The time arrived on May 13, 1944, for the Redhawks to make their next voyage, from Oran to Port Said, Egypt.  Army trucks picked them up at the camp, and back down to the port they went.  Sterling Barrow remembers the truck he rode on carrying 12 men deposited them at the end of a long pier which seemed a mile long, then went down the pier some distance toward the ship before turning around and passing by them all as they marched carrying their bags and gear.

The destination was the British troop transport SS Orduna.  She was perhaps a rather plain looking vessel, a bit bigger than a Liberty ship but with better lines, a single funnel, and what Barrow remembers as “…about 28 coats of paint to hold her together.”  That description seems appropriate, as this was the second world war for the Orduna.

Thr British troop transport SS Orduna carried the Redhawks from Oran, French Algeria to Port Said, Egypt in mid-May, 1944 (Courtesy The Suez Veterans Association website)

Thr British troop transport SS Orduna carried the Redhawks from Oran, French Algeria to Port Said, Egypt in mid-May, 1944 (Courtesy The Suez Veterans Association website)

The vessel was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by the same builders of the Titanic and her two sisters, Olympic and Brittanic. The Orduna was also part of a trio of passenger liners built in 1913-1914; her sisters were Orbita and Orca.  She was some 15,000 tons, 550 feet in length, with a beam of 67 feet, and triple screws which propelled her along at up to 14 knots.  The ship made her first passenger run in February, 1914.  She had accommodations for 300 first, 250 second, and 450 third class passengers.  Her spacious decks included glass enclosed promenade decks. Cabins were fitted with bedsteads, and amenities included a gymnasium, veranda café, and large square windows.  She may not have been as big as some ocean liners, but as built she was definitely a class above many other vessels.

The Orduna had an interesting service career, which included dodging U-boat torpedoes in World War I, when she also sometime flew an American flag to try and avoid enemy attack against British ships, a technique that appears to have worked well enough until America entered the war.  In 1939, she played a related role in the ”Voyage of the Damned” affair, when she brought 120 Austrian, Czech and German Jews fleeing Hitler’s persecution to Havana, Cuba, trying to find them a place of refuge; several other ships were doing the same thing in those difficult times.  Havana turned them away, however, and they were forced to look elsewhere for safe haven, which is another story.

Image of the SS Orduna taken at Port Said in the  mid-late 1940`s. (Courtesy Barry Erskine website)

Image of the SS Orduna taken at Port Said in the mid-late 1940`s. (Courtesy Barry Erskine website)

By 1941 the Orduna was again impressed as a troop ship, and served in that role, as well as an evacuation transport. On May 13, 1944, the Redhawks boarded her after which she joined a convoy with a destination of Port Said, Egypt, at the northern end of the Suez Canal.

But by May, 1944, the Orduna showed the wear and tear of 30 years of service, as Col. Barrow noted and others like Tony Garra, Allen Larsen, and John Vroman have noted. Garra recalled “…abysmal conditions on the ship.” Allen Larsen described her as “…the miserable Orduna,” and the …infamous Orduna,” and also recalled “…it was declared “unfit or something like that” for U.S.A guys by the U.S.A. Field Hospital cadre on board with us.”  But sail on the Orduna the Redhawks did, regardless of the ship’s condition, as orders were orders and there was a war on.  Fortunately this voyage would not be a long one.

References

35PRS History, April – September, 1944

“SS Orduna,” entry on Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Orduna

“Seeking Refuge in Cuba, 1939,” Holocaust Encyclopedia, at: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007330

“The SS Orduna – Warrior, Troop Ship, and Stage for Human Drama, Maritime Moments Blog,” posted 24 January 2013, at: http://maritimemoments.wordpress.com/2013/01/24/the-ss-orduna-warrior-troop-ship-and-stage-for-human-drama/

“Voyage of the Damned” affair, described at MS St. Louis entry on Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_St._Louis

Image of SS Orduna at Port Said, 1940s, at: http://www.ecsodus.com/PSNC/help/

Image of Orduna in peacetime colours, at: http://www.suezveteransassociation.org.uk/troopships.html

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