SKIPPER ELMER H MAHLIN
From the ship's log,
military communications and personal letters.
My dad, Elmer H Mahlin, was in the Navy during the war, so I grew up hearing phrases like
‘going to sea’, Normandy Invasion’, ‘topside’ and ‘sonofaseacook’, but
without paying much attention. Sadly, by the time I wanted to, dad wasn’t
around anymore. However, he left me a legacy in the form of his so called
"sea chest" - a
large wooden trunk he purchased in Scotland, the contents of which allowed
me to glean much about his fascinating wartime service.
letters, orders, logs, maps, photos, weapons, a diary and even the flag
that flew on his ship during the D Day assault on Utah beach. While in
Scotland in 1991, I retraced his footsteps in places like Helensburgh and Roseneath,
near Glasgow, where he had trained for several months before D-Day and, on
a further journey of discovery in ................ to Dartmouth and Devon,
where “Force U” convoys began. Most poignant for me was a stained glass window in
Cathedral which declared: “See that ye hold fast the heritage we leave you,
yea, and teach your children, that never in the coming centuries may their
hearts fail or their hands grow weak.”
is the story of Elmer H Mahlin's wartime service which his sea chest
safely preserved and protected for 70 years.
14 Apr 1942. Your application for appointment in the United
States Naval Reserve has been reviewed and favorable consideration cannot
be given to your request (because) the quota for appointment of Officers
of your attainments and specialized training, has been filled.
[From office of Naval Officer Procurement, Chicago, to EH Mahlin,
15 Nov 1942. A
recent article in The Wall Street Journal indicated the Navy desired to
train men in certain lines. It will be appreciated if you will review my
[To Director of Naval Officer Procurement, Chicago].
01 Feb 1943. It is a
pleasure to inform you that your application for appointment as a
commissioned officer in the United States Naval Reserve on this date, has
been submitted to the Navy Department. Washington.
[From Bureau of Naval Personnel, Des Moines].
16 Feb 1943. Having
been appointed in the United States Naval Reserve, the Bureau takes
pleasure in transmitting herewith your commission.
[From the Chief of Naval Personnel, Washington].
18 Feb 1943. You will
report to the Commanding Officer, Naval Training School (Indoctrination),
Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, on March 8, 1943. Upon
completion of this duty, you will proceed to Princeton, New Jersey and
report to the Commanding Office, Naval Training School, Princeton
University, for further temporary active duty.
[From the Chief of Naval Personnel, Washington].
28 Feb 1943. Enclosures:
Acceptance and Oath of office in original white copy, pink, and two yellow
[From Lieut. (jg) EH Mahlin, D-V(S), USNR].
02 Jul 1943. On or about 7 July1943 you
will proceed to Miami, Florida, and report to the Commanding Officer,
Submarine Chaser Training Center, for temporary duty under instruction.
[From Navy Department, Washington].
26 Sep 1943. Following LTS JG DVS USNR HEREBY DETACHED PROCEED WITHOUT
DELAY REPORT CO PHIBTRABASE CAMP BRADFORD NOB NORFOLK VIR DUTY AND FURTHER
ASSIGNMENT TO AMPHIBIOUS SUPPORT GROUPS.
[From the Commanding Officer, Submarine Chaser Training Center, Miama].
25 Oct 1943. Enlisted men listed in Enclosure B will be delivered to the
Receiving Station, First Naval District, Boston, Mass. This entire detail
is for further transfer to Support group Landing Craft Europe.
[From the Commanding Officer, Amphibious Training Base,
27 Oct 1943. On or about 28 October
1943, you will proceed to Prince’s Neck, Rhode Island, for special anti-
aircraft gunfire instruction.
[From First Naval District, Boston].
Preparations in UK
25 Dec 1943.
My Dear Son Stuart,
Thank you many, many times for your Christmas card and the three pictures
of you. Yes, I’ll come home to you as soon as I can. First we want to help
win the war so that millions of other little boys and girls won’t have to
be without their daddies for a long time, and we men in the forces hope
that when you have as fine a family as I you will not be obliged to leave
your home to complete a job we did not finish. May God always bless you
and your mother. With love, from Daddy.
[Letter home from the UK].
26 Jan 1944. On 29 January 1944 you will
proceed immediately to Compass School, Slough, England, where you will
report for a course of instruction pertaining to the “Brown Gyroscopic
[From the Commander, Support Group Eleventh Amphibious Force, U.S. Naval
Forces in Europe, Base Two].
12 Mar 1944. Upon receipt of these orders, you will proceed
immediately to Ardrossan for temporary duty in connection with LCT(R)
[From Commander, Gunfire Support Craft, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, Base
22 Apr 1944. Lt. (jg) EH Mahlin, USNR,
accepted the ship from Lt. G. Miller, RNVR, on behalf of the US Navy.
