LCI(L) FLOTILLA FOUR
AMPHIBIOUS FORCE, ATLANTIC FLEET
C/O FLEET POST OFFICE, NEW YORK, N.Y.
30 July, 1943
Dear Admiral Waesche,
Knowing that you are very interested in the activities of the Coast Guard on the fighting fronts, particularly with LCI(L) Flotilla Four, and also realizing the length of time involved in getting through official reports, I am, therefore, writing this as a semiofficial letter on the activities of this Coast Guard Group. I did not think it plausible to mail information prior to the engagement as the secrecy of the movements of the vessels was vital and the difficulty of forwarding mail of this type was rather involved.
The Flotilla arrived in Bizerte, in two groups, Group Eleven arriving about the 1st of June and Group Ten arriving about 11 June. From the time of arrival until the actual invasion all personnel were busily engaged in a very active training program which included the cooperation and training with army units. A base unit was setup within the Naval Base here, and consisted of two Quonset hut barracks, a machine ship, storerooms, warehouse, a barber shop, arid offices.
I was somewhat disappointed that the Flotilla could not act as a unit in the invasion, but there were two alternatives, either the Flotilla could act as a complete unit and be entirely in the reserve force or it could be split-up, partly in the reserve and partly in the active assault group. I naturally decided that the latter was much preferable from the service standpoint if not from the Flotilla's point of view.
The Task Force to which we were attached had five Task Group Commanders, four of these commanders operating Headquarters ships in conjunction with Army Headquarters for the four beaches that were to be assaulted. The fifth Headquarters ship was in command of the Reserve Force which was held at a central rendezvous five miles off the beaches to be used to strike at the most opportune time and at the most favorable spot. As I was the junior commander of the five commanders attached to this Task Force, the command of the reserve unit fell to me. Each Task Group Commander had command of LST's, LCI's and various other small landing craft assigned to his group.
As I was intensely interested in the salvaging of our boats, I requested permission to be salvage officer of this Task Force and was assigned that additional duty. This assignment was to commence after my duties in connection with the reserve force had been completed. One fleet tug, two harbor tugs and the LCI-87 were assigned to operate as the offshore salvage group.
Fifteen of our vessels were assigned to one of the flanking beaches and fifteen naval vessels were assigned to the other flanking beaches. The two central beaches had no LCI operations. Three of our vessels were converted into Regimental Headquarters ships and, therefore, were not expected to beach. The remainder of our group and the remainder of the navy group were assigned to the reserve force. The attack on the beach in which the Coast Guard was chiefly interested was led by smaller craft and followed up by two waves of LCI's. The first LCI wave, of six vessels was under the command of Lieutenant Commander A. C. Unger, and the second wave of nine vessels was under the command of Lieutenant Commander J. A. Bresnan.
The task of moving three Task Forces through the Straits of Sicily so that all the groups would arrive on their proper beaches at the same H Hour was a tremendous problem and was accomplished in the face of a strong northwest breeze. The element of surprise which we had hoped for was apparently lacking as enemy flares and searchlights picked up the force well at sea. The waves which Lieutenant Commanders Unger and Bresnan were operating found very little opposition on their beach. There was, however, some machine gun and mortar fire and two of our vessels were struck by the latter, namely, the LCI's 88 and 349. Casualties amounted to one officer, namely, Lieutenant (junior grade) Frank Cankar, executive officer of the LCI-349, who was struck in the chest and leg by shrapnel and although seriously wounded he is expected to pull through. The LCI-88 lost her stern anchor going into the beach and broached. She was unable to get off under her own power having picked up a line in a wheel on the way in. Although the LCI-92 made two attempts to pull her off, under mortar fire, these were unsuccessful. The remainder of the LCI's on retracting from the beach immediately returned to the base for re-enforcements.
The Coast Guard LCI's in the Reserve Group were sent directly into the harbor at Licata, Sicily, and discharged their troops at the quay. These vessels along with the navy vessels which were with them suffered severe bombing attacks but no casualties were inflicted.
After completing duties as Reserve Group Commander and despatching vessels to their proper beaches, the LCI-87, on which I was embarked, proceeded to carry out the salvage work outlined briefly below:
We pulled the LCI-35 from the beach after approximately one hours work, the following day we assisted in the harbor during a strong wind where four LST's had blown sidewise onto the dock. On D plus two day the LCI-88 was pulled from the beach in conjunction
with the fleet tug Moreno which had previously made two unsuccessful attempts, her large draft keeping her too far offshore to permit a proper angle of pull. On D plus three day the LCI-1 was pulled off the beach where she had jammed among the rocks. This was accomplished by the LCI-87, without the help of the Moreno, after washing out the channel and blasting away holding rocks. It should be noted here that assistance of the bulldozers on the beach was of tremendous importance in getting these vessels clear. They scooped away a channel on the shoreside, while LCVP's scoured away a channel on the seaward side. Then pressure pumps were used to free the sand from under the bottom of the vessel. The bulldozers then assisted by pushing on the bow while the LCI-87 pulled on the stern. One advantage in using an LCI for this type of shallow water salvage work is since they can work in six feet of water almost any angle of pull desired may be obtained. Following the removal of three LCI's from the Task Force beaches, the salvage group assisted in salvaging small landing craft and retrieving lost LCI ramps. The Task Force Commander was very pleased with the results of the salvage work.
With the fall of Porto Empedocle in sight I was ordered to proceed with a company and a half of beach battalion engineers and sufficient staff to open up that port for unloading purposes. We proceeded overland by jeep, arriving the same day the infantry captured the town. We surveyed the harbor, inspected it for mines, and opened the net. On subsequent days, landing places for DUKW's, LCI's and LST's were established. The fleet tug Moreno cleared the harbor of two sunken wrecks and, when the minefields had been swept outside the harbor, the port was turned over to Army and Navy authorities who had previously been designated to operate it as an established port. After fourteen days of this type of work in Sicily, the LCI-87 returned to its base. In the meantime the other LCI's were engaged in ferrying troops and supplies to Sicily.
Although enemy activity on the beach during the landing operations was comparatively light, during the subsequent four days all ships in the area were subjected to heavy air attacks. It is my understanding that three of our ships are submitting reports claiming the destruction of an enemy aircraft each. An item of interest occurred when an enemy plane bombed the LCI-87 first from the air and then from the bottom. The plane bombed and strafed the ship in the harbor of Licata and was shot down by shore batteries, falling into the sea not far from the harbor entrance. Later the ship passed over this spot and was subjected to a violent explosion which lifted the vessel, knocked the azimuth circle from the compass, and capsized articles on the deck. We probably disturbed the plane on the bottom setting off a small bomb.
It is my belief that the personnel of the Coast Guard, with the exception of one warrant officer who fainted during the assault,
showed excellent morale under fire and carried out their duties in a most commendable manner. There were no outstanding acts of heroism but every man did his job. and did it well.
M. H. IMLAY,
Commander, U.S. Coast Guard Commander LCI(L) FLOTILLA FOUR.
Vice-Admiral R. R. Waesche, Commandant
United States Coast Guard