The Seaweed

USS Champlin DD-601  

Fall 2000

(continued from page 3)

...crowded ship as we went on to Casablanca. No other ships were involved, the convoy had gone on ahead."

Archa Knowlton remembers "when she got hit because it sounded so loud I thought it had been us. My battle station was back aft by the 40MM guns and I remember pulling all the people out of the water. It was dark and the sea was relatively calm. Our shipmates were heroic in their attempts to get as many as possible out of the water. I recall the concern for being dead in the water with U-boats around. I remember the Air Force Officers who were great guys and I know they were in the wardroom a good deal of the time. The one thing that stands out in my mind the most is the haunting question of why they (the Air Force officers) were being shipped to Africa in a 9.5 knot convoy. After the great training they had gone through wasn't there a better way to get them overseas than with a bunch of slow freighters?"

Robert Baughan's recollection is "As I read the Log Data, the SS Wyoming was sunk on 15 March, 1943, and my rather vague recollection of that event is as follows: UGS-6 was Champlin's second trans-Atlantic convoy to Africa after the invasion of North Africa. Champlin was the only ship from Destroyer Division 32 and augmented 6 or 7 DDs (destroyers) from another Destroyer Squadron to provide screen protection for the convoy. For about 5 days in mid-March 1943 the convoy was transiting the ocean area between Bermuda and the Azores where there was as yet no air coverage to keep the submarine wolfpack submerged all the time. Consequently, the U-boats could surface out of sight and end run to the front of the convoy to be in position at dusk to sneak under the screen and attack the merchant ships. This they did for several days in succession. Our ships were always at General Quarters for Dusk Alert, but the late afternoon sea temperature caused a sound boundary or layer at about 100 feet deep under which the subs hid."

"On the Ides of March, I don't remember what kind of weather existed, but is wasn't very calm and the water was cold. As Gun Boss I was control officer in the 5 inch gun director with good visibility over 160 degrees of arc. Champlin was on the right rear of the screen and patrolling station. Just after sunset the plume of a torpedo hit showed alongside SS Wyoming (in the nearest convoy column) followed by the sound of the explosion. We turned toward the Wyoming to try to find the sub which apparently submerged under the convoy where there was a lot of screw noise. The Wyoming came to a rapid halt and began to show signs of quickly sinking. When we told the screen commander 'No Contact' he directed us to pick up survivors. My recollection is that the merchantman executed a very orderly abandon ship procedure which enabled us to take aboard the entire crew and passengers, including 30 Army Air Corps lieutenants enroute to transport duty in Africa. This took some anxious moments with high risk of being torpedoed as well."

"The French officers and crew were bunked in crew quarters except for the Captain and First Mate and the Air Corps lieutenants who squeezed into officer's country. When I needed to sleep, I had to roust out of my bunk some lieutenant who was in it. That bunk was always warm!. Many of the 'Shavetails' were feeling woozy from motion sickness, but feeding everyone who wanted to eat seemed a never-ending process. And chow began to run out. Needless to say all hands were glad to reach Casablanca for their offloading."

Baughan continues, "The story wouldn't be complete without including the 'Tale of the Molly Pitcher', another merchantman to be torpedoed. I believe it happened the evening of March 17th at about the same time during Dusk Alert. The U-boat sneaked under the screen and put a fish (torpedo) into the Molly P. which was carrying a load of coal [for trains in Africa?]. The explosion apparently caused most of the crew to abandon ship without orders, and when the skipper saw what was happening, he left also. The Molly P. didn't sink and by blinker light from the First Mate we learned that he expected the remaining engineer to get power on shortly and be ready to steam. The First Mate wanted us to stay and be his escort, which, of course, we couldn't do. Champlin was ordered to sink the Molly P. and rejoin (the convoy). The two survivors reluctantly left the Molly P. in life jackets and we picked them out of the cold water. If the M.P.'s skipper had survived [no evidence that he did], I think the first Mate would have throttled him."

"Then we attempted to sink the Molly P. with a torpedo. With Charlie Smith, the X.O. looking over Steve Anastasion's shoulder at the torpedo director to ensure a fool-proof solution, the first torpedo was fired. OOOPS! It didn't explode. Did it go under? At that time in 1943 a lot of US ships and subs were having malfunctions in the exploder mechanisms in torpedo warheads. The second shot was set so shallow that when it hit, we could see sparks fly up from the side of the Molly P. Rather than waste good torpedoes whose exploders could be replaced, our C.O. elected to cease the attempt and we left the old gal adrift hoping the U-boats would waste some of their own torpedoes. I tried not think of what we would do with faulty torpedoes if we encountered enemy warships."

"During the convoy run five ships were lost, primarily because our sonars were not powerful enough to punch through the sound layer and detect the U-boats. Whether there was only one smart sub or a wolfpack, I doubt that we will ever know. I do know that it was a succession of hairy Dusk Alerts!"

Joseph Tricarico writes "They Wyoming crew) lowered their boats to get off the sinking ship. I think everyone got off....

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