HIGHLIGHTS OF LST (Landing Ship Tanks) 522
by: Darrell Hutchens, EM2/c
The convoy from New York to England consisted of 120 ships, and included LST's, Liberty, a variety of other ships, and escorts.
17 trips were made across the English Channel. We transported approximately 8000 American, English and Canadian troops from England to the French coast with all their equipment, tanks, trucks and other vehicles.
From the United States to the Philippines, we carried 1700 tons of explosive powder and projectiles. We transported several thousand American and Chinese troops with all their equipment to locations in Korea, China and Japan. We also transported Japanese prisoners of war.
We repatriated several thousand Japanese, Korean and Chinese civilians back to their country of origin.
We traveled approximately 40,000 miles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and of our crew of about 135 men, we never lost one.
Three men on the ship received Purple Hearts. Most of the men on the ship received ribbons for W.W.II, American Campaign, Europe - African - Middle Eastern Campaign with Battle Star, Asiatic Pacific Campaign, China Service and Occupation Service. There may be others that I am not aware of.
HEADED FOR EUROPE
Some time in early 1944, after Navy Electrical School in St. Louis, I was sent to New York where I boarded the LST (Landing Ship Tanks) USS-522. I had never been on a ship of any kind before, and had a lot to learn in a hurry.
The ship left port while I was on watch in the Auxiliary Engine Room, and I never did see the Statue of Liberty. One thing I remember on the trip across the North Atlantic to England was the sound of our escort destroyers dropping depth charges on German subs. I don't think we lost a ship on the way across. At the time, we had no idea of how many ships had been sunk by German U Boats.
One cold morning, I was looking ahead of the convoy and could see what looked like a diamond on the horizon. It was an iceberg, and we passed it about noon. I could not believe how large it was.
As we approached England twenty-one days out of New York, two English Spitfires came out to greet us and passed over the ship at a hundred feet or so. It was a nice welcome.
I don't remember the port we entered.
For several weeks, we practiced for what we knew was about to happen...D-Day. In England, we spent much of our time practicing general quarter drills, fire drills, etc.
From a distance, we observed a lot of the bombing of London by V2 rockets that no one could see. All of a sudden there would be a loud boom, and another part of London would be gone.
The Buzz Bomb, as it was called, was a different story. You could see and hear them coming. They looked like a small plane, and when they ran out of fuel, down they would come. England tried to stop them three different ways. They put up balloons around London with cables attached to them hoping the bomb would hit a cable, and fall short of the city. Spitfire pilots would try to shoot them down or tip them over wing-to-wing, and of course there was antiaircraft fire. It is ironic that this bomb came within feet of destroying our ship and all aboard. I will tell you about it later.
As we prepared for D-Day, restrictions were very tight. No one was permitted off the ship. My brother Ed Hutchens was in England somewhere, but I was not permitted to try and locate him. He was in the Army, and I knew I might never see him again.
On or about June 2, 1944, we started to load about 600 English troops and all their equipment. They also attached a balloon to our ship with a long cable. I found out later this was to stop the German planes from strafing the ship at low altitude.
I don't recall the exact time or date we left port and formed a convoy in the English Channel, and I don't recall any one showing any fear or panic. I think anxiety would be a better word. Fear would come later. After all, most of us were just 18 or 19 years old.
Stories about the bad weather kind of puzzle me, because I don't remember it being that bad. But, after all, we had just crossed the North Atlantic and that was bad.
Crossing the channel the first trip was uneventful until we approached the French coast. I am not sure how long after the first wave of ships and men landed that we were ordered to land. I guess from 8 to 16 hours later we landed on the English beachhead named Gold. It was the center of all the beachheads. There were Americans to our right, with Canadian and more English to our left.
I noticed all the buildings along the coast were only shells. Not much left. Incoming fire from the Germans was all from 88-mm guns. We could hear the shells going by. They took their toll on some boats and ships, but we were not hit.
We had no trouble unloading the soldiers. They did not even get their feet wet. The thing that bothered me the most was seeing the dying and wounded being transported back to the hospital ships. We backed off the beach and waited for a convoy to form up before heading back to England.
Things that I write about now may not be in the order in which they happened...
The battleship Texas pulled up along side us and started firing her big guns. I never heard anything like that in my life. At night, the German Air Force came after us, and no 4th of July ever compared to the site. Every 5th shell was a tracer, and there were thousands of guns firing. Some times, the big shells would explode above our ship, and the shrapnel would come down like hail. A couple of times at night, I could hear fighter planes in combat in the sky. I could see fire from the guns and a couple times, a plane would catch fire and fall.
