Brief Encounter - By Commodore Oliver Lindsay
M.S. Houston City GRT 7,262 tons, sailed from the River Clyde on the 13th April 1943 under the command of Captain Henry Paul and joined a North Atlantic Convoy bound for Halifax N.S.. Twelve days later off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland with a calm sea but with fog conditions, sea temperature about 30F extensive ice with bergy-bits were, consequently the ships were proceeding at slow speed having regard to the existing circumstances and conditions. The convoy was scattering, the contact with other ships was by whistle/siren signalling their convoy numbers. Fog buoys towed by the ships were either being destroyed by contact with ice or being run down by the ship following astern, convoy position keeping under the prevailing conditions being hazardous.
On the Houston City watches were doubled up. At about 2300 hours moonlight showing through the fog, sea conditions calmed by ice the lookout on the forecastle head reported iceberg blink ahead. From the bridge through the fog the grey outline of a berg was sighted and there was a noticeable drop in the temperature, the Master, Captain H. Paul ordered hard a starboard and sounding her whistle, on the ship steadying on her new course the lookout reported an object, possibly a vessel close to port, suddenly from ahead in the fog a klaxon screamed, simultaneously there were alarm bells ringing, German voices shouting. On our bridge the Captain, Officer and Apprentice , whilst on the monkey island the DEMS gunner sighted at the same time very close to our port bow a U-boat which passed down our port side within feet so close that on our bridge we were looking down into the U-boat’s conning tower and its Captain and Officer apparently endeavouring to steer clear.
Captain Paul shouted out “give me a shackle to throw and I will brain the B—d”. On the monkey island the port side oerlikon gun could not be depressed far enough to be of any use and there was insufficient time to alert the 4 inch gun on the poop house before the U-boat disappeared from sight into the swirling fog. Visibility at the time estimated at approximately 200 feet.
For whatever reason the U-boat was operating on the surface one can only surmise, she was obviously as surprised as we were on the Houston City.
A very brief encounter.
Eventually the visibility improved and most of the ships from the dispersed convoy proceeded to a predetermined rendezvous and the convoy reformed and proceeded to Halifax N.S. arriving there without incident on the 29th April 1943.
Commodore O.J. Lindsay
Mem. No. 4