Seiberlich, Admiral Carl Interview February 2, 2000 with David Sicilia
In 1942, I was at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Professor of Transportation had talked to me concerning the starting of a new academy, a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He said with your Wharton School education, and going to the Merchant Marine Academy, you could be President of a steamship company, and I said well, I thought that would be a good idea. And so he gave me the necessary forms, and I sent them in. I went to the Custom House in Philadelphia, took an examination. I received a telegram from the Merchant Marine Academy to report. The interesting thing is that we reported to 90 Church Street, which was the Navy headquarters. And the first thing we did was to take our physicals, and get accepted as midshipmen in the Naval Reserve; then we went out to King’s Point. When I got out there — we lived in what is now Wylie Hall. We called it the Chrysler Building. The first three weeks I was there, I worked on a CCC barracks that had been brought in disassembled from Pennsylvania. So I did carpentry work for a couple weeks while we put the barracks up, and then we moved in them. There were fifty of us in each barracks, and they were where that five inch gun is now in front of Wylie Hall.
The interesting thing is, the barracks that I had helped build was named Hornet. And if somebody had said kid, twenty-five years from now you’re going to be Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Hornet, I wouldn’t have believed them. The barracks next to us was named Intrepid; and I was the Navigator and then Executive Officer of Intrepid. And of course both Hornet and Intrepid are museums now, so there’s a message there.
We went through what they called the preliminary training, and shipped out. And you talk about fate; there were twenty-five of us in a section, and they needed four volunteers to go to the West Coast. We were all East Coast people, so nobody wanted to go. So finally they said well, if no one will go, we’re going to draw straws. We had some relatives in California that I heard a lot about; so I said okay, I’ll go out. And so the three others finally volunteered, and we went. The other twenty-one were in the August, 1942 convey to Murmansk, where thirty-two or thirty-six ships were sunk. Every one of them wound up in the water, and some of them were on ships — two or three ships that were sunk. They were picked up, and the next ship was sunk, and so on. If I had not had relatives in California, I would have been in a convoy to Murmansk in August of ’42. I served in two merchant ships, the Joseph Lykes, and the Mormachawk. We made two trips to the South Pacific.
There’s an interesting thing to show you what I call the genius of World War II. We had army equipment, trucks, and fuel, and other things we took from Oakland, CA to Wellington, New Zealand, and we dropped them there. Then we went up to Auckland, New Zealand, picked up the second Marine Battalion (Paramarines), took them to Noumea, New Caledonia, and dropped them. Picked up another unit, went up to the Solomon’s, and dropped them. We then came back from the Solomon’s to Noumea; discharged some of the backhaul stuff, and then went to Fiji, Lautoka where we picked up a load of sugar. Then we went to Antofagasta, Chile, dumped the sugar where we picked up a load of nitrate for the explosives, and took it back. That ship was utilized in so many ways in importing something from South America that was needed in the war effort. And then the Mormachawk was an interesting ship, in that we had Marines and we had Seabees on board that we were transporting. The Coast Guard ran the landing boats. We had a Navy armed guard crew, and a Merchant Marine crew running the ship. The Marines slept in the holds eight high; you talk about primitive. The only way they got baths is they came on deck, and they were hosed down and they had what might be called latrines on deck. This was fairly primitive. But the name of the game was to get them there. And, you know, my theory is the reason we won World War II is that everybody in the war was a graduate of the Great Depression. So that sort of stuff didn’t bother anybody. But you see we went from a relatively small number of ships in the Navy, and in the Merchant Marine. So much of it was just conversion in order to get the job done, and there just weren’t enough transports to move everybody. I sort of got to see that firsthand.
In my time at sea, I realized that we were on the wrong end. I felt very strongly that I’d rather be on the giving than the receiving end. So when I graduated, I went to the Navy, and said I’d like to come on active duty. But if you’re going to put me in a transport, I don’t think that that fits what I would like to do. I like a combatant. I was the first MMR, Merchant Marine Reserve Officer ordered to a destroyer. And basically what I found out was that the reason they used to justify that assignment was if you put a merchant officer in a destroyer he could help with the convoy end of the thing. I think I must have done alright, because about four or five months later they started ordering other MMR officers to destroyers; and so I assume that’s what it was for. I was most fortunate, the Mayo, DD422 was a good ship. We were in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. Then in early 1945 we went through the canal out to the Pacific, and up at Okinawa, and off of Japan.
