This collection consists of 86 letters written by Ellsberg to his wife, Lucy, from February 26, 1942-November 24, 1942. These letters are interesting because they are very descriptive of the landscape, his battles with the civilian contractors who oversaw the naval base, and the elements, where the temperature got as high as 160 degrees. You will be interested to see how Ellsberg dealt with conflict and managed the diverse groups he had to work with. The naval base had been all but wiped out by the retreating Italians. Ellsberg, with just a handful of men and no equipment, rebuilt it within a short period of time into a fully functional base. Using his ingenuity, he raised a sunken drydock in nine days that the British had given up on. This became known as the "Miracle of Massawa" and lead to his promotion to captain.


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List of Massawa Letters

February 26, 1942 - July 18, 1942 (Page One) you are here

July 27, 1942 - Sept. 23, 1942 (Page Two)

Sept. 27, 1942 - November 24, 1942 (Page Three)



Letter #1

February 26, 1942

At Sea




We have been getting along since I saw you, but rather slowly. The vessel wasn’t really ready so far as lifeboats were concerned, so we spent a few days before departure getting lifeboats in order, and training our passengers and crew on how to lower and handle them in a heavy sea. We are good at boat drill now.


When we did leave, it was only to steam a day or so for another stop to calibrate our degaussing system against magnetic mines.


Finally we sailed out through the same capes that 31 years ago I passed through on my youngster cruise.


Up to then we had very cold weather but moderate sea. Within a day we were in warmer water and well out on the deep sea, as I had persuaded our skipper the major dangers lay along the coast. We saw few ships (none at all after our first day out) and are I think well out of all sub zones for the present. We heard several radio reports of ships being sunk off Florida, and attacks on Aruba and Trinidad. I kept the ship clear of the coast, and I’m sure we’ll be directed well clear of all tropical dangers.


We should shortly make port (a safe one) to refuel and get our orders for our next leg.


We had a very bad storm for two days. The ship behaved well, but many of our passengers went under. I was fortunate enough not to miss a meal, which my sailing of last summer may have contributed to.


So far our closest contact with subs was a radio message early in the morning the day after we left the coast, stating the ship sending was being chased by a sub about 50 miles from us. As we heard nothing further, we presume she got away.


The vessel is not unduly crowded. She has about 25% above normal passengers aboard. The food I can only say is plain but wholesome. I think the chief steward is a washout on menus, and presumably on his record could get a job at Hollins (Ed: Hollins College in VA where Mary Ellsberg graduated).


I have been doing some navigating the last few days. As we should make a landfall in a few hours, I’ll have some proof of my navigation. I’m imitating my young hero in “Captain Paul,” as I should shortly be looking at the selfsame castle where Captain Paul brought him in the “Santissima Trinidad” to give up his command as a pirate skipper, and from which they sailed away in the “Two Friends.” (Ed: This refers to John Paul Jones).


There are a lot of censorship rules about dates, places, ship’s names, and routes, as a result of which not so much may be mentioned. My letters are not censored aboard, but I am bound to follow the rules.


I have been well, and busy with boat drills, instructing passengers in handling boats. I have also been brushing up on my nav, and studying the diving manual.


Judging from our progress so far, I believe our voyage to our ultimate port will take the longer time I once outlined to you, rather than the shorter. I believe we will step along now with stops only for refueling, but even so our route may be circuitous.


I see I am second in rank aboard, the general you may have noted in port being my only senior. The field officers (that is, majors and above) dine together, so I’m at his table.


The weather has warmed so much, I’ve been wearing khaki for three days now, and since we are now in the tropics, I anticipate even less will feel pleasant before long.


A little later.


Well, we picked up our landfall. On my position, the ship was nearer to her true position than by any of the ship’s officers’ positions. So it seems that though I have not navigated since 1916, I can still do a fair job. (Ed: Ellsberg was #1 in his class in navigation). In fact, I feel about as elated as Tom Folger was when he came in and picked up (under Captain Paul’s tutelage) this very same place.


We are proceeding in now, and will be permitted ashore until late tonight. This should go off from here (by airmail if there is any).


Still a little later.


We are now making fast to the dock. As the post office will shortly close and I have to get stamps ashore, I’ll have to finish this. If I can, I’ll write again from here before we love. (I meant to say leave, but I see I had something else subconsciously on my mind).


With much love my dear, Ned



Letter #2

February 27, 1942

In port




This is letter #2. #1 went off by air mail this afternoon and this will go by regular mail the same night.


I’ve been ashore. This town reminds me very much of Las Palmas in general appearance, except everyone here seems to be selling lottery tickets.


It’s beautifully warm and sticky. Wearing only a khaki shirt, I came in after a few hours ashore with it thoroughly soaked.


If we stay here tomorrow, I may go ashore again, but I think I’ve seen nearly enough in one visit.


I learned a few items since leaving. One was that the Comptroller General decided that uniform allowance ($100) was payable to officers in my status, even if it was wartime. If you don’t get it by the time you get this letter, I would suggest you write the Bu. of S&A (I think their letter was left on my desk), referring to that letter and asking when payment will be made.


A second item was that Congress had raised the pay of officers in the military service on foreign service, 10%. I presume this includes the Navy. I’ll find out when I get to my destination. As usual, I suppose the increase (if any) will be in pay only, not in allowances, and may mean about $500 a year (maybe).


I wrote Mary this afternoon, but somewhat more briefly. You might pass along most of the news, such as it is, to her.


I doubt that our stay here will be long, as we are fueling tonight. What our next destination is, I suppose we’ll learn only after we sail. I can only say our itinerary has been changed from the original one. I presume our next leg will be a long tropical hop.


I sent you a brief cable from ashore an hour ago. After reading the censorship rules about what I couldn’t include, that was, I found nearly all I could say – “Well and busy.” I am well and busy and very much in love with you, my dear.




P.S. I see no harm now in advising the Westfield Leader somewhat as follows:

          “Commander Edward Ellsberg, U.S.N.R. (be sure they include the “R”)

who was promoted again to his former rank of Commander shortly after reenrolling (for Heaven’s sake, see they don’t say “reenlisting”) in the

Navy for active service, has now gone overseas for duty.”


It is not necessary for them to know or to state where, and I think some such statement will help to clarify matters among our acquaintances and friends in Westfield.



Letter # 3

April 10, 1942 (post marked)

March 5, 1942 (written)

Still en route


Lucy darling:


We have been a week at sea today since leaving our last port. On the whole the weather has been surprising. We started practically at the edge of the tropics and tomorrow morning we will cross the Equator, but it has been pleasantly temperate at sea, with no hot days. And that in spite of the fact that the sun is higher overhead than it ever gets in Westfield in mid-summer. It must be the tradewinds, which blow steadily here, are tempering our climate. At any rate, instead of baking at sea, we are having really remarkable weather, with beautifully deep blue water and some really heavenly evenings under the stars and the moon that make it a crying shame to spend alone. No question, for those who are good sailors, this trip would make the ideal honeymoon. (And I think we are both good sailors).


I regret to say that I’d hardly recommend the ship itself for the voyage, and still less, her officers and crew. I think this voyage all around is the damnedest I have ever been on.


Part of the trouble lies in the fact the vessel is not operated by the Navy nor by the government – she is simply a merchantman on which the government has bought all the passenger space and furnished the passengers. Consequently she is manned and operated by her owners, the Agwi Co. (the Atlantic, Gulf, and West Indies Co.), and so far as I can judge, they are doing a first class job of gypping the government, and the passengers.


The service is terrible and the menu reminds one of what might seem appropriate to a gang of laborers building a railroad in winter – frankfurters and cabbage, corned beef & cabbage, beef stew, baked ham – more or less in rotation twice a day with soggy potatoes, thoroughly awash spinach, and lots of carrots. And this in the tropics!


Frankly I don’t eat much of it and get along nicely, but it is a damned waste of the government’s money and an imposition on the passengers.


There have been complaints galore, and the Chief Steward is (under Army advice) going now to try to devise a more sensible menu, though he is much handicapped by the lack of variety in the provisions given him in New York.


Aside from the above, the crew appears surly, inefficient, and unwilling to work. This, the ship's officers assert, is a result of the C.I.O. union which controls the crew. It is certainly obvious that the ship’s officers do not control the crew. As a result the dining room service resembles a lumber camp, and the decks never get cleaned. The latter got so bad, the passengers are washing down decks themselves. The crew apparently claims they can’t do it in their regular 8 hour day, and want overtime if they tackle the job.


Taking it all in all, I should say this voyage between Agwi officials, ship’s officers, and crew present the American merchant marine in a very sad light.


Fortunately, we have an unusual passenger list aboard, perfectly capable of doing everything from navigating the ship to washing the dishes and quite ready to take over and run the ship if necessary. As a fact, since the vessel is on a military mission in wartime, the ship’s officers have been warned that if necessary exactly that will be done.


Friday, March 6


We have seen very little traffic since the start of this leg of our voyage, not over three ships in seven days, and we sheered away from all of them. Yesterday afternoon, however, when a little north of the Equator, we sighted two warships on the westerly horizon and they both started for us. Considering our location, I never had any particular doubts as to their nationality. In about thirty minutes they both overhauled us and signaled us to stop for identification. The destroyer (one of our large destroyer leaders) came fairly close alongside covering us with all her guns, while the cruisers (one of our light cruiser class) lay about a mile off, similarly aiming at us.


We passed inspection, of course, so the destroyer signaled us to proceed, with a parting “Good luck.”


At 4 AM this morning, we crossed the Equator. Consequently, at 10 AM, we had the traditional ceremony of initiation into Neptune’s kingdom of all those who had not previously crossed, (including me).


Neptune’s Court was quite something, with Amphitrik’s breasts (made of two large glass balls, green to starboard and red to port) giving her quite a startling feminine appearance. The neophytes were shaved with a wooden razor, lathered with God knows what, and washed clean of all earthly taints in lots of salt water. Quite an effective ceremony. So now I’m a shellback.


About all I have to do to complete my marine education is to round the Horn. We had a heavy tropical rain this afternoon.


Saturday, March 7


Another gorgeous day at sea – marvelous blue water, balmy breezes and a clear sky. At noon the sun was practically vertically overhead but it has not been hot.


The Southern Cross is now fairly well above the horizon at night and we have sunk the North Star. However, the Southern Cross has not much to commend it for beauty, being neither very brilliant nor a very good cross.


Sunday, March 8


We are heading now for our port at the end of our second leg (and longest one). 2700 miles since leaving our last port. This next port is in the country Isabel Rockwell recently graced with her presence, but much north of where she stayed. (all the above to avoid mentioning the name of the port, which probably, will be nevertheless postmarked on this envelope (Ed: it was not). It is the port which originally we were scheduled to make in this country, and our last before we shove off for our final seaport.


Today is again a marvelous day, with a slight sea only, a clearcut horizon, and everything blue overhead as well as round about in the water.


If we get in early enough, this letter should be posted this evening. We should make port about 6 PM, and may possibly get ashore tonight. About one day, I judge, will be our stop.


For the present, that is all about what is happening to me. I wonder how everything is going at home and how you are. I trust since my departure you have been able to rest somewhat and settle down into a less nerve-racking state than when I was scheduled to shove off every other day.


It is too bad we were not better advised as to our itinerary, for then I might have had an airmail letter waiting me in our pending port. As it is, I suppose I have to wait till I get where we left the sheiks awaiting our return.


Later Sunday


We are now off the port.


Much love, Ned



Letter #4

March 10, 1942




Dropping all pretense since I now know that all mail going out of here is postmarked, we are in Pernambuco.


We arrived late Sunday afternoon but did not actually get alongside a dock and disembark until Monday.


I found Pernambuco a far pleasanter place than our last port – much cleaner, far more modern, and, oddly enough, cooler.


We arrived here on what we were told were the hottest days of their summer, but found the place reasonably comfortable.


The usual South American architecture is here, with most of the buildings stucco or cement in pastel shades. There is nothing startling in Pernambuco in the way of historical places and the major cathedral seems unusually gingerbready inside.


They do have some modern hotels and various good restaurants, in which it was a relief to go for a change from the idiotic menu of this ship.


We had two days here really – Monday and Tuesday. We should have fueled Monday and been on our way then, but like everything connected with this blundering cruise, it appears the owners had made no definite arrangements to fuel her here, so the day was lost while various cables fled back and forth to the U.S. about the oil. Today that was arranged and we finished oiling the early part of the afternoon and might have sailed this evening if our skipper in a childish fit had not decided to hold the ship till morning. He has the most irrational fears, and I’ll be well pleased to see the last of him, his inefficient crew, his owners, and his Alice in Wonderland method of trying to run a ship – all of which should have come to pass before you receive this letter.


We should be about eight days on our next leg.


With much love, Ned


P.S. I mailed you a small souvenir from here today.  E.E.



Letter #5

March 17, 1942


Lucy dearest:


We are about 2/3 of the way along on the last leg of our sea voyage – by Friday night we should make our African port. From our first day out on this leg, we have been running eastward just 21/2 degrees south of the Equator. For practically six days the Equator has been right on our port beam with our bow due east and the weather has been really remarkable – blue skies, blue water, flying fish, a phosphorescent wake at night, burning stars – and no moon.


This last is especially appreciated, as frankly I feel much better when we can run at night totally blacked out and unilluminated by moonlight. This is the general area where the Zamzam and the Robin Moor were sunk by raiders last year, and it’s just as well not to be visible at night at all. As for U-boats, this appears to be an unlikely spot for their activities, as I imagine they are unlikely to get so far away from Dakar where probably they refuel.


We still keep an active watch day and night at the guns – if we ever sight anything hostile we should be able to put up quite a scrap, though against torpedoes, guns aren’t worth much as the U-boats fire nowadays while submerged.


It is amazing how out of the world we are while at sea on this ship. We never get any radio news reports, for the ship’s radio set is kept constantly on the emergency SOS receiving wavelength and consequently is never tuned in on any long or short wave broadcasts. The use of all other radio receiving sets (portables) is strictly prohibited, as such sets themselves send out electrical waves while receiving, which a U-boat can pick up with a direction finder.


So we run along at about the speed of the old time sailing ships (11.5 knots) and know just as little about what is happening.


The friction between passengers and captain on this ship has increased if anything. I doubt whether the skipper of this ship has ever been on the deep sea before – he has spent the last 16 years anyway in the Merchants and Miners Line running up and down the coast between Miami, Baltimore, and Boston, where the second mate assures me, no one ever took a sight to his knowledge for seven years, and he didn’t even have a sextant.


Thursday, March 19


We have been heading northeast since yesterday afternoon, pointed at last for our last port. Judging from our position at noon today, we should make it by late afternoon tomorrow, as we are only 346 miles away.


We are now inside the Gulf of Guinea, which once was the center of the slave trade. The weather has warmed up, being now about 90°, and as the breeze is practically astern, we are getting little relative wind and the heat is more noticeable. However, it is still reasonably comfortable in the shade. That we have made such a long voyage in the tropics and been really cool until today is sufficient cause for thanks even if it now gets hot.


The skipper for some reason has become afraid of air attack, now that we are closer in, and requested of General Scott that the military lookout be doubled during the night. I volunteered and consequently stood a watch from midnight till dawn atop the pilothouse, but sighted nothing at all except a lovely array of stars which of themselves repaid the effort and the loss of sleep.


We are now getting concerned as to what will be the transportation situation out of port and overland to Cairo. Supposedly planes should take us out and according to our information in New York, I should shortly get out by plane. I certainly hope so, for I imagine we will find this port a damned hot place – just north of the Equator with the sun just getting into north declination and consequently starting summer there day after tomorrow by being practically overhead every day.


