CVE-72 U.S.S. Tulgai - History

CVE-72 U.S.S. Tulgai - History

Tulagi

(CVE-72: dp. 7,800, 1. 512'3", b. 66' ew. 108'1"; dr. 22'6"; s. 19 k., cpl. 860, a. 1 5', 16 40mm., 20 20mm.; el. Casablanca; T. SA-S2-BB3)

Tulagi ( CVE-72) was laid down on 7 June 1943 at Vancouver, Wash., by the Kaiser Co., Inc., as Fortazela Bay (ACV-72); and redesignated CVE-72 on 15 July 1943. However, her name was corrected to read Fortaleza Bay on 19 October 1943, and the ship was renamed Tulagi on 6 November 1943, Iaunched on 15 November 1943; sponsored by Mrs. James Duke Barner and commissioned on 21 December 1943, Capt. Joseph Campbell Cronin in command.

The new escort carrier got underway from Seattle on 17 January 1944 bound for San Francisco where she was immediately pressed into service ferrying stores, airplanes, and military personnel to Hawaii She departed Pearl Harbor for the homeward voyage on 29 January and arrived at San Diego with her load of passengers on 4 February. Throughout most of February, she participated in training exercises out of San Diego before steaming, via the Canal Zone, for Hampton Boads, Va. Following her arrival at Norfolk on 17 March, Tulagi underwent overhaul and carrier qualification tests.

Tulagi embarked a load of Army Air Forces planes late in May and departed New York on the 28th in convoy with two other carriers and their screen. On 6 June, Tulagi entered her first foreign port as she steamed the swept channel approach to Casablanca. After disembarking her cargo, the carrier took on passengers including a group of 35 prisoners of war and then headed home.

After arriving at Norfolk on 17 June 1944, Tulagi got underway late in June for Quonset Point, R.I. where she embarked personnel, planes, and equipment. On the last day of the month, she departed Narragansett Bay with Rear Admiral Calvin T. Durgin on board as Commander, Task Group 27.7, and steamed eastward conducting squadron and battery training en route to Oran, Algeria. Tulagi visited Malta on 26 July and then spent the following weeks conducting exercises which included a dress rehearsal out of African and Italian ports for the coming Operation "Dragoon," the invasion of southern France.

On D-day, Tulagi steamed in formation 45 miles off the invasion beach; and, at 0546, she launched her first flight of Hellcats. In the next week, aircraft from Tulagi flew a total of 68 missions and 276 sorties, inflicting considerable damage on the enemy. Weather was generally good as carrier-based planes conducted spotting missions and made strikes at various targets ashore, including gun emplacements and railway facilities. On 21 August, Tulagi's last day in support of Operation "Dragoon," German forces were in retreat before the Allied thrust. Tulagi's fliers conducted a devastating attack along the line of march of a German convoy which snarled the roads for miles around Remouline and crowned her achievements of the day by downing three German Ju 52's.

After taking on supplies and fuel at Oran, she got underway for home on 6 September. Following a quick overhaul at Norfolk, the escort carrier set her course for Panama; transited the Canal; and arrived at San Diego on 26 October. There, she embarked two air squadrons for transportation to Hawaii and departed the west coast on 29 October 1944.

Following her arrival at Pearl Harbor on 5 November the carrier participated in antisubmarine warfare an] gunnery exercises. On the 24th, she got underway in company with a special antisubmarine task group which conducted sweeps as it steamed via the Marshalls and Ulithi for Saipan. Throughout December Tulagi continued antisubmarine activities in the Palaus and the southern Marianas.

On the first day of the new year, 1945, Tulagi got underway for Lingayen Gulf and the impending invasion of Luzon. Meanwhile, the Japanese in the Philippines had assigned more than 100 suicide planes for a concerted attack on Tulagi's task force. The convoy passed through Surigao Strait into the Mindanao Sea on 3 January. In the following three days, the kamikazes took their toll. On the 4th, reports of enemy aircraft in the area became more frequent; and, late in the afternoon, a suicide plane splashed while trying to dive into Lunga Poi1qt (CVE-19). Moments later, observers on Tulagi saw the conflagration which marked the death throes of Ommaneg Bag (CVE-79), the victim of another kamikaze. On the morning of 5 January, enemy air attackers continued to menace the convoy as it steamed through Mindoro Strait and into the South China Sea. Although fighters from the carrier splashed two "Zekes," three enemy aircraft succeeded in penetrating the defenses of the convoy. Two were splashed, but one managed to crash into cruiser Louisville (CA28), a member of the convoy's screen.

When landing began at Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945, Tulagi launched her planes for air strikes on land targets, anti-snooper patrols, and air cover for American vessels. On 12 January, Tulagi supplied air support for the Lingayen Gulf beachhead, and, the next day, her port battery shot down a suicide plane which had singled out the carrier for destruction. Before it splashed, the attacker, deflected from Tulagi by withering antiaircraft fire, crossed astern and to starboard of the escort carrier and vainly attempted to dive into an alternate target. On 17 January, the Army Air Forces assumed responsibility for direct air support of American operations in Lingayen Gulf, and Tulagi's firs turned their attention toward the Zambales coast where they provided cover for support and protection of forces near San Narcisco. On 5 February, Tulagi arrived at Ulithi after a grueling period of sustained flight operations during which her planes had been in the air for all but two of 32 days.

Tulagi departed Guam on 21 February to conduct hunter-killer exercises in support of the assault on Iwo Jima before joining a task unit in area Varnish west of Iwo Jima on 1 March. She supplied air support and antisubmarine patrols until departing the area on 11 March, bound for Ulithi. Arriving there on 14 March, she prepared for the invasion of the Ryukyus.

Assigned alternately to antisubmarine and direct support activities, Tulagi operated continuously off the coast of Okinawa from the end of March until early June. On 3 April, four "Zekes" attacked her formation, and all were splashed. On the 6th, while Tulagi was anchored at Kerama Retto for rearming, a Japanese air attack penetrated air space over the harbor. The carrier took one of her attackers under fire at 4,000 yards, but the Japanese plane came harrowingly close before turning aside to dive into a nearby LST which burst into flames 200 feet high. Minutes later, Tulagi splashed another attacker and chased off a third with her accurate fire. The next day, Tulagi resumed her station off Okinawa, providing planes for air strikes called in by ground observers and for running photo reconnaissance and patrol missions. On the 13th, after she launched a special strike against the airfields of Miyako Jima, she began antisubmarine operations along the shipping lanes approaching Okinawa.

Following this long and arduous tour, Tulagi arrived at Guam on 6 June 1946. The carrier departed the Marianas on the 8th, bound for San Diego. She remained on the west coast throughout the summer undergoing overhaul, trials, and training. Peace came while she was at San Diego, but she departed the west coast again on 4 September and steamed via Hawaii for the Philippines. At Samar, she embarked planes for transportation back to the United States and reached Pearl Harbor in October. After returning to San Diego in January 1946, the veteran escort carrier reported to the 19th Fleet at Port Angeles, Wash., on 2 February 1946 for inactivation. She was decomissioned on 30 April 1946 and struck from the Navy list on 8 May 1946.

Tulagi received four battle stars for World War II service.


Flight Stories

In the early morning hours of August 15, 1944, the invasion of southern France began — Europe’s second “D-Day”, called Operation Dragoon. Though less known than the Normandy landings, the invasion of southern France was a decisive victory and one that was hard fought. Notably, it also involved air support from the US Navy, thus putting Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats over France in direct contact with the German Luftwaffe.

USAAF C-47A Skytrains from the 12th Troop Carrier Wing, loaded with paratroopers on their way for the invasion of southern France during Operation Dragoon. Photo Credit: USAF

For the Allies, Operation Dragoon was a complete success. The combined forces of the US Army’s 1st Airborne Task Force parachuted into the hills overlooking the beaches in the vicinity of St. Tropez, east of Marseille. The parachute drop was followed by a morning amphibious assault by the U.S. Seventh Army. A day later, the French First Army landed on the beaches. The drive inland then began in earnest. Arrayed against the Allied forces was the German Heeresgruppe G (Army Group G). The Germans were ill-equipped, spread thinly, and under supplied. Complicating matters for the German leadership, resistance forces had severed communications. The speed of the Allied invasion and drive inland had taken them by surprise.

A close-up of an F6F-5 Hellcat of VOF-1 as it is waved off from landing aboard USS Tulagi (CVE-72) after a ground attack sortie during the first day of Operation Dragoon. Photo Credit: US Navy (courtesy of Russ Egnor, republished in the book, “Carrier Air War In Original WWII Color” by Robert Lawson and Barrett Tillman)

Within days, the most capable elements of Heeresgruppe G made a retreat toward Switzerland, leaving behind 130,000 soldiers, including many from the East and third tier forces to surrender. The Allies flew extensive resupply operations with C-47s making hundreds of sorties that brought in ammunition, food and materiel to the men engaging in battle across the region.

In Operation Dragoon, the Allies liberated the rest of France within just four weeks. They opened the southern ports along the Mediterranean for logistics supply into France, which proved to be the key in supporting the drive toward Berlin. Later calculations estimate that 1/3 of all logistics support for the advance landed in southern France.

US Military instructional map of Operation Dragoon, studied at West Point. Credit: US Department of Defense

During Operation Dragoon, an unexpected and little known battle played out as US Navy F6F-5 Hellcats flew missions over Europe against the Luftwaffe. On August 15 alone, the first day of the invasion, 100 sorties were flown over beaches and inland, virtually all in the ground attack role. Launching from the USS Tulagi, the Hellcat squadron VOF-1 under the LCDR W.F. Bringle, USN, and VF-74 from the USS Kasaan Bay under the command of LCDR Harry Brinkley Bass, USN, provided ground support to the the infantry and tanks as they made their breakout from the beaches.

In addition, a small seven plane night fighter unit of F6F-3N Hellcats with radar systems were employed from a detachment based in Corsica — each night, two would land on the USS Tulagi to stand readiness on deck in the event of an incoming night attack. As it happened, they were never needed.

The first Hellcats that flew against the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht came from USS Tulagi. The first Hellcats to fly over France took off at 5:46 am, right with the first light of dawn. By the end of the operation, VOF-1 had flown 68 missions and 276 sorties — VF-74 flew a similar number.

VF-74 Hellcat pilots are briefed for a ground attack mission over southern France while sitting in the Ready Room on board the USS Kasaan Bay in August 1944 during Operation Dragoon. Photo Credit: US Navy

The German Luftwaffe, however, did not make much of a showing to challenge the US Navy in the skies. On the first evening off Cap Dramont, a Ju-88 sank a fully loaded tank landing ship (USS LST-282) by using a glide bomb. On D-Day+2, another set of torpedo attacks by Dorniers and Ju-88s were unsuccessful after the attackers encountered heavy AAA fire. Despite the sporadic air response, however, Allied anti-aircraft fire was more successful against American pilots — it was a case of trigger happy Navy gunners unknowingly engaging in “friendly fire”.

Direct contact between the Luftwaffe and US Navy aircraft finally occurred in the morning of August 19, when three Heinkel He-111s were spotted by a flight of four Hellcats from VOF-1. With critically low fuel, however, the American Navy pilots could not engage. The He-111s made their escape successfully.

It soon became apparent that the German retreat was underway. The roads at Remouline were snarled with traffic as a large German convoy pressed northward hoping to escape from the battle area. Hellcats were launched to strafe and bomb the convoy. The results were later called “a devastating attack”.

An F6F-5 Hellcat from VF-74 takes off from the deck of the USS Kasaan Bay during Operation Dragoon, August 1944. Photo Credit: US Navy

Later in the day, two more He-111s were spotted by another flight of Hellcats from VOF-1. Both of the German bombers were shot down near the village of Vienne. This marked the first Hellcat “kills” over France. Shortly afterward, a third He-111 was spotted and also downed by one of the same VOF-1 pilots, Ensign Alfred R. Wood, who chalked up his second victory for the day, though the first was officially shared with his squadron mate, LT Rene E. Poucel.

In Barrett Tillman’s book, “Hellcat: The F6F in World War II”, the author describes the engagements that day in some detail. “On a tactical recon of the Rhone River, the VOF-1 exec ran across two more Heinkels. Lieutenant Commander John H. Sandor’s division jumped the pair of low-flying bombers heading south near Vienne. The Heinkels split up and Lieutenant Rene E. Poucel with Ensign Alfred R. Wood flamed one from astern. It crashed in the same region Poucel’s parents had been born.”

The author notes that Poucel was himself an American born of immigrants from southern France. He then continues, “Sandor and Ensign David Robinson closed in on the second Heinkel at 700 feet and hit it at full deflection from starboard. The stricken bomber crashed-landed in a field, where the two Hellcats came down low to burn it. The surviving crew members were killed when they ran into Sandor and Robinson’s line of fire. Continuing the reconnaissance, Ensign Wood spotted a third He-111, still south of Vienne. He peeled off from 2,000 feet and closed in behind, setting both engines afire. The Heinkel exploded and crashed in some woods.”

VF-74’s commander, LCDR Bass, then lead a flight that intercepted and downed a Junkers Ju-88. As the afternoon hours ticked by, another VF-74 flight encountered a Dornier Do-217 and shot it down as well, with the victory being shared by two Navy pilots, LTJG Edwin Castanedo and ENS Charles Hullard.

Throughout Operation Dragoon, the US Navy enjoyed complete dominance over the battlefield. Bloodied and weakened by the wider Allied progress in the war, the Luftwaffe could put up little other resistance in southern France. The Allied advance on Marseille was rapid and the city was completely surrounded on August 21st. On August 21, the Luftwaffe attempted to fly three Junkers Ju-52 transport planes into the beleaguered city, but these too were intercepted by the Navy’s Hellcats of VOF-1 and shot down. Credit was given to Lt. (jg.) Edward W. Olszewski and Ens. Richard V. Yentzer. Interestingly, Lt. (jg.) Olszewski’s Hellcat that day was the same one as previously flown by Ens. Wood when he scored his kills. By the end of the campaign, that aircraft dutifully carried four kill markings, little Nazi swastikas that were painted under the cockpit rail.

Author Tillman describes the aerial combat and notes that the pilots “…found three Junkers 52 transports over the Rhone River. The tri-motored Junders were apparently evacuating German VIPs from Marseille, and though both Hellcats were damaged from earlier combat, the Tulagi pilots gave chase. Olsewski attacked from starboard on the V-formation and dropped the number three man in two passes. With only one gun firing he then took out the other wingman. Yentzer got the lead Junkers by making three runs from 9 o’clock and sent it down burning”.

