Memories of Christmas Eve, December 1944

Memories of Christmas Eve, December 1944
One incident that stands out in my memory took place on Christmas Eve in 1944. We, the officers and crew aboard LST 528, were returning from Rouen, France which was about 80 miles up the Seine River. At the mouth of the Seine River we slowed down to let the French pilot off and for some reason General Quarters had sounded.

It was the custom in the Navy when General Quarters was called, the communications officer became the officer of the deck until the captain arrived on the bridge. After the pilot was off the ship, the captain gave the order "All Ahead Standard." The captain then said, "This is Christmas Eve. All Ahead Full."

We seldom went full speed. The communications officer then said, "Captain, since this is Christmas Eve, why not go Flank Speed?" The captain said, "Okay, and should we turn on the running lights?"

Some of the ships had been using their lights for a few weeks. The communications officer said, "No." The captain asked, "Why not?" The communications officer said, "There might be someone in the German High Command who had read about George Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas Eve and surprising the British troops. If the Germans have any submarines they will surely have them in the channel tonight."

The captain said, "Okay. We stay blacked out tonight."

The communications officer's regular watch that night was from midnight until 0400. Even though the ship was going at Flank Speed, the engine room could put on 40 more RPMs. When the communication officer came on duty at midnight he gave the order for the engineering crew to put on the other 40 RPMs � but do it slowly so the captain would not be awakened. The captain was suppose to be informed whenever a change was made. About 0100, LST 528 caught up with another LST going in the same direction at Standard Speed. The other ship had on all of their running lights and they blinked the message, "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year." LST 528 responded but was not happy about the blinking message and the lights. About 0230, LST 528 caught up with another LST and the same thing happened.

About 0800 on Christmas morning the radio operator received a message which the communications officer decoded. The message stated that those two LSTs along with some other ships had been torpedoed during the night. Among those ships was a Belgian ship carrying American soldiers from Southampton to Cherbourg.

It was later learned that this Belgian ship was torpedoed within five miles of Cherbourg. The Belgian sailors left the ship in life rafts for Cherbourg. The American troops did not know how to use the radios on that Belgian ship. The Belgian sailors did report this disaster when they reached Cherbourg. Rescue ships were sent out to rescue the American troops. Several of the Americans lost their lives by being caught between ships as they were trying to jump onto rescue ships. Several days later it was learned that a total of 762 Americans lost their lives in this disaster.

Christmas night LST 528 loaded tanks, trucks, and Jeeps and with some other LSTs went back to France. This time they had more escort ships than there were LSTs.

I, Norman Herren, was the communications officer on LST 528 on that eventful Christmas Eve.

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