Excerpts

Poseidon and the PC

Summer 1943

Paul’s letters were often meant to bring love and comfort to his wife, Phyllis, as well as to comment on current news events as he learned of them. To bring clarity and understanding to Paul’s letters, light first needs to be shed on a subject that very few people, including many military historians, seem to pay much attention to: life on a patrol craft (PC) during World War II and the training it took to be qualified to be an officer on a PC.

The task of a PC hardly puts one in the spotlight of the history of the war; convoy escort duty involved traveling at the extraordinarily boring convoy speed of eight knots for day after day. Not that many PCs ever chased an enemy submarine. Upon completing a convoy escort mission, it was highly likely that the next mission for a PC would be to go right back to where it had come from to travel with ships headed the other way—again cruising at monotonous speed. That activity is hardly the type of scenario that led to any exciting war movie starring John Wayne or Henry Fonda. Nevertheless, Paul was to experience more excitement than he bargained for before his service was over, and not from the enemy he expected.

The 173-foot, 10-inch patrol craft was designed to relieve the much larger capital ships, such as DD destroyers (340–370 feet, crew of 273 men) and DE destroyer escorts (at least 300 feet, 15 officers, 200 men), from duties where their firepower and capabilities might be wasted. A PC was designed as an anti-submarine warship (ASW) complete with assorted depth charges, some of which were dropped from the stern, others of which were shot from guns from starboard or port. There were two forward-throwing antisubmarine devices called mousetraps on the bow. The ship also had a three-inch gun, a 40-mm rapid-fire Bofors gun, and two 20-mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft machine guns.[1]  Designers claimed that these ships could effectively fight an enemy submarine on the surface; however, “all hands on a PC feared such an encounter with a submarine. Most submarines threw a shell farther and delivered a bigger wallop that did the 3-inch gun on a PC.”[2]  So the hope of a PC captain was to attack a submerged submarine and to be one of a group of ships so that the enemy submarine wouldn’t try to fight it out on the surface.

Because of the rather mundane role that PCs so often played, their abbreviation is not nearly as well known as the much smaller but more dashing wooden PTs.[3]  PCs weren’t considered to be ships large enough to be worthy of having a name.

Only a few PCs were built beginning in 1939. The vast majority of a total of 361 ships was produced between 1941 and 1945 in sixteen different locations across the country, including some inland sites that today wouldn’t be thought of as likely, such as Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, where Paul came aboard PC-1172, on which he would serve for eighteen months.[4]  The very last PC built during World War II was built in Portland, Oregon, and commissioned as PC-814 on June 5, 1945. Paul Neidhardt became second in command as an experienced PC officer.[5]  Of the 361 ships, twenty would be damaged and fifteen would be destroyed.[6]  Paul would be on one of the ships when it was destroyed.

A typical patrol craft had a crew of just five officers and sixty enlisted men. With all of these ships being built, many crews needed to be trained in a hurry. The training facility was created in Miami, Florida, and it was there that Paul reported in late May of 1943. Most of a PC crew were USNR (Naval Reservists), who were always given printed orders that contained the word temporary. Some regular Navy were assigned to PCs, sometimes referred to as “The Donald Duck Navy,”[7] and when they were, they “showed disappointment or resentment when the Navy did not assign them a capital ship. Some regulars feared that duty on a PC would take them away from combat and would diminish their naval career prospects.”[8]  While Paul wasn’t a “ninety-day wonder” when he reported for duty in Miami, as he’d been in the Navy for eleven months, the assignment of being a Navy officer on any kind of ship had to have been very new to him. Previously he probably had captained nothing more than a rowboat.

There is no way of knowing what kind of relationship Ensign Paul may have had with a famous personality who founded and commanded the Submarine Chaser Training Center (SCTC)—“Old Blood and Guts” Lieutenant Eugene Field McDaniel, Annapolis 1927. This officer commanded this school, which trained 50,000 officers and enlisted men during the war, sometimes training the five officers together with most of their sixty crew members.

Eleven Miami hotels housed the men on Biscayne Boulevard during what was typically about a sixty-day training period.[9] Married men apparently could arrange other housing. Paul had brought Phyllis and his daughter Carol down to Miami. The following picture was published in a local newspaper about them. We know that this picture was image_13.jpg Caption: Newspaper article. snapped after July 1, 1943, because as of that date, Ensign Neidhardt had been promoted to lieutenant (jg), which corresponds with his entry into the Navy exactly one year earlier. Though the picture here has the address only partially displayed, another picture shows their address to have been at 14th and Meridian in Miami Beach. Apparently taken the same day as the picture in the newspaper article were these additional pictures, which feature Phyllis wearing the identical dress and tiara, as well as Carol giving a salute:

Image_14.jpg and Image_15.jpg and Image_16.jpg Caption: Paul and Phyllis, Phyllis and Carol, Carol Saluting, in Miami Beach, July 1943.

