Next year, for D-day FbF I will cover my Grandfather's Battleship - but in honor of the week - let's look at a little USN ship that fought alongside giants at the D-day invasion. Yep, I have a thing for small boys - let's visit the USS Arikara (ATF-98) at D-day - the corpsman of the landing beaches.
Her first movement order was executed on January 15, 1944 when we left Charleston for the Naval Operating Base in Norfolk, VA. Less than 20% of her crew and officers had ever been to sea before.She had a very long life, with many former Shipmates having webpages - of them, I like this one from Vietnam.
On March 3rd orders came to proceed to New York at best speed via the cape cod canal and to prepare for a secret mission. Arriving at New York we found many Navy and War Shipping Administration tugs getting ready for the same job. When all the Commanding Officers were briefed at the Third Naval District Headquarters, it was learned that the Navy was delivering barges to General Eisenhower for the invasion of Europe and that the the greatest convoy of tugs and tows ever to cross the North Atlantic was about to get underway. This eventful trip was months later and it aroused considerable interest in Washington. The Bureau of Ships sent Lieutenant Commander Harry M. Fisko aboard the Arikara as an observer with orders to write a report upon completion of the trip. On March 25th all the tugs and tows, with a large escort, were underway for a port in the United Kingdom. Our escorts were kept busy all the way over; numerous submarine contacts were made and upon arrival at Falmouth, England the escort vessels' supply of depth charges was completely exhausted. However, excepting the loss of one ship in our convoy the operation was a complete success in every respect. Due to very heavy seas and the nature of our operation it required 26 days to make the crossing. We delivered our barges to Army service tugs in Falmouth and then reported for duty to Commander of the Twelfth Fleet.
At 0330 the morning of June 6th we had our first glimpse of the French coast under flares fired by our combat ships. The bombardment from battleships and cruisers was deafening. Rocket ships were softening up the beaches for the first wave of rangers. Bombers overhead were dropping tons of bombs. The entire area trembled for hours. At dawn the transports lowered their boats to the water, all loaded with troops. The Bay of Seine was solid mass of landing craft. The Arikara's job was to keep the beaches clear of wrecks so that the Mulbury harbor units could be beached without obstruction. We were not long in getting our first job. An LCI, one of the first to hit the beach had caught the fire of the German 88s. We brought her alongside to starboard to see if there was any hope of salvage. She started to list, but before we could do anything she capsized right alongside of us taking our starboard whale boat out on the way over. Her crew was rescued and we towed the over-turned hull to a deep area and blew it up. This LCI had been a hero of North Africa and the last thing we saw on her way over was a painted four leaf clover with the words "Sicily" under it.
From this point on things moved fast. Mines, underwater obstacles and German guns were taking a toll of small craft. We temporarily forgot our job of salvage and became a rescue and repair ship. At one time we had as many as 6 LCT's tied up alongside, making minor repairs so that they could keep troops and supplies moving into the beaches.
An LCT loaded with an Army mechanized unit had been disabled and drifted in the tide towards Port En Bessen. She spent the night adrift between the fire of American destroyers and enemy shore batteries, afraid to flash or signal light for help, lest it be spotted by the enemy. Her crew was surely a happy lot when the Arikara pulled alongside the next morning at dawn and towed them clear.