Lifeboats in Atlantic convoys during WWII

In those days the Davits of all lifeboats were permanently turned outwards. A lifeboat in this outward position gave a better chance of escape from a sinking ship. To prevent damage to the lifeboats by the rolling of the ship they were lashed in different manners to the superstructure.

Usually the lashings were rigged in such a manner that with one stroke of a axe the boat swung free. The axe was nearby fastened with a piece of rope so not to lose it…

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By the end of the war there was a preference for wooden lifeboats over metal ones. If you had to row/ propel through flaming oil, the metal boats became frying pans. The wooden ones would get charred outside but insulate you somewhat from the heat.

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Don’t remember my Dad telling me the construction of the lifeboat he was in after his ship was sunk but he did tell the life floats were useless as he saw parts of them melted before his rescue by the Canadian CG. Life floats always seemed to me to be shark chum

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When the war started for England in 1939, Carley floats were in short supply, and lifeboats on many ships, and the ability to launch them quickly, were in a sorry state. So crew improvised their own floats out of empty drums and scrap lumber and just left them sitting on deck without lashing them down. That way when the ship sank they would just float free. Desperate times

i sailed with a man from Bay Minette near Mobile, His name was Charlie Fletcher., I may be incorrect on his last name, He spent more than a few days in a lifeboat after being torpedoed on the Murmansk run. Don’t know what the hull was made of, but he survived He told me someone questioned him why he took a coat off a dead black fellow sailor in the boat. He said to me he was cold .I had that guys back until he retired. His boy played for Bear Bryant and was recruited by the Dallas Cowboys until a knee injury… I do miss him. A very big man. I believe his son is a talented dentist in Alabama somewhere. Loved that guy. He wouldn’t harm a fly. A teenager when he was torpedoed.

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Those convoys were awful.
Something to read on your Kindle when you are tucked up in bed;

The Destruction of Convoy PQ17 (fpp.co.uk)

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A couple of pilots in Tampa sailed in convoys during WW2. I always enjoyed the history lessons. They liked my lead AB Charlie. Lots to share between them. My eyes and ears were wide ass open whenever those gentlemen boarded…

My old man signed up for a feed in 1935, after the Battle of the River Plate IN HMNZS ACHILLES , did the Murmansk run twice in a corvette. He was torpedoed in HMNZS LEANDER but they kept her afloat and she sailed back to New Zealand. USS HOUSTON was lost in that action. On his way to Japan in HMNZS GAMBIA when they dropped the bomb which made my mother a very happy lady. GAMBIA was anchored in Tokyo Bay for the signing of the surrender.

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I was surounded by ww2 vets early on. Very grateful.

The movie “Greyhound” is about a convoy. Pretty good story. They killed 4 subs on that trip.

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The photos at the beginning of the thread remind me that a lifeboat in WW2 was designed and stocked with the mindset that the castaways often had to reach land on their own. Even in temperate latitudes, about eleven days was the average before crew began dying.

Nowadays, a lifeboat is a capsule meant to keep castaways afloat for a few hours before the helicopter arrives. Survival nowadays is a passive procedure.

The compass won’t be used. A redundant EPIRB or sat-phone makes far more sense, space-wise. It’s nice to have a motor capable of 24-hours use, but in reality it’s only really useful to pick up other survivors. A heater to prevent hypothermia would be a more useful use of the fuel, if you’ve sunk in high latitudes and have to wait six hours before rescue.

Pyrotechnic flares are dodgy. Electronic flares exist for non-commercial boats. These very bright LED lights strobe out SOS. But they are not SOLAS approved. Inventive AIS-tech for lifeboats makes more sense then tossing out expired flares every year.

Storm oil, hatchets, mirrors, etc. are useless. Better would be redundant communication equipment, or heating. The average person can go for weeks without food, but hypothermia kills PDQ. Survival suits help only for so long. No one has designed efficient chemical heaters for survival suits, even though “Hot Hands” chemical heating tech is well known.

By the way, the first aid kit provided for lifeboats is pretty minimal. It would be easy to bulk it up for bandaging for major wounds. I think 85 years ago they were probably much bigger and have shrunk since then.

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If I could I would throw out every first aid kit in the North Pacific and replace them with a couple of C-A-T Tourniquets, some gauze, a few ACE bandages and inflatable splints. 9 different kinds of bandaids aren’t much help when someone is bleeding to death in front of you.

I’d like to go to LED flares but how would I start campfires in wet weather without my stash of expired hand flares? The Chief would just steal them to use as flashlights anyways. :slight_smile:

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:grinning: My go-to for starting fires in cold/wet is a toilet paper roll soaked in kerosene or gas for a few hours. Burns like a blow torch for quite awhile.

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This is an example of a SOLAS lifeboat/liferaft first aid kit. Yes, with a boatload of survivors you are soon out of bandages etc. I would like to add a bottle of good whiskey for comfort and nerve control purposes.

I remember that on board the big bottle in the medicin locker with salmiak licorice against cough was the first item that was used up, lots of people with a serious cough it seemed.

On Dutch ships the Chief Officer was the doctor. Shell Tankers used to send them for training for a month to a hospital’s emergency department which seemed to be quite an educational experience.

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In the days before Tetracycline was available the Seal Catchers always had a bottle of Brandy included in the Medical Chest.

It was for use when the Skipper had to amputate a “Spekkfinger” (Seal Finger):

The recipe was simple; “One shot for the victim and two for the Skipper”.

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Yes, the poor Skipper probably needed the extra shot to be able to perform the ‘operation’…

Here it is called spekvinger.

I’ve read a lot of accounts of lifeboat survival in WW2. According to the survivors, water was the most important item aboard. A close second was cigarettes, and they weren’t joking about it.

I wish they did this for medical training in general. I have fond memories training with Dr. Dickie Hill in Benicia CA, with his unique training course. In the afternoon the small group would be present as he set broken fingers in his office, or injected hydrocortisone into someone’s spine. By the end of the class you were far less squeamish then when you went in.

Yes, that figures. We can do without food for a long time but not without water, only for a short time.

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The standard life boat aboard the Liberties was pretty adequate according to my father who spent several days in one after his ship John P Gaines broke in half off the Aleutians in Nov 1943. He was Chief Mate. 10 of the crew perished.

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from my readings the Murmansk run was maybe the worst duty, this may of been exasperated because of the lack of help in distress. Most of us have sailed in tropics and the polar regions but i think i’d prefer the northern climes to spend time in a (wood) raft/boat.
That old saying: “when your hot your absolutely Miserable” but “when you’re cold you hurt”.
even now i doubt which would be better to endure … and i just read “no way out” about the lady be good b-17 that somehow flew 500 miles south of bengazi into the libyan desert.
(yes, the crew all expired a miserable death) true story.
well, one guys chute didn’t open, he was lucky we hope.