My Navy 1934-1945
It was July 1934. I was 17 years old. I had completed one year of high school, and 2 years of technical School (to learn the printing trade.) It was the middle of the Great Depression! It was a very bad time for the world! The only job I could get was as a delivery boy for a chain store at $4.00 per week, and pert time apprentice in a printing shop at $1.50 per week.
Grown, trained men, couldn't get work…men were standing on the street corners selling apples for 5 cents each. The CCC (civil conservation corp) set up by the government to help grown men with families, were paying them $1.00 per day, plus food and keep, and sending them away into a tent environment, living away from their families, clearing roads and trails, just to give them food and $1.00 a day to send home to their families.
The WPA, a make work effort by the local governments, to make those needy, work for their few dollars, took grown males, and paid them about $14.00 per week, to help them survive! It was a tough time!
There were no entitlements, food stamps, medic-aid or aids to dependant children. If you didn't have anything to eat, to wear or to clothe your family, you just did without! There were no entitlements, no hand outs, no free-bies, if you could find a soup kitchen, and it wasn't out of food, you might get a bowl of soup and a piece of bread for yourself..not to take home.
Under these dire conditions, being only 17, with a fair education…(college was only for rich kids then) it was impossible for me to get a job when competing against older, stronger more educated un-employed males who had held serious, responsible positions in previous years before the depression.
It then was my decision to join the navy!
In July of 1934, I approached the Navy Recruiting Station in New Haven, Connecticut to enlist. I was told, that there were no enlistment quotas open at that time, but to keep trying.
My father with a large family to feed and house, had been discharged from his position as a vice president of a large corporation, decided to work on my behalf (and of course to eliminate another mouth to feed).
He approached one of the Senators from Connecticut in the national Congress, to see what he could do to assist me in enlisting in the navy.
In October of 1934, through direct political pressure from Senator Mahoney, I was given enlistment into the US Navy.
Only 54 men from the State of Connecticut were to be accepted during the whole month of October 1934. I was one of them! It was like getting an appointment into one of the military academies.
On Nov. 6, 1934, I was sworn in as an Apprentice Seaman into the US Navy. My total pay for this lowest rating in the service was $21.00 per month. President F.D. Roosevelt, in an economy move, mandated that all government employees, ( and we were considered as such then) were to take a 10% pay cut… therefore, my pay was reduced to $18.90 per month. The navy was then on a plan that every member of the nay, pay into a hospital fund the sum of 20 cents per month, making my net pay $18.70 per month.
They enlisted me into what was then known as a "kids cruise". That meant, that anyone who was over 17, but not yet 18, had to be discharged before his 21st birthday, making my discharge date to be… (7-28-38) also called minority years.
I was immediately shipped to Norfolk, Virginia, to the then only training station open in the US.
A copy of "The Training Station News" from Norfolk dated October 27th, 1934 is enclosed with this article. I have subsequent months copies for anyone to see, if they so desire.
My first assignment in the navy was to be in the deck force of the battleship USS West Virginia…BB48 the newest battleship afloat at that time. Later sunk at Pearl Harbor, but to rise again and fight in the Pacific.
It was commanded then by Captain R. C. Dillen, with the executive officer being Commander Shafroth (nick-named "King Kong").. It was a home for Vice Admiral Thomas T. Craven (called TURN TO CRAVEN), who was then Commander Battleships, Battle Force. The Wee Vee was his home. He was succeeded by Vice Admiral Leahy on July 13, 1935. Admiral Leahy was to become one of the foremost naval officers in WW2.. But we didn't know it then.
I became a seaman second class automatically after 4 months, and my pay was raised to $32.00 (less the pay cut). I was assigned to the 4th division of the deck force, and began to learn the ropes in being a good seaman. The first to learn, was to grab a swab or broom, whenever you saw the Bosun's mate appearing.
Second was to KYPIYP (keep your pe…in your pants.) There were no films, classes, health indoctrinations, to be aware of, that would scare you into being hygienic, just that those who didn't, got to eat at a special mess table, where everything ..pots 'n pans, dishes etc were marked with bands of red paint. And that those guys had to report to sick bay daily.
On the battleship USS West Virginia most of the crew slept in hammocks. They were slung from hooks in the overhead and in the morning were hitched up, and unslung to be put in the hammock netting, so the space could be used for daily workspace.
Note the ASBESTOS covered steam pipes… 6 inches from this sailors nose. Environmentalists would have a ball with this!
The deck force slung hammocks to sleep in. Some of the blank gang got to use folding cots. It was Spartan, but the chow was good. Some weekly menu enclosed. It cost .4832 cents a day at that time to feed each man. There were no facilities for the crew of any sort....the area you slung your hammock in, was also used as a living compartment where the mess tables were unslung from the overhead, and set up for chow. When meals were over, the tables were slung back onto the overhead, and the compartment was bare of everything except small 2 by 3 lockers. In these lockers you kept all your navy gear, clothing, and personal effects.
There were no chairs to sit in. You either sat on the deck, or on plain board planks set alongside the hammock netting, where your hammocks were stowed during the day. There were no mess halls, recreation halls or any place to go after midnight to 4 or a 4 to eight am watch was over. If you were a left arm rate ( a cook, baker, radioman, storekeeper etc.) you just found a corner on the third deck, away from all daily work areas, below the armor belt, took out your pea coat, and tried to stay warm & get some sleep.
If you were in the deck force, and had a night time watch, especially the 4 am to 8 am , you had your breakfast, and them turned to for another 8 hours, making a total of a 12 hour work day (for pennies an hour). Talk about sweatshop conditions!
There was a small library perhaps 30 X 30 feet for the whole crew. It was only open a few times a day, and only about 30 chairs were available for use for a crew then of over 1000, that during full complement would be more than 2300 enlisted men.
All water had to be made. This meant that fresh water was not available to the crew except during special hours. Each gallon of water that was made by the evaporation method, took fuel oil that had to be carried. All the navy ships were under constant watch for economy and the "E" effort. Fresh water (other than sea water) was available for showers and clothes washing only after 4 o'clock in the afternoon. There were only two areas for the total crew to shower and wash clothes in…one for the deck force..and on e for the black gang. You took your bucket into a common shower area, took your bath, and washed your clothes at the same time.
