The Sinking of the 105 & Harbor Control Lightships...
by LSA Member Ben Marley~
Our thanks to Benjamin for the many hours he spent preparing this story.
Notes: My research for information includes various publications including the book; U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft of WW II, the Coast Guard website etc.
It is strange that nothing explains the use of the Lightship as an examination vessel during the war. In fact they do not even mention the war.
In fact they do not even mention the war. In my opinion the Lightships served a vital link in the protection of the Country. We were the first line of defense out there twenty - four hours a day.
Another term was used was " Harbor Entrance Control Vessel." I think this term is more appropriate. Our Ship had a lot to do with the making up of the convoys both going and coming back.
Diamond Shoals Lightship # 105
The Consolidated Shipbuilding Corp. in Mottis Heights, N.Y. built the Diamond Shoals Lightship in 1922. This ship was built to replace Lightship # 71 which was sunk by a German submarine during the first world war on July 6th, 1917. This lightship had been stationed off of the Diamond shoals, this was located off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The 105 apparently went on the same station after 1922. During this time sometime in the 1930s there was a severe hurricane, during the hurricane a steam line broke in one of the boilers. The engine was being used to keep the ship from dragging its anchor. With out the help of the engines the ship could have foundered. Two crewmen volunteered to go into the hot boiler to repair the broken link. There was a Presidential citation in recognition of their work under extreme conditions. A bronze plaque was placed on a bulkhead in the engine room so stating. One of these men was (this is his name as I knew it) Admiral Dewey Ammet (not sure of the spelling of his last name). He was from the outer banks of North Carolina. In 1942, the Diamond Shoals was stationed about 30 miles off of Cape Henry, VA, as a n exam vessel. Dewey stayed on the Diamond until it was rammed and sunk on July 20th, 1944. He then was assigned to the Winter Quarter lightship #107 which took the place of the Diamond and stayed on until the Second World War was over. After the Diamond was sunk they brought the Winter Quarter Lightship up from Charleston SC and most of the crew from the Diamond were put on the Winter Quarter to do the same work they did on the Diamond.
Winter Quarter Lightship #107
Built by the Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine was delivered Feb. 22nd, 1924. The Winter Quarter was stationed off the coast of Chincoteague, VA. To the best of my knowledge she too was made into an exam vessel and was stationed off of Charlestown, SC. When the Diamond was rammed and sunk on July 20th, 1944, they brought the Winter Quarter up to Norfolk. They took most of the crew off of the Winter Quarter and placed most of us from the Diamond onto the Winter Quarter. We then went back on station until the end of the war.
My experiences on the Diamond and the Winter Quarter to the best of my recollection are as follows.
I was stationed in Portsmouth, VA. In the Port Security station for about a year and a half.
In the beginning of June 1944, I was transferred to the Diamond Shoals Lightship which was located about 30 miles off the coast of Cape Henry, the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. From the time I put foot on the ship the crew made me long to know that the crew on this ship were good sailors. There were two 32-foot self-bailing surfboats with a six cylinder engine in them. They would not fit between the davits so were secured to the side of the gunnels. When it was necessary for a boarding officer to go to a ship the crew would lower a boat and take him there. This was day and night in all kinds of weather and it was going on almost all the time. This was very dangerous, especially in bad weather if you did not know what you were doing.
The ship was tied up to a big (they said it was battleship mooring buoy) by the anchor chain coming out of a haws pipe on the bow of the shop. Coming from shore there was a telephone cable that came up thought the buoy to a small mast, then to the bow of the ship. There was a series of pulleys with weights to allow the cable to give, as the ship would rid the waves. This was done to receive orders from headquarters about ship arrivals and departure.
There was one thing that they told me , if the alarm goes off, get up on deck right away as we were about to be hit by something. There were no practice runs; the ship had been rammed several times since it was stationed there at the beginning of the war. Due to the Bay being mined and the entrance being near us, all the ships felt they had to they had to get as close as they could to avoid being in the minefield.
On July 20th, 1944 a seagoing tug, the P. F. Martin was towing two large steel barges (they looked like ships without engines) from New England to the coal piers in Norfolk, VA. A sudden squall came up with high winds. The winds caught the barges and both of them hit the lightship.
