Atlantic and South Pacific Duty
Home Up Japanese Surrender of Aguijan Iskand

 

 

WW II Atlantic and Pacific Duty

A Slice of History and Life on an 83

In his own words

Click on photos in text to enlarge

Photos by Ron

Reminisces of Ron Abbey, BM 1c

USCG 83413 1942-1945

Atlantic Duty

I enlisted from Peekskill, New York. .How did I select the USCG for my service? In 1941. I was a corporal in the New York State Guard and could have enlisted in the army and held rank. However, two of my high school buddies convinced me that the Coast Guard was the place to be. We would sleep in beds instead of foxholes and they were looking for "yeomen". I didn't know what a yeoman was but it sounded very nautical to me so the three of us went to Battery Park in New York City late in 1941 to enlist. After a thorough medical exam, one was rejected for being color blind and the other with flat feet. They both wound up in the army, one wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.

I received basic training at Manhattan Beach, NY in 1942, and stayed on there to attend an additional Seamanship School for about 5additional weeks. As you might guess, no matter what the extra assignment was going to be, you could be sure the names would be draw in alphabetical order. Guess who made every detail. The only good thing I can remember about being first in line was when a few years later we were getting all kinds of shots in preparation for the Pacific was first in line as usual and got jabbed in both arms a couple of times -- so by the time I knew what was happening it was all over. The other guys in line by gossip heard about the "dozen" shots they were going to get and some developed a real anxiety complex.

Upon completion of the Seamanship school almost all of our class were assigned to 83 footers. I was sent to St. George Depot, Staten Island where I temporarily boarded the 83411 which was quickly ordered to New London, Conn. for further training. ( I did return to St. Georges depot

en route to Bayonne, N.J. a few years later, and found two of my classmates there. They were serving on a buoy tender. Both were still seamen l/c. While I was very proud to be wearing my two stripes at that time, they let me know that their duty was "as good as it gets" and they hoped to spend the rest of their tours right where they were and never mind the ratings. Whether they did or not I'll probably never know).

At New London, in addition to classroom sessions, we worked almost everyday with the subs from Groton, Conn. We learned how to pick up contacts and they learned attack and evasive maneuvering. That lasted about two weeks and I was then assigned to the 83413, as a seaman 2/c. I spent my entire tour of duty on the 413. We were dispatched to Cape May, N.J. as our home port.

While there we engaged primarily in convoy escort duty. There were about12 to 16 of the 83 footers stationed there at various times, along with about 6 USN 110' Sub Chasers (SCís) [aka The Splinter Fleet] who worked with us. Convoys coming up the coast and out of Philadelphia via Delaware Bay were picked up and escorted in groups of about 10 or more ships to New York Harbor. The SC's had a full lieutenant as skipper so they were in command of the escorts. Sometimes there would be PC's or destroyers involved but for the most part we and the SCís were on our own. The others were doing the Atlantic crossings. We had to absolutely hold station on the convoy and I often envied the SC's being bigger. They had an easier time of weathering a storm than we did on many an occasion when the seas were not coming on us at the best angle.

Our ship generally carried a crew of between 14 to 16.when stateside. There was the skipper, usually an Ensign or J.G., a Chief Boats or sometimes a BM 1c along with Coxswains and BM2c. I made Coxswain in Cape May and had a 4 hour watch assignment from then on. No matter who the radar/sonar rating was he was immediately called "ping". We sometimes had a signalman so most of the right arm ratings undertook to learn Morse and semaphore . Once we had two signalmen at the same time. The nuts used to sit at the galley table and with one hand on an ear lobe, twist it up and down to practice Morse code. The signalmen in particular did not stay with us very long, they must have been in short supply. We used to practice with the signal tower at Cape May but those guys were generally too fast for us and liked to show off. We had 3 MoMMs, Sonar or Radar operator, one cook, and a GM 2/c.

