The Sinking of the LST-422
There are many untold stories of the events of World War II. In documenting the stories of the over 900 men from Camden County NJ who gave their lives in the nation's service, I came across the story of the LST-422, where 454 Americans and a 29 British sailors were lost, on January 26, 1944, during the landings at Anzio, Italy. All were members of the 83rd Chemical Battalion, Motorized, which was later renamed the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion.
As of October 2002, the following men from Camden County are known to have been among those lost.
LST-422 was Lend-Leased to Great Britain in late 1942. As part of the Royal Navy, she was captained and crewed by British Naval personnel, although she was in this case transporting American personnel, arms, and equipment. LST-422 departed Naples, Italy the night of January 25th, 1944, loaded to capacity with trucks, Jeeps, M3 halftracks, ambulances, and other vehicles. She also carried many 50-gallon steel barrels of gasoline lashed to the deck, plus a variety of ammunition. The personnel were Companies C, D and Headquarters of the American unit 83rd Chemical Battalion, Motorized. This unit operated batteries of 4.2" mortars, firing white phosphorous, smoke, gas, and high explosive shells. Many of the trucks were loaded containing the very volatile white phosphorous 4.2 inch mortar shells. The LST-422 was part of a convoy of 13 LSTs. She was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Broadhurst, Royal Navy. In his report on the sinking of the LST-422 he wrote:
"It was noted in the ships log that the weather was deteriorating all the time the ships were in convoy. The wind veered from southerly to westerly Force 8 (gale). If the ships were allowed to fall just one point from the wind they would not steer. LST 11 and 65 (in a different convoy) collided and seversl other incidents were narrowly averted."
The LST-422 arrived off the coast of Anzio, Italy without incident about 1:00 A.M. on January 26, and set anchor due to the back long of ships unloading at the Anzio docks. During those early hours an intense storm whipped up with gale wind velocity and waves 20 to 30 feet high. The winds blew the LST into a known mine field, about 12 miles offshore. At 0520 hours, Captain Broadhurst was resting in a bunk built by the ship's magnetic compass, when a falsh was followed by a terrific explosion toppled the compass onto Captain Broadhurst. He managed to slide from beneath it and make his way to the brodge. The resulting explosion had blown a huge hole in the bottom and starboard side of the ship, and the ship's fuel oil supply had immediately ignited.
bridge, Broadhurst could see twenty foot flames coming from all the tank
deck ventilators. The vehicles in the tank space deck had begun to
explode, which had set fire to the ship's diesel fuel oil, much of which
had been sprayed out the moment lST-422 hit the mine. The explosion had
ripped a massive fifty foot hole on the starboard side in the region
between the main and auxiliary engine rooms.
The after hatch collapsed allowing exploding ammunition and rockets to escape, then fall onto the vehicles on the upper deck. Tanks of gasoline had been fractured by shrapnel and within two minutes the entire upper deck was a sheet of flame. Soon the bridge was on fire, and the ship's LCP (Landing Craft- Personnel) was ablaze and fell into the sea from its davits. Captain Broadhurst was unable to contact the engine room, all power had been lost. It was found to be impossible to reach the mess deck where the smoke helmets and asbestos suits were kept. An attempt was made to start the auxiliary fire foam motor, but this had been damaged by flying metal from the exploding objects.
U.S. Army personnel were ordered to abandon ship. Only four Carly floats (liferafts) were left undamaged, so all floatable materials such as loose timber, oil drums, and such were thrown overboard to assist the men in the water.
Many of those who took to the water perished in the frigid sea before anyone could come to their rescue. LST-301 stood nearby to assist. Sadly, one of the men who had escaped LST-422 was picked up by LST-301 but fell to his death between the 301 and LS-422. The disaster was compounded when LCI-32, which had gone to assist LST-422, hit a mine and sunk herself. 30 of her crew were lost, and 11 wounded. Rescues were effected by the minesweepers USS Pilot, USS Strive, LST-16, YMS-34, YMS-43, and other YMS craft. 150 survivors of LST-422 and LCI-32 were rescued from the water in storm conditions.
The War Diary of the YMS-43 for January 26, 1944 reads as follows:
At about 0640 Captain Braodhurst and eight of his crew abandonedship. LST-422 broke in two and sank at 1430 hours, January 26, 1944.
As always in times of crisis, individual Americans took it upon themselves to risk their own lives to save others. Seaman First Class Walter L. Palmer, of Colonia NJ, was serving aboard the LST-16 on January 26. He was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts that day, which resulted in the saving of one soldier from below decks of the burning ship.
