Spike Field

by E. L. "Spike" Field - UDT ONE

After spending parts of January and February 1948 swimming in the ice and slush off Kodiak Island, Alaska, Underwater Demolition Team One was in the process of unloading gear after returning to Coronado, CA, when someone said we were to go to Arabia next. It seemed like a joke; it turned out to be fact!

Team 1 was to leave the West Coast and go to Little Creek, Virginia, join-up with Team 4 and undergo intensive training before shipping out to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. It was planned that Team 1 would survey beaches on the Qatar Peninsula, south of Bahrain, and Team 4 would recon beaches at Kuwait. In addition, Marine recon detachments were to survey from the high water mark inland at each site. We were told that this voyage was initiated by invitation from King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. Although the cruise was announced as a "goodwill" voyage, UDT's planned recon operations were not publicized and we were sworn to be silent about our part in the operation for at least three years.

On the Silver Strand at Coronado preparation for the cruise was started and physical conditioning was the usual go-for-broke swim, run, and volleyball routine, with an occasional trip to San Clemente Island to practice explosives skills. We were also introduced to a measurement device mounted on a "flutter board" which was functionally similar to a survey chain. The flutter boards had flotation bladders and reels mounted on them with 350 yards of marlin line marked with tags (similar to a lead line) spaced at 25 yard increments so that accurate distances from the high water mark could be recorded for each sounding measurement. These boards would not be practical for most combat reconnaissance (recon) operations because the line had to be first staked on the beach and soundings made by a pair of swimmers as the line payed out. However, for this peacetime operation, flutter boards would clearly result in more precise hydrographic data.

Because the Persian Gulf is relatively shallow for long distances from shore, depth measurements beyond the limited areas to be covered by swimmers were planned to be accomplished using Landing Craft, Personnel Reconnaissance (LCPR), boats equipped with fathometers. The relative location of each fathometer measurement would be determined using hand-held sextants. Simultaneous sight readings of the two angles between three pylons to be erected on the beaches would pin-point fathometer sounding locations for later charting of hydrographic depth measurements. Beach-mounted pylons were to be erected by Marine Corps recon troops who would also survey areas inland from the high water mark.

At the time of this cruise, Underwater Demolition Team One was below its authorized strength of fifty men and five officers. LT. (jg) Alfred R. Sears was CO. Other officers included LT (jg)s C. R. "Bob" Hinman, Royal "Roy" Baker, W. L. "Bill" Thede, E. P. Smith, and Ens'. Marion Tigert and J. O. Lyon. Noncommissioned personnel included: BMC George Rush; HMC "Doc" Hendrix; GM-1 Kenny Ryland; BM2 Walter H. "Spook" Otte; BM2 Emil J. Barta; GM2, John E. "Stinky" Reinhart; EN2 Fred "Tiz" Morrison; YN2 William N. "Willie" Roach; EM3 Tony Provenzo; GM3 Allen J. Glasie; GM3 Robert W. "Bob" McKee; BM3 C. E. "Bo" Bohannon; EN3 Edward H. "Foots" Carter; QM3 James P. "Dempsey" Donovan and FN William T. "Bill" Donovan (twins); SN Mel Dyal; SN Jim Frazier; SN E. L. "Spike" Field; SN C. N. Whitehouse; SN Martin T. "Choppers" Watson; SA Kenneth W. "Robbie" Robinson; SA Francis A. "Willie" Wills; and about 20 other teammates.

After preparing gear, we boarded an LST in San Diego harbor in late May 1948 for transport to San Pedro where we boarded the heavy cruiser, USS Columbus, CA-74. From then on we had a lazy, slow-rolling voyage down the west coast to the Panama Canal Zone. While aboard the Columbus some of us were introduced to the holystone, an ancient tool used to sand and clean teakwood decks -- an assignment obviously intended to keep us busy and out of trouble! Traversing through the Canal was interesting, but not a spectacular event. After dropping hook at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, we transferred to the USS Missouri, BB-63, for the short haul to Norfolk, and then by bus to Little Creek, VA. Some of our personal gear was "ripped off" by the Big MO ship's company and we retaliated by "liberating" a life ring marked with the famous ship's name and hull number (which we later proudly hung in our Coronado barracks). In retrospect, we probably would have taken it anyway as a souvenir without the insult.

At the Little Creek Amphibious Base, near Virginia Beach, we resumed operational training and physical conditioning. After many practice recons off Hampton Roads, it was generally agreed that the surf at Coronado was much more interesting, cleaner and better fun. Chesapeake jellyfish must have been spawning, since we couldn't swim five feet without having to take evasive action. In contrast, back home in the waters off the Silver Strand, we rarely encountered the indigenous Portuguese man-of-war, a potent variety of jellyfish. The "Creek" area was muggy-hot, quite unlike our relatively cool homeport, but east coast heat was nothing compared to what we were to experience later in the Persian Gulf. Finally, the majority of UDT-1 "Frogs" went aboard the USS Carpellotti, APD-136, for a shakedown cruise and welcome sea breezes. Aboard, we were billeted as "Second Division" sailors, and were reminded to be silent about our part in the coming Persian Gulf Operations.