Quarters were always cramped and living space was also very limited. Sleeping was an adventure in itself. There were two racks of 4 bunks each on the port side and one rack of four bunks on the starboard. The sonar shack and lockers were also on the starboard side just aft of the row of bunks. The bunks were tied up during the day but when on sea assignment they were all left down. The very bottom bunks were really on the deck and you had to pretty much walk one foot in front of the other between the two bottom rows in order to reach the head. The guys in the bottom bunks were continually getting bumped. Of course to get to the upper bunks you had to use the lower ones as a ladder and really crawl in. Your head would be only a few inches from the bunk above you and there were frequent squabbles to make the guy on top of you tighten up the rope stretching the canvass as it would tend to sag and your nose could windup nearly touching the canvas above you. There were two more bunks in the galley and the skipper and chief or leading bosun had separate quarters. We used to keep our blues laid out between the mattress and the canvass. We always slept fully clothed when on sea duty. If the weather was warm enough many times guys would sleep on deck amid a pile of life jackets. Whenever anyone transferred out, there was a scramble to get one of the middle bunks and it was like playing musical chairs bunks). After awhile I worked myself into an upper middle bunk on the starboard side and kept it for the duration. The bunks in the galley were only used as a last resort and were eventually removed. I can't even envision today how small the lockers were. But then we did not have very much in the way of clothing or personal effects.

As you might imagine, between changing watches and using the single head there was a constant clatter but after a couple days of 4 hours on and 4 hours off, we learned to adjust. The 4 on and off was for escort duty. When on picket duty later on and patrolling off Lewis, Del. And in the Philippines, we were able to vary that and get 4 and 8. While on escort we had two men from each watch assigned to the under water sonar and they shifted back and forth every 1/2 hours. You couldnít concentrate longer than that in that cramped space. Some guys got sea sick (or faked it) and could not take much of that spot. I canít remember ever being in a position off the convoy other than being on one of the flanks so the sonar sweep was usually from directly ahead to the stern, 180 degrees. It was a really claustrophobic in there with the door closed, but if left open the pinging drove everyone crazy, so it was a constant battle between the operator and the sleepers. Occasionally the operator would ping on another escort or convoy ship and the rapid return seemed to make more racket than the outward shot and of course everyone in the bunks would rouse up with a start. Needless to say the operator caught some choice words if he had just not been paying attention to his search area. If the pinging got a contact within the search area there would be a holler and the scramble would begin. Although we dropped charges on a few contacts our standing orders were to drop and return to station so we never knew if we had contact with a sub or a wreck, and there were several wrecks, especially off Atlantic City. The picture below shows us taking on replacement charges at Cape May, which had to be hand lifted into the racks and then have the triggers inserted.

While on convoy duty we always manned the outside bridge with one at the wheel and officially two lookouts. Depending upon the crew size there would be one or more in the wheelhouse to rotate. The cook and perhaps a striker, plus the skipper did not stand a watch and the 3 MoMMs stood their own watches.

Maintaining position regardless of the direction and size of the seas, combined with the winter weather made the outer bridge watch something less than desirable. We had good cold weather gear with helmets and face masks which helped. We did not get the surface radar until later on and then there was one man in the wheelhouse watching that globe. The length of a convoy trip would vary according to the circumstances. If it was already formed and coming up the coast we would either join with the other escorts (which happened very rarely) or the convoy would be assembled in Delaware Bay and we would have to wait until they all formed up. It was always at night so there was always confusion and it generally took several hours to get things put right. In order to hold some type of a standstill position it was necessary to constantly operate the Panish controls The MoMac would pop his head up out of the hatch where he had been hand maneuvering the controls and ask to" make up your mind what your going to do". Even those who were pretty darn good seaman sometimes they lost their cookies. It would take a couple of nights or more to reach New York and then we simply turned around and headed back. Of course at a better speed. We never had much advance notice to be attached to a convoy. It would take the best part of another day or two to get things shipshape again, be resupplied and finally a shower. The later was a must of course - and even if you had wanted to skip it, the crew would make sure you didnít.

