With a broad smile and a pat on my back, Reinig retreated back through the hatch to his bunk. I wished he had never reminded me about my birthday. Homesickness washed over me like a big green ocean wave. The calendar might say that I was a year older, but I felt more childlike and lonely at that moment than at any time in my life.
Another Metox alarm shook me from my reverie. I wanted to scream, laugh, and cry, all at the same time. Eventually, anger won out. I sat at my station, sullenly going through the diving operations, blaming the British for robbing us of our chance to enjoy a normal life.
To my great annoyance, word soon spread throughout the boat that it was my birthday. More backslaps and handshakes. My birthday present from the officers on this special day was permission to stand watch on the bridge for an hour to get some fresh air. My friend Toni found a bottle of Beck‘s beer, which had “mistakenly” been loaded with the ship’s galley stores. We shared it together. I was grateful for such good friends, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what the navigator had said: “Who knows where we will be in another year.”
The uninterrupted cycle of surfacing to recharge batteries, only to immediately dive again to escape an attack from the air, continued throughout the next day. In desperation, Zschech resorted to a full-speed underwater run in an attempt to shake loose from our airborne tormentors.
Around noon we finally got a break from the buzzards and were able to surface without molestation. To the west was the coast of Trinidad, so close we could smell the sweet, spicy fragrance of tropical flowers in bloom. Above us, a thick layer of clouds obscured the sun, bathing us in cool shadows. The gorgeous turquoise water gently lapped against our hull. It was the quiet before the storm.
Second Watch Officer Stolzenburg, standing watch on the bridge with the skipper, was worried. It was suspicious enough that the swarm of enemy airplanes, which had been so numerous the previous day, had mysteriously disappeared. What made it worse was the blanket of dark gray clouds, so low they seemed to be scraping the top of his cap. Conditions like these were what Kapitänleutnant Löwe used to call “perfect air attack weather.” Zschech had been even grouchier than usual these past few days, but Stolzenburg could not restrain himself any longer. Something in the back of his head told him we were in danger.