Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How a ship's stoker helped win WWII

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Seasickness can be devastating to some and hardly a bother to others.  Some people get their sea legs very quickly while others never can. This is a story of how one sailor, a stoker named Mahoney on the RCN Corvette, the Matapedia helped change the outcome of  The Battle of the Atlantic and of course it's direct effect on the outcome of the European theater of WWII.
He joined the ship's crew in December 1941 which was assigned to convoy escort duty between St. John's, Newfoundland and Iceland in the North Atlantic.
Because the Corvettes were so small and light they were totally at the mercy of the seas. Any bad weather would have these ships bouncing and twisting in every direction making all on board always feeling the effects from sea sickness; most got over it very quickly while some never could recover and would be unfit for combat for the entire trip. And unfortunately for Mahoney he was one of those rare sailors who could never find his sea legs.
In the little more than two weeks that this trip took he was never able to leave his hammock.  At port in Iceland the captain of the Matapedia sent Mahoney to be checked out by some doctors who returned him to the ship declaring that he was fit for sea duty and that he will overcome his seasickness soon enough.
But of course during the return trip Mahoney suffered from this acute form of seasickness. When the ship arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia he was sent to the base hospital but with the same results; it is just seasickness and he has to get over it. The ship's captain  could not believe that the doctors in the Medical Branch could not see the seriousness of  Mahoney's situation.
The only option left was to go over the heads of the doctors and make an appeal directly to Rear  Admiral George Jones, the Commanding Officer, Atlantic Coast. It was this admiral who realized that while there were plenty of navy doctors in Halifax most of them have never served aboard a ship and had no experience with this issue so he ordered them to get some sea experience by going on a short trip on a mine sweeper. A ship even smaller than a corvette and more likely to cause seasickness which it very well did.  The doctors were so sick they had to take turns heaving from the rails. After the ship returned the doctors all had a new feeling towards seasickness and the following day Mahoney was sent to the hospital to be the first in line for any treatments and this time he was not sent back to the corvette.
Now chronic seasickness  was accepted as a real medical problem and doctors and researchers began to study this problem.  Finally in 1943 from the laboratories of  Drs. Charles Best and Wilder Penfield, both very well known doctors they created Pill 2-183 made from a mixture of several different acids that effectively blocked the sensation of  Chronic Seasickness  which helped thousands of sailors get their jobs done in helping the escort of all those convoys heading to Britain to build up the invasion forces that would help end the war in Europe.
So thanks to Stoker Mahoney's condition the Normandy invasion of German occupied France was able to be planned and won by the soldiers who were shipped to England in safely guarded convoys  by the many brave sailors manning those little escorts.
While seasickness could never be eliminated there was now a cure that would allow the sailors to get the job done.

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