The new Fourth Edition with 44-page Index
Patton Leads U.S. Assault on Sicily
American, British forces take island in July 1943: German tank countercharge repulsed by U.S. cruiser fire at Gela; we lose U.S. destroyer Maddox.
Early test of U.S. Navy Reognition Slide set. Did practice with that set help U.S. ship crews identify Luftwaffe planes?
Copyright 2012 Franklyn E. Dailey Jr.
First, an amplification for an earlier chaper. Stewart Valcour of Quebec, in an E-mail, puts to rest all of theconjecture about the fate of the SS Awatea, the troopship with 5,000 troops aboard, which was involved in the collisions in the convoy described in Chapter Four. Here in Stewart's words are facts on the Awatea.
<In your chapter you wondered if it (the Awatea) went back to Halifax or continued beyond. According to my father (John Henry Valcour), the ship had the front of it severely damaged and was lucky not to have sunk itself. Its speed was reduced to below 3 knots, and it was escorted back to Halifax where it was repaired.
My dad, John Henry Valcour, was in fact destined for the European theater, as a tank driver. Upon his return to Halifax, he tells the story (only now, to his children), that they were given 1 month leave due to the "at sea" incident. This was subsequently reduced to two weeks, then one week, then three days. Being a bit of an original, he decided (and was not alone) to take his leave anyway. This got him in some hot water, but not enough for the government not to send him over on the next available ship. He spent the balance of the war in several theaters (Italy, Africa, etc) and was part of the group that was there when Holland was liberated. Not that this is important now, but when he returned he wanted desperately to attend university. He was bright (as I can now see, given his success in life), and would have enjoyed the study of engineering. He was refused (his CO said he was from the farm and to the farm he would return) and this disappointment remained with him for the balance of his life, though he didn't let it stop him.>
My thanks to Stewart and to all others who have so generously offered additional information..
My web partner has suggested, in gentle words for him, that I use only selected abbreviations, especially on naval terms, and define them and be consistent in their use. For example, OOD is Officer of the Deck, and JOOD is Junior Officer of the Deck. Radm is Rear Admiral in the early chapters, but later I gave up and used the full designation, Rear Admiral. The term that has developed the most questions is what I have called "the 5" 38 cal. gun." The five inches refers to the bore diameter. It is close to 127mm. The 38 cal. refers to the length of the gun barrel, with the word caliber abbreviated. The gun barrel is 38 calibers long, or 38 times five inches, 190 inches or roughly 16 feet long. The identification is confusing, because the caliber of the gun is five inches, just as a .45 caliber has a bore diameter just less than one half inch. Fuze is another questioned word. Naval ordnance has appropriated that spelling to denote the firing train that eventually makes the high explosive go off.
1943; The U.S. is Now A Mediterranean Force on Land and Sea
U.S. land and sea forces reached near parity with the British in the Mediterranean in early 1943. The next time uncertainty occurred about who would fight and who would not, the situation worked out much more to our disadvantage than it had with the various political shades of the French military in Morocco. This would be at Salerno, and the Italian surrender provided the uncertainty. At Salerno, the Germans were able to take advantage of what we might have thought was bad news for them, Marshal Badoglio's surrender. But, we must first go to Lake Bizerte and to the assault beaches at Sicily before we come to Salerno.
Before setting out on her Mediterranean duties, it should be noted that Edison's third skipper took over on February 24, 1943. On that day, CDR William R. Headden was relieved by LCDR Hepburn A. Pearce, Edison's Executive Officer. Lt. James Abner Boyd fleeted up to XO of the Edison. Lt. (Jg) Richard "Dick" Hofer became Gunnery Officer .The next four chapters will deal mostly with action-filled months for Edison in 1943 and 1944 in the Mediterranean.
The Axis forces in Tunisia, confronted by the British from the east, and the predominantly U.S. Allied forces from the west, surrendered on 13 May 1943. Field Marshal Rommel got out, but many of his soldiers became POWs. This cemented North Africa in Allied hands while the north rim of the Mediterranean remained under Hitler's control. Malta stood fast as a British island outpost. General Eisenhower remained Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean for all of 1943 while the next in command, land, sea and air, were British. Allied naval forces remained under the command of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew B. Cunningham RN, and then under Admiral Sir John Cunningham RN, who succeeded him.
Command-wise, sea matters went well. Not so much can be said for land forces and air commands. Even considering the testy nature of General Montgomery ("Monty"), the British were not always the problem. U.S. air, though still a part of the U.S. Army, followed their own star.
U.S. Destroyers: New Roles
From January 1943 on, there were no U.S. Navy air forces available for Mediterranean operations except for the cruiser spotting planes. Available Atlantic escort carriers were fully engaged in Hunter/Killer ASW efforts in the Atlantic. As larger carriers were commissioned, they went to the Pacific, where there were fleet engagements to be fought, some related to the strategic island hopping counter offensive there. Although there was an Italian surface fleet, no more fleet battles were to be fought in the Mediterranean. Italian submarines were active before and even after the landings in Sicily.
Coordinated amphibious assaults characterized the remaining efforts in the Mediterranean conflict. These shaped the mission of U.S. destroyers. On defense, even accounting for some episodes of accurate German counter fire during and after landing assaults, it was their submarines, mines and aircraft that became the prime concerns of Allied naval ship commanders. The French defending North Africa during TORCH scored more hits on naval vessels than the German land forces did in the balance of the Mediterranean campaign. Naval gunfire, particularly US naval gunfire, in support of troops ashore, came into its own. In Volume IX of the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, author Samuel Eliot Morison (writing under the title "Sicily, Salerno and Anzio" in 1954, almost ten years after leaving the North African story in his Volume II) stated in the Volume IX Preface, "Frequently, in Italian and German sources, we find that this ferocious and devastating intervention of the Allied Navies was the crucial factor that forced Axis ground forces to retire." He was referring to naval gunfire.
The 1860s surveys which the British had conducted, resulting in the British North African Purple Grid System, provided the frame of reference for Allied sea and land forces, especially for shore fire control of naval gunfire. U.S. Navy units remained under the command of Vice Admiral Hewitt's Eighth Fleet which was part of Admiral Cunningham's combined Allied naval operational force. These "Purple Grid" maps, very hard to read under blackout red light illumination, covered both sides of the Mediterranean.
It is appropriate to note that Samuel Eliot Morison dedicated his Volume IX to Vice Admiral Lyal A. Davidson who died in 1950. We have already met the Admiral in this story and will meet him again in these next few chapters. Morison's dedication was most appropriate.
