Life in the RFA
The following is taken from the Diary of Douglas Mee a Merchant Navy seaman who sailed on RFA Orangeleaf during 1943/44. Doug was born on the 15th December 1920 and joined the Merchant Navy at the age of sixteen as a Cabin Boy; he was 21 years old when he wrote this diary, he left the sea in 1957 to marry a local girl in his home town of Wigan, Lancashire.
The following is taken from the Diary of Douglas Mee a Merchant Navy seaman who sailed on RFA Orangeleaf during 1943/44. Doug was born on the 15th December 1920 and joined the Merchant Navy at the age of sixteen as a Cabin Boy; he was 21 years old when he wrote this diary, he left the sea in 1957 to marry a local girl in his home town of
Able Seaman Douglas Mee – in the middle of the front row
Doug’s diary gives us a unique insight into conditions at sea during the Second World War and shows just how dangerous life was for the thousands of men and women who served on these ships, many of who never returned.
December 29th 1942 – Joined RFA Orangeleaf.
RFA Orangeleaf sailed from Freetown at the end of December 1942 in Convoy FT 76 from Freetown to Trinidad, arriving at
January 1st 1943 – Sailed for Trinidad, had lovely trip to Trinidad, arrived on January 14th.
January 21st 1943 – Left Trinidad for
RFA Orangeleaf sailed from Trinidad on the 24th January 1943 in Convoy TAG 38, arriving at
The ship left
February 8th 1943 – Arrived New York, had a good time for three weeks.
February 29th 1943 – Left
March 10th 1943 – Big convoy battle, there seems to be dozens of subs, ships are going down all around us. It’s raining and blowing, the seas are mountains high. We can hear men in the water shouting for help. Five ships have gone down up to now, the time is now 4.30 am the survivors are in a terrible state, one or two of them are hurt pretty bad.
A benzene tanker went up a few minutes ago at the other side of the convoy; it took an ammunition ship with it. I don’t expect there will be many found off them. Well, it’s nearly 8.30 and day light four subs have been accounted for and one of our destroyers have gone, we are only three days from England. I hope to god they leave us alone.
Orangeleaf left the convoy to proceed to the
Note: The Convoy was spotted by U336 on the 10th March 1943, she radioed for reinforcements and was joined by the rest of wolf pack Neuland, consisting of 13 U Boats, U221, U86, U336, U373, U406, U440, U441, U444, U448, U590, U608, U659 and U757. This wolf pack was further reinforced by six independent U Boats that were in the general area, these were U228, U333, U359, U405, U432 and U566.
Wolf pack Neuland had formed a patrol line on the 6th March to search for Convoy HX 228, on the 8TH of March the U Boats on the northern edge of the patrol line to assist in the battle of Convoy SC 121, the remainder of the wolf pack were guided toward HX 228 by German radio intelligence, using the Triton Code system. After giving the contact code signal U336 was driven off by one of the British escorts, but U444 took over her position. Despite the efforts of the convoy escorts, the wolf pack moved into position for a night attack.
The first U Boat to press home an attack was U 221, who sinks 2 ships and damages another, U86 and U336 fire torpedoes, but miss their targets, U406 and U444 both damage one ship each, the ship damaged by U444 is later sunk by U75, and then sinks another ship, but is badly damaged when that ship explodes.
ss Andrea F Luckenbach sunk by U 221
with a cargo of Army equipment and explosives
The British escorts strike back and HMS Harvester brings U444 to the surface with depth charges and rams her and the two vessels are stuck together for a while, until the U Boat manages to free herself and creep away, only to be rammed by the French Corvette Aconit.
The damaged HMS Harvester manages to get underway, using one engine and tries to catch up with the rest of the convoy, unfortunately around mid-day on the 11th March, her machinery breaks down and she is torpedoed and sunk by U432. The French Corvette Aconit comes to the aid of the stricken ship and depth charges U432, forcing her to the surface where the French ship rams and sinks her.
During the 11th, five of the U Boats close in to try and sink more of the Merchant Ships of the convoy and are driven off by the escorts; they try again during the evening, but without success. The following day contact was finally lost and the U Boats gave up.
March 15th 1943 – Arrived at Loch Alsh, all the survivors are going ashore, they are giving us what few clothes they have left.
March 17th 1943 – Sailed for
March 19th 1943 – At
Orangeleaf sailed for Loch Ewe on completion of her refit and sailed from there on the 24th March 1943 as part of Convoy WN 407, for Methil, where she arrived on the 26th, she immediately sailed again as part of Convoy FS 1073, bound for Southend, where she arrived on the 28th March.
The ship left Southend on the 10th June 1943, as part of Convoy FN 1044, bound for Methil arriving on the 12th June. The ship sailed from Methil on the 13th June in Convoy EN 242, bound for Loch Ewe, where she arrived on the 15th June, she then sailed independently for to join Convoy OS 50, forming up off Liverpool and which sailed from there on the 16th June.
This convoy split on the 27th June, with one part sailing for Freetown and the other half making for Gibraltar where it joined Convoy KMS 17 bound for Algiers, arriving on the 3rd July, during this voyage RFA Orangeleaf was sailing in ballast.
Unknown date – One of the Corvettes picked up the subs crew, a French Corvette was sunk.
Able Seaman Doug Mee on RFA Orangeleaf
August 14th 1943 – Algiers, five months have passed since the Atlantic Convoy battle, they have passed pretty smooth, except for four ships which have been blown up in this harbour.
September 23rd 1943 –
Able Seaman Mee’s Christmas message to his parents
March 19th 1944 – The time is passing slowly, just another 14 months to do. It is coming summer again now, as it will be a bit pleasant.
April 24th 1944 – Still at Algiers under repairs, nothing has happened.
September 12th 1944 – Taken off Orangeleaf.
September 13th 1944 – Joined Empire Rosalind.
September 14th 1944 – Sailed for
September 19th 1944 – Arrived
September 25th 1944 – Sailed for
September 29th 1944 – Arrived
October 4th 1944 – Sailed for
October 4th 1944 – Arrived Marseilles, dead Germans everywhere.
October 8th 1944 – Still at Marseilles, fighting in the streets, tied up alongside sunk German ship, found she was full of German Lager, she has got enough beer to last six months, everything is booby-trapped but managed to get twelve dozen bottles aboard without getting blown up.
RFA Orangeleaf in 1935
Builder: J. L. Thompson and Sons Ltd, North Sands,
Launched: 26th October 1916 Completed: April 1917
Official No: 140300 Yard No: 523
Tonnage: 5,983 grt, 2,358 nett
Length: 405 feet Beam: 54.5 feet Draught: 32.6 feet
Machinery: 2 x 6Cylinder triple expansion engines by G. Clark Ltd,
Speed: 14 knots
Signal Letters: GVTT
Pennant Numbers: 1916 Y7.183, 1918 X 26, World War 2 X 40.
Armament in WW2 = 1 x 4.7 inch HA/LA Gun, 1 x 12 Pounder, 6 x Bofors, 2 x Machine Guns.