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The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave...

-- Patrick Henry
World War II Frigate17618 Reads  Printer-friendly page

Coast Guard The Coast Guard manned and operated about seventy of these rather unusual ships during World War II in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans - they were unusual in that they had two firerooms generating steam for two large triple-expansion steam engines with all machinery, such a force-draft blowers, anchor engines and steering engines, all of them being single cylinder steam engines - the only variation was the two turbine-driven generators furnishing electric power for ships utilities!! The ships were twin screw with twin rudders making them extremely easy to handle provided you allowed for the high bow, the low stern and the vagaries of the wind.

With those characteristics, the ships were dry forward and wet aft, but, in spite of that I loved to handle and maneuver my ship. The USS Sandusky (PF-54) was reasonably fast - rated at 22 knots. She was quite well armed with three three-inch guns, two twin-mount 40 mm. machine guns eight .50 caliber machine guns, two depth -charge racks, four K-guns, and mouse-traps forward. We had both surface and air search radar, a well-equipped CIC and the best communication equipment including TBS. With twelve officers in the wardroom and an enlisted complement of 196 we were well manned.

I had been on the USCGC Duane (WPG-33) as engineer officer for less than one year when I was transferred in December 1943 to a command course at St. Augustine, Florida and later to SCTC in Miami, Florida, to another Command Course. At the termination of the latter course, the Coast Guard students sailed for five days on a Navy DE for final indoctrination. Commander (later Rear Admiral) George Knudsen was supposed to be the CO and I was the Executive Officer or "XO" of this DE and, during the battle exercise, George was "killed". I had to step over the "body" in order to take command - we eventually abandoned ship. That evening at dinner in the wardroom, George announced to all that I had been waiting for his demise so that I could have his precedence number and that I probably would not have taken his remains back to the States. My reply was "Thank you, Sir, for the promotion vacancy but I really would have taken you back to the US because you have such a delightful wife." RADM George Knudsen was devoted Coast Guard officer and a wonderful shipmate.

After arrival in Miami, we were ordered to appear before a Navy Board to determine our fitness to command. I had just been promoted to Lieutenant Commander and had one uniform striped but was introduced at Lieutenant Sargent - this caused quite a stir. At the end of the interview, I was astounded to learn that I had been certified for command and, the next day, I received orders to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to start assembling a crew to man a Navy frigate. After one month, I received orders to proceed to New Orleans, Louisiana, to meet the rest of the crew and to await the arrival of the Sandusky and to place it in commission. Lieutenant (later Captain) Benjamin M. Chiswell was to be my executive officer and he had assembled to rest of the crew in New Orleans. On 18 April 1944, with one Captain (later Rear Admiral) William Scammel as the commissioning officer, we placed the Sandusky in commission.

Just prior to commissioning, Mr. Charles Gamble, the superintendent of the outfitting shipyard, asked if we could move the ship forward about 100 yards. Although there might have been a few risks involved, Ben and I decided that, if we could not move that ship one hundred yards, we were in deep trouble. All went well except I discovered that only three officers and only four enlisted men had been to sea!!! A great majority were reserves.

On 20 April, we sailed for Pilot Town and the Gulf for training and solidification of our organization with the usual pilot on board - the crew and the ship worked well and Ben Chiswell and I were satisfied. We anchored overnight in Pilot Town and, in the morning, another pilot arrived but I rejected his services due to his inebriated state and another was provided. We sailed for the Gulf and for two days ran through every training exercise in the book until we were happy with the results. By that time most of the seasick cases had recovered!!

We were ordered to Pilot Town for a hearing on our inebriated pilot and then released to sail for Bermuda for shakedown with COTLANT. We rendezvoused with a Navy DE who was very unhappy taking orders from the SOP - a Coast Guard officer. I set a speed of advance of 15 knots which was too slow from him, but to me was a good sonar speed. In view of our problems, I released him to proceed independently.

