On this date in 1944, the 35th Photo Recon Squadron, embarked aboard two ships in Convoy UGS-40, successfully completed its crossing of the Atlantic Ocean on its way to service overseas.

It was mostly a peaceful passage, with the convoy plodding along at the speed of the slowest vessel in the group of over 100 ships making the crossi

Atlantic crossing of a convoy in WWII (Courtesy     )

Atlantic crossing of a convoy in WWII (Courtesy Wikipedia)

One day during the passage, however, aboard the SS Peter Minuit, about halfway across the ocean, the men got up one morning, going about their usual routine. As they climbed out of their bunks that morning, to brush their teeth, hit the head, get the day going, one of them remarked “…it sure is quiet.” Others agreed, and the men clambered up on deck to find that the ship was stopped and said Sterling Barrow, 35PRS pilot on board, “…not a ship in sight.”

The convoy had sailed on, leaving the Peter Minuit behind with only one escort vessel, a destroyer escort, which patiently circled their ship keeping guard against any enemy submarine that might be lurking.

USS Wyffel, DE-6, was a destroyer escort that was part of the escort force protecting Convoy UGS-40 during its journey.  (Courtesy     )

USS Wyffels, DE-6, was a destroyer escort that was part of the escort force protecting Convoy UGS-40 during its journey. (Courtesy Navsource Online DE Photo Archive)

The ship’s crew completed their repair of a bearing on the drive shaft of the vessel, and the Peter Minuit caught up with the convoy and resumed its position in the right-hand column, second to the last in line.

A prewar view of Gibraltar from the northeast (Courtesy    )

A prewar view of Gibraltar from the Spanish side of the border northeast (Courtesy The Illustrated London News. 1939, via Wikipedia)

H Allen Larsen records that it was on May 9, 1944, that his ship passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. In the eastern part of the strait, on the north side is the Iberian Peninsula, at the southern end of which lies the Rock, known as Gibraltar, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. “Gibraltar during daylight…wow ..what (a) sight,” recalled Mr. Larsen.

View of British warships in port at Gibraltar (Courtesy    )

View of British warships in port at Gibraltar (Courtesy Battleships-Cruisers UK website)

Gibraltar was not only a significant landmark, but an important base for Great Britain, with naval facilities and an airfield too that were vital for Britain, helping keep the sea lines of communications open between Britain and places through the Mediterranean Sea like the island of Malta and eastward to Egypt and the Suez Canal.  A group of Gibraltar-based Royal Navy ships called “Force H,” played a key role in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in 1941.

Royal Navy carrier HMS Formidable and escorting vessels approach Gibraltar during World War II. (Courtesy    )

Royal Navy carrier HMS Formidable and escorting vessels approach Gibraltar during World War II.  (Courtesy Imperial War Museum)

It had been attacked many times by enemy bombers,

Front cover of Italian news magazine "Illustrazione del Popolo" depicts an Italian bombardment of Gibraltar in1942. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Front cover of Italian news magazine “Illustrazione del Popolo” depicts an Italian bombardment of Gibraltar in1942. (Courtesy Wikipedia)

but fortunately the Axis powers were never able to make an effort to capture it.

Searchlights pierce the night sky during an air-raid practice on Gibraltar, 20 November 1942. (Courtesy Imperial War Museum)

Searchlights pierce the night sky during an air-raid practice on Gibraltar, 20 November 1942. (Courtesy Imperial War Museum)

Off Gibraltar, a group of escort vessels arrived to join the convoy, to reinforce its air defense capability before the convoy headed further east into the Mediterranean. Just the month before, an eastward-bound convoy, UGS-38, had been mauled by German bombers. The Liberty ship SS Paul Hamilton was sunk with all hands, including the bulk of the members of the 32nd Photo Recon Squadron, which had trained at Will Rogers Field in Oklahoma with the 35PRS and was on the way to overseas service in Italy.

But the 35PRS would not be heading much farther east with UGS-40, instead splitting off from the main body of the convoy soon after passing Gibraltar, making for the port of Oran in French Algeria, for another brief stop on the long way to China.

World War II is over, but Gibraltar remains quite a sight for the many ships that pass through. It is still a naval base for Great Britain, and protected by that country, though the population there takes care of their own internal affairs.

US navy aircraft carrier CVN-75 passes by Gibraltar in 2013.  (Courtesy US Navy)

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman CVN-75 passes by Gibraltar in August, 2013. (Courtesy US Navy)

 

References

Gibraltar overview, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibraltar

Military history of Gibraltar during World War II, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_history_of_Gibraltar_during_World_War_II

History of the Naval Base and Dockyard at Gibraltar, at: http://www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk/gibraltar_dockyard.htm

RN Warships off Gibraltar, at: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205186362

Gibraltar searchlights at night, at: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=GM+1852

Atlantic convoy, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Atlantic_convoy,_1942.jpg

CVN-75 passing Gibraltar, at: http://www.navy.mil/management/photodb/photos/130803-N-QI228-363.JPG

USS Wyffels images, at: http://www.navsource.org/archives/06/006.htm

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