The Mediterranean -- Torpedo War
1. SQUADRON 15
WHILE THE boats of Squadron 13 were still fitting out at New Orleans, Higgins Industries began to deliver boats for Squadron 14, of which Lt. Comdr. Stanley M. Barnes was to be squadron commander.
The squadron was to be assigned to the Hawaiian Sea Frontier for duty at Midway. But before it could be commissioned, Barnes received orders to fit out the boats and deliver them to New York for transfer under lend-lease. Then he and his officers and men were to return to New Orleans to fit out Squadron 15.
The orders were a shock and a disappointment. Later everyone realized that the experience of fitting out 12 boats and taking them on a 2,000-mile trip was the best possible training for fitting out a new squadron. "The boats of Squadron 15 were better in every way than the ones we fitted out for the Russians," Barnes said, "simply because we knew what to look for and insisted that the job be done right."
Squadron 15 was commissioned on January 20, 1943, at the Municipal Yacht Basin in Lake Pontchartrain. The new squadron also was scheduled for assignment to the Hawaiian Sea Frontier, and when Lieutenant Commander Barnes said at the commissioning ceremony that somehow, somewhere, the squadron was going to find somebody to fight, no one -- not even himself -- quite believed it.
On February 12 Barnes left New Orleans for Panama with his first six boats, PT's 201 to 206. That night, between Pensacola and Tampa, the boats ran into such heavy seas that four boats cracked frames. The division returned to New Orleans for repairs. Lt. John B. Mutty, the squadron executive officer, left New Orleans on February 26 with PT's 207 to 212. The first division was ready to go again on the 28th, and the following day the two divisions passed each other in Tampa Channel, Barnes's boats entering and Mutty's standing out for Key West. Mutty's division had reached Guantanamo, Cuba, and Barnes's division was at Key West when both received dispatches canceling previous orders and instructing them to stand
Launching PT's at Higgins Industries, New Orleans.
by until further notice. After several days all boats were ordered to report to the Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet at Norfolk. Barnes's boats arrived there on March 16 and Mutty's 3 days later. At Norfolk, Barnes learned what he had hardly dared hope for -- his squadron was, after all, going to find somebody to fight. Squadron 15 was going to the Mediterranean. As the first American squadron in the European theater, it was to be enlarged by the addition of six more boats, PT's 213 to 218.
2. NORTH AFRICA
PT's 201 to 204, in charge of Lt. (jg.) Robert B. Reade, USNR (later relieved by Lt. Edwin A. DuBose, USNR), were loaded on the oiler Enoree, and PT's 205 to 208, under Lieutenant Commander Barnes, were put aboard Housatonic, while Lieutenant Mutty was left in Norfolk to take care of shipment of the remaining 10 boats. The two oilers went to New York to join
separate convoys for the Mediterranean, Enoree sailing from New York on April 1 and Housatonic on April 2.
The Housatonic arrived at Gibraltar on April 13 and the boats were put in the water the next day. After readying their torpedoes at the British Coastal Forces base at Gibraltar, the boats proceeded to Oran, where Barnes reported to the Commander Amphibious Force Northwest African Waters on April 17. Enoree arrived at Casablanca on April 20 only to find that the floating crane there was too short to lift the boats from her deck. The ship was rerouted to Gibraltar, where the boats were unloaded on the 22d and 23rd.
Barnes learned that the Commander Amphibious Force planned to establish a PT base at Cherchel, 150 miles east of Oran and 50 miles west of Algiers, and to keep the boats there for an indefinite period for training. Protesting that Cherchel was already 300 miles behind the lines of the North African fighting, he persuaded the Commander Amphibious Force to recommend to the Commander U.S. Naval Forces Northwest African Waters, Vice Adm. Henry K. Hewitt, that the PT's be sent to Bone, the most advanced port in Allied hands, 265 miles east of Cherchel. But his orders remained unchanged, and he took his four boats to Cherchel on April 23.
"I decided to take the bull by the horns and bum a ride down to Algiers in an Army truck the following morning to see Admiral Hewitt and try to get released for duty at Bone," Barnes said. "That trip took me several hours and by the time I got there I was chagrined to find that orders had already been issued and Lt. Richard H. O'Brien, who was my next senior, had gotten the boats underway and was in Algiers before me. The Admiral himself brought me up to date with the information that my boats were already there, most embarrassing. We tied up that night alongside the British Coastal Forces tender HMS Vienna. The next day we went on to Bone, arriving late in the afternoon and reported to the Advanced Coastal Forces Base for duty."
DuBose's boats arrived at Bone on April 27, and the next night made their first patrol. For several weeks Bone had been a base for MTB's and MGB's of the British Coastal Forces. Most of the early PT patrols were made in company with these boats, with British officers aboard to give them advantage of their experience.
The North African campaign was drawing to a close, and it was expected that the Germans would try a final evacuation by sea. The Coastal Forces, which at that time included the PT's, were assigned small patrol areas within 5 miles of the coast, which were to be occupied every night regardless of weather. PT's patrolled nearly every night, but had no action until the night of May 8/9, when Lieutenant Commander Barnes, in PT 206 (Lt. (jg.) John W. Oswald, USNR), patrolled the eastern side of Cape Bon, east of Tunis, with MTB's 265, 316, and 317, and Lt. (jg.) Robert B. Reade, USNR, in PT 203, patrolled an adjacent area to the south with MTB's 61 and 77.
Barnes's group made a sweep up the coast, and then Lt. Dennis Germaine, RN, took MTB's 316 and 317 into Ras Idda Bay to investigate a possible target, leaving PT 206 and MTB 265 outside. "Pretty soon," Barnes said, "Germaine came up on the radio with the startling statement that 'There are lots of ships in here.' So I took the remaining British boat with me and started on in. It was as black as the inside of your pocket, but sure enough right there in front of me was a ship. By the time we saw it against the dark background of land, we were inside the torpedo aiming range and had to go all the way around the other side of it before getting a good shot. Thinking there were other targets around, I lined up and fired only one torpedo, our first. It ran hot and straight and after what seemed like an interminable time made a beautiful hit forward and the whole ship blew up in our faces, scattering pieces of debris all around us and on deck. Just like the movies." German records list two war tankers as missing in the Cape Bon area at this time. Barnes must have been responsible for the disappearance of one of them.
"We immediately started to look for other ships," wrote Barnes, "but could find none. Neither could we find our British friend who, it turned out, was temporarily aground. So we just eased around trying to rendezvous. Pretty soon he found us and promptly fired two fish, one of which passed right under our bow and the other under the stern, much to our alarm and his subsequent embarrassment. About half an hour later bombers started working over the airfield a couple of miles away and with the light of the flares we managed to join up with Germaine. I personally think that ship was aground although it certainly made a fine spectacle going up and one of our officers who was along that night subsequently flew over the area in a plane and reported it sitting nicely on the bottom. Actually Germaine had not seen any ship and had mistaken some peculiar rock formations for a group of enemy vessels. Nothing much else happened that night except that
there was a mysterious fire to the south of us which blazed away for over an hour."
The mysterious fire came from Reade's division. While Reade's 203 and MTB 77 waited outside, MTB 61 went into Kelibia Roads to investigate the anchorage. The boat went aground only 250 yards from a German-occupied fortress and called by radio for help. Reade worked the 203 within 15 yards of the MTB and began to pick up her crew from the water. The boat captain of the MTB set fire to his boat prematurely, and it exploded and burned, illuminating the PT while most of the crew were still in the water. "The PT 203," the action report said, "remained to recover all personnel despite the fact that the enemy was alerted and engaging the boat with rifle fire from the beach. Apparently the big guns commanding the harbor could not be depressed sufficiently to take the boat under fire. A Heinkel 111, attracted by the fire, circled continuously."
While the MTB was burning, Ens. Ernest W. Olson, USNR, second officer of the 203, went over the side to help the men of the MTB. When all were safely aboard, the 203 pulled out of the bay at top speed.
Two nights later Lieutenant DuBose, in PT 202, with PT 204 (Lt. (jg.) Eugene S. A. Clifford, USNR) and PT 205 (Lt. Richard H. O'Brien), completed a patrol off Cape Bon and headed back toward Bone, cutting deep into the Gulf of Tunis to keep clear of an area in which British destroyers were operating. Suddenly two British destroyers loomed up out of the night, passing on opposite course, 900 yards away. The destroyers opened fire with machine-guns as they passed. DuBose fired a two-star emergency recognition cartridge and ordered all boats to increase speed and lay smoke. No sooner had the PT's pushed up their throttles than two German E-boats15 started firing at them.
The British destroyers kept blazing away at PT's and E-boats alike. The PT's tried at the same time to dodge the destroyers and engage the E-boats. Clifford turned back through his smokescreen to strafe an E-boat at close quarters and then withdrew at high speed. The E-boat was seen to burn by the destroyers, which pursued the PT's for nearly an hour, firing starshell and salvos from their main batteries. The PT's received a few machine-gun hits which did no significant damage.
Several days later one of the destroyer captains offered his apologies, explaining that the destroyers had found no enemy activity in their assigned area and had gone south "to have a bit of a look." They had been attacked by three E-boats at the precise moment DuBose's boats appeared, and had just heard the enemy discussing attack plans by radio. The destroyers saw DuBose's recognition flare but, as so often happened with this type of recognition signal, mistook it for tracer fire.
The boats became separated in the melee. O'Brien, whose PT 205 was running low on gasoline, decided to put into Bizerte, which had been taken only a few hours before by Allied ground forces. "Friendly" shore batteries fired a few rounds as he entered the harbor, but the shots were wide, so he continued in and tied up at the dock. Two hours later he was asked to move his boat out of the way so newsreel photographers could take pictures of the first Allied vessels to enter Bizerte -- some British landing craft which were just arriving.
Plans called for establishment of a PT base at Bizerte, 100 miles east of Bone. On May 18, Barnes went there in Reade's PT 203 with Lt. Comdr. Robert A. Allan, RNVR, commander of the Coastal Forces Base at Bone, to investigate base facilities. The Commander Advanced Amphibious Training Base assigned the entire Karouba seaplane base to the PT's and told Barnes that all the material for PT Base 12 was already in the harbor, on board the LST 381.
Barnes decided to stay at Bizerte to get the base started, while Lieutenant Commander Allan returned to Bone in the 203. On the way back, the 203 investigated the island of Galite, 20 miles offshore, and discovered that all of the enemy occupation troops had been evacuated by E-boat several days earlier.
"Karouba," Barnes said, "was an enormous place formerly used by the French Navy and later the Italians and Germans for a seaplane base and aircraft repair depot. It was almost totally wrecked by our bombing and most of what little remained had been dynamited by the Italians before they evacuated, but it suited us right down to the ground and I began making plans for the future. Pretty soon I found a Lieutenant (jg.) USNR, by the name of Harry Gorsuch and 75 men wandering about the place looking very lost. It turned out they were our PT Base 12 personnel recently released
from a month in the tent city at Oran. They knew nothing at all about our base equipment which they had never seen but were only too happy to find someone to belong to. So we started right then and there to clean out of one of the few intact buildings.
"Bizerte was subsequently to be the principal jumping-off place for the Sicilian invasion, at least for landing craft, and the Army and Navy began moving in in force. The harbor entrance and the channel to the excellent deep water lake behind it were completely jammed with sunken wrecks. For weeks it was impossible to move anything larger than PT's and small landing craft into the lake, and it was only by intensive demolition that a channel was finally cleared for deep draft vessels.
"We set up shop immediately, salvaging a galley and galley gear from bombed-out buildings. We made our own arrangements with the British port director to get our LST into the beach and finagled direct with the Army for trucks with which we unloaded our gear on a 24-hour basis. No sooner had we got it all off the ship and into one of the few hangars with a roof on it than the squeeze began and we had to move everything half a mile down the other end of the base into another hangar. We cleaned out half the buildings in the area, but ended up with only a fraction of our original space, fighting tooth and nail all the way along the line, but we did have good dock space."
PT Base 12 was the principal PT base during the first year in the Mediterranean. Until the end of the Mediterranean campaign all PT engines were overhauled there. Every item of equipment used by the PT's came through Bizerte and was forwarded to the advanced bases.
Soon the PT's, MTB's, and MGB's were patrolling nightly from Bizerte to the west coast of Sicily. The rest of the squadron's boats arrived late in May, already equipped with radar, which was to be of vital importance to PT operations in the Mediterranean. Gradually radar was installed on the first eight boats at Base 12.
On June 30 the squadron performed one of its many missions for the Office of Strategic Services, when Lieutenant Mutty took three boats (PT's 210, 214, 218) to land five agents halfway up the west coast of Sardinia, a 505-mile round trip. The boats made several similar missions to the northwest coast of Sicily. On the night of June 9/10, Barnes took PT's 206 and 203 right into Palermo Harbor, but found no ships there. For these long-range missions the boats carried extra fuel in rubber tanks and in drums on deck, sometimes as many as 12 drums on each boat.
Allied forces landed on Pantelleria, about halfway between Cape Bon and Sicily, on June 11, 1943, and took the island without resistance from the dispirited Italian garrison. That night four divisions of coastal forces, two of PT's and two of British MTB's and MGB's, were ordered to patrol between Pantelleria and the Sicilian coast, 60 miles away, to prevent any attempts at evacuation or enemy interference. As senior officer, Barnes was in charge of the leading division, in PT 216 (Lt. (jg.) Cecil C. Sanders, USNR), with Reade's PT 203 and Oswald's PT 206.
"About half an hour after sunset we passed Pantelleria and were steaming along strung out in a column with the divisions about 500 yards apart," Barnes said. "The radioman on my boat reported a possible air target about 4 miles ahead and shortly thereafter, I saw a couple of bombs land a few hundred yards off our port bow. Seconds later a plane was heard diving on us. The first thing I knew a bomb dropped close astern completely enveloping the other two boats of my division in a cloud of smoke and water. I thought sure they were goners. It was just at last light; too dark for us to see the planes until they pulled out overhead and just light enough for them to see us. That was the beginning of continuous dive bombing which lasted about 15 minutes, all of it directed against my lead group. The other boats just lay off and watched, wondering when it was going to be their turn. It was hell on wheels for a while. I couldn't make up my mind whether to lie to and hope they couldn't see us without a wake or just push up the throttles and try to dodge. We ended up by doing both and by some extraordinary fate got no direct hits, although there were many near misses. They must have dropped between 30 and 40 bombs altogether from what appeared to be about 8 planes. Most of the bombs were the contact type, but at least two were either depth charges or delayed action bombs which looked for all the world like mines going up. My boats stuck generaally together for mutual antiaircraft support, but we just couldn't see enough to do any good. PT 203 was pretty well riddled by shrapnel. Lewis J. Bendl, seaman second class, who had volunteered for the mission to take the place of a sick friend, was badly wounded in the throat. I sent the boat right back but Bendl died before they could reach a doctor. The 206 had a few shrapnel holes in it, one prop knocked off, and the rudder bent by those delayed action bombs, but I kept it to make a group of two for the patrol."
The patrol itself was without further incident until the next morning when MGB 643 intercepted a small boat and captured seven Italians, including the harbormaster of Pantelleria, trying to escape to Sicily.
4. SICILIAN INVASION
The occupation of Pantelleria was a mere preliminary to the invasion of Sicily, scheduled for July 10, 1943. Toward the end of June the PT's were withdrawn from operations under the British Coastal Forces to give them time to prepare for Sicily. "Our principal difficulty," Barnes said, "was docking the boats since we had no drydock. But we pulled one of those unbelievable jobs and made a marine railway out of two large French seaplane dollies bolted together and run up and down a seaplane ramp by trucks. I also sent DuBose and four boats back to Bone where they docked themselves on a marine railway previously condemned by the British as being beyond repair. The boys had to get the French collaborationist owner out of a concentration camp for that period but they managed somehow."
More than 3,200 ships, boats, and landing craft made up the Allied Naval Forces for the invasion of Sicily, of which 1,700 were in the Western Naval Task Force, the U.S. force which was to effect landings in the Gela area of south central Sicily. This force in turn was divided into three separate task forces, of which the westernmost, under Rear Adm. Richard L. Conolly, was to carry out landings in the vicinity of Licata. The PT's of Squadron 15, with the destroyer Ordronaux, were designated as the western screen for Admiral Conolly's task force, with the special mission of guarding against attacks by E-boats believed to be based at Porto Empedocle.
Leaving Bizerte on the morning of July 9, the PT's had a wet and miserable trip to the Sicilian coast, wallowing through seas 12 to 16 feet high, with a 30-knot following wind. That night 17 PT's patrolled the western flank of their task force while the Ordronaux shelled Porto Empedocle. The PT's saw no enemy ships. It was learned later that the E-boat flotilla had withdrawn, leaving dummy boats to confuse air reconnaissance that night from Porto Empedocle. One group of PT's saw two American destroyers approaching at high speed. Before they came close, the destroyers collided and withdrew. Several weeks later the PT's learned that the destroyers had not received word of a late change in PT patrol areas and until the collision had every intention of blasting the unsuspecting boats out of the water.
On the day of the 10th, the PT's withdrew to Pantelleria, where they fueled from a little British tanker, Empire Bairn, and that night returned to the patrol line with Ordronaux.
