The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962
Cargo to Cuba during the Missile Crisis
News extract from October 1962
25 Soviet ships on way to Cuba
The US secretary of defence, Mr Robert McNamara, said in Washington last night that armed boarding parties would be ready to search about 25 Russian cargo ships moving towards Cuba when the US partial blockade of Cuba comes into
effect at 3 p.m. (BST) today. The proclamation giving
effect to the blockade was signed by President Kennedy
.... and I was on one of them !!
the "London Valour"
The Russia to Cuba run
We loaded in the Black sea ports of Odessa, Novorossisk, Tuapse, and the Russians were very politically sensitive during the" Cold War" as they were convinced that evey country was against them. We could not help but notice that they had a public address system everywhere , ashore and adjacent to ships there was a continuous background of Martial Music, all the time. When we were approaching the Rusian waters there was a fixed order of notification to which we had to comply........Call the Coast Guard station with the Aldis lamp sending the Morse code word "MIR" ( Russian for Peace )
Once on Russian waters we had to comply with radio silence rules . Alongside there were guards on the ship, at the gangway, for'd, aft on the quays and on the opposite quays as well as heavily armed patrol boats keeping an eye on us and using large searchlights on us at night. The guards on board were interesting in that they were doing their 6 years National Service and their homes were at least 2,000 kilometers from the Black sea. i.e. Archangel, or Mongolia. This gave them a better idea about Russia and they would be less reluctant to quell any riots when it did not involve their own families. ? ? ? ?
They were amazed to hear that the U.K. had stopped conscription and that the services were manned by professionals who made it their career from their choice. They were surprised at our cigarettes and they would swop their "Cossack" cigarettes for ours, Their Cossack were tubes of cardboard with a little tobacco in a tube of paper at the other end ( almost in the reverse proportion to our filter tip cigarettes)
Despite our having been under constant surveillance when alongside when we left the port we had to go anchor as soon as we left the jetty. When at anchor we would be searched from stem to stern, including all the cabins, wardrobes, fresh water tanks etc. etc. and our personal identity cards checked against our faces. All the crew had to be accounted for against the crew list...... No addition nor deletions .
Remembering that this was the time of the Gary Power incident ( the U.S. pilot of a U 2 plane shot down over Russia and captured ) what would we have done if an American accented man had been able to get on board when we were in port, and he claimed to be an escaped American pilot. WHAT WOULD WE HAVE DONE ?
How would we know if he was genuine ?
How would we know if he was a Russian plant put on board to see if we would turn him over to the authorities,
Would we try to smuggle him out and if he then came out of his hiding place and gave himself up to the guards and WE WOULD HAVE BEEN PART OF THE NEXT SHOW TRIALS.
LUCKILY, WE WERE NEVER PUT TO THE TEST.
The guards who came to search the ship came out to us by boat then they would board us by coming up the companionway but we did notice that as they came on board they were counted by one of their own who remained in the boat. Then when some hours later the search was completed he would count his 16 man team back off the ship.I suppose that they were concerned that they might have defectors even in their own ranks.
RUSSIA - CUBA RUN AT THE TIME OF THE MISSILE CRISIS
We were doing nothing illegal in fact the first ships on the run were B.P. tankers who were part British Government owned and we had their approval. The Americans however quite upset about it all and set an embargo on trade between Cuba and the U.S. When we were 48 hours away from Cuba American war planes would spot us, then for the last 24 hours when we were approaching the Cuban ports the American planes would buzz us , approaching us from dead ahead they would come at us at wave top height and only pull up when they were much closer to us than we would have liked.
The Americans had a base in Guantanamo Bay and they would come out from there with their destroyers and would take up station very close to us and tell us over their public address system that " We were trading with the enemy" .Then they would try to crowd us from altering course towards the land. We said nothing maintaining our course and speed until it was time to alter course, and at that time we would sound our whistle and also having signalled our intention to alter course by flags and Radio...... WE DID
If they did not give way, and hit us, a large tanker Their being in a destroyer would be of no comfort to them as we would all be cooked .
