U. S. S. LEONARD WOOD
23 November, 1942
Boat Group Commander
Report of Landing Operations at Fedala, French Morocco, November 8, 1942.
- The U.S.S. Leonard Wood arrived at designated position in transport area at 0005 and immediately began lowering boats:
0100 First boat waterborne. 0021 Scout boat in water. 0035 All boats in water, except tanklighters and last boat on #5 davit. The delay in these cases was due to a fouling up of the hoisting gear. 0100 All boats in water, except tanklighters. 0130 Tanklighters in water. 0140 Started loading assault personnel in boats. This operation was retarded over an hour because of failure of U.S.S. PROCYON to arrive in the transport area. All but two of the boats in the first wave, (LCP(L)'s), were among those to be furnished by that vessel for the assault landing. The Procyon boats finally arrived just as a decision had been reached to use LCP(R) boats from this ship for the first wave. 0350 First three waves departed for line of departure following the destroyer WILKES, H-hour having been delayed one-half hour. The support boat division one, minus one boat, left at the same time. 0400 Fourth wave left for the line of departure. 0450 Arrived at line of departure. Here there was some further delay caused by boats of the several waves becoming inter-mingled. 0505 First wave departed for Beach Red 2. 0520 First wave hit rocks to left of beach. 0525 Second wave hit right behind first wave. 0530 Third wave hit right behind second wave. 0540 Fourth wave hit right behind third wave.
NAVIGATION - Transport Area to Beach.
There was no difficulty picking up the destroyer stationed 1000 yards due south of the ship even though the night was very black. The first three waves which left with the destroyer, likewise, had no difficulty following her to the line of departure. The fourth wave was delayed about ten minutes waiting for its last few boats and got lost for a short time, arriving, however, at the destroyer in time to leave for the beach at the proper time interval.
In my opinion, it is essential that all boats which have to find the lines of departure in the dark go together in a group with the Control Vessel.
On a dark night with no land marks it is extremely difficult not to get lost. In my boat the same difficulty was experienced. In rounding up the boats and starting them off as the destroyer was getting underway for the Line of Departure, I came across a broken down boat belonging to the first wave, and transferred the occupants to my boat. By the time they were all aboard, the destroyer had disappeared and we followed on a southerly course guiding by occasional glimpses on Polaris astern. After a run of nearly an hour we sighted a destroyer which turned out to be that one marking the Line of Departure for Beach Blue. This would indicate that the transports were to the eastward of the Transport Area. We ran west for about fifteen minutes and found the WILKES off Cape Fedala. Subsequent events lead us to believe that the WILKES was slightly to the westward of her correct position.
The Scout boats marking all four beaches by prearranged lights were plainly visible long before arriving at the Line of Departure. These lights were unnecessarily bright and it is questionable whether a white light signal from beach marking boats is desirable. By the time our boat waves approached the Scout boat the latter was several hundred yards east of Beach Red 2. This coupled with the fact that the destroyer marking the Line of Departure was too far to the westward, brought out boats in on a line which was oblique to the shore line and which carried them on to the reef to the east of the beach.
Some of the boats which hit the rocks backed off and found the correct beach and landed there. The majority of coxswains held their boats on the rocks while troops disembarked. Those boats that were not then too badly damaged backed off and returned to the ship. A great many of them, however, were in a sinking condition and were abandoned.
The fifth wave, minus two boats, departed for the beach at 0540, by which time dawn was breaking, and landed on Beach Red 2. Some of the boats of each of these two waves were caught on the beach by the falling tide and subjected to enemy fire. Tanklighters of the seventh wave carrying bulldozers, tanks and one-half ton trucks went in singly or in pairs to Beach Red 2 throughout the first part of the morning.
I would estimate that 60% of the ship's boats were lost in the initial assault (first four waves). The remainder of those lost, about eight boats, were destroyed by shell fire on the morning of D day while on the beach, or were broached by the surf on beaching Red 3 and Blue.
After leaving the line of departure, the first search light was observed about 0520 in the vicinity of Cape Fedala and was pointed vertically skyward for a brief moment. It was then trained on the first wave of boats approaching the beach.
This light was turned off before the firing began. A few minutes later, about 0523, a much more powerful light on Cape Chergui was turned on and directed westward along the Shore Line after the first wave hit the rocks east of Beach Red 2. Boats in the second wave were lighted up very distinctly. At about this time, 0524, our support boats opened fire on the searchlight as did also some of the machine guns in the landing boats. After about ten to fifteen minutes of firing the light was extinguished either by our firing or, as I believe more likely, voluntarily, by the enemy. No firing on Cape Chergui searchlight by other support boat divisions was observed. Firing on the boat waves and the scout boats by enemy machine guns and anti-aircraft batteries on Cape Fedala started a few minutes after our boats opened fire on the searchlights, about 0256. Fortunately this fire was ineffective and I have not learned of any casualties to army or navy personnel in the boats from enemy fire, even though the second, third and fourth waves all crossed the path of light. Shortly after the boats were illuminated by enemy searchlight, that is about 0525, white, red and green signal flares were observed oh Cape Fedala and Cape Chergui, apparently "alert" signals of the enemy.