A typical SCTC week for officers loaded them with the following schedule:

  • Twenty hours of ASW instruction
  • Three hours of medical knowledge
  • Eight hours of seamanship and ship handling on board a Training Center YP[10]
  • Seven hours of communication, radar, and navigation
  • All Saturday at sea for gunnery drills
  • All Sunday at sea for gunnery, communications, or command procedures, and
  • Three written examinations.[11]

With this seven-day workweek, just how much quality time was possible for Paul and Phyllis during this period seems obviously quite limited except for evenings.

The estimates of the number of men being trained at the SCTC during the time Paul was there is somewhere between 150 to 2,500 officers, and between 6,000 to 9,000 enlisted men.[12]

Despite the rugged training schedule, they did have additional time to take these vacation-like pictures taken in front of 1425 Meridian.

On August 11, 1943, Paul received orders to report to the US Naval station in New Orleans, Louisiana, from which he would travel up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, to help bring PC-1172 from Lake Michigan to New Orleans. Soon afterwards, Phyllis and Carol would return to Peoria, and Paul would become one of the junior officers assigned to the sub chaser PC-1172.

We have records of Paul taking a train from New Orleans up to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, on August 29 and 30, 1943, to join PC-1172, as shown above.

The three-inch gun is clearly visible above with the fifty-three-foot mast. The hull of the ship consisted of 5/16-inch welded steel plate. “Crews joked that this thin hull was ‘Just thick enough to keep out the water and small fish.’ They also said it protected the ship from tin fish—torpedoes. ‘Her hull is so thin a tin fish can go right through without exploding.’”[13]

Paul was assigned the task of accompanying the ship from Lake Michigan to New Orleans, and a copy of orders suggest the ship departed on September 18 or immediately after. This voyage was accomplished “via Lake Michigan, the Chicago and Wabash Canal, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans.”[14] The ship was then commissioned on October 6, 1943. “She then proceeded to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and completed shakedown there just before Christmas. From Guantanamo she went to Key West and joined with PC-1251 for the return passage to New Orleans, tying up on 11 January 1944.”[15]

The first letter we have written by Paul directed his wife Phyllis to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and she apparently visited there for a little more than two weeks.

Following are the 115 letters of Paul W. Neidhardt. Comments necessary to clarify and explain events are included in italics. Footnotes are included as necessary to elaborate on or support the information in the letters where deemed appropriate. Chapters that are written by the author are not italicized. These have been written to cover known events in months when there are no letters, which often means Phyllis and daughter Carol were with Paul.

[1] PC Patrol Craft of World War II, William J. Veigele, 294.

[2] Ibid., 36.

[3] Patrol Craft Sailors Association, 15: “The Christian Science Monitor gave the PC’s a little newspaper ink in a March 26. 1943 story … ‘Uncle Sam has thousands of seamen on hundreds of PC boats in convoy and escort duty, yet the PC boats are scarcely known outside the service,’ the paper said. ‘Perhaps that is because the PC boat is doing those hazardous and essential jobs which often go unnoticed in a war … PCs aren’t even dignified with names—just numbers.’”

[4] PC Patrol Craft of World War II, William J. Veigele, 356, Appendix E, and 330–355 Appendix D.

[5] Ibid, 55. The number of a PC has very little to do with when it was built. Paul’s first ship was PC-1172 commissioned in mid-1943. PC-814, his second ship and the last PC commissioned in World War II, was commissioned in June of 1945.

[6] Ibid, 241. The Navy Historical web site http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq82-1.htm claims there were only ten ships destroyed. However, due to this site claiming PC-814 was sunk on December 12, 1945, while Paul was an eye witness and executive officer of PC-814 on the day it was destroyed, October 9, 1945, author Veigele with his primary interest being in PC is arguably a better source. The PC to the Navy seems often barely more than a footnote.

[7] Ibid., 79.

[8] Ibid., 79.

[9] Ibid., 84.

[10] YP, or district patrol vessel/craft, comprised a wide variety of less-than-ninety-foot ships used for training and other close shore duties.

[11] Ibid., 87–88.

[12] Ibid., 89.

[13] Ibid., 58.

[14] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol V., 152.

[15] Ibid., 152.