The other duty that we were tasked with was to patrol the entrance to the Delaware River, off Lewes, Del., to challenge and identify all shipping entering for passage to the Phila. Naval Yard or nearby docks. This was pretty routine, although many of the freighters seemed to have no one aboard who could speak English and frequently we had to go alongside and communicate by blinker lights or semaphore as most of them didn't have the reply codes right and we had to give them compass headings and other directions. There just weren't enough pilots to go around. One incident that I do remember is that we challenged a ship at night and got no answer at all. It seemed to be heading in the wrong direction so we took out after it full speed, not knowing what we would find. Well, shortly thereafter we received a radio message from shore that there were two unidentified ships in the minefield and we should investigate immediately. We turned away after signaling the freighter and never did report back. Most embarrassing.

I have no real memories of liberty while at Cape May. I don't think much was offered and there wasn't any place to go anyway. There was a pretty good PX though and movies. We showered in the naval barracks and had our own stores and clothing to draw upon. Cape May was primarily a naval base but I really don't remember much about it. I do remember one leave involvement however. Some of the crew that were due a weeks leave were to choose between Christmas and New Years. The cook wanted Christmas so I volunteered for New Years and offered to cook while he was gone. No turkeys available but I got a nice big roast of beef which I dutifully put in the oven and did all the other fixings. Unfortunately, and unknown to me, it turned out that I had been given apiece of corned beef. After a conventional roasting, it turned out so salty we really couldn't eat it and I took some ribbing about that and George Costa, the cook was welcomed back with more than the usual hello.

After about a year of this we joined up with about 4 other 83's and were based at the Atlantic City, N.J. Coast Guard Station. The reason for this deployment was that although the City was blacked out, never the less, there was a glow that made it possible for German U boats to lay offshore and spot a ship silhouetted against the glow. The 83's were gasoline guzzlers so that and the better proximity to the hot spot and time saved were the reasons. We were all ordered out to pick up and join convoys as additional escorts before they came up on Atlantic City. We would stay with them into New York Harbor and return. It was not until after the war that the American people learned of the horrific number of ships that were damaged or sunk along the Atlantic seaboard. For the most part there just was not enough escort ships to-do the job. The waters off Atlantic City contain many hulks. Most of the damage had already been done by that time however, and the U-boat menace was pretty much under control along the coast.

An incident that comes to mind on one of these convoys was when we had a contact and we, along with several of the other 83's dropped all of our depth charges. Again, our standing orders were to return to station immediately so despite several droppings we never knew if we had done any damage. Anyway, we stood off Ambrose Light Ship as the merchants passed by us and there were many cheers from the merchant seamen. We were quite pleased that our efforts and protection were appreciated until we were later told that those seamen had earned an extra 20% for the trip as they had come under attack with the enemy. Of course we still were paid $20 a month, plus extra sea pay, whether we earned it or not. But the merchant marine earned every penny. As we know, the oilers would travel in the middle of the convoy and away from troopships, and if they were torpedoed it was the finish. Although we dropped charges on suspected targets there was never an attack on any ship in any of the convoys. It only became a little hairy and tense if a freighter had to slow down for some reason and an escort had to practically stop and stay with it.

Eventually, things quieted down and our duty was changed to that of outer picket patrol. The 83's were assigned areas of the coastal waters to run up and down, irregularly, and the merchants would run inshore of us, as close to the beach as they could get. Usually, there were at least two ships out and we ran between Atlantic City and the Atlantic Highlands, N.J. which was at the entrance to N.Y. City harbor. Because of their hugging the shore and shallow water, on at least two times we greeted the morning and found a steamer aground, waiting for the next tide to lift her up. This was a good duty time as we were able to adjust course and speed to adapt to the weather, not being required to hold position rigidly. Another of what now seems humorous to me, but not at the time, was that the people on watch would always head right into the seas and bounce around for an hour or more before their watch ended. Then turn around, stern to a following sea at the end of the watch so that it would be relatively calm for them to get to sleep. If the weather was a little rough, this would cause caustic remarks from the oncoming watch who had been banged about for the past hour or so. But they in turn did the same thing. Also we had a chief aboard who was formerly a fisherman along our stretch of coast and if the weather got really bad we were allowed to seek shelter. He knew every little spot that could berth an 83 footer and we wound up in places that an 83 footer had never been before.