It seems a little unbelievable but we will have traveled about 6900 miles by a somewhat circuitous route when we arrive tomorrow – thirty-two days on the sea. And there is about 3000 miles more to go by air before arriving at Cairo and another thousand to Massawa.


Friday, March 20


In port at last!


We made a beautiful landfall at 2 PM today, coming in from the deep sea to hit the entrance to the harbor squarely on the nose. I got up at 3:30 this morning and got some star sights to fix our position exactly while still 129 miles at sea, and from that position (as palmed off on the Captain by the third mate) we changed course so that we hit this entrance exactly.


The African coast here has a beautiful stretch of beach and so far looks very inviting, with palm trees, lovely homes, a yacht club, and what other appurtenances of English colonial life you’ve read about.


We steamed some miles up the river to the port itself, arriving off our berth at 3 PM. The tugs are now engaged in pushing us alongside.


As a grim reminder of what’s going on, just at the harbor entrance were the two masts of a ship protruding from the water – just the tips of her two masts with some shrouds showing and nothing else. She struck a mine and was sunk there at the very end of her voyage.


Too bad I haven’t one of my salvage ships here. We could go right to work on her.


I suppose by tonight I may have some information about my departure for Cairo. I’ll write about that as soon as I learn.


With much love, my darling, Ned



Letter #6

March 21, 1942


Lucy darling:


We arrived safely at our last seaport Friday. To my surprise, efficient arrangements were made here on our arrival and I am going out this (Saturday) morning on the first plane to the city where Mary was invited to come back for her honeymoon. I should be there by Monday night (March -–censored).


I don’t know how long I’ll be there before moving on to my ultimate station.


I arrived here after the cable office closed last night. I’m leaving direct from the ship without a chance to make the one hour trip to the cable office this morning. I’m trying to make arrangements with another officer to send one for me, for I haven’t much hope of actual accomplishment. So if you don’t get a cable, you’ll know at least every effort was made to send one. And the same may apply to future cases. Don’t worry.


With love, Ned


P.S. We are now about to shove off.


Saturday morning.



Letter #7

March 22, 1942


En route by air


Lucy darling:


We got away by air yesterday morning (Saturday) from our disembarkation port. I went off in the first plane with General …….. and the ranking Army officers.


I may say I left the S.S.--------- with no regrets. That we got in safely was with no thanks to her skipper, who, thank God, says he is going to retire after this trip. He should never have left his coasting and gone to sea. (Pardon the blot – we have just finished climbing a few thousand feet over the desert, and it has affected my pen.)


We were cleared coming into port by the British seamen in the port, who seemed glad to see us, and as we passed the Governor’s mansion, the guard was turned out in our honor – four bare-footed blacks who stood most rigidly at “Present Arms.”


I saw very little of the port itself – getting ashore only after dark for the first decent meal in a month at the Hotel Grande (there’s one in every foreign city). Our last night on the ship was hot and humid. It was a pleasure to leave.


We took off by plane – all of us officers except one passenger, a Hindoo whom we picked up there in the port. He had just come by air via clipper from the ……., and we learned to our astonishment that this Hindoo, who was a dead ringer in appearance, age, and manner, for Mahatma Gandhi, had been with one of our lieutenants aboard a clipper bound west (the Hindoo for India) when they pulled into Hawaii the day the bombs fell, and the clipper ended its voyage then and there while the Hindoo wept. Apparently he was now going home the other way round the world, and as he hardly weighed 80 lbs. complete, they took him aboard our plane as involving practically no extra weight. Like the late lamented Chamberlain, he traveled firmly attached to an umbrella (though it’s drier than Hades around here) and a cane.


The plane, which had been stranding in the sun over an hour before we boarded it, was hotter than an oven inside, and before we took off, we were all wringing wet with perspiration. The pilot promptly went up to 9000 feet, at which elevation, it was cold enough so my shipmates started putting on their overcoats. I first stripped down to nothing and changed even my undershirt (which I hung up to dry) before I followed suit.


We moved along……and when we stopped for lunch it was …. miles inside the coast, at, what surprised me, was a town of perhaps a million people with all the domiciles huge apartment houses built of mud and resembling very much the Indian pueblos of the Southwest. And never have I seen the blacks so utterly black – so much so in fact they seemed to have a bluish tinge.


We had lunch at the officers’ mess of the air force (guess whose) and I managed from one of them to get a little news of what’s going on in the world. The place was hot (temperature 105° in the shade) but dry.


On our take-off, we stood inland again till late afternoon, with somewhat bumpier riding which gave me a headache (eye-strain, I think) and made some of the other passengers air sick.


We came down in the early evening for the night. (They do no night flying on this route). There was a town around but we stayed at the air company’s station outside of it, and slept outside under the stars in beds with real mattresses screened individually under mosquito nets (no mosquitoes, however). We had a grand dinner – spinach soup, creamed, fried chicken, roast beef………….and real apple pie with cheese! …….cooked and nicely served. Shades of the S.S……. How we fell on that dinner!


It grew dark quite early and I turned in at 8 PM under the Equatorial stars. It was already cool, and shortly I had to pull the blanket over me. I slept like a rock till 4:30 AM – the beds on our late ship had mattresses like rocks, (pardon the repetition), but they didn’t encourage sleep. After breakfast (pancakes and real maple sirup) we all gathered at a bus in the early twilight for our trip back to the airport. We counted noses to be sure all hands were there, but our Hindoo was missing. However, that did not seem to bother our bus driver who said it was OK to shove off without him – Mahatma Gandhi was staying there on business. All of which seemed odd, but we departed for the plane once more.


After boarding it, with the door shut, before the take-off the pilot informed us Gandhi would go no further – late the night before……….which they promptly did, and searched his baggage. What they found there I don’t know, but beneath the ferrules on the ends of both his cane and his umbrella, they found closely rolled up strips of paper with messages and in a little medicine box, some more in German. So there on the edge of the desert we left him – weeping worse, I’ll bet, than when his plane in Honolulu failed to carry him further along toward India and sedition.




We took off just at sunrise and since have been flying mostly over desert country – nothing green whatever, with the earth looking dry and burned with only this continent’s version of sage-brush and desert trees. A little after the take-off with the sun well up, the pilot flew lower (at about 800 feet) so we could see the scenery. We saw a couple of lions loping through the brush, some half dozen ostriches, crossed a river with a few crocodiles, (the river seemed out of place, for Heaven knows where the water comes from) saw a few gazelles, and plenty of fine dry riverbeds all of sand.


We are now back at about 5000 feet and flying smoothly along going east with the southern edge of the desert spread out below us flat as a pancake.


We saw plenty of native villages once we got clear of the green belt near the coast – all the huts made circular of mud walls topped with a conical thatch and each little village set in a circular wall - to keep the animals out, I suppose. The blacks are black here, as well as tall, erect and with the most marvelous sets of teeth which positively glisten when they open their mouths. And the usual costume seems to be a white flour sack with three holes cut in it for the wearer’s head and his arms, though there are plenty of natives with long white (that is, once upon a time) togas. And every burden is carried on the head. The pilot told us he gave a black woman a note to carry into town. She put the slip of paper on her head, put a stone on it to hold it down, and off she went! You see a few fezzes, but usually everyone is bareheaded.


This letter goes to the pilot of our plane, who when we land for lunch in more or less the middle of this continent, promises to turn it over to one of the air ferry command pilots who’ll take it back home.


We are now flying over terrain which is beginning to be mountainous – our plane at about 7000 feet and the mountains so far, a few thousand feet high rising out of sandy desert, with the ridges treeless and quite rugged.


And now we are crossing a mountain range rising from 7000 to 9000 feet, with the peaks quite jagged, burned very brown, and no vegetation in sight. (No snow, either, they all look too hot for that.) We are at about 8000 feet, with the air quite bumpy and the plane bouncing around in a lively fashion. Whoever invented that one about riding on air had obviously never been up in a plane when the air currents were rising off hot mountain peaks.


And now we are mostly over with the desert stretching out again on either side – hot, yellow, and barren. Even the Mojave desert had much on this. (The air is still bumpy).


And now we are out in another country (which in a way includes our present destination of tomorrow night), and we are about to land for lunch.


With much love, Ned



Letter #8

March 23, 1942


En route by air


Lucy dearest:


We are still underway for our immediate land destination, where I hope I shall in a few hours now find some letters from you. It seems (and is) a long time since I heard anything at all from you and Mary – the longest period by far since 1917.


We spent last …….. near which Chinese Gordon died and Earl Kitchener earned his title. We got in rather late, so it was dark by the time we were able to visit the city. The major attraction for me was a statue of Chinese Gordon astride, not a horse, but a camel – the first equestrian statue I ever saw which might claim any real novelty. As examined by flashlight (the one Ed Smith gave me) it stood boldly out against the night sky, a really magnificent bronze.


As regards the rest, what I could see of the city was not much. It seemed modern enough in its way, with street cars, a cinema showing Jean Arthur in “The Devil & Miss Jones” and a cathedral which (even closed) seemed quite impressive outside. As a change from the ….there was alongside the church….canteen run by the ….where, believe it or not, …..milk shakes! Good ones, too. …..influence, I think, of America…stationed in this region.


Aft…was nothing else open but a ….which had a performance very….of one we saw years ago in….at 11 PM the light went out,…..we departed for our quarters….miles outside the town, in what, I am told, was a girl’s college before the war. We slept in one of the ex-dormitories. They must have had the girls living on a high spiritual plane in that college, for the beds (cots) had rope for springs and the pillows consisted of short cylindrical rolls packed hard with straw which gave me a pain alternately in each ear as I rolled from side to side.


………is the ultimate in deserts – a wide spread ocean of hot sands glistening beneath the sun all yellow and red with occasional outcrops of barren rock rising here and there through the sands like little islands in the sea. Away it stretches in all directions for thousands of miles, with dust clouds drifting lazily along far below us. Where we are, at…………………with not the slightest sign………………kind on them. And we………….any sort of animal life since……….we parted from the river……sand in waves………

flowing down the……….. like glaciers…….. blown so high that……mountain tops are…

completely buried in it to… I can well believe that nowhere on earth or in the sea or air can one find an area so absolutely devoid of any form of life whatever – no birds, no animals, no men, no vegetation – just burning sand and blackened rock.




We arrived in the early afternoon to be met by personnel from the Army headquarters. Oddly enough I was then assigned to the Hotel Continental where rooms had been reserved for us, and I swear I have a room directly opposite the one we occupied back in 1936 when we were here before.


And now things are starting to move fast. I have an invitation to dinner with the general commanding for tomorrow night and I suppose I’ll be moving on in a day or so.


Much love, Ned


P.S. I found one letter from you (date Feb. 24) and one from Mary (date Feb. 20) awaiting me.

I suggest you number your letters.



Letter #9

March 24, 1942

In Egypt




Here I am back where we once all were together, even to the same hotel, and how I wish it were so again!


I have been busy today reporting, getting my pay accounts taken care of (I’m now on both Army and Navy payrolls), and seeing to a few other official matters. So I haven’t done any sightseeing at all, not yet at any rate.


I now know that I am leaving here Friday by air for my final destination, with probably an intermediate stop for a day or so in that higher and cooler city which will be our summer resort. They tell me they have a very nice house on the shore picked out for my residence and think I should be comfortable there. I trust so.


The weather here is delightful – as a matter of fact, I’m wearing blues today and feeling quite at home in them.



I understand that after a few weeks on my job, I am to be ordered to the city where Matt maintains his official residence, there to spend a few days getting acquainted with the fellow members of my service there and their problems, so that on my return to my own station they’ll know me and I’ll know them.


Several things have occurred in a financial way. I see that my per diem allowance here which will be $6 per diem and quarters, or $10 a day without them, should certainly cover my local needs. Consequently, I requested a change in my allotment home from $425, which it now should be, to $540 which it should become with the payment made you on May 1, provided of course the revised form gets to the appropriate bureau by April 20, which is by no means certain. If it doesn't the increased allotment should start the first of the following month.


I am now informed also that Congress has authorized an increase in pay for those on foreign service, which amount to 10% on base pay, equaling about $40 monthly. When that officially reaches the finance officer here, I’ll add that also to my allotment home.


March 26, Thursday


You can use your own judgment about what to do with the extra money, as to investing it when enough has accumulated or using all or part of it for current expenses.


I am also enclosing a Treasury Department form which gives you power to endorse and collect Treasury checks made out in my name. This may prove of some use to you. If used, the checks should be signed

                    “Mrs. Lucy Buck Ellsberg,



You might see the bank about this before you use it. The original form should be mailed by you immediately on receipt to the Treasury Dept., Treasurer, U.S. Accounting Division and the duplicate kept by you for reference when needed.


I am enclosing also two Treasury checks totaling $353, one for my reimbursement for traveling (per diem) and one for my pay up to my arrival here. Please deposit them.


I sent you a cable (or radio) Tuesday about my arrival, which the Marconi office said would be delivered within 48 hours. I am also informed the Army people cabled a general notice to the mission headquarters requesting notice of arrival be sent to the homes of those in my party. You may get two notices.


For whatever reason, I found here a new notice about mail addresses for the members of this Mission. I come in the area indicated in the last paragraph, APO 815, %Postmaster, etc.


I had dinner Tuesday night with General Maxwell and a small party, including the American Naval Attaché. Pleasant time, with a long ride back alongside the Nile with the moon shining over it. Maxwell impresses me very favorably.


Yesterday I met Brigadier General Adler, second in the Mission, who heads its air corps activities. If I’m not mistaken, during peace time he owns and heads the New York Times.


Today, if I can get my things pulled together, I’ll try to get a few hours for a look at what’s around Cairo.


With love, Ned



Letter #10

March 29, 1942




Lucy dear:


Just a line to let you know I am leaving here early tomorrow morning by air for…..via……This time I’m going in a British plane. I should be in……Tuesday.


Tonight I went out to look again at the Pyramids by moonlight, with some regrets for the lack of the company I had the last time I saw them so. Both the Pyramids and the Sphinx looked lovely beneath the Egyptian moon.


I’ll write more fully from…….


With love, Ned



Letter #11

April 2, 1942



Lucy darling:


I am at last at my journey’s end. Having arrived here, Tuesday, March 31, just six weeks after embarking from home.


I came over the mountains by plane from …………….. flying at 11000 feet the latter part of the way to clear some really rugged (and completely barren) mountains. We landed at …………. last Monday afternoon, which city, at an elevation of 7500 feet, I found quite cool, quite modern (even modernistic), and rather green. ………….is headquarters for ……..and no doubt even………..summer, will be pleasantly………..


Tuesday I was driven down by auto to…………about 70 miles away. The road is quite an engineering marvel, dropping 7000 feet in 30 miles with some breath-taking switchbacks. Mussolini built it for his Ethiopian campaign, ………….via………….being the main entrance to Haile Selassie’s domain, and his engineers did a grand………..job - guarding all the curves just about as well as was done on the road up Cadillac (Ed: Bar Harbor, ME), and maybe better.


So Tuesday, about the middle of the morning I arrived at long last to get my first view of my station. Frankly, I was surprised. The location of…..(don’t look too closely at the)……lovely, with the…….all blue and green sparkling…….background and a cool breeze blowing off the water over the naval base.


………..domiciled temporarily at the naval station in a very modern officers’ quarters building right on the water’s edge – quite a pleasant room with a …….beautiful ocean view, and best of all, a breeze (usually).


I should say that right now we are having what would be June weather at home – I have long since discarded a coat and the uniform is strictly khaki shirts.


In……I laid in one of those pith helmets without which no tropical tale or movie is complete and now that is my standard headgear. It comes well down over my neck in back, which I find is very necessary, and is light and comfortable besides.


