USS Corry Chief Radio Technician
Francis "Mac" McKernon


On March 19, 1944, just two days after we’d sunk the U-801, planes from the carrier [USS Block Island] we’d been escorting spotted another German U-boat that had surfaced and was taking on supplies. Among the supplies on its deck were two torpedoes waiting to be transferred below. Our planes machine-gunned and bombed the sub, causing it considerable damage. Taking on water, it was unable to dive. Immediately, the Corry was ordered away from the carrier to go after the U-boat. But when we came over the horizon and approached the scene, the sub had already gone under.

Initially, we spotted more than 20 men in the water. We were about to rescue them when the pilot of a scout plane above us radioed, “Don’t go near them. I see a second U-boat shadow below the survivors. Don’t try to be a bunch of American heroes looking to take prisoners so quickly.” The second U-boat was hoping we’d be so preoccupied with taking prisoners from the first U-boat kill that we wouldn’t check for another sub. The submerged U-boat would wait until they heard us moving toward the survivors and then would come up to periscope depth where they could see us and blast us.

Because of the plane’s warning, we stayed off at a distance and ran a zigzag course. The plane continued circling overhead and regularly reported over the radio: “The shadow is still down there.” Finally, after a long while, the pilot saw the second U-boat go away, running deep where it was no longer a threat to us. (It would be hunted down soon enough.) However, since so much time had elapsed, out of more than 20 German submariners that had initially been spotted in the water, we rescued only a handful of wounded survivors, the captain among them. One by one, the rest had succumbed to their wounds or exhaustion.

After we brought the prisoners aboard, our doctor looked at them to see what kind of shape they were in. We then sent a message over to the aircraft carrier, which normally would have taken them from us. We told the carrier, “The prisoners are badly wounded. If we try to move them, they’re not going to live. There are only eight of them. We’ll take them with us.” The carrier sent back a message: “See you in Boston.”



After we had the German prisoners aboard, the two torpedoes from the U-boat’s deck were still floating in the water. We planned to destroy both of them, but someone on the bridge got an idea: “Wouldn’t it be nice to bring home a brand new Nazi torpedo? It would sure make the admiral on the carrier look good.” We moved over and hoisted one of the torpedoes up on deck. Then we backed  off some and our captain ordered a 40-millimeter gunner to fire on the other torpedo.

I was on the bow of the Corry with a rifle thinking I’d join in on the shooting. Then I realized that we were probably closer to the torpedo than we should have been. I thought, If that thing goes up, I might be blown right off the bow! I handed the rifle to someone else who wanted to try his luck with it and quickly moved away and took cover. But after several of our gunner’s direct hits put holes in it, the torpedo simply gurgled for a few seconds and then sank.

Our captain immediately went out on deck to take a look at the prize we’d just captured. Yep, it was a regular, plain-looking torpedo on the outside—nothing much could be said about it. But our scientists back in the States would want to dissect it to see what latest technology the Nazis were using inside their torpedoes.

The journey back to the States took several days, during which time we went through a big storm and even got lost part of the way (that’s another story). After traveling thousands of miles, we finally arrived off the coast of Massachusetts and let the Boston skyline welcome us on that day in late March 1944.

Once in Boston harbor, as we leisurely headed toward the dock to deliver our captured trophy to the labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the navy yard became a spectacle of activity around us. Army troops with rifles and fixed bayonets piled out of trucks and lined up all along the dock, ready to escort our POWs. Navy ambulances quickly pulled up and parked, their medical staff assembling nearby, ready to take the wounded German prisoners. Yard personnel and crewmembers from other ships began to cheer as soon as they noticed us, and several other vessels sounded their horns as we passed. It was the middle of the day, and just about everyone had stopped what they were doing to figure out why all this activity revolved around the approaching destroyer.

When the Corry finally moored, from the back of the bridge our captain signaled to the navy yard crane operator that he had something to be picked up and moved off of the ship. As the entire yard stood and watched the stretcher-bound prisoners being escorted off by army troops, everyone also eagerly waited to see just what the slow-moving navy yard crane was going to take from the Corry.

