THE MEDITERRANEAN No theatre of operations in World War II was more violently contested than the Mediterranean, where at one time or another British, French, Italian, American, and German forces were involved. Nowhere in that long, narrow sea, broken up as it is by islands, headlands, and peninsulas, were ships ever out of reach of land-based air attack. As soon as ships passed the "Rock" at Gibraltar, the ancient Pillars of Hercules, they were in waters where invasion and battle had gone on since the days of Ulysses. The action in the "Med," for Liberty ships, began with the invasion of North Africa--Operation Torch--in November, 1942, and went on through landings that made history: Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, Southern France. Ships faced every known hazard of war at sea--submarines, shore batteries, aircraft, mines--and even a few new ones: frogmen under water and radio-controlled glide bombs in the air. Much of the action took place in sight of land and frequently while ships were tied up at a dock and unable to get away. One of the first Libertys to see action was the Thomas Stone, which sailed from New York prior to the North African landings and reached Oran in convoy KMS3, one of the big follow-up supply groups that lost several ships to torpedoes. On 6 February 1943, as the Thomas Stone sailed from Oran to Bougie in convoy KMS8, her gunners knocked down a German bomber. Early on 7 February a plane dropped flares over the convoy and two submarine torpedoes barely missed the Stone. A third hit but did not explode. When a submarine surfaced 500 yards away gunners on the Stone got in several hits before it crash dived. Several hours later a periscope was sighted and again her gunners hit it before it disappeared. Convoys in the Mediterranean were subjected to the same harassment they got on the Murmansk run. Typical was that of a 13-ship convoy bound to Philippeville, Algeria, in January 1943. On 7 January German reconnaissance planes shadowed the convoy but were chased away by British Hurricanes. Two hours later Junkers 87s started torpedo runs on the convoy, and at the same time a flight of dive bombers attacked. The William Wirt, carrying 16,000 cases of aviation gasoline, was the first ship in the convoy to open fire and before the attack ended had sent four bombers into the sea. One of the planes shot down by the Wirt put a bomb into a hold filled with drums of gasoline, but it failed to explode. Another one shot down by the Wirt flamed into a Norwegian freighter astern of her and set it on fire. That ship exploded and sank. At the same time the British ship Benalbanach, carrying American troops, was torpedoed. She exploded and sank within a few minutes. Many soldiers jumped overboard from the burning ship only to be killed by depth-charge concussion. Another plane set on fire by the Wirt's fighting gunners pulled out of a dive and stalled just above the bridge of the ship, then crashed into the water. Two bombs near-missed the ship and a third hit and flooded number four hold, but she stayed with the convoy. IMPORTANT NOTE: Brian Viglietti, a naval historian accredited to the US Naval Institute and the International Naval Research Organisation. points out some inaccuracies contained in the article. Specifically: 1- The USN AP Thomas Stone was torpedoed 7 November 1942 and eventually run ashore in Algiers bay, never to be refloated, she was scrapped locally in 1947. In the article it is stated that she was underway on 6 February 1943 with convoy KMS 8 2- the contention that a submarine surfaced only 500 yds away & sustained "several its before it crash dived" has no bases in reality, much the same as the claim that a periscope sighted several hours later was hit by the gunners. Either instance would have caused the sub to be unable to maintain depth & there is no such report from the German or Italian subs operating in the area. As a former weapons officer, I can safely state hitting a periscope is an almost impossible feat. 3- The claim that Junkers 87 started a torpedo run on the convoy is phisically impossible: those aircraft could not carry torpedoes. 4- the monitor HMS Erebus was armed with 2 x 15" guns, ot 12" 5- the bomb which hit the Bushrod Washington was not a 500-lb (since the Axis was metric it would not make any sense) but was in fact a radio-guided one, probably an Hs-293, though records are not clear on this point and it may have been an FX-1400, the latter being ulikely as being designed to be dropped on armored targets. The sub sunk on 19 January was the Italian Tritone and both vessels torpedoed in the morning of 10 July (Matthew Maury and Gulfprince) were hit by U-371. Please bear in mind the above is not intended as anything other than correcting some inaccuracies and it does not detract at all from the fine work and quality of the website. END OF NOTE On 19 