Monday, May 28, 2018

Lt. Charlie Botula’s Memorial Day Story

Brushy Creek Journal
Monday May 28, 2018

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
Lt. Charles Botula, Jr. 
mom 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 grey by decorating their graves with flowers. Many years later, in my American History class, I learned the observance actually 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 eventually became a Memorial Day honoring Americans who fell in all our country’s 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, which honored the fallen of World War I is now Veterans Day. Today we will again honor those who fought and died for their country.

  When my father returned from his US Navy service in World War II, he told my brother and I a story that I have told to my own son and daughter, and now my grandchildren as every new Memorial Day approaches. After I retired from my career as a journalist, I revisited my father’s story and did additional research. The result was my book, published in 2016 titled LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!

  My dad served as Executive Officer aboard the LST 920 during World War 2. His ship survived a
LST 920 at Sea - June 1944
deadly U boat attack on his convoy that sank a British escort ship and heavily damaged LST 921, the sister ship to the LST 920. The loss of life was heavy. The British ship, LCI(L)99 was literally blown out of the water.  LST 921 was torn in two, with the aft section sinking with half the crew. I’ve shared this story before.   My dad, Lt. (jg) 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’s 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
Lt. Harry N. Schultz
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, 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 920 was ordered to proceed to Falmouth. Years later, Benck told me what happened next. “In about two minutes he came in the radio room and said, Benck send that message again! This time he waited for the answer which was the same, DO NOT BREAK CONVOY! H. N. Schultz then used these words: TO HELL WITH HIM! And we pulled out of convoy to turn back and pick up survivors! A message came from the Commander of the convoy to get back in formation. This message was never answered.”

 As my father watched from the bridge of the LST 920, he spotted a torpedo coming straight at him.
LCI(L)99 - Sunk by U667 1944
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. The 920 came about and 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.”

  Several other survivors from the 921 as well as the LCI (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 and British who lost their lives on that August afternoon more than seventy years ago. And so, on this Memorial Day 2016, I would like us to remember:

               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     
               Enge, John Werner, USNR                            Lieutenant (Captain, survived)
               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   

After torpedoing LST 921, the U667 turned its sights on my father’s ship, LST 920, and launched another torpedo in its direction. My father told me of seeing the enemy torpedo streaking through the water toward his ship.  Just before the torpedo struck, LCI(L)99 steamed between the oncoming torpedo and dad’s ship and was blown out of the water. The escort vessel’s casualty list includes the names:

                Lt. Commander Arthur Reynolds, RN, age 24
                Leading Seaman Gordon Henry House, RN age 21
                Able Seaman James Quine, RN, age 21
                Able Seaman Francis Ernest Shacklock, RN, age 19
                Ordinary Seaman John Shields, RN
                Sub-Lieutenant Douglas Edwin Swatridge, RNVR, age 25
                Ordinary Seaman Donald Maurice Thompson, RN, age 20
                Able Seaman William Todd, RN, age 19

There is an important postscript to this story. The attacking submarine, U 667, had sunk four ships including the LST 921 and LCI (99) on what turned out to be its most successful cruise. 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
The Attacker - U-667
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:, 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 U 667 failed to check in, Admiral Karl Dönitz’ high command assumed that the sub had been lost. Ironically, neither my father nor his Captain, Harry Schultz, nor any of the survivors from LST 921 ever knew what happened to the submarine that attacked them. The exploding mine sent U 667 to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, where it remains with its entire crew of 45. The wreckage is now war grave. In addition to the sub’s captain, Karl-Heinze Lange, who was 26 years old, the identities of the other sailors  are listed in this 1944 roster of the U667’s crew:
Walter Bauch, age 26
Rolf-Rudiger Bensel, age 21
Helmut Borowsky, age 23
Friedrich Brübach, age 20
Kurt Brunk, age 21
Gustav Drewes, age 23
Franz Eder, age 21
Hans Ederer, age 24
Kurt Ehrenfeld, age 25
Johan Erasimus, age 20
Erich Faust, age 23
Wilhelm Fickert, age 23
Herbert Figlon, age 22
Hans Flach, age 23
Kurt Grimm, age 24
Hans-Georg Hagelloch, age 23
Adam Hahl, age 21
Artur Hantel, age 22
Wilhelm Hochstetter, age 23
Oswald Holle, age 20
Helmut Kabs, age 21
Helmut Krӧller, age 23
Kurt Laschke, age 21
Jürgen Leisler-Klep, age not listed
Heinz-Karl Matthias, age 25
Ludwig Maürer, age 21
Arnold Mittler, age 21
Heinrich Mrziglod, age 22
August Oehler, age 38
Walter Proske, age 21
Werner Reiβach, age 30
Emil Reitor, age 21
Georg Richter, age 24
Helmut Sauer, age 21
Richard Schӓefer, age 19
Reinhold Scheit, age 27
Rudolf Schӧmetzler, age 20
Gerhard Schrӧder, age 21
Gunter Schrӧder, age 30
Kurt Schulz, age 24
Willi Seeliger, age 20
Wilhelm Senden, age 21
Wilhelm Steigerwald, age 20
Rudolf Weiβ, age 21
Hans Witzel, age 23

 It’s fitting that we remember all who perished on this Memorial Day.
 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!
-Navy Hymn 

*LST 921, LCU(L)99, and U667 casualty lists via and US Navy Archives.

[Mike Botula, author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! Is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesman and media consultant. Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. Visit Mike Botula at:]