We arrived in Bermuda during a violent windstorm and told to moor alongside of a French DE. I requested permission to anchor until the wind moderated but was ordered to moor alongside forthwith - which we did - taking down his railings from the bridge forward - the ships did not match with our bow flare clearing his deck by five feet! I apologized in my best fractured French!! The next day, things got worse - Dr. Holley USPHS, the ship's doctor, was transferred to the hospital with a spot on his lung, the chief engineer was confined to his bunk with a serious bone bruise on his ankle and a few of the crew came down with the mumps - we were quarantined!!! Since I never had the mumps, I confined myself to the emergency cabin and ate my meals on the bridge. However, the ship continued participating in all exercises with the other ships and we completed shakedown. I received my fitness report from Rear Admiral Rivera, COCTLANT, which stated, "The performance of this officer reflects no credit or discredit on the Naval service." I immediately checked with the other CO's and discovered they had received the exact same wording - what a morale builder!!! We sailed for the Philadelphia Navy Yard for post shakedown overhaul and further outfitting.

Upon arrival at the Navy Yard, we were ordered to moor to a pier in the mooring basin. We took on a Navy CPO as our pilot, and, when he realized where we were to moor, he wanted no part of handling the ship. With the CPO beside me we entered a very narrow channel, sailed under a lift bridge and immediately had to make a 90 degree change of course to starboard and then we were ordered to back into our mooring with fifty feet of the ship hanging over the end of the pier. This is where I appreciated the wonderful handling qualities of the frigates. The crew was outstanding in their line handling resulting in a perfect mooring!!

A few days later, we were informed we would be assigned to the Pacific Fleet; consequently, we received a new air search radar. Also, at this time, the Sandusky was made part of ESCORT DIVISION 33 consisting of the USS Charlottesville (PF-53), Machias (PF-25), Allentown (PF-52) and, of course, Sandusky. William F. Cass was CO of the PF-53, Robert T. Alexander was CO of the PF25, Garland W. Collins was CO of the flagship PF-52 with John Ryssy as Division Commodore and I had the junior ship - Sandusky. While in the Navy Yard, the Chief Engineer, Lieutenant. T. H. Macown, deserted and was picked up by the Shore Patrol somewhere in New Jersey. I preferred charges against him; he was transferred and Lieutenant (junior grade) B. A. Church was assigned to relieve him - it was an outstanding change. After completing outfitting, we sailed for Staten Island, New York, on July 31, 1944.

We got underway from the Philadelphia Navy Yard at 0800 and for the next 15 days we made various convoys to Norfolk interspersed with gunnery and ASW practice, finally arriving at Staten Island on 16 August. Here I discovered that being the junior ship had its drawbacks. The other three ships took on docking pilots but none was available for the Sandusky so, with wind and a nasty current, we made a dramatic mooring outboard of the flagship and we were given a rousing "well done" by the pilots and CAPT Ryssy. I still insist that the frigates were as good a handling ship as I have ever maneuvered. It was here that I received a new doctor - Lieutenant Samuel A Jaffe, U.S. Public Health Service.

On 18 August at 0630 we departed Staten Island and rendezvoused with six British transports loaded with U.S Army and Navy personnel - destination somewhere in the western Pacific Ocean. On 20 August off Cape Hatteras I got a sonar contact and, after making a couple of runs and dropping two patterns of depth charges with no results, I returned to the convoy. The next day, we were diverted to Charleston, South Carolina, to dodge a hurricane and then departed on 22 August arriving at the Canal Zone on 27 August.

On 28 August, we departed Colon and passed through the Panama Canal which, in itself, is an adventure particularly when you meet a tanker going through the Cut - I could have touched the ship as we passed!! We docked in Balboa and remained overnight and here is where I had some difficulties personnel-wise. My first problem was with a fireman named Bernard Schmidt who had been so seasick that he had to be removed from watch and placed on the "Binnacle List" so I had orders cut to transfer him to the Naval Hospital. Immediately after that Dr. Jaffe came to the cabin stating that he had been seasick to the point that he now had a hernia and would be unable to continue on the ship. When I stated that I had seen him in the wardroom pantry making sandwiches and drinking coffee, he became offensive. He told me "I did not start this war and I don't want to fight in it". I immediately called the Coxswain of the Watch, told him to help Dr. Jaffe pack and escort him to the pier. It was then I realized that I had no authority to throw anyone off the ship without orders so I went to see the Commodore, CAPT John Ryssy, and apprised of the circumstances. He sent for Dr. Jaffe, asked him whether he had told me that he did not want to fight any war and, when he answered in the affirmative, Captain Ryssy had orders cut for the Doctor to proceed to the Naval Hospital for a hernia operation and then to be returned to the US!!!! At least I was vindicated - but I had no doctor.

