Bob Stoops USS Coast Guard

 

 On the night of Dec.24th, 1944 the captain and crew of the coast guard cutter #15, who were already aboard ship, were sent out to sea just outside Cherbourg Harbor about 11:30 p.m.   Our crew consisted of 11 men.

     About 1 mile out of the harbor I could hear many voices carrying over the water.  There were other boats as well in the area. Search lights from all of us gave us the picture of the bow of the ship USS Leopoldville pointing toward the dark sky with the midship and stern under water.  Hundreds of bodies were in the waters of the English Channel.

     Our ship's motors were put in idle so the bodies in the water would not get caught up in the propellers in the rear of the ship.  Rope ladders were lowered into the water off the port and starboard sides of our ship.  A small team of men was placed on each side of the ship.  We grabbed some of the bodies with our arms and hands and some with a boat hook.  Some made it up the rope ladders by themselves.  We took some to our 10 bunks below deck, some lay on the galley floor, and others in the wheelhouse.  A few lay on our deck.

     Christmas Eve was OK for those on our ship. We brought over 40 survivors into Cherbourg Harbor.  The tide plays a role at the stone wall in the harbor. At times the tide was 20 feet below the harbor surface.  I cannot remember how the tide played a role in removing those 40 plus men to shore that night.

     At morning light it was time to go back out to sea.  Nothing was at the site of the ship's sinking but about 30 bodies floating in an area 50 yards wide.  Maybe the current in the channel did not effect their positions in the water.  It was quiet.  The bodies were quiet in the swells of the cold water.  One by one with our boat hooks the bodies were brought onto our deck.  We took each body up to the bow of the ship. This left the stern clear to operate.  The last body  floating about 20 feet from us was facing away from us with his arms outstretched.  Our boat was rocking.  As we got closer to him we reached out with the boat hook and on the 2nd try the boat hook glanced off his head.  The shock of the blow made his hands lift up out of the water and slowly lower again.  This solder was still alive.  We pulled him up on deck, applied some resuscitation, covered him with a blanket and headed for the port of Cherbourg.

     Many dead and one alive.  A Christmas morning happening on the Coast Guard Cutter #15. 

 

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