High Strategy in the First Six Months of 1943
By January 1943, US land forces were moving in strength toward Tunisia from the east and the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery was moving west, fresh from a victory at El Alamein. Although the siege of Stalingrad had been lifted, Germany has nearly 200 divisions putting pressure on the Russians. Pacific supply routes to Siberia, North Atlantic routes to Murmansk, and the extra long trip around the Cape of Good Hope to the Persian Gulf were long and exposed to German interdiction. Allied losses of over 700,000 tons of shipping sunk in November 1942 showed some signs of easing with half that reported in December 1942. Roosevelt, Churchill and their senior military staffs met once again in Casablanca for just over a week beginning January 14, 1943. Stalin was invited but did not come. The argument over the cross channel invasion was renewed. The US pressed for sooner, and the British for later.
The three binding concepts agreed to earlier (1941) kept this conference at Casablanca from splitting the coordinated effort thus far achieved. These concepts were the priority to defeat Hitler before Japan, to persevere in ASW operations, and to give Stalin a second front which would drain pressure from Hitler's eastern front or at least, make sure that he had no additional forces to send there. Notwithstanding, General Marshall and Admiral King wanted to keep the Japanese sufficiently off balance to prevent their consolidation of Pacific gains. The US also wanted to put North Africa on hold after defeating Rommel, and gradually build up forces for a cross channel invasion. The British wanted to take Sardinia or Sicily and pursue the "soft underbelly" theory. The British wanted to win objectives one at a time while the Americans always wanted to be able to answer the question, "What do we do next?" On the face of it, with the agreement to invade Sicily next and with no follow-on objective stated, the British won the argument. The U.S. departed from the Casablanca Conference bargaining determined to point for and plan for a cross channel invasion that would be the "big one" irrespective of what further was accomplished in the Mediterranean. Eisenhower could only spare one day from the African Front to present his views at this Casablanca Conference.
In the final discussions, the British had favored occupation of Sardinia. General Brehon Somervell, the US supply chief, according to author Morison, pointed out that the Straits of Sicily were still too dangerous for all but the most urgent convoys, and that gaining control here gave unchallenged access to the Suez Canal, thus adding up to an equivalent of 225 freighters saved from the Cape of Good Hope route to India. Sicily became the decision. The broad outline furnished to General Eisenhower at the conclusion of the Casablanca Conference on January 22, 1943 called for a British Force mounted from the Near East and a U.S. force mounted from Africa, from the U.S. and from Britain.
Transit Challenges to Sicily
From Cap Bon in Tunisia, the closest point of Sicily is just under 100 miles. This shortening of distances accompanied by home front progress in the design and production of more seaworthy landing craft meant that shore to shore amphibious operations would play a role in the Sicilian invasion. The same distance factor meant that German bombers were closer. Even more than for Casablanca, U.S. planners had to make plans without many of the participating commanders, especially the troop commanders, most of whom were occupied with the action in Tunisia until the final month of planning for HUSKY, as the Sicilian invasion was named. Men like Eisenhower, Patton, Truscott and Allen were gaining recognition in discreetly written dispatches in which a little "name dropping" got by censors on their way to the U.S. news media. General Montgomery, too, from the British side was becoming a household name in the U.S.
Edison Takes Up Her New Post
A number of small assignments in and out of Mers El Kebir occurred between June 24 and June 30, 1943. On the 30th, Edison participated in amphibious landing exercises at a beach called Arzeu, east of Oran. That beach had been involved in the TORCH landings at Oran on November 8, 1942 and some of the debris from that effort still littered the beach. When the surf rolled on Mediterranean coasts, danger was present and our practice run at Arzeu resulted in some foundering casualties. We were in practice for the invasion of Sicily. The Army had learned to lighten the "pack" somewhat for its soldiers. Aboard Edison, our gunners anticipated giving our troops the benefit of some suppression fire before they hit the beach. But, that was not to be.
On July 1, 1943, Edison departed for Bizerte, Tunisia. The anchorage in Lake Bizerte gave our crew a closer look at war than most cared for. The lake was still full of floating, dead bodies. Edison crewmembers had taken advantage of a brief authorization to swim, brief because it was terminated by signal light from another warship conveying orders to stay out of the water due to contamination.
Danger From Above
Nights, especially the night of July 6, involved Edison's first experience with what would become a daily occurrence, regular air raids by German bombers. I admired the progress that US and Allied forces ashore had made in their advance against the Germans in North Africa and particularly in the air defense capability installed just since the local area had been subdued in mid-May. Powerful searchlights combed the sky for enemy planes. U.S. and British technicians who had come to a foreign land in war conditions, and undertaken what seemed in accomplishment a routine connection with the local power grid, says something about a capability American citizens take for granted. Sometimes the generators that the U.S. brought along filled in for local power facilities that had become battle casualties.
Selfishly, I liked any tool that helped preserve my life. Once two of those searchlights got an intersection on an aircraft, that pilot could not wiggle out of the beam. Then, he was a pretty good bet to get some serious flak. Our defending planes were aloft too, and if they stayed out of the Zone of the Interior ( ZI), a defined conical envelope with its apex on the ground, they would not be shot at by our ground based AA guns. We wore hard hats during these attacks as the falling shrapnel was very dangerous. Only occasionally did U.S. warships augment ground based air defense fire in the confines of Lake Bizerte because of the communication and coordination difficulties. Edison's main battery was credited with one JU-88 (German Junkers, Model 88). We were pretty much under the protective umbrella of the British air defense commands while in Lake Bizerte. We were there to form up for a departure to Sicily.
Since the JU-88 is a plane we saw frequently, it is pictured below. This photo is taken from a recognition slide in the collection of Bill Rowan of Springfield, Massachusetts, who was the Ensign in charge of the U.S. Navy gun detail on a US Liberty ship in WW II. The original photos of ships and planes in the nearly 650 35mm glass slides in each ship's recognition training set were undoubtedly high quality B&W shots. Thousands of copies were made, one for each warship and one for each merchantmen flying a U.S. flag with an Armed Guard crew aboard. There is a tendency in photo reproduction to pick up Dmin, a higher minimum optical density noticeable mostly as background, making everything appear darker. Add two layers of glass to create the slide and with constant feeding and discharging in projectors scratching the glass, the "target" plane or aircraft almost always looks dim as in twilight or darkness. It turns out that without intention, the slide pictures come across to the viewer pretty much as an actual aircraft or ship might appear under less than ideal twilight conditions.
