|Narrative by:||Commander G. Knuepfer|
USS Meredith, DD 726 in Normandy Invasion.
|The story of the loss of the second destroyer named Merredith in the current war is told here by Commander Knuepfer. The Meredith was sunk by a mine on 8-9 June 1944, while participating in the NEPTUNE operation.|
I am Commander George Knuepfer, Commanding Officer of the USS Meredith, the destroyer 726, the third ship of that name, the second one lost in this current war.
The Meredith arrived in the United Kingdom on the 28th of May (1944) after having escorted a convoy from United States to the United Kingdom. Shortly after our arrival in Plymouth, around the 29th of May, I received all the information for operation Neptune. We received a special briefing in the old theatre at Plymouth, where the whole operation was explained to us, and I, in that operation was assigned as Escort Commander of Convoy U-3 which consisted of 16 LSTs, and six Rhinos, the whole convoy containing about 7500 troops.
Among my escorts were two French Corvettes, the R'Aconit and the Renoncule, three British Trawlers and four U.S. Coast Guard Escort ships, quite an assortment of Allied Escort vessels. We started out the day before D-Day from Torquay, England and made our way across through swept channels across to the invasion coast.
The weather was quite rough, heavy overcast and a moderate sea. As is well known, the tides in the English Channel, particularly as you approach the French coast, average sometimes as much as 6 knots at full flood. And I had a 6-knot convoy, so that at many times in order to make the course good, I had to steer 86° off the base course to make my path good.
I feel that this crossing with the slow convoy was probably one of the most hazardous of the trip. Navigationally we had no trouble. We were able to keep our fixes by radar and arrived in the transport area, with the convoy intact and on time. While crossing during the night, we saw innumerable ships illuminated by star shells and snowflakes which indicated presence of E-Boats but none of them approached close enough to my convoy to entail any real danger and I felt that not to disclose our position was the wisest course. So we did not have occasion to do any firing on the way down.
The sight of these thousands of ships crossing the channel was something that I never hoped to see. Being a slow convoy, we started before many of the others had to start so they passed us in the channel going down. A greeting from each one of these ships was the call-of-the-day. My ship in particular being one of the newest of our Navy received particular comment from the British forces that passed me, telling me what a fine ship I had, good luck and happy hunting.
We arrived in the transport areas, I said before, on time and my ship was assigned to the area screen to the northeastward of the transport area to guard the ships anchored there. I turned over my convoy to the Task Force Commander and I was assigned an area to screen to the northeast of the transport area. This area was about five miles from the French coast. During the night we patrolled this entire area along with about five other destroyers, hoping for an E-boat attack so we could eliminate a few of those that had caused quite considerable trouble to ships crossing.
We stayed on station on screen until about six o'clock in the morning of the following day D-Day when I was assigned to station No. 2 in the gun support area and there we had our first occasion to fire a shot in anger. We were stationed about a mile and a half to two miles off the French coast, just to the eastward of the boat lane through which our troops were passing to the beach.
We gave them gun support as directed by the gun support fire parties on the beach. In some cases they were Naval officers, in other cases, they were Army officers. They would give us positions of areas to open fire on by co-ordinates and we would let them have it as quickly as possible. The majority of our targets were tank and troop concentrations closing on our troops and it was a gratifying thing to hear when our salvo reached them, "well done, Meredith, you got them in the first salvo."
We stayed in this area supporting the troops throughout the day on 7 June and on the evening of 7 June about four minutes before midnight, we were ordered to proceed to the northward of the heavy ships in their gun support areas and screen them against E-boats. Just prior to this a report had been received that E-boats were concentrating in that area from the Cherbourg coast. I was assigned to the northward of a position just about five miles from the Island of Marcouf and was patrolling my station along with about six other destroyers, when suddenly I struck a submerged mine. This was at 0152.
The ship gave a tremendous lurch forward and upward and everybody on the topside was thrown to their knees and we were all drenched with a huge cloud of water as a result of the mine explosion. This water just seemed to fall for minutes until it appeared as if we were going down under the sea, suddenly all abated, flying debris had stopped falling and we stirred around to find out the extent of damage. All communications had been lost and power was off the ship.
We immediately investigated the extent of damage and found that the mine had struck on the port side of the keel right under No. 2 fireroom and had wiped out both No. 1 fireroom, No. 1 engine room and No. 2 engine room, killing most of the men in that area including those that were in the repair parties on topside just above that area. The explosion blew a hole about 65 feet outward in this area, completely wiped out the main deck, the forward boat davit, the motor whaleboat, the super structure deck and half of No. 2 stack.
The machinery in these areas was actually blown overboard, just a tangled mass of machinery was in evidence. The ship had immediately taken a list to starboard of about twelve degrees as a result of machinery missing in the engineering spaces and she appeared to be settling. The bulkheads on each side of the damaged area were intact and the bilges were dry. It was one of those unusual conditions of damage control but there was nothing we could do. My forward auxiliary diesel engine was in operation, but there was no area to pump out. The ship had taken a position of static balance and nothing materially that we could do within our means could help the ship. I felt that the jettisoning of heavy weights would only upset this balance, and forces of sagging in effect, so my first thought was to get hold of the salvage parties.
