MTB Ron 15 and the Mediterranean
"The Difficult We Will Do Immediately... the Impossible Will Take a Little Longer."

Jim crossed the Atlantic to North Africa on the USS Ranger (CV-4) along with a load of fighter planes and Free French sailors.  The trip ended in Casablanca, Morrocco and he disembarked on May 5, 1944.  From there he was sent to the receiving station in Oran, Algeria, on the southern Mediterranean coast.  Stop-by-stop, Pop was on his way to the base at Bizerte, Tunisia so he could join up with the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 15 (MTB Ron 15) as a replacement sailor.

I can only imagine what it was like for Jim to get off the carrier and step into an exotic place like North Africa.  He had been away from home for a while at this point but this was his first time out of the states.  Edwin Pink, who was the Quartermaster on PT 206, travelled a similar route to Jim five months before and wrote these excerpts describing Oran in his journal:

"Approaching Oran, Algeria from the sea is like entering some mystic city of Arabian Nights.  One is first impressed by the gigantic red clay and rock cliffs towering for some three of four hundred feet above the green Mediterranean, forming what seems like an impenetrable barrier to the sea.

"Running in a sort of gigantic horseshoe is all cliffs, fading into the mists at either end with black mountains rising higher beyond.  In the neck of the horseshoe, in a low place in the cliffs, rises up the city of Oran from behind concrete breakwater at the docks, tier upon tier, to the topmost buildings, appearing in every sense of the word to be quite modern.

"The docks behind the breakwater are crowded with shipping of many Allied nations.  A half sunken wreck or two, drawn close to the beach with gaping holes torn in the their side by cruel Nazi torpedoes.

"A modern highway winds back and forth up the face of the steep barrier, supported by gigantic conrete walls and littered with a never ending congestion of Army trucks, tractor-trailers, jeeps and command cars scurrying from dock to camp and back again.

"Silver barrage balloons float lazily at intervals along the shore...and ugly guns crouch in constant readiness.  Yawning caverns in the hill indicate munition dumps, all indicating that Europe's former summer resort has gone to war...

"On the city's left along the red cliffs top and back inland among the hills, stretch many encampments with thousands of tents:  U.S. Army bases, British Army bases, French and French colonial bases, Italian and German prison camps.  Back behind the city some five miles, neslted in the low farmland hills is tent city five of the U.S. Navy and the Navy hospital.  Tents have been replaced here by the famous Quonset hut, sitting row on row, their steel roofs shining against the red soil and green grass.  Here the men of the fleet come and go, wait for ships to carry them to the front or perhaps to the states - home.

"The city of Oran holds much of interest for the serviceman.  Wine of the Vino and Vin Rouge variety begins at 10 francs a quart, up to 200 francs for good Muscatel.  Cognac and brandy may bring 300.  Joe's Place, a serviceman's rendezvous, even boast of American beer, a watery similarity to the original, selling for five francs a "glass."  Said glass being a coveted, much battered tin can.  Some of the French cafe's (sport) real glasses, cut from the bottom of wine bottles.  Joe's Place sports an orchestra of Army and Navy compliment, which blares forth tunes dear to the heart of all Americans.

"Women are plentiful, Arabs and French.  Some are ugly, some are pretty, some in rags, some very well dressed.  Houses of ill fame are many, and though out of bounds to the service men, are often reached when an M.P. or S.P. is not strictly on the job." 

In Oran, Jim and other sailors from the convoy were loaded into railcars, vintage "40&8" cars that gained notoriety during the First World War.  Named because they could hold 40 men or eight horses, these cars were used to shuttle men and material from the sea ports east.  Robert B. Sullivan, a Ron 15 sailor who arrived in the area a month later, wrote in his account to the PT Boat association and it was printed in their May 2005 newsletter:

"Stayed in an old concrete, roach-infested building couple of nights and boarded a box car 40x8 with all of our sea bags, rifle (03-A3) and A, B, C rations, plus five gallon water can.  Didn't go by boat in the Med. because of German U-Boat activity.  So, for nine days the trip across North Africa was a hot one thru Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia to Bizerte.  The three cars were packed with 27 men each and the officers were in a day coach.  Went thru tunnels and choked from the coal burning locomotives."