On the night of July 12/13, eight PT's carried out diversionary operations with a group of specially equipped ASRC's (air-sea rescue craft) off two enemy-held beaches near Cape Granitola. The equipment of the ASRC's included rockets, smoke pots, equipment to simulate the noises of a large assault force, and radio circuits to direct (for the benefit of enemy interception) the movements of a fleet of imaginary landing craft. Their purpose was to force the enemy to keep troops at beaches where no landing was to be made -- troops that might otherwise be thrown into combat at the real beachhead.
Two divisions, each containing five PT's and four ASRC's, were to make simultaneous demonstrations, one to the east and one to the west of Cape Granitola. The PT's were to run parallel to the beach, 2,000 yards offshore, laying smoke and firing all guns toward the beach. Then they were to close to 1,000 yards and reverse course for a second run. The ASRC's were to follow behind the smokescreen to complete the demonstration with their sound and pyrotechnic equipment.
The first division, under Comdr. H. R. Robinson, USNR, commander of the diversion group, carried out its demonstration according to plan but a few minutes ahead of schedule. Searchlights blazed from the shore and heavy batteries opened fire. The first few salvos were wild but toward the end of the second run the shells dropped so close -- one of them only 15 yards ahead of the 208 -- that the boats had to open the range.
Barnes, leading the second group, arrived a few minutes late. "The shore batteries by this time were completely alerted," he said in his action report. "Apparently the enemy was convinced that a landing was about to take place when it detected the large number of boats constituting the second group approaching the beach, for they opened a heavy and accurate fire with radar control before the second demonstration could begin. Course was immediately reversed and the range opened. Salvos of 6-inch and smaller guns were observed. One shell damaged the rudders of an ASRC and another fell 10 yards astern of a PT. It was considered that the purpose of the demonstration had been accomplished and both groups withdrew, the ASRC's returning to Pantelleria and the PT's to Bizerte."
There was some gratification in enemy press reports that an attempted landing on the southwest coast of Sicily had been repulsed.
On July 14 Admiral Hewitt ordered the PT's to operate against enemy surface units attempting to reinforce Sicily through its western ports, including Palermo. Distance made this a difficult assignment. The PT's, still based at Bizerte, each had to carry at least 500 gallons of gasoline on deck for each patrol. A week later Barnes went to Algiers and obtained Admiral Hewitt's permission to set up an operating base at Palermo as soon as the port was taken.
Palermo fell on July 23. On the evening of the 23d, Barnes set out from Bizerte with eight boats. "At dawn the next day we were off Ustica," he said. "First thing off we saw a fishing boat putt-putting toward Italy. Going over we found a handful of very scared individuals crawling out from under the floor plates hopefully waving white handkerchiefs. This was the staff of the Italian Admiral at Trapani. The only reason we didn't get the Admiral was that he was late getting down to the dock and his staff said to hell with him. In addition to a few souvenir pistols and binoculars we captured a whole fruit crate of thousand-lira notes which we reluctantly turned over to the Army authorities later. While this was going on, one of the other boats spotted a raft with seven Germans on it feebly paddling out to sea. We picked those up too."
The boats put into Palermo at 0800, and that night Lt. Ernest C. Arbuckle, USNR, in PT 209 (Lt. (jg.) W. Knox Eldredge, USNR), led PT's 216 (Lt. (jg.) Cecil C. Sanders, USNR) and PT 204 (Lt. (jg.) Eugene S. A. Clifford, USNR) patrolled eastward to the Italian coast just north of the Strait of Messina, the narrow strip of water separating Sicily from the toe of the Italian boot. On arrival at Palermo the boats had undertaken a new mission -- to prevent enemy supply and evacuation of Sicily by patrolling the northern approaches to the Strait of Messina.
Half a mile off the coast near Palmi the boats found a tug towing the 8,800-ton Italian merchant ship Viminale. Sanders scored a torpedo hit on the ship, and then under ineffective fire from shore batteries, the boats strafed the tug until it was smoking and dead in the water. As the boats retired they saw the Viminale sink stern first. Later, the tug also sank.
Two nights later Lieutenant Mutty, in PT 202 (Lt. (jg.) Robert D. McLeod, USNR), with PT 210 (Lt. (jg.) John L. Davis, Jr., USNR) and PT 214 (Lt. (jg.) Ernest W. Olson, USNR), had the squadron's first encounter with F-lighters. The F-lighters, which from this time on became the
principal prey of the Mediterranean PT's, were somewhat similar to, but considerably larger than, our LCT's. They were 170 feet long, with a cargocarrying capacity of about 120 tons, and their hulls were so well compartmented that it was impossible for PT's to sink them with anything less than a torpedo hit. The PT's learned after their first few engagements with F-lighters that it was foolish to try to fight them with guns; the F-lighters were far more heavily armed than the PT's and far less vulnerable to gunfire.
Mutty's division found seven F-lighters in column northeast of Stromboli and sneaked in to 500 yards. Each boat fired two torpedoes, and at 300 yards started to turn away. During the turn, the second lighter in column sent up a flare, apparently a signal to open fire. All of the lighters immediately opened with a great volume of 76mm., 20mm., and machine-gun fire, which the PT's returned. Although it was felt that two torpedoes hit home, German records show that they all missed. A few seconds later it became apparent that the fire from the PT's, while hitting the F-lighters, was also giving them a point of aim. The PT's ceased fire and laid smoke, and the enemy fire became inaccurate. The 202 had a punctured gasoline tank, several holes in the hull, and one man wounded. The other boats were not hit.
On the following night, July 28/29, Lieutenant Arbuckle, in PT 218 (Lt. (jg.) Donald W. Henry, USNR), with Olson's 214 and Reade's 203 made a torpedo attack on three Italian MAS boats.16 The torpedoes were well aimed but passed under the enemy without exploding. The PT's idled away and Arbuckle decided to attack again, making a gunnery run with the 218, while the other two boats maneuvered for a torpedo attack. He closed to 100 yards and began to strafe the lighters. "This," said the action report, "was immediately returned with a heavy volume of fire from all enemy vessels . . . directed principally at PT 218. The boat was hit repeatedly with 20mm. and suffered considerable damage which included the holing of the vessel below the waterline forward, puncturing of both forward gas tanks, and disabling of one engine. The engagement was broken off in confusion."
Arbuckle, Henry, and Ens. Edmund F. Jacobs, USNR, second officer of the 218, were wounded. Henry and Jacobs were flat on the deck, but
PT torpedo storehouse at Palermo, Sicily.
Arbuckle, painfully wounded in the heel, propped himself up and organized the crew to save the boat. The crew's quarters were flooding, one engine was knocked out, and several hundreds of gallons of gasoline had drained into the bilges. Under Arbuckle's direction the crew partially bailed out the flooded compartment and plugged the biggest holes. Three hours later Arbuckle brought his boat alongside the destroyer Wainwright at Palermo. Then he collapsed.
On the night of July 29/30, PT's again met F-lighters. This time Lt. (jg.) Richard H. O'Brien, in Clifford's PT 204, with Lt. Norman DeVol's PT 217, engaged two F-lighters escorted by four MAS boats, firing six torpedoes and strafing the MAS boats before heavy fire from one of the lighters forced them to retire. The Italian officer commanding the MAS boats in this action was later interviewed in Capri. He said one F-lighter had been sunk and one MAS boat had been so badly damaged that it was abandoned and sunk by the other MAS boats.
"It seemed after that last engagement," Barnes said, "that the enemy finally got the idea that we weren't going to let them make that northern run any
more. They confined their future efforts almost exclusively to running back and forth inside the strait below Messina where nobody could get at them except aircraft."
During this period the squadron continued to undertake special missions for the Office of Strategic Services. "A team under Lieutenant John Shaheen, USNR, arrived quietly and mysteriously for a venture called 'Operation MacGregor,'" Barnes said. "Essentially the idea was to get a letter from our Government through to a certain Rear Admiral in the Italian Navy suggesting that the Italian Navy call it quits and offering certain inducements to that end. Our part of the operation was to land and recover an agent with the letter and to bring someone out for a parley. I gave O'Brien the job of putting the thing over. He trained with members of the team while waiting for a suitable dark moon period, teaching them to handle and navigate a rubber boat. The first attempt [August 10, 1943] at landing in the Gulf of Gaeta failed when the boats ran into numerous fishing or patrol craft which made an unobserved landing impossible but the second attempt [August 12] was successful. The agent never did meet the rendezvous although the boats were there waiting for him. As it turned out the letter reached the proper hands and, although somewhat late, apparently had considerable influence on the subsequent surrender of the Italian Navy."
At the end of July, Rear Adm. Lyal A. Davidson arrived at Palermo with Task Force 88 -- two cruisers, several destroyers, and an assortment of landing craft -- to support the eastward advance of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's Seventh Army by fire support and a series of leapfrog landings along the northern coast of Sicily. On the night of 15/16 August, six PT's were assigned to screen one of these landings at Spadafora from possible enemy E-boat attacks. Lieutenant DuBose, commanding the northern PT group, PT 205 (Ens. Robert T. Boebel, USNR), PT 215 (Lt. George A. Steele Jr., USNR), and PT 216 (Lt. (jg.) Cecil C. Sanders, USNR), sighted and gave chase to two German E-boats off the Italian coast.
"The Germans opened a heavy and accurate fire with 40mm., 20mm., and smaller guns and headed south at high speed," Barnes reported. "Fire was returned with all guns that could bear in the overtaking chase and the range closed to 400 yards. The enemy turned away, laid smoke and dropped depth charges, employing every possible evasive maneuver. The PT's were handicapped by their inability to make more than 25 knots, the 216 lagging the other PT's to such an extent that it was unable to take part in the
engagement for any length of time. . . . All PT's were hit repeatedly but miraculously no serious damage was incurred. Four men were wounded on the PT 216. Subsequent interview with an Italian E-boat flotilla commander after the capitulation of Italy revealed that in the engagement the German E-boats suffered heavy casualties totalling 14. These included the German flotilla commander who was killed."
Lack of speed prevented the PT's from conclusive action against the E-boats but, in forcing them to retire, the PT's accomplished their primary mission of protecting our assault forces from E-boat attack. None of the squadron's boats could make more than 27 or 28 knots during the summer of 1943. The boats were overloaded, maintenance facilities were limited, and the engines would not give top performance in the heat of the Mediterranean summer.
Two and a half hours after the engagement with the E-boats, PT 205 intercepted a small sailboat and captured a German officer and six Italian merchant sailors who had been en route to Italy from the island of Lipari, one of the Eolie group to the north of Sicily. Questioning of the sailors indicated that no Germans remained in the islands and that the Italian inhabitants would welcome a chance to surrender to Americans.
Accordingly, under orders from Admiral Davidson to effect surrender of the Eolie Islands, DuBose set out from Palermo on the morning of August 17 in Lieutenant Steele's PT 215, with Lieutenant (jg.) Sanders' PT 216 and Lieutenant DeVol's PT 217. The boats carried an American military government representative, 1 other Army officer, 7 Army enlisted men, and 17 extra enlisted men from the squadron. The destroyer Trippe was assigned as a supporting force for the PT's.
The boats entered Lipari Harbor without opposition and found the Italian Naval Commandant of the islands waiting for them on the dock. Within 10 minutes he had surrendered unconditionally the islands of Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina, Stromboli, Lipari, and Vulcano. While the military government officer negotiated with the mayor for establishment of a new civil government for the islands, the PT men rounded up 19 prisoners, and after the commandant had sent radio messages demanding concurrence of the other islands in the surrender, put the radio station out of commission. Only the island of Stromboli refused to agree to the surrender.
The PT's occupied Stromboli late in the afternoon. They found that an Italian chief petty officer and his 30 men had destroyed barracks and
confidential papers. The PT men took 19 more prisoners, destroyed a radio station, and the military government officer advised the mayor of the agreement reached at Lipari for civil administration. Then the PT's returned to Palermo to find that Messina had fallen that day. The Sicilian campaign was over.
6. INVASION OF ITALY
Seventeen PT's got underway from Palermo on the morning of September 8, 1943, to take part in the amphibious invasion of Italy at Salerno, scheduled to begin on the morning of the 9th. One PT, Lieutenant (jg.) Olson's PT 214, joined the Diversion Group and participated in a demonstration near the Volturno River and in the capture of the island of Ventotene; the other 16 boats, under Lieutenant Commander Barnes, patrolled in 5 groups off the Bay of Naples to screen the landings in Salerno Bay against interference from the north.
"It seemed as if every plane the Germans had flew low over us that night," Barnes said. "A couple of them dropped a casual bomb or two in our midst but did no damage. Their objectives were the hundreds of ships to the southwest of us from which we could see clouds of brilliant flak going up as they were attacked.
"Nothing much really happened. First of all I picked up an Italian officer trying to get from Capri to Naples in a small picket boat. Later I saw something by radar come out of the harbor entrance but as soon as I approached, it went right back in. However, an F-lighter did come out and head west, very close to the beach. I went up and fired one torpedo from 500 yards without effect and then had another boat do the same thing, after which the F-lighter ran into the shore and beached itself. O'Brien spent a quiet night until he found a trawler trying to work its way out. Rather than waste a torpedo on it, he decided to gun it up. He had his three boats lie off that thing while it was dead in the water and pour shells into it for half an hour at point blank range. It was a very illuminating example of how ineffective our gunfire really was. Not only did it not sink but it didn't even catch on fire.17 Later we found out that there was a crew of
Two PT's slide past an LST in Salerno harbor during the invasion of Italy.
three on board who abandoned the ship in a rowboat on the opposite side and just lay off until O'Brien quit; then they went back on board and got it underway again for Capri where we found it a few days later riddled with holes but still serviceable. Except for the time when I found O'Brien tracking and about to attack my own group, there was little other excitement that evening. At dawn we pulled out and headed around for Salerno."
During the next week PT operations were considerably limited by failure of gasoline tankers to arrive on schedule. The PT's did maintain anti-E-boat screens each night north of the Bay of Salerno, but sighted no enemy ships. When they were not patrolling, the boats anchored off the towns of Minori, Maori, and Amalfi on the south side of the Sorrento Peninsula in the Gulf of Salerno. Large flights of enemy planes came over regularly on the way to the assault beaches, but seldom tried to bomb the boats, which were somewhat protected by high hills close to shore. One Messerschmidt 109 dropped a bomb close enough to Lt. (jg.) Page H. Tulloch's 211 to bend the boat's rudders. The 2H retaliated by shooting the plane down.
A PT lays smoke at Salerno to shield ships of invasion force from air attack.
Mast of USS Ancon, flagship of the Commander Eighth Fleet, is just visible over top of screen.
PT's, along with other types, were used daily to lay smokescreens around assault shipping at dawn, dusk, and moonrise, and at other times when air raids were expected. Admiral Hewitt reported that the smoke was especially valuable in protecting against night air attacks.
On September 20, Lt. (jg.) W. Knox Eldredge, USNR, in PT 209, and Lt. (jg.) Eugene S. A. Clifford, USNR, in PT 204, felt out the Bay of Naples to determine whether minesweeping operations could be conducted there in daylight. The Germans let them come in until they had four shore guns bearing on them, and then opened fire, dropping shells so close that the boats were drenched by the splashes. The boats maneuvered out independently, refusing to lay smoke until they had the four gun positions pinpointed on their charts.
On September 15 the PT's moved to Capri, and started patrolling further to the north, but had no more surface contacts during the month.
7. MADDALENA AND BASTIA
About the first of October, Barnes was ordered to proceed to Maddalena, on northwest Sardinia, to report to the Advanced Coastal Forces Base for operations. He arrived there with four PT's on October 4 and reported to Comdr. Robert A. Allan, RNVR, commander of the base, who had recently arrived from Sicily with an advanced base party and a few MTB's and MGB's.18
By the middle of the month the PT's and British Coastal Forces had set up a still further advanced base 100 miles to the north at Bastia, Corsica, which brought the entire Gulf of Genoa within easy patrolling distance. The German-held island of Elba, only 20 miles from Bastia, was used as an operational dividing line between the bases, boats from Maddalena covering the territory to the south and boats from Bastia that to the north. Enemy surface activity gradually became concentrated more and more to the north, and by the middle of December all PT patrols went out from Bastia.
The boats had hard sledding during their first few months at the new bases. The difficulty of finding suitable shelter ashore led Barnes to remark, "Our bases were hewn out of proprietary resistance as much as they were out of rubble."
The squadron had received no replacements of officers or men, and was operating far below complement. And it was not until the middle of November that Barnes succeeded in having the squadron's advanced base equipment moved up from Palermo. For any but minor repairs the boats had to go all the way to Bizerte. Worst of all, torpedoes could not be maintained properly until the base equipment arrived from Palermo. The British Coastal Forces Base did what it could, but lacked tools, parts, and experience to do a proper job on American torpedoes.
A torpedo is a complex and delicate machine. The old Mark VIII's, most of them built in the early 1920's, required constant maintenance and adjustment to give satisfactory performance. Furthermore, the Mark VIII was designed to run several feet below the surface, where the surrounding water,
itself noncompressible, would direct the full force of the explosion against the hull of the target ship. F-lighters, which had become the principal targets of the PT's, were of such shallow draft that the PT's had to adjust their torpedoes to run almost on the surface -- otherwise they would pass harmlessly under the F-lighters. But the Mark VIII torpedo simply would not run at fixed depth with a shallow setting. If a boat captain was lucky, his torpedo would porpoise when it reached the F-lighter; if unlucky, it would pass below the target. Besides, without proper maintenance, it was to be expected that many torpedoes would run erratically. Many did.
