.... A visit to the French
Excerpt from Joe Hagen's book "Memories
of World War II"
We did not know where the next invasion would take place but this time
it was for a good reason. President Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill could
not agree. Churchill wanted us to invade the Balkans probably because he
was thinking ahead to peace and the division of Europe into areas of influence
by the Allies. Stalin wanted a southern France invasion for the same reason
as Churchill but with the opposite objective. Roosevelt was the deciding
vote for southern France primarily because it would be less costly in American
lives. France, who really did not have a vote, was anxious to send their
Free French and Foreign Legion into action on their own soil. Finally the
decision was made to land in the French Riviera. The name of the operation
was changed from Anvil to Dragoon and D-day was set for August 15, 1944.
Churchill was responsible for the name change claiming that he was dragooned
into accepting the plan.
Everything was ship shape aboard and we were ready for action except
for one notable exception. We did not have a small boat officer, Our previous
officers and boat crews had been detached at Normandy. Since then we received
five replacement LCVPs and boat crews but not even one officer for them.
Among ourselves we wondered if one of us would be volunteered. By now my
E for engineering rating had been changed to DE meaning that I was
now deemed eligible for Deck Officer duties so I was in the pool. The
most Likely candidate was Lt. Carter our gunnery officer. He was the most
athletic of us and indicated he would not object to the assignment. However,
just before the operation, we welcomed aboard Lt. Campbell. He also was
very athletic and gung ho.
We carried troops of the 36th Division. This was the division with the
large red T patch denoting that it was, at least originally, comprised
of soldiers from Texas. This was a veteran group having fought in Africa,
Sicily and Italy. The CO of this contingent, a silver leaf colonel, shared
my stateroom with me and I learned something about their past experiences.
He said on the previous invasions they had paid their dues and thought
some other division should be making the first wave assault in this one.
They had since landing in Africa had a 300 percent troop replacement. Many
casualties had been hospitalized and then returned to the Division without
any R & R. They thought the French troops should make the initial assault
but were told the 36th were needed because they were experienced. This
was not the first or the last time I heard of this type of logic.
I had forgotten that Nisada was the place where we took on the troops
for the invasion but recently I came across this following picture showing
the LST 50 on the beach loading. This is from Morison's History. I was
not sure that this was our ship and thought that it could be a five hundred
number with the last digit hidden by the ship in front of it. However,
like our ship the number was smaller than the letters, U.S. The other ships
have letters and numbers of the same size.
Some of the LSTs had davits for carrying only two LCVPs while we had
six davits the same as the ship in the picture. I do not recall that we
employed barrage balloons in Operation Anvil. It is probably that the barrage
balloons, shown in the photograph, were being towed by ships along side
of us. When all of the equipment and troops were loaded, we headed back
Our tank deck was loaded with large trucks and half tracks. Our main
deck carried jeeps and other small vehicles carrying anti-aircraft weapons.
They were of relative small caliber of a size larger than 50 calibre but
smaller than our 40mm. I think they were 27mm and were effective only against
planes that flew low enough to make strafing runs. The troops did not do
much joking around but seemed engrossed in having their weapons in top
order. Once when I returned to my stateroom I found the Colonel had just
finished cleaning his 45 and was busy sharpening his combat knife. I remarked
that the targeted beach was steep and the men would not have to wade very
far like the troops did at Normandy. He replied that he hated to have his
men go into action with wet feet and was sure the boat crews could be persuaded
to hit the beach hard.
Just before we were to depart for the invasion, our Captain was called
for a meeting on the Group Commander's ship. He went there in one of our
LCVPs with the ship's company crew and gave them orders to wait for him
for a return run to our ship. After meeting the Captain of another LST
invited our Captain to visit his ship. They went in the other LST's boat
leaving ours standing by. In a short time we were ordered to get under
way and our Captain rushed back to our ship and completely forgot that
his boat was still standing by. When he finally realized it there was not
time to retrieve our boat and we left minus one LCVP and crew.
We were part of the Camel force consisting of about one hundred ships
including 14 LSTs. The USS Bayfield was the amphibious control ship under
the command of Rear Admiral Lewis who had replaced the late Admiral Moon.
Our assigned landing was at Green Beach close to the resort town of St.
Tropez. H hour again was about 6:00 a.m. and our infantry troops climbed
down cargo nets into four LCVPs. Lt. Campbell and the Colonel were in the
lead boat. We could see them make the landing and it appeared to be unopposed.
We were instructed with the other LSTs to sail around in a circle. The
water was deep and the operation controller did not want any of us to anchor.