To complete my tropical setting, I now also have a houseboy, one Ahmed Hussein, who is an inky black Sudanese (not to be confused with American negroes who were west African). Now Ahmed and I completely don’t understand each other, since he talks Arabic and I don’t. I am however, getting pretty good at pantomime, and perhaps he’ll pick up some English. Meanwhile he makes my bed, shines my shoes, sees my laundry gets sent, and shines up my automobile (how he loves to shine that car). I should have mentioned that I have a new 1942 (aren’t you jealous!) Chevrolet sedan assigned me here.


There is a British naval captain (retired) in charge of the British naval station here, with a fair sized staff of British officers. They have taken over what……………………… ……………………………………………….


I went out yesterday in a launch to survey my salvage job for the first time. This should certainly be a salvage man’s paradise, for the wrecks are laid out in neat rows (as many as seven ships in line in one row) with all kinds of salvage jobs to suit all tastes. There are ships barely submerged with their masts and stacks upright, and others flat on their sides, partly or wholly submerged. I find there are several sizable ships sunk off the port which were not even previously listed, and then there are sunken drydocks, sunken lighters and plenty else.


We haven’t started any actual salvage work, since the first salvage ships won’t be here for a month yet, but I hope when some divers arrive to start submerged inspections in a few weeks.


Meanwhile I wonder what’s happened to the mail service. I have received a total of exactly one letter from you and one from Mary (dates Feb. 20 & Feb. 24) which I found in……..and nothing here at all.


You might try sending a letter via the U.S.M.N.A.M. office in Washington simultaneously with one via that trick address in the New York post office. The Washington letters are supposed to come by air service to Africa (you don’t have to put airmail stamps on them). Why it should take more than two weeks, I can’t imagine, unless the New York (and regular mail) post office letters are put aboard slow tubs like the………You might inquire at the New York post office as to how they forward letters; also whether if you put a transatlantic airmail stamp on, would they actually get transatlantic air service and air service across Africa to…..& then……(Mail certainly goes by air from…….to here, via……..


Meanwhile I should like to have the following items boxed up for ocean shipment to me here. The box can be turned over to Johnson, Drake & Piper in New York for shipment to me:


The small tool kit in a black leather case in my bureau drawer at home. (Or a better kit which you might purchase if convenient).

An unbreakable thermos bottle, either a quart or a pint, if such things are still available.

A regular thermos bottle, if unbreakable ones are not available.

A thermos jug, if it seems such a thing can stand the trip. (About 1 pint size).

……electric coffee percolator. (About a two cup size). I’m getting more than fed up with the damned boiled to death continental coffee they serve here (and the awful boiled milk that goes with it. I’ll make my own and drink it black).

About 3 one lb cans of sealed Maxwell House coffee.

One hygrometer (or wet and dry bulb humidity indicator, similar generally to what Ed Smith has and which I once borrowed. Do not send the hygrometer I left in my study.

One thermometer capable of reading to not less than 132° F.

Two small brushes of the kind used to clean electric razors. (Jarvis should have these).

One Navy cap device in gold and silver plate. These are now made completely of metal, (not embroidered on a black cap band as formerly) and should be available in military uniform shops such as the All-Bilt Uniform Co. on Nassau St., New York; Brooks Uniform Co., 43rd(?) St. & Sixth Ave.; and others. I want this to put on the front of my pith helmet.

Two sets of service ribbons, made up on bars suitable for use on white or khaki uniforms. Each set to consist of the following three ribbons:

Navy (not Army) Distinguished Service Medal.

Navy Mexican Campaign Badge

Victory (or World War) Medal

In addition to the two bars made up, enough ribbon in addition to recover each bar when the ribbons on it wear out.


One ordinary, garden variety type of whiskbroom for brushing clothes.


Friday, April 3


I drove to…….this morning for a conference. It’s a lovely drive of about 21/2 hours, and cool most of the way…… a queer town just now, mostly Italian, with Italian officers in full uniform (on parole) all over the streets, all the shops run by Italians, and Italian traffic cops directing traffic. It all looks very amicable, and on the surface as little…..a captured city as might be imagined. The one difficulty with it is that the shops have next to nothing to sell. (………is worse) so if one wants something, one gets it from home or goes without.


With much love, Ned



Letter #12

April 16, 1942


(Ed: This letter is heavily censored and it appears the bulk of it is missing).


………merely hot and reasonably…….freely. We are all starting to take salt tablets, which apparently have been found exceedingly helpful in hot places like blast furnaces in steel mills where the heat prostrations of workmen have been radically reduced by their use. Up to the present moment I have been very well and not particularly bothered by the heat. I find a sun helmet a highly practical headgear all day long, however.  The usual daily temperature is now about 85° to 90° F in the shade. I understand we haven’t seen anything yet.


I spent last Saturday night…….where I had to sleep under blankets……quite an altitude.


Meanwhile our rest camp at………altitude…… coming along, and should be available in about a month.


I found the two Star class racing sloops here for which I ordered sails in New York. The hulls need plenty of work as the paint is all gone; I hope to have them ready when the sails get here. After that, the ……..Yacht Club will be organized and we’ll start our summer series of boat races – with two entries. Tell Gerald Foster (Ed: an illustrator who illustrated some of Ellsberg’s works and did an etching of small sloops racing that is owned by Ted Pollard) if he wants a job out here, I’ll hire him and he can crew in one of the sloops. However, I think we’ll have no lack of candidates for crew. (Ed: the rest of the letter is censored).



Letter #13

April 19, 1942





Your letter of March 7 arrived Friday morning and I had meant to answer it that night only when evening came we had a tropical hurricane that nearly blew……..away. It rained in buckets and the wind blew so hard it took the roof entirely off our office building, soaked all our plans and papers, and left the roads roundabout the buildings looking as if the place had been heavily bombed, from all the debris from roofs. Of course we lost all the lights and power, and in the officers’ mess where I had gone for dinner you would think it was raining right through the roof. To cap all, it actually hailed – big hailstones, too. I guess it must have blown about 100 miles an hour while it lasted, which was for two hours.


Nobody got hurt though, and the next morning we managed to clean up and get our powerhouse going again so we looked reasonably respectable. I reacquisitioned all the roofing material in town, and the mechanics are all busy reroofing now. Fortunately none of our machinery was damaged and when we get new roofs on, everything will be all right again.


They say they haven’t had a storm like this in thirty years, so if it’s thirty to the next one, we’ll all be gone from here before we see the like. Which will be perfectly all right with me.



I did take my Westfield check book with me. The only stubs in it are #3875, spoiled; 3876, P.R.R. for $310.25; 3877, P.R.R. for $7.62; and 3878, Coll. Int. Rev. for $264.81. That’s all. They have all been deducted from your check book balance. I do not expect I’ll draw any more.


I’m glad your accounting worked out correctly. Mine usually required some search for errors before it balanced.


Your talking about spring in the air reminds me that we don’t have such a season here. Our April temperature is quite equable – it is remarkably steady, day or night, between 86° and 90°. But the humidity is high always. I don’t know what, having no hygrometer. However, between a sun helmet, salt tablets, and plenty of water, I haven’t minded the heat especially yet. What it will feel like when it gets above 100° regularly, remains to be seen.


We are busy as usual, repairing smashed Italian machinery and making fair progress, which should shortly improve with more men arriving.


……..has its points. It is really lovely looking out over the…….about noontime when there is usually a breeze blowing in from the ocean, while along the coastline are mountains about 3000 feet high and visible farther back are long ridges of peaks rising some 13000 feet. And all along the sea are Arab Dows under sail, which make you think you are watching a regatta in progress.


So far as I can see, there is no objection now to telling any of our friends where I am. The…………………………………………………in any way.


You might tell Ed Smith his gift of a flashlight has proved very useful. I used it in the ship blackouts, in Cairo likewise, and now I sleep with it under my pillow just in case.


If it’s all over with Mike, I have no regrets.


By the way, if you have not shipped the things I asked for, you might throw in a single slice Toastmaster.


Life is in a way a gay affair around here, even though there are no amusements. We employ Eritreans (some form of negro), Italians who are prisoners of war, and Americans. And we have our problems with all of them. The Eritreans are a shiftless lot, working under the………………… work at all, which is seldom, the Italians do a so-so job, most of them, though some seem to realize how lucky they are to get paid at all, and try to show it in their work; and the Americans are really working very hard, only some of them on Saturday night are inclined to get soused and smack the local MPs (who are British soldiers) and create international problems for me to solve, on which, being Sunday, I have been working all day.


…………now, it being 11 PM to bed.


With much love, Ned



Letter #14

April 30, 1942



Lucy darling:


Your letter of Mar. 26 arrived a few days ago, just thirty days on the way.


About the cables, I sent one from San Juan; one (I believe I may be wrong on this) from Pernambuco; one from Lagos; one from Cairo; and finally another (probably also marked Cairo) announcing my arrival here. How many were ever delivered? You have only mentioned the 1st one from Cairo and none of those preceding it.


Thanks for the subscriptions to Life, the Reader’s Digest, and Newsweek. That will be quite sufficient. I don’t care for the New Yorker.


Thanks for the news on Ed & Sally. I’m sure Ed will do more good with Bethlehem than in Wall Street.


Sorry you said some time ago you couldn’t get a fourth tire retreaded for the LaSalle. I would suggest that if you still can’t get it, you tell Leo to put two good treads on the rear tires, and use as the front tires a pair of (recently) unretreaded tires that match each other, using perhaps your present spare and a match to it from the collection of tires in the basement.


As usual we are very busy here, but I can already begin to see results, which is heartening. However, my ships are still on the way, so the wrecks are undisturbed as yet.


We’ve had a lot of high-ranking British visitors about whom I’ve had to show over the place. If a few more come, I’ll begin to feel like a barker in a sideshow.


It’s hot as usual, but not bad yet. Average daily temperature, about 93°; nightly average, about 90°. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.


Yesterday I had a room air conditioner put in my room, and it went to work. It reduced the room temperature only about 4°, to say 88°, but it certainly did things to the humidity. The drip from the cooling coil is so large, that a pint of water is being removed from the air in my room every forty minutes. Meanwhile the room itself feels decidedly cool, and last night for the first time, since all the doors and windows were kept shut, I slept without a mosquito net canopy over my bed. Which was in itself a vast improvement, for it is necessary to use so fine a mesh here that being enclosed in a mosquito net is like being shut up inside a cabinet, so far as air circulation is concerned.


The air conditioner I am trying now is a York window type machine. We also have a more powerful machine, a Westinghouse floor cabinet model, which I’ll try in a day or two. It’s bigger and should do an even better job. Meanwhile, blessings on the air conditioner man. I woke up this morning not covered with perspiration, for the first time since reaching Massawa. (I hadn’t even been using pajamas lately, but last night I wore them and even slept under a sheet!)


With love, Ned




Letter #15


May 4, 1942


Lucy darling:


Your letter (#4) of Apr. 12 arrived today, the fastest delivery yet. Perhaps it was speeded along by your recollections (and mine) of the day long ago when I dropped my ring in the soup.


And speaking of that ring, I wonder what luck you may have had with Bailey, Banks and Biddle (Ed: Philadelphia jewelers) about getting me a duplicate? I think it would be of some real service here, where symbols seem to have more than ordinary importance. If you get it, better be sure it comes out via the diplomatic mail pouch through Washington, accompanied by a separate letter the same way and another via regular air mail advising me of its dispatch, so if anything goes wrong with the ring parcel, I can proceed to trace it back.


Meanwhile, if it’s not too much trouble, I could use the following:


3 pairs of khaki shorts, size 32 waist and not over 22 inches long from waist to end of leg. (I’ve shrunk somewhat about the stomach in the heat out here, and none of my trousers fit anymore. Thank God, I haven’t lost anything anywhere else, however).


6 pairs of white shorts, same sizes. These should be of some material similar to that used in white uniforms.


1 doz. white shirts, the open neck type, where the collar folds back in front, with collars attached. I have not been able to wear a single white shirt I have, since all have separate collars, and that type is quite impossible here. No one ever wears a necktie with any kind of shirt (it’s all open throat exposure for comfort) and without a necktie a separate collar is impossible for looks, let alone its other drawbacks. So I haven’t worn whites of any kind at all here yet – always khaki – though whites would go well on some occasions. The white shirts should be of some plain material and plain weave that will stand the scrubbing well – nothing fancy wanted.


1 doz. pairs of khaki socks for wear with shorts – the kind of socks that run up just under your knees. These should be of light weight material (but not thin silk). Lisle or light weight wool is all right, but I don’t want any heavy weights. Size of shoe, #7; length of socks from bottom of heel to top of fold under knee as worn, about 15 inches, and not over 16 inches.


1 doz. pairs of white socks for wear with white shorts. All the comment above about khaki applies to these also.


4 pairs of khaki trousers, waist 32, length of trouser leg from crotch to heel, 29 inches.

½ doz. khaki shirts, regulation uniform for Navy, size 151/2, sleeve 31 or 32 (it doesn’t matter since I have the sleeves cut off at the elbow here).


You can get all the above khaki things at the All Bilt Uniform Co., just off Broadway on Nassau St. (or Fulton or thereabouts, east of Broadway a few doors, second floor). You may also get the white shorts there and maybe the socks too.


1 doz. white handkerchiefs.


I imagine all the above had best go by parcel post via the N.Y. post office, though it might be well to check with Johnson, Drake & Piper to see whether they have a ship going which might get it here sooner.


It is next to impossible to buy any clothes here or I wouldn’t bother you with all the above.


We are getting along with our work here, though under some difficulties due to lack of personnel so far. It is a pleasure to see new things going into operation almost daily, however, and particularly the machinery the Italians thought they had sabotaged so thoroughly as to render it forever useless. It would give Mussolini a sharp pain if he could only see all the machinery of his we have so far restored to service in spite of the sledge hammers the Italians here wielded on it just before the place was captured. Already we have a young navy yard going just on rehabilitated Italian equipment.


We had a few more generals visit us today, and they left much impressed.


So far the heat hasn’t bothered us too much, though the outside humidity is running 92% tonight and the temperature outside somewhere about the same Fahrenheit. I now have another air conditioner (a Westinghouse) model FC-091 which is somewhat larger than the York machine I first tried. This one looks like a rather large radio cabinet and does a better job. I would suggest your getting one installed in the front of our living room if you are going to be there any part of June, and never mind the cost – it’s worth it. What surprises me about it however, is how beautifully cool this room feels, even though the thermometer inside the room assures me the temperature inside is all of 86° F! It’s the reduction in humidity that does the trick – that’s down to 65% as against about 92% outside. But if anyone had ever told me I’d feel cool and comfortable in a room at 86° F, I’d have thought them crazy. As Mary puts it, I should be boiled, but I’m not.


So far I’ve had poor luck with my camera – all the shots turned out so over-exposed they wouldn’t even print. I’ve learned now the sun is so bright here the camera shutter must be stopped down almost closed, or no picture. I’ll see if the next batch doesn’t do better. Meanwhile, an exposure meter of some type might be a help. If you can get a simple one, you might toss it into the box along with the khaki shorts.


I’ve played bridge a few times with some British naval officers here, but so far I have not held a decent hand. It’s a relaxation however, and there’s always hope the next hand will really be something.


I suppose by the time this gets home, it will be June. I should have liked to send you something for June 1 (Ed: their anniversary), but there’s just nothing so far I’ve seen but what would be a waste of postage to send on, so I must wait till I get back to Cairo again, and meanwhile send you only my whole hearted love for you and nothing else.


