Ex-CBI Roundup
November 1986 Issue


A Short History

Voyage on the "Karoa"

The 252nd Port Co. departed Fort Lawton, Washington, by troop train on 11 September 1943 and arrived at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on 15 September 1943.

After staging for overseas at Camp Patrick Henry, the 252nd Port Company embarked at Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation aboard the USAT "Robert H. Harrison" and headed across the Atlantic for North Africa.

The Coast of Africa was sighted off starboard at 0900 hours 12 October 1953 and the ship passed through the Strait of Gibraltar at 1200 hours. The Rock of Gibraltar could be seen from the Port side. On 16 October 1943, the "Robert H. Harrison" arrived at Bizerte, Tunisia. All troops clambered over the side of the ship, down landing nets, and boarded LSTs. The LSTs carried the men to shore near La Percherie where they were loaded into trucks which transported them to a Staging Area high above Bizerte, on a hill. Men were given ample opportunity to visit the ruins of Bizerte, which had been given up by the Germans about six months before, and nearby towns.

On 18 October 1943, units of the 497th Port Battalion (TC) at Bizerte traveled by truck to the railroad yard at La Percherie and boarded a train at approximately 2100 hours. The troop cars were small box cars or wagons formerly used for carrying sheep. French wording on the outside of the cars indicated that they were intended to carry "40 Hommes and eight Chevaux." The men improvised hammocks and sleeping bags at night. The train was very slow, and schedules irregular. T/Sgt. Roger D. Comeau, 31128828, HQ & HQ Det. 497th Port Battalion acted as interpreter for the Battalion Commander, and arranged for train stops so the troops could be fed and potable water procured. (I might add that in addition to potable water, we procured quite a bit of veno along the way. This train trip was an experience this writer will never forget.)

On 23 October 1943, the troop train arrived in Oran, Algeria, and the men proceeded by truck to Control Point No. 2 where they encamped with the 250th Port Co. (TC) which had arrived on the 14th of October. Distance traveled on the troop train was approximately 595 miles. Time required for the trip five days and five nights.

During the period 23 October to 23 November 1943, the Company worked at the Harbor facilities at Oran, Algeria, as part of the 497th Port Battalion, loading the equipment of the 1st Armoured division destined for Italy.

On 23 November 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) proceeded to the docks at Oran, Algeria, and boarded the SS "Karoa," operating under the Flag of British India Steam Navigation Co. - destination - Bombay, India. On 25 November 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) left Oran harbour at 1230 hours on board the "Karoa" and entered the Mediterranean.

On 26 November 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) was 150 miles Northwest of Bizerte, Tunisia, off the coast of Phillip-ville, Algiers, as members of a convoy shipping from Oran, and enroute to India. At 1630 hours, the convoy was attacked by a force of 30 German aircraft, including their latest type, long-range ME 118's. The attack was about two hours in duration, and during this time, a constant bombing attack (high level) was delivered by the enemy. Glider bombs were used by the enemy in this operation.

During the attack, members of Hq. Det. 497th Port Battalion felt a giant rush of air coming from the Starboard side of the ship, and it was learned later that the concussion was caused by a glider bomb striking the ship "Rohna," which was another ship in the convoy directly ahead of the "Egra" and directly to the rear of the "Karoa." The "Rohna" sank in approximately 30 minutes and more than 1,000 men were drowned or otherwise killed as a result of the enemy action. During the attack, all anti-aircraft guns on the ships fired at the attacking aircraft, and one aircraft was shot down by this anti-aircraft fire. Seven enemy aircraft were shot down by defending Spitfires. No casualties were suffered by either HQ & HQ Det. 497th Port Bn (TC), or by 252nd Port Co. (TC). The behavior of the men during this engagement was excellent. They proceeded to "Action Stations" calmly, and there was no confusion to mar the smoothness of this operation. The morale of the men was high and all were anxious to see the attacking planes. (News reports about the sinking of the "Rohna" after the war was over indicated that this sinking caused the greatest loss of life of any single incident involving the transport of troops during World War II.) On 27 November 1943, the "Karoa" was approximately 100 miles northwest of Bizerte, Tunisia, off the coast of North Africa in the Mediterranean Sea. At 0200 hours, German aircraft again returned to the convoy of which the SS "Egra" and SS "Karoa" were members. This time the enemy dropped flares in an attempt to locate the convoy, but the flares fell too far away to reveal the location of the convoy. No action.

On 29 November 1943, the convoy was directly south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. HQ & HQ Det. 497th Port Bn (TC) on board SS "Egra" and 252nd Port Co. (TC) on board the SS "Karoa." At 1700 hours, a formation of approximately 20 German aircraft attacked the convoy by dive bombing. The "Egra" was the first ship to fire its guns. The attack was of short duration, and the enemy was driven off without any loss to the convoy. One German plane was seen crashing in flames. No casualties in either HQ Det. 497th Port Bn., or in the 252nd Port Co. (TC). The morale of the men during this action was excellent. No confusion or disorder among troops.

On 2 December 1943, the "Karoa" and the 252nd Port Co. (TC) arrived at Port Said, Egypt.

On 4 December 1943, the "Karoa" passed through the Suez Canal, as part of the first such convoy to use the Canal since early in 1941, when the Germans occupied the island of Crete, near the canal.

On 11 December 1943, the "Karoa" arrived at Port of Aden.

On 13 December 1943, the "Karoa" departed Port of Aden after taking on coal.

On 19 December 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) arrived at Bombay, India, aboard the "Karoa." All men were allowed shore leave.

On 22 December 1943, the 252nd Port Co. (TC) boarded a train in Bombay, India, bound for Calcutta. Arrived there 26 December 1943. Upon arrival at Calcutta, proceeded by truck to Camp Tollygunge.

Even though the 252nd Port Co. TO & E made provisions for an entirely separate unit capable of functioning independently, it actually operated as a part of the 497th Port Bn in performance of its missions. The unit became a part of Base Secion No. 2, CBI Theatre with headquarters at the Hindustan Building in Calcutta. Base Section No. 2 was commanded by General R. R. Neyland (most of us will remember the General as the famed football coach at the University of Tennessee, from 1946 until his death in the mid 1950s.

The mission of the unit from arrival at Calcutta to V-J Day was the supply of American & Chinese forces in the CBI Theatre. Operations consisted mainly of supplying American forces in Burma and Chinese Nationalist Forces in China. Supplies were shipped by railroad and truck to airheads in North India, principally at Ledo, then over the "Hump" into China, or by pack mule into Burma.

That the unit performed its mission over a 20-month period from arrival at Camp Tollygunge until August 1945.

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