"I remember one of the first times we went out," Barnes said. "I took three boats up off Leghorn and distinguished myself by throwing four torpedoes at a wreck on the Meloria Banks off the harbor entrance. If I do say so myself, it was a very realistic target and looked for all the world like something headed into port. We frequently torpedoed wrecks in new
PT's at Maddalena, Sardinia, with surrendered Italian corvette in background.
The blasted building at left was repaired and used for a PT engineering repair shop.
PT 211 in Bastia harbor, Corsica. Note rocket launchers on forward deck.
areas until we had them properly marked down and got the word around. Only one of these four fish hit and two of them ran erratic."
Lieutenant O'Brien had even worse luck on the night of October 19/20, when he led a three-boat division (PT's 217, 211, and 208) that fired eight torpedoes at merchant ship Giorgio escorted by three E- or R-boats and a flak lighter north of Leghorn.19 Six of the eight torpedoes were erratic, one of them circling the PT formation and forcing the boats to maneuver to avoid their own torpedo. The other two missed the enemy.
Lieutenant DuBose made the first definite kill in the Maddalena-Bastia area on the night of October 22/23, when, in Oswald's PT 206, he led Sanders's PT 216 and PT 212 (Lt. (jg.) T. Lowry Sinclair, USNR) in an attack on a cargo ship escorted by four E- or R-boats south of Giglio Island.
The 206 and 216 each fired two torpedoes, and as the 212, third boat in formation, was getting its sights lined up for a shot, one of the 206's torpedoes, running wild, porpoised alongside it. Sinclair swung his boat hard right as the torpedo passed, and then came back to firing course. DuBose, impatient, asked Sinclair by radio, "How many have you fired?"
"None yet," Sinclair replied. "I'm too damned busy dodging yours."
Sinclair finally managed to get off two torpedoes and joined the other boats in a slow retirement. "Two torpedoes are believed to have hit," the action report said. "One hit was observed forward followed by a violent explosion and the ship disintegrated. The retirement was made at slow speed on the beam. The enemy did not open fire and it is believed that the attack was completely unobserved."
Prisoner-of-war interrogation later indicated that this ship was a corvette converted for use as a cargo carrier.
On the night of November 2/3, Lieutenant O'Brien, patrolling in Lt. (jg.) Page Tulloch's PT 211, with Lt. (jg.) Frederick W. Rosen's PT 207, attacked a ship initially identified as a tanker, which he estimated at 4,000 tons, escorted by three E- or R-boats, off the north shore of Giglio Island. The 211 fired four torpedoes and the 207 two, all within 450 yards. "As the last torpedoes were fired," the action report said, "fire was opened by the tanker with one major caliber gun and several machine guns. Shortly after, the escort opened fire with 40mm. and 20mm. and the division increased speed to maximum and laid smoke . . .
"As speed was increased, one torpedo hit was observed at the tanker's bow. A few seconds later another hit amidships which caused an explosion. This was quickly followed by another which precipitated a violent explosion sending flames 150 feet into the air. The entire superstructure of the tanker was thrown bodily into the air and it sank within a few seconds. The explosion was of such force that the PT's were severely shaken at 800 yards. The escort ceased firing at this time." German records reveal that the "tanker" was actually Submarine Chaser 2206.
An incendiary bullet, unnoticed at the time, had passed through a gasoline tank of the 207, through an ammunition locker, and into the officers' quarters, where it set some clothing smoldering. Gasoline poured through the bullet hole into the bilges, and soon there was an explosion that blew open the deck hatch to the officers' quarters and projected the ladder straight up through the hatch and over the side. Flames leaped up through the hatch as high as the top of the radar mast. Edward B. Farley, RM2c, grabbed
a fire extinguisher from the charthouse, opened its nozzle, dropped it into the compartment, and slammed down the hatch. At the same time the torpedoman pulled the release lever to blanket the tank compartment with carbon dioxide. The flames were smothered. As soon as he saw the flareup on the 207, O'Brien cut across Rosen's bow, laying smoke. A moment later the 207 passed through the screen, perfectly concealed from the enemy and miraculously intact. The inside of the officers' quarters was completely burned out. Why the whole boat didn't explode no one ever knew.
8. WINTER OPERATIONS
On the Italian mainland Allied forces drove the Germans from the beaches of the Gulf of Salerno, past Naples, and across the Volturno River. Then the American Fifth Army on the west and the British Eighth Army on the east began their slow and painful advance toward Rome, fighting the Germans on the roads and in the mountains, in the villages and across the rivers, cracking through the Winter Line barrier of mountains only to have the enemy withdraw into the even more formidable Gustav Line behind the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers.
Constant Allied air attacks disrupted enemy supply by rail and road from Genoa to Rome and the forward lines. More and more the Germans had to rely on waterborne transport, F-lighters and cargo ships running down the coast by night behind a barrier of minefields and under the protection of heavy shore batteries. The minefields made it too risky to send destroyers in to stop the traffic; the job had to be done by PT's, MTB's, and MGB's, shallow-draft vessels that could pass over the deep-set mines without detonating them.
Strategically, the German supply problem bore some resemblance to that of the Japanese in New Guinea. But the tactics for cutting the supply, even though the job was to be done by PT's and their British counterparts, had to be different. The Japanese barges were too small to be considered as torpedo targets, and could not stand up to the PT's in a gunnery engagement, even though some of them were more heavily gunned than the PT's. F-lighters, on the other hand, were almost invulnerable to PT gunfire. It took torpedoes to sink them and the PT's had to get their torpedoes away before they themselves were taken under the intense, accurate, heavy-caliber fire of the F-lighters. In New Guinea the PT's sometimes stood up against the
3-inch shore guns of the Japanese and silenced them with their 40mms. Along the Italian coast south of Genoa the Germans protected their F-lighters with 6-inch and 8-inch guns. The boats were forced to develop a sneak technique -- tracking the target by radar to learn its course and speed and the most favorable angle of approach, then idling in and firing torpedoes before the enemy became aware of their presence.
Early in November Lieutenant Commander Barnes realized that the PT's, because they were equipped with radar and the British boats were not, were superior to the British boats in the matter of finding enemy vessels and in executing the necessary maneuvers for a sneak attack. He also realized that the MTB's were superior to the PT's in the matter of torpedoes -- the British torpedoes were more reliable than the Mark VIII's, were faster, and carried a heavier explosive charge -- and that the MGB's were superior to the PT's in the matter of firepower -- their guns included 6-pounders, ancient but powerful. Barnes proposed to Commander Allan that a PT accompany each group of British boats to serve as a scout and a tracker.
From November until the end of April, joint PT-British patrols resulted in 14 actions with the enemy, in which the boats claimed 15 F-lighters, 2 E-boats, a tug, and an oil barge sunk; 3 F-lighters, a destroyer, a trawler, and an E-boat damaged; and 2 destroyers possibly damaged. During the same period PT's patrolling alone were in action with the enemy 10 times, claiming 1 F-lighter sunk, 1 E-boat damaged, and a possible torpedo hit on a small coaster. The PT's also conducted many special missions, landing or picking up agents, coastwatchers, and commandos on at least 18 occasions.
Throughout the winter, operations were severely limited by foul weather. The Gulf of Genoa is the stormiest part of the Mediterranean, and on many nights the seas raged so high that the boats could not go out at all. Often they started out in calm seas, only to have the wind blow up to gale force before they reached patrol stations. The heavy winds and seas created a further hazard by setting adrift many mines from the German fields. The danger was particularly acute at Bastia, where a German minefield gradually broke up during the winter storms. Several drifting mines exploded right on the Bastia breakwater. During the first few months the British lost six minesweepers in the Maddalena-Bastia area.
On the morning of December 31, a small tanker bringing gasoline for the PT's and a British LST, escorted by two British minesweepers, approached Bastia. Shortly before the convoy arrived at the entrance to the swept channel, the weather, which had been calm and clear, began to blow up for
a gale. The ships missed the channel entrance and drifted into the minefield. One of the minesweepers hit a mine and went down. Then the LST hit a mine and almost broke in two. "When the news of this disaster reached Bastia," Barnes said, "all boats were ordered to stand by, but the PT's were the only available that could weather that kind of a sea. I remember standing on the sea wall watching two RAF crashboats trying to get out. One of them almost broke itself up before it had gone more than a few hundred yards and the other one cut up some members of its crew so badly that it had to turn back."
PT's 206, 214, 215, and 216 battled 20-foot seas and 40-knot winds for more than 3 hours, picking up 12 survivors from the water and towing two liferafts each containing 20 men to the remaining minesweeper. "I've never seen a bunch of people so exhausted in my life as they were when they got back," Barnes said. "I remember Oswald with the blind staggers and mumbling incoherently about his rocket racks which had been swept off the boat. He really must have been in a bad way because that certainly was the last thing any boat captain would worry about losing."
Ill as this wind was, it blew its pittance of good. Men from the PT base stripped the abandoned LST of its galley, pots and pans, plates and cutlery, to the incalculable improvement of their own primitive mess.
9. COLLISION WITH A MINESWEEPER
On the evening of November 29, Lieutenant DuBose, in Lt. (jg.) Page H. Tulloch's PT 211, set out with Lt. (jg.) Eugene S. A. Clifford's PT 204 to patrol near Genoa. When they left Bastia the sea was moderate and the wind light. Within 2 hours a 35-knot wind was blowing and both boats were making heavy weather. Water came over the bows in sheets and short circuited the radars. With visibility less than 100 yards, the boats were ordered to return to port.
They became separated on their return trip, the 211 running ahead of the 204. When the 204 was 3½ miles from the harbor entrance, a group of enemy motor minesweepers and E-boats loomed out of the darkness, running on an opposite course 75 yards away. Then another motor minesweeper appeared just off the starboard bow crossing to port. The PT turned hard left and struck the other a glancing blow by the bows. As they sheared off they exchanged heavy machine-gun fire at a range of 10 yards. The other
minesweepers joined in the action almost immediately, but their fire was inaccurate and, in the low visibility, contact with all of the boats was lost in about 15 seconds.
Torpedo tubes, ventilators, gun mounts, and the deck of the 204 were riddled with bullet holes, and 100 bullets passed through the side of the boat into the engineroom. There were no hits in the gasoline tanks; the engines, though hit, kept running, and not an officer or man was scratched.
In the closing days of 1943 it became apparent that the American Fifth and British Eighth Armies' drive on Rome had hit a brick wall. If there was to be a decision in the Italian campaign, there would have to be another major amphibious landing behind the right flank of the enemy's Gustav Line. Early on the morning of January 22, 1944, ships of the Eighth Amphibious Force (Rear Adm. Frank J. Lowry) began to land elements of the Fifth Army's VI Corps at Anzio, 37 miles south of Rome. Later that morning Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, Commanding General of the Fifth Army, and members of his staff, arrived at the beachhead aboard a PT and were taken ashore in a small landing craft.
General Clark had asked for, and received, the assignment of two PT's to his operational control. Until March he always had two PT's, though not always the same two, at his disposal. They were used primarily as fast passenger craft to carry the General and other ranking officers between Naples and Anzio, and occasionally were sent on intelligence and rescue missions. Their work usually was uneventful, but not always -- one morning they almost lost General Clark.
The General left from the mouth of the Volturno River at 0825 on January 28 in PT 201 (Lt. (jg.) George E. Patterson, Jr., USNR), accompanied by Sanders's PT 216, heading north toward Anzio. As the boats approached Cape Circeo, 25 miles below Anzio, they were sighted by the minesweeper Sway, patrolling the southern approaches to Anzio. Now Sway had just been warned that enemy aircraft were attacking Anzio and might carry the attack to shipping; it was known that the enemy sometimes coordinated air and E-boat strikes, and the captain of Sway saw two small boats approaching at high speed out of the sun. He challenged the PT's by signal light. Without reducing his speed, Patterson replied to the challenge with a 6-inch
signal light. He did not realize that, with the sun at his back, the small light could not be seen aboard the Sway. Sway, receiving no reply to the challenge and seeing the boats continuing their approach, opened fire. Patterson fired an emergency identification flare, but again the glare of the sun prevented the crew of the Sway from seeing the signal. The 201 reduced speed and almost immediately a shell hit the boat in the charthouse, wounding Patterson, his second officer, and one man, and fatally wounding another man and an officer passenger.
"Let's get the hell out of here," General Clark said. *
Ens. Paul R. Benson, USNR, the wounded executive officer, maneuvered away at full speed until the boats were out of range of Sway's guns. After the wounded were put aboard a British minesweeper a few miles down the coast, Sanders took over the 201 and returned, proceeding cautiously until the boats had established their identity with a 12-inch searchlight. The sun by this time was higher in the sky and Sway was able to read the larger light without difficulty. The boats proceeded to Anzio without further mishap.
11. TB DESTROYERS
The German Tenth Torpedo Boat Flotilla started operations in the Gulf of Genoa in the fall of 1943. Though manned by German personnel, its ships were almost all former Italian warships, most of them of a type peculiar to the Italian Navy, called torpedo boats by the Italians but in reality small destroyers. The Americans referred to them variously as destroyers, TB's (for torpedo boats), or TB destroyers.
The first encounter with them came on the night of December 11/12, when Lt. (jg.) John M. Torrance, USNR, in PT 208, and Lt. (jg.) Frederick W. Rosen, USNR, in PT 207, were patrolling between Elba and Leghorn. The PT radars were not working properly and the boats were taken by surprise when two destroyers opened fire on them at a range of 2½ miles. The PT's headed out to sea. The destroyers gave chase for a few minutes and then turned away.
On the night of December 16/17, two destroyers came down to Bastia and lobbed shells into the town for 15 minutes, with no harm to the PT's
*General Clark, in his book, Calculated Risk, Harper & Bros., New York, 1950, records (p. 293) that he said, "Well, let's run for it." I prefer the saltier language of the contemporaneous PT report.
and little to the town. Because the shelling was brief and ineffective, and because of heavy seas, which had kept all the boats in port since the 13th, no attempt was made to intercept the destroyers. Two nights later the weather moderated somewhat, and though one patrol was turned back by heavy seas, another group, MGB's 659 and 663, and MTB 655M, with Eldredge's PT 209 as scout and tracker, was able to remain on station in the channel between Elba and the Italian mainland. Just after midnight, Barnes, in PT 210 (Lt. John L. Davis, Jr., USNR), went out with Olson's 214, Torrance's 208, and Oswald's 206 as a reception committee in case the destroyers should decide to pay another visit to Bastia.
Less than 10 minutes after arriving on station, the boats sighted two destroyers steaming toward Bastia at better than 20 knots. Barnes tried to move in from the west with the 210 and 214 to attack on the bow, ordering the other two boats to get in position for an attack if the enemy should reverse course. The destroyers headed toward Barnes's section and opened fire on the PT's. The turn gave the other boats a chance to fire seven torpedoes, which the destroyers avoided by swinging south again. This turn left Barnes's boats in a poor position for firing torpedoes. With destroyer shells dropping uncomfortably close, Barnes retired to the west behind smoke.
Barnes sent the 208 and 206, which had fired all but one of their torpedoes, back to Bastia, and when the enemy fire ceased, turned eastward with the 210 and 214 to pursue the destroyers. The destroyer speed was such that he could not hope to hit them with an overtaking shot, but thought he might be able to work up ahead of them into good firing position, or to head them off toward Elba, where the 209 was patrolling with the British boats. The destroyers ran east, with the PT's gradually overtaking them on a parallel course to the north. Off the northwest corner of Elba the destroyers began to turn north. Barnes closed the range to force them to turn right toward the other group of boats to the east. The destroyers again opened fire on the PT's, but the stratagem worked. The destroyers turned to the east.
The second group of boats met the destroyers a mile off the north coast of Elba. Eldredge's 209 and MTB 655M each launched two torpedoes, while the MGB's took the destroyers under fire with their guns. Barnes's boats, closing in from the west, each fired four torpedoes. For a few minutes there was wild confusion, with the torpedo boats laying smoke, the gunboats and destroyers blazing away at each other, the brilliant beam of a searchlight sweeping the water from the Elba shore, and shore batteries firing in the general direction of the boats.
The action was a disappointing one, resulting in no damage to the enemy. However, the boats had influenced the Germans to abandon their plans to bombard Bastia.
PT's did not meet destroyers again until the night of February 17/18, when the Senior Officer Inshore Squadron again told Barnes to intercept two destroyers approaching Bastia from the north. Three PT's (the 211, 203 and 202) chased two destroyers for more than 2 hours, firing five torpedoes and finally abandoning pursuit because the boats were taking terrific punishment from mounting seas. Some months later, when Barnes prepared a summary of his squadron's actions, he characterized this one succinctly: "No hits, everybody running; all errors."
These actions proved that PT's could harass TB destroyers. They also demonstrated the extreme difficulty of attacking a fast target with a slow torpedo.
12. FUN WITH ROCKETS
Squadron 15 experimented with rockets as a desperate measure to find a weapon that would be effective against F-lighters. They were used only twice, however, since their accuracy left something to be desired, and they took off with such a blaze of flame that the position of the PT's was revealed to the enemy. The squadron first used rockets on the night of February 18/19, in one of the strangest actions of the Mediterranean campaign.
