PT 509 & 503 Wreath Laying Ceremony

CIOS Committee Member Mr. Alex Fearn today led a Remembrance Ceremony at Noirmont Point, honouring the crews of US Navy PT Boats 509 and 503 who were killed in action just off the point during WW2 on this date in 1944. The Society kindly thanks Alex for organising and for providing the following details of the actions of the boats’ crews and the aftermath.

Welcome Speech

“Parishioners of St Brelade, people of Jersey, visitors and guests:

It is my honour today to present to you this wreath laying ceremony. This remembers the events 71 years ago today, when on 9th August 1944, the US Navy Squadron, Patrol Torpedo 34 with six boats, intercepted a German convoy in the early hours of the morning, firstly off La Corbiere and then along the coast to Noirmont point. A fierce battle followed, with the loss of PT509 - the Sassy Sue - and with 16 US Naval personnel lives lost.

I’m so grateful to all those of you who are in attendance, together with the permission given by Jersey Property Holdings, the Parish of St Brelade and the Channel Islands Occupation Society.

Thanks also to the Jersey Evening Post who are covering our event today.

I hope you agree this wonderful memorial set up and maintained by John Ovenden and the President of the CIOS, Paul Burnal and his wife Glynis, is a fitting and unique tribute to the bravery of the men lost at sea. Note also we have one of the cleats recovered from the PT509 which saw action that day.

I am also grateful for the support and advice of the American Battle Monuments Commission and the US Government. Thank you for attending this event and for making sure we will never forget.

This ceremony will outline the fateful events of that day, will have the names of those who were lost read out, then the laying of the wreaths and a one minute silence.”

The Boat

PT 509, a wooden 80 ft Motor Torpedo Boat, was built at the ELCO Electric Boat Works in Bayonne, New Jersey in April 1943 and commissioned January 1944. She had three supercharged Packard V12 gasoline engines, each weighing approximately 2900 pounds. These provided 4,050hp and a speed of 40 knots. She was armed with 2 x 21 inch torpedoes, six 600 lb depth charges, one 40mm stern gun, one 37mm bow gun and 2x .50 cal machine guns. Using 100 octane fuel, she had a range of 259 radius miles.

She was assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 34 (PTRon 34). After working up along the US East coast, PT-509 was shipped to England.

She participated in pre-D-Day training and on June 6th, she and her crew screened landing craft and lent assistance to the numerous damaged and destroyed ships littering the beachhead. She was called the Sassy Sue.

After D-Day she helped maintain a 6.5 mile long picket line, to defend against possible E-boat attack into the convoy unloading area and then engaged in regular combat patrols along the French coast and the Channel, hunting enemy ships and submarines as the battle for the control of the French ports intensified.

The Squadron

Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron Ron 34 was commissioned 31 December 1943 and assigned to the English Channel, seeing action between June and October 1944. It was made up of 12 ELCO 80 ft Pt boats - numbers 498 to 509.

It operated out of Portsmouth in the early days following D Day and subsequently Cherbourg after capture by the allied troops on the 27th of June.

The Action

In August with the Cotentin Peninsula now firmly in Allied hands, the German High Command in the Channel Islands fully expected an attack on the east coast of Jersey. In order to counter this, the Germans transferred two batteries of 15cm K18 field guns, with a range of 24 kilometres, from Guernsey to Jersey. In the early hours of 9th August 1944 a German convoy consisting of the M4626, two freighters and five heavily armed M class trawlers, left St. Peter Port Harbour, Guernsey. Their cargo included five or six of these K18 guns and around 170 artillery personnel.

PT Boat 509, along with boats 500, 503, 506, 507 and 508 were dispatched to intercept and sink the convoy. Through thick fog and mined waters the boats in two groups prepared their attack. The first group crept towards shore and eventually sighted the German convoy off the beach at St Ouen’s bay. Choosing to remain undetected, the second group including PT509, remained off Noirmont and at 0608hrs launched torpedoes into the German formation. With no torpedo hits heard, the decision was made to attack the convoy at speed and strafe as many German vessels as possible before using a high speed to escape into open waters.