January, the Wirt was in convoy only six miles from Philippeville when three waves of torpedo-bombers and high-level bombers staged a 70 minute attack. Again the Wirt escaped damage. Several hours later a submarine was 1 forced to the surface by depth charges, and the Wirt's gunners opened up on it, along with an escorting destroyer. They saw its bow point skyward, then slip back into the sea. That night as the convoy neared Algiers, torpedo planes and bombers attacked t again, and the Wirt knocked one down. Two hours later there was another air attack. The Walt Whitman was hit but made Algiers under her own power. Again t the Wirt was lucky. The ships sailed from Algiers that night under another air attack in which one ship was bombed and sunk. The attack was so intense that r, three of Wirt's gunners had their ear drums ruptured. The Wirt was undamaged, fl Finally, as the Wirt steamed past Gibraltar on 7 February, homeward bound, A the Germans tried once more. That time the concussion of near-miss bomb hits knocked the propeller shaft out of line and the ship had to go to Liverpool for repairs. The North African landings were merely a prelude to the long-awaited invasion of Europe, the first direct attack on the Axis Powers. The Allied toehold in Africa simplified the matter of staging the greatest military amphibious operation the world had seen up to that point, as two huge invasion armadas moved across the stormy Mediterranean toward the island of Sicily. This was Operation Husky, under the Supreme Command of Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower. One of the fleets carried the British 8th Army, battle-hardened veterans of the long and hard-fought desert war in North Africa. Their objectives were Pozalla, Pachino, and Avola. The other fleet carried the American 7th Army to landing beaches at Licata, Gela, and Cape Sparmania. Helping to lift these great armies and their vast impedimenta were scores of Liberty ships that had assembled in African ports over a period of many weeks. Most of them had temporary accommodations for about 200 troops. The crossing from Africa was made in rough and windy weather--a miserable night for seasick soldiers. Ships rolled and pitched and some lost the barrage balloons towed as a protection against dive-bomber attack. In the early morning of 10 July, the Matthew Maury was torpedoed but did not sink and was towed back to Bougie. The American tanker Gulfprince, torpedoed at the same time, returned to Oran for repairs. Later that morning, the weather improved and there was little evidence of war as ships carrying units of the 8th Army approached Avola. The day seemed idyllic for a Mediterranean cruise until HMS Frebus, a stubby, low-decked monitor, let go a salvo from her 12-inch guns that raised clouds of smoke and dust on the high hills. A cruiser and two destroyers joined in to silence coast defense batteries. As they approached their designated anchorages, ships of the eastern contingent passed shattered pieces of airplane wings and fuselage. A tug had tied on to one tail section of a half-submerged plane and was trying to pull it ashore. Bodies could be seen floating in the water; they were airborne troops from gliders that had been mistakenly shot down by Allied guns in the early morning hours. The ships approached their anchorages with booms rigged and invasion barges ready to lower. Except for the occasional shelling by warships, it was too peaceful to be real--more like a dress rehearsal than the real thing. But that afternoon Avola was raided by high-level bombers and dive-bombers in the first of more than 50 air attacks to come in a week. During an air attack most men were too busy to really see the planes diving or flaming down, shrapnel bursts in the air, bombs falling like glittering tinfoil, and the fires and explosions on ships. A Navy gunner on the Colin Kelly wrote, understandably, that "the stark terror of the sight is indescribable." The nonchalant third mate on that ship, Mr. Wonson, merely sang "Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition," inspiring the crew even as hot shrapnel bounced around them on deck. In the same attack, red-hot shrapnel started a fire in a gasoline-filled hold on the Jonathan Grout but two seamen climbed down and put it out. The Dutch freighter Baern alongside the Grout was sunk. Because of the coastal terrain, it was possible for enemy planes to sneak in over the surrounding hills and attack before anyone knew they were coming. In such an attack, two Stuka dive-bombers hit the Avola anchorage before the alarm could be given. The Will Rogers, which had just arrived, got in a few bursts of 20-millimeter fire, as did some other ships, but the planes were gone within a minute. One plane put two bombs into a hold full of ammunition on the Timothy Pickering, which had arrived with the Will Rogers and still