Mike Bo's Blog!

09.05.2021
Mike Botula
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Brushy Creek Journal

Partly Sunny 82° F/15° C in Cedar Park, Texas

Mostly Cloudy 52° F/13° C in Falmouth, England

Buongiorno,

The sad news reached me, as it so often does these days-by email:  ‘’My name is Robert Charles Watson-1944Brockmann and I have been a neighbor of Chuck Watson for over thirty years. I am saddened to report that Chuck passed  away today at his home in Tumwater, Washington.” Thus, another long life of a member of what Newsman Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” came to an end. Charlie, as I dubbed when I referred to him as “The Unsinkable Charlie Watson” in my book “LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow, Target” (AMAZON BOOKS), was the ship’s cook aboard the LST 921, when it was torpedoed by the U 667 in the Dover Channel en route to Falmouth, England in August 1944.

The LST 921 was my father’s sister ship. Its crew had trained with the crew of LST 920, the two ships had been built scant days apart. Under weigh, they were alike as the proverbial  two peas in the pod. Charlie had been trapped under a tangle of shelves in the narrow companionway of the LST 921, when he was rescued by two “black gang sailors”  who had just made their own dramatic escape from the flooding engine room of the 921. After my second edition of my book published in 2016, Watson called me from his home in Tumwater, Washington.

Charlie Watson called me to say Hello! He sounds pretty hale and hearty for an Old Salt of 95! Ninety-five! Not unusual these days, what with all the improvements in lifestyle and medicine. The fact is that Watson’s life could very well have ended at age 23 on a sunny August afternoon in 1944, when his ship was torpedoed in the Dover Channel between Milford Haven, Wales and Falmouth, England. Now approaching completion of his first century, Charles Watson is one of the few living survivors of a German submarine attack on an Allied convoy off the coast of England two months after the D-Day Allied landings at Normandy. His ship, the LST 921 was torpedoed along with the British escort ship LCI(L)99. Survivors were rescued by crewmen from my father’s ship, the LST 920.

Watson’s ordeal is described in my book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target (Amazon Books) about my father’s adventures in the US Navy during World War 2. In an eyewitness account by LST 921 crew member Lloyd Meeker and John Abrams who survived the attack in their own harrowing escape from the ship’s flooded engine room, recounted in separate statements to me; LST 920 took us to Falmouth, England to a Navy hospital. There were lots of cuts and broken bones, Meeker and Abrams recalled. The cook (Charlie Watson) was injured the most. Meeker recalled, the last time I saw him, he had both legs and an arm in casts. He was in traction and his jaw was wired shut. Meeker also recalled, we were told that 43 survivors and one body were taken off the LST 920. All of the rest of the men went down with the stern section!

After being told about my book by his neighbor, Curt Pederson, Watson was calling me to thank Chuck in recent photome for writing about the experience and to fill me in on what happened to him after his rescue. Fully half of the LST 921’s crew was lost in the attack by the German U 667. Watson was one of the lucky survivors rescued by my dad’s ship, the LST 920. I was trapped below deck. Both my legs and one arm were broken. I was trying to crawl out when Meeker grabbed me and got me topside, Watson told me. Meeker got me into the water so I could be pulled onto a raft with some other guys from the ship. Then Watson told me a story that I’m sure he has told countless times since the torpedoing of his ship. All of a sudden, I could see a torpedo trail bubbling through the water, coming straight at me. All I could do was stare at it!  What happened next, I asked him? Damned torpedo zipped by right below me. It didn’t hit anything though. I told him about my father standing on the bridge of his ship earlier watching as a torpedo came straight amidships at the LST 920. At the last split-second, the British escort ship came alongside and took the U 667’s torpedo full force and was blown out of the water. What I didn’t know until Watson told me his story, was that my dad’s ship escaped being torpedoed a second time. As Watson was being hoisted aboard the 920, the Captain, Harry Schultz ordered a sharp turn as an evasive maneuver. Another torpedo, fired by the U 667, passed close by, but missed the ship.

Watson was hospitalized ashore after the LST 920 reached Falmouth. He told me, the doctors put him in a full body cast with both legs encased in plaster and wired his jaw shut. Doctors tried to save his badly injured leg, but eventually a Navy surgeon named Wyler told him the leg had turned gangrenous and would have to be amputated. The news stunned the young sailor. Do you have any questions? Dr. Wyler asked him.  A lot of guys in your predicament want to know if I have the skills to amputate your leg. Watson acknowledged that the thought had crossed his mind. Do you follow baseball?  Asked the surgeon. Yessir! Watson responded. Well! Said Doctor Wyler, I’m the doctor who operated on Dizzy Dean’s elbow. Dean, was  a baseball great who played for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs before the war. I don’t know if Charlie realized it at the time, but Dean’s elbow injury ended his baseball stardom. But Watson’s operation saved his life.

