* George Wolhuter took all of the black and white photographs presented here with his twin-lens reflex camera. He also developed and printed them aboard ship in the darkroom on his LST.
Ensign George Wolhuter was a gunnery officer aboard an LST which took part in the invasion of Sicily, a secret Malaysian invasion, and the Normandy invasion of Europe during World War II.
Shortly after graduation from officers candidate school at Dartmouth College Ensign Wolhuter was assigned to Landing Craft Tank-349 at Norfolk, Va. It was a 320-foot long ship which brought troops and equipment ashore and disgorged them onto enemy beaches in the middle of a battle.
“We could carry 50 Sherman tanks in the hole and more trucks and other equipment lashed to the deck topside,” he explained. “In addition to our seven officers and 96 crewmen we could take another couple of hundred soldiers.”
It was Wolhuter’s job to see that the two .40 mm and six .20 mm anti-aircraft guns were functioning properly, the men that manned them were trained to use them and at their battle stations when the time came.
“I didn’t know anything about .20 mm or .40 mm guns. I asked the captain when I arrived aboard ship where the guns were and he said, ‘In those crates on the deck.’ We had to clean the Cosmoline off them and assemble the guns before we could use them,” he said.
Wolhuter and the crew of LST-349 made the Atlantic crossing in a convoy of 96 ships that sailed from New York to North Africa in early 1943.
“Nobody got sunk and we didn’t bump into each other, so I guess it was a pretty good trip,” the 86-year-old Englewood, Fla. resident explained. “We anchored in the harbor at Bizerte, Tunisia, North Africa.”
Dozens of ships were there waiting for the invasion of Sicily in the late summer of 1943. Wolhuter and LST-349 would be part of Gen. George Patton’s invasion force to Sicily.
During the month the invasion fleet waited in the harbor at Bizerte, Wolhuter and the men aboard the LST put up with the Luftwaffe air raids.
“The Germans would fly over in their JU-88 bombers at night. You didn’t see them unless a spotlight picked one up,” he said. “I only saw one enemy plane shot down at Bizerte when a spotlight found him. All our guns opened up on it and pretty soon he kinda wavered, and spiraled down into the water. After it splashed, you could hear a pin drop. Then the plane exploded and everybody cheered.
“The amazing thing was we were there 30 days and every night we were bombed once or twice, and during all that time only one of our ships was hit. What they hit was an LCI, a small ship used to transport troops.”
In July 1943, Wolhuter and the fleet took part in the Sicily Invasion. He wrote home to his folks about what happened. It was reprinted in his father’s company’s newsletter.
“July 8, 1943
“Have you ever been in an invasion? Well, by the time this letter is finished, you will have a ringside seat, for I will write the letter as events happen.
“It’s 10 a.m. and our part of the invasion fleet is moving out from our base (at Bizerte). There are ships as far as you can see in every direction. There are all types of landing craft loaded with tanks, troops and trucks. We also have a large number of destroyers and cruisers with us. We don’t know where it will take place, but we do know we are going to invade Sicily.
“July 9, 1943
“There is quite a rough sea blowing up and it doesn’t look so good for our invasion as the small landing boats will have trouble in the heavy surf on the beach. It’s blowing still harder and the old ship is really taking a beating. When we hit a wave you can see a ripple come down the deck line like it was water. There won’t be much sleep tonight as this is THE night.
“Plans call for the first boats to hit the beach at 2:45 a.m., July 10. I have all my gun crews standing by and all guns are loaded and ready to go. We will probably have most of our trouble from enemy aircraft.
“July 12, 1943
“About midnight, we anchored 10 miles off Licata, Sicily and lowered our small invasion boats and crews. They formed in waves and headed for the beach. About this time the cruisers and destroyers opened fire to soften up the beach and knock out known gun emplacements there. We could see the shells headed for the beach like a flock of ducks. Then, there would be an explosion where they hit. Then, we heard firing on the beach and knew our boats had landed.
“Soon it began to get light and that’s a very difficult time as it’s light enough for the enemy to see you but pretty hard to see them. A German bomber flew over us and every ship and ourselves opened fire. The last we saw of him, he was smoking, but not down. He probably didn’t make it back.
“It was now daylight and every once in a while, a bunch of enemy planes would come over and then all hell would break loose when all the ships would start shooting at them. You have no idea what a show that was.
“By the time we started unloading at the beach, all of the firing had ceased. While unloading, we had about 15 fighter attacks during the day and every time, bedlam would break loose.
“All in all it was a good show, well-planned and executed, and just exciting enough to make it worthwhile. At present, we are on our way back to our base. What happens next, I don’t know.
“I’m still well and doing fine. Love to you both.
Less than a year later, Wolhuter would take part in the largest amphibious assault of the war — the invasion of Normandy, France — June 6, 1944. He and his new ship, LST-208, brought Canadian forces into Sword, Gold and Juno beaches.
They had to wait their turn to move into Sword Beach during the first day of the invasion. They dropped off the Canadian soldiers, their tanks and trucks.
“We were anchored along Sword Beach and the tide went out. There we sat high and dry on the beach when the tide dropped 20 feet or more,” he said. “That was the worst part of it.”
By the time LST-208 arrived at the beach, the Germans had been cleared out. They faced nothing but sand dunes with a small resort village behind them.
Before the invasion was over, Wolhuter and his ship would make 13 round trips across the English Channel to help supply Allied forces hanging on by their fingernails along the Normandy beachhead as the final chapter of World War II in Europe was written.
“It was our last trip back to England, the 13th, that was the most hazardous,” he said. “We were in a convoy coming back from France when a liberty ship lost its direction during the night and ran into us. Right beside the bulkhead, where the ship hit, was our ammunition. That area would have been filled with troops if we had been headed for France. We were lucky.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fl. on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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