Honoring Our Veterans
All month long we're going to be showcasing stories from our veteran residents. Their stories of heroism, war-time life, and unique historical perspective showcase how full and vibrant each of their life stories are. This story is about a Counter Sabotage Team at the end of WWII who were assigned to protect a ship taken from the fallen Reich, the SS Europa.
A Very Strange Assignment
By Julius Blum
The German steamship SS Europa was the pride of the German merchant marine for setting a world speed record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean during her maiden voyage on March 19, 1930.
Now, a few weeks after VE Day, the ship lay in disrepair at her pier in the port of Bremerhaven. The U.S. Navy had taken charge of the port facility, and the ship was renamed U.S. Navy Ship AP-177.
At that time I was serving in a Military Intelligence Unit in Germany. I had volunteered for early induction into the U.S. Army in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, where my family settled after emigrating from Germany. We had lived in Amsterdam, Holland from 1937 to 1939, and arrived in New York on the day Adolph Hitler invaded Poland. I received my advanced training at the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Richie in Maryland.
Now I was a member of "Counter Sabotage Team #5". During the last few months of the European Campaign, our small unit had visited a number of combat units, where we demonstrated how the enemy might commit acts of sabotage after the surrender. Lt. Stevens (also from Cleveland) was our leader; Sgt. Duda was our NCO, and Pvt. Koines and I made up the rest of the team.
Since Germany was defeated, we received a new assignment: prevent sabotage aboard the Europa. This was now a Navy ship, we had to salute at the top of gangplank upon boarding. The Deck Officer met us and gave a short tour of the ship.
The cabins Lt. Stephens picked for us were not at all to my liking, but we settled into our new environment and made a quick inspection of the ship. The only people on board were a Navy guard and a small German crew who kept up enough steam to power the electrical generators. There was a lot of rust, and the interior of the ship looked more like a barracks than an ocean liner. Evidently, the enemy had planned to use it as a troop transport.
After we stowed our gear, Lt. Stephens explained our duties, which were to prevent the ship from being sabotaged. When he asked us if we had any questions, I blurted out: "Listen, Lieutenant, this is not my first time aboard this ship. It is nothing but one big firetrap. Almost everything is made of wood. How do we know the fire extinguishers are any good? Do the water hoses work? This is an impossible task. We should get off right now."
Needless to say, that little outburst ruined our relationship. The lieutenant now gave me a direct order: "Pvt. Blum, your job, starting right now, is to inspect the propeller shaft bearings and the steering machinery. You will make one inspection tour every two hours. Any questions?" "No, Sir."
It was a very emotional time for me, for I had actually been aboard this ship before. When I was five or six years old, my mother and I took a guided tour of the Europa at the port of Hamburg. My father was a merchant and was at work. The tour took us to the very top of one of the smokestacks so that we could look all the way down to the engine room. I was terrified. Perhaps this was the reason for my outburst some fourteen years later.
My story has a silver lining. After the ship was made seaworthy, it departed for New York with a load of 1,200 happy American troops. Our team quartered at the Navy installation for a few days and then departed for Military Intelligence Headquarters at Schwalbach. The Navy food was great!