USS Corry Chief Radio Technician
Francis "Mac" McKernon

On St. Patrick’s Day, (March 17) 1944, off the northwest coast of Africa near the Cape Verde islands, a German submarine was trying to elude us. We’d been constantly pursuing it, zigzagging in a game of cat and mouse for some 16 hours. Sometimes we thought we’d lost it; then we would pick it up on sonar again. Each time we’d make sound contact, we would drop depth charges, but the explosions brought nothing to the surface. We were about to head back to the aircraft carrier USS Block Island (CVE-21) to get a full load of depth charges and let the USS Bronstein (DE-189) continue the hunt, but then an oil slick was noticed in the water, so we stayed in the area.

The Corry’s crew had been in what is called pursuit mode—not yet at full battle stations but ready to move when the alarm sounded. Around mid-day, after we regained sound contact and dropped more depth charges, finally, our lookouts spotted a U-boat surfacing less than a mile away from us. Over the bullhorn, loud and clear came the alert, “Submarine on the surface! Submarine on the surface! All hands! