Mariners and Armed Guard Together at the Guns

Robert Carse -- Mariner, author, and war correspondent tells of his experiences on guns during Murmansk Run

Robert Carse author aboard shipWe talked ships, and we talked planes and submarines and guns, hour after hour. We were coming home more than merchant seamen; we were fighting men, trained and experienced gunners, specialists in death. The Bosun was as good a gun crew man as any in the ship. One of the A.B.'s, "Josie," had, single-handed, cleared a jam in the 3-incher during action out to sea on the way to Russia. Allen and I and big "Heavy," a crack-a-jack sailor, knew our stuff about the guns, too. We recognized their importance; how much they meant to the safety and survival of the ships.

Next time, it must be better, we decided. That run to Russia was all but suicide unless the ships were heavily armed with the newest and best types of guns. We wanted a lot more Browning fifties, at least eight of them, and a couple of the new triple-mounts where you had two Browning fifties flanking a 20-millimeter piece.

With armament like that in a ship, besides a good 3-incher, men would have a fair chance to come home alive from out here. But the folks at home would have to give us those things; they'd have to become aware of our needs, then be sure the ships were swiftly, fully armed. We were lonely, we were very tired and homesick as hell, but we'd come back out, if only to pay off the Nazis for our dead. It took guns for the Nazis, though, plenty of guns. . . .

"Caroline," of the Navy gun crew, and I took down the starboard pair of Hotchkisses and cleaned them, remounted them. We sat on the hatch as we worked and slowly talked. "Caroline" was a married man with two young children in South Carolina waiting to see him when and if he made home and got a leave.

"Caroline" was the gun captain on the 3-inch piece. He was a tough steady man in action, did his job quietly and well.

When we saw the Connecticut shore we were ecstatic. I mean just that: ecstatic. People riding in their cars along the shore drive stared out at us, our signal flags, and hooded guns. He's [Allen, my partner] back at sea now; will be gone for six months. My place is with him, or men like him, on the guns, at sea.

There Go The Ships, Robert Carse, New York, 1942.
For other books by Robert Carse see Books page

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Gunnery Training Aids Avalon Grad

Frank O'NeillSEATED IN the security of a classroom or aboard a training ship with no enemy in sight, some apprentice seamen may be prone to scoff at portions of the courses given at the various U. S. Maritime Service Training Stations.

"What's the idea of feedin' us a lot of stuff about guns?" the trainee asks himself as he prepares to snooze through a class on the operation of a .20 mm. "After all, Merchant Seamen are not members of the armed forces."

"Well, sailor, when you're out there and the Jerries or the Japs start picking on your ship, you can't just step to one side, hold up your hand and say: "Stop! Don't shoot! I'm unarmed."

Neither the Jerries nor the Japs would be impressed. When a ship is under attack everybody is a member of the armed forces. It's your life as well as the Navy gunner's and if you value it you'd better get in there and pitch. What's more you'd better know what you're doing.

Hospital Apprentice Frank O'Neill felt when he was going through "boot" training that some of the courses were not practical. However, he did have sense enough to pay close attention and is now back from seven months at sea to say that his diligence was rewarded. On his ship, the .20 mm guns were manned by a Navy gunner and two Merchant Seamen.

"It is essential that the two Merchant Seamen know their jobs thoroughly if that gun is to be fired. The Maritime Service men who go to sea have the necessary training," O'Neill said.

He described an attack by German planes on his ship last April to illustrate the importance of gunnery training. He said that when the general alarm was sounded and he ran to his station, the experience was a new one but the conditions were familiar. "It was like being back at Avalon during gunnery class and the lessons came back when most needed," O'Neill said.

"A plane came out of the Tunisian hills," he continued, "flying low, directly toward us, and the battle was on. After six rounds our gun jammed. Back at Catalina our gunnery instructor had dealt with that possibility so we were able to get the gun back in operation almost instantly."

Later O'Neill and his mates had the pleasure of seeing the German plane become a mass of flames and crash into the Mediterranean, a victim of the fire from their ship.

"Certain things became apparent during that fight," O'Neill said. "One of them was that the Maritime Service boys were prepared psychologically for that emergency and trained to answer it."

MAST Magazine, November 1944

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Seamen And Cadets Make It Hot For Attacking Enemy Planes
Crew of Liberty Ship Takes Heavy Toll As Each Man Helps Man Guns

The maneuverability of the Liberty ship, SS Nathaniel Currier, and the accuracy of its armed guards and seamen's fire when it was attacked by Japanese planes on its maiden voyage saved the ship according to WSA. Reports of the attack pay particular tribute to the courage and efficiency of merchant seamen who assisted the Navy gun crew.

The ship was lying off a Southwest Pacific base when the base was assaulted by dive bombers. At first warning of the enemy's approach all barges were cast off and ordered away from the ship. General quarters sounded, the crew went to their stations on the run, guns were manned, cases of loose ammunition were broken out, and the vessel cleared for action.

The Nathaniel Currier was under way and zigzagging when the enemy planes peeled off for attack. The first plane started a fore and aft run. With a gun on him he had to swerve away and with the vessel swinging to starboard his bombs missed. The hottest action lasted three to four minutes, during which two planes were shot down and three others badly damaged.

A report of the Office of Chief of Naval Operations says:

"Information has been received in the Office of Naval Intelligence that certain members of the merchant crew aboard the SS Nathaniel Currier rendered commendatory services while the vessel was under attack. The names of the crew members and the services rendered by each are as follows:

"Cadet-Midshipman William E. Sigman, Flat River, Mo., assisted at the three-inch gun as second loader and carried out his assignment in a cool and efficient manner. During the engagement the jackstaff of the Nathaniel Currier was shot down and the flag fell to the deck. Sigman retrieved the flag and lashed it to the stub of the jackstaff without neglecting his duties.

"Able Seaman Leo S. Whelan, San Francisco, Cal., was at the wheel during the attack and carried out every order of the master in a cool and expert manner, although for several minutes the gunfire was so heavy that the master had to give his orders by hand motion. Whelan disregarded planes passing overhead, falling bombs, and heavy gunfire to watch the master's signals and carry out orders.

"Cadet-Midshipman Lester G. Hammon, Soda Springs, Cal., Second Officer Joseph B. Gaier, Perth Amboy, N. J., Ordinary Seaman John A. Larsen, Hastings, Mich., and Messman Jerome Reed, San Francisco, Cal., performed their assignments at the guns in a cool and efficient manner. Gaier also assisted in spotting and identifying planes."

In his report, the skipper of the ship, Capt. D. W. Hassell, said:

The ship handled extremely well, at times exceeding the designed R.P.M. of main engines. All orders to the engine room were executed with dispatch and the greatest cooperation. I believe the reason we escaped casualties among the personnel and damage to the ship was on account of the volume and accuracy of the barrage put up, also the maneuvering of the vessel. I am proud to have commanded this crew, who, although never having been under fire before, behaved like veterans and lived up to the highest traditions."

The Heaving Line, U.S. Maritme Service Training Station, Sheepshead Bay, NY, November 27, 1943
Also Reported in an Advance Press Release 1648 (w), the War Shipping Administration, for release in newspapers on November 12, 1943.

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More articles abount gunnery in WSA Press Releases

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