U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
THE JOURNAL OF W. E. PRINDLE, JR.
Ensign, U. S. Coast Guard Reserve
ABOARD THE USCGC MARION (WSC-145)
7/15/42 - 9/24/42
The following journal was written by Ensign W. E. Prindle, Jr. during his time aboard the CGC Marion in 1942. His journal provides a glimpse into what life was like aboard a cutter on convoy duty at sea during the first year after the U.S. entered World War II. These small cutters were thrown into action as the Navy did not have enough escorts available to convoy the hundreds of merchant ships plying the waters. The cutters, and older destroyers that were pressed into convoy escort duties as well, held the line against Hitler's vaunted U-Boat fleet until the new larger, purpose-built destroyer escorts and frigates were constructed and entered service beginning in mid-1943. The cutters and old 4-stack destroyers held that line well.
This journal came to the attention of the Historian's Office through Prindle's son, Peter, a retired Coast Guard Captain in his own right. Future generations owe a debt of gratitude to those that took the time to document what they did during the war.
Prologue (by CAPT Peter Prindle, USCG):
My father [W.E. Prindle, Jr.] was born in New Haven, CT on 13 March 1917. With a summer home in Pine Orchard, CT, he grew up on the water, and crewed or captained a number of sailing vessels, including the historic Alden Schooner True Love, featured in the movie "High Society." After graduating from Haverford College in 1938, he worked for Seamless Rubber in New Haven until he joined the Coast Guard in September, 1941. He served until September 1946, with assignments in Unalga (WPG-53), Marion, and Air Stations St. Petersburg, Elizabeth City, and Brooklyn.
15 July 1942: Introductory Notes:
The Marion is one of the 125-foot class of Coast Guard Patrol Boats. (Active [WSC-125] pictured here) She was one of the ones changed to larger engines, and she now has two 350 H. P. Cooper Bessemer diesels, direct reversing. She is supposed to be equipped for anti-submarine duty, and has sound gear, depth charges, a 3” .23 caliber gun on the fore deck, two .30 caliber machine guns, and the usual number of small arms. Other ships of this class carry either 20 mm or .50 caliber guns, but the Marion has not been converted yet, having been in the San Juan District for some time before the war started.
(Marion was built in 1927, and decommissioned in 1962 after 35 years of distinguished service. Additional details may be found in “Guardians of the Sea”, Naval Institute Press, 1987, Robert Erwin Johnson; and "U. S. Coast Guard in World War II," Naval Institute Press, 1957, Malcolm F. Willoughby.])
We now have a crew of 30 men and 3 officers. The skipper, James A. Palmer, is an ensign of the [CG Academy] class of ‘41, and a tall, handsome, and pleasant sort of person. He is quite easy going and not too strict, so accordingly is quite popular with the crew. I am the Executive Officer, and also take care of communications and commissary, while the Skipper does navigation and gunnery. The third officer is Mr. Albury, a Bos’n who came into the C. G. through the Lighthouse Service. He is a man of about 45, getting stout, and only of average ability as an officer.
Monday, 17 August 1942:
We left San Juan at about 1800, convoying the Army Transport John R. Hannay to Antigua. Beside the regular crew, we had on board 4 Marines and an Ensign of the Navy Supply Corps. Heading east into the sea, it was quite rough, and many were sick, especially the Ensign and one apprentice seaman who was making his first trip with us.
We got a little far off shore that night (the Hannay was doing the navigating) and we could not pick up Culebrita Island light, as it had been dimmed to half power, so we circled around until daylight, and then went on thru Virgin Passage.
Wednesday, 19 August ‘42:
We reached Antigua about 1100 Wednesday morning, discharged our passengers, and started for St. Thomas about 1500.
Thursday, 20 August ‘42:
Anchored St. Thomas 1200. I went ashore in the evening, and called on the Simmons family. Old Captain Jim Simmons is a Pilot in St. Thomas, and we had a good talk over several scotch and sodas and peanuts. His oldest daughter was there, and she and 3 refugees recently arrived from Denmark played bridge. We were supposed to convoy the Tropic Star to St. Martins, but when I got back to the ship, I found our orders had been changed, and we were to meet a convoy in the middle of the Caribbean.
So we sailed about 0100, with not too many stores on board, 3/4 of a tank of fuel, and only 1100 gallons of water instead of a full tank of 2200 gallons. We started rationing water right at the start, because it looked like we might go right thru to Key West, which would have meant 8-10 days at sea. We got our last sight of land about 1000, and according to our D.R. position, were near the rendezvous about 2400, but no convoy in sight.