A lot of people criticize Harry Truman for dropping the bomb, but that’s what ended the war. A lot of people don’t understand that in March of ’45 General LeMay sent 900 B-29 bombers to bomb Tokyo; they had a 55 knot wind, and they bombed the perimeter of Tokyo upwind, and the firebombs carried down. They killed a hundred and forty thousand people in one night, and the Japanese didn’t quit.
So we’re up off the coast of Japan being told by intelligence there were ten thousand kamikazes; and the kamikazes that were used in Okinawa, there were seventy-four hundred, they sank thirty-two ships, and damaged three hundred and twenty-three. A lot of people don’t realize that extent.
And so then we went into Tokyo Bay on the 28th of August, 1945, and one of my sea stories. We were notified that a Japanese naval officer would come aboard with a chart of the minefield. And so he came aboard, and walked out on the bridge, and I was the navigator, and he saluted the Captain, and he laid the chart down on the table. The Captain on one side, I’m on the other. So the Captain said over the top of this fellow’s head, do you think we can trust this fellow? And without looking up, the Japanese naval officer said I’m a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. Now I was reported to have said Berkeley! Oh my God, Captain, we’re in serious trouble! However, I negotiated with the gentleman. We steamed in. It was a great thing to be in Tokyo Bay.
After the signing of the surrender, we were told to go inside Yokohama Cove, the bay there inside the breakwater. And when we did, then they came aboard, and said that we were going to be supporting the landings in Hokkaido in Northern Japan. And the Communications Officer, who was a guy named Charlie Yates, who was a famous golfer before World War II, and myself as a Navigator would go up to Tokyo, and get the necessary charts and communication information to support the landings in Hokkaido. So we looked at each other, how are we going to get up there? We were going to go up on the train.
So let’s see. The surrender was signed on the 2nd of September. We went inside Yokohama Cove on the 3rd. Then we went up to the — I guess it was the Imperial Hotel, if my memory serves me right, it was MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo. So we got down at the station, and a huge number of Japanese there, and they were all wearing these little white gauze masks. So I was a young guy, and I didn’t understand things, but Charlie Yates, being older, understood things. He got me by the arm, and he pulled me up to the end of the platform. And when the train came in, he banged on the engine, and held his stripes up like this. And the engineer opened the door, and we got in the cab. So we rode up to Tokyo.
And the thing that impressed me on both sides of the track between Yokohama and Tokyo all you could see were safes. And what happened is that the bombs had destroyed and burned all the buildings and the only thing that survived were safes. And I’ll never forget that. You just looked out there for a mile, and there were safes all over the place on both sides of the track.
And so we got up to Tokyo, and went over to the hotel, and sat down, and got the briefing by the intelligence, and I got the charts and things. And then we were given scrip to spend. You couldn’t spend American dollars. It was called occupation scrip. And we went to a gift shop across the street from the hotel, and went in, and I bought a little statue that I still have. And it was just kind of normal. We paid them, and left. We went down to the railroad station, and this time we just rode back on the train in the cars. And there were lots of Japanese, and no one said anything to us, and we didn’t say anything to them. But my kind of feeling was that there was a lot of relief on their part that this incessant bombing that had been going on had stopped.
We supported landings in Northern Japan and then went down to the Philippines, picked up the 28th battalion, which were in transports. We took them up to Otaru, Hokkaido. I went ashore on shore patrol the first day, and you couldn’t see a Japanese person anyplace. The second day, they started to peek out the windows, and sit on the porches. And the third day, they opened the stores. And this is true. On the fourth day, they doubled the prices. What they found out on the third day is that we were not going to steal the stuff, or beat them up or anything like that. And it was quite obvious that everybody had lots of occupation scrip to spend, and so they doubled the prices on the fourth day.
