Title: Albert Andrion’s eye-witness account on the bombing of the USS Savannah on September 11, 1943

Published: August 1995

By: Albert E. Andrion

The versions of the bombing of the USS Savannah at Salerno on September 11, 1943 are a bit different from what I saw and experienced at the time we were struck by the radio-controlled robot bomb.  My battle station was damage control main deck aft from the quarter deck to the fantail and included the first superstructure deck.  Prior to the red alert, we were lying to amidst a harbor filled with the AP’s, AK’s, LST’s, ammunition ships, etc.

Earlier that morning a sea going tug was lying to, near our port quarter, the CO requested that the medical staff aboard the Savannah take care of one of their crewmen who had a fractured leg.  Captain Carey, our CO, gave permission to have the man brought aboard.  This man was from Baltimore, MD I found out later, which was my hometown at that time.  When we got back to the states I visited his family.  (He was in our sickbay when we were hit, and of course a casualty.)

Later I took over the headset and in contact with Damage Control Central, shortly thereafter we received the red alert signal.  The First Lieutenant yeoman, his name as I recall was Jack, was on the headsets below and asked me what was going on.

About that time I saw two German bombers high above and off our port bow.  They were under attack by two of our P-38 (lightning) fighters.  They were flying directly vertically upwards and then directly down against the bombers – one was shot down, the other released its bomb.

At this point I was telling Jack what was going on and I remember telling him “one plane is hit and falling, the other has just released a bomb, but it’s going  away from us.”  Then I remember saying “Jeez the damn thing has made a complete change and is coming toward us and it’s the biggest damn thing I ever saw.”  Jack asked me if it looked like it was going to hit us and at that time it hit.  It lifted us up and then we came down, we took a sharp port list and went down by the bow.  I thought we were going to turn over and of course my connection with Jack was cut off.

I remember seeing all the Higgens boats, tugs and other landing craft heading towards us.  I guess they thought we were going down and they were coming over to pick up survivors.

Later I was standing by Captain Carey (one of the MAA force always had to be near the CO when he was on deck).  He apparently knew that we were capable of getting under way.  Commodore Sullivan, (the salvation specialist) came aboard.  I’ll never forget the scene and the words.  He said, “Captain, I order you to beach this vessel.”  Captain Carey replied: “Sir, I am a Naval Academy graduate, a career officer and have never in my career disobeyed an order.  However, this is my ship, I know I can save her and I refuse to obey your order.”  Commodore Sullivan looked at him and said: “If you believe you can save this ship I rescind my order, get you some escort vessels and send you to the nearest navy yard,” which was Malta, of course.

At the time when we were hit, or main steering was knocked out the quartermaster on the bridge took control of steering and through the phones gave directions to the quartermaster stationed a steering aft and got us out of the maze of ships in the harbor.  Incidentally, the two quartermasters were brothers.

Later they were able to get into the turrets, gun rooms, etc, and they began to bring the deceased aft and laid them next to the barbettes on #4 & #5 turrets.  They brought back a Lt jg who was the movie and recreational officer, they brought him out of #3 turret – he was still alive and aware of all about him, his shoes had been blown off, he was severely burned, the thigh of one leg was burnt and split lengthwise down to the knee like a split hotdog.  He was begging to be put out of his misery.  The senior Medical Officer instead had a camera and took some pictures of him after which he was granted his wishes.  If any of the Phm’s that were there belong to our group they can tell you how, there were two or three of them at the scene.  I understand that the Lt was from Philadelphia and that the MO had been one of the family’s physicians.

In Malta the first few remains were put into a mass grave then a couple of days later they began to put them in canvas bags together with anit-aircraft shells for anchors and they were taken by whaleboat and buried at sea with burial services by Chaplain Smart.  Incidentally, the shells had plastic noses and were detonated by sounds of airplane motors.

I have many other recollections which I wish I could forget as do many of our shipmates.

Albert E. Andrion