Site Map | Search |Merchant Fleet Main Page | Home 

av Krigsseilerhistorier

Warsailor Stories - Page 3

Letter sent by Ship’s Electrician Robert McKeich aboard the M/T Høegh Giant on 25 November 1940 to his eldest brother Colin McKeich of Dunedin New Zealand. Colin was also an electrician and had trained his brother Robert as an apprentice electrician.
Received from Robert McKeich's nephew.

M/T Hoegh Giant

Dear Colin,
How are you? I have just received your letter. Thanks awfully for writing to me. I am writing this in working hours but that’s nothing as I am only painting my workshop and the steering machine room which is mine. We will be leaving tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock and make one more trip to Tampico. That finishes our charter here and nobody knows what after that. The Vacuum are trying to charter the ship and that will mean either South America or the East which would include Australia & new Zealand.

As you know I have an easy life on board here but when I finish painting in about two weeks it will be time to take all the motors up again. The dampness in the engine room, especially now it’s winter here, and the oil, make it necessary to clean them thoroughly as the synthetic insulation will not stand up to the grease & grime that get in them. I have to dismantle the whole motor and paint everything well with insulation laquer which I hope will delay for a time the final breakdown. For instance the generator armature we had ashore in Capetown was estimated by the Foreman of the shop to be between 25 & 30 years old. At that time it was 3 years and 4 months. When we removed the segments of the commutator the insulation fell away into a powder almost. There was a hole burnt in it where it had gone to earth that you could put your thumb in. Well that was fixed up and when we tried it we increased the load to 480 amps which is our normal load at 220 volts. The generator is rated at 550 amps so we dedided to give it a little more. We switched on the oil pump and it went to earth. There we found exactly the same trouble i.e. the commutator shorted to earth. So far we have had no more but expect something soon.

There was a test of about 100,000 ohms on a saltwater pump so I took the armature out and baked it (in the sun in the Gulf of Mexico) and relaquered it all. It is alright again but when it has lain idle for a week or so she tests low again. In fact they all do. But when they have been running for a couple of days they are all right again. We are allowed a test of 400,000 ohms so that’s not so hard to keep on the right side of. Except when we have a storm, you can bet there will be a short on the deck plugs, but the simplest thing to do is push the fuses out and forget about them for a day or two and then push the fuses in again and most times it has dried out. They tell me that has happened ever since the ship was built. It is believed that to remove the cause you would have to take a side out of the Capt’s cabin and nobody wanted to start doing that.

We have two generators 550 amps at 220 volts but most of the time we only use one as I said our load was 480 amps. Also we have a small steam generator which we run in port in New York where we have to have steam for the oil pumps and in the daytime in Tampico. It generates about 80 ohms at 220. From this we run our freezing machine, fresh water pump, sanitary pump, the workshop and the travelling crane. That is all we need in port. In Tampico we run the steam during the day and have a 8 kw, 110v deisel motor for a lighting plant. So we can resort to a lot of things. The deisel motor was used when we had a short circuit on our “saving generator” which is a direct coupled motor and generator to breakdown for the lighting. That was a rotten job. I worked for three hours on that one but strange to say it went alright first time. Another interesting job I had was when the steering machine went crazy. No matter which way they turned the wheel the ship still went to port. It crept around so slowly that you could only just see the armature of the motor go around and there is a terrific gear ratio to the main rudder. Unfortunately I started at the wrong end and it took me three days to fix. What fooled me was the fact that the rudder had gone hard to port and was stopped only by a huge piece of steel that is there for the purpose. If the wheel on the bridge is turned too far over it would cause the rollers to run right off the end and could only pass current one way. This the Capt had explained to me had happened before when they took the ship out for its trial run and since then he had been careful to tell the helmsman not to turn sharper than 38°.

Well we straightened everything to midships and it performed alright that day and then it went again. Well I started from the rudder traced it to the bridge, back to the motor and finally to the generator. There was about 15 to 20 volts loose you could say and I chased them all over the ship. The trouble was a broken field coil in the generator. The rudder gear is A.CV. so we have a direct coupled motor and generator. I will draw a rough sketch on the back of the last page. The motor is running all the time of course and consequently the armature of the generator too. Well, the wheel is turned and this allows the current to flow down one of the lines between the setter and receiver. They are about 5° apart but the small resistances give you the final adjustment. The current flows down these and onto the bars A or B whichever way it is turned. This leads to the fields of the generator and induces current and this turns the rudder motor. When the rudder motor turns the moving part of the receiver turns also as it is coupled. I don’t know if you can understand it all but I hope so. Of course when the rudder and the receiver has turned around to the position where there is no contact with the field the generator having no current in the field ceases to drive the rudder motor. I’m sorry I can’t explain it any better but I’m trusting in your intelligence. In all it’s a wonderful piece of machinery and I’m very proud to have taken it all to pieces and solved the problem as the Chief Engineer assures me that most electricians would not touch it as it is considered a specialist job.