Every so often, the word was passed, for all hands to scrub their hammocks and air bedding. This of course was done mostly at sea, for to see hundreds of men, with their canvas hammocks lying on the deck and being scrubbed with salt water soap, and bedding hanging on the life lines, was not very seaman like. But it had to be done., but only at sea. The ships laundry was only for Officers and Chiefs.
Incidentally, upon enlistment, you were issued a full sea-bag of uniforms. After that, mot of your uniforms had to be purchased from ships small stores, and deducted from your meager pay.
The only time this varied, was if you made Chief, you were given $100 to buy all your chief's new gear. Chiefs incidentally, were the backbone of the navy. In most cases they had their own quarters. They had their own mess and bunks. The chiefs and warrant officers were the last link between the hierarchy of officers and enlisted men. There was no socializing, fraternizing or individual contact between the crew and officers except while on watch, or through the chiefs and warrant officers. It was highly tiered society. Bias and social consciousness held the two stratas from each other. This of course was not true on a small ship where individualism and fraternization was almost mandatory. Sometimes, you didn't even know who your division officer was. But, you sure knew who your chief was!
Everyone aboard ship has their battle-station when General Quarters sounds. You race to it, and secure everything behind you as you go to preserve water tight integrity. The first battle station assigned to me while on deck force was as powder handler on the lower powder handling room, for the #4 16" turret. It was tough! At the lowest level of the ship, where all the bags of powder were stored for the big guns, was as far below deck as you could get. If anything happened top-side you were a gonner.
I later was given the lookout position on the top of the forward cage mast. That was much better, in war-time you would be one of the first things the enemy would shoot at. You had to be very young, for it was a long way up to the top of the mast to man this position, that's why only chose young sailors like I was then.
Eventually, after becoming a radioman, I was given the emergency radio transmitter room on the third deck as my battle station. I also was one the their top radio direction operators.
Again, this was depression, the ships complement was way below what it should be, so everyone really had to turn to all day long. But, I didn't want to stay in the deck force.
I made it a point to become a mess cook. On battlewagons, each 20 men, were assigned a mess cook, he was to set up their tables, keep their gear clean, and gather the food from the galley, and carry it to his area where the mess table was set up, and make sure his 20 men get their fair share of food cooked that day. A good mess cook got more than his fair share, besides furnishings at his own expense, things like; catsup, mustard and condiments for his group. He purchased these ashore, for the navy didn't furnish them, except if the menu called for them. The mess cook was remunerated each pay day by his mess by them passing a bowl into which each of them contributed a small amount of money.
To those mess cooks who were disposed to be extra supportive of their group of men, it meant as much as $20 more a month. Which was probably half again as much as his pay. I stayed on the mess cook assignment as long as I could (almost 5 moths) so that I could get extra money and the extra time off that was given to mess cooks. During this time off, I used to slip into the radio practice room, aft of the forward mast, where radiomen would go to practice their code, on in board oscillators.
I made friends with some of them, and they began showing me the morse code, how to understand it, and how to transcribe it. I went into this practice area as often as I could off mess cook time. I studied and practiced for months. In the meantime, I had written home about it, as just a matter of interest.
One Saturday morning, over the ships address system, came the booming voice of the Chief Master at Arms…"Pfannkuch, seaman second class, 4th division, report to the Captains Mast immediately." This was scarey! No one went to the Captains Mast unless they had been AWOL, AOL, insubordinate, on report or just in plain trouble.
I doubled up to the Captain's office where he was holding mast. When it came may turn to face the Captain, (who was Captain Dillen), he said, "Seaman Pfannkuch, I understand you have been using the radio practice room in you spare time!" "Yes Sir", I replied, wondering how he knew..? Seeing the wonderment in my eyes, he went on to say, "I have a letter from your father, he told me of your desires to become a radiomen, is this true? I of course replied "Yes Sir!" Then he turned to the Master at Arms..said "Transfer Pfannkuch immediately to the CR division, and designate him as a radio striker." With this, I graciously retreated, to begin a new career.
After almost a whole year more, while doing my apprenticeship in the radio shack (in charge of the coffee and cleaning up cups plus making up message blanks) and of course sitting watch as a novice radioman, I became proficient to now try for Radio Third Class. Having already passed my A to N's and becoming seaman first class.
But, for some time there were little if any advancement in rates in allowances for any rates. It was still a severe depression, and the navy was a part of it.
Finally, I did get an opportunity to take an exam for this rating, and passed. My rate pay was now $60.00 per month (less the 10% pay cut), and I now was a petty officer third class.
After 3 years of the West Virginia, we spent most of out time underway for the Japanese were rattling their sabers about the lack of pig iron being allowed to them. In order to allay any thoughts that the US was going to be coerced into quiet acquiescence, the battleships battleforce were constantly on the move closer and closer to Japan.
1938 -- This was the writer, then a third class radioman. This was taken in the surrounding areas of the Naval Radio Station at Balboa, C.Z. Note no uniform, as civilian clothes were worn on this duty. Look ferocious?
We made many trips to Pearl Harbor, where it took all day to warp the ship 180 degrees to get back out of Pearl. We cruised to the Philippines, Guam, Easter Island, the Aleutian Islands and even off the coast of Russia, near the Aleutian Islands.
This was all to show our readiness for most anything! Little did we dream of Pearl Harbor. We had no radar then, all observation was done visually or radio interception.
One day while on watch, a message came through requesting volunteers for the 15th Naval District. This was Panama, the Canal Zone. I had experienced some great travels and ports on the Wee Vee, and was now ready to try something new. I was transferred to Balboa Naval Radio Station, in Panama, to start my duty there. I had to extend my enlistment by 2 years in order to go there, as previously noted, they would have tp pay me off before my 21st birthday, begin on a “kids cruise”. And the minimum 2 years duty at Panama, would over-ride this date. Thus, my extension became duly noted, and I was transferred there.
It was to be a great experience! Both as a tour of duty and eventual knowledge gain, for the Balboa Naval Radio Station equipment was under the command of an officer Commander ARPS.USN He was probably the most learned radio man, bar non in the US. He was a martinet, he was strong, deliberate and determined and what any navy man would call a 4.0 man.
