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LOST WITH ALL HANDS
The Story of USS SC-1024

by
Robert P. Sables, LTC, AUS, Ret.

The United States Navy suffered devastating loses in naval vessels and personnel during World War II. Naval records show that 696 ships were lost and 34,607 officers and men killed in action. Several of these ships are still remembered, either for the pivotal role they played in the war, famous personnel that served aboard them or for the tragic circumstances under which they were lost. Movies have aided in perpetuating their memory, such as "PT-109," a dramatization of President John F. Kennedy's service aboard a motor torpedo boat; "Pearl Harbor" which depicted the attack on Pearl Harbor and sinking of USS Arizona (BB 39)); and "Mission of the Shark," the sinking of USS Indianapolis (CA 35). However, the vast majority of these ships are not remembered, no memorials, no books, no movies, nor grieving relatives today. Such is the case of the USS SC-1024.

In 1941, with war fast approaching and Hitler's U-boats prowling the North Atlantic sea lanes, contracts were given to some 45 small shipyards for the construction of 438 wooden submarine chasers. Wood was called for as steel was needed for larger warship construction. The yards were scattered throughout the country. They were located on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Gulf coast, and the Great Lakes.

The number of ships built by each yard varied, e.g., Liberty Dry Dock Co., Inc., Brooklyn, NY built two: SC-736 and SC-737; Dingle Boat Works, St. Paul, MN built three: SC-1000 to SC-1002; John E. Matton & Son Inc., Waterford, NY built five: SC-985 to SC-989; Ventor Boat Works Inc., West Atlantic City, NJ built six: SC-1047 to SC-1052.

Wooden subchasers had been used by the U.S. Navy in World War I, but the new chasers, the SC-497 class, had vast improvements. While still 110 feet in length, they were now powered by either two General Motors 8-268A diesels (15.6 knots) or two General Motors 16-184 A "Pancake" diesels (21 knots) rather than the antiquated three 660 hp standard gasoline engines. Their pilot houses were made of aluminum, not wood. However, the greatest change was in armament: two Mk 20 mousetraps (each mounting four 7.2 ASW projectiles) were mounted on the bow, a 3"/50 gun mount or a 40mm Bofors gun was situated behind the mousetraps just forward the pilothouse, three single 20mm Oerlikon antiaircraft guns were amidships, aft the pilothouse, and two "K-guns" were located near the stern. The majority of the new chasers were equipped with radar.

The keel for the SC-1024 was laid at the Mathis Yacht Building Co., Camden, NJ on June 29, 1942. She was completed within 4 months and launched November 28, 1942. Five days later, on December 3, 1942, she was placed in commission. Her assigned crew
members were:

Herbert M. Irwin, Jr., Lieutenant, USNR, Commanding Officer
Warren Williams, Jr., Ensign, USNR, Executive Officer
George H. Guy, Ensign, USNR, Third Officer
John W. Ahern, Motor Machinist's Mate 2/c, USNR
Thomas E. Bailey, Gunner's Mate 2/c, USN
Adam Belich, Seaman 2/c, USN
Curtis L. Bucklin, Motor Machinist's Mate 2/c, USN
Gaetano Carusone, Ship's Cook 3/c V-6, USNR
Chester J. Chapman, Radioman 3/c V-6, USNR
Charles R. David, Fireman's 1c, USN
Albert H Dow, Radioman 2/c, V-3, USNR
John A. Gilliam, Motor Machinist's Mate 2/c, USN
Harold V. Haner, Chief Boatswain's Mate (Acting Appointment), USN
Joseph T. Lewandowski, Yeoman 3/c, V-6, USNR
Charles F. Liney, Seaman 2/c, V-6, USNR
Robert W. McCommons, Gunner's Mate 3/c, V-6, USNR
Bennie F. McCurry, Seaman 2/c, USN
Paul Olivieri, Seaman 2/c, V-6, USNR
George A. Pearson, Fireman 1/c, M-2, USNR
George A. Perkins, Quartermaster 3/c V-6, USNR
Louis B. Rieffel, Sonarman 3/c, V-6, USNR
Ellis E. Rudy, Sonarman 3/c, V-6, USNR
Ray C. Spicer, Mess Attendant 2/c, V-6, USNR
William H. Stopp, Electrician's Mate 2/c, V-6, USNR
Joseph E. Taylor, Sonarman 3/c, V-6, USNR.