had most of her troops aboard. The Pickering vanished in a mushroom-shaped cloud of smoke and fire that towered a thousand feet into the air. Some of the burning wreckage hit a nearby tanker, which also blew up, and bits of that ship killed several men on the O. Henry. Of 192 men aboard the Pickering, the only survivors were 23 men blown overboard in the initial explosion. At Gela, during the landing of the American 7th Army, the Robert Rowan--another ship loaded with ammunition and carrying a total of 421 merchant sailors and Army troops--took three direct hits from what was thought to be an Italian bomber. The ship began burning, and the captain ordered her abandoned. In what must have been an outstanding example of well-ordered confusion, every last man got off before the ship blew up 20 minutes later. It was a busy day for the Nicholas Gilman when she reached Gela; she was shelled by German tanks, hit by a bomb, set on fire, and still managed to shoot down three planes out of the estimated 30 German and Italian aircraft that staged the attack. Gunners on the Tabitha Brown got one dive-bomber, definite, and another "probable." A couple of hours after the Robert Rowan sank, four German planes attacked with fragmentation bombs, one of which wounded eight men in the Joseph Pulitzer's 3-inch gun crew. The Pulitzer had a former Navy gun pointer in her civilian crew, so Captain Kingdon S. Thomas made him gun captain of a merchant seaman gun crew which "did some fine shooting." The new gun crew was drenched by water that night when raiding dive-bombers gave them some near misses. The third mate merely ended the log for the 8-to-12 watch with, "Army stevedores discharging cargo between bombs, bullets and barges." The invasion of the Italian mainland began with Operation Avalanche, the Salerno landings, on 9 September 1943. The invasion price was high: 5,000 American and 7,000 British dead. The U. S. Navy lost the destroyers Rowan and Buck. Among the many Libertys taking part in the Salerno operation were the George Matthews, Charles Pios, Lewis Morris, William Dean Howells, James Woodrow, John Howard Payne, Daniel Webster, and David Caldwell, whose crew helped to unload a high priority cargo of tanks, antitank guns, and ammunition needed to beat off German tanks. The James W. Marshall arrived at Salerno on 11 September and was immediately hit and set on fire by a 250-pound bomb, but the fire was extinguished and the ship continued unloading. Two days later, she was hit by another bomb that killed 13 of the crew and many Army cargo handlers. In the holocaust, Cadet John Herbert showed rare courage and presence of mind by cutting loose a burning landing craft full of ammunition, after which he flooded the after magazine. At Salerno the Winfield Scott had her baptism of fire when she blasted two German bombers out of the sky and drove others away before they could attack. Corporal Charles A. Hughes, a passenger, wrote to his father, a shipyard worker in Houston, where the Scott was built: "She not only can take it, but she can dish it out .... The only thing I hope is that the rest of the ships you worked on do as good as she did." Just before the Bushrod Washington was launched at Baltimore in April, 1943, her first captain, John W. Wainwright, son of the famous defender of Bataan, General Jonathan Wainwright, scratched his initials in the fresh paint on the bow and said, "That's for good luck." The ship needed it at Salerno, where she arrived with 7,000 drums of aviation gasoline, 75 tons of bombs, and some 105-millimeter shells. On 14 September, after three days of continuous attack, a bomber made a direct hit with a 500-pound bomb that started a gasoline fire in number four hold. The resulting explosion destroyed the entire forward section of the vessel, but only four men lost their lives. The WiUiam Bradford was also lucky. In four days she had one bomb explode 25 feet off the port how, one missed by 30 yards, another exploded close enough to splash water on deck--was strafed, had her lifeboats riddled by machine-gun fire. She also shot down two aircraft. No one was injured. The controversial landings at Anzio, which began 22 January 1944, were intended to bypass strong German resistance blocking the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula. In Operation Shingle, six divisions--more than 70,000 men and 18,000 vehicles--were landed along a 14-mile beachhead in the first few days. Again, as at Salerno, the anchorages and beachheads were within range of German 88s in the nearby heights, and air raids were a constant hazard. German radio-controlled glide bombs were also a menace at Anzio. They carried a 660-pound explosive warhead, were fantastically fast--better than 600 miles an hour--and could be launched at altitudes above three miles. First seen at Salerno, they had near-missed the cruiser Philadelphia