Woodbury County

Willard Connelly



Willard Connelly Tells Experiences with Axis Subs  

Twenty-four days of constant vigilance by a nine-man gun crew aboard an American fighter had resulted in an uneventful voyage.  The ship was only 14 hours from port, and while the crew did not relax they felt that they had their task nearly finished.

From an enemy submarine hidden in the darkness a torpedo sped to its mark, a vulnerable spot in the ship, and the crew escaped to the lifeboats.  They were rescued the following day by another freighter.

A few hours closer to their destination, the second freighter was sunk, and casualties took their toll of the nine-man crew.  Rescued a second time, the survivors reached port without further difficulty.

These experiences, crowded into his first six months of Navy service have left Willard Connelly, 23, of Sioux City, with the hope that he will be given the opportunity soon to shoot at an enemy sub.

Willard, or Bill, as his friends call him, enlisted in the Navy last January.  He went to gunnery school and then last May 24 shipped out of New York for his first ocean voyage.

Crew Boards Freighter
He was a member of a nine-man gun crew aboard a freighter loaded with war material.  The vessel’s first stop was to be a port eight day’s sailing distance away.

But the convoy in which the ship was sailing had to be cautious.  Instead of eight days, the first left of the journey would require 25 days and would take them thousands of miles off the regular course.

There were 37 ships in the convoy when it started.  Frequently the protecting warships went chasing off after a submarine.

“They dropped a lot of dynamite into the sea. We could feel the ship shudder even when a charge exploded a mile away.  It shook the ship’s decks,” Bill recalls.

Convoy Breaks Up
Then the convoy broke up in an undesignated area, some of the ships joining other convoys, others traveling by themselves for their destinations. “That is the way the convoy system works,” Bill said.

The gun crew was doubly alert.  Although only 14 hours sailing time from port, the ship was still in dangerous waters. A tanker had been sunk in that vicinity only a few hours before.

“We were kind of expecting an attack, but when it did come things happened pretty fast,” Bill relates.

“The first torpedo put our gun crew out of action because it made the ship list so badly. We didn’t even see the sub.  The attack came about 10:15 the night of June 14 and in the darkness those things can sneak up on a ship without anybody knowing it.”

Sinks in 10 Minutes
“The ship went down in the 20 minutes and we spent all night in a lifeboat picking up survivors.  The next afternoon a Navy patrol bomber spotted us and must have sent out a message because we were picked up soon after.

“Some Navy ships were coming to our rescue, but a freighter beat them to us.  She must have gotten the signal, too.  It was about 3 p.m. that we were picked up.

“About 9 o’clock that night we got it again—that was on the night of the 15th.  A torpedo hit us right at the second hatch—the same place the sub had hit the first ship I was on.

“But this ship didn’t seem to want to go down.  The sub had to surface and shell it about two hours before the freighter finally sank.

Torpedo Kills Officer
“A lieutenant and a couple of other men in the ship’s gun crew were killed by the torpedo, so they didn’t get a crack at the sub.

“When the sub surfaced, one of the lifeboats had to backstroke to keep from ramming it.  Wouldn’t have hurt the sub even if she had been rammed.

“One of the men hollered at the sub and asked for some dry cigarettes, but I don’t think they understood us.  However, they did signal us to get out of the line of fire before they started shelling the ship.

“Then the sub used its searchlight to help us pick up survivors.  When they turned the light on the first time we thought they were going to machine gun us, but they didn’t,” Bill said.  “We were rescued the next afternoon by a subchaser.”

Wants Navy Duty
When Bill gets back he want to get into some regular Navy duty, preferably as a subchaser machinist.  Or he would like duty with a cruiser like his buddy, Jim Butler, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Butler, 2803 W. Fifth street.

Bill has been studying for his seaman first class rating.  While aboard ship, the men go to school regularly.  Bill, who has been visiting his parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. W. Connelly, 2608 W. Fourth street, will go back to the east coast Sunday night.

He doesn’t know where he’ll be sent from there, but all he wants is to get some shots at a sub.

“It only takes one shot to sink one of those sneaking things. And boy, that’s all we’re waiting for.

“Just let us have one good shot!”

Source:  The Sioux City Journal, July 17, 1942 (photo included)

Willard Connelly, who has been on a 15-day furlough from the Navy visiting his parents, Mr. and Mrs. P. W. Connelly, 2608 W. Fourth street, has left for his receiving station in Brooklyn, N.Y.  Before joining the Navy last January, he worked in Sioux City.

Source:  The Sioux City Journal, July 20, 1942

Arnold B. Connelly, son of Mr. and Mrs. P. W. Connelly, 2608 W. Fourth street, has completed his basic training at Farragut naval training station, Farragut, Idaho, and is spending a 11-day leave here.  He has two brothers also in service, Willard, seaman first class, and Private Lawrence, who is in north Africa.

Source:  The Sioux City Journal, May 14, 1943