The American flag was hoisted and Lt. (jg) Fortune set the watch.
[Ship’s Log: US LCT(R) 439].
LCTs (Landing Craft Tank) were large, flat bottomed, powered
barges. They were mainly used for the transport of tanks,
infantry and supplies from friendly shores to the landing beaches in enemy
occupied territory. However, there were many adaptations for firing guns,
rockets, anti aircraft flak and mortars, all in support of the assault
troops. The tank decks of the LCT(R) were filled with a massive battery of
792 or 1080 5-inch rockets in rows of six. This formidable array of missiles could
be fired electrically in
salvos to saturate a given area of beach. The rocket frames were fixed, so aiming was
done by pointing the vessel at the intended target from a predetermined
fixed distance from the beach. Navigational accuracy was paramount.
Starting in the first week of May, 1944, the soldiers and sailors of the
Allied Expeditionary Forces, began assembling in southern England. Many of
the ships left the Firth of Clyde and Belfast, down the Irish Sea, past
the Isle of Man, joined by others from Liverpool, Swansea and Bristol. They
sailed in formations of twenty ships, forty ships, even 100 ships, to sail
out into the Atlantic and then past Land’s End, where they turn east for their designated ports
of departure such as Plymouth, Torquay, Dartmouth, Weymouth, and others.
09 May 1944.
SAILING ORDERS U.S. LCT(R) 439. Being in all respects ready for war, you
are required to proceed with US LCT(R) 473, 482 in company to Appledore
for onward routing to Dartmouth….
[SECRET. From Office of Flag Officer-in-Charge, Greenock].
10 May 1944. Left Pier 3 Roseneath per
orders, followed by LCT(R)s 482, 473 that order.
10 May 1944.
We left Roseneath, Scotland, this am. I had
been there since 30 Nov 1943. Wrote home tonight. Will mail at Dartmouth.
My family and all my good friends seem so far off. Gave liberty to crews.
Some won’t come home.
16 May 1944.
In Barnstaple Bay. Took lead position
our convey and fell in lct convoy aft LCT 628 (British) at 1620. Headed for
Land’s End; destination Dartmouth per orders from NOIC Appledore.
17 May 1944. 1826. Coming about to enter
19 May 1944. This date I acknowledge to have
received into my custody 17 Smith-Corona .30 caliber rifles, 3 Thompson
Sub-machine guns and 44 magazines, one belt, holster, lanyard and 45
[To Staff Gunnery Officer].
19 May 1944. Heard I made the May 1 promotion to full
Lieutenant. Heard from an Ensign in Comm. that the next exercise is the real
show so that’s in about ten days I guess. May as well have it over with.
21 May 1944. Learned we test fire Monday and Tuesday, then
go to Plymouth Wednesday for a full load. No doubt show ready to start.
23 May 1944. 1625. All fuses in place.
Exercises in firing rockets until 1820, H hour of last run. 2300. Received
sailing orders for Plymouth to take on rockets.
25 May 1944.
At this writing, 2215, we have 736 HE in hold
and nearly 936 in the racks. Tomorrow we get fuses. 200 smoke and 72
incendiary or ranging rockets. A hell of a lot of dynamite should anyone
ask. It won’t be long until the business I don’t think. Wonder if I’ll be
alive a week from now, whole and sound. That sort of problem is uppermost
in the minds of all of us.
26 May 1944. 1430. Ammo all loaded, barges
27 May 1944. 2225. River Dart, Dartmouth,
England. Tied up to LCT 2024. Engines secured.
29 May 1944. 1800. At entrance to Salcombe
03 Jun 1944. 1625. Left Salcombe Harbour under
secret orders for “Operations.” 1735. In position as no. 18. US LCT(R)
368 ahead, US LCF 27 astern. 1905. Convoy coming out of Dart River. 1925.
Escort destroyer 723 abeam.
The speed of the convoy was limited to the top speed of the slowest
component – the LCTs laden with their precious burden of modern fighting
equipment and carefully trained men. The naval workhorses of the Normandy
invasion were the landing craft and the ships just offshore that supported
them. Only a handful of battleships and cruisers were assigned to the
Normandy operation, and the battleships that did go were the real
antiques. Aircraft carriers were not needed because airplanes could easily
fly across the Channel from Britain to attack targets in France.
[Stillwell, Assault on Normandy, Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 1994].
04 Jun 1944. 1845. Dropped anchor Weymouth
Bay. LCT 437 ahead, LCT 646 and LCT(R) 368 on port beam.
Altogether there were 2,727 ships ranging from battleships to transports
and landing craft that would cross. They were divided into the Western
Naval Task Force (931 ships headed for Omaha and Utah) and the Eastern
Naval Task Force (1,796 ships headed for Gold, Juno and Sword). On the
decks of the LSTs were the Higgins boats and other craft too small to
cross the Channel on their own. There were 2,606 of them. Thus the total
armada amounted to 5,333 ships and craft of all types.
