By A.W. BROFFORD
“LAND THE LANDING FORCE” – “ AWAY ALL BOATS” – “ LAND THE LANDING FORCE”
These simple words made up the latest order coming from the squawk box and mixed with
the noisy activity of this
attack cargo ship. Overhead the sky was dotted with planes. The guns of the cruisers and
destroyers and rockets from the LSMRs comprising the fire support ships of Task Force
NINTY were continuing their ear-splitting job of working over the enemy’s beach defenses.
At last things were beginning to happen. The Korean War had become a “stalemate”. The
155-mile front had been stabilized six months before on a twisting line extending from the
Han River estuary, ten miles south of the 38th Parallel on the West Coast, to Kasong, forty
miles north of the parallel on the East Coast.
The Naval units gave uncontested control of Korean waters. Navy carrier planes ruled the
skies as far as they were allowed to fly – up to the Yalu. But it still remained a “stalemate”.
Maybe the putting ashore of these Marines would end it. Something had to give sooner or
later we knew, but when?
The “softening-up period” was almost over. Now the star role in the action was to be
played by the assault boat coxswains of the USS WINTON (AKA 94) and other AKAs and the
APAs. Those training exercises that we had held up and down the California coast off Silver
Strand, Aliso Canyon, and other beaches prior to deploying to the Western Pacific, was
about to pay off.
Prior to the movie last night, the Boat Group Commander, LT Dickson, mustered his boat
crews and briefed them on the various phases of the operation that concerned them. Now
they were ready, standing by their craft waiting to be lowered into the water. The hatch
crews were working together like a college football team out to win the big game of the
year. Competition can be a great thing, and to them the honor of being the first hatch crew
to off-load all of their boats was well worth striving for. Bos’n Colonghi, the Ship’s Bos’n,
acted as the coach for all five cargo hatch crews- working from the sidelines he shouted
orders to his men. Every man was under his surveillance, the hatch boss, the windhmen,
down to the lowly deck seaman.
From Debark Control atop of the superstructure, I watched the men below on deck move
about, each doing his bit that in turn made possible the end result. We were at Condition
ONE-ABLE, the General Quarters or Battle Station of AKAs and APAs. Battlewagons, cruisers,
and tin-cans use their big guns during this type of battle condition, but our main battery
consisted of 24 Landing Craft—eight LCMs, fourteen LCVPs, 1LCVR, and the Captain’s Gig.
Not much in fire-support but “mucho” otherwise. Now we were putting them to use.
A few weeks before, in company with other amphibious vessels and British destroyers we
had put on a fake landing near Chinnampo on the West Coast of enemy-held Korea. The
quickly formed task group cruised up the Yellow Sea and into a narrow channel deep inside
Red territory to divert Red Chinese forces, taking pressure off advancing United Nation’s
The British escort vessels shelled the beaches and the United States ships belched black
smoke to make certain the Chinese would see the on coming invasion force. With no troops
to land the ships put on their show until nightfall and sailed out of the confined waters as
darkness and a timely rain screened further movements.
Now the APAs had their troops and the AKAs their cargo. This was the real thing.
Prior to the signal “land the landing force” the hatches had made all preparations for
expeditious lowering of boats and each had a boat at the rail. Now they were swinging over
the sides of the ship another one. Off of #1 hatch came the Captain’s Gig which was to be
used as the Boat Group Commander’s Control Boat and the LCVP whose secondary use
was to make fog. The other four hatches had each two LCMs and inside them were stowed
a LCVP, known to us as “MIKE Boats” and “PETER Boats” respectively. The port and
starboard welin davits each held three LCVPs.
Thirty-two minutes elapsed from the time the first boat was lowered away and the last one
hit the water. The crew on #3 hatch was the first; under the expert supervision of First
Class Bos’n Dobie they had all boats water-borne in twenty-eight minutes.
Our Executive Officer, CDR Lejons, whose collateral duty was Debark Officer, gave me the
order to commence calling the boats alongside. My ONE ABLE Billet was that of telephone
talker at Debark Control and sort of an assistant. The routine of things had become such a
habit with us that many times just a nod of the head by the XO was sometimes an order.