He devised the radio engineering school in Washington D.C., where any radioman first class, opting to become a Chief Radioman, had to attend school, and pass extremely rigid requirements. It was probably the toughest schooling anyone could imagine. When you came out of that school, you automatically became a Chief Radioman, and became know as an ATM (Arps Trained Man). It was scarey to think, that you had to be that knowledgeable to become a Chief Radioman. But, then again, it usually took almost 20 years to make any Chief rating. After almost a year at Balboa, I took the exam for Radioman 2nd class, and luckily there were some vacancies available, and I became a Radioman 2nd class. My pay was now $72.00 per month (less pay cut).
When the United States took over the operation of the Panama Canal, they had to assure the Panamanian Government, that there would be no commercial enterprises whatsoever that might compete with Panamanian citizens. Thus, was created what was called the U.S. Canal Zone. It was operated by the U.S. Government, it was composed of Army forts, naval operations, such as Coco Solo base and air port and all logistical support for these enterprises, plus operating the Panama Canal itself. Plus the facilities to house and supply thousands of people.
Roads, houses, camps, post exchanges, commissaries, gas stations etc. that you would find in any area in the states, had to be furnished in this canal zone area. The railroad that ran across the isthmus was The Panamanian Railroad run by the US government.
They had two ships called the Ancon and Cristobal that operated between the states and Panama, that brought supplies and transported the thousands of US citizens that operate the Panama Canal, and still do today.
The reason that this is being related, is to continue my navy career story. While at the 15th Naval District, the navy also operated a radio station at Gatun, on the Atlantic side for commercial ships.
All commercial ships needed supplies, clearances, repairs, etc.., and so each major port in the world had what are called Port Captains. Any ship arriving or departing anywhere in the world, requires clearance for his entering and departing by the Port Captain. He, the Port Captain, arranges through agents, all the needs for these commercial ships (this is done in the navy by the naval districts).
Because of the restriction that NO commercial enterprises be allowed in the Canal Zone, the navy had to offer a means to communicate with these commercial ships in a manner that was familiar to them. Although they used the Morse code to send and receive messages, they used a procedure that was totally different than the navel procedure. So, it became necessary to fit out a radio station in the Canal Zone, similar to those used by commercial ships around the world and equip it with trained personnel capable of this special type of communication.
This was done at Gatun, C.Z. and a special corp of commercially trained radio operators were used to staff and operate it. I was one of the group of about 20 men chosen as cadre of specialists. This knowledge and experience was to later express itself in my tour of service during WW2.
I stayed at Gatun Naval Radio Station until I was transferred In 1939. I was still a second class petty officer, as there were no ratings open for advancement. We were housed in a small building with sleeping quarters. Because we were out in the jungle we had no naval help to depend on, so we were allocated $1.00 per day for food, it’s preparation, and housekeeping civilian personnel.
$20.00 per day for 20 men, plus additional 10 men used for assignments attached to out facilities gave us over $30.00 per day accumulated. We purchased all our food at the local government commissary. We employed 2 San Blas Indians from the interior. They were the house boys who cleaned the house and cooked for us under the direction of a navy cook.
We also had 3 Jamacian women, who did all the laundry for us. It was a good life! Even though we only received $1.00 per day for all this, there was never the month that we spent all the accumulated allowances given, and so each man would get most months 5 to 10 dollars back. This helped for although being a second class petty officer and receiving an extra 10% fogey pay, my total was only $79.00 per month.
This was a large amount of money then. I used to send some money home to my girl friend Marie, to put away for our hopeful future marriage. And I was able to help some of my relatives with small gifts of money. Some still couldn’t get full time work in the states, and it was now 1940.
Despite all the newfangled laws being put into effect by FDR, it wasn’t really until World War 2 started, that men were able once again to have the luxury of a full time job.
The radio work at NAX the call sign of Radio Gatun (our navy station) was extremely interesting. We would work all the commercial ships coming in, near or though the Panama Canal. Sometimes, if they had radio gear trouble and couldn’t fix it, one of our group would board the ship ( I remember doing this on the largest ship ever to transit the canal at that time the BREMEN) and ride the ship thru Lake Gatun, Culebra Cut and all the locks to reach the Pacific side. Working on the radio gear, hoping to help them fix it by the time it took to get to the Pacific side. Most times we were able to do this. It was just a courtesy.
It was an unusual life while it lasted, but my tour of 2 years of shore duty, (it was then 4 years of sea duty-followed by 2 years of shore duty..hopefully) ended, and I was ordered back to battleships battleforce to the USS Idaho.
It was late 1939. It was still the depression. Ships complements was till under staffed. Advancements in ratings were almost non existent. On order to take an exam for an advancement, there had to be an allocation by the Naval Department that a number would be available. There were no radio rates advancements for months in the whole battleships groups. So, I was still a Radioman 2nd class. When I reported aboard the Idaho, I was the senior radio operator in the receiving room among the whole radio complement.
In September of 1939, a guy named Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland with his blitzkrieg. Over ran it in a very short time, and World War 2 started. Great Britain, in living up to her prior agreements with friendly nations on the continent, became the leading opposition to Germany and their forces. And World War 2 engulfed all Europe.
In order to help Great Britain, who also was in the throes of the depression, that was world wide, the United States became the leading supplier to her and her allies. It would take thousands of ship and hundreds of convoys, to transport all this material across the wide Atlantic to have an effect on the war.
German submarines, had been a-building for years. They now had a large amount of seagoing subs, that began to wreak havoc on war goods shipments being sent to Europe.
As I previously stated, after I returned, ( the Idaho was now back on station at Long Beach, California) the call came through for volunteers to retrofit theses old 4 stackers.
I was immediately accepted as a volunteer, and was assigned to the staff of the new Commodore of Comdesron 41. His permanent flagship was to be the #199..USS Dallas. One of the scores of such ships recommissioned, and having living conditions such as mentioned previously.
We were eventually to be moved almost weekly by the Commodore (who like to be on port on weekends). As the Dallas took her turn going out to sea on weekends, the Commodore, would shift hid flag, to an in port scheduled destroyer. We moved on occasions to the USS Breckenridge, The USS Barney, and The USS Babbitt.