The crew of the LST 921 was awarded a total of one hundred Purple Hearts. many of them were awarded posthumously. Charles Watson earned one of them. Ensign Don Joost, the 921’s engineering officer was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism in rescuing many of the crew. Lieutenant Harry Schultz, the LST 920’s captain was summoned before a Naval Inquiry Board for disobeying orders when he turned his ship back to pick up survivors. After two days ashore, Schultz returned to duty and remained in the US Navy until his retirement. The U 667 struck a mine off the coast of France just a few miles from its home base, and what its crew expected to be a hero’s welcome for sinking four Allied ships on that mission. The wreckage of the submarine rests now on the bottom of the English Channel with all hands, a war grave.

 Our story about “The Unsinkable Charlie Watson” will be brought full circle, now by his longtime friend and neighbor, Curt Pedersen who wrote to me in another email, “Karen  Watson just called me to tell me that her dad died of congestive heart failure Thursday evening. We were hoping he would make it to October, and we could celebrate his one-hundredth birthday! And so, another member of “The Greatest Generation” is gone and with his passing, another tenuous  bond to my own father is gone, too.

Ciao,

MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (AMAZON BOOKS) is an award-winning broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   You can read the entire Rome Diary series, plus more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com …now with Google Translator for our international audience!]

 By Mike Botula 2021

(1,283 words)

