THIRTY-SEVEN DAYS IN A BATHTUB OR HOW TO CROSS THE PACIFIC IN AN LCT.
BY: LIEUT., JACK E. JOHNSON
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This seemed to be an unusual day. We received another report of Jap subs being sighted a few miles ahead of our convoy. However, we failed to pick up a contact on the escort radar. The only noticeable disturbance in the water came not from enemy periscopes but from flying fish attempting to escape from larger inhabitants of the pacific.
Our speed continued to get better. The last twenty-four hours we had averaged 6.5 knots, and it was obvious the wind and sea were responsible for the improvement.
The LCT 762 managed to make her repairs and resume her position as did the SC 1028. The LCT 794 passed over provisions to the SC 1028 without any mishap. Ensign James D. Snodgrass of Bronxville, New York, skipper of the 794, displayed good ship handling in being able to transfer the provisions to the SC 1028, which appeared to be having a difficult time in assisting with the transfer.
Earlier in the morning a plane had flown over headed in the direction of Johnston Islands. The plane dropped two flares--if it scared anyone only the laundry man will know.
On February 13, the majority of officers and men in the convoy experienced something new when they crossed the International Date Line and gained a day. We were still con course 245 degrees true and were approximately 702 miles away from MaJuro Island, our next stop. Our communications to improve steadily. The visual methods were considerably better and more accurate, and the voice procedure was getting snappier.
The next day came and went without any outstanding memories with us. We ran into a few rainsqualls, which we utilized by taking a refreshing shower.
We had 550 miles to go before sighting Majuro, and our average speed had dropped to 5.6 knots while still turning 1450 RPM's. However, we still had the same prevailing weather conditions, making our decrease in speed hard to explain.
February 16 brought us bad news when we discovered that the group 67 reefer box was not working. This was as serious as the possibility of all our provisions being sent to the deep six. This box contained all the fresh foods for group 67, which consisted of two hundred men and twenty-seven officers. However, we were sure it could be repaired as our staff electrician, John Bucki, Emlc from Buffalo, New York, was the best in the business.
In spite of the prospect of going on "C" rations, the convoy made good 132 miles for an average speed of 5.5 knots per hour.
The only good news we received all day came over the radio when we heard the fleet had shelled the mainland of Japan. It certainly would have been nice to have access to daily paper again--several men are worried over the possibilities of "little Abner's coming matrimony. However, we always get a lot of laughs out of Tokyo Rose's comments, which had always been a satisfactory substitute for the comic strips while over seas.
With the break of dawn, we received the news that the LCT 807, under the command of Ensign Roy Lipscomb of Nashville, Tenn., was hit during the night by the LCT 1133. Ensign Van Lopic now headed the league in hits scored. He had been out of station twice and rammed another ship both times. His record should bring at least a commendation from Tojo. However, the damage was only an unauthorized porthole in the 807's galley.
Twenty-four hours later we still enjoy the felling of success seeing all thirty-six LCT's still roaring along under their own power and only 1600 miles from MaJuro.
We couldn't understand why we hadn't seen a patrol plane for over seventy-two hours, especially since we had been in easy range for the last forty-eight hours.
February 19th was the day we all had been looking forward to. We were scheduled to arrive at MaJuro on the 19th., and the prospect of getting our feet on good old terra firma once more was something to look forward to.
At 1050 we spotted the first patrol planes from MaJuro, when two Corsairs came over and circled the convoy.
Our first glimpse of MaJuro came at approximately 1130 when we first spotted a small object on the horizon. As the time passed and we steadily advanced at the terrific pace of six knots, other dots began to appear close to the first one we had spotted. At 1300 we could make out most of the islands that make up MaJuro Atoll. By 1330 we were in position to pass the first channel buoys and also to see the MaJuro consisted of a ring of land with a few breaks surrounding a lagoon which appeared to be quite calm.
