Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Roll of Honor: LST 921, LCI(L)99, U-667


The Roll of Honor:
LST 921, LCI(L)99, U-667
Brushy Creek Journal
Memorial Day
Monday May 25, 2020
Partly Sunny 63°F/ 13°C off Falmouth, UK
Sunny 61°F/ 16°C off La Pallice, France
Buonagiornata,
We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history,
and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again!

President Barack Obama at Hiroshima, May 27, 2016

When I was a little boy, Memorial Day was still called Decoration Day and it fell on May 30th. My 
mother told me it was a memorial event that started at the end of the Civil War, because that’s when Americans would pay tribute to the fallen who wore both blue and gray by decorating their graves with flowers. The observance began with former slaves celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation by decorating the wartime graves of African Americans who fought for their freedom from slavery. Decoration Day quickly became a Memorial Day honoring Americans who fell in all our country’s wars. After World War I, we honored the fallen of The Great War on each November 11th.  For many years, November 11 was Armistice Day, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year there was a moment of silence to commemorate the end of The War to End All Wars. In 1968 Congress revamped our national holidays, combining these hallowed days into a pair of three-day weekends. Decoration Day is now Memorial Day and Armistice Day is now Veterans Day. Today we will again honor those who fought and died for their country. But, as the years pass, the real meaning of both days is sometimes lost in the holiday atmosphere that accompanies any long weekend.

When my father returned from his US Navy service in World War II, he told my brother and I a story that is retold to each new generation in my family as every new Memorial Day approaches. It begins with a few terse lines from the LST 920’s Ship’s Log:

LST 920 Ship’s Log: Monday 14 August 1944

1654 hours:  First hit on LST 921, directly astern of us. Presumably by torpedo.

1654 hours: General Quarters sounded

1656 hours: LCI #99 (British) hit by torpedo presumably

1657 hours: All stations manned and ready; approximate position…50°54’ North, 4°45’ West

1657 hours: Relieved on conn by Captain Schultz and went to GQ station

Ensign John J. Waters, Officer of the Deck

My father, Lieutenant Charles Botula, Jr. died in 1965 without ever knowing the full story about the afternoon of August 14th, 1944 off the west coast of England. It has taken me years to research it. Neither my Dad nor his Captain – Harry N. Schultz ever knew which enemy submarine attacked them or what happened to that U boat after the LST 921 and HMS LCI(L)99 were torpedoed. Most of the survivors of that terrible afternoon have also faded from our midst, but their story is well worth the retelling. For in the retelling, we can pay them a long overdue honor.
Monday, 14 August 1944 -16:54 hrs. - USS LST 920, commanded by Lieutenant Harry N. Schultz and USS LST 921, under the command of Lieutenant John Werner Enge were underway in convoy EBC 72 from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England. They were suddenly attacked by the German submarine U667, was under the command of Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinze Lange. LST 921 was hit by the first torpedo and broke in two with the aft section sinking minutes later. Some survivors scampered to safety on the bow section. Others went overboard into the chilly water. When the aft section sank, it took half of the ship’s crew to the bottom.  General Quarters was sounded on the LST 920 and Captain Schultz came to the bridge. Seeing survivors in the water, Schultz ordered his radioman, Seaman Fred Benck to send a request for permission to turn his ship around to pick up survivors. Permission was denied and the LST 920 was ordered to proceed to Falmouth. Shortly after receiving these orders, Schultz ordered Radioman Benck to send the message again. This time, Captain Schultz disregarded the order to proceed and ordered the LST 920 to turn around to rescue any survivors of the attack.

As my father watched from the bridge of the LST 920, he spotted a torpedo coming straight at him. Just then, a British escort vessel, LCI(L)99 came alongside, took the full brunt of the torpedo and was blown out of the water. There is no way of knowing if the Captain of that British escort vessel deliberately  steered his ship into the path of that oncoming enemy torpedo or if it was happenstance that put the crew of LCI(L)99 into harm’s way. Either way, the Skipper, Lt. Commander Arthur John Francis Patrick Reynolds, Royal Navy, died a hero.

The 920 came about and Captain Schultz ordered two small boats into the water with Ensign John Waters in one and Ensign Harold Willcox in the other, along with nine other sailors to rescue survivors. Willcox tied a line around his waist and jumped into the water numerous times to help pull survivors aboard. In his After-Action Report, Captain Schultz singled out Waters and Willcox and the nine seamen for outstanding performance during the action. In all, 48 survivors were rescued and brought aboard the LST 920.  Seaman Joe Wallace tells this part of the story, I remember one of the 921 crew members coming up to the bridge all wet and oily. I gave him my locker keys and location, and he showered and put on some clean dry clothes. By this time it was dark. We gathered the survivors and were on our way to Falmouth. There, I had the task of counting the departing survivors - 42 walking and 6 stretcher cases.

