Minnesota's Greatest Generation

Donald S. Frederick: "Swarming with U-Boats"

Donald S. Frederick joined the Minnesota National Guard in 1939 at the age of sixteen. With war raging in Europe, he was not surprised when his unit, F Battery, 151st Field Artillary, 34th Division, was mobilized in January 1941 and sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Called up initially for one year, he was anticipating the return to Minnesota when the news came of Pearl Harbor. His unit was recalled, and was soon on a troop ship bound for an unknown destination. Donald Frederick told his story to military historian Douglas Bekke in a 2005 interview.


DB: How did everybody feel about going overseas?

DF: Well, I think they must have had a feeling that we were in the service now for a year. They knew we were going someplace. They didn't know where. I don't think I really knew where we were going until we got on ship and got out of the harbor.

And boy, I remember when we left. They had problems with our ship and we had to leave the convoy up around Newfoundland or someplace up there. We left there for a day or two, and I don't know what happened to the ship. But anyway, we got left behind and I didn't like that. The thing was swarming with U-boats up there.

DB: You're not in a harbor? You're just out alone at sea?

DF: Yes. And there was a lot of U-boat activity at that point. In fact, when we were up at [Fort] Dix I was in a convoy one morning along the coast there in New Jersey. I saw a tanker that got hit with a torpedo. We actually watched it go down. It was probably ten, twelve miles off shore. And I'll never forget that.

DB: Something sobering when you know you're going to out at sea soon.

DF: You're damn right. I'll tell you. But when we finally got going and our weather was so cold on that ship. It was a British ship and the only thing I had between me and the ocean down below was a tarp. They had a tarp to keep the wind and the water out. We all had a hammock for sleeping in. That's all we had. You were eating around the clock it seems like. You had to go in shifts. I'll never forget. It seemed like all they had on that ship was ducks. Eat duck for three meals a day. I can't believe it to this day.

DB: It got old?

DF: Yes. It got old all right.

DB: No problems with U-boats though?

DF: Luckily no.

DB: And did you rejoin a convoy or did you go all the way to Ireland?

DF: We got into another convoy that evidently must have been one behind us that we joined. Thank gosh. Even if you’re in a convoy there's no guarantee because, I mean, they were sinking a lot of ships between Newfoundland and Belfast, Ireland. That's where we landed.

DB: And what kind of an arrival did you have? What kind of a reception did you have in Northern Ireland?

DF: Well, I got in there. It was kind of a low cast, overcast day. The weather was mediocre. Light rain, I think. We got off that ship and I was happy to get off that cookie. They must have had some Red Cross people. I don't know if they were Red Cross or who they were, but they had a bunch of gals off the gangplank area there that gave us a cold meat sandwich. Cold meat sandwich. It didn't taste good to me but it was different than duck.

DB: It wasn't your first taste of mutton, was it? Do you know what it was?

DF: I don't know but that was my experience in landing at Belfast.

DB: Then did you march right into a training area?

DF: I think they took us up to where we were being stationed there in Belfast.

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Frederick, Donald S.; Douglas Bekke, Interviewer, Minnesota's Greatest Generation Oral History Project, Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Collection, 2005.