Join in the continuation as our featured veteran shares firsthand information from LCT-374's ship log, which was documented by the ship's bosun.
Sept. 7, 1943: All night clear – At 1100 Air Raid – no Japs in sight. 1235 Air Raid and still no Japs. Tugs (seagoing tugs) came for the torpedoed L.S.T. 471 and bombed L.S.T. 473 – at 1700 towed L.S.T. 473 out. All clear. No Japs in sight.
Sept. 8, 1943: Air Raid Alarm 1213, hottest day I’ve ever witnessed. At 1600 left for Buna – At 1700 6 Jap bombers scouted the skies, and much to our surprise we shot down 4 of them – then we discovered they were American P-47’s. At 1800 held general quarters till 2300 – at 2300 were shelled by a submarine. What a feeling it is to be shelled upon. I saw hundreds of red flaming tracers coming right at me. Couldn’t do a damn thing – couldn’t even pray. Luckily, they were overshots. An American destroyer started blasting at the sub. It submerged. At 1200, the Coning Tower of the sub came up alongside (Strbd) then dropped back to stern. What a scare. Wow. No sleep all night. Pulled into Buna at 0600.
Sept. 9, 1943: Loaded at 1200 and left Buna at 1600. Held G.Q. till dark. Terrible storm at night, got lost – couldn’t even see the two large escorting destroyers. Finally, at 0425 we were challenged by the Subchaser.
Sept. 10, 1943: Got our bearings to travel into Morobe Bay. At 0600, we hit a reef off Morobe Bay. Ship punctured and drawing water in Strbd Stern ballast tank. Flooded the crew’s quarters. Squared that away by putting gaskets on. Tug towed us off – we were listing heavily to strbd.
Sept. 12, 1943: Pulled alongside our tender to be welded – work started – 5 air raid alarms – NO JAPS.
Sept. 13, 1943: Ironical as it may seem, this day is a day for lifelong remembrance – Here’s why. At 1035 I was talking to a few natives, and they said just as plain and seriously, “JAPS COME TODAY.” After rowing back to ship, which was still tied up to the tender, I went directly to chow. About 2 bites later it rang – General Quarters Japs planes coming – I ran up topside and strapped myself in my 20 mm gun, searching the sky hastily. There they were – about 15 dive bombers and about 25 Zeros. They were diving at us from our starboard quarter. I opened fire at [a range of] about 2,500, and my tracers streaked toward the plane – I heard Chuck holler, “Their wheels fell off.” It seemed like everyone’s gun was focused on that first dive bomber – he burst into smoke, then fire later – but his three bombs came screaming down toward us. I switched to shoot at three diving astern of us – they dropped their cargo quite high – and it landed about 20 feet off our starboard side, throwing shrapnel into our side. Then it happened. All hell tore loose – the stern of the tender alongside blew apart – hit squarely in the after magazine and gasoline storage.
I saw a two ton refrigerator go skybound up about a hundred feet and then come down hitting squarely on our deck. Shrapnel hit my guns magazine, and it exploded and jammed. Japs in the sky and my gun out of commission. The tender started to catch afire. Men were jumping overboard directly in front of our boat, and then I looked down on our deck to see two young boys’ bodies blown there from the bomb hit. Their bodies were badly burnt – our QM helped carry them to our quarters for hospitalization and first aid. I heard someone scream and looked up on the tenders deck to see a Chief with his chest split wide open and his guts hanging out. One hand was holding them and the other was grasping the rail. Obviously, he wanted to get away from the fire but couldn’t make it. He toppled helplessly overboard and under our screws. I could now see Hartman, our cook, paddling a little rubber boat singly out in the water picking up all survivors he could. He sure deserves a medal or something for that. Thinking he got all that were there – unconscious and conscious – four alive in all. The fire was throwing off a terrible heat and my skin was feeling it. It was getting hard to breathe. I heard our skipper yell to cast off – but hell the lines were already burnt off. The engines roared as we passed through the terrific flames and fire and swung around and full speed we rammed up on the coral reefs to our starboard – backed down and cleared. I started tearing my gun apart and fixed the casualty – ready again to fire – but all I could see is about 20 dots in the northern sky. We sure lost that little battle – with the loss of our tender. Oh sure she can be repaired – but that takes months – and we can’t wait.
One month turned into the next, and Bob and the crew aboard LCT-374 continued to haul supplies and become a target for enemy fire. One fellow aboard LCT-374 always pushed things to the limit. His job was to raise and lower the winch as needed. They had a radio aboard, and the only place that it would play without interference was in the locker where this fellow sat monitoring the winch. The radio was not supposed to be turned on in case the enemy picked up their location through the frequency, but the temptation of finding out a little bit of news was too much for this sailor and he turned on the radio.
Within minutes of him turning the radio on, the enemy dropped a bomb within 10 feet of the winch operator. The LCT was only 105 feet in length, and Bob had been on the stern gun; the bomb dropped in the water about 20 feet off the bow. Everyone survived the sailor’s mistake, and to Bob, there was only one explanation why any of them were still alive after everything they had endured: It was a miracle.
Bob had hung a framed picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the inside of his locker. When the skipper saw it, he was quick to tell Bob that they didn’t allow people to have these religious items. Bob then told the skipper that he firmly believed what it said on the sign: Where it shall hang, no harm shall come. Bob explained to the skipper, the way he saw it, they could use all the help they could get, and Jesus was staying in his locker. The skipper finally agreed but told Bob to keep his locker door shut. Everyone from Bob’s LCT would walk away with their life during his time of service.
By mid-December, an Army sergeant came aboard Bob’s barge and yelled at the men, saying they had better do this and that and the other thing so they could win the war and get it over with – the Army’s version of a pep talk.
Bosun John Myers documented in the ship's log the events leading up to a horrific battle:
Dec. 14, 1943: At 1135, we heard that we were to be standbys in an invasion that was soon to break – but somehow we also received orders to load immediately with Army guns, ammo, gear, and 80 men. Pulling up to the loading beach, we settled and secured for loading. As all scuttlebutt spreads quickly, in less than four hours rumors had it that we were going to hit Cape Gloucester or (Rabual) New Britain – which would really be hell for us. At 1547, we heaved up anchor and backed off the beach to meet our convoy, which was out in the adjoining bay. After retracing, my mind became completely confused because I only witnessed (5) five little LCT’s for…an invasion on N.B. It would take 30 to at least a hundred ships, but in view were only five little LCT’s – I am only a bo’sun and my word wouldn’t stir up anything except brooms, so I couldn’t say a damn thing – but I can imagine dying at the mercy of – well I just don’t think suicide is for the Yanks that’s all. We maneuvered into formation, our ships taking the guide in the right column. Later we changed to a different position as some smaller crafts joined us at sea. Our escorts were strikingly few – complete we had only one YMS, two S.C. and our commander aboard a wooden A.P.C.
In mid-December, they loaded five or six LCT’s with troops, guns and supplies and tied them together in the water near Finschhafen. The clergy boarded to give the men their last sermon – everything but last rites. LCT-374 would be among the barges used as bait to draw the Japs away from Cape Gloucester. They all read the Bible that night, grasping for the strength they’d need to continue. By this time, the men of LCT-374 had already been through 88 bombings where they had been the direct objective. They knew their luck couldn’t hold out forever. Their chances of surviving were estimated at zero, and no man slept that night.
Be sure to look for the continuation next month to see if LCT-374 was successful in drawing the Japanese away from Cape Gloucester.
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