The MacArthur’s people knew we were going to invade, and therefore we would have an occupation force in there; so all the plans were made to occupy the country, even the system of script. And what speeded things up were the bombs. And you may remember on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb, the papers here in Washington were very critical of President Truman for killing all those people unnecessarily. I can tell you, having come from Okinawa up off the coast of Japan, we were shooting up railroad trains, and there was absolutely no opposition. We didn’t see an airplane. We captured one small tanker that was going along the coast, but nothing was going on. And the word was they had ten thousand kamikazes, and on the invasion they’re going to use them. And so I think our casualties would have been pretty high. And what a lot of people don’t understand, there were seventy-six major cities, and the Army Air Corps had targeted them for firebombing. And they were killing on the average of ten to fifteen thousand people a day. They sent four hundred and fifty B29s up every day. The 5th of March, 1945, when they did Tokyo, they sent nine hundred and some. Every airplane that could fly went, because LeMay realized with the 45 to 55 knot, 60 knot winds that he could do a lot of damage, and he did. And so give MacArthur a lot of credit. The occupation was thought out, planned, and then after the surrender, the occupation troops went in. The first priority was to get the prisoners out.
So it was well organized. There was just no question about it. And I think that a lot of the criticism you hear of MacArthur was probably based on his personality. But I think as a soldier, going back to World War I, he was pretty smart, and well organized.
Then we came back to the States to put the ship out of commission in Charleston. I made a decision we probably were going to fight the Russians, so I might as well make the Navy a career, as I probably would be called back. So that’s how I stayed in the Navy.
World War II was designed and executed by geniuses. Look at the simple thing I told you where a merchant ship was productively used all the way around otherwise we would have come back empty. And then you look at conversion of the automobile companies into make tanks, and all of that; and the Merchant Marine.
I won the Harmon International Trophy in 1951, and got it from President Truman in the White House in 1952. That’s another part of the story. When we went to the White House, the President said I’m going to get in trouble with this, but I’d like to have a few minutes, and so we’ll have a cup of coffee. He took us into an inner room off the oval office. My mother was sitting next to the President, so she said Mr. President, on behalf of the families of the crew of the U.S.S. Mayo who were up off the coast of Japan in July and August 1945, on their behalf, I want to thank you for ending the war so quickly. And Truman said to her, the older I get, the more I realize it was the only decision I could have made. Then at that point, we talked about some other things, and the aide said Mr. President, we have to go out in the Rose Garden and do the ceremony. And so we all got up, and Truman turned to my mother and said I know how you feel, I’m a father.
So when they’re printing in the newspaper that Harry Truman shouldn’t have dropped the bomb, I got interviewed for it — about it, and I said you’re talking about widows and orphans. Is the President going to make American widows and orphans to reduce the number of Japanese widows and orphans? I said in August of 1945, in the destroyer I was in, there was stuff all over the ship that said remember Pearl Harbor. We didn’t like these people. And therefore, the President saved a lot of American lives. And so I was just appalled when people said — you remember the big flap over at the Smithsonian, and the whole business. And he brought the war to a close, and people say oh, it would have been over in eight weeks. Well, if you’re killing ten to fifteen thousand Japanese every day for eight weeks, and then the American invasion comes, and we take big losses, which we would. They were going to resist us. And saying okay, unfortunately we killed those people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the war was over with.
And I’ll tell you the thing that I think in talking to a lot of Japanese that really triggered it. After the second bomb was dropped, we had a third bomb that was going to be available a little bit later, but we didn’t have anything behind that. And Truman came up on the radio, and said I’ve dropped the second bomb, and I’m going to keep dropping bombs until the Japanese quit. And at that point the Emperor stepped in, and said we just can’t stand up under this. So I really feel very strongly that President Truman had a tough decision to make, and he had the guts to make it. And as a young guy that had been at sea for about three years at that point, we were ready for the war to come to an end.
