The Seaweed

USS Champlin DD-601  

Fall 2000

(continued from page 2)

...we were struck by two torpedoes. Grabbing a heavy winter jacket, helmet and life jacket I hurried from my cabin, but then remembering my camera, I dashed back and got it before running topside."

"The sun was just above the horizon, giving us precious light, and the sea was mercifully calm. The ship's thirty passengers and her ninety-seven crew members were equally divided among the Wyoming's four lifeboats, and the boats were safely lowered. Only the captain and one other officer didn't get into the boats. The latter jumped and soon was picked up. Later the skipper lowered himself into a small raft which was tied to the ship. Not having a knife with him, he calmly waited for the ship to sink, figuring that the powerful suction would snap the rope and set his crude craft free. In the amazingly short time of eight minutes after being hit, the Wyoming disappeared bow first. The rope on the captains raft snapped as he had planned, and one of the boats quickly took him in. Half and hour later we were all safely aboard a destroyer. And I had a rare picture in my camera."

Survivor Kenneth W. Young's memory of this event goes like this: "In early 1943, a group of officers, of which I, as a 1st Lt. was senior, were ordered overseas from Morrison Field, an Army Air Corps, Ferry Division, West Palm Beach, FL facility. We were not flying personnel, but administration. My commission was derived from taking four years of ROTC at Mississippi State and changed from Infantry to Air Corps. At that time, the Air Corps needed business majors as administrative personnel.

"We were sent to 20th Street airport in Miami to be flown on the ferry routes from Miami to Natal, Brazil and across to Accra, Gold Coast. After warming our backs for 10 days, the transportation officer received orders to get us moving, and we were put on a troop train to Camp Kilmer NJ for overseas transport. Attached to our group was a number of enlisted medical personnel, needed pronto in the CBI theater - so they went one way, we went the other."

"After a few days our group at Camp Kilmer, on a cold snowy day, was transported to shipboard on the SS Wyoming, moving to sea in convoy. I recall the ice didn't melt from the rigging until we neared Bermuda."

"On March 15, 1943, I was in a group playing Red Dog in the main dining area (remember the Wyoming was a converted passenger ship) when we were struck, which felt like running into an iceberg, but was the first torpedo striking the bow. There was no terrific explosion sound, but the ship shuddered."

"Of course, it took only a minute or two for us to realize what had happened, and we all rushed to our cabins for our life jackets. Obtaining such, and leaving all else aside, I ran to an exit amidship to the deck, when the second torpedo hit right below me, blowing me back into a bulkhead. Fortunately, I was able to recover promptly and join a group lowering one lifeboat."

"The thing that I remember best, is that there was little, if any, panic. We had rehearsed the procedure several time in the prior days, and we knew exactly what to do. We did have a bit of a problem moving away from the sinking

Wyoming due to the suction of water into the vessel, but we were successful, of course.

"I do not recall how long we were in the lifeboat, because the navigator was in our boat, and he was arranging the sail (which never got up) to attempt to make the Azores, which he felt he could do."

"Then, wonder of all wonders, appeared the Champlin! I suppose this had to be the most memorable moment of my life. You fellows fished us out. I recall being hauled up toward the rear of your ship. Of course, everything was done hastily because you were dead in the water with a sub in the area. I've read of many occasions during the sea wars when this was not possible. You put your lives on the line for ours. Bless you all!"

"Upon the Champlin, I was given the bunk of one of your officers, of course to share with others intermittently. You treated us splendidly."

"I recall that the sea was not too rough. We could not have been in the lifeboat too long, for the first torpedo hit at 6:50 p.m. and it was still daylight when you rescued us. I do recall that, as you approached our lifeboat, one wag yelled to you, 'Get the hell out of here, we're on per diem'."

I'll never forget the experience of being aboard the Champlin, as we fought the wolfpack the next few days, the firing skywards of rockets at night, as the subs attacked the convoy, the discharging of depth charges as we fought the subs. The experience was something that, to relate to others, would not be understood by anyone who had not shared that experience.

Harold Medvedeff, another Air force survivor, recalls that he had just left the bridge and was walking aft on the main deck, near the gunwales, heading to his quarters, when he was knocked over by the nearby explosion of the first torpedo. This was closely followed by being deluged from the seawater plume resulting from the explosion. Note: Medvedeff gave me additional information regarding his experiences, but I have mislaid my notes from that interview and have been unable to contact Medvedeff by telephone. I regret my inability to remember more of his fascinating story.

Now, the SS Wyoming story as recalled by some of the officers and crew of the USS Champlin. Glenn Ecklund recalls: 'I am sure the Wyoming was hit at sundown as that was the habit of the German subs, so the rescue would have been going on at night. There were people in the water, in fact Lt. Fitzhugh tied a line around himself and jumped over the aft port side to rescue a couple. The Exec (Executive Officer) C. Smith was on the catwalk and seeing this called up to the Captain, 'That dumb dodo of a Fitzhugh is over the side'. During the rescue the ship was either stopped or going very slow when we got a sonar contact and left the scene to check it out, returning later to pick up the rest of the people. I thought at the time that we may have run over someone. The sea was not very rough. I was on the 40MM gun mounts. I am sure I talked to some of the survivors but can't remember any conversations. I was GM1c at the time and I think the survivors were able to use our bunks while we were on watch. My main 57-year-old memory is the...

(continued on page 4)

| page 1 | | page 2 | | page 3 | | page 4 | | page 5 | | page 6 |