Lets Go Towing
After a while we were sent up a river near Oakland, California to a shipyard in Fresno. We started towing portable drydocks back to San Francisco and made the journey repeatedly until we had ten drydocks. They were quite large drydocks and two of them could hold an Aircraft Carrier of that era. Of course the Carriers back then were much smaller than the super-carriers of today, but these were still large drydocks. When he had the drydocks all amassed we formed a convoy with other tugs and headed for the South Pacific with our drydocks in tow. It took thirty three days to make the passage and when we reached Espirito Santos we steamed right into the harbor like we owned it. Harbor tugs took the tows from us and brought them to areas where other ships were in need of them.
It sure was a great spot. We went into town on shore leave and had a few brews while we looked over the natives. Some spoke French and some some spoke Dutch but we weren't around long enough to learn much of either language as we were hustled off to firefighting school to learn about foam application. The school was next to a leper colony and we learned that next to elephantitis ... you sure don't want to be a leper. We left Espiritu Santos and did some towing, going almost to New Zealand with one mission before being called back to an island where a big cargo ship had hit a mine and sunk.
The Captain of the sunken vessel was warned about mines in the vicinity but nevertheless he steamed right through the area and as luck would have it his ship found one of the mines. We anchored right next to the huge sunken cargo ship and you could look over the side and see it laying there, completely submerged, on its side, filled with tanks, trucks, and goods of war. Our divers cut big holes in the side nearest the surface and anything that could float bobbed to the surface for salvaging. After salvaging as much as we could the cargo ship became unstable and started to roll over. Our divers scrambled out of the water and the ship rolled over and slipped into a deep abyss and was then only visibly on sonar.
The USS Barry APD 29 & LSM 59
The USS Barry was an old four-stacker Destroyer commissioned around 1920 and modernized and converted into a highspeed troop transport and reclassified as an APD . It took some hits and was intentionally run up on the beach to avoid sinking in deep water and it spent sometime just sitting there. The High Command was experimenting with methods of defending against the relentless kamikazi attacks by the Japanese pilots and it was decided to use the Barry as a decoy to attract the suicide pilots. Since Barry was stripped of all usable equipment its hulk was expendable. Lipan's divers put a soft patch on the hull of the Barry and its interior was filled with empty sealed 5" ammo containers. It was hoped the sealed containers would act as flotation gear and make the Barry less vulnerable to sinking from direct hits.
The Barry was fitted with remote controlled flashing lights that looked like anti-aircraft gun muzzle flashes from the air. It also had smudge pots placed at strategic locations and remotely controlled to simulate stack smoke and damage from attacks. From the air it looked like a fully operational Destroyer and it was intended to draw the kamikaze pilots to it and away from the nearby manned vessels. The LSM contained the remote controls for the Barry's pseudo weapons and Lipan was to tow the Barry to simulate an underway tincan.
It didn't take long before two kamikaze planes appeared just ten feet off the water equipped with huge bombs strapped to their belly to create a gigantic explosion when they slammed into a vessel. To our dismay, the first attacking Japanese plane slammed into the small LSM 59 and hit it directly amidship. The resultant explosion blew the ship into the hereafter and there was not one recognizable part left floating and at least sixty sailors met their demise. We hadn't anytime to think as the second kamikaze climbed straight up to make a dive on us and the Barry. I was a gunner on the 40mm and we gave him all we had, shooting off his wings and setting him afire. Nevertheless, he was able to slam into the Barry and hit her right on the bridge.
We could not save her so we tried to tow her to Ie Shima. In the middle of the night the Barry started to sink and was pulling our old "Green Dragon" down by the stern. We had a pelican hook rigged and a sailor hit the release and the Barry slipped from our grasp and headed for Davy Joneses Locker. As luck would have it, as we pulled into Ie Shima they were under air attack from three Japanese Bombers. Suddenly out of nowhere appeared one of our Black Widow aircraft returning from a mission and he dropped all three of the attacking bombers. What a day! What a pilot! That was the day that a sniper killed Ernie Pyle, too.