1944 naval engagement
The crew of one of the American boats
A ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the action was organised in 2019 by Alex Fearn, of the Channel Island Occuption Society, who described the events of 9 August 1944.
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 9 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.
US patrol boats 500, 503, 506, 507, 508 and 509 were sent 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 6 08 am 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 escape into open waters.
The torpedo launch mobilised the German escorts, which 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 sole survivor, John L Page, Radarman, 3rd class, confirmed 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.
When Page 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. With 37 shrapnel wounds and a broken right arm and leg, he 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 on to the PT509.
Page was half conscious aboard the German ship and a minute or two leter he felt a blast, plus a terrific heat. This led him 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 crowbars.
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, nearing St Helier Harbour and the 507 engaged the convoy at around 100 yards. PT 503 also 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 were not 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. Four 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 were given burial rites by American prisoners and island authorities in the Howard Davis Park cemetery.
Of the 16 US seamen killed in the battle, nine bodies were never recovered. For her actions, PT 509 received her second Battle Star for World War II service. Lt Crist was awarded the Purple Heart medal.
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