Just as the crane maneuvered into position above the canvas-covered torpedo, our captain asked a couple of sailors down on deck, “Did you do what I asked you to?” They gladly smiled and said yes. He then gave the signal, and they swiftly removed the tarp that had been hiding the torpedo, like a magician revealing his grand finale for all the audience to marvel at. (Under the captain’s direction, the men had rehearsed this move several times until they got it just right.)

Our prize was now revealed for all to view in plain sight. As the crane slowly picked it up and moved it onto the dock in front of a horde of cheering laborers, the entire Boston navy yard could now see that the USS Corry had just captured a latest and greatest Nazi torpedo for American research scientists to devour! But what they didn’t know was that our captain had told the sailors to paint the big swastikas on this previously plain-looking torpedo! (He was quite good at making a big show of an otherwise inconspicuous event.)

The torpedo was loaded onto a big truck and carted off to MIT under armed escort. Although we were finally back in port after a long sea duty, the captain announced over the bullhorn that the entire crew would not be allowed to leave the ship for at least two hours. Only the yard office would have the official account; he wanted to give the rest of the navy yard plenty of time to speculate about the Corry’s adventures. “Let them make up the story!” he said.



German U-boat prisoners of war (POWs) whom we had taken aboard the Corry said that they knew Germany was winning the war because Hitler had been sending them regular reports of German victories against the American homeland. They had been told how many major U.S. cities had been bombed and destroyed, including New York, Boston, Washington, and Philadelphia.

Hearing such claims, our captain had the U-boat commander, who spoke very good English, brought up to the bridge just as we came over the horizon toward the coast of Massachusetts. Our skipper asked him if he knew what the skyline of Boston looked like. He said yes, U-boat commanders had photographs of all major American seaports and were required to memorize them. He knew what all of our cities had looked like before they were bombed.

As we got closer to the Massachusetts coast, our captain finally allowed the U-boat commander to look outward toward the shore. He said to the commander, “So your Führer has been telling you he has destroyed all of our cities, that there is no more Boston. What do you see?”

As he looked out at the city skyline, in shock, the commander answered, “That’s Boston, Massachusetts.” He could clearly see that all the buildings were still standing. Nothing had been bombed; nothing was damaged.

Our captain told the U-boat commander, “None of our cities have been touched—you’ve been lied to.” The look of disillusionment on the German officer’s face was so thick you could have scraped it off. Here he was, one of the Third Reich’s decorated U-boat commanders, and he had been totally deceived by his Führer. He now knew that all along, Hitler had been sending false victory reports to his U-boat crews to keep them fighting.



While we were en route to Boston, officers on the Corry who could speak German struck up a conversation with some U-boat POWs that we had on board. (Making casual conversation with prisoners was a way of finding out information.) The officers were dressed in plain seamen’s clothes and didn’t let on that they were officers.

During conversation, the Germans inquired about an astonishing tale they had heard. They said, “You Americans, we understand you allow Jews in your navy? Is this actually true?”

The Americans looked at each other and informed the Germans that, yes, it was true—the American navy allows Jews. “In fact, we even have a couple of Jews on this ship!” they told the POWs.

“You have Jews on this ship? As part of the regular crew?” the prisoners blurted.

“Yes, they’re part of the regular crew,” the Americans reassured their captives.

Though spellbound, the prisoners responded, “Hitler would never allow Jews in our navy.”

The Germans imagined that the most responsibility a Jew could earn would consist of swabbing the decks or cleaning toilets. However, they expressed an interest in  seeing what a Jew in the U.S. Navy actually looked like, so the Americans told them that they would later show the Germans who the Corry’s Jews were.

When the prisoners were being taken ashore in Boston, the American officers appeared in their dress-white uniforms, one a lieutenant, the other an ensign. They said to the POWs, “Those two Jews we told you about? Here we are!”

Their eyes bulging, the Germans were stupefied: “Officers! They allow Jews to be officers in the United States Navy!” From a fellow U-boater came, “You mean those were Jews we were talking to the whole time we were on the ship?

Stories from the book Corry: A D-Day Survivor's Stories About the Destroyer that Led the Normandy Invasion   by Kevin McKernon
ISBN: 0974069809         Copyright © 2003 by Kevin McKernon

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