Pilots of VF-74 pose on the deck of the USS Kasaan Bay with their F6F-5 Hellcats after departing Algeria for the USA after Operation Dragoon. Photo Credit: US Navy

The campaign was not without cost. VOF-1 and VF-74 lost 17 aircraft and seven pilots, mostly due to ground fire and operational accidents. VF-74’s highly experienced commanding officer, LCDR Bass, a veteran of the Pacific War who had received two Distinguished Flying Crosses, was killed during a ground attack sortie on August 20. The logbook of VF-74 recounted the loss:

“At the northernmost point of their flight, Bass’ division went low looking for targets and over Camelet, Bass suddenly pushed over steeply and at 200 feet went into a dive. The others couldn’t see his target much but thought it to be a motorcycle. Bass went so low on his strafing run that his belly tank hit an object on the ground and tore away, the plane pulled up to 300 ft. but never regained proper altitude. It pulled away to port and plummeted to earth, exploding. The only remains of Bass are his USNA ring and dogtag later found by the army in the field where he crashed.”

Despite the losses, the Navy’s Hellcats proved effective in their primary roles of air superiority as well as ground attack over France. In the latter role, they were particularly deadly, strafing and bombing targets. The official results reported that 825 vehicles were destroyed, 334 more were damaged. As well, the logs reported the destruction or damage of 84 locomotives. Eight Luftwaffe aircraft were downed in total. After two weeks, the US Navy’s air units were withdrawn from the combat as the supporting amphibious fleet was no longer needed.

One More Bit of Aviation History

During the war in Europe, there were other carrier-based aircraft that were well-known in the Pacific War but rarely seen fighting the Germans. The FM-2 Wildcat was a standard fixture of convoy support duties with a number of squadrons engaged. The British also flew the Wildcat, calling it the Martlet, basing the plane out of Scotland. They felt that the FM-2 Martlets were no match for the Luftwaffe. Also, during Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, US Navy Wildcats were engaged against Vichy French fighter planes, scoring a number of kills. After the successful invasion, the bulk of the remaining Vichy French forces there came over to fight with the Allies as part of the Free French forces, making their losses a travesty of war.

4 Comments

Hi, I am very pleased to have your site. In the 1970s, I found a badly damaged German 20mm flak ammunition magazine behind the Semaphore Hill at Le Dramont, France. Examining the magazine, it is easy to see it was hit on the side by a .50 cal round which then exploded the closest 20mm rounds. I have wondered recently if would be possible to find out which USAAF flight attacked this target. Having seen your website, I hope you can steer me in the right direction.

Best regards,
Oliver Boyle

My grandfather was a Navigator on a TBF Avenger on the Kasaan Bay. Fought in the Pacific Arena 44-45
I have several photographs and memorabilia from his time there. Can’t wait to share this article with him!

I was transferred to the aircraft carrier TULAGI 12-21-43, we left Quonset Point, R I with Admiral Durgin and Squadron VOF-1. I was the Petty Officer in charge of the Plane Directors on the Flight Deck and enjoyed your “Hellcats over France”

My uncle, William Nathan Arbuckle, was one of those lost on August 20. I am hoping to visit the memorial that has been placed for him in Meze.


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CVE-72 U.S.S. Tulgai - History

CVE 21 MEMORIES

Notes from the original webmaster (1999-2009):

All Navy ships are at their most venerable point, or position from underwater attack , when they are changing courses. As the ships turn they slide through the water much like a car making a quick turn. More of the ships sides are pushing the water and the wake created is much wider. This reaction results in the slowing of the ship and presents a larger target for any submarine attack. And aircraft carrier has no choice except to turn into the wind when launching aircraft to provide greater lift for the airplane. This action also tends to slow the carrier as well as the side slipping motion. This activity also engages the escort ships to take stations forward and to the aft of the carrier to pick up the pilots of any aircraft that are “dunked” into the sea. With the advent of the Helicopter these “escort ships” can go about their task of protecting the carrier as the “chopper” is better equipped to handle the rescue in a hover motion. Note that in the following article this circumstance existed at approximately 8:00 PM (2000 military) on May 29, 1944 as launching the six fighters that were lost and the recovery of 4 Torpedo Bombers was taking place. This not only placed the aircraft carrier in it’s most venerable position it also put the 4 escort DE’s scurrying to take their positions for landings and launching. The action also (other than general quarters) is the major task the carrier’s crew must undertake as they go to “Flight Quarters”. The sea conditions and the timing factors were almost perfect for the German submarine to make the attack.

Lots of things become hazy over the years but these memories are still very much alive, especially when discussed time and time again with fellow shipmates.

On 29 May 1944, at approximately 2000 hours, six fighter planes (FM – Wildcats) were ordered aloft to provide air cover to the Block Island task force while the four TBM Avenger Torpedo / Bombers were recovered. All of these aircraft were part of the Navy Squadron VC–55. My duty, as an Aviation Ordnance man, after the TBM’s had landed, was to help in disarming (making “safe”) the .50 cal. machine guns located in the wings and other ordnance. Making “safe” was the removal of the live rounds in the gun chambers, disconnecting the gun belts and moving forward the bolt mechanism, to relieve the spring tension on the bolts. I was working that particular night, as his partner, with Harold (“Chic”) Swails, from Lebanon, Ind. (See Note # l)

After the aircraft was disarmed, I proceeded to my berthing quarters, located in a small space just below the flight deck and above the hanger deck. Then down one ladder to the hanger deck and one more ladders down to the head / shower on that deck. I was taking a shower when the first torpedo struck the port side of the carrier one in the bow at about frame 12. Approximately four seconds later the second struck toward the stern, between frames 171 and 182, exploding in the oil tank, through the shaft alley and up through the 5 in. magazines, without causing any further fires or explosions. (See Note # 2)

At this time all personnel on the hanger deck were ordered topside to the flight deck. Hurriedly dressing, returning to the hanger deck heading for my general quarters battle station a 20 mm anti-craft cannon, port side of ship, on a sponson adjacent to the hanger deck. Needless to say, this area and other adjacent cannons were destroyed at the time the first torpedo struck forward on port side of ship.

Other stories, personal experiences printed elsewhere in other Block Island documents, relate to the trapping, above this same area, of Coxswain James O’Neil Franks. The catwalk trapped Franks where he was on look out duty. Later it was learned that Chief Warrant Officer (Carpenter) Clarence M. Bailey with help from medical corpsmen was instrumental in moving Franks from the catwalk to the flight deck. This man died while rescuers were rendering first aid and trying to release his legs. His body remained aboard the ship.

After noting my “General Quarters” battle station was destroyed, many of us were inspecting the hanger deck looking for possible fires. No fires were detected. The crew was anxious to retrieve life jackets which were stored overhead on metal shelves. No one appeared to be injured in this area. Believe it or not and why ( ? ) I returned to my berthing quarters, put on clean clothes, inside and out. Put on my red-stripped helmet (which denoted A O’s when on the flight deck), thinking of being spotted later with that red helmet. I removed from my locker, a copy of the New Testament. This was previously handed to me by our Chaplain, Rev. Gordon MacInnes (learned later he was an uncle to our “CHIPS” Editor, Bill MacInnes) when passing by his office on my way answering a call to “General Quarters.”

After changing clothes and returning to the hanger deck, I met with Chief Aviation Ordnanceman, Fred Bruce Johnson (my Ordnance Dept. head). At 2023, a third torpedo from U-549 struck the helpless CVE, wrecking the lower decks, knocking out all power and breaking Block Island’s back. We then explored the hanger deck and realized that a TBF had fallen through a large hole in the hanger deck surface to the mess deck below. This needed further examination. In the plane we found the body of a deceased sailor. Bruce and I identified him as James Byrol Owen, Aviation Machinist Mate First Class, and a member of our Division. After Bruce Johnson and I had made sure of our identification, we moved up to the flight deck.

During this time many crew members gathered on the flight deck awaiting further word concerning damage, etc. Meanwhile Petty Officers Don Taylor, Alexander Culberson and Leonard Johnson flooded the aviation gasoline storage tanks. These three men were awarded the Bronze Star Medal for this action, I wish that the letters accompanying these awards were available for inclusion in the Block Island’s web page. These letters would be of great interest to surviving relatives of those recipients. While on the flight deck, we saw an explosion off the port quarter, thinking that one of the D E ‘s had dropped depth charges or fired hedgehogs and had found the sub. Later word was passed along that the explosion we saw was a fourth torpedo, intended for the “21” that hit the stern of the USS Barr DE 576, resulting in a large number of casualties.

At 2040 Captain Hughes ordered all hands to “Abandon Ship”. By 2100 most men went over the starboard side, either jumping or sliding down knotted 40-ft. Rope ladders. As the ship sank the planes spotted on deck slid into the sea like toys, the TBM’s depth changes exploding deep under the surface. Block Island took her final plunge at 2155. We were equipped with various types of life belts / jackets as well as cork supported rope nets. Many times, when describing this incident, friends would ask about “the lifeboats.” Since we had only two small boats aboard, most of time these were used in transporting personnel, mail, etc. whenever the carrier was anchored away from any pier while in port.

The USS Ahrens DE 575 stopped engines and drifted to a stop in the Atlantic swells, recovering the Block Islanders from the sea. With Ahrens’ engines now stilled, her sonar almost immediately detected U-549. Ahrens skipper radioed the USS Elmore DE 686 coaching the sister ship to where the German submarine lay. Three projectiles from Elmore’s hedgehogs slammed into the U-549’s hull at 2127. A great, grinding internal explosion audible to the monitoring ships destroyed the U-boat a moment later.

The USS Ahrens picked up 674 survivors (I was included) and the USS Paine DE 578 picked up 277 personnel. I have no memory as to how long we were in the water. The crew of the Ahrens helped the survivors aboard, by many of its crew hanging over the side to help.

The next morning, 30 May, Elmore with the damaged Barr under tow, and the two DE’s laden with the CVE survivors, cleared the area for Casablanca, arriving 1 June. The personnel of the two DE’s, did a commendable job of making all hands as comfortable as possible, some giving up bunks for others to catch a few winks. The task of feeding this large number, aboard the Ahrens and the Paine, was without parallel. While we were lined up on the main deck, waiting turns to go below to eat our two meals. Sometimes, from the bridge came the order for some men to shift from one side or to the other to maintain an even keel. The odor of diesel fuel oil was everywhere that we touched.

My what a mess! However, we were SAFE. After we arrived in Casablanca, showers and clean khaki uniforms made each of us feel much better. The crew was then mustered together to start obtaining information from them. Bruce Johnson and I were questioned separately and later together, as to our certain identification of Petty Officer James Owen, found inside the cockpit of the damaged TBM. Ironically during this time of interrogation, neither of us was asked for names of family members to be notified of our survival. My family received telegram “Missing in Action” but quickly followed by “Well and Safe.” My mother lovingly saved these telegrams.

Survivors departed Casablanca aboard three Carriers: USS Mission Bay – CVE 59, USS Kasaan Bay – CVE 69 and USS Tulagi – CVE 72 for the return trip home to Norfolk Va. and to begin the traditional thirty (30) day “Survivors’ Leave.” After leave had expired, most of crew was ordered back to Norfolk, Va. for a cross-country troop train ride to Seattle (Bremerton), WA. and further assignment to the NEW USS BLOCK ISLAND, CVE 106.

Note # 1: For many years I had wondered who had piloted this last plane (TBM) to land on the Block Island just before the sub’s attack began. The same plane that “Chic” Swails and I disarmed the ordnance. The Navy Aviation crew members were transferred from the new CVE 106, at San Diego to a Naval Air Station, Twenty-Nine Palms, CA, CASU # 5 (Carrier Aircraft Service Unit).

While stationed with CASU # 5, I became acquainted with Rudy Esquivel, an Aviation Metalsmith Petty Officer from San Antonio, TX.

“At 12:00 noon, Monday, May 29, 1944, a group of women had gathered together in the little City of Newport to pray for all of the boys in combat. One of the women, while weeping and praying, saw a vision of a small aircraft carrier sinking in the dark waters of the North Atlantic with many men swimming in the cold oily waters. At the same time she heard a voice saying to her “your son is at sea, in need and many souls are in danger”. That woman, my Mother, immediately stopped the prayer and told the others what she saw and heard. They believed and began to pray earnestly until they felt they had a victory. At that very same moment it was about three or four hours before the USS Block Island CVE-21 was torpedoed and sunk.. The people of the little City of Newport knew about the sinking before it happened.

Later, after we were hit and I saw we were going down I began to call on God.

“Lord, I am afraid, I am a sinner and not ready to die. I have been told since I was a child that if I asked sincerely, I would receive. I don’t mean to bargain with you Lord, but if you save me and my friends, I promise I will be your servant all the days of my life”. A MIRACLE happened that cold night and the Navy and the news media said so. Only 6 men were lost of the crew of the carrier, 15 men from the Destroyer Escort USS Barr and 4 pilots who’s planes were in the air at the time of the sinking of their landing field the aircraft carrier. Why we don’t know, but we can assume that God in His Sovereign Will wanted them!”

A Board of Enquiry was set up to review the sinking. The Board reviewed the matter in that, given the circumstances, a C3 tanker hull converted into an aircraft carrier that took three torpedoes, one exploding in the fuel tanks with no massive fire, the cold stormy seas, only 4 small escort ships for assistance, one the those escort ships torpedoed without power, one escort ship having to take the damaged escort ship in tow to keep it from sinking, the other two small escort ships left to pick up the survivors, depth charges from the carrier going off as the ship sunk thereby lifting the small ships up out of the water, one destroyer escort being able to actually attack and sink the submarine, another of the small destroyers suffering damage to it’s hull, and having to shift these survivors around from place to place on the damaged escort ship to keep it from capsizing for 3 long days, and then getting all of these many survivors back to the safety at Casablanca. Their findings : A MIRACLE had taken place.

“I joined the Navy on November 1,1942 and went aboard the Block Island in January 1943. On the evening of 29 May 1944, I was in the armory playing checkers with Wallace, while someone was cooking steak and eggs for our supper. All of a sudden the whole ship shook as the first torpedo hit forward on the port side. Seconds later, the second one hit aft. Immediately every man in the armory ran to his GQ station. I got to my position (port side forward) where there were 6 – 20 mm guns. Already the ship was listing to port and all of us knew that the situation was really bad. Grabbing a life jacket, I went up the ladder to the flight deck to find Wetzel. He was on the starboard side with the 20 millimeters and appeared to be OK. I then went aft to check those guns and the third torpedo hit. As I ran I had to jump a crack in the deck and remember looking straight down and seeing water. At that point we heard the order to abandon ship. The ladder on the starboard side ended 12 to 15 feet above the water. I went down and dropped into the oily sea. Nearby was a raft which I swam to. The raft was crowded with shipmates, but I could see a nearby DE (the Ahrens) with a cargo net over the side. So I decided to swim for it — maybe 300 yards. Even though I had always been a strong swimmer, I was exhausted by the time I reached the net. At the top two sailors lifted me over the side. Telling them I was OK and could walk on my own, I took a few steps and fell flat. I was exhausted!”