A trip back to England for another load was no problem. In England, we picked up troops at many different ports. Most times, the troops would be American, but we also took Canadian.
A bad time came on the second crossing to France. We were traveling at night and at general quarters with probably 8 or more LST's in the convoy. All of a sudden, flares in the sky lit up our convoy, and we were under attack by German E boats (like our own PT boat). We could not see anything to shoot at. The LST in front of us took a torpedo near the bow, and some of the sailors that were in the area were wounded, killed, or were blown overboard. I still remember the calls for help from those in the water as we went by. All we could do was toss life rings over the side for them. We were not permitted to stop.
Every compartment is sealed on an LST when at general quarters. The engine room on the LST that was hit was not damaged. She took a list forward, but continued on to France.
On another occasion, we were at anchor in a small port in England. A Liberty ship started to leave port, and took a torpedo just outside the break-wall. How the sub penetrated the area is a mystery. Sub chasers were after the sub in minutes, and forced her to the surface. All the guns in the area, including those on the Liberty, fired on the sub. It was all over in a very short time.
On another trip back from France, the electrician in charge of my group developed acute appendicitis. His bunk was just below mine, and the poor guy was in real bad pain. His appendix broke, and I was sure he was going to die. We managed to get him to a hospital in England, and they saved him. I went to visit him later.
That left me in charge of our division for the rest of my time on the 522.
After unloading the troops on one trip, we anchored some distance from the beach to wait for other ships of offload. A bad storm came up during the night. I was sound a sleep in my bunk when awakened by a bumping of my body against the side of my bunk. Most of us slept in our clothes, so all we did was grab life jackets and go topside. The ship had dragged anchor, and was pounded by the waves high and dry on the beach.
The tide went out and by morning the ship was at least 50 yards or more from the water. When the tide came in, we tried to back out, but no luck. Finally, they came with bulldozers, and when the tide was out, dug a channel to the waters edge. When the tide came in, they hooked two oceangoing tugs to us. Those, along with help from our own engines, managed to get us free.
Some weeks after the invasion, we were permitted to go back and forth to England alone. On one trip back, radar stations on the English coast radioed and asked if any ships were with us. We told them no. They told us we had better get moving, because someone was there that did not belong there. It could have been an E Boat or sub, but we never saw it. We were very happy to enter the harbor.
We made many trips across the channel, and they became routine, but what was about to happen nearly ended the life of the 522 and all aboard.
BUZZ BOMB GETS TOO CLOSE
Remember, I mentioned Buzz Bombs earlier...their characteristics and how the English tried to protect London from them? We had traveled up the Thames River to a point near London. It is not clear in my memory what we did there. As I remember, we were headed down stream. I was walking through the crew quarters going aft about mid-ship. All of a sudden there was what sounded like, a muffled explosion. The deck went out from under me and I landed on my knees.
I got to my feet, but had trouble seeing because of insulation dust in the air. I managed to find my way to the ladder leading to the main deck. I passed the galley on the way, and there were pots, pans, range tops and debris all over the place. One of the cooks that I correspond with today told me that I stopped and helped him get out from under a range top, but I do not remember.
I managed to get out on the main deck aft. Some of the injured were already being helped. One poor guy had all his clothes blown off, and he looked like his eyes popped out of his head. We had fires burning everywhere. We dumped everything overboard that was on fire or put it out with fire hoses. The bulkhead of a shell magazine was full of holes, but no ammo exploded. The sheet metal on the side of the ship was pushed in between the ribs, and there was a lot of damage to that quarter of the ship.
We had several badly injured but no fatalities.
There was one eyewitness to what happened. He observed a buzz bomb approaching, and watched it for some time. It was on a collision course with one of the balloon cables they had around London. (The balloon just happened to be directly above our ship.) The bomb hooked a wing on the cable, and fell in the water next to our ship. Just a short distance one way or the other would have been the end of the 522 and all aboard.
It was kind of interesting to note that two LST's docked together near London did have a buzz bomb land on them and all hands were lost.
We went into a ship repair facility near there, and for several weeks they worked on our ship. It was a great opportunity for us to see a lot of England including London. I was invited to spend some time with one family who has corresponded with our family ever since.
I don't recall if we made any more trips to France.
Before I begin to describe the trip back to the States, I will tell you about a bombing raid we watched on Caen, France that you would find hard to believe. It must have been a week or so after D-Day. British troops were hung up outside Caen, France, and Ike was getting fed up with them. He must have ordered the town destroyed, because what happened was unbelievable.
The town of Caen is not far inland from the ocean. We looked up into the sky and all you could see were bombers from one horizon to the other. We could actually see bunches of bombs leave the bombers from our position some miles away. We could see the smoke and dust above the town. In my imagination, I can hear Ike tell the British troop commanders, "The tea party is over...get moving."
