Naval History Magazine December, 2012
In 1943, the author’s uncle boarded his Liberty ship in Nova Scotia with a strong sense of foreboding.
When U-610 sank the Liberty ship William Pierce Frye on 29 March 1943, among those on board was a 24-year-old fireman from Central Falls, Rhode Island, named William Joseph McHale, my Uncle Billy. The night before reporting for duty, he said goodbye to his older brother John’s girlfriend, Mary Gannon. “Be sure to marry my brother!” When Mary replied that she looked forward to all of them reuniting after the war, Billy looked straight at her and revealed a searing premonition: “No, I don’t think I’ll be coming back.” Earlier that day he’d said something similar to his sister Rita, who remembers, “It was weird when he said, ‘I thought you’d like to see me one more time.’” True to his vision, on his first voyage at sea Billy went down with the ship. When the news of his death arrived at the tenement house on Hunt Street, my grandparents were consumed by the immeasurable grief reserved for those who lose a child. My uncle Raymond, their oldest son, called it “a dark time.”
The events that sealed Uncle Billy’s fate were set in motion in the early morning hours of 8 March 1943, when U-610 eased from her mooring at the submarine pens of St. Nazaire, France. She set out to rendezvous with wolf pack Dränger (Pusher). Ten days later the William Pierce Frye departed on her maiden voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of convoy HX 230 en route to Liverpool, England.
Built in just three months by New England Shipbuilding of Portland, Maine, and launched on 11 February 1943, she was owned by the Mystic Steamship Company of Boston. The Liberty ship carried a complement of 8 officers, 32 Merchant Marines, and 24 Armed Guards. She was laden with 7,500 tons of military stores, including 750 tons of explosives, wheat, and a deck cargo of five landing craft, tank (LCTs).
The term False Flags has been used frequently related to the recent Taliban assault on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. We present other instances of False Flags in history.
Sinking of the HMAS Sydney – Posing as the Dutch merchant ship Straat Malakka, the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran was challenged by the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney off the south west coast of Australia on November 19, 1941. The Kormoran continued to give signals that it was only a merchant ship in distress until the two ships were sailing parallel to one another at close range. After the Sydney demanded further proof of identification, the Kormoran raised the German Kriegsmarine ensign and uncovered its hidden guns so quickly that a German officer noted that the Australians were slow to react because they did “not seem to have grasped the spectacle of the transformed merchant steamer.” The Kormoran opened fire and scored several hits, but the Sydney hammered back. The encounter would prove fatal to both ships, but the Sydney was lost with all hands.
As more information comes in from the Sunday attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan more and more news outlets are calling the incursion of attackers dressed as U.S. Army soldiers as a “false flag,” attack. The term, originated in the maritime circles, referrers to a ship that flies a flag other than its own for military advantage. The following is a narrative from a false flag incident in World War II.
Proceedings, March 1953
On December 3, 1941, German Supreme Command announced: “An engagement has taken place fff the Australian coast between the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran and the Australian cruiser Sydney. The German cruiser commanded by Fregattkapitan Detmers has defeated and sunk a much more heavily armed adversary. The 6,830-ton heavy cruiser Sydney went down with her entire complement of 42 officers and 603 men. As a result of the damage received in the fierce engagement, the Kormoran had to be abandoned after the victory.”
Behind this laconic statement is hidden one of the greatest dramas known to the annals of sea warfare. Two ships had fought a battle at close range, in which both were so severely damaged that within several hours one of them sank with all hands, leaving no trace, while the other was so badly burned that it had to be abandoned by its crew 140 nautical miles from the safety of land. It was not until 5 days later, when one of the Kormoran’s lifeboats reached the Australian coast, that the world learned what a great catastrophe had been enacted at sea. An air search was begun at once from western Australia, and on the tenth day after the action the exhausted crews of the Kormoran’s remaining lifeboats were saved by the Australian minesweeper, Yandra. Of the 400-man German crew, 300 were interned in Australian prison camps. We can only guess at the tragedies that occurred during these days and nights. The dead are silent, and we, the survivors, can only guess.
Nevertheless, the experiences of the survivors tell us that time can not only speed in its flight, but can also be frightfully long. Minutes become hours, and hours long days, and in a few days many a man becomes years older.
On August 17, 1942 211 Marines set out from two submarines to Makin Island, the home of a Japanese seaplane base. The raid 70-years ago was a first for the U.S. and a precursor to U.S. Special Operations forces that operate routinely from submarine assets. This is a narrative of the raid originally published in the October, 1946 issue of Proceedings.
It was D-Day plus One in the Solomons. Three thousand miles away two submarines passed Hospital Point, Pearl Harbor, and headed out to sea.
Submarines often had silently left Hawaii and had as silently returned, their conning towers emblazoned with miniature Japanese flags, since the first days of the war. They would until the last. But none had left with such a cargo as these two on that August 8 of 1942.
A plane on patrol swooped low over the pair. To the pilot as he waggled his wings in a gesture of “Good Hunting!” they were as other submarines he had seen taking the great circle route westward. Could he have seen below those narrow decks into the strong pressure hulls, he would have snorted “what the hell are those ‘@#$%’ Marines up to now?”
For there were Marines in the two submarines — two hundred and twenty-two of them. But they weren’t taking over submarines, they were being taken by them — on a foray unique in American naval history.
On August 14, 1945, President Harry Truman took to the airwaves to announce that Japan had accepted the terms of surrender and that the war was over. The news sparked spontaneous celebrations across the United States, including in Times Square where photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured a joyous sailor kissing a passing nurse. First published in Life magazine as part of a pictorial titled Victory, Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square has since become one of the most iconic images of the Second World War. Although several people have claimed to be the kissing couple, their true identities were a mystery until the 2012 book The Kissing Sailor revealed the results of extensive forensic analysis which determined that George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman were the sailor and nurse in the photo. Interestingly, helping establish the identity of Mendonsa’s as the sailor is that fact that his future wife can be seen just over his right shoulder. The two had been out on a date when Mendonsa felt compelled to kiss the first nurse he saw in appreciation for what they had done for the wounded during the war.
Like Joe Rosenthal’s Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square has been endlessly copied, reenacted and parodied.
Here are examples of the photo’s impact on pop culture:
On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, The U.S. Naval Institute has collected a series of photos from the pivotal battle from our archives. more
Naval History, August 2012
When Greta arrived at Times Square, a holiday atmosphere was taking hold. While the celebration was subdued compared to what would follow later that day, Greta sensed a vibrant energy in the air. Suited businessmen, well-dressed women, and uniformed soldiers and sailors entered the pandemonium from all directions. Some ran with no determined direction. Others walked with purpose. Some remained stationary, as if waiting for something big to happen. Greta paid no one particular person much attention.
Naval History, August 2012
When the 1st Marine Division splashed ashore on Guadalcanal on 7 August 1942, two members of a Marine journalism program landed with them—Second Lieutenant Merillat and Sergeant James Hurlbut. After studying journalism at Northwestern University, Hurlbut had worked for newspapers in Chicago before enlisting in the Marines and serving on the staff of Leatherneck magazine. He left the Corps and became a Washington Post reporter in 1933. Prior to his re-enlistment in 1942, he was working for a Washington, D.C., radio station.
On 10 March 1943, Hurlbut was back in Washington, meeting with Navy Department representatives about his Guadalcanal experiences. After delivering a prepared statement about the course of the long battle, the sergeant answered questions about the enemy and fighting on “the Canal.”