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LST / LSTH-19


THE MIRACLE SALVAGE JOB
Submitted by
Walter Nasmyth QM 3/c USCGR

Late December of 1944 the battle for Peleliu was winding down and the island was considered secured. The LST 19 was still assigned to a service squadron that shuttled cargo from supply ships to the beach. We were beached on Purple Beach and all cargo had been off-loaded. We received orders from the Beachmaster to take on assault troops for an Army landing on the island of Faes, a small atoll in the North Carolines.

When the troops and their equipment had been loaded the ship was secured for the night. Some of the officers, with the exception of the O.D. went ashore to the officers club on Peleliu. They returned to the ship sometime during the mid to four watch. The O.D. had me log them aboard and then we settled in for the rest of an uneventful tour of duty. When relieved at 0400 hours we went below to catch a few winks before the ship was to retract from the beach at high tide.

The crew was not piped to beaching stations until well past the flood tide and by that time the 19 had started to shift to port. I was on the starboard bridge wing at the time and saw someone on the LST on our starboard, to which we were moored, use a fire axe to cut our quarter wire.

When the line parted the ship swung to port and in the blink of an eye we were impaled on coral heads. We lay broached on Purple Beach with coral heads through the ships hull and when the main and auxiliary engine rooms flooded the black gang was forced to abandon their stations. For thirteen miserable days and nights we remained on the beach with no power, no water and only cold rations. To this day I cannot drink grape fruit juice for that was the extent of our drinking water.

LST-19

Of course the next order from the Beachmaster was to unload all troops and equipment immediately, which was easier said than done. With the engines and generators shut down there was no power to open the bow doors and lower the ramp, an operation which had to take place in order to unload the troops and their equipment. Regardless of the rantings of a one star General on the beach, nothing could be done until the bow doors and ramp could be opened manually.

The very first task for the crew was to spread foamite on all the fuel in the compartments below decks to prevent fire and the possibility of an explosion. The job ahead, to free the 19 from the coral heads, would become a Herculean effort by all hands. When the troops and their equipment had been unloaded the real work began, Commander .Holmes, USN took command of the salvage operation from the beach.

It must be kept in mind that without power all material to come aboard had to be hoisted by hand for we had lost our cherry picker over the side during the first typhoon following the invasion. The first equipment to come aboard were gasoline powered generators for welding and to provide light so work could continue after dark. The next to come aboard were jeep engines equipped with winches to be welded to the main deck where the most torque would be required. Then came (it seemed like miles) of wire rope that had to be made up with eye splices to connect to the kedge anchors with kanter shackles.

Our Lcvp would beach and a 6000 pound kedge anchor would be loaded aboard. The LCVP would then be shoved off the beach by a caterpillar tractor and get as close to the starboard side of the ship as water depth permitted. The small boat crew would attach the wire to the kedge anchor and then start backing seaward as the wire was paid out. When they reached the area where the kedge anchor was to be positioned they would lock the jeep powered winch aboard the ship , and the LCVP continued to back down until the anchor was pulled off the boat and into position.

During all welding operations there had to be fire watches below deck at all times. Standing in the mixture of fuel and foamite was not a pleasant pastime. The constant work and lack of proper food and water took a toll on the crew. The crew was so tired they became careless. Many times someone would be standing in the bight of a line and pay no attention until someone yelled a warning. One line parted during the first kedging operation and struck a seaman across the legs. As luck would have it the man was not seriously injured. There was little rest for a mighty tired crew but at least the bridge gang had to stand watches which turned out to be a respite.

During our time on the beach I made numerous entries in the quartermaster log that the ship was taking a terrific pounding from the surf. The waves would hit the ship broadside and the resultant spray would be great enough to reach the mast yardarms.

My first assignment was to take soundings around the ship with a lead line and then make a drawing of how the reef lay under the ship. This would assist the crew when locating where the maximum effort would be required during the kedging operation.

Alfred Trom QM2/c and I set up a tide meter in the surf so as to determine exactly when the maximum high tide occurred. This turned out to be quit a chore as we were rolled about in the live coral by the surf and wound up raw and bloody.

At this point I should note that several of the crew members developed huge ulcerated boils on their bodies and extremities due to working in the mixture of fuel and foamite below decks. John Padur BM2/c had the worst case of ulcers one could ever imagine.