The harbor was not over-crowded with ships, and on the beach we could notice a few military installations, a few Jap-constructed buildings, and an airstrip that displayed some routine operations. Nevertheless, it was land, and we were damn glad to be there. We had covered 2000 miles and we wanted a short rest before getting underway to cover the last half of the journey.
At 1500 all ships had proceeded to their assigned anchorage and were told to secure. Everyone was happy over the prospect of getting a good night's sleep.
The next day was busy one for all the hands. We made all the necessary repairs, refueled, and provisioned all of the ships. Also we managed to get all hands ashore for a few beers and some exercise. Then as a final gesture, the mail was distributed. It wasn't Christmas, but everyone was wearing the smile of satisfaction.
That evening every officer seemed to be at the officer's club with the intention of washing the salt out of his lungs. The hospitality of the base officer's was great, and the evenings end found the officers of Flotilla 23 closing the bar and saying adios to a swell bunch of officers on MaJuro. They not only seemed to put the need spark of friendship into our bunch, but they also had a swell stock of Bourbon which we hated to leave behind, but the friendship so quickly formed would last, we knew, and so it was good-bye to MaJuro.
With overcastting clouds and over-hanging heads we got underway the next morning at 0600 for Eniwetok. Ensign C.E. Ware, skipper of the LCT 699, had failed to acknowledge the time change and was late getting underway. The LCT 1103 was attempting to change an engine while on the beach and was late in getting started. However, thanks to a C.R. Chief and one of his men, the engine was lowered into place, and the late departure of the 1103 was not too serious. However, the 1103 was taken in tow until the engine could be put into operation.
Early in the afternoon, the first serious casualty of the trip occurred when the LSM 194 lost a man overboard. The LSM looked for the man from 1300 until dark, then she was ordered to rejoin the convoy.
February 22nd came in like a bad omen. To start the day off wrong, the LCT 806 encountered engine trouble, but the 903, skippered by the reliable Ensign Barney Colson, saved the day by pulling alongside the 806 and passing over the needed gear for repairs. Any LCT man would have been proud to see Colson handle the job so well in a rough sea.
The wind had changed, hitting us broad on the starboard beam. This was making the LCT's and LCS's and LSM's appear rather unstable. As a matter of fact, any of them would roll on damp grass anyway! The change in the wind was serious due to the fact it slowed us to five knots and we still had a lot of water to cover before we could be of much use to the war effort.
A little before daylight of February 23, we passed Kwajalein. However, we didn't stop as originally planed. During the past twenty-four hours we average 5.8 knots per hour, which wasn't bad considering the unfavorable wind.
The monotony of the day was broken when we observed several B-29's winging their way toward Guam. Being on an LCT and looking at Boeing's greatest achievement, the B-29 soaring along at 300 MPH gives one a felling of standing still while Jesse Owens sprints by. Nevertheless, all thirty-six LCT's ignored jealously the birdmen and proceeded on toward their goal at almost one-fiftieth of the B-29's cruising speed.
The only unfortunate incident that occurred February 24th was when the LCS 38 broke her steering gear. In order to avoid any serious complications, the 38 took a new position astern of the convoy.
We were averaging 6.3 knots and at 1830 were less than 100 miles from Eniwetok. At 1300 a heavily loaded Liberty Ship had managed to pass without taxing her engines in the least. Although we were only a little less than a hundred miles from the next stop, we failed to spot any patrol planes. Our reaction to this was is Eniwetok wasn't worth stopping there. We weren't very wrong in our advance opinion but orders from the convoy Commodore made our stopping imperative.
Before dawn on February 25th, our lookouts reported sighting lights on Eniwetok. At 1030 that morning the atoll was visible to the naked eye and the traffic going in heavy. Proceeding our convoy was the Saratoga showing the affects of a slight scrap shortly before our entrance the convoy commodore sent every ship a congratulatory message on the success of the voyage. A " well done " from Admiral Nimits wouldn't had been any more appreciated.