In an email from Maury Gamache to Jack Greer:

“You are the first people that I have talked to that were there “that” day. We had an old gun mount with 101’s (similar to a 40mm) if I remember correctly. I normally was assigned to the depth charge and K gun area but while we were picking up survivors I was sent to the 101 gun mount, along with an ensign. While I was there he told me to keep a close look out to the opposite side where the survivor activity was taking place, which I did with an occasional look in that direction. After a while, I think it was just after dusk, I saw a periscope on the left side of the ship and I was so speechless that I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed and he saw the same periscope. He immediately notified the bridge and that is when the Ahrens had to break off the picking up of survivors and make emergency speed to avoid being sunk also. ”

He closed his email saying that he apologized to the survivors that the Ahrens had to leave stranded there in the water as none of those survivors had any idea that the submarine contact had been made.

“I am glad that I have finally shared my memory with some one else who was there”

Frank Burt, Chief Radioman from the USS Ahrens, attended the annual USS Block Island Association reunion held in 2000. At the age of 92, he was the oldest member at that time to ever attend the one of the reunions. He added to Maury’s memory with the following:

Maury saw the periscope of the submarine, brought it to the attention of an officer who then notified the FireControl Officer, who then notified the Sonar Officer who traced the submarine but found that the USS Elmore had not picked it’s location up on their sonar gear. The Sonar Officer contacted the Radio Room Officer where Frank Burt got involved and passed the location of the submarine over the airways to the Elmore’s Radio room, who passed that position on to the Fire Control Officer who then gave directions to the depth charge crews.

“Where was I when first torpedo hit? Caught with my britches down, in the shower below deck, I ran up to hangar deck with a towel “around my “you know what”. Towels were bathrobes to and from shower, our “shack” located under smoke stack, halfway between hangar deck and flight deck. I ran up the ladder, put on jeans and shirt as the second torpedo hit ran back down to hangar deck to catch a life jacket as they were dropped from storage rack on port bulkhead. I had promised this “priority” since I was (and still am) a poor swimmer. When the third torpedo hit, “abandon ship” blared out. Went out on port forward sponson and “jumped.” Someone always asks, “What were you thinking of?” Nothing but “jump for survival.” After drifting for some time, I caught on a floating rope raft with 8 other shipmates. I don’t remember time in the water. Umpteen “Our Fathers” later, Ahrens picked us up. We had no way to control our rope raft, so after several near misses, Ahrens “laid-by” and let us drift up to them. Up on deck, Ahrens sailors cut our oil-soaked clothes and threw them overboard. Seven hundred men on a ship built for 200! We were warned to keep well scattered about the ship, as “Don’t Rock the Boat.” I was dressed in “Long John’s” and the cook’s mate gave me a hot cup of coffee, saying “You need this more then I do!” After it was all over, I realized I had left my brand new “shake-to-wind” wristwatch in my locker and it was “water-proof.” Several years later, I was swapping war stories with my brother-in-law. Neither knew where the other was during the war. He was in Army Quarter Master Corps in Casablanca and had supplied USS B.I. survivors with “army issue!”

Note: Ensign George Hadden, from Big Lake, MN served on CVE 21 as an aero engineer. He continued his U.S. Navy service until well after WWII. In 1992, George Hadden, serving as Ships Doctor on a container ship operating in the Pacific, wrote a book “George at War, Part II. “. Dr. George Hadden died in 1998 and Mrs. Marjorie Hadden, his widow , provided the USS Block Island Association with excerpts from his document “Operations on the USS Block Island, March-Mid-May 1944 ” so that they could be shared for preservation.

“There were only a couple dozen planes aboard, 12 either -General Motors TBMs or Grumman TBFs, 3-man Torpedo planes rigged with all sorts of aerial radar search gear. They carried MIV aerial mines, being a short stubby torpedo- in fact, motor driven – that would home in on the sub’s screw noise when within a few hundred yards. 10 or so Fighters were either F4F-3 Grumman Wildcats or General Motors FM-2s, essentially identical, each being stubby little mid fuselage wing jobs. The fighters could take off if we had a bit of wind over the deck but the torpedo bombers always had to be catapulted with only 1850 Wright engines making them one slow clumsy bird. We were primarily seeking to kill German supply subs other wise known as “milk-cow” subs. These were big varmints approaching 3000 tons and would maintain 6-8 attack submarines of 750 tons, thus avoiding the gauntlet between SE England and the Nazi submarine pens along the NW coast of France. The poor buggers on the attack subs apparently never got ashore and the looks of a handful of survivors we saved from the two subs our planes killed on the six weeks’ cruise between Norfolk and Casablanca proved it. Long hippy-like haircuts but most striking was their skin, sickly like one’s skin looks when he pulls off an adhesive bandage that has been in place for a week.

The sailors saved had to be stowed in the brig, but the one 28 year old skipper was given the run of the ship by our Captain after he pledged his honor. He ate in the wardroom, gave us long discourses on how we were doing and what was right or wrong about our tactics. He spoke perfect British English, being educated there until called into the German Navy just before 1939. It should be noted that he stressed that there were few , if any, real dedicated Nazis in the German Navy and subsequent facts during and after surrender proved this.

All these survivors knew the exact location of POW camps in the USA, something I surely didn’t, wondering whether they would be sent to Texas, North Dakota, etc. I understand a good number of them, especially in the Dakotas, got to stay on after the war, married and are very productive citizens at this time

The Landing Signal Officer (LSO) names Tommy Thompson from Colorado Springs, Colorado, was my best friend aboard and a flyer, but never flew off the ship. Actually, he was the most important man aboard, being responsible for getting the planes aboard at any time and in any weather.”

( Jack Greer comment: Being an aircraft carrier built to be the “floating airport or landing field” for aircraft of all nature, and to provide service all over the world at any time, it is understood by all military personnel why our little LSO welcomes you aboard this website).

“He stood on a wooden platform level with the flight deck, jutting out beyond the catwalk, having a bet extending maybe 3 feet beyond it where it projected beyond the ship that he could dive into to escape being decapitated by a wing or in fact the entire airplane if it came in too low or crashed against the ship. I spent many off duty hours up there just behind his platform just outside his diving range, and believe I could have waved a plane aboard if it had became necessary.

There was an assistant LSO aboard, but the squadron wanted Thompson after very little experience with him and the other chap never waved a flat that I knew of. I don’t think that Tommy ever hit his bunks for weeks, dozing in the ready room only, located amidships just below the flight deck with a light lock door to the catwalk and then 4-5 step ladder up to the flight deck. He guided the planes aboard using two orange fluorescent colored paddles, short handled and about the size of a tennis racket. At night, a fluorescent light in front of him shined on the paddles, but this was all the pilot could see. All Tommy had to guide with was the flash of lights from the exhaust ports on the plane’s engine. The flight deck had slit-like lights that showed over only about a 20 degree arc that could be seen by the pilot along each side of the flight deck, but if, and only if, he was in the “grove” so to speak on a proper approach.

There were three arresting barriers of heavy cable around mid-ship, making a stout fence so to speak, and if a plane came in to fast or too high, or the deck dropped out from under it due to wave action, sailors manning the barriers could throw a hydraulic switch dropping the first two barriers but never the third. As soon as the prop hit the barrier, the plane would rear up with the tail high and the last few revolutions of the prop would often chew up through the 4-inch fir deck and steel deck below that, throwing a bit of shrapnel down in a shower onto my plane maintenance crew on the hanger deck below. For a while I considered outfitting my crew with steel helmets to avoid possible injury, but they would have none of that. They groaned nonetheless because they knew that with the sudden stoppage of the engine, it meant another total engine change and a new prop for the plane.

Navy Squadron VC 55 served aboard CVE 21 after the ship completed the “aircraft ferrying” trips to Belfast, Ireland. The pilots must train continually to maintain their ability to land and take off from the Carrier. While “take offs” (either by fly offs or catapult) are relatively safe, however, it requires some great skills landing an aircraft on the deck of a carrier. The picture is a celebration cake for the 1000th landing that VC 55 made on CVE 21 in the Atlantic chasing German Submarines.”

Note: The following is from the Epilogue regarding the sinking of CVE-21.

“I think note should be made of the fate of the six F4F fighters we had in the air at the time of the sinking. They were given the option via radio from the ship: fly to the Azores and be interned for the rest of the war by a neutral country, Portugal try to ditch near a large fleet of French fishing vessels, known to be off the shores of the Azores or ditch along side the rest of us (being the remaining three Destroyer escorts). They all had enough gas and after the ship went down, they all made a graceful dive over us, above the water, wiggling their wings as a final salute. Two of them did land at the Azores, four of them ditched and two of those perished, not to be heard from again. Two were picked up by French fishermen and were ashore in Casablanca waiting for us there.”

“I was in charge of the IC (Internal Communications) Room at the time we were torpedoed. We had three bunks set up high in there above the workbenches. A bunch of us Electricians (8 or 10) were standing around waiting for the coffee to get done. Seems like our coffeepot was called a Silex. In any event, it was a two-part unit where the water in the pot raised up into the upper unit when it got hot and mixed with the coffee grounds that were in the upper unit. We were B’S’ing when the first two torpedoes hit us. As far as I was concerned, it was only one explosion, but a lot of the guys claimed that later they heard two distinct explosions. One of the group (I think it was Ellingson) yelled out, What happened, did we run aground? I explained no, we weren’t within a thousand miles of ground. Then GQ (General Quarters) started ringing and everybody but me ran to their battle stations. I was at mine. Meyer EM2c (you might remember him as he fixed watches) was at the after Gyro Room and I was talking to him about a problem he had with the Gyro as it was pressing back and forth 2-3 degrees. He couldn’t do anything as it was locked and the key was up in the IC Room. While I’m talking to Meyer, Bair came down to keep me company (it was his GQ station also). He told me that he was crashed out in his bunk, which was in one of the rooms we had off the hanger deck. The explosion knocked him out of his bunk and there was a wide-open vertical split on the seaward bulkhead and he could look out and see the sea. I asked him if things were that bad what the Hell did he come down here for! Anyhow, he noticed that the coffee was ready and I can see him to this day pouring his cup of coffee when the third torpedo hit. It hit right close to the after Gyro and killed Meyer and two Machinist mates. We then lost all of our power in the IC Room. I have no idea how long we stayed there. Our sound powered lines were dead. I got a battle lantern and kept looking up and down the passage way figuring if I saw water, we were going to get out of there. I got pretty mixed up with the cord on the sound-powered phone line, but kept the phone on. Finally, somebody asked if there was anyone on the circuit. I answered and he said he picked up the discarded phone laying on the hanger deck and asked where we were when I told him he answered, What the Hell are you still doing down there we’ve been abandoning ship for 20 minutes! I don’t think I answered him as I was fighting to get out of the tangle I was in with the phone cord! As we were going by the hatch to the Emergency Diesel Room, I couldn’t help but notice the diesel was still running and made me wonder if they had got word about abandoning ship. I opened the hatch and there was the Electrician (Kroner) and two Mechanics. I motioned at them to come, but all they did was stare up at me. Remember, the damn diesel was running. I went down the ladder and dragged Kroner into the soundproof booth and yelled at him to abandon ship. Let me tell you that all three of those sailors beat me up that ladder! I got up to the hanger deck and started over to the port side to my abandon ship station, but there was a pretty good-sized hole in the deck with some minor smoke rising from same. I ended up on the flight deck where they were abandoning ship from the starboard side. Someone decided things were going too slow and ordered us to start going over the side on the Port side. They had avoided the port side up to this time as all the torpedo holes were on the port side. In any event, I was on the port side and there was a rope coiled up there hanging onto the rail and I flung it over the side and there was a life raft right under the end of the rope. I started to go over the side when somebody grabbed me by the shoulder and suggested that it would be a good idea if I secured that end of the rope to the rail. I thought this was a great idea and tied it down and then slid down the rope right onto the life raft without getting my feet wet.” event, I was on the port side and there was a rope coiled up there hanging onto the rail and I flung it over the side and there was a life raft right under the end of the rope. I started to go over the side when somebody grabbed me by the shoulder and suggested that it would be a good idea if I secured that end of the rope to the rail. I thought this was a great idea and tied it down and then slid down the rope right onto the life raft without getting my feet wet.”

“It was late afternoon & I was on watch in the radio shack with Bill Connolly as my supervisor. My duty was copying the “Fox” schedule on radio NSS. The signal was good & copy easy and I was deep into a long routine message when all of a sudden we were violently shaken by a terrific explosion & that was followed seconds later by another huge explosion. Torpedoes had struck both forward and aft on the port side. General Quarters was sounded & I grabbed a life jacket and headed for my GQ station which was a 20mm gun mount forward side just aft of the bridge. Confusion & concern was everywhere but not panic. I had been on my GQ Station for only a couple of minutes when a third torpedo struck us amidships on the port side. The ship was taking a noted port list and soon we were advised to prepare to abandon ship. Preparations were made with knotted lines and life rafts and the order to abandon was given. I recall going over the catwalk just a bit forward of the bridge. Funny thing…when I went to go over the side to abandon ship, I found several sets of shoes all neatly lined up in pairs where departing shipmates had left them…so I added mine to the nice arrangement! Many lines were over the side & many sailors on them at the same time. We dropped off into water that had a thick, heavy coating of oil floating on it. Hard to make progress away from the stricken ship in the oil until someone yelled, “dig deep” because to do so put your efforts into water instead of oil and you could move out and eventually escape the oil cover. Only the wounded & those who thought they were wounded were in the life rafts, but men clung to the rafts all the way around them. We were an oily mess for certain! But all lent a hand to try to move the rafts away from the ship & toward the DE’s who were standing by to pick up survivors. They sure looked to be a long ways away! It was noticed that our escorts were searching for the submarine that had attacked us & also noticed that one of the escorts had suffered a torpedo hit, too. At this time, looking back at the Block Island, we could see that she was listing more and more to port & that she was slowly sinking by the stern. When we neared the USS Ahrens , we could see that they had put cargo nets over the side & had their own men hanging onto the nets to assist survivors up & on board as they reached the side. At last we were able to make our way to the ship’s side & anxious hands grabbed us as we reached up the nets. I recall being passed from man to man & thrown onto the deck. Being well lubricated, I slid across the deck & banged into a bulkhead several feet away. Bit of shock, but no pain & just darned happy to be saved. Soon I was led below decks to crews quarters & there, sailors were opening their lockers to supply everyone they could with dry clothing. A good toweling & rubdown and dry clothes felt wonderful but the oil coating was very much still on all of us! That coating would be a problem for many weeks after the sinking. Lines-like on elbow and knuckles would be ever so slow in releasing their darkness! Hair was a miserable mess too. I found my way up to the destroyer’s radio shack & volunteered to help in any way I could. They were glad to have me and I took over one of the circuits for them. Awhile later, we were rocked by the shock wave of the sinking Block Island where some of the ordnance had apparently detonated when she sunk. I did not witness the final dive but several of my shipmates described it to me. A sad loss of a dear, old ship! I just spent the night in the radio shack and food was brought up by some of the off-duty radiomen. I was more comfortable than a lot of my mates who tried to find resting spots other places on board. Next morning found us in route to Casablanca. We spent several days there & were all issued Army blankets and Army wear. Nice to be clean & warm, even in strange gear! While there we heard that the Allies were landing in France. Some CVE ships that were carrying freight east were diverted down too Casablanca to help get us survivors home. I was billeted aboard the U.S.S. Mission Bay & she took us into New York City for some of the best liberty we enjoyed while in the Navy. Later, ended up down in Norfolk with new issue of sea bag and renew of supplies and after a briefing & some medical observation, we were granted 30-day survivors leave and all headed home!”