Over my sound-powered phones I had direct contact with the five cargo hatches and the
quartermaster stationed at Signals Aft.
“After Signals” –“Debark”—“Two block the first signal, I say, two block the first signal”. -----
“Aye, Aye”, came back the reply over the phones. Now to jig the hatches, I reached for the
portable mike to the PA system, turning on the topside speakers I jarred the sleepers with,
“Now hear this, now hear this, all hatches standby to receive boats alongside”.
The first boat was coming alongside and I watched with great interest as Seaman Miller
prepared to move his LCVP up to the cargo net at BLUE SIX. Here the embarked troops
would scramble down the ship’s side and into his craft. Miller jockeyed his craft into position
under the cargo net. Steadying lines ran from the craft up to the ship’s main deck where
they were manned topside by deckhands. These lines helped snub the pitching and bobbing
LCVP against the ship’s side.
But the force of the sea placed a powerful strain on the lines. It was up to Miller to relieve
the deck hands of some of that strain before the lines were wrenched from their hands. He
was trying by keeping a varying number of turns on the propeller and different degrees of
angle on the rudder. This called for a combined steersman-throttle man skill – a skill which
all assault boat coxswains must possess, and after having been thru almost two years of
training exercises on the West Coast with Miller, I knew he had it.
After the last combat-loaded infantryman scrambled down the net and dropped into his
craft, Miller maneuvered away from the ship’s side and joined other LCVPs of his wave –
“Wave One, Blue Beach One”.
Together the LCVPs proceeded in toward the “line of departure”. This position was marked
by a PCEC, one of our small amphibious ships who serve as control vessel for amphibious
Following the time schedule of the operation order, the control vessel gave the “go” signal.
Lined up like a football team at kickoff, the LCVPs picked up momentum. Soon they were up
to speed, each craft keeping space of the other.
It was a 4,000-yard run to the beach from the line of departure. The final 80 yards was the
“surf zone”. Here, the shoaling of the water turned the rolling swells into breaking combers.
Handling a craft in these dangerous waters calls for boatmanship of the four-point-oh brand.
From Debark Control I watch thru a set of binoculars the craft as they headed toward the
beach, thus completing the final bridge of the ship-to-shore movement. The LCVPs of “Wave
One, Blue Beach One” were riding the up-slopes of the combers. Their speed was gauged
to that of the shoreward-rushing combers. Far down the line I saw one LCVP forge ahead
too fast. For a brief instant it rode on the down-slope, broached and swamped. The
coxswain maneuvered his craft skillfully, cutting his speed. Splash one LCVP—almost, I
thought. That would also mean: splash one crew and one load of troops plus the fact that a
swamped landing craft is a useless landing craft—a hazard on the beach and an obstruction.
The LCVPs of Wave One had now hit the sea-wash line, within a few seconds of the
scheduled time. Timing is important. A miscalculation of two minutes could snarl up the
landing. Too early – it might have meant shifting of the fire support schedule to avoid hitting
the boats as they beached with shells from the gunfire support ships. Too late – it might
cause a traffic jam on the beach. Other waves were already on their way in from the
As soon as the boats slid to a standstill on the beach the coxswains had the bow ramp
lowered. True to the old soldier/marine stories of WWII I watched the marines double-time
it down the ramp, through waist-deep water to begin grouping for the inward rush. If this
had been a training exercise the boat crew might have rolled out the carpet and at the
most the water would have been only ankle-deep. The last infantryman was hardly across
the ramp before it was being raised. I knew what the coxswains were thinking “let’s get the
hell out of here”!
Miller threw his clutch into reverse and gunned the engine to retract from the beach.
Between him and attack transport his wave was to report to, lay the breaking surf. He’d
have to back through that. The 5,000 yard run to the transport.
