Ground Echelon - 445BG

Go to content

Main menu:

Ground Echelon

History > Overseas Movement

Overseas Movement of the Ground Echelon:

During the final weeks in the States, preparation for moving overseas occupied most everyone's time.  Emergency's at home were few.  The ground echelon started first for it's Port of Embarkation (P.O.E.) at the end of August, 1943, and being the larger of the two elements, the Field Director traveled with them.  The flight echelon remained behind for a period of time and was not to join the ground echelon until weeks later in England.  Assurance was given the Field Director that all necessary supplies and equipment for his needs for the Group would be waiting for him at the P.O.E.  There was nothing for him at the P.O.E.   The ground element sailed from New York City, New York aboard the R.M.S. Queen Mary.

RMS Queen Mary

In late August 1939, Queen Mary was on a return run from New York to Southampton.  The international situation led to her being escorted by the battlecruiser HMS Hood.  She arrived safely, and set out again for New York on 1 September.  By the time she arrived, the Second World War had started and she was ordered to remain in port alongside Normandie until further notice.  In 1940 Queen Mary and Normandie were joined in New York by Queen Mary's new running mate Queen Elizabeth, fresh from her secret dash from Clydebank.  The three largest liners in the world sat idle for some time until the Allied commanders decided that all three ships could be used as troopships (Normandie was destroyed by fire during her troopship conversion).  Queen Mary left New York for Sydney, where she, along with several other liners, was converted into a troopship to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the United Kingdom.

In the conversion, her hull, superstructure and funnels were painted navy grey.  As a result of her new colour and in combination with her great speed, she became known as the "Grey Ghost."  To protect against magnetic mines, a degaussing coil was fitted around the outside of the hull.  Inside, stateroom furniture and decoration were removed and replaced with triple-tiered wooden bunks (which were later replaced by standee bunks).  Six miles of carpet, 220 cases of china, crystal and silver service, tapestries and paintings were removed and stored in warehouses for the duration of the war.  The woodwork in the staterooms, the first-class dining room and other public areas was covered with leather.  Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth were the largest and fastest troopships involved in the war, often carrying as many as 15,000 men in a single voyage, and often travelling out of convoy and without escort.  Their high speed made it difficult for U boats to catch them.

On 2 October 1942, Queen Mary accidentally sank one of her escort ships, slicing through the light cruiser HMS Curacoa off the Irish coast with a loss of 239 lives.  Queen Mary was carrying thousands of Americans of the 29th Infantry Division to join the Allied forces in Europe.  Due to the risk of U-boat attacks, Queen Mary was under orders not to stop under any circumstances and steamed onward with a fractured stem.  Some sources claim that hours later, the convoy's lead escort returned to rescue 99 survivors of Curacoa's crew of 338, including her captain John W. Boutwood.  This claim is, however contradicted by the liner's then Staff Captain (and later Cunard Commodore) Harry Grattidge, who records that Queen Mary's Captain immediately ordered the accompanying destroyers to look for survivors within moments of the Curacoa's sinking.

In December 1942, Queen Mary was carrying 16,082 American soldiers from New York to Great Britain, a standing record for the most passengers ever transported on one vessel.  During this trip, while 700 miles from Scotland during a gale, she was suddenly hit broadside by a rogue wave that may have reached a height of 28 metres (92 ft).  An account of this crossing can be found in Walter Ford Carter's book, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love. Carter's father, Dr. Norval Carter, part of the 110th Station Hospital on board at the time, wrote that at one point Queen Mary "damned near capsized... One moment the top deck was at its usual height and then, swoom! Down, over, and forward she would pitch."  It was calculated later that the ship rolled 52 degrees, and would have capsized had she rolled another 3 degrees.  The incident inspired Paul Gallico to write his story, The Poseidon Adventure, which was later made into a film by the same name, in which Queen Mary depicted SS Poseidon.

During the war, Queen Mary carried British Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic for meetings with fellow Allied forces officials on several occasions.  He would be listed on the passenger manifest as "Colonel Warden", and he insisted that the lifeboat assigned to him be fitted with a .303 machine gun so that he could "resist capture at all costs".

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Back to content | Back to main menu