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NavSource Online: Amphibious Photo Archive
An Account of the Sinking of LCI(L)-1 in Lake Bizerte, 17 August 1943
Curtis (Boots) S. Boutilier F1/c USS LCI(L)-1
"After the mauling the #1 took at Licata beach during the Sicily invasion she was towed to Tunis for repair. The bullet holes were patched, two new screws were installed and then off to Bizerte to await the Salerno landing.
The #1 tied up to the sub docks and somehow a line fouled one of our screws. I was elected to borrow a 48" pipe wrench so as we could reverse the shaft and clear the screw. This happened late in the day. Almost dark. The air raid alarm sounded (no ships allowed at the docks during a raid) and we pulled away on one screw. By this time it was dark and the search lights were probing the black sky. The anti-aircraft guns on land and on the ships were booming.
Bernie Bever (MoMM2c) and I (F1c) were in the engine room at battle stations. I believe we had only gone a short distance from the docks when we took a bomb amidships - just aft of con. It hit in such a place as to explode in the crews quarters. As far as I know none of the crew were killed. Lots of wounded though. Bernie and I were at the screw engine control station. In an instant our entire space was on fire. The explosion ruptured the bulkhead between the crews and the engine room. The day fuel tanks ruptured and allowed diesel oil to flow into the bilges. The blast tipped the electrical switchboard down across the stairway out of the engine room The flames were coming up and around the engines. I remember saying to Bernie 'Lets get the hell out of there.' I do believe our burns were caused by the flash rather than the flames. Had the explosion caused us to lose consciousness even for a short time we would have been doomed. We ran to the stairs and with the switchboard blocking our escape I grabbed the handrail (our MoMM1c) had us wrap the handrails with linen line and then shellacked them. The handrails were on fire and my left hand slipped off. I grabbed again and Bernie gave me a boost and up I went. I reached down and helped Bernie out. Bernie did not have on a shirt. I had a washed out denim shirt on with a small hole in the back and rolled up sleeves. Bernie was badly burned on the upper body and I also had second degree burns on my arms, ears & neck. What makes me think they were flash burns is that the small hole in my shirt allowed a small burn on my back. We had our backs to the explosion.
Coming out on deck, Bernie and I found ourselves without life jackets. The flames engulfed the #1 amidships and she was going down by the stern. Hugh McLeod found us confused and disoriented. He gave his Mae West to Bernie and somehow found one for me. The flames on the water drifted away from Mac and I as we stepped off the fantail. She was going down fast. Mac and I paddled away from her. I looked for Bernie to no avail. Did not see him again till 1982 in Sutherlin, Oregon.
We floated around (Mac was a good swimmer) for quite sometime. I remember vividly the shrapnel hitting the water, making a hissing sound.
A liberty ship (loaded with high explosives and gasoline - so they yelled at us) cut down a large crew type life raft. We climbed aboard and laid down on it. All the while the whole sky was ablaze with anti-aircraft fire and search lights. After climbing on the raft I about fainted. My hands were raw from the burns. I flopped on my belly and eased the pain by putting my hands in the water.
I judged we were aboard the raft till day light. A small boat from the USS Delta found us. When on the small boat I suffered with my burns, found an oily bucket to put them in, , got a shot of morphine when aboard the Delta. Then to a Navy hospital in Bizerte for a couple of days, then out to an Army field hospital in the desert between Bizerte and Tunis. About a week there and then headed for the States on an LST to Oran and the US Florence Nightingale to New York.
Lost touch with all the crew except Strand SM2c, Box, Coxn, and McLeod F1c. We served out the war together on the LCI 399
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