Aboard the APAs and AKAs were more troops and cargo to be brought ashore. The assault
boat crews had delivered their first passengers in the first light of morning. It was high
noon now. On deck the men were doping off – many stretched out on deck, using their life
jackets for a pillow. A few marines lined the rail here and there in small groups. We had
gone to Condition ONE ABLE EASY shortly after the boats had been waterborne and infantry
Our boat crews were out their in the midst of what looked like a Fourth-July fishing party at
Buckeye Lake with fishermen from ten states taking part.
The first phase of the operation called for troop-carrying, once the troops established a
beach-head, then our job would resume and the boats would switch to equipment-carrying
Lying around sunning ourselves, don’t believe any of us at the present would trade places
with the boat crews. Takes pretty good sailors to operate one of those small boats in a
strange and faraway place. For, once away from their mother ship, they are on their own so
much, and of ten with their own quick decisions to make, whether right or wrong.
The mechanic becomes the chief engineer with an equal responsibility, and the assault boat
coxswain becomes the captain, or at least he must feel he is one, as away they go to some
strange beach or to some distant vessels.
Walking around the ship you could always spot a man from the Boat Group Division. It wasn’
t that he had that certain air of superiority but something more amusing. They always seem
to have various articles which dangle around their waists. For new things, or new,
innovations seem to be added all the time, and others discarded. I often wondered if all of
these things were exactly necessary, but guess they do look good and they add an
importance. The leading seaman seemed to always have a dangling string of mighty keys,
which I bet didn’t fit a lock aboard ship.
The knives so often worn by these Boat Group personnel varied from a jackknife fastened
by a string to other knives almost as elaborate in length as a Civil War saber, and some of
the fellows forever seemed to be pulling out these knives from their sheaths, sharpening or
testing the blades, and then returning them.
It was about sunset before they shifted to equipment-carrying runs. The hatch crews had
paired off and formed two sections per hatch. Thus allowing about 4 hours on and 4 hours
off. Around the clock we went for three days as the assault boat crews put men and
material ashore almost as simply as on maneuvers. Schmidt had been secured from after
signals so he and I alternated at Debark Control. J.D Schmidt “PN”.
Aboard ship the steady hum of the winches kept was all that was to be heard. The job at
Debark Control was very tiring. With the sound powered phones on and about 25 feet of
telephone line I was like a dog on a leash. One of the talkers had his circuit open and over
it came, music from a ships radio. Every so often a conversation would strike up and almost
as abruptly as it started it would end. Several of the boats came back aboard having
suffered damage during one of the landings. The ships carpenter would patch them up as
carefully as the doctor would one of his patients. Other boats not being worked on were
tied to a bridle rigged off the stern of the ship. To anyone not familiar with an amphibious
ship we must have looked somewhat similar to a mother hen with all her little chicks
gathered around her. Towards the end of the third day the unloading of our cargo was
completed and the at once commanded buttoning down the hatches and making
preparations to bring the boats back aboard. Our part had been accomplished. We had
loaded, transported and landed these marines and equipment on this hostile beach with
our battery of 23 landing craft. Now to get out of here and go back to Japan where a little
enjoyment could be had. The second day after we had shifted anchorage from the outer
transport area to the inter transport area. By getting in closer to the shore, our boats had
less distance to and from the beach, and thus made the unloading expedient. The ship to
shore exercise was now on the fourth day. Our ship was ready for sea, but some of the
other ships in the transport division still had a little more cargo to be sent ashore. Hoping
for the best but expecting most anything our skipper sent a dispatch to Commodore Fritz,
commander of Transport Division Twelve, requesting permission to get underway for Kobe,
Japan. “Affirmative” was the reply, plus a “well done: to all hands aboard the U.S.S Vinton
for doing so well their part in the operation. This we took with a grain of salt, for all we
were now interested in was to get back to Japan for “rest and relaxation”. Soon after we
had received our permission to return to Kobe a tired but eager crew went to their Sea
Detail Stations, weighed anchor, and then set the Steaming Watch.