Lieutenant Commander Barnes was patrolling between Giglio Island and the Argentario Peninsula on the Italian coast in PT 211 (Lt. (jg.) Page H. Tulloch, USNR), with PT 203 (Lt. Robert B. Reade, USNR) and PT 202 (Lt. (jg.) Robert D. McLeod, USNR). "I saw a small radar target come out from behind the peninsula and head over toward one of the small islands south of Giglio," Barnes said. "Thinking it might be an F-lighter I ordered the rocket racks loaded and started over. I think he must have seen us because whatever it was -- probably an E-boat -- speeded up and ducked into the island before we could make contact. That presented the first difficulty of our rocket installation. There we were with the racks all loaded and the safety pins out. The weather had picked up a little and getting those pins back and the racks unloaded was going to be a touchy job in the pitch darkness on wet tossing decks. I decided to leave them there for a while to see what would happen.
"Around about midnight it started to kick up a good deal more. I had just about made up my mind that whatever it was we were looking for wasn't going to show and was getting pretty worried about the rockets heaving out of the racks and rolling around in a semi-armed condition on deck. I decided to make one turn around our patrol area and head for the barn. On our last southerly leg we picked up a target coming north at about 8 knots and I closed right away thinking to spend all our rockets on whatever it was. As we got in closer it appeared to be two small targets in column -- a conclusion which I later used as an outstanding example of 'don't trust your interpretation of radar too blindly.'
"Just about the time we got to the 1,000-yard firing range the lookouts started reporting vessels everywhere, all the way from our port back around to our starboard bow. I had arranged the other two boats one on either side in line abreast and ordered them to stand by to fire on my order over the radio. I gave the order and we all let go together. During the 11 seconds the rockets were in flight nobody fired a shot, but a couple of seconds after the rockets landed what seemed like a dozen enemy craft opened up. The formation was probably three or four F-lighters escorted by two groups of E-boats. We had passed through the two groups of escorts on the way to our firing position.
"Now it came time to turn away and as my boat turned to the right, we found that the 202 was steaming right into the convoy. To avoid collision we had to turn back and parallel the 202. Just at that time the engines on my boat started to labor and unbelievably coughed and died -- all three of them. All during this time we were smack dab in the center of the whole outfit with the enemy shooting from all sides. Never in my life will I see anything like it. The volume was terrific. Meanwhile the 203 on my port hand had lost all electrical power including the radar and compass lights. As she started to turn away she saw the two of us going off on our original course and came back to join us, making a wide circle at high speed and laying smoke.
"It is impossible to say just what happened. The melee was too terrific. The 202 had a jammed rudder which they were able to clear in a minute or so. She eventually got out by ducking around several vessels, passing a number as close as 100 yards. The 203 likewise got clear dodging in and out of the enemy but we on the 211 just sat there helpless watching the whole show. This business lasted for at least 4 or 5 minutes and even the shore
batteries came in to illuminate the whole area with starshells. Fortunately by that time there was enough smoke in the air to keep the issue confused. That confusion was the only thing that saved us. None of our boats were using their guns at all and it was obvious that the enemy was frightfully confused with us weaving through the formation and were hard at work shooting up each other. I am sure they sank at least one of their E-boats because several minutes later they started firing again off to the north and there was a large gasoline fire in the channel which burned for a long time. We got clear by the simple process of just sitting still and letting the enemy pass around us and continue north.
"I finally got one engine going and went out to our previously designated rendezvous which was only a couple of miles away. By the time I got there I could just see the other two boats on the radar screen off to the left. I tried to reach them by radio. I tried to call them back but I couldn't get a soul and waited around for some time thinking they would come back. They didn't, however, and went on back individually for which they got a little private hell from me later. I had no alternative now but to go on back myself so I went. I expected to find the other two boats pretty well shot up as it was a miracle that we weren't lost ourselves. Strangely enough I found that they were not damaged and except for the fantastic coincidence of all three of us being more or less disabled simultaneously in the instant of contact we were O.K."
13. OPERATION GUN
Capt. J. F. Stevens, RN, Captain Coastal Forces, Mediterranean,20 reporting on operations during January and February 1944, said, "There can be no question but that the interruption of the enemy's sea communications off the West Coast of Italy presents a difficult problem. He has made extensive use of minefields to cover his shipping route and while Coastal Forces are the most suitable forces to operate in mined areas, the enemy has so strengthened his escorts and armed his 'shipping' that our coastal craft find themselves up against considerably heavier metal. Furthermore, the enemy's use of 'F-lighters' of shallow draft does not provide good torpedo targets.
Everything that can be done to improve our chances of successful attack is being done. Plans for diversionary attacks in the hope of breaking up an enemy convoy and cutting off stragglers have been made. Torpedoes will, if possible, be fired at even shallower settings. Meanwhile, if they cannot achieve destruction, Coastal Forces will harry the enemy and endeavour to cause him the utmost possible alarm, damage and casualties."
Within a month of this report, the Coastal Forces developed a new technique with which they did "achieve destruction." "Operation GUN" was built around three British LCG's, landing craft each of which had been fitted out with two 4.7-inch guns and two 40mm. guns, manned by Royal Marine gun crews. The Battle Group, LCG's 14, 19, and 20, was to be screened from possible E-boat attack during the operation by an Escort Group, MTB 634 and MGB's 662, 660, and 659. A Scouting Group, PT 212 (Lt. (jg.) T. Lowry Sinclair, USNR) and PT 214 (Lt. (jg.) Robert T. Boebel, USNR), under command of Lt. Edwin A. DuBose, USNR, in PT 212, was to search ahead of the main group and report targets, and, in the event of contact with the enemy, to act as a screen against destroyers. Finally, there was a Control Group, PT 218 (Lt. (jg.) Thaddeus Grundy, USNR) and PT 208 (Lt. (jg.) John M. Torrance, USNR), with Comdr. Robert A. Allan, RNVR, commanding the entire operation, in PT 218. Besides directing the operation as a whole, this group was to control the fire of the LCG's, passing to the LCG's by radio all target ranges and bearings received on the PT radar.
The force arrived off San Vincenzo on the Italian coast early on the evening of March 27, and the Scouting Group was detached to patrol to the north. At 2200 DuBose reported that six F-lighters were proceeding southward along the coast. The main force moved into position to intercept them, and at 2300 DuBose reported that the F-lighters had a seaward escort of two destroyers, which he was preparing to attack. Within 10 minutes the Control Group picked up both destroyers and F-lighters by radar. Commander Allan led the main force into position between the convoy and the escort and waited for DuBose to attack the destroyers. "Until he carried out this attack," Commander Allan reported, "it was not possible for us to engage the convoy as our Starshells, being fired inshore over the target, would serve to illuminate us for the escorting destroyers which were to seaward. Fire was therefore held during many anxious minutes."
Actually, he waited only 10 "anxious minutes." The Scouting Group fired three torpedoes at the destroyers at less than 400 yards range, retiring behind a smokescreen under heavy fire. A 37mm. shell hit the 214 in the
engineroom, wounding the engineer, Joseph F. Grossman, MoMM2c, USNR, and damaging the center engine. Grossman kept the engine running and did not even report his wounds until the boat was out of danger. As the PT's retired they saw a large explosion on the second destroyer, but because of the smoke could not estimate the extent of the damage. Damaged or not, the destroyers reversed course and ran up the coast.
As soon as DuBose delivered his attack, Commander Allan ordered the LCG's to open fire. Their first starshells, fired on bearings and ranges given to them by the Control Group, illuminated the targets perfectly. The F-lighters, taken completely by surprise, apparently mistook the starshells for aircraft flares and fired their guns furiously straight up in the air. That gave the Royal Marine gunners on the LCG's all the opportunity they needed. Within 30 seconds one of the F-lighters blew up with a tremendous explosion. Within 10 minutes three others had been set afire. The LCG's then reversed course and caught the last two as they attempted to retire from the action. "Of the six destroyed," Commander Allan reported, "two, judging by the impressive explosions, were carrying petrol, two ammunition, and one a mixed cargo of both. The sixth sank without exploding."
The final score was an entire convoy of four F-lighters wiped out, accomplished at a cost of two men wounded and trifling damage to PT 214.
"The outstanding feature of the operation," Commander Allan said, "was the remarkable accuracy of the LCG's gunfire, but to enable this to function two most important factors cannot be overlooked. One was the excellent manner in which the LCG's carried out rather hurried manoeuvers. The other was the attack on the escorts by the Scouting PT's. This episode allowed the LCG's to fire undisturbed at the convoy and but for it the action might have developed very differently. It was, in fact, the crucial point of the whole engagement and Lt. E. A. DuBose, USNR, and Lt. (jg.) R. T. Boebel, USNR, are to be commended on their skill and courage in carrying out this attack. Also to be commended is Lt. (jg.) T. Grundy, USNR, who commanded the controlling PT with coolness and skill."
A repeat performance on the night of April 24/25 was equally successful. Commander Allan again led the force in PT 218, this time accompanied by PT 209. DuBose, in PT 212, led the 202 and 213 as the Scouting Group. The Battle Group, LCG's 14, 19, and 20, were escorted by PT's 211 and 216, MTB's 640, 633, and 655, and MGB's 657, 660, and 662.
The Scouting Group reported at 2205 that a convoy was proceeding south from Vada Rocks along the Italian coast. A few minutes later the Control
Group, in close company with the Battle and Escort Groups, made radar contact not only with this convoy but with a northbound target near Piombino on the Italian coast opposite Elba, 25 miles south of Vada Rocks. Commander Allan thought that this was a screening group for the southbound convoy, so with considerable maneuvering he managed to pass astern of it, permitting it to continue on to the north before he attempted to attack the southbound targets. When it was safely past, he moved in on the convoy and gave the order for the LCG's to open fire at 3,000 yards range.
The first starshells illuminated two F-lighters. In less than 3 minutes they were hit by the LCG's and exploded. Starshells landed on high wooded ground near the beach and started large brush fires which, with the burning and exploding F-lighters, made a vast and brilliant glow visible in Bastia, 50 miles away. A large oceangoing tug and more F-lighters were illuminated to the north. The tug was hit repeatedly by the LCG's and sank, one F-lighter blew up, and another burned furiously and then exploded. Smoke from the brush fires and exploding F-lighters spread over the water near the beach, so the MGB's of the Escort Group went in for a close inshore search while the rest of the force moved offshore to intercept still another radar target moving up from the south. The MGB's found an undamaged F-lighter, abandoned except for a few hands. They set it ablaze with gunfire, and after burning for some time it blew up with a tremendous blast. The MGB's picked up 12 survivors, 6 of the German sailors from the F-lighters, and 6 impressed Dutch seamen from the tug.
Meanwhile the Battle Group closed the target approaching from the north. Starshells revealed three flak lighters. The LCG's hit two of them on the first salvo and they burned from stem to stern in a wild fury of exploding ammunition. They never had a chance to fire a shot. The third lighter was not hit for 2 minutes. During that time it poured out shells with surprising intensity. Commander Allan, in PT 218, increased speed ahead of the LCG's and drew most of the fire; 20mm., 40mm., and 88mm. shells came screaming over, some landing within 10 yards. Finally the flak lighter was hit and it withdrew behind a smokescreen. The LCG's ceased fire and PT 209 led the MTB's through the smokescreen. The 209 fired a torpedo which caught the lighter squarely and sank it.
To the north, DuBose's Scouting Group intercepted the northbound flak lighter screening group which Commander Allan had avoided earlier. The PT's fired three torpedoes. While the boats were retiring at idling speed, one battle lighter disintegrated in an impressive explosion.
Two and one-half hours after this attack Radio Bastia reported that shore radar had picked up an enemy contact near the island of Capraia, to the west of the boats. DuBose's group investigated and found two destroyers and an E-boat proceeding in column. When the PT's were still 2,500 yards away, the destroyers illuminated them with starshells. The 202 fired a captured five-star recognition flare, which apparently satisfied the enemy. The boats moved in to 1,700 yards and launched four torpedoes. As they retired they felt a heavy underwater explosion, which was followed immediately by intense fire from the destroyers.
The force claimed to have sunk five F-lighters, four flak lighters, and a tug. Considering the difficulties of assessing damage in a night action, the claims were close to the actual fact. German records available since the war show that three F-lighters, two flak lighters, and one tug were lost with heavy personnel casualties.
PT operations were stepped up in May with addition of two new squadrons to the available forces. The first boats of Squadron 22, a Higgins squadron under Lt. Comdr. Richard J. Dressling, arrived at Oran from the United States on April 21, and the first boats of Squadron 29, an Elco squadron under Lt. Comdr. S. Stephen Daunis, arrived at Bizerte on April 30.
Squadron 22 was brought to Bastia, and a new base was started for Squadron 29 at Calvi, on the western side of Corsica, where the boats would be closer to the French coast and the Italian coast west of Genoa. The boats of Squadron 15 were split between Bastia and Calvi according to operational requirements. Lieutenant Commander Barnes was designated Commander Boat Squadrons Eighth Fleet, in operational command of all three squadrons.
The new boats had modern Mark XIII torpedoes, faster, lighter, harder hitting, and infinitely more reliable than the old Mark VIII's. By early May, most of the boats of Squadron 15, too, had been to Bizerte to have their heavy torpedo tubes replaced by light racks for the new torpedoes and to have a 40mm. gun mounted on the stern. The Mark XIII's were not, of course, infallible. On the night of May 18/19, Lt. Eugene S. A. Clifford, USNR, in PT 204, led PT's 213 and 304 in an attack on two flak lighters near Vada Rocks. The boats were under heavy fire from the flak lighters and shore batteries when they fired their torpedoes at a range of 1,500 yards. A
Mark XIII from the 304 ran wild and hit the 204 in the stern. Happily, it had not run far enough to arm itself, so instead of blowing the boat out of the water, it merely lodged with its warhead in the lazarette and the afterbody hanging in the water. Lewis H. Riggsby, TM2c, USNR, went down into the rapidly flooding compartment and stuffed a towel into the vanes of the impeller to avoid any possibility of the torpedo arming itself. The flak lighters pursued the boats briefly, scoring one 20mm. hit on the 204 but, despite the reduced speed of the 204, the boats retired safely behind smoke, with no personnel casualties.
By and large, however, the new torpedoes were a vast improvement over the old ones. And not only were there more boats and better armed, but the boats were faster. The new PT's arrived with 1,500-horsepower engines; Squadron 15's boats had their engines converted from 1,350 to 1,500 horsepower at Bizerte, raising their top speed by about 5 knots. Finally, with the approach of summer, the storms abated and the seas quieted.
All these factors helped the three squadrons run up an impressive score during May, June, and July. In May, PT's claimed one corvette and four F-lighters sunk; one corvette, two F-lighters, and two cargo ships damaged; and one R-boat possibly damaged. In June the PT's operating alone claimed one corvette and two F-lighters sunk; one MAS boat captured; two corvettes, four F-lighters, and two cargo ships damaged; and one F-lighter probably damaged. In operations with the British they claimed one F-lighter sunk, one probably sunk, and a corvette damaged.
In July the PT's alone claimed five F-lighters, a cargo ship, a large selfpropelled barge, and two small patrol craft sunk; one F-lighter probably sunk and another possibly sunk; one corvette, three F-lighters, two cargo ships, and an R-boat damaged; an F-lighter probably damaged; and two corvettes and an F-lighter possibly damaged. In joint operations with the British they claimed one corvette, two F-lighters, and an E-boat damaged.
15. CORVETTES AND DESTROYERS
In May and June the boats had more encounters with TB destroyers and with corvettes as well. The corvettes were not as fast as the destroyers and were not quite as heavily armed, but it was simply a matter of degree -- they were still difficult and dangerous targets. One of the most successful engagements came on the night of May 23/24, in an action patterned after Operation Gun, in which, however, the PT Scouting Force fought the entire action.
As usual, Commander Allan, this time in PT 217, was the senior officer, with a Battle Force of three LCG's escorted by five MGB's and three MTB's. There was a Southern Scouting Force of two PT's and a Northern Scouting Force of six PT's, divided in two groups. The first group was PT's 202, 213, and 218, led by Lieutenant DuBose in PT 202; the second, PT's 302, 303, and 304, led by Lieutenant Commander Dressling, in PT 302. The Northern Scouting Force made radar contact with two southbound corvettes near Vada Rocks, and DuBose's group was directed to attack. The 202 and 213 each fired four torpedoes and the 218 fired three. As the boats retired, they saw two torpedoes hit the leading corvette. Immediately after the first hit the second corvette laid down a heavy barrage, firing very accurately at the puffs of smoke released by the PT's.
The boats rendezvoused with Dressling's group and a few minutes later saw the damaged corvette disappear from the radar screen. Dressling, whose boats were carrying only two torpedoes each, obtained permission from Commander Allan to attack the remaining corvette. Since the target was alerted, Dressling decided to make a long-range attack, not attempting to close to visual range but directing the torpedoes entirely by radar bearings. Each boat fired two torpedoes at 11/2 miles. Even at that range shells from the corvette were bursting furiously off the starboard bow of the PT formation. As the boats retired they saw a yellow flash in the direction of the target, and on their radar screens saw the corvette come to a dead stop. Ten minutes later the 218 was sent back to fire her one remaining torpedo. The PT closed unobserved within 1,000 yards of the motionless target and had a perfect chance -- but the torpedo ran erratically to the right and missed far astern.
