The Mediterranean

                              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


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.


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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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