Coast Guard-Manned Landing Craft (Infantry), Large Flotilla 4 / 10 / 35
Written by an anonymous member of the Flotilla
Troops boarding LCIs at Bizerte, Tunisia, for the invasion of Sicily. U.S. Army Photograph.
The following is a brief sketch of the history of the United States Coast Guard Landing Craft Infantry (Large) Flotilla Four / Ten. Some of the information was recalled from memory so there may be a conflict concerning a date or a number:
The LCI(L)s in Flotilla Four were built by the Consolidated Steel Corporation, Ltd., Shipbuilding Division, in Orange, Texas. The units were commissioned during the latter part of 1942 and early 1943. After the units were commissioned they assembled in Galveston, Texas. There they were formed into Flotilla Four under the overall command of Captain Miles Imlay, USCG.
The flotilla included numbers 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 349, and 350. The flagship was the LCI(L)-87. The flotilla was divided into two groups. Group Seven was under the command of Commander [Joseph A.] Bresnan, USCG, aboard LCI(L)-89 and Group Eight, under the command of Commander [Aden C.] Unger, USCG, aboard the LCI(L)-321.
On February 20, 1943, the flotilla departed from Galveston, Texas, and sailed for Key West, Florida. The first day out of Galveston, the unseasoned sailors got a taste of bad weather. They suffered that illness where you would have to get to feeling better before you could die. You might say they didn't have any guts. They had lost them over the side or in the bucket on the deck near their bunk. They were sea sick! By the time the flotilla arrived in Key West, they had a lot of guts. They had grown up to be men. They became accustomed to the constant tossing, rolling, pitching, and turning of these sea-going flat-bottom Broncos known as Landing Craft Infantry (Large). One sailor later said LCI stands for "Lousy Civilian Idea."
From Key West these old salts sailed for Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia. We arrived in Norfolk in early March, 1943. The training began. This is where we got our first experience of approaching a beach, dropping a stern anchor and learning to retract after unloading the troops. Virginia Beach was the place of our initiation. I understand it hasn't been the same since. They are still trying to fill the channels we made. Between Virginia Beach, Little Creek, and the degaussing station our days were kept busy. The degaussing station is where the LCI's magnetic field was neutralized as protection from magnetic mines.
On March 31, 1943, LCI Flotilla Four sailed for Bermuda Island. We arrived on April 4, 1943. Now it doesn't take you long to see Bermuda even on a bicycle. After a few beach beer parties and liberties we had seen Bermuda from His Royal Majesty's Dock Yard on Ireland Island to Old Town on St. George's Island.
On April 10, 1943, we sailed for Port Lyautey, French Morocco (presently known as Kenitra, Morocco). We arrived at Port Lyautey on the Wadi Sebu on April 29, 1943. The flotilla saw duty throughout the French North African Coast. Port Lyautey in Morocco, Oran, Tenez, Cherchell, Arzue, Memouires, Beni-Saf, and Mostaganem in Algeria. Bizerte, Ferryville (now known as Menzel Bourguiba) and Tunis in Tunisia.
On July 9, 1943, units of the flotilla loaded troops on the docks in Bizerte, Tunisia. The flotilla sailed toward Sicily. On the morning of July 10, 1943, landings were made on the south coast of Sicily near Licata and Gela. Some of the units received minor damage from machine gun fire at Licata. German air raids over the landing areas were almost constant. On the night of July 11, 1943, the attacks continued. They dropped parachute flares illuminating the ships with a brilliant blue-white glare. The gun crews blinded by the flares filled the air with an umbrella of tracers. They could not see what they were shooting at. Shortly before midnight planes started coming in low only a few hundred feet above the water. They were so low you could see their blue exhaust flames. Every ship in the area opened up with every gun. You could see the planes crashing into the water. It was too late when the planes were recognized as American C-47 transports. It was later reported that 23 of our own planes were shot down and 37 were badly damaged. One returned to its base in North Africa with 1,000 holes in it. Two hundred and twenty nine paratroopers had been killed.
On July 22, 1943, General George S. Patton, Jr., captured Palermo, the capital and largest city in Sicily. Units of the flotilla moved into Palermo Harbor which was filled with sunken ships. These units carried troops of the Seventh Army to landing areas along the north coast of Sicily. This was an attempt to cut the German Army off from reaching Messina. The landings were made on the north coast during this operation.
On September 7, 1943, all units of the flotilla again loaded troops at Bizerte and Ferryville, Tunisia. Leaving Bizerte Harbor the flotilla proceeded northward and then northeast toward Salerno, Italy. During the early hours of September 9, 1943, the flotilla landed troops on the beach in the Gulf of Salerno near Paestum. Due to a large-scale counterattack by the German Army, units of the flotilla had to return to the beach and evacuate the British soldiers of the initial landing force. After the invasion landing area was secured some units of the flotilla made landings on the Isle of Capri.
