Full House At Yalta

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On the twenty-sixth we received word that our six ships were at anchor at Sevastopol. I immediately dispatched Lieutenant Chase to Sevastopol to pay my respects to the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Catoctin and to arrange to start men and supplies across the mountain road. Since the State Department expected us to have personnel to administer the physical arrangements, I requested officers and men from the Catoctin . To my great surprise and pleasure, the commander of the Sixth Fleet had transferred six Russian-speaking officers to the ship. They were delighted to move in with us. We had already established an administrative office, so I put Captain Alien in charge of it with orders to set up a transportation pool, a supply office, a small PX and package store, and a laundry. Captain Alien was a blessing on the job, and I had no more worries on the administration score.

Lieutenant Chase worked with the communications group. As soon as they had reviewed their building, they began moving equipment in and ran extra lines across the mountains to the ship. They were happy to put cots in any old corner of the building and to be a unit unto themselves. There were about two hundred tons of radio equipment, office furniture, and supplies to be transported from the ships to the palace. We arranged for fourteen truckloads of the most urgent items to transit that fifty miles of tortuous road immediately. The remainder was loaded onto three exGerman barges to be towed around to Yalta. But heavy seas ran for two days. We ended up transporting about one hundred truckloads over the road in spite of wet and slippery conditions—and we never lost a load.

Lieutenant Chase also arranged for the ship’s doctor and a working party to come to the palace equipped to debug several hundred mattresses and pillows. Every piece in the buildings was thoroughly sprayed inside and out. The charwomen were so delighted with this that before we knew it they had moved our mattresses to their quarters and brought theirs to us. As soon as we learned of this, we had the entire lot resprayed, including everything in the servants’ quarters. Save for a single complaint later, from Harry Hopkins, we seemed to have won the bedbug battle.

When Mr. Harriman left for Malta, we reappraised our situation. It was now definite that there would be at least 270 people arriving. And in addition we had to provide for the ships’ personnel being used for administration, as drivers, couriers, and photographers, and to staff the PX and a sick bay. Surprise visitors could also be anticipated. I needed more beds, so I was most anxious to sail two American mine sweepers from Sevastopol’s harbor to the smaller one at Yalta.

All previous requests to have any of our six ships moved to Yalta had been refused because of the danger from floating mines, damaged dock fronts, and underwater obstructions. I knew that the two large ships could not be accommodated but saw no reason why two mine sweepers could not be. The Yalta harbormaster agreed it could be done at our risk, but General Garlinski had to refuse for lack of authority in the area. For five days we argued. Finally I got the general and the senior Soviet naval representative together, and put it to them to clear the ships for passage at once, or I would assume responsibility and order them sailed myself. They promised an answer by 8 P.M. At dinner they assured me everything had been approved.

At eleven the next morning I had word that one of the mine sweepers had left Sevastopol. At 2:30 we saw her sweeping her way up the coast, and by four o’clock she was secured at a dock in Yalta harbor with no mishap.

With the help of the extra officers from the Catoctin , more equipment and supplies were moved in and the finished product became quite satisfactory. We now had a full instruction sheet and a pamphlet on local history printed and ready for distribution. Room and office assignments were complete. Beds for three hundred were sanitized, and there was extra space aboard the two mine sweepers. The President’s mess, a senior mess, and a large junior mess were stocked completely and made ready for business. Latrines were ready in the bushes, and wash basins and buckets were in place. The Catoclin stocked a small PX . A sick bay was ready for daily sick call, and a doctor was at hand at all times. A daily laundry service to the Caloctin was established. A car pool was complete, with trucks, cars, and drivers to maintain regular schedules to the Catoctin at Sevastopol and to the airport at Saki.