Our trip home to the good old USA was not an easy one. I guess the Navy brass figured they could get along without our battered but seaworthy ship, and ordered us back to the United States. We formed a convoy with several other LST's and some minesweepers. Our course was across the South Atlantic to New Orleans.
I don't remember exactly when, but we lost our steering from the wheel-house. It's kind of scary going every way but straight in a convoy. We were able to make repairs to an electrical control on the steering motor while we steered by hand. We than ran smack dab into a major storm. The waves, I am sure, were 40 to 50 feet high. Our ship was 338 feet long, so we would chug up one side of a wave, tip over the top, and slide down the other. The suspension on our master Gyro broke when we came down hard over a wave, and we had to navigate by magnetic compass the rest of the way.
The propellers would come out of the water as we went over a wave, and the engines would over speed. We came down so hard, when we tipped over a wave, that the legs on the galley ranges were damaged. And, the deck plating on the main deck started to split, and had to be welded.
Most of the time, we could not even see the minesweepers. We managed to survive and were ordered to Norfolk, Virginia for repairs before going on to New Orleans.
TO THE PACIFIC
While our ship was being refurbished in New Orleans to almost like new, we had lots of good liberty and a chance to go home. Soon we were all set to go again.
I don't remember the port where we loaded ammunition, but they loaded the tank deck from top to bottom with every kind of ammo from 16-inch projectiles on down. The tank deck was about 200 feet long by 35 feet wide by 15 feet high. I can't guess at how many tons of ammo we had on board.
They also put an LCT, which is about a hundred feet long, on our main deck.
Finally, on our way. It must have been around the first of 1945. We entered the Panama Canal, and all seemed to be going fine. In one of the worst possible parts of the Canal, one of our main engines quit. If we had an accident here and blew up, I can't imagine how much damage we would have done to the Canal. Luck was with us again, and we managed to limp on to the repair facility on the Pacific side where they fixed the engine.
Now, on to Hawaii with nice calm seas all the way. It was almost boring. As we approached Pearl, we were asked as to our cargo. When we told them we were loaded with ammo they told us that we were not permitted in the harbor. We had to go around the island to the navel air station harbor. It seems an LST had blown up in Pearl some time earlier. Needless to say, we had very stringent rules about smoking anywhere near the tank deck.
We had a nice liberty in Hawaii before continuing on to the Marshall Islands.
The trip to the Marshall Island group was uneventful as I recall. When we were there we had some time to go on the beach. Beautiful shells were everywhere, and we picked up a lot of them. One problem was that they began to smell very bad after a while. We solved that problem by blowing the little animals out with compressed air.
I don't know why we stopped there...possibly just to join up with other ships. We than left for the Caroline Island group. Specifically the Ulithi Atoll. It was August 7, 1945.
At some of our stops, we were permitted to go ashore for a kind of beer party. I was sitting on the beach enjoying my couple of cans of cold beer when all the sailors started cheering and yelling their fool heads off. The first atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. On August 9th, the second bomb was dropped. We left Ulithi with five other LST's and headed for Leyte in the Philippines.
If you are not are familiar with the Indianapolis tragedy, here is the story. The cruiser was sunk by a Japanese sub the 30th of July, 1945 on its way from Guam to Leyte and was not ever reported missing. Luck would have it that the oil slick was spotted by a patrol plane about 5 days after the sinking. Most of the crew was lost. This happened about 300 miles west of our position on Ulithi.
We left from Ulithi to Leyte on the 9th of August. About the 11th of August, we would be very near where the Indianapolis was lost. Once again, we were in convoy with five other LST's. No one told us about the Indianapolis, but we were told that there may be sub activity in the area. It is very possible that the sub had seen us. The question we all wondered about is why he didn't attack if he saw us. One shot from his deck gun into our load of ammo would have blown us all over the South Pacific. Maybe he did not wish to engage small ships. I am more inclined to believe he heard about the atomic bombs, and decided to head for home as the war would be over soon.
JAPAN ACCEPTS SURRENDER TERMS
We entered the Gulf of Leyte about August 13th. On August 15th, Japan accepted our surrender terms. Our big job then was to unload all the ammo. Not an easy task when it is boiling hot and the humidity is high. All hands were ordered to work on the unloading, even the officers. I remember I sweat so hard I could hear the water swish in my shoes. Next stop, Manila in the Philippines.
Before leaving for Manila, we became aware of the most horrible odor all around the ship. After a lot of looking we found that a dead horse had drifted up against the side of the ship. One of our small boats had to tow it away. We did not do any swimming in these waters. After several years of war in this area, the water was not very clean.
