An Excerpt From Veterans Chronicles

The World War II Veterans Committee began with the production of the award-winning radio documentary series, World War II Chronicles, commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II. This program, hosted by the late, great “Voice of World War II,” Edward J. Herlihy, aired on over 500 stations nationwide between 1991 and 1995 on the Radio America network. In the years since, the World War II Veterans Committee has produced dozens of radio documentaries and series, in an effort to bring the history of the Second World War to the American public.

The Committee’s tradition of quality radio programming continues with the new series, Veterans Chronicles, hosted by Gene Pell, former NBC Pentagon Correspondent and head of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. With Veterans Chronicles, listeners are taken back in history, and told the story of World War II by the men and women who fought, and won, the war. The series is broadcast on the Radio America network. In this issue, we print the partial transcripts of a recent episode.

“American freighters bound for Murmansk with a cargo of tanks and planes – Norwegian trawler on British patrol, American tanker, Dutch tanker, British tanker. Again and again the torpedoes struck as the wolf pack made its position known by the death and desolation it left in its wake.” – American Wartime Newsreel

Such reports were all too frequent between 1941 and early 1945, particularly from what was known as the Murmansk Run, perhaps the most dangerous sea lane in the world at the time. It was the route around the Cape of Norway to the Russian port of Murmansk.

Norway was occupied by the Nazis. From its fiords and airfields, German U-boats, torpedo planes and surface ships preyed on the Allied convoys bringing vitally needed war materials to Soviet forces. Some convoys lost more than half their ships and men. The merchant ship SS Henry Bacon was part of a convoy that sailed into this formidable enemy gauntlet in late 1944. The Bacon’s radio officer was E. S. “Spud” Campbell; Chuck Reed was a seaman on the ship.

After reaching Murmansk safely, the Bacon’s cargo was unloaded and took on ballast to replace the cargo and maintain its stability during the return trip. As the ship waited for the convoy to reform, a British destroyer pulled along side her. They unloaded nineteen Norwegian refugees onto the Bacon, explaining that they had picked them up from an island off the Norwegian coast where they had fled from the Nazis.

The SS Henry Bacon left port on February 17, 1945. On the 20th, a large storm blew up breaking the convoy apart. Each ship was left to fend for itself. The storm inflicted damage to the Bacon’s main engine and steering engine. The crew was able to repair the main engine; however, the steering engine remained partially disabled. On February 23, the Henry Bacon’s luck ran out. German scout planes spotted her, alone and making little headway.

E.S. “Spud” Campbell:
They were looking for the convoy, but they found us. We were alone, and they just thought, “This is easy prey. We can get credit for one ship right here without too much danger.”

We didn’t have the escort. We didn’t have anything but the guys that we had aboard.

In short order, a squadron of twenty-three German torpedo planes lifted off from the airfield in Norway, headed for the stricken ship’s position.