The new Fourth Edition with 44-page Index
Do-217 glide bomb sinks HMT Rohna; 1100 Soldiers Lost
German Aerial Torpedoes, Glide Bombs, Pierce Well Defended Naval Convoys (see KMF-26 story in this segment)
Copyright 2012 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
Form a Task Force, Execute Mission, Disperse
Gather, function, disperse. That sequence described our lives. There was little time to reflect on what happened to the assault troops that we had helped get ashore. Where now, after the landing, were Army divisions like the 3rd Infantry, the 36th Infantry, the 45th Infantry, the First Armored, and units of Darby's Rangers? Their peril extended long after our primary missions were accomplished. Their sacrifices brought us victory in the titanic land war in Europe. This distancing from the realities of our most recent soldier-partners occurred even with our own sister warships. We were with them for times and then separated for times.
DesRon 13 pretty well ceased to exist by the middle of 1944. DesDiv 25, the Ludlow, Woolsey and Edison with the addition at times of Benson, or Mayo, or Madison, were rejoined occasionally, but war stirred the pot constantly. The original destroyer relationships of 1942 gave way by 1944 to newly constructed, intact, squadrons of destroyers and destroyer escorts. The destroyer escorts were now the backbone of ASW. Many of the surviving early WW II Benson/Livermore destroyers came to be identified as those specialized in the close in, "shoot `em up", missions. Some of those early destroyers were still present in ASW screens, but were there now primarily to enhance a convoy's anti-aircraft defense capability. Such was the duty the destroyer USS Lansdale was executing when she was sunk in April, 1944.
By the Fall of 1944, the Edison had just come through five straight assault landings. An Allied defeat at Salerno would have been a major setback, and indeed, as I learned later, there had been high level discussion during its early phase of abandoning the hard won southern beachhead and lightering those troops off to link up with the British who had the northern sector responsibility. That would have been an enormously complicated maneuver, totally unplanned with respect to availability of assault craft and support ships. Morale would have taken a terrific jolt. Had the German High Command been willing to pull down its troops in northern Italy to join Kesselring in the Naples/Salerno area, they might have hurled us back at Salerno. That did not happen. The U.S. forces, instead of pulling back, brought in all the reserves available from Sicily and with their naval gunfire ships as artillery, beat the Germans back and won the day. Anzio worked out to be a long and soldier-wise, costly, effort. It was costly at sea, too. Our effort to advance north of Naples, with its ill-defined objectives, stalled out. At the Anzio beachhead, as at Salerno, the Germans attempted a major counter thrust but the Allies again were prepared to make sure that it failed. Finally, at Southern France, those of us in the assault business began to realize that the Allies now had the makings of victory in their grasp.
No Specific Turning Point, But Clues Were There
I certainly did not develop any sense of a specific war-in-Europe turning point while all this was going on. Salerno taught those of us in the assault business that we had developed into a formidable amphibious landings capability. I was aware of changes in strategy along the way but I could not have articulated them. The success of the landings in Southern France, with our 7th Army advancing north to link up with the Normandy invasion forces, demonstrated that the Allies were up to more than a general tightening of the screws on Hitler in Europe. The Allies were now ready to carve up some of his armies.
The picture at sea in the Atlantic and Mediterranean was improving too. Again I doubt if those involved in that still very dangerous convoy work were aware of a turning point. Later in this Chapter, this story will take another look at what was happening at sea. We will re-visit the challenges met by convoys, spanning a half year in time, in transit in the western Mediterranean, to bring needed support to Italy, Southern France, India and Russia. Even by consulting records now available covering the actions of those convoys, a researcher who had not been told how it all came out might infer that the issue of the European seawar was as much in doubt in the Fall of 1944 as in the Fall of 1943.
This was actually not the case at all. Within the times framed by convoys KMF-25A and UGS-38, the situation changed dramatically. Convoys were loading in England and in the east coast ports of the U.S. for their ultimate destinations. Intermediate stopping points were no longer needed for contingency purposes. Reflecting those new realities, in a change of escort strategy, convoys in 1944 would now keep their screens and naval command structure intact from port of origination to port of destination.
Let me reemphasize that few on board the Edison indulged in heavy thinking about the overall course of the war. For sure, the "big picture" was far from this junior officer's mind.
The Allied High Command: 1942 - Conclusion of WW II
For the core of this story, I was a very junior officer. I accepted the naval leadership structure without question. I have commented on some glitches along the way. I now have the benefit of an examination, after 55 years, of the U.S. military leadership and the structure that President Franklin Roosevelt put in place in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. I can now better see how this group of U.S. leaders lent their talents and energies to the creation of what became known as the Allied High Command.