At the Harmon International Trophy presentation, I met Admiral Emory Scott Land. He and I maintained a friendship after that, and I used to have dinner with him a couple times a year with him and his wife. And one of the things that I really learned from Admiral Land was the impact that Joe Kennedy, the patriarch Joe Kennedy, had on the Merchant Marine. He really was the father of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. He headed up the committee. See, what happened was that you had the Navy Ship Building Act of 1934. And there’s an interesting story there that really affects the Merchant Marine. The general board met in 1934, and the purpose was how do we spend the money that the President is making available for naval ship building? And on the one hand you had the carrier people, and on the other hand you had the battleship people. Say picture the smart young Commander with a magic lantern, and he puts the slide up, and it says there will never be another submarine war as occurred in World War I, because U-boats are outlawed by the Versailles Treaty. And I got this from Captain Hungerford, who was one of the first sonar people.
And so they decided that they would put no money into submarine warfare. And therefore, that left the carrier and the battleship guys to fight it out. And Captain Hungerford, who was, I guess, a Lieutenant Commander at the time, was one or two officers they sent over to England to work with the British on the development of the first active sonar they had. And then when the war started, there were no flag officers that were really ASW qualified. The ships were not properly equipped, and there were four Captains with ASW experience. Captain Hungerford went to Key West, and started the fleet (sonar) school. And they put one Captain in the Eastern sea frontier, one in the Western sea frontier, and one in the Pentagon. And without the equipment, and everything that went with it, we took a terrible beating. A lot of people don’t know that from — if you took the number of Merchant Marine officers on duty in December 7th 1941, and projected that to December 7th 1942, fifty percent of that number were killed, not wounded. I’m talking about killed. And so the loss was extremely high; much higher than on combatant ships.
And the only group to have a higher casualty rate than the Merchant Marine was the Marines. And the Marines didn’t catch up to the Merchant Marines until the Okinawa battles at Iwo Jima. At that time, the casualty rate in the Merchant Marine went way down, a result of several things. One, sufficient number of escort vessels. And they invented the destroyer escort, which was a fairly simple vessel, and they could make a lot of them. And the advent of what they called the tenth fleet, which was based in Norfolk; their job was to run the anti-submarine war. The Germans cooperated, because the order was at 20:00 Berlin time, every German submarine came up, and reported to Berlin.
So what we did is that in our destroyer squad, and we had two ships with HFDF equipment for direction finding. And what would happen is that when it came up 20:00 Berlin time, one of the destroyers would move out on one wing, and one out on the other, and you could get a bearing. And it wasn’t really accurate, but you’d probably know within twenty-five, thirty miles or so. And then all that information went to the tenth fleet in Norfolk, and they plotted everything. Then they came back, and told the convoys divert this way. And then they had invented the — in fact, the first of the small CVE escort carriers which was a merchant ship with a flight deck on it. They called them hunter killer groups.
We were in a hunter killer group with a carrier for about four months. And they would send you to the area of the submarine contact. You have to remember these were battery submarines, so they had to come up to charge their batteries. And consequently, you would have airplanes out in the area. The other thing was that we got better long range patrol aircraft, which were based in (Argechian), and (Funwyn), and Iceland, and in the Azores. And so we started getting more on top of it.
And one of the things that’s interesting. I ask people a question: what do you think the technology was that caused a huge difference in the anti-submarine war? And the answer was the searchlight on the airplane. What happened is that you would be in a convoy, and under attack with a wolf pack of submarines. Then at night they would come to the surface, and get ahead of you, because they could run 15, 17 knots on the surface, and they’d get ahead of you. And then they would submerge, and the next day you had to deal with them. When they came up with the aircraft searchlight and when the aircraft could get a radar contact it helped to locate the sub. If they didn’t have a searchlight, they couldn’t hit them. With a searchlight, I don’t think their accuracy was all that great, but the submarine submerged. And that way you would be attacked on one day, but you wouldn’t see that submarine again, because the airplanes kept them down. And that made a tremendous difference in what I guess you’d call the attack ratio. And we reached a point where I know in the Mayo, we never got over to the European side with any depth charges left. I mean, everything we had went. So it was pretty heavy concentration.
But what happened in the end is that all the really good experienced U-boat commanders got killed. See, we sank seven hundred and ninety-six U-boats. A lot of people don’t realize that.