05.06.2020
Mike Botula
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June 5, 1944: The Forgotten Day! Rome Diary Friday, June 5, 2020 Partly Cloudy 72°F/22°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia Buongiorno amici miei! “The first of the Axis capitals is now in our hands. One up and two to go!” Franklin D. Roosevelt Headline: June 5, 1944 The whole world remembers what took place on 6 June 1944! What took place the day before was eclipsed by the Allies’ invasion at Normandy. If 6 June 1944 is The Longest Day, as author Cornelius Ryan called it, the day before – il giorno prima- has become Il giorno dimenticato - The Forgotten Day! While everyone remembers General Dwight Eisenhower as the commanding general of Allied forces at Normandy, the American commander of the forces that liberated Rome has been overshadowed as well.  In leading the U.S. Fifth Army in the liberation of Rome, General Mark Clark had disobeyed his orders to cut off retreating German forces and instead marched into Rome. Ask what happened on 5 June 1944 and who was in charge and you will draw a blank. But, if you ask any Roman, or any Italian, for that matter, 5 June 1944 was the day that freedom returned to the Eternal City. In persuading FDR to launch an offensive from North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred repeatedly called Italy The Soft Underbelly of Europe. But, as U.S. Fifth Army Commander Mark Clark would write in his memoirs that “soft underbelly” turned into a tough, old gut!  The Allies launched their first Italian invasion, Sicily in July 1943. When they landed on the Italian mainland at Salerno in September, the Italian Army surrendered, but the hard-fought battles between Allied and German forces continued. Both the Allies and German forces suffered heavy casualties along the roads to Rome, and it took the Allies four major offensives between January and May 1944 before Rome was in their sights. After the fall of Mussolini, Italy came under the complete control of Nazi forces and any Italian resistance to German control was ruthlessly dealt with by the forces of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Numerous atrocities were committed by Nazi troops against Italian civilians, and it was feared by many that the Germans would destroy the historic city rather than surrender it intact.  By the time that American forces under General Clark had reached the outskirts of Rome on June 4th, 1944, Kesselring had declared it an Open City. Beginning on the fourth of June 1944, Allied troops were pouring into Rome for a victory celebration before continuing northward for the bloody battles that would lead to the liberation of all of Europe. June 5, 1944 - at the Coliseum!  Field Marshal Kesselring had earned his reputation as being a ruthless soldier, but he had displayed a sense of history, and he seemed to understand the historical importance of Rome. While June 5th, 1944 is forever etched into the memories of every Italian, General March Clark’s moment of glory was soon overwhelmed by the events of the following day when General Dwight Eisenhower gave the order and initiated the largest seaborne invasion of human history at Normandy. Ciao, MikeBo © 2020 Mike Botula [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  Is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant].
24.05.2020
Mike Botula
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The Roll of Honor: LST 921, LCI(L)99, U-667 Brushy Creek Journal Memorial Day Monday May 25, 2020 Partly Sunny 63°F/ 13°C off Falmouth, UK Sunny 61°F/ 16°C off La Pallice, France Buonagiornata, We have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history, and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again! President Barack Obama at Hiroshima, May 27, 2016 When I was a little boy, Memorial Day was still called Decoration Day and it fell on May 30th. My  mother told me it was a memorial event that started at the end of the Civil War, because that’s when Americans would pay tribute to the fallen who wore both blue and gray by decorating their graves with flowers. The observance began with former slaves celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation by decorating the wartime graves of African Americans who fought for their freedom from slavery. Decoration Day quickly became a Memorial Day honoring Americans who fell in all our country’s wars. After World War I, we honored the fallen of The Great War on each November 11th.  For many years, November 11 was Armistice Day, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year there was a moment of silence to commemorate the end of The War to End All Wars. In 1968 Congress revamped our national holidays, combining these hallowed days into a pair of three-day weekends. Decoration Day is now Memorial Day and Armistice Day is now Veterans Day. Today we will again honor those who fought and died for their country. But, as the years pass, the real meaning of both days is sometimes lost in the holiday atmosphere that accompanies any long weekend. When my father returned from his US Navy service in World War II, he told my brother and I a story that is retold to each new generation in my family as every new Memorial Day approaches. It begins with a few terse lines from the LST 920’s Ship’s Log: LST 920 Ship’s Log: Monday 14 August 1944 1654 hours:  First hit on LST 921, directly astern of us. Presumably by torpedo. 1654 hours: General Quarters sounded 1656 hours: LCI #99 (British) hit by torpedo presumably 1657 hours: All stations manned and ready; approximate position…50°54’ North, 4°45’ West 1657 hours: Relieved on conn by Captain Schultz and went to GQ station Ensign John J. Waters, Officer of the Deck My father, Lieutenant Charles Botula, Jr. died in 1965 without ever knowing the full story about the afternoon of August 14th, 1944 off the west coast of England. It has taken me years to research it. Neither my Dad nor his Captain – Harry N. Schultz ever knew which enemy submarine attacked them or what happened to that U boat after the LST 921 and HMS LCI(L)99 were torpedoed. Most of the survivors of that terrible afternoon have also faded from our midst, but their story is well worth the retelling. For in the retelling, we can pay them a long overdue honor. Monday, 14 August 1944 -16:54 hrs. - USS LST 920, commanded by Lieutenant Harry N. Schultz and USS LST 921, under the command of Lieutenant John Werner Enge were underway in convoy EBC 72 from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England. They were suddenly attacked by the German submarine U667, was under the command of Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinze Lange. LST 921 was hit by the first torpedo and broke in two with the aft section sinking minutes later. Some survivors scampered to safety on the bow section. Others went overboard into the chilly water. When the aft section sank, it took half of the ship’s crew to the bottom.  