“I remember it like it was yesterday. I was playing pinochle at the time. When two torpedoes hit us, one fore and one aft, we were knocked across the room by the force, and the alarm went off telling everyone to man their battle stations. As an aviation ordnanceman, I took my place on the flight deck at a 40-millimeter gun. “When I reached the flight deck, I saw the third torpedo coming through the water. We braced ourselves and held on to some heavy-duty ropes on the deck. As the ship began to relent to the three torpedoes, the men all began to put on their life preservers and make their way into the Atlantic Ocean as the ship doctor called for help. The doctor was trying to free a sailor’s leg, which was pinned under flight deck metal that had rolled up onto him from the heat of the torpedo. I witnessed the doctor cutting his leg off. It was the only way to get him out. At 16 years old, that was a little jarring to see. I can still remember him screaming. The man died from loss of blood caused by the amputation. He was one of six who died when the ship sank. Only six men of 900 aboard died. After discovering the CO2 bottle would not function on my life preserver, I had no choice but to jump from the flight deck without the aid of a life preserver. Being a strong swimmer, I swam far from the ship. The water and the sailors’ faces were black from the diesel oil spilling from the ship.” As the men swam from the ship, the ship’s weapons were exploding below the surface. You could feel the tremendous explosions in the water and everyone was black. All you could see was the whites of their eyes, and it struck me, it was the diesel oil from the fuel tanks. Everyone was covered. I remember a set of those white eyes swimming toward me in the pitch-black ocean waters. It was my pinochle partner from New Orleans, Art Villerie. The New Orleanian held up his gambling hand dripping from the dark water. “Look at my hand. Look at how many aces I had!,” he said. “Villerie still had 10 aces in his hand. I remember laughing at the small moment of humor they found in that catastrophic time. About an hour into the water, I came upon another sailor who was gasping, trying to stay afloat and went under the surface. I managed to go under and pull him up and then towed him to a raft. A short while later, another sailor and I assisted a drowning sailor to a raft. There were others that helped each other through the ordeal. The group stayed in the water about three hours and since that time, have bonded closely for years since.”

“I remember very vividly the day of the sinking of CVE 21. I was off duty at the time & was lying in my bunk when the first torpedo hit. I knew what it was, having been on the USS Lexington which took three torpedoes in the Coral Sea battle. I immediately jumped out of my bunk, which was one deck below the hangar deck & headed for the flight deck. We had been informed that if we were ever torpedoed, to abandon ship promptly as the ship would break up quickly. In my haste to get to the fight deck, I forgot my life jacket, which was attached to my bunk. But as I was crossing the hangar deck, I spotted a jacket that someone had apparently dropped. I picked it up & continued to the top. As I got to the flight deck, I could see that the aft end of the ship had already split and was dragging in the water. I immediately headed toward the bow & went down a net that had been lowered into the water. There was already quite a bit of oil in the water & I came up looking like a “tar baby”. I eventually swam far enough out from the ship to stop for a little rest, but was feeling the effects of the depth charges that were being dropped by our forces. I finally got together with a group of other survivors & we were eventually picked up by one of our DE’s — I’m not really sure, but I think it was the USS Ahrens. I was in the water for quite some time, but suffered no problems. We were later taken into Casablanca and finally set up ship’s company in camel barns but that’s another story!”

In a small farming community in Edinburg Texas there was the Owen Family with three sons and a daughter. This family had just gone through the “big depression” and while they had deep concerns about the Germans and the Japanese trying to take over a major part of the world their attitude was not unlike over 85% of the general public. That attitude was to avoid entering into the war and had actually maintained an “isolationists” attitude. On December 7, 1941 that family and the entire nation did “awake” and their actions became a part of history.
James B. Owen was the eldest son and as soon as he was of eligible he enlisted in the United States Navy and his first duty was aboard the USS Block Island CVE 21 serving as a Petty Officer as an airplane captain. His next younger brother Jack Owen had gone to the recruiting station with him to also enlist in the Navy but failed to qualify because of some minor physical problem. However that rejection did not stop Jack from wanting to serve his country so he enlisted in the Army Air Force.
As soon as the youngest brother Odell was of age he also enlisted in the Navy. Three sons and all three in the service to their country determined to stop the Germans and Japanese from ruling the world.

James B. Owen lost his life when the USS Block Island CVE 21 was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Atlantic Ocean on May 29, 1944. Because that ship had taken two torpedoes that ripped many of the ships life rafts and life saving gear off it’s sponsons there was a great need for additional life vests and flotation materials. Being an airplane captain Jim knew that each airplane remaining there on the decks had small rafts that were made available to the pilots in case they had to ditch or were shot down over the water. Jim and other crew members immediately joined in the task of securing these life saving devices. While Jim was in the cockpit of his airplane a third torpedo struck the ship just below the water line almost immediately under the position of that airplane. The explosion ripped through the hanger deck, lifted the aircraft off the deck and the hole left in the deck was so large that when the airplane fell it went down through to two decks below. Jim Owen was one of the shipmates who lost his life in that sinking.

Jack Owen inspected B-17s in 1944. Later Jack was transferred to repair work on the B-29s and trained flight personnel who had taken flight positions in combat without technical training. Being transferred to Seattle he trained the aircrews that were being readied for combat over Japan. He served with both the 2nd and 3rd Air Force during WWII.

Odell Owen, the younger brother, was serving on board the USS Arenac transporting military personnel to the Philippines in preparations for the invasion of Japan proper. He was serving on that ship when the Japanese surrendered. He was serving on board the USS Appalachian when the first Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test was made.

The shipmates of the two Block Islands formed an Association back in 1963 and both the younger brothers Jack and Odell joined as associate members attend these yearly reunions.
Just before CVE 21 made that last voyage on submarine patrol Jim Owen had gone on shore leave and was able to visit with his brother Jack. As a memento to his visit he gave his brother a small Ronson cigarette lighter that was made as a Christmas recognition of the CVE 21 being at sea on that December Day of 1943 (see photo at right). Little things become such a major cherished item when the “giver” is taken from this earth.

“The 29th of May was an exciting day. The ship was preparing for a fun time on the 30th. I was in the Radio shack, sitting at the typewriter making up the roster for the different events that would be taking place on the flight deck the next day. When the torpedo’s hit, I was thrown topsy-turvy, not really knowing what had happened but it wasn’t long before the third torpedo hit and we were called to abandon ship. I was part of a three man Direction Finder group and of course we were working with classified equipment so I had to head for the room that held our equipment to destroy it and the manuals containing German information. After we did that, Jesse Watson and I headed for the flight deck where they had lines down to the water. Jesse was leery of going into the water and brave me, (ha, ha) said that I would save him. Once in the water, we seemed to get separated and I found myself pulling a raft. Some time after that, I don’t know how long, there was an explosion. It must have been after the ship had sunk far enough for the explosives to go off. All I know was, it felt like I was given an enema with a telephone pole. I was in the water for about 3 1/2 hours. By the time we got to the Ahrens, it was filled to capacity so we had to continue on to the Paine. I could hardly get up the rope ladder without a lot of assistance. The fellows were great. We had the privilege of washing the oil off of us in salt water, cold at that. Since our clothes were saturated with oil, they were thrown overboard, so we had to sleep in our birthday suits. The crew was so nice they gave up their bunks to us to sleep in. The next day we went to ship supply and were issued some clothes. I got a pair of long johns, winter wool socks and a pair of size 10 rubbers to wear on my feet. I take a size 8 1/2. We ate well and when we pulled into Casablanca and walked off the ship, we were really a scream and the women on the dock & others really got their laughs. We were glad when we got our Army issue of clothing. It was some experience, but I don’t think I would want to go through it again. Nicknames for the Radio Gang: Bob was called Sammy Jesse Watson was called swivel hips, Bill Connolly was called Slick McPherson was called Snake.”


CVE-72 U.S.S. Tulgai - History

Quick Facts:

Class: Bogue
Displacement: 15,200 tons
L ength: 495’8″ Beam: 69’6″ Draft: 26’0″
Speed: 17.6 knots
Complement: 890
Armament: 2 5-inch, 20 40mm , 27 20mm
Aircraft: 28

Original text by Jack Greer

Updated Fall 2009 by Jack Sprague

USS Block Island was the first of two escort carriers to serve in World War II. She was named after the island and surrounding sound located off the northeast coast of the United States that is now part of the state of Rhode Island. The USS Block Island was constructed by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation and launched on 6 June 1942 by Mrs. H. B. Hutchinson. The Block Island was commissioned on 8 March 1943, with Captain Logan C. Ramsey in command. Originally classified AVG-21, she became ACV-21 on 20 August 1942, and CVE 21 on 15 July 1943.
After two trips to Ireland and England during the summer of 1943 with cargos of aircraft, she operated as part of a task group designated to find and destroy German submarines. During four combat cruises, the Block Island Task Group sank two submarines and shared credit for the sinking of two additional submarines. She earned the nickname of “FBI” for Fighting Block Island.

CVE 21 was hit by three torpedos off the Canary Islands on 29 May 1944 by German submarine U-549. The carrier was sunk with all but six crew members surviving. Of the six aircraft in the air at the time of the sinking only two airmen were recovered. Supporting destroyers sank the U-Boat and rescued the CVE 21 crew. The USS Block Island received two battle stars for her service.

The need for escort carriers came early in the war when German submarines and aircraft were taking a devastating toll on convoy shipping. The heaviest losses occurred far out at sea where land-based aircraft could not operate. The Royal Navy had experimented with catapult-launched fighter planes from merchantmen while this was somewhat successful in combating the U-boats, the number of planes that could be embarked was limited. Something else was needed, and in a hurry. Great Britain appealed to the United States for help.

No real specifications had been developed for escort carriers at that time, although the Navy had looked into converting merchant ships for this purpose before the war began. Thus, the quick solution was to build the early CVEs on merchant ship hulls (photo at left is CVE 21 entering Belfast Harbor with a cargo of P-47s).
The two Block Island aircraft carriers (CVE 21 and CVE 106) were unlike any other two ships by the same name. CVE 21 (along with five other CVE’s) was actually a C3 tanker hull being constructed to deliver oil to our allies in Europe. The scourge of the German submarine activities, taking the great toll of the convoys underway far out to sea, became a major priority to all of the allied nations due to the fact that the majority of the sinkings were taking place far out of range of any allied aircraft. President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill got together and the United States entered into an agreement to convert several tanker hulls into small aircraft carriers to be provided to Great Britain to roam the vast areas of the Atlantic Ocean seeking out these submarines.

The first few conversions were delivered to Great Britain in 1942. About this same time the German Navy was increasing their boldness and actually was sinking our ships as close as five miles from the US shoreline. Very little information of this activity was being given to the general public either in Great Britain or the United States. Both governments felt that this information would create panic in their countries. Because of this concern, the US Government saw fit to undertake and make “Baby Flattops” a vital part of the Atlantic Fleet. Six C3 tanker hulls being built in the Seattle area were converted to small aircraft carriers for the US Navy.

While the first few small carriers took five or six months to convert, by the time that the first Block Island was constructed the construction time was cut to less than three months. At that time it was taking as long as two years to construct the larger carriers. The best understanding of this undertaking is that eight small carriers carrying 20 planes each could be constructed in the same period of time it took to construct a larger carrier. The larger carriers could only handle as many as 90 aircraft with a total construction cost of around $120 million. Smaller carriers were built at a cost of $11 million each and carried 20 aircraft. The large carriers moved around at 30 knots compared with about 20 knots for small carriers. The smaller carriers became “the plan of the day” in the Pacific. While more escort and service ships were required to service the eight small carriers, the loss of a large carrier put 90 aircraft out of action and involved over 3000 crew members. The loss of a small carrier only put 20 aircraft out of service and involved around 900 crew members. However, when the large carrier was lost there was not another carrier available to save its aircraft. If a small carrier was lost, the aircraft then could land on and work from one of the other small carriers. When it came time to construct the second Block Island the construction time was cut to 79 days. Admiral Kincade advised congress that he could launch and retrieve 160 aircraft in half the time it would take the larger carriers to land and launch 90 planes.

Great Britain saw these small carriers as a major part of their fighting force. In fact there was a first Block Island (CVE 8), shown here, that was under construction it was transferred to Great Britain as part of the “lend/lease” program to become the HMS Hunter. The United States saw the carriers as a major way to transport airplanes to Great Britain and North Africa and to return to the United States with damaged airplanes that could be repaired and returned to combat. The attacks on the convoys by German submarines continued to take a greater toll until the United States established Hunter/Killer task forces of escort carriers.

Documents were filed to obtain support from Congress to undertake the building of these small aircraft carriers. The configuration used the space on both the hanger and flight decks to transport up to 77 combat ready aircraft and spare parts to anywhere in the world. After the British lost two of their large carriers in an attempt to sink German battleships they began using the small carriers ( also known as “Jeep Carriers” or “baby flattops” ) for combat operations. The United States then realized that they could be more than just a useful transport tool.

The USS Block Island was converted from a C3 tanker hull (number 237) by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation to a Bogue class escort carrier (eighth of eleven Bogue class). She was launched 6 June 1942 and sponsored by Mrs. H. B. Hutchinson, wife of Commander Hutchinson and transferred to the U.S. Navy on 1 May 1942. The ship was commissioned on 8 March 1943 with Captain Logan C. Ramsey in command. The photo at left is of the nearly completed USS Block Island at Tacoma, WA. The USS Block Island was originally designated as AVG-21, changed to ACV-21 on 20 August 1942, and CVE-21 on 15 July 1943.
The hull of CVE 21 was actually a Class C3 tanker hull designed to maintain balance of the liquid motion of fuel (oil and gasoline) as the ship passed through the rough motion of the sea. The original hulls were designed to withstand as much as a 40 degree list which required the entire hull to be “compartmentalized” to override the internal motion of the liquid fuel weighing as much as 10 pounds per gallon ( this meant contending with over 15 thousand tons of sloshing liquid ). Construction required that the 5’ x 2’ elliptical openings between compartments be laterally supported and very strong. The openings were from the aft end of the ship all the way to the bow. Between decks were hatches that could be closed down to separate the deck. These openings, in the case of a carrier, then become compartments of open spaces where the fuel normally was housed. Several compartments were left intact to provide for the fuel storage the carrier will need as well as the escort ships. Others are left intact for ammunition, bombs, torpedoes and depth charge storage and they become what are called magazines.

