Back on the Maumee, Delbert began yet another diary letter home (Dexter, Iowa) February 7, 1943: “From all the rumors flying around, we will be on our way very soon. Cranked up the engines and made a test run out in Chesapeake Bay today. Our new three-cylinder, 100 KW’s, G.M. diesels are more powerful and better in every way than the old sixes. They run at 1200 R.P.M. too, so they don’t sound much like a mere three. The generator will put out a full 100 KW. Several converted carriers were out in the bay, too. The young fledglings were practicing landings and takeoffs in their basic trainers.”
There was a tenseness to this letter, and the entries terse, unusual for Delbert. But they were about to make an oil run, very much aware that German subs would be stalking them, especially after they’d loaded.
“Feb. 10th—We have been cruising around in the bay today—testing our new gear. Can’t say what it is but it will fool a Nazi sub commander and his torpedoes. We are headed for New York now and the great unknown.
“Feb. 15th—A flock of oil tankers with the Maumee in the lead are now nearing the coast of Florida. Yes, we saw New York—for about 3 hours. Just long enough to take on some oil. The convoy left ahead of us so just as soon as we got the oil aboard, we swung around and shot out of New York harbor at full speed—13 knots. We caught the convoy late that day. The fellows sure were disappointed at not being able to make a liberty in New York. I informed them that we are at war. Yea”
Sun shining, very warm
“Anyway we are out of the snow and zero weather. The sun is shining here and very warm. Most of the tankers are empty (25) so I guess we are headed for some place to land. Aruba, an island off the coast of Venezuela. It is a great oil center, as the Nazi subs shelled the place awhile back.”
The Caribbean island of Aruba was home to two major oil refineries. A wolfpack of at least seven German and Italian submarines attacked the island and several ships, most of the tankers, on February 16, 1942. Three of the eight tankers torpedoed were sunk. Attack by U-boat wolfpack
“Feb. 20th—We are down below Cuba now—didn’t stop (just drove by slowly). It’s getting warmer every day. We have been sun bathing for the past two days. I have a sunburn, along with most of the crew. Sure a change from New York’s snow and zero weather. We will freeze if we go back. Haven’t run into any trouble so far. We are well escorted and this area is well patrolled by Douglas B-23’s and Martin PMB-3’s.
“Had an emergency G.Q. [General Quarters, or battle stations] the other night. Everyone made their stations on the triple—just a sailboat which went right down through the convoy—didn’t even stop to investigate him.
“Feb. 21st—Typical Panamanian weather today—hot, sultry, with frequent rain squalls. Our convoy is slowly making its listless way somewhere in the ‘Car-a’bean’ sea. We are going southeast now, so I’m pretty sure we are headed for Aruba.
“Captain’s inspection of personnel this morning. This, no doubt, is the only tanker in the whole damn fleet that does. Reckon he wants to know if everybody has a white uniform.
“Feb. 23rd—We are now in Aruba, Dutch West Indies. Did not contact but one sub on the way down—about 200 miles from here. A patrol bomber dropped [depth] charges. I didn’t hear if they got him. The ol’ Maumee is getting her belly full of oil and fuel again. Aruba is some fueling station, all right, as convoy after convoy of tankers and supply ships come and go. The sub commanders make it a point to get ’em when loaded. They got one this afternoon—could see the black smoke on the horizon—about 75 miles out, they say. The survivors were landed here. Never heard how many didn’t make it.
“Feb. 24th—We are leaving today. The fellows aren’t betting, but they are talking of our chances of getting to port with this load. Don’t know where we are going yet. Most of them are confident about getting through as we are better armed than ever before. The gun crews tested out our four new 3” on the way down. Not a bad little rifle—sure does crack. They are testing the main engines now, so it won’t be long before we move out of here.
“Feb. 28th—We are hammering along at 8 knots—in the vicinity of Cuba and still no subs. The weather is perfect. I’m getting a good tan. Nothing much happened today except when the lookouts spotted some nurses on a ship next to ours—helped break the monotony of looking for periscopes. The O.D. [Officer of the Day] made them quit, however.
“Mar. 7th—We are headed for New York for sure, as we have passed up Norfolk. Everyone is glad of it even if they are about to freeze. It’s freezing, all right, as there is ice all over the main deck. We are due to get in about day after tomorrow.
“Mar. 10th—No, I haven’t heard from Don yet. Yea, kind of surprised me, too, him getting hitched up to a gal like that, but you never can tell—probably the best thing for him. No doubt she will make a better home for him and make him happier than some kid. Men can stand this war a lot better if they have somebody like a trusting wife, or even a real gal friend.”
Yes, younger brother Donald had gotten married, to a West Coast gal a few years older that he hadn’t know long.
“Well, the best of luck to you all,” Delbert signed off, “and keep looking for places.” Delbert was sending money home so his folks could buy a place of their own. His dad couldn’t keep farming with his sons leaving one by one for the military.
When the Maumee put in at Philadelphia, the Navy had ordered for an Electrician First Class to transfer to another ship. Delbert volunteered, not knowing what ship it was, but surely it would be safer than an oil tanker.
During February, U-boats had sunk sixty-three ships in the Atlantic.
Delbert Wilson’s WWII Medals
WWII Victory Medal American Campaign Medal
Navy Good Conduct Medal European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
See: U-Boats Offshore by Edwin P. Hoyt, 1978.
The Wilson family story is told in Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.