Monday, September 08, 2008
The crew of the Paddlewheel Aircraft Carriers
Anyone who has ever worked on a carrier flight deck in the dead of winter can understand the kind of hardships the officers and men endured. Again, Cdr. Alden in his article When Airpower Rode on Paddle Wheels -'A captain, who subsequently commanded Sable, recalled that although the winter of 1944-45 was the most severe in the history of the Chicago Weather Bureau, nevertheless the ships operated continuously seven days a week from first light to darkness. Snow remained on the ground in Chicago for 66 days, and Lake Michigan was frozen over as far as 15 miles out, With the help of Coast Guard icebreakers, operations were maintained. Although adventures were many, casualties were few. The overall accident percentage among the pilots was less than one half of one percent."
Not only were operations very successful, the duty for pilots and crew certainly was not bad. WE Barret reported, "Living conditions were tops, food was the best, we had laundry and a two-chair barber shop. Liberty ashore in Chicago and Milwaukee area was the best." He continued, "The ships had liberty every night, each person had liberty every other night. There was a Budweiser place in downtown Chicago that a lot of us would meet (at) before going on to other places. (The) people treated us great. They would not let us pay for anything drinks or food." And it wasn't just the food on shore; the Wolverine's First Anniversary Commissioning dinner included fresh Maine lobster cocktail, Southern fried chicken, Idaho baked potatoes - even watermelon!
There were two 40-ft liberty boats to transport crew from ship to shore. As mentioned, the weather on the Great Lakes can be bitterly cruel. Robert Tidrow remembers an incident with one of the liberty boats and some of that Windy City bluster that Chicagoans like to brag about so much. "One morning (1) was coming back from liberty. When the wind is out of the north it whips up the lake in the southern part. This morning it was so bad we could not get the liberty boat alongside. They rigged up a rope ladder and hung it from the fantail and the liberty boat ran in under if. The waves and ground swells were terrific. They dropped the ladder by me and the Exec says 'go ahead,' (rather than in ranking order). By the time he said this the ladder was nearly 20 ff above me. Then suddenly it was there. I grabbed and climbed, not looking down or back. As my feet left the liberty boat I was swaying in mid-air with full uniform and a heavy overcoat. If I didn't hang on I would be in the water and with all these heavy clothes on, to the bottom I'd go. I got aboard and never looked back for I did not care to watch the rest coming aboard. But they all made it; fortunately."