Our trip to Manila was uneventful. In the evening, we noted how the city was all lit up. Maneuvering around the harbor, for some reason, was difficult and we ran over a submerged breakwater. Got off OK, but had to make some minor repairs to the bow doors. Loaded with military equipment, we then headed north with four other LST's and one escort.
There was a typhoon warning ahead, so we had to try and avoid most of it. It was still a very tough ride. Rumors were that the LST 73 capsized and went down in the storm. All hands were lost.
Underway to Jensen, Korea, we had to change course several times because of mine fields. We had watches on the bow that were on the look out for mines. Several were seen, and our escort or we would detonate them with deck guns or rifle fire.
Finally, after some scary times with mines and storms, we arrived at Jensen, Korea. This was an interesting place. It has one of the greatest tides in the world. If I remember correctly, it was 25 feet or more. They have what they call a tidal basin. It traps the water by way of a series of locks to form a permanent harbor.
We carried an LCT piggy back on the trip to Europe, and to the Pacific. LCT's are about 100 feet by 35 feet. We carried them on wooden ways on our top deck. All we had to do to launch them was to list the ship to one side by pumping all our fuel and ballast to one side. Then we would just slide them off. We launched the LCT there.
We loaded some supplies and continued on to Fusan, Korea.
When we arrived in Fusan, we had a beer party, which was a rare event. We than went to Saishu Island to pick up Japanese prisoners of war. We picked up 1,400 and returned them to Sasebo, Japan. Glad to get rid of that bunch. Their commander was called Itchicawa (sp). We called him itchy, which was unacceptable to our officers, and we were told in no uncertain terms not to do that.
Sasebo, Japan was a large Naval Station. I remember seeing a very large ship that looked like an aircraft carrier, but it looked like it was not finished. And, we heard that even if it was ready to go to sea, they did not have fuel to operate it.
We than went on to Haguski, Okinawa, and passed through unswept mine fields, again. No one liked that. Back to Jensen, Korea, and Kunsan, Korea.
We would repatriate 5 or 6 hundred Koreans, Chinese, or Japanese civilians at a time back to their own country. We had no bath facilities to handle all these people. We ended up building a wood trough across our main deck with a fire hose in one end. Keep in mind, this was winter and going to the bathroom on the main deck on a LST was not fun. Especially when you are in full view of anyone who cares to look. Japanese people were the only people that volunteered to build some shelter around the trough.
Thanksgiving was just another day at sea, but we were all very happy to be alive. Of course, we had some security problems that had to be addressed. Some of the crew was armed with automatic pistols. This created an unforeseen problem. While practicing with the guns on the rear of the ship, one of our shipmates was accidentally shot. We had no doctor, but one of the officers had gone to medical school for a short time. He and the pharmacist mate were able to attend to him until we were able to transfer him to a ship with a doctor. He did survive.
Winter in Korea is much like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan; snowstorms and very cold. On one trip to Kunsan, Korea, we ran into a very bad winter storm; high seas, wind and snow. We had to shelter down wind from a group of islands. One ship lost its anchor and had to stay under way through the entire storm.
December 22, 1946 found us in Tsingtao, China. As I remember, we had not received any mail for two or three months. Christmas was just around the corner and moral of the crew was very low.
Mail at last! Most of the packages were badly damaged. We think all the mail must have been in Okinawa during the typhoon that I mentioned earlier, and that is how it got damaged. Boxes of crumbs that were once cookies were still very good.
New Year's Day came and moral was still not very high. A lot of the guys had some booze hid someplace and most of us got quit drunk. I remember getting more sick than drunk. The next day, officers shook down the ship, and any booze that was leftover went over the side.
I don't remember the exact day, but in the first week of January, 1946, I received a letter from my mother with bad news. She asked me to try to come home soon. My father had a cerebral hemorrhage and may not live to long. There was also a letter from the doctor confirming the situation. The Red Cross would do nothing for my mother, and I have never had anything to do with them since.
I took the letter to the Captain, and he was very understanding. He sent me to the Flotilla Commander who was on another ship. The commander looked at the letters, and without any hesitation, ordered me on the next ship home. I hardly had time to get my gear together before I was on the Cruiser Springfield on my way home. The 8th of January 1946 I left Tsingtao, China.
We crossed the North Pacific and arrived in Los Angeles, California on the 29th of January 1946. Three more days and I would be home.
My father never said much, but I know he was glad I was home. The fact that my two brothers were also in the war, and were at the train to meet me, made us all very happy.
That spring, I got my Honorable Discharge and was home for good. Did you ever hear that song, "What did you do in the war Grandpa?" Now you know.