Jan 16

The Life & Service of a World War 2 Mine Warfare Sailor. Part 6 Sea Stories Part 1

Thursday, January 16, 2020 12:01 AM

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This blog begins with my grandfather, Seaman Thomas Schreck, shortly after joining his ship the USS Sway (AM-120) an Auk class mine sweeper. He arrived in Bizerte Tunisia at the Karouba Air and Sea base a few days earlier. The Sway spent the first nine days of June undergoing refitting before returning to Italy where it continued to serve as part of the ongoing operations there.

My grandfather stopped writing upon joining the ship as per orders from his Commanding Officer. This blog and future blogs will use a combination of the ship’s war journal, a few entries he did make, an interview he gave, and a combination of other sources to continue to follow his journal.

The official ship’s war journal records the following. 

1-9 June At Bizerte adding 20 MM on boat deck and removing sky lookout platform.

As I’m sure readers are aware, an important operation was underway in Normandy, France during this period. D-Day, or Operation Overlord, was launched on 6 June 1944. The Sway was not part of that operation, however, my grandfather recorded an entry about the invasion in his journal. It is unknown if he heard or read the details from a second hand source or from a shipmate who may have been there and later transferred to the Sway. The entry does mention a member of the crew being injured in the invasion so either is possible. The entry is also undated so it is not known when it was written, but the details given are accurate.

This is one of several stories from my grandfather’s journal and from speaking with him that I discovered he did not witness in person, but often talked about. When he spoke of them he always spoke as if he had witnessed them. I’m going to include several of these in the blog series. I’m going to subtitle these “Sea Stories”. They are all factual events and some of them not as well known so I will include them as part of the historical record.

Normandy- Too many
things happened. Tide got a
mine amidships and went down
 in 2 1/2 minutes. Ausprey
got hit on the way back. The
planes were there every minute
and shore batteries gave
ours a good dose of near
miss’s. Swept 3 mines the
first 4 hours. Saw a tin can
go down and picked up its
swimmers. Picked up two pilots
from beaufort. Just one man
got hit in the landing. Borawski
shrapnel in the left arm. Not much
sleep. Nevada, Augusta and “Limey”
wagons pounding up beach. Only
stayed nine days and left in
middle of air raid. Scored hits
on Hinkel III.

The USS Tide (AM-125) sank on 7 June 1944 though not as quickly as reported above. She drifted over a mine at 0940 detonating the mine, sending the ship into the air and breaking her back. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Allard B. Heyward died shortly thereafter. The Executive Officer took command directing the evacuation of the crew. The Swift, Threat, and Pheasant assisted in evacuating the crew. The Tide sank two minutes after the last crew members were evacuated. (1)

Sinking of the USS Tide after striking a mine on 7 June 1944
(NHHC)

The USS Osprey (AM-56) was a Raven class minesweeper and is considered to be the first casualty of Operation Overlord. The Osprey struck a mine on 5 June while sweeping the area ahead of the next day’s landings. The Oprey’s crew was forced to abandon ship one hour and 15 minutes after striking the mine and sank shortly thereafter. (5)

USS Osprey
(NHHC)

The identity of the “Tin Can” or destroyer that went down is unknown, however, based on the given information, it was likely the USS Glennon (DD-620). The Glennon struck a mine on 8 June. The crew of the Glennon was rescued by the USS Threat and USS Staff. The Glennon was providing gunfire support to the landings when it took a mine astern. Salvage efforts began the following day when members of the Glennon’s crew returned to the ship, however, it took fire from a German shore battery forcing the crew to once again abandon ship. The Glennon rolled over and sank on 10 June 1944. (2)

USS Glennon after its stern was blown off by a mine, off Normandy on 8 June 1944. USS Rich, a British motor launch, & U.S. Auk class minesweeper are standing by.
(NHHC)

The Nevada mentioned is the USS Nevada (BB-36). The Nevada, a World War I veteran, was present and heavily damaged at Pearl Harbor in December 1941. It was refloated, repaired, and sent to the Atlantic fleet for convoy duty in early 1944. During the Normandy invasion it provided shore bombardment support for the landings firing shells as much as 20 miles inland to break up German positions and counterattacks. It came under fire from shore batteries 27 times during the invasion, but was never hit. (3)

USS Nevada providing fire support during Normandy Landings
(NHHC)

The USS Augusta (CA-31) was a Northampton-class cruiser built during the interwar years. Prior to 1944 it served stints as a presidential flag ship for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Earlier in the war it was a headquarters ship during Operation Torch. During the initial stages of Operation Overlord General Omar Bradley made his headquarters aboard the Augusta until 10 June. It provided shore bombardment during the landings. On 11 June it had a near miss from a German bomb and came under direct fire from a German aircraft on 13 June. This may be the aircraft referred to in my grandfather’s journal. The Augusta is credited with shooting down the German bomber that attacked it. Augusta again came under aircraft fire on 15 June but suffered no damage. Augusta remained on station until 2 July 1944. (4)

Landing craft speed towards shore past the USS Augusta on D-Day.
(U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

As I said previously, the Sway did not participate in these events. Where the information comes from is unknown, however, considering my grandfather was not there he does offer a fairly accurate account of events which took place. Some of the ships involved later served with the Sway in other actions. It is entirely possible that information came from sailors who served on one or more of those vessels.

On 10 June 1944 the Sway departed for Italy, more to come on the ship’s actions in the next blog.

Enjoy the author’s earlier posts here:

https://www.navalhistory.org/2019/08/14/the-life-service-of-a-world-war-2-mine-warfare-sailor-part-1

https://www.navalhistory.org/2019/09/19/the-life-service-of-a-world-war-2-mine-warfare-sailor-part-2

https://www.navalhistory.org/2019/10/15/the-life-service-of-a-world-war-2-mine-warfare-sailor-part-3

https://www.navalhistory.org/2019/11/21/the-life-service-of-a-world-war-2-mine-warfare-sailor-part-4

https://www.navalhistory.org/2019/12/17/21-the-life-service-of-a-world-war-2-mine-warfare-sailor-part-5

Sources:

http://ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ships/logs/AM/am125-Crane.html

2.http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/destroy/dd620txt.htm

3.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Nevada_(BB-36)#CITEREFGlobalSecurity_SSBN_733_Nevada

4.https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/a/augusta-iv.html

5.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Osprey_%28AM-56%29 заём