by Peter “Trapper“ Askerwitch
My story begins on August 26, 1941. VP-74 was being deployed to Iceland. On the aforementioned date, along with a bunch of other guys I was flown to the Squadron Naval Air Station. The next day we were transported by truck to the Boston Navy yard. Since the office furniture had more priority than we did, my group had to finish the rest of the trip to Iceland by ships. We went on board the U.S.S. Greer DD # 145. It was an old, and I do mean old, four stacker destroyer. The minute you set afloat on board the ship your heart and soul and all the rest of your body parts belong to the captain of the ship. Any similarity between this trip and a cruise on the “Love Boat” is purely a coincidence. The first night after getting underway I had the midnight to 0400 watch. On August 30th we pulled into Argentia, Newfoundland to refuel from the U.S.S. Salinas an oil tanker. After getting underway again we ran into some of the worst weather ever bestowed upon man by mother nature. I thought that the ship was going to break into two. Eating was out of the question as it was impossible to prepare anything. I couldn’t have eaten anything anyway because I was so sea sick. The sea was so rough that you would have had to see it to believe it. The ship got tossed around like a toy boat. I would never want to go through that experience again. Finally on September 4th the sea calmed down and I wasn’t sea sick any longer. At 0800 that morning a British Sunderland Flying Boat flew alongside the ship and when it got a short distance in front of us it started dropping depth charges. The captain immediately stopping the ship and backed it up. Then the ship picked up a sub on sonar and general quarters was sounded. The ships boatswains mate then ordered me to go up to the crow’s nest to keep up a sharp lookout and report anything unusual. I found the communicating equipment to be the latest up to date, state of the art equipment. It consisted of a tube of about two inches in diameter and was flared at the top for talking into it. Any of your guys who have never stood watch in a ships crow’s nest have missed out on one of life’s great pleasures. I had been scanning the water for a short time when I spotted something that almost made me jump out of my skivvies. It was the wake of a torpedo heading for the ship. I hollered down the tube giving the direction it was coming from. The ship had time to veer out of the way and it missed us. Then nine depth charges were dropped off the stern and two were fired from the “Y” guns. I can just hear someone saying “how can someone remember that after all these years?” The answer to that is that this guy kept a little diary of his trip to Iceland. The irony of this tale is that after I came down from the crow’s nest I was never interrogated by anyone as to what I have seen. The captain of the ship gave strict orders that no one was to breath a word of what happened the penalty of doing so would be court-martialed. The captain could have said to me, well done sailor and that would have been sufficient but I guess in his view I didn’t even exist. Anyway why am I bothering to tell you all of this. Well I am going to tell you why I feel like I lost out on a chance to go down in the history as the guy who alerted the U.S.S. Greer about the incoming torpedo. Some years back I was corresponding with the curator of the navy museum in Washington D.C. He asked me about my experiences in the Navy as they were compiling the role of the enlisted man in the Navy during the world war two era. I told him that my only claim to fame never did materialize. I told him about the Greer incident and he said he was very interested and requested a copy of my diary, which I sent him. Later he told me he had more copies of the diary made and had placed a copy on each of the tables in the museum library reading room. The copy I sent him now rests in the bureau of ships historical section of the museum. To this day when I close my eyes I can still see the wake from that torpedo. There are some things you just never forget and that is one of them.
More on this articles and more are found in the Winter 2012 MMA Newsletter.
MMA Association’s 2013 Reunion Branson, Mo
Official Record: Fourth VP-45 / Dictionary of American Naval Aviation Squadrons – Volume 2, by Michael D. Roberts
The Dependable PBM Martin Mariner / Rix Shanline
Saving U.S.S. Greer / Peter “Trapper“ Askerwitch
Official US Navy Account of U.S.S. Greer Account Excerpt from The Destroyer: Greyhounds of the Sea – navy.mil
PBM Martin Mariner: The Bermuda Triangle Story / Excerpt from bermuda-attractions.com
Blog and Photos from the Web on our Martin P5M – The Navy’s Last Marlin — Martin P5M Walkaround / by Joseph May, Travel for Aircraft
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