THIRTY-SEVEN DAYS IN A BATHTUB OR HOW TO CROSS THE PACIFIC IN AN LCT.
BY: LIEUT., JACK E. JOHNSON
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On January 26, 1945 the "scuttlebutt" started to travel like wildfire to the effect that Flotilla 23, consisting of thirty-six LCT's, was going to attempt the voyage from Oahu, T.H. to Guam. Naturally everyone connected with Flotilla 23 laughed at the rumor because never before had LCT's been ordered to make such a long journey under their own power.
However, two days later this "scuttlebutt" lost all traces of idle rumor when the Flotilla commander, A.L. Jones, and the three group commanders, Lt. Jack e. Johnson of group 69 were called in for a convoy conference. We were given five days to prepare our ships for the 3,500 mile trip.
The next five days were like a nightmare with all hands turned to working night and day to have their ships ready. The water tanks were processed in order to carry 7150 gallons of water instead of the usual 1750 gallons. Void tanks were cleaned in order to carry 13,400 gallons of fuel instead of the standard 3,400 gallons of fuel instead of the standard 3400 gallons. Three 5500 pound cold storage boxes were acquired by Lt. ( j.g.) W.B. Dickerman , the flotilla supply officer. These boxes were placed on L.C.T. ‘s 700, 794, end 838. If the sea got rough, we had visions of difficulty if we were forced to pass provisions from one ship to another while underway.
By Feb. 2, All thirty-six LCT's were reported ready for sea. Each ship had one L.C.V.P. lashed on her deck, plus two or three tons of staff gear and six drums of of lube oil. Each guide ship was issued a complete set of charts, the other thirty-three would just have to hope they wouldn’t get lost. The men and officers all seemed anxious to get started and were quite let down when notified our departure had been postponed one day. They all seemed confident as to the ability of their ships, this the acme of the inexperience and guts. Nevertheless, everyone seemed to be happy that we were leaving. The feeling was that comparableto a group to a group of men and officers the night before an invasion. The assignment was difficult, and the chances of everyone making it were greater than antoneliked to admit. Knowing this, we were anxious to get it started and get it over with.
At 0600, group 3 February 1945 we received the "go sign", and one hundred and eight Gray Marine engines were turned over with hopes that they would carry all thirty-six of us to our destination without fail. Our motor machinists had spent long hours turning these small engines, knowing the lives if all hands might well depend on the performance of the engines regardless of the weather conditions.
At 0640 Group 67 got underway and quickly formed into a single column then proceeded toward the nets guarding the entrance to Pearl Harbor. By 0730 Group 67 had cleared the nets and closely followed by group 68. By 0900 Group 69 had cleared the nets and was proceeding to her correct position in the convoy,
At 1000 all three groups were in proper position with Group 67 in the center, Group 68 on the port of Group 67 and Group 69 on the starboard hand. The L.S.M. 189, dead ahead of Group 67, was the convoy guide with Captain Fredrick , USN ret., the convoy Commadore aboard. The Commadore was about to witness the greatest spectacle of his entire naval career when he lead this " Flat-Bottomed Armada" across the large body of water commonly known as the quiet Pacific. At 1000 the convoy resumed convoy speed and slowly began to pull away form Oahu . Everyone contacted with this large undertaking gave a sigh of relief—this included the" chair-born commandos" we were leaving behind at Oahu. We had pestered them for over five months, and most of us believed they were sending us out under our own power just to get us out of their hair. More than once our LCT's had been guilty of ignoring the rules of the road, and had caused the skippers of the fleet-tops, cruisers, battleships, and other types of large ships more than one ease of ‘’ channel fever" by darting across their bows.
This attitude and our impression of Waipio Amphibious Base left us with few regrets as we steamed away from the highly overrated Hawaiian Islands. This combination helped recall to us a toast we were all familiar with, and almost of us whole-heartedly shared the author’s sentiments. It runs something like this:
"Good-bye to you, Hawaii,I’m leaving you at last.Keep all your leis and hulas,‘Cause I’m shoving off—but fast.
Sevral months I’ve served here, And walked along your sea—Thinking what a pleasure it would be To sh-t on Waikiki.
You have bragged about your moonshine In every tourist ad, And the bull sh-t you have handed out Would make a man go mad.
You’ve advertised your hulas, And your grass huts by the shore , But you never once have mentioned The Japs and Chinks and whores.
You sell the sailors whisky Then jail them if they’re drunk; And if they have no money, They’re treated like a skunk.
Your Island gin is poison Your girls would stop a clock— Sometimes they make me wonder Why the hell I’ve got a co-k.
Too long I have lived out here Taking sh-t from your SP’s And now I’m bound for god’s country Where I can do as I damn please.
I’m glad my time is over, And I can get a , boat. My patience is all wasted; I’m tired of being the goat.
But before I leave you, I would like to make a toast To the thoughts that are within me And not for idle boast.
So here’s to you, Hawaii, To your hills and shacks of grass, You can take all this Hawaii, And jam it up you’re a__!!!