Conditions at the time allowed only that the dead where possible be picked up, identified, placed into a canvas bag weighted down with 4 or 5 40mm shells and returned to the sea.
Many thanks must go to George "Dusty" Roads, of Iowa City, Iowa who has done a great amount of research on the LST-422's sinking. His brother, Pvt. Billy C. Rhoads was lost that day. Mr. Rhoads can be contacted via email at email@example.com
States Army Chemical Mortar Battalions
Mark Freedom Paid is a collection of 124 stories from 29 veterans of the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion with many sketches by the unit's artist. One of the accounts is presented at the link indicated with permission of the publisher, the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion Veterans Association. To purchase the book, send a check for $15, made payable to “83rd CMB,” to Bill Hoover, 31 Crimmins Road, Darien, CT 06820. He can also be contacted by phone at 203-656-4014 or by e-mail at MRBILL1057@aol.com.
|The Story of Billy Rhoads|
Ed Blake of the Mississippi Farm Bureau discovered the impact that the loss of the LST-422 had on 25 families in his state. Read his story here.
The list of Mississippi
soldiers who died as a result of the LST explosion and fire includes:
Roger B. Mason, Clyde McBride, Thomas W. Wiggins, Murray H. Berryhill,
Arlander Benson, Fletcher C. Baxter, Paul H. Allen, Willis L. Cannon,
Howard Camp, Richard I. Cassels, James H. Clayton, Joe C. Dickerson,
Winfred L. Dunlap, James D. Earley, William H. Gay, Herschel E. Gentry,
Thomas B. Gordon, Olen J. Hale, Carl R. Hough, Zelmer L. Jackson, Orie
L. Jennings, Maxie Knight, John L. Kuykendall and James E. Hardin.
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By Ed Blake
In the heartland of rural Mississippi, widely scattered families finally have learned what happened to their loved ones who fought with the famed 83rd Chemical Battalion in World War II from North Africa to Salzburg, Austria, and suffered death through what likely was the war's worst single episode affecting Mississippi men.
At dawn on Jan. 26, 1944, an Allied convoy was redeploying military forces from Sicily to Anzio, both in Italy, when American LST 722 was ordered to remain at sea until rough, wintry waters calmed before approaching the beachhead.
The ship carried about 600
men, their fighting equipment, mobile headquarters staff and records of
the 83rd Chemical. Its hold was heavily loaded with white phosphorus
mortar rounds which the unit used effectively to throw barrages of short
range fire power into the laps of the German and Italian forces guarding
the mountainous approaches to Rome.
Suddenly, the amphibious vessel was wracked by a powerful blast and was burning furiously about 12 miles offshore. The ship became a literal hell for the men aboard - an inferno fueled uncontrollably by exploding mortar shells riding in its bowels.
Abandon ship orders quickly followed, and hundreds of young U.S. soldiers who survived the initial explosion hastily donned life vests and jumped overboard into a disquieted sea as intermittent sleet fell from the skies. Most drowned. Only a scant number survived long enough to be picked up by a much smaller LCI (an amphibious craft used for landing infantrymen on beachheads).
Soon after, at least 25 Mississippi families received notices from the Army of the deaths in action of state soldiers aboard the destroyed vessel which had hit a German mine, presumptiously. Information received by families remained scant, however. Most of it came from a few of the 171 survivors out of the 600 aboard. There was no known news report of the incident. The sinking of the ship had been so traumatic until even most survivors had closed their minds to ever talking about it.
This writer discovered that a great tragedy had occurred on a single day many years later, in 1978, as secretary of the Hinds County Bicentennial War Memorial Committee, immediately after the Hinds County Memorial was built on the courthouse lawn in Jackson.
That summer, there was a chartered jet taking tourists to Europe from Jackson for a two-week tour. There was a spare seat, and it was given to me to help chronicle events of the war in Europe which involved many of Hinds County's toll of about 500 men killed during World War II.
At the U.S. Overseas Military Cemetery at Nettuno, Italy, I visited a beautiful stone building where the names were engraved on the walls of thousands of World War II casualties in that area whose bodies were never found for burial among the rows of white crosses on the beautiful cemetery grounds owned and kept by the U.S.
I had already photographed a cross marking the burial spot of Pvt. Albert G. Moore of Itawamba County, Miss., of the 83rd Chemical Battalion. I noted his death date.