[Ambrose, D-Day, June 6, 1944, The Climatic Battle of World War 11, New
York, Simon & Schuster, 1994].
05 Jun 1944. 0200. Pursuant to orders
delivered by Lt. Finneran of GFSC, crew roused, Engines started.
At 0415 land was plainly visible. The rapidly approaching dawn revealed
the thousands of ships and craft. As far as the eye could see, they
stretched toward the English Channel.
D-Day & Aftermath
06 Jun 1944.
This is D-Day. About 0400 we were off our
course but followed LCT(R) 368. We saw some C-47s coming back and what
appeared to be flares. About 0530 arrived at transport area. At 0600 LCI
209 (Landing Craft, Infantry) informed us H hr was 0630 and get the hell
to it. Ahead was 1st wave small boats. Guns (Landing Craft, Gun) and flaks
(Landing Craft, Flak) crossing our bow. Stopped, then speeded up, trying
to determine position. Unable to get it as marker vessels not in place.
Identified Nevada firing on our target. From St. Marcouf islands and radar
got on our course and started in. Had to stop for second small boat wave.
LCF 31 and a Coast Guard boat went down in the lane where we would have
been had we not been delayed. By the grace of God I believe we were
The Naval bombardment of designated targets began on schedule at 5.50 a.m.
and lasted forty minutes. Then, as soon as our warships stopped shooting,
about three hundred B-26 Martin Marauder two-engined medium bombers swept
in to attack. More than four thousand bombs smothered the German
positions. Though the bombs did not destroy many of these, they did
explode many enemy land mines. So, too, did the rockets from seventeen
LCT(R)s that were specially equipped for this bombardment role. The noise
was deafening: returning planes roaring back to Britain to reload and
fire-support ships belting away at unseen targets inland, making an almost
continuous wall of sound.
The 276 B-26 Marauder medium bombers of the Ninth US Air Force dropped
4,400 bombs on the German positions, whilst four LCGs (Landing Craft, Gun)
armed with 4.7 inch guns opened fire at short range on the beach defences.
Meanwhile the cruisers and battleships continued to pound their targets.
When the LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel) were at 7,000 yards from
the shore seventeen LCT(R)s began to unleash their salvos of thousands of
rockets in a fearsome display of light and explosions. This hurricane of
fire soon covered the coast in a thick cover of smoke, which masked the
few landmarks visible to the naked eye. Radar was of little use, either.
[Buffetaut, D-Day Ships, The Allied Invasion Fleet, June, 1944, London,
Conway Maritime Press, 1994].
06 Jun 1944. 0600. In transport area. 0637.
Fired rockets at 3500 yds. radar from wall. 0930. Dropped anchor in Red
Circle area to begin loading and fusing rockets. 1125. English LCT, out
of commission, loaded with US troops, drifted into our stern severing our
07 Jun 1944.
0800. Tied bow to bow LCT(R) 368
about 4 miles from invasion coast of France. 1845. Rocket loading
completed. 2045. Moving to new position.
08 Jun 1944. Went to sleep – frequently awakened. Ack-ack,
gunfire, etc. There is a tremendous amount of allied Navy and Airforce
here and absence of German counterpart. We expect a raid soon.
08 Jun 1944. 0130-0200. Bombs being dropped
nearby. Ships sending up flak. 1230. Ship off port quarter, 2,000 yds.
Sunk by mines.
09 Jun 1944. 1030. Ship on stern sunk by mine. 1430. Bombers overhead. Bombing beach. Flak falling on deck. 2125. Radio
report of enemy planes coming in.
13 Jun 1944. 0520. Pursuant to orders, let go
lines from LCT(R) 368. Standing by waiting for convoy to form. 0830.
Proceeding toward Portland in fairly heavy sea about 5 knots. 2400.
Approaching Weymouth Bay. Visibility good. Rockets defused.
14 Jun 1944. 1605. Received new anchor, food
supplies and also 2 barrels of SAE 30 oil.
14 Jun 1944. Dear Stuart, If you were
here today, Sonny, I’d take you around the ship and show you what we have
aboard. Perhaps your mother can tell you what we fire. Anyhow, we’ve been
through one invasion and I guess when we think it over it was quite an
experience. I do hope you will be spared this when you grow up. We are in
a port now getting needed supplies. We broke some lines. A ship ran into
us and cut our anchor cable so we were without an anchor. We’ve had a few
bumps and dents here and there but nothing serious. The worst job is
keeping in a convoy in the dark. I hope soon to get the mail that is piled
up for me. Must close now, Son. Write you later. Love, Daddy.
[Letter home from UK].
15 Jun 1944. 2330. Moored at Dartmouth.
16 Jun 1944. Received lots of mail today. How I would
like to be home.