Atlantic City was used as a rest and rehabilitation center for air force personnel during that time and it was a bustling place, complete with many unattached girls coming from Philadelphia and environs. After we stopped convoy duty and began the outer patrols, we found that all of a sudden, or so it seemed, the air force people pulled out and it fell to the poor overworked Coast Guardsmen and the personnel from the local air field to keep all of those girls happy. I met my wife in Atlantic City. We debated getting married and finally tied the knot while we were awaiting loading at Bayonne, N.J. We left for the Pacific a few days after that. After nearly 60 years we enjoy retirement together here in Florida.

During the Atlantic City phase of the tour we learned that several of the 83's would be part of the invasion of Europe fleet. We rescheduled to be part of that operation but our recently installed radar was continually breaking down and completely unreliable so we were pulled off the mission. We had made several trips to Cape May for repairs but none seemed to last very long. Some of those cutters returned to Cape May months later and we heard of the good deeds that they had accomplished. In particular, I remember Seaman Harry Moftich, who I had known from pretty much day one of enlistment. He was goofy -- a clown and just an unreliable, happy-go-lucky kid who didn't get things right most of the time. He returned as a much sobered, a quiet man who finally told me of his experiences and the struggles they had to reach men swimming with their heavy packs, sometimes wounded, and sometimes they arrived too late and watched the objects of their failures disappear beneath the sea. I don't remember his ships number unfortunately.

South Pacific Duty

As soon as these ships returned we learned that the 83413 would be part of a group that would be sent to the South Pacific. The crew was cut down. We anticipated that we would get some additional men in the Philippines. We never did, and didn't need them anyhow. We were loaded on the Liberty Ship SS Henry Durant at Bayonne, N.J. along with 3 other cutters for the long journey.

I can't really believe that I have read an account on this website of the 83331 which sailed on the same ship! We crossed the Equator on April 24th, 1945. I have my framed certificate hanging on a wall here. I have looked at the pictures and comments from Jack Parker on this website and although it was a different 83 footer, our pictures of crossing the Equator are much the same. We were smeared with axle grease, hair cut, ketchup and as I remember it, either it was salt water showers or limited fresh water for showers.

 

After almost two months, as I remember it, our first stop was at Manus, which is in the Admiralty Island group. We then went to Hollandia in New Guinea. My buddy, Larry Poole, had a father who had been stationed somewhere in New Guinea and we set out to try to get any information we could about him. Even trekked inland a bit. Did not find anything of help, but upon return were told that not only were there still some worn out Japs still around but also the natives were not completely cured of cannibalism. I think they were pulling our legs but nevertheless we decided not to pursue the matter any further. Then on to Tacloban in the Leyte Gulf.

Dock at Tacloban Harbor

From there we and 3 other 83's (not the 331) were assigned to the port at Zamboanga on the southern island of Mindanao.

Zamboanga Harbor

Zamboanga had a fairly large air field which had been used extensively by the Japs. We used to go over there to visit sometimes. There was a huge pile of wrecked Jap planes at one end of the field, and unfortunately many American planes also. We took pictures of each other in the Zeroes but despite our attempts at a toothy grin we probably could not pass for Japs.

We did get calls to look for downed planes either returning and even taking off. Picked up one pilot who gave me his movie camera that had a nice turret lens -but no film.

For the most part our duty in the Philippines was to patrol the many waterways. Although the islands were declared secure, there were still elements of the Japanese army around and they would get in a scrap sometimes. We never heard of any Jap surface vessels or subs in the area. We were never involved in any incidents. We were told that a large detachment of Japs were coming to Zamboanga from the nearby islands of Basilan and Ilo Ilo and we should be prepared to take their surrender. We wondered how we would ever do that with nothing put a few pistols and a pair of rifles. Fortunately they never showed up.

Once when we were at Leyte Gulf we spotted a supply ship and of course went over to see if we could get any "goodies". Imagine how I felt when while standing in a long line, a call went out for any Coast Guardsmen to come to the front of the line. Turned out it was manned by a Coast Guard crew and they wanted to favor their buddies. We loaded down real good with food and clothing.

