like me you are wondering what the “first dog-watch” was. It turns out the “dog watch” (origins of the term are obscure) is the watch from 1600 to 2000 (4:00-8:00 pm). The watch is divided into two parts, the first dog watch and the last dog watch (to call it the “second” dog watch is incorrect). This creates an odd number of watches in a ship’s day, ensuring that when sailors are divided into two teams or divisions, the teams will alternate in standing the mid-watch (midnight to 4:00 am). It also allows all sailors to take the evening meal at a close-to-normal time.

Today would have been Mac Perry’s birthday – his one hundred and first. So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Lieutenant Perry, and thanks for taking time to record the events of those early days aboard Tryon. I’m really grateful you did.

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