Duty on a "Q" Ship

by Lynn Bilyeu

 

.... she was used as a decoy, appearing like any merchant ship all alone ....

I enlisted in November, 1942, and was sent to Omaha, Neb.; from there I traveled to St Augustine, Florida with a large number of new enlistees.

At St Augustine, the Coast Guard had taken over the Ponce de Leon Hotel and used it as barracks for boot camp. The nice furniture had been moved out and bunks were installed in each hotel room, but it was still very fancy.

Placed in Fox Company with about 130 men, we went through the usual training and finished 2-1/2 months later. Several of us were sent by train to Boston to report to a receiving station. It was very warm in Florida but below zero when we arrived at Boston. Having to march from the train to the receiving station, a distance of a couple of miles, some of the men froze their ears. From there I was sent to New Bedford to do some shore patrol. I put in for radio school and was accepted, sent on to Atlantic City and became a member of class #30. The radio school used a hotel for barracks and an Elk’s Club and a synagogue for classrooms. We did our drill team marching on the boardwalk.

Upon graduation I was transferred to the ASTERION, an old World War I ship which looked like just another merchant ship, but it was fairly heavily armed and was being used in weather patrol in the North Atlantic. There were .50 calibre machine guns on deck, and 20mm antiaircraft guns on the upper decks; but the most unusual thing was several 4-inch guns along both sides of the ship, hidden by hydraulically-operated doors which dropped down and allowed the guns to be swung out and fired. There were also 24 "mousetraps" mounted under a large hydraulically operated hatch on the main deck near the bow. These were all fired at once, sending half out over each side of the bow. They looked like aerial bombs and had propellers on the nose that turned as they sank in the water, thus arming them to explode on contact with a submarine. There were also depth charges on the stern.

We did some weather patrols in different areas of the North Atlantic with meteorologists on board observing the weather. The radiomen were allowed to break radio silence every three hours and send these reports to Coast Guard Radio Station Alexandria, NMH, or if they could not be raised, to any naval shore radio station.

The history of the ASTERION shows she was built and used as a "Q" ship. It is my understanding she was used as a decoy, appearing like any merchant ship all alone, and hopefully enemy subs might surface and try to sink her with their deck guns instead of using torpedoes, but I don’t think the ASTERION was ever successful. Her speed was nine knots and a submarine could run away from her on the surface.

I think they were about done with the ASTERION when I was transferred to the BASSWOOD, a buoy tender.

 

Extracted from Coast Guard Stories by Don Gardner

 

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