It was in the Philadelphia navy yard where she was in moth balls, that we began to retrofit her. It was a tough job! We had to clean up all the moth-balling and then try to get her sea-worthy. She was an old timer. The torpedo tubes, I don't think ever worked. They just looked formidable. She had some small deck mounted guns mounted forward, a few stanchions for 50 calibers, and 2 depth charge drop racks aft. 20mm's or 40 mm's just had not been put aboard any ships yet. It was woe-fully under-armed! I think she just looked dangerous, not really having much aggressive fire power.
The engines ran under forced draft. That meant that all the engines operated in an atmosphere that was under pressure, which kept the fire of the boilers inside the engines because of back pressure by the controlled atmosphere.
In order to get into the engine rooms, one had to enter an air lock, that didn't allow the engine room to lose pressure as someone entered, or it could have been dangerous for the black gang..The radios were so antiquated, that we operated them on wet cell batteries. We had no motor generators that generated electricity for the radio shack. Just generators, that re-charged the batteries.
But, it was the beginning of war-time. We had not prepared for was with proper equipment because of the depression. We just made do with what we had. We were woefully unprepared in men, materials, technology and efficient production facilities for any war effort.
These 50 or so 4 stackers, supplied a visual effect to Germany plus the gathering of our of out fleet in preparing for any eventuality, that we were serious!
President Roosevelt, began fireside chats, telling the nation (and Germany) that it was an all out effort now, to up-grade our factories, produce munitions and equipment for the Allies now fighting alone in Europe. And so the great war effort began.
The navy made itself present all over the waters surrounding the United States. The 4 stacker destroyers began venturing out further and further into the North Atlantic. They began relieving British warships escorting convoys into the US and began escorting them further towards the European continent. This allowed British warships to be more useful in combating the German navy, and yet giving a measure of protection to the hundreds of ships now traversing the shipping lanes to the US.
Each week, a part of Destroyer Squadron 41, would patrol the waters up and down the east coast of the United States. Another portion of the squadron would either be taking out convoys to where the British would pick them up or would be returning with convoys coming into the US.
It was a busy time. Dangerous, poor living conditions, total un-preparedness was the order of the day. Destroyers at best are difficult types of ships to live on. They rolled terribly in heavy seas. Some days, food was merely soup, sandwiches and milk or coffee. It was impossible to prepare much else in the rolling seas. Destoyers had inclinometers that showed the degree of the roll of the ship..some days we would fear we would over-turn due to the heavy rolling seas in the North Atlantic.
We would eat sometimes standing up, holding onto a stanchion with one arm wrapped around it to try to drink soup or eat a sandwich. We stood watch in the radio room, with our radio positions and chairs bolted to the steel deck, with a waste paper basket held between our knees, for the eventual up-chucking. Water dripped from everywhere there was heat on the interior and freezing cold on the exterior in the atmosphere. It was difficult to find a dry place to sleep. But this was the navy then. There were no social services watching out for us. We were GI's..to be used and reissued. All for pennies a day. But, it was our country..our nation..and our families we were doing this for.
Fortunately, for me..being on the flag of the Commodore, as mentioned previously, he liked to spend the week-ends ashore, and so his flagship came into port Friday nights and stayed there until Monday morning. Of course, most of the other tin cans of the squadron were out bird dogging during that time.
It was great for me though, for when he came into port..so did I. And when he went ashore..the flag (his personal group) also went ashore. And so, I traveled to Devon, CT. where my girlfriend Maire, and soon to be wife
I would hitch hike from Newport, Rhode Island to Connecticut each weekend..snow, sleet or rain. I would leave Connecticut late Sunday night, and hitch hike back up to Newport so I could make muster by 8 am Monday morning, when the Commodore would return.
This went on for some months. I managed to get 5 days leave in December of 1939, and Marie and I became married on the 30th of that month, thus it became imperative that I hitch a ride back to Connecticut. Editor's note..At the time of this writing of this narrative, we are and have been married almost 57 years.
President Roosevelt was upholding his promise to keep "ours buys out of this war". There was no emergency edict issued yet, and so on July 19th 1940, with my extended term over I left the navy!
I was discharged from the US Navy, as a Radioman second class, with a monthly pay of $72.20, this was base pay of $72.00 plus !0% longevity pay for 4 years for a total of $72.20. My total service for pay purposes were 5 years 8 months and 12 days.
I returned to civilian life, now married with a civilian pay of $15.00 per week. My new wife, Marie was employed at the General Electric Supply Corporation as a clerical worker at $17.00 per week. With a total income of $32.00 per week, we began the construction of a new home on a lot we had purchased with money I allotted to Marie during my navy service. Our civilian life continued with all the expected gifts and problems that most married couples have then.
On December 7t, 1941, Japan invaded Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt called it a "day that will live in infamy", and declared war on Japan and shortly thereafter on Germany, violating his promise that "never would he send our boys into this war" and thus began a new page in my days with the US Navy and Coast Guard.
It was Sunday afternoon December 7th, 1941. Marie and I were entertaining a couple of friends for a lazy Sunday dinner, in out newly built home. Suddenly, the music stopped..an announcer for the radio station broke in excitedly with the words, "The Japanese have attacked us a Pearl Harbor, Hawaii".
World War 2 had figuratively just started. Within a few days, President Franklin Roosevelt, at a joint session of Congress declared that "December The 7th 1941 would live in history as a day of infamy". He then declared war on Japan.
The draft had been initiated, and those young men who had not served their time in the service were the first to be called.
But, it was obvious, that all unmarried, young, healthy men would be called to serve very soon.
Knowing that with my 6 years experience in the navy, my status as a radioman that required much training would be in great demand, I presented myself to the navy for possible re-entry into its branch of the service.
The of course welcome me! In doing so they offered to re-enlist me with the rating of Radioman 1st class. One rating higher than with I had been discharged. I took my time to consider this offer.
I then proceeded to the US Coast Guard. I reviewed with them my service record, and discussed my future with them. They too, offered to enlist me with all longevity status of the previous 6 years in the navy, assign a rating of Radioman 1st class, and welcomed me.
They further suggested, that due to the experience I had gained with the Port Captain status in Panama while in the navy, they would assign me to the Port Captain in Bridgeport, Ct..my home town.
As previously mentioned..Port Captains are in large seaport cities, to assist commercial ships in all their requirements and movements. Bridgeport was a large sea-going port, in which many ships were loaded for Europe and the war effort. It needed a Port Captain and also coast guard vigilance.
