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PREFACE

 

As a boy not quite in my teens, I had a fascination with airplanes. I was living in New York City on the upper east side of Manhattan, and a five minute walk from the East River. Sometime after the war in Europe had begun I noticed oceangoing ships were going through the river. Most of this activity occurred at the change of tides about every six hours and fifteen minutes. Laden ships of deep draft transited at high tide in what I have been told is a thirty-five foot deep channel wide enough to accommodate two large passing vessels.

German U boats positioned along the East Coast were sinking and damaging ships at a high rate. This perilous situation made it necessary that ships leaving New York City for Europe were to be routed north through the East River and Long Island Sound, through the Cape Cod Canal to Boston; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Sydney on Cape Breton Island and St. John's at Newfoundland. The route would be reversed for southbound vessels incoming to New York. The East River was busy with ship movements going both directions, day and night at tide changes. Mostly loaded ships going north, and empty ones headed south into the city.

The largest ships I saw were the 620 foot long General class P2 U.S. Naval transports and the heavy cruiser Wichita. Occasionally one would see a war damaged ship with a hole in her side caused by a torpedo. The saddest sight was a rusted, burnt out Liberty Ship being brought in assisted by five tugboats, two on a side, fore and aft and one towing. In recent years I learned that it may have been the liberty ship J. Pinckney Henderson that collided with a tanker loaded with aviation gasoline east of Nova Scotia.

Sometimes it was possible to guess if many ships would be arriving by counting the number of tugs going north to where the East River and Long Island Sound merge off Harts Island. It is here that incoming ships would lay at anchor waiting for the tide, a pilot and a tugboat to assist the vessel to her berth at a dock or anchorage in New York Bay. Whenever possible, I was at the tide changes and made note of the ship's name, direction and if laden. About half of the ships were identifiable when their name boards open to view. Some time later I took to reading the signal flags and jotted that information into my notes. I had become a ship spotter. But alas, in early 1944, these activities came to a near end when at age sixteen I went to work after school and on Saturdays. When not at work, I was at the river when the tide was right and still daylight. By this time U boat activity had greatly decreased and most of the ships where sailing directly out of the New York Bay, east across the Atlantic to England, the Mediterranean and still further to the Middle East and India. The war was nearing the end and so was my ship viewing. I graduated from school and went to work. About a year later I chose a military career in the U.S. Army. As a result of the long absences from home over many years most of my notes on merchant ships and naval vessels, and other accumulated memorabilia were lost.

My revived interest in New York ships during World War Two occurred when I visited the Northeast Branch of the National Archives then at Bayonne, New Jersey. My inquiry about whether the archive had anything on ships in the war resulted in an employee bringing out from the storage area a large tome, the Foreign Entrance Blotter for 1940. On examination I noticed that the last pages of the Blotter was the Index of Vessels, a summary of the recorded arrivals of ships for the year, by name, nationality and date. The data on the Blotters are used by the Department of Commerce of the United States Government to record the amount of cargo entering or leaving the port. I saw the possibility of doing something with this information and therefore requested copies of the Index pages which were made for a fee and mailed to me. At this time the archive was in transition as it was moving across the Upper New York Bay to a permanent location in the Federal Building on the lower West Side of Manhattan. Unfortunately the 1940 Blotter I had viewed was lost in the move. Subsequently, all the data I obtained later became the foundation of this research.