Edited by board administrator September 13, 2016, 8:35 am
I apologize for not having gotten back to you sooner. Sometimes life gets in the way of other things.
I have been disappointed not to have found more information than I did in my research but what I have found includes some intriguing information, especially in light of your follow-up message of August 25.
I found Charles J. Schramm in the records for just three voyages aboard three different ships. Given your information that he served in some 35 ships, I had hoped for much more than what I found. The very modest success I have had says only that the source available to me is more than likely highly incomplete. Just FYI, my source is the subscription website Ancestry.com (http://home.ancestry.com/), which is commonly used for genealogical research. I have discovered that Ancestry.com has databases containing the names of crew of merchant vessels that arrived at certain U.S. ports of entry following a foreign voyage. For some ports, such as New York City, Ancestry.com has extensive information. For other ports Ancestry has little or no information.
The three ships and voyages that I found are as follows, in chronological order.
Departed New York 10/27/42, departed Hampton Roads (i.e., Norfolk, Virginia) 11/02/42 in convoy UGF-2, arrived Casablanca, Morocco 11/18/42; departed Safi, Morocco 11/27/42 in convoy GUF-2, arrived New York 12/12/42.
On this voyage Charles J. Schramm is listed as C. J. Schramm, radioman third class (RM3/c), one of a crew of 32 Armed Guard, commanded by a LT (j.g.). Given the information you shared, this may have been his first seagoing assignment. He was clearly in an “ordinary” Armed Guard crew, i.e., not part of a commodore’s crew.
SS GEORGE CHAMBERLAIN
Departed Port of Spain, Trinidad 10/11/43 in convoy TAG-90, arrived Guantanamo Bay, Cuba 11/16/43; departed Guantanamo 11/16/43 in convoy GN-90, arrived New York 10/24/43.
The vessel carried an “ordinary” Armed Guard crew of 28 including one RM3/c.
GEORGE CHAMBERLAIN was on a much longer voyage with the Trinidad to New York leg being the final part of the voyage; your father was not aboard the ship prior to 10/11/43.
Your father appears on a separate listing with the following individuals:
Leon W Mills Convoy Commodore / CMDR U.S. Navy (Ret)
Malcom G Brahauht SM3/c
Henry B Johnston SM2/c
David E Kemp SM3/c
Thomas A Williams SM3/c
John W Rubner RM3/c
Charles J Schramm RM3/c
This list included the following notation: “Nominal Roll Record of subsistence of Commodore’s Crew placed on board this ship” followed by the names of the above men; signed by Leon W. Mills and Arnold Castle, Master, GEORGE CHAMBERLAIN.
Departed Trinidad 09/01/44, arrived New York 09/12/44.
The vessel carried an “ordinary” Armed Guard crew of 11 including three SM3/c. Again your father appears on a separate list:
Llewlynn Mills (age 60) CMDR U.S. Navy
Gaspar Thompson (age 35) CMDR U.S. Navy
David McMillen LT (j.g.) U.S. Navy
Henry Johnson SM1/c
Edward Knefe SM2/c
Mitchell Mc Conus SM2/c
Joseph Sullivan SM2/c
Charles Schramm RM3/c
Despite the differences in the spelling of their names, I suspect that the Llewlynn Mills on this voyage and the Leon W. Mills of the October 1943 voyage are the same man. Likewise I suspect that Henry Johnson (this voyage) and Henry B. Johnston (October 1943 voyage) are the same man.
The significance of the last two voyages is (1) that the specific term “commodore’s crew” appears in the record of the November 1943 voyage and (2) that your father was part of a commodore’s crew with what I believe to be the same commodore and one other crewmate in voyages nearly a year apart. Your August 25 message indicates that your father may have been a part of the commodore’s crew with Commodore Mills for as much as 21 months, including the two voyages I found. Therefore your original question of whether the members of a commodore’s crew were kept together or reassigned after a convoy can be answered in the affirmative, at least with respect to your father and Commodore Mills.
I researched each of the men identified in the above two voyages, other than Mills, Johnson/Johnston and your father, to see whether they were found in other commodore’s crews. While I found some of the men in other “ordinary” Armed Guard crews, I did not find any of them assigned to other commodore’s crews.
Your inquiry also led me to research more broadly the term “commodore’s crew” and “commodore’s staff,” turning up a number of interesting entries. For example,
“Embarking with a small signals staff, the Commodore usually took up quarters in the merchantman leading the convoy's centre column … For hours on end, signal lamps would be clattering tirelessly on the bridge of the Commodore's ship, transmitting, receiving and relaying messages to and from the ships of convoy and the ships of the Local Escort Force.”
“Using a combination of steam whistle, signal flags by day and coloured lights at night, [the Commodore] ordered a seemingly endless series of emergency turns, zigzaggings, simultaneous changes of course and speed, etc., until satisfied with the convoy's ability to promptly react to any possible emergency.”
In short, this web page indicates that the convoy commodore had with him in his flagship a staff of men specializing in signaling and other communication; in other words men with the naval ratings of signalman and, presumably, radioman. In another source, there was a reference to a (British) convoy commodore’s staff that included “signalmen and telegraphists.” In practice the British term “telegraphist” would equate to the American “radioman.” In World War II radio communication between ships, or between ships and shore, typically would have been by telegraph key and Morse code, not by voice, except for short-range communication by “TBS,” literally “talk between ships.”
Also see “The Fighting Commodores: Convoy Commodores in the Second World War” by Alan Burn, one chapter of which is “The Convoy Signalmen.” The book is available, used, for a very modest price through Amazon. See https://www.amazon.com/Fighting-Commodores-Convoy-Commanders-Second/dp/1557502838/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472148398&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Fighting+Commodores+Convoy+Commodores+in+the+Second+World+War.
“Lachlan Donald Ian Mackinnon, CB, CVO (2 December 1882 – 11 October 1948) was a Royal Navy officer, especially noted for his role as a convoy commodore during the Second World War… [In convoy SC-7, Nova Scotia to Britain, October 1939, aboard ASSYRIAN] Mackinnon brought with him his team of five sailors, a Yeoman of Signals, two telegraphists and two young “bunting tossers” (i.e., sailors in charge of hoisting signal flags). The signals crew was important as the convoys maintained radio silence to avoid detection by the German navy.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lachlan_Donald_Ian_Mackinnon
Also a book titled “The Royal Australian Navy and MacArthur” includes an account of convoy signalmen in the Royal Australian Navy; see chapter 8, pages 118-127. While the focus in on the Australians, the account uses Australian Navy terminology, and the focus is on signalmen rather than radiomen, the overall concept of a “signals crew” attached to the convoy commodore is well described. See https://books.google.com/books?id=TuXBAgAAQBAJ&q=convoys+and+convoy+signalmen#v=snippet&q=convoys%20and%20convoy%20signalmen&f=false.
In summary, it is clear that convoy commodores brought with them on the ship assigned to the commodore a small personal staff of men who worked directly with the commodore in maintaining communication with the ships of the convoy. This staff was in addition to and distinct from any other merchant marine or Armed Guard communication personnel already assigned to that particular ship. And there is some indication that commodores may have worked with the same men on multiple occasions, suggesting that commodores had some authority to identify and specify the men to be assigned to their signals crew.
Thank you for your inquiry; I have learned something new.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster
Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website