My boat, loaded with first wave troops, arrived at the line of departure just in time to leave with the third wave. We did not discover the rocks until about a boat length away and the coxswain just had time to throttle down, when we crashed, along with the other boats in the wave. Not knowing whether the boat would float, I instructed the coxswain to hold the bow on the rocks, which he did while all the troops disembarked safely over the bow. Three members of the boats crew and several soldiers were thrown out of the boat when it hit, but managed to scramble out on the rocks. When all troops had landed, we backed off and floated, but the boat could not be steered. As we were making water, I hailed another boat and was towed around to Beach Red 2, abandoning the boat on a falling tide, hoping to salvage it later, and returned to the ship in the other boat. Shortly afterwards my boat was hit by shell fire from Cape Fedala. While approaching the transport area, we passed the first assault waves from the USS JOSEPH HEWES, it then being about 0700, and I put my coxswain aboard the HEWES' Boat Group Commander's boat to help find Beach Red 2.
I arrived at the ship in time to return to Beach Red 2 with the first two tanks of wave seven. I remained on the beach to investigate the damage to our boats. The tide was then low and most boats, destroyed or otherwise, were stranded. I walked eastward to Beaches Red 3 and Blue, stopping to attempt the salvage of various of our boats along the way, with little success, however, due to the surf, the lack
of proper equipment and interruption by shell fire in the morning and strafing planes in the afternoon. I left Beach Red 3 in a boat from some other ship about the middle of the afternoon and transferred to a support boat which was patrolling off the beach firing on enemy planes.
It was during this time that several enemy planes dropped bombs on the beach and in the vicinity of the boats off the beach. I was searching for our own support boats, but they must have been to the westward off Beach Red 2. Toward sundown, I transferred again to crash boat No. 71 and returned to the ship. There, following instructions from the bridge, I directed the crash boat back to Fedala Harbor and picked up three pilots and Captain Marshall, U.S.A., interpreter, and returned again to the LEONARD WOOD.
- That ships be provided with boats that can be loaded with troops and personnel at the rail. (Davits & falls strengthened if necessary).
- If loading personnel at the rail is not feasible, that all equipment such as ammunition carriers, ammunition, mortars, machine guns, etc., be loaded in the boats before D-day and each coxswain be assigned to a wave and landing team number in advance.
- That boats be then called alongside by bull horn or other loud speaker system, calling specific landing team boats to respective nets, as per pre-loading scheme, to receive assault personnel. This would completely eliminate all that time consumed in lowering the equipment mentioned in (2) above into the boats by lines and nets, and troops would not be so heavily burdened going down nets.
- That the disembarking plan be sufficiently flexible to permit unloading troops from both sides of the ship, if weather is calm (as it happened to be at Fedala).
- That assault transports carry all the boats needed for the first four or five waves, and that each transport furnish its own boats and not be dependent on others for boats.
- That assault transports carry no tank-lighters.
- That the assault transports should only load the first four, or at the most, five waves, during which time the reserve or supply transports could load the remaining two or three waves to report to the assault transport or its control vessel. The assault transports could still carry the weapons to be used in the event that the supply ship was lost or damaged. Reserve tanklighters and boats for these waves could be furnished by other reserve ships by pre-arranged signal.
- Boats should be silenced.
- There should be two scout boats for each beach.
- Assault waves should sneak in and feel their way to the beach. The difficulty of finding a strange beach with no landmarks in the dark from seaward is extreme. Going in with throttle wide open at Fedala it was not possible to stop the boat waves by the time the rocks were discovered. Had the landing been attempted on any of the other mornings during our stay at Fedala, the boats would have been very quickly destroyed by the surf on the rocks and it is doubtful whether 50% of the troops could have been saved. It is possible that with more surf the reef would have been discovered sooner and the boat waves diverted. The chances of finding the right spot, however, and of landing undetected would seem to be much better using silenced boats sneaking in at half throttle.
- Wave commanders should be permitted to carry dimmed colored flashlights to distinguish their waves. There was considerable confusion by waves becoming inter-mingled at the destroyer rendezvous and at the Line of Departure due to the wave commanders not being able to make themselves known to their own boats.
- Efforts should be made to get better boat compasses.
- Soldiers' eyes had not been accommodated to the darkness causing delay in disembarking.
- Speed up boat davits and study possibility of automatic releasing hooks.
- Soldiers were much too heavily loaded and some had great difficulty picking themselves up in the water after leaving the landing boats.
- Owens boats (LCV Diesels) not sturdy enough.
- Landing boats should be lightened by removing all unnecessary gear such as extra water breakers, emergency rations, boat box equipment, vehicle tow lines, etc.
- Considerable trouble with failure of ramp hoisting gear and lost ramp crank handles was experienced.
- There should be at least two regular traffic control boats and each should be equipped with special towing bits well forward of the rudder post. If possible neither of these two boats should be used in the first assault waves.
- The army must provide more bull-dozers and sleds for unloading boats on the beach. Supplies must be loaded on sleds into the landing boats ready to be pulled out by bulldozers as soon as boat hits the beach.
A. KEIDEL, Lieut., U.S.C.G.
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