So after we got the convoy system set up, and the tenth fleet, and air cover, the submarine losses just went way down. And I don’t know. I guess the last five or six convoys that I was in, we didn’t lose any ships. We had a couple attacks, but we didn’t lose any ships. And so I think that was a good indicator of the success. But starting from zero that first year was pretty sporty. And as you know, there were a hundred and forty-two cadets, cadet midshipmen from King’s Point who were killed at sea. Most of them were my classmates, because I was at sea in ’42, ’43, in the Merchant Marine.
What happened was after the 1934 Shipbuilding Act, the Naval Shipbuilding Act; President Roosevelt felt, okay that created a lot of jobs. And therefore, why can’t we do the same thing for the Merchant Marine? So he really came at it creating shipbuilding jobs. And so he felt that some legislation was needed. Look at the 1903 Act, which basically was generated because Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t get his men to Cuba.
And then the 1914, or 1916 Shipping Act, Woodrow Wilson, basically ninety-four percent of our tonnage was hauled in foreign bottoms in 1914; most of them British and French. And they pulled their ships off to the war, and seventy-five percent of Southern cotton was exported. Suddenly within a few weeks, the shipping rate on cotton went up a thousand percent. And I was reading in Forbes Magazine last year, interestingly enough, they couldn’t sell cotton for five cents a pound. It was just piled up all over every place. And all the cotton farmers were Democrats, and Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat. So he formed a group in 1916 out of which came the 1916 Shipping Act. And one of the requirements in the 1916 Shipping Act was that all militarily useful ships will have naval reserve officers as the crew; they gave (the Navy) eighteen months to do it, and eighteen months later the U.S. entered World War I. The decision was made by the Overseas Transport Service that they would call the ships to active duty, and make them U.S.S. whatever. And so at the end of the war, the U.S. had five hundred and thirty-eight of these ships operated by the Navy.
But the interesting thing about it is that in the beginning only the officers who were naval reservists, they were called to active duty. So then the next thing was, what do you do about the unlicensed? So you had a ship that was, say, the U.S.S. Winchester. The crew — the officers were naval reserve on active duty, and the crew were unlicensed merchant. And during the war they trained twelve thousand people at Sheep’s Head Bay in Brooklyn, and (to man them). And then there were, of course, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920s you know, and some other changes. And then between World War I and World War II, all subsidized ships were manned by naval reserve officers. Put your naval reserve card down when you signed the shipping articles. And that worked quite well.
And then on Pearl Harbor Day, there were forty-three ships at sea called to active duty. And Giles Stedman, who was later the Superintendent at King’s Point, told me that he was the master of the America, and they were on a round the world cruise and he was in the Western Pacific. And he said he got a message from the Navy saying the America is now the U.S.S. West Point. You and your officers are now on active duty. Proceed to Singapore, and evacuate American civilians. And so Stedman said he went back and took off his United States (Lines) hat and coat, put on his Navy hat and coat. And then he smiled, and he said you know the next thing I did? I said no Sir. I sent them a message. Don’t you have a better name for my ship than U.S.S. West Point? Whether he did it or not, I don’t know, but that was his story. And they proceeded to Singapore. And then there were probably another thirty some ships that were called to active duty later.
Then they went to the Navy, and asked under the Act, is a midshipman considered to be an officer? Navy came back and said yes. So all the ships that were called to active duty had midshipmen aboard who became active duty midshipmen at sea. In November of 1941, the Navy had a number of new transports coming out, and they didn’t have enough officers, engineering officers, to man them properly. And the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps was at Fort Schuyler because the Academy really didn’t go into business until ’42. I went up in March of ’42, and they moved the administration from Fort Schuyler to King’s Point in April of ’42. And so the order came out: the following fifty engineering cadets will pack their sea bags and be available at 8:00 tomorrow morning. They didn’t tell them a thing. They put them in buses, and took them down to the third naval district headquarters, and the Admiral there came out, and said gentlemen, we need engineering officers on our transports. You are being called to active duty. Raise your right hand. They swore them in, and they put them on these transports as midshipmen. And they were serving as M division officers, and B division, and all the rest of the engineering billets as midshipmen. But they had been at sea for eight months, and they had the practical experience.
