Under cover of a dark spring night, an American patrol craft crept cautiously through the English Channel toward the coast of France. The crew of PC-1225 was unable to see any other ships around them that might be steering in the same direction. But when early daylight came on June 6, 1944, the patrol craft’s crew witnessed a sight never seen before or since–an armada of more than 5,000 vessels. Spread across the Bay of the Seine, a few miles off the beaches of Normandy, this mammoth force included half a dozen battleships and more than 1,000 landing craft.
That massive flotilla is now legend. But one can imagine the awe on the faces of PC-1225‘s dog-tired crew. Since sailing from the southern coast of England, most of the crew had been at General Quarters. Few of the men had gotten any sleep–for the second time in as many days.
My father, Louis S. Hyde, was aboard PC-1225. He was typical of many of his fellow crewmates in that he had graduated from high school in 1941 when the United States was still at peace. Admittedly, Lend-Lease and active convoy protection by the U.S. Navy to safeguard the military hardware made it a tenuous peace at best, but what did all that mean to an 18-year-old eager to get on with life?
‘I had landed a job working at the Glenn L. Martin aircraft company in Baltimore, Md.,’ Hyde remembered. ‘The 50 cents an hour I was paid was like a small fortune in those post-Depression days. The company, which had sent out recruiting teams to local high schools, was producing the B-26, better known as the Marauder medium bomber.’ When the United States ended up at war six months later, workers at defense-related industries were not called up. But Hyde grew tired of building airplanes and wanted to play a more active part in the war effort. It wasn’t hard to get out of a defense industry, provided you joined the service.
He did his two months of Navy boot camp at Sampson, N.Y., and on October 21, 1943, Seaman 2nd Class Hyde joined PC-1225 at its home port at Staten Island, N.Y. Four days later, the ship headed south for the first of several convoy runs from New York to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Commissioned in January 1943, Hyde’s patrol craft was a flush-decked sub-chaser. At only 173 feet long, she felt cramped to the small crew of 65 men. Her main armament included one 3-inch deck gun mounted forward, a 40mm Bofors gun aft of the superstructure and three 20mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on the flying bridge. On the bow were two Mark 20 launchers for throwing eight small depth charges forward of the vessel. On the fantail were two racks for dropping depth charges plus two K-guns for throwing additional depth charges farther out from the craft. More than 300 of these ships, the PC-461 class, were produced during the war.
In January 1944, orders came for the move to England. PC-1225, along with PC-552 and PC-55, escorted a large, slow-moving convoy across the Atlantic. Then PC-1225 went on to Plymouth, escorting 10 LCIs (landing craft, infantry).
PC-1225 participated in practice exercises off Slapton Sands in Start Bay, along the southern coast of England. Similar to the Normandy beaches, Slapton Sands was used by units participating in the invasion to hone their amphibious skills. The patrol craft were part of the escort force to and from the practice area. Once they reached the area, they functioned as control vessels for the successive waves of landing craft. The dual missions kept them busy all the time.
Unfortunately, the Germans also operated in the vicinity. Toward the end of April, German Schnellboote or S-boats–motor torpedo boats called E-boats by the Allies–attacked a U.S. force protected by British ships at Slapton Sands. Two LSTs (landing ships, tank) were sunk and another damaged; worse still, nearly 1,000 men lost their lives. The LSTs were part of Task Force U, which derived its name from Utah Beach, where it was destined to land. Despite the attack, the Allies continued to use Slapton Sands as a training area. Regardless of the threat of German action, the area was too ideal to be abandoned. Following the disaster at Slapton Sands, PC-1225 became part of Task Force O (for Omaha Beach).
The time for conducting exercises was quickly coming to an end. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied invasion forces, finally set the date for the invasion of Normandy–June 5, 1944. British Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey sent the signal to carry out Operation Neptune, the naval part of the invasion, on May 28. From that date, all crews taking part in the invasion remained aboard their vessels. Troops began embarking on the last day of May and PC-1225 moved from its station in Portland Harbor to Weymouth Bay and anchored there for the night.
By June 3, PC-1225 and the other vessels heading for Omaha and Utah beaches were in their assigned assembly areas waiting for the word to go. About 3:30 the next morning, PC-1225 slipped her anchor and got underway to start forming its convoy. An hour later, the vessel was escorting a convoy of LSTs and LCTs (landing craft, tank) toward the invasion area.
But a storm threw a kink in the plans. ‘The weather was really rotten, and that made for very rough seas,’ said Hyde. ‘The English Channel can be rough even in moderate weather. On the morning of June 4 it was terrible.’ Eisenhower made the decision not to go about the same time that PC-1225 headed east with its convoy. Six hours later, the patrol craft returned to Portland Harbor.
