By Gerard Fernandez
Transcribed from "The Log," the newsletter of the Submarine Chaser Club of America, Vol. II No. 6, June, 1921
Sub-Chaser Detachment Two, en route to Corfu, arrived at Malta about May 27, 1918. The town was filled with all kinds of stories about the activities of pesky U boats in the vicinity of the island. One story had it that a U boat took on stores about a mile and a half off shore from an old schooner, and another had it that a U boat tried to make a sea nymph out of Jesse James by popping out from behind a lamp post (they meant a lighthouse) and holding up a British freighter. And so, with one story following another, we were beginning to believe that the Subs were a lively proposition in the Mediterranean.
A few days after our arrival we were hailed alongside the Leonidas for what we found out later to be “secret orders.” Of course, old Dame Rumor started to fly around as to what was involved in the secret orders. The story that had most effect on many minds was that a ship was torpedoed about 100 miles south of the island and that we were to rush to the rescue and recover any survivors or bodies from the wreck.
We left the Grand Harbor at top speed, and our first boomerang was to find ourselves running at top speed between from mine sweepers which were dragging a net, and we came pretty near winding a part of the net around our propellers, but about “325” on reverse was enough to back us out of the wrong slip.
We continued on our way, wondering if some of the stories which flew thick and fast through the fleet at Malta would come true. Some of the stories had it that we would bring back survivors and probably prisoners from the submarine; others that we were on ambulance detail (quite seagoing, eh?). However, we forgot the stories for a while until we saw a destroyer about a mile and a half away. In a short time we started to slow down, for we found ourselves running into floating timber and wreckage. None of the ships circling around the wreckage could find any bodies, and in glancing over the surface of the water we seemed to be floating in an immense punch bowl. Lemons covered the surface and cases of lemons, big and bulky, bobbed up and down. Running a short distance from the lemon field we soon discovered that soap was part of the cargo of this ill-fated steamer. After searching the area for about an hour we decided to prove to our worthy brethren that ours was a lemon of a trip. Putting over the wherry, we started combing the surface for as many cases of lemons and soap as we could carry. After stuffing the forepeak with a good supply of soap and the deck with an oversupply of lemons we started our run back to Malta, not showing the least resemblance to the war terrier. We looked more like an East River “lighter.”
On our way back to Malta listening periods revealed no trace of a sound. Here we were, ready to serve TNT smother with lemon sauce, but none of our prey was around to take a bite. The observance of listening periods delayed our arrival into Malta until early the following morning, and on arriving numerous eyes gazed in wonderment at the appearance of the cargo. The general contention seemed to be to the effect that if we did drop TNT a sure thing we’d shake up from the sea would be a good supply of fish and not merchandise. However, this was plainly a lemon of a trip, and after tying up the ship a fleet of bum boats besieged us in an effort to offer us their wares in exchange for soap and lemons. Some of the goods offered were fancy laces, fancy boxes, trinkets and soda water. In a very short space of time the fleet of bum boats increased in number, and in glancing over them, the way they poked at each other with those big oars, well known to all, it looked like a free-for-all canoe tilting contest.
The first case of lemons to go over for a swap brought in exchange a case of plain soda pop, and as we were anxious to do business with some of the merchants with good looking articles, suddenly out of the din of “spic” language and excitement came the word from “Old Man Leo” to come alongside and discharge the cargo. All hands started to bite the dust, for we all we had was a case of soda water that was so darned warm from being in the hot sun it was useless. And as we started toward Leo I could hear the mumbling of the boatswain, “This sure was a lemon of a trip.”