Another factor in the air defenses at Lake Bizerte were the British night fighter pilots, equipped with a twin engine aircraft called the Beaufighter. Those were truly, friendly "friendlies."
Lake Bizerte is a large lake. Again, U.S. ingenuity was called upon to hack open a larger channel to the Mediterranean for the enormous flotilla which assembled there for the Sicilian invasion in the summer of 1943. Air views in wartime photos published after the war showed an even larger assemblage than surface eyes could see at the time. If Field Marshal Goering's Luftwaffe, his Nazi air armadas, were ever to play a part in denying further Allied penetration in the Mediterranean, it would have defined the concentration of targets in Lake Bizerte as the ideal place to make the point. That they did not was an indication that they could not, though that thought never came to me at the time.
In the main, this force of warships and landing craft in Lake Bizerte were just for the Licata area, the northernmost of the three landing areas defined for the U.S. force landings on the Southwest coast of Sicily. Direct from the States, from England, and from all North African ports west of Bizerte, U.S. land and sea forces staged for the Gela and the Scoglitti beaches of Sicilian Invasion. These were the center and the southernmost landing areas in the U.S. sphere of responsibility for Sicily. The British were doing the same in the Eastern Mediterranean for their landings on the Southeast coast of Sicily, with the city of Syracuse one of their primary objectives. Once again, the whole could be touted as the largest such amphibious operation ever mounted. Edison was involved in a series of such "firsts". Even Normandy one year later did not have an eight-beach wide initial landing spread like Sicily.
Preparation Time is Over; Sicily Looms
JOSS was the code name for the Licata sector of landing operations under the immediate command of Rear Adm. Richard Conolly. DIME was the center attack force under Rear Adm. Hall, with Gela its prime target. Rear Adm. Kirk commanded the southernmost CENT force, with Scoglitti the beach town in the center of the several beaches over which its troops would land. Admiral Hewitt, in overall command of the southwest Sicilian coast landings, "pleaded"according to author Samuel Eliot Morison, "to be allowed to deliver a pre-landing naval bombardment." He was turned down by an Army still in denial that naval bombardment could handle that task. Further, our own Army Air Force was not going to help neutralize beach defenses. Their decision came as a consequence of their self-defined sole objective of destruction or interdiction of enemy air forces. The two decisions leaving the enemy free of pre-landing fire suppression on the beaches presented quite a challenge for naval gunfire once our troops hit the beach.
Sicily is a triangle. From Marsala on its westernmost tip, southeast to Portopalo is 125 statute miles. This leg contains the Licata, Gela, Scoglitti geography and beaches. From Portopalo on the Sicily's southern tip, north/northeast to the narrow Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily, it is another 125 miles. Across the top of the triangle from Marsala to the Strait of Messina, roughly east to west, is about 180 miles. Edison would get to know the west side and the top side of this Sicilian triangle very well.
An intense low pressure cell suddenly built up in the North Tyrrhenian Sea where the Italian coast curves west toward Southern France. The water west and southwest of Sicily where we made our approach was churning with gale force during the approach on July 9, 1943. The larger landing craft, LSTs, Landing Ship Tanks, and LCTs, Landing Craft Tanks, and LCIs, Landing Craft Infantry took a terrible beating. The smaller personnel-bearing LCVPs, though now much improved from Casablanca, were tossed about like straws. We were close aboard many of these craft, actually at times looking almost directly down on them as we went by. None of the soldiers we saw was fit for an assault operation. Terrible sea sickness enveloped them all, as they lay flat, or across the gunwales puking into the sea. I imagined that it was the one time that these men whose units would be chosen over and over again for assault landings probably welcomed the landing itself, even acutely aware of the enemy actions that they knew they would have to meet. The LST, bearing the alphabet letter S for Ship, was truly a ship. The Germans acknowledged as much by torpedoing them and by using advanced glider bombs against them. The LST could off-load a loaded LCT from its side into the sea.
U.S. Force Dispositions
JOSS, TF 86, was to put ashore the 3rd Division, Major General Lucian K. Truscott USA, along with two Ranger battalions in Princess ships, neat little British pleasure steamers until commandeered for war. The 1st Infantry Division, Major General Terry Allen USA, along with a combat team of the 2nd Armored Division and one Ranger Battalion was the responsibility of TF 81, the DIME force at Gela. TF 85, the CENT force at Scoglitti had the duty to deposit the 45th Infantry Division, Major General Troy Middleton, USA. Cruisers Brooklyn and Birmingham backed up JOSS, cruisers Savannah and Boise were ready behind the DIME force and the cruiser Philadelphia provided the heavy firepower for the CENT force. At Licata with Edison were seven other destroyers in dual roles of escort and gunfire support. At Gela, there were 13 destroyers and at Scoglitti, 16. In immediate "floating" reserve were the remaining two combat teams of the 2nd Armored, Major General Hugh Gaffey USA, along with one combat team of the 1st Division. These were part of the DIME force and as matters developed, this is where they were needed. In Africa, a little over 100 sea miles away, the 9th Infantry Division was in General Reserve. General Patton commanded the overall Seventh Army of the Western Task Force.
Commander E. R. Durgin was now ComDesRon 13 with his pennant on the USS Buck. In DesDiv 25 were Woolsey, Ludlow, Edison, and Bristol supplemented by the destroyer USS Wilkes. In DesDiv 26, Commander V. Huber, were Nicholson, Swanson and Roe. Roe was a one-stacker like the Buck, built just before the rest which were two stack Benson/Livermores. Conolly's flag was on the USS Biscayne fitted with extra communications gear.
The city-named warships in the Western Task Force were all light cruisers, with twelve or fifteen 6" guns. The Wichitas, Tuscaloosas and Augustas of TORCH, all heavy cruisers with 8" guns, had presumably been redeployed to the Pacific. The British monitor Abercrombie was with the CENT force. I was not aware of this during the action itself because Edison immediately moved northwest, then around Sicily's westernmost extremity and on toward Palermo harbor, after the initial landings, to support the 3rd Division advance. I did get to see Abercrombie later in broad daylight at Salerno, and she was a unique site in my naval career. I was totally unprepared to see a monitor. I thought the Monitor that fought for the Union in the U.S. Civil War was from a period long gone. The British obviously did not think so. Low in the water, Abercrombie's only purpose was to float two 18" guns to any battle scene she could get to. I do not know what her propulsion was. She looked like she would need to be towed if she had to move with any speed.