(In 1994, I was contacted by Bernard Schmidt and his son. It seems that Mr. Schmidt believed that doctors has experimented on him and, as a result, he was completely incapacitated for duty. I finally wrote a long dissertation refuting all the allegations based on my memory of the occasion and the ship's log. Mr. Schmidt wanted to be awarded some kind of medal for service in the Atlantic that he did not warrant.)

On 29 August, we sailed escorting only four ships - two were left in Panama due to some crew problems. The convoy now was routine and we had many drills to keep the crew sharp and ready for anything we may encounter. However, on Saturday, 2 September, we crossed the equator and had a major celebration. I was the only "Shellback" on the ship so I used my authority to appoint Ben Chiswell and the Chief Quartermaster as honorary "Shellbacks to carry out the celebrations. The entire crew had no hair!!! And we had a great time!

On 14 September, we pulled into Bora Bora, Society Islands for fuel and fresh food. Here again, we were the last ship to enter the very narrow harbor entrance and, of course, had no pilot but all things worked out well and we tied up to one of the transports. I had dinner in the wardroom of the transport and, on the Sandusky, we served coffee to all the U. S. sergeants - they almost depleted our supply!! On 15 September, we moved over to a pier and, unfortunately, two of the crew went ashore with a few native girls (liberty was not allowed). After some searching, they were found, brought back to the ship where I placed them in irons and confined them to the brig on bread and water. I then apologized to the Governor and to the American Consul. The next day, 17 September, we sailed and headed west.

I believe it was on the morning of 19 September when the starboard bridge wing lookout shouted that a round object was dead ahead. I was on the bridge and immediately recognized it as a mine, ordered left full rudder and hoped and prayed that our degaussing system was working properly and that we would miss it at a safe distance. We did but the convoy commodore ordered the Sandusky back into position and, when I apprised him of the mine and requested permission to go back and explode it by gunfire, it was summarily refused. I just hope no other ship was sunk because of it.

On 21 September we crossed the International Date Line and lost one day. A few days later the Charlottesville took our mail and two of the transports into the New Hebrides, I believe. The rest of us continued on toward New Guinea. On 28 September we picked up a submarine contact, went to General Quarters and dropped a 13-charge depth charge pattern, lost the contact abruptly but continued to search until dusk, at which time we resumed our station in the convoy escort. We thought it was strange that the contact disappeared so very fast - I'm not sure whether it was a sub but it sure was a good contact. On 30 September we arrive in Hollandia, New Guinea, and tied up to a repair ship for some necessary voyage repairs and then was assigned an anchorage. I sent Frank Gibbons ashore to find some small stores clothes for the crew and possibly some khakis for the officers. He had no luck but came back with a load of jungle greens - pants and shirts - which were great for everyone. As time went on, we all gravitated to jungle green uniforms when underway - and they washed well in salt water!!

On 14 October we weighed anchor and headed for Moratai arriving there on 15 October. We got little rest and immediately went off Halmahera which is just south of Moratai and was "home" for about some 60,000 Japanese. It was reported that a submarine is still in the inner harbor and we were ordered to keep it trapped and, if possible, sink it. There was plenty of action from our aircraft on Moratai and we assisted the crews of some US PT boats who did sporadic raiding along the shore. On 20 October, we got an excellent contact with our sonar; fired our hedgehogs (Right: firing a hedgehog ASW mortar aboard USCGC Westwind in 1944) but no results. Sonar indicated that the contact headed for the reefs of the inner harbor. We patrolled the area for two hours with no further contacts we were relieved and refueled in Moratai. From 23 to 30October, we continued our ping and, one day, we received a blinker message from shore (in English) that we were a little late for our turn. Since we had a bearing on the light, I requested permission to fire a few 3-inch rounds to teach them manners but, unfortunately, it was refused.