Affectionately, Ned



Letter #16

May 12, 1942



Lucy dearest:


The package with “I Have Just Begun to Fight” (Ed: his latest book) came last night. It makes a fine looking book and the illustrations are excellent. Congratulate Gerald (Ed: Foster, the illustrator) for me. And now, for his sake at least, I hope it sells well. Let me know what the advance sale and their figures to date on it are.


I received your letter of Feb. 28 a couple of days ago and several days after your letter of April 12. Its comments on Captain Paul, 3rd, are not quite a shock to me. I hardly really believed D.M. (Ed: Dodd, Mead, his publisher) & Co. would go through with that book.


Speaking of packages, however, I may say that a package containing such prosaic things as socks for shorts, for instance, would have given me a bigger thrill.


Matters are beginning to look alive round here and today my three ring circus opens up with performers in every ring. The shops here I have had going for some time. May 8 we inaugurated our drydock by a successful docking and now the dock is busy with one ship following practically on the stern of another through that dock. We have received a congratulatory radio from the British Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, on that.


Today the third and last of the rings opens up with a troupe of divers, absolutely fresh from the United States, presenting a spectacle never before witnessed in any arena, least of all an African one.


So from now on life here should have never a dull moment. (It hasn’t had yet, anyway). I wish you might be here to see it, not to mention me.


With love, my darling, Ned



Letter #17

May 20, 1944


Lucy darling:


Today was rather a red letter day for me around here.


To start with, one of my salvage masters and five divers arrived eleven days ago and I turned to with them to salvage an unusually important craft sunk here by the Italians, who blew seven huge holes in her bottom with high explosives. The British, whose divers examined her last year, had officially abandoned her as unsalvageable.


I started on her as our first venture, and today, ten days after our start, we had her up from the bottom and afloat again, ready in a few days to start repair work on her in our own shops.


So now where a few days ago in the harbor there was nothing, she now rides at anchor, to the very great astonishment of all of our British friends, and over her waves the Stars and Stripes.


To make the day perfect, General Maxwell, head of the North African Mission, came down from Cairo to inspect our naval base, accompanied by the British general commanding in Egypt, the British general commanding Eritrea, and an assorted lot of colonels, both British and American. So we were able to stage quite a show for them, with our drydock housing a large ship, our salvaged vessel up from the deep, fresh in a thick coating of oysters and barnacles, and our ships all running on machinery the Italians thought they had thoroughly sabotaged.


Everything went off beautifully. For the first time, we had hoisted over our naval base the American flag, and I have never felt prouder of it than when this morning (after a very brief speech by me) it was hoisted over our highest building.


Then the visiting brass hats were escorted over the base and taken out in a boat to inspect our exhibits afloat, all of which made quite an impression. On the way back, the British general commanding, who was certainly deeply impressed by what he had seen, told me,


“Commander, I know of no one who is doing as much to help win the

war as you!”


That is laying it on a bit thick, I’ll admit, but it was a pleasant compliment anyway, and our accomplishment on our first salvage job has created quite a sensation around here. As an added cause of amazement, we have been getting ships in and out of our drydock so fast the British have had trouble furnishing ships fast enough for us.


As a final gracious touch to the day, I was invited at lunch to sit at the head of the table with generals on either side and Heaven only knows how much allied army gold lace backing them up down both sides of a long table. So by and large, the Massawa Naval Base had quite a gala day.


Changing the subject somewhat, I was more than gratified to receive a cable the other day from Irita Van Doren & Ogden Reid, with the news of “I Have Just Begun to Fight” having received the Herald Tribune’s Children’s Book Award. That’s grand! And they stated you had represented me at their celebration. More power to Captain Paul, senior and junior. I am especially happy for Gerald’s sake, for I feel his illustrations must have been a powerful factor in getting the award.


I received a lovely letter from Mary with some news of her vacation (dated Apr. 13) today. When you get this, college will long be over. I hope you both go to Maine, at least for part of the summer. It would please me very much if you did, and I could almost feel as if I were enjoying the Maine breezes myself then.


It’s getting hotter here, but so far it hasn’t bothered me, and I can sleep beautifully in my air conditioned room, so I feel fine. I am down to about 150 lbs. Now, and it has all come off the waistline, so none of my trousers fit any more, and I have quite a figure, a model for Apollo almost now.


We are fitting out another building for quarters, into which we’ll move in a couple of weeks, where I’ll have a private kitchenette, replete with refrigerator, electric stove, and whatnot else (provided the things I asked for from the U.S. ever get here). And quite a grand room, with two air conditioners in it!


With much love, Ned



Letter #18

May 30, 1942



Lucy darling:


This letter should be mailed in the United States by Colonel Claterbos, who is returning home by ship from here because of the recurrence of a former heart ailment. He has very kindly consented to take a letter for you, so you should have this by about July 20.


As your letter of May 13, delivered here May 25, stated you had as yet received nothing at all from me since I left Cairo, I may here repeat a few things to make sure you know them.


The mail system from the United States is fair, with most letters coming here in a month, though some take twice that. But the mail from here to the U.S. seems to be terribly slow.


So to cover the situation:


First, I really am well. In spite of everything that has been said of this place, much of which is true, the heat doesn’t bother me; the various diseases, mostly tropical, can be dodged by proper care, which we have; and I don’t drink, which is an avoidance of the cause why most white men disintegrate in the tropics.


Second, I’m busy, so I don’t have time to cogitate on how hot and humid it is, and so worry myself ill over that.


I have plenty to do. We have taken a naval plant which the Italians thought they had thoroughly wrecked, and we have that plant rehabilitated now and running today, so the Massawa Naval Base is in operating condition now instead of having to wait for American machinery, none of which has yet arrived. The Base is as good now as the Italians ever had it; when our new equipment arrives, we’ll have a navy yard that would be a credit to any yard in the U.S.


We have a drydock which the British brought down from the Persian Gulf and turned over to us. I’m running that on American principles, and I think it is the busiest dock in all the world. We’ve had it in operation since May 9. In that time (20 days) we have docked 12 large ships, better than an average of one every two days which was the goal set, though it seemed impossible of achievement with the untrained crew and the miserable native labor I had to work with. But we have beaten our quota, and have run the British ragged trying to send ships here fast enough to keep the dock occupied.


Finally our salvage work has started. On May 10, the first salvage master and five divers arrived by passenger ship from the U.S. We had only two diving suits and no other salvage gear at all, as none of our salvage ships had then arrived.


Salvage operations started therefore on a shoestring. For our first task, I picked out a sunken drydock, because of all types of floating craft today, drydocks are the most valuable and are literally priceless. This dock (larger than the one we are operating) was sunk by the Italians by exploding TNT bombs in the hull and blowing seven huge holes in the bottom sections, through which gashes you could drive a 5 ton truck.


The British had made a diving examination of this dock a year ago when they occupied Massawa, and had officially gone on record as saying the dock was beyond salvage. Possibly it was, with all those holes in it. But nevertheless, we tackled it with our trifling salvage crew and absurd equipment. Naturally I had to use somewhat unconventional methods.


As is usual, all the experts far and near, stood around and laughed. Wheeler, chief of the British Mediterranean Salvage Forces, bet another officer we couldn’t do it. But in nine days from the day we started, that drydock was afloat again, and it is still a nine days wonder around here! Now we are repairing it.


The North African Mission has done lots all over Africa, but nothing it has done has attracted as much attention as that dock.


To me it is a particular satisfaction as showing that I may be nearly seventeen years older than when I tackled the S-51, but I find I have all the energy I had then in running a job plus a great deal more knowledge.


The repercussions of that first salvage success have been considerable. I had quite a carefully built up reputation here before I arrived, which I had some fears I could never live up to, but now the British look on me with some awe, and the funniest thing of all is the enthusiasm which the Italians here have greeted the raising of the dock they sank, because it tickles them to see the Americans do something the British said they couldn’t do.


To go along, the first concrete result was that General Maxwell came here from Cairo with a galaxy of British generals to have a look, and he immediately sent a cable to the United States, a copy of which I enclose as furnished me by Col. Chickering.


(Ed: this is the text of the cable):


          FOR SAMS


          USMNAM ASMARA               US/228          5/21/42







          SHOP AND PUT IT IN


















                                                                             0500/21  GMT


(Ed: A cover memo was attached):


U.S. Military North African Mission

Asmara Service Command

Routing Slip          (dated May 22 1942)


          “General Maxwell desired that this copy of radiogram be furnished you.

          We all join in the chorus. WEC (Ed: Ellsberg wrote – this is Colonel Chickering)


(Ed: In addition to the above cable, the following letter was included in Ellsberg’s letter to his wife):


Copy of letter by Major General B.O. Hutchison, General Officer, Commanding Troops

In Sudan

                                                H.Q. Troops

                                             in Sudan

                                                       20th May




My dear General Maxwell:


On the conclusion of my visit to Massawa, I should like you to know how much I was impressed by the excellent work being done by Comdr. Ellsberg.


I was delighted to see the initiative with which he was tackling the difficult jobs which others had been unable to do.


He is certainly doing a first class job towards winning the war.


Yours very sincerely,


/s/ B.O. Hutchison


A true copy:

/s/ H. Kunzler

1st. Lt., A.U.S.



201-Ellsberg, Edward (OFF)                     Wrapper Ind.                    HK/kc


Headquarters, United States Military North African Mission, Cairo, Egypt.

May 24, 1942. TO: Commander Edward Ellsberg, United States Navy, c/o

Commanding Officer, United States Military North African Mission, Eritrea

Service Command, Asmara, Eritrea.


Copies of the attached letter have been furnished the Commanding Officer, United States Military North African Mission, Eritrea Service Command, Asmara, Eritrea, and the Bureau of Navigation, United States Navy, Washington, D.C.


By command of Major General MAXWELL





1st Lt., A.U.S.



1 Incl

          Incl 1 – copy of letter from

                    Maj. Gen. B.O. Hutchison,



(Ed: Ellsberg penned at the bottom):


This just came in today. I see General Hutchison went farther than just telling me orally what he thought, though in writing he was somewhat conservative. Ned


What action the Navy Department may take on General Maxwell’s recommendation to promote me to Captain “without delay” I do not know. Whether I get it or whether I don’t will bother me little, after that accolade from the Chief of the Mission of being the only officer here to be recommended for promotion for “most outstanding service.”


And the General Commanding the British forces in Egypt, who accompanied Maxwell, told me “you are doing more to win the war than any man I know,” which compliment may be a little extravagant, but without question he meant it.


And in addition I have received also a radio from Vice Admiral Halifax, R.N. commanding the British forces in the Red Sea, which also I enclose. (He is F.O.R.S., who sent the dispatch, that meaning Flag Officer Red Sea).


(Ed: In a Naval Message came the following):


TO: NOi/c Massawa                                                       FROM: F.O.I.R.S.


Please convey may (sic) congratulations to Commander ELLSBERG

U.S.N. on his success in raising the floating dock.






W/T CODE B             TOR 1858z/28/5/42.  GR 30 A.D.           F.


(Ed: in Ellsberg’s hand: From Vice Adm. Halifax RN)


But all is not roses here. I have my troubles with the usual quota of damned fools, American and British, who forget there is a war on and obstruct instead of cooperating. So far I have rolled over them, sometimes by force, sometimes by diplomacy (of which latter I am better acquainted with than formerly) and then the labor I have to work with would drive anyone into an asylum. There are so far very few Americans. I work with English, British colonials, Italian prisoners of war, Maltese, Hindoos, Persians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Somalis, and Eritreans, which last are absolutely the world’s most worthless laborers.


I have kicked the English out of the habit of taking most of the afternoon off for tea, and I have even managed to get something in the way of work out of the Eritrean natives, both of which achievements should be ranked as minor miracles. But I long for the day when all the American mechanics promised me arrive here, and I can work with men who know their jobs. But whether that day will ever come I am beginning to doubt, because our own Navy Department is now insisting the British furnish the mechanics instead of our doing it, and I am afraid Britain is stretched so thin she just can’t. Meanwhile I don’t get the mechanics I desperately need, either from America or Britain, while Washington and London argue by cable as to who should furnish them, and I am left to make bricks without straw. However, a fair quality of brick is being turned out even so, but it could be better, and that makes me sick to contemplate.


To change the subject to something pleasanter. A few days ago, two people arrived from New York, one by ship and air, one by air direct, and God be praised, I received five letters from you all at once, the latest dated May 12, being #21. How can I say what a heavenly joy that was! I live now only for two things – one, to do what I may to help win this war, and the other, to come home again to Mary and you. And now for a while when letters must be our only tie, they mean so much!


I was intensely gratified at receiving the Herald-Tribune’s cable over the Children’s Book Award. May it mean more power to John Paul Jones in firing America! And I may say, as never before I understand now as I struggle with a medley of indifferent nationalities and scant equipment, what Paul Jones suffered in the fitting out and taking to sea for a victorious action of the worthless crew and rotten ship he had cajoled from the King of France.


As regards matters financial, I think I am entitled to something of a pay increase for foreign service, and as soon as I can get it arranged in Cairo, where my accounts are carried, I may be able to increase my allotment to you by about $40 a month. This will take several months. Meanwhile, I am in need of only a small part of the special subsistence and quarters allowance which is paid me here, and if the transfer arrangements can be made, I can soon start sending you perhaps $200 a month more out of that.


I believe that in spite of reduced dividends and radically increased taxes, we can pay all of Mary’s expenses in college without selling anything of hers, and I am sure that if good management can accomplish anything, you’ll succeed in doing that.


I am sorry to hear that gas rationing has made you decide not to go to Maine. At this distance, I can not suggest any means by which enough gasoline might be saved up for the trip, or otherwise obtained, but if it can be done by hook or crook (or even by train) I hope you and Mary can get up there if only for a month. I should almost feel as if I were enjoying the Maine breezes myself if only I knew that you were there.


I have mentioned air-conditioning in one of the letters which by now I hope you have received. If you must stay in Westfield any part of the summer, forget economy for once and get one for the living room, and not too small a one, either. I suggest a Westinghouse Mobilaire, model FC-091, which is what I have here, and which is doing a marvelous job here under tough temperature and humidity conditions. And perhaps a second unit upstairs in our bedroom would also be worthwhile. Never mind the cost!


I am shortly moving into new quarters here in a building left by the Italians which we are fitting out as officers’ quarters. I get a grand room, about 25 by 15 feet, with my own kitchenette, refrigerator, electric grill, and whatnot, and a private shower and toilet, all with two air conditioners! Don’t worry about my ability to keep comfortable and sleep in that. But to furnish the kitchenette I wrote you a month ago asking for some knick-nacks like a Toastmaster, a small coffee percolator, and some Thermos bottles, plus a miscellaneous assortment of clothes and other thing which are practically unobtainable here.


Please order the ring from Bailey Banks and Biddle, even if it does cost around $70. It’ll be worth it as a war souvenir afterwards, and meanwhile it will be useful.


My thanks to Gerald for what his illustrations did in helping “I Have Just Begun to Fight!” win the book award.


It is evident some of your letters telling of your mother’s pneumonia haven’t arrived yet. I’m happy to know she is now convalescing.


I haven’t received yet anything from my own mother. I believe it best if you suggest she send her letters to you and you forward them inside another envelope which you know is properly addressed.


So far I have received in your numbered series, letters #3, 4, 7, 9, 18, 19, 20, 21, and before you started numbering letters of Feb. 24, 28, Mar. 4, 7, and 26th. The others must be following diverse routes and ships over the globe, bus should someday arrive here.


Via a British naval officer who had to go to Cairo yesterday, I sent a message to be cabled you from Cairo for our twenty-fourth anniversary. I hope it got by the censor and was delivered in time. There is no cable service from here, and it takes a week apparently to get a message from here to Cairo, with no knowing what happens to it then.