and badly damaged the Savannah. About the best defense against them was to pray that they missed. Or, as the Lawton B. Evans did, make a lucky hit. That ship, with 4,000 tons of ammunition and gasoline, arrived at Anzio on D-Day and was immediately shelled by the much-feared 88s. Shells fell within 50 feet of the ship, peppering the hull and deckhouse with jagged pieces of hot shrapnel. Captain Harry Ryan shifted the ship to another spot, but the German shells followed. Time after time during the next week the ship would move to gain a few hours respite before German gunners got the range again. During that time the gunners knocked down four planes and a glide bomb. They also got the bomber that dropped it; the plane blew up and left nothing but a carburetor, which landed on deck and was hung in the Armed Guard messroom as a symbol of their marksmanship. Soon after that, a glide bomb hit the Samuel Huntington, which was loaded with gasoline, bombs, and TNT. The bomb went into the engine room and killed four men; if it had hit a hold the ship would have disintegrated. Another glide bomb hit the water some 15 yards astern of the John Banvard. The concussion cracked frames and gear on the deck, sprung doors in passageways, and broke steam and water lines. There were no casualties, and the Banvard made it to Naples under her own power. A glide bomb got the Elihu Yale on 15 February. The Yale was loading artillery shells into LCT-35 at the time, and both ships were a complete loss. During an air raid on 24 January, a hospital ship, St. David, was sunk. The armed guard gunners of the Bret Harte fired 745 rounds of 20-millimeter and got one of the two planes. At dusk that day the Germans came back. One just missed the Hilary Herbert and three more missed the Bret Harte. Eight planes were shot down, one of them by the Bret Harte. The Herbert had already gone through 26 raids, and her gunners had shot down two planes. In that raid they got a dive-bomber--it crashed into the hull just forward of the bridge and scattered itself all over the deck. Its two bombs exploded in near-misses which so damaged her engine that the Herbert had to be towed to Naples for repairs. The F. Marion Crawford, during nine days at Anzio, logged more than 200 near misses from German 88s and shifted anchorage every few hours to disrupt the German range-finders. When fires were started by a shell hit on a hatch coaming just above a hold filled with 75-millimeter ammunition, the merchant crew put them all out in 15 minutes. Attempts to smash the Anzio supply line cost the enemy many planes, and the Libertys got a few of them. A partial box-score for Liberty-ship gunners showed the Samuel Ashe, James W. Nesmith, Tabitha Brown, and William MulhoUand with one each; Bret Harte and Hilary Herbert with three each. A frequent last line in the obituaries of merchant ships in the Mediterranean and elsewhere was "Torpedo hit in the engine room. All men on watch were killed." Submarines and torpedo-bombers aimed for the engine room. If a ship could be crippled, there was always a chance to finish it off later. The black gang--firemen, oilers, wipers, and engineers--were marked men, but in no case during the war was there ever any evidence that they missed a watch in time of attack. Many men went below knowing there was a 50-50 chance they might not come back up again. The Richard Henry Olney was torpedoed in the engine room but lost only two men. She was towed to a North African port and beached; cargo was transferred to the John Fiske and eventually reached Italy. The Olney's master, Captain Erick Richter, then assumed command of the John Dickenson, whose captain had taken sick. The William Woods, bound for Anzio with 400 troops and war supplies on 10 March 1944, was torpedoed barely 50 miles out of Palermo. Cadet Richard Stewart heard the torpedo blast and got on deck in time to see parts of hatches and life rafts still falling. Fifty-six soldiers and one Navy gunner were killed. Cadet Midshipman Myles Clark was credited with rescuing a number of soldiers by lashing mattresses together and throwing them to men in the water. Survivors were bitter at the lack of action on the part of a nearby Italian escort ship which made no effort to rescue them. It could be expected that in the strain and stress of battle and the shock of frightening explosions and fire, men sometimes made on-the-spot decisions to abandon ships that under normal, peacetime conditions would have been saved. Time and weather permitting, ships that appeared badly damaged could still have been taken in tow and moved to a dry dock for repairs. This was especially true for some cargo ships that stubbornly refused to sink despite tremendous damage. The Matt Ransom was an outstanding example of a ship being able to take terrific punishment and still remain afloat. The ship was nearing a North