HEROES
#15 in a series
USS Leedstown sinking, World War II
By Paul A. Roales



In January of 2011 I bought a short snorter on eBay. Around the edge of the reverse was written: "USS Leedstown (AP-73) / Sunk off the coast of Algeria on Nov. 9, 1942 / C.O. Lt. Comdr. Cook / Exec. Off. Lt. Comdr. Melichevz" (not sure of spelling of the XO's name). Also the signature of Wally Blake is centered on the reverse. The obverse has 13 additional signatures.

The USS Leedstown was the Grace Lines passenger ship the SS Santa Lucia pressed into war time service. Prior to World War II, Santa Lucia operated commercially with the Grace Lines and with the U.S. Army. Santa Lucia, built in 1933 by the Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. of Kearny, N.J. was acquired by the Navy 6 August 1942; renamed Leedstown (AP-73) 20 August 1942; and commissioned 24 September 1942, Lt. Comdr. Duncan Cook in command. He had been the Captain of the Santa Lucia for Grace Lines before the ship was pressed into military service due to the urgent need for transports in the forthcoming invasion of North Africa.

The note is a North Africa emergency note. When Eisenhower started the "Operation Torch" campaign in North Africa in November 1942, the U.S. troops carried unique currency with them. Since the U.S. was worried that large amounts of U.S. money would fall into enemy hands they created a series of emergency bank notes solely for use of troops in that area. Each of these 1935A series emergency bills was printed with a gold seal instead of the usual blue seal on Silver Certificates. If these bills fell into enemy hands, they would have simply been demonetized and made worthless. The one--time issue in 1942 was used again in the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943. The serial number on this note indicates it was one of the earliest printed North Africa notes. The serial numbers on North Africa notes began at B 30000001 C, so this was the 4,440th printed. It was probably carried by one of the sailors on the USS Leedstown when she sank.

With the help of some image processing and Patrick Barnum I was able to decipher most of the 13 names on the obverse of the note. All were crewmembers on the USS Leedstown. For the first two signatures, only part of the name was readable, but having the muster roll helped decipher them. On the muster roll there was only one Ernest L. Mc(anything), so his identity is known. The first signature is a little tougher, but I believe it is Luis S. Perez despite the different spelling of the first name.
Louis S. P----
Ernest L. Mc----
William F. Barrows
John W. Kalitzky
Russ Halter
Joe Lee Kimdig
Adrian Kalkman
Kenneth Dearmore
Lawrence E. Kepley BM 2/c
Stan Johnson
Ralph K. Jeffers (Jeff)
Roy A. Bean
Hildor E. Nelson

In the list below I have added their serial number, rank, and enlistment location from the September 30, 1942 muster role of the USS Leedstown.
*Luis S. Perez, 421 02 51, OC2c, no record
Ernest L. McCraw, 611 26 85, Sea2c, Chicago, IL
William F. Barrows, 652 49 02, MoMM2c, Pittsburgh, PA
John Kalitzky, 668 74 48, Sea2c, St. Louis, MO
*Francis R. Halter, 316 47 57, Y2c, Los Angeles, CA
Joe L. Kimdig, 611 26 81, AS, no record
Adrian U. Kalkman, 638 44 58, Sea2c, Minneapolis, MN
Kenneth R. Dearmore, 630 17 36, Sea2c, Little Rock, AR
Lawrence E. Kepley, 626 36 60, Bkr3c, Indianapolis, IN
*Glen S. Johnson, 610 49 56, Sea2c, New Haven, CT
Ralph K. Jeffers, 652 40 91, Sea2c, Pittsburgh, PA
Roy A. Bean, 337 27 14, Sea2c, Chicago, IL
Hildor E. Nelson, 614 45 45, AS, no record

The names marked with * indicates that it is a best guess, as no exact match was found on the muster roll. Intrestingly, Lawrence E Kepley lists his rank on the short snorter as BM 2/c, but is listed as Bkr3c on the muster roll. So he was apparently promoted after September 30, 1942.