On October 2nd, 1942, I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard as a RM1C, and was sent to Bridgeport, Ct, for duty.
There were many vital war effort factories in this area..Remington Arms..General Electric..Sikorsky Aircrafts etc. This also required protection from sabotage from the sea and fire protection.
On this basis the Coast Guard set up a large Port Captain office, manned a sea going fire boat, and began to take preventative measures to insure the integrity of the shore areas.
One of the most important at that time, was to set up a picket boat armada, with check points and radio contact stations up and down the coast. Bridgeport was assigned from the New York and Connecticut state line up to New Haven.
The easiest, quickest and most economical way to do this was to set up a radio shore station, outfit small boats with 2 way radios (those that were volunteering for this picket duty) setting parameters for reporting quadrants, and setting a procedure up to make this effective, and training personnel to man this new requirement.
I was the senior radioman assigned to this staff, and so with a few radiomen (3) and assigned seamen, I began this task.
It was a large undertaking, for it had to be done almost instantly. German submarines (we were now at war with them also) began patrolling outside the immediate United States shore line, and sinking most anything that came into its periscopes view.
The Germans began landing saboteurs on the Long Island cost (some were caught) and began infiltrating our was potential supplying sites.
As so began an early daylight until midnight effort to accomplish these four things: set up a procedure, outfit small boats, set up & outfit a base radio station and indoctrinate small boat owners how to function with radio gear we were installing in their boats.
We ( the radio crew) didn't stop. We proceeded with double time to accomplish all this. The Port Captain, a Lieutenant F.C. Paffard, recommended me for advancement to Chief Radioman at that time, due to the "professional" way this job was being done (Paffar's words).
We had just about finished all of these requirements, when I received orders to report to Coast Guard Training Station Curtis Bay, Md. To become part of crew "0001" USCG LST detachment! What was that? No one knew! The Port Captain on inquiry said he had never heard of such a vessel, nor did anyone else. I left this assignment at Bridgeport, with a silver loving cup signed by the radio crew and the Port Captain. Along with a recommendation, that I be advance to Chief Radioman again being entered in my record. Advancements were than going to sea going, hazardous duty people as it should, as so my advancement was delayed.
I reported to the Coast Guard at Curtis Bay, Maryland in February of 1943.
After some limited time aboard the LST 309 for amphibious training, we spent the next 3 weeks on Chesapeake Bay. On February 28th 1943 our crew designated crew #0001 of the Coast Guard LST's were given orders to report to the Navy Yard, Philadelphia, PA., for further transfer to our ship the LST 327, which was under construction there. The 327 was laid down on 12 November 1942, launched on 11 February 1943, sponsored by Miss Helen B. Higgins.
On March 5th, 1943 the USS LST 327 was put into commission in the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She was a bare bones vessel. It was designed as an expendable ship, to get troops on the beaches in the invasion of Europe and the Pacific. She was not intended to be of long life and so very little was relegated to the comfort of the crew.
The crew lived aft, directly over the screws. There were no built in communications systems through-out the ship, food was served by passing a chow line directly in front of the galley, and there was only one head for waste elimination, showering and washing clothes. There were no laundry facilities for the crew (officers had facilities tho' and a laundry officer and stewards to do their laundry and cook for them) this was before the color line had been broken in the navy. The only ratings then available for blacks, was as stewards mates to the officers. We had no other ratings that had blacks as a part of the make-up.
Having spent years in the navy, and knowing the problems with washing clothes, I took it upon myself to find a washing machine for the crew
I went all over Philadelphia looking for one, but the war effort had already limited an production, and so I was forced to but and old EASY copper tubbed washing machine, no controls, no cycles, and old fashioned wringers attached for partial drying of clothes.
I hired a taxi, drove from Germantown to the navy yard, with the washing machine sticking out of the trunk. How I got it into the navy yard, I don't recall, but I did.
Aboard the ship, this tired old thing washed clothes, when it worked ( and it had so much baling wire used on it to fix it), that it was still in operation when I left the ship after the Normandy invasion. Few crew members recall that I bought and paid for it, but it served its purposes.
Again, there were no facilities ( I spent the whole war without a dog tag or blood type). There were no spare parts for any of the equipment! In the radio shack, I had nothing to work with, no tools..soldering irons, side cutters, screw drivers..nothing. We were expendable.
Again, there was no public address system throughout this 330 foot long vessel! If you didn't have a sound powered phone hook-up, at battle stations or other areas, you just did without.
Although, later on, while tied up in Palermo Sicily, (due to a breakdown of one of our diesels and having little spare parts) I prevailed upon a small radio shop, to sell me odds and ends of radio tubes etc..and we built an amplifier, strung wires fore and aft, put microphones on the bridge, and hooked up a radio from the radio shack into the crew quarters so we could at least know how the daily attrition was going, and talk to the men on the bow of the ship with an amplified speaker from the bridge.
We were just expendable! Sick bay was very sparse, limited to cough medicines, sulfa and a few pain killers. Life boats, were the same small craft used for landing troops, so there wasn't much in the way of life-boat drill or considered use. There were no books, magazines, radios, movies, nothing for the crew..this was war time, and it was our job, just to go out, hit the beaches, and hope we could get off before we were blown off the beach (which we almost were at Anzio and Salerno).
There were no facilities for cigarettes, candy, soap, or anything personal. On the last night we were in port at the Brooklyn navy yard, leaving the next morning for a make up convoy to North Africa, I noticed this absence.
I approached the Captain of the 327, with this knowledge of the lack of any personal stores. He advised that there was no provisions in the manifest of the ship, and although he could understand the need, there was nothing he could do about it!
I requested permission (unofficially) to arrange for money to be gathered up, for me to go to the area in the navy yard where these items could be purchased for ships, and set up an area where these things could be available.
He advised he would just shut his eyes, and let it happen.
I immediately, went to all the crew members, told them of the problem, collected over $400 from them. Despite the fact, that my new wife Marie and my mother were sitting in the reception area of the navy yard, waiting to say good-bye perhaps forever, I proceeded to purchase dozens of cases of cigarettes (sea-stores forty cents a carton) later to be sold at fifty cents a carton to the crew. I bought small amount of tooth paste, soap, candy etc. brought it back to the ship, and stored it in a locked area in a munitions cage. All small profits were accumulated, and later expended on the crew.
