ROUTINE ACTION AT SEA
From Brian Bailey's Calypso Page - Reprinted by Permission
I wish to thank the USCG Historian's office for this account of a daring rescue performed by the crew of the Calypso during WWII:
CGC CALYPSO (WPC-104)
Storms, shipwreck, fire, sharks and fog were the elements pieced together in an East Coast port today by the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Calypso, in an amazing tale of rescue in the North Atlantic.
Lieutenant Woodward B. Rich, USCGR, young Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard l65-foot patrol boat acting as escort for an Atlantic convoy, described how his vessel faced a typical peacetime job of rescue work combined with the wartime hazard of enemy attack.
Well out in the North Atlantic with heavy winds and high seas, the cutter was rocked by an explosion of great force. All hands rushed to general quarters. Lookouts reported that one of the ships of the escorting screen had been hit. A tremendous tower of smoke and water was seen rising from USS Plymouth, a Navy ship, some 8,000 yards ahead.
Lieutenant Rich ordered flank speed into the smashing waves. Forward gun crews clung desperately to their stations as cascades of green water poured over the bow and flooded the decks.
"Whether there were survivors or not," Lt. Rich said, our first job was to screen the convoy and track down any possible submarine contacts."
The cutter carved a wide circle around the area, her decks rolling under again and again as she came broadside into the seas. The stricken Plymouth had already disappeared beneath the surface as the Calypso received orders to cover her.
Zigzagging violently to lessen the danger of a second enemy attack, the Calypso closed in on the V-shaped oil slick dotted with floundering survivors. Patrol bombers appeared on the scene, flying low and dropping self-inflating rafts.
As the Calypso approached the survivors, Lt. Rich was faced with the desperate possibility of having to drop depth charges among shipwrecked American sailors in the event of a sudden submarine attack.
"I don't know if I could have done it," he said later. "It was one of the most terrible decisions an officer can be forced to face."
The cutter slowed down her propellers as she approached the survivors, who were rapidly being scattered by high winds and who were struggling to keep afloat in the enveloping oil. As the Calypso threaded among them in a daring feat of seamanship, men were hauled over the ship' s rail by hand as she tossed in the heavy seas. Some had life jackets, others none; some were barely clothed and others were naked. In seas littered with debris, only good seamanship spared the men from being crushed as they came alongside.
All men who could be spared from general quarters lined the rails under the direction of boatswain R. S. Ridenour of York, Maine, who hauled in those most desperately in need of rescue. Again and again, propellers had to be stopped to keep from endangering the lives of those in the water, and to prevent fouling in the wreckage. Nevertheless, enough speed had to be maintained so that in the event of attack, the ship could respond immediately to her helm.
As the survivors spread out over the sea, it became evident that the cutter could not hope to pick them all up in time to save their lives. Ensign William T. Gray of Philadelphia requested immediate permission to launch the ship's life boat in order to pick up survivors who were drifting downwind. Quickly volunteering for this hazardous job, the crew composed of Coast Guardsmen Herman H. Kramm (Gunners Mate 3rd class), Stanley J. Korowicki (Seaman 1st Class), John A. Barrett (Seaman 2nd class) and Charles J. McGrath (Soundman 2nd class) manned the boat and it was lowered over the side. As the ship rolled, the boat struck with a tremendous splash and was immediately engulfed by a huge wave. With daring skill, Ensign Gray maneuvered away from the side of the ship and headed bow-on into the seas. At this point, lookouts spotted the ominous fins of sharks approaching the survivors. Lieutenant C. E. McDowell of Salisbury, Maryland, and Ensign G. P. Jacobson, a South Dakotan, stood guard with 30-calibre machine guns trained on the sharks, as the boat moved in to pick up survivors.
Astern, a man clinging to a small piece of shattered wreckage mildly called "I don't mean to be yelling my head off, but I'm burned bad." He died later that night.
With over 30 survivors already aboard the l65-foot cutter and as many more still clinging to battered bits of equipment in the shark-filled waters, another terrifying alarm rang out over the ship: "FIRE AFT." Racing down the decks to their extinguishers and hoses, the firefighting crew swiftly conquered the blaze of unknown origin, without causing interference with rescue operations or interrupting medical care already being given to survivors.
The doctor of the shipwrecked Plymouth was now brought aboard and joined Edward Yancavage, Pharmacist's Mate 1st class of the Calypso, in caring for the dozens of severely burned, shocked and waterlogged survivors. Out of over 60 survivors brought aboard, only three died.
Later in the afternoon, patrol planes reported that all survivors in the water had been picked up and none had been seen to drown.
The seas continued to mount during the night as the Calypso fought her way to the nearest port. None of the survivors could be left on deck, and passageways, heads, the captain's cabin, and even the galley was turned into a sick bay. The violent movements of the ship had disabled the gyrocompass and the ship was now forced to navigate under this additional handicap. As the wind subsided inshore, she ran into heavy fog banks.
With a safe port just through the fog, Lt. Rich now faced the danger of proceeding through strange minefields under the most trying of conditions. Under reduced speed the cutter picked her way through, and landed her survivors on the dock where ambulances were waiting to rush them to hospitals.
IN OFFICIAL REPORTS, THIS SAGA OF THE COAST GUARD CUTTER CALYPSO WAS DESCRIBED AS "ROUTINE ACTION AT SEA."
Return to Coast Guard Stories