Torpedo Attack!

28 December 2016

HMS Affleck

This week in 1944, the U.S.S. PC 552 rushed to help two British destroyer escorts facing a German U-boat. One destroyer was sunk and the other damaged. What did you do this week?

Companion book: “Normandy: a Father’s Ship and a Son’s Curiosity” coming out 2017

With the Germans, it was never over until it was over. The day after Christmas, the PC 552 sounded General Quarters and rushed to help two British destroyers, HMS Capel and HMS Affleck. Both had received torpedoes from the German U-boat U-486 off the coast of Cherbourg, France, about 2:00 in the afternoon.   Both ships were good symbols of the Anglo-American alliance during World War II as they both began as American destroyers built in 1943. The HMS Capel was originally to be the U.S.S. Wintle but was reassigned to the British while under construction. The HMS Affleck began life as the U.S.S. Oswald and was also reassigned to the British. Both of these transfers were made under the Lend-Lease program   The HMS Capel was primarily involved with patrolling the home waters of the UK although it did some remote screening on D-Day. The HMS Affleck was credited with being involved with the sinking of four U-boats during its short life.   The HMS Capel was floating when the PC 552 arrived but it sank soon afterward with the loss of her captain, eight other officers, and 67 men. The HMS Affleck was towed back into port where it was declared a Constructive Total Loss.   This is what the PC 552 dealt with the day after Christmas, 1944.

We will be sending these posts out each Wednesday. Please enjoy these posts about the U.S.S. PC 552, its crew, and its times.

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The Leopoldville

The Leopoldville at the bottom of the English Channel

21 December 2016

Companion book: “Normandy: a Father’s Ship and a Son’s Curiosity” coming out 2017

This week in 1944 the U.S.S. PC 552 looked for survivors of the HMS Leopoldville disaster on Christmas Eve. What did you do this week?

HMS Leopoldville
Starting Christmas Eve, the HMS Leopoldville was sunk outside of Cherbourg Harbor and the PC 552 had to look for survivors. In many instances, an important event will be noted in the Deck Log with a few terse sentences. This is one.
The Allies were desperate to get as many troops and supplies across the English Channel to the European Theater of Operations as possible, as fast as possible. In the process, corners were cut.
The HMS Leopoldville sailed from England officered by the Royal Navy, crewed by Belgians, captained by a non-English speaking Belgian, and crammed with 2,223 American fighting men. It was a former luxury liner designed to carry 360 passengers.
Speed was the number one consideration. No lifeboats were hung over the side, there were inadequate life jackets, and no lifeboat or abandon ship drills were practiced.
When the HMS Leopoldville took a torpedo, the Royal Navy officers and the Belgian crew took off, leaving the Americans to their fate, having no knowledge of what was going on. 802 Americans died, although no Britons or Belgians died. Most Americans who did not die were hospitalized after making it to Cherbourg, effectively wiping out a complete regiment.
This incident was kept secret for decades in the interest of Allied unity.

“That Christmas Eve, when I with so many others jumped into the sea. filled with oh so many boys crying out to God and Mother. is just something I do not wish to recall.” Pvt. George Baker.

This is what the PC 552 dealt with on Christmas Eve, 1944.
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The Happy Times

14 December 2016

Dixie Arrow Website.png
The Dixie Arrow, 1942

Companion book: “Normandy: a Father’s Shi and a Son’s Curiosity” coming out 2017

This week in 1942 the U.S.S. PC 552 launched a depth charge attack on a suspected German U-boat off the Atlantic coast. The results were inconclusive. What did you do this week?

Few people realize how badly the Americans lost the opening stages of the #BattleoftheAtlantic in #WorldWarII. All that was available at the start in the Atlantic were a few obsolete destroyers, some yachts converted to antisubmarine service (precursor patrol crafts), and a few coast guard cutters.

The initial role of the United States was to gather men and war materiel (primarily diesel fuel) from the Americas (New Orleans and Venezuela) and transfer them to the U.K. in the face of serious opposition from German U-boats; a major undertaking.

