I Was There! - How We Escaped from Internment at Dakar

The War Illustrated, Volume 5, No. 109, Page 215, October 20, 1941.

After being interned at Dakar for fourteen months, a handful of Allied merchant marine officers outwitted the Vichy authorities and sailed out in a new steamer, as told here by the captain.

Telling this story on arriving at Cape Town, the captain said:

The ship had made only two voyages when she was trapped at Dakar at the time of the French collapse.

The crew escaped by rowing a hundred miles to a British colony in the ship's lifeboats at night. My officers were equally anxious to escape, but were determined to take the ship with them.

The French naval authorities had taken away the high-pressure lines from the engine, but for eight long months the engineer in secret modelled dummy pipes with the few tools available.

When they were ready we told the French we must have our pressure lines back in order to turn the engines, which would otherwise have been permanently wrecked.

The French agreed, but sent guards to watch us. We tested the engines, then invited the guards to have drinks and dinner on board. It did not take very long to substitute the dummy pipes for the real thing, and the French took the dummy pipes ashore without discovering the trick.

I conspired with the masters of four other ships to form a makeshift crew together with the ship's engineer, officers and two stewards.

The French had put a net across the entrance to the harbour. We planned to escape on a Saturday night, when the crews of the harbour defence usually relaxed. When the time came I retained just enough ballast to keep the ship on an even keel.

We were looking for a buoy marking a gap in the net when we saw the net almost dead ahead. It was too late to alter course. We steered straight for the net, shut off the engines, and the ship just scraped over the net without fouling the propellers.

The French naturally expected us to make for Bathurst, Gambia, so we went in another direction.

Early on Sunday we sighted a French patrol ship astern. It opened fire on us with five shells which crashed around the stern. Our speed was reduced, but we put on all the power we had got until the ship vibrated so much that we could not stand upright. Gradually we dropped the French ship behind and next morning we met a British destroyer. British United Press

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