John R. Lewis Jr Story - U.S.S. Bayfield - Command Ship

Independent Statement written by John Robert Lewis Jr.,  U. S. Navy, who served under Admiral Moon, the Commander of Exercise Tiger, as a Communications Officer. .

     This is Commander John Robert Lewis Jnr., United States Navy Reserve Retired. I was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania on October 24, 1921. In August 1942, while a senior at the University of Michigan, I enlisted in the Navy V-7 program.

EXERCISE TIGER

     During the months of April and May, Admiral Moon's staff planned vigorously for their part in the landings of Normandy at Utah Beach. During this time, practice landings were carried out at Slapton Sands, an area on the coast of Devon. Admiral Moon's flag ship was the USS Bayfield, APA 33. During exercise 'Tiger', our force of LSTs was attacked by German E-Boats in the English Channel. Three of these LSTs were sunk and 740 hundred troops drowned during the exercise.  After this disaster, there were rumors that a board of inquiry would be held later on in the United States. This was one of the possible reasons we thought for Admiral Moon's suicide in August 1944. Admiral Moon was a very intense man, he slept only about four hours a night. He would work until midnight and then be up at 4 am, which is dawn in England at that time of the year.

     During exercise 'Tiger', one incident occurred to me personally that I will never forget. I was called to the flag bridge by Admiral Moon to record a message from him that he wanted to send to the shore. I was very slow during his dictation and fumbled quite often. He was a very impatient man, so he pulled a slip of paper from his coat pocket and wrote down the message and handed it to me to send. I still have this message with his handwriting on the scrap of paper amongst my memorabilia.

D-DAY

     On June 1st Admiral Moon and his staff boarded the USS Bayfield and began setting up for the Normandy landings. On June 3rd, we picked up Major General J Laughton Collins and his headquarters troops, (commander of the 7th Corp), and also Major General Barton, commander of the 4th Division Infantry, along with his deputy commander Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. the Bayfield also carried one battalion-landing-team of infantry to be put ashore in the assault phase. We then assembled with other ships of Force U and began our trip across the English Channel. During the cruise across, we all assembled on the deck of the Bayfield and sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic and 'Onward Christian Soldiers'. This was a very sobering time to sing the words '... as God died to make men holy, let us die to make men free...'

     We arrived off Utah Beach at approximately 12.00 am June 6th. At that same time, bombardment by our Naval ships commenced, and we also disembarked our underwater demolition teams and rubber boats. They were to go into the beach and clear the underwater obstacles. During the operations, I was officer in charge of the British Coding Room of Force U Commander. I had under my supervision several British Royal Navy Petty Officers, and several United States Navy Petty Officers. We were responsible for strip ciphers, word codes, and other British codes used to decode British messages, while we were in communication with British forces in our area. One of the most difficult experiences our force had during the landings on Utah Beach were caused by German underwater mines. These mines were laid on the ocean bottom in shallow water and were very difficult to sweep. They also had delayed fuses, which allowed the mine to remain unexploded during the first or second passages of a ship over them. Then on the 3rd or 4th passage of a ship over the mine, it would explode.

     During the second morning while I was on deck, I observed an LST passing close by the Bayfield carrying a detachment of Army engineers. All of a sudden, this LST was blown completely in half, sinking rapidly. Men were blown overboard, or jumped overboard and trucks and tanks rolled off the surface of the LST. The Bayfield rescued from the water the survivors of this LST. Similar incidents occurred in the next few days within our immediate vicinity.

     Every evening, we would lay a smoke screen and move the Bayfield's position in order to make air attack more difficult for the enemy. Our ships had orders not to fire on enemy air craft at night for fear of giving away our position. One night, two German Fok-Wulf 180s flew over our force. One plane dove in our vicinity and the gun crew of the Bayfield opened fire. The second plane dove following our tracers and firing its own machine guns dropped a bomb which landed fifty yards off the stern of the Bayfield. I was on watch in the communications room at the time, and I heard the plane dive and the machine gun firing and I stepped behind a very large metal code safe for protection.  When the bomb exploded, the Bayfield shuttered and dust fell off all the pipes and air vents from overhead. Admiral Moon was very furious about this disobedience and angry words were spoken to the Bayfield's captain. Hospital ships were not planned to arrive during the first three days of the operation. So during this time, Army wounded from ashore were brought out and treated aboard the Bayfield and other transport ships in the area. During this time, over 500 casualties were treated by the Bayfield's ship doctor and by our staff's doctor and over 100 major operations were performed aboard the Bayfield.  Myself and other Communications Officers carried these casualties between our watches which were four hours on and four hours off. This included German prisoners that had been wounded in the operation landings.  One of the wounded prisoners was a French woman, accused of collaborating with the Germans and had been captured at German artillery post ashore.  We junior officers gave up our quarters for the purpose of bedding the wounded. I and my fellow officers slept in enlisted crew's bunks while they were on watch.  

     One morning, while on deck carrying casualties, I saw in ME-109 come in at low level strafing the beach. We had two RAF Spitfires on air patrol above the beach. One of these Spitfires dove straight down and opened fire on the ME-109, which burst into flames and crashed on an unoccupied portion of the beach. You can imagine the cheers that went up from the men on deck. Several days later, a violent storm hit the Normandy area and washed many of the LSTs ashore as much as 50 yards up onto the beach. Days later, after the storm had subsided, these ships were unloaded where they sat and then towed off at high tide.

     A few days after the landing, the flag ships were visited by General Marshall, General Eisenhower, General Arnold and Admiral King. It was a great thrill to see these officers, and I will never forget shaking the hand of General Teddy Roosevelt Jr, not too long before he died in action.

     For three weeks, the Bayfield sat anchored off the Utah Beach and the Staff stood four hours on, four hours off watches during this entire time.

U.S.S. Bayfield