This configuration provided four or five sealed decks and many open spaces that were used for quarters, storage, machinery and equipment housing. Going up and down between decks required the opening and closing of hatches moving forward and aft, the openings become passage ways.

The hull design was quite different from the escort carriers built by Kaiser which were designed for carriers from the keel up with operational needs in mind. Escort carriers that were “designed from top to bottom” when sunk or badly damaged, lost hundreds of their crew members during World War II. Not so with CVE 21 the first USS Block Island had a C3 hull design. Photo at right is the CVE 21 starting sea trials after completion in Tacoma, WA.

Trials & Transport Operations

Block Island’s crew included more than 50 sailors who came from CV 2 USS Lexington which had been lost at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May, 1943. A number of other men had carrier experience however, most of the 890 sailor complement had never been to sea.

Following 10 days of trials near Puget Sound, the Block Island sailed to San Francisco where it took on its first air squadron ( originally named Composite Squadron 25 and renamed later to VC-6) of FM-1 Wildcats and TBF-1 Avengers. With destroyer escort DD 496 McCook she sailed to Norfolk, VA, arriving 6 Jun 1943. Her first operational cruise was to transport a cargo of P-47 Thunderbolts. The planes were loaded at Staten Island on 8 Jul 1943. She left on 17 Jul 1943 with a convoy of eight troopships and escorts, CVE 21 Block Island was detached from the convoy on 26 Jul 1943 and tied up at Siddenham Airport, near Belfast, Ireland. The escort carrier left Belfast on 3 Aug 1943 and reached New York eight days later to take on a second load of P-47s.
A second transport cruise left Staten Island on 21 Aug 1943, CVE 21 proceeded with three escorts — the old destroyers DD 154 Ellis , DD 160 Herbert and DD 152 Du Pont — and touched briefly at Argentia, Newfoundland en route, reaching Siddenham Airport on 31 Aug 1943. On 12 Sep 1943, Block Island was back in Norfolk. The photo at above left shows the CVE 21 hanger deck full of partially assembled P-47s. A collision with DD 666 Black occurred after the return to Norfolk, VA and caused a two week repair, no injuries were recorded.

Two of the first “baby flattops” of the US Navy were given the duty of seeking out the German submarines. Since the major sea wars were taking place in the Pacific Ocean against the Japanese, the larger fighting ships were assigned to the Pacific. Back in the early 1940’s President Roosevelt had gone far beyond his congressional authority and sent Great Britain some 25 or 30 small destroyers that we called “Destroyer Escorts” which were much like the frigates that Great Britain had. Great Britain used these ships as escorts for their small carriers with much success.

To make up a “task force” each of the two “baby flattops” were assigned three destroyer escorts. The Captain of the escort carrier became the Task Force Commander.

The vast area assignment required that at least four escort ships work with the Block Island. The destroyer escorts could make depth charge attacks on the submarines that the aircraft from the Block Island spotted. This would leave two of the DEs available to cover landing and takeoff operations and to serve as protection for the carrier.

This hunter/killer activity meant that the task force would go about searching for days and weeks at a time without seeing another allied ship. Naval records show that the success of the action of these “baby flattops” played a great part in the demise of the German submarine force and contributed greatly to the ending of the war with Germany. Because of the large area of ocean the ships covered, depending on each other for assistance on an almost daily basis, a great comradeship and esprit de corps was created.

With the expanse of water between Europe and the United States in the Atlantic Ocean the task force could sustain itself for approximately 45 days with two refuelings and one re-supply service during the period, they left from US ports and searched the seas then arrived at foreign ports for re-supply and refueling before completing the mission and returning to the United States to obtain a new assignment. The circumstances in the Pacific were very different in that there were many supply bases on major and tiny islands scattered throughout the entire area. Refueling and re-supplying was also undertaken from tankers and supply ships in both the Atlantic and in the Pacific areas of operations. Doing this task in the open seas from ship to ship can be as dangerous as actual enemy operations. Naval records show that many ships were forced out of service from structural damage taken during these operations.

Prior to the assignment of hunter/killer task forces to the Atlantic, German submarines sank hundreds of vessels without any real risk. Once escort carriers like the Block Island and her supporting destroyers were employed, the offensive was taken back from the Germans and the Battle of the Atlantic was on.

The first combat cruise occurred 15 Oct 1943 when the Block Island left Hampton Roads, VA escorted by the destroyers DD 230 Paul Jones, DD 218 Parrott, DD 213 Parker, and DD 222 Bulmer as Task Group 21.16 . The photo at left was taken on 15 Oct 1943. The initial assignment was to escort convoy UGS-21. After two days the CVE 21 was ordered to an area north of the Azores to hunt a reported concentration of enemy U-Boats. After arriving in the area the task group immediately went into action. The group fired on the re-supply (referred to as a “milch cow”) submarine U-488 putting a hole in her conning tower but failing to sink or capture the boat.
Three days later Lt. Franklin M. Murray, in a TBM and Ens. Gerald L. Handshuh, in a F4F spotted two U-boats and attacked the U-220, which was to believed to have just finished laying mines off Newfoundland. They covered the U-boat’s conning tower with machine gun fire and then dropped depth charges and bombs. Forty minutes after the attack the U-Boats exchanged transmissions and six hours later the commander of the U-256 reported hearing explosions in the area of the U-220. The sub was never located. Following re-supply in Casablanca the group continued searching and proceeded to Norfolk, VA arriving 25 Nov 1943.

During the next three weeks, the Block Island received a new squadron, VC-58. It had the same complement of 9 Wildcats and 12 Avengers. Most importantly, a new weapon in anti-submarine warfare was added to the arsenal, a 3.5 inch rocket with a case-hardened steel head. The designers believed it could pierce the skin of a submarine on the surface or below the water to a depth of 50 feet. The Block Island would be the first to test the theory.

The second combat cruise left Hampton Roads, VA 15 Dec 1943 with the same destroyer escorts as the first combat cruise. Again, the initial assignment was to escort convoy UGS-27. Reassigned four days later, the task group headed for an area north of the Azores known as “The Black Pit of the Atlantic” because of the concentration of U-Boats. The crew had a sober Christmas Day as they heard that the destroyer DD 158 Leary, part of another task group in the area, had been sunk with a heavy loss of life. The task group engaged the enemy without success and sailed to Casablanca for re-supply.

On 11 Jan 1944 two TBFs opened fire with rockets on U-758 forcing the U-Boat back to port at St. Nazaire with heavy damage. The photo at right is the rocket attack on U-758 by the Block Island’s Avenger aircraft. On 14 Jan 1944 a TBF spotted life rafts carrying 43 survivors of U-231 which had been sunk by the British the day before. The Bulmer and the Parrott picked them up and transferred them to the Block Island. The photo below is the Block Island and her task group arriving home on 3 Feb 1943.

The third combat cruise sailed 16 Feb 1944 with four new destroyer escorts, DE 189 Bronstein, DE 103 Bostwick, DE 104 Breeman, DE 102 Thomas, and DD 463 Corry. VC-6 reported aboard with the new FM-2 Wildcats. Captain Francis Massie Hughes reported onboard to be Captain Logan Ramsey’s relief. The task group designated as 21.16 headed back to the “Black Pit”. On 29 Feb 1944, planes from the Block Island spotted a periscope and commenced a mine run. The Corry and the Bronstein sped to the scene. Four German submarines, U-709, U-603, U-607, and U-441 were thought to be in the area. The Bronstein sunk U-603 and along with the Thomas and the Bostwick, sunk U-709.

The U-441 was badly damaged and returned to Brest, France 14 days later. Postwar records indicate as many as 15 U-Boats were operating within 25 miles of the Block Island. CVE 21 arrived in Casablanca for replenishment 8 Mar 1944. Captain Ramsey was relieved by Captain Hughes and the Block Island put to sea with orders to track down U-488, the same milch cow she had hunted the previous October and now believed to be located northwest of the Cape Verde Islands.

The following excerpt is from the July 1, 2004 Air & Space Magazine article entitled “All Guts, No Glory”, by James L. Noles, Jr. It describes the difficulty of night flying off of an escort carrier in the Atlantic.

Lieutenant Denny Moller was VC-55’s assistant engineering officer. Like all of the squadron’s pilots, he endured a demanding schedule of both day and night flying. The Block Island operated within a screen of four destroyer escorts, launching patrols of four aircraft. Each airplane took a quadrant and carved it into 30-degree slices—out, across, and then back in to the carrier. Because the pilots had to observe radio silence at night, they had to find their way back to the moving carrier by relying on dead reckoning—flying a compass heading for a calculated time and hoping to spot the carrier when the time was up.

“We would try to work out our navigation beforehand,” Moller explains, “so on takeoff, you always hated to see the flight deck crew holding up a chalkboard that said, ‘The course of the carrier will be so-and-so, the wind direction is so-and-so. Good luck!’ That meant you had to figure out a whole new set of navigational figures on the go. That wasn’t easy in a dark cockpit at night.”

A TBF and a FM-2 spotted U-801 on the surface doing repairs and began a strafing run. The pilots reported hits to the bridge and conning tower. Nine men were injured and one killed. The U-Boat quickly submerged and resurfaced after the planes had to return to the carrier. German command ordered them to rendezvous with U-488. Detecting another in-bound plane, the U-801 submerged not knowing she was leaving a telltale oil slick. A TBF from the Block Island and the Corry followed U-801 through the night ( It must be noted that flying and landing a WWII airplane on a very small carrier was very difficult at night ). A second TBF relieved the first and at dawn they spotted the oil slick. The Corry commenced a depth charge attack which split open the U-801. The sub evaded for a while but a second run forced her to the surface and the destroyer open fire. The sub captain was killed as the crew abandoned ship and the U-Boat sank. The Block Island picked up two officers and 45 enlisted men. The drawing at right was done by one of the POWs of the U-801 and presented to a CVE 21 crew member. The photo at left is the enlisted men POWs from the U-801.
On 19 Mar 1944 six hunter-killer teams fanned out from the ship, searching 150 miles of open water. A Wildcat spotted the brand new U-1059 dead in the water with a third of its crew out for a morning swim. The FM-2 and a TBF started a run of strafing and dropping depth charges but not before the U-1059 put it’s AA into action. The TBF, piloted by Lt(jg) N.T. Dowty, received a number of hits and when it started its turn it lost altitude and crashed into the ocean. Norman T. Dowty and Edgar W. Burton were lost in the crash. The turret gunner, Ensign Mark E. Fitzgerald, was the only survivor of the three man crew. As the gunner clung to a life raft, he was surprised by a German swimming toward him eventually, two more swimmers arrived including the injured sub captain, Leopold. The gunner tended to the wounds of his captives until they were rescued by the Corry two hours later. The U-1059 had broken in half and only six additional survivors were found.

USS Corry took the POWs to Boston and later participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy, France. Corry was sunk in shallow water by mines and shore artillery while helping to lead the assault on Utah Beach. The captain and most of the crew survived.

USS Block Island returned home to Norfolk, VA on 31 Mar 1944 to bands playing, crowds cheering, and a big banner that read “Welcome Home, Champs”.

The fourth combat cruise left Norfolk on 29 Apr 1944 with a screen (see photos at right) comprised of DE 575 Ahrens, DE 576 Barr, DE 686 Eugene E. Elmore, and DE 51 Buckley. On 15 May DE 578 USS Robert I. Paine joined the task group off of North Africa.

The assignment for Task Group 21.11 was to relieve CVE 25 Croatan and her destroyers working patrols west of the Cape Verde Islands. The Croatan group had sunk milch cow U-488 only days earlier, the elusive U-Boat the Block Island had hunted twice before.

After arriving in the area the Block Island picked up a radar contact which turned out to be veteran German submarine U-66 which had sunk over 200,000 tons of Allied shipping in its three years of attack patrols. Captain Seehausen of the U-66 successfully evaded the Block Island task group for several days. On 5 May 1944 the Block Island picked up the sub only 5,000 yards off starboard, maneuvering for an attack on the carrier. The Block Island made an emergency turn at flank speed with Captain Hughes sending the Buckley to investigate.

Only a few hours later at 0330 on 6 May 1944, pilot Jimmie Sellars, with a nickname of “Geronimo”, flying a stripped-down TBM, followed up a radar contact and found U-66 on the surface in bright moonlight. Captain Seehausen kept U-66 on the surface, reporting to Brest, France while keeping the TBM at a distance by firing AA. Sellars stayed on station until the Buckley could attack. At one point he dived his unarmed TBM directly at the sub emptying his Colt 45 into the conning tower!

When the Buckley was within 4,000 yards the sub opened up with a torpedo. DE 51 Buckley returned fire from her 3” guns at about 2,000 yards. The Buckley turned sharply to avoid a second torpedo. The two ships were now side by side firing on each other. The Buckley then did a hard right rudder and rammed the submarine. The Buckley Captain then gave an American order that had not been heard since the earliest days of our country, “Stand by to repel boarders”. In the next few minutes the two crews were engaged in hand to hand combat that sometimes involved just fists. DE 51 Buckley backed off and U-66 veered into her and rolled to a 60 degree angle. Quick thinking men aboard the Buckley threw hand grenades down the open hatch of the conning tower. U-66 still moved away and began a dive only to suffer severe explosions. Buckley began searching for survivors but only four officers ( no captain ) were found. The photo at right shows DE 51 Buckley’s bow bent and in for repairs following the ramming of U-66. USS Buckley Captain, LCDR Brent Maxwell Abel USNR received the Navy Cross for his actions in the encounter with U-66.

Block Island remained in the area with the captured Germans until 13 May 1944 when relieved by CVE 9 Bogue. CVE 21 reached Casablanca 18 May 1944. The re-supplied carrier was again underway on 23 May 1944 and back in the vicinity of the Cape Verde Islands. On 28 May 1944 the Block Island’s search TBMs picked up a radar contact and then lost it. It was U-549, a 750 ton type IXc U-Boat on its very first patrol. Another contact was made at 0255 on 29 May 1944 but it disappeared before ordinance could be dropped. As Block Island continued its search over the next hours the U-Boat continued to evade the hunter.