Saturday, 22 August ‘42:
Got sights at 1000 and then clouds shut in and weather began to make up. We kept getting messages from COMCARIB SEAFRON telling us where the convoy was supposed to be, and its course and speed, but we could not locate it.
Sunday, 23 August ‘42:
No sights and heavy weather. We ran west slowly before it on same course as the convoy, but could not be sure of our speed, and did not know if convoy was ahead or astern. Near dawn we met the Courage, an American corvette obtained from the British. She was also looking for the same convoy, and she thought they were east of us, so we turned and ran east, head into the seas, which were mountainous by now, but we had realized it when running before them.
The Marion is a good sea boat, and is very comfortable running with the seas, and even head on she did all right, though there was some water on the fore deck most of the time. The Courage signaled over with her searchlight that she would wait for us, so we rang full speed ahead and soon we were running alongside, but it developed that she could not keep up with us, and we had to slow down for her, although she was much larger. I had the 0800 to 1200 watch that day as usual, and it was rare sport watching the Courage dip her bow and see it come up streaming water. We did the same, and several waves broke right over the wheel house and flying bridge, and I was a little afraid the bridge windows would go, but they didn’t, though the sea squished in all around them.
At 1300, a PBY flying boat spotted us and we signaled and asked him where the convoy was. He had us off to the SE, and in 10 minutes we spotted it; 7 ships and 3 escorts. One escort, the destroyer McDougal, left after we arrived, leaving the Clarkia, another corvette, but with a British crew, and a new 110’ sub chaser. We were stationed on the port beam of the convoy, the sub chaser on the starboard beam. The convoy was making only a slow 6 knots, and we jogged along beside it, keeping our sound gear running all the time as usual. One ship was having trouble with her rudder, and kept lagging behind, a perfect target for a sub, but luckily none appeared.
Having started with only a half tank of water, we had been trying to save all we could, and we rigged a canvas aft over the water tank to try to catch some rain, but a couple of big waves came over early Sunday morning, and a few gallons of salt water got into the tank. From then on the water tasted terrible, and we drank cokes at meals instead of water.
Monday, 24 August ‘42:
Cruising along beside convoy. Weather still cloudy and no sights, but seas were less. At about 2300 on my watch, we suddenly saw the coast of Haiti close aboard on the starboard side, and one of the corvettes gave a signal for an emergency turn to the left. There was a great confusion and much blowing of whistles as the 7 ships all tried to turn. It looked bad for a few minutes, but they finally got squared away on the new course.
Tuesday, 25 August ‘42:
The escort corvette astern of the convoy picked up a sub trying to sneak up from behind, and dropped several charges on him, but did not get him. We were too far ahead to help, so we stayed in position to keep off any other subs that might be working with the first one. Found nothing though. Arrived off Guantanamo Bay about 2200, and circled until daylight.
Wednesday, 26 August ‘42:
Convoy safely in by 1000, and we followed sub chaser in and moved to fuel dock. Never saw so many ships so close together before. 65 merchant ships waiting for convoys, and countless escort vessels, from destroyers on down. They were moored 3 and 4 deep to all the piers, and it was a mad house to get fuel, water, and supplies, as they kept moving us around from one berth to another. I docked and undocked the ship 6 times that day between 1200 and 1500.
Had a good loud sub contact on sound gear about 2100 on my watch, and only 500 yards off, so we ran over and dropped 2 ash cans, one set at 50’, and that really shook the ship. We could not locate it again, so it probably was only a large fish or some eddy in the water.
Thursday, 27 August ‘42:
Arrived off Kingston about 0500, took a pilot and went on in and moored to Princess Street Wharf. Kingston is quite a civilized town, with taxis and traffic and lots of nice stores, though now they are out of almost everything. I went ashore before supper, but everything was closed, probably because the Duke of Kent had been killed the day before in a plane crash. A native barber came down to the ship on a bicycle, and all the crew who did not have liberty got hair cuts.
Friday, 28 August ‘42:
Went shopping in the AM and got some cooking gear for the wardroom mess, and then at the London Shop bought Kitch (wife) a sweater and some other gadgets. I had a 10 shilling note and some English coins and some U.S. bills and change, and it was quite a problem figuring the price, especially with the rate of exchange to complicate matters.
Got underway about 1500 with a pilot on board, and went around to Portland Bight and tied up to the Naval Air Station dock there on Goat Island. The Goldsborough, an old 4 stack destroyer converted to an aircraft tender, was across the dock, and we had a good time on board her seeing the movies on deck, and chewing the fat in the wardroom over coffee afterwards.
Saturday, 29 August ‘42:
0900 started out with Tug E. J. Moran and dredge Lake Ellendale for Ensenada Honda, Puerto Rico. They took a long time getting squared away, and finally at 1100 the tug said her steering gear had broken down, so back we came again.