The salvage plan for this area was quite elaborate and I decided to take advantage of it. I called alongside two PC boats to take off my wounded and a good proportion of my crew, just to get them out of the way.
In the black of night, I didn't know when she might break in two, I felt that the keel was broken, that all that was holding me together was probably the starboard shaft, and the starboard side of the ship. So I thought of the safety of the crew as being the most important thing at the time since I knew that the salvage tugs would come to me shortly so I removed the wounded and half the crew on these two PCs and then the ship gave another lurch and I thought she might break, so I called a DE and put all my key men, about 150 of them, and key officers, and myself on this DE, and I requested the skipper to lie off about 100 yards until the salvage tugs arrived.
The ship took a list of about two more degrees when I left and the starboard rail went further under the water.
The crew throughout the operation followed the best traditions of the Navy. There was no panic, everybody did their job. Men remained at their stations 'til they were told to leave. It was about an hour and fifteen minutes before all hands were clear of the ship.
Two PCs went into the transport area to the bigger ships while I stayed off close aboard watching the ship. Throughout the night she drifted toward the Cherbourg coast, which was another reason for my wanting the crew off, 'cause I knew as soon as she got within range of the Cherbourg coast that she would be taken under fire by eleven-inch guns in that area.
However, about 6 o'clock in the morning, two salvage tugs appeared on the scene and we immediately proceeded back to our ship, helped the salvage tugs secure the lines to the ship and they took her in tow into the advanced transport area. There the salvage parties inspected her and the decision was made to remove topside weights and to strengthen the side and have divers look at the keel. There were so many other ships at that time damaged that not much could be done on my ship
About two o'clock in the afternoon on the 8th, they decided that there was danger of her sinking and if she sank in the transport area she would definitely be an obstruction. So they moved her down into the fire support area about a mile and a half off the beach. We arrived there about four o'clock in the afternoon. En route to this area, we suddenly saw two floating mines about 100 yards off the starboard bow and we immediately screamed to the tug that was towing us alongside to pull us out of the way. People had had just about enough of mines and to have hit that would have been rather a crucial moment. By the fine ship handling of the Captain of that tug he managed to pull us clear and anchored us, using his own anchors.
Salvage work continued throughout the afternoon and early evening. By this time the crew officers and myself that had originally come aboard were rapidly reaching the point of exhaustion, so I decided to place a relief party on board of three officers, that had not been on board previously, and about fifteen men as a security watch. I gave them instructions that if at any time the ship appeared in danger of breaking up to hail the tug, which would either be alongside or nearby to take them off.
On the early morning of the ninth the area was heavily bombed by the enemy and one 2,000-pound bomb landed about 500 yards off the ship's bow and it shook the ship terribly and it had indicated the first evidence of the stern working itself loose
The break of the deck had originally been quite level and now the stern section began rising but still the bulkheads were intact, the bilges were dry and we felt that the ship would eventually be saved and live to fight again. However about ten o'clock on the morning of the 9th, she suddenly gave a terrific crunch and broke in two. There was sufficient time for everybody to jump clear into the water to be picked up by the tugs. The bow slid down aft and the stern slid down forward and just as the bow was about to go underwater, she turned over so that the keel was exposed and she broke in two and rapidly sank out of sight. She sank about thirty-two hours after she was originally struck.
I feel that everybody did everything in their power to save her. It was a terrific thing to lose--such a new and fine ship.
As in every serious accident this one had a little bit of its humor. When I was getting ready to leave the ship, one of the chief petty officers said to me, "I almost forgot Lurky." I said, "Who is Lurky?" He said, "It's our pet cat that you never knew had been aboard." I was quite surprised to get the news at such a time, 'cause I had a ship's order that no pets would be allowed on my ship. The destroyer with its steel hot decks is a rather cruel place to keep pets. I've seen so many of them lost overboard, so I didn't want any.
This Chief Petty Officer went down into the blacked out chief's quarters and soon came out with this tiny little taunt cat. He tucked her inside his jacket and climbed aboard the DE alongside.
The acts of heroism usually don't come to a Captain's attention 'til after the people are all off and you get a chance to sit down and talk about these things. Then come to light those things that create medals and for which medals are awarded.
I had one particular outstanding case, Bryan Brady Lawson, Chief Machinist Mate, U.S. Navy. I cited him for extraordinary heroism and outstanding devotion to duty in saving the lives of four injured men by carrying them out of the total dark, shattered and flooded engine room under hazardous conditions when the USS Meredith struck a mine. In spite of the terrific explosion that took place in that area, he was stunned but otherwise unhurt. He managed to make his way out of the shattered after engine room by climbing out the after engine room hatch passing out to the fantail.
