USS Savannah hit by German glider bomb

USS Savannah (CL-42) is hit by a German radio-controlled glider bomb,

USS Savannah (CL-42) is hit by a German radio-controlled glider bomb, while supporting Allied forces ashore during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943. The bomb hit the top of the ship’s number three 6″/47 gun turret and penetrated deep into her hull before exploding. The photograph shows the explosion venting through the top of the turret and also through Savannah’s hull below the waterline. A motor torpedo boat (PT) is passing by in the foreground.

The slender bridgehead that the Allies had established at Salerno remained under contention as the Germans prepared to counter-attack. Off shore the Allied Naval force continued to provide much needed firepower in support of the troops on land.

Overhead the Allied airforces, operating from Sicily and North Africa, were very far from establishing the virtually complete air superiority that would later be seen at Normandy. The Luftwaffe was able to break through often enough to cause significant problems.

New Germans technology, the remote control glider bomb, which had first been seen in mid August, proved to be a potent weapon against the invasion fleet. Frank Romano was on board the USS Savannah:

On September 11, 1943, we were cruising off shore preparing for a fire support mission when German bombers appeared overhead. They were at very high altitude, so we didn’t bother firing the smaller AA at them.

In the past, we’d watch them drop their bombs, and once they were falling, the captain would change course or increase speed, and they’d miss. We also had friendly fighters in the area so we figured that we were ok. So we’re all at our guns stations, sitting around.

We had one kid in the gun crew, his name was Douglas Centers, got real nervous when the bombs starting falling and the bigger AA guns starting going off. He lied about his age when joined up, and convinced his mother to sign the papers and he joined up at 16. Once the Navy found out, he had already turned 17 so they allowed him to stay in. Centers kept telling the Chief he was sick, he needed to go below, and we kept telling him, ’Just relax, you’ll be fine’. He persisted and the Chief finally got tired of his whining, so he went to the gun Captain, who gave him permission to go below to the forward sick bay. He left. About 5 minutes later, the bomb hit, and everyone in the forward sick bay, including Centers, was killed. If he’d only listened to us, he’d have survived.

We had another guy on board, Emmanuel Blankenship, who was aboard the USS Pennsylvania during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was one of the ‘old salts’ at 21 because he’d been in the Navy since before the war. He was killed when the bomb hit.

The bomb impact was initially a huge crash, followed seconds later by a massive explosion that lifted the ship right out of the water, and knocked everyone to the deck. The bomb passed through the turret top, killed everyone inside, and exploded at the keel, blowing the bottom of the ship out and causing a huge geyser of water and debris to come out the port side a little forward of the bridge. It covered us with water, and almost immediately smoke started pouring from the hole in the turret. We all figured the magazine would explode at any second, but it didn’t. When the bomb exploded it blew out the keel directly under the magazine, and the water flooded the magazine before it had a chance to go off.

The explosion blew open both the #2 and #1 magazines forward, and killed most everyone in the bow forward of the #3 turret. There were a few exceptions, and there were some guys that were trapped in compartments that we couldn’t get to because they were surrounded by water on 3 or 4 sides. Once the #3 magazine exploded, the blast continued to travel towards the bow. Almost everyone forward of the boiler room that were below deck were killed. There were 4 sailors trapped in the Auxiliary Radio Room, 2 men that got out of the #2 turret, and 5 or or 6 guys that escaped the #1 turret. One of the men who got out of the #2 turret held the hatch open for his brother. They argued about who should go first and the one holding the hatch was killed. The men in the magazines were killed by blast and concussion. Most of those killed in the turrets died from lethal gas caused by the exploding powder.

Since I was one of the small guys, I was lowered into the hole on top of turret 3 to inspect the damage and look for survivors. Once we got the turret opened up, of course, no one was left, only some pieces and charred remains. I was part of the crew that went below, again, because I was little and could squeeze into places most couldn’t.

The ship had a 30 foot hole in the side of her hull, and we didn’t know what kind of damage the keel had received until after we’d put in to drydock at Malta. We found out that most of the keel in the bow was gone, and we had a 25 foot split in the side of the hull.

Read Frank Romano’s whole account at Model Warships.

The bodies of dead crewmen are laid out on deck as rescue efforts continue.