In Moratai for fuel, we were tied up in tandem to a tanker with the Sandusky alongside the tanker with the Machias outboard of us. After fueling, I contacted CDR Alexander and suggested we unmoor and anchor elsewhere in the harbor. (I had been in Casa Blanca on the Duane under similar circumstances and we had to depart in a great hurry). CDR Alexander refused even though the tanker had ammo and gasoline as additional cargo!! I was so concerned that I ordered steam to be kept on both boilers and that we be ready to get underway at a moment's notice. This proved prudent because, just before dawn, Japanese Zeros came across our stern to bomb the airstrip. Three were hit and we claimed one. Gunner's Mate Don Gray had the ready gun and I am sure his prompt action and the 40-mm did the trick. I immediately called CDR Alexander and told him I was ready to depart. He said he did not have steam up so I said we were ready to go and I would take him with me -- which we did.

We proceeded to an anchorage, I let him anchor and then we went to anchor a short distance away. The Allentown and the Sandusky were ordered to proceed to a location north of Moratai to search for a submarine reported in that area. Shortly after arriving on station, the pharmacist mate informed me that we had a seaman with appendicitis. We, of course, had no doctor so I asked Allentown to lend me her doctor. We executed a difficult transfer at sea and, with the assistance of Lieutenant Jim Houlihan and all the pharmacist mates, the appendix was removed and the doctor returned to his ship. Three days later, the patient was on deck ready to assume his duties!!!! This was a particularly difficult undertaking in that we had to secure all vents to the sick bay and sail a course that would keep the ship steady. I believe Jim Houlihan's main job was to wipe the brow of the doctor. We stayed at General Quarters during the entire operation!!

On 3 November, we received orders to proceed independently to Palau and the next day arrived in Babelthaup and, after fueling, we received orders to escort a seaplane tender to Leyte Gulf, Philippines Islands. We departed on 5 November and arrived in Leyte Gulf on the 7th with no contacts or aircraft sightings. However, en route, we discovered that we had no charts of the Philippine Islands; so, as we approached the Gulf, I messaged our charge, "We have no charts, please point us in the general direction of the anchorage and we will get you in safely." All went well and we were ordered to anchor off the Tulosa airstrip and act as plane guard and anti-aircraft protection. It was not a cushy job - no sleep due to eight or more air raids so we stayed at General Quarters stations for the entire night and fired our three inch AA's and our 40 mm at every passing aircraft. An amazing amount of flack hit the deck and yet no one was injured - but I received a dent in my helmet and I had ringing in my ears for a few days.

On 8 November all commanding officers were called to the flag ship, USS Mount Olympus (AGC-8), for a conference with Vice Admiral D. E. Barbey, USN. We were informed that a Japanese fleet was coming through the San Bernadino Straits heading for Leyte and that, if the fleet were able to enter, we would lose all that we had gained. He stated that he would leave strategy to us and when he gave the command to sail, the escorts would get underway and engage the fleet to the best of their ability. It was not a pleasant prospect. Back on the Sandusky, I gathered the officers in the wardroom and stated our plan of attack was to be as follows -- we would be at general quarters immediately after getting underway; we would proceed at full speed and, upon detecting the fleet on radar, we would zig-zag. As we approached, we would fire any guns that were in range aiming at the decks and bridge. If we survived, I would pick out one ship, run as close as possible and drop depth charges set at 50 feet with the machine guns concentrating on the bridge. As we reached the stern, K-gun personnel would try to put the depth charges as close to the screws and rudder as possible. If we survived that, we would pick out another target of opportunity. I asked if anyone had any other or better suggestions but no one responded except LT Houlihan who said, "I guess it is OK if we call them nasty names as we go by." I said it would relieve the tension and I would join in. We shook hands and the officers departed to inform the crew.