Intelligence told us that six Jap subs had been reported operating between Oahu and our first stop, Johnston Island. Since our LCT’s draw only a foot and a half forward and three feet aft, we wouldn’t lose much sleep over the possibility of their bothering us with torpedo hits. However, if they decide to surface and shell us, they would have a target comparable to shooting ducks in a shooting gallery. Since the LCT’s mount only two 20 mm’s we wouldn’t be able to offer much opposition. However, our escort consisted of six LSM’s mounting one five inch thirty each and six LCS’s which mount three 40-mm’s each. Although this gave a certain aspect of protection, it was really practically nil since all the escorts were manned by green officers and men. In case of trouble we would bet our money on the LCT’s to put up the best fight. A sub may surface and get three or four of us , but the LCT’s would do their damdest to ram the sub. This outfit doesn’t encourage a pessimistic outlook—so let there be no moaning at the bar as we set out to sea. AdCom said we would average six knots, but they never had been aboard an LCT.
Lt. Commander A. L. Jones, the former Flotilla commander that lead LCT. (5) Flotilla 5 through many trying months in our advance from Guadalcanal to Bougainville, is the flotilla commander and rode on the LCT 1313, skipper by Ensign Guy Leonard of Syracuse, New York.
We had been underway close to two hours when the battleship Tennessee steamed by our convoy on her way out for gunnery practice. Someone remarked " There goes the regular Navy earning their sea pay—ten to one she’ll be back in time to open the officer’s club bar".
At 1200 we spotted the first shark of the cruise. Immediately Lt. Jack Smith of Coronado, California, the skipper of the LCS 38 dropped a fishing line over his stern. A seaman spoiled his luck by tossing over a can of Spam. As might be expected, the shark, fearing poisoning, pulled an emergency dive and disappeared.
Another convoy consisting of about twelve LSM’s over-hauled us quickly and passed approximately 8000 yards off our port side. We assumed they were heading for Leyte but will probably never know, as Mac Arthur seems to overlook most of the Navy action in his communiqué.
We passed the first night without experiencing any great misfortunes.
However, a rainsquall made our station—keeping a little difficult, but as dawn broken, we could still count every ship in position. During the day light hours of February 4th ., the weather remained ideal. However, the sea was getting a little rougher. The distance covered the first twenty-four hours was 125 miles for an average of 5.68 knots an hour at 1400 RPM’s. By sustaining this speed we would reach Johnston Island at approximately 1200 Friday. That day the Naval Air Patrol flying from Oahu flew close to the convoy several times to give us the well known "once over".
The next night was rather rough with frequent rainsqualls. Due to poor visibility the LCT 1133, skippered by Ensign Justin Van Lopick. Only minor damage to the port side of the 902 was inflicted. In spite of the frequent rainsqualls, when the dawn of February 5th., broke, all ships of the "flat bottomed Armada" were still cruising on all three engines and in proper position.
Our average speed for that second twenty-four hours had dropped to 5.2 knots and we had covered another 124.8 miles. At 1230 that day we changed our formation putting a LCS as a guide at the head of each column of LCT’s. The station keeping was better than we expected, our biggest regret being that we did not bring a photographer to record it. Lt. Jack Smith was still fishing but hadn’t had a nibble for two hundred miles.
The moon was still having trouble putting out more than a quarter of her candlepower. She ventured out at about 0130, and was a welcomed sight to everyone comforted with the task of keeping his ship in station. The only time ,we figured, when a moon was more welcome was on a beach in the states with a blanket and a sweet piece of femininity. However, that sort of stuff seems to be rationed out here; so back to the story of the efforts of flotilla 23 to carry the fight to the enemy.
February 6th passed without furnishing any noticeable change in the situation. We covered another 125 miles that day. During the night we were bothered by several more rainsqualls, but the continued expert seamanship on the part of the skipper would have made the Navy quite envious of the former lawyers, insurance salesman, and college boys who have been faced with the responsibility of doing a job never attempted before.
Up to that point each LCT had used about 800 gallons of fuel, 400 gallons of water, and four of the seven days supply of fresh provisions. Everyone was rationed to two fresh water showers a week, and needless to say none of us would have attempted to hold our wives or sweethearts with the body odor we carried with us.
The weather continued to look favorable, the swells were only a few feet high, and the wind was still form the South-West as predicted before we set out. The sea was following and hitting us on the starboard quarter, aiding our speed as well as our comfort. Thus far the LCT ‘s had been riding like mighty warships. We consoled ourselves: perhaps we didn’t have the speed, the firepower, or the armor, but at least we were floating with a forward motion similar to large ships.
February 7 found the "Floating Bathtubs" yet without any enemy contact, not that anyone was particularly anxious to open up with those two big 20mm’s. The day’s excitement was provided by LCT 806, skipper by Ensign J.F. Burghart, who had burned out a pair of salt water impellers and was supplied with spares by the LCT 1178, commanded by Ensign W. Wills. The job of coming alongside a passing the spare parts was well done.
