The Stamford Historical Society Presents
Pride and Patriotism: Stamford’s Role in World War II
Robert Arata left college to join the Merchant Marine. During the war the Merchant Marine helped supply the Army and also carried enemy POWs. Arata served as a quartermaster on his ship and also steered the ship on various occasions.
Before the war I was attending UCONN. I did not get drafted but decided on the Merchant Marine…I quit college after 2 years and went to the Merchant Marine Academy at Great Neck, Long Island. There they taught you how to be an officer on a ship and this was 1942…I was in one of the first classes… I should have been there three months, but the area had just been bought from Chrysler Estate and I moved furniture etc. more than I studied and soon the time came and I got shipped out…I did most of my study under officers at sea…
I studied only one – two months then we shipped out as cadets. I joined my ship in Baltimore. We came up to Jersey…went to the ammo dock and the whole ship left except officers…everything on deck was labeled USSR.
We loaded ammo and took off to Halifax…then Sydney…ships then to Halifax. Coming back we lost one ship – torpedoed…then came into Halifax…then we joined a convoy to go across. It took a couple of weeks across at 10 knots…u boats all over. We had airplanes and tanks riveted down on deck and loaded inside with ammo and bombs.
Cadets do anything to help while studying with officers...I had a gun, 30 cal. Once I saw a periscope in the water and shot at it with a 20mm, we went at it, then a Polish destroyer shot.the sub, only 200 feet dropped bomb got sub…
Going across…ships usually got dispersed so it was often unclear if ships lost… We hit a big storm…waves over 100 feet high…the Captain of our ship was a Dutchman… He knew how to sail it. He also rolled the lifeboats in…didn’t lose any.
Left in April of 1942, we landed at Scotland and made up the convoy. Then one day .a briefing was passed to the ships that they were going to shoot off an airplane from the deck of an oil tanker…a merchant ship mistakenly opened up on it…
We went right up and around Iceland through Spitsbergen down into the White Sea to reach Archangel. We were mostly delivering ammo. We were fired on all the time from the air and subs…also we expected battleships in Norway they but never showed…
The Germans knew where we were going and what was on each ship.
We always returned fire…some 30 ships in convoy…about one third lost…the Mary Luchebach was blown up a half mile away from our ship. Flames were 1500 feet high.
At Archangel we had to barge over a sand bar…then into the River Duina…we anchored for long time about a month…then dumped our load and hung around till our departure…we were fired on nightly by air…We used Russian built rafts and put fires on them and floated them to attract the planes’ bombs.
First bombs fell 250 feet from our ship, but we didn’t even hear it because of the noise… Our boat was not hit by bombs but they peppered the ship with small arms. We could see the pilots in the planes because torpedo planes were often only 10-15 feet above the water. We had one close call when a torpedo went under our stern.
Prior to leaving England, I took over for our ill quartermaster and I learned how to steer the ship, I steered up to Archangel 4 hours off, 8 off, 4 on…
We never got off the boat till Archangel…the Germans would fly in to attack. The population of Archangel was almost all women, the men were off to war. In September we arrived in Archangel and we stayed till November when the river was icing up. It was often 10-12 below zero but a dry cold…Our return trip was in convoy…there were lots of alerts but no attacking…we came back to Norfolk, Virginia November/December 1942. Christmas Eve we returned to New York City.
I went back to school to finish my course and sat for the exam in New York, for the ticket, I passed. As soon as I was out of the Academy 1943 – I made 2nd Mate or 3rd Mate.
My second trip was to Bari, Italy and North Africa…there were buzz bombs going over from the shore...we shot some down with rifle fire, they were only 200 feet high.
Buzz bombs are unmanned. They were shooting them at depots.
I went to Italy several times…we shipped steel airplane mats that allow planes to land in mud.
Submarines didn’t bother us much then, they only went after the big convoys in wolfpacks.
Bari is on the east coast of Italy…I went ashore many times…there were 500 pound bombs all over in Bari and telephone wires around…4 days after we left the Germans bombed it.
We later went to France to pick up POWs, Italians, Germans etc… On the return trip the Italians were friendly…they would polish shoes for a piece of bread…SS troops were nasty…they claimed that New York would be in ruins on arrival. At 2 AM arrived and let them out and the SS troops “turned white as sheets” while Italians sang and cheered.
On our ship we did have a gun crew under an ensign…Mahoney…
Newspaper clipping (PDF file)
The Murmansk Run
Liberty Ships built by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II
Stamford Service Rolls