For the most part, the Allied commands did not permit themselves to get into thinking ruts. When the leadership perceived that the our side had gained an advantage, they were quick to exploit that advantage. Unlike the view from the deck of a destroyer, there was a "big" picture, and our military leaders lost little time in exploiting the advantages gained. Historians have accorded U.S. WW II leaders deserved recognition as heroes. From my own re-examination of the destroyer war in the Atlantic and Mediterranean areas, I have developed other appreciations for those wartime leaders. For the most part, they listened to each other. The majority of them were very smart. They knew what they could count on from the "rank and file" and they pushed it hard. At the outset of this story, it never entered my mind that I would be presenting such views. The story itself convinced me.
Coming back to the Edison and the destroyer perspective, by 1944 I could see that assault landings had become a specialty for some destroyers. Convoy work had become a specialty for destroyer escorts, with U.S. destroyers and British cruisers supplementing convoy screens for AA defense upon entering the Mediterranean. At Gibraltar, or at Alboran Island, just inside the western Mediterranean, these AA supplement ships would be added to the eastbound convoys. The Allied High Command now had the luxury of putting past experience to work, rather than plugging any available ship into emergency service to fill slots.
In Chapter Twelve, I will take another page or two from the annals of our sister destroyers in the Pacific War. The Edison was to go to the Pacific before her World War II duties were over. If events recalled from 55 years can be called coincidences, an unlikely communications event on the Edison in 1944 brought me then to a brief side glance at that Pacific War.
Fast Carrier Task Force (FCTF)-Pacific
One evening when the Edison was anchored in the Bay of Naples, and I was again the OOD, the Captain came back from the beach. He had had a few. Liquor, or wine, whatever, the stuff loosened him up. He was normally a very quiet, introspective man. He was also very intelligent. I have not researched his class standing at the Naval Academy, but he had that kind of "native intelligence" that does not always translate into high class standing. His mind was constantly at work. And during WW II, his mind was always at work on how to beat the enemy.
This particular evening, the skipper came into the wardroom. That was unusual. His normal place to be was either his stateroom in port, or his emergency stateroom on the bridge or the bridge itself when underway. A destroyer skipper in WW II got very, very little sleep.
There was no activity in the wardroom that evening. It was after dinner and few officers were aboard. Lieutenant Commander Hepburn A. Pearce sat down on the transom. Called transoms, these were wide divans along the skin of the ship on each side of the wardroom under the now plugged-up portholes. (Differing from the transom found across the top of a door, there is a nautical tradition for the word "transom". But, even the usual nautical variations are farfetched for the context of the word as it was used in a destroyer wardroom.) These divans, long enough to sleep on (often officers in transit had to sleep on them), were made of some imitation, non flammable, leather-like material. It was like the Naugahyde seat covering used after the war. Just as I was about to go back to the quarterdeck, the Captain said, "Frank, is the Communications Officer aboard?" I knew that he was aboard, and that he wanted Lt. Chauncey Torrance. (Mother, I hated it when you called me Frankie, but I forgave you when I discovered that Chauncey was a name option that you did not pick.) Chauncey Torrance was one of the most engaging men I have ever met. I knew him a little extra because I was one of the four officers aboard who knew the emergency code setting of the Electric Coding Machine-ECM, before that acronym was usurped by Electronic Counter Measures. I called for Chauncey to come to the wardroom. He probably never forgave me. He was about to be introduced to a kind of "sweat" exercise.
"Chauncey, I want to send a Secret dispatch to the Commander Fast Carrier Task Forces-Pacific.", said the Captain. Chauncey looked like he had been struck by lightning, but give him a lot of credit, he kept his cool. The skipper was always doodling his ideas on those little communications pads, and he had been working on this one, as Chauncey and I realized when he told us, "Go over this to see that I have not made any grammar errors or left anything out." Now, both Chauncey and I knew that the Captain was in a destroyer division chain of command in Naples, Italy, and that there were a dozen or more "higher authorities" between the Edison and an Admiral in the Pacific. We also knew that this dispatch would have to go to Radio Annapolis and then to Radio San Diego and out across the Pacific. And we also knew that if you were not an addressee you were not supposed to "break", that is decode, messages not intended for you. And we also knew that that protocol was constantly breached and that surely some high command along the way, puzzled, would break that message. And that then we would all be in some federal prison. When we read what he wanted to send, we knew we had to talk him out of it. Here is my best recollection of the dispatch.
"To: COMMANDER FAST CARRIER TASK FORCES PACIFIC (we found out later it was Admiral Marc Mitscher)
From: COMMANDING OFFICER, USS EDISON
Subject: NIGHT ATTACK TACTICS ON JAPANESE FLEET
Launch black cat squadron (these were night flying lagoon-based PBY seaplane aircraft) to get in behind Japanese Fleet at night. Direct these planes to drop flares behind Japanese warships. Launch dive bombers and torpedo bombers from your carriers before dawn, timed to get Japanese Fleet silhouetted in front of flares dropped by black cat planes. Deliver attack and recover carrier aircraft after dawn.
