Handy Island

Handy Island
"The Air War Finds A Handy South Atlantic Island" was the caption on this Peter Hurd painting of Ascension Island, from Life Magazine, April 1945. It was the only place for pilots to refuel between Natal and West Africa.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"They Took Dive To Fix Line"

Laying the gas pipeline on Ascension Island, 1942. The British had a representative on this British Overseas Territory and that's the only explanation I can find for the group of civilians sitting above left, watching the men work.

Ascension Island had no safe harbor, so the 38th Engineers had to lay a pipeline out to sea, so Allied ships could offload fuel for the aircraft coming into the field.  My father did tell us that since he was an expert marksman, he was on "shark duty" when the pipeline was laid, to prevent any danger to men in the water. What he did not tell us, is that he himself donned a diving helmet at one point and dove down among the sharks to help repair a leak in the line.  I found the story in a Richmond newspaper.

The Reflector
Richmond, Virginia
May 12, 1944

"They Took Dive to Fix Gas Line"

"Lt. William Chapman and Lt. Gaston Hollimon, along with their first C.O., Capt. [Harry] Tufts, got an introduction to seadiving in 55 feet of water off Ascension on one occasion ...

... when the steel gas line from shore to tankers' unloading point developed a leak.

The officers donned shallow-water diving helmets good for 35-foot depths and went down to bring up the line. Then it was repaired, slid back down and fastened in position."

"No Country Club Swimming in Sea"

"Swimming was a dangerous sport around Ascension, and after learning the fact, the 898th didn't need the posted warning that stood near one beach for the benefit of transient fliers: 'Swimming is extremely hazardous at all time, whether or not the water appears to be calm.  Do not visit the beach between 1830-0730 hours.'

The 898th suffered no casualties from drowning, either after it was activated or while it was part of the old 38th Regt., but several other outfits lost men who went swimming and were pulled out to sea by trecherous undertow.  Besides the heavy, rolling Atlantic surf, there was the added meance of sharks.

'After we got back to the States," says one Engineer, "we learned that four men in the force that relieved us were drowned while swimming.''

This is another of the many pictures taken of the work on Ascension in 1942, that I found in my father's old footlocker after his death.

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