Royal Navy, The Witchita and the Tuscaloosa

I have mentiond the first part of this elsewhere, but this is the full picture. , The Wichita and the Tuscaloosa, two American cruisers arrived at Rosyth. The Americans had only recently entered the war and, I suspect, this fact affected the American’s attitude, they were doing us a favour coming over to help. Our Skipper invited a contingent to come aboard as a good-will gesture and we entertained them. They were aghast at the conditions we were living under, conditions we were accustomed to but hated. None the less it made us feel that we were ‘hardy chaps’ which might have done nothing to alleviate the discomfort but helped the ego. With the result we were generous to a fault, giving them a taste of our valuable rum, cigarettes and, in my case, spare badges as keepsakes, and my response was the norm rather than the exception.

In return we were invited aboard their ship. I think in between we had entertained them to a meal in the canteen. Anyway, we went on board their ship and discovered that while everyone in the world is born equal, that is where it stops. We had to eat, sleep and rest in our tiny Mess. These colonial cousins, each, mark you, had the choice of a hammock place or a proper bunk running fore and aft, not seat lockers from which one could roll on to the deck in a calm sea. They then took us to the canteen where they had a choice of food placed in sectioned, stainless steel trays and a separate place to eat, Not only that, they had a recreation area.

The Royal Navy, in its wisdom, used to decide on the size of a ship, put in all the armament, ammunition, then all the gubbins like Asdic, Wireless, Radar, and only then did they remember they had to squeeze the men round the bits and pieces. The Americans apparently put the men in, made them happy and then, as an afterthought put in the essentials. Jealous? You’ve no idea! The final straw came when we left their bloody ships with our hands empty, no souvenirs, no badges, no tobacco, no nothing!

The following night we were up the Noo – Edinburgh and found the Yanks cuddling the girls, in all the pubs, and, you’ve guessed it, war broke out. I was on the periphery and saw little but I was told later of the main engagement which took place on Prince’s Street. Apparently a number of our chaps, with some from other ships in our flotilla, were walking along peaceably when they were confronted by Yanks. A few pleasantries were exchanged and then our chaps carefully stacked their rain coats and hats against the pavement wall and waded in. The battle was fierce and short, broken up by the appearance in wailing jeeps of the US Naval Police who were entirely selective. They would grab a body, if it was American they would cosh it with a club, if it was one of ours they would shove it back into the brawl and grab another body. It was all over in seconds once the MP’s arrived. Our chaps brushed themselves off, carefully collected their caps and coats once again and went looking for a pub. The tales after that were long, tall, tedious and kept the Mess decks alive for weeks.

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