Inside, I found in the "memorial of the missing" the name of Pvt. Maxie L. Knight, 83rd Chemical, whose name was on my Hinds County list, same death date. I dug in and found 23 more names of Mississippi men of the 83rd who had met death on that date.
Sensing something big had happened that had not been made very public, I continued my work there, questioning the superintendent of the cemetery. He declined comment, citing passage of the Privacy Act by the U.S. Congress.
On that trip I visited other major U.S. American Military Cemeteries in central Europe and England. I found no other ominous listings of multiple deaths on the same day, even at Normandy.
For the next two years on Memorial Day in Jackson, I raised the question from the podium of what had happened to men in the 83rd Chemical Battalion on Jan. 26, 1944. A Jackson newslady then wrote of my discovery, and mystery, as I coordinated my question in a release that went statewide in an issue of my AG AFFAIRS column.
Suddenly, my phone was swamped with calls from relatives and friends from over Mississippi. Several "survivors" painfully broke their silence and called. Andy Leech of Aberdeen, first call I took, said he was not on the stricken ship but had landed earlier from another ship used also by the 83rd.
He told of the LST behind them that had exploded and burned. He knew many of the victims, and had kept a diary of his experiences which he made available to me.
John Holley, later assistant athletic director at Ole Miss, broke his silence by calling and talking about it for the first time until our switchboard closed for the day. I went to see him at his invitation, and he related that he had survived the blast and jumped onto the deck of a rescue craft which made three passes alongside in the rough sea before he successfully jumped onto its deck on the last pass. He later lost an arm from a land mine explosion.
My portfolio on the 83rd Chemical's disaster grew quickly, and I learned that few affected families had received definitive information on the sea disaster. And I learned that Itawamba County's war memorial on the town square in Fulton had seven listings of victims from the 83rd's ranks - more than any other county.
Many family members asked me
to share information which I had gathered. With considerable help from
the Itawamba County Farm Bureau, we held a meeting at the Farm Bureau
office on June 16, 1981, and invited relatives and friends of the
victims to attend the meeting.
Itawamba County Farm Bureau agent Gaston Robinson, who had a previous awareness of the situation, also rounded up people in surrounding counties and produced Robert Chamblee of Itawamba County, a survivor who had jumped from the vessel's hot anchor into the sea and struggled to stay alive for hours before he was lifted unconscious in his life vest from the sea by a rescue vessel.
Chamblee broke his vow to himself to remain silent about the tragedy, and told how, as he struggled in the cold water to survive, he wanted to give up. But the images of his wife's and mother's faces appeared in his mind, and he refused to surrender his life.
Thanks to Robert Chamblee, who died about ten years ago, for his reports on his fellow men which helped history survive and also brought closure to many hurting Mississippi families.
The list of Mississippi soldiers who died as a result of the LST explosion and fire includes: Roger B. Mason, Clyde McBride, Thomas W. Wiggins, Murray H. Berryhill, Arlander Benson, Fletcher C. Baxter, Paul H. Allen, Willis L. Cannon, Howard Camp, Richard I. Cassels, James H. Clayton, Joe C. Dickerson, Winfred L. Dunlap, James D. Earley, William H. Gay, Herschel E. Gentry, Thomas B. Gordon, Olen J. Hale, Carl R. Hough, Zelmer L. Jackson, Orie L. Jennings, Maxie Knight, John L. Kuykendall and James E. Hardin.
These names were all found on the memorial to the missing and were declared dead. Additionally, others whose bodies were recovered, were buried and this writer had no record of them or opportunity to transcribe them from the white cross markers themselves.
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Story of Billy Rhoads
In his mind’s eye, George Rhoads, 65 and retired, continues to see his mother crying over her second-born son, Army private Billy C. Rhoads, whom the family regarded as "a tough and gutsy soldier."
This opening scene, from the winter of 1942, is like some Norman Rockwell rendering, and has stayed with George Rhoads throughout his entire adult life. He is writing about it now, as part therapy, part avocation.
Here are the details, which set the stage for what will reveal itself as a two act drama.
The Rhoads family, of Albia, Iowa, numbered nine boys and one girl. In their small, coal-mining town, Edwin "Tom" Rhoads, the father, was a house painter. However, in the harsh winters that blanketed Iowa, he often went without work. His long-suffering wife, Sarah Elizabeth, or "Bess," watched as her husband "drank up money needed for food."