By the time Lt. (jg.) John W. Oswald reached the scene with PT's 201 and 216, the Southern Scouting Force, the boats had lost contact with the second corvette. Oswald's boats picked up 19 Germans from the water. Ten of them were from the corvette UJ-2223 which had sunk after two torpedo hits, and nine had been blown over the side of the corvette UJ-2222, when it was hit by a torpedo. Many weeks later it was learned from other prisoners of war that the UJ-2222 had limped home to Leghorn, so badly damaged that she was stripped and abandoned there.*
UJ (Unterseeboot-Jäger) is translated "U-boat Chaser" but the category was of mixed origin, ranging from corvettes to trawlers and drifters. The "Torpedoboot" (T) and "Torpedoboot-Ausland" (TA) are better understood in English as "Coastal Destroyers" -- "Ausland" indicating a foreign destroyer-type (Italian) pressed into German service and covering both DD's. and coastal DD's.
That these attacks were hitting home can be gathered from the fact that on May 24 the German Naval Command in Italy made an urgent request for air strikes on Bastia, saying that unless something was done to stop the PT's the entire supply system along the coast would be wrecked.
A week after this action, Lt. Edwin W. Snodgress, USNR, patrolling between Leghorn and La Spezia in PT 304, with PT's 306 and 307, found a destroyer and a corvette moving southward and began to close the range for an attack. The newly risen moon revealed the PT's to the enemy. The destroyer and corvette opened fire. The 306 and 307 slowed down while the 304 increased speed. The 304 fired two torpedoes at long range, and then, when it was again taken under fire, tried to lead the enemy ships back past the other two PT's. Again the high visibility favored the enemy. The 306 launched two torpedoes at 1,600 yards range, but the torpedoman on the 307, William I. Fuller, TM2c, was wounded by a 20mm. shell from the corvette before he could get his torpedoes away. The destroyer and corvette turned toward the 307 and raked it with 20mm. and 40mm., closing to 300 yards before the PT began to pull away. The 307 fired all its guns as it retired. The 306, which was not hit, dropped two smoke pots over the side and these drew most of the enemy fire, permitting the 307 to escape. Three men were killed and five wounded on the 307. The boat captain, Lt. (jg.) Paul F. Fidler, USNR, wounded in the leg, head, and shoulder, refused first aid until all the others had been treated and remained at the conn until he had brought his boat back to Bastia, 90 miles away. It was learned later from prisoners of war that the German TB destroyer T-29 had been considerably damaged by 40mm. hits from the 307, and that two men were killed and a dozen or more wounded. The Germans, no doubt misled by the smoke pots, thought that one PT had been sunk.
On the night of June 14/15, Lt. Bruce P. Van Buskirk, USNR, leading a patrol out of Bastia in PT 558, with PT's 552 and 559, made a nearly perfect attack on two corvettes between La Spezia and Genoa. The PT's tracked the corvettes by radar for 25 minutes, finally idling in to firing range and releasing two torpedoes each. As the boats sneaked away they saw the leading corvette disintegrate with a violent explosion, and immediately afterwards saw an explosion on the other corvette. Ten minutes later the boats saw gunfire, apparently from the second corvette, but it was not even in the direction of the PT's. Then there was another explosion in the direction of the corvette, and the ship disappeared from the radar screen. The PT's were certain of destruction of one corvette, and thought they might have sunk
the other, but could not stop to investigate because the first light of dawn was breaking. It is now known that both enemy ships (TA 26 and TA 30) were sunk.
Fifth Army units entered Rome on June 4, 1944, just under 9 months after the first landings at Salerno. Less than 2 weeks later, on the morning of the 17th of June, Senegalese troops of the French 9th Colonial Infantry Division landed on the south coast of Elba and quickly overran the island, bringing all organized resistance to an end in 2 days. Subsequent establishment of Allied heavy guns on Elba denied the Germans the use of the coastal waters to the south, and greatly facilitated the Allied advance up the Italian coast. Because of the great number of mines the Germans had laid about Elba, the risk of using deep-draft vessels in the invasion of the island was considered unacceptable, so nearly all of the surface support for the operation was provided by Coastal Forces. Thirty-seven PT's took part in the operation, on the night of June 16/17, with the following missions:
GROUP 1: PT's 556, 557, 558, 559, 563 . To launch rubber rafts carrying French raiders ashore at Cape Enfola, on the northern coast of Elba, then to join Group 1A.
GROUP, 1A: PT's 552, 553, 554, 555, 562 . Senior Officer in charge of Groups 1 and 1A, Lt. Comdr. S. Stephen Daunis, in PT 553 . With Group 1 to threaten a landing and create a diversion along the north coast of Elba while the actual landing was accomplished on the south coast.
GROUP 2: PT's 201, 211, 217 . Senior Officer, Lt. Donald M. Craig, USNR, in PT 201. To establish a light on Africa Rock, 25 miles south of Elba, as a navigational aid to landing craft approaching the invasion beaches from Porto Vecchio, Corsica; PT 201 to stand by to take off the light party in the morning; PT's 211 and 217 to guide small landing craft to designated points on the beach.
GROUP 2A: PT's 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313 . Senior Officer, Lt. Comdr. pe in PT 309 . To patrol south of Vada Rocks and destroy any enemy vessels encountered.
GROUP 3: PT 203, Lt. (jg.) Norman G. Hickman, USNR. To escort LCG's 8 and 14 and to assist them in bombardment of coastal batteries on Pta. dei Riparti, the southeastern extremity of Elba.
GROUP 5: PT's 204, 207, 213, 215, 218 . Senior Officer, Lt. Gilbert L. Reed, USNR, in PT 218. To escort landing craft from Porto Vecchio to Elba and then patrol off the south central coast of Elba.
GROUP 7: PT's 202, 208, 214, 216 . Senior Officer, Lt. Comdr. Stanley M. Barnes, in PT 216. To patrol off the southeast coast of Elba and destroy any enemy ships attempting to enter the area.
FOLBOT GROUP: PT's 209 and 210 . Senior Officer, Lt. (jg.) Harold J. Nugent, USNR, in PT 210. To disembark six commandos in two small boats near Capo di Poro, on the southern coast of Elba.
ESCORT GROUP: PT's 302, 303, 304, 305, 306, 307 . Senior Officer, Lt. Thomas B. Creede, USNR, in PT 303. To escort the second wave of landing craft from Porto Vecchio to Elba, and to escort four British rocket barges from Elba to Porto Vecchio.
Group 1 approached Cape Enfola on the north coast at midnight and half a mile from shore disembarked 87 French raiders in rubber rafts. The boats then moved slowly to the east, joining Group 1A off Cape Vita, the northeastern extremity of Elba, at 0200. The group began its demonstration at 0320, with three PT's running southwest at 40 knots, laying a dense smoke screen along the coast from Cape Vita across the harbor of Portoferraia. Each boat carried two smoke generators which were kept wide open during the run, and 54 floating smoke pots, which the crews dropped over the side. The boats met no opposition until the leading PT was almost across the harbor of Portoferraia. Then a searchlight ashore caught the leading boat and a 40mm. shore battery began dropping shells so close that the PT had to double back behind the screen.
The screen was perfect, 14,000 yards long and gradually rising to a height of 200 feet. A light breeze from the east swept it slowly westward across the harbor. Four other PT's followed down behind the screen, with special sound apparatus blaring forth a multitude of noises that would sound to the defenders of the island like a great fleet of landing craft approaching the beaches. These boats were also equipped with rockets, which they fired toward shore at intervals to simulate a preinvasion barrage rolling up the coast. To confuse the enemy further, three other PT's carried on continuous radio conversations from 0320 to 0440, directing the movements of the imaginary invasion fleet.
The deception apparently was a complete success. Searchlights swept across the water trying to stab through the blanket of smoke. Guns in Portoferraia and in the mountains to the west fired steadily though blindly into the screen until 0400, when Allied planes arrived to bomb the port from the air.
PT 201, of Group 2, put the light party and its equipment ashore on Africa Rock without opposition. Soon afterwards, while Group 7 was passing Africa Rock en route to its patrol station, one of its boats, PT 208, had a propeller shaft shear off, so Barnes ordered the 208 to stand by to remove the light party at dawn, and took the 201 with him on patrol.
PT's 211 and 217 went on from Africa Rock and took separate positions off the south coast of Elba to guide landing craft to the beaches. Just as the first craft were beginning their approach, the 211's radar picked up a target coming out of Marina di Campo Harbor. Lt. (jg.) Eads Poitevent, Jr., USNR, boat captain of the 211, knew that he must avoid engagement lest the beach be alerted, and at the same time must keep the enemy vessel away from the landing craft. He used his boat as a decoy, flashing a signal light at the enemy vessel. It took the bait. When it came within 500 yards, Poitevent saw that it was an MAS boat. He steered the 211 west and south, away from the landing craft and the invasion beach, with the MAS following. After 15 minutes he shook off the MAS and returned to the landing area.
Just to the west of Marina di Campo Harbor, Lt. (jg.) Harold J. Nugent's PT 210 and Lt. (jg.) James K. McArthur's PT 209 were moving in to land, at points 3 miles apart, British commandos who were to act as beach markers for the invasion forces. After putting the commandos ashore, the boats were to rendezvous and patrol between Elba and the island of Pianosa, 15 miles to the southwest.
"When the 210 arrived at the spot to debark the Commandos," Nugent said, "I found a German E boat patrolling the area, so after a hasty conference with the senior Commando, decided to put them down about three-quarters of a mile further out from the original pin-point. This was accomplished without being detected by the E-boat, which made me breathe much easier as the task force commander had impressed me with the importance of not alerting the enemy shore garrison at this stage of the operation.
"Then I went to the rendezvous point and watched the E-boat on the radar as he patrolled in an east and west direction off the mouth of Campo Bay. When Lieutenant McArthur on the 209 boat completed the landing of his Commandos, he proceeded to the rendezvous point, narrowly missing an engagement with the E-boat in doing so, as he thought it was my boat still in the process of landing Commandoes, and was attempting to join in column with them. It was necessary at this time for me to break radio silence and warn him of his mistake.
"At 2359 we completed the rendezvous and started our patrol. At this time I still had the E boat on the radar screen and another large target approaching directly up our patrol line from Pianosa. I signaled the 209 to form a left echelon and prepare for a torpedo attack and started a run on
the starboard bow of the target. Since the course of the target indicated that it could be ships from our invasion convoy also approaching from the direction of Pianosa, I challenged the ships by blinker at a distance of 400 yards. The closest ship immediately flashed back the correct recognition for that period and a few seconds later repeated it.
"Thus being convinced that the ships were part of the invasion convoy. who had probably become lost in rounding Pianosa, I called to my executive officer, Lt. (jg.) Joel W. Bloom, to be ready to look up the ships' correct position in our copy of the invasion plan. I brought the 210 up to the starboard side of the nearest ship, took off my helmet, put the megaphone to my mouth and called over, 'What ship are you?'
"The answer I received was one I shall never forget. First there was a string of guttural words followed immediately by a broadside from the ship's two 88mm. guns and five or six 20mm. guns. The first blast carried the megaphone away and tore off the right side of a pair of binoculars that I was wearing around my neck. It also tore through the bridge of the boat, jamming the helm, knocking out the bridge engine controls, and scored a direct hit on the three engine emergency cut-out switches (Higgins boat) which stopped the engines.
"I immediately gave the order to open fire, and although we were dead in the water and had no way of controlling the boat, she was in such a position as to deliver a full broadside. After a few minutes of heavy fire we had reduced the fire power of the closest ship to one wildly wavering 20mm. and one 88mm. which continued to fire over our heads throughout the engagement. At this time it was easy to identify the ships as the scene was well lighted with tracers. There were three traveling in a close, flat V, an E-boat in the center with an F-ship on either flank. We were engaging the F-lighter on the starboard flank of the formation.
"As the ships continued to move toward our stern, the injured F-ship screened us from the fire of the other two ships, so I gave the order to cease fire and in the ensuing silence clearly heard screams and cries from the F-ship.
"Two members of the engine room crew who were loaders at general quarters were sent to the engine room to relieve the chief engineer who I thought had been killed or wounded. However, he had been working on the engines throughout the engagement and had already located the trouble when his relief arrived. We immediately got under way but found that the wheel was jammed in a dead ahead position, so I dropped a couple of smoke pots
over the side and we moved off in a dead ahead direction which fortunately was in the opposite direction from the German ships. They then switched their fire to the smoke pots and we lay to and started repairs.
"Much to our surprise, we found that none of us had even been wounded, but the boat had absorbed a great deal of punishment. A burst of 20mm. had ripped through the chart house, torn the chart table to bits, knocked out the lighting system, and detuned and scarred the radio and radar. Another burst had gone through the engine room but had only damaged the panel board and torn the hull up a bit along the waterline. The rest of the hull had been hit on the starboard side, but the holes were high enough to be ignored for the time being. The turret, turret lockers, and vents on deck had also been holed.
"I then called the 209 boat alongside, sent off a radio report to the flagship concerning the action and the direction in which the ships had retired, and received Lieutenant McArthur's report on the damage he had sustained. The 209 had been hit only twice, but, unfortunately, one of them had been a direct hit on the 40mm. loader and had killed him instantly."
As the 210 was completing its emergency repairs preparatory to resuming patrol with the 209, Nugent and McArthur saw heavy gunfire in the direction of Marina di Campo Harbor.
Poitevent's 211, returning to guide landing craft to the beaches after shaking off the MAS, had picked up another target approaching from the west and hugging the shore. As he moved in to investigate, an F-lighter suddenly turned toward the landing craft's escort and opened fire. The escort returned fire, joined immediately by the 211. The PT scored eight or ten 40mm. hits on the F-lighter and it broke off the engagement abruptly, retiring into Marina di Campo Harbor. The landing craft proceeded without further interference.
Although the 211 sighted only one F-lighter, it is likely that it was one of the two that had engaged the 210 and 209. Damage suffered in that engagement would explain its reluctance to slug it out with the 211.
Lt. (jg.) Norman G. Hickman's PT 203 accompanied LCG's 8 and 14 to a point 1,800 yards off Pta. dei Riparti and passed radar ranges and bearings to the LCG's while they bombarded shore gun positions. During the bombardment the PT and LCG's were under continuous starshell illumination and heavy caliber fire, which the 203 diverted to some extent by laying puffs of smoke astern of the LCG's.
At first light the 203 returned to the point to see whether the bombardment had knocked out the coastal batteries. One and one-half miles offshore Hickman learned that it had not. He withdrew under heavy fire. The LCG's came in and laid down another barrage. The 203 again went in to see whether the bombardment had been successful. When the boat was a mile offshore the shore guns again opened fire, but this time in the direction of landing craft lying several miles off, waiting to be called in to the beaches. Hickman fired several bursts of 40mm. at the emplacements trying to divert the fire from the landing craft, and to his surprise drew fire from other positions which up to then had been unobserved. He withdrew, firing at and observing hits in the immediate area of the new positions. After another bombardment the 203 again tested out the shore batteries, and again drew fire from them, though considerably lighter in volume than before.
The PT's of Groups 2A, 5, 7, and the Escort Group carried out their missions according to plan and without opposition by the enemy.
During the next few nights, before the conquest of Elba was complete, the boats patrolled east of the island to prevent evacuation of troops to the Italian mainland. On the night of June 17/18, Lt. (jg.) Judson S. Lyon's PT 207 acted as scout and tracker for MTB's 633, 640, 655, and MGB 658, which damaged a corvette and sank an F-lighter. On the night of June 19/20, Lt. Gilbert L. Reed, USNR, led a patrol of PT's 203, 204, and 214, which took three prisoners and inflicted minor damage on F-lighters evacuating German troops from Elba.
17. CAPTURE OF AN MAS
Elba was entirely under Allied control by the night of June 29/30, when Lt. John Newell, USNR, led PT 308 (Lt. (jg.) Charles H. Murphy, USNR) and PT 309 (Lt. (jg.) Wayne E. Barber, USNR) on a patrol between Cape Falcone on the Italian mainland and the northeast corner of Elba. Investigating a radar contact, the PT's found two MAS boats trying to sneak into the harbor of Portoferraia on Elba.
The PT's opened fire on the MAS boats at 800 yards, and the enemy craft ran north at high speed, shooting back with 20mm. The PT's chased them north for 10 miles in a running gun battle, until one of the MAS boats began to lose speed and the PT's slowed to concentrate their attack on it. As they closed the range, the PT's found that the entire crew of MAS
MAS 562, Italian motor torpedo boat captured by PT's on June 30, 1944.
562 had gone over the side into a liferaft. The PT's took them prisoner -- 14 in all, including the commander of the Italian MAS flotilla based at La Spezia. The PT's by then were nearly out of ammunition, and there appeared to be a fire on the MAS, so they abandoned it and returned to port.
The next morning a reconnaissance plane reported that the MAS was still afloat. Lt. Thomas B. Creede took PT 306 out and found the MAS, with a fire still smoldering in the engineroom. Men from the 306 went aboard and put out the fire, which had been a small one causing remarkably little damage. The 306 towed the prize into Bastia. Just what the MAS boats were doing in Portoferraia was not determined with certainty, though there was reason to believe that they had gone there to evacuate high-ranking German officers who had evaded capture by the occupying forces.
18. THE THUNDERBOLT
Four boats of Squadron 29, PT's 556-559, were equipped with the Elco Thunderbolt, a power-driven mount holding four 20mm. cannon. In the torpedo war of the Mediterranean, where even the 40mm. gun was ineffective against the heavily armed and well-compartmented F-lighters, it was obvious that this would be a weapon of limited usefulness. Twice in July, however, Squadron 29 boats used the Thunderbolt against smaller targets with great success. In both of these actions, one Thunderbolt PT accompanied two 40mm. PT's. The combination of the Thunderbolt's withering volume of
20mm. fire and the slower but more potent 40mm. fire from the other boats proved particularly effective.