I’m glad that your job is doing so well and I’m sure that the Council will not regret it. How is Geo. Turner doing? Tell him I was asking after him and Mrs. How is H.C.Hart? Is Joe McKay in the army yet?. Tell him from me he should be. Tell little Frank Mong, you know the boy at Geo. Turners, I was asking after him. Tell anybody I know at all that I send the seasons greetings to everyone. Is Nick Moir in the Council yet? I would like to see someone I know from home as it is a long way from here to N.Z. As I told you before we might be down that way sometime. Don’t tell Mum but they may want to send the ship to England but the owners don’t want that. If we don’t get these charters I was talking about that’s where we go but it’s only a remote chance. Anyway they say 97% get through alright.

I have had some trouble with my radio. It is a Hellicrafter Super Defiant, 12 tubes. The set is an A.C. model and I had to have a converter. Well I had two Electronic types (that is the Vibrator) and they both burnt out so now I’m getting a rotary converter. At least I can fix it myself. (maybe).

Give my regards to Maisie, Bill Jean and Alec. They should see the toys in the shops in New York. You could walk around for days and weeks and see something new every time. Well I don’t think I have done bad so I’ll finish now.

Love Bob

P.S. I just remembered I didn’t tell you about the World Fair. Our playland had theirs licked although it was bigger. I’ll tell you next time. I got a letter from Wes Chisholm. He is in the P.W.D. Test Room, Palmerston North. (Bob and his brother Colin had worked on the electrical fittings for the playland at the 1940 New Zealand Centenial Exhibition, Wellington).

Bob Keich's nephew adds (please note that some of the details on the sinking of Høegh Giant are not entirely correct - see the report on the sinking under M/T Høegh Giant):

Bob was in Norway when Hitler’s army invaded. He escaped to Scotland and went back to sea. In 1942 the Norwegian ship he was on bound for South America was torpedoed at 6 o’clock in the morning. Another ship picked up the survivors including Bob, but it too was torpedoed at 9 o’clock that night (this must have been one and the same ship, namely Høegh Giant). The 17 survivors of the second sinking, including Bob, drifted for 17 days in a liferaft living on shark meat and sea rations until they reached Devil’s Island, the French Penal Colony. Being controlled by the French Vichy Government, sympathetic to the German cause, the survivors were taken into custody. They remained prisoners for four months (it was only a few days) until a friendly French Captain helped them escape in another boat. The group sailed to Dutch Guinea and then on to Trinidad where they boarded the “Robert E Lee”bound for the United States of America. With the U.S.A. shoreline in sight the “Lee” was blasted out of the water by a German “U” boat . This time the Coast Guard rescued Bob amongst other survivors. Bob decided that three times torpedoed was enough and even though he went through the motions to join the U.S.Navy he must have breathed a sigh of relief when they turned him down because he was an alien. He did however join the U.S. Army and in nine months rose to the rank of Master Sergeant. As he said, he was lucky. The “outfit” he joined was a new Signal Corps Group. He attributed his meteoric rise in the ranks to the fact that “no one knew an electron from a 15 amp fuse”. The following fifteen months were spent with the 100th Signal Company of the 100th Division in Europe.

On his return to the U.S.A. Bob was assigned to Fort Monmouth. There he was an instructor for two years. It was while he was an instructor that he was named Fort Monmouth’s “outstanding soldier of the month”and as a result was treated to a free weekend in New York where he was greeted by high ranking officers from First Army H.Q.. After his assignment at Fort Monmouth he took up a position as Engineering Aide with the Development Attachment at Coles Signal Laboratory. He followed this with a posting to Korea for two years where he rose to the rank of Junior Warrant Officer.

Bob married Bernadette Marie Kerse of New York on 20 July 1942. He died on 4 August 1970 in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S.A.

Warsailor Stories - Page 1
Warsailor Stories - Page 2

I would again like to encourage others to send me more personal stories for inclusion on this page, these stories are very valuable.


Norwegian Merchant Fleet Main Page