The bodies of dead crewmen are laid out on deck as rescue efforts continue.

Corpsmen attend to casualties on the USS Savannah, 11th September 1943

Corpsmen attend to casualties on the USS Savannah, 11th September 1943

Fighting fires on the USS Savannah.

Fighting fires on the USS Savannah.

Contemporary newsreel of men trapped below decks for 60 hours:

Two "Liberty" ships afire in Algiers harbor, following a German air attack, 16 July 1943. USS Savannah (CL-42), in the foreground, had a narrow escape.

Two “Liberty” ships afire in Algiers harbor, following a German air attack, 16 July 1943.
USS Savannah (CL-42), in the foreground, had a narrow escape.

The first capital ship to be lost to a guided munition attack was the 45,000 tonne Vittorio Veneto class battleship RN Roma, which burned and sank after being hit by two PC1400X Fritz X radio-controlled glidebombs on the 9th September, 1943. The Roma was en route to Malta to surrender as part of the Italian Armistice. This attack killed 1352 personnel, including Admiral Carlo Bergamini, Chief of Naval Staff of the RN (RN).

The first capital ship to be lost to a guided munition attack was the 45,000 tonne Vittorio Veneto class battleship RN Roma, which burned and sank after being hit by two PC1400X Fritz X radio-controlled glidebombs on the 9th September, 1943. The Roma was en route to Malta to surrender as part of the Italian Armistice when she was attacked by the Luftwaffe. This attack killed 1352 personnel, including Admiral Carlo Bergamini, Chief of Naval Staff of the RN (RN).

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Brooks August 17, 2015 at 4:53 am

My father was on board the Savannah when the bomb hit and was one of the lucky ones. His name was William Marshall Brooks, Bugle Master. If there is any one that has any information or knew him please let me know.

Thanks

Michael Brooks August 17, 2015 at 4:48 am

My Father William Marshall Brooks was on board the Savannah when the bomb hit. He was one of the lucky ones and survived, he was a Bugle Master. If there is any one that knows any more about him I would greatly appreciate the information

george m boffa August 7, 2015 at 3:28 am

I am, in a way reluctant to intrude into the story of brave men. On the other hand my origins and my recollections tell me to honour them by writing and putting on record credit where credit is due.

I come from Malta where the damaged Savannah found solace, welcome and help. During the war my father was in health and in civil defence in the cities round the dock area where the USS Savannah was repaired.

At that time, we in Malta were happy because the surrender of Italy on the 8th Sept 1943 brought relative peace to us.

The coming of the Savannah together with the news of the sinking of other ships including the Italian Battleship ROMA dampened our emotions.

Now to the bit of honourable information which should warm the hearts of Americans. When the Savannah came in there were many dead, and injured.

The Maltese Dockyard Workers, to add to their many acts of humanity and valour, offered to bring up the dead from below decks. My father, I remember came home to tell us about the ship. The American servicemen graciously replied to the kind offer by stating that the dead were their mates and they would do the honours of bringing them up.
I hope that my note fills a gap in the story of the Savannah. Those relatives who lost dear ones have it confirmed that the dear ones died amongst good friends and mates. Those relatives whose close ones survived can think that they were amongst those who stood by their mates even in death.

May I finish by “GOD SAVE AND GOD BLESS AMERICAAMERICA!”

I am confident that the Maltese would have helped anyway as a sign of gratitude and comradeship.

Joseph Rubas August 2, 2015 at 9:07 pm

I have a relative who may have died on the Savannah. All I know is that his name was Hollis Cole Matthews and he died on September 11, 1943. Does anyone know where I could possibly find more information?

Greg Ballew July 31, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Just want to know if anyone has anything on James E Ballew ( Red ) who served on the Uss Savannah during the war. I know nothing of my father who died when I was two years old in 1958.
Greg

Barbara Halulko June 27, 2015 at 9:07 pm

My uncle James Fischer was killed in this attack, I was told that he was buried at sea, I would appreciate any information about this, or if anyone knew him.