In early October, 1943, the flotilla moved slowly westward from the Salerno, Sicily, and Tunisia area. A short while later we stopped at Gibraltar. The harbor was filled with American and British war ships. Fifty percent of the crew from each LCI was granted liberty in Gibraltar. The British sailors didn't care too much for the American sailors and it didn't take much to start little disagreements between the two allies. Due to these disagreements and the resulting brawls the flotilla had as many casualties in Gibraltar as we had in all the previous Mediterranean operations. Needless to say we left Gibraltar without another liberty.
Upon leaving Gibraltar, the flotilla sailed westward out of the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic. Even though we were headed west we knew we were not going home. A short time later the course was changed to a northward direction. We knew where we were going.
On October 28, 1943, we sighted Lands End, England. Most of the flotilla put into the harbor of Falmouth, Cornwall, England. A short time later the flotilla moved to Plymouth, Devonshire. This is where we first heard the expression concerning American soldiers: "Over Paid, Over Sexed, and Over Here." You know how those dog-face American soldiers act.
The units of the flotilla were in most of the ports located along the south coast of England. Our headquarters was set up in Agatha Christie's summer home, Greenway House, located on the Dart River near Dartmouth, Devonshire. Agatha Christie, in her autobiography, paid members of our flotilla a compliment. She said:
Though our Admiralty was conducting the negotiations, it would be the United States Navy (U.S. Coast Guard) which would take over Greenway. Maypool, the big house above us on the hill, was to accommodate the ratings, and the officers of the flotilla were to take over our house. I cannot speak to highly of the kindness of the Americans, and the care they took of our house. It was inevitable, of course, that the kitchen quarters should be more or less a shambles -- they had to cook for about forty people, and they put in some mahogany doors; in fact the commander had them all walled up in plywood. They appreciated the beauty of the place too. A good many of this particular flotilla came from Louisiana, and the big magnolias, and especially the magnolia grandiflora, made them feel at home. Ever since the war, relations of some of the officers or other who was at Greenway have come along to see where their son or cousin or whoever it was had been stationed. They told me how he wrote about it and how he described the place. I have been round the garden with them sometimes, trying to identify certain parts of it he had particularly loved, though it is not always easy because of the way things have grown up.
During this period on the south coast of England we had the usual number of dry runs for practice and the usual number of air raids. We never could get used to those "Buzz-Bomb" attacks. Kinda like an artillery shell: as long as you can hear them you know you were OK. When that motor on the buzz-bomb stopped you had an instant cure for hemorrhoids.
On June 4, 1944, all units of the flotilla took on troops. Everyone had the feeling that this was the big one. The one we had been waiting for. The next day we heard it might be called off due to bad weather. However, we still had our troops on board which told us something. On June 5th we moved into the English Channel in formation with something new added. A barrage balloon with steel cable attached to each LCI. The flotilla was now referred to as Flotilla Ten instead of Flotilla Four. No doubt this was to try and confuse the enemy.
During the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, the flotilla changed course and sailed toward the Normandy, France, coast. Half of the flotilla moved toward the Omaha Beach. The other half of the flotilla approached Utah Beach. Needless to say the units going into Omaha Beach suffered the most. The LCI(L)-85 was sunk. The LCIs 91, 92, and 93 were so badly damaged they could not retract from the beach.
After the beach-head had been secured and the fighting had moved far inland, many of the long-term crewmembers were relieved and transferred back to the states. During the latter part of 1944, the remainder of the flotilla departed from England and sailed for Charleston, South Carolina. The units were to be overhauled and refitted. The flotilla was to be sent to the Pacific Theatre of Operations. Most of all the crews that went thru the Normandy Invasion were removed and replaced by energetic young men eager to "do their part."
The LCI(L)s 83, 84, 86, 88, 90, 96, 320, 323, 325, 326, and 350 were overhauled, repaired and in some cases. . .refitted! The crews then underwent some vigorous training in and about the Chesapeake Bay until just before Christmas of 1944. The now "Flotilla Thirty-Five" departed Norfolk, Virginia, though the Panama Canal, to San Diego for refueling and supplies. From here, they proceeded to Pear Harbor in Hawaii.
Details are sketchy. . . . . .but the stops of importance were Eniwetok, Guam, Hagushi, and others before anchoring at Okinawa. Some were made into "Smokers" (making smoke for larger ships). Some provided anti-aircraft fire for merchant ships. . . . . .They ran the mail, carried man-power, destroyed mines that had been cut loose by sweepers. . . . . .and it is reported that one of our LCIs took on a suicide plane. . . . . .and after cleaning up the mess topside. . . . . .and with the loss of lives. . . . . .they proceeded on their own power via the emergency steering room!
It is not know to this writer if all the LCIs made it back to the U.S.A. for decommissioning in late 1945 & early 1946.