As evening arrived a periscope broke the surface with the Block Island directly ahead. At 2013 the first U-549 torpedo slammed into the bow area. About four seconds after the first, a second torpedo hit the stern penetrating an oil tank and ordinance magazine. The photo at left shows CVE 21 after the first and second torpedo hit. CVE 21 was dead in the water as the hunter had become the hunted. A third torpedo struck at 2023 finishing off the Block Island. Captain Hughes gave the order to prepare to abandon ship.
DE 686 Eugene E. Elmore sighted a periscope and started an attack with depth charges. Crewmen standing on the Block Island’s flight deck started cheering when they saw oil and smoke coming from near the Barr after it sent out depth charges. What they did not know was a fourth U-549 torpedo ( in the sequence it is believed that torpedos #1, #2 hit CVE 21 followed by #3 into the Barr and #4 into CVE 21 ) had hit the Barr near the stern causing 28 deaths and many injuries. Many believe the torpedo was intended for the Block Island as Barr moved into position to protect the carrier. The damage from the torpedo to DE 576 Barr is shown in the photo at right.
With the Block Island’s fate now sealed, Captain Hughes gave the order to abandon ship starting from the forward starboard side. Life rafts were cut loose and even some rafts on TBMs were thrown into the water. Most men descended down ropes into the water from the starboard or lee side so they could drift way from the ship. By 2100 most of the crew were in the water and began gathering around rafts.

Captain Hughes kept a small group on board including men who were trying to free a man whose leg was trapped. After an hour of using an acetylene torch to no avail, the ship’s surgeon removed the leg only to have the man die a short time later. Six other men who had lost their lives remained on board. Captain Hughes ordered all remaining personnel off CVE 21 at 2140.

DE 575 Ahrens stopped engines and began picking up survivors. With its engines quiet it picked up sonar noise from U-549. Captain Harris of the Ahrens radioed the Eugene E. Elmore immediately. Hedgehogs (ant-submarine mortars) from DE 686 Eugene E. Elmore struck U-549 at 2127 causing a large explosion audible to ships monitoring in the area and sending the sub crew to the bottom of the sea. The Robert I. Paine picked up additional survivors as the Block Island began to sink. At 2155 the Block Island slipped below the surface followed by a large shock as ordnance magazines exploded. The Ahrens was nearly lifted from the sea as a result and many of the CVE 21 survivors thought they had been torpedoed.

Several crewmen of CVE 21 remember that at the time the submarine was spotted some of the Block Island gun crews were still at their battle stations. Word was passed for the 5” gun on the fantail to train on the area where the periscope was
spotted. This gun crew answered that it was impossible for them to train on the periscope because the carrier
was so low in the water that any shots they could take would strike the underside of the flight deck. The orders
then were for the gun crew to abandon ship as ordered.

Everyone who went over the side of the Block Island into the sea survived, a total 674 men crowded every space on the Ahrens and 277 were crammed aboard the Paine. Unfortunately, of the six pilots in the air at the time of the sinking only two were able to reach Las Palmas, the other four were never found.

The next morning the destroyer escorts with the survivors and the Barr in tow made for Casablanca. They arrived 1 Jun 1944 and were issued Army khakis in an effort to keep the news of the sinking from German spies. Photos at left and right show crew in Casablanca following rescue. On 8 Jun 1944 personnel were allowed to cable home with news of the Block Island. The crew was loaded onto three escort carriers, CVE 59 USS Mission Bay, CVE 69 USS Kasaan Bay, and CVE 72 USS Tulagi and transported home for 30 days survivors’ leave.
During this time Captain Hughes began an intensive campaign to keep his crew together to serve on a new Block Island. He was very proud of his crew and their efforts during combat operations. He believed that they would make an excellent, veteran crew for a new ship. The rest of the story continues with the history of CVE 106, the second USS Block Island.
The Memories link on this website has a number of stories from the actual survivors of the sinking.

Unfortunately a number of shipmates did not arrive in Casablanca as survivors. .

CDR Roy L. Swift with Robert J Cressman(1986, Winter). The Tale of Two Block Islands., The Hook, 22-39

Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, www.history.navy.mil/danfs/index.html

Naval Historical Foundation Photographic Service. Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC.

Y’Blood, William(1983). Hunter-Killer: U.S. Escort Carriers in the Battle of the Atlantic. USA:Naval Institute Press.

James L. Noles, Jr. (July 1, 2004). All Guts, No Glory., Air & Space Magazine

USS Block Island Association. CHIPS newsletters, vol. 1-23

Now that we have airplanes that can fly they can’t leave without this landing signal officer. (LSO)

The following was taken from official Navy publications:

★ CVE 21 pioneered the use of HF/DF (high frequency direction finder) against the submarine menace in the Atlantic.

★ CVE 21 was the first US Navy aircraft carrier to pioneer the hunter/killer process as put into operation by Captain Logan Ramsey in the search for German submarines in WW2.

★ The planes of CVE 21 were the first to use airborne rockets in attack on German submarines. On 11 Jan 1944 Lt.(jg) L.L. McFord with crewmen C. Gertsch and W.H. Ryder flying a TBF-1C fired rockets on German submarine U-758.

★ CVE 21 was the first and only US Naval Aircraft Carrier sunk by enemy action in the Atlantic.

★ The crew of CVE 21 was the first crew of a US Naval vessel which had been sunk in combat to be maintained as a unit until another ship of the same name could be prepared for its use in WW2.

Above is a small reproduction of a 1943 artist sketch of an F4F Wildcat fighter being flown off the deck of CVE 21. The decision to launch the aircraft by catapult or direct fly off depended upon wind speed and the weight of bombs, rockets or torpedos aboard.

CVE 21 Command

CAPTAIN LOGAN RAMSEY, Sr. USN

Captain Logan C. Ramsey was born at Jackson, Mississippi, on 26 Feb 1898, the son of Walter Pitman and Susan Elizabeth Fite Ramsey. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1918 with the Class of 1919. During the last six months of World War I, he served aboard the USS Texas in the British Grand Fleet. Captain Ramsey became a naval aviator in 1921. When the attack was leveled at Pearl Harbor, he was Operations Officer of the Patrol Wings based in the Hawaiian Area. In May 1942 he became Operations Officer at the island of Midway. Subsequently, he served as Chief of Staff to Commander Aircraft, Pacific Fleet. On 8 Mar 1943 he became the Commanding Officer of the CVE 21 Block Island. He brought aboard some fifty survivors of an aircraft carrier that was sunk in the Pacific. He served aboard the Block Island until March 10, 1944, where he was ordered to duty as Chief of Staff to the Commander, Fleet Air, Norfolk. Captain Ramsey was given some 50 survivors from the USS Lexington (CV-2) which was sunk in the Coral Sea during the Battle of Midway, with the majority of the 890 sailor compliment having never previously been at sea with the majority being USNR not Regular Navy. With the first two cruises of the ship scheduled for aircraft transport his job was to weld this crew into a cohesive fighting unit which was accomplished in a record time. Having been Operations Officer of the Navy Forces on the island of Midway, and later Chief of Staff to the Commander of Aircraft for the entire Pacific Fleet, Captain Ramsey was well qualified for this task. His son, Ensign Logan Ramsey Jr., served on CVE 106.

Captain Logan Ramsey Sr. was not new to making history in World War II. The then Lt. Cmd. Logan Ramsey Sr. sounded the alarm at the outbreak of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He also sent this historic message out on the airways “Air Raid Pearl Harbor, this is no drill”. A scene in the movie “Tora Tora Tora” depicts Captain Ramsey sending this message. His name is also mentioned in the movie “Midway”.

He retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949 and then served as vice president of Spring Garden College, PA for 17 years. He died 26 Sep 1972 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

CAPTAIN FRANCIS MASSIE HUGHES, USN

Captain Hughes was a member of the Naval Academy class of 1923 where he earned a letter as the quarterback for the football team. At Battle Fleet he was a football coach with an outstanding record. He first served on the USS Texas and the USS Chicago. He earned his wings at Pensacola in 1931. During the attack on Pearl Harbor he managed to get his PBY in the air while still wearing his pajamas which he was unable to change for the next 48 hours. He was in command of the Midway Sand Island Seaplane Base (VP-23) during the Battle of Midway, 3-7 Jun 1942. Famous movie director and producer John Ford flew a PBY with Captain Hughes at the controls on 3 Jun 1942 sighting two Japanese planes from the enemy fleet, they remained friends after the war. It was a PBY-5A Catalina from VP-23 that discovered the Japanese fleet leading to a great naval victory for the United States.
Captain Francis Massie Hughes became the Captain of CVE 21 on March 10, 1944 and was in command of the CVE 21 task force when the USS Block Island was sunk by German submarines on May 29, 1944. Capt. Hughes played an important part in having the Navy keep the surviving crew members together so that CVE 106 could become an active force in the Battle of the Pacific against the Japanese. He attained the rank of Rear Admiral and was serving as Commandant, Fifth Naval District, Norfolk when during a physical exam he had a heart attack and died on 23 Dec 1960. He is buried on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

LT. WILLIAM F. HARRIS, USN

In building the original crew for CVE 21 Captain Ramsey knew that he would need men who had proven records and combat experience and was authorized to seek out several important position from personnel who were available for service on his new ship. Before making this selection he spent hours going over the service records and had many interviews before he made this selection. He was very impressed with the service records and the previous experience of an enlisted man who had been serving as a navigator on one of the battleships well before the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor . One of the selections was then Chief Quarter Master W. F. Harris and several more with other abilities, but the later service record of this individual shows that Captain Ramsey was very just in this selection.
William F Harris was a Chief Quartermaster when he came aboard CVE 21. He was given a field promotion (in the Navy called “mustang”) to Lt. Junior Grade while on the CVE 21. Like many of the other crew members that went aboard CVE 106 he remained on board CVE 106 until it was taken to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD, in 1946, where he became a Navigation Instructor and eventually retired from the Navy as a full Commander. Prior to coming aboard CVE 21 in September 1942, as one of the original shipmates, Harris served on the Battleship USS Nevada from November 1937 in the Navigation Section. With so many of the original crew of CVE 21 being raw recruits in 1942, Petty Officer Harris became a very important part of that crew. As noted, Captain Ramsey also brought aboard CVE 21 fifty survivors of an aircraft carrier that was sunk by the Japanese in July of 1942. The field appointment Harris received while serving on CVE 21 was his reward for the excellent training he provided to this “raw” crew. William Harris went on to serve on CVE 106.


CVE-72 U.S.S. Tulgai - History

RALPH KENNETH ANDRIST (1914-2004)
visits since 040922 last updated 041019.

Historian, author and editor Ralph Kenneth Andrist died on September 19, 2004 at the age of 90, after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ralph was born in Crookston, Minnesota on January 11, 1914, the son of John Jacob (Jake) and Marianne (Knutson) Andrist. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1937, with a B.A. in Journalism. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. In 1941, he married Vivian Margaret Witt and they raised three daughters. Vivian preceded him in death in March 1992.

He served as a U.S. Navy Lieutenant aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Tulagi (CVE-72), on which he saw active duty in the Mediterranean and the Pacific theaters from 1942-45. He earned a Bronze Star for inventing a method to deploy British bombs from American aircraft.

As a journalist, Ralph worked as a newswriter for WCCO radio in Minneapolis. There in 1947, together with his long-time friend Ralph Backlund, he received the Award of the National Council of Christians and Jews, the Variety Plaque Award, and the Heywood Broun Award, all for their radio documentary series, Neither Free Nor Equal, about prejudice and discrimination (55-minute RealAudio sound track requires free RealPlayer or equivalent). In 1948, he received the Peabody Award for another radio documentary series, As the Twig is Bent, about juvenile delinquency.

Ralph lived in New Canaan, Connecticut for most of his working life, working in New York City and later from his home. He retired with Vivian to North Eastham on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, near his daughters Jill and Mary. He was a member and the newsletter editor of the Eastham Historical Society and the Cape Cod National Seashore, and was active with Friends of the Library and Nauset Fellowship there as well. He and Vivian traveled extensively throughout Europe. After Vivian’s death, he moved to western Washington and lived near his daughter Melissa.

As a writer, Ralph received literary praise and success for his many historical works about the exploration and settlement of the United States and on polar exploration. He authored several books, including the popular The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plains Indians, (1964), To the Pacific with Lewis and Clark (1967) for which he won the Golden Spur Award of Western Writers for best book of juvenile Western non-fiction, Heroes of Polar Exploration (1962), and several other works. In addition to his books, Ralph was a longtime editor at American Heritage Magazine, and later at The Franklin Library division of The Franklin Mint. During that time he wrote commentaries for a number of other books.

Ralph said that he had always wanted to be a writer and editor. After being involved in publicity, ghost writing, news, and other journalistic ventures, he became intrigued with the possibilities that lay in history. He said that the characters and plots were better than anything he could make up. But he loved bringing history to life, lifting it from the stuffiness of a schoolbook. His hope was that “…by making the past real and provocative, I can help at least some readers to better understand the present.”

Ralph was a man of words: His home was filled with books and, until his illness, he always sharpened his mind and entertained himself with word games. He had a good sense of humor and sharp wit. He enjoyed telling stories of his childhood in the upper plains of Minnesota and of his wartime shipboard experiences. He was a great gardener, loved nature, and enjoyed woodworking and other crafts. And he enjoyed good chocolate, now and again.

Ralph is survived by his three daughters and their husbands: Jill & A. Richard Miller of Natick, MA, Mary & Robert Leech of Harwichport, MA, Melissa & Jim Hardtke of Edmonds, WA, and his only grandson, Adam Hardtke of Bellevue, WA.

Donations in his name may be to The Alzheimer’s Association (Western & Central Washington Chapter, 12721 30 th Ave NE, Suite 101, Seattle WA 98125 or Massachusetts Chapter, 36 Cameron Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140) or to American Indian Relief Council (PO Box 6200, Rapid City, SD 577009).

This obituary was written by the Andrist sisters (see above).
Obituary notices also appeared in
the New York Times (Sept. 24th, 2004, page A25),

the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Sept. 27th, 2004, page B4),
and many other newspapers.


Francis v. United States (72 U.S. 338)

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Missouri.

The record showed a libel of information against certain bales of cotton marked C. S. A., as belonging to persons in insurrection against the United States, and the confiscation of which was demanded under the act of 6th August, 1861, entitled 'An act to confiscate property used for insurrectionary purposes.' [For the sake or distinction this case was numbered 939.] The act just referred to provides (by its third section, which indicates the persons who may institute proceedings)--

'That the Attorney-General or any District Attorney of the United States in which said property may at the time be, may institute the proceedings of condemnation and in such case they shall be wholly for the benefit of the United States. Or any person may file an information with such attorney, in which case the proceeding shall be for the use of such informer and the United States, in equal parts.'

The order for the detention of the cotton was dated 18th October, 1862, and recited that it appeared, on the return of a warrant of arrest issued in case No. 934, that the marshal had previously arrested the said property. He was therefore ordered to detain it to answer the information now filed in No. 939. During the month of November and December some three or four claimants came forward and were permitted to file their several claims, take exceptions, plead and take issue as to ownership of the cotton.