On the night of July 15/16, Lt. Stanley Livingston, Jr., USNR, in Ens. Aalton D. Monaghan's PT 558, a Thunderbolt boat, led PT 552 (Lt. Carl A. Whitman, USNR) and PT 555 (Ens. Howard H. Boyle, Jr., USNR), 40mm. boats, on patrol off the French coast with the British destroyers Terpsichore and Kimberley. Near Nice the group picked up two small radar targets, one of which the destroyers sank by 4.7-inch gunfire. Comdr. A. C. Banague, RN, tactical commander of the group, in the Terpsichore, ordered the PT's to attack the second target.
The PT's closed the target, a 70-foot patrol craft, and made three firing runs on it at a range of about 500 yards. At the end of the runs the target was still underway but appeared to be out of control. Livingston brought the 558 alongside and found one badly wounded man on deck and two dead below. The all-metal hull of the patrol craft had taken some twenty-five 40mm. hits, seventy 20mm. hits, and over two hundred 50-caliber hits, and was listing badly. The 558 took off the wounded man and all documents aboard, including a photograph of the boat with a crew of seven men. Apparently some of the crew had gone over the side, but none could be found. The 558 pulled away and PT 552 sank the vessel with 40mm. fire.
Two nights later Lieutenant Livingston, again in Ensign Monaghan's PT 558, with two 40mm. boats, Ens. J. L. McCullough, Jr.'s PT 561, and Ens. Robert F. Morton's PT 562, found a similar patrol craft 3 miles east of Antibes. The boats fired at it for 5 minutes at a range of 250 yards. Then Morton took the 562 alongside and found one badly wounded man and three dead on deck, all grouped around the patrol craft's forward 20mm. gun. The 562 took off the wounded man and pulled away. Three minutes later the vessel capsized and sank.
"The Elco Thunderbolt mount," Lieutenant Commander Daunis reported, "has been used in two gunnery attacks and has proven to be an exceptional weapon."
19. SOUTHERN FRANCE
All PT's were withdrawn from operations on August 1 to prepare for the invasion of southern France, scheduled for the morning of August 15, 1944. Plans called for the simultaneous landing by three great naval task forces, designated the Alpha, Delta, and Camel Attack Forces, of the 3d, 45th, and
36th U.S. Infantry Divisions, on a 25-mile stretch of coast between Cape Cavalaire and Cape Roux -- roughly midway between Toulon on the west and Cannes on the east.
On the night before the landings, most of the PT's were assigned to special duties either with the Diversion Group, which was to try to throw the enemy off balance with demonstrations to the east and west of the landing beaches, or with Task Force 86, the Support Force, which was to make advance landings of small numbers of troops on the Île de Port Cros, Île de Levant, and on Cap Negre to capture heavy enemy coastal batteries and thereby remove a serious threat to the left flank of the main assault forces.
On the morning of D-day, August 15, all of the boats except eight which were to remain temporarily with the Diversion Group were to report back to Lieutenant Commander Barnes, who had been designated Commander Screening Group. His duties included the screening of assault forces against enemy surface attack; the establishment of a boat pool in the Bale de Briande, from which PT's would be made available for duty as courier boats, and maintenance of a daily blood bank shuttle between Calvi and the Delta beaches.
20. THE ADVANCE LANDINGS
Sixteen PT's assisted in the operations of the Support Force, which made advance landings of 700 men on Île de Port Cros, 1,400 men on Île de Levant, and 800 men near Cap Negre on the mainland. These landings were to be made by stealth, without preliminary bombardment, 61/2 hours before the main assault landings. The troops were to paddle ashore silently in rubber boats, towed from transports to points half a mile from the beaches by small landing craft, and guided by PT's.
While some of the PT's patrolled to the south and west to guard against interference by enemy ships, others waited in the transport area for the troops to be embarked in their rubber boats. At 2317 the first waves headed for the two islands, the PT's leading the way followed by the landing craft towing the rubber boats. The PT's stopped 3,000 yards from shore, took final bearings by radar and, as the towing craft came alongside, told them what courses to follow. The towing craft went shoreward another 2,000 yards and then released the rafts to travel the last half mile in complete silence. The PT's remained on their stations to guide succeeding waves to the proper beaches.
Cap Negre was considerably further than the islands from the transport area, so to expedite the landing of an advance party of 75 men, PT's carried the men and towed the landing craft which were, in turn, to tow the rubber boats from a point 3,000 yards offshore. When the PT's were on station, they unloaded the men into rubber boats, the landing craft towed them within 1,000 yards of shore, and the men paddled the rest of the way.
The landings were entirely successful. None of the PT's had any action with the enemy, but some of the PT's of the screen to the south and west assisted in picking up 99 survivors from the German Auxiliary Escaburt * and UJ 6081 (ex-Italian corvette UJ 6081), sunk in the early morning hours 5 miles southeast of the Île de Port Cros by the U.S. destroyer Somers.
21. DIVERSIONARY OPERATIONS
Diversionary operations to the east and west of the landing beaches were undertaken to present multiple threats to the enemy so that he would be confused as to the location and extent of the actual assault and not know where to concentrate his forces to meet it. The Eastern Diversion Unit, consisting of two gunboats, one fighter director ship, and three British ML's21 left Ajaccio, Corsica, on the morning of August 14 and sailed northward until 2130, when it was joined by the PT's of Squadron 22 from Bastia. Three PT's were detached to patrol as an anti-E-boat screen off Nice, and 4 others headed for the Gulf of Napoule to put 70 French commandos ashore in rubber boats at Pointe des Deux Freres. The rest of the force continued northward as though bound for Genoa, trailing balloons as artificial radar targets to give the enemy the impression that a large invasion force was approaching.
When the group had advanced far enough northward so that its presence presumably had become known to the enemy, it shifted its threat by turning westward from Genoa toward the Nice-Cannes area. The four PT's that had landed the French commandos crossed to the eastern flank of the group and took stations as an anti-E-boat patrol. The ML's and remaining PT's deployed off Antibes, trailing balloons so that the enemy would be confused by a multiplicity of radar targets, while the two gunboats, HMS Aphis and HMS Scarab, bombarded targets between Antibes and the Var River.
*Probably a former or local name; otherwise described in action reports as SG-21 (Schnellgeleit vessel or fast escort).
Capt. Henry C. Johnson, commander of the Diversion Group, reported that the "decoy screen" of ML's and PT's "proved effective as, in addition to several enemy salvos falling short of or bursting in the air over the gunboats, the PT's and ML's were subjected to a considerable degree of large-caliber fire which passed well over them."
After an hour's bombardment, the Eastern Diversion Unit departed for the Baie de Briande, in the assault area, to rendezvous with the Western Diversion Unit.
The mission of the Western Diversion Unit was very similar to that of the Eastern Unit. Four ML's and one destroyer sailed from Ajaccio on the morning of August 14, and were joined at 1255 by 8 PT's of Squadron 29 and 11 ASRC's, 63-foot air-sea rescue craft, from Calvi. It is worth noting that the commanding officer of the destroyer, USS Endicott, was Comdr. John D. Bulkeley, who, it will be remembered, had had some previous experience with PT's.
The Western Unit proceeded westward, streaming balloons to give the appearance, on enemy radar screens, of a convoy 10 miles long and 8 miles wide. As the Eastern Unit at first had made for Genoa, the Western Unit headed for the Sete-Agde area deep in the Gulf of Lions, then shifted its threat towards the Baie de la Ciotat, between Marseille and Toulon.
On arrival off the Baie de la Ciotat at 0300, the Endicott and the ML's were to deploy as a gunfire support force would, while the PT's screened them to east and west and the ASRC's entered the bay in waves, laying smoke-screens, firing barrage rockets, placing special delayed-action demolition charges close inshore, and using sonic apparatus to reproduce the noises of many landing craft. Meanwhile, Endicott and the ML's were to bombard coastal defenses. At 0400 a squadron of troop-carrier aircraft was to fly over the town of Ciotat and drop 300 dummy paratroops rigged with demolition charges northwest of Toulon. The operation was carried out according to plan, except that because of dense fog and radar failures, only one ASRC actually entered the Baie de la Ciotat.
The Western Diversion Unit was scheduled to make a repeat performance on the night of August 15/16, but the gasoline tanker that was to fuel the PT's and ASRC's did not arrive on schedule. The operation was postponed for 24 hours. Even with the postponement, fueling was so slow that after 13 ASRC's had fueled, only 2 PT's, Lt. (ig.) Comer A. Trimm's PT 553 and Lt. (jg.) Byron K. Burke's PT 554, were able to fuel in time to take part in the operation.
This time the demonstration went smoothly, the ASRC's entering the bay in waves, while the Endicott shelled the town of Ciotat and the gunboats Aphis and Scarab bombarded the east coast of the bay. The shelling provoked heavy return fire from enemy shore guns as big as 240mm., most of it directed toward Endicott.
The unit began its withdrawal about 0430. The ASRC 21 started to steer toward a radar pip believed to be Endicott. As the range closed, the pip divided to represent two ships. The skipper of the ASRC continued to head toward them, thinking that they must be ML's. He had closed the range to 1,500 yards when both ships opened fire on the ASRC. Realizing at last that the ships were enemy corvettes, the captain of the ASRC called for help. Aphis and Scarab arrived within 10 minutes and engaged the corvettes. Gunboats and corvettes fought a running battle for nearly 20 minutes until Endicott, steaming up from the south at 36 knots, took the corvettes under fire at 15,000 yards.
At first Endicott's fire was slow, because in her attempt to simulate a group of fire support ships in the night's demonstration, she had fired so rapidly that her guns became badly overheated. Now only one of her 5-inch guns was operative; the other three had jammed breechblocks. She shifted fire with her one gun from one corvette to the other, gradually closing the range to 3,000 yards. The two PT's, which had been acting as a screen for Endicott, started to move in on the corvettes, but were taken under such heavy and accurate fire after advancing 300 yards that they quickly fired two torpedoes and retired. Endicott, straddled by shells from the corvettes, also fired two torpedoes, one at each ship.
The corvettes had to turn bow on to Endicott to avoid the torpedoes; in doing so they masked their main batteries. This gave Endicott a chance to close the range to 1,500 yards, where she was able to use her 40mm. and 20mm. guns to rake the decks of the corvettes. Prisoners of war later told Bulkeley that this automatic gunfire was decisive, making it impossible to keep the corvettes' exposed gun stations manned.
As the corvettes turned to flee, Aphis and Scarab rejoined the action. The three ships pounded the corvettes until they sank. Endicott, Aphis, Scarab, and PT's 553 and 554 picked up 211 prisoners, who identified the ships as the Nimet Allah, a former Egyptian Khedivial yacht, and the Capriolo, a former Italian ship, pressed into service by the Germans.
Reporting on the results of the three demonstrations, Captain Johnson said, "On the early morning of D-Day, Berlin Radio broadcast . . . that the
Allies were landing forces from 'west of Toulon to east of Cannes.' The bitter shore reaction of enemy defenses substantiated their fears of such a wide front. The presence of French commandos near Antibes also apparently created a wide and general alarm.
"This same broadcast also announced that 'thousands of enemy paratroops are being dropped in areas northwest of Toulon.' Five hours later this broadcast was corrected with the words, 'these paratroops were found later to be only dummies which had booby-traps attached and which subsequently killed scores of innocent civilians. This deception could only have been conceived in the sinister Anglo-Saxon mind.'
"At 2000 of the same day Radio Berlin broadcast stated that a 'large assault force had attempted to breach defenses west of Toulon' but 'as the first waves had been wiped out by minefields, the rest lost heart and withdrew and returned to areas in the east.'
"For the first 2 days the Germans stated that our main intentions were a direct assault on Toulon and Marseilles, and that we had 'captured Cannes' after bombarding Antibes and Nice with 'four or five large battleships.'
"A great deal of mobile artillery and infantry units remained or were sent to reinforce this area. Four or five enemy combatant ships in the area were ordered to stand by and assault the flanks of the Allied attacking forces when they returned, according to statements by enemy prisoners. . . .
"On the 1100 broadcast of 19 August, Radio Berlin claimed that 'an additional and futile attempt of the American forces to land large bodies of troops west of Toulon has failed miserably.'
"' Lord Haw-Haw' commented on this 'attempt' later, stating that the assault convoy, which had the Toulon-Marseilles area as its target, was '12 miles long' but that for a second time in 3 nights the 'Allies have learned of the determined resistance of the Wehrmacht, to their cost.'
"Prisoners rescued from the sunken German ships expressed amazement at the types of ships we employed and stated that the other ships ordered out to the attack failed to obey because, as a result of their reports, they 'lost heart.'"
The gasoline tanker intended for the PT's failed to sail because of engineering difficulties. That meant that when Barnes set up his boat pool in the Baie de Briande, the PT's had to hunt out tankers assigned to other assault areas.
On the evening of August 16, Lt. (jg.) Wesley J. H. Gallagher, USNR, in PT 202, and Lt. Robert A. Dearth, USNR, in PT 218, set out from the Baie de Briande to find a tanker reported to be in the Gulf of Frejus, 15 miles to the northeast. At 2050, when the boats were 21/2 miles off Pte. St. Aygulf, at the western side of the Gulf of Frejus, the bow lookout on PT 202 reported a floating boxlike object 150 yards dead ahead. Gallagher immediately altered course to the right to avoid it. During its turn the boat ran over a mine which blew the stern right off, knocked several men overboard, and catapulted a column of water, smoke, and debris hundreds of feet in the air.
Francis A. Kowalski, TM2c, USNR; Francis J. Cavanaugh, RM3c, USNR; Dante Alfieri, QM2c, USNR, and Nicholas J. Massiello, TM2c, USNR, unhesitatingly went over the side to the aid of the men in the water. Dearth brought the 218 in and picked up all of the men from the water. He was proceeding toward the 202 to take off the rest of the crew when his boat also ran over a mine which blew off her stern. Gallagher had started to try to signal to other ships in the bay to get help. As soon as the 218 was mined he stopped, considering it unsafe for any other ships to come into the area.
The boat captains inspected their boats to make sure that no personnel remained below, and then got their crews into liferafts. They tied the liferafts together and held a muster. Only one man was missing. One officer and five enlisted men were injured. By amazing luck the engineer on watch in the engineroom of each boat survived, although on one boat the force of the blast tossed a bank of storage batteries right out of the engineroom and onto the forecastle.
Both boats were obviously sinking, so the boat captains turned their rafts shorewards. An air raid was then in progress, and fragments from antiaircraft projectiles were falling all about the rafts. The crews made shore three-quarters of an hour after midnight, choosing as a landing place a barren, rocky point that they thought was the least likely terrain for landmines. Gallagher picked his way through barbed wire entanglements and found an abandoned, partially destroyed cottage not far from the beach. The crews stayed in the cottage for the night, since they had no way of knowing whether they were in friendly or enemy territory. Soon after daylight the boat captains found an advanced U.S. Army unit half a mile away. The wounded were transferred by ambulance to a first-aid station and a nearby Navy beachmaster found transportation for the rest of the crews back to the Baie de Briande.
On August 18, Rear Adm. L. A. Davidson, Commander Task Force 86, the Support Force, attempted the reduction of Porquerolles, an island just to the west of the Île de Port Cros on the left flank of the invasion forces as a preliminary to the occupation of the Toulon-Marseille area. After preliminary bombardment of Porquerolles by the U.S. cruiser Augusta and the French cruiser Emile Bertin, a demand for surrender was carried to the island by a party aboard PT 215. As the PT approached the shore it was taken under heavy fire from big guns on the mainland peninsula of Giens to the northwest and was forced to retire. "Giens," Admiral Davidson reported, "appeared to be as important a thorn as Porquerolles and more difficult to remove."
During the next few days ships of Task Force 86 tried to soften up both Giens and Porquerolles, but were unable to silence permanently the guns on Giens. On the afternoon of the 21st the destroyer Eberle saw a small group of men on the southwest point of Porquerolles waving a white flag. An officer sent ashore to investigate reported that a group of Armenians in the German service wished to surrender. Eberle took 57 Armenian prisoners, who said that 150 Germans remained in a fort on the island and were planning to move to the mainland that night in 3 small boats. Eberle went around to the north side of the island and destroyed the boats. That night PT's 553 and 556 patrolled between Porquerolles and the mainland to prevent evacuation, but saw nothing of the enemy.
On the 22d, after the French battleship Lorraine and U.S. cruiser Philadelphia had shelled the fort on Porquerolles, Ens. William A. Klopman's PT 556 landed a flag-of-truce party which demanded and received the surrender of the 158 Germans remaining on the island. Later in the afternoon the big guns on Giens opened up on the ships carrying troops to garrison Porquerolles. They were silenced, at least temporarily, by wellplaced salvos from the cruiser Omaha.
