The following is a History of my father's service as part of the USN armed guard aboard the Tanker Port Royal during WWII. The history was put together using letters he sent to my mother and supplemented by interviews I and my daughter did for a school project when she was in High School. I believe it to be generally accurate as far as dates and places and names go. I have included statements he made in those letters and the interview which may contain some inaccuracies.
In 1943 Max Blackwell joined the Navy and was sent to the Great Lakes training center in Michigan for Boot camp. Upon graduation he was sent to Navy Signal School at the University of Chicago. While there his unit conducted physical training on the bleachers of the football field. No one knew that top-secret nuclear research was being con-ducted below their feet. After completing signal school he attended Merchant Marine Training in Norton Heights Connecticut and was sent on to the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, New York where he was assigned as part of a Navy signal and gun crew on a Merchant Marine Ship.
The ships' name was the Port Royal. She was as T2 tanker, the tanker equivalent of a liberty ship. She carried 110 octane aviation fuel or oil.
Max joined ship in April or May of 1944 at the Sun Shipbuilding Company in Chester Pennsylvania (Near Philadel-phia) and they returned with the ship to New York.
The first trip was from New York to Glasgow, Scotland. The cargo they carried was aviation fuel. They sailed in con-voy with about 50 ships. Approximately 50% of the ships were T2 tankers. The others included 5 or 6 V2 liberty ships.
They returned from Scotland to New York empty in another convoy of approximately 50 ships. There was a pretty big storm. Max was a little seasick, but not too bad.
The 2nd trip was again New York to Glasgow Scotland and Swansea, Wales with another cargo of Aviation Fuel. Once again they traveled in convoy and returned from Swansea to New York.
The 3rd Trip was around June 1944 from New York to London and onward with a Convoy bound for Cherbourg France. They carried a cargo of aviation fuel to support the D-day invasion in Normandy. Their escort was a four stack destroyer, the USS Marblehead 1 which was recently equipped with Radar. Another ship in the convoy was a big troop ship loaded with soldiers. After unloading in Cherbourg, they left the convoy bound for London via the English Channel and anchored at Gravesend on the Thames River 15 miles from London.
While in England, Max and some of his shipmates took a train from Gravesend to London. They stayed two or three days. While in London they had to sleep in a subway station (called the underground) because of German air raids. They had to return to the ship by bus because a German Buzz bomb, also called a V-1 rocket destroyed the railway.
They returned from London to New York with one other T2 tanker at a speed of about 14 Knots (16 miles an hour). It took 10-11 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
In October 1944 Max's ship left New York for Curacao in the Dutch West Indies and returned to New York with a car-go of Gasoline. They didn't sail in convoy because American water were now considered safe.
The next voyage was from New York to the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Straits of Gibraltar. The cargo was Aviation Fuel and about 20 airplanes. The airplanes were P-51s and P-47s fighter planes stored as deck Cargo. In Gibraltar, the crew of the Port Royal saw another tanker that had been torpedoed by a German submarine and cut in two.
The Convoy left Gibraltar for the Suez Canal. They traveled with some older ships and they had to slow down so the other vessels could keep up. Even then, the whole convoy arrived ahead of schedule and had to make a 360 turn to mark time.
In the Suez Canal Max and the crew saw a British Battleship that was damaged in a fight with the Germans. Shortly afterward the Port Royal ran aground in the shallow canal. They had to have a tugboat pull them free.
In November of 1944 Max and the Port Royal left Suez in a convoy bound for Port Said Egypt by way of the Red Sea. From there they went to Aden and on to Colombo Ceylon (Sri Lanka today) and then to Madras India. When they arrived at Madras they weren't allowed into harbor for fear that the gasoline they were carrying would explode and destroy the whole town.
December 4-16th 1944 found the ship docked at the mouth of the Hooghly River in Budge Budge India (15 mi from Calcutta). Here they unloaded the aircraft and gasoline. On December 25th they left Calcutta for the Persian Gulf. The ship was empty and alone. About six miles off their course, a British tanker was fired on with two torpedoes from a (German) submarine five days earlier.
December 31st 1944 found them in Abadan, Iraq on the Euphrates River near the Persian Gulf. A cargo of bunker fuel was loaded this time instead of gasoline. In January 1944 Max and the Port Royal departed Abadan and sailed to Perth and Fremantle in Australia.
In late January 1944 they left Australia and re-crossed the Indian Ocean to Bahrain on Persian Gulf for more bunker fuel. And in February they left Bahrain and returned to Perth for a 21-day overhaul of the ship. The boiler tubes and steam equipment had to be rebuilt so Max and the crew were able to do a little sightseeing in Australia.
When the ship was repaired they crossed the Indian Ocean for the fourth time and returned to Bahrain. In March 1945, carrying bunker fuel they left Bahrain for Sydney Australia where they arrived on March 16th 1945. From Sydney Australia they again returned to Abadan and Bahrain
On the return trip in April -May they traveled past Fremantle Australia, Darwin Australia on the Bay of Carpentaria, Port Arufa and Port Moresby, New Guinea, through the China straits to Milne Bay and arrived at Manus in the Admiralty Islands On May 29th.
At Manus they saw 8 aircraft carriers 4 cruisers, a battleship, and 25 destroyers. These ships were part of the famous US 7th Fleet. They watched a Limey (British) Aircraft carrier launch and land planes.
At Manus on May 31st 1945 they picked up 6 native passengers, 4 Seabee trucks, a caterpillar tractor and forty bags of mail. June 4th 1945 they arrived in Morotai where the Port Royal refueled three destroyers, the RAN (Royal Australian Navy) Bishopdale, the USS Banshee and the USS Cheysachet.
From here Max and the Port Royal went to Biak in Borneo and were sent to Moiswoendi to discharge bunker fuel to a U.S. Navy tanker. They returned to Biak carrying 400 tons of fresh water and 5 Navy passengers.
On June 12th the Port Royal left Biak passed between Marshal and Gilbert Islands bound for Balboa, Panama. They arrived in Panama July 5th or 6th.
The war ended in August and the crew got permission to leave the Port Royal. Max caught a ride from Panama back to New York on an old destroyer that had been converted to minelayer 2. The destroyer had recently been hit by a Japanese Kamikaze suicide bomber and heavily damaged. She was being sent back to New York for repairs. The small ship was full of sailors returning from the war. On the way from Panama they encountered bad weather and the ship rolled and pitched across the sea. Max was badly seasick for the first time in over 100,000 miles and 27 months at sea.
1 Actually USS Marblehead was an Omaha Class Light Cruiser..
2 My father's letters list this destroyer as the USS Jonathan Ward. The USS Ward was a famous ship having sunk a Japanese submarine during the Pearl Harbor attack four years earlier. However the Ward was hit by a Japanese Kamikaze suicide bomber and sunk in 1944. I haven't been able to identify this ship, but it can't have been the Ward that was at Pearl Harbour. Another destroyer the Aaron Ward was also sunk. I was unable to find a reference to the Jonathan Ward.