ACTION AT ANZIO
The first United States merchant ships to arrive off Anzio were the Lawton B. Evans, the John Banvard, the Hilary A. Herbert, and the Bret Harte. They anchored on January 22, 1944. This was the largest group of United States merchant ships to arrive off that awful beachhead at any one time. Many ships came in singly and left as soon as unloading was complete. Perhaps the only feature which made Anzio a worse experience for Armed Guards than Salerno was the almost constant shelling of the anchorage by German artillery. Ships were moved frequently, for there was nothing else to do once the heavy guns found the range and started throwing shells close.
The Lawton B. Evans had a gun crew which was untrained in battle. Only one man had ever been under attack and 16 of 28 members of the Armed Guard had never been to sea before. Before she left Anzio, the Evans had a veteran Armed Guard with five planes to its credit. She was shelled a number of times and one shell hit the port wing of the bridge, damaging life boats and No. 2 hold. On January 26 she got her first plane, a torpedo bomber, and got pictures to prove it. Bombs landed close enough to shake the vessel on January 25 and 27. On the latter date she got two more planes and on January 29 two more fell before her guns. The Armed Guards ended their proud experience by shooting at a glider bomb which dropped 50 yards from the ship and
The John Banvard reported 72 alerts and that bombs were dropped 25 times to February 1. On January 26 two glider bombs landed within 10 yards of the ship. Naturally heavy damage was done. The ship was, in fact, abandoned but later the crew and Armed Guards returned and finally brought her to Naples on February 2.
From January 22 to January 31 the Hilary A. Herbert took more punishment than most ships are made to take and yet survived to sail another day. She reported 75 air raids and 27 actual bombing attacks. On January 22 shells landed from 50 to 100 feet away, and next day eight shells landed about 50 feet fro her stern. She got her first plane on January 24 and counted a probable the next day. On this day three bombs landed about 50 feet from the ship. Again bombs were close on January 26 and she shot down another plane. In the early evening two bombs landed five yards from the ship and did considerable damage. A few minutes later her Armed Guards shot down another plane. The ship was beached to save her from sinking. On January 27 still another plane was probably destroyed for a total score of three planes downed and two probably destroyed. On January 28 bombs again fell close to the stricken ship and she was strafed. German artillery finally got the range and a shell hit the stern of the ship. Next day a glider bomb missed by only 50 feet and on January 30 shells fell around her. Next day she left in tow for Naples.
The Bret Harte likewise accounted for three planes and assisted
in the destruction of two others. Her Armed Guard officer indicated that bombs fell from 50 to 300 yards away on January 26 and astern and forward on January 27. Next day a bomb 40 yards away littered the ship with fragments.
The Alexander Martin was at Anzio on January 27 and again on January 29 after a trip to Naples. A small bomb landed 50 yards ahead on the former date and she was in a glider bomb attack on the latter date. She logged some 47 air alerts while at Anzio. She witnessed the destruction of the Samuel Huntington on January 29. The Huntington had scored a hit on an enemy plane enroute to Anzio on January 26. When she was bombed on January 29 she caught fire. The fire was extinguished before she was abandoned. She sank early on January 30. One Armed Guard was injured.
The Tabitha Brown reported 78 alerts from January 31 to February 7. The closest bombs fell within 300 yards on February 6. She accounted for one plane probably destroyed, and assisted in shooting down another. Bombs likewise fell in the vicinity of the William Mulholland on the same day, showering the ship with bomb fragments and causing deck plates to crack and seams to open in the skin of the ship. Shells landed in her vicinity until she departed on February 7. She claimed one plane and probably another destroyed in some 62 red alerts.
The Henry Middleton arrived on February 7 and quickly went into action, assisting in the destruction of a plane. Bombs were
dropped 10 time between February 7 and 15, but the ship fired only four times. Enemy shell fire continued to give trouble. Perhaps the most severe action the ship encountered was on the return trip to Oran when two Liberty ships were torpedoed off Cap de Fer on February 22.
The Elihu Yale arrived off Anzio on February 13 amid constant air raids and shelling. A glider bomb, the dread new weapon of the Nazis, struck the ship in her No. 4 hatch in the evening of February 15 and sent her to the bottom with the loss of two Armed Guards and three merchant seamen. Four other Armed Guards were wounded. The Richard Bassett arrived on the same day as the Elihu Yale and had bombs land close on February 13 and 15, and shells near her on February 16. On February 17 she hit an American plane. She was in the convoy off Cap de Fer which encountered submarines on February 22 and had two ships hit.
The James W. Nesmith had only one big day of action during her stay at Anzio from February 16 to 21. On February 17 she shot down an enemy plane. Shells were landing so close that she was forced to shift her anchorage. Shells immediately hit the spot she had just vacated. The Edward Rutledge, which arrived on the same day, had many shells from ashore land close and reported air attacks on February 16, 17, and each day from February 19 through February 25. On February 19 a glider bomb landed 15 yards from the ship.
The Charles Goodyear arrived as Anzio on February 18 after
enduring raids which were described as of the nuisance variety at Naples. From her arrival until her departure on February 29 the Goodyear experienced every kind of attack the Germans could offer. Bombing, submarine attacks, aerial torpedoes, E Boats, mines, and a considerable amount of shelling from ashore sent the Armed Guards to General quarters 106 times, but the ship fired only three times. Shells landed close on February 19, 20, and 22, one within 10 feet of her stern on the latter date.
The Samuel Ashe, which arrived at Anzio the next day but did not leave until March 3, reported 110 air raid alerts., seven air attacks, and one E boat attack. She hit a plane which crashed on February 19 and fired at a glider bomb which fell in the water less than 50 feet from the ship. On February 21 and 22 shells landed close, and on the former date a bomb missed by about 50 yards. An E boat was chased away on February 22 after firing a torpedo.
The David S. Terry reported that shipping was attacked only five times between her arrival on February 21 and her departure on March 2, but there were 54 alerts and enemy planes were sighted 18 times. The actual attacks on shipping came on the nights of February 21, 25, and 29, and on the mornings of February 22 and 27. On the night of February 21 there were six attacks within an hour, but the heaviest attack of all came on the night of February 29. In 60 flaming minutes from 40 to 50 bombs were dropped and 15 to 20 landed in the vicinity of the Terry. She scored a probable hit on
a plane. Some damage was done to her stern gun by enemy flak and a five or six inch projectile was found on her main deck. Enemy fire from ashore continued to be dangerous and annoying.
The John Murray Forbes stayed at Anzio from February 24 to March 9. During this time artillery fire was kept up intermittently day and night and shell fragments hit the ship. There were also air attacks but only once did bombs fall close. The James M. Wayne was the last ship to win the combat star for action at Anzio. She arrived on February 25, left the next day, and returned February 29 for a longer stay until March 10. Already she had experienced 12 raids in 32 days at Naples, which she had visited four times. On January 25 saw the F. A. C. Muhlenberg hit at Naples. She also saw a ship hit by enemy shells at Anzio, but had bombs land close to her only once, on February 29.
Thanks in large part to the materials which merchant ships brought to hotly-contested Anzio our beachhead was secure, although much heavy fighting was to lie ahead. Merchant losses had been relatively light when the nature of the opposition is considered.
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