This harbor reminded us a great deal of MaJuro, but it wasn't as well sheltered and the water was rougher. This condition prevented us from mooring more than two LCT's together.
The number of ships lying at anchor was surprising. It was obvious to all of us now why the Navy was beating the hell out of the Japs. With this display of strengths, we couldn't miss. Although the regular Navy was represented by her wagons, flat-tops, cruisers, and cans, the Amphibious Force wasn't taking a back seat. We were represented by our LST's, LSM's, LCS's, LCI's and last but not least the mighty Flotilla 23 consisting of thirty-six LCT's manned by salty crews of men and officers. We all agreed that the regular Navy was acting very jealous when they failed to salute us as we steamed into our little anchorage, located miles from anything of interest--such as the officers club.
Here we had to say farewell to our escort. The LSM's and the LCS's had urgent business with Mr. Tojo at some advanced meeting place. We were sorry to say adios, good sailing, and good hunting. Although we were skeptical at first, after sailing with the LSM's and the LCS's we were confident they would do their part toward bettering the already envious Naval record established by the Amphibious Forces in this war.
While at Eniwetok we had to top off with fuel, water, and provisions for all ships. We knew we would soon be getting underway for Guam, which was 1000 miles as the crow flys, and better than 1200 miles as an LCT sails.
The ships were beginning to show the wear and tear of the long trip. However, by this time the men had discovered a new pride in their " floating bathtubs" and were working hard to keep them in four-oh shape.
As in MaJuro, liberty parties were organized so every man got ashore for beer and exercise at least once during our stopover. Mail call was held once a day, thanks again to the efforts of Lt. Allen.
However, the food situation here was very unfortunate, and we were being forced to make the next leg of the trip on short rations.
The most noticeable thing about Eniwetok was the lack of hospitality we enjoyed so much at Majuro. We were unable to get the men to movies, and the " Welcome Sign " was all but taken in at the officers club, Perhaps our reputation had proceeded us, and the base personnel were taking the necessary precautions.
After spending one week at Eniwetok, we got underway at 0630 the morning of Mach 5th for Guam. As dawn broke, Group 67 was in position and ready to proceed through the nets. At 0700 Group 68 started through the nets, and Group 69 followed close astern. By 0800 all the ships had cleared the nets and were in cruising formation with the exception of the tugs that had joined our convoy.
This time our escorts consisted of three PGM's, two YMS's, and one YDG. The PGM's, mounting one three inch gun each, were to be our main source of defense on this 1050 mile leg.
The convoy Commodore selected an LCT this time as his flagship and moved aboard the LCT 1313 with Commander Jones. It was believed that this was the first time that a fouriper had ever ridden an LCT on a long voyage.
Just to start things off wrong, the LCT 1313's steering broke six hours after the trip began. Immediately they changed over to emergency steering and began making repairs. Due to the good work on the part of the crew and Bos'n Mate Mert Rhode the damage was repaired in a short time and the 1313 resumed her position as guide.
The LCT 880, skipper Ensign Cantley, fell out of position about 1400 due to a faulty engine. The staff Motor Machinist, Hall was transferred at sea for the purpose of getting the engine repaired.
After sunset, we ran into a bad series of rainsqualls, and this made station keeping very difficult. The LCT's 903, 832, 1309, 1369, 1103, 1104, and the 907 decided to try navigating independently. After much coaching by radio, and aided by radar, the ships found their way back into posit6ion.
March 6th looked to be a pleasant day after dawn broke on the difficult night. We were steering 283 degrees true with all ships in position. The LCT 1102 was two miles astern with engine trouble.
During the first twenty-four hours we made good only 135 miles, leaving us 914 miles to go before dropping the hook at Guam. We expected to make this leg of the trip in seven days.
