The Maintenance Staff of Flotilla 10
Karouba, Tunisia on the shores of Lake Bizerte was the home of the StaffofLCT(5) Flotilla 10 of the U.S. Naval Amphibious force for seven months from May until December of 1943.
Karouba and LaPecherie, along the shore towards the canal side of the lake proved to be ideal for the coming invasions of Sicily and Italy. The LCTs and LSTs could load directly from the shore at Karouba while the LCIs could load from the docks at La Pecherie.La Pecherie also served as a base for the MTBs which went out every night to harass Axis shipping. The lake was big enough and deep enough to hold most of the invasion fleet.
In back of the hangars and shops lay a large mall flanked on either side with barracks. A dispensary at the Bizerte end and a chow hall at the end towardsFerryville capped the complex. Within a matter of weeks, native and U.S. workers had the area habitable.
The staff of Flotilla 10 was composed of anadministrative section composed of yeomen and storekeepers, and a repair section of motor machinists, shipfitters, and electricians. The pharmacist mates were under a doctor that worked with whatever facilities were available, sometimes Army, sometimes Navy or sometimes alone, as during invasions.
I worked with the electrical repair unit headed by a very capable man from the old Navy, back for the duration, Charlie Miller. He taught me that an 8-32 screw didn't reduce to a quarter inch. Yes, I was that ignorant of machinery, but Charlie had the patienceof Jobe. There was never a question, and I was full of them, that went unanswered. As I remember it, he had been in the pharmaceutical supply business in New York city. He was quite a bit older than most of us and we respected his wisdom and guidance. I was very fortunate to have known him.
The combined maintenance units were underLt. Downey. This gaunt, bespectacled gent took on the Herculean task the Navy had dealt him without a complaint. Can you imagine being in charge of a group, some of whom had seen an ohmeter, a couple who had struck an arc and one or two who had disassembled the family car, but the majority just plain green kids out of high school ? This man had to whip this unit into a maintenance staff in two months, m addition, he had to constantly fend the blows from the upper brass directed towards this unkempt, undisciplined group. Impossible? Not only did Lt. Downey do it, but we became one of the best units in the Mediterranean. Lt. Downey was stern and fair. We knew what to expect from him.
He was everywhere. Once they dam near sunk him with the floating dry dock. Unnoticed, he had been inspecting the ship fitter's patch when Lord and Bomarito started releasing the air that kept the thing afloat. Lt. Downey came running along the dock frantically waving his arms. The water was nearly up to his knees before they got the process reversed, and we had many a belly laugh in the barracks about the time they almost scuttled the skipper.
Once while checking some batteries outside the electric shop, I straightened and backed up walking all over the good Lieutenant's corns. He bellowed like a wounded lion. Although completely startled, I had to stifle a grin as the poor man circled to ease the pain. Later, heapologized to me for standing so close without letting me know. That's the kind of an officer he was.
Here stood a leader worthy of far more credit than he ever received.
The electricians. Identifiable from left to right: # 1 the author, #2 Bernard, #3? #4 Charlie Miller, #5?, #6 Cookie, #7 Henry. The two unidentified were help from another unit. They furnished the picture. The hole at the left is where a censor tore out an LCT number. Berrish, the other half of "The Goldust Twins" is missing.
Lt. Downey and Charlie Miller
(Taken after Charlie made chief)
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