24. THE GULF OF FOS
On August 23, Admiral Davidson received information that Port de Bouc in the Gulf of Fos, to the west of Marseille, was in the hands of French patriots. On the same day he was ordered to start minesweeping operations to open
the Port de Bouc and Gulf of Fos. Accordingly, on August 24, he sent Capitaine de Fregate M.J.B. Bataille, French naval liaison officer on his staff, and Lt. Bayard Walker, USNR, to make a reconnaissance of Port de Bouc aboard PT 555. Lieutenant Walker's report to Admiral Davidson follows:
"Pursuant to your verbal orders of 24 August 1944, I accompanied Capitaine de Fregate Bataille, French Navy, on a mission to Port de Bouc on the PT 555 to determine whether the port was actually in the hands of the FFI22 as reported, and if so, to what extent it could be used. We departed from alongside the USS Augusta at approximately 1300.
"We proceeded westward past Marseilles and then northwards towards the Gulf de Fos through a north-south channel in the process of being cleared of enemy mines by a large sweeping force. Near the end of this channel we came close aboard a U.S. destroyer who notified us that coastal batteries to the eastward had straddled ships coming near the entrance of the Gulf de Fos. It is believed that the batteries were those in the Niolan or Cape Mejean area.
"The other officers aboard the PT 555 were Lt. Stanley Livingston, [Jr.], Division Commander; Ens. Howard [H.] Boyle, [Jr.]; and Ens. [Charles H.] Stearns, [Jr.], Executive Officer.
"It was decided that we could enter the Gulf de Fos despite fire from enemy coastal batteries since we presented such a small target at long range. We entered the bay cautiously and proceeded close to the port without drawing enemy fire. Despite a two-man mine watch, we passed over a shallow mine which just cleared the bottom of the boat.
"The French flag could be seen flying in more than a dozen places as we neared the port, demolished by the enemy when they left. A pilot and a fisherman opened the boom and allowed us to enter the harbor. We were welcomed by cheering crowds waving French flags.
"At Port de Bouc Capitaine Bataille and myself got the necessary information regarding the condition and usefulness of the port from the local authorities which included Lieutenant Granry, French Navy, in civilian clothes, who had parachuted in this area some weeks before. Through his efforts, much of the enemy attempts to make the ports useless were countered. We learned that the last of the Germans had left the town on 21 August.
"After about a half hour ashore, gathering the above information, we got underway to return to the Augusta. Shortly after clearing the harbor entrance the Commanding Officer called all hands to general quarters, set
a two-man mine watch at the bow, and began steaming at 1500 RPM, about 29 knots. A minutes later (about 1715) a terrific blast exploded beneath our stern, carrying away the 40mm. gun and gun crew and almost everything up to the forward bulkhead of the engine room. Enough framework remained to hold the engines, now submerged. The four torpedoes were immediately jettisoned and we anchored with two anchors from separate lines.
"A rubber life boat was then lowered as was a life raft to search for the missing men. Four men were missing. One man with a broken leg, an uninjured man and a body were brought back aboard after a thorough search by those in the life raft. Due to the strong current the life rafts were not only unable to make headway towards the ship but were drifting away. Lieutenant Livingston, an expert swimmer, swam over to the rubber raft, a distance of over 300 yards, with the bitter end of a line to which we added all the spare line, electric cable, halyards, etc., available to make it reach. The line was kept buoyed by floatable material such as 'Mae Wests' and regular life jackets at varying intervals. This made possible the return of the above mentioned men.
"A French pilot boat and an open fishing boat stood out from Port de Bouc, rescuing the other searcher in the regular life raft, thence coming alongside.
"During this time we were constantly covered by a large number of fighter planes who had been attracted to us by the explosion. A Navy spotting plane flew very close to us but was unable to read our light. A Navy plane from the USS Philadelphia landed and came close aboard to get our message concerning Port de Bouc for relay to Commander Task Force 86.
"It was decided that I should attempt to make Port de Bouc, aiding an interpreter for the injured man who needed medical attention. We left with the Pharmacist's Mate and the body in the open boat. When we had gone scarcely 100 yards from the PT, a violent explosion lifted the boat in the air and threw us all headlong into the water. The time was about 1805. An instant before the explosion I saw a greenish line with green floats spaced about every foot get tangled in our screw astern. I came up under the boat which seemed to be coming down on me and quickly freed my foot which got caught somewhere for an instant. The water was black in spots from the residue of the charge as I shot up nearer the surface.
"As I gathered my senses I realized that everyone seemed to be all right and accounted for. The body disappeared never to be seen again and the
injured man was placed on the bottom of the overturned boat where he appeared to be comfortable. The Phamacist's Mate who was about 60 feet away from me called for help as he couldn't swim. I swam to him and reassured him he was doing fine, but got ducked under a few times in attempting to help him. Fortunately, an inflated 'Mae West' floated by and then an empty 10 gallon can, all of which helped calm him and keep him afloat. As a matter of fact, the situation seemed so good at this point that I decided not to take off my pistol and belt. We began drifting rapidly from the others, clinging to the boat, but the pilot boat came to our rescue, picking us up first and then those in the overturned fisherman. The injured man was put aboard without further harm and the boat up-ended and sank as the last man let go.
"Right after the explosion the Philadelphia plane took off before receiving our message, I learned later with regret, as we were most anxious to complete the mission by getting the word through.
"We had two narrow escapes getting back to the PT -- coming very close to similar lines and floats as I had seen before. I requested the pilot, Ensign Moneglia, French Navy, also in civilian clothes, to go between two sets of lines rather than back down and turn around as the majority seemed to wish. It proved to be the safe way between two mines whose floats we could actually see.
"Another fishing boat with Lieutenant Granry aboard came out and tied alongside. Lieutenant Livingston and Ensign Boyle attempted for a long time to get word to a U.S. cruiser which was with the sweeping group out in the swept channel, but our portable light was not strong enough and attempts with a mirror received only spasmodic dashes, but no Roger.
"We continued to jettison topside weights as the stern of the remainder of the boat sank lower. Eventually, two twin .50 caliber machine guns and the 20mm. gun and ammunition together with other topside weights were jettisoned. One twin .50 caliber machine gun and some ammunition was not jettisoned at the request of the Commanding Officer in order to have something to open up with in case of attack. K-rations and fruit juices were brought topside to feed the crew and Frenchmen.
"Commander Bataille and Lieutenant Livingston set off for Carro23 in the rubber boat in an attempt to get the message through if they could find transportation or communication facilities of the Army. I remained aboard
with a duplicate message in case of visual contact with Allied craft and also to serve as interpreter with the French patriots alongside.
"We had two teams of bucket brigades that night. One was composed of the Commanding Officer and the crew and the other of the Frenchmen and myself. About midnight the trim looked as though we might have to abandon ship prior to dawn despite the calm sea, so all preparations were made for such an event. The radar set and aerial were dismantled, destroyed and jettisoned and secret and classified publications and charts were made ready to be deep-sixed.
"We were able to keep ahead of the water coming in, however, and the weather continued fair until daylight. The bilge pump aft had been shot away and the one forward couldn't make suction due to our being so far down by the stern.
"The night was quiet except for the flashes and vibrations of the aerial bombardment which appeared to be going on in Marseille. It was chilly and damp, but we made out fairly well by sharing blankets.
"About an hour after sunrise, Commander Bataille and Lieutenant Livingston returned in a fishing boat followed by another boat. They reported that they hadn't been able to get the message through, but told of their experience of paddling by a mined gate and finding an almost deserted village.
"It was decided to tow the PT to Port de Bouc with two of the boats, using the other two boats ahead to search for mine lines. Commander Bataille and Lieutenant Livingston stood in the bows of the two searching craft. After going only a short distance so many of these lines were encountered that we abandoned the plan of going to Port de Bouc and headed instead for Carro, near Cap Couronne.
"On arrival at Carro the PT boat was moored alongside the dock with the stern settled on the bottom. An abandoned house next to the dock was turned over to us to quarter the officers and men. Personal and living gear was taken to the house which we cleared out with the help of five Italian prisoners put at our disposal by the FFI. There were sufficient provisions aboard to take ashore to feed the men for several days.
"The Commanding Officer of the Philadelphia sent Ensign Pitcher and a radioman with a . . . radio ashore at the time of our arrival at Carro, to attempt to get information regarding troop dispositions and targets along the coast. It was by means of this radio that we were able to communicate with Commander Task Force 86 via the Philadelphia. My . . . [dispatch]
reported the pocket of 3,000 enemy troops in the area bounded by Ensues, La Redenne, and Rouet, only a few kilometers away, whose escape was anticipated on the northern road via Martiques. The FFI strongly desired air support to prevent this maneuver as there were no Allied troops in the vicinity.
"Saturday morning 26 August I proceeded to Port de Bouc to gather information . . . I returned . . . to Carro for the night and to pick up my gear and returned to Port de Bouc the next day as U.S. Naval Liaison Officer.
"I had asked the pastor of the Catholic Church at La Couronne to say a mass on Sunday morning for the five men we had lost. A high mass was celebrated in the church, crowded to the doors at ten-thirty. The pastor and local people had gone [to] considerable effort to decorate the church with French and American flags and flowers. The choir sang despite the broken organ and the Curé gave a moving sermon in French. Four FFI men, gotten up in a uniform of French helmets, blue shirts and white trousers, stood as a guard of honor before the draped coffin on which was an American flag.
"After mass, our men fell in ranks behind a platoon of FFI followed by what seemed to be the whole town and marched to the World War monument. There, a little ceremony was held and a wreath was placed in honor of the five American sailors. We were told that a collection was in the process of being taken up amongst the local people in order to have a plaque made for the monument with the names of the five Americans who had given their lives for the liberation of France."
25. EXPLOSIVE BOATS AND HUMAN TORPEDOES
The trip of PT 555 to Port de Bouc and those of PT's 215 and 556 to Porquerolles were among the missions performed by the PT's in the boat pool in the Baie de Briande. Other boats were assigned as required to flagships of the various task forces and groups for use as courier boats and close night screens. PT 208 had a close call on the evening of August 18, when it carried Vice Admiral Hewitt, Lt. Gen. Ira Baker and Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers to the USS Catoctin, Admiral Hewitt's flagship anchored in the Gulf of St. Tropez. An air raid had just started when the PT put the admiral and the two generals aboard the flagship. Within a minute after they went aboard, a bomb
hit the flagship, killing 2 men and wounding 3 officers and 32 men aboard Catoctin, and wounding 4 men on PT 208.
Most of the courier duty was uneventful, however, as were the nightly patrols in the Rade d'Hyeres, to the west of the assault area. The PT blood bank shuttle made daily deliveries to the Delta beaches from Calvi. Three PT's of Squadron 29 were released from the assault area on August 19, at the request of the Senior Officer Inshore Squadron at Bastia, to serve as radar scouts and trackers for the British boats operating against enemy shipping in the Gulf of Genoa, and later other boats of Squadron 29 were placed under operational control of the Senior Officer Inshore Squadron at Bastia.
On August 23 all of the remaining boats were moved from the Baie de Briande to St. Maxime, in the Gulf of St. Tropez; the patrols in the Rade d'Hyeres were discontinued, and the blood bank shuttle was taken over by aircraft, so that the PT's could start close inshore patrols on the eastern flank of the assault area to guard against attacks by two new and alarming types of enemy vessels: explosive boats and human torpedoes.
PT's at St. Maxime in the Gulf of St. Tropez, Southern France.
The explosive boat, it was learned later, had a plywood hull about 18 feet long, with 600 to 700 pounds of explosives in the bow section which would detonate when the boat was driven head on into its target. There were two types, one controlled by a single operator who jumped overboard after setting his boat on collision course with a target; the other a drone type, of which several could be directed and detonated by radio from a slightly larger control boat. The explosive boats, driven by gasoline engines, had a top speed of 25 to 30 knots.
The human torpedoes were in effect one torpedo suspended from another. The upper torpedo, which had no warhead and was for propulsion only, floated with its topside awash. From it was suspended the missile torpedo, which could be released by the operator, who sat astride the upper torpedo, enclosed in a watertight casing with his head above the surface in a transparent plastic dome 18 inches in diameter. Top speed was about 4 knots and the operator had only limited visibility.
PT's first encountered explosive boats on the night of August 24/25, when the 552, 553, 554 and 564 broke up a group of them without actually engaging them. One explosive boat narrowly missed a PT and then disappeared in the darkness. Shortly afterwards there were three large explosions in the area, possibly caused by a control boat detonating its drones. Two nights later PT's 210 and 213 intercepted five explosive boats traveling slowly in column. The PT's crossed ahead of the column, dropping a float flare with a 5-minute delay fuse. As soon as the flare ignited, the PT's opened fire. Four of the boats blew up almost immediately, apparently by remote control from the remaining boat, which escaped to the beach. On the night of September 7/8, PT's 215 and 216 made contact with two separate groups of boats. Three boats in the first group blew up, and the control boat again escaped to the beach. Of the second group, one blew up and another was left in flames. The second engagement was confused by a smokescreen laid by the enemy.
On the night of September 9/10, PT's 206 and 214, under Lieutenant Reed, chased and fired on three explosive boats which headed for the beach at 30 knots. The PT's gradually closed the range to 100 yards, when one of the boats stopped dead in the water and blew up with a terrific explosion. A few minutes later another boat turned and headed for the PT's. As it passed close aboard, the crew of the leading PT could see clearly that it was unmanned.
At daylight the PT's reported to the destroyers Madison and Hilary P. Jones, which were closing the beach for a bombardment. Madison sighted a human torpedo 500 yards off her port beam and maneuvered at high speed to avoid it. Both Madison and PT 206 opened fire, and the operator of the torpedo jumped out of his transparent dome as his craft sank. PT 206 took him prisoner. A few minutes later a Navy scouting plane spotted another human torpedo. PT 206 went alongside it and DuBose motioned to the operator to abandon ship. He refused and the 206 sank the torpedo by close-range gunfire. During the rest of the morning, planes kept spotting more torpedoes, of which eight were destroyed by PT gunfire or destroyer depth charges.
The PT's thereafter had two more inconclusive engagements with explosive boats. While these actions were usually inconclusive, and the control boats usually managed to escape, the PT's accomplished their purpose of thwarting the enemy attacks. Neither explosive boats nor human torpedoes inflicted any damage on our forces in the invasion of southern France.
26. LAST DAYS AT BASTIA
While PT's continued to operate from St. Maxime until September 28, when the base was moved to Gulf Juan, the PT's operating from Bastia were the only ones to encounter surface targets other than explosive boats and human torpedoes. During the last week in August the Bastia boats met TB destroyers on 3 nights, and on the night of August 27/28 had their first engagement with a new type of craft, Rhône River barges 250 feet long, which the Germans were pressing into service as a substitute for their dwindling fleet of F-lighters. Then contacts dropped off for a few days until, starting on the night of September 10/11, the boats engaged F-lighters or Rhône River barges on nine consecutive nights. The rest of the month was quiet except for the night of September 26/27, when an oil barge (GPS 256) carrying 140 tons of badly needed oil exploded after being hit by two torpedoes. All of these engagements took place within a 50-mile radius of Genoa, between Cape Mele on the west and La Spezia on the east.
Damage to the enemy was estimated at one destroyer and two barges sunk, and one destroyer and one barge damaged, during the last week in August; eight barges and four F-lighters sunk, one F-lighter probably sunk, one corvette, three F-lighters and two barges damaged during the 9-night run in
September; and one tanker sunk at the end of the month. While we now know that these claims were high, the remarkable thing about these actions is that of the considerable damage inflicted almost all was by joint patrols of one of the three Squadron 29 PT's assigned to Bastia and two or three MTB's. While many factors contributed to this result, one of the obvious and most important is that the British division commanders had been patrolling these waters for nearly a year and had acquired greater skill than the relatively inexperienced officers of Squadrons 22 and 29.
The importance of the division leader is illustrated by the repeated successes during this period of Lt. A. C. Blomfield, RN, riding as division leader with Lt. Robert E. Nagle, USNR, in PT 559. The 559 led MTB 423 to Genoa Harbor on the night of August 24/25 (MTB 420 had started with them and returned to Bastia because of an engine casualty). There they sighted a harbor defense ship escorted by a small craft 1,500 yards east of the harbor breakwater. Each boat fired two torpedoes at 1,300 yards and retired undetected, observing three apparent hits on the target. Intelligence sources later confirmed the sinking of this craft.
Three nights later Blomfield and Nagle in PT 559, with MTB's 423 and 375, made another undetected torpedo attack, this time on three Rhône River barges and claimed to have sunk two of them. On the night of September 10/11, the 559, with MTB's 422 and 376, fired five torpedoes at a convoy of one F-lighter and one Rhône River barge with several small escorts. Nagle and Blomfield claimed to have sunk both the barge and the lighter, but German sources do not confirm the claim.
On the night of September 13/14, the same three boats each fired two torpedoes at a convoy of three F-lighters and heard four explosions as they retired. Half an hour later the boats closed the same formation, the MTB's following the 559 although the only torpedoes remaining in the group were two aboard the PT. This time there were only two F-lighters in the convoy. Just as Nagle was about to take another shot at them, a lookout reported an enemy corvette (later established as UJ 2216) closing fast on the starboard bow. Nagle swung his boat toward the corvette and fired one torpedo at 400 yards range. It hit the corvette's port side and a mass of flames shot up through the stern of the ship, blasting the stern gun clear of the deck and hurling a man high into the air. The corvette soon sank. Nagle turned the 559 back toward the F-lighters, fired his last torpedo at them and retired under fire from the corvettes and F-lighters.
Another example of Anglo-American cooperation occurred on the night of September 11/12 when PT 558 (Ensign C. C. McPherson) together with MTB's 419 and 423 attacked and sank two Rhône River barges off Spezia. Lieutenant T. Finch, RNVR, in the 558 was the tactical commander.