I got up at three o’clock in the morning to write this, and it’s now six AM and I must get ready to take the first of my three daily baths and then get to work. Colonel Claterbos’ ship should take not over six weeks for the trip from here and delivery of this letter at least should be assured. (Ed: Unfortunately it was not postmarked from Washington until Sept. 16th).


With very much love, my darling, Ned


(Ed: the following note from Claterbos tells the story of the letter):


Trinidad, BWI



Dear Mrs. Ellsberg:


Your husband gave me this to mail when I reached the U.S. Its present condition is due to a dunking in the Caribbean when my ship was torpedoed.


I hope to call you when I can get up to New York – I want to tell you what a swell job Capt. E has done.




Louis J. Claterbos

Col., C.E., USA



Letter #19

June 2, 1942



Lucy darling:


This letter will be taken to America by Mr. Embury of J. D. & P. who is here only for a brief inspection trip and should be back in New York by June 15. He came out here from N.Y. leaving there about May 15, and brought me a message that you had heard nothing from me since I arrived in Eritrea.


That is unfortunately due to what must be a terrible mail service to the United States since I’ve written often. The letters should start to arrive soon, if they haven’t already. I  have received in one batch 5 letters from you dated from May 9 to May 12, which came out by a J. D.& P man who flew over.


But aside from that:


First, I am well now and have been since I arrived here. I see no reason yet why I shouldn’t continue so. The weather is hot and humid and will probably get much hotter, but it doesn’t bother me. I have an air-conditioned room in which I can sleep very comfortably, and next week I move into a larger one which is even better for size and comfort.


Second, I’m very busy and outdoors most of the time. As a result, I have lost my incipient bay window altogether, and I am down to about 150 lbs. My figure is the best I’ve had since my midshipmen days.


Third, I’ve had quite a grand time with important brass hats from both the American and the British army and navy passing through here to be shown what we’ve done. It’s interesting to watch their eyes pop out at what’s happened in the Massawa naval base.


Fourth, I’ve had extraordinary luck here. The Italians thought they had completely sabotaged all the shops by smashing the machinery, and I came out from New York hoping that by next December when new machinery arrived from America, I could get going. Instead of that, one look when I got here convinced me we could refit the Italian machinery, which we have done already. The result is every Italian shop is already running again with the smashed machinery repaired and doing as good a job as the Italians ever did. So the Naval Base is operating now instead of next December.


Fifth, the British sent down a drydock from Persia which we are operating on a scale to make one dizzy; and it has the British, who are groggy now trying to get ships here fast enough to keep our dock occupied. Thirteen ships have been docked by us in 24 days.


Sixth, there is salvage. I had no divers at all until May 10, when a salvage master and five divers arrived by passenger ship. We had only two diving suits and nothing else, as no salvage ships had then arrived. I borrowed some air compressors, and we went to work, choosing as our first task a large Italian floating drydock as that was far more valuable, if recovered, than any ship could be.


The Italian naval captain (who is in jail here) who sank her by exploding 7 TNT bombs in her hold, blasting out 7 holes big enough to drive a truck through in her bottom, had bragged to his British captors what a grand job he had done as that dock could now never be raised. The British salvage experts, after an examination of those 7 holes, agreed with him and officially abandoned the dock as unsalvageable. When he heard we were tackling it, the Chief of the British Mediterranean Salvage Squadron bet another officer we couldn’t do it.


To make a long story short, nine days after we had started on that drydock, it was afloat again, with its blasted holes exposed ready for repair work to begin (which it has). That has been a nine days wonder around here, and well it might be.


So as a salvage expert, I’m vindicated. The laudatory comments that have rained in on my head for that job might well have turned it completely, except that the S-51 job already had done whatever might be accomplished on my ego along those lines.


Briefly, both the British general and the admiral commanding in North Africa have sent their congratulations, General Maxwell of our Mission has been here to look, and all the lesser fry have joined in the chorus.


Now as a practical result, General Maxwell has cabled the Navy Department recommending that without delay, I be promoted to Captain “for most outstanding achievement.” Whether the Navy Department will act “without delay” or will even act at all, remains to be seen, but I don’t much care. I’ve always liked the title of Commander, and I don’t think I’ve done it any harm. And I’ve earned the only accolade in foreign service that General Maxwell has given anyone, so whether I ever get the promotion or not, I have the inner satisfaction of knowing I’ve done a good job, and the knowledge that those higher-up on this station know it also.


Meanwhile, it is a personal gratification to confirm to myself that I haven’t slipped back in any way since the day seventeen years ago, when full of youthful energy and armed with youthful ignorance of the difficulties, I set out to salvage the S-51. I may be older now, and this climate isn’t exactly the bracing air we had off Block Island, but if ever a salvage job was done with neatness and dispatch and no errors on a supposedly hopeless wreck, it was on this scuttled Italian drydock.


So now I feel all right. The war can go on and I know I haven’t ossified so far either mentally or physically so that I can’t do my bit.


We are of course, having plenty of difficulties. The heat is no joke. Neither are the English, who are so damned slow when I want any men or materials in a hurry. Then most of the men promised me from the United States for my Naval Base haven’t come nor have they even been hired in the United States, while Washington and London squabble by cable over who should furnish them, when it was all agreed before I left that we should. But I haven’t the men. And I must work with a conglomerate of nationalities instead that would be a good match to Paul Jones’ crew on the Bon Homme Richard. My force consists of a few American supervisors backed up by Italian prisoners of war, Hindoos, Persians, Somalis, Sudanese, Maltese, Arabs, Ethiopians, Egyptians, and some Englishmen. The American flag floats over this Naval Base (which daily gladdens my heart when I look up at it) but I wish to God America would do something for us in the way of men as well as in the way of the machinery which she is sending us. From its location, this Massawa Naval Base can be an important factor in our own naval strategy in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific, as well as being all important as a main base for the British Mediterranean Fleet.


Meanwhile, I do the best I can with what men (regardless of their race) that I can lay my hands on, and so far all who have seen have agreed that we have done well and far beyond any expectations.


I am writing more fully via Colonel Claterbos, who is shortly going home by ship and will carry another letter.


With love, Ned


P.S. Yesterday was our 24th anniversary. I sent you a cable, which I hope arrived.


P.P.S. In spite of gas rationing, I hope you and Mary find some way to go to Maine for a while.



Letter #20

June 2, 1942



Lucy dearest:


I have just received your June 1 cable here. I sent you one via Cairo on May 28, which I hope arrived by June 1.


This letter goes by regular post from here and I hope arrives not too late. I have heard from a Mr. Embury of J. D. & P., who left New York by air about May 15, that up to then you had received not a single letter from me since I reached Massawa in late March. That is a beautiful tribute to what inefficient mail service and (perhaps) too efficient censors can do to hold up the mail. I have written plenty of letters in that time.


Meanwhile, briefly I can say that I am well now and have been continuously so since my arrival. I’m very busy with all the different things I have to do and I have been startingly successful on my first underseas job which was completed in an amazingly short time.


So here all is well so far as my work is concerned.


I hope you and Mary get up to Maine for at least part of the summer in spite of gas rationing. Please order my ring.


With love, Ned



Letter #21

June 8, 1942



Lucy darling:


The mail came in bunches this week. I received your letter of Mar. 13, and also in one batch your letters sent via the Home Office USMNAM as follows: #5 of 4/14, #8 of 4/20, #10 of 4/23, #12 of 4/28, #14 of 5/1, #15 of 5/3, #16 of 5/7, and #17 of 5/8. That meant eight letters in one day, covering a period of nearly a month. Apparently the Army letters were forwarded from the U.S. all at once, but not till quite a lot of mail had stacked up.


The last word I had as embodied in your letters of about May 9 to 12, #18, 19, 20 and 21, showed you had not yet received any letters from here, which was also the information given me orally by the J. D. & P. man who flew over at that time. He is now on his way back with a message for you, which you should receive a long time before the arrival of this letter. In addition to that, an Army officer returning to the U.S. shortly (presumably by ship) will also have a little more information for you when he gets back to New York.


Meanwhile I am head over heels in work as usual. Our drydock has turned in a magnificent performance of ships docked for its first month, which ends today. My salvage forces are active (such as are here already) and we are well started on a second wreck. Also my dockyard shops are quite busy.


As regards other things, particularly financial, my expenses here are slight – nothing for quarters, only a moderate amount for a mess bill, and next to nothing for anything else, principally because there is nothing here that money can buy. I could use a number of articles of which I have long ago written you, and which by now I hope you have word.


I mentioned in my June 1 cable that my ring should be ordered, but how it should be sent I can’t say. The best way is to keep in touch with J. D. & P. and when they are sending someone by air to Eritrea, have him take it. But if no such bearer seems available, the next best bet is to send it via the Mission home office in Washington.


As regards this, I understand a certain vessel – (come to think of it she would have sailed long before you get this, so forget my half-spoken thought of that route).


The multitudinous articles I wanted can best be sent by J. D. & P. on whatever ship they send out next.


I have not yet received any copies either of Life or the Reader’s Digest, to which you subscribed for me. I would judge that over two months must elapse at least for their transmission.


I am happy to note your mother is convalescing well from her pneumonia and has presumably already visited you. Give her my love.


There seems to be a lot of miscellaneous misinformation going about concerning this country and its setup, such as you refer to from Raymond Clapper in his published articles. It is true that a large and expensive rest camp has been built in the hills some 40 miles from here at an elevation of 3500 feet, with the expectation that everyone would leave here each evening to sleep there and return in the morning to work. But it takes an hour and a half each way for the journey over a terribly hot intervening plain and then up a mountain highway full of sharp switchbacks. The problem of transporting several thousand men in buses daily over that road is quite insoluble, and I think myself the men would be completely knocked out by the daily journey, not to mention that the accident rate would undoubtedly be high. (There have been plenty of accidents to our trucks already over that road). So far no attempt has been made for daily commuting, and I doubt that it ever will be. The rest camp may be used by giving the men in batches a few days each month in the hills, but the dream of leaving Massawa nightly to the night watchmen is out. As for myself, I never expect to use the rest camp and I think it is going to be a washout, (and an expensive one). I rely more on air-conditioning the sleeping quarters here for everyone, which we will do when our equipment arrives. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t trade my air-conditioned room at night for all the rest camps in Ghinda.


It is getting quite hot, but between drinking huge quantities of water daily (between two and three gallons) and taking salt tablets with each quart, I don’t find the heat oppressive, though I work often out in the sun. It is interesting to find my shirt (when I dry it) frequently streaked with salt left there by sweat.


It’s hot. We are working now under the sun on repairing the blasted steel plates of the drydock we recently salvaged. Down on that dock floor, in spite of the fact it is well out on the water in the bay, there is little breeze but plenty of direct sunlight. I took a thermometer out there the other day. Laid on the wood keel blocks, at about the level where our heads are, the temperature that thermometer registered in the sun was 149° F. Of course that’s in the sun, but so are the workmen. The same thermometer laid on the steel plates of the dock floor, read 163° F. The steel we work with or on, gets too hot to handle without gloves.


My normal costume is shorts, a sun helmet, and half-sleeved shirts – all khaki, of course.


Inside the shops, where the men are shaded, it’s not so bad, though our blacksmiths have a tough time over their forges.


But all in all, so far we have managed to work steadily in spite of the heat and the humidity, and I think we can keep on through the summer. We are fairly well used to the heat and it doesn’t bother us much, though I notice that our Asmara crowd when they visit here (which is not frequently) get out of this place after about a two hour stay and it’s difficult to keep a single one here over night. They cause us plenty of trouble though, for the main office is in Asmara and attempts to direct many operations here without anybody ever staying in Massawa long enough to find out what anything is about. I fully realize now how Franklin, Washington, Adams and their associates finally decided to risk a war rather than submit further to remote control of their affairs by absentee landlords. And the telephone communication is so terrible that making a call to Asmara literally usually takes an hour for a call to get through and leaves one mentally washed up for the day and nearly fit for the nut house before it’s over. A force of American telephone men are working on the problem, but till they shoot half the Italian operators and put the rest in a concentration camp, I hope for little improvement.


I have a few other minor irritations. The chief of our mission cabled the Navy Department to send out seven naval officers as my assistants, and heaven knows I could use them. The answer he got by cable was that none would be sent. Apparently the Navy Department regards us as a step-child on the ground this is an “area of British responsibility.” Maybe it is, but we still fight here under the American flag, regardless of whose area of responsibility this is. At any rate, I’ll have to get along with a couple of Army lieutenants as assistants and some civilians (if I can ever get the civilians). Meanwhile I work with a heterogeneous mixture of all nationalities and get by mainly because the British and the colonial brass hats who have visited here have been so impressed by what the Americans here have done that they have lent me the hand that Washington refuses to extend. But if I only had more Americans, I could do a vastly better job. This is a American navy yard in the same sense that the Bon Homme Richard was an American warship – it has an American skipper and a few American lieutenants but as for the rest it doesn’t assay one American in every hundred. And yet we make it go and even the British regard it as an American establishment.


With love, Ned



Letter #22

June 13, 1942


Lucy darling:


Your letters #22, 23 & 24 (the last May 24) arrived here today, together with one of Mary’s of May 18. This is especially rapid delivery. I notice they all came via Amseg, which must be livening up its mail service very considerably. I suggest you send all your letters that way except when you can catch an air passenger at J. D. & P.


I am glad to see that my………letter of Apr. 2nd finally arrived by May 15. The others ought to follow with some regularity now. As regards sending my letters by air mail, I don’t think I can do anything about it. We can’t get any stamps of any nature here, and besides I think the mail all goes out the same way regardless of how the sender intends it shall go. It all goes by air from here to……….and after that, nobody seems to be able to find out what happens to it.


I sent you a message by Mr. Embury of J. D. & P., who should be back in New York by air about June 15. If you hear nothing from him by the time you get this, you might enquire at his office about it.


As regards Ahmed Hussen, whom you seem to fear as a possible rival, I regret to say he is no more around here. He was fired about 10 days ago for complaining to me he had never been paid and when I came to check up why not, I found he was on the payroll under another name and drawing just twice as much pay as he was supposed to get. Now I have another boy who is completely hopeless. I haven’t bothered to find out his name.


Thanks for sending me the clipping about Richard Hawes. As you probably remember, I managed to get him commissioned an Ensign after the S-51. I always knew he was a good man and he has proved it. But I’m sorry to know the Japanese have got their hands on him. Regarding the clipping, don’t hesitate to send more. I have not seen an American newspaper since the day I sailed.


I am glad to know we have some porch furniture at last which is satisfactory. It will be particularly useful this summer.


It just occurs to me (if you get this letter before October) that one way for you and Mary to get to Maine and still have a car there to drive, is to go by train and ship the station wagon the same way. You ought to get gasoline enough up there to get you around for the……things and you can make the telephone and Jackson’s save you from having to use gasoline for groceries. Or you might hire a car up there, which should not be difficult.


Sorry about the Argo (Ed: Ellsberg’s 27’ gaff-rigged A class sloop). I would give lots to have her here, with the whole Red Sea at my front door and Arab Dows sailing all over the place and I with no sailboat at all! I had hoped to fix up a couple of Star boats the Italians left when they evacuated, but my men are so few I can’t take them off essential war work to repair those boats. However, I still have hopes, and next December should be just as good a sailing season as this June.


Lovely hot weather we’re having. I hardly think 150° F we’re having where we work on our salvaged drydock can be beaten many places. But it is like many things you hear about – it sounds worse than it really is. So far we haven’t had a heat prostration case. Of course the story goes that this is nothing to what we’ll get in July and August, but I don’t believe it. It can’t get much hotter nor more humid. And we shade most of the spots where we have to work repairing the huge holes the Italians blasted in the steel plating so we get along. I understand this is about the time Massawa used to shut up shop and go to the hills, but we expect to keep right on working through. Wars aren’t won by taking four hours off in the middle of the day for a siesta, nor by closing up shop for a couple of months in the summer time.