If there was one tactical difference in objectives between TORCH at North Africa and HUSKY at Sicily, it was that capture of the airfields took precedence over capture of the harbors in the Sicilian invasion. For bringing up reserves, Allied naval forces were now within a half day's steaming of harbors in North Africa rather than, as at Casablanca, an ocean away on the east coast of the U.S. But putting more miles between us and our United States also meant that our advance was putting us closer to German air bases. We had no carriers, so needed to capture and put in service any enemy airfield that would fall. The airfield at Pantelleria, a small island off the southern coast of Sicily, became a preliminary target in the need to bring our land-based fighter aircraft to Sicily with more time over target. Some of the friendly force planes available over Sicily on D-day staged from the newly captured field on Pantelleria.
An Overview of the Landings at Licata
Storm or no, the landings took place as scheduled in the early morning of July 10, 1943. The boats headed for the beach at 0200. Some boats foundered in the high surf still running, though the heart of the storm had played itself out. Swanson and Roe collided in the darkness. Damage was sufficient to later send them to the States for repair but not before they each played important roles at Licata beach. Defensive gun fire broke out about 0400. By dawn, the gun fire from attackers and defenders was heavy. Woolsey and Nicholson went close in to make smoke to shield the first boat assault waves. By 0730 the Beachmaster at Red Beach indicated that the smoke had worked, and that our counter fire had suppressed enemy fire on his beach. Woolsey had actually used 5" white phosphorus shells to cut off the sight lines of the defending artillery on the beach to the landing craft. By afternoon, the port at Licata was in our hands with naval casualties of 23 sailors lost and 118 wounded.
82nd Airborne paratroops in C-47s experienced rough conditions in the hours of darkness on July 11. British airborne troop carriers approached on unexpected navigation tracks on the 12th, missed drop zones, and took fairly heavy small bore AA fire from landing craft just before drop. Airborne took a beating at Sicily, losing many lives before encountering enemy action. The lack of AA discipline was partly due to a planning failure to anticipate how things might go wrong, and to prepare an emergency communication and drill on the discipline that would be needed under such conditions. (An example might be the British MERSIGS manual used with mixed-nation convoy ships at sea, where for example, two large red flares signaled an emergency turn for convoys.) Where the communications were in place and were ongoing as on destroyers and larger warships, AA fire discipline held at Sicily.
Edison's primary mission at Licata was fire support, "on call" from the assigned Army/Navy shore fire control party that stormed ashore at H-hour on D-day. Other "missions" were AA and ASW escort, though since we had no transports, our sole ASW escort duties were to screen the cruisers. At times we were an independent "patroller" as our forces advanced and later we had "free lance" directions to go up the coast for "draw their fire" missions. Rarely did any U.S. warship employ direct fire on enemy targets during the landing phase. Safety for our own troops from "friendly" fire was paramount. There were occasions when skippers thought they could get in some damaging licks as a result of what their own range finders could see, but gaps in the knowledge of what the actual landing situation was spelled a potential for error. Later at Salerno, we were specifically asked by the USS Savannah's SFCP if we could see the line of Tiger tanks advancing on the beachhead, and asked aloud over voice circuits if we were prepared to go to direct fire. But, that was an exception.
New Amphibious Tools For Licata, and HUSKY
The final dry beach at Licata had in front of it a series of sandbars. The last sandbar on the tide of July 10, 1997 was followed by an exceptionally deep gully parallel to the beach. The LST's draft prevented it from making it across the last sandbar so six foot steel pontoon segments were fabricated in the States along with hardware to buckle the segments together. In this way an LST could carry its own causeway. This enabled the LSTs to unload tanks or vehicles that would not be immediately inundated as they drove off the LST. Another method of dealing with this obstacle was a cutout section in the sides of some LSTs which enabled them to launch a loaded LCT at right angles to the fore and aft axis of the LST. The LCTs could make it over the last sandbar. Conolly also had the bulk of the newly available 158 foot LCIs, capable of carrying 200 men directly to the beach in better fashion than the smaller 36 foot LCVPs. Rocket launching landing craft dedicated to pre-landing defender suppression were not yet in the arsenal.
On the enemy side, afloat, the ten Italian and six German subs available in the central Mediterranean were directed to interdict our supply lines and avoid tangling with amphibious operations. Though we did not know this, most German E-boats, motor torpedo boats, and their Italian MAS counterparts had been withdrawn toward Messina. No Italian surface vessels larger than PTs sortieed from Italian ports to interfere with HUSKY. The Axis subs sank some important tonnage en route to HUSKY but paid heavily to surface attacks from Allied ASW craft that had an increasingly good opportunity to get to the scene of activity quickly. It was no longer the lonely North Atlantic. British motor torpedo boats operating off Messina were especially effective. British subs, too, scored kills on large Italian supply submarines running from Taranto thru Messina to Naples. Mines were a threat at Porto Empedocle, just a little northwest of the JOSS sector at Licata.
Island Aircraft Carriers
Pantelleria, an island 60 miles off the southwest coast of Sicily surrendered, after heavy air and sea bombardments, on 11 June. American engineers, in just six days of work, fashioned a new airport on Gozo, an island next to Malta. With these two new fields, Spitfires, for both the British and American sectors of HUSKY, now had more precious time over the landing areas. This time became essential because the defenders could call on 800 aircraft, of which 500 were JU-88s and about 200 were ME-109 fighters.
Ship Transit Traffic Control
We have mentioned the storm. Even with calm seas, the control of sea traffic for this invasion would have placed heavy demands on communications at sea. The JOSS force, all shallow draft except the flagship and the naval warships, had an exceptionally challenging navigation problem. With his boats being blown before the wind to the east, Admiral Conolly felt required to disobey Western Task Force "no course change" orders three times on July 9. He used USS Swanson as a courier ship to Commander Durgin in Buck leading the slow JOSS convoy. Each time, Conolly ordered the slow group in Buck's charge to alter course "a point to the north". Starting from an initial course almost east from the coast of Tunisia toward Malta, this meant a "correction" when totaled of almost 34 degrees! The Admiral was right. Timid course changes would have meant inordinate delays in reaching Licata beach and certainly would have invited late hour traffic jams with sorting out and re-assembly challenges. By 2100 on the ninth of July, all tracks had converged at the proper point off Malta and had turned northward to their assigned landing beaches. By 2300, all radar equipped ships had made landfalls on Sicily. The winds, though not yet the seas, had begun to moderate. There were delays, especially getting the slow LCTs with their tanks to the beaches, but Conolly's in-transit course change decisions enabled this group to play their role, though late.