There really was no way the troops could stay on the ships much longer. Some of them had already been on board for almost a week. By now, all of the units had been briefed on the invasion plan. Meanwhile, Rear Adm. Alan Kirk, commander of the task force that was to head for Omaha and Utah beaches, needed to receive the word to go no later than 10 p.m. on June 4 in order to get his forces moving. Anything later would mean the invasion fleet might not be in place by dawn on June 6. Eisenhower decided to go at 9:45 p.m., and once again the wheels were set in motion. By the time he made that decision, PC-1225 had already moved to its ready line in Weymouth Bay. Shortly afterward, the convoy vessels began forming up once again. The ship’s log contains the following entry for June 5: ‘(0346) Underway, standing out of Weymouth Bay as part of escort, escorting TG [Task Group] 122 of Operation Neptune to coast of France.’ Destiny was an hour away.
During the long, slow move across the Channel, PC-1225 had to take landing craft, control LCC-40 under tow. During that operation, the patrol craft’s port screw became fouled with the towing hawser. From that moment, PC-1225 could only operate with its starboard screw, which made it much harder to maneuver the craft.
Minesweepers led each convoy toward the beaches. As they swept the waters, they dropped buoys to mark the cleared channels, but there was no guarantee that every mine was removed. In fact, the minesweeper Osprey was the first casualty of the operation.
The invasion fleet converged on a point in the English Channel south of the Isle of Wight, then turned toward the beaches. That point, actually a circle five miles wide, was commonly referred to as Piccadilly Circus, though its proper name was Point Z. From there, five channels were swept, one per beach. That section was known as The Spout. Closer to France, each channel was split into two–one for fast ships, the other for slower vessels.
Before 4 a.m. on June 6, PC-1225 had left her group of LSTs and LCTs behind and was headed to her assigned position. By 5:40 she was anchored 4,300 yards off the town of Vierville-sur-Mer. ‘This point was the line of departure for the first assault waves. It was the patrol craft’s job to send in the waves at the right time,’ Hyde recalled. ‘Other PCs and LCCs had the actual job of guiding landing craft to the proper beach sectors.’ A line of 110-foot, wooden-hulled sub-chasers was farther out to sea. The transport area, where the smaller landing craft were loaded, was 11 miles off the coast. The area was much farther out than was usual due to the angle of the coastline. The control vessel’s job was to keep the low-riding landing craft, which often couldn’t see the shore, headed toward the correct beach. PC-1225 was now part of Assault Group 0-2, commanded by Navy Captain W.O. Bailey, which was carrying the 116th Regimental Combat Team to the beach.
Hyde was at his battle station on the flying bridge. The patrol craft were not as tall as the larger ships, so he did not have a bird’s-eye view, but he saw enough. The lookouts had no assigned sector to watch. Instead, they had to maintain a constant vigil over the entire horizon and then concentrate on where the actual danger was.
‘I remember the big ships, especially the battleship USS Texas, firing, but they were far enough out to sea that their firing had no effect on us,’ Hyde said. The patrol craft had been assigned its own target, a pillbox near Vierville. From 6:02 to 6:18, she fired on the designated target.
The DD (duplex drive) Sherman amphibious tanks destined for the eastern half of Omaha were guided by LCC-20 and launched 5,000 yards beyond the line of patrol craft–and promptly foundered. PC-552 spent the next 45 minutes picking up survivors. On the western end of the beach, the location of Hyde’s ship, the tanks were carried directly to the beach, led by PC-568.
At 6:31 the first wave in LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) touched down. At 6:45 and 7:05, PC-1225 sent in the second and third waves of LCVPs. During that sequence, additional waves of landing craft went in also. By 8:30, the naval beach master on Omaha Beach suspended all additional landings, but the suspension did not last long.
My father remembers watching the beach. One incident has remained with him since that day. ‘I was looking over the beach area with my binoculars,’ he recalled. ‘Up on the cliffs I saw a German soldier moving. All of a sudden there was an explosion. When the smoke cleared he was gone.’ The U.S. Navy destroyer Shubrick also reported seeing a German walking on the cliffs; her captain figured he was an officer scouting out gun positions. The destroyer fired four rounds at the unfortunate enemy soldier and claimed a direct hit.
‘In between the drifting smoke and dust clouds, I could see the beach area. It was full of carnage, but there was little we could do about it,’ said Hyde. Some of the destroyers closed to less than 1,000 yards off the beach, with only a few inches of water under their keels. The courageous crews of these ships provided the artillery backup for soldiers trapped on the beach and filled in for the lack of tank support.
Before sunset, PC-1225 left its position off the Dog Red Beach sector of Omaha and headed for the Dixie Line. The new position, consisting of destroyers, destroyer escorts and patrol craft, was set up to defend the assault area from German air and naval attacks; the rest of the Allied invasion fleet was inside the line.
Despite the force arrayed against them, the German navy had struck once during the morning, when torpedo boats T-28, Jaguar and Möwe launched 18 torpedoes and sank the Norwegian destroyer Svenner. The British battleship Warspite had returned fire, but the three German vessels returned to their base at Le Havre without serious damage. Additional German air and naval attacks were launched that night. One bomb landed near the fantail of PC-1225, but was too far off to do any damage.