But, the story I am trying to tell here, is that there was nothing available for the crew. Just a fighting ship (top flank speed 11 knots). All young 17 and 18 years old kids, very little experience. And little help to them.
No manuals, instructions, nothing. Of course the officers (they too, most of them 20 and 21 year oldsters), tried to teach what they knew, but that too, was little.
They had all been ranked out of civilian life as paint salesmen, lawyers, storekeepers, etc., and given the job of leaders. We were fortunate in that our Captain, a Lieutenant, and out Exec were both "Mustangs"..that is..rose up from the ranks to become officers, and so they were of great help in forming our crew.
Ahead of my story, but I remember when we arrived at Oran, North Africa, the war was still on, fighting had not completely ceased, when a red alert was sounded (enemy craft within 3 miles). A lonely French sea-plane, late in returning from reconnaissance, was attacked by our newly arrived task force of LST's (the first ever in Europe). We all started blasted at him with our 20 mm's and 40 mm's. He escaped harm, but only after all of us had exhausted all the ammunition we had prepared in the magazines, reloaded them, only to find later, that we were firing mostly tracers instead of live ammo.
Back to our chronology…On April 13, 1943, we departed New York with UGS convoy of 61 ships. 15 LST's included. We the LST's were the outer protective ring of the convoy we were going with. Our personnel aboard beside our crew, were 17 army doctors, 150 enlisted army personnel. The tank deck was loaded with 5500 drums each containing 55 gallons of high octane gasoline, and on LCT loaded on the main deck.
We were later to find out, that the large funnel exhaust fans used topside, to remove fumes from the tank deck, were open wound motors, that one little spark in the long journey ahead of us, would blow us all to kingdom come, including the 17 doctors.
We arrived in Hamilton Bermuda 5 days later! (Our speed was limited by the zig-zag maneuvers, and the LST and her 11 knots flank speed.)
On May 5th we arrived Arzew, Algeria, disembarked the army personnel and subsequently the 5500 drums of gasoline, with a great sigh of relief. Again, no fire extinguishing equipment, no facilities for fighting fires, 6 LCVP's for removing crew of 126 plus almost 150 army personnel. Again, we realized, that we were just like anything else then; we were GI…General Issue and could be re-requisitioned.
We trained at Bizerte, Tunisia for about 6 weeks, when on July 10th, 1943, as a member of the Yellow Task Force we invaded Licata, Sicily. Our landing group consisted of the 3rd Division Combat Engineers and mobile equipment. We were part of a 3200 ship armada during the invasion of Sicily. We landed at Jass Beach in Licata, under cover of support from the cruisers Brooklyn and Birmingham and numbers of destroyers. Between this date and August 20th, we made seven round trips between Licata and Bizerte, distance one way 220 miles.
On August 20th, 1943 we proceeded to Palermo, Sicily with army headquarters company. It became the forces base of operations. German Air Corps raids continued, but essentially Palermo was an Allied beachhead.
We continued bringing logistical support to Sicily, and continued training exercises for our next invasion, which was later to be known as Salerno, Italy. We were based much of this time in Lake Bizerte, where we were subjected to dozens of air raids each night form German planes.
Many ships were destroyed, but we were preparing for the invasion of Italy, and the Germans had knowledge of impending landings due to the large numbers of ships now arriving in North African ports.
On Sept. 7th, 1943 we departed Bizerte for Salerno, Italy, loaded with British troops and equipment. On Sept. 9th, we invaded Salerno, at Red Beach.
We were originally scheduled to land at another beach (Green), but things were very difficult and so we were shifted to Red Beach.
Salerno, gave us quite a bit of trouble from shore batteries, with some heavy enemy aircraft intervention. Salerno's invasion began of the 9th of September. Along with units from the 5th Army the 327 made the initial landings. We were a six davit ship, thus carrying an extra two LCVP's and so we were used often to bring in the Beachmasters.
The invasion of Salerno was a bitter and bloody battle. When the 327 landed on the beach, she encountered heavy shell fire from the German guns, forcing her and other ships to withdraw on orders. After several Allied air attacks on the shore guns, the 327 under her own guns, ran onto the beach, got all her troops ashore without damage or casualties. The fighting spirit of the LST 327 won her a commendation of performance of duty during the Salerno invasion.
Between this date and September 18th, we made 3 round trips between Salerno and Bizerte, a distance 420 miles each way.
After the Salerno invasion began, we started runs between Salerno and Tripoli, Tripolitania, No. Africa. This was to bring additional British troops and equipment and supplies. She brought a number of famous fighting units from Tripoli and landed them on Red Beach, just outside Salerno. Some of these units were The Desert Rats, the Seventh Armored Division, The Welsh Guards and the Coldstream Guards. We made 5 round trips, logging 550 miles each way, and taking us one week for a round trip of 1100 miles, bearing in mind again, out cruising speed was around 9 knots.
On October 26th, in a convoy en route to Tripoli, we were involved in a collision with a liberty ship…there wasn't much damage, but we lost about 17 feet of plates on the fantail. On October 27th, we were ordered to Palermo for repairs.
On November 10th, the repairs were completed at Palermo and we then proceeded to Bizerte. On November 14th en route to Palermo loaded with army kitchen equipment, two of our three generators became inoperative.
Despite all the efforts to fix the ship while at the Wharf in Palermo, Christmas came and went, and we still weren't able to become operative. Urgent calls were sent to the United States, to the manufacturer of the generators, for them to send us expert help and parts to effectuate this needed repair.
In the meantime, I began consulting with a Catholic Priest, Father Edward De Mars, an army chaplain. He was in charge of Catholic religious activities in this area, and saying mass each Sunday at the Cathedral in Palermo, where King Charlemagne is buried.
From November 15th, until Christmas Eve of 1943, I took instructions in the Catholic faith.
On the day before Christmas, Father De Mars and I both felt I was ready to receive our Lord as a Catholic, and so I received my conditional baptism and first confession that afternoon. In the evening, in the Opera House of Politeama Garibaldi, in Palermo I received my first communion as a Catholic, at a midnight mass attended by thousands of troops.
