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?
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.
Please like the page at http://www.facebook.com/PC552
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.