"NOW HEAR THIS"
Subject: “Prize Crew”
Published: March 1996
By: B. Lyle Davis
The “Task Force” which crossed the Atlantic in November, 1942, was a sight to behold. . . ships from horizon to horizon . . . the sea was black with them. Well over five thousand ships of all types and sizes. It was the largest armada of ships ever assembled. During the crossing, our ship the Savannah, formulated and established a “Prize Crew.” This was a group of about 35 to 40 men who would board and operate any vessel that might be captured. Each individual member was assigned various equipment he was to bring with him on such an operation. I was one of two quartermasters selected for such a mission (a lifelong romantic dream of mine).
On the morning of the second day a Port Lyautey, this prize crew as assembled and ordered to disembark. There were some 4 or 5 freighters tied to a pier in the harbor and these ships were to be salvaged. Our long boat was launched, but before we could board, the mission was aborted. (Alas! My fantasy bubble had broken.) Seems all of these ships tied at the wharf had been scuttled. Their pumps damaged beyond immediate repair.
Late in March, 1943, while on patrol in the South Atlantic, the Savannah and our escort destroyer (can’t remember the name) stopped a German blockade runner. Again, the Savannah's prize crew was assembled (high hopes). The destroyer was ordered to close distance on the enemy vessel and dispatch a boarding party to secure the ship. This was done and the boarding party pulled alongside, managed to get three or four men aboard when an explosion blew out the whole port side of the ship. Unbeknown to us, the German crew had abandoned ship and were all on life rafts out of sight on the opposite side. Four or five men in that boarding party were killed and shortly thereafter the blockade runner sank. (Prize Crew as foiled again.)
Crude rubber had been the cargo of the freighter. The Savannah picked up this German crew and proceeded to take them back to the States for interment POW’s.
To my knowledge, this prize crew never was able to accomplish a mission, nor share the “spoils of war” with you honorable shipmates. For that we undoubtedly owe you a debt. At San Diego why not all former “prize crew” members step front and center and sing a rousing “Sea Chanty” to entertain you. Hopefully, this would help cancel out part of this long overdue obligation.
The prize crew was made up of more than just quartermasters. . . radiomen, machinist mates, boiler makers, bosun mates, electricians, etc. were all part of it. Fess up, you guys!
How many of you ex-shipmates remember leaving Brooklyn Navy Yard early Christmas Day, 1942? . . . with friends and families standing on the Brooklyn Bridge waving goodbye? (Lots of tears and sad personnel.) Then, to add insult to injury, calling an all hands working party on New Years Eve in Port of Spain, Trinidad? Twasn’t all fun and games, was it?
Looking forward to seeing you in San Diego. Wishing you good health and best wishes.
B Lyle Davis