On the fantail, Bryan did not see any of the twelve men who had been on watch with him in the engine room, so he realized that they must still be down in the damaged engine room. He obtained a flashlight and at the risk of his own life, he went down into the totally dark and shattered after engine room which at that time was flooded to within four feet of the overhead and displayed extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty with his total disregard to danger when at any time, at any moment, the Meredith was in danger of sinking, and he saved four injured men.
He carried these men out of the after engine room, passed them up the ladder to the hatch, where other men assisted in carrying these men to the fantail. Bryan kept these injured men together and subsequently assisted in putting them aboard a rescue ship. These men were all very badly injured and were subsequently hospitalized in United Kingdom for very serious burns, fractures and lacerations but all of these men are alive and they will recover. I saw them all at a hospital at Plymouth. They are in good spirits and the doctors assured me they would live. For this great feat, I have recommended Bryan for the award of the Navy Cross.
In addition to Bryan being recommended for the award of the Navy Cross, the following officers and enlisted men were recommended for the awards of letters of commendation and the commendation ribbon for services performed:
The first one was Lieutenant Commander Donald Brewster Amage, Executive Officer of the Meredith. He was cited as particular credit and commendation for outstanding performance of duty as Executive Officer and Navigator of the USS Meredith, in assisting the Convoy Commodore of Convoy U-3, of which the Commanding Officer, USS Meredith was the Escort Commander, in the safe navigation of Convoy U-3 from the United Kingdom to the Utah Transport Area under adverse conditions of strong tides and currents through narrow and restricted swept channels which were known to be mined. This performance of duty assisted the Escort Commander to arrive safely intact and at the scheduled time with Convoy U-3 for operation Neptune.
The subsequent operations in the Utah area and beach while the Meredith was employed as a unit of the area screen and in the gun support area, the executive officer was in charge of the combat information center, and efficiently maintained the ship's position and provided firing data to the gun control based on this information, an excellent job--well done.
The other Credit goes to the Commanding Officers of the USS Bates, PC 1232, and PC 1263, great credit and commendation are due to the commanding officers of these ships for bringing their ships alongside the Meredith after she had been struck by the mine and for their successful rescue of so many officers and men in the area where enemy threats were so actively present. Their task required the nicest judgment of seamanship and required that their ships be stopped for considerable periods while so many wounded casualties were laboriously taken aboard. The limited facilities of these ships were stretched in an attempt to make all wounded and survivors as comfortable as possible.
Particular credit is due to Commanding Officer of the Bates for remaining on the scene at the request of the commanding officer of the Meredith, and in screening that helpless ship, until the arrival of the salvage tugs and the salvage officer.
The others are my damage control officer and assistant damage control officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Edward Scott Doe, D-V(G), and Ensign Robert Gibson McElroy, also D-V(G). They are cited as follows: Particular credit and commendation are due to the following named officers who were in charge of repair parties three and one respectively, for the efficient manner in which they handled the damaged control problem, created by the initial effect of the mine explosion and for their untiring efforts and assistance for a period of over thirty-two hours rendered the salvage party of the USS Bannock under the supervision of the assistant salvage officer of the Naval Western Task Force.
The remaining commendations go to the Medical Department. THe Medical officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Charles Spencer Davidson, Medical Corps, USNR; Chief Pharmacist Mate, William Lewis McWhite; Otto Earl Eckart, Pharmacist Mate 1/c; also George Thomas Nixon, Seaman 2/c, U.S. Naval Reserve, who was acting as a Pharmacist Mate.
The citation reads as follows: The manner in which Medical Officer Lieutenant (j.g.) Charles Spencer Davidson, MCDG, U.S. Naval Reserve, and the men of the Medical Department, Chief Pharmacist Mate William Lewis McWhite, Otto Earl Eckart, Pharmacist Mate 2/c, and George Thomas Nixon, S2/c, gave and administered relief to the injured while still on board their ship and later continued their unselfish efforts during the subsequent passage to the transport area, as most commendable.
The following officers deserve particular credit and commendation in their helping, in their unselfish efforts in assisting the injured and helpless to escape from the dangers which threatened them. Lieutenant Commander Donald Bruster Amage, Lieutenant (j.g.) Donald Leonard LaSalle, Ensign Newton Marbury Mauer, Albert Francis, Chief Pharmacist Mate; and Henry Cary Bronson, Machinist Mate 3/c. These men helped the injured into the boats, they administered first aid, and were responsible for saving many lives.
There were a great many men who were seriously burned, several had lost arms and libs, and these men were totally helpless and needed the attention of men just like this.
In addition to these awards were the innumerable and sad posthumous awards of purple hearts for the personnel that were dead and missing. They are too numerous to mention right here.
Also there are the recommendation for awards for the purple heart medals for those who were wounded. There was a total of 35 men lost, dead and missing, 33 enlisted men and two officers, and there were 25 men and one officer badly injured that had to be hospitalized. That is all.