At 1830 a Liberty Ship cruised by our convoy and the day before a convoy of LST’s had done t6he same thing. This all went to prove the fact that the LCT’s were not the fastest ships on the Pacific that season. We all thought we had something until a lookout spotted their sailing vessels passing us. Someone remarked that we surely didn’t have the proper identification charts because they appeared to be of the same class as the Pinta, Santa Maria, and Nina supposedly attached to Christopher Columbus’ task force. Speed isn’t everything, and we were of the school of thought that favored sacrificing speed for armament. Who could ask for anything more than an LCT with 20mm popguns.
Just to break the monotony, two LCS’s ran into each other in broad daylight. The LCS 40 couldn’t turn in time to avoid hitting the LCS 37 in the stern. The damage was noticeable, but nothing that a few women welders couldn’t repair back home in the states.
Lt. Jack Smith was still fishing from the LCS 38 but was having no luck. The skipper of the LCS 57, however, caught a twelve-pound fish on February 6th.
Another cargo ship passed us without a great deal of effort. We hadn’t seen a patrol plane for the past twenty-four hours, and if one didn’t come over it was time to worry about our position.
On February 8th we had our first fuel trouble. Ensign Bill Vincent, Commanding Officer on the LCT 832, found water in his fuel and had to drop astern of time formation. However, by 0830 the situation was remedied and the 832 resumed her position. It was the 832 who later experienced a little difficulty by closing too much on her guide ship (There is a little question as to who closed on who, the guide on Bill or Bill on the guide). Anyway, the stern lookout on the guide ship is reported as requesting permission from his con to go to the galley and get a cup of coffee for the bow lookout on the 832. LCT’s really keep position, but close. All ships proceeded on their way to Johnston Island in good position with only 175 miles to go. The average speed had picked up to six knots in the last twenty-four hours.
Apparently our patrol pilots were out on strike, as we didn’t see a plane for forty-eight hours. It seemed that the only things flying in the area were fish. Due to favorable conditions, we observed several flying fish were striving for new altitude records. Several were guilty of misjudging our LCT ‘s for flat-tops, and they terminated their flight6s by landing on our docks.
The following day most of the ships signaled that they were out of fresh provisions. This failed to arouse much concern on the part of the Group Commanders, as we were due to stop at Johnston Island in less than twenty hours, and we would be able to re-provision all of the ships while there. A little corn beef out of the can has never proved a hardship before and a few dehydrated spuds with it make a tasty dish.
At 6030 on February 9th the lookouts spotted two SBD’s approaching our convoy. In one of the planes was lt. Hugh D. Allen, our Flotilla Exc. who proceeded us all the way by air. Allen’s job was to take care of all fuel, water, repair, and mail problems before the Flotilla arrived at each destination.
We all envied his being able to fly from stop to stop. Especially when we stopped, consider that it took him only four hours to fly from Oahu to Johnston, while we had to jockey about on an LCT for six days in order to cover the same distance. Nevertheless, by his being able to fly ahead, we received our mail more quickly, and this was a deciding factor in the morale standards of the entire outfit.
At 0800 the signal tower on Johnston Island came into view. Slowly the island began to become noticeable to the naked eye. By 1030 we had arrived at Johnston. To see the islands required a very observing eye, due to the fact it was so small. We anchored singly in rather choppy water and could see the island with its installations and the serf which indicated that some of it had already started off the entire outfit.
Several motor launches came out, and we immediately put them to use by distributing provisions and a few spare engine parts needed by a few ships. By 1630 we were ready to get underway, and we stood out to sea about 1700. We had hoped to be able to go ashore, but no one got the chance. In forming up we ran into several rainsqualls, but all ships keep in position and soon Johnston Island had passed out of sight.
Our next leg was to MaJuro, which was approximately 1200 miles distance. We hoped to be able to make it in ten days, and we had issued provisions accordingly. If the weather was in our favor, we were confident we would make it as scheduled.
February 10th was just another day on the calendar as far as we were concerned. The cargo ships passed us at 1200, and we were certain that there isn’t a flat ship afloat slow enough for us to pass.
We listened to the radio most of the day for any news about Iwo Jima. We had heard the "scuttlebutt" that the invasion of Iwo was going to start that day. We were all interested because most of us knew Lt. Robert. T. Capeiess, the Group Commander of LCT (6) Group 48, was assigned to lead his group in this invasion. We all were praying for group 48 to come though without any serious damage. Also we were beginning to wonder just how long it would be before we would be dodging enemy bombs.
One of our escort ships, the S.C. 1028, broke down and had to be towed by one of the LSM’s. The LSM wasn’t built for tug service and as a result it took close to ten hours for her to bring the S.C. 1028 into her proper position.
By February 11 we had less than 1000 miles to go before hitting MaJuro. The sailing conditions were at best: we had a following sea and wind and were averaging better than six knots.
One of Lt. Sommerhalter’s ships, the LCT 762, developed engine trouble and fell four miles astern. To make matters worse, one of Lt. McNeill's men tried to commit suicide, but didn't have the guts to go through with it. The suicide attempt was really an attempt to arouse sympathy with the hopes of being transferred to a shore base.
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