We all wore light green shirts , (when we wore anything) with the letters stenciled on the back naming our home town. One time we tied up alongside a navy YP and I heard a call. "Hey, Peekskill". Turned out that the exec was from the nearby city of Ossining, N.Y. I wound up bringing an entire crate of eggs on board. It's the truth that in addition to the small stove, we used frying pans, heated underneath with a blow torch to fry the eggs - it was a real picnic.

We were patrolling off Zamboanga at that same time and one dark night we spotted about 8 or more blips on our surface radar, coming straight at us and really moving very fast. We immediately went to GQ and held our breath. Soon a group of PT's whizzing by on both sides of us and close aboard, none of them were showing any lights and neither were we. I presume they saw us but they never even slowed down.

There were always several native youngsters in dugout boats hanging around, looking to buy anything they could sell on the black market. Another memory is that we opened up a bale of rags on the deck and pandemonium broke loose. They wanted to buy the old rag shirts, underwear and even part of a dress. Needless to say we obliged them. Many of them flashed rolls of pesos and were well healed. Others like in the picture below did not have money to offer so did the best they could with what they had.

Another time we tied up at a naval rehab spot someplace and were able to get a few cases of beer. After drinking several cans each and not getting any happier, we learned that it was that diluted stuff that was no better than soda.

We all were required to take atabrin and salt tablets, I guess that was for malaria prevention and dehydration, which after a month or two made us all take on a yellow glow.

Of course we had no showers aboard. The picture below shows what we used right off the dock, and wide open, but who cared. The water was continually cold. We also installed a canvass awning from the outer wheelhouse down to the 20mm gun. I guess we didn't look very trim at that point but the shade was welcomed.

The native Morros chewed beetle nut, part of their religion, we were told, and it rotted their teeth. You would see all of these middle aged and older people who had nothing but stubs of teeth. Larry Poole and I used to roam around shore together and once we smelled the most beautiful odor of something baking and followed it to an army building that had just finished baking bread. We talked them into loading a huge burlap sack with loaves, fresh out of the oven, which we carry about a mile back to the ship. The sack was so heavy and the bread still so fresh and hot that we had to stop several times and switch sides as our hands were getting uncomfortable. When we arrived at the 413 the guys just grabbed the loaves and ate them as if they were cakes.

I had written to my mother and asked her to send me a "care" package which was to consist of some Aunt Jemima pancake mix and a large bottle of syrup. The syrup was to be emptied out and replaced with some nice Scotch. It took a couple of months but it finally arrived and the pancake flour box was broken and I drew a ribbing from the guys -- that is until I let them get a smell of the "syrup". I quickly developed some new friends.

We learned that we were scheduled to take part in the invasion of Japan, for duty much as the 83's did on D Day I guess. Our gunners mate, Larry Poole figured we did not have enough fire power so he and I set off to the air base and managed to get two twin 50 caliber machines guns. We were in process of mounting them on the wings of the wheelhouse when we first heard of a big bomb that had been dropped in Japan. We didn't think much of it at the time, but soon learned that the Japs were suing for peace. When that news came out I was watching a movie at a nearby army camp and immediately headed back to the docks. When I got there I think every gun on every ship was shooting up ordnance all over the place. I distinctly remember, "I hope one of these idiots doesn't lose control. This would be a hellava time to take a hit". Funny but we had no trouble getting the twin 50's but they were unauthorized to us, with no paperwork, and the skipper wanted us to get rid of them --how was he going to account for their presence? We could not get anyone to take them and finally laid them down in a hangar at the airfield and walked away. Still, I'll bet we were the only 83 footer that had that extra armament on it.

I used to record the names of the "plank owners" and those that came and went. We had over 50 come and go during my tour. For some reason or other, I was the only one by far who stayed on until my rotation home.