Back in the early days of the Mediterranean campaign, when the PT's first started to work with the British boats at Bone, Barnes had been of the opinion that joint patrols would not work. "The radical differences," he wrote, "which exist between British and U.S. boats with regard to communication equipment and procedure, military characteristics of boats, and tactical doctrine made it undesirable to include units of both nations in the same task group and this was avoided whenever possible."
That was before the PT's had radar. At Bastia joint patrols were resumed to combine the advantages of American radar and British torpedoes. In time the PT's and British boats worked out their own joint tactical doctrines, and proved beyond a doubt that boats of different types could operate together with utmost efficiency, provided there was teamwork between the types. Commenting on the action in which PT 559 and MTB 423 sank a harbor defense ship, Barnes wrote, "Lieutenant Blomfield, RN, is an exceedingly capable and aggressive Coastal Force officer with 3 years of experience in this type of craft. The PT's working with this and other British groups have been more or less permanently assigned. Since the normal operating group is a U.S. Elco, a British Higgins and a British Vosper, with the British Senior Officer embarked in the U.S. Elco, it is obvious that successful operations require only tactical unity and not homogeneous types."
Commander Allan relieved Capt. N. Vincent Dickinson, RN, as Senior Officer Inshore Squadron on September 8 and at the same time received orders to prepare plans to move the Inshore Squadron to Leghorn, on the Italian mainland, where the boats would be closer to the Gulf of Genoa patrol areas than they had been at Bastia. Barnes closed out the PT base at Calvi on September 22 -- now that there was a base in southern France, Calvi was no longer needed -- and on September 28 recommended to the Commander Eighth Fleet that the PT's move to Leghorn with the British Coastal Forces. On September 29 the Commander Eighth Fleet granted
authority to close the PT base at Bastia and to establish a temporary operating base at Leghorn.
Squadron 15 did not go to Leghorn. Now that southern France was taken, German coastal traffic in the western Mediterranean was limited almost entirely to the Gulf of Genoa, and less PT's were required. On October 1 Barnes learned from the Commander Eighth Fleet that the 16 remaining boats of the squadron were to be transferred under lend-lease to the Captain Coastal Forces Mediterranean. He sailed his PT's for Malta, decommissioned the squadron on October 17, and completed the transfer on October 25, 1944, 18 months to the day after his first boats arrived at Bone, the scene of their first actions.
Leghorn was in operation by October 10. During the rest of the month the boats of Squadrons 22 and 29 patrolled from there and from St. Maxime, and later from Gulf Juan, in southern France. The forces claimed heavy damage on two F-lighters and probable damage to one barge.
Squadron 29 was withdrawn from operations on October 28, with orders to turn over eight boats to the Commander Twelfth Fleet for further transfer under lend-lease to Russia, and to ship its remaining four boats back to the United States for duty with Squadron 4 at the Training Center at Melville. The squadron was decommissioned on November 23. Lieutenant Commander Daunis had relieved Barnes as Commander Boat Squadrons Eighth Fleet on October 22. He in turn was relieved by Lieutenant Commander Dressling on November 23.
Dressling, whose boats had been at St. Maxime and then at Gulf Juan during October, was ordered to move six of them to Leghorn early in November. Throughout the winter Leghorn remained the principal offensive base, with PT's rotating between the bases to permit training at Gulf Juan. The Gulf Juan boats occasionally were permitted to make offensive sweeps into the Gulf of Genoa, but saw little action.
The winter patrols were hampered by bad weather -- worse, if anything, than that of the year before. Commander Allan estimated that in the 150 days between October and March, it was possible to maintain full patrols on only 57 nights. A week of severe storms from November 10 to 16 increased the normal hazards by setting many mines adrift.
On the night of November 17/18, Lt. (jg.) Brenton W. Creelman's PT 311 set out with MTB's 378 and 420 for a patrol of the Portofino-Spezia area, but at 0230 was ordered back to Leghorn by the division commander in MTB 420 because of a steering casualty which had been affecting the boat's
operations all night. At 0330 the PT sent a radio dispatch to Leghorn, giving its estimated time of arrival as 0515. At noon the 311 still had not arrived, so Commander Allan sent PT's 312 and 307, under Lt. Daniel L. Fleming, USNR, to search for it. At 1305 the boats sighted the bow section of the 311 adrift 35 miles northwest of Leghorn. The PT had hit a mine at 0400. The entire boat aft of the crew's quarters was completely destroyed. Clinging to the bow were the survivors -- five men who had been in their bunks in the crew's quarters at the time of the explosion. Both officers and eight men were missing.
The PT's had only one successful action in November, 2 nights after the loss of the 311, when Lt. (jg.) Charles H. Murphy's PT 308, with MTB's 420 and 422, claimed five torpedo hits on two enemy convoys joining each other off Portofino resulting, it was believed at the time, in the sinking of an F-lighter and a coaster, and the possible sinking of a second F-lighter. German records show that the submarine chaser UJ 2207 was the actual and only victim of this attack.
By the middle of November the Germans had installed more and heavier shore guns along the coastal routes and had rearmed their F-lighters so that most of them were the equivalent of the old flak lighters, carrying two 88mm. guns and several 40mm. and 20mm. guns. To counter the increased armament, Commander Allan requested heavier ships. He was assigned five British trawlers, three mounting 4-inch guns and two mounting 12-pounders. In November, Commander Allan reported, "exercises, much hampered by bad weather, were carried out with some of the trawlers which had been allocated. These ships were unaccustomed to night maneuvering, and so every chance was taken to exercise them. This entailed the controlling PT going out in more weather than she could stand, or more properly than the stomach of the Senior Officer could stand. I regret to say that the sight of a 'limey' succumbing to the weather, gave an accountable pleasure to our allies (though at the time they hardly appeared as such) and the fact has been duly recorded in their annals."
The trawlers, fairly deep-draft vessels, could not pass over the minefields as did the PT's and British coastal craft, so before they could be used it was necessary to sweep a channel for them. On the night of December 15/16, four minesweeping ML's swept a channel into Mesco Point, guided by Lt. (jg.) Robert Spangenberg's PT 302. The ML's were screened on the north by Lt. (jg.) Edward Groweg's PT 306 and MTB 419, under Lt. Edwin
W. Snodgress, USNR, and on the south by Lt. (jg.) Robert Wallace's PT 310 and MTB 422, under Lt. N. Ilett, RNVR.
The ML's completed their sweep by 0200 without encountering any mines, and set course for Leghorn, accompanied by the northern covering force. The southern covering force remained on patrol, and found four F-lighters off Moneglia Point. As the boats closed the range, the F-lighters and shore batteries took them under heavy fire. Each boat got two torpedoes away. There were two huge explosions in the direction of the target but apparently these resulted from the torpedoes exploding on the beach.
On the following night a striking force of the trawlers Minuet, Hornpipe, Twostep, Gulland, and Ailsa Craig, rendezvoused with the control group, Commander Allan in PT 302, with MTB 419; the northern escort group, Lt. E. Good, RNVR, in PT 306, with MTB's 377 and 421, and the southern escort group, Lt. N. Ilett, RNVR, in MTB 420, with MTB 376 and PT 309. Ahead of the main body ranged the northern scouting group, Lt. Eugene G. Wilson, USNR, in PT 304, with PT 313 and MTB 422, and the southern scouting group, Lieutenant Commander Dressling in PT 310, with MTB's 378 and 375. The 17th Squadron, South African Air Force, was to have sent a flight of bombers to illuminate the enemy by starting brush fires ashore with incendiary bombs, but because of low visibility was unable to take part in the operation.
Dressling's scouting group picked up a southbound F-lighter convoy, only to lose it when it moved in close to the beach. Later it picked up a northbound convoy of F-lighters and a coaster escorted by an R-boat, and shadowed it for three-quarters of an hour, giving constant reports of its position to Commander Allan's control group. When the convoy came within range of the trawlers, Commander Allan ordered Dressling's group to retire to seaward. Two of the trawlers illuminated the convoy with starshell and the other three immediately opened fire with their 4-inch guns. The F-lighters fought back savagely with their 88mm. guns, but the trawlers had the advantage of surprise and scored many hits, whereas the best the F-lighters could do was to spray one of the trawlers with shell fragments, slightly damaging its bridge and wounding one officer. By the time the F-lighters began to get the range, Commander Allan ordered MTB 420 to lay a smokescreen to cover the retirement of the trawlers. Commander Allan assessed the damage to the enemy as two F-lighters and one R-boat sunk, but again German records do not confirm this claim.
During 3 weeks of December, three U.S. destroyers were held available to move into the Italian coast to attack convoys if minesweeping ML's could find a gap in the minefields. The ML's carried out two difficult night sweeps. "Unfortunately," Commander Allan reported, "on both occasions, they encountered mines. The proposed employment of the destroyers was, much to their disgust, thereafter abandoned."
In January 1945, two patrols met the enemy: one on the night of January 10/11, in which PT 304 and MTB 422, under Lt. (jg.) Lawrence F. Knorr, USNR, fired four torpedoes at a convoy of five F-lighters off Mesco Point, and one on the night of January 15/16, when PT 313 and MTB 378, under Lt. William B. Borsdorff, USNR, fired six torpedoes at five F-lighters off Corneglia. Again torpedo explosions on the shore were confused by our forces with hits on the enemy. German sources indicate that no damage was suffered.
"During the latter half of January and the first weeks of February," Commander Allan reported, "a flotilla of Royal Yugo-Slav MGB's was allocated. Despite their great keenness these boats never made contact with the enemy although they were out on many patrols. They did, however, in their behaviour both afloat and ashore, create an exceptionally fine impression by their alertness, cleanness, and general enthusiasm."
During January, to counter the bad weather nearly always experienced on passage from Leghorn across the Gulf of Genoa, Commander Allan sent some British boats to Gulf Juan, whence they could more easily attack enemy traffic between Genoa and Savona. On the night of January 7/8, PT 303 (Lt. (jg.) David R. Campbell, USNR), PT 304 (Lt. (jg.) Lawrence F. Knorr, USNR), and MTB 422, under Lt. Stanmore B. Marshall, USNR, fired five torpedoes at three coasters half a mile off Savona Harbor. It was felt that two of the ships were sunk but this cannot be confirmed. A searchlight flashed on from the harbor and the patrol retired under heavy shore battery fire without damage.
Squadron 22 boats from Leghorn were in action on February 5/6, when PT 308 (Lt. (jg.) Charles H. Murphy, USNR) and PT 310 (Lt. (jg.) Robert Wallace, USNR), under Lt. Eugene G. Wilson, USNR, made an attack on a fast coaster but inflicted no damage. On February 8/9, Lieutenant (jg.) Murphy's PT 308, with MTB's 376 and 423, under Lt. N. Good, RNVR, attacked three F-lighters under heavy enemy fire but the enemy was able to escape damage.
During February, six British destroyers were assigned to the Inshore Squadron. Though their operations were severely limited by minefields, they were able, at extreme range, and with illumination by scouting aircraft, to engage convoys passing the Portofino Promontory, 12 miles east of Genoa. "During these patrols," Commander Allan reported, "two convoys were engaged, and Genoa and Sestri Levante were bombarded, all with uncertain results, although an apparent fire in a ship in convoy indicated a probable hit . . . Even if they achieved no great direct result, these patrols, which were almost continuous, very definitely curtailed the enemy's coastal traffic. . . ."
Early in March the destroyers were transferred to operate under Rear Adm. Robert Jaujard, FN, commander of the Flank Force, which was engaged in harassing the enemy coast and attacking such enemy shipping as it could find. On March 19 the PT's were also transferred to Admiral Jaujard's command, to operate from Gulf Juan. They had one last good action from Leghorn before they departed, on the night of March 9/10, when Lieutenant (jg.) Knorr's PT 304, Lieutenant (jg.) Murphy's PT 308, and Lt. (jg.) Richard L. Noble's PT 313, under Lt. William T. Davies, USNR, made two attacks on a convoy of eight ships off Mesco Point and sank one Rhône River barge.
Two of the Flank Force destroyers, HMS Lookout and HMS Meteor, sank two German TB destroyers, the TA-24 and TA-29, southeast of Genoa on the night of March 17/18. One hundred and eight prisoners were taken, including the commander of the German 10th Torpedo Boat Flotilla. The statements of the prisoners regarding the effectiveness of Coastal Forces operations during the winter were of particular interest. Almost every convoy sailing between Genoa and La Spezia, they said, had been subjected to motor torpedo boat or air attack, and the greatest threats to their coastwise traffic were groups of motor torpedo boats and medium bombers.
That gave the boats a good sendoff as they finally parted company with the British Coastal Forces. Commander Allan gave them another: "It is impossible," he said in reporting on Coastal Forces operations, "to refrain from once more emphasizing the very real cooperation which we have had throughout our associations with them, from all officers and men of PT squadrons serving on the station. From the maker of ice-cream and the barber, to the radar technicians and the storemen, we have had nothing but help and goodwill. The officers have always been considered as good friends
rather than brave Allies, which they undoubtedly have proved themselves to be. There are innumerable memories of great occasions both afloat and ashore, which I am confident will never fade. Although all those who served under him, and who followed him, fully maintained the high standard which he set, it is to Commander S. M. Barnes, USN, that we owe the greatest gratitude for laying the sure foundations of what has been perfect inter-Allied harmony of design and action."
28. TORPEDOING THE HARBORS
Admiral Jaujard gave Lieutenant Commander Dressling a novel assignment-to harass the enemy by firing the PT's remaining store of Mark VIII torpedoes into the German-held harbors between Genoa and the French-Italian border. On the night of March 21/22, Lt. Stanmore B. Marshall, USNR, in PT 310 (Lt. (jg.) Robert Wallace, USNR), with PT 312 (Lt. (jg.) William J. Shea, USNR), fired four torpedoes at a range of 2 miles into the harbor of Savona, and observed three explosions. On the night of April 4/5, the same boats, under Lt. John Newell, USNR, fired four torpedoes into the harbor of San Remo and saw two explosions, of which the second was so powerful that it jarred the boats.
On the night of April 11/12, Lieutenant Marshall led PT 313 (Lt. (jg.) Erling Gamborg, USNR) and PT 309 (Lt. Roscoe T. Avery, USNR) to fire four torpedoes into Vado harbor. There was one large explosion, followed immediately by three or four smaller ones. Thirty seconds later there was a single explosion of great intensity. Lieutenant Commander Dressling led PT 302 (Lt. (jg.) Robert Spangenberg, USNR) and PT 305 (Lt. (jg.) Richard A. Hamilton, USNR) on the night of April 19/20 to fire the last three Mark VIII's in the stockpile into the harbor of Porto Maurizio, where a single loud explosion was heard.
"During these actions," Dressling reported, "Italian partisans were rising against the Germans, and there is little doubt that the explosions of our torpedoes were taken by the enemy as sabotage attempts by partisans. At no time were we fired on, despite the fact that we were well inside the range of many enemy shore batteries. Our boats were apparently never detected.
"It is the opinion of this command that to a small extent the . . . actions assisted the partisans in taking over the Italian ports on 27 April 1945."
29. THE LAST PATROLS
Several times during April the PT's had fleeting contacts with fast small craft thought to be MAS boats, and on the night of April 16/17, PT's 302 and 308 went to the assistance of the French destroyer Trombe, which had been torpedoed by an MAS or an E-boat. On the night of April 23/24, PT 307 (Lt. (jg.) Walter E. Powell, USNR) and PT 305 (Lt. (jg.) Richard A. Hamilton, USNR), under Lt. Robert E. Nagle, USNR, patrolling the Italian coast, gave chase to an MAS which tried to discourage pursuit by dropping a depth charge in their path. The MAS was gradually pulling away from the PT's when it was hit and stopped dead in the water. The PT's closed the range, intending to board it, but the MAS was already afire, so they stood off and pumped 40mm. into it until it exploded and sank.
The boats moved westward to Nice, where they communicated with French SC's which apparently were engaging enemy small craft in the Cannes area. The PT's were ordered to maintain a patrol to the east of the area of the action. Their own patrol was without incident, but the French SC's sank six E-boats, and seven others were run aground on the French coast or scuttled as a result of the engagement.
"It is interesting to note," Dressling reported, "that a life ring picked up a few days later had the number 'MAS 561.' We had previously captured the MAS 562 in an engagement off Elba."
On April 28/29, Lieutenant Commander Dressling led 10 of his boats in a special sweep of the French-Italian coast in company with 2 French cruisers, 3 French destroyers, and 10 French PC's. All of the coastline, formerly held by the enemy, apparently was in the hands of the Partisans.
That was the last patrol of PT's in the Mediterranean. They were released from operations on May 4 and in June were assembled at Oran for shipment to the United States. Back in New York, the boats were being readied for duty in the Pacific when hostilities ended in August. Squadron 22 was decommissioned in New York on November 15, 1945.
The three squadrons had operated in the Mediterranean for 2 years. Their losses were 4 boats destroyed by mines; 5 officers and 19 men killed in action; 7 officers and 28 men wounded in action. They fired 354 torpedoes and claimed on their own to have sunk 38 vessels totaling 23,700 tons and to have damaged 49, totaling 22,600 tons; and in joint patrols with British boats to have sunk 15 vessels totaling 13,000 tons and to have damaged 17, totaling 5,650 tons.
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