Once when we wee in Rotterdam the Chief Officer from an American tanker came over to see us and barter for soap and books etc. but it turned out that he was very anti- Russian. I asked him where he was going and he said that they were loading a full cargo of aviation fuel from the tank
at the head of the basin and they were taking it to Iceland so that their U.S. planes could overfly Russia. By now he had outworn his welcome with me , so I said "That's interesting, we are pumping our cargo of Russian aviation fuel into that tank, and that is important to your planes as only Russian fuel will work in planes using Russian airspace ".
He looked perplexed and thought it must be true ! ! !
When off Cuba an American fleet came out of Guantanamo Bay. There was a Flat-top plus escorts and I was in the Chief Engineer's cabin having a pre lunch beer and discussing our plans on how to have a fast discharge because we had no desire to stay a minute longer than necesary in Cuba. There was a loud VERY BANG, Heavy Shock, Vibration, and clouds of steam in front of the cabin window.
The Chief said that I took off in the sitting position to a height of 4 feet, then with legs in a blurr
I made for the door convinced that the Yanks had done someting stupid, like shelling us.
In my defence.... How was it that the Chief and I arrived at his cabin door at the same time and got wedged shoulder to shoulder when he had much further to go than me to reach the door ?
The simple explanation for the incident was that the 4th Engineer had put the steam on deck too quickly and a steam hammer had blown a hole in the pipe hence all the noise and steam.
It did however demonstrate that although we were outwardly calm, inside we were under some stress.
The Americans had declared a trade embargo with Cuba but we knew that Cuban sugar was being shipped to Mexico then by rail to Texas as best Mexican sugar.Cuban sugar was also being shipped to Haiti where it was not even stored in sheds but left on the quay before being transhipped to Montreal and then by rail to the New England states as Best Haitian sugar.
So we did not take Political Comments too seriously.
We did take some things seriously such as the time we were approaching Havana from the East at dawn when we heard gunfire after a plane had passed overhead.It had never been our intention to delay our departure from Havana and when we saw that the berth had Ack ack guns very close to us when we would be discharging and in a haze of an inflammable gassy area we were very keen to complete and sail in case any trigger happy soldiers wanted to have a pop at any passing plane ( small planes from Florida used to come and drop hand held bombs we were told).
When we were discharging we were told that the plane which had been shot at when we were inward bound had been Castro's plane as he returned from a trip to Moscow to see Breznev. Castro thought that the soldiers were having a shot at him. He had them tried , and condemned to death. As we were heading out of the entrance to Havana harbour we had to pass very close to the old fort, and we could see right into it from the bridge of the ship, as we passed which we did at 08:00 just in time to hear automatic rifles of the firing squad.
At all the Cuban ports there were guards to ensure that no Cubans left the country. The guards were even on the fishing boats. We had to sign for eveything e.g. 15 signatures for fresh water.
The 2nd Mate told me that the cook thought that a carving knife had been stolen and I told our resident guard. At 02:00 I was awakened by the duty guard with the day shift guard as their prisoner. They all seemed to me to be 7ft tall but the prisoner was not ebony black as he had been before. Now he was ashen grey and shaking " If the knife is not found by 07:00 he would be executed."
I said "Go away, it was only a carving knife " in the end however I had to sign many statements in which I stated that "There had been a mistake, and the knife had been mislaid and not stolen" otherwise I am convinced that the man would have suffered more abuse and been killed before breakfast.Cuba was one place whee you did not need to lock your cabin door to keep out thieves.
Valerie went ashore in Santiago and when at the shops the owner was very keen for her to buy something, ANYTHING, then he wanted her to take ANYTHING, FREE as it was useless to him because on Monday the small shops were being Nationalised with no compensation given to the owner. There was little enough for them to buy at the same time due to the Cuban trading her sugar to Russia for oil and to China for small items like the bamboo ornament vase which Valerie bought.
The Santiago oli jetty foreman's son had a skin complaint and his father was delighted and frightened when I offered him some Lifebuoy soap. He only dared take one bar ( when I had offerd him as much as he wanted of the soap ). In gratitude the next day he gave me a case of 100 Upmann Cigars ( Costing £ 15 in the U.K. in 1960 BIG MONEY )
ALL For the gift of a Bar of Soap ! ! !