Homeward Bound

We learned that rotation home would start soon, based upon the accumulation of "points". With my continuous sea duty, etc. and I had gotten married, I had more than enough to be one of the first to rotate home from the ship. I left the ship with no ceremony at all - that is to say I was detached and told to get to Manila anyway that I could. I went to the airstrip and a cargo plane was just getting ready to leave on what should be an hour or two flight. I asked if they had room for one more. The pilot said they had just taken on a couple of refrigerators and were overloaded but I was welcome. I looked at that mess of equipment and men and decided I did not want to take a risk at this late date. I wound up back at the docks and finally begged a ride on a naval LIC which made a couple of stops and two days later got to Manila and found my departure camp. No one seemed to care if I was there or not, just signed in and waited in a barracks to be called. The camp was overrun with dysentery - there were lines waiting to get to the heads. We left Manila in November of 1945 on a troop transport which was really loaded down with men. Two things I remember about the trip. One was the poker and dice games that were all over the decks. By the time we arrived stateside the money was concentrated with a relatively few men and the stakes were then quite high. The other is that the night before landing a rumor flashed through the ship that there would-be a seabag inspection prior to debarking and any American equipment found would result in a delay and questioning. The ship got considerably lighter what with things going over the side. That included my movie camera and an army or marine carbine. There never was an inspection.

We made port someplace in the state of Washington. I didn't even have sweater or long sleeve shirt. We reopened a camp and literally froze. I called home immediately and learned that my wife's family had a Mother Superior in a convent in Tacoma, Washington. Along with my close buddy Larry Poole we decided to stop and say hello before doing the town. Not being catholic I did not realize what the title really meant. Turned out that she took us on a tour of the premises and when we returned less than an hour later there was a spread of food laid out for us that was out of this world, complete with wine. The things that you remember! That Mother Superior came to stay with us for a few days a couple of years later and I was able to tell her of the lasting impression she and the sisters made upon the two of us.

There were three days and nights of sitting in a regular seat on a train to New York. But no one complained as we were heading home and a discharge. No actually it was a separation from service at the convenience of the government. I was in some kind of a reserve if needed. That did cause some concern years later when at the time of the Korean War, I learned somehow that radar operators were being called to active duty. Although I was a boatswain I had been to a school for radar (that was not uncommon). Fortunately nothing came of it.

The Skippers

We had three good skippers on the 413. They all came aboard as ensigns and left as j.g's after about a year of duty. The first was Lt. j.g. Robert Carr who couldn't wait to get to the Pacific and finally made it, along with our first B/M 1c "Ski" Sikorsky. They both wound up on the same attack transport. Would you believe that while we were cruising around Leyte Gulf we got a signal from a ship to come alongside - one of them had spotted us and they both came aboard for old times. I was the only one left of their shipmates. They had taken a kamikaze hit but fortunately no one was killed. Our second skipper was Lt. j.g. Herman Goffberg. He was an all around good man - the crew were happy to serve with him. There were times in Atlantic City when he would take several of the crew to a local movie -on him -- of course most of the time we didn't even pay anyhow or was it a dime. Unfortunately he was prone to seasickness virtually every time we went out. He was transferred out and I lost track of him. Finally there was Lt. j.g. A.R. Kilgore who was with the ship when I left. He was a ministers son, very efficient and quiet. I don't think he ever swore before in his life, but by the time I left he could cuss with the best of us.

Lt. j.g. A.R. Kilgore

Lt. j.g. Robert Carr

Epilogue

It was of interest to me to learn from this website that the 413 never did come back home. I visited the Cape May station a few years ago and it was either there or Wildwood that I was delighted to see two 83 footers.. I went aboard one. They had been converted to fishing boats, the engines had been replaced with a diesel. Below decks were the same as always and the owner showed me one of the original logs that was during the same time that we operated. I have tried to remember the number shown in the log but old age has done its handiwork and I can't remember. I do recall though, that it was not nearly as shipshape as it once was.

Looking back I regret that we did not participate in D Day. Perhaps one more boat would have saved some additional lives. On the other hand, when we were staging for the invasion of Japan and I have no regrets that we did not have to do that because we chose to use the A-Bomb. The cost in lives probably would have compared to the invasion of Europe. Many of us would not have made it back.

I am now 83 and retired in Florida. Up until recently I owned a 24' Reinell cabin cruiser and for some years was an officer in the local Coast Guard Auxiliary. I would dearly love to hear from anyone who experienced similar duty.

Ron S Abbey, BM 1c