/s/ H.A. Pearce, Commanding Officer, USS Edison"
With courage, Chauncey spoke first. "Captain, I know you have given a lot of thought to this. I know that your earlier experience being attacked by the Japanese aircraft in the South Pacific has made you think a lot about what we could do to counter attack. This is entirely logical and there are no errors that I can see. It gives us a weapon we would not normally have because our carriers do not operate planes at night. But please Captain, protocol would suggest that you might go to our Division Commander and see if he has an idea as to how to get this idea put into play." "Thanks Chauncey, but the idea will be squashed if we do it that way.", the Captain responded. "Send it out." I was an onlooker. I had no ideas about how we could even slow this one down. We actually spent more than minutes, probably an hour to try to keep the Skipper from getting, at the very least, a reprimand. Chauncey took the dispatch and Chauncey sent it out.
Two weeks later Chauncey Torrance brought me a copy of a "Speedmail' , addressed to the CO USS Edison and signed by Admiral Mitscher. Speedmail was a sealed envelope containing official mail which was physically moved by the fastest available, secure, aircraft courier service. It said, in effect, "Thank you for your suggestion. It is incorporated into our battle plans and will be considered for use at the first opportunity that circumstances permit. I am always happy to receive suggestions from the commanders of destroyers under my command."
Whew! That little dispatch had gotten all the way to the Admiral in the Pacific, who first treated it with the respect its originality required, and then did not even look up to see if the Edison was a part of his Force. Mitscher's instinctive thought was to thank the originator. And despite my forebodings and Chauncey's, for once the protocol was observed and no one along the way decoded the message.
I can recall an event or two where each officer of the Edison and I, and events where some of the petty officer watch standers, and I, were partners in some challenge like the one above. Most of these were little pieces of ordinary life. A few were life threatening, thankfully very few. Chasing a loose 600 pound depth charge on the main deck aft was one where a torpedoman and I gave up finally when the solid green water almost put both of us over the side. Let it roll around and hope that the safety train keeps it unarmed. Marvin Tanner, a great little reserve officer from Louisiana, was my partner in another communications episode aboard the Edison. That occurred in Edison's first CIC. In Chapter Ten, I covered an assignment that Joe Dwyer and I carried out together in Casco Bay. Joe, now 82 (in 1998), favored me with a story of an event which occurred after I left the Edison. I will get to Joe Dwyer's story near the end of this chapter. Here now, some reader feedback.
New Edison readers have come on board since the release of Chapter Ten.
Rick Sotis. Son of Jack Sotis, a torpedoman on the USS Edison reports that he is furnishing his father copies of the chapters as they come along. Rick e-mailed me on 2/8/98.
Tim Koerber. Son of H. George Koerber, a gunner's mate on the USS Edison, Tim intends to make some chapters available to his father in hard copy. Tim e-mailed me on 3/7/98.
Pete Mogor. Son of Alex Mogor, a signalman on the USS Edison. Pete e-mailed me 3/15/98
The supply ship USS Electra was torpedoed off Casablanca. That event and the subsequent action to save the ship was covered in Chapter Six. Jonathan Cook-Fisher, a grandson of Commander W.D. Cook, SC, USNR has e-mailed me. Commander Cook was Electra's Supply Officer and was aboard Electra when she was torpedoed. His grandson downloaded Chapter Six of this story and gave it to his grandfather. Electra was not grounded outside the harbor as I reported in Chapter Six, based on reading Samuel Eliot Morison's account in his Volume II, "Operations in North African Waters." Let me present here a correction from Commander Cook, an eyewitness, who also reports that the torpedoing occurred on his birthday.
"The Electra was towed into the (Casablanca) harbor and tied up at the Jettee d'Allure, and there she sank leaving only the main deck above water. A navy salvage team made repairs which took four or five months and enabled us to get back to the United States approximately the first part of May, 1943."
