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A BRIEF HISTORY OF LCS(L) 43
The men who were destined to crew the LCS 43 were trained in Little Creek, VA and in Fort Pierce, FL in August and September 1944. These two crew segments met their new Skipper, Lt. Earl “Tim” Blakely, and the other officers at Little Creek, where they underwent a one-week training cruise aboard the LCS 5 and the LCS 6. It was common for these crews to have only one rated petty officer for each of the departments, resulting in most of the men having no sea experience at all. Most of the officers were in the same situation, some had been civilians just a year before. This crew made a never-to-be-forgotten eight day trip by troop train from Washington, D.C. to Portland, Oregon to pick up their new ship.
The U.S.S. LCS(L)(3) 43 was built by Commercial Iron Works of Portland. The keel was laid on September 23, 1944, and the ship was launched on October 14 and commissioned on October 30. We did the usual thing of picking up supplies and ammunition and testing the strength of dock facilities along the California Coast. On December 1 the 43 departed for Hawaii. Due to a slight error in communication between the Officer on Duty and the helmsman, the 43 collided one dark night with the LCS 53. Both ships were damaged but managed to limp into Hawaii. It took about one month for the 43 to be repaired.
The 43 proceeded from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands and the British Admiralties then on to Hollandia, New Guinea. Deck temperatures at Hollandia were as high as 140 degrees causing some concern for the safety of ammunition in the deck storage boxes. The 43 was used as an escort vessel for LCTs and other amphibious ships in the New Guinea/Philippine area.
On March 3, 1945 we reported to Admiral Royal at Mindoro in the Philippines for training with other LCSs for landings at Zamboanga in Mindanao on March 10. We were in the Close Fire Support Unit assigned to this operation and beginning on March 6 our group, while under fire, protected the minesweeping unit, clearing the area of mines. We also provided close-in cover fire for the hydrographic unit working near the beach.
On March 10 we supported the minesweepers in the assault and landing on Zamboanga. During the assault our B25s flew over and bombed the area until we couldn’t see how anyone could live through it. Lt. Norman Fox, who would become the last skipper of the 43, remembers what was to become a vivid memory for most of the crew. The invasion was barely underway when a Liberator Bomber exploded above the beach area. We later learned that one of the bomber crew was found alive by the invasion troops.
On March 16 we were part of an assault group that, as a result of faulty intelligence reports, fired on Semut village on Basilin Island before realizing that the people on the beach were Moros natives and not Japanese. Our commanders then sent in medical aid for the people we had accidentally injured. The next day we supported the landing at Illana Bay as part of major landings in the Polloc Harbor area on the western coast of southern Mindanao.
Beginning on April 27 in preparation for the May 1st assault and invasion of Tarakan, an oil rich island off the eastern coast of Borneo, we, along with five other LCSs, protected minesweepers off Tarakan and served as a mine demolition unit in waters that had been heavily mined earlier by the Dutch, the Japanese, the Australians, the British and the US Air Force. On May 1 we supported the invasion of Tarakan with four other LCSs. Later, while serving in the Tarakan operation, our 43 crew managed to play a basketball game against an LST crew on May 9. The LST team had been beaten only once. Our 43 crew made it “twice” by just one point.
From May 10 to 12 we and three other LCSs attempted to pull grounded LSTs off the beach at Tarakan. We and LCS 8 succeeded in retracting one LST on May 11, but we damaged our shafts and screws so severely that we had to be towed to Morotai for repairs. At Balikpapan after the invasion had taken place on June 20, our ship and several others were assigned to mine demolition detail with sweepers in the area. On July 15, Captain Blakely was reassigned to head a shore facility in the Philippines. His replacement was Lt. William A. Moore.
It was apparent by this time that the next stop would have been the invasion of Japan. Please don’t tell any of us how bad the “A” bomb was. We believe that it probably saved our lives and most likely the lives of millions of Japanese. The truce occurred while we were working with the First Cavalry Division at Balayan Bay, P.I, where we were preparing for the invasion of Japan. The island where we were practicing assaults on the beach very closely resembled our proposed landing site in Japan.
But the excitement for us was not quite over. After the surrender the 43 was assigned to mine demolition duty in the China Sea. While enroute to Shanghai we encountered one of the worst typhoons of the decade at Okinawa. The anchor and the spare were quickly lost, so it was necessary for the 43 to stay underway for more than 36 hours within the confines of Buckner Bay. When it was all over, there were many large ships that had been beached or sunk. The little 43 was still intact without any serious damage. That spoke quite well for the men and women of Commercial Iron Works who had welded her together. Credit is also due to the Officers of the Deck and the helmsmen who kept the 43 from harm.
For the next several months the 43 followed minesweepers as they cleared the Yangtze River and the South China Sea coastline of mines that had been laid by the Japanese. Several weeks were spent on mine demolition duty around Hainan Island. The job of the LCS ships was to blow up or sink any mines that the sweepers caused to come to the surface. Our usual procedure was to use 50MM machine gun fire. If that would not do the job, a progressive order of 20MM, 40MM and finally 3”50 fire would be used.
When it was finally time to go home the tired old 43 made it all the way to San Pedro, California with what was left of the crew. The diesel engines were about worn out. Leaving Hong Kong on April 7, 1946 the 43 did not arrive in San Pedro until May 29. All of the officers and men who had earlier attained “points” because of age or family had already returned home. This left very few people aboard older than 20 years of age. Lt. Norman Fox was our Skipper on the way home. Fox made a statement one time that is worth placing in this document, to quote:
“Earl Blakely taught me how to be a sailor. Without him I would never have been able to get the 43 home, even with the help of the now-experienced crew.”
The final fate of the 43 was to be decommissioned and sold to Nick Bez of Seattle, where she was turned into scrap iron.
NOTABLE MEMORIES OF THE 43 BY HER CREW
1. The Pacific really is a big ocean when cruising at 12 knots.
2. Swabby, a little dog – our mascot. Maybe the most important
3. Seaman Carter and the monkey.
4. Shanghai and Hong Kong.
5. The typhoon.
6. Arriving back in the U.S.
7. White glove quarters inspection after hours of battle stations
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