A 1943 robbery of gem grade diamonds shipped to the United States from South Africa has a profound effect on the outcome of World War ll
Cape Town South Africa, October 1943
The alarm went off at 1 am. Alan Scott reached over to the bed side table and turned it off. His wife Carolyn stirred beside him and then rolled over and snuggled up to his back and mumbled something inaudible. He turned toward her. “I don't have much time” he said. “In one hour I have to leave the house and be at the gangway to the ship to receive my orders.”
“I know” she replied. “I just don't like it that I don't know where you are going”.
“I don't like it either but I will find out in an hour or so. When I was assigned this mission last week I asked Admiral Hatcher where I was heading and what cargo I would be carrying. He said he was not at liberty to tell me that but he said I would receive my orders before boarding ship and they would contain answers to any question I might have regarding the purpose of the mission and my final destination. He said under normal circumstances I would have all this information in advance but this mission was not considered to be normal.
He said I would be picked up here at 0245 hours and escorted to where the ship was docked. That was the end of the conversation.”
In Alan's mind he was not looking forward to the mission ahead. He had been informed earlier that the ship he was to command was not going to be part of a larger convoy. His ship would be only one involved so he would be in command of a single ship heading west into the Atlantic with a cargo and a destination that right now was unknown to him. What Alan could not know was the mission he was about to embark upon would have a profound effect on the outcome of World War II.
He threw back the covers, sat up and hung his legs over the edge of the bed. He turned on the bedside table lamp and sat there for a moment until his eyes adjusted to the light. Rising from the bed he stood up and raised his arms over his head to stretch his back muscles. He hadn't slept well during the night and felt as if his whole body had stiffened from the tension he was feeling about the mission ahead of him. He shuffled around the bottom of the bed, opened the bedroom door and walked down the hallway to the bathroom. He turned on the light and went to the basin and stood there looking at himself in the mirror. At age 38 he still had that youthful look. Many of his long time friends commented on the fact that he didn't seem to get any older. Considering he had spent the last 10 years either at sea or in some way closely associated with it, the fact he still looked as young as he did was not entirely by chance. He watched his diet and kept himself in good physical condition by running, working out at the gym on the base and taking long hikes in the surrounding countryside with Carolyn and his two kids Richard and Jamie.
Alan loved the sea. After graduating from high school in 1910, he went to work for Grammison Shipping Company in Norfolk, Virginia where his two brothers and father were currently employed. In the spring of 1938 he was told by Jim Grammison of a new program that had been established by Congress in 1936 called the Merchant Marine Act. It was a four year program to train citizens for service in the merchant marine. The Academy's purpose was to serve the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis the Navy. He said the country was in need of merchant marine officers and he should look into it. After talking it over with his father and brothers he contacted the Academy and sent in his application for admission. He was accepted and in September of that year left for the Academy. He was one of the first individuals to receive training at the Academy's temporary facilities. Construction of the permanent site at Kingsport, New York was not completed until 1943. By the end of the war the Academy had graduated over 6600 officers.
When the United States entered the war in 1941 Alan requested permission to leave the Academy and be transferred to the U.S. Navy. Because of his background at sea and the training he had received at the Academy his request had been granted. He was stationed in Norfolk until November 1942 and was then transferred to Capetown South Africa where he was would command many of the cargo ships that moved equipment and material for the war effort between South Africa and United States.
The ship Alan would command for the mission ahead was the USS Joseph Lykes, a Type C2 cargo ship designed by the United States Maritime Commission (MARCOM). As an all-purpose cargo ship with five holds, it was noted for its speed and fuel economy. Its design speed was sixteen knots but if necessary could be pushed to nineteen. Weighing in at 8000 tons it was s was 459 feet in length with a beam of 63 feet and a 25 foot draft. The ship was only three years old, having been turned over to the Navy by the Kearny New Jersey Shipyard in November 1940.
Alan turned on the shower and stepped into the bathtub. The hot water on the back of his neck relieved some of the tension that had been building since his assignment to this mission. He let water massage the back of his neck until he felt his muscles relaxing and the tension in his back and neck subsiding. After showering, he shaved, put on a bathrobe went into the kitchen. Carolyn was at the stove cooking his standard breakfast of bacon, eggs and burned toast. Coming up behind her he wrapped his arms around her waist and nestled his chin into her shoulder. “I love you” he said. She turned and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you too” she replied, “but I'm scared Alan. This is the first time that you have not been able to tell me where you are going or what they are asking you to do. I fear losing you and I couldn't take that. I have already lost one brother in this war and the thought of losing my husband scares me to death.”
“I wish I could tell you that I won't be in any danger but you know that would be a lie. This is war time and there are inherent risks in what everyone has to do if we are to win it. As far as my safety is concerned, you know I can't guarantee that.”
“I know,” she replied. “I just wish I had a guardian angel that I could ask to take care of you.”
