Apr 30

The Brotherhood of the F.B.I.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019 12:01 AM

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A convoy of British and American ships, at anchor in the harbor at Hvalfjord, Iceland during World War II (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

A convoy of British and American ships, at anchor in the harbor at Hvalfjord, Iceland (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

For the men, Iceland was a bleak and often inhospitable place to be.

Navy air crews of Patrol Squadron 84 (VP-84) endured seemingly endless flights over thousands of square miles of ocean often under appalling weather conditions. Life for pilots of the 342d Composite Group stationed at Keflavik Air Base patrols were occasionally enlivened by encounters with Luftwaffe Condors or Ju 88 bombers flying from bases in Norway.

As hard as it was for the troops and flight crews, the escort ship sailors had it worse. The anchorage in Hvalfjödur (a.k.a. Valley Forge) proved as dangerous as the open ocean. On 15 January 1942, a storm with wind velocity of more than 80 knots and gusts of over 100 knots struck; heavy cruiser Wichita (CA-45) was damaged in collisions with U.S. freighter West Nohno and British trawler HMS Ebor Wyke (FY 1601), and grounded near Hrafneyri light. Storm conditions lasted until 19 January and caused heavy damage among patrol planes based there and tended by seaplane tender Albemarle (AV-5).

The frequent shuttle runs escorting empty merchant ships to Iceland to the trans-Atlantic convoys Mid Ocean Meeting Point strained the ships to the breaking point. Particularly hard hit were the destroyers which literally began falling apart. Even the tough Coast Guard 327 foot cutters weren’t immune. Joe Matte on the Ingham (WPG-35) reported in a two week period the boot on the underwater sound gear was stove in by heavy weather, making that necessary equipment almost useless, the ship was battered by various misadventures in coming alongside tankers in gale force winds, No. 1 boat was slightly damaged; No. 2 boat was stove in; and the port gun sponson (aft) was partially broken; the starboard gun sponson was completely smashed by a wave, broke adrift and fell into the sea.

Destroyer in storm Hvalfjordur, Iceland (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

Destroyer in storm Hvalfjordur, Iceland (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

And, there was no peace on earth Christmas Day 1942, for Coast Guard cutters Bibb (WPG-31), Duane (WPG-33), Ingham, and Campbell (WPG-32). At noon a 100 knot gale struck from the mountains. Duane had both anchors down, but the wind blew so hard they dragged across the bottom. The harbor was in chaos as ships tried to save themselves, at times fouling each other’s anchor chains, a move that hamstrung their chances of survival. Ingham and Campbell fought for their lives as winds blew them towards the rocks, powerful engines and low slung hulls straining to hold clear, the crews on deck working the anchor windlasses, braced against the blow.

In-port time, usually anchored in the harbor in Hvalfjödur, was spent refueling, re-arming, repairing equipment, chipping and painting, standing Anchor and Radio watches. The rare Shore Liberty for the escorts’ officers was in Reykjavik, which offered little in the way of night life, or for enlisted men, at the Base Canteen which was limited to a few hours and two cans of beer per man. On board there wasn’t any privacy and even the rare quiet times were haunted by the knowledge that they would soon have to go out again.

However, through all the hardships Coast Guard, Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Army Air Corps troops managed to keep their sense of humor. No one remembers how or when it started, but by the spring of 1943, they began to refer to themselves as members of the Brotherhood of the F.B.I. This, in that more refined period of time, was a nice way of saying “the Forgotten Bastards of Iceland.”

(Courtesy of the Author)

(Courtesy of the Author)