General Quarters was sounded on the LST 920 and Captain Schultz came to the bridge. Seeing survivors in the water, Schultz ordered his radioman, Seaman Fred Benck to send a request for permission to turn his ship around to pick up survivors. Permission was denied and the LST 920 was ordered to proceed to Falmouth. Shortly after receiving these orders, Schultz ordered Radioman Benck to send the message again. This time, Captain Schultz disregarded the order to proceed and ordered the LST 920 to turn around to rescue any survivors of the attack. As my father watched from the bridge of the LST 920, he spotted a torpedo coming straight at him. Just then, a British escort vessel, LCI(L)99 came alongside, took the full brunt of the torpedo and was blown out of the water. There is no way of knowing if the Captain of that British escort vessel deliberately  steered his ship into the path of that oncoming enemy torpedo or if it was happenstance that put the crew of LCI(L)99 into harm’s way. Either way, the Skipper, Lt. Commander Arthur John Francis Patrick Reynolds, Royal Navy, died a hero. The 920 came about and Captain Schultz ordered two small boats into the water with Ensign John Waters in one and Ensign Harold Willcox in the other, along with nine other sailors to rescue survivors. Willcox tied a line around his waist and jumped into the water numerous times to help pull survivors aboard. In his After-Action Report, Captain Schultz singled out Waters and Willcox and the nine seamen for outstanding performance during the action. In all, 48 survivors were rescued and brought aboard the LST 920.  Seaman Joe Wallace tells this part of the story, I remember one of the 921 crew members coming up to the bridge all wet and oily. I gave him my locker keys and location, and he showered and put on some clean dry clothes. By this time it was dark. We gathered the survivors and were on our way to Falmouth. There, I had the task of counting the departing survivors - 42 walking and 6 stretcher cases. A number of other survivors from the 921 as well as the LCI(L) 99 were rescued by a British ship that joined in the rescue operation. All told, about 65 survivors were picked up, but fully half of the LST 921’s complement of 107 officers and crew had been lost. Years would pass before a dusty and forgotten archive* would reveal the names of the sailors – Americans, British and German who lost their lives on that August afternoon more than seventy years ago. I would like us to remember:          LST 921 Baker, Thomas A., USNR                              Seaman First Class                           Banit, Roman J., USNR                                 Seaman Second Class                      Bennett, Frederick W., USNR                      Seaman First Class                            Bent, Eugene E., USNR                                 Seaman First Class                           Clements, Charles M., USNR                       Seaman First Class                            Dove, Raleigh J., USNR                                 Seaman Second Class                     Feeney, Lawrence E., USNR                         Fireman Second Class                      Fitton, Edward Joseph, USNR                      Seaman Second Class                     Freely, James Joseph, USNR                        Boatswain's Mate 1st Class                  Furino, Louis A., USNR                                  Coxswain                             Guthrie, Edward J., USNR                             Ensign                   Guziak, Walter V., USNR                               Seaman Second Class                      Hoak, William K., USNR                                Gunner's Mate Third Class                 Jerzewski, Chester R., USNR                        Seaman Second Class                      Jones, Oscar R., USNR                                   Coxswain                             Kozlik, John H., USNR                                    Seaman First Class                           Lowe, Samuel M., USNR                               Seaman Second Class                      Micheline, Carmine A., USNR                      Seaman Second Class                      Mindlin, Daniel, USNR                                   Ensign                   Monaco, Robert Chester, USNR                 Radioman Second Class                 Moore, Charles H., USNR                             Seaman Second Class                      Mulholland, William P., USNR                     Seaman Second Class                      Newberry, Clyde, USNR                                Seaman Second Class                      Pizon, John J., USNR                                      Seaman First Class                          Potasky, Joseph E., USNR                             Seaman First Class                           Progy, Henry, USNR                                       Motor Mach Mate 3rd Class                 Richard, Donald James, USNR                     Gunner's Mate 3rd Class                  Siring, Ronald John, USNR                            Ship's Cook Third Class                    Smith, Kenneth J., USN                                  Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class                 Smith, Lee I., USNR                                        Seaman Second Class                     Smith, Ray R., USNR                                      Seaman First Class                          Sprague, Herbert K., USNR                           Seaman Second Class                     Suazoe, Ray M., USNR                                  Seaman Second Class                      Totulis, Albert G., USN                                  Gunner's Mate 3rd Class                  Trachsel, Ernest W., USNR                           Seaman Second Class                     Van Why, Henry, USNR                                 Seaman Second Class                      