Invasion of North Africa was Charles Murdock’s first military engagement in WW II

Water Tender 2nd Class Charles Murdock of Holiday Park in Englewood, Fla. was 21-years-old when he went aboard the light cruiser USS Philadelphia in February 1942, during the early months of World War II. She was headed for convoy duty in the North Atlantic.

“We made a couple of escort runs to Hafnarfjorour, Iceland,” the 93-year-old explained. “Then the Philadelphia sailed in convoy from the U.S. to Greenock, Scotland.”

After that the cruiser was part of a task force transporting Gen. George Patton’s “Western Task Force,” of 35,000 soldiers and 250 Sherman tanks, to French Morocco to take part in the Invasion of North Africa–“Operation Torch.”

“We were shelling the coast and supporting then Army that landed on the beaches. We sailed the North African coast all the way up to the island of Malta. “Before we arrived the German’s occupied the island. I remember a couple of us sailors were talking to some guy from the island and he told us about ‘Suicide Cliff.’ That’s where the local girls would go up and jump off rather than be raped by the German soldiers.,” Murdock said.

Following the invasion of North Africa, the Philadelphia returned to Norfolk and prepared for the invasion of Sicily. A convoy of ships arrived in Oran, Algeria in late June and sailed for the beach at Scoglitti, Sicily on July 9, 1943. On July 30 the cruiser together with the cruiser Savannah and a half dozen destroyers sailed into Palermo harbor and struck the enemy beach batteries near San Stefano di Camatra, Sicily.

Murdock in the center with his white sailor hat and another buddy, to his left in uniform, surrounded by scores of kids on the Island of Sicily during the war. The two sailors were on shore leave. Photo provided.

Murdock in the center with his white sailor hat and another buddy, to his left in uniform, surrounded by scores of kids on the Island of Sicily during the war. The two sailors were on shore leave. Photo provided.

The Philadelphia and Murdock were involved in the allied invasion of Salerno and Anzio, Italy. The cruiser and its crew supported the invasions forces that went ashore under heavy German fire.

“We were attacked 35 different times by enemy fighters and bombers, but we never got hit,” he said.

About as close as they came to disaster was during the invasion of southern France. Again the cruiser supported the allied force that hit the beach.

“Two high altitude German bombers flew over and bombed us and the cruiser USS Savannah that was also providing fire support off the beach. Each bomber had a guided bomb that came our way,” Murdock recalled.

“Our captain sailed the Philadelphia around in a circle to escape the bomb attack.The Savannah was dead in the water when she was hit by the guided bomb. Some 300 sailors aboard ship were killed in the explosion.”

It was while they were taking part in the invasion of Southern France that Murdock and some of his buddies served as shore patrol in Nice, France.

“While on shore patrol we were watching two or three guys who seemed to be acting odd. They went into a local bakery and we heard a couple of gun shots. They came walking out of the bakery and took off.

“We walked into the shop to see what was going on. We found out they had just shot the baker, a Nazi collaborator. The guys who shot him were part of the Free French resistance,” he said.”

Before the end of the war the Philadelphia sailed back to Norfolk for repairs.

“The rifling in our main guns was sticking out of the barrels two or three inches because we fired our guns so much.

The engine-room crew of the USS Philadelphia on its fantail during the Second World War. Note the three covered patrol planes with wings folded flanking the group. Photo provided

The engine-room crew of the USS Philadelphia on its fantail during the Second World War. Note the three covered patrol planes with wings folded flanking the group. Photo provided

“While in Norfolk we went on liberty. Problem was, sailors had to be off the streets by midnight. We took blankets with us on liberty and slept on Virginia Beach,” Murdock recalled.

Before the crew of the Philadelphia could reach the war zone once more the Japanese surrendered and World War II was over.

“We were aboard ship anchored in the bay at Newport, R.I. on ‘VJ-Day.’ Our skipper wouldn’t give us liberty to go ashore,” he said. “He didn’t want us to go ashore and tear up the town celebrating. He was probably right.”

After being discharged from the Navy in Boston in 1945, Murdock decided he didn’t much like civilian life. So he signed up for another three-year hitch in the Navy.

“I went aboard a 120-foot seagoing tugboat in Boston. Much of the time we towed aircraft carriers from Boston to New Hampshire to be scrapped. It was a scary job towing those big ships,” Murdock recalled.

After a while he had enough tugboat duty and got a transfer to air-sea rescue at Quonset Point, R.I.

“I worked at the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point. They were training pilots how to fly jets. If one of these jet planes went down, we had to race out in our boat and pull the pilot out of the water. I was the motorman aboard the rescue boat.”

Murdock was discharged from the Navy for the second time in 1948.

“I went back to work as a tool and die maker at Lust Silversmith in Greenfield, Mass. where I had worked before the war,” he said. “I worked there 35 years until I retired. I moved to Florida in 2000..

Agnes, his wife, died years ago. He has one daughter, Susan, who lives in California with her children and grandchildren.

Murdock’s File

This is Murdock today at 93 at his home in Holiday Park in Englewood. Sun photo by Don MooreName: Charles Earl Murdock
D.O.B: 11 Jan. 1922
Hometown:  Providence, R.I.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 10 Feb. 1942
Discharged:  17 Nov. 1945
Rank: Water tender 2nd Class
Unit:  USS Philadelphia
Battles/Campaigns: Invasion of North Africa, Salerno, Anzio,Invasion of Southern France

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 6, 2015 and is republished with permission.

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