Palermo was still under continued air raids from the Germans in Italy only a few miles away, that the local Bishop refused to allow midnight mass at the Cathedral, rationalizing his feelings that should the Cathedral be a target of the Nazis during the mass, he would be responsible.
Father De Mars, determined, that if you were to die in this fashion, then it might be a blessing, hired the opera house, and proceeded with this magnificent sight. Thousands of men, receiving our Lord, in a Red Plush and Gilt surrounding, under extremely dangerous conditions.
Never again a sight to behold!
On January 22nd, 1944 on our third assault beach, we invaded Anzio, Italy. It was a tough fight! I had the use of radio receivers, and that evening I listened to news broadcasts within the United States, telling what an easy time we were having! What a laugh!
The beach head selected was a coastline area known at Nettuno Beach. Anzio was a little port city on the beach. The area selected was behind enemy lines, and so was to be an "end run" to try to cut enemy lines of communication and supplies. It was bad for us; we were unable to land in the British sector, so we proceeded to the American sector.
Dozens of air raids, many ships damaged or sunk. On one occasion we were ordered in to discharge our troops, but as we headed in another LST, also more anxious to get in and out then it appeared we were, managed to take position in front of us, and as it hit the beach, we were to have been, a German dive bomber, attacked it with bombs and seriously wounded it. So be it!
Our only cargo for these runs at Anzio were 2 1/2 ton Army trucks loaded with ammunition and barbed wire. We would take 50 trucks in at a time, wait for them to unload, and then load the 50 trucks back on again, for the beachhead was so crowded ( as our troops didn't advance for some days), that there was no room for them. Go back to Bangnoli (Naples) re-load the same truck, and return to Anzio.
We had many air raids, attacks by shore batteries, and look outs for E Boats. It was a tough time! We made five round trips between Anzio and Bagnoli (Naples) bringing logistical supplies and troops. Distance each way 85 miles.
February 10th, had us proceeding to Bizerte from Naples with the LCT 905 in tow. En Route a violent storm came up, we had to remove the crew from the LCT, as it had lost it's bow door creating a sea anchor.
This caused us to lose headway and now dead reckoning was lost. We cut the LCT loose and abandoned it, on Feb. 15th. We had lost our headway, and hence our dead reckoning, and so we were in the middle of the Mediterranean, with no knowledge of where we were, in the middle of a confined war zone. The Germans still had dozens of subs therein.
Malta was still a German stronghold of great force, right near where we though we were and E boats were all around us. We found shelter in the lee of some unknown island, and lay to until the storm abated, and we were able to identify (by troops) the island that helped us. It was Pantalleria, a small island right near Malta. You can be sure we got out of there in a hurry (flank speed 11 knots).
On February the 18th, we arrived in Bizerte taking eight days to make a three day trip.
I was still RM1C, but I had heard by mail from a friend of mine, on the Chiefs Radiomen from Radio Gatun, now stationed in Washington, D.C., that my name was now up front, being considered to be advanced to Chief, and that would soon be forthcoming.
On March 7th, we arrived back at Anzio and we were assigned to act as a "mother ship" to fuel and water SC's, PC's,and YMS's. Also repair LCT's. On our main deck were more than 200 depth charges each containing 300 pounds of TNT along with other munitions of hundred pound blocks of TNT.
We spent 10 days, lieing-to in this condition. Dozens of air raids and constant gun fire from the beach at Anzio's humbled us every hour of the day, for any small gun fire, could set off our supplies, and blow us to kingdom come. I recall one night, we were lieing to (motors running, no anchor dropped) when a lookout, screamed "Two rockets heading our way."
Without hesitation the OD ordered "Flank speed ahead (..11 knots). It was a reflex action, but of no avail should the rockets be heading in our direction. But, those days, "Any quick and intelligent action, was better than delay in search of the ideal".
The captain volunteered for 10 more days as mother ship…and so we spent this additional time, in much trepidation. There were so many Red Alerts, that the captain ordered no more Klaxon horn to be sounded for all hands to man battle station…he just sent messengers into crews quarters to quietly tell them to go to their combat areas.
On March the 27th, as a reward for this very long time as ammo ship, (no other ship had done this amount of exposure as a sitting duck)…we were given a 3 day holiday and proceeded to The Isle of Capri in Naples harbor for a rest that was very unusual to be given a fighting ship in combat conditions. But, our squadron commander felt, that it was the least he could do for such a worthy ship.
After Anzio we began preparing for another invasion, later we found it was to be Normandy. At Palermo during mid April, we removed our 3 inch gun and added a 40 mm in it's place, plus we added 4 more 20 mm on the main deck.
We loaded an LCT on our main deck by crane on May the third, and proceeded on our way to England with 30 vehicles on our tank deck, and with 7 officers and 150 enlisted men of the French Army aboard.
We dodged many submarines en route, but landed safely at Swansea, Whales, where a civilian pilot hit an underwater obstruction on our way into the harbor, and bent our screws requiring drydock repairs.
At a place on the Thanes, the 327 was attached to a British LST Squadron. She loaded British troops and heavy artillery in preparation for the Normandy invasion in June of 1944.
On June 7th, the 327 landed on Sword Beach, Normandy, France.
We worked the beach for 3 days, making an end run to pick up Lord Lovett, the famous British Commando General, who was now a stretcher case, along with 40 wounded commandoes. We then transported them, under fire, to a hospital ship via dukws.
On her second run to Normandy the 327collided with LST 534 who hit our stern, causing an eight foot gash. However, she unloaded her cargo, took German prisoners back to Britain and was repaired.
In the meantime, I received my advancement to CRM. Because there were no facilities to but any chief's uniforms, I borrowed a chief's cap from a Chief Electrician, and with my dungarees, was outfitted until the invasion was over.
At the end of June, approximately 35 of our original crew members, were rotated back to the United States for recreation and assignment. I was fortunate to have been one of this group after having made numerous supply trips back to Normandy. We were sent to Roseneath, Scotland to transfer to a troop ship for the return to the States.
Without any enemy interference, the SS Mauretania, now a troop ship, got us all safely back to our homes. Editors note…Many years later in peace time, my wife and I took a cruise to the Caribbean o the MS Italia…on a plaque in front of the wheel house where these word. "This ship was formerly the troop ship Mauretania during WW2."