On the 22d of January, 1863, the plaintiff in error, Franois, for the first time appeared and filed a petition, not as owner or claimant of any portion of the cotton, but 'that he may be admitted to appear in said case No. 939, as a party to the record as informer.'

His petition set forth, as a foundation of his claim, that he gave information to the Board of Trade at Memphis on the 2d October, 1862, and also sent a written statement to R. S. Howard, collector of the port of St. Louis, containing information on which the said cotton was seized by the said collector in the case No. 934, and on the 10th October filed an information in writing with the District Attorney, upon which information the said cotton was subsequently libelled in case No. 939.

The District Attorney moved to strike this petition from the files of the court. The motion was overruled, and the petitioner was allowed to make proof of his right to be admitted as informer. A hearing was then had by witnesses, ore tenus, before the court, by request of the proctor of Francis.

Mr. Howard, collector of the port, resisted the claim of the petitioner. After hearing witnesses the petition was dismissed, and the petitioner ordered to pay costs.

A jury was afterwards ordered to try the issues of facts as to the ownership of the several claimants, and their verdict was, 'That the allegations in the libel are true, and that we find for the United States.' After divers motions for a new trial and in arrest of judgment, a decree was entered for the government. In this trial of the issue by the jury, and the judgment of the court thereon, Francis, the plaintiff in error, was of course no party on the record his petition to become such having been refused, and he having acquiesced in that decree of the court without appeal. However, the next entry in the record was, that on the 9th day of June, 1863, 'The claimants herein, and the petitioner Francis, filed in the clerk's office their bill of exceptions in the case.' Why exactly the court permitted Francis thus to place himself on the record, was not clearly explained. However, the record showed an exception to the charge sealed in his part of the case:

'Whereupon the court declared the law to be, that the taking of said written statement, by the said Francis, to the United States Attorney, at the request of said Howard, after the same had been addressed to the surveyor of the port, and delivered to said surveyor, did not constitute the said Francis an informer under the act of 6th August, 1861.'

The question here was accordingly the correctness of this view of the court below, as stated in this exception.

The case was submitted by Messrs. Knight and Krum, for Francis, the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. Stanbery, A.-G., and Mr. Ashton, Assistant A.-G., contra.


The World at War


USS Lexington (CV-2) off Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, with Diamond Head in the background, 2 February 1933.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center

World War II saw many developments in aircraft carriers -- new technologies, new ship types and new tactics.

Prior to World War II, carriers were used as an auxiliary to the Battle Line of battleships and cruisers. They were intended primarily to provide a long-range scouting ability for the Fleet. Their aircraft would search for the enemy ships, then maintain contact while directing the fleet to an interception.

However, some naval strategists saw the possibilities of using carriers in an offensive role. In the early 30s, U. S. Navy wargames in the Pacific showed that carriers could effectively project power far beyond the range of the battleship's guns. Both the Panama Canal and Pearl Harbor fell victim to simulated attacks from carrier-borne aircraft. In fact, then-Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) J. J. "Jocko" Clark, commanding USS Lexington's VF-2 fighter squadron during Fleet Problem XIII in 1932, staged an attack on Pearl Harbor that was almost identical to the tactics later used by the Japanese in 1941. Clark repeated his performance in 1933. Sadly, these lessons were soon forgotten.


Aerial photo of Taranto Harbor
after the 11 Nov 40 attack
Photo source:
Fleet Air Arm Archive

Two events transpired to prove the effectiveness of carrier-borne aviation as an offensive weapon. On 11 November 1940, British Swordfish torpedo bombers from the carrier HMS Illustrious attacked the Italian fleet at anchor in the bay of Taranto, Italy. Torpedos hit the battleships Vittorio Veneto, Caio Duilio and Conte di Cavour, crippling the first two and sinking the Cavour.

Just over a year later, on 7 December 1941, the Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor taught again the lessons of the early 30s and proved that carrier-launched airborne attacks were more than a match for the heavy guns of battleships and cruisers. The U. S. Navy was forced to acknowledge this fact, given that all of the Pacific Fleet's battleships were damaged or destroyed. With the proud battleships of the Fleet sitting in the mud of Pearl Harbor, only the carriers were available to take the war to the enemy.


Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941
Torpedo planes attack "Battleship Row" at about 0800 on 7 December, seen from a Japanese aircraft.
Ships are, from lower left to right:
Nevada (BB-36) with flag raised at stern Arizona (BB-39) with Vestal (AR-4) outboard Tennessee (BB-43) with West Virginia (BB-48) outboard Maryland (BB-46) with Oklahoma (BB-37) outboard Neosho (AO-23) and California (BB-44).
West Virginia, Oklahoma and California have been torpedoed, as marked by ripples and spreading oil, and the first two are listing to port.
Torpedo drop splashes and running tracks are visible at left and center.
White smoke in the distance is from Hickam Field.
Grey smoke in the center middle distance is from the torpedoed USS Helena (CL-50), at the Navy Yard's 1010 dock.
Japanese writing in lower right states that the image was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
Photo source:
U. S. Naval Historical Center

Beginning with the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-70 by aircraft from CV-6 USS Enterprise on 10 December 1941, the carriers showed what they were capable of. Along the way, they not only made history at places called Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte Gulf and Okinawa, but they also created and refined the formations and tactics that are still used by naval aviation today.

Four primary types of carriers served in the Navy during the war.

The Fleet Carrier was the heavy-hitter of the fleet. It carried nearly 100 aircraft of various types, and was able to defend itself against all but the most determined attacks.

Light Carriers were originally an interim measure. It was faster to convert currently under-construction light cruiser hulls to aircraft carriers, and carriers were needed quickly in the Pacific. They were used to provide additional air capability to the fleet carriers and the Battle Fleet, plus provide a fast airstrike capability to smaller operations that did not warrant the presence of the large (and expensive) fleet carriers.

In the Atlantic, the requirements of protecting merchant convoys brought about the development of the Escort Carrier. Escort carriers were also used to supplement fleet and light carriers in combat operations, and to transport aircraft and aircrew from rear areas to the front lines. A number of U. S.-designed and built escort carriers were provided to the British under the provisions of the Lend-Lease Act.

Training Carriers were used in protected home waters to allow the Navy to train pilots in carrier operations without removing a battle-capable carrier from the front lines.


CVE-72 U.S.S. Tulgai - History

The Vella Gulf (CG 72) is the 26th Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and the second ship in the United States Navy named for the Battle of Vella Gulf, a naval engagement in the Solomons campaign of World War II. This engagement was historically significant because it was the first time that destroyers were allowed to operate independent of the cruiser force during the Pacific campaign. The battle was fought between the islands of Vella Lavella and Kolombangara on the night of August 6, 1943.

The keel was laid down on April 22, 1991, at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. She was christened and launched on June 13, 1992, by her sponsor, Mrs. Mary Ann McCauley and commissioned on September 18, 1993, in a ceremony at Norfolk, Virginia. Capt. Constantine L. Xefteris is the first commanding officer.

USS Vella Gulf successfully completed Sea Trials during the month of February 1998. In the months of May and June, it completed a two month BALTOPS Cruise, taking part in the 26th annual maritime exercise U.S. Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) '98 in the western Baltic Sea from June 8-19, 1998. During the exercise, the commander, Carrier Group Eight, commanded the exercise from the Vella Gulf. In November, the ship completed an ammo onload, a C2X and had made a port call at St. John, U. S. Virgin Islands.

In January 1999, after winning her fifth consecutive "Battle E", CG 72 performed Tomahawk Launch Area Coordinator duties during Tomahawk training exercises and had the AEGIS training and readiness center onboard for a week of Force Air Defense Commander training.

The Vella Gulf's successful completion, in February 1999, of JTFEX '99 marked the end of a ten-month work-up. The vessel headed out for deployment to the Adriatic Sea on March 26, as part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Battle Group. After a six-day transit, she took her position in the Adriatic Sea and participated in everything from Tomahawk Strike Ops to fast-track Logistics Ops in support of Operation Noble Anvil. In May and June, the guided-missile cruiser continued to participate in support of combat operations, shot Tomahawks, assumed warfare commander duties (ADC, ASUWC, ASWC and Launch Area Coordinator), and conducted numerous at-sea refueling and stores replenishment events until the relaxation of weapons posture and cessation of hostilities.

USS Vella Gulf began the month of August engaged in multi-ship exercises. She participated in DIVTACS, LeapFrogs, Tomahawk exercises, submarine exercises, Flight Ops, and Gunnery exercises. It returned home on Sept. 22, and went in November to NWS Yorktown, Va., for a complete weapons offload.

As part of USS George Washington (CVN 73) Carrier Battle Group (CVBG), and in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the Vella Gulf set sail in support of defense and humanitarian efforts off the coast of New York.

September 19, 2001 USS Vella Gulf departed Norfolk for a scheduled deployment, as part of the USS Theodore Roosevelt BG, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Transited the Suez Canal on Oct. 13.

March 1, 2002 The Vella Gulf boarded and seized the motor vessel Lina, of undetermined registry, in mid-February, as a suspected Iraqi oil smuggler operating in the Gulf of Oman. M/V Lina, a medium-size coastal tanker, had a history of oil smuggling operations in the Arabian Gulf. Previous boarding attempts by coalition warships had been unsuccessful due to Lina's highly-modified and reinforced locking measures fitted around the ship. During the boarding operation, 21 crewmembers were detained, ship stability evaluated and preparation for towing operations completed.

April ?, 2002 USS Vella Gulf returned to Naval Station Norfolk after a six-month deployment in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet Areas of Responsibility (AoR).

November 20, The Vella Gulf recently pulled into Miami, Fla., after completing a two-week underway operation as an opposing force (OPFOR) unit in support of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Battle Group's Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX). The ship&rsquos port visit coincided with numerous Veterans' Day weekend events planned throughout the Miami and Dade County area.

June 5, 2003 USS Vella Gulf pulled into Gdynia, Poland, to kick off the 31st annual maritime exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2003. Components of the exercise are taking place afloat in the Baltic Sea and ashore in Poland, Germany and Denmark, from June 7-23.

January 20, 2004 USS Vella Gulf, commanded by Capt. Michael Davis, departed Narfolk for a scheduled deployment, with the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group (CSG), in support of the Global War on Terrorism. The CSG wrapped up a month-long Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) in mid-December.

February 10, The guided-missile cruiser departed Souda Bay, Crete, aftrer a four-day port call.

July 26, USS Vella Gulf returned to homeport after six-month deployment to the Mediterraneran and Arabian Gulf.

May 17, 2006 CG 72 departed Naval Station Norfolk to participate in the 34th annual maritime exercise Baltic Operations.

October 21, The Vella Gulf is currently underway for COMPTUEX as part of the USS Bataan (LHD 5) Expeditionary Strike Group.

January 5, 2007 USS Vella Gulf departed Norfolk for a scheduled deployment, with the USS Bataan ESG-2, in support of the ongoing rotation of forward-deployed forces.

April 14, The guided-missile cruiser is currently underway in the North Arabian Sea conducting Maritime Security Operations (MSO).

July 3, USS Vella Gulf returned to Naval Station Norfolk after a six-month deployment.

April 28, 2008 The Vella Gulf pulled into Port Everglades, Fla., for a Fleet Week.

July 8, CG 72 departed Norfolk to participate in a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), as part of the USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG).

August 30, USS Vella Gulf, commanded by Capt. Mark D. Genung, departed Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled deployment in support of Maritime Security Operations (MSO) in the Central Command AoO.

September 30, Several U.S. ships, including Vella Gulf, are now operating in the vicinity of Motor Vessel Faina, the Belize-flagged cargo ship, which was captured on Sept. 25 and is anchored off the coast of Somalia near the harbor city of Hobyo. The U.S. 5th Fleet continues to actively monitor the situation. The guided-missile cruiser arrived in Indian Ocean on Sept. 26 to watch on pirated ships MV Faina, MV Capt Stefanos and MV Centauri.

December 9, CG 72 recently anchored off the coast Victoria, Seychelles, for a liberty port visit.

January 20, 2009 The Vella Gulf recently pulled into Manama, Bahrain, for a routine port call.

February 4, USS Vella Gulf became the flagship of Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, assuming duties from USS San Antonio (LPD 17), a multinational task force conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea.

February 11, The Vella Gulf captured seven Somali pirates after receving a distress call about 3 p.m., from the motor vessel Polaris, in the Gulf of Aden. This is Navy&rsquos first successful interdiction since the establishment of a new anti-piracy force last month. Under a new agreement with the U.S. military, the suspects will be turned over to the Kenyan government for prosecution.

February 12, Nine suspected pirates were apprehended by USS Vella Gulf after responding to a distress call at 4 a.m., from a nearby Indian-flagged motor vessel Premdivya. USS Mahan (DDG 72) intercepted the skiff. Teams from both warships conducted searches and found weapons, including one rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The suspected pirates were brought on board the guided-missile cruiser where they were processed and are being held until they are transferred to a temporary holding facility on board USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1).

March 1, CG 72 pulled into Haifa, Israel, for a scheduled port visit. Inport Naval Station Rota, Spain, from March 11-1?.

March 27, USS Vella Gulf returned to homeport after a seven-month deployment.

May 20, The Vella Gulf pulled into New York City, N.Y., to participate in the 22nd commemoration of Fleet Week.

April 9, 2010 USS Vella Gulf moored at HMNB Clyde at Faslane, Scotland, to participate in the multi-national exercise Joint Warrior 10-1, from April 12-23.

July 8, USS Vella Gulf, commanded by Capt. Mark Young, departed Norfolk Naval Station for a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility.

August 25, The guided-missile cruiser recently arrived in Haifa, Israel, for a routine port call.

September 22, USS Vella Gulf arrived in Bodrum, Turkey, for a scheduled port visit.

October 13, CG 72 pulled into Souda Bay, Crete, Greece, for a routine port visit.

November 24, The Vella Gulf arrived in Kusadasi, Turkey, for a four-day port call.

January 15, 2011 USS Vella Gulf returned to Norfolk after a six-month deployment in support of the ballistic missile defense strategy in the Mediterranean.

January 3, 2012 USS Vella Gulf departed homeport for a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 6th Fleet AoR, with the primary focus on Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD).

January 22, The guided-missile cruiser arrived in Constanta, Romania, for a three-day port visit.

January 26, USS Vella Gulf pulled into Sevastopol, Ukraine, for a four-day port call. Inport Odessa, Ukraine, from Jan. 31- Feb. 1.

February 5, CG 72 arrived in Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece, for a routine port call.

February 14, USS Vella Gulf, along with USS The Sullivans (DDG 68) and USS De Wert (FFG 45), departed Augusta Bay, Italy, to participate in a NATO's largest Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) exercise Proud Manta 2012, in the Ionian Sea to the southeast of Sicily, from Feb. 14-26.

