My Dad served in the US Navy during WWII aboard a troop transport in the European Theatre. As they prepared to leave for the invasion of Japan from Alaska, the war ended. Dad passed away in June of 2010 at the age of 85. Sadly, I did not find out as much as I would have liked about his time of service. However, I recently started corresponding with a shipmate of his. What follows in this column are the events from April 1944 forward. Dad graduated from Quartermasters School in Newport, Rhode Island, a few months prior to that. The story is picked up from there.
I'll try to give you an overview and then we can take it from there if you have more questions. My fingers don't fly over the keys as easily as they used to, so I may have to do this in installments.
First, I was wrong about where your dad lived at the time, he was from Waltham, MA. (He was from West Newton, but lived less than a five minute walk from the Waltham line).
Before our LCI was built by the New Jersey Ship Co. in Barber, N.J., ships being built there were assigned cages at Pier 42 on Manhattan on the North (Hudson) River where they assembled and stored all the provisions that would be needed by the ship. I first met Ed at cage 18 on April 7, 1944. He showed up carrying all the corrected charts for the ship. The next day, April 8th, we all went to the Todd Ship Yards in Barber, N.J. for the commissioning of our ship. At 1500 hours, we mustered on deck for the commissioning ceremonies after which visitors went ashore, workmen went ashore and a pilot came aboard to guide us to Pier 42. We sailed around the north end of Staten Island, stopping before each bridge to sound our horn so the keeper could raise or turn the bridge to let us pass. We stayed at Pier 42 until April 14, provisioning the ship. Then we sailed to Norfolk, VA, Little Creek, VA, and Solomons, MD where we practiced landings and signaling. We even went out in the Atlantic and practiced landings at Virginia Beach, VA.
On May 11, we were in Norfolk where we took on 12,000 gallons of water and 35,000 gallons of fuel. On May 12, we anchored off Hampton roads Virginia with all the other LCI's. On May 13, we weighed anchor and proceeded into the Atlantic in a line of ships as far as you could see. By the next day, we had formed up into a 105 ship convoy sailing to the Mediterranean. The LCI's were placed in what were called the coffin corners of the convoy, i.e. the last ships in the convoy at the outside corners, the favorite spot for submarines to pick off ships of the convoy. We didn't worry about it as we figured that torpedos would go beneath our shallow draft (3'6" forward and 5'4" aft). We zigzagged across the Atlantic and reached the straits of Gibraltar on May 28, 1944. Once in the Mediterranean, the convoy broke up into smaller groups with different destinations. We were then given orders to proceed to Oran, Algeria and then to Mers-el Kebir, the old French naval base just outside Oran. We were there a couple of days and then told that we had been given the wrong orders and should proceed to Birzerte, Tunisia. While sailing to Birzerte, we encountered a very short sea, i.e. the waves came rapidly and close together so that with our flat bottom, we would rise up on one wave and slam down on the top of the next one. This continued so long that the
superstructure of the LCI parted somewhat from the deck, leaving a large crack at the welding. We arrived at Birzerte June 6th, 1944 (D-Day in Normandy) and immediately had the welding mended.
We left Birzerte and sailed to Naples, Italy arriving June 10th, and the next day we sailed to Pozzuoli (the ancient Puteoli where St. Paul landed when he was taken to Rome as a prisoner. Also, where Sophia Loren grew up.) which was to be the base for all the LCI's.
Pozzuoli is just a couple of miles north of Naples.We got to Pozzuoli just in time to receive orders to go to Salerno, south of Naples, where the Allies first landed in Italy some months ago. Our time in the Salerno area was one of incessant training, lasting until June 19th. As well as maneuvering with other LCI's (columns, lines abreast, v-formations and general practice using flag hoist signals by day and blinker signals at night) we spent considerable time beaching and retracting. In the day, we beached on several small beaches and at night - with no lights on board ship - we beached on beaches below the Amalfi drive, one at Positano only 80 feet wide with jagged cliffs on either side. We trained daily almost from 0900 one morning to 0200 the next.
Beaching an LCI is an art, although a crude one. The ship's stern anchor is dropped when approaching the beach. The anchor cable is 150 fathoms long so, if the anchor is dropped too far of shore, the ship either won't reach the beach or will break the cable trying to reach the beach. On the other hand, if the anchor is dropped too far in-shore
the anchor will drag when the stern winch is turned on so it won't help the ship off the beach. Also it is important to hit the beach at just the right speed, hard enough to
stick while the soldiers disembark via the two side ramps but not so hard that the engines and winch can't pull you of the beach. Steep beaches are handled differently from shallow beaches and gravel beaches differently from sand beaches. Sea and wind conditions are also factors. A beam wind or cross-current may cause the ship to broach
when beaching and a heavy surf breaking against the fantail may also cause broaching.
Usually, the engines and screws were left running at one-third ahead and the stern anchor cable kept taught to prevent broaching.
June 20th was mock invasion day. With 200 troops aboard and in the company of 72 LCI's as well as numerous LCTs, LCCs, Higgins' Boats, SCs, mine sweepers, a cruiser, several destroyers, some demolition boats and a score of planes we assaulted the beaches at Gaeta, some miles north of Naples.
First the demolition teams in kayaks went into where the underwater obstacles were located, planted charges, and retreated. Then the cruiser, destroyer and rocket barrage came. Then the demolition boats swooped in. The latter are really just radio controlled speed boats filled with explosives. They're directed toward the shore and, when they reach the underwater barriers or obstacles, they explode blasting a path to shore. In the meantime, mine-sweepers have been at work. Finally the mock invasion started. LCIs streamed in towards shore eight abreast. The beach was relatively gradual so we were unable to land the soldiers dry. We let down our ramps in about two feet of water and the soldiers waded ashore carrying packs and rifles, a few machine guns, bazooka and automatic rifles. We had no difficulty retracting from the beach, particularly considering we were so much lighter after disembarking 200 soldiers plus their equipment.
On the whole, the mock invasion went off quite well although a few ships had trouble with sandbars and two soldiers were drowned leaving one ship, they were carrying machine guns and stepped in deep holes.
The next day we returned to Salerno, took on more troops and on June 22 did another mock invasion of Gaeta. On June 24, we returned to Pozzuoli. More to follow....I hope that this chronicle will do a couple of things. First, I think it is an interesting story. Second, I hope that as our WWII veterans are dying in greater numbers, that readers will seek out their friends and relatives to get their stories. Once they die, the stories are lost forever.--Paul