On December 15, 1942, the SC-1024 was declared ready for sea and proceeded to the Sub Chaser Training Center, Miami, FL for shakedown. The Center, commanded by Lt. Comdr. Eugene F. McDonald, was charged with forming the new crew into an effective combat team. Classroom instruction was integrated with underway operations in navigation, gunnery, small boat handling, communications, ordinance, and sonar. Upon completion, the SC-1024 left Miami for Key West, FL for routing to Norfolk, VA. She was assigned to the Eastern Sea Frontier with Norfolk her new home port.

The SC-1024 was shortly assigned to coastal convoy duty. It was during this time period that her sister ship the SC-709 was lost. The SC-709, commissioned on November 16, 1942, was severely damaged in a blizzard and went aground at Louisbourgh, Nova Scotia, Canada, on January 21, 1943. Her naval career lasted just 2 months. The SC-1024 would survive 3 months.

On the evening of March 2, 1943, the SC-1024 was attached to a northbound convoy, L-32. At 2155 hrs. its position was 35 13' N., 74 57' W., some 30 miles off Cape Hatteras, NC. The convoy consisted of a tug, seven merchants, and six escorts. The convoy commodore was embarked in the SS Leland Stafford and escort commander in the USS Strive (AM 117).

The weather was dismal, with poor visibility, heavy cross seas, sizable waves, and rain. Suddenly, out of the darkness, approaching from the north appeared a second convoy on a collision course. This convoy, NK-526, was composed of seven tankers (among them the SS Cities Service Fuel and SS Edward L. Doheny) and seven escort vessels. Their convoy commodore was embarked in the SS Gulftide and the escort commander in the gunboat USS Plymouth (PG 57), a converted yacht.

Lookouts on the Plymouth spotted the SC-1024 headed directly toward their ship and "hard right rudder" was ordered. The SC-1024 kept approaching but at a distance of 100 yards made a left turn. Just prior to contact, the Plymouth made "hard left rudder" to pull her stern away. The SC-1024 struck the gunboat, slid down her port side, and moved off into the darkness. Lights were shortly seen going on in the subchaser's chart house.

The tanker Cities Service Fuel, having just avoided a collision with an unknown merchant, now spotted the lit SC-1024 just 200 feet off her port bow. In an attempt to avoid a collision, the tanker made a "hard right wheel" but the subchaser simultaneously executed a "hard left wheel," a move which sealed her fate. The Cities Service Fuel struck the SC-1024 on the starboard side, capsizing her. The mortally wounded subchaser was pushed ahead by the tanker nearly 100 yards before washing astern. The Cities Service Fuel did not stop to look for any survivors, the captain later explaining that he feared another collision. There were no survivors. Of the 438 SC subchasers in World War II, the SC-1024 was the only one lost with all hands.

Around this same time frame, the tanker Edward L. Doheny struck the northbound tug Wellfleet. Fortunately, all hands were rescued by the SC-682 and brought to Moorhead City, NC the following day.

Five months later, on August 5, 1943 the Plymouth, again in a southbound convoy to Key West, was torpedoed by the U-566 off Elizabeth City, NJ. She went under in less than two minutes with a heavy loss of life. Lt. Ormsby M. Mitchel, Jr., USNR, the commanding officer, was later awarded the Navy Cross for his conduct that day.

The crew of the SC-1024 made the extreme sacrifice in the defense of their country and should never be forgotten.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vols.1-6, Navy History Division, Navy Department, Washington, DC.
Hoyt, Edwin P. - U-Boats Offshore. New York: Stein and Day/Publishers, 1978.
Treadwell, Theodore R. - Splinter Fleet/The Wooden Subchasers of World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000.
War Diary, Eastern Sea Frontier, March 1943 - Chapter v, Sinkings of the SC-1024 and the tug "Wellfleet"
SC-1024 ship data card, Ships History Branch, Naval Historical Center

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