Later June 21


This letter was somewhat interrupted by moving day. We have been converting a building the Italians used to use as an office building, into quarters for our officers, and we finally got it done so we could move in last Sunday night.


I now have a large room, 16 by 20 ft, with a private bath and a kitchenette attached. (That is, I will have a kitchenette when the refrigerator arrives next week, and I can manage to cabbage an electric grill somewhere and when that coffee percolator and toaster you are sending finally arrive. By the way, that reminds me that the trunk shipped after I left has not yet arrived, but may get here early in July. Maybe.) I have two Westinghouse air conditioners in this room, but they are having a tough time. Imagine feeling cool in a room where the temperature is 88° F, as it is here this minute. Outside it is 102° F in the shade. I suppose it’s the reduction in humidity as usual.


I really have quite a pleasant setup this time, with something of a view over our harbor and the Red Sea (we are not as close to the water as we were before). If only I could get an interior decorator in, I might make something really restful of the place, but I’ll have to do what I can myself between other work. As it is, there isn’t a curtain in the place, nor any pictures for the walls, which gives it a rather bare appearance in spite of some fairly decent furniture (all made in Eritrea).


But I can sleep here comfortably with no mosquito nets, and that makes a big difference. And speaking of mosquitoes, there are less here day or night than in Maine, and very few flies.


Colonel Claterbos, who was the district engineer, sailed here for home two days ago. Apparently an old heart trouble recurred, and he couldn’t stand the gaff, though his headquarters were not here but in Asmara. He should be home about the later part of August, and I mention him only because he is carrying a message for you which I wrote some weeks ago when he first expected to sail, but didn’t. It will probably seem quite stale when you get it.


The captain of the ship the colonel sailed on presented me with a radio set. It is a Pilot portable, about the size of Mary’s, except it has a cloth cover. Just now I am struggling to get an antennae wire long enough to get reasonable reception with it, for we are thousands of miles from most stations, and the reception here isn’t so hot, even if the weather is. Of course, short wave is all I can get on it, though it will take the long wave stations also. Imagine living only twenty miles from WJZ again and not worrying over reception!


Meanwhile, in spite of the heat and all the irritations of squabbling over a terrible telephone line with some civilians in Asmara who won’t come to Massawa because it’s too hot but still try to poke their noses into our engineering work, I manage to keep very well. I may go crazy here over the idiocies and interferences I have to combat, but the climate will certainly never put me away. And I just have an idea I can outlast those remote control directors, in spite of their cool Asmara climate.


Our surgeon (Capt. Plummer of the Army medical corps) continually keeps an eagle eye on me and constantly asks after my health. He says he gets so many inquiries from Colonel Chickering and from Cairo about how I’m standing it (I’m the one person they have no relief for) that he told me he thinks that if I got sick, he’d get a court-martial.


Our major work goes along very satisfactorily. I expect to celebrate the Fourth of July here by lifting another ship on which the crew of my first salvage ship have been working for a couple of weeks. (Most of our salvage force has not yet arrived).


The three snapshots you enclosed are lovely, and your smile in them is wonderful. I have the one taken through the car door on my desk and it seems as I look at it that I’m looking directly into your eyes! Darling, if only you could be here, Massawa could be Heaven!




P.S. Your letter of Feb 26 just arrived 6/20/42. Your letters #1, 2, 6 and 11 have not yet arrived.



Letter #23

June 24, 1942



Lucy darling:


Yesterday I received a cable from the War Department dated June 19, announcing that I had been appointed by the President to the rank of Captain. This was the action taken as a result of General Maxwell’s cable of May 21 requesting I be promoted “without delay” for “most outstanding service.” Considering the slowness of communications, even by cable, it appears that Washington did act expeditiously on his recommendation.


So now I am a Captain in the Navy. That I received the promotion not in the regular order or simply because it was the turn of my class, makes it doubly gratifying. Every one here, American and British, has been most hearty in their congratulations, and even the British telephone operator (a seaman whom I have never seen) when I made my first phone call today, instead of getting my number for me immediately, took occasion to tell me first over the phone how pleased he was to see my work rewarded.


I have worked here, but no harder than on any other task. Still, either I’ve been luckier than usual or my judgment is better, for the results seem to have shown up sooner and perhaps against a war background have stood out more. At any rate, seeing that I had to come back in the Service only six months ago as a lieutenant commander, I have moved along quite handsomely.


There is no longer any particular need (I think I said this before) of keeping my whereabouts or what I am doing a secret from anybody. There is nothing particularly confidential about what the North African Mission is here for nor what its personnel is or is engaged in.


My salvage fleet should very shortly be considerably augmented and then we should be able to get to work on quite a grand scale. As it is, even with trifling forces we have pulled one near miracle on our first salvage job, and I expect that very shortly a large German ship that the Nazis blasted a huge hole in and scuttled here, will be floating again with the Stars and Stripes waving over her. Which job will be done by a tiny salvage ship smaller than a New York harbor tug, which came 12,000 miles to get here under the skipper I hired on the beach at Santa Barbara, assisted by a crew totaling only 14 men including the captain. The docking of that salvaged ship I hope to make our Fourth of July celebration.


It will interest you to know that in connection with my promotion I had to take another physical examination, which opportunity our medical officer seized on with alacrity as apparently he was itching to find out what effect my activities had had on my blood pressure, which I have an idea he expected to find sky high. Last January, on my last Navy examination, it was 105. Yesterday it was 100. (Ed: Ellsberg had such low blood pressure that often he was reexamined by the Navy doctors who couldn’t believe the results; he stated that if stress or some aggravating situation raised his blood pressure it “only went up to normal”). I don’t know just what that proves, but anyway not what he was afraid of. As for the rest of me, everything was OK, so I passed with no difficulty.


It is getting somewhat hotter and muggier around here, with our first sandstorm thrown in day before yesterday for good measure. The sandstorms are what is supposed to make a summer here really different. We’ll see.


I’m sending you a cable which should get off from Cairo next Saturday (June 27) as otherwise the major news in this letter wouldn’t reach you till the summer is fairly well over (that is, in the United States).


And I expect also in the next few days to send you a Treasury check for around $600, covering my Army allowances here for about two months (check enclosed with this letter). You can use it as you think best. In addition, I have something coming to me from my Navy pay since last March above the allotments made you, which sums I have never drawn. Those accounts are in Cairo, and as soon as I can get in touch with the paymaster there, I’ll try to get a check for that and forward it also. In the meantime, I have about $180 in the bank (Barclay’s) here, which will keep me going for a while yet, seeing that willy-nilly, I never get a chance to spend much here, much as I should like to buy some things but they just don’t exist around here.


June 25, 1942


The mail just came in, bringing your letter #29 of June 2, sent via J D & P, plus a letter from Mary sent the same way, dated June 5. Fast work.


I heard today that an Army officer, Major O’Neal is flying back to U.S. within a week, and he has promised to carry this letter for me, my second chance to get real air service back. (The first was via Mr. Embury of J D & P who should have arrived in U.S. about June 15).


Lest it wasn’t mentioned elsewhere, I got your June 1 cable on June 2, the same day you got mine.


As regards salvage, we have already salvaged a large Italian drydock, which was the main cause of my promotion. The ship we hope to raise soon is the ex-German Liebenfels, on which my solitary salvage ship so far, the Intent, is now working. When my other three ships get here, we should be able to make quite a dent in this job.


Glad you ordered my ring.


Sorry to hear about the passing of the Com. & So. dividend. That means the omission of a lot of money. Queer, because they should have a huge power demand, but I suppose labor & taxes have swallowed all their income. I’ll try to send all the money I can from here to make up. Meanwhile, I strongly advise against selling anything to meet expenses, yours or Mary’s. If necessary, quit buying bonds.


As regards my income taxes, please do nothing whatever about rendering any returns for me for 1943 to the Government. Of course, my payments for the rest of this year must be made, but as regards next year and the payments on it, let the Government look to me, not to you both for the returns and the cash. All I’ll want on that is a statement of what my receipts were in the U.S. on dividends (if any) and from other American sources. These can be sent me about next November or December. I’m not sure that I’m liable for any income taxes in the U.S. on my Navy pay since I left the country, but at any rate, I’ll investigate all that myself. Don’t you bother over it, and if there are any inquiries about my taxes at all, refer all inquiries to me via the regular mail channels.


As regards the old gas heater you long for, it is still in our basement, and if you want to use it to save oil, just call on the gas company to put in an additional meter for it (it requires a separate meter from the gas stove to avoid trouble) and have the plumber hook it up again. It costs somewhat more to run than an oil heater, but if saving oil is a factor, go ahead. Meanwhile of course, it is certainly advisable to keep your oil tank filled.


As regards Farnham Butler and the Argo, I did pay a considerable part of the bill last winter. Look in my desk for the Southwest Harbor Folder or something similar. You’ll find in it the bills with a note regarding payments made, and our stub books of last winter will furnish the information if nothing else does.


Thanks for getting me the things from Lewis & Conger. My refrigerator arrived today, so all I need now to get along in comfort is what’s coming from the U.S.


As I said before, I don’t go to the mountains either weekends or daily. It’s more comfortable to stay in Massawa and bask in the light of the air conditioners. (I have a 16x20 room in a new building now, with two air conditioners, a kitchenette, and a private bath). You’ll learn more of this when the regular mail reaches you about next August.


I hope Mary gets some rest this summer. Both of you will do me the greatest favor if you go to Maine by train (ship the station wagon up by freight if you must, or otherwise by rail or express) and get where it’s cool. I rather imagine you can get enough gas up there to get about as much as is necessary.




I went up to Asmara this afternoon when I heard O’Neal might leave tomorrow to give him this. He isn’t going for a week, but another Army officer who is flying to Cairo early tomorrow will possibly take it with him and get it sent from there by real air mail. I’ll try. Let me know if it reached you quickly and when.


With love, Ned


Ed: When Ellsberg wrote his name on the envelope he at first wrote “Cmdr”, then crossed it out and wrote “Captain”.



Letter #24

June 27, 1942



Lucy darling:


A couple of days ago I had an opportunity to send you a letter which I think will really go air mail. The colonel in command of the Mission air base here was flying to Cairo and offered to take a letter which he guaranteed he could see would go by air from there. So I sent one, dated June 25, in which I enclosed a check (Treasury) for $600, being all my Army allowances for some time back, together with some news of what has been happening to me here.


If you fail to receive that letter, or if it comes without the check enclosed, better cable me and I’ll start to trace what happened to it from this end.


There is some possibility that another air corps officer from Eritrea may fly back home himself on some mission before the coming week is out. If he gets sent (which is not now certain) he offers to take this letter, which may therefore also get through quickly.


Meanwhile I have sent to Cairo to the navy paymaster handling my accounts there, asking for a check for what is due me since late March. That should cover perhaps another one or two hundred dollars, which I will forward when received. The 10% increase for foreign service went through all right, but I don’t think I have collected any of it. I’m not sure, since I increased my allotment just before leaving Cairo and I have never had a statement since. I can’t say whether the increased allotment included that or not. I’m asking for a detailed statement of my Navy pay account so I’ll know where I’m at.


As I mentioned in the airmail letter of June 25, I have been promoted to Captain. Whether the promotion amounts financially to anything or not, I don’t know yet. There was a limit of $7200 on a Captain or Commander’s total of pay plus allowances (Navy) and as I was receiving  within three or four hundred dollars of that as a Commander, the maximum increase I could get by the promotion would be that sum, unless they have lifted the limit or removed the limitation altogether. I should, I suppose, soon learn that from Cairo. John Hale can also tell you. I haven’t any Navy pay table here, and I can’t get one. And what Congress may have done to it since I left U.S., I am completely ignorant of.


It is getting damned hot and humid here. The last week, I might just as well have soaked my clothes in a bucket of warm water before putting them on, because a few minutes after going out they were all wringing wet anyway. I have certainly learned that everything is relative, for I feel comfortable enough in my room (air-conditioned) where nevertheless the temperature at this moment (11 PM) is 90° F. and the humidity is 60%. You can imagine what it is outside, where there is no air-conditioning. But back home under those conditions I should feel, like Mary, “boiled,” even in my room.


Like most others here, I have a mild case of prickly heat, which with me is on my arms only. Lots of the men have it all over. It’s a result, I suppose, of being continually bathed in perspiration. They say in about ten days you get over it, but I don’t know. You might consult Jarvis on what’s good for it and send me a can of some powder or other. I’ll get it by Christmas I suppose, since my trunk shipped last February, presumably just after I sailed, hasn’t arrived yet.



And you might throw in some of my assorted collection of cigarette lighters. It’s a nuisance trying to keep matches dry here. (Ed: Ellsberg told his wife that he smoked only four packs a day, when in reality he smoked eight. He didn’t want her to get worried!).


I had quite a time decking myself out in four stripes when I got promoted. Blues were no problem, since I never wear them, but I did have to change my shoulder marks, which are about the only insignia of rank worn around here with khaki. No gold lace is available hereabouts, so I solved the problem by stripping a gold stripe off my old broadcloth coat and sewing it on as the top stripe of my shoulder marks. And I’m having one blue serge coat fixed up against next winter when I may perhaps wear it, by taking the stripes off another and older serge coat I have, to add to the sleeves on my newer coat. I think that will about take care of the situation, except that with a khaki shirt, one is supposed to wear the insignia of his rank on the collar. I had some miniature silver leaves, for a Commander, but now I should have some miniature solver eagles (metal) for pinning on the khaki shirt collar. Of course there aren’t any around here. Would you mind getting me a pair? I think that wrapped in a little tissue paper, they would go in a letter. The All-Bilt Uniform Co., 147 Fulton Street, N.Y., should have them. Be sure they are miniatures for a Navy khaki shirt – the Army ones for their shirts are larger, I believe.


By the way, while you are in that vicinity, please drop in on Jos. Friedlander Co., 8 Maiden Lane, and order me a pair of glasses. I dropped my old tortoise shell ones with the new lenses I got last January, overboard from a boat while going out to our salvaged drydock. According to Dr. Childer’s prescription of Jan. 10, 1942, the lenses for both eyes are identical, calling for spherical + 1.50 for both eyes, with apparently no other corrections. As measured on the new pair of glasses I got from Friedlander last January at the same time I had new lenses put in my old tortoise shell frames, the outside width of the glasses is just 5 inches from bow to bow, the clearance between the nose clips is 11/16 of an inch, and the bows are 4 1/8 inches long from the glasses to the point where they start to curve to go around the ears.


There is no startling emergency in getting me new glasses, since I still have one new pair, and the old lenses out of my lost tortoise shell frames, which I might have mounted here and use in a pinch in case I lost my second pair. I’m quite all right unless I lose them, and even then I’ll not be wholly without something at least useable for reading.


Speaking of glasses, I never really got any test on the Polaroids Carl Fuller gave me. I dropped them and smashed them within a week of getting here. Then I got a pair of Calobars, which cost $8 here (the only kind available) and in three days I dropped and smashed them also. That meant $8 more for another pair, which I still have. Then shortly thereafter a diving foreman got here with a pair of another kind of sun glasses which Kandel (Ed: Charles Kandel, president of Craftsweld, the company which made Ellsberg’s underwater cutting torch) sent me as a present, and ever since I’ve used them. They are more comfortable than the Calobars.


Sun glasses are a necessity here, since they must be put on the moment one steps outdoors. Tell Carl I’m sorry I never had his long enough to find out much about them here.


