Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Brutal weather in the North Atlantic during WWII

LeMaistre remembers that, running convoys across the Atlantic, "the enemy wasn't the trouble, it was the weather." The weather in the North Atlantic was brutal, and LeMaistre remembers struggling to eat in pitching seas, let alone to keep the food down once eaten. The ship become more comfortable when President Roosevelt gave it to Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, who, flush with oil money, covered it with rugs.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George A. LeMaistre, April 29, 1985. Interview A-0358. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN J. GOING:
You didn't complain too much?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
No, but while I was on that junket I got my orders to report to the destroyer base in Casco Bay after a little leave and after reporting again at the Henry Hudson Hotel in New York City. So I went on the staff of destroyer squadron 17. Actually with the various degrees of training, I had several weeks of communications training and I had to go through a Combat Information Center School in Quonset Point, right outside of Newport News. A few things like that took up most of two or three months. I reported to Casco Bay in July 1943 and caught my ship there because the squadron was there, there wasn't room for me on my ship. I had to go over to another destroyer on my first trip across because I just got there the day before they were leaving.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That was convoying?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That was convoying troops. We would pick up a troop convoy in New York and a typical convoy would be a hundred ships. Ten troop transports in a line one mile apart, then one mile over there would be ten more. So there would be ten miles across the front and ten miles deep. And we had, oh, 15 to 17 ships to escort. We always had either a battleship or a cruiser at the head of the convoy which gave us just one other thing to protect. The rest of it was made up of the destroyers in destroyer squadron 27. Once in a while they'd attach two or three other destroyers from another squadron. Most of the time we had our own group plus two or three destroyer escorts. On two or three occasions we had some Canadian destroyers going with us. We really didn't care too much to have those with us because they really weren't fast enough to keep up with the convoy. But it wasn't too bad. We'd leave New York usually at midnight or before daylight and nine days later we'd be off Belfast, Ireland. Outside Belfast we'd split up and a third of the convoy or half might go into Belfast, a fourth of it would go into the Clyde at Glasgow and the rest of it go down to Cardiff or Swansea, Wales. That duty was, to say the least, interesting.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Pretty routine, I guess.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Well, the truth of the matter is you had more trouble living than enjoying living. It wasn't the enemy that was the trouble, it was the weather.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Yeah, the North Atlantic is rough.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Many times we could make a trip across and never set a meal on the table. The tables were equipped with fiddle boards that stood up about like the sides of a bed tray and plates and trays wouldn't slide off, but usually what you'd get in that kind of bad weather was a cheese sandwich, which consisted of a piece of cheese and [laugh] two pieces of bread and in one hand a mug of some kind of coffee and in the other . . .
ALLEN J. GOING:
Tryin' to survive. I guess it was a good thing you weren't prone to motion sickness.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
One or two of the boys were. We had one officer who finally had to be sent back to shore. He lost anywhere from 20 to 25 pounds each trip. Finally he was living off of Karo syrup, he'd take two tablespoons at each meal and that's all he'd eat. Couldn't keep anything else down. But it wasn't that bad. Everybody got sick the first night out, but you get your sea legs; then you could usually stick with it the rest of the time.
ALLEN J. GOING:
You did that for the remainder of the war?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Until January '45, and then my ship was assigned to escort the Quincy, which was carrying President Roosevelt to Yalta. I got off the ship in Casco Bay five minutes before it sailed. I couldn't even get a boat from my ship to take me in; we were about five miles out in the bay. I had to borrow a boat from another ship that wasn't going to Yalta to take me ashore, but I made it. The reason I was that late, I had been relieved in August, but it took my relief four months to catch up with me.
ALLEN J. GOING:
So you didn't make the trip to Yalta? [NOTE: Yalta Conference Feb. 4-11, 1945.]
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
I didn't make the trip to Yalta. Almost did. I talked to some of the boys after they got back. It was really about as much of a vacation as anything else, because when they got over there, Roosevelt turned our destroyer over to Ibn Saud, the dictator, leader of Saudi Arabia and when he went on the ship he spread thick oriental rugs across the forecastle—just covered the whole thing, or, he didn't, he had his minions do it. Then they built a fire right in the middle of it to roast [laugh] these sheep. When Roosevelt turned it over to him he said, "Now, take it as your own. That's your ship now wherever you want to go." He took 'em all over Bitter Lake, the Suez Canal, and everything else.
ALLEN J. GOING:
Just as a gift?
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Yeah, it was kind of like one of those things where you win the use of a car for a year. He had the use of that destroyer for as long as he needed it, and he kept it for about thirty or forty days. He gave every member of the ship's crew a month's salary as a bonus. He gave . . . all the officers fine gifts. The boy who took my place was given a gold dagger—gold handled dagger—with rubies and other stones set in the handle. Other officers were given a gold watch that was from Tiffany's and were appraised at about $1,500 each. It didn't bother Ibn Saud. He was spending Standard Oil's money.
ALLEN J. GOING:
That's when Arabian oil was coming into . . .
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
That's even before Aramco and before . . .
ALLEN J. GOING:
But they knew the potential.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Oh, they knew what was there but the Arabs hadn't yet learned the secret of getting all the oil . . .
ALLEN J. GOING:
Getting in on the development.
GEORGE A. LeMAISTRE:
Right. Expropriation came later.