The Saga of LCT 1095
ByAl Horton, QMCS Ret.
(LCT Group 95 Flotilla 32 )
The Saga of LCT 1095 is being written in January of the year 2000, over 50 years after the events reported here. Forgive the writer for errors of omission or commission. Most of the crew has probably gone on to Fiddler’s Green to be reunited some day and relive this saga in sea stories embellished by time. There are many personal remembrances that could be included here but are omitted for brevity.
In early spring of 1944 a stouthearted crew was formed at Solomons Maryland to be trained as crewmembers of a Landing Craft Tank (LCT).
Some of the crew members at forming or who joined later:
Ens. Cushman Skipper Mid West (?)
Bert Lambert Boatswain Birmingham, Alabama
Al Horton Quartermaster Northfield, New Jersey
Julian Radioman New England State
Bob Ellis Gunners mate Gordon, Nebraska
Carter Seaman South Carolina
Johnson Seaman North Carolina
Art Moll Seaman Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cecil Root Motor Machinist Mate Wisconsin (?)
Bob McLean Motor Machinist Mate St. Louis, Missouri
Art Sepaniak Electrician Chicago, Illinois
Phillips Fireman West Virginia
Tennian Cook New England State
Also on the 1095 for a short time: Ens. Barker of California, and a black cook who was a cook on a Pullman railroad car. He was immediately transferred to the flotilla staff and we had to do our own cooking from then on.
The crew was formed over a three-week period. The first two weeks we lived in barracks ashore, but went out in the Chesapeake Bay, almost daily, for onboard training. The third week we moved aboard LCT 464 and were ‘ship’s company‘ and at the end of that week we graduated.
We were transferred to Pier 92 in New York in May and then manned LCT 1006 to proceed to Norfolk, Virginia. Just a short distance out of New York harbor we encountered a terrific storm and put into port in New Jersey to wait it out. The storm continued for several days and our pilot returned us to New York City. We learned later that had we made it to Norfolk we would have been in the last convoy to England before the invasion of Normandy.
Another pilot came aboard in New York City and took us up Long Island Sound to Narragansett Bay and on to the Sea Bee Base at Davisville, Rhode Island for a short stay. Our stay there was highlighted by the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, members of British Royalty.
We proceeded down the bay to Point Judith, Rhode Island and moored to a pontoon barge anchored off shore. During the summer we aided the Sea Bees in training to handle pontoon causeways launched from LST’s. Two causeways were secured to the port side. WE approached the beach and when the stern anchor was dropped the Sea Bees let one pontoon section slide ahead and up on the sand. Then the other section was moved from the side and secured to our bow ramp so vehicles could drive off and on the vessel.
At the end of summer we were relieved by another crew, given leave, and again reported to Pier 92. When I reported back from leave I accidentally left a pair of black dress shoes at home. I phoned home and was told they would be mailed. We were issued Sea Bee jungle clothes: greens, boon docker shoes, canteen, sheath knife, pith helmet, and other items. This was our first indication we were bound for the Pacific.
From Pier 92 we boarded LST 933 to find our craft, LCT 1095 in three sections along with two sections of another LCT on the main deck. We were told that we would assemble the 1095 when we reached our destination. There was no liberty for anyone on the LST, and on an overcast morning the 933 backed from her berth and joined a large convoy outside New York Harbor. We headed South.
For most of us LCT sailors this was our first real taste of the sea, and what a taste it was. The 933 climbed one side of a swell and slid down the other into a trough with continuous rolling. The ships on each side would snuggle down in troughs and then rise majestically to the top of a swell, only to disappear in another trough. The long swells and overcast sky stayed with us during most of the voyage down the East coast.
Several days out of New York the sea smoothed and while at sunrise General Quarters a hazy blur formed on the horizon. The 933 and another LST left the convoy and entered Guantanamo Bay Cuba where we anchored until the following morning when we left for Panama. The Caribbean Sea between Cuba and Panama was littered with the wreckage of aircraft and ships. The most memorable were the shattered lifeboat and the bobbing airplane wheel. For the first time I believe we realized the seriousness of our mission.