Convoys Transit The Mediterranean
As the number of Hitler's Mediterranean sea bases declined in late 1943 and early 1944, the number of his subs in the Mediterranean declined. Some of the "slack" was taken up by Goering's air force. KMF-25A, originating in the United Kingdom with cargo in 26 ships for Palermo and Naples transited into the eastbound Tunisian War Channel of the Mediterranean on 6 November, 1943. The escort force of eight U.S. destroyers was under U.S. command, both force and command a rarity for this routing of a UK-originating convoy. The screen was supplemented by HMS Colombo, an AA cruiser, three British Hunt class destroyers and two Greek destroyer escorts. At sunset, all escorts went to battle stations and Allied fighters returned to their bases. Just after sunset, U.S. destroyer Laub's radar picked up a number of aircraft to the north. Laub was the assigned radar picket ship out ahead of the convoy and similar dispositions found U.S. destroyers Beatty and Tillman on the starboard and port quarters, respectively. All destroyers made smoke. From about 1800 to 1830, Luftwaffe glide bomb and torpedo attacks were pressed home. The U.S. destroyer Beatty was hit by a torpedo in the after engine room about 1815. With her keel broken, Beatty sank about 2300. Once the escort screen had been punctured, two transports were torpedoed. These were the SS Santa Elena, of U.S. registry and the Dutch merchantman, the Marnix van St. Aldegonde. Edison had convoyed the latter ship many times. The U.S. screen commander directed five of his screen destroyers plus transports Monterey and Ruyz (Dutch registry) to assist in rescue operations. Four more U.S. destroyers were ordered out of Algiers and tugs were ordered out of Philippeville to assist in the rescue operations. Santa Elena sank in the outer harbor of Philippeville and the Aldegonde grounded on the way in. Over 6,000 men were rescued. Loss of life was greatly cut down by effective rescue efforts.
The rescue success of Convoy KMF-25A was not repeated with Convoy KMF-26, which sustained grievous personnel losses on 26 November 1943. Again, the German air attack delivered the damaging weapons. After the enemy pathfinder plane, at an upper altitude, vectored flare dropping planes to get the convoy illuminated, a coordinated attack by planes carrying glide bombs, and others carrying torpedoes, was made. These attacks usually took up an entire hour, especially as Allied fighter cover was withdrawn at dusk. KMF-26 received shadowing aircraft warnings from Mediterranean shore-based stations but received no warning of actual aircraft attack. I am indebted to Drake Davis, Webmaster of the USS Savannah, for his research diligence in uncovering reports from the British Admiralty, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the U.S. Army, and CinClantFlt regarding the sinking of the troopship SS Rohna. Drake sent copies from which I drew material on KMF-26.
The Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb was now a preferred Luftwaffe weapon against convoys in dusk and approaching darkness. We had developed radio link jamming equipment but it was not yet widely installed nor did we have much experience in using it. With the escorts absorbed in dodging these radio controlled devices, torpedo attacks could then be made with a better chance of hitting major targets. From the glide bomb carrying aircraft, a target would be selected, and that "mother" plane would descend to about 4,000 feet on a course parallel to the target. Just forward of the target's beam the rocket powered missile would be released and initially would fly parallel to the mother plane while radio-link flight controls were checked out. Then the missile would be turned toward the target and nosed over to get down to an approach altitude near the water in level flight. At the chosen point the missile would be nosed into the target. This final phase could be accompanied by any last minute course correction needed. Merchant ships and LSTs were favorite targets, since they were capable of putting up the least flak and were incapable of last minute maneuvers to avoid being hit.
As it left Gibraltar behind, KMF-26 proceeded with 17 ships in five columns screened by ten escorts. Destination was Port Said, Egypt. In company with four other ships, the SS Rohna sailed from Oran on 25 November 1943 and joined the convoy at 1530 on the 25th. She became the second ship in the port column and her 2nd officer, J.E. Wills, in his report to the Admiralty stated that the convoy was then in 6 columns and totaled 24 ships. Rohna, out of India but with Canadian Registry, had 2,000 U.S. troops aboard, with their equipment, and a crew of 218. The minesweeper, USS Pioneer, AM105, joined the convoy off Oran, Algiers on the 26th. Six escorts were British and four were U.S. In addition to Pioneer, the USS Portent, the Herbert C. Davis and the Frederick C. Jones were in the escort. For the afternoon of the 26th, 2nd Officer Wills' report showed good visibility with the sea made up in a long swell. The following paragraph appears in the "Remarks" section of the USS Pioneer's report to CinClant:
"No messages were received prior to or during the attack regarding enemy planes or convoy action. We received no information on joining convoy, as to who was the senior escort. We had no radio code call assigned."
2nd Officer (last-named,Wills) of the Rohna:
"No warnings of enemy aircraft were received. I came off the bridge at 1620 on the 26th of November (1943) and went to my cabin for tea. About ten minutes later I thought I heard gunfire. I had just arrived on the bridge when I saw a splash in the water about 100 feet from the stern of the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Coventry. The Coventry was at this time ahead of the centre of the convoy, off our starboard bow....The extra 2nd Officer ran to sound the alarm bells, and everyone went to action stations. (Rohna carried one 4" gun, one 12 pounder, six Oerlikons, two Hotchkiss, and two Twin Lewis) For the next forty minutes there were enemy aircraft constantly in sight...They kept out of range and appeared to be attacking the escorts....I saw several glider bombs released..At this time I did not know anything about these glider bombs , to me they appeared to be British fighters attacking the bombers and being shot down."