Jim arrived in the Bizerte area in mid-May.  Squadron 15 was operating out of the Karouba Docks, an area outside of town on Lake Bizerte.  A canal connected the lake to the sea and gave the boats and their men a safe harbor to operate out of.  The docks had been a French seaplane base; the large hangars became home for machine shops and storage.  It was here that Pop reported for duty and was assigned to a PT. 

On May 23rd, Pop was assigned to PT 209, “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”  209 had already seen plenty of action and carried two Nazi flags on the front of its cockpit; each one represented a Nazi ship sunk by the craft and its crew.  One of those "kills" occurred just before Pop arrived in North Africa.  American forces had landed in Italy in 1943 and were fighting their way "up the boot." German and Italian naval craft were out at night, sneaking along the coasts to resupply Axis troops. It was these targets that PT boats were out to sink.

Operation Gun

According to several reports, PT 209 was a part of a combined British/American operation called "Operation Gun." It was built around the idea that one of the main targets for the Allied navies was hard to sink with torpedoes. They were called "F-lighters" and they were basically armed barges. Carrying critical fuel, ammunition and other supplies, they had a shallow draft (their bottoms didn't sit very deep.) This was a problem because torpedoes need to hit the submerged side of a ship, and the F-lighters didn't provide much of a target.

Operation Gun shifted the emphasis from torpedo attacks to a gunnery assault. The attack force was built around three British landing craft (LCG's) that carried 4.7 inch and 40mm guns. They were escorted by British torpedo and gun boats. American PT's, using their radar sets, would act as control (command) or scouting craft during the hunt. On the night of April 24th, the group went looking for trouble.

Scouting PT's radioed in a radar report of a convoy sneaking south along the Italian coast around 10pm. PT 209 and PT 218, the control boats, saw them on radar along with another group of contacts heading north. The battle group moved in on the southern targets and attacked. After a gun battle, five F-lighters were destroyed along with an ocean-going tug. After picking up survivors, the battle group turned to face a group coming in from the north. They were soon faced with three more F-lighters, two of which they quickly set ablaze with gunfire. The third barge returned fire on the group. After trading fire, the F-lighter snuck off through a smokescreen. PT 209, using radar, came through the smoke, drew a plot on the Nazi craft and sunk it with a single torpedo. Additional contacts were made that night and according to Captain Robert J. Bulkley's PT book "At Close Quarters" the Allied force claimed to have sunk five F-lighters, four flak lighters (heavily armed F-lighters, meant to sail with the transports and provide extra firepower) and a tug. He went on to write "Considering the difficulties of assessing damage in a night action, the claims were close to the actual fact. German records available since the war show that three F-lighters, two flak lighters and one tug were lost with heavy personnel casualties."

Pop assigned to PT 209

Pop was joining Ron 15 while it was wrapping up the process of refurbishing all its boats; the Navy upgraded cannons, torpedoes and their launchers as well as engines.  Two new squadrons were joining the fight as well; Rons 22 and 29.  All of this was meant to up the pressure on the Axis supply line.

Operation Buffalo

Jim was joining the 209 during the kickoff of Operation Buffalo, the Allied breakout operation in the area of Anzio, Italy.  Operation Shingle had begun in late January; it would take until early June to officially end the battle.  Operation Buffalo kicked off the day Pop joined PT 209; it would enventually see American troops enter and secure Rome.  PT's played a supporting role in the operation by attacking enemy shipping and ferrying information and operatives but I don't have any specific information on what the crew of the 209 did.

As soon as operations ended, PT crews were getting ready for more action and a new operation: Brassard.  










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