There was an Admiral from Washington down in the Solomon’s, and he saw this midshipman on a PT boat. He called him over, and he said young man, are you assigned to that PT boat? He said yes Sir, I’m the Executive Officer. You’re a midshipman. How did you get there? He said well, I was on (unnamed ship) and it got sunk. I was picked up by a PT boat. I have a lot of diesel experience, and they kept me. So the Admiral came back to Washington, and said ‘there are a lot of midshipmen out there, and they are probably going to be midshipmen forever’.
So the Navy brought them back to King’s Point, what they call specials. And they completed, and got their license, and were promoted to Ensign, and then went back to sea. The best I can tell, there were about a hundred and fifty of those midshipmen who served at sea on warships, or actually transports, and supply ships, but active duty Navy ships as active duty midshipmen during the war for about a year.
But in any event, back to the President, and he felt that they should go forward with building merchant ships. And he formed a committee, as they did in 1916, and 1903; and the head of that group was Joe Kennedy. And he crafted the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. Part of that was that there was a ship called the Morro Castle. And the Captain, in order to keep it from sinking, ran it up on the beach at Asbury Park, New Jersey, where it burned for a couple days for the newsreel cameras. The crew basically left the ship, and let the passengers do the best they could. And that brought a big question up on the status of Merchant Marine training. So out of that, they decided to create the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps, which would then become the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. And really the catalyst for the US Merchant Marine Academy was the burning of the Morro Castle. And of course you couldn’t put a better place to put it on the beach — up in Asbury Park, New Jersey — for the newsreel guys to, you know, get it on the — in front of everybody.
And so Joe Kennedy brought in Admiral Land, who was a Navy shipbuilder. And what Admiral Land told me was that after they passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, once a week, generally on a Wednesday he said that he and Joe Kennedy went to the White House. And Land had an office somewhere in the White House. And the President didn’t like to put on his braces before breakfast. And so they would go in, and sit by his bed while he ate his breakfast. When Joe Kennedy came out of that meeting with the President, everybody knew the orders he was putting out were coming right from the President.
And Admiral Land said that it was very rarely they didn’t meet with the President every week. And as you know, the most important things that happened before Pearl Harbor was they had built two hundred Merchant ships. And the most important was the Liberty ship, EC-2; it was designed and tested so that when the war started there was no question about it. And as you know, I think the record for building a ship was four days and nineteen hours from the time they laid the keel, until they steamed out. And of course that, I don’t like to use the term, was rigged, but it was well-organized to get that ship done in four days and nineteen hours. When you look at how fast they were building these Liberty ships, it was really a miracle. And they built, I think, twenty-four hundred and fifty of them. And then of course they went from there to the Victory ship which was basically a 15 knot ship; but the Liberty ships all had reciprocating engines in them. They were just as simple, used as little of the resources as they could. The other interesting thing that Admiral Land told me was that in the beginning, the Navy was very short of officers, because the ninety day training programs took awhile to get in place and expand; because before the war all they had was the naval ROTC.
And so coming out of King’s Point, there were large numbers of graduates that were called to active duty in the Navy because the Navy was very short, and the Merchant Marine building program hadn’t caught up. Then Admiral Land said at the point where the Navy programs were meeting their need for officers, and the Merchant building program had really expanded, then we were telling people coming out of the King’s Point, you can’t go into Navy active duty. You have to serve in the Merchant Marine. I remembered his comments on that, because here you had an institution that was producing people qualified on both sides, and it was so managed that when the Navy was desperate, they were taken care of. And then when their problem was solved, then they shifted them over to do the manning on the Merchant side. That shift occurred probably in early 1944.
You know it really was a miracle: there were ninety-eight hundred officers on active duty in the Navy in early 1941. And in February of 1944 there were three hundred fifty-six thousand officers. So the Navy went from ninety-eight hundred to three hundred and fifty-six thousand in three years, and won the war. And some of those destroyer escorts that we operated with were commanded by officers who had only been in the Navy four years in active duty. And, you know, there were screw-ups, obviously, but we won the war.