African port when a violent explosion tore a hole in the bow large enough for a truck to drive through. Moments later, there was a second blast, after which she began to settle, on fire in several places. Captain John Metsall ordered his men to abandon ship. All hands got away safely, but when the Ransom refused to sink, Metsall took six volunteers and reboarded her. Despite the fact that the vessel might plunge to the bottom, they started boiler fires, got her underway, and took her into port. As the crew abandoned ship the falls of one lifeboat had fouled, and men were thrown into the sea. They swam to other boats, but the chief engineer, who had only one arm, was caught in the life net hanging down the ship's side. Ordinary Seaman George S. Baker, who was awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for his actions, "... climbed down the net [from the deck] released the engineer, swam with him to a lifeboat and assisted him into the boat." The Alexander Graham Bell hit a mine off Naples, but despite a gaping hole in the hull, she was towed in, repaired, and then returned stateside for another cargo. The James Guthrie, which hit a mine at the same time and place, was also saved by being towed in and beached. Daniel Webster was torpedoed on 10 January 1944 and went down so far by the head that fish could have swum across the foredeck, but stayed afloat long enough to be beached on the coast of North Africa. Then she was abandoned. Two more ships that refused to sink were the Peter Skene Ogden and George Cleeve, both torpedoed in Convoy GUS21 on 22 February 1944. Captain William P. Magann of the Ogden, with ten volunteers, sailed the crippled ship to the nearest port and beached her. The Cleeve had to be towed in and beached. Both ships were complete losses. When the Virginia Dare struck a mine in the Bay of Tunis in March of 1944, the explosion severed the forward part of the ship just a few feet ahead of the deckhouse and engine room, but the rest of the vessel was towed to port and salvaged. The Thomas B. Masaryk caught fire after being torpedoed off Algiers in 1944 and was purposely sunk in 28 feet of water as the best means of putting out the fire. Some weeks later, the William T. Meredith moored beside the wreck and her crew with the Masaryk's began salvage operations, aided by a contingent of British soldiers and sailors. They saved millions of dollars worth of P39 and P47 fighter planes, as well as trucks, tires, canned goods, weapons, and other material. Such salvage, with makeshift equipment, represented a great deal of ingenuity and long hours of gruelling labor under the most difficult conditions. In the Masaryk, to make matters worse, hundreds of tons of rotten egg powder and flour created an "unholy stench" which men had to endure 16 hours a day, seven days a week, until all the useable cargo had been removed. The highly inflammable nature of many cargoes--gasoline, ammunition, bombs, and TNT--meant that even a short run of a couple of hours could be as hazardous as a trip half around the world with a load of canned food or bagged cement. The Daniel Huger was discharging her load of 6,000 tons of gasoline at Bone, Algeria, on 8 May 1943, when 17 bombers attacked the port. Shrapnel killed Third Mate Bernard Golden and Gunner Myles Panek, wounded several others, and started a fire in a hold partly filled with barrels of gasoline. A gallant attempt to stop the fire was made by Captain James Adams, Oiler Tom O'Leary, Cadet Midshipmen Method Medved, Elmer Donnelly, and Phil Vannais, who took a hose and sprayed water on the gas-filled drums. Flames were soon shooting hundreds of feet into the air, and Adams ordered his fire-fighters ashore. One of the last to leave was Ensign Edward P. Gilman of the Armed Guard, who braved flames and cascading gasoline to flood the after ammunition magazine. When the British SS Fort Lamontee caught fire beside the Howard A. Kelly at Algiers, the Liberty's crew fought fire until ordered to move to keep the Kelly from burning. As the British destroyer Arrow towed the Fort Lamontee into the outer harbor, the burning ship exploded, with much loss of life on both ships. Captain Amos B. Beinhardt, 27, of the John C. Carlisle, directed fire-fighting efforts that saved a British ship loaded with ammunition in an Algerian port. When the British vessel caught fire and requested help, Beinhardt organized a fire-fighting crew from his ship, ran hoses to the burning ship, and fought the flames until they were finally extinguished with the help of shoreside apparatus. Heroism and quick thinking saved the John H. Eaton under similar circumstances in July, 1943, as she loaded at a North African port for the invasion of Sicily. Eaton was moored between a British ship loaded with gasoline and a Norwegian ship carrying mines when bombers raided the harbor. Shrapnel started fires on