A number of other survivors from the 921 as well as the LCI(L) 99 were rescued by a British ship that joined in the rescue operation. All told, about 65 survivors were picked up, but fully half of the LST 921’s complement of 107 officers and crew had been lost. Years would pass before a dusty and forgotten archive* would reveal the names of the sailors – Americans, British and German who lost their lives on that August afternoon more than seventy years ago. I would like us to remember:
        
LST 921

Baker, Thomas A., USNR                              Seaman First Class           
               Banit, Roman J., USNR                                 Seaman Second Class      
               Bennett, Frederick W., USNR                      Seaman First Class            
               Bent, Eugene E., USNR                                 Seaman First Class           
               Clements, Charles M., USNR                       Seaman First Class            
               Dove, Raleigh J., USNR                                 Seaman Second Class     
               Feeney, Lawrence E., USNR                         Fireman Second Class      
               Fitton, Edward Joseph, USNR                      Seaman Second Class     
               Freely, James Joseph, USNR                        Boatswain's Mate 1st Class  
               Furino, Louis A., USNR                                  Coxswain             
               Guthrie, Edward J., USNR                             Ensign   
               Guziak, Walter V., USNR                               Seaman Second Class      
               Hoak, William K., USNR                                Gunner's Mate Third Class 
               Jerzewski, Chester R., USNR                        Seaman Second Class      
               Jones, Oscar R., USNR                                   Coxswain             
               Kozlik, John H., USNR                                    Seaman First Class           
               Lowe, Samuel M., USNR                               Seaman Second Class      
               Micheline, Carmine A., USNR                      Seaman Second Class      
               Mindlin, Daniel, USNR                                   Ensign   
               Monaco, Robert Chester, USNR                 Radioman Second Class 
               Moore, Charles H., USNR                             Seaman Second Class      
               Mulholland, William P., USNR                     Seaman Second Class      
               Newberry, Clyde, USNR                                Seaman Second Class      
               Pizon, John J., USNR                                      Seaman First Class          
               Potasky, Joseph E., USNR                             Seaman First Class           
               Progy, Henry, USNR                                       Motor Mach Mate 3rd Class 
               Richard, Donald James, USNR                     Gunner's Mate 3rd Class  
               Siring, Ronald John, USNR                            Ship's Cook Third Class    
               Smith, Kenneth J., USN                                  Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class 
               Smith, Lee I., USNR                                        Seaman Second Class     
               Smith, Ray R., USNR                                      Seaman First Class          
               Sprague, Herbert K., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Suazoe, Ray M., USNR                                  Seaman Second Class      
               Totulis, Albert G., USN                                  Gunner's Mate 3rd Class  
               Trachsel, Ernest W., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Van Why, Henry, USNR                                 Seaman Second Class      
               Verity, Edward C., USNR                               Seaman Second Class     
               Vitense, Glenn, USNR                                    Seaman First Class           
               Widmer, Richard C., USNR                           Seaman Second Class     
               Yavornitzky, Andrew J., USNR                     Shipfitter Second Class

The British escort vessel – LCI(L) 99 was a much smaller ship than the wounded LST 921. It was about 150 feet long compared to the LST’s 328 feet. And, instead of a ship’s complement of 110 officers and crew, LCI(L) 99’s casualty list shows a crew of eight – two officers and six enlisted men, including the 19-year-old ship’s cook, Able Seaman William Todd. Todd’s great-niece, Gillian Whittle told me in an email, Bill as he was known was only 19 when he died, and he came from Chorley, Lancashire, England. I imagine he was called up when he turned 18. He was acting able seaman and he was the ships cook. We as a family are enormously proud of him and I go to Kent, England when I can to lay flowers at the naval memorial. I am afraid I do not know much else about my Uncle, but I have his medals and I had the privilege of wearing them proudly on remembrance parade for him one year and we keep his memory going.


Also, aboard the Escort Ship LCI(L) 99 on that deadly August 14, 1944 were:

Sub-lieutenant Douglas Edwin Swatridge, RNVR, Age 25
Leading Seaman Gordon Henry Astor House, RN, Age 21
Able Seaman James Quine, RN, Age 21
Able Seaman Francis Ernest Dennis Shacklock, RN, Age 19
Ordinary Seaman John Shields, RN, Age unknown
Ordinary Seaman Donald Maurice Thompson, RN, Age 20
Able Seaman William Todd, RN, Age 19