When the LST’s arrived in Panama, Bob Ellis was diagnosed with appendicitis and was transferred to a hospital ashore. He was a good shipmate. His cheery friendliness was missed by all. Art Moll then took over as gunner’s mate.
A Panama Canal pilot came aboard and we entered the canal. The bright scorching sun showed no mercy and the mountains surrounding the canal blocked any relief we could have received from breezes. The first drops of frequent short drenching showers spit spurts of steam when they hit the hot decks. Minutes after a shower passed the decks were steaming and again blistering hot with short-lived warm puddles laying in the deck depressions.
We left Panama astern, entered the Pacific Ocean, and welcomed a refreshing breeze. The two LST’s traveled together partway across the Pacific. The weather was much calmer than the Atlantic and this was appreciated. What was not appreciated was the complete failure of all the ship’s power that occurred at almost every sunrise general quarters. We floated helpless for many minutes at a time; a sitting target for the deck guns of any submarine.
October 24, 1944 with a bright sun and a calm sea we reached the equator at 120 degrees 05 minutes West longitude. Here is where we were initiated into the realm of King Neptune with full ceremony. That is another story.
Our next port was Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Islands. The clear blue water of the harbor went down forever, too deep for a ship to anchor with its short anchor chains, and we secured to a mooring buoy. We were granted much wanted shore liberty. We walked off our sea legs along the sandy beach and traded with the natives. Grass skirts and shell jewelry were the most popular items that were soon in the mail for the girls back home. Some of us also attended church services at the base chapel.
Our next port was the enormous harbor created by a border of coral reefs at Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands Group. The five sections of the two LCT’s on deck were offloaded by a crane and towed by small boats to a cove where other LCT’s were being assembled. It was also a PBY Catalina seaplane base.
Now came the job of bolting the three sections of LCT 1095 together to make it a complete vessel. The sections floated in the water at various angles and they had to be aligned for assembly. This was accomplished by shifting crates of equipment and supplies to balance the sections and line up boltholes while Lambert and another man stayed in the voids to insert the bolts and tighten them. These men had the dirtiest of jobs, for all the raw sewage from the ships in the main harbor floated around them, settling on their bodies and in their hair.
Christmas 1994, our first one overseas was celebrated in this small cove at Manus. Our tree was made of two palm branches and decorated with O’Brian’s, cellophane wrapped hard candy, for Christmas balls.
We had one run outside the harbor for gunnery practice where an airplane towed a target sleeve for the many LCT’s. The LCT ahead of us failed to cease-fire as the sleeve passed over head and almost shot down the plane. The pilot warned that another stunt like that and he was going to return to the field.
We departed Manus for Hollandia New Guinea in formation with a large number of other LCT’s. The stormy weather and the rough sea made station keeping difficult for the flat-bottomed craft. In the morning the vessels were spread out over a large area and it wasn’t until noon before most had regained their stations. It was on this trip that our cook, an ex signalman, semaphored to the vessel behind us that he needed some butter. I had the conning watch and he didn’t tell me about it until the other vessel was riding at our stern and a man was preparing to throw us the canned butter. A large swell came along just as he threw the can and their LCT almost landed on our stern with the can of butter. The skipper came out of his quarters about that time and was displeased. Enough said.
At Hollandia all the LCT’s were nested in a back cove off the main harbor and away from the big ships. It was like something out of the National Geographic magazine. Natives with red gums from chewing beetle nuts paddled dugout canoes close aboard and gave us a thorough inspection but made no effort to communicate. While here we made a couple of trips to drop off supplies to an army group up the coast. Unknown to us, or anyone else at that time, a navy fighter plane had crashed on a nearby island. The pilot’s body and the plane were not discovered until the 1990’s because the natives did not believe in disturbing he dead. When the pilot was eventually found his remains were returned to his family in the United States.
We loaded a LCM on the main deck and then an LCVP was placed inside. The remaining space on the deck was filled with drums of diesel fuel in preparation for our 1200-mile trip to Leyte. I believe this was the longest trip ever made by LCT’s under their own power, up to that time.