There were a core of officers and senior enlisted who had what it took in experience; and then everybody else were just in off the street. And on a Merchant ship you were really talking out of a crew of forty-three, you were talking about only seven to nine people with the experience. And the most important place to have the experience was in the engineering department. And then if you have a couple people who can navigate there you go. And the Navy ships were the same way, in that there was a core of experienced people. One of the interesting things I noted was that on the destroyers, every gunnery officer was a graduate of the Naval Academy; just on the basis of that experience was needed there. And so the management of the experience in World War II was exceptionally well done. I’m in a group right now that is looking at the future manning of the Merchant Marine: Admiral Herberger and I are involved in it. Basically we’re looking at how do you control the experience, so if you get into a jam you can put the core groups where they’re needed to be fill in the rest? And one of the things, a study we did two years ago that was adopted was on the ready reserve force ships, which was broken out in anywhere from five to twenty days, depending on the priority, we recommended that they put a reserve crew on board permanently of eight people. And they bought that. And those ships will be very well-handled, because you can just throw everybody else on, and those people are familiar where all the valves are, and all the rest of it, and follow along.
But I think of the importance of the contributions of Joe Kennedy. You know, he became the first head of what is now the Maritime Administration. They called it in those days Federal Maritime Commission, or something. There’s an FMC now that’s in the regulatory business. But they had a different name for what is now Marad and Joe Kennedy was the first head of it. And then if my memory serves me he went from there to American Ambassador in England. The combination of an experienced, smart shipbuilder like Admiral Land, and the political know-how of Joe Kennedy had a tremendous effect on the Merchant Marine.
The decision was made, because of the size and the numbers, not to call the Merchant ships to active duty as they did in World War I, except for a few very specific ships that they needed. For example, I think there were eight of the APL, and a couple other companies’ cruise ships, around the world ships. They called all of them up to active duty, because they needed them. But in World War I, if the ships were going to be used to support the war, they were called to active duty. In World War II, only the ships they specifically needed to meet some needs were called to active duty. Then the idea was that the Merchant Marine reserve officers on the other ships on inactive duty would have the know-how, having been educated to steam in convoys, and communicate to do that. That way they would not have to put naval officers on these ships; they would have the Merchant Marine reserve officers on them. And that worked out quite well. I noticed in the convoy business, as the Navigator. As I was in the ship with the escort Commander, basically I was the Navigator for the convoy, although every ship took its position.
At one point during the war, I was called in by the escort Commander and was told they have a new secret thing called Loran, and we’re going to get a set. You can’t talk to anybody about it, and you’re going to go to a three-day school, and learn how to run it. And then he said, and you pay strict attention. So I went to the school, and got all these books, and I came back. And while I was at the school; we were at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, they put the Loran in. So I did battle with it for awhile, and looked at sky waves, and one thing or another, ground waves. And so he said to me, how do you feel about it? I said, well, I know how to work the thing.
And so we left. And the weather was terrible. I mean, you can’t believe how bad it was. We couldn’t get any celestial observation. So I took some depth readings. The charts in those days were not all that good. So we started across the Atlantic. And each day, there were seventy ships in the convoy, and there were ten escorts. And the other seventy-nine ships kept moving South according to my Loran position. And so each day I thought my God, I hope the clouds go away. Maybe we can get a celestial observation. And then the escort Commander is saying do you really know how to work this thing? And to make a long story short, we got to Gibraltar, and we were right on the money. And as for the rest of them, their position was thirty-two miles south. I almost fainted. I mean, here I am, a young guy, and everybody in the other seventy-nine ships are five or six miles apart in their position, and I’m up here. And so that was my first experience with Loran.
So then we got in over in North Africa and the guys I knew who I had gone to school with at King’s Point were on the Merchant ships, we saw them ashore. I just told them, I said I paid a lot closer attention to dead reckoning than you guys did. Anyhow, that’s a little sea story on that.
But basically came the end of the war, and the question was: what’s the Merchant Marine going to look like after World War II? And the beauty initially was that the war had destroyed the Merchant Marines of the world, and the British had taken a terrible beating. So really, our Merchant Marine was the only one that had really survived.
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