James Brown Survivor Story - LST 289

JAMES BROWN    (Deceased 2016)
U. S. Navy- Hospital Apprentice, 1st Class – LST 289    
Swanzey, New Hampshir

       The following is a written account of the occurrences, as I remember them, of the torpedoing of the U.S. LST 289 at about 0:200, on  the morning of April 28, 1944.  We had finished on loading an Army group in the late afternoon of April 27, 1944, and I was leaning against the Port Side Life Rail when a Sergeant came up and leaned on the rail next to me.  I remarked, “This is a beautiful sight, the water is smooth and the setting sun is painting  a light path on the surface of the water.”  The Sergeant agreed and added, “You sailors have got it made. Three "hots" a day, a warm bunk, hot showers and clean clothes.  I think I joined the wrong outfit.”  I replied, “Yes, it’s nice as long as your ship stays afloat.”

     After a couple rehearsals of General Quarters that evening, to get the soldiers acquainted with the “ship drills”, I had pretty much made up my mind I would sit the next one out in my bunk, but at the sound of another GQ alarm, one of the ship’s officers came running through the compartment yelling, “This ain’t no drill boys, hit the deck!”  I hit the deck running , passed the officer in the next compartment, and ran up the ladder to the main deck hatch.  When I pushed the hatch open it was slammed back in my face by what sounded like a jackhammer.  When I opened the hatch again, I was greeted with a myriad of sounds….yelling, cursing, big guns, little guns, and the whining of rounds coming from every angle.  But the sight of two burning ships off our starboard beam was what really caught my attention.  They were burning from stern to bow, men on fire jumping over the side into a flaming sea of burning oil and gasoline.  The vehicles on the decks with full fuel tanks were cooking off as the fire reached them.  It was a nightmare that I never want to see again.

     I made my way to the main battle dressing station which was in the Officer’s Ward Room.  How I got to the Ward Room without being hit by something is beyond belief, because stuff was flying from all directions.  When I got to the Ward Room, I saw my team partner, Tom Prestridge, and I asked him what was going on, and he said, “I don’t know, but I sure am glad I am in here.”  About the time Tom had finished his statement, there was the loudest bank I had ever heard, and almost instantly the shock wave through the ship shot the deck upwards with such force that I thought my ankles were broken.  It was so powerful that the upward thrust caused my chin to bounce off my chest, slamming my mouth shut and chipping one of my teeth.  I don’t remember much of anything right after that, except that Tom was yelling at me that we were supposed to go out and look for casualties.  We went out on the main deck on the starboard side and headed aft.  Just as we passed under the Starboard quarter 40mm gun tub, we heard someone yelling for help.  I started up the ladder with Tom following and when I got to the top I asked if anyone was hurt.  I jumped down into the gun tub and started feeling around for a body.  It was very dark because there were no lights lit on the ship for fear the enemy was still out there.  I felt my way around his body to find where he was injured.  When I got to his legs, I found that something very heavy was lying on his left leg and he was bleeding profusely from the wound.  We removed the object and pulled him out, lifted him over the side of the gun tub and lowered him to a couple of sailors down on the main deck, who carried him to the battle dressing station.  He was taken to the hospital in Dartmouth, England, where his left leg was removed below the knee. 

     As dawn broke over the Channel, we could see two pillars of smoke rising above the southern horizon marking the spot where we were attacked and where a lot of good soldiers and sailors lost their lives for an exercise and because of incorrect communications.  When it became light, Tom and I went to the gun tub to look at what had injured the sailor.  There lay the stern anchor.  It had been blown from its brackets on the stern, up and around to the starboard quarter and into the gun tub.  I tried to lift it again, and this time it would not budge.  I knew I had help from someone that wasn’t on the ship when I lifted that anchor earlier. 

     The aftermath was harder to take than the actual torpedoing.  When it became apparent that the ship was not going to sink, I walked around the ship looking at the damage and looking for any injured not picked up before that might need attention now.  There were some with headaches, wrenched backs, skinned shins and legs from bumping into things in the dark.  A helmet lying on the deck where the Stern 40mm gun once stood hit me about as hard as anything.  It had been split up the sides and was as flat as a plate from being slammed up against the underside of the gun tub.  It bore the name of the Boatswain Mate who was trying to activate smoke pods when the torpedo hit.  The overwhelming feeling of everyone I talked to was anger.  “Where were the protecting ships that we should have had?”  There was only a small Corvette that I saw when we weighed anchor and headed out into the English Channel, but no one that I know of ever saw it during the attack. 

     A lot of ink has been used to explain the reasons for the E-Boat attack on Convoy T-4, but from my point of view, there were just too many “cooks in the kitchen”.  Plymouth knew that the Germans were active in our area.  Our QINC had been given the wrong frequencies to communicate with those who could help.  The English destroyer that was first assigned to escort the convoy was prevented from coming out of port because of a hole in the bow, over the protest of the Captain that the ship was seaworthy.  We were left out there with no protection.

     After the wounded and dead were off loaded at Dartmouth, covered trucks pulled up along the side of the ship and all the enlisted Navy personnel not needed to keep the ship afloat were loaded into the trucks and taken to the gymnasium at the Britannia Royal Naval College.  We were all put into the gym and the doors were closed and locked.  Later a Naval officer came by and informed us that were not to leave the building except under guard, and that as far as we were concerned, nothing had happened to us.  If anyone was caught talking, they would be Court Martialed.  Although I had served with sailors who were part of Exercise Tiger, I never knew what it was called, until 1987, when a news magazine broke the story to the public.

LST 289 in Dartmouth
LST 289 after Attack