The name on the back of the note, "Wally Blake", remains unidentified, as there is no one with a similar name on the USS Leedstown muster role. There is a Walter E. Blake who was aboard the oiler USS Winooski (AO-38) at that time. The Winooski was also involved in Operation Torch and was itself torpedoed 2 days after the Leedstown, but not sunk. Perhaps he met the Leedstown crew members at that time and had them prepare this short snorter?

What happened to the USS Leedstown is told in a letter that Gordon L. Barnam, a radioman on the ship, sent home via a Merchant sailor (thus avoiding the military censor). His nephew Patrick posted this letter on the www [Barnum, Patrick W. "Barnum Family Genealogy." http://www.barnum.org/nti00763.htm (May, 2013)].

"I am going to really give you the dope and try to get it through. You will have to be sure to keep it quiet, I left the States on the 26th of September. We arrived in North Ireland at Belfast the tenth of October after stopping at Halifax, left Belfast and went to Inderary for landing maneuvers. From there we joined a large convoy, at Greenich, Scotland. After four or five days a convoy of forty transports with its escort left for Africa. The convoy split just outside of Gibraltar, we went through the Rock about the fifth of November. The sixth we had our first air raid. That day we joined a large task force of twenty-six ships. Our convoy included six transports with its living escort. The morning of Nov. seventh we lost our first ship, the USS Thomas Stone was hit on the rudder by an aerial torpedo; it was disabled and later towed into Algiers. That night our loading barges and tank lighters were lowered at about 10:30 P.M. The first wave of commandos hit the shore at about 11:30 or twelve. There was little resistance on the beach, but some resistance was met farther inland, an airport was taken over about six miles inland; a fort offered some resistance but the task force soon changed their minds. We had raids all day Sunday and had a large one Sunday night. Our ship (the troop transport USS Leedstown) was the only one hit; it was also hit on the rudder by an aerial torpedo and disabled. One of our gunners got the plane. Early the next morning they dropped flares on us,but no bombs. At daylight Monday a lone Stuka came over and dive bombed at one of the ships, but missed. Soon after this the convoy left us and went into the harbor at Algiers; we were left with a corvette to protect us. They were dropping depth charges all morning; at 12:30 Monday morning we had an attack. We had a six-foot miss on one side of the ship and a twenty-foot miss on the other; about six minutes later we were hit rear amidships by two submarine torpedoes. We had to abandon ship. We lost four of the men in the engine crew and four in the surf. I was picked up by the corvette. Most of the crew were in the water about two hours. The corvette kept picking up survivors and patrolling for the sub. During all this time we had little R.A.F. protection. Monday night we had a large air raid and the R.A.F. went into action; they downed thirteen of eighteen aircraft. Our convoy was credited with twelve enemy planes and our ship got three or four of those. During the raid that night our ship was finished off. I stayed on the corvette until six the next morning. I was transferred, along with 150 others that were picked up by the corvette, to an English transport, from there to a mine sweeper, and from there to the destroyer escort USS Chase. The rest of the crew was taken aboard about Thursday. After the convoy was unloaded we headed for Gibraltar. Twenty-nine of the Leedstown were put on the cargo ship Almaac, including six radio men. We left at four oíclock one evening for England. At 3:30 the next morning the Almaac was torpedoed (our second in a week). We were taken back to Gibraltar on a Norwegian destroyer. We went on a hike through part of Gibraltar, from there an American destroyer brought us to Casablanca. We radiomen were given shore duty. We have a little hope of getting to the states, but are not too sure of it. This isn't such a bad place. We haven't been paid yet, our records were lost, so I donít know when we will be paid. All for now. Iím sending this with a Merchant sailor."

The USS Leedstown sank at 16.15 hours 9 Nov. 1942 at position: 36.40N 02.45E. Its complement was 538 crewmembers and 2,505 troops. 11 crewmen were listed as missing after the attack and sinking, but all the troops has disembarked before the sinking.