The beach accommodated two LSTs at a time and the Beachmaster would call
us in depending on the urgency of our cargo. While circling our boats came
back and only one reported receiving fire. It was from a machine gun on
a small island. A sergeant on board observed where the shells were landing
and said it was nothing ot worry about. He fired his Garand from a prone
position on the stern and the machine gun went silent.
All of our boats returned with damaged propellers. The Colonel had been
serious about not wanting to fight with wet feet! We had spare propellers
on board and in less than a half hour we had raised the boats in the davits,
replaced the bent props and had them back in the water.
Three pairs of LSTs were called to beach while we were waiting. After
several hours the Beachmaster called for LST
282 and then LST 50 to beach. At the time of the call, our position
in the circle was nearest the beach and we broke from the circle and headed
to the beach. The LST 282 was on the far side of the circle and although
it was called before us, it ended up following us towards the beach. While
going to the beach a single enemy plane, a JU 88, appeared at a very high
altitude. A fire ball appeared by the plane and then a plane-like object
started falling to the ground. I thought that one plane had been shot down
by another one but then realized that the falling object was a rocket propelled,
radio controlled bomb. We started firing at both objects without success.
The bomb was traveling too fast and the plane was well beyond the range
even of our 40mm Bofors. The soldiers on the main deck started firing their
anti-aircraft guns without waiting for firing orders but this was a futile
gesture. What we needed was the fire power of five inch guns like those
on the destroyers but they were further out to sea. We watched the bomb
change direction and finally zero in on the LST 282. It hit the main deck
at midships, blasting through the tank deck, the engine room and the bottom
hull. The 282 went forward another 100 yards and sank in shallow water
with the main deck above the water line.
The LST 282 was a few hundred yards
from us and we continued to the beach but the LCVP with Lt. Campbell aboard
went to the rescue. Many of the soldiers had jumped overboard and with
only a belt buoyancy device were having a hard time of it. Lt. Campbell
lowered the ramp on the LCVP and with his crew pulled many of the soldiers
out of the water. He then jumped in and being a strong swimmer was able
to pull other soldiers to the boat. Then an unfortunate thing happened.
The rescued soldiers instead of moving back from the ramp stayed there
and their combined weight was enough to force the bow under water and the
LCVP sunk. A real heroic effort turne out to be fruitless.
We still had not been able to replace our elevator motor and although
the temporary repair had worked fine, I thought we would be able to salvage
the motor from the LST 282 and with a couple of machinists took a boat
to the 282 and boarded it. I started walking to the elevator and stepped
over a charred mass only to realize it was the torso of a human body. I
was momentarily gripped with revulsion and thought that I would throw up
but I continued to the elevator anyway. There I found that their elevator
had been broken and repaired the same as ours. There had been forty
casualties aboard. The skipper was credited with action that prevented
this number from being higher and was awarded the Navy Cross.
The unloading went without incident. We were told that after a brief
skirmish the Germans retreated as fast as they could. The beach was to
be protected by two large gun emplacements. The concrete was finished but
guns were not available and they had installed wooden dummies to confuse
Allied Intelligence. When the time came to retract from the beach we found
out we were stuck. Normally by running our screws in reverse, the water
action would wash the sand from beneath our ship and free it. In this case
the beach was not sand but cobble stones. Our stern anchor was of no help
because it was deep and therefore the wrong angle for pulling us astern.
An army engineer with a tremendous bulldozer came and pushed against our
bow doors but our ship would not budge. Finally a sea going tug came to
our rescue and we were able to retract and anchor off-shore and wait for
Then an incident occurred that still bothers me. A small boat pulled
along side that had a German soldier sprawled on the deck. The coxs'n had
taken a badly wounded soldier on board with instructions to take him some
place for treatment. He had not found anyone that would treat him and by
the time he reached our boat the coxs'n said he thought he was dead. None
of our medics went down to the boat to check him out but one of our seaman
called to the coxs'n and asked if there were any souvenirs on him. This
incident still haunts me. The German soldier was just a young kid -not
much different than the young men in our crew. I wish I had taken the initiative
to have him examined and treated if he was still alive.
Several hours later we received our sailing orders with Ajacio, Corsica
as our destination. The German Naval threat in the Mediterranean was now
nil and we sailed without an escort. When we reached Ajacio we found the
boat crew, that was left behind before the operation, waiting for us. They
had found out that we were not coming back to Calvi and that our next port
of call would be Ajacio. Without orders from anyone, they had put to sea.
