Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Was my dad on the USS Joseph Hewes?

     My dad rarely talked about war.  He preferred to keep World War II stories to himself like most men who have seen the horrors of war.   I do remember one story that he told me about his  war experiences.  But getting that story, as I remember it, to match up with what is written in the history books has been difficult.  It could be that my memory has mixed up parts of his stories with books That I have read or movies/TV shows/documentaries that I have watched.
     He told one story about the invasion at Fedala.  (An earlier blog entry on the invasion at Fedala)  I remember him talking about the ship that transported him from Virginia to Morocco in the fall of 1942.  He told how the ship was sunk in the harbor while men were preparing to go ashore.  
     Was my father referring to the ship that had transported him across the ocean?
     While researching the battles in which he participated,  I found that several ships were sunk at around the time of the invasion at Fedala.   The USS Joseph Hewes seems to fit some, but not all of the circumstances.
USS Joseph Hewes (AP-50)
     The USS Joseph Hewes (AP-50) was built in 1930 as Excalibur, a passenger liner.  In 1942, the US Navy took the ship over and in May, 1942 the ship was commissioned as USS Joseph Hewes (AP-50).  In late October, 1942, the USS Joseph Hewes left Hampton Roads, Virginia, carrying over 1000 troops of the Third Division. Based upon the size of the Third Division in preparation for the invasion, somewhere around fifteen troop ships would have been required to transport all of the men in the division.  
     But the USS Joseph Hewes had offloaded soldiers early in the morning of Nov. 8, 1942.   The ship then anchored offshore and took casualties aboard.  At 1950 hours on Nov. 11, the USS Joseph Hewes was hit by a torpedo from the German U-boat, U-173. The USS Joseph Hewes sank in under forty-five minutes.  Had my dad somehow been back on the ship when it was torpedoed?
     Was my father referring to one of the landing craft which took men from the troop transports to the beach?
     Over 300 landing craft (LCA) were used on the first day.  On the morning of the first day as many as half of the LCA were either temporarily or permanently out of service.   Some of them were hit by enemy fire.  Some were stuck on reefs offshore.  Some were turned sideways and swamped in the surf.  Had my father been referring to a LCA as the ship that sunk under him?  I think he mentioned that men were jumping in to the water with all their gear.  Many sank right to the bottom.
     I wish I knew the answers to the questions about the ship that my dad said sank under him.
     At the time of the landing at Fedala, Lt. John B. Armstrong was in the Third Division, 15th Infantry Regiment, Company E.

     (On a side note, five days after the U-173 sunk the USS Joseph Hewes, the U-173 was itself sunk by US destroyers.) 

1.  Taggart, Donald, History of the Third Infantry Division in World War II, Battery Press, Nashville. 1987

2. Atkinson, Rick. An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa  Henry Holy and Company, New York, 2002

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