National Geographic : 1944 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine been wrecked here, caught helpless on just such a lee shore. Those waves piling up on the yellow sands have rolled unmolested 3,400 miles from Spain. Yet relentlessly on and on they rushed, bound for that maelstrom of foam. One hundred yards out the captain let go the stern anchor and our cable snaked out astern. With a sudden shock our craft struck the beach, her bow lifting and riding up on the sand. Surf piled up under her stern and roared past her sides. Out rattled the ramps, and a sailor or two ran down to the beach and back. "I have beached some 200 times, but I still wince every time I land in surf," the cap tain commented. "All my instincts tell me to turn around. Yet I must keep on, as there is no changing my mind once I start in. It's vital, too, to get that anchor out at the right instant. If I let go too soon, I run out of cable and hang from the anchor in the break ers. With too little scope, I can't use the hook to pull off when retracting." I glanced at the other beaching LCIs. Sail ors were grabbing life lines and waving their white hats at the girls on the beach. Women and children scurried out of the way as the gray steeds came galloping in. Surprisingly, our vessel rested quietly, her stern pointing out to sea. Big waves lifted her up and down in a rocking, hobbyhorse motion. "When the Army is with us, here's where they go ashore," the group commander said. "Carrying all their gear-helmets, rifles, packs, and gas masks-they pile from the troop spaces and run down the ramps and up the beach. "Oftentimes we can't get in all the way. Then the soldiers must jump off the ramps in water up to their hips. If they fall, they jump up quickly and keep going, soaked from head to foot. All ashore, we retract and go back for another load." Sailors in the bows hauled in the two ramps. The anchor engine on our fantail whined. Gradually we pulled off the beach. Well clear, our propellers took hold and we headed out, the waves rolling us down as we made the turn. Off to Sea in a Little LCI Again and again the ships beached, giving our two training crews thorough practice. Chief fault was a tendency to approach slowly and cautiously. Then the captain would shout, "Give her full ahead, man! Keep her moving. If you don't, the waves will take charge and you'll broach." Beaching finished, our LCIs headed out to sea in column behind the flagship. Plowing along, the blunt bows seemed to push the whole blue ocean before them, kicking up the usual foam. Everywhere we looked we could spot tiny Coast Guard patrol craft poking around look ing for U-boats. Now and then a big silvery blimp would glide down and look us over. Well out to sea, a Navy torpedoplane flew over, towing a big red sleeve. Our guns spit tracers and bullets into the blue sky. Most of our shots were below and behind, a common fault of beginners firing at airplane targets. Around the table after supper in the cozy wardroom the officer instructors spun yarns about their experiences with LCIs overseas. Lt. John R. Powers, USNR, formerly a social worker in Cincinnati, told of the ad ventures of LCI(L) 335, typical of all such craft in the South Pacific. After training at Solomons, Maryland, he commissioned his craft in November, 1942, and set sail for the Pacific, one of the first LCIs to go out. After traversing the Panama Canal, he steamed in convoy nonstop across to the Society Islands, thence by way of sev eral South Pacific bases to New Caledonia. 335's first brush with the Japanese was in the New Georgia push. At dawn she steamed into a small cove on Vangunu Island to land jungle fighters through terrific surf. Her bow stuck into the green forest. Big rollers lifted the ramps and made it difficult for the soldiers hurrying ashore. Backing out, the skipper could hear the infantry shooting in the woods. "Did you draw any fire from the shore?" I asked him. "No. But the surf was so vicious-10-foot waves-that I would hardly have noticed it, anyway. "We went back to our base in the Russells, loaded again, and on the Fourth of July landed infantry and Seabees at Rendova," he continued (page 7). "I shall never forget the fireworks that day. Sixteen Mitsubishi bombers came over and dropped their bombs just after we had re tracted. In fact, the bomb pattern fell on the exact spot where we had been beached a few moments before. It was a good old Fourth of-July celebration. Planes fell all around us. Our fighters got most of them. "We played around close to shore, keeping as inconspicuous as possible until the sky cleared. LCIs are so small and inoffensive looking that the enemy rarely bothers them. All the time I was more worried about the reefs than the falling bombs and AA frag ments.