During the night, we were notified that some baby carriers had been sunk and their aircraft would be landing at the airstrip. We were ordered to turn on our masthead lights and I turned on a couple of searchlight to illuminate the airstrip a little. They came in, one after another, in various stages of damage. We could see men on the airstrip run to those who landed, pull the pilot from the aircraft, and move the plane to one side. If it were damaged, they bull-dozed it into the water. It seemed like hours, but it only lasted one hour and we received the "all clear." Later on we were informed that the Japanese fleet had turned around and that combat services were not required !!! You can well imagine the sighs of relief - coupled with the realization that we would live to fight again - morale was at a new high! Nevertheless, it was a sleepless night because of the number of air raids so the crew slept at their battle stations - I just sat in my chair on the bridge and kept my eyes on the incoming aircraft. Remarkably, again we had no one hit by the tremendous amount of flack hitting the ship.

On 9 November 1944, we departed with a convoy for Hollandia. A fair number were Navy ships that had received battle damage. From the condition of the ships, it was apparent that kamakazi attacks were vicious. The trip was uneventful and we arrived on 16 November and received some greatly anticipated mail. On 19 November we were ordered back to Leyte via Moratai to pick up mail - it wasn't there. However upon arriving at Leyte on 23 November, eighteen bags of mail came aboard - it was well received by the crew!!

For the next six days, we were the plane guard off the airstrip and endured 53 air raids; several Japanese aircraft were downed and a few ships were bombed. On the bridge, the lookouts would yell "aircraft starboard (port)" and we would pass the word "action starboard (port)" and the batteries would open up. Shell casings got so abundant in the gun tubs that Damage Control had to send men on deck to dump them overboard. On 29 November we were ordered to fuel and take on ammunition from a tanker and to depart as soon as possible for the entrance to the gulf for "ping patrol." I was handling the ship and had just reduced speed to one-third when the propellers hit some obstruction. We moored to the tanker and LT Houlihan went over the side to inspect the props. He found that we had slightly hit what appeared to be a "rhino ferry" which had been sunk the night before. Two blades of each propeller were bent about three inches. After fueling and stowing our ammunition, I tested the ship at various speeds and all appeared satisfactory. I made a report to the Commander, Philippine Sea Frontier, who stated that "such are the exigencies of war" and to "forget it."

During our ping patrol and while on the bridge looking toward the islands, I noticed an aircraft flying low over the land and that a destroyer on the inner ping patrol was approaching the island. I immediately picked up the TBS, called him and warned him of a bogie approaching over land. He acknowledged but, unfortunately, almost immediately the aircraft dived into the No. 1 gun resulting in a terrific explosion - it was a devastating sight. The CO survived and sent his thanks for the warning - I was extremely upset and I apologized for the lateness of my warning but he did say it helped.

On 3 December, our Division 33, escorted another convoy to Hollandia and arrived back in Leyte on 18 December after transporting 24 Navy communications personnel and 400 bags of mail for the Army. On my birthday, 20 December, we took on board 29 Navy enlisted men and one officer from and LST which had been damaged in the Mindoro invasion. The CO was detained in Leyte pending investigation surrounding the circumstances of the actions of the crew during and after the engagement. I informed the officer that he was responsible for his crew and that he should be sure they obeyed the orders of all those senior to them while on the ship and that they would comply with my ship's organization. They were to stay below decks during General Quarters and remain on the mess deck. Within the convoy was a Navy Fletcher class destroyer that had been hit by two kamikazes. The damage was astounding and, amazingly, the commanding officer has survived but most of the officers and many men had been killed. The ship had the appearance of a flush decker destroyer from the bridge aft yet the survivors were determined to get the ship back to the states!!