Meanwhile, back to the matter at hand. When the kedge anchors were in position and the tide was right Cmdr. Holmes gave the order to commence kedging operations. The kedging continued for approximately thirty minutes but to no avail. We ceased the operation and it was back to square one. The kedge anchors had to be repositioned and then wait for a higher tide.

At that point Cmdr. Holmes ordered a causeway brought in and positioned it between the port side of the ship and the beach. With one end against the ship, the end toward the beach had two twenty- purchase blocks welded in place and the wire anchored on shore. The Cmdr. told us there was only one man in the Pacific Theater who could reeve a twenty purchase block system and he was on the Commanders crew.

Prior to another attempt to refloat the ship all types of gasoline powered handy billy pumps were brought aboard to keep the ship afloat if and when it was free of the coral heads. At long last the tide was ideal and the Commander brought in three D-8 cats to pull on the lines to the twenty purchase blocks and one with a bulldozer blade to push against the inboard end of the causeway.

When the operation began, the ship groaned as if in mortal pain and then suddenly heeled sharply to starboard. It was almost anticlimactic when the ship was winched and pushed into deep water. The entire crew was cheering and men on the beach were shouting as the ship slid into deep water. "Thank God we were at last afloat." We did not have to leave the ship half a world away from home. With all the handy billy pumps operating and all the water tight integrities closed below decks the seagoing tug Munsey came alongside and gave us fresh water, which almost caused a riot. The tug passed lines to the shouting and elated crew and then took us in tow. Little did we realize how tough the next few weeks would be.

When the ship was afloat Cmdr. Holmes paid the 19s crew quite a left handed compliment. His exact words were: " this is the worst dressed and the best damned crew in the Pacific."

A long forty-eight hours later we were being nosed into a drydock at Kossel Roads, Babelthuap Island, when a Jap two man sub was spotted. What a coup if the sub could sink a floating drydock and an LST at the same time. We were heeled over to starboard so far our guns would not come to bear and we were approximately halfway into the drydock so none of the forward weapons could fire. The Munsey and other ships in the anchorage opened fire and resolved the problem muy pronto.

After many days in drydock the main engines and one auxiliary were operable. The port side screw shaft had a 2 inch whip which required the removal of two or three carrier bearings in the shaft alley in order to allow the shaft to rotate. When the engines were finally started the vibration of the shaft could be felt throughout the ship. When we would hit the sack the shaft would bounce us to sleep. The work had to be hurried as we were warned of an approaching typhoon with winds reaching a velocity of 186 knots. This was the great typhoon of February 1945 that wreaked havoc with the Pacific fleet.

With the storm approaching the 19 was pulled out of the drydock and anchored in approximately the center of the anchorage. We dropped the hook in 30 fathoms of water with 60 fathoms of chain to the bow anchor. As the storm increased in intensity the Captain took over the bridge and all off duty bridge personnel were piped to the bridge. As midnight neared the storm was in its full blown glory. The blowing rain and seas had lowered the visibility to ground zero. I had just stepped out of the wheel house and started toward the port bridge wing when I saw a bright signal light coming up fast on our port quarter. I yelled at the Captain and advised him of the ship coming up astern. His exact words were, Oh **** , and he made a dive for the wheel house and shouted, " all engines ahead two thirds." The ship was not coming up on us, instead, we were dragging our anchor and drifting down on an anchored ship.

A little later the Captain ordered the main anchor chain veered to 100 fathoms and before the night was through the anchor chain was veered to 115 fathoms. With both engines ahead one third we managed to maintain our position during the long hours until dawn. As the wind abated we were able to check out our position and found we had dragged our anchor almost 1500 yards across the Kossel Roads anchorage. That was no easy feat without colliding with other ships at anchor.

As conditions improved we began to assess the damage throughout the anchorage. We were notified that during the night 10 PBM Mariner seaplanes had been driven onto the beach of the Jap held island of Babelthaup.

While in the anchorage we saw an LCI damaged when a Jap swam out from the island and tied a charge to the screw guards. From that time on all our lookouts were most vigilant during their night watches.

A few days passed then we took on some much needed supplies and left the anchorage headed for Ulithi, where we were scheduled to moor to an ARL to repair our generators and other needed repairs. We had just requested permission to enter the anchorage at approximately 0830 hours when we received a message from the control ship to standby, ships were leaving the harbor. As we lay "hove to" the ships started through the channel. First came the sub-chasers and DEs, then the destroyers. They fanned out and formed a screen for what was to follow. The next to come down the channel were the cruisers, both light and heavy and they were followed at longer intervals by the battleships. Next came the CVEs and then the CVs followed by more DEs and frigates to cover the last ships until the task forces that were headed out to end the Japanese power in the Pacific once and for all were formed up. Never before or since have I been so impressed with the military might of the United States. It took until almost 1630 hours before we could enter the anchorage and go alongside the ARL.