This was at about 2200 (10:00pm), I had a Midnight to Two deck watch that night so I was asleep in my bunk which was located in what was in peace time the bilge, three decks down. In peace time the crew was only about a dozen men, we had over fifty on board that night. So they had bunks all over the place. When the bell went off there was one other man where I was. I heard the bell and the other man going up the ladder, so I thought I better get out of there.
I got up to the next deck and a Chief by the name of Peters was coming out of his area. He had lost his glasses so I led him to the ladder. As we started to climb, the first barge hit in the side of the ship where the Ammo locker for the six-pound canon on the stern and the fifty caliber machine gun mounted in a tub on the bow of the ship. Fortunately there was no explosion. We were told later that it put a hole four feet by six feet in the side under the water line. We could hear the water so we took off up the ladders to the top deck..
Someone hit me with a life jacket; all I had on was a pair of under shorts. By this time the ship was listing and they were lowering all the boats (this is something they did all the time so there was no confusion) after the boats were in the water they told the rest of us to jump. I jumped out and grabbed a fall line (heavy lines ;used to lower the boats) this was all right; the only thing was they were new lines and full of splinters. Our boats picked up the rest of us and later we were transferred to an 83 footer.
We were taken to the Little Creek Amphibious Base Hospital where a head count was made and found no one missing. We were told later that the ship sunk in about eight minutes. I had a couple of nurses pulling the splinters out of my belly and legs. We were told that two or three men developed heart murmurs and were never seen them again, they were apparently transferred. There were men that were not transferred to the Winter Quarter for other reasons that I was unaware of.
Later on I became acting boat coxswain, there were two boat crews and we kind of took turns with the boarding jobs. The Commander of our ship wanted to rate the other coxswain and I. First we had to take a correspondence course from the Academy. We did and past, then they said there were no coxswain rates available as they gave them to the Spars. There is one other story I would like to tell you about.
I know all of you have been through bad storms at sea, however this was I believe a force five hurricane. This was in September of 1944 and they estimated the winds to have been over 150 miles an hour. There was a story in VFW magazine in August 2000 referring to the loss of two Coast Guard Cutters and the Destroyer Warrington in that storm. We were off Virginia and they were south of us off North Carolina, we went through the same storm. The story stated that a ship had been torpedoed and the Jackson and Dedloe were sent out to look for the sub and help the ship that was torpedoed. We were told there were no survivors. However, the story indicates there were a couple who did survive. A day later we took some men off a ship that had picked them up in the area. They were not Coast Guard personnel, they must have been from the ship that was torpedoed, and we took care of them until an 83 footer could get out to pick them up. I was unaware of this until I read the article in the VFW magazine. That answered a lot of the questions we all had at that time. I think it was men on the 83 footer that told us about the Warrington being sunk in the storm somewhere below us. There were a lot of sailors that lost their lives in that sinking.
During the storm it was necessary to let out most of the anchor chain and keep the engines running so as not to drag the anchors. I don't remember but I think we did drag anchor but not far. There were some plates sprung and oil was leaking out. These were repaired at the shipyard at a later date.
The Lightship Association found that an Earl Carlson, a member who was on the same two Lightships that I had been on. They forwarded this information to him and he called me. We had a good conversation; he was a signalman and was on the bridge when the collision happened. He had a bird's eye view of the whole thing.
Earl feels that a Chief Machinist Mate by the name of John Cherricks (an old timer in the Coast Guard and a Machinist Mate Walter Stark had a lot to do with our surviving the hurricane by keeping the engines running all through the storm. I agreed but I would also add the Skipper who had a lot of experience in the Alaskan waters and Chief Boatswain Mate Pearly Farrow from the outer banks of North Carolina also a career Coast Guardsman. I believe Pearly was on the wheel all during the storm, this was important, as we did not want to ram the buoy, this could have been catastrophic.
There were other incidents and storms, however I think this covers it and gives you an idea what went on with the Lightships.
Benjamin R. Marley
22 Stagecoach Road
Pipersville, PA 18947
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