BY - ROBERT   P.   SABLES - LTC MSC AUS [RET.] - - Page 2 of 3 

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At the conclusion, she steamed to Norfolk, Virginia, to join CORT DIV 58-----a unit of Task Force 65 which was due to escort Convoy UGS-37 to Bizerte, Tunisia. Capt. W. R. Headden, commander of Task Force 65, carried his flag aboard the escort USS Stanton [DE-247].

CORT DIV 58, under the command of Cdr. E. E. Garcia, also included the destroyer escorts: USS Price [DE-332], USS Strickland [DE-333], USS Forster [DE-334], USS Stockdale [DE-399], and the USS Hissem [DE-400].

Another unit of Task Force 65 was DES DIV 66, under the command of Cdr. A. M. Kowalzyk, Jr. DES DIV 66 was composed of four old “4-pipers” which had been commissioned back in 1919.They were the: USS Breckinridge [DD-148], USS Barney [DD-149] USS Blakeley [DD-150], and the USS Biddle [DD-151].

The Royal Navy’s HMS Delhi [AA cruiser], HMS Jonquil [corvette], HMS Nadder [frigate], HMS Mindful [rescue tug] , and the HMS Vagrant [ rescue tug] would later round out the escort screen.

Sixty merchant vessels and several landing ship tanks [USS LST-76, USS LST-77, USS LST-211, USS LST-212, and USS LST-539] made up the convoy. While naval vessels, the LST’s were quite slow [10.8 knots max] and needed protection.

The convoy with its escorts departed Norfolk, Va., on 24 March 1944. The USS Holder now had a new commanding officer, a Lt. Cdr. W. P. Buck, USNR.

There were no unusual incidents during the crossing. The North Atlantic, as expected in March—April, was stormy and cold. Lookouts constantly scanned the seas for periscope wakes and torpedo streaks. The new “plankowners” started learning how to sleep, eat, work, and walk about while their ship tossed and rolled. Destroyer escorts were notorious for their “rocking motion” in heavy seas.

As the convoy entered the Mediterranean Sea, its presence was soon reported to the German forces. On 10 April 1944, the USS Lansdale [DD-426] departed Oran to join up with the convoy and took up station on the port side. She was equipped with “glider-bomb jamming gear”. The following evening, 11 April, while 7 miles off the coast of Cape Bengut, Algeria, the convoy was attacked by the German Luftwaffe [Junker 88’s, Dornier 217’s]. Unfortunately, the weather conditions favored the attacking forces—no mistral winds— clear sky---and a calm sea. As the aircraft approached, they started dropping flares to locate and illuminate the convoy.

At the time, the Holder and Forster were stationed in front of the convoy, while the other escorts covered the flanks and rear. Capt. Headden shortly ordered the escorts to make smoke and three minutes later the Stanton opened fire.

Upon receipt of orders, the Holder started her smoke generators and began to lay a “dense vapor” across the exposed front. Within minutes, an aircraft was observed approaching the port side.

Lt.Comdr. Buck later reported:

At 2339 a plane of a type not positively identified was sighted off the port beam and fire was opened with all guns that could bear. As the plane approached, flying very close to the water, it was observed to launch a torpedo at a range estimated at 300-400 yards. The torpedo wake was clearly visible and strong hydrophone effect was picked up and reported from the Sound Hut. As soon as torpedo was sighted, flank speed was ordered and full left rudder applied. At 2340, before the order to increase speed had taken effect, the torpedo struck amidships on the port side below the waterline with two distinct heavy explosions. They were a fraction of a second apart and seemed of almost equal intensity yellow flash accompanied the explosion. The ship settled and took on a four degree list to starboard.


The damage was devastating. As denoted by their tonnage, destroyer escorts were lightly armored as compared to other naval vessels. Compartments B1, B2, and B3 were open to the sea---with a fire ignited in the later compartment. The power plant had shut down after the first explosion. Damage Control responding to the lower decks soon had the fires under control and worked to stop the rapid flooding. While these repairs were underway, the gunners maintained a steady fire upon the attacking planes although no hits were observed.

The attack ended fifty minutes after the Holder was hit. The Forster was then able to approach the Holder and take off 12 injured men. The Price also responded and succeeded in putting a doctor aboard.

A check soon revealed that 17 crewmen had been killed:

  Harold M. Armstrong   MoMM 3/c
  Earle W. Hohensee   F 1/c
  Harold F. Horner   F 1/c
  Chester Johnson   MoMM 1/c
  Ernest J. Kelly   F 1/c
  Vincent V. Leone   MoMM 3/c
  Ernest R. LePage   MoMM 3/c
  Philip J. Locke   F 1/c
  David F. Lougheed   MoMM 3/c
  John F. Lucas   F 1/c
  Allen F. McKay   MoMM 2/c
  Leo D. Perkins   EM 1/c
  Luther R. Pringle   MoMM 2/c
  Guadalupe P. Salazar   S 2/c
  Donald L. Swigart   MoMM 3/c
  Robert E. Tyler   Lt.
  Howard B. Vath   S 2/c


Seven men were also wounded on the USS Biddle during the attack. The DANFS [Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships] relates that these injuries were inflicted during a strafing run while Roscoe’s “US Destroyer Operations in World War 11” claims that the men “had been wounded by fragments of a 20mm shell which was sloppily fired by another ship”.The Biddle was later awarded a battle star for this action.

The USS Hissem [DE-400] was succesfull in downing one of the torpedo planes and damaging a second. [In 1956, the Hissem was converted to a radar picket ship and served on the DEW line, later the command ship during the search for the USS Thresher, a member of “Operation Deep Freeze” in 1963-- 1964, and subsequently participated in operations off the coast of Viet Nam. She was decommissioned for the last time on 15 May 1970.] The Hissem received a battle star for World War 11 service.

Subsequently, Capt. Headden critized the USS Lansdale for lack of fire support during the air attack. However, Admiral Hewitt did not concur stating that her fire discipline “appeared excellent” but remarked that Capt. Headden should have ordered the smoke screen far earlier. Tragically, the Lansdale was sunk on 20 April 1944 by an aerial torpedo while escorting Convoy UGS-38. Forty seven brave crewmembers perished.

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