Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part II

In my last post, I shared the havoc storms caused on the Italian ship S. S. Humanitas as it transported Heifer Project cattle and coal from Baltimore, Maryland, to Italy in 1947 and 1948. This week we learn about a different type of havoc the Humanitas seagoing cowboys witnessed.

Loading heifers onto the S. S. Humanitas in Baltimore, 1948. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The slowing down of the ship on its first trip in December 1947, reported in our last post by cowboy Charles Cutting, did indeed involve “something unusual.” Timed to arrive offshore from Naples around 10:00 p.m., the ship crawled to a stop with all lights turned off. The cowboys were asked to stay in their quarters until further notice from the captain. Curiosity prompted Cutting and a friend named Burk, however, to hide in the cattle stall area. There they saw someone on the flying bridge swing a lantern.

“Out of the darkness,” Cutting says, “we could hear the splash of oars as a rowboat came alongside.” Cutting and Burk watched as crew members proceeded to transfer large boxes of cigarettes to the rowboat. A search light in the distance cut off the process for a second rowboat. “We started a slow forward motion without running lights,” Cutting said. When out of sight behind an island, the lantern signal resumed and the unloading process began again, with boxes lowered into the small boats and gunny sacks pulled up on board the Humanitas. Cutting now understood why so many rooms had been locked on the way over.

Noticing a flashlight moving across a dining table in the captain’s mess, Cutting and Burk left their hiding spot to look in the porthole. There, they observed the dumping of the gunnysacks and the counting of stacks of Italian lire. So engrossed in this operation were Cutting and Burk that they didn’t notice the two figures behind them. “The first realization came when I felt an arm around my throat and the slight coldness of a knifepoint in the small of my back,” Cutting says. After a shouting match between crew members, the captain told the boys they could watch from the radio room. With hearts racing, they needed no further convincing to head directly there.

Before daybreak, a patrol boat caught the ship’s crew in the act of smuggling. The officials removed the remaining boxes for which Cutting learned the next day they paid 50% of the black market price. “I was amazed to learn how business was conducted in this foreign land,” he says. He learned that each box, which cost $100 in Baltimore, had the value of $1,000 in Italian lire. “We also learned that this entire operation was under the auspices of Lucky Luciano,” Cutting says.

Officials gather on the S. S. Humanitas to see the Heifer Project animals off to Italy. Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

Might any of the officials known what other cargo was on board? Photo courtesy of Kenneth West.

The smuggling operation repeated itself on Byron Frantz’s trip in February. Frantz charted the ship’s progress daily on a wall map. “After we passed the Straits of Gibralter,” he says, “I remarked that it looked like we would get to Naples at noon four days later.” He was told, “No it will be evening.” This conversation replayed the next day. On the fourth day, he discovered they were still at sea. “When I went to the engine room I found that the ship was at half speed!”

Out on deck after supper, Frantz saw the lights of Naples. He went to the cabin and asked his bunkmates to follow him “for a great sight. Can you imagine my surprise,” he says, “to find only total darkness. We were running parallel to the coast for thirty minutes and then back again for thirty minutes in order to stay beyond the three mile limit in International water. Naples was now on the other side of the ship! The Italian police had no authority beyond the three mile limit.”

After several hours of this, the smuggling operation commenced. Unlike Cutting’s experience, the cowboys on this second trip were not ordered inside. “Our crew told us to lock everything and trust no one” as men from the row boats came on board.

“By daylight all was tidy,” Frantz says. “Our ship made contact with the port, the police boats met us and escorted us into the dock in such a way that we could not bring things into the port. Of course at that time, we had gotten rid of all of it in international waters.”

The smuggling saga continues in our next post.

(The full story of Charles Cutting’s trip to Europe can be found in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffle Bag.)

 

Heifers and Havoc on the S. S. Humanitas, Part I

The Heifer Project, today’s Heifer International, made six shipments of dairy cattle to Italy between December 1947 and October 1948 on the S. S. Humanitas. The vessel was a renamed Liberty ship sold to Italy after World War II and put into service transporting coal to Italy in its lower holds and dairy cattle quartered on the top deck. The livestock trips of the Humanitas had two major havoc-causing events in common. Today, we’ll look at the havoc caused by the weather on three of the trips.

Photo courtesy of Willard Rush.

On the Humanitas’ first trip, 17-year-old seagoing cowboy Charles Cutting set out from California for an adventurous time in Europe. He writes a delightful account of his experience in his book 1947 Europe from a Duffel Bag, available for purchase online for anyone interested in reading his full story.

The Humanitas departed from Baltimore December 3, 1947, with six seagoing cowboys, 160 head of cattle, and 10,000 tons of coal, causing the vessel to ride low in the water. “Our hope for fair weather was soon just a memory,” Cutting says. Under a heavy cloud cover, the wind whipped up waves that swamped the deck on the third day out and flooded the cowboys’ sleeping quarters through the air supply vents.

“Three a.m.!”, Cutter says. “There was a terrible shudder and crash….A pyramid wave had crashed down on the ship.” The cowboys were sent out to help rescue the cattle from the havoc and debris surrounding them until the ship’s officers ordered them back inside. They were entering a hurricane. The ship emitted frightening sounds as it slapped down into the waves’ troughs and back out again. Then came the calm of the hurricane’s eye, only to be bashed again on the other side of it. When deemed safe, the captain sent the cowboys back out to free the cattle. Only two had been injured, with broken legs. They were shot and became a bonus for the cooks.

The next trip left Baltimore January 30, 1948, with 18-year-old Byron Frantz on board. The Humanitas had to cut through six inches of ice in the Chesapeake Bay to get into open waters. Once it hit the warmer Gulf Stream, the ship again ran into a storm. With the weight of the coal, Frantz says, “mid-ship was only 10 feet above water. The storm caused a wave of water to come over the mid-ship and collapse a part of the ‘heifers’ home.” These cowboys, too, had a rescue job on their hands once it was safe to do so.

The Humanitas’ fourth trip left Baltimore June 9 and didn’t hit foul weather until it reached the Mediterranean Sea. “Once we were through the Straits of Gibralter, the weather drastically changed,” says cowboy David Harner. “The seas began to get rougher, and suddenly we were in a full blown storm. I was a little concerned because as a child my parents took me on a trip that included a visit to Puget Sound near Seattle. Lying at anchor in the Sound was a Liberty ship, actually half a Liberty ship, the forward half missing. When we asked a local sailor, he explained that these ships were so hurriedly made for the war effort that they often broke in two.”

“The blur on the right was seawater blowing up on the bridge’s windshield,” says Harner. Photo courtesy of David Harner.

“At the height of the storm, the deck plates between the No. 2 hold and the superstructure began to buckle, making a horrible screeching sound, then a dull BOOM as the bow dropped back into a wave trough. Señor Cortali, the radio officer, explained how and why this was happening. When I asked him if we were in danger of breaking up, he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away. The next morning the sea was calm. A check of all the cattle revealed that they were all OK, unfazed by the storm. We put dry bedding over the soggy mess and completed our chores.”

Charles Cutting’s voyage also hit foul weather again in the Mediterranean Sea until nearing its destination of Naples, Italy. The ship unexpectedly reduced its speed “to a gentle crawl.” Cutting says, “We inquired, but the captain was evasive and would not tell us why. We sensed something unusual was involved.”

(to be continued)