Passell, Laurence (Larry) ‘45
Larry served as engine cadet on the Liberty ship SS John Bell on its second voyage along with deck cadet Milt Manigold. They boarded the ship in late July 1943 and departed Hampton Roads in a slow eastbound convoy UGS-14 on August 5, 1943 bound for Bandar Shahpur, Iran. There were no attacks on the ship in the North Atlantic but when they got into the Med they were attacked by German submarine wolf packs soon after passing Gibraltar. Larry still has very vivid memories of the events that followed. On August 26, the U-410 fired a number of torpedoes at the convoy that was in columns to pass through a minefield. Off of La Calle, Algeria, the Bell was struck by one torpedo on the starboard side between the #4 and #5 holds in a compartment with aviation gasoline. Larry was assigned at sunrise and sunset to be one of the many lookouts for submarines. His station was on the aft port side of the boat deck. He saw a tremendous explosion at #4 hold that contained 55 gallon drums of aviation gas. The Master, Captain Higbee ordered abandon ship and Larry dove into his lifeboat on the aft port side to place the drain plug in the boat; meanwhile his boat was being lowered by two men. Unfortunately the flames reached them and then let go the falls and his boat plunged to the water being held up on one end. Larry reached for the lifelines that dangled down from the davits but could get no one’s attention. The crew was all abandoning the ship on the other boats and rafts. An armed guard who was stuck in an after deck house space freed himself in sufficient time to run forward; upon hearing Larry’s yell he threw over the rope debarkation net; Larry clamored up to the deck and the other man and he ran to the bridge to find only the first mate and the wheelsman. The four of them ran forward and launched a life raft; they were picked off of it by the motor lifeboat that was looking for survivors.
The 71 survivors were picked up within 45 minutes by the British minesweeper HMS BYMS-23 and the South African armed whaler HMSAS Southern Maid (T 27) and landed at Bizerte, Algeria on 27 August. The only casualty was Bill Raschet the oiler who had been trapped in the shaft alley. Larry still mourns the loss of Bill a great guy who in peacetime was a newspaper man. Years later Larry had a chance to talk of Bill to his niece who called Larry to learn more of her uncle’s life.
At Bizerte, a city that was one of the last stronghold of the German Africa Corps was heavily bombed. He and his fellow crew were moved to a U.S. Army tent city outside of town until a Liberty ship returning to the states could take them on board. The trip home was the worse trip he made as the ship had run out of any fresh provisions and the meals were terrible particularly with the increased size of the crews to feed. Worse yet the Mate and Chief Engineer thought they would take advantage of the passengers that were thrust upon them by telling them they would perform maintenance work without pay enroute. After serious discussions that assignment was called off because of union pressures-except for the cadets. Larry spent the voyage home painting in the engine room and deck Cadet Milt painted on deck.
Larry was assigned to the Liberty ship Daniel Carroll for two trips crossing the North Atlantic. He believes he is still alive today because Allied intelligence broke the German secret “Enigma Code’’ as he believes his ship was routed to avoid the German sub locations. After the last tip on the Carroll he returned to Kings Point for final training and graduation.
Larry said he needs no thanks for his wartime service. He said he never felt the slightest bit heroic. He said that like so many others he was an American of the age to be called to defend his country that was attacked and he was simply doing what he had to do.