LST 279 and Christmas `44

       The days before Christmas, 1944, brought with them a nervous fear of sabatoge to the LST floatillas in Weymouth/Portland.( Eng.) The Germans, we were told, had managed to float in or parachute undercover agents in American Army and Navy uniforms to create havoc and confusion to LST supply operations. We, of course, were put on 24 hour armed alert. (Actually, it was the first time I stood watch with a fully loaded side arm and shoulder slung rifle.) The emergency prompted the base commander to send out 4 fully loaded LSTs on very short notice, and without the usual Corvette or DE escorts. We sailed out in the late afternoon, 2x2, to cross the Channel. Normally,during condition 1 Mike, (when the ship is underway), my watch was in the conning tower as 'bridge talker' relaying information and instructions to the various watch and duty stations via sound powered phones. It gave me a fair idea of what was going on, and besides, being inside, it wasn't as cold and uncomfortable as on deck. The time passed quickly. Still,I felt releived when my watch was over at midnight.- I went below to my bunk, and without removing my life jacket or outer clothing, I pulled off my shoes without untying the laces and laid down for a quick sleep. . It seemed like moments later I was awakened by the concussion and clang of what I at first thought was a collision and the sounds of the 'abandon ship' alarm. To get to my life raft on the quarter deck, I had to run thru' several crew compartments, however, I had a problem. It was difficult to put my shoes on, (the laces were still tied and I had to break them apart. To this day, I don't know how I did it. They just broke down the middle) As I ran and hopped through the compartment bulkhead openings, the shoes kept falling off; my Mae West hung loose; my helmet dangled on and off my head, and my gas mask swung back and forth across my chest. Behind me the waterproof compartment hatches were being slammed shut . I couldn't keep up, - my only way topside was thru' a small circular escape hatch at the top of a very narrow ladder in one of the compartments. It took a frighting couple of minutes to wriggle through it. . When I finally got to my assigned life raft , there was no one there. I felt all alone and lost in the dark until an officer's steward bumped into me and shouted that we were, in fact, at General quarters,- not to abandon ship but go to my GQ station. I made my way to a 20mm machine gun mounted to the main deck, just forward of the superstructure and waited, frozen in fear. The LST along side of us had been hit and set afire by a torpedo that passed under our ship as it rose over the crest of a wave. The ship in front of us was sinking. Each Christmas eve ever since, I hear again the anquished cries of men I could not see in the cold dark water, calling for life lines too short to reach, begging for help that never came and the grunts and vibrations of a ship straining at full power to escape a similar fate. Finally, the night turned to morning, and as we approached the harbor of Le Harve, (Fr.) in the golden glow of a rising sun, we could see all around us, seemingly from out of nowhere, a half dozen or so Destroyer Escorts herding us into the harbor. Of the 4 LSTs that left England, only two were in sight. The 279 and the 510 ! As luck would have it, the 510 tore her hull on a sunken ship as she entered the breakwater. and sank, with, I heard, several casualties, mostly GIs trapped in thier vehicles on the tank deck.

     Our return to base in England was uneventful.In port, our captain had given us a "Holiday Routine" that included sleeping in, fresh eggs for breakfast, Christmas dinner with all the trimmings , - yes ! turkey, hams, fresh vegtables and real fruit! and for all who wished to pray, arranged for a Mass to be said on deck to honor our sister ships and comrades at sea. And of course, to thank the Lord for our own safe return. -

     That day, the 27th of December,1944 I wrote a letter to my mother assuring her that even tho some things could not be said, I was OK, and doing well as an American sailor in England.- - No need to worry her any more than she had been since the day I left. Many of my friends in service had far more dangerous and unpleasant duty than I had and I wanted her to know that.

53 years later, that very same letter turned up in my brother's family history album. On it, I saw for the first time tear stains put there as she read between the lines and prayed for her then 17 year old son.

----- WELCOMEBOB@aol.com

LINKS

Biography of Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

Bob Benvenuto, Gangway Watch, USS Berkley County, LST 279

LST 279 and Christmas `44, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

USS LST 279 Deckload, English Channel, Fall, 1944

USS LST 279 Enroute to Normandy, English Channel, Fall, 1944

LST 279, High and Dry, Utah Beach, Normandy, Summer, 1944

USS LST 279 Stern Anchor, Weymouth, 1944

LST 279, Unloading, Utah Beach, Normandy, Summer, 1944

Some of the Crew on Deck, USS Berkley County, LST 279

USS Berkley County, LST 279 - in 1954

USS LST 279 - Captain's Inspection, 1945

USS LST 279 - Weymouth England, 1945

Wartime Birthday, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

White Caps, Watch Caps and Dress Blues, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

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