"The convoy did not alter course or reduce speed. The enemy planes continued skirting the convoy, making direct attacks on the escorts, and I learned later that a torpedo attack was made on the convoy; their intention was to cripple the escorts before attacking the merchant ships. Shortly after 1700 several other enemy aircraft appeared, and at one time I saw four in formation off the port quarter. At 1725, I observed two bombers approaching from the port quarter, flying at approximately 3,000 feet. One attacked the ship ahead, the other, when he was abeam of us, swerved towards us and launched a bomb from about 2 points before the beam. At this time we were 15 miles from Jijelli, North Africa, steering 100 degrees true at 12 knots."
"When first released the bomb appeared to be a little below and to the starboard of the plane, it then closed the plane, shot downwards, swerving to the right of the plane and a red glow appeared in its nose. When it was half way I realized that it was a glider bomb; I gave orders for the port Oerlikon to fire, but I do not think any hits were scored. The bomb struck the ship in the engine room on the port side, just above the water line. No. 4 bulkhead collapsed, and the Radio Officer who was on the boat deck at the time said that a lot of debris, soldier's kits, tin hats etc. were thrown into the air. (The bomb struck a troop compartment. The consensus was that not less than 300 men were either killed outright then or injured beyond helping themselves.) The vessel listed slightly to starboard, the shell plates about 6 feet above the water level on both the port and starboard sides were blown upward and outward. I went to the boat deck and released the bolly bands from the boats....The Master decided that nothing could be done and ordered "Abandon Ship". (Since all electrical power had been lost, thisorder was not broadcast throughout the ship.)"
The rest of the Rohna story is pure disaster. 1,115 of the 2,000 troops in passage were lost. Discipline was lost. The story of attempts to launch boats is full of equipment failures, crew failures and troop panic, with both falls of some lifeboats being slashed and the boats diving into the water uselessly. The sea swell compounded the difficulty. There had been 22 boats. One was successfully launched with ship's crew aboard and pulled away. 6 were rendered useless by the bomb. The 2nd Officer reported that most of the 101 rafts were thrown overboard or released. Last to leave the Rohna were the Master, Chief Officer, 2nd and 3rd Officers and four American soldiers. This party went over the side about one half hour after the main group, upon hearing a rending sound and feeling the stern settle rapidly. Rohna sank about one hour and thirty minutes after being hit. HMS Atherstone and USS Pioneer stayed behind to take survivors aboard. HMS Atherstone's report notes that the SS Clan Campbell also stayed behind to pick up survivors, and that the Rohna burned so furiously that Atherstone laid a smoke screen in case follow up bombers came to finish them off. The tug Mindful came out from Bougie to assist. Clan Campbell's freeboard was so high that it was difficult to get ropes to survivors and have them hang on long enough to come aboard. Clan Campbell, Pioneer and Atherstone landed 819 survivors at Philippeville. (Rescue efforts of Mindful, HMS Holcombe and an unidentified tug brought the total U.S. Army survivors to 966. Four of seven American Red Cross workers were saved.) Sixteen men were alive when picked out of the water but died before reaching a port. The bodies of 3 officers and 77 enlisted men were picked out of the water or washed ashore. Rohna's crew casualties were also heavy.
The U.S. minesweeper Pioneer and HMS Atherstone were the heroes in this disaster at sea. Pioneer alone picked up 606 survivors and Atherstone, while also recovering survivors, coolly defended the rescuers from further attack. One report stated that Atherstone dodged five of the glider bombs during the early part of the attack and observed enemy torpedo planes attempting to mop up at the close of the Luftwaffe phase of the event. Pioneer estimated that 40-50 glider bombs had been released during the full fury of the attack. The following is page one of Enclosure A to the CinClant 7Cl-42 report submitted by the USS Pioneer.
I could not help but note the instruction at the top of CinClant form above. "REPEL ATTACK FIRST-- then collect data for this report."
The convoy commander, CTF 65, was Captain W. R. Headden,. He had been my first skipper on the USS Edison. For this passage, the escorts were designated as Task Force 65. In the ship-train, there were 60 merchantmen and six LSTs. There were eight U.S. destroyer escorts and Headden's flagship was one of them, the U.S. DE Stanton. Five U.S. destroyers, British AA cruiser HMS Delhi (which I had been aboard once at Gibraltar), and three British rescue tugs completed the strong escort contingent. This was a Norfolk, Virginia to Bizerte assignment for Task Force 65. Its entry into the Mediterranean was well publicized by German reconnaissance aircraft and by coast watchers in Spain.