Kingston looked like a very nice town, and I would have liked to stay and meet a few of the people, but no such luck.
Sunday, 30 August ‘42:
0900 off again with tug and dredge. It is 700 odd miles to our destination, and he thinks he can make 4 knots. That will be 7 or 8 days, and we are not looking forward to it. Weather is nice and sea is calm though, which is a help as we will have to head into it the whole way.
Monday, 31 August ‘42:
Tow line broke this morning and we lost about 4 hours getting that fixed again. Tug appears to be making good only about 3 knots. That means 10 days. Ten days of slowly circling and zigzagging around this outfit. The dredge is an ideal target for a torpedo with its deep draft (19’) and slow speed and inability to maneuver by itself.
Tuesday, 1 September ‘42:
Day mostly uneventful. It is interesting to watch the ship’s mascot “Senorita”. Though she is now called “Senora”, having been “married” a couple of months ago and being now in the family way. She is a little nondescript white female dog belonging to one of the deck force, who bought her as a puppy from a Puerto Rican girl for $1.00. She is very friendly, and likes to snuggle up to anyone who will let her, so when she finds some sailor asleep on the deck, she cuddles up and lies down beside him. Nearly everyone likes her, so she always has a place to sleep. They discovered that she could not stand the noise made by blowing across the mouth of an empty .50 caliber shell, so they tease her by doing that, and she comes from where she is and jumps up pawing at the whistle to stop it.
Wednesday, 2 September ‘42:
Tug broke down today and had to run on one engine for a while, but seemed to be able to do almost as well as with both engines. She has 1700 H.P. on the shaft, but I don’t think she uses it all
Thursday, 3 September ‘42:
Pretty rough today and it slowed our tow down from 3 knots to 1 knot, but towards evening it moderated and we picked up speed again.
This is a deadly dull business as we are out of sight of land and have seen no ships or planes, or heard any subs, though they have been reported all around us.
Friday, 4 September ‘42:
Still circling around our convoy. We run at 1/3 speed in the daytime, and 2/3 at night. I usually circle to the right for a couple of hours till the Ensign is completely wrapped around its halyard, then go the other way till it is clear again.
Saturday, 5 September ‘42:
The tug captain is supposed to be doing the navigating, as he is on a steady course, while we are on various courses, and he does it as if his ship were the America. He takes morning star sights, morning time sights, meridian altitude, afternoon time sights, and evening star sights. Every noon we go alongside and he calls over the position, course and speed. He figures the ship speed to hundredths, like 2.18 knots.
We have all been taking sights too, and are getting quite proficient at it. We all use different methods but get the same results, except that Palmer and I are faster than the Chief Bos’n Mate and the Bos’n. The chief uses the old time sight method from Bowditch, Mr. Albury uses H.O. 208 (Dreisenstok), and Palmer and I use H.O. 211 (Ageton).
Sunday, 6 September ‘42:
Tug broken down again for 6 hours, but still making headway. We are praying she can keep going, as we are not equipped for towing and our engines are nearly shot. Our small generator gave up the ghost a few days ago and since then we have had to ration electricity. We can only run our sound gear half the time, and have cut off one refrigerator and all the fans and blowers, making it quite hot below.
Monday, 7 September ‘42:
9th day out. Sighted Puerto Rico early this AM. We are past the worst sub areas now. I usually sleep when off watch at sea, but recently we have been out so much that I have gotten “slept up,” so I usually read a while after lunch in the afternoon and then take a couple of hours nap. Then eat supper and after supper write letters or do some of the ever present ship’s paper work.
Tuesday, 8 September ‘42:
The tug signaled over at about 1800 that she was really broken down for good and could just barely keep steerage way on the tow, so we radioed to COMTEN for a relief tug, and much to our surprise they took very quick action and sent the Mankato, a Navy tug, off right away.
We are getting impatient to get in now, as the food is low, butter and eggs have been out for two days, and we eat canned meat and spaghetti and rice most every meal.
Wednesday, 9 September ‘42:
Mankato arrived and hooked up about 0830. She does not seem to be able to pull very well and her screw keeps popping up out of the water in the waves. We now seem to be able to make about 2 knots.
At 1600, Mankato too started having trouble, but got it cleared all right and as we get into the lee of the Virgin Islands, the sea is smoother and we are doing 3 knots. We persuaded the tug captain to keep going and enter port after dark, though I could see he was reluctant.
My evening watch was spent sneaking along behind the tow in the pitch dark, taking cuts on lights every few minutes to check our position. It began to look as if the tug was headed for Arenas Bank and we were about to warn them when they found the buoy with their light and turned out in time.