the one side and exploded mines in the other. Remarkably, only one man was injured. One of the strangest aspects of the sea war in the Mediterranean was the surprisingly successful efforts of Italian frogmen to sink or damage Allied merchant ships by attaching mines to their hulls in the harbor of Gibraltar, where vessels put in to await convoys. Shortly after midnight of 4 August 1943, the deck watch on the Harrison Gray Otis spotted a man in the water who appeared exhausted and about to drown. Fished out by a cadet engineer, he was found to be an Italian and was turned over to the British, who soon learned that he had attached a mine to the hull of the Otis and that it was set to go off anytime after an hour. "Turn the engine over slowly," said the British--the propeller wash might dislodge it. Although there was a good chance that the mine might blow up beneath them, the black gang kept up steam and kept the propeller turning. As predicted, but three hours later rather than one, an explosion just forward of the engine room ruptured the bulkhead and flooded the engine spaces. The Otis was beached, a total constructive loss. The British ship Stanridge and the Norwegian ship Thorshovdi were mined the same night. In another frogman attack at Gibraltar, the Liberty ship Pat Harrison had a mine explode beneath the engine room with force enough to throw men out of their bunks. There were no fatalities, but the ship was beached as a complete loss. Two British ships, the Mahsud and Camerata, were damaged by mines at the same time. There was action and excitement enough for anybody during the hour that convoy MKS21 beat off an air attack the evening of 13 August 1943. The ships were crawling along peacefully a little south of Almeria, Spain, when an estimated 20 to 50 planes roared in less than 50 feet above the water and attacked with torpedoes, bombs, and parachute mines. "The planes were so thick," said a seaman on the Nathaniel Greene, "they looked like a flock of geese." To Ensign George Robbins of the William T. Barry they looked more like "many blackbirds skimming the water." The convoy put up a furious fire, and an estimated 15 planes were shot down, although in the excitement of battle gunners were prone to overestimate their success. The William T. Barry claimed three, the Elihu Yale, William IV. Gerhard, and George Davis each claimed two, and the George W. McCrary and David Stone each claimed one. Torpedoes seemed to fill the sea, and at least five of them just missed the James G. Blaine. The Ezra Meeker and Anne Bradstreet had several near misses. Two torpedoes missed the William T. Barry by inches; two more missed the Francis W. Pettygrove, but a third hit her engine room, and she was towed to Gibraltar and beached, a complete loss. Despite the large number of torpedoes launched, there was only one hit. The Germans blamed their poor luck on the Americans; the crew of a bomber fished out of the water complained that they were confused and disrupted by the intense fire from the Liberty ships. The William G. Gerhard was not so lucky next time. On 21 September, loaded with ammunition, she was torpedoed off Salerno, caught on fire, blew up, and broke in two. One section sank, the other was sent down by gunfire. One of the most costly engagements of the war in the Mediterranean and one seldom mentioned in World War II histories, occurred at the Italian port of Bari, on the Adriatic coast, the night of 2 December 1943. At that time the British 8th Army was pushing the enemy back along the coast, and 30 freighters and tankers were at the brilliantly illuminated docks in Bari, discharging ammunition, bombs, gasoline, and other supplies needed in the drive north. About 2030, aircraft engines were heard, and winches stopped as stevedores searched the moonlit sky. Guns on all the ships were manned, and gunners waited for the command to open fire; ships at Bari were instructed not to fire on attacking aircraft until a designated gun ashore opened the action by firing tracers. The next moment parachute flares lit the harbor and the planes were overhead. On the John Bascom, Ensign Kay Vesole decided they had waited long enough and said to Captain Heitman, "It looks to me like it's time to start shooting." Heitman agreed: "Start firing." The Bascom's guns let go, and in a second or so half a hundred guns poured shells into the sky as the first stick of bombs hit the Norwegian freighter Lom. She rolled over and sank with her crew of 23 men. The Samuel Tilden, which had just arrived at Bari, had a bomb go down her stack and explode in the engine room. Incendiaries set fire to her cargo of gasoline and ammunition. Men went overboard to escape the flames. Direct bomb hits made raging infernos of the John L. Motley and Joseph Wheeler. Crewmen on the John Bascom tried to fight fire on the Motley, until the Bascom had a stick