By Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek
From: His son, Glen Palecek
On the way across the Atlantic Ocean in June 1943, Dad’s convoy was attacked by a German submarine. Because he was a radio sections chief, he had an outstanding view of the whole thing. Here is the story of this attack in Dad’s own words:
When my radio crew and I were loading onto a troopship at Newport News, Va., we were put in Hold D-1, the lowest (fourth deck) and the farthest from the front of the ship. It was the most dangerous for hitting objects like mines and the most prone to cause seasickness because the very tip of the ship reacted the hardest to wave action. We were barely out to sea when seasick soldiers started stinking up the entire hold. Then, the Navy officer in charge of the signal deck came down looking for me. He was short-handed and wanted to know if two of my men and I would like to help him out on the way over. Would we! We climbed out of vomit-stenched D-1 all the way up to the highest deck, the signal deck, just above the Captain’s and Naval officer’s deck. We relayed messages between ships to the Captain into a pipe through a hole in the deck.
The air was fresh; the view was better than that of the soldiers so far below. We could watch the entire convoy of 22 troop ships, an oil tanker, the inner ring of eight destroyers and a cruiser (which had been repaired after having had her bow shot off in the Pacific), and with our 21 power telescope we were the only ones who could see the outer ring of six more destroyers. The troops were always locked below while we got to watch the destroyers fighting to keep submarines from getting in among the troop ships.
One day, one submarine got through but was accidentally sounded by a destroyer that was returning to its location after refueling at the big oil tanker in the center of the convoy. The submarine was probably after the oil tanker or the command ship. We flagged the Captain’s orders to the convoy to make 30-, 60-, and 90-degree turns simultaneously. The destroyer stayed locked onto the submarine until the convoy was out of danger and then tried to blow up the entire Atlantic Ocean.
Submarine attacks usually came just before dark. All ships blew their stacks on command at mid-day so that they would leave no smoke streamers in the evening.
We went through the Strait of Gibraltar during the daytime and again had the best view from our aerial perch, the modern equivalent of the “crow’s nest.”
Dad told me the sailors said they were pretty sure they sank the submarine, but no one really knew for sure. There is more to this story, like how machine guns mounted on Army jeeps shot at German planes that attacked the ships, but space for these stories is limited and I need to get on with the next one.
Next time, I will submit Dad’s account of his first combat beachhead invasion in North Africa. I will also include his story of how the British used a dead man to trick the Germans.