Thursday, 10 September ‘42:
Got safely in and anchored in Ensenada Honda and quickly sent a message to COMTEN asking permission to come to San Juan. We tried to word it so they couldn’t refuse and it came back affirmative, so we got underway at dawn and came along at full speed (8.8 knots) for a change.
Tied up at Coast Guard dock San Juan at 1300 and reported arrival. 1400, 6 Navy men were aboard checking ship over for an overhaul. We are to have a complete overhaul, and 28 days for it. (I think it will take 40)[.] They started tearing the motors apart at 1800.
Went ashore in the evening and met an interesting Navy Ensign, ex-Chief, and we had a good chat over some Cuba Libras. Then ran into several Coast Guard officers and had a good time with them.
Friday, 11 September ‘42:
Moored as before. Spent the day getting some of the piled up work done and starting the crew painting and scraping the ship, which is as rusty as an old tramp steamer.
Saturday, 12 September ‘42:
Let several of the men go on leave, as most of them have been down here‚ over a year.
Wednesday, 23 September ‘42:
Have been chipping and painting ship every day, while Portilla’s men work on the engines. They are finding that there are many parts needing renewal, and of course no parts are available on the island. It looks as if we could be here a lot more than our 28 days.
Thursday, 24 September ‘42:
Had a little trouble with our First Class Bos’n Mate. He appeared on deck this morning drunk as a hoot owl, but very loquacious. I told him to get into his working clothes, take a shower and turn to, but he was too far gone for that, so I had him carried up on deck and handcuffed to the rail and wet him down with the hose. He sobered up for a while, but has lapsed again, and is lying on deck sleeping it off.
Tuesday, 7 February ‘95:
I just rediscovered this diary while cleaning up the attic here. [Essex, CT] It was great fun and very interesting to read this after so many years (about 53).
The thing that struck me was the fact that I have remembered some events exactly as they have been stated here, but there are other events of which I have absolutely no recollection.
It was also interesting to me that my description of ENS Jim Palmer was still valid when I met him again a few years ago at my son’s (CAPT Peter Prindle, USCG) house in Portsmouth, VA. He was then retired RADM Palmer after a successful Coast Guard career as the captain of the Tug Edmond J. Moran had wished for him in his very nice letter on the preceding page [of the original journal].
Sadly, I never went to sea again on the Marion. In late October 1942, I was assigned to flight training at NAS Grosse Isle, MI. The repairs on Marion had not been completed before I left. Jim Palmer was also assigned to flight training, and left the same time I did.
I was also promoted to LTJG in October 1942, and I remember we had quite a party to celebrate at the Ronrico Bar. Also had quite a hangover the next day.
The CO on Unalga was LT Lewis M. Thayer. When my son Peter reported to his first assignment at Miami Air Station, RADM Thayer was the district commander. During a personnel inspection, he noticed Peter’s name tag and remembered that I had served with him in Unalga, and that Peter had been born in February 1942. Imagine my son’s embarrassment at having the District Commander ask an Ensign how his parents were doing!
TRANSCRIPTION OF LETTER OF APPRECIATION FROM THE MASTER OF THE EDMOND J. MORAN
M. T. Edmond J. Moran
September 25, 1942
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Tenth Naval District
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
With a motive of more gratitude than duty I write this letter of praise for the gallant military performance, in the line of duty, as executed by the Commander and the proficient crew of the Marion while she was assigned to be my escort from Port land Bight, Jamaica to Ensenada Honda, Puerto Rico.
Sir, I can assure you that this trip was far from being pleasant. May I assume the liberty to give you a brief resume: We were completely adrift from our tow for six hours; engine trouble developed which slowed our speed to slightly over two knots, later to only eight tenths of a knot; the condition of our engines produced a smoke screen visible many miles. It finally became necessary to have our escort radio to San Juan for assistance. Constantly we were at one time not over forty five miles away and directly on our course [sic].
The Commander of the escort performed his dury [sic] in such an excellent manner as to eliminate the possibility of enemy submarine attack. I have been escorted many times previously, but not with such efficient military tactics. I honestly give all the credit to the Commander of the Marion for our safe arrival. As appreciation for this, I, in behalf of my crew and myself, am extending my sincere thanks to the Commander of the Marion, and wish him splendid success during the remainder of his Naval career.
Sir, I am about to go on another voyage which will require the protection of an efficient escort. Nothing could make me more certain of a successful trip than the knowledge that I should again be accompanied by the Marion and her present Commander.
Hugo A. C. Kroll, Master
Motor Tug Edmond J. Moran