of bombs walk up her deck from stern to bow, with hits in number five hold, the boat deck, and number three hold. Officers and men rescued the wounded, got the only serviceable lifeboat into the water, and pulled away. By that time the harbor was filled with wreckage and flaming oil burned many men as they tried to swim away from wrecked ships. Just as the Bascom boat reached the quay, the John Motley and the John Harvey both exploded. The terrific blast lifted the stern of the nearby Lyman Abbott out of the water and rolled her on her port side with decks ripped open. The Joseph Wheeler, hit at the same time as the Motley, blew up next, and the British Fort Athabaska, beside her and carrying two captured 1,000-pound German rocket bombs, caught fire, blew up, and sank. Forty-four men out of her crew of 56 were killed. By that time, ships still afloat along the quay were burning fiercely, and violent explosions shook the air every few seconds. The little British freighter Devon Coast, untouched during the battle, had a stick of bombs miss her, and as she rolled and pitched in the resulting explosion, a last bomb made a direct hit. She went down, and the attack was over. The battle at Bari lasted 20 minutes. Seventeen ships were sunk or damaged beyond all repair: Testbank, Devon Coast, Fort Athabaska, and Laps Kruse (British); Barletta, Frasinone, and Cassola (Italian); John Bascom, John L. Motley, Joseph Wheeler, John Harvey, and Samuel Tilden (American Libertys). Damaged ships were the Lyman Abbott (American Liberty); Christa, Fort Lajoie, and Brittany Coast (British); Odysseus (Dutch); and Vest (Norwegian). The next day, with messboys filling in as able seamen, the crew of the Lyman Abbott managed to right her enough to get underway for emergency repairs. Searchers probing the wrecked American Libertys found 38 bodies; 150 men were missing from those five ships. The only men to survive out of the Joseph Wheeler crew had been ashore when the battle began. The shattered hulls were eventually removed, and the port of Bari is now filled with peaceful trade and commerce. But it will be a long time before the survivors of the "Battle of Bari" forget it. Although the raid at Bari was one of the worst disasters of the war in terms of ships and material lost, the Paul Hamilton produced a larger casualty list to become the most costly Liberty ship disaster, in terms of human life, in all of World War II. The ship was making her fifth voyage, as part of a huge convoy, UGS38, when it was attacked by 23 German bombers near sunset on 20 April 1944. As was frequently the custom, in addition to her load of high explosives and bombs, the ship carried enough troops to bring the total on-board complement to 498 men. The bombers came in low; men on the bridge of the British tanker, Athelchie, looked down on one as it went by. Her gunners set it on fire, but it launched its torpedo less than 150 feet from the Paul Hamilton. Immediately after the torpedo hit the Hamilton, a violent explosion threw debris and dense black smoke high in the air. When the smoke cleared, there was no sign of the ship. Not one of the 498 men survived. Several months later, in an amazing switch in the vagaries of war, another Liberty ship, the Augustus Thomas, carrying a cargo of ammunition and gasoline and 548 men in the Philippines, was hit and set on fire by a dive-bomber. Not a man was hurt. Merchant shipping in the port of Bizerte and the surrounding seas was especially subject to attack. German airfields were nearby, and the narrow waters made hunting easy for submarines. Fortunately, because the waters were narrow, many damaged ships were towed to port, beached, or salvaged. A submarine torpedo blew the rudder off the Pierce Soule near Bizerte on 23 August 1943, but a Navy tug towed her in for repairs. On 12 September 1943, only 25 miles out of Bizerte, the William B. Travis was hit by a submarine torpedo but managed to make Bizerte under her own power, with a 36-foot-long hole in her side. The Richard Olney, one of three ships in a convoy escorted by British corvettes and armed trawlers, was torpedoed on 22 September 1943. The engine was knocked off its foundation, the engine room flooded, and two men were killed; but the Olney stayed afloat and was towed to Bizerte. What with submarines, dive-bombers, and mines, a cruise aboard a merchant ship in the Mediterranean was not like the ads in the National Geographic used to describe it. The Nathanlel Greene had just left Mostagonem, Algeria, to join a passing convoy, MDS8, when German bombers attacked. Her gunners shot down one plane before three torpedoes hit, killing four crewmen. The ship was beached at Salmanda, a total loss. The James Russell Lowell was torpedoed off Bizerte, abandoned, then reboarded, and towed to Algiers. The Daniel Chester French was "just passing through," as the expression