With a clear sky and a calm sea, the Luftwaffe struck the convoy in the evening of April 11, 1944 off Cape Benegut, Algeria. In 12 columns, making just over 7 knots, the convoy was fairly tight in spacing as passage into the Tunisian War Channel would demand. The Destroyer Escorts were on the perimeter, three to port and three to starboard, with Holder and Forster ahead, at 3,000 yards. The U.S. destroyer Lansdale carrying glide bomb jamming equipment was on the port side. AA cruiser Delhi was on the port quarter between the escorts and the convoy. The destroyer contingent, less Lansdale, were astern, with the descending moon.
An enemy aircraft was reported overhead just before 2300. It was joined by up to ten more by 2315. The white pathfinder flare appeared ahead just minutes later. With that marker, flares began to dot the port flank. Escorts, on command, made smoke beginning at 2330. A beehive of planes were in the immediate vicinity by 2335 as flares now completely illuminated the entire force. Stanton's guns spoke at that point and the Ju-88s and Do-217s commenced a well coordinated attack. DE Holder took a torpedo shortly thereafter. Lansdale detected radio glide bomb control signals at about midnight and Stanton was straddled by a stick of bombs shortly thereafter. The last flare went out about a half hour after midnight. The Task Force had done its job and no convoy ship was damaged at all. But, this trip generated other fireworks related to escort vessel tactics. Though losing 16 men at torpedo impact and transferring 12 wounded men to DE Forster, and without any propulsion of her own, Holder was towed by HMS Mindful to Algiers. Fleet tug Choctaw got her back to the states where her condition was deemed too poor for any repair attempt.
Captain Headden later criticized the USS Lansdale for putting up almost no AA fire. Admiral Hewitt defended Lansdale, stating that she used the AA doctrine her Mediterranean experience taught her. Hewitt then criticized Headden for ordering smoke 15 minutes later than he could have (seems to me now to have been a justifiable criticism) and for using it in the wrong sectors. With respect to sector use, Hewitt opined that the aircraft were on instruments and did not need the horizon that Headden's smoke obscured. From my later aviator experience, my own view is that any horizon is most helpful to an attacking aircraft. Probably both Headden's criticism of Lansdale and Hewitt's second criticism of Headden came a little too readily and were not useful. The questions raised would have better been handled in a discussion. Unfortunately, the pace of World War II did not permit much discussion at the operating level.
The F in these convoy designations meant Fast, and the S meant Slow. To a destroyer sailor, the F meant Slow, and the S meant Slower. UGS-38 approached Cape Benegut just two weeks after UGS-37. There were 11 U.S. Destroyer Escorts. The flag was in Coast Guard Cutter Taney. The Taney was commanded H.J. Wuensch, United States Coast Guard. Captain W.H. Duvall USN was CTF 66, escort and convoy commander. In the convoy were 85 merchant vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Duane and two Navy fleet oilers. Destroyer Lansdale was again an AA supplement ship, along with H.N.M.S. Heemskerck. There were two British minesweepers and one British tug.
Heemskerck, an AA cruiser from the Netherlands, joined at Gibraltar and was stationed with Lansdale on the port side of the convoy. Minesweepers Sustain and Speed, along with Lansdale had the glide bomb radio link jamming gear. Minesweeper Speed was ahead of the convoy and Sustain was on the beam to starboard. The convoy approached Cape Benegut on April 20, 1944.
Captain Duvall had re-emphasized gunnery doctrine. According to Theodore Roscoe's "U.S. Destroyer Operations in World War II", sometime just before the Mediterranean transit of this convoy, Duvall stated for the record, "Doctrine this area directs escorts to fire machine guns only at seen targets at night and only when satisfied own ship's position is known to plane. At longer ranges, main-battery controlled fire only will be used." The first phrase is certainly a reiteration of Admiral Hewitt's concept and is the direct result of experience in the Mediterranean. The extra caveat, "only when satisfied own ship's position is known to plane", would mean refraining from shooting at a bomber or glider bomb when they clearly had a bead on another ship in your force. It certainly is a self protection caveat but Edison never received such instructions and I am glad she did not.
Again, with all the convoy search radar, the Luftwaffe got on the convoy at 2100 without early warning. Captain Duvall noted in his action report the complete absence of fighter protection.