It was a good thing that we made those trial runs off Hampton Roads because the ship's evaporators were found to be fouled and did not produce the quantity of distilled fresh water needed for ship's company and us passengers. No one wanted water rationing, especially on that cruise! The ship next put in at Portsmouth where a new engineering officer solved the problem -- we never had to ration water again during the whole voyage! While in port, one of our more talented teammates welded "requisitioned" lockers to the inboard bulkhead of the port troop compartment. This convenience made shipboard life easier by not having to live out of sea bags. Finally, we all turned-to and completely painted our new quarters, deck and all! APD's really needed that kind of refurbishment -- leave it to Frogmen! UDT occupied the port troop compartment and the 2nd Division Marine Recon detachment, which had accompanied us from Coronado, was assigned to the starboard compartment.

Carpellotti put out to sea on 7 July 1948, clearing Hampton Roads on a cool, sunny morning which was, in retrospect, a good omen because until we got to the Indian Ocean, the rest of our voyage was as smooth a run as one could expect. Carpellotti was part of Task Force 128, led by the USS Pocono, AGC-16, and accompanied by escort aircraft carrier, USS Siboney, CVE-112. All of UDT-4 and a detachment from UDT-1 were aboard the command ship, Pocono, headed to Kuwait. The core element of Team 1 was aboard the Carpelloti, headed to the Qatar Peninsula.

The USS Carpellotti's CO was LCDR A. L. Gallin; XO, LT Russell Jonson; First Lieutenant, LT (jg) Leonard Bogue; and Chief Engineer, LT (jg) Harry Pine. In addition to ship's officers and crew, two civilians were aboard to perform "oceanographic research" ñ Glen Krouse from the Navy Dept. and Bill Briggs from the Scripps Institute. Captain Gallin recalls this voyage as the "Truman Good Will Cruise to the Persian Gulf". Somehow, it was to counterbalance U.S. support for the Israeli War, which was going on at the time.

On July 19th the task force made landfall at Gibraltar, one of the oldest and strongest fortresses in the world. After mooring at "His Majesties' Dockyard", liberty was taken in two sections to see the sites while Carpellotti took on 15,500 gallons of fuel from the British port authority. That proved to be a mistake, because soon after we got underway the next day, the ship's boilers started to act-up -- the fuel was apparently contaminated with seawater! There we were in the blue, placid Mediterranean and had to pump the whole load over the side. Carpellotti refueled 13,372 gallons from Siboney the next day. Imagine doing that now, fifty years later, what with all the environmental restrictions and Greenpeace around!

The next port of call was Naples, Italy. Now, there was a real liberty town! In '48 Italy was still recovering from WW II; and, even though evidence of the late unpleasantness was present, the streets were clean and the people seemed to throw out the welcome mat. For Pacific sailors, this was our first glimpse of Europe. We drank wine at sidewalk cafes and inspected museums. Some of our demolition crew got to visit the Isle of Capri, Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. Carved cameos were the big sidewalk sales attraction, and even though most were of poor quality, we bought them anyway. During our five days at this ancient port, bumboats were offering pistols of questionable origin and other contraband for as little as two cigarette cartons. It was an interesting port!

Next, came Athens -- "Queen of the Aegean Sea"! The day we dropped hook in Phalerum Bay, off Piraeus, the weather was balmy and the water was warm, azure and clear -- just as portrayed in travel brochures. Liberty started immediately. As the first liberty boat approached an old stone quay at Piraeus, local Greeks crowded around, possibly curious to see how well American sailors could handle a boat. We pulled along side that quay "real slick" with EM3 Tony Provenzo serving as cox'un, showing them how!

Before going ashore, we'd been told that Commies had shot-up parts of Athens a few days before, so naturally we took notice of the pock marked walls as we strolled about. The people of Athens were cordial, but did not seem as outgoing as our hosts at the previous port. What was really great, and the dream of a lifetime, was climbing the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon. Athens was the sight seeing high point of the cruise! Indeed, the whole city seemed to be a huge museum.

Our next port of call was Ismir, Turkey. Before going ashore, we were told that the Turks were a proud people, fiercely loyal to their country but relatively poor, consequently, we should be prepared to see a more Spartan way of life compared to Europe and America. What we found was a very friendly population, eager to please its visitors. Shops were scrupulously clean and freshly whitewashed, although not too well stocked with goods for sale -- just as we had been told. During the last evening in port, one of our liberty boat crews was waiting at the quay for shipmates to return when two Turks approached the LCPR showing interest. One had lived in Brooklyn and spoke some English. EN2 "Tiz" Morrison had a "ball" explaining the features of the Gray Marine engine and BM2 Emil Barta showed them special LCPR features such as the small (personnel only) landing ramp on the bow. The Turks responded with smiles and gave us a large melon in appreciation for the short tour. Our liberty in Ismir was a good experience, and a friendly welcome to Asia Minor.

