Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
Home » William S. Chambers

"The coastline voyages were unescorted by any Navy vessels or even airplanes, and they were easy prey for the submarines, and many ships were sunk along the coast." (Audio Interview, 19:13)

   William S. Chambers
Collection image
William Chambers, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [1943]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Merchant Marine
Service Location: Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters
Rank: Ship's Master
View Full Description

William Chambers was en route to Hawaii on a cargo ship on December 7, 1941, when his captain announced news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Chambers had been in effect training for war for two years. At 18, he entered the Pennsylvania State Nautical School in October 1939, shortly after WWII broke out in Europe, and the school had its students learn the ropes on different vessels of the U.S. Navy. During the war, Chambers made many dangerous voyages, none worse than a 1942 trip to the Soviet Union on which he lost three ships to torpedoes or mines. At war’s end, he was still at sea, carrying supplies for the invasion of Japan which were never needed.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (5 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (41 min.)
»Photo Album  (5 photos)
 Official Documents
»View List (5 items)
 Personal Correspondence
»View List (5 items)
»Photocopy of diary pages [October 1939-August 1946]
 Other Materials
»View List (2 items)
More like this
»They Also Served: Coast Guard and Merchant Marine
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (5 items)
At sea en route to Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked; attended Pennsylvania State Nautical School from October 1939 to October 1941; because WWII had started in Europe when he entered school, it was decided to train seamen on U.S. Navy vessels. (03:08) Serving on cargo ship SS Steel Worker on December 7, 1941, en route to Hawaii; captain received sealed orders in Panama; arrived in Honolulu December 15; not allowed to see damage from the attack; left for San Francisco in his first convoy; shelled by a Japanese submarine in Kahului Harbor on Dec.31, shortly before they left. (01:34) How a convoy works; memorable voyage to Russia in 1942; under attack from the air; eight ships in convoy sank; after unloading, his ship may have hit a mine, and it sank; transferred to another ship which was hit and eventually sank; rescued from that ship; another torpedo attack off coast of Iceland; made it through to the U.S. (05:47)
Round the world voyage from New York through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific to Australia, on to Iran, then Africa, Rio de Janeiro, and back to NY; two men died during the voyage of natural causes, one was buried at sea. (02:43) Voyages on Liberty ships, from Cuba to Scotland and Wales with sugar, a dangerous voyage because of patrolling German submarines; other voyages across the Atlantic ensued, including one in which they carried bombs from Maine to England, in preparation for the Normandy invasion. (02:41) 
 Official Documents (5 items)
Photocopy of citations and awards Certificate of Discharge Memo: "Sailing instructions" [July 25, 1945]
Service Record Training Certificates 
 Personal Correspondence (5 items)
Letter to Mrs. Margaret Chambers from the Isthmian Steamship Co. [June 9, 1942] Letter to Mrs. Margaret Chambers from the Isthmian Steamship Co. [July 29, 1942] Letter from the Office of Maritime Labor and Training [August 7, 1990]
Letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation [October 23, 1998] Letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation [November 17, 1998] 
 Other Materials (2 items)
BS Degree for veteran from Massachusetts Institute of Technology [June 9, 1950] Page from a yearbook 

Home » William S. Chambers
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us