At this time I would like to pay my respects to the best black gang on any ship in the Pacific. While in drydock and again moored to the ARL the black gang did an outstanding job of making repairs that made the ship operable enough to allow us to sail her back to Pearl Harbor.

A few days moored to the ARL (where I even had a jap watch repaired) then we took on supplies, fueled up and headed outward bound for Pearl Harbor escorted by a sub-chaser. A few days out of Ulithi the sub-chaser blew an engine and the 19 wound up towing her escort at the amazing speed of 3 knots.

Many days passed with the monotony broken only by the sighting of a line squall and the quartermaster on duty piping, "now hear this, showers on the main deck." The ship was not equipped with evaporators to augment our fresh water supply so it was a real treat to be able to take a fresh water shower on deck. Some of the old salts can remember just what saltwater soap did to ones body hair.

One bright and sunny afternoon as we neared our destination we were sighted and challenged by a land based bomber. We answered the challenge, then the pilot asked if we needed assistance. The bombers crew could see by our wake that we were not making any speed run. After many weeks and the miles traveled on our own the reply was an emphatic "negative, tks for asking," AR meaning (end of transmission). As we limped toward Pearl Harbor our silhouette and speed were enough for Aloha Tower to identify us. With our radio call signals flying we at last entered the anchorage where a tug took the sub-chaser in tow and we proceeded to our designated anchorage.

The brightness of our stay in Pearl Harbor was darkened by the death of our President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.We heard by radio that the President had died and the OD told me to lower the flag to half mast. Shortly thereafter a zero zero message was sent out for all ships in the harbor to two block there ensigns. The message was signed 2 Fox 2, COMWESTSEAFRON,Admiral Nimitz (translated -- Commander western sea frontier Admiral Nimitz). I must explain that during wartime the flag on a man-o-war is never lowered, only in surrender.

While in Pearl Harbor we took time to take advantage of the great food and drink served by the many restaurants in Honolulu. Most of us made a stop at Battleship Maxs to buy tailor made dungarees and purchase gifts for those left at home so long ago. It was then "anchors aweigh" and we were stateside bound with no escort.

Another long and boring voyage, then the sighting of the California Coast line. Home was the sailor, home from the war, the stay would be brief but at long last we were home. When we attempted to enter the harbor at Long Beach we were met by an outgoing tide and with our speed we made little or no headway. At long last we made the harbor and the first order we received was , "anchor well offshore and unload your ammunition."

Shortly after the hook (as would be expected, a new crew member that came aboard in Pearl Harbor won the anchor pool) a gentleman from the U.S. Customs came aboard.He passed the word that if anyone aboard had any U.S. military weapons as souvenirs that person would be liable to a $10,000 fine and 10 years on Goat Island. Following the gentleman s departure there were all kinds of plunk-plunks as souvenirs got the deep six.

When the ammunition had been off-loaded to an ammo barge, liberty was granted to all but a skeleton crew. What a liberty !!!!! The following day the ship was moved to the Coast Guard repair base at San Pedro, California where it would be converted to an LSTH for the final assault on the Japanese mainland.

The long voyage was over and history would record the operations in which the LST 19 participated. A motto adopted by the crew had come to pass, "HOME ALIVE IN FORTY FIVE," said it all.

To this day I feel the Coast Guard was remiss in its failure to award the crew of the 19 a commendation for the Miracle Salvage Job (as referred to by the U.S. Coast Guard Publicity Dept. Wash. D.C.) and their bulldog tenacity that brought their ship home.

Damage sustained by LST 19 during the operations in the North Carolines.

1-111 holes below the waterline.

2-2 compartments forward starboard side, sliced open by LST beaching alongside that failed to lower bow anchor to waterline while beaching.

3-Starboard boat davits wiped out while attempting to go alongside H.M.N.S. Slotterdyck during heavy weather/ ammo was needed ashore.

4-Portside troop head-3 foot vertical split in hull due to stress while broached.

5-Aft galley bulkhead pockmarked by Jap Hydro-boat strafing while beached.


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