The attack came from the east, almost directly from the waters the convoy was about to transit. The attackers came in low, with no flare announcements, using low lying shore as a shrouding background and moonlight to the west as an horizon to outline their targets. Five attackers were first seen by DE Lowe just after 2100. Torpedoes from several leading Ju-88s were dropped and SS Paul Hamilton was hit with deadly effect. SS Samite was also hit. The second wave of aircraft split, some taking the starboard and some the port. Torpedoes hit the SS Stephen T. Austin and SS Royal Star. The next wave went at the port side of the convoy. Although Lansdale was credited with effective AA fire, a torpedo struck her. The Royal Star, along with the Paul Hamilton went to the bottom, as did the USS Lansdale. We will come back to the fight to save Lansdale. In his commentary Admiral Hewitt felt that even with surprise, smoke should have been used and my own inference has to be that he was here in effect agreeing with Captain Headden's denial of horizon to enemy aircraft if at all possible. This attack succeeded because horizon advantage was gained by the Luftwaffe which could choose its attack sector. That advantage was denied to the AA gunners of the escorts who faced the black coastal background now devoid of light. In his report after the attack, Hewitt asked for more firepower, and for more effective use of same, from Destroyer Escorts. But, these were ASW ships in a compromised environment where the Luftwaffe still had an offensive sting.
The airborne torpedo entered Lansdale's forward fire room and broke her keel. With all power lost, Lansdale could do little but let the sea have its way. Her CO ordered the crew to abandon ship about 2130. She broke up and sank shortly after. 235 men survived the initial blast and were picked up by U.S. Destroyer Escorts Menges and Newell. 47 men were not recovered.
Mare Nostrum? But whose sea is it now?
The Mediterranean was never Mussolini's sea, despite the appeal of the Latin expression. It was, before the U.S. arrived, a bloody tug of war between the British and the Germans. After the fall of Tunisia to the British and the newly arrived U.S. land forces in May of 1943, the British lifeline to Suez was firmly reestablished. When Sicily and all Italy from Naples south had fallen to the Allies, both the British and the U.S. had major commitments in land forces which had to be supplied. The Mediterranean convoys told stories of heroism, of U-boat attacks, of difficulties in rescue at sea, and of the Luftwaffe challenge to control of the sea. It is not apparent from our reprise of the actions these convoys were involved in, that by early Fall of 1944 both the U-boat and Luftwaffe had short future prospects in the Mediterranean Sea. The facts are that not long after the capture of Marseilles and Toulon in September 1944, Allied convoys entered the Mediterranean from the Atlantic and then the individual merchant ships dispersed, moving unescorted and independently to destination ports. If I had been told by a senior officer on October 1, 1944, the day of my departure from the Edison at Oran, that such a state of affairs was just weeks away, I would have reacted in disbelief. Nothing I had witnessed or read about would have prepared me for such a change in the tides of war.
Visualize the Mediterranean as a giant saucepan lying on its side. The lid is the rim of Southern Europe where it meets the sea. The bottom sits on the shelf of North Africa. The Allies had scoured this saucepan clean, from top to bottom. It became theirs. It had been taken at great sacrifice. Though it was a long two years for Allied surface forces, at the very end the pan cleaned up suddenly. The last blows struck at our convoys by the Luftwaffe were as severe as the first. The enemy just left. They were no more.
Return to Earlier Assignments; France and England Revisited
Lieutenant Joseph Justin Dwyer, Engineering Officer of the USS Edison in 1945, a friend and shipmate from 1942-44, and a friend over the intervening years, supplied this next vignette in Edison's life. This occurred in the period after my detachment from the Edison. In early October 1944, I had proceeded on orders to NAS Ottumwa, Iowa for primary flight training, as the first stop on my journey to become a Naval Aviator. Here is Joe Dwyer's tale of a 1945 Edison assignment:
"In early April 1945, the USS Edison was assigned to escort a convoy of ships headed for the United Kingdom. En route to England, difficulty with the sonar equipment developed, and finally the sonar system failed completely. Although the Edison then had a reduced capacity to provide ASW protection, she continued in the screen for the duration of the passage.
"It was during this passage, on April 12, 1945, that Edison's crew received word of the death of President Roosevelt. (Everyone put down a mile marker in their own lives wherever they were when Roosevelt died. The author was on a Missouri Pacific train en route from Ottumwa, Iowa to Norfolk, Virginia when the train's loudspeaker told us this momentous news.) The question we on the Edison asked was: `Who is Harry Truman?' It gradually dawned on us that Mr. Truman's political star rose during the early 1940s, while Allied forces were preoccupied with fighting the war.
"As the convoy approached England, the Edison was diverted to escort a convoy ship to Le Havre, France. After assuring this ship's safe passage into Le Havre, the Edison proceeded to Southampton, England, and was put into drydock for sound gear repairs. (This drydocking revealed that down near the ship's keel, the entire sound dome and its contents, had sheared away.) While the ship was in drydock, some crew members accepted an invitation to play golf at a local course, a pleasant diversion. After temporary repairs around the sonar dome structure, the Edison assumed a position in the screen of a convoy headed for New York. The ship arrived safely in New York in late April or early May. About one week after this return to the States, the joyous announcement of V-E Day was made on May 8, 1945."