The torpedo launch mobilized the German escorts, who then engaged PT509 with a cross fire. PT509 returned fire and took evasive action. A fierce fire fight, one of the bloodiest in PT boat history, then ensued in and around the foggy waters off Noirmont point.

The story is brought back to life with the account of the sole survivor, John L. Page, Radarman, 3rd class. This confirms firing the torpedo at a range of 700 yards then closing in to make a 200 yard firing run. There was much return and accurate fire from the enemy, with shells killing LTJG Paylis, who was at the wheel, and setting fire to the chart house, and wounding Page. When Paylis fell to the deck, the out of control boat rammed the enemy ship M4626 at right angles. With a split open bow and engines screaming at full revs, PT 509 attached to the side of the German ship which was still underway, with its hull in flames and bow forced up the trawler deck level. The German crew members were desperately trying to push the PT boat off with boat hooks and iron bars. Page remembers seeing LTJG Mathes going below to destroy confidential items and noted the cannon gunner dead.

After the initial impact Page had been stunned, when he regained consciousness he detonated the radar set, and crawled first into the cockpit then forward to the shattered bow in a hail of bullets and driven forward by the flames engulfing the doomed PT boat. Page, wounded by thirty seven shrapnel wounds and a broken right arm and leg was hauled aboard by the Germans.

There was no escape for the remaining greatly outnumbered PT crewmen - the German troops fired small arms and lobbed grenades down onto the PT509.

As Page was hauled up to the trawler, PT509s engines stopped and the Germans managed to push it away and taking more time to free up the lines which had become entangled with the trawler.

Page was half conscious aboard the German ship and a minute or two after he was aboard he felt a blast plus a terrific heat. This led Page to believe the 509 exploded although he did not see it. The Germans were finally able to free the boat from the ship’s hull with boat hooks and crow bars.

The fight did not end there for the remainder of the squadron, and as daylight broke and the fog thinned, PT boats 503 and 507 sent to search for the 509. They located the convoy on radar, now nearing St Helier harbour and the 507 engaged the convoy with its 37mm and .50cal guns at around 100 yards. PT 503 also opened up and fired its remaining torpedo and sprayed the enemy decks and bridge with gunfire. The Germans returned fire with deadly accuracy and of the 15 crew on the 503, only three had not been hurt. Smoke was laid down and the boats made a zig zag pattern back to their support destroyer, the USS Maloy.

Page was taken to St Helier General Hospital for treatment. He refused to answer questions about the radar and radio, giving name, rank and serial number only. 4 German servicemen were killed and 41 were also injured in the attack. He remained in hospital until January 1945 with his wounds.

A few days later the bodies of Horsefield, Bricker and Schafforth floated ashore and given decent burial rites by American prisoners and island authorities in the Howard Davis Park cemetery. Some of the wooden grave markers are on display within the Battery Lothringen command bunker.

Fourteen of PT 509′s fifteen man crew were killed, along with two crewmen from the PT 503. Of the sixteen USN personnel killed in the battle, nine bodies were never recovered – the sea just off this point taking them to final peace.

For her actions, PT 509 received her second Battle Star for World War II service. Lt Crist was awarded the Purple Heart medal.

The Sassy Sue lies in 10 metres of water and this memorial looks out to her final resting place just offshore from Noirmont Point. Some of her parts recovered from diving missions are on display at the Jersey Maritime Museum and in the Lothringen Command Bunker.

Names of the Men Lost

Lieutenant Harry M. Crist
Lieutenant Junior Grade James M Mathes
Lieutenant Junior Grade John K. Paylis
William S Ausley Gunner’s Mate, 3rd Class
Alfred A Ricci Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class
Walter P. Wypick Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class
Richard E. Horsfield Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class
Marvin W. Lossin Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class
Kenneth R. Line Ship’s Cook, 3rd Class
Edward C. Thale Quartermaster, 2nd Class
Charles A Kornak Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class
Darrel A Bricker Radarman, 3rd Class
Rudolf W. Schaffroth Torpedoman’s Mate, 2nd Class
Tony S. Reynolds Radarman, 3rd Class

PT 503
Elmer F. Albright Motor Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class
Boyd W. Brumm Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class