As always I am delighted and thrilled to hear from another member of this great unit. Harold, thank you so much for your fine contribution to this site and to my book. I hope we will stay in touch.
In mid-September, 1942, in the New York Harbor, the 36th Engineers, Company E (200 men including me), along with a battalion of the 39th Infantry Regiment (1400 men) plus other support troops, boarded the USS Thomas Stone, an attack landing ship that before its conversion had been the President Van Buren, a luxury passenger ship that had made just one cruise around the world before being requisitioned by the US Navy.
What we did not know then was that we were part of an invasion fleet that would sail into the Mediterranean Sea and land on the North African coast as part of the invasion by the Allies on November 8, 1942. Our ship left New York in mid-September as part of a large convoy. We stopped over at Belfast, Ireland, for several weeks to practice landing maneuvers, but stayed on board the ship.
In late October we became part of a mostly British invasion fleet assigned to land at the port of Algiers on the North African coast. Two American fleets were scheduled to land at two other port cities, all held by *French troops, not Germans. The allies hoped that the French troops would surrender the ports to the Americans rather than put up a fight. Our ship with the American soldiers was assigned to the predominantly British invasion force primarily to give the landing at Algiers an American flavor.
"D-Day" for the invasion was set for November 8, 1942. We passed the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean and early in the morning of November 7, a torpedo struck our ship. It hit the rear of the ship and the explosion destroyed the ship's propeller and steering mechanism, leaving the ship dead in the water. The only casualties were two sailors killed. One of the fleet destroyers was assigned to stay with our ship and the invasion force sailed on to Algiers, about 150 miles to the east.
The ship carried about twenty-five Higgins Assault Landing Craft and after reviewing the situation, the infantry commander decided to load most of his troops into the landing craft and sail the 150 miles to Algiers so they could participate in the invasion, even if they would be late. The destroyer that had been assigned to guard our ship accompanied the landing craft. We later learned that this "assault force" had gone only about one-third of the way to Algiers when they had to abandon their landing craft because of rough seas and seasickness. They were taken aboard the destroyer and landed at Algiers after the invasion force had captured the port.
Back on the Thomas Stone, we were somewhat apprehensive because our ship was a "sitting duck" without engine power. Our guardian destroyer had left us and we did not know what would happen next. About midnight a ship approached us and we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a sea-going tug assigned to tow us to Algiers. We arrived there two days after the invasion. The Thomas Stone was beached and probably sold for scrap after the war.
Marion's Note: In the story above, Harold refers to " French troops, not Germans". For those of you who are not familiar with this period during the war, many of the French from the southern part of France were loyal to the Germans, not the Allies. They were known by the term Vichy French.
Lieutenant Harold Bare - 1944