|Received SS# in Florida.|
"Keeline Tells of Early Convoys." unknown newspaper, 1943?.
Last week a couple of letters arrived at the station thanking Ens. William C. Keeline, USN, for saving the life of an aviation radioman, Frank G. Ritter. Ritter bailed out after a collision and fortunately remembered what Keeline had taught him about parachutes.
Nobody wants to teach but some people can't escape. They know their jobs too well. Ens. Keeline, who had been in the aviation branch of the regular Navy since 1925, is one of them.
He has had duty in every type of combat ship except battlewagons [battleships]. He ehped to blaze air trails in the Orient almost two decades ago. He has operated in Europe, the north and south Atlantic and the Pacific. He has been thanked by the British Air Ministry, seen a dozen ships torpedoed, watched a few German pig boats get their blasting and done many kinds of conventional and unconventional fighting. He has learned his lessons by doing and is passing his knowledge along so well they write him letters about it.
Rides Ammunition Ship
Perhaps his most hair-raising experience was as a "working passenger" on an ammunition ship going to the British Isles in one of the early convoys before we entered the war. Our Navy was sending him abroad as a special observer.
The escorting ships consisted of two little Canadian corvettes and a couple of four-pipe over-age destroyers.
Maybe you remember that in those days the U-boats were having things pretty muchi their own way. On this little trip about one-third of the ships in the convoy were sunk. The Atlantic ocean was full of floating bodies and debris. The trip lasted over a month and Keeline's "luxury liner" was the only ammunition ship which got through.
The subs were after those TNT cargoes and kept after them all of those nightmarish, thirty odd fog-ridden, freezing days and nights. The little escort vessels fought valiantly and several of the U-boats never got back to Germany.
One Awesome Flash
Keeline remembers the time one of the other ammunition ships, only about a thousand yards ahead of his own, got it. He said there was one awesome flash which made a column of fire, smoke, steam, and debris 2,500 feet high. Keeline forgot to duck and was knocked all the way across the deck. No bones were broken and Keeline looked around for something to do. First hing he saw was the entire crew of Indian stokers (she was a coal burner) streaming up from the fire rooms. He knew that meant trouble and went below to find every fire door open and one lone Scotchman trying to cope with the situation. Keeline and other Americans helped. They shoveled coal, closed the fire doors and kept the steam up until the Indians from India could be clubbed into submission and sent to their stations.
The largest toll taken by the subs on that trip was five ships in one attack. They all went down in flames in the morning twilight.
Mounted, Manned Gun
During the same cruise Keeline and other American officers put a British machine gun together, mounted it on the deck, boresighted it and then stood the watches. On several occasions they banked away at surfaced subs and kept the Nazis off the decks. When they docked in Scotland Keeline says it seemed like the most beautiful place in the world.
He remained in Stranraer, Scotland, for most of his stay in the British Isles and received two commendations from the British Air Ministry for his work. He was one of two Aviation Chief Machinist's Mates in the group of aviation ratings assigned to this duty. Almost half of them failed to return from their "observer" missions while operating out of Stranraer.
Keeline was instructing two squadrons, one RAF and one RCAF, operating PBYs. They also helped the British with maintenance procedure and ordnance setups at various flying fields and left for the United States in February  after we declared war.
Hungry Ever Since
During his stay in Scotland, Keeline lost 35 pounds. This was only partly because he worked so hard. The other reasons were the extremely limited rations available at the time. He says he has been hungry ever since.
After a nine months hitch with the aircraft delivery unit at Terminal Island in San Francisco Bay, concerned with getting airplanes and ammunition to the Pacific flyers, he came to Ft. Lauterdale in the fall of 1942.
Keeline's naval history is a long one. It includes duty on the old Ajax in China in 1924, tending the early Douglas torpedo planes with wooden pontoons and Liberty engines; duty on the Jason, a collier converted into a seaplane tender; and many cruises since on the Lexington and other ships.
In Borneo in about 1926 Keeline was present when the headhunters saw their fight flying bird. They all darted into the jungle. It was quite awhile before they could be persuaded to come back out.
Knows Too Much
For awhile Ens. Keeline was attached to a PBY squadron based in the Canal Zone patroling both coasts and most of the Caribbean; and seved aboard the New Orleans as a spotter plane nurse in 1939 and 1940.
Keeline's misfortune in knowing so much about everything included under the head of naval aviation has resulted in his being chosen as instructor in life raft procedure, parachutes, gunnery--practically everything concerned with letting the enemy have it and saving your skin afterwards. His method is simple and effective. That is to hammer it in by repetition, pound it in by dril, and grind it in by practice. They say when Keeline gets through with them they know how.
|Last Modified 8 Jul 2000||Created 8 Jul 2000 by Reunion for Macintosh|