Nate May 21, 2015 at 9:40 pm

This history is fascinating.

george speer April 26, 2015 at 9:54 pm

I am searching for information on my uncle LT CMR J.O. Speer, who was KIA aboard the USS Savannah on 9/11/43. I know he was a graduate from the Naval Academy, had a son John while living in San Diego. But that’s about it. Any info would be appreciated.
George, geospeer@hotmail.com

Jayneen Brannen February 18, 2015 at 4:18 am

My father, James Vance Brannen, was a gunners mate on the USS Savannah and was badly injured when the bomb hit. It took him several months to recover in a Philidelphia hospital. He suffered from “shell shock” until his death in 1976. I wish I remembered more about the stories he told us relating to the attack.

Lora Sampson Smith February 12, 2015 at 5:55 pm

The kid, Douglas Centers, mentioned in Mr. Romano’s account of the bombing, was my first cousin once removed. I mention the generation because I was born in 1960, so this happened long before I was born. This is the first time I have heard of this story, and it breaks my heart that this poor kid was so scared. I would like to share a little more information on Douglas.

This kid was the oldest of 4 children, and lost his father to illness at the age of 5. This left his 23 year old mother, Alma, devastated and little means to support them. She moved herself and children back home to her parents, who were also struggling through this depressed time. Her father was invalid, due to construction fall, and her mother opened a small restaurant to support her family. Their home was next to the small diner and she worked along side her mother to help. I am sure that the children worked as well.

Another tragedy fell in 1936, when Douglas’ sister, Josephine, was playing near the road in front of the restaurant, was struck by a car and died from horrific injuries three days later. No doubt this affected the entire family, but Douglas would have only been 10 years old.

I don’t know much about these earlier times or particulars since this way before I was born. I know that at 17, Douglas had faced many tragic things, and perhaps felt that serving his country was a positive direction. I honor him for this choice and mourn his memory now. God makes no mistakes. Bless all those who serve and served.

Lora Sampson Smith February 11, 2015 at 11:39 pm

The Douglas Centers mentioned was my cousin, and it’s sad to know that he was so scared. At 17 years old, this poor kid had seen enough death in his life. Before joining the Navy, he lost his father in 1931,and his sister was tragically killed in 1936, struck by an automobile in front of their home. I don’t know if anyone in my family was aware of this story of his death. All of his immediate family have passed, so I am the family storyteller left to record this. I am thankful that I found just a little of his story to be told. Thank you to those men and women that served in this war and to the ones that shared this story.

Buddy Federer May 27, 2014 at 1:13 am

My father was on the Savannah, 2nd class Signal man, and was there when that bomb hit, his nickname was juggy

Bruce Gordon May 24, 2014 at 6:31 pm

My dad, Electricians Mate 1st Class George Gordon, was aboard the Savannah that day. He told us the story many times of how only two weeks before, his battle station was changed from turret #3 to a searchlight platform overhead. He wasn’t happy about that. Not much protection up there like there was in a gun turret. Well, that move saved his life that day, and I wouldn’t be here today if not for it.
My dad was tremendously proud of his service aboard the Savannah, and rightfully so. He went to every ship reunion until his health started to fail in 2001. He’s gone on to his eternal reward and I’m sure has spent much time since with his old shipmates….

Cheryl Petrucelli May 8, 2014 at 9:07 pm

My Father (Delbert H. Collins) told me about the bombing of the USS Savannah in Selerno. I’ve read the stories and watched the videos looking for him. I think at that time he was a gunnery officer, but I’m not sure. Looking for any article mentioning him.

Thanks.

Helen Anderson Rickard Glass March 19, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Can’t stop crying. My brother EM1.Arthur J. Anderson was killed on the Savannah at Salerno, Italy 9/11/43 it was a Saturday. I too was in the Navy I was an AMM3/C, I have these pictures and some of the Savannah history. He and I graduated together in June 1941-he joined the Navy in Jan 1942 I joined on the 20th birthday 3/8/43. From a perfect stranger I learned that His name has been on the Tablet of the Missing in the Chapel of the Sicily/Rome American Cemetery since 1945 and I just recently found out about it. I am now sending money and they put flowers there in his memory and his shipmates (24 buried at se off the coast of Malta. Others were buried on Malta. My WAVE friend’s brother was one of the men (4) imprisoned below and I found this out at a WAVE meeting here in Tucson in 1985. This is a wonderful story of the Savannah. Thank you. We got the telegram from the War Dept Nov 5 1943. That was his 22nd birthday. I wrote of poem in his honor and won my first gold medal for it.

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