In your letter of Feb 26, recently received, there was an enclosure from Rose, on which she noted that the censor on reading it would think either she was crazy or he was. Who is crazy, I knew before I left Westfield, but the censor never had the problem put up to him as that letter, mailed direct, unlike others mailed similarly since, bore no censor’s stamp.


It now appears that the best way to send mail (except when J. D. & P. lets you know somebody is flying out) is to send it via the Home Office of the North African Mission. Those apparently come through now in three to four weeks without either being delayed or molested by anybody. I recommend against any further use of ……..% Postmaster, N.Y., as those letters seem to get all the delays of censorship…..God knows what other delays in transmission. I understand there are thousands of sacks of such mail awaiting inspection before forwarding from N.Y., and then they come all the way by water which I believe is not the case of those sent via the Mission headquarters. (A late bulletin says they come by air, but that is doubtful).


We had a funny experience a few weeks ago. The drydock we recently salvaged had eight separate compartments in its lower hull, in seven of which holes big enough to drive a 10 ton truck through, had been blasted by the……when they scuttled the dock. (That was why, after the English divers who first looked it over, gave the job up as hopeless when they saw those holes). But the eighth compartment had no hole in it. Feeling sure the…..had not intentionally slighted that compartment, when we had the dock up we looked through the hold in that compartment, and sure enough, there was an unexploded bomb with the fuse still attached, which for some reason had failed to explode with the others. So we heaved it up on deck (it weighed 200 lbs.) and turned it over to the British explosive experts to dispose of. They took it about 5 miles out of……to touch it off.


Now it so happened that the Royal Naval Base alongside us had just received a new air raid siren which at 5:30 PM they turned on for a test. Just a few minutes after their siren had shrieked out, the bomb (in spite of being…….water) went off with a concussion that shook….. as if it had been in the main street. I was just entering our messhall at the moment, only to see every……cook and waiter come flying out, heads up looking for the bombing plane the siren had apparently given warning of, and streaking for the nearest air raid shelter. It took some time to convince them there was no connection, so dinner could go on.


July 8


The officer who was to fly home carrying this letter never made the trip, so this didn’t go as scheduled. However, I still hope I can get it sent through direct.


A lot has happened since June 27 when I started this letter. We were then engaged in finishing up our underwater work on the scuttled….Liebenfels, with the hope that shortly we would be ready to try lifting her. (Ed: the censors cut out about 1/3 of a page)…..hulk was well out of water,…..started. We had no equipment of our own (it hasn’t arrived yet) so we were using pumps borrowed from the British, which pumps were antiquated in the last war. The damned pumps kept breaking down on us, so we found ourselves time after time with a waterlogged ship on our hands…..rapidly leaking back and no pumps running to hold it down.


For four days straight, night and day with next to no sleep for anybody,…..those leaks, only on the fourth night to have the ship listed 21° to port and on the point of capsizing with not a pump then working. Our last hope was in getting a broken down pump in the bottom of the engine room running again, which was a tough place to work between the heat, a terrible humidity down there, and the list of the ship which was so bad that it was impossible to stand on the deck without hanging on to something to avoid sliding into the bilges.


We got the pump running, and reduced the list enough so that on the Fourth of July, we celebrated by towing the…. (Ed: Liebenfels) from the spot where she was scuttled, some seven miles around to our naval base, with the biggest Stars and Stripes our salvage ship owned floating proudly at the masthead of the…..over the Nazi banner. (Ed: according to Ellsberg, this was the first time the American flag had flown over captured German territory in the war. This flag is in the possession of Ted Pollard) And on July 5 we drydocked her, where now she lies, safely salvaged at last and under repair – a fine big ship to help carry the men and the arms which are going to scuttle Mr. Adolph Hitler’s hopes.


(Ed: the last 1/3 of this page is gone).


With love, Ned


P.S. when we got her up, we found a nice big bomb in the…unexploded.


P.P.S. My trunk has arrived at last.




Letter #25

July 9, 1942



Lucy darling:


My trunk arrived finally a couple of days ago. I found a note in it which you said you supposed I’d get it about Easter. Easter, however, is so far back, I can hardly remember it. I am happy to have the trunk, nevertheless, and I have it all unpacked now.


I was delighted to find in it the two pictures you sent – one of you on the divan beneath your portrait, and the other of my study. Both give me acute nostalgia as I gaze at them alongside my desk here.


Piggy and sister (Ed: two very small china dolls that were Mary’s favorites) also arrived safely and now repose before me also, very appropriate salvage mascots which seem as effective now as when Mary as a baby sent them to help Daddy salvage the S-51.


The ship these things came on had an unduly prolonged voyage due to several breakdowns en route, caused, I am assured by some of our men on her, by completely incompetent officers. I can well believe it.


We are getting close to mid-July but I can’t say heat conditions are any worse than a month ago. When this intolerable heat is going to get here that makes it impossible to work, I can’t say, but I just suspect it is here already only we don’t know it and keep on working anyway. It is hot however, and I have a lovely case of prickly heat over my arms and chest. It gets better in the evenings when I’m in my air-cooled room, and worse in the daytime when I’m all bathed in sweat. It should go, they tell me after ten days, but I think I’ve had it that long already.


My case was somewhat aggravated by the six days I spent out on our salvage ship when we were lifting the German ship we have just salvaged. We had a tough time with her, as I’ve told you in the letter just preceding this one, but there was still some romance in it. The first night, while we were busily engaged in trying to get her off the bottom, with her stern just lifted but her bow still in the mud, made a wonderful picture. It was hot, of course, but with a full moon lighting the scene, the naked, sweating men on deck positively glistened under the beam of our searchlight as they struggled on the lines heaving pumps about the flooded holds. The glow of the moon on the Red Sea, the brilliant stars overhead, and the waterlogged hull of that ex-German Liebenfels gradually lifting from her cradle on the ocean floor would have made a movie scene of which Hollywood could well be proud.


Well, the Liebenfels is in the drydock now; the moon has vanished and the scene has faded into a memory only, but the prickly heat remains to remind me of five days and nights bathed in sweat and mud. My shoes became so stiff with salt I could hardly get them on or off, and as a last aggravation, when the ship finally took a 21° list and the deck sloped so much one could hardly walk on it, those damned shoes rubbed a hole in my ankle whenever I walked aft because of the unnatural angle at which they were forced into my foot. I think I’ll remember the Liebenfels a long time.


One of the men got a wonderful snapshot of the Stars and Stripes floating over the Nazi flag on July 4 as we towed the Liebenfels in to dock her – the best Fourth of July celebration I’ve had in years. I’ve been promised a copy of that snapshot as soon as it can be reprinted and I’ll send it to you.


We manage to keep quite busy here. The hectic hours of raising a ship are over for the moment but now comes the not so hectic but quite as trying business of repairing her with a ridiculously inadequate navy yard force while Washington and London kick back and forth the question of whose responsibility it is to furnish the men and meanwhile nobody furnishes them. How any one can be so blind as not to see that no where else in the world will a few hundred workmen yield such a quick and rich reward in tonnage restored to service afloat, is beyond me. And yet Washington turns itself inside out to provide thousands of shipyard workers on new construction of ships when a hundredth part of them could get our salvaged ships repaired in a tenth the time it takes to build new ones. General Maxwell has turned himself inside out also trying to get the matter settled properly, but so far, no luck.


Yours in disgust, Ned


P.S. In a letter following this, I am enclosing the government checks totaling $200. Let me know if that letter shows up without the checks.


P.P.S. I enclose two photographs just arrived, showing one way of celebrating the Fourth of July. Excuse the mending.



Letter #26

June is crossed out & EE writes “It must be July”

July 15, 1942

Same place as usual


At the top of this letter Ellsberg wrote: “This letter has two checks for $200 enclosed.”


Lucy darling:


The present score on your letters is that #1, 2, 25, 26, 27, 28, 31, 32, 33, 34, 36, and 37 have not yet arrived. #6 came yesterday and #11 today.


The last letter I received was #38 of June 26, which came yesterday, quite rapid transmission. It came of course, via Johnson, Drake, as did #30 and 35, all together. And together with them arrived the package with my class ring, which I am now wearing and which feels very natural on my finger again. It is lovely, I like the monogrammed seal, and I’m ever so grateful to you for all the trouble in getting it. It came through in a remarkably short time. I’m much obligated to Mr. Dixon and to Mr. Flanagan for all their assistance in forwarding both it and the letters.


I see you must have received the letter carried by special messenger, though you make no direct mention of its receipt, that perhaps being in one of the missing letters between #30 and #38, which I have. I judge so since you mention my recommendation for promotion, which was in the letter so forwarded.


As regards sending messages that way, I have by every chance I’ve heard of, but that particular person was the only one I’ve heard of who went back by air. You must remember most of those people go from Asmara or Cairo, both of which are none too close to this place, so my chances of keeping track of people flying back and forth are exceptionally poor. Another letter has gone by a person going home by ship, who may get there by late August.


As regards air mail (as I’ve said before) all mail from here is supposed to go by air from here all the way to the U.S. I believe it does, too, when it goes at all, regardless of air mail stamps or lack of them, except that when it comes into Miami, I believe it stays a month or two while the censors examine it. I can see no other reason for the truly atrocious delays in delivery which have occurred.


It is useless for you to put airmail stamps on mail coming here. None that ever goes through APO815 ever goes by air, regardless of the stamps. I think that travels by ship and takes two or three months in transit. Mail via Dixon’s office really goes by air when it catches some one going out, and I believe everything sent via the Mission’s home office also goes by air from there. As I’ve said before, I think I’d give up APO815 for the present.


(Ed: Written across the preceding three paragraphs EE wrote “This letter has two checks for $200 enclosed.”)


I suppose you know by now, if you ever got my cable of late June, that I was promoted to Captain, as you surmised from Mr. E’s letter to you from Washington. So far as I can see, the promotion means little in the way of pay, about $300 a year at most, as I was already receiving nearly the limit of pay for a captain as a commander. While my pay should now (exclusive of the 10% for foreign service be about $7600 a year for pay and allowances) a captain is limited (exclusive of about $560 a year for foreign service) to $7200 for regular pay and allowances and I was already getting something over $6900 for that as a commander.


At any rate, my total now should be about $7760, including foreign service pay of 10%. When and if I can get the papers arranged through the somewhat disorganized Cairo office, I’ll increase my allotment to around $600. This will probably take some months yet.


Meanwhile, I enclose in this letter two government checks totaling $200, one, #59-589 for $140, and one, #223083, for $60. Inform me immediately that you have them, and twice as immediately if either or both are missing from this letter.


(Ed: As noted above, EE wrote across the last three paragraphs “This letter has two checks for $200 enclosed.”)


I sent you about June 26, in a letter presumably mailed by air from Cairo, another government check for $600. Let me know also if you got that one. It went supposedly in a government mail bag.


As regards money for Mary’s senior year expenses, I am decidedly opposed to borrowing anything on life insurance policies for anything short of avoiding actual starvation. My one experience with that back in 1921 will last me for this lifetime. If you run short for Mary’s expenses, you may sell all the Government bonds we own first (including the cessation of any new purchases). After that you may take whatever I have in the savings bank, including the money from the Herald-Tribune prize.


I judge from your letter of June 26 (#38) that some of my letters have finally started to arrive. You might comment in some detail as to how the censor has been treating them. Yours have come through with only one excision so far, in a letter in which you mentioned a letter from me from……., and the censor cut out the name of the place, thereby preventing Mr. Hitler from getting the one last bit of information he needed to round out his plans for conquering America.


(Ed: As noted above, EE wrote across the last three paragraphs “This letter has two checks for $200 enclosed.”)


I’m glad to see you finally received the list of clothing articles I asked for last April. With a little luck, I may receive the things you sent by Christmas. My trunk arrived about 10 days ago, having been some three months (nearly four) in transit.


What you can’t get in the way of white shorts, I suppose some day I can have made here. They are not very important. I wear khaki almost exclusively. And the same goes for the white socks to go with the shorts – if I ever get to some of the places a little more civilized than here, I may be able to buy some.


Never mind the exposure meter for the camera. I can get some expert advice here which should fix the matter, and the meter isn’t worth $25 to me. What Clara sent me was a rangefinder for the camera.


In addition to the checks, I am enclosing some photographs. One shows Captain Brown (Ed: Edison Brown), whom I went across the continent to hire and then had to chase up the coast to Santa Barbara finally to make contact with. Alongside him is me; both of us are in our working salvage uniforms. This picture was taken on July 3 on the deck of our salvage ship. The reason for the smiles on both our faces is that we had just lifted from the bottom a large ship scuttled by our German friends, the superstructure of which shows somewhat to the left of Brown’s head. Why Brown looks more messed up than I, I can’t understand. I hadn’t had a bath for five days, and look at my shoes, which were so stiff from mud and salt water, I could hardly get them on. (They were once my most expensive pair of black Florsheim’s, but that job finished them forever). (I suppose it’s one ship, one pair of shoes.)


The next picture was taken last May 20, when I was entertaining a galaxy of generals (mostly British) just after the conclusion of our first salvage success. (That made me a captain).


In two other pictures (taken the same day) you can find me with the same group on the pier and in a boat on our way out to examine our newly risen drydock.


The other pictures, labeled A, B, C, D, E, and F are various views in the life of a certain German ship which decided to come up from the bottom, barnacles and all, with some of the pictures showing the cataracts of water pouring from her during her rise.


The best picture of the lot I haven’t a print of yet myself, but I hope to get it soon and send it to you. That one, taken on the Fourth of July during the voyage of the ship from where she came up around to our dock, shows the American flag flying beautifully out over the Nazi ensign at the masthead of Mr. Hitler’s late ship. There are a total of ten (10) count ‘em, ten – pictures enclosed with this letter.


I have not yet received a single copy of Life or the Reader’s Digest, and I doubt that I ever will. You might as well cancel the subscriptions and get your money back (if you can) or part of it.


I haven’t received Clara’s book “The Moon is down.”


I am happy to know Mary is home now with you. I only wish I were too.


With much love, Ned



Letter #27

July 16, 1942

As usual


Lucy dearest:


I sent you two letters today which I think will go by different routes. One, dated July 16, I believe will actually go through by air, since I am assured by an air corps officer that he’ll see it gets on a direct plane from this country. That letter contains two checks, one for $140 and one for $60. Both are treasury checks, sent unendorsed. Let me know immediately if you get them, and also immediately if you don’t get them by the time this letter arrives. Also, about June 26, I sent you via supposedly air mail another letter carrying a treasury check for $600. Let me know also the fate of that one, if by the time you get this you have not received that check.


The letter of this morning (July 16) carrying the two checks for $200 also included ten snapshots showing a few marine seascapes of a ship which recently under the urgings of our salvage pumps decided to part company with the ocean floor. Included in the ten were also about four snapshots showing me at work and as escort for an assorted lot of British generals last May. Let me know if any of that lot fail to arrive.


In the second letter (dated July 9) I sent you today, which included some observations on the difficulties of working without men, were included two Fourth of July snapshots showing how we celebrated the holiday on the waterfront hereabouts. Let me know also if that letter arrived with its two pictures and how it fared in conveying to you my comparisons of how much our government has learned since John Paul Jones received the wholehearted cooperation of the country for which he was fighting. That letter went by regular mail from here.


Lest the other letters miscarry or be delayed in transit, I repeat here that my ring arrived July 14, together with your letter #38 of June 26, which came through in remarkably fast time thanks to a fair wind from Mr. Dixon.


I may also mention by way of repetition that if you run short of money for Mary’s college expenses, you may sell all of the Government bonds we have and quit buying others, but don’t try to borrow on my life insurance. I’m set against that.