February 26, The Vella Gulf pulled again into Augusta Bay, Sicily, for a routine port call.

March 23, USS Vella Gulf arrived in Souda Bay, Crete, for a three-day port visit before participating in a joint exercise Noble Dina, with the navies of Israel and Greece, in the eastern Mediterranean.

April 6, The guided-missile cruiser departed Haifa, Israel, after a brief port call. Inport Haifa again on May 1 or earlier.

July 5, The Vella Gulf departed Souda Bay, Greece, after a routine port call.

August 11, USS Vella Gulf returned to Naval Station Norfolk after more than a seven-month deployment.

August 29, Capt. Philip W. Vance relieved Capt. Mark W. Harris as the 12th CO of Vella Gulf.

September 11, BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair has been awarded a $27 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-11-C-4403) for the Vella Gulf's Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability (DSRA). Work is expected to be completed by January 2013 Departed dry-dock on Dec. 11.

November 7, 2013 CG 72 is currently underway for routine training in the Virginia Capes Op. Area Completed INSURV assessment on Aug. 29.

January 24, 2014 Capt. Robert D. Katz relieved Capt. Philip W. Vance as commanding officer of the USS Vella Gulf.

February 14, The Vella Gulf departed Norfolk for a two-week Independent Deployer Certification Exercise (IDCERTEX) in the Treasure Island Op. Area.

March 14, USS Vella Gulf departed Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled independent deployment with a primary focus on Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) operations.

March 28, The guided-missile cruiser moored at HMNB Clyde in Faslane, Scotland, for a two-day port call before participating in at-sea phase of a multinational exercise Joint Warrior 14-1, from March 30- April 10.

April 16, USS Vella Gulf moored at Fuel Pier in Augusta Bay, Sicily, for a two-day port call for inchop brief and turnover with the USS Ramage (DDG 61).

April 23, The Vella Gulf recently pulled into Limassol, Cyprus, for a scheduled port visit Inport Haifa, Israel, from April 27- May 1.

May 6, CG 72 arrived in Naval Support Activity Souda Bay at Crete, Greece, for a brief port call Transited the Bosporus Strait northbound on May 23.

May 30, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 7, Container Terminal in Port of Varna East for a three-day port visit to Bulgaria.

June 3, The Vella Gulf moored at Passenger Terminal in Constanta, Romania, for a three-day port call. Participated in a bilateral underway engagement with the ROS Regina Maria (F222) on June 6 Participated in underway engagment with the TCG Bykada (F 512) on June 10 Departed Black Sea on June 12 Upkeep in Souda Bay from June 13-24 Participated in BMD exercise with the SPS Cristobal Colon (F 105) from June 26-27.

July 3, USS Vella Gulf moored at Cruise Terminal in Kusadasi, Turkey, for a three-day port visit Entered the Black Sea on July 7.

July 8, The guided-missile cruiser pulled into Burgas, Bulgaria, for a brief port call before participating in exercise Breeze from July 9-11 Transited the Bosporus Strait southbound on July 14 Inport Souda Bay from July 15-16 and Aug. 4-5.

August 6, USS Vella Gulf transited the Dardanelles Strait northbound en route to the Black Sea.

August 11, The Vella Gulf moored at Passenger Terminal in Constanta, Romania, for a three-day port visit Anchored off Constanta to participate in the annual Romanian Navy Day celebration on Aug. 15.

August 18, CG 72 moored at Berth 10, Passenger Terminal in Port of Batumi, Georgia, for a two-day visit. Inport Constanta again from Aug. 22-23 Transited Bosporus Strait southbound on Aug. 26.

August 29, USS Vella Gulf anchored off the coast of Corfu, Greece, for a four-day port visit.

September 5, The Vella Gulf departed Augusta Bay, Italy, after a brief port call for turnover with the USS Cole (DDG 67).

September 20, USS Vella Gulf returned to homeport after a six-month deployment in the U.S. 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility (AoR).

December 30, The Vella Gulf is currently moored at Pier 1, BAE Systems shipyard for an Extended Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability (E-DSRA).

January ?, 2015 The Vella Gulf entered the Speede Dry Dock at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard (ex-Metro Machine) in Norfolk, Va.

April 17, Capt. Francis X. Castellano relieved Capt. Robert D. Katz as the 14th CO of CG 72.

June 2?, The guided-missile cruiser undocked and moved "dead-stick" to BAE Systems shipyard.

November 10, Capt. Mark J. Oberley relieved Cmdr Jason K. Wilson as CO of the Vella Gulf during a change-of-command ceremony at the BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair. Wilson will continue to serve as the executive officer, having filled in as acting commanding officer after Capt. Francis Castellano assumed command of the USS Anzio (CG 68) in September.

March 25, 2016 USS Vella Gulf moved "dead-stick" from BAE Systems shipyard to Berth 1, Pier 4 on Naval Station Norfolk Underway for sea trials in late July.

September 16, The Vella Gulf recently commenced a Continuous Maintenance Availability (CMAV) while moored at Berth 2, Pier 2 on Naval Station Norfolk.

February 3, 2017 USS Vella Gulf departed homeport for a Missile Exercise (MISSILEX), off the coast of North Carolina, and to participate in a Task Group Exercise (TGEX) in the Jacksonville Op. Area.

April 16, The Vella Gulf is currently moored at Berth 5, Pier 7 on Naval Station Norfolk.

April 23, USS Vella Gulf departed Norfolk for a scheduled independent deployment.

May 4, CG 72 moored at Berth 2, Pier 1 on Naval Station Rota, Spain, for a brief stop to refuel Participated in a cooperation exercise with the RMNS Commandant El Harti (P 306), off the coast of Rabat, Morocco, on May 5.

May 8, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 2, Pier 1 on Naval Station Rota for a four-day port call Transited the Strait of Gibraltar on May 13 Transited the Suez Canal on May 19.

From June 18-20, the Vella Gulf participated a training exercise Spartan Kopis 17, with the USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Whirlwind (PC 11) and U.S. Coast Guard, while underway in the Arabian Gulf.

From July 24-26, USS Vella Gulf participated in a U.S.-Iraq-Kuwait trilateral exercise, while underway in the North Arabian Gulf.

October 2, Capt. Robert S. Thompson relieved Capt. Mark J. Oberley as CO of the Vella Gulf during a change-of-command ceremony on board the ship, while underway in the Arabian Gulf.

November 20, The guided-missile cruiser transited the Suez Canal northbound, escorting the USNS Bob Hope (T-AKR 300) Transited the Strait of Gibraltar westbound on Nov. 26.

November 28, USS Vella Gulf moored at Eastern Quay in Port of Agadir, Morocco, for a four-day liberty visit Moored at Wharf C1 in Naval Station Mayport, Fla., for a brief stop to embark "Tigers" on Dec. 13.

December 15, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 1, Pier 4 on Naval Station Norfolk after nearly an eight-month deployment.

January 8, 2018 The Vella Gulf departed homeport to offload ammunition Moored at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown from Jan. 8-16 Moored at Berth 1, Pier 10 on Jan. 18.

March ?, USS Vella Gulf moored at Midtown Pier, Marine Hydraulics Industries (MHI) Ship Repair & Services shipyard in Norfolk for a Selected Restricted Availability (SRA) Moved "dead-stick" to Berth 5, Pier 9 in Naval Station Norfolk on July 18 Moved to Berth 2, Pier 11 on July 30 Underway for sea trials from Aug. 2-3.

August 31, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 1, Pier 9 on Naval Station Norfolk after a four-day underway off the coast of Virginia Underway again on Sept. 4.

September 4, CG 72 moored at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown for a three-day ammo onload Moored at Berth 6, Pier 1 on Sept. 7 Emergency sortied due to approaching Hurricane Florence on Sept. 10 Arrived in the Key West Op. Area on Sept. 13.

September 17, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 2, Pier 9 on Naval Station Norfolk Moored to a buoy at Explosives Anchorage G2 for a brief stop before underway off the coast of Virginia on Oct. 15 Moored at Berth 5, Pier 10 for a brief stop on Oct. 22.

October 25, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 3, Echo Wharf on Naval Station Mayport, Fla., for a one-day port call Moored at Berth 1, Pier 1 on Nov. 2.

December 8, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 2, Pier 1 on Naval Station Norfolk after a five-day underway for routine training Underway again on Dec. 11 Moored at Berth 1, Pier 5 on Dec. 12.

April 11, 2019 USS Vella Gulf departed homeport for routine training in the Virginia Capes and Jacksonville Op. Areas Moored at Wharf C2 on Naval Station Mayport from April 19-21.

April 24, The guided-missile cruiser arrived at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) range, off the east coast of Andros Island, Bahamas, to participate in a Submarine Commander's Course (SCC) with the USS James E. Williams (DDG 95) and USS Truxtun (DDG 103) Transited northbound, east of Great Abaco Island, on April 25 Moored at Berth 1, Pier 7 in Naval Station Norfolk on April 27.

June 28, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 6, Pier 5 on Naval Station Norfolk after a three-day underway in the Virginia Capes Op. Area Underway again from July 9-12.

July 17, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 2, Pier 5 on Naval Station Norfolk after a one-day underway off the coast of Virginia Underway again on July 19 Arrived at AUTEC range on July 26.

July 26, Capt. Andrew P. Fitzpatrick relieved Capt. Robert S. Thompson as the 17th CO of Vella Gulf during a change-of-command ceremony on board the ship, while underway off the east coast of Andros Island.

July 27, The Vella Gulf transited northbound, approximately 15 n.m. east of Great Abaco Island Arrived off the coast of Virginia on July 29 Returned home on Aug. 2.

August 7, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 5, Pier 9 on Naval Station Norfolk after a one-day underway for carrier escort duties.

August 23, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 2, Pier 1 on Naval Station Norfolk after six-day underway in the Virginia Capes Op. Area Underway again on Aug. 27 Moored at Berth 1, Pier 2 on Aug. 28 Underway for routine training from Aug. 29- Sept. 2 Emergency sortied due to Hurricane Dorian on Sept. 4.

From September 9-17, the Vella Gulf participated in a Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) exercise, in the Virginia Capes and Cherry Point Op. Areas Moored at Berth 5, Pier 2 on Sept. 18 Underway for Group Sail, as part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) CSG, on Sept. 21 Participated in a PHOTOEX, while underway off the coast of Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 28.

September 29, USS Vella Gulf moored at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown for ammo onload Moored at Berth 2, Pier 2 on Oct. 5 Underway again from Dec. 14-15.

January 16, 2020 The Vella Gulf departed homeport for a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) Moored at NWS Yorktown for ammo onload from Jan. 16-18 Moored at Wharf D1 on Naval Station Mayport from Jan. 29-31 Moored at Berth 1, Pier 5 in Naval Station Norfolk on Feb. 13.

February 25, USS Vella Gulf departed Norfolk for a scheduled deployment, as part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CSG-10.

March 3, The Vella Gulf conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Kanawha (T-AO 196), while transiting the Atlantic Ocean eastbound Transited the Strait of Gibraltar eastbound, just after midnight, on March 8.

March 10, Boatswain&rsquos Mate 2nd Class Imran Khan died after fell down a ladderwell aboard the Vella Gulf, while the ship was underway in the central Mediterranean Sea.

March 11, The Vella Gulf conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Laramie (T-AO 203) Moored at East Quay in Port of Limassol, Cyprus, from March 12-14 Transited the Suez Canal southbound on March 15 Conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5), while underway in the Gulf of Aden, on March 22.

April 3, USS Vella Gulf transited the Strait of Hormuz northbound, escorting the USS Bataan (LHD 5), USS New York (LPD 21), USS Oak Hill (LSD 51) and USNS William McLean (T-AKE 12) Conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Robert E. Peary on April 7 and April 16.

April 17, The Vella Gulf transited the Strait of Hormuz southbound, escorting the USNS Lewis and Clarke (T-AKE 1), USNS Seay (T-AKR 302) and USNS Dewayne T. Williams (T-AK 3009) Conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Wally Schirra (T-AKE 8), while underway in the Gulf of Aden, on April 28.

June 13, USS Vella Gulf conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Joshua Humphreys (T-AO 188), while underway in the North Arabian Sea Transited the Strait of Hormuz northbound, escorting the USNS Robert E. Peary, on June 15 Transited southbound on June 17.

July 7, USS Vella Gulf conducted a replenishment-at-sea with the USNS Walter S. Diehl (T-AO 193), while underway in the Arabian Gulf Transited the Suez Canal northbound, escorting the USNS Robert E. Peary and USNS Joshua Humphreys, on July 27 Transited the Strait of Gibraltar westbound, just before midnight, on Aug. 1.

August 10, USS Vella Gulf, commanded by Capt. Michael P. Desmond, moored at Berth 1, Pier 6 on Naval Station Norfolk following a five-and-a-half month deployment in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet AoR.

October 9, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 5, Pier 2 on Naval Station Norfolk after a nine-day underway for Sustainment Exercise (SUSTEX), as part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CSG.

January 10, 2021 USS Vella Gulf departed homeport for a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), in the Cherry Point, Charleston and Jacksonville Op. Areas Moored at Wharf D1 on Naval Station Mayport, Fla., from Feb. 1-3 Moored at Berth 6, Pier 14 in Naval Station Norfolk on Feb. 10.

February 18, USS Vella Gulf departed Norfolk for a surge Middle East deployment Moored at NWS Yorktown for ammo onload from Feb. 18-19.

February 26, The Vella Gulf moored at Berth 6, Pier 14 on Naval Station Norfolk for emergent repairs after suffering a leak in a fuel oil tank, while underway in heavy seas during its transit across the Atlantic Ocean Underway again on March 13 Moored at Berth 6, Pier 2 on March 14 Underway again on April 21.

May 3, USS Vella Gulf moored at Berth 3, Pier 1 on Naval Station Rota, Spain, for a three-day port call Moored again at Berth 3, Pier 1 for emergent repairs on Thursday afternoon Departed Rota on May 8 Transited the Strait of Gibraltar eastbound on May 8 Moored at Berth K14 in Souda Bay, Crete, from May 12-13 Transited the Suez Canal southbound on May 15 Transited the Bab el-Mandeb Strait on May 18.

June 5, USS Vella Gulf transited the Strait of Hormuz northbound, escorting the USNS Carl Brashear (T-AKE 7) Transited southbound on June 15.?


They called it “Nimitz’s Secret.” All 10, 100-foot-long steel sections were towed by ship from San Francisco to Espiritus Santo, the main island in the New Hebrides chain. This floating steel dry dock for America’s Pacific Fleet during World War II was a military secret and a game changer.

Pfc. William McWha, Serial No. 31305306, was a replacement soldier. He was one of the tens of thousands of American infantrymen from the “Repo Depot” who were put on the front lines in the heat of battle during World War II to replace killed or wounded soldiers.


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