In the opening stages, the Americans did not have the equipment or experience.  Oil tankers ran along the Atlantic coast at night with their navigation lights on. American cities did not black out so that when the running lights were off, the ships were silhouetted against the city lights. The U-boats even used the American lighthouses to help in navigation.

So many ships were sunk off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, that it earned the nickname “Torpedo Junction”. The residents got used to hearing distant explosions almost any time of day or night and the houses would shake and the walls would crack. They had no choice but to get used to it. This culminated in the sinking of the oil tanker, the Dixie Arrow.

Flaming hulks often illuminated the night skies along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and wreckage and bodies washed ashore in the morning. People going to the beach in Jacksonville, Florida on 10 April, 1942 watched a U-boat rise in broad daylight and use its deck guns to attack and sink the ship Gulf of America with no consequences. On 15 June two American ships were torpedoed in broad daylight, witnessed by swimmers at Virginia Beach, VA, ships burning and men dying in the waters.

The Germans referred to this period as the “Second Happy Time”. They could not believe their good fortune. They inflicted enormous damage at little cost to themselves.

This initial phase for the Battle of the Atlantic was finally over about August of 1942. By the end, Germany had sunk over 600 ships off the east coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, killed more than 5,000 sailors, and destroyed 22% of America’s tanker fleet. It was a major strategic win for the Axis powers.

This is the reason the PC 552 and ships like it were built, launched and crewed around the clock on an emergency basis.

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Pearl Harbor Day 1941

07 December 2016

Companion book: “Normandy: a Father’s Ship and a Son’s Curiositpearl-harbory” coming out 2017 

#PearlHarbor occurred 75 years ago today. It was the overt action which precipitated the United States into World War II and ushered in the launching of the U.S.S PC 552.

The Pearl Harbor attack was irrational in so many ways as was the subsequent declaration of war by Germany. Most rational Japanese and German leaders were certain they would lose a protracted war with the United States. Reading the history now, there were clear-headed people in both countries who did all they could to convince their leaders not to engage the United States. They knew with the United States industrial capacity, it would always win a war of attrition.

At the time, the States was very reluctant to get involved. Roosevelt was preoccupied with shepherding material to the U.K and the United States had a limited Navy. With this fact, Roosevelt was desperate to avoid conflict with Japan. As he said, “there isn’t enough Navy to go around”.

The Japanese military rationalized that its spirit of bushido made each Japanese fighting man the equal of many American fighting men. Both the Germans and the Japanese spoke of Americans as soft with their democracy which led to easy ways and a lack of resolved leadership

The Japanese were hoping to deliver a knockout blow that would intimidate the United States to come to terms. The Germans hoped to achieve victory in Europe before the Americans were involved, making their engagement pointless. Neither plan worked. Some say World War II was won with Russian bodies, British intelligence, and American steel.

In the end, the Americans overwhelmed both enemies. American planes darkened the skies over Europe and Japan, shooting at will. American submarines isolated them. The German soldiers joked that if the plane overhead was blue, it was British; if it was silver, it was American; and if it was invisible, it was German. Japanese soldiers joked one could walk from Singapore to Japan dry footed by stepping on the periscopes of American submarines

The Japanese and the Germans got very good at camouflage because they had to. Anything which moved got blasted by the Americans. In contrast, the Americans did not have to be very good at camouflage because they were the hunters, not the hunted. While the Germans and Japanese had to move under cover of darkness, the Allies actually had to paint their planes with bright white stripes to be easily identifiable so they would not accidently be shot out of the sky by their own side.

Two months after Pearl Harbor, the U.S.S. PC 552 was launched. It was commissioned as a U.S. warship the following July and was hunting Nazi U-boats that September. It was credited with one U-boat kill and ultimately, it made its way to #DDay. Please like the page at

We will be sending these posts out each Wednesday. Please enjoy these posts about the U.S.S. PC 552, its crew, and its times.