Wednesday January 16, 2019
Cloudy 48°F/9°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Rain Showers 47°F/8°C in Falmouth, United Kingdom
Shortly after my book LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published in the summer of 2016, I found a note from Curt Pederson in my e-mail inbox. Pederson is a neighbor of
the surviving crewmembers of LST 921, one of the ships torpedoed in the U boat
attack on my dad’s convoy. The other ship was a British escort vessel, HMS LCI(L)99.
Thanks to Pederson, I was now able to fill in a glaring void in my narrative –
the name of the ship’s cook who figured in a heroic rescue by two of his shipmates.
I had obtained the first person accounts
of two Machinist’s Mates who had themselves made a dramatic escape from the
engine room of the sinking rear portion
of their stricken Landing Ship. As they raced from the engine room to the top
deck and safety, John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker told me about hearing the ship’s
cook yelling for help. Their shipmate
lay, badly injured with two broken legs and a broken arm, in a tangle of
cabinets and shelving that had blocked a passageway of the LST 921. While
Abrams and Meeker could still recall the rescue, too many years had passed since
that sunny August day in 1944 when their ship had been attacked to remember the
name of the sailor they had rescued.
|Charles Watson - 1944|
So, when I opened my email that morning, I found Pederson’s note telling me about his friend and neighbor of 25 years, WWII amputee Chuck Watson. We knew he was a cook on LST 921, Pederson told me, and knew his ship was torpedoed. He never knew much about August 14, 1944 until I started to print out your blog on LST 920 and your father. You filled in so many unanswered questions!
Chuck’s ordeal is described in an eyewitness account by LST 921 crew member Lloyd Meeker, who survived the torpedo attack after a harrowing escape from the ship’s flooding engine room. LST 920 took us to Falmouth, England to a Navy hospital, survivor Lloyd Meeker remembered. There were lots of cuts and broken bones. The cook was injured the most. The last time I saw him, he had both legs and an arm in casts. He was in traction and his jaw was wired shut. For me, it was good to get out of my oily clothing.
In his account, Abrams told me how he and Meeker wrestled Watson free and got him to safety on the top deck. Just before they slipped Watson into the water to be picked up by the crew of one of the small boats from my dad’s ship, LST 920, one of them took off his life jacket and put it on Watson. Finally, Meeker recalled, we were told that 43 survivors and one body were taken off the LST 920. All of the rest of the men went down with the stern section. Watson spent months in the hospital and eventually doctors were forced to amputate his injured leg, but he otherwise fully recovered from the ordeal. Watson is now 97 years old.
Half of the crew of LST 921 went to the bottom of the Dover Channel when the stern section sank a few minutes after it was hit by the U 667’s torpedo. Chuck Watson was one of the lucky ones. The crew of HMS LCI(L)99 wasn’t so lucky. As my father watched from the bridge of LST 920, the U 667 launched a second torpedo directly at his ship. We were goners, my father recounted after his return from the war. But, just then, the British Escort ship came between us and the German torpedo and was blown out of the water.
One of the crew members of HMS LCI(L)99 was 19 year old Able Seaman William Todd. Like Watson, Todd was his ship’s cook. Todd was not as fortunate as his counterpart aboard LST 921.
Todd was among those who died
on that sunny August day in 1944. From her home in England, Todd’s great-niece,
Gillian Whittle read my book and wrote me. I
don’t know a great deal about my great uncle William Todd as he only has on
surviving brother left and he is very frail now. Bill was only 19 when he died,
and he came from Chorley, Lancashire, England. I imagine he was called up when
he was 18. We as a family are very proud of him, and I go to Kent, England when
I can to lay flowers at the Naval Memorial. We can’t let the memories of these
great people be forgotten. Gillian Whittle also attached a photo of her
late great uncle Bill. It is among her mementoes now along with his wartime
medals, which she wears proudly on Remembrance days to keep his memory alive.
If he had survived the war, William Todd would be 94, about the same age as his
counter part aboard LST 921, Chuck Watson.
|Able Seaman Bill Todd, RN|
A lot of the men who escaped from the sinking LST 921 would not have survived the attack of U 667 if it weren’t for the skipper of LST 920. Lieutenant Harry N. Schultz, who disobeyed standing orders and ordered his ship to turn around and pick up survivors instead of remaining with the convoy, which continued to steam on to Falmouth, England. Chuck Watson never knew who, specifically, was responsible for saving his life until his friend and neighbor Curt Pederson sent him a copy of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!
Nearly a century has passed since that afternoon in August 1944, but it’s not too late to say Thank you for your service, to Chuck Watson, USNR; Bill Todd, RN and the other sailors who came under attack by U 667 that day.Ciao,
[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]
© By Mike Botula 2019