Time and Space Merge
Licata is at the western end of the shallow Gulf of Gela and Scoglitti at the southern end. Bristol had been sent ahead late in the afternoon of the ninth to make contact with the British beacon submarine, Safari. Bristol made contact at about 2300 and took station as planned, beaming her searchlight due south. A PC boat made contact with Bristol and took station five miles further offshore, with a blinker light operating to seaward. A series of patrol craft, taking bearings on the one ahead, marked each beach to the south. Air bombardment of Italian air fields was already underway. Brooklyn found Bristol at 2330, then covered the release of Conolly's western attack groups. Birmingham did the same for the easternmost groups. Conolly set the landings in motion at midnight. At 0300, the Buck, leading the slow convoy group of LCTs became their landings traffic director The moon set at 0030 and morning twilight began at 0510. A cool clear day was in prospect.
The Roe-Swanson collision mentioned earlier left the westernmost landing forces light on naval gunfire. USS Buck filled this breach, silencing field artillery firing on Beach Red. Brooklyn moved in and fired on batteries atop Mount Sole, then on batteries just behind Beach Red. General Truscott became impatient that his mobile artillery was being held offshore because the LCTs had been late. Admiral Conolly ordered all LCTs, now assembling for an orderly progression into the beach, to get in line abreast and hit the beach as fast as possible while ordering Edison and Bristol to lay smoke to cover this broad advance. It worked. They all made it by just after 0800.
Beach Red, the furthermost to the west in the JOSS responsibility, ran northwest to southeast, and Roe and Swanson's fire support area was close in, in relatively shallow water almost due west of Red. Edison and Bristol were due south in somewhat deeper water and on the border with Green Beaches to the east, which marked the turn of the coastline to almost east-west. At sea, between the Roe/Swanson fire support area and the Edison/Bristol area were the Gaffi attack group for Beach Red with LCVP assembly closest to the beach, then a grouping of LCTS, then LCIs, and then another group of LCTs. This was depicted as a "transport area" with the larger Landing Craft acting as transports, shore to shore from Lake Bizerte to Beach Red at Licata. The assault troops were the 7th RCT of the 3rd Division USA. Both Licata and Gela were astride roads to Palermo through valleys in Sicily's mountainous terrain. Both Licata and Gela had rivers, and river plains in front of the hills. Further west was the larger town of Empedocle, with anticipated Italian motor torpedo boats and a minefield. The Allies employed PT boats in this area beginning in the evening of the ninth of July to fend off expected enemy PT boat attacks. It was while Roe and Swanson were maneuvering at high speed to investigate what turned out to be our own PT boats that Roe, changing course to miss the mine field, struck Swanson with damage severe to both. These PT boats were deployed directly under Admiral Hewitt's command and were operating unbeknownst to the JOSS destroyers under Conolly.
Brooklyn and Buck made up for the gap in shore fire support left by Roe and Swanson. It turns out that Licata SFCPs did not make many demands on the cruisers and destroyers offshore. The Molla landing group for Green Beaches one and two, was headed by Edison and the minesweeper Sentinel. Their responsibility included LCI-32, with naval and military commanders destined to go ashore, and the two Princess ships with their Ranger battalions to be landed by off loaded British landing craft. The Rangers made shore in two rocky coves and did not wait for their vehicles, which were on the LCTs late getting to the beaches. Rangers quickly seized the high ground on 500 foot Mt. Sole, one of the few promontories in all the Gulf of Gela immediately behind a beach. This hill was directly behind the Green Beaches. It provided an immediate observation point to assess all the Licata sector operations.
Despite the LCT delay, timing worked for the Molla group. The Rangers hit the beach at 0300. Just an hour later came the LCVPs off loaded from LSTs, carrying the 15th RCT of the 3rd Division. With this team able to take over a full possession of Mt. Sole, the Rangers pressed ahead, still without vehicles, into the outskirts of Licata itself.
The minesweeper Sentinel became a casualty of repeated air attacks. She was holed astern in half light at 0500 by a bomber which pressed its attack home. After four more devastating attacks in the next hour, Sentinel was in dire straits and was eventually abandoned and sank with loss of life. A US subchaser and a PC stood by her, rescuing personnel. Of 101 men, 40 got safely off, 51 were wounded and ten were killed.
Where To Next?
Having the troops of the 3rd Infantry Division under General Lucian K. Truscott on the northwest flank of the U.S. sector invasion proved doubly beneficial. That the Licata landings were less opposed than those at Gela could be put down as lucky for the JOSS force. What then happened was the ability of our commanders and soldiers to take advantage of good fortune. The 3rd Division, once assured that the situation in the other U.S. sectors was in hand, was able to turn northward and threaten the port of Palermo. No matter how good a force gets at lightering and otherwise off-loading equipment and supplies to move through a beachhead, it is immeasurably easier to do supplies replenishment through a seaport. Palermo was a good port and we wanted it.
General Truscott, commanding the 3rd Infantry Division, pioneered the "Truscott Trot" for the occasion. The rear man in the column double times to the front of his column. I am sure he does not start out relishing the idea that double timing with a full pack is much fun. But, once a soldier gets the idea that as soon as he gets to the head of the column, he can resume walking, it must have played in his head that he wanted to get there. Result 1: the column moves forward faster than even a defense can pull back. Result 2: Despite the much longer distance of U.S. forces to Messina than the British, it began to look like we could get there first. Palermo fell. The U.S. advance along the top of Sicily toward Messina resumed in a series of leap frog amphibious assaults with the Edison and other destroyers assisting in the landing phase and subsequent fire support as artillery for the troops. Naval gunfire as artillery had been accepted in the Marine Corps; we earned our way into the full respect of Patton's Army.
Edison began to get some "fan" mail. From the Army! Nice things were said about our shooting. Those Generals were not all into self-glorification. We liked them and they developed quite a bent towards us. We will reproduce some of their actual dispatches later in this story. I only have a record of one dispatch we sent to a shore group and that one was not a "thank you" note but a request for coordinates on an enemy battery that was hammering us. My sense of gratitude for their loyalty to us, some 54 years late, leads to this:
"You took heavy casualties. You worked under great pressures that seamen do not face. You worked hard just getting from here to there. We had 50,000 Shaft Horsepower and water that was not always an enemy. I never heard you gripe about your lot. We were proud to have served you. So, this is a belated salute from us!"