The sun was just peeking over the water. The watch on the bridge was trying their best to
keep awake; most of us were just plain tired. About an hour after sunrise the Captain
arrived on the bridge followed by the Executive Officer. Automatically they began checking
with the Ship’s Navigator the details of entering Kobe’s harbor.
Ending the conference with the Navigator and Executive Officer, the Captain turned to the
Bos’n Mate of the Watch. The Bos’n listened and with a smile on his face piped “attention”
over the squawk box, then loud and clear so no one aboard couldn’t but help understand –
“NOW SET THE SPECIAL SEA AND ANCHOR DETAIL” – “NOW SET THE SPECIAL SEA AND
Slowly I rolled out of my pad, dressed, grabbed my hat and proceeded to climb the ladder
out of the crew’s berthing compartment to the main deck. Arriving topside I paused to take
in the view of Osaka Wan. On deck everyone was moving about, manning their sea detail
stations. Hurrying a little I proceeded to the Pilot House to man the JV telephone circuit,
commonly known as the Captain’s circuit. Over this circuit I had direct communication with
the fos’cil, starboard and port chains (for taking soundings), the fantail, engine room, CIC,
and after steering. Entering or leaving port this was a busy set of sound powered
My first deed after testing out the phones was to have the First Lieutenant to post a mine
lookout at the bow of the ship. Seems that the harbor channel had been swept for mines,
but our skipper was a cautious individual and decided that a mine lookout wasn’t in the
least bit a waste of manpower. If we would have struck a mine and not have had a mine
lookout posted; I believe I might have agreed with him. The channel approach to Kobe is
about five miles long with a controlling depth of 48 feet and width of 1200 feet, good
enough for even the poorest navigator to get thru.
From the signal bridge I heard the Chief Quartermaster shout to the skipper over the voice
tube, “pilot boat one mile southeast of the light on #1 breakwater”. “Very well”, came the
reply from the Captain. Soon we spotted the black painted hull with the word “PILOT”
painted on both sides and flying the International code flag “HOW”. It was indeed a
welcome sight to me. Following close on the Captain’s heels I surmised that he was
worrying if the pilot would be competent and if his English was any good.
All engines had been stopped and were gliding through the water when the pilot boat came
alongside starboard side number three hatch. Up the ladder came the short stocky
Japanese harbor pilot. A few minutes later the JOOD presented the pilot to the Captain. The
skipper greeted the little man with an out stretched hand and with his other played with
the bowl of his pipe. Sizing the pilot up I guess the old man assured himself that this little
man knew the harbor and that the WINTON would be safe in his hands. Having ordered 1/3
ahead while the pilot was coming up to the bridge the skipper passed this and other
pertinent information on to the pilot.
This sea detail seemed to me to be a long one. It was getting well into the morning now.
But before too long we were inside the four concrete breakwaters that bound the harbor
and had a Japanese tug on the port bow to assist us in mooring. About eleven o’clock we
snubbed alongside Pier 5, put the first line over, shifted colors and proceeded to lower the
gangway. It was all like clockwork, everything went off perfect. After receiving the report
from deck that all lines had been doubled up and rat guards were being put out I started to
make up my phones in the anticipation of securing this sea detail. I didn’t have long to wait,
the Captain almost did an about face and speaking to the Executive Office, told him to ‘wrap
The words “Secure the special sea detail”, was blasted over the P.A. system and five
seconds later the engine room called the bridge for permission to secure the main engines.
The Captain made the appropriate reply, “Goldsmith, they’ll secure when I get good and
ready to let them secure”. Then sorts muttering under his breath, “permission granted”.
The in port routine commenced. The duty section rigged the liberty boats and put them over
the side while those on the liberty list began a maddening period of preparation. Dress
blues were broken out of lockers – shoes given final shine – neckerchiefs rolled – and white
hats blocked. “When the hell does liberty start?” was repeated everywhere like an
After what seemed to be a wait in eternity the P.A. speaker squawked exultantly: “Li-ber-
ty…..will commence…..immediately……for the starboard section…..to expire on board for all
hands at 2400!”