On D-plus-1, PC-1225‘s duty as a control vessel was over, but she remained on the Dixie Line. German air and naval attacks continued, mainly during the hours of darkness. The attempts to disrupt the invasion by attacking the fleet would continue for more than a month. Early on the morning of June 9, a German airplane dropped a bomb near PC-1225. Storekeeper Harold Weiss received a cut from shrapnel, but the wound was not serious enough to warrant his evacuation.
The German attacks were not confined to the Dixie Line. On the night of June 6, four E-boats attacked a convoy in the English Channel. By the time the Germans were finished, LST-376 and LST-314 were lost.
On the night of June 9, PC-1225 changed position on the Dixie Line, moving a little to the southwest, which put her close to the destroyer USS Nelson. Like PC-1225, that ship had previously fouled her port screw and was operating only with its starboard screw. Hyde’s craft and Nelson were separated by about 1,500 yards.
Early on the morning of June 12, the German E-boats came back. Nelson reported three enemy craft; other reports mention as many as six E-boats. In fact, there were four, and one of them scored a torpedo hit on Nelson that blew off the ship’s stern all the way to her No. 4 gun mount. PC-1225 was ordered to move alongside to take off the seriously wounded. Five wounded men were then transferred to LST-283.
Later that day, PC-1225 returned to Falmouth, England, and went into dry dock. While her port screw was being repaired, the rest of the crew was kept busy with maintenance duties. The respite was short, lasting only a week.
On June 21, PC-1225 returned to the Normandy assault area, this time to perform a different job. ‘From sunrise to sunset we escorted different types of ships to their respective beaches. There were still many minefields off the beachhead; the patrol craft guided the incoming, laden ships down the proper channel,’ said Hyde.
From sunset to sunrise, PC-1225 resumed her duties on the Dixie Line. The threat of German attack was still real. A week after the patrol craft’s return, a German U-boat attacked an Omaha-bound convoy in the English Channel. One freighter was lightly damaged and another three merchantmen were sunk. Fortunately, few lives were lost.
Several days later, PC-1225 participated in a rescue operation off Normandy. ‘In the early evening the British troopship SS Empire Broadsword hit a mine only 800 yards from PC-1225,’ Hyde recalled. ‘The patrol craft pulled directly alongside the ship to take off survivors. There was the constant danger of the ship going down and dragging the patrol craft with it. After taking off 70 men, PC-1225 transferred them to another troopship and resumed its duties.’ The entire episode lasted about an hour.
These duties continued until mid-July, when the patrol craft returned to Plymouth for a two-week stay. On the last day of the month, PC-1225 headed to Cherbourg to support Allied operations there.
Although it was a different location, the ship performed the same job. ‘We were assigned an area outside the harbor area to patrol by moving back and forth,’ said Hyde. ‘It was our job to challenge any ship arriving. We either identified it as friendly, or we opened fire.’ One day they made a radar contact and proceeded to investigate. By the time they identified the ship as friendly, they were within five miles of Aldernay Island. Although the German garrison on the Channel Islands was still occupied by the enemy at that point, PC-1225 was not fired on.
Christmas 1944 saw PC-1225 involved in another rescue operation, this time the result of an unfortunate accident. SS Leopoldville had a crew from the Belgian Congo, a British skipper and two regiments of American infantry. When she was torpedoed by a U-boat on Christmas Eve off Cherbourg, everything that could go wrong did. The crew abandoned ship–apparently without telling the passengers anything. The soldiers were left to fend for themselves and more than 800 died in the frigid waters. ‘We picked up some survivors; then, along with other patrol craft, we commenced an anti-submarine search, but did not make contact,’ said Hyde.
There was no New Year’s Eve party for the crew of PC-1225. Instead, they spent the night escorting 10 LCTs from France back to Dartmouth, England. While they were not at General Quarters during the trip, they were at their underway stations, which kept most of the crew occupied.
The early months of 1945 were spent patrolling near the German-occupied Channel Islands. During one incident, enemy gunners on Guernsey Island opened fire on Hyde’s ship. After the German surrender in May, PC-1225 was part of the force that reoccupied the Channel Islands.
‘On the first anniversary of D-Day, PC-1225 returned to the Normandy assault area and paid tribute to all the fallen of that fateful day. There were about a dozen ships, mostly patrol craft. We each fired a half dozen rounds in salute. Then we sailed for home,’ said Hyde. ‘The cruise back to the States took about two weeks. We went first to the Azores, then to Bermuda, and finally we arrived in Florida. After that, we went in for maintenance before our scheduled reassignment to the Pacific. The end of the war with Japan found us till undergoing repairs.’
This article was written by Gary Hyde and originally appeared in the July 2001 issue of World War II magazine. For more great articles subscribe to World War II magazine today!