Alan's safety was anything but ensured. Carolyn did not know, and he was not going to tell her, that the first real threat by German U-Boats in Capetown area began just a few months ago. With the increased shipping activity from the Naval Base, Alan was very aware of the German U-Boat threat outside the harbor. He had lost many of his Academy friends to German submarines in the past two years.
“And remember” Alan continued “I won't be able to contact you until I have reached my destination, where ever that may be. When given this assignment I was specifically directed not to mention it to anyone. I was also requested to get you and the kids out of Capetown for the next couple of weeks. When I asked why the answer I received from Admiral Hatcher was and I quote “For the safety of your family and the successful completion of this mission.” Doing as he asked, I called our good friends Roger and Wilma Olsen in Malmesbury and asked if you and the kids could come and stay with them for a couple of weeks. As far as our any of our other friends are concerned they think I have been fortunate enough to get two weeks of leave and some old college friends of mine asked us to come up to Malmesbury to visit them. You, Richard and Jamie will be going but I will be heading in another direction. Roger will pick you and the kids up at nine this morning and drive you to Malmesbury.”
“The kids and I are almost packed. They're excited to be going. The thought of riding their horses, swimming in the river and hiking around their farm has gotten both of them all excited. I made arrangements for the neighbors' daughter Sue to come in and take care of the cats and water the plants. She was really looking forward this because I told her we would pay her two dollars a day. Her mom said she would make sure that Sue does a good job.”
Alan poured himself a cup of coffee and went to the kitchen table and sat down. Carolyn brought him his breakfast and sat across from him. Looking at Alan she marveled at how much he still looked like that twenty three year old she had met at a friends party in Norfolk those many years ago. After one year of a whirlwind courtship they were married at Carolyn's church in Portsmouth.
After thirteen years of marriage she still felt like a newly wed because Alan treated her this way. He was constantly surprising her with flowers, small gifts and treating her to special nights out on the town. She couldn't have been happier. Even the surprise announcement of the move to Capetown had been exciting. He had surprised her with the news of his new duty station over dinner at one of their favorite restaurants on the Norfolk waterfront.
Alan's transfer from Norfolk in November 1942 to Capetown, South Africa was something she never would have expected. She was excited when Alan told her but she also had misgivings about what the future would hold for them. She had the option of staying behind with Richard and Jamie but with the uncertainties that surrounded their lives because of the war she didn't want to be separated from him so she and the children had decided to accompany him to Capetown.
Winter was on it's way when Alan left Norfolk in November. He would arrive to 70 degree fall weather in Capetown and was delighted that he wouldn't have to spend another cold winter in Norfolk. Capetown winters were cool with an average minimum temperature of around 45 degrees but they were a far cry from the freezing winter temperatures he was used to in Virginia. Carolyn and the kids would enjoy the warmer winter and spring months in Capetown.
Alan had been living in officers quarters on the base in Capetown since his arrival in November . When Carolyn and the kids joined him in January 1943 they moved off base into a house on New Market Street which was just a short distance from the Naval Base. The house was similar to the Georgian architecture of the house they had in Virginia. It was two levels with three bedrooms on the second floor. Richard who was fifteen and Jamie who was thirteen each had separate bedrooms. The only drawback was there was only two bathrooms in the house and they had to share one. After trying to settle some major squabbles over its use, they had finally managed to work out an equitable solution to the when and how long each would use it. Two large chimneys at opposite ends of the house accommodated fireplaces in the living room and the family room. From the front door it was three steps down to a sidewalk that extended 50 feet out to the street. The yard was grass on both sides of the walkway with a front hedge that ran across the front of the property. A wooden fence ran along each side of the house across the back. The back yard , which was accessible through two gates at each side of the house and through the rear door in the kitchen, contained Carolyn's vegetable and flower garden. With the warm temperatures year round in Capetown, she had been able to keep vegetables on the table and flowers in the house year round. With the kids in school, she spent many hours in the garden giving it the benefit of her tender loving care. Working there was a way she kept her mind off the fact that the entire world was at war. Who the victors would be at this moment was anybody's guess. In all, the family was happy with their accommodations and made the best of any shortcomings that existed in the house.
Looking at Carolyn, Alan saw the fear in her eyes. It was a look that he had seen before but under different circumstances. The night he took her on roller coaster she had been afraid but this was a different kind of fear. It was a fear of the unknown that he saw in her eyes. He rose from his chair and went around the table. He lifted her from her chair, put his arms around her waist and pulled her close to his chest. They stood in silence for a few moments. He pulled away from her and looked into her eyes.
“I know this mission is unusual in that neither of us knows what is ahead but I want to tell you that I will come back from where ever I am going, even if I have to swim. I don't want you worrying about me while I am gone. Your time with Roger and Wilma and the kids for the next two weeks is what is most important. Relax and enjoy yourself. As soon as I can, I will get in touch with you. Okay?”
“Okay,” she said.
Alan went back to his chair and sat down. She sipped her coffee and tried to drive the fear she felt from her body. She was not able to do so.