During the next night, we again ran into aggravating rainsqualls. As one of the worst of the bunch was breaking about our ears, when visibility was so poor that you couldn't see a wake light one-hundred yards ahead, Ensign Ernie Horter from the Canal zone, skipper of the LCT 1051, asked his helmsman what course he was steering. "Rudder's amidships, Sir," was the reply.
During March 7th we continued on course 283 degrees, and we averaged 5.94 knots per hour. The swells were running much higher but still from the East. Each swell seemed to pick the LCT's up and throw them forward at least one hundred yards. The moon was receding and making its appearance a little later each night. We all felt that this was a break as we were passing Truck, and we didn't welcome the possibility of a floatplane spotting us and perhaps causing a little trouble.
All the mechanical trouble experienced the first day of the present leg was now corrected, and all thirty-six LCT's were operating once more on all engines.
With the birth of March 8th, we still found ourselves on course 283 degrees. The monotony of steady sailing was interrupted early that morning when we spotted a plane-flying due East. Soon after this the LCT 761 was forced to report to emergency steering and for some unplanned reason to use this method until the next morning.
We covered 153 miles during the last twenty-four hours, and at 1830 had passed the halfway mark. At 1200 we changed our course to 175 degrees true, to compensate for set, and prepared ourselves for another night of "blackout" sailing.
March 9th was more interesting than usual for everyone except Lt. J.A McNeill, the Group Commander of Group 69. Mac had quite a time with his problem ship, the 906, and continued to scream instructions over the voice radio. We all were furnished amusement in listening to the unfavorable remarks transmitted by McNeill over the radio.
One of the escorts, the PGM 11, got a contact and left the convoy at 1400 to investigate. Several hours later the PGM rejoined the convoy after finding the target to be friendly.
During the past twenty-four hours we covered 154 miles for an average of better than six knots.
During the night one of the tug's tows caught on fire and only the bow section was afloat at daybreak. Later, one of the PGM's sunk the bow section with it's three inch gun.
As dawn broke we were steering 286 degrees and proceeding at six knots. We had covered 3100 miles since February 3rd. The fuel and water supply had held out way above our expectations. We felt confident that we could reach China on our present supply.
On March 11th we changed course from 286 degrees to 290 degrees true, and at 1400 we were less than one hundred miles from Guam.
At 2100 the same day, our lookouts began noticing the beams of the searchlights on Guam. It looked as though our navigation had been perfect and we would hit Guam on the nose.
At 1400 in the morning, March 12th, we began to be challenged by the lights on the beach. The YMS was on the ball and answered with the correct replay. By 0700 we were ready to enter the harbor. However, we were made to lay off while a large convoy cleared the harbor. This was discouraging after a very tiring trip, and having made every effort to be on time, only to arrive and be ordered to be lay off for a few hours.
By 1015, the Port Director had snapped out of his mental frog and decided to bring us into the protection of the natural harbor at Guam. We formed a single column with a hundred yards interval and started past the nets.
Due to the congested condition of the harbor, we were forced to zig-zag through the outer harbor in order to make our way into the inner portion where we anchored.
The climax of the voyage was entering Guam Harbor, and for thirty-seven days we had been through hell, and many times it seemed much more worse than that, in order to get there. On the starboard hand halfway into the inner harbor was Admiral Turner's flagship. It so happened the Admiral was watching with pride and enthusiasm as we steamed by. A few minutes after the last LCT had anchored, we received a dispatch from the Admiral which read: " Your arrival today was watched with great interest and pride. By successfully completing this long overseas passage, you have added another milestone to Amphibious Warfare. Well done to you and your group-Dare I say all of you feel like Columbus".
Dare we say, if Columbus felt like we did after bringing thirty-six LCT's approximately 4000 miles under their own power, he would have given up the sea for a nice comfortable life on a farm.
We were not in Guam many hours, until every ship was put into the best possible condition. We didn't know what our next assignment would be, but weather we were assigned to haul cargo from ship to shore, or weather we would carry Marines into a Jap hold beach--Flotilla 23 would be ready, willing, and able.
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