Verity, Edward C., USNR                               Seaman Second Class                     Vitense, Glenn, USNR                                    Seaman First Class                           Widmer, Richard C., USNR                           Seaman Second Class                     Yavornitzky, Andrew J., USNR                     Shipfitter Second Class The British escort vessel – LCI(L) 99 was a much smaller ship than the wounded LST 921. It was about 150 feet long compared to the LST’s 328 feet. And, instead of a ship’s complement of 110 officers and crew, LCI(L) 99’s casualty list shows a crew of eight – two officers and six enlisted men, including the 19-year-old ship’s cook, Able Seaman William Todd. Todd’s great-niece, Gillian Whittle told me in an email, Bill as he was known was only 19 when he died, and he came from Chorley, Lancashire, England. I imagine he was called up when he turned 18. He was acting able seaman and he was the ships cook. We as a family are enormously proud of him and I go to Kent, England when I can to lay flowers at the naval memorial. I am afraid I do not know much else about my Uncle, but I have his medals and I had the privilege of wearing them proudly on remembrance parade for him one year and we keep his memory going. Also, aboard the Escort Ship LCI(L) 99 on that deadly August 14, 1944 were: Lt. Commander Arthur John Francis Patrick Reynolds, RN, Age 24 Sub-lieutenant Douglas Edwin Swatridge, RNVR, Age 25 Leading Seaman Gordon Henry Astor House, RN, Age 21 Able Seaman James Quine, RN, Age 21 Able Seaman Francis Ernest Dennis Shacklock, RN, Age 19 Ordinary Seaman John Shields, RN, Age unknown Ordinary Seaman Donald Maurice Thompson, RN, Age 20 Able Seaman William Todd, RN, Age 19 Toward the end of November 2018, I received an email from Able Seaman William Todd’s great-niece, Gillian Whittle. In her correspondence, she admitted that she never really knew her great-uncle, but she thanked me for my efforts to keep the memories of all who died that day fresh in the memories of Americans and Britons alike. She wrote, We, as a family are immensely proud of him and I go to Kent, England when I can to lay flowers at the naval memorial. I am afraid I do not know much else about my Uncle, but I have his medals and I had the privilege of wearing them proudly on remembrance parade for him one year. Diver Christophe Moriceau atwreckage of U 667 The attacking submarine, U 667, had sunk four ships including the LST 921 and LCI (99), the Liberty Ship SS Ezra Weston and HMS Regina on what turned out to be its most successful cruise, as well as an RAF bomber on a previous mission. But as it headed back to its base and a hero’s welcome, its jubilant crewmen could not know that their luck was about to change. In all the research I did for this story, the US Navy and German Kriegsmarine archives revealed only that U 667 struck a mine on or about August 25th on the way back to its home base. But, as I researched further, I found the answer on a specialty internet site: uboat.net, which is devoted to the archives of the Kriegsmarine and its unterseebooten. According to the archives, the RAF had carried out a series of aerial mine-laying missions off the coast of France in an area code-named Cinnamon right after the U 667 left port on its final cruise. The RAF dropped mines into the U 667’s inbound route back to base. An RAF report that I read showed that the coordinates of that August 1944 mine-laying sweep matches the location where the U 667 was finally found and examined by diving crews. The loss of the U 667 was recorded by the Kriegsmarine after it missed a scheduled radio check-in on August 25th. When any U boat failed to meet its daily radio check-in, Admiral Karl Dönitz’ high command assumed that the sub had been lost. And so it was when U 667 missed its scheduled radio check on 25 August 1944. The exploding mine sent U 667 to the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, where it remains with its entire crew. Along with the U 667’s Kapitӓnleutnant Karl-Heinze Lange, the identities of the other sailors in his crew are listed from the roster of all the sailors who served aboard her.  They are: Name Rank (In German) Age Lange, Karl-Heinze Kapitӓnleutnant 26 Bauch, Walter Omasch 30 Bensel, Rolf-Rudiger Olt.z.S. 21 Borowsky, Helmut MaschMt 23 Brübach, Friedrich MtrOGfr 20 Brunk, Kurt MaschOFfr 21 Drewes, Gustav MaschMt 23 Eder, Franz MaschOGfr 21 Ederer, Hans OfkMt 24 Ehrenfeld, Kurt OfkMt 25 Erasimus, Johann MaschOGfr 20 Faust, Erich Olt.z.S 23 Fickert, Wilhelm MtrOGfr 23 Figlon, Herbert MechOGfr 22 Flach, Hans OsanMt 23 Grimm, Kurt MaschOGfr 20 Hagelloch, Hans-Georg OLt.ing.d.R 23 Hahl, Adam MaschOGfr 21 Hantel, Artur MtrOGfr 22 Hochstetter, Wilhelm OMaschMt 23 Holle, Oswald MaschOGfr 20 Kabs, Helmut MaschOGfr 21 Krӧller, Helmut Olt.z.S 23 Laschke, Kurt MaschMt 21 Leisler-Klep, Jürgen Lt.z.S n/a Matthias, Heinz-Karl OMaschMt 25 Mӓurer, Ludwig FkOGfr 21 Mittler, Arnold MaschOGfr 21 Mrziglod, Heinrich BtsMt 22 Oehler, August MtrHGfr 38 Proske, Walter MtrOGfr 21 Reiβach, Werner StOStrm 30 Reitor, Emil MechOGfr 21 Richter, Georg OMasch 32 Richter, Helmut OMechMt 24 Sauer, Helmut MtrOGfr 21 Schӓfer, Richard MaschOGfr 19 Scheit, Reinhold ObstMt 27 Schӧmetzler, Rudolf MaschOGfr 20 Schrӧder, Gerhard MtrOGfr 21 Schrӧder, Günther Olt.z.S 30 Schulz, Kurt OMaschMt 24 Seeliger, Willi MtrOGfr 20 Senden, Wilhelm MtrOGfr 21 Steigerwald, Wilhelm FkOGfr 20 Warmbold, Adolf MtrOGfr 23 Weiβ, Rudolf MaschOGfr 21 Witzel, Hans BtsMt 23 Christophe Moriceau, the French diver who has explored the U 667’s final resting place and photographed the site extensively for his dive organization L’Expédition Scyllias and its web site www.scyllias.fr explained to me that unlike the United States and Great Britain, France has no legal protection for wreck sites that might contain human remains. War graves carry the protections of international law. But that protection does not exist in France’s territorial waters. It is fitting that we remember all who perished.  Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bid'st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!      US Navy Hymn [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com] *LST 921; LCI(L)99; U 667 casualty lists via US Navy Archives, Royal Navy and Uboat.net. © By Mike Botula 2019

LST 920: Charlie Botula's Long, Slow Target!

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