We left Hollandia in a formation of LCT ‘s spread as far as we could see. It could have been a hundred vessels or more. Our flagship was a little APC. Each morning the motor macs raised several drums of fuel by chain fall to the refueling pipe behind the starboard gun tub. Most mornings the sea was rough and it required two men to control the swinging drums, but with good weather one man easily did the refueling. They did this every morning until we beached at Tacloban Leyte.
Our next operation order sent us to Zamboanga Mindanao where we arrived on D+4. The landing was already completed and the army had control of the beach area. We moored to the city pier and kept a close eye on the flotsam being carried by the swift running current. There was much concern that it might contain mines.
Movie star and comedian Joe E. Brown came to entertain us with his comedy and famous baseball pitch. We suspected the Japanese also enjoyed his show, as they were not far away. Brown was the first USO entertainer we saw and none other came as close to the fighting area that we heard of. His son, a flier, was killed in combat.
We were sent to Caldera Point to rescue a Sea Bee outfit that had come under terrific mortar fire the night before. They were to set up a base for P.T. boats but the attack destroyed much of their equipment and made that impossible. We evacuated them to Basilan Island just to the South which the army had already cleared of the enemy and had a good supply of potable water. The first thing the Sea Bees built when they were landed was an outdoor movie theatre and then the mess hall, which was also to be used as a gambling hall.
We returned to Basilan Is. a month later for fresh water and the Sea Bees related the terrific battle they had in capturing the island from the enemy. They also tried to sell us Japanese personal flags, made from fart sacks. They apparently didn’t recognize us as the ones who had evacuated them from Caldera Point and brought them to this island.
Our next job was to take some supplies to Filipino guerrillas in a large cove up the coast to the west. Four LCT’s were loaded and we arrived around mid-morning. As we approached the beach for the landing small arms fire broke out in the jungle but none of which came our way. We beached, and waited for some one to come before dropping our bow ramps. In a few minutes a group of guerrillas appeared from the jungle carrying gifts for the LCT’s that we had to refuse.
The supplies were unloaded and the guerrillas disappeared with them back into the jungle, then we retracted from the beach and anchored in the cove. During the night there was another intense barrage of small arms fire in the jungle, but once again nothing came our way. We departed in the morning and when we arrived back at Zamboanga we learned the Japs had retaliated and killed the guerrillas we had just supplied.
On April 9, 1945 we departed Zamboanga for a landing on the island of Jolo in the Sulu Archipelago, with a cargo of ammunition so heavy the main deck was within inches of being awash.
The invasion force was comprised almost entirely of landing ships and crafts with a lone destroyer escort for flagship. As the sun rose dive-bombers attacked a hill a short distance from the landing beach with such intensity that it must have been lowered forty feet. We learned this was a heavily fortified site that had been scouted by an army intelligence team which included a Japanese American from Chicago who spoke fluent Japanese. They had spent enough time on Jolo to learn the location of all guns, the amount of ammo normally kept there and the names and ranks of those who manned these guns. The hill had been identified as having many caves where ammo was stored. But it was no more.
By late afternoon the troops had moved inland. We beached about 50 yards away from a point of land sticking into the sea, and the army began unloading our cargo of ammo. Shortly afterward a navy PT boat crossed our stern 200 yards offshore and then turned sharply and approached land on the other side of the point. Then it broke loose; their bow gun started firing and enemy mortar shells splashed in the water around them. The PT boat won that short and furious fight. We owe that PT boat crew.
After our cargo was unloaded we retracted from the beach and with two other LCT’s steamed around the island to the city of Jolo where we moored to a pier. The LCT next to the pier still carried her full cargo of ammo, we were empty, and the third LCT, also empty, was outboard of us.
Root was playing the guitar and Phillips was singing Old Shep, and each of us was doing our personal things, writing letters, wash etc. as the sun neared the horizon. Wham! An explosion as a mortar hit the pier. Root and the engine room gang disappeared below. I ran to the wheelhouse and the deck crew threw off the lines as the engines roared to life. The crew of the loaded LCT was slow to cast off from the pier, so we cast off our own lines from her and pulled out into the harbor with the outboard LCT still tied along side. I didn’t count the total number of mortars that fell around the pier, there were many, but it only took that first one to get us moving. There were no casualties from the mortar fire.