There were some clear moonlit nights along the north coast of Sicily. The German air force used new standoff weapons that we did not fully understand. We learned by experience that a descending colored flare could signify a bomb falling, a bomb whose tail vanes could be moved from controls in the parent bomber to improve the impact accuracy. U.S. destroyer Mayrant was badly hit and had to be helped into the harbor at Palermo. Except for the tipped over Italian destroyer Genere in a drydock in Palermo, the harbor came into our hands in good shape. German harassment air attacks picked up in frequency and again those great Army searchlights ashore helped find and ultimately down some planes. Offshore, where we spent most of our time patrolling to interdict any German air, sea or subsea attacks, even in the moonlight, we would only shoot against aircraft when we had the advantage of a good silhouette. Our lookouts found plenty for us to be concerned with. Mines had been a factor at Licata and the sweepers had been very busy. While we did not find them along the north coast of Sicily, we knew that even the best night lookout was unlikely to see a "floater" (usually, a moored mine cut loose from its anchor by our sweepers-and still as dangerous as when moored unless holed by rifle fire until it filled with water and went to the bottom). Submarines and German aircraft were the main threat here. The Luftwaffe had new standoff weapons that we had yet to understand, and they could still bomb you directly. One did, but not the Edison.
I had only recently qualified as OOD underway. During the Licata to Messina effort, I began to stand watches without a senior officer to correct my mistakes. I still was taking everything that happened those days as it came, but I realized this was a new and important progress point for me. I took it very seriously. I liked conning a US destroyer and eventually I had the inner confidence that I could take such a ship anyplace in the world. But, early on at Palermo, I demonstrated that I had a lot to learn. I had been very good at aircraft and ship identification in our training classes.
Recognition training with 35mm B&W slides and short interval projection shutters, and the 5" gun loading machine device, were the two most used training tools. You focused on something useful. You were distracted from worrying about the next German attack. I had been especially good in the low visibility night aircraft identification exercises. But the next episode "was no drill." Along one night came a single bogey, just as I was enjoying my newfound responsibility. I got a good glimpse of the plane in star light if not in a full moonlight. I kept our ship "peaceful". No sense telling the plane where we were if I was wrong on my identification. I assessed our night caller friendly, "a C-47." The plane passed down the line toward the next U.S. patrol destroyer. I "passed the word" to my deck opposite on that ship by voice over the TBS. "A C-47 just passed down my port side." Moments later, I heard a muffled explosion some distance away and saw some water mushrooming into the air. Then came a laconic OOD's voice over my TBS receiver. "That C-47 was a JU-88. He just bombed us. Fortunately, he missed."
A C-47, aka R4-D, aka DC-3
Whew! The skipper was asleep. No need to wake him up. But, the helmsman, the JOOD, and the bridge lookouts had heard this. What an embarrassment, to say the very least. I resolved to be more humble in the recognition training sessions. The two planes are pictured in this chapter. I did not show them side by side. I am still, I must admit, too embarrassed to do that. On separate pages they do look alike. Side-by-side, well, I was wrong. It could have been costly. Also, it gave that JU-88 crew a chance to come back another day and try again.
Before we move this story too far ahead, forces with whom we had cooperated at various times, had their own trials at Gela and at Scoglitti.
Gela; USS Maddox Sunk
Edison was not at Gela so this is pieced together from comments made at the time (scuttlebutt) and accounts from other historical narratives. This narrative is not going to be comprehensive in covering the landings at Gela, nor will it cover in any detail the combat phase of the landings at Scoglitti, or the British assault on the southeast coast targeted toward the cities of Syracuse and Augusta. Suffice it to note that grudging progress was made by British forces up their coast toward Messina while encountering heavy resistance. This did have a bearing on the Allied hope to "seal off" the Strait of Messina and therefore on Edison's deployment as the Seventh Army "front" to the west moved toward the Straits of Messina.
Licata had been forecast to be the toughest assignment of the three landing areas for the U.S. forces. Using an all-landing craft assault force meant not only that those forces would be deployed from the nearest debarkation ports in North Africa but also reflected a desire to rapidly deploy and engage the enemy at the point where we expected defenses to be the strongest. As it developed at Licata, the enemy did not present the strongest resistance there and our landing strategy at Licata was pointedly successful.
Gela yielded stubbornly. German air chose to concentrate on the sea forces at Gela, both warships and transports. In the melee, a German divebomber got in on the stern of the destroyer USS Maddox with a very near miss, then a hit. These explosions did quite a bit of below-decks damage aft. Events proceeded unfavorably for Maddox, a Benson/Livermore 1630 ton destroyer like Edison. The stern went under, and a series of catastrophic explosions occurred under her hull, opening up so much space that she sank very fast, in about two minutes. The enemy bomb may not have set off "sympathetic" explosions of Maddox' ordnance but one observation, that depth charges physically separated from their deck hold down restraints rolled off or fell off, is plausible. Then, quickly reaching depth at which set, these were the killing blow for Maddox. In this two minutes of eternity, 202 were lost, another indication that Maddox had no control of her fate after the near miss. One who lost his life was Ensign Eugene J. Canty, an Academy classmate of mine who had joined Maddox about the same time I joined Edison.
Depth Charge History Seemed to Repeat
In Volume I: Warships, by Keatts and Farr, published by Gulf Publishing in 1990, the authors uncovered the uncannily similar fates of two US destroyers named Jacob Jones. Both were four pipers of WW I design. The first Jacob Jones, DD 61, was an early German submarine torpedo casualty of WW I and her heavy loss of life came as the result of her own depth charge explosions killing or maiming men in the water. A second Jacob Jones of similar vintage design, DD 130, did not reach the fleet until WW I hostilities were over. She became the first U.S. destroyer casualty of WW II, meeting an almost identical end as her earlier namesake, again with loss of life heavy due to her own depth charges.
Here is a recorded recollection of Ensign Bernard Frese, USN, who was the plotting room officer of the USS DeHaven, a Fletcher class destroyer assigned to escort LCTs loaded with American troops to the north end of Guadalcanal to cut off escape of Japanese troops. The DeHaven was the victim of a Japanese bombing attack on 1 February 1943.
