History of the CVE 21

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The third combat cruise sailed 16 Feb 1944 with four new destroyer escorts, DE 189 Bronstein, DE 103 Bostwick, DE 104 Breeman, DE 102 Thomas, and  DD 463 Corry. VC-6 reported aboard with the new FM-2 Wildcats. Captain Francis Massie Hughes reported onboard to be Captain Logan Ramsey’s relief. The task group designated as 21.16 headed back to the “Black Pit”. On 29 Feb 1944, planes from the Block Island spotted a periscope and commenced a mine run. The Corry and the Bronstein sped to the scene. Four German submarines, U-709, U-603, U-607, and U-441 were thought to be in the area. The Bronstein sunk U-603 and along with the Thomas and the Bostwick, sunk U-709. The U-441 was badly damaged and returned to Brest, France 14 days later. Postwar records indicate as many as 15 U-Boats were operating within 25 miles of the Block Island. CVE 21 arrived in Casablanca for replenishment 8 Mar 1944. Captain Ramsey was relieved by Captain Hughes and the Block Island put to sea with orders to track down U-488, the same milch cow she had hunted the previous October and now believed to be located northwest of the Cape Verde Islands.

The following excerpt is from the July 1, 2004 Air & Space Magazine article entitled “All Guts, No Glory”, by James L. Noles, Jr. It describes the difficulty of night flying off of an escort carrier in the Atlantic.

Lieutenant Denny Moller was VC-55’s assistant engineering officer. Like all of the squadron’s pilots, he endured a demanding schedule of both day and night flying. The Block Island operated within a screen of four destroyer escorts, launching patrols of four aircraft. Each airplane took a quadrant and carved it into 30-degree slices—out, across, and then back in to the carrier. Because the pilots had to observe radio silence at night, they had to find their way back to the moving carrier by relying on dead reckoning—flying a compass heading for a calculated time and hoping to spot the carrier when the time was up.

“We would try to work out our navigation beforehand,” Moller explains, “so on takeoff, you always hated to see the flight deck crew holding up a chalkboard that said, ‘The course of the carrier will be so-and-so, the wind direction is so-and-so. Good luck!’ That meant you had to figure out a whole new set of navigational figures on the go. That wasn’t easy in a dark cockpit at night.”

A TBF and a FM-2 spotted U-801 on the surface doing repairs and began a strafing run. The pilots reported hits to the bridge and conning tower. Nine men were injured and one killed. The U-Boat quickly submerged and resurfaced after the planes had to return to the carrier. German command ordered them to rendezvous with U-488. Detecting another in-bound plane, the U-801 submerged not knowing she was leaving a telltale oil slick. A TBF from the Block Island and the Corry followed U-801 through the night ( It must be noted that flying and landing a WWII airplane on a very small carrier was very difficult at night ). A second TBF relieved the first and at dawn they spotted the oil slick. The Corry commenced a depth charge attack which split
open the U-801. The sub evaded for a while but a second run forced her to the surface and the destroyer open fire.
The sub captain was killed as the crew abandoned ship and the U-Boat sank. The Block Island picked up two officers and 45 enlisted men. The drawing at right was done by one of the POWs of the U-801 and presented to a CVE 21 crew member. The photo at left is the enlisted men POWs from the U-801.

On 19 Mar 1944 six hunter-killer teams fanned out from the ship, searching 150 miles of open water. A Wildcat spotted the brand new U-1059 dead in the water with a third of its crew out for a morning swim. The FM-2 and a TBF started a run of strafing and dropping depth charges but not before the U-1059 put it’s AA into action. The TBF, piloted by Lt(jg) N.T. Dowty, received a number of hits and when it started its turn it lost altitude and crashed into the ocean. Norman T. Dowty and Edgar W. Burton were lost in the crash. The turret gunner, Ensign Mark E. Fitzgerald, was the only survivor of the three man crew. As the gunner clung to a life raft, he was surprised by a German swimming toward him; eventually, two more swimmers arrived including the injured sub captain, Leopold. The gunner tended to the wounds of his captives until they were rescued by the Corry two hours later. The U-1059 had broken in half and only six additional survivors were found.

USS Corry took the POWs to Boston and later participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy, France. Corry was sunk in shallow water by mines and shore artillery while helping to lead the assault on Utah Beach. The captain and most of the crew survived.

USS Block Island returned home to Norfolk, VA on 31 Mar 1944 to bands playing, crowds cheering, and a big banner that read “Welcome Home, Champs”.

The fourth combat cruise left Norfolk on 29 Apr 1944 with a screen (see photos at right) comprised of DE 575 Ahrens, DE 576 Barr, DE 686 Eugene E. Elmore, and DE 51 Buckley. On 15 May DE 578 USS Robert I. Paine joined the task group off of North Africa.

The assignment for Task Group 21.11 was to relieve CVE 25 Croatan and her destroyers working patrols west of the Cape Verde Islands. The Croatan group had sunk milch cow U-488 only days earlier, the elusive U-Boat the Block Island had hunted twice before.


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