Son George Rhoads, retired from a career as a school administrator, writes further of the family: "Seven of mother’s sons served in the military, for a total of 34 years. In our family, we all enlisted. I served during the Korean War, 22 months of overseas duty in the Navy." Given to modesty, George omits that he served on the cruiser USS Toledo, receiving five battle stars.
Now, on that pivotal January day in question, nearly 57 years ago, Private Billy most certainly was headed for combat duty, following a Christmas furlough. From the Rhoads diary, we learn:
"Mother walked Bill to Highway 34. Try as she did, she still could not borrow enough money to buy a bus or train ticket for him. The weather was bitter cold. Bill, of course, intended to hitchhike. After about 10 minutes, a motorist stopped…Bill kissed mother goodbye, and then she watched as the car went east, finally passing out of sight. She made that lonely, cold walk back home okay, but once inside the house gave way to crying. Between her sobs, she told all of us, sitting there, we never would see Bill again …Her perceptiveness proved to be correct."
In the second act of this common narrative of war, the Rhoads family waits for word of their fighting son. A rifle-carrier in the 9th Division, private Billy fought, long and hard, first in North Africa and then Sicily. Next up was a major attack against Anzio, Italy, coming in an invasion by sea.
Again, we return to the family diary: "In February, 1944, the family received the first yellow telegram, ‘The War Department regrets to inform you that your son…is missing in action.’
"Then, in March, the fat kid who delivered telegrams was again seen coming down our sidewalk. The Iowa weather had thawed, then refrozen, and the weight of his footsteps made this crunching sound, especially on the wooden porch….Dad took the dreaded message, but tried to hand it to mother, who totally rejected it. Finally, dad began reading…’Your son was killed in action 26 January, 1944, in Italy.’"
George Rhoads, recalling this black-day, says, "It really was a grief which mother never was able to be rid of. What I’m doing," he adds, "I’m doing for her."
What this younger brother is doing, is to learn the details of the death at sea of Private Billy C. Rhoads. In letters, through phone calls, and by placing advertisements in veterans’ publications, this persistent, stoical Midwesterner has pieced together these facts:
"At 5:20 a.m., in the pitch-black darkness, with wind velocity creating huge waves, and with a mixture of freezing rain and snow falling, LST-422 hit a German underwater mine. There were 700 men aboard, including Private Rhoads. The tremendous explosion blew a huge hole in the hull…The ship went limp in the water as flames spread rapidly, exploding ammunition…"
Of the 100 survivors, who now are in their 70’s and 80’s, George Rhoads has contacted some two dozen. He knows, for certain, that his brother made it into the bitterly cold water, where he died of drowning, perhaps through a paralysis and fatigue due to hypothermia.
Under the so-called Right-to-Know law, the classified information shrouding Private Rhodes death was penetrated, and reveals: "The body was found floating off the coast of Anzio about 10:00 a.m. of Jan. 26, 1944. Identification (via dog tags) was made and then the body was returned to the sea."
In an interview, George Rhoads, author of the unpublished work, "Life Went On: A History of the Rhoads Family, 1939-45," asked that we older adults, the custodians of hard-earned military history, not forget those "thousands of brave Americans who were denied their natural birthright, meaning the luxury of returning home, marrying that special girl, building a family and, ultimately, being buried next to our parents."
Loy J. Marshall was aboard the LST-422, as a member of Company C, 83rd Chemical Mortar Battalion. A native of Georgia, he didn't have far to travel when he joined the 83rd at Camp Gordon GA. From there it was off to North Africa for more training, and then it was time for combat. This is his account of the events of January 26, 1944.
On or around January 26, 1944, while deployed in support of the troops in the Invasion of Anzio, I was onboard an LST which was hit by a mine that had broken away from its moorings. The ship exploded and immediately began to sink. The seas were choppy and rough and those of us who had been trying to hold on to the quickly sinking ship were ordered into the water. There were many who died immediately as a result of the explosion. Some ships in the area were trying to rescue those of us in the water. Some metal rafts had been lowered into the water for us to climb on, but the rough seas and swells made this very difficult. Some soldiers were trapped between the metal rafts and the ship’s hull and were crushed and killed. I was able to get a hold on a railing on the edge of the deck of the ship and was trying to pull myself up, but the weight of all the gear I was wearing and the shear effort to keep my head above the frigid water had exhausted me. I was about to fall back into the water when a sailor on board the ship realized what was happening and stomped on my hand to keep me from falling back. I was pulled onto the deck and my hand was injured and bleeding. Because of the injuries I suffered, I was awarded the Purple Heart.