Soon thereafter there was a jolt and an explosion. We had taken a direct hit amidships in the engineering spaces. We lost electric power immediately. The guns were helpless and the computer useless. ...Meanwhile the ship took a near miss on the port side and another hit forward....Suddenly, a brilliant white light appeared, coming from a point forward and slightly above the Plotting Room. There was no sound....The room turned fire red and everything started to move. ....somehow my legs were under the overturned computer....The room was filling with liquid which I thought came from the fuel tank abaft the Plotting Room. ...Then it occurred to me to open my belt and zip down my zipper.....I was finally free....Actually the ship was sinking but I didn't know it at the time.....I....saw that I was out of the Plotting Room with water up to my waist.....I dove in, wondering if a piece of jagged metal would slice me open....I heard another voice say, "There she goes."....I saw the ship's propellers directly above my head and the ship ready to plunge to the bottom....I set a record doing the backstroke and getting out of the way......There were several underwater explosions but no churning of the water like a depth charge would make......
Frese was saved by a sailor with a life jacket who held him up until one of the LCTs took them aboard. He was covered for dead by several medical teams and though badly burned, lives to this day. (November 21, 1997) Questioned about the depth charges, Frese, now a Captain USN (Ret) recalled from discussions with other survivors (about half the complement survived the sinking) that a brave sailor went around setting them all on safe in those few moments before the DeHaven sank. (Captain Frese was alive and well in Annapolis, MD as of April 15, 2005.)
Tanks Led The Only Counterattack on the Western Task Force
In two days of action on the Gela plain, an attack by the Hermann Goering Panzer Division heavy tanks with supporting Italian tanks, was broken up by heavy U.S. cruiser and destroyer fire. This attack got to within one thousand yards of the beaches. Cruiser Boise, and destroyers Jeffers, Shubrick, Laub and Cowie left fourteen demolished tanks on the plain. The U.S. Navy finally got some of the U.S. Army's tanks ashore. These tanks assisted in taking out more enemy tanks at the turning point of this, the only promising counterattack mounted by the Germans and Italians against the Western Task Force.
Naval gunfire did its job at Sicily, but a lot of tuning up needed to be done in the new SFCP liaisons between Army troops and Navy warships. Communications and timing left much to be desired. Also, the use of Navy cruiser float planes for spotting, in the absence of any ground based aircraft assigned to landing support, proved exceptionally dangerous to those pilots and crewmembers. Their information was badly needed, but they were no match for Luftwaffe fighters or ground based AA and took heavy casualties.
Other Gela Events
Luftwaffe aircraft hit the Robert Rowan, an ammunition ship which blew up and furnished a beacon for air attacks on the night of 10-11 July. Boise, and destroyers McLanahan, Jeffers, Murphy, Benson, Plunkett and Niblack fought off numerous attacks. A near miss wounded 18 on the Benson including her skipper.
LCVPs; Two Views from July 1943
A feeling for what an off-loaded LCVP is like is provided in "United States Navy in World War II", a book compiled and edited by S.E.Ellison for publisher William Morrow of New York. The following segment is from Battle Stations by John Mason Brown. He was a writer for the New York World Telegram newspaper who signed up with the Navy at the outset of hostilities. Here, he was observing the lowering of his transport's landing craft. Destination of the landing craft is Scoglitti. This landing craft was off loaded from a transport, so has at least missed the worst of the storm that JOSS landing craft to the north at Licata had experienced in the tossing Mediterranean all the way from Bizerte. Brown's transport had staged from a port that took her through Gibraltar. The transport's anchor crunched into the bottom off Scoglitti at 0045 on July 10, 1943.
There's a hell of a lot of difference between our searchlights when they are looking for the enemy, and enemy searchlights when they are looking for us. 2:40 a.m. July 10, 1943
They (German aircraft) headed for our beaches, dropping flares over them. Then they turned heel for us, still dropping flares. ....One of them has hung right over our Force like an old-fashioned light over a dining room table.....They are strange things, these German flares; disturbing but completely undisturbed. All the other lights are twitchy, nervous, explosive, darting. But these flares have a fearsome serenity. The parachutes supporting them do more than rest on the air....They just hang there like fixtures. They appear to be eternal. 0445 July 10, 1943
This next excerpt was authored by novelist Jack Belden who rode into Gela with the DIME force. He was aboard the transport Barnett as July 10, 1943 began. This is taken from his observations entitled, "Shoot Out That Goddamn Light." He went into the beach in an LCVP.
There was an immediate sense of gladness (from successfully going down a rope ladder in darkness and getting into a pitching boat) at getting started and a heightened awareness. When we got away from the shelter of the fleet, this feeling, however soon gave way to another. We became sick.....The rocking of the small landing craft was totally unlike anything we had experienced on the ship. It pitched rolled, swayed, bucked, jerked from side to side, spanked up and down, undulated, careened and insanely danced on the throbbing, pulsing, hissing sea. The sea itself flew at us, threw the bow in the air, then, as it came down, swashed over us in great roaring bucketfuls of water......The Ensign standing on the high stern of the boat ordered the sailor by the bow to close the half open ramp....At that moment there was a loud hissing sound...and a wave of water cascaded through the ramp....."Bail with your helmets!" called the Ensign in a voice of extreme irritation...(there followed what seemed an interminable time as the Ensign sought to find his landing wave's form-up circle)...we broke out of the circle formation and headed in a line toward a blue light, which shining to seaward, was bobbing up and down some distance ahead......One by one they vomited, holding their heads away from their loosely clasped rifles, and moaned softly.....Astern our great fleet fled, diminishing, sinking beneath the waves......The boat pounded on......Instead of feeling myself part of a group of American soldiers going ashore on a carefully planned invasion, I saw myself and the men as strange phantoms flung out across the maw of the sea , into the blackness of eternity......Suddenly the light swung across the water, fastened on our boat, and illuminated us like actors on a darkened stage..."Why don't they shoot out that goddam searchlight?", growled a voice from the depths of the cavernous boat..."Steady there!", said the voice of Captain Paul Carney.
Our engine gave a sudden full throated roar as the Ensign cut off the underwater exhaust. The boat leapt forward. The other boats behind us raced around to either side of us, and we sped forward like a charging football line....Ahead - directly ahead - two strings of dotted red lights were crossing each other. "Machine guns!" the sailor shouted. I heard a sharp cracking sound..... Then I heard the engine break out in a terrible throbbing roar. At last there was a jerk and a bump and the boat came to a halt. "Open ramp!" shouted the ensign in the stern....The ramp jerked down farther until it was level with the water....Still no one moved. "Get off!" Major Grant's voice was imperious. No one moved. "Jump off!" he hollered again. "You want to get killed here? Get on that beach!" With these words he leapt out into the darkness...."Here it comes," I thought and jumped. The water struck me like a shock. I kept going down. My feet sank down and I touched bottom. My chin was just at the water. A sharp crackle burst the air nearby. The water was growing shallower....Ahead of me....figures were crawling on hands and knees up the slope...At last I was on dry land.
