Monday, October 28, 2013

The LST 312 Conspiracy

PT-603

Excerpt from:
PT Boat Episodes:
At General Quarters in the Pacific and a Five Month Yachting Cruise in the Atlantic with a Young  MTB Captain / By: Roger M. Jones / Merriam Press 2000

USS LST 312 and PT's tied up in Chicago
October 26-28, 1945 for Navy Day.
PT 604 and 604 clearly marked. This story
indicates that the 3rd PT is the 603.
Click on image to enlarge.
When we got back to Miami, however, another very pleasant surprise greeted us. We received order on September 26th to be part of the countrywide Navy Day celebrations on October 27th.  Squadron 41 was ordered to proceed to New Orleans and PT’s of the Squadron would be ordered from there to proceed up the Mississippi –601 and 602 to Pittsburgh; 503, 604, and 606 to Chicago; 605 to Jeffersonville, Indiana; 607 to Cincinnati; 608 to Memphis; 609 and 610 to St. Louis; 611 to Evansville, Indiana; 612 to Louisville.

Division Able, with Lt. Doherty as OTC departed Miami September 28th and arrived at the Naval Operating Base in New Orleans on September 30th via Key West and Pensacola, PT’s 603, 604, and 606 then departed NOLA in a convoy on October 4th with SOPUS (Senior Officer Present Afloat) on LST 312, and in company with LCI-194, LSM-13, LCI-144, LCI-122, LSM-297.

Going up the Mississippi the usual procedure was to stop at night and anchor out of the channel.  One night LST-312 anchored for the night several hundred feet off the east river bank and PT 163 tied up alongside.  That evening shortly after dark, one of my crewmen on watch topside, came to my stateroom and told me three men off LST 312 slid down the lines tying us to the LST and from our deck dove in the river presumably with the intention of swimming ashore.  We were in an isolated area with no town or any sign of life in vicinity.  I reacted quickly to the news as-if the men drowned or were going AWOL – PT 163 as the dive platform in their attempt to swim ashore would be negligent if the incident was not reported.

Presumably, the men were bored by being confined for days to LST 312 on the upriver trip and were determined to get ashore to stir up a little excitement.  Our man on watch said they dove in wearing dungarees and a T-shirt and had shoes tied to their belts.  Before dawn would they try to swim back out and try to re-board the 312 before they were missed?  If so, they might well try to get back on LST 312 by climbing back on PT 163 first, as it had a much lower free-board than the LST.  I did send a handwritten memorandum addressed to the Officer of the Deck on the LST informing him of what happened and inquiring what we should do if the men tried to board 163 on their return.  The three men didn’t try to re-board 163 and we never really learned what finally happened.  Did they ever get back the LST 312 and, if so, how?

(One theory on our boat was that it was part of a widely known conspiracy on LST 312, possible even with the knowledge of the OOD or, maybe my memorandum never got to the OOD.  Further, under the “conspiracy” theory, a pilot ladder would be lowered over the side of LST 312 into the water on the side opposite from us and the men on their return would swim to the ladder and climb aboard).

A trip on the Mississippi is generally considered to be a beautiful, romantic trip and cruises on the river are now widely advertised.  I found it the most dull, boring trip I ever made on land or sea.  With the exception of Memphis and St. Louis almost all the cities are located back several miles from the river due to long ago flooding experiences.  About all you have to look at is levees-and you have to be higher than a PT boat deck to see over them.  In 1945 there were very few bridges across the Mississippi and we could go all day without seeing any sign of life on either side of the river.  Down-bound tows were about all we saw on the up-bound run.

After the boring trip to the Mississippi, several days in St. Louis, one of the main staging points for the Navy Day Celebrations, was a particularly welcome liberty port for the crews.  The boat captains, of course, had to go into town almost every evening to attend to “official business” much to the disgust of their Executive Officers, as one officer always had to remain on board.

The PT’s were towed by LCI’s to St. Louis but from there ran under their own power to Grafton, Illinois, and from Grafton on the Illinois River to Chicago.  The landing craft types all stopped for Navy Day at ports on the river – only LST 312 and the three PT’s went to Chicago.  The railroad bridges on the Illinois River were “semi-fixed, and we proceeded up the river, crews from the railroads drover from bridge to bridge, and with jury rig gear opened each bridge.  The PT’s could have gone under the bridges but the LST was too high.  Commercial traffic regularly using the Illinois River-tugs and barges-were designed to go under the bridges.

-Roger M. Jones, Lt. (j.g.), USNR
Commanding, PT 603
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