In your letter #6 of April 16, which apparently lost 12 days while awaiting censorship, after which the censors removed the clipping from the Herald Tribune about the project in this country and substituted the enclosed notice, which from its date shows the delay in censorship. It rather makes me laugh, as the whole newspaper arrives occasionally whenever a ship comes in. (Ed: Printed on the notice: The enclosure in this communication has been extracted as its transmission is not permitted. It was dated April 28, 1942. Ellsberg wrote the following to his censor on the slip: “To the censor: This notice does not refer to any enclosures in this letter. E.E.” And: “This refers to a clipping from Herald Tribune on this project, which you mention in your letter dated April 16. E.E.”)


The whole performance convinces me that the worst way to send mail is via APO 815, as that letter took almost exactly three months to arrive.


There were enclosed in your letter #6 the two statements of Dodd, Mead, which I am returning to you herewith. The major thing I note from the report is that “Spanish Ingots” still acts as if it had a couple of millstones round its neck. Please file these reports with the others in the bottom drawer of my desk.


As regards the voyage, which in that letter you mention as sounding like a nightmare, and trusted was not typical of our merchant marine, I can assure you I now know it was not typical. From the stories I have heard of other ships since and what I have seen of their officers and crews here, I can assure you I traveled on a beautifully disciplined and unusually well managed ship, with officers and crew considerably above average. Draw your own conclusions.


In your letter #30 of June 5 which came recently, you mention again shipping the things I asked for on April 2. Thanks, but I don’t need any soap – I can get plenty here. You want to know what you might send that I might enjoy to vary my diet? Well, I’ll tell you, but you can’t send them. I’d care most for a jar of cream and an orange! Milk and cream are non-existent in this country, and the canned kinds give me a pain, so I drink my coffee black. There are a few million goats all over the hills here, but I haven’t descended to goat’s milk yet. Literally goats seem to be the major animal here for all purposes, and by contract, I must furnish a gang of Persians I have on my drydock one goat every five days. Some Sudanese I had working in the carpenter shop began to park their goats for their Sunday dinners alongside the office building and then slaughter and roast them right there, till I declared a moratorium on goats inside the limits of this naval base. Now the place smells somewhat less goatey.


As for oranges, we get no fresh fruit here at all. The country doesn’t grow any, and the transmission of Palestine oranges, which are marvelous is stopped by the Egyptian government which shows its independence by refusing to allow the transmission through their territory, to encourage the consumption of Egyptian oranges which are uneatable.


We are reduced to canned fruit juices for breakfast, which are not bad, except that the supply seems to run to an undue proportion of prune juice, which I detest. I had thought all the prune juice in the world had gone to Nantucket, judging by the number of decorated prune juice bottles we saw there, but I was wrong. The supply  seems still to hang on. I see no remedy, unless you can send me a cow and an orange tree.


As regards your financial problem, I do not advise selling any of the Commonwealth & Southern, nor so far as I can judge from here, any other stock. I think every corporation is going to catch it in the neck on taxes and labor costs, and I can see no great gain in trying to switch from one to another. There is little to be done there except grin and bear it, with an occasional gnashing of your teeth as you observe how the government soaks those who have saved and invested their money, and passes more lightly over the labor profiteers who are drawing huge wages out of staying home and holding up the country on overtime demands.


There may be one ray of light in this tax situation. Check up yourself in New York at the tax bureau in the Federal Building (or ask Ed Smith to do it for you) on whether I as an American citizen domiciled here for more than six months this year, am liable for any American tax on my salary earned abroad. So far as I can judge, I am not, but I’d like to know what the income tax authorities say on the subject. If, as I believe is correct, I am not, then our tax situation for next year will be somewhat ameliorated. I will of course, be liable for taxes on the money paid me in dividends and in royalties by Dodd, Mead, but that is no part of the question to be put – my tax liability on my salary earned abroad is all I want to know about. I may say that whether most or all of the money is remitted to the United States has no bearing on the question and is not to be introduced into any discussion on the matter.


In regard to what you state about rumors about the government forcing people with two cars to sell one of them, kindly remember that you do not own two cars. I happen to own a car and if I don’t want to sell it till I come home, that’s my business. And if you don’t want to sell the car you own, that is your business. And the same goes for the spare tires I have for my car. Don’t in any misguided moment let anyone have, buy, steal, or confiscate my spare tires. Refer them to me.


And if I were you, I wouldn’t sell the station wagon, though it is possible you might find it advisable to lay one car up and save the insurance and license cost on it. I leave that to your judgment.


So far I’ve been well and I see no reason why I shouldn’t continue so. I’ve reduced my figure to quite healthy proportions, get lots of exercise out in the glorious sunshine and the open air, and have nothing whatever to worry about except everybody’s troubles on this station. If Bill Cunningham on a Saturday night goes to town, gets drunk, and lays out 10 M.P.s trying to put him in the jug, when they get him there finally, I’m the one who is called up to get Bill out of jail. (This actually happened). If Doc Kimble, diver, doesn’t think the ventilation in the corner of the barracks where he sleeps suits him, the problem comes to me. If Bill Reed is envious because Higgins, another superintendent rides in a sedan while he is furnished only a station wagon, I have to soothe Reed’s feelings. If the paymaster makes a mistake in Buck Scougale’s pay, it’s my headaches (and the damned paymaster makes a hundred mistakes every payday, affecting Buck Scougale, Mohamed Ali, Antonio Bertolotti, and a varied assortment of Hindoos, Persians, Sudanese, and God knows what other nationalities). This is quite an exciting life, and oddly enough, the least of my worries is the job I came out to do – the salvage problem. However, in spite of the climate, of the enemy, of the League of Nations on my hands, of the British, of the Americans, and of far-off Washington, I’m well and I’m going to stay that way. I have two very good reasons for it.


With love to them both, Ned


P. S. I’ve just been weighed, and I find I weigh 149 pounds, which is a good fighting weight and I feel very combative. I haven’t had a sick day since I arrived on this station.



Letter #28

July 17, 1942


Lucy darling:


I long since lost track of my numbers and haven’t used any for some time, but now I’ll start again with #40, which might be about correct. (Ed: It is actually #28.)


To cover briefly a few things said before in recent letters, I sent you two checks for $200 total two days ago; enclosed 10 snapshots in the same letter; and by a different route on the same day sent another letter with two other snapshots of our Fourth of July celebration which consisted of bringing into port a salvaged German ship. Let me know how all this reached you.


I received my class ring three days ago, in case my other acknowledgements get hung up. Many thanks.


In connection with miscellaneous matters, I guess I don’t need an exposure meter for my camera. I stopped the lens way down on my second attempt on a roll of film here, and the pictures all came out all right. Too much sun here for ordinary settings, I now see. Unfortunately the pictures were all of our salvage work on the drydock, so I can’t send them. I’ll now try to get some more personal pictures which I can send.


“Captain Paul” still follows me up, even here. On the same day last week two letters arrived, one from a gentleman in Rochester and the other from the captain of a cruiser with the Pacific fleet, both telling me how much “Captain Paul” meant to them.


I now have a shortwave radio set I purchased from a British naval officer detached overnight from here three weeks ago to go to the eastern Mediterranean. I parted with $60 to get it. It works well enough, but I’m beginning to wonder why I did it. It’s a good shortwave set even though I can’t get any American stations here. The trouble with it is that the air around here is full of German and even Japanese stations broadcasting in English on how happy all the occupied countries are over the civilization Germany and Japan have brought them. It’s not worth $60 to me to hear that rot. I can get London regularly well enough too, but London and the British Broadcasting Co. are a poor substitute for American station programs. Incidentally, it makes me grin somewhat to listen at this moment to a program from London on how Britain is straining every nerve to provide ships, ships, ships, and try to square that up with the fact that they have here as a salvage officer supposed to be raising a ship in the middle harbor, a gentleman who wears a monocle, knows less about salvage than Mary does, and is no more a seaman than Mike Gallo. He carries on his salvage work from the comfortable elevation of 8000 feet some 70 miles north of here where it certainly is cool but a little remote from the harbor where the ship was scuttled. No wonder his salvage crew, which started months before we did, hasn’t lifted anything yet but their eyebrows. Every nerve is certainly being strained in providing ships in this instance, including mine when I contemplate the spectacle.


About my smoking, which you inquire about in your letter #35 of June 18, I have resumed smoking some months ago, there being little else to do around here by way of distraction from business. However, I’m not in need of any cigarettes. We’re rationed on them, but as long as the ration is a package a day, it’s no hardship. However, as I asked some weeks ago, if you can send me a few of my assorted cigarette lighters, it will help. Matches are scarce, and after a box of matches has been an hour or two in my pocket, it gets so soaked in sweat it’s impossible to strike a light.


About Mr. Ickes and his advice to convert your oil burner to coal, I’d leave that to Mr. Ickes and those who have janitors. Don’t you follow it. I don’t mind shoveling coal myself, but I object strongly to your having to do it. If you think there is any question of your getting enough oil, let me know immediately and I’ll write personally to some of my old associates in Tide Water, who owe me something, to see that you get enough.


As regards my trunks, etc., everything sent before or after I sailed has arrived, though my second trunk took about four months on the way.


As regards the book Clara sent, it hasn’t showed up, nor have either of the magazines you subscribed to for me. You might as well cancel the subscriptions.


I’m sorry you cannot rent the cottage or charter the boat, but I hardly thought you ever could. Don’t be too concerned yet about getting the money for Mary’s college expenses. Somehow I remember the $200 for the Herald Tribune award. You can take that first. I don’t know any better way to use it. Then you can sell off all our government bonds and quit buying others. And I should be able to increase my allotment to about $600 a month as soon as the necessary papers can be prepared (which may be some months yet). I’ll collect the difference in a check here and send that along some time late this summer, so you can figure on a total allotment of $600 a month from July 1 on, though you may not get it all till somewhat later.


You want to know how soon we can clean up our salvage work? I’ll know better by early September, when I can see the whole salvage fleet at work. But the answer really lies in an unbelievable situation regarding the men for the operation of this base, which situation Mr. Dixon can explain to you. I can’t go into it in a letter. I have a better understanding now of “Captain Paul’s” feelings than I had when I wrote the book.


Regarding the things you say you bought for me, short sleeves on the white shirts are what I want. White shorts seem to be very rare nowadays. There are none available here, except made to order when you furnish your own cloth, and that seems unobtainable. Possibly the best bet would be for you to send me cloth enough (same as for white uniforms) for about 4 pairs and I’ll have them made up here. If they have to be made, that is the safest bet. If I ever get to Cairo, I might get some there.


I’ve never heard here about any cheap cable service you refer to. What is it?


With love, Ned



Letter #29

Saturday night

July 18, 1942


Lucy darling:


I’ve had some freer evenings this last week, being the lulls between the storms of salvage work, and I’ve managed to write some four different letters, which I suppose will reach you months apart.


Today has been quite a hot day, the worst this month. It seems rather ironical that the one thing that (if it exists) the doctors might have done for us in this place, they overlooked completely. I was inoculated for smallpox, typhoid, tetanus, yellow fever, typhus, cholera and I think a couple of other things, but the one thing that would have done me or anyone else here any good would have been an inoculation for prickly heat. Not a man I have has gone to the hospital for any of the tropical diseases that were supposed to lay us away here, but nearly a quarter of my salvage gang has been shipped up the hill to the hospital on account of prickly heat and infections they’ve contracted as a result. I have it over both arms and on my back, but I’ve managed to keep free of any infections. It makes you look as if your skin were a good grade of scotch pebble grain leather, and it itches as if you had just had a haircut and all the hair had slipped down your back under your shirt. Our doctor here says he knows no treatment for it. The ordinary treatment, powder, is no good here, for the continual sweat washes the powder right off and you can’t keep your skin dry. I suppose the reason I’ve made out better than my men is that I at least sleep in an air-conditioned room where I can cool off at night and keep dry, while they can’t for we haven’t yet received air conditioners enough to go round the men’s barracks.


Switching the subject rather abruptly, I believe that if you don’t urgently need the money, you request Dodd, Mead to hold up payment of the royalties due on John Paul, Jr. (Ed: “I Have Just Begun to Fight”), until I get home next year. I have an idea you’ll need the money more in 1943, when there are no new books published, and besides it will have a desirable effect in a certain other direction, both in your case and in mine. Since (aside from any allotment) I have sent you a total of $800 ($600 in one letter June 26 and $200 early this week) recently, that should take care of any deficit in Mary’s income for college expenses, and I’ll probably be able to send a few hundred more before the year is out.


As I’ve said in several other letters, based on my experience with the delays, I advise you to give up APO 815 for mail and send everything via J D & P or thru the home office in Washington. Either one of those ways goes far faster.


And you might as well quit using air mail stamps. No matter how you address a letter, they get you nothing whatever in delivery. And don’t address any letters % J D & P and then add APO 815 which means a couple of months delivery at the best and four months at the worst.


As I’ve requested before, you might give me an idea on how my letters have been scissored, and so far as the numbered series goes, how many you’ve received and which numbers are missing. And as regards checks, please let me know what you’ve received, being specific as to dates sent and received and amounts. (This refers to every check you’ve ever received from out here.)


If you know anything about it, I’d like to know how Harry and Will (Ed: his brothers) have been holding up in their promised payments to my mother.


The three snapshots you sent me a few weeks ago (taken by Mary Adams’ friend) are some of the loveliest pictures of you I’ve ever had. I keep them on my desk in front of me in my room, and I seem to have you smiling lovingly on me all evening, which is little enough, but still something in this situation.


I am enclosing a copy of the Eritrean Daily News which is the only newspaper in this country. We do not get much news, everything in English on the front page being contained in only seven stories, which to cover the field range from the Russian battlefront to a social note about one of the King’s brothers.


It is interesting to note that the paper is published in both English and Italian. I have an idea the paper is published more for the information of the Italian population than for that of either English or American sojourners.


On the whole the paper seems to present the news, good or bad, in a fairly unbiased manner, so far as I can judge by comparing its stories with the radio broadcasts from London and Berlin. But compared to the New York Times, the amount of coverage we get is very little and I doubt if with such limited space available, anything but an English newspaper would devote even seven lines to the goings and comings of a duke, and then reprint it in Italian to make sure all hands get it.


With love, Ned



Letter #30

As usual

July 22, 1942


Lucy darling:


I sent you recently (supposedly by air from headquarters city of this organization) a letter dated about June 26 containing a check for $600. And on July 11 (presumably also by air from near here) two checks, one for $140 and one for $60 (totaling $200). Please let me know when you received these. (Use several different letters).


In this letter I enclose a check for $154.41. This cleans up my pay accounts here to July 1. When I can, which will take several months, I shall try to get the papers through to increase my allotment to $600 from $540. Let me know also in several different letters when you get this check. This particular letter goes by the regular mail service from here, and I am interested in knowing whether its delivery time differs any from that of the two letters mentioned above for which I went to considerable trouble to get supposedly special service and fast delivery. Also I’d like to know whether in any other particular whatever, this letter appears to have received different treatment than the other two.


As usual, I am well; as usual, the weather is very hot and very humid; and, as usual, I suppose it will be hotter in the next few weeks when the sun, going south, gets directly overhead in this latitude.


I saw today my first American newspaper since I left home – a copy of the World-Telegram for May 6 which one of the ships touching here left. Two and a half months old now, but it was nevertheless refreshing to read it, trash and all, including My Day. By the headlines, Corregidor has just fallen. By an inside story, I find that General Motors, some governmental alphabetic agency, and its C.I.O. employees (G.M.’s, that is) are squabbling over whether the company shall be forced to pay double time for Sunday work. My God! I wonder whether the thousands of brave Americans who fought to the end at Corregidor demanded double pay of General Wainwright for fighting on Sundays?


With love, Ned




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