The Flare War
When I wrote the following observation some years after WW II, I had not seen the searchlight comments of John Mason Brown or the flare comments of Jack Belden. The next sequence actually occurred and lasted perhaps 30 seconds. I am the secondary battery AA officer on the after deck house. We have been under air attack for an hour. Under the heading, "Night Air Attack", I wrote:
The flares! Would they ever go out? The last one goes out. Relief. Then some ship hears aircraft engine noises and starts firing tracer bullets at them. All the flares go back on again. O God! Why do our ships fire on "noises?" Woe is us. Trouble overhead. Mines in the water. Subs under the water. Go fast enough to keep your rudder effective. No faster. Minimum wake to provide the least aiming line for a bomb run. Fishtail, slowly. Wakes are phosphorescent and pick up starlight, moonlight and emit light of their own. Torpedoes make wakes. Be prepared to comb the wake of an enemy torpedo.
Observe tight AA discipline. Lo, a Dornier 217 comes down the port side, between flare lines. He sees us. We see him. He drops a torpedo to intersect our track. Lookouts jam the sound powered phones with torpedo wake reports. The skipper turns 30 degrees starboard. The torpedo wake parallels our course. The torpedo misses. I give our secondary battery permission to fire. The enemy aircraft is now exiting toward our port bow. The best chance to hit the 217 with machine guns is long gone. I am much too late giving permission to fire. Did my conservatism lose an advantage for us? I hope those flares go out.
The Armies Headed For Messina
With the beaches secure by 12 July, the Allied forces were primed for a breakout. The British and Canadians to the east captured Augusta and Syracuse and headed north toward Mt. Etna. Patton's Army, with three important forces ashore, took three routes. One led west toward Marsala, another drove north into the mountainous interior, and the third raced across the island to capture the port of Palermo on 22 July. Our sea forces met them there and were immediately attacked by more JU-88s.
In separate air attacks, destroyers Mayrant and Shubrick sustained heavy damage which forced them into Palermo where they endured more air attacks. Shubrick took a near fatal hit off shore in her after fire room, with a number of men left dead or wounded, and the ship without power. Mayrant had her forward engine room and after fire room completely flooded and ended up without power. Mayrant survived her bomb hits with 14 inches of freeboard. She too had men killed and wounded. Both ships were saved by a combination of US minecraft and subchaser help, and covering AA fire from cruisers and destroyers.
For this period, Edison's Official War History contains the following summary:
Edison departed Bizerte for Sicily, where she arrived on 10 July. Air attacks were heavy during the landings here but Edison escaped without a scratch. She moved on to Realmonte, Sicily, on 12 July where she was assigned a fire control station to bombard enemy shore defenses. She remained in this vicinity until 19 July when she retired toward Algiers, Algeria, arriving on the 20th.
Edison got underway the same day for Bizerte, but returned to Algiers on 23 July. On 26 July she arrived at Mers-el-Kebir and returned to the shores of Sicily on 31 July where she remained until 21 August. While there, an air attack developed at 0410 on 1 August but it was repelled without damage to the ships. Edison arrived back at Algiers on 22 August and patrolled along the northern coast of Africa until 7 September. On 7 September, DD 439 steamed from Bizerte enroute to the beaches of Italy for "Operation Avalanche". (This was Salerno.)
German and Italian ground combat forces fought strictly rear guard actions as soon as the beaches were lost. Allied forces moved aggressively to keep them in engagement, not sure what their intentions were, whether to stand and fight at another line in Sicily, or to get across the Strait as fast as possible. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that, failing to stop the Allies at the beaches of Sicily, the Nazi commanders had made the successful retreat to Italy their prime objective. U.S. ground forces engaged in successful "make it up as you go along" leap frog amphibious efforts to insure that the Axis forces' retreat was as onerous as possible but there was no advanced plan in place to deny them their escape across the Strait. The "what next" question had not been asked, or answered.
When a DD's Ammo Was Expended
A destroyer in need of ammo moved into a category like a destroyer in need of fuel. The ship had to start "economizing". In the fuel case, fueling at sea was an alternative developed to a high skill level in the U.S. Navy. In the ammo shortage, the only alternative was to go someplace where they had some. The Robert Rowan at Gela burned and exploded throughout the night after being bombed, revealing her cargo as an ammunition ship. Risking an ammo ship in the attack transport area signified that her mission was to provide re-supply ammunition to the troops which had landed. Such ships did not carry naval warship ammunition.
Naval warships were resupplied from ammunition ships which all hoped were more discreetly located. This replenishment was not attempted in actual forward assault areas. Edison received ammo from the most motley collection of ships. At Ajaccio in Corsica, we took on ammo from the most grimy United Kingdom merchantman I had ever seen. Her crew were terrified at being this close to the Italian front and worked like beavers to get the projectiles and powder cartridges out of her hold. There was no cover of darkness. Time was of the essence. We were due back on a firing station as soon as we replenished the ammo. We did this at high noon under a blazing sun. Our men moved right over onto the ammo ship, and worked side by side with their very limited crew. I hope the Bureau of Naval Ordnance never reads this. The five inch projectiles came packed two to a wooden box. To speed things up, we held the boxes over our head and broke them by smashing them down on the deck of that freighter. We stowed the projectiles in our magazines and tossed the wood over the side-which is also where our brass powder cases went when we fired at the enemy. There were three fuzes in those 5" projectiles and the designers required a certain sequence to ensue before any fuze would go off. Thank heaven for such precise design.
On the 2nd of August 1943, the USS Buck and the USS Nicholson were escorting six vessels from Licata to Oran. At Oran, these destroyers could pick up ammo, fuel and other needed supplies. Buck found the Italian sub Argento on the surface off Pantelleria in the early evening. After challenging the Argento, which immediately submerged, Buck pursued sound contacts for two hours, dropping several patterns of depth charges when over the target. Argento was finally forced to surface astern of Buck and fired a torpedo which missed Buck. Buck's 5" gun battery inflicted heavy damage on Argento which managed to fire a second torpedo, which also missed. Argento had been fatally hurt. Sinking, the Argento crew abandoned ship. Buck's whaleboat saved all but three of the 49 aboard, including Argento's skipper. A photograph in an earlier chapter is directly related to that event.