After two days laying-off Ismir, we steamed south toward Port Said and the Suez Canal. While underway, an alert was received that there might be floating mines in the area resulting from sweep operations, but none were seen. USS Siboney Marine Corps aviators got some flying time, and UDT was assigned plane-guard "swim" duty. A pair of "Frogs" were assigned to stand watch in front of the bridge deck, dressed in trunks, ready with swim fins and facemasks as Carpellotti trailed behind the baby carrier in case a plane got wet. Fortunately, we were not needed. Aviator rescue duty was serious business, as evidenced by the fact that one of Siboney's pilots was lost at sea after the ship's arresting gear failed. That accident happened after the task force had entered the Persian Gulf, and after Carpellotti had left the convoy to proceed independently toward its assigned operational site.

Nearing the southeastern end of the Mediterranean, as the task force slowly approached the ship channel through the Great Bitter Lake and entrance to the Suez Canal, we passed a Russian ship which did not return the honor of dipping colors (bad form). Then, for some unexplained reason, hoped for liberty at Port Said did not mature and we pressed right through the canal to the Red Sea without stopping. It was during this slow, all-day passage through the canal that we got our first taste of Middle East summer heat -- with the desert on both banks, the sun glaring down, no air conditioning onboard, and no breeze. As we made way through the canal, ship's company personnel erected canvas awnings to cover deck surfaces exposed to the sun. This welcome shade helped reduce absorbed and radiated heat felt below decks, as well as shielding personnel from the sun's intense rays. Of historical note, the day Carpellotti transited the Suez Canal on 8 August 1948, a Danish Count who was acting as a UN peace negotiator, had his aircraft shot down in the war zone.

On 10 August Carpellotti left the Suez Canal and steamed into the Red Sea. Immediately, fresh breezes were a welcome relief and the sea was smooth, with no swells. We hadn't been underway very long when an urgent radio message requested assistance to aid a heat-exhaustion medical case from the SS Argo, a merchant ship of Greek registry. Carpellotti's boat crew received the patient and transferred him to the Pocono for transport to Kuwait, its next port of call, and Team 4's planned operations site.

When we left the Red Sea and entered the Gulf of Aden, the weather changed, temperature dropped to about 80 degrees F., the sea was choppy, sky overcast, and wind blew steadily. We also looked down in amazement and apprehension at the many snakes swimming on the surface. Nowhere before had we ever seen so many snakes -- hundreds, even thousands of them! These were the infamous Indian Ocean Sea Snakes, which reportedly have a poison similar to a cobra's venom, which attacks the nervous system. This reality led to speculation as to what we might find in the Gulf waters.

While the three-ship task force steamed through the Indian Ocean, headed to the Gulf of Oman, we drew alongside the Pocono to take on fuel and transfer a ship's company medical patient via breaches buoy. As previously stated, Team 1 was aboard the Carpellotti and Team 4 was aboard the Pocono. It was common knowledge among the Teams that East and West Coast units were vituperative toward each other. So, during refueling operations some of our crew, led by QM3 "Dempsey" Donovan, engaged in some unauthorized, and less than complimentary, semaphore messages (sans flags) with Team 4 counterparts across the way - all in good fun, but the action earned a severe reprimand from our skipper. Unfortunately, the admiral aboard the Pocono had been reading the same messages.

After steaming through the Gulf of Oman, on 15 August, we finally reached the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow body of water that separates the lower end of the Arabian sub-continent from Iran and the Asian continent. From there on it really got hot, and even hotter! Upon clearing the Straits, Carpellotti left the task force and proceeded alone toward the small city of Doha located on the south side of the Qatar Peninsula which extends eastward into the Gulf, and is located midway up the western side.

On 17 August we dropped hook about 8 miles off Doha, capitol of Qatar because of extremely shallow depths. Thus, at this point, "Carpellotti became the first American warship to reach these shores." A courtesy call was to be made the next day on His Highness, Sheik Abdullah Ibn Jassin al Thani. The Carpellotti's CO, Al Gallin, and Underwater Demolition Team One's CO, Al Sears, went ashore to meet the Sheik and present gifts. UDT's gift was a silver-painted 6-man rubber boat, along with paddles embellished with "turk's-heads" woven from marlin. The official U. S. Navy's gift, presented by the ship's CO, was a chrome-plated carbine.

The boat crew was made up of UDT personnel, including "Tiz" Morrison, who served as cox'un, along with the Donovan twins, Bill and "Dempsey", and Jim Frazier. All enlisted personnel were wearing fatigue greens.

This article was written in 1993 (amended in 2000) by E. L. "Spike" Field, with inputs from E. "Mel" Dyal and C. R. "Bob" Hinman and submitted to the Naval Historical Center's Library at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC. Portions were published in the UDT-SEAL Museum's quarterly, Fire in the Hole, dated September, 1993; and, in Commandos From the Sea -- A History of Naval Special Warfare by John "Barry" Dwyer, (ISBN 0-87354-960-5) published by Paladin Press.

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