ADDENDUM

On January 7, 2015 I got an email from Mark Halter of La Crosse, WI. He confirmed my guess that Russ Halter and Francis R. Halter were the same man. He also provided the photo and information about his father that I have posted below.He said:

"I happened to come across the Leedstown "short snorter" you posted. My dad, Russ Halter, was one of the signers. He just died at 98 1/2 on October 4 [2014]. Dad was Francis R. Halter and his military serial number was 316 47 57. He is listed as being from Los Angeles because between enlistments he was working at the Lockheed P-38 plant in LA or perhaps Long Beach. He was a farm kid from Flandreau, SD. Enlisted in 1936, got out but re-upped when the war broke out then in the reserves for a total of 20 years. Discharged at Fort Snelling in Minneapolis, met my ma, had five kids and sold construction equipment throughout southern MN. Had a good life. Outlived two wives.
The sinking of the Leedstown was perhaps the most dramatic event of his life. I've heard about it all my life and it was one of the things he remembered late in life after dementia set in. He and another guy were the last ones on the ship. Captain Cook's daughter wrote a memoir about her dad that includes an account of the sinking of the Leedstown plus her dad's report about it to the Navy. It differs a bit from my dad's recollection (by the way, my dad was one of Capt. Cook's yeomen). The Captain claims he was the last off the ship after a careful inspection to make sure no others were left and my dad always claimed the captain left fairly early on in the process!
My dad's escape was always enjoyable to hear. He was on the bridge when those two bombs straddled the ship and it scared him witless and when the torpedoes hit subsequently it set him off even more. He couldn't swim so when it came time to jump off the listing ship he put on two life jackets, one in the regular way and one strapped around his legs. But when he got in the water the lower jacket was holding his butt higher than his head and he was swallowing water so he quickly discarded the lower jacket. He then tried to swim away from the ship for many minutes but when he looked back he was still right by the ship and, according to him, being drawn into the torpedo holes! So he climbed back on the ship, met up with another guy who had experienced the same thing. The lifeboats were all gone but they did find one of the vertically secured rafts, released it and took off for shore. He always said he picked up about a dozen guys on the way in. As they approached shore people were yelling at them to avoid some rocks and in doing so the waves caught the raft, tipped it over and they made it to shore with the help of townspeople who had some sort of longs reeds to help pull them in and brought to a bakery overnight where they dried off their clothes and were picked up the next morning.. A little French girl gave my dad a bottle of wine to drink from but he had swallowed so much water that when he took a drink, he promptly threw up!
Dad kept the uniform he had on the day of the sinking in a box in the attic of our home in Minneapolis all the years I was a child. It was wrinkled and oily but fun to take out and examine. He finally burned it when he was going to leave his retirement home by the lake in Miltona, MN for Arizona. It also irked him to no end that he had bought a brand new pair of blue bell-bottomed dress sailor pants in either New York or Scotland and had them in his locker on the Leedstown when it went down. Those new unworn pants at the bottom of the Mediterranean were too much to think about.
It certainly occurred to me that these were the guys who came ashore in the same raft and stayed at the bakery for a day or two or three (Monday afternoon until Thursday?) They might have met Walter (whose ship was torpedoed on that Wednesday?) at that time and sitting around or perhaps in town at a bar, wrote on the dollar.
Also when the Samuel Chase, which brought most of the Leedstown survivors back to Scotland, made the Atlantic, it went dead in the water (apparently due to sea water in the fuel filters) for a number of hours. The convoy kept going but left a British corvette to guard the Chase. It was the longest night in my dad's life. He was sure a wolf pack would find them and sink them once again. He even left his bunk and went up on deck so he wouldn't be trapped below. But they got the engines going again and the rest of the return was uneventful. I believe the convoy they had been a part of did suffer heavy damage by U-boats.
And I've read about the U-331 that sunk the Leedstown and the young Captain of that who was captured about 12 days later and spent time in Canada as a POW and then as a citizen.
Fascinating dollar bill!"



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