An examination of all records relevant to Edison's war history reveals that this visit to Southampton, England in April of 1945, was Edison's first visit to the British Isles since the Fall of 1942. The invasion at Casablanca in November of 1942 had begun Edison's period of Mediterranean service. Edison's Mediterranean service was to last over two years. Some of those perilous hours had seemed long, but reflections 55 years later make Edison's entire commissioned life seem like a moment to me now.
GrossAdmiral Doenitz agreed to unconditional surrender terms on May 7, 1945. German General Jodl and U.S. General Walter Bedell Smith signed the papers at Rheims (sometimes, Reims) in northeastern France on May 7, shortly before three in the morning. It was still May 6 in the U.S. The Russians signed on May 8, 1945 the day now recognized as V-E Day. There was no glamorous Versailles, no fancy railroad car. World War II was still in progress. By mid-June 1945, Admiral Stark was able to report that not one U.S. Navy operating ship or landing craft was left in European waters. A massive flow to the Pacific was in progress. Except for new cadres of military government personnel, the U.S. naval names left in Europe were Admiral Stark and Admiral Ghormley. The rest, sailors and airmen particularly, left like ships in the night. Some of our troops and some of their stockpiled war supplies departed almost as fast.
As to the Mediterranean, if the British, who took staggering losses in all classes of its naval warships, had not been there first, there would have been nothing to fight for when we arrived in November 1942.
I have used the term, Benson/Livermore, to define a class of U.S. WW II destroyers. I include, without reservation, the almost identically equipped single stackers like the Roe and the Buck, the Rowan and the Mayrant. The U.S.Naval Command committed this class of its new, early WW II destroyers, to the conflict in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. With commitment comes sacrifice. Out of 18 U.S. destroyers lost in these waters, 10 were Benson/Livermores. Not one of the 10 was lost in vain. Each was participating in operations that would make the enemy pay a price. All went down with honor intact. These were busy ships. They were used in ASW escort of merchant convoys, in convoy AA screens, in escort of larger warships and in shore bombardment. These were truly multi-purpose ships, and multi-talented too. In every assignment they succeeded in their missions.
Torpedoes were the prime killer, followed by mines and then bombs. The undersea explosions usually broke a destroyer's keel. Some, like the Kearny, the Hambleton and the Mayo, survived, due to fast work by their crews, prompt help from assisting ships and favoring seas.
The U.S. Navy gave up its larger warships reluctantly. The only U.S. cruiser casualty I can recall was the USS Savannah and she survived to make it into Malta. Cruisers, note well the company you kept. They helped keep you.
Merchantmen took heavy punishment. In the larger context of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, to German and Italian subs alone, the Allies had lost over 2800 merchant ships adding up to nearly 15,000,000 tons of shipping and cargo.
By the third week in May, 1945, the Allies in the Atlantic theaters sailed no more convoys. Ships proceeding independently were told to re-light their navigation lights. I had never sailed with lights in the Atlantic since the Midshipman Cruise in the early summer of 1940. Lights had been turned off by the British even before then.
For Combatants, Any Pause Was Welcome
Though they left in a hurry, Atlantic-based ships would take some time getting to the Pacific War. The trip back across a less-threatening Atlantic Ocean would provide some moments of relaxation.
"Goober Peas" (with apologies to an unknown Civil War songwriter)
Sittin' on my tin can, it's a summer day,
Chattin' with my messmates, passin' time a-way
Lyin' in the shadow, underneath the tarps,
Goodness how delicious, eatin' goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas.
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas.
When a cruiser passes, the sailors have a vow,
To cry out at their loudest, "Hey Mister get a scow",
But another pleasure, enchantinger than these,
Is wearin' out your molars, eating goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas.
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas.
I think my song has lasted, almost long enough;
The subject's interesting, but rhymes are mighty rough.
I wish this war was over, when, free from rags and fleas,
we'd kiss our wives and sweethearts and gobble goober peas.
Peas, peas, peas, peas, eating goober peas.
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas.
Goodness how delicious, eating goober peas.
(I should also apologize to Ray Drury, Director of the Wilbraham, Massachusetts' Men's Glee Club, of which I was a proud member. For their 1998 concert, Ray selected "Goober Peas", a Civil War soldier's song, as arranged by Donald Moore, to offset the high proportion of sea chanteys presented in prior concerts. I changed just six words to convert this song from a soldier's to a sailor's ditty.)
Change of Command
While Edison was on keel blocks in drydock #4 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Lieutenant Commander W. J. Caspari USN relieved Lieutenant Commander Hepburn A. Pearce USN as Commanding Officer, USS Edison. The day was 17 May 1945 and the time was 1400. Caspari became Edison's fourth and final skipper. Edison was being readied to join a tide of men and their war equipment swelling the force of those already fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.