Toward the end of November 2018, I received an email from Able Seaman William Todd’s great-niece, Gillian Whittle. In her correspondence, she admitted that she never really knew her great-uncle, but she thanked me for my efforts to keep the memories of all who died that day fresh in the memories of Americans and Britons alike. She wrote, We, as a family are immensely proud of him and I go to Kent, England when I can to lay flowers at the naval memorial. I am afraid I do not know much else about my Uncle, but I have his medals and I had the privilege of wearing them proudly on remembrance parade for him one year.
Diver Christophe Moriceau at
wreckage of U 667
The attacking submarine, U 667, had sunk four ships including the LST 921 and LCI (99), the Liberty Ship SS Ezra Weston and HMS Regina on what turned out to be its most successful cruise, as well as an RAF bomber on a previous mission. But as it headed back to its base and a hero’s welcome, its jubilant crewmen could not know that their luck was about to change. In all the research I did for this story, the US Navy and German Kriegsmarine archives revealed only that U 667 struck a mine on or about August 25th on the way back to its home base. But, as I researched further, I found the answer on a specialty internet site: uboat.net, which is devoted to the archives of the Kriegsmarine and its unterseebooten. According to the archives, the RAF had carried out a series of aerial mine-laying missions off the coast of France in an area code-named Cinnamon right after the U 667 left port on its final cruise. The RAF dropped mines into the U 667’s inbound route back to base. An RAF report that I read showed that the coordinates of that August 1944 mine-laying sweep matches the location where the U 667 was finally found and examined by diving crews. The loss of the U 667 was recorded by the Kriegsmarine after it missed a scheduled radio check-in on August 25th. When any U boat failed to meet its daily radio check-in, Admiral Karl Dönitz’ high command assumed that the sub had been lost. And so it was when U 667 missed its scheduled radio check on 25 August 1944.
The exploding mine sent U 667 to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, where it remains with its entire crew. Along with the U 667’s Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinze Lange, the identities of the other sailors in his crew are listed from the roster of all the sailors who served aboard her.  They are:

Name
Rank (In German)
Age
Lange, Karl-Heinze
Kapitӓnleutnant
26
Bauch, Walter
Omasch
30
Bensel, Rolf-Rudiger
Olt.z.S.
21
Borowsky, Helmut
MaschMt
23
Brübach, Friedrich
MtrOGfr
20
Brunk, Kurt
MaschOFfr
21
Drewes, Gustav
MaschMt
23
Eder, Franz
MaschOGfr
21
Ederer, Hans
OfkMt
24
Ehrenfeld, Kurt
OfkMt
25
Erasimus, Johann
MaschOGfr
20
Faust, Erich
Olt.z.S
23
Fickert, Wilhelm
MtrOGfr
23
Figlon, Herbert
MechOGfr
22
Flach, Hans
OsanMt
23
Grimm, Kurt
MaschOGfr
20
Hagelloch, Hans-Georg
OLt.ing.d.R
23
Hahl, Adam
MaschOGfr
21
Hantel, Artur
MtrOGfr
22
Hochstetter, Wilhelm
OMaschMt
23
Holle, Oswald
MaschOGfr
20
Kabs, Helmut
MaschOGfr
21
Krӧller, Helmut
Olt.z.S
23
Laschke, Kurt
MaschMt
21
Leisler-Klep, Jürgen
Lt.z.S
n/a
Matthias, Heinz-Karl
OMaschMt
25
Mӓurer, Ludwig
FkOGfr
21
Mittler, Arnold
MaschOGfr
21
Mrziglod, Heinrich
BtsMt
22
Oehler, August
MtrHGfr
38
Proske, Walter
MtrOGfr
21
Reiβach, Werner
StOStrm
30
Reitor, Emil
MechOGfr
21
Richter, Georg
OMasch
32
Richter, Helmut
OMechMt
24
Sauer, Helmut
MtrOGfr
21
Schӓfer, Richard
MaschOGfr
19
Scheit, Reinhold
ObstMt
27
Schӧmetzler, Rudolf
MaschOGfr
20
Schrӧder, Gerhard
MtrOGfr
21
Schrӧder, Günther
Olt.z.S
30
Schulz, Kurt
OMaschMt
24
Seeliger, Willi
MtrOGfr
20
Senden, Wilhelm
MtrOGfr
21
Steigerwald, Wilhelm
FkOGfr
20
Warmbold, Adolf
MtrOGfr
23
Weiβ, Rudolf
MaschOGfr
21
Witzel, Hans
BtsMt
23

Christophe Moriceau, the French diver who has explored the U 667’s final resting place and photographed the site extensively for his dive organization L’Expédition Scyllias and its web site www.scyllias.fr explained to me that unlike the United States and Great Britain, France has no legal protection for wreck sites that might contain human remains. War graves carry the protections of international law. But that protection does not exist in France’s territorial waters.

It is fitting that we remember all who perished.

 Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
     US Navy Hymn
[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

*LST 921; LCI(L)99; U 667 casualty lists via US Navy Archives, Royal Navy and Uboat.net.
© By Mike Botula 2019


1 comment:

  1. Thank you Mike for keeping the story alive. Our past quickly fades and the present is pretty challenging by it'self. I will post this tribute.

    ReplyDelete