18 Jun 1944. We listened to American forces programs –
it’s grand. It’s wonderful just to walk along the streets, look at trees,
hills. I feel lucky to be alive and well, and am thankful for all that.
08 Jul 1944. 0920. Underway from Dartmouth to
12 Jul 1944. 0850. Left mooring under orders.
12 Jul 1944. En route Gibraltar. Assume may be an
operation in S. France. We have destroyer escort. I liked Dartmouth – nice
and homey there. Yesterday I heard a picture may have been taken of us
firing at Normandy. Hope to get one.
20 Jul 1944. 1530. Destination is Oran,
Algeria. Fuel on hand 3984 gal. Water 2950 gal. Approximate speed has been
7-1/2 knots. Fuel consumption 20 gallons per hour.
28 Jul 1944. 2307. Dropped anchor in Bizerte.
28 Jul 1944. It seems strange not to be in British Isles.
I must get home soon. In a few days I’ll have been away for 9 months –
it’s too long. If I never see any more LCT(R)s I’ll never miss them.
03 Aug 1944. 0400. Gyro started. Prep departure for Naples.
06 August 1944. 1320. Moored to B645 Naples Harbor.
07 Aug 1944.
1100. Began loading rockets.
09 Aug 1944. We got underway about 1030 and at 1300 were
in formation. Bound for Corsica and finally Frejus, France, for an attack.
We will come in near St. Rafael.
Big transports sailed from Naples. Smaller landing craft had to be sent
earlier from various other places, some of them from Corsica. For this
operation we had a considerable Naval force. We had three of our
battleships, several cruisers, and a large number of destroyers and
minesweepers, as well as the transports and landing craft.
[Stillwell, Assault on Normandy, Annapolis, Naval Institute Press, 1994].
12 Aug 1944. 0021. Approaching Ajaccio Bay,
13 Aug 1944. 1855. Underway to take position
in convoy for assault near Frejus and St. Raphael.
14 Aug 1944. 1630. Five waves Liberators
flew over. 2103. Explosions heard from assault area.
15 Aug 1944. 0400. Arrived transport area.
0605. Shells flying stbd. 1410 Rocket stations ordered. 1420. Ordered to
turn about and proceed to transport area. Enemy gunfire on starboard beam.
1430. Syers F 1/c was hit in chest with shrapnel from shell in port
quarter. 1622. Small boat from PA28 took body ashore to Green Beach for
15 Aug 1944. I lost a man today.
16 Aug 1944. 1625. In convoy for Ajaccio.
02 Sep 1944. 1410. Passed into Bizerte,
Coulet du Lac. Convoy formed in column. 1500. Moored portside to pier 27.
25 Sep 1944.
1530. All officers except CO
moved off. Orders are for CO and eight of crew to take craft to Messina, Sicily.
Back to the USA
26 Sep 1944. You will
proceed immediately and report to the Commanding Officer Eighth Amphibious
Force for transportation to the United States.
[From Commander United States Eighth Fleet].
01 Oct 1944. 0800. Colors. Message from
Admiralty to de-store loose permanent store articles. 1000. Gave to LCI
563, 2 Army telephones, ice cream freezer, 3 battle lanterns, excess foul
weather gear, tools, dishes, canvas, and food.
[Final entry in Ship’s Log].
31 Oct 1944. Upon Expiration leave report
Amphibious Training Base Camp Bradford Naval Operating Base Norfolk for
temporary duty connection amphibious operations and for further assignment
to such LST (Landing Ship Tank) as Commander Amphibious Training Command
Atlantic Fleet may designate. [Western Union Telegram].
02 Mar 1945. You will proceed
immediately and report to the Commanding Officer, Navy Pier, Chicago and
for further transfer to the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Seneca, Illinois
for duty in connection with the fitting out of the USS LST 1134 and duty
[From Amphibious Training Base, Norfolk].
18 Apr 1945. The arrival inspection for USS LST 1134 was held by LST
Shakedown Group, St. Andrew Bay, Panama City, Florida.
11 Jun 1945.
You will proceed and
report to the Commanding Officer, Amphibious Training Base, Oceanside,
California for duty as Platoon Officer in connection with Beach Battalion
A and duty outside the continental limits of the United States. Issued
transportation on these orders from Norfolk to Oceanside via Chesapeake &
Ohio (Cincinnati), New York Central (Chicago), Chicago, Rock Island &
Pacific (Denver), Denver & Rio Grande (Ogden), Union Pacific (Los
Angeles), Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (destination). [From Amphibious Training Base, Norfolk].
Dad was in the Philippines when, on 6 August 1945, the United States
dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He was to have been in the
initial assault force in the planned invasion of the Japanese mainland.
12 Nov 1945. From Office of the Commander , Amphibious Forces, U.S.
Pacific Fleet. Subject: Release from active duty.