The trip to Hollandia was uneventful except for one incident with the LST survivors. During one Saturday morning inspection, Lieutenant Chiswell and I with the inspection party approached No. 1 gun tub and found members of the LST crew gambling. When "attention" was ordered by the Chief Yeoman, one of the members stated that they were "Navy" and were not subject to Coast Guard orders. I placed them on report and ordered them to the mess deck- they complied - and I them sent for the LST officer. We had quite a discussion about military discipline and justice and the fighting of wars in general resulting in a report being written covering the circumstances which would be transmitted to the Navy Command. I could not help comparing the attitude of this group of Navy men with those of the Navy destroyer mentioned earlier.

We arrived in Hollandia on 26 December after observing Christmas crossing the equator for the seventh time!! The canned turkey was a pretty good substitute for the real stuff and all the Sandusky officers had their picture taken in whites!!! We took on fuel and supplies and departed with a 52 ship convoy consisting of LST's, transports, freighters - a future invasion force. We were joined by another 34 ships near Moratai making a total of 86. We arrived in Leyte on 7 January 1945 without incident. We sailed again for Hollandia with a small group of ships but the Sandusky was detached on 13 January to pick up 16 ships out of Palau and take them to Leyte.

From 13 January to 22 February 1945, we escorted four convoys to and from Hollandia and various islands. There were few or no air attacks and only a few sonar contacts making it evident that the Philippine invasion was approaching termination. But on 25 February, the division was ordered to Mindoro and then on 27 February we sailed for Subic Bay arriving there on 28 February and dropping off our small convoy. We departed Subic that evening and sailed to Lingayan Gulf where we were immediately assigned ping patrol at the entrance.

We had that patrol from 1 March until 3 March. It was on 2 March when I had a rather disturbing incident. The patrol consisted of four ships, two on each half of the entrance and the patrol was organized so that the entire entrance was covered by sonar at all times. We were approaching the shore when we were informed an air raid was eminent and we went to General Quarters. I was just getting ready to make the turn when I felt a slight prick on my back. I turned around quickly and found one of the firemen had a knife sticking in my lifejacket. It had cut the jacket from back to front and, as I faced him, he yelled that he was going to kill me because I was always ringing the General Alarm. I backed up to the bridge spray shield with the knife on my lifejacket and told my talker, Quartermaster 2/c Donald Wilber, to notify damage control of the situation. I also told him to apprise CIC to be ready to take the conn. In a very few moments Lieutenant Houlihan crept up the ladder to the bridge, nodded to me, raised his arms and brought them down over the deranged man. I backed up and grabbed the knife. The Doctor appeared and gave the poor man a shot and he was transferred to the sick bay. I gained control of the ship and we made our turn on time. Jim Houlihan saved me from probably severe injury and, for that, I am forever grateful. We transferred the fireman to the hospital ship USS Charity the next day. I do not know the man's name but I certainly hope he recovered.

On 3 March, after transferring our deranged man, Division 33 assembled with a 19-ship convoy with a dramatic departure fighting off four air attacks. On 7 March we arrived in Leyte Gulf and, after fueling, we received orders to sail to Seattle, Washington, departing on 9 March 1945 for Ulithi. We arrived on 12 March, fueled and sailed at 1800 for Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands where we stayed for three days while a convoy was being assembled. The Division 33 departed on 21 March with a fast convoy (20 knots) for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, crossing the International Date Line on 24 March.

We spent a couple of days in Oahu and I had the honor of meeting Admiral Nimitz for a very short period. All commanding officers made a call on the Admiral - I was ushered in to his office by his aide who introduced me. We shook hands and he said, "Thank you, Captain, for coming here today and congratulations - you lived through it!!" He knew that the war was just about over.

We sailed for Seattle, Washington, on 27 March, and upon arrival, off loaded our ammunition at U. S. Navy Ammunition Station, Bangor, and then tied up at a repair yard in Seattle. This was the end of World War II for me - a month or two later I was transferred to the Reserve Officers School at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. Lieutenant Ben Chiswell took command and sailed for Cold Bay, Alaska, where he turned the ship over to the Soviet Navy.

Note: by Vice Admiral Thomas R. Sargent, III, USCG


Comments

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Re: World War II Frigate
by Anonymous
on Sep 19, 2006

Very interesting > Never knew the U S Navy had any frigates in World War II . A rousing good sea story >

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