The 327 meantime, continued to resupply the troops on the French cost. En route to Southampton cross channel to Cherbourg on August 27th, 1944 she was struck by a mine.
It was early in the morning, those of the crew, not at the underway station, were asleep in the crew's quarters…directly over the screws and over the ammunition supply area. It is thought she was exploded by an acoustical mine, that had it's highest noise level at this point and exploded.
21 enlisted men were killed. An additional 26 were seriously wounded..
In the log of the USS LST 346 (a rescuing vessel) is this notation:
2010 "muffled explosion heard off our starboard quarters, concussion felt aboard ship, assumed to be an exploding mine. Smoke seen rising from stern of LST 327. Visual message from LST 327 that she had struck a mine. This vessel swinging to port and proceeding to render assistance to LST 327. Port and starboard running boats lowered into the water with rescue parties. Nets rigged over side."
The log proceeds to describe rescue efforts that her boats, and other launched from the 327 were picking up survivors and that lines were being rigged to the 327 alongside now, and towing her to the Needles. Men in the water were being taken aboard. The 327 was temporarily repaired at Plymouth where she remained for 6 months, before sailing for Norfolk, Virginia. There on November 19th, 1945 the 327 was decommissioned.
The end of one of the fightingest LST's in the European Theatre.
The last of my navy & coast guard life with the end of WW2.
After 30 days leave, with the war still ongoing in both Europe and Japan, I was given an option where I might like to next serve. Because of my previous experience in Panama, and my outfitting of shore radio defenses all for commercial shipping, I requested duty at the "Leased radio station at Southampton, Long Island"
The Coast Guard officials at first were skeptical of my being assigned there, knowing it's unusual requirements. However, upon looking at my naval records at Panama, and my duty with the Port Captain in both Panama and Bridgeport, Ct., they agreed that I was well qualified, and so began my duty at Radio Station WSL.
At the beginning of WW2, when radio silence of a sort was imposed on all shipping, and no US Navy capabilities to communicate with thousands of commercial shipping were existing, the US Coast Guard, commandeered one of the largest commercial radio stations in the world. WSL were the call letters of Mackay Radio station way out on the end of Long Island. They were perhaps the loudest most heard station known world wide to all nations. On this basis, that the commercial ships needed strict control of all commercial shipping, then all the radio operators at WSL were inducted into the US Coast Guard as Chief Radiomen. The station was taken over on a lease basis, but now, the naval discipline along with the commercial method of communication were kept alive.
As previously mentioned, because of my former duty in Panama as a (USN) commercial operator, my knowledge of the manner in communicating, and also now as a Chief Radioman, I requested duty at this location.
WSL as stated before was one of the largest and strongest radio stations in the world for use by commercial shipping. It also was used as a radio contact with the Persian Gulf, which then was a large part of our oil requirements. This contact with the Persian Gulf, was a long and arduous monitoring accomplishment. For it was over 15 thousand miles (more or less) that thru heavy static and poor atmospheres, coded copy had to be copied each Midnight on. It was tough duty.
We further monitored 500 kilocyles known as the distress frequency. This frequency was the designated radio area where all ships had to monitor for every conceivable possibility…Impending sub attack, rescue other ships in distress, weather, obstructions and myriads of known and unknown occurrences. It was further used by ships that were being attacked by submarines, surface vessels, or any possible distress problems, for every nation…every language could be spoken with "Q" signals (the meaning known in any language). And that every hour at 15 minutes past the hour and 15 minutes before the hour…all ships had to remain silent on this frequency for 3 minutes. This was to give any ship in distress an opportunity to be heard over the usual din of signals transmitted over this frequency.
It was long wave, and the distance that ships could be heard (unless under unusual atmospherics) might be a thousand miles a top distance. But, any ship hearing it, in their area, would then re-transmit it until a shore station could render assistance, or a nearby ship could divert course for assistance.
It was very exciting (in fact the first time I took control of the 500 frequency, I was immediately the recipient of an SOS). All radio traffic is given a QRT (shut up everyone), and the hearing land station takes control and gets and gives whatever information to rescuing or proper parties as are required.
I spent the rest of the war doing this necessary work. As the war in Germany concluded, and the Japanese appeared to be a matter of time for it's surrender, Mackay Radio and the Coast Guard began making ready for an organized withdrawal of the Coast Guard, and the return to Mackay Radio.
All of the CRM that had been pressed into the service at the beginning of the war, were asked to return to work for Mackay. Mackay also asked me whether I would stay with them also after I was discharged.
It was a very tempting offer, in a lovely area, in work I really liked. But, my father needed me back in Connecticut to assist him, and so on October 20th, 1945, with all wars being over, I was discharged form the Coast Guard,
My period of service during this war-time service was 3 years and 19 days. Together with my US Navy service of 5 years, 8 months, and 12 days, gave me a total time of almost 9 years. My monthly rate of pay when discharged was $151.80. This was for a base pay of $126.00 per month for permanent Chief pay plus longevity increases.
This is the end of MY Life in the Navy and Coast Guard!
World War 2 was over! It was time to start a new life! The writer returned to civilian life, became involved with his father as a Manufacturer's Representative in sales and engineering. He further continues his love for radio with commercial receivers, and was one of the first owners of a television set which he produced by himself.
He continued being married to Marie as mentions in the story on 4 stack destroyers in 1939. They both, raised two children, both now approaching mid-life.
Health and economic conditions have been good for the whole family, with the daughter however, just successfully recovering from a lung transplant.
Carl and Marie, for the past 10 years plus, have lived in Florida. At the present in West Palm Beach. They are still healthy, and both approaching their 80th birthdays.
Approximately 7 years ago, Carl the writer, with the advent of computers, began searching out his old shipmates from the LST 327. As of today, he has successfully found over 30 of them, had established contact with each of them, and continues a dialogue with all of them.
Carl had instituted a LST 327 Newsletter to them all, that goes out about 4 times a year. Recently, he and Marie held a small reunion at their home in WPB, where 6 former shipmates and their ladies spent a number of days.
Most of the 30 new found men, were introduced to the National LST organization, and attend the national conventions.
Carl is a member of the National LST Association, The Florida Chapter of LST's and a new member of the National Chief Petty Officers Association.
Curator’s Note: Carl Pfannkuch passed away on April 10, 2001 just weeks after sending in this story to be added to the web site.
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