The next morning we returned to the pier and took a stroll through the city. The Catholic Church was badly damaged but we don’t know if that was from the enemy or not. We were concerned about booby traps so we didn’t enter it.
After the Jolo landing we made several runs up the Cotabato River to supply some army units. The current was very swift and it took all day to go upstream to the army camp, but only a couple of hours to come back downstream with the floating trees, bushes and small islands. There was one very sharp turn and the strong force of the river water pushed the 1095 toward the bank, but our skipper was able to avoid hitting it. Every LCT that went up the river after we did hit that bank and had their mast torn off. We were quite proud of our skipper’s ship handling,
We were ordered to the northern side of Mindanao to the landing site near Cagayan and unloaded ships there for most of the remainder of the war. There were numerous other assignments. One required us to leave at sunset and proceed along the coast at ‘darkened ship’, to enemy held territory in Illegan Bay, and withdraw an army unit that had just crossed the entire island. The night became so dark we could only make out the shore by the silhouette of the trees against the stars. At the designated rendezvous site a light flashed from the shore, we went quietly to GQ, and proceeded into the beach. How the skipper knew where to drop the hook when the shore was almost invisible I’ll ever know. The army came aboard and we quickly withdrew and transported them to the Cagayan beachhead.
We made frequent supply missions up the Agusan river to a small village and army camp. Returning on our first trip we stopped at Mambajao a city on Camiguin Island for a few days liberty. Camiguin had been cleared of the enemy by the army who had then immediately departed. We were the first navy to put in there.
We moored to the pier and many of the town’s people came down to see the strange navy vessel and welcome us. Don, the young Filipino man who lived aboard with us when we were not expecting any action, was approached by a gentleman who was standing on the pier aside from the crowd. Then Don came aboard told us the man’s story. He had an infant baby and both the mother and the wet nurse had gone dry. The Japs had killed all the milk animals before departing. He wanted to buy some canned milk for the baby.
Our crew had a conference and all agreed not to sell him any milk, instead to give it to him, but we couldn’t do it in broad daylight. Don instructed him to come back at night after everyone else had left.
It was very late before all the sightseer’s departed and the man returned. We had pulled a case of Carnation cream from the hold and had it ready for him. He tried to pay us but we refused and he took the milk and disappeared toward town carrying it on his shoulder.
The next day he returned and invited us to his home for dinner, which we gratefully accepted. He owned the only hotel on Camiguin, which was used by tourists and children of wealthy families on Mindanao who attended school on Camiguin.
We met his family and spent a pleasant afternoon with refreshments and talking about home. The dinner consisted of rice, fish, chicken, coffee, and I can’t remember what else. He generously stated if there was anything else we would like that we didn’t see on the table to please speak up and they would try and obtain it. Missing from the table was cream for the coffee, but none of us asked for it for all they had was needed for their infant. We made many other stops at Camiguin but none were as memorable as this first one.
Finally the war was over. One of our trips was to transport enemy POW’s from the army post on the Agusan River to Cagayan. The enlisted soldiers were kept under guard on the main deck. Their major, who was charged with war crimes, was placed alone on the fantail with an armed guard ordered to shoot if the major spoke. The soldiers were reportedly very loyal to him and would obey any of his orders, even if suicidal. No chances were to be taken with him. Our crew wandered among the enlisted POW’s and traded candy etc. for souvenirs.
Eventually we took the 1095 to Samar and left her in a large nesting of other LCT’s. It was expected she would be taken to sea and sunk, a sad ending of a valiant service. While at Samar the black dress shoes that I had left at home 18 months earlier came in the mail, just in time for the trip home. As we steamed out of Samar on the S.S. Santa Monica, the loud speakers blared "California Here I come," and we were coming. My black dress shoes were ready for stateside liberty.
© 2000 LCT Flotillas of World War II ETO PTO