goes, en route from Norfolk to the Persian Gulf, but a submarine sent her down near Bizerte with 37 casualties. The John S. Copley was torpedoed 15 miles off Oran but limped into port. When the Hiram S. Maxim was bombed between Oran and Algiers, her crew abandoned ship and were picked up by the Liberty ships Harry Lane and Leslie W. Shaw. The Maxim was towed to Algiers where her cargo was discharged. The William S. Rosecrans, riding out a gale at Naples on 6 January 1944, was sunk while at anchor by a mine, but there were no casualties. The William B. Woods, carrying 400 American troops and ammunition, was torpedoed, blew up, and sank with the loss of more than a hundred men. Survivors were picked up by the British cruiser Arethusa. The results were very different when the Norwegian Liberty ship Christian Michelsen hit a mine the evening of 26 September 1943, 75 miles west of Bizerte. The ship blew up and sank in 42 seconds, no small wonder, considering that she carried 8,000 tons of ammunition and bombs. Out of a crew of 49, there were only three survivors. One man on the stern gun platform was thrown to the deck and knocked out, but regained consciousness as the vessel went under. The other two, asleep in their quarters at the stern, ran on deck and jumped overboard. All three were picked up by a British armed trawler. Not all the hazards met by Liberty ships were of German origin. Officers and crew of the Alexander H. Stevens, on one of her Anzi0 supply runs, found that U. S. Army stevedores at Bizerte had nonchalantly loaded tanks atop a cargo of shells and hand grenades without securing them. There were tense moments when the tanks began walking back and forth over the ammunition in rough weather, and First Mate Wayne Kirkland led the deck crew below to lash them down before they set off the "firecrackers." On another run, the Stevens carried an even more disconcerting cargo--a load of 300 "psychos," soldiers who had broken down under combat. One of the most tragic incidents of the war in the Mediterranean involved the Benjamin Contee which, under a bright, full moon on the night of 16 August 1943, sailed from Bone, Algeria, for Oran, carrying 1,800 Italian prisoners and 26 British prisoner guards. Only 23 minutes out of port, German bombers attacked with torpedoes, one of which blew a hole 50 feet wide and 21 feet deep between number one and number two holds. The hundreds of shouting, screaming Italian prisoners, filled with panic, broke out to the open deck and rushed the lifeboats, but did not know how to launch them. Fortunately, there were two Italian-speaking men in the crew, and on orders from the captain, they circulated among the wildly milling prisoners, assuring them that the vessel was in no immediate dan- ger of sinking. The panic subsided and the Contee returned to Bone under her own power, but many prisoners were killed in their mad scramble. The Contee later became a blockship at Normandy. Expecting to be bombed was bad enough, but being told when to expect it was considerably worse. As the Edward Bates passed Gibraltar on 31 January 1944 in a 54-ship convoy bound for Italy, her captain heard this disconcerting news on a German-English broadcast: "A 54-ship convoy is now passing Gibraltar. It will be attacked within a few hours." That evening, as predicted, torpedo-bombers hit the convoy. The Bates, not yet one day in the Med, was only one of the victims. The year before, the Samuel Parker, known to her crew as the Fightin' Sam, shuttled around the Mediterranean for six months and collected 140 shell and shrapnel holes in her hull and superstructure during that time. She was the first vessel to be named a "gallant ship of the merchant marine" in World War II, and Captain Elmer J. Stull, Chief Mate N. K. Storkersen, and Able Seaman Fred Anderson all won Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medals for leadership and heroism in combat. During the entire war period, a total of 413 merchant ships--l,740,250 tons-- were sunk in the Mediterranean by enemy action. No American ships were sunk after June, 1944, and only 30 merchant ships of all Allied nations were sunk in those waters that year. The Germans had sustained such heavy U-boat losses there that Grand Admiral Doenitz gave up trying to replenish submarine forces by way of the "gut," the narrow and shallow seagate at Gibraltar. U. S. Army bombers sank five submarines during a raid at Toulon on 6 August, the few remaining U-boats were destroyed by planes and surface craft, and the submarine threat ceased to exist. As the U. S. Army drove toward Berlin, ships finally sailed the once-more peaceful Med with little to fear from the enemy. But along the African shores, and at the bottom of that sea, were the hulks of hundreds of merchantmen and men-of-war, who had helped to make it so.
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