With just a magnetic ship's compass they had navigated almost the full
west coast of Corsica. At that time they did not know how rough the Mediterranean
sea can become. On reaching port they went to the Naval base and received
dormitory berths and mess privileges. They then had the bright idea of
asking for rations at the Army base. This was OK'D and with the surplus
food they were able to trade with the civilians for things like wine, fruit
and other goodies. They were doing alright but their boat did not fare
as well. They left it tied up to a pier and a British ship, in attempting
to dock smashed into it and sunk it. It had already been raised and was
being repaired when we arrived but we had to leave without it. We were
scheduled for a second run to France and this time it was supposed to be
Marseille.....A port too far!
Since the battle front had moved well inland very soon after D-day,
beach landings were not required. We were assigned for our second run into
France to take French troops from Africa to the port of Marseille. I can
not recall the name of the place where we loaded the troops but believe
it was in Algeria. I vaguely recall taking on a French pilot and when asked
how we would fit in our designated berth motioned with his elbows that
he would squeeze into what ever space was available.
Most of the t troops taken on board were Free French Forces. We also
had some from the French Foreign Legion and some black Senegalese colonial
troops. The French were very enthusiastic about returning to their homeland
and brought on board two of the largest casks of wine that I had ever seen.
They must have had an early start on the wine since while they were driving
vehicles to position them on our main deck they were running into the ventilation
stacks and any other object that got in their way. The Senegalese were
fierce looking warriors with scarred faces but the French officers treated
them harshly. One of the Senegalese soldiers was nervous about climbing
down a cargo net into a boat and a French officer kicked him in the face
The Senior French Officer of the group came on board and asked if any
of our officers spoke French. None of us did. He then asked if any of us
spoke German. I admitted that I had been exposed to high school German.
They had several German speaking Foreign Legionaries in their detachment
and I attempted to communicate with one of them. I failed miserably and
as a result the tri-lingual French Officer decided to make the trip with
us. He was a very charming person and we enjoyed his company. In our wardroom,
he entertained us with stories and card tricks. One of the most intriguing
card tricks, I remember to this day.
We were lucky in the assignment of the troops to our ship; we had absolutely
no problems with them. On the other hand, one of our group was assigned
troops of Berbers. They had very little mechanized equipment but there
were two to three times as many persons than an LST is equipped to handle.
For every eight soldiers there was one woman assigned to do their cooking
and what ever else they needed. The Captain of the LST protested that they
did not have a galley or sanitary facilities to take care of such a large
number of people. The reply came back that neither was required.
We anticipated that this would be the most pleasant of all of our runs.
Just a couple of hundred miles across the calm Mediterranean sea without
any danger of encountering any German Naval activity. At our destination
we would be able to enjoy the wonderful city of Marseille. We thought there
would be a celebration with the French troops arriving on their own soil
and that we would be in the middle of the festivities. I was about to learn
a geography lesson! Marseille is located at the mouth of the Rhone River.
The valley formed by the river is unobstructed by mountains and this clear
path runs completely across France from the English Channel. The wind that
sweeps down this path has a name, Mistral. In the book, Lust for Life,
Irving Stone, described the wind as having a maddening effect on Van Gogh
during his stay at Arles. It did not drive us mad but it ruined all plans.
Within a hundred miles of Marseille the sea became increasingly rough.
The wind velocity increased and we were in the roughest storm I ever encountered.
We were in a convoy of about ten LSTs with orders to stay in formation
and on course with a heading directly to Marseille. Now an LST does not
have a rigid frame like a destroyer nor can it cut through the seas like
one. With its shallow draft and wide beam, an LST will roll and survive
some very rough seas. It can not take the pitching experienced by heading
directly into a storm. We could see the deck plates ripple with each wave
One of our LCVPs broke loose from its davit and crashed on to the deck
and was held precariously by the forward line. We looked to see how
the other LSTs were doing and found that one of them had lost its bow doors.
The ramp is what makes the ship water tight and the LST did not appear
to be any danger
of sinking. We secured all the water tight doors and were constantly
inspecting the hull for any damage. After many hours of this pounding we
detected cracks in the main deck plates originating at a hatch approximately
at mid ships. The cracks were transverse and in the direction towards the
sides of our ship.
The Captain gave me the responsibility of evaluating the danger of
He also reported this problem to the Group Commandeer whose response
was to "stay the course". My first report was that the cracks were minor
and did not threaten the safety of the ship. However, hour by hour the
cracks grew and finally reached one side of our ship. While I watched,
a crack developed in the side plates and started downward. I deemed that
if this continued, our ship could break in half and so advised our Captain.
The Group Commander then released us from the convoy and ordered us to
head south and return to Algeria. While we had been under way for two days
fighting the storm, we had made such little head way that it took us less
than a day to return to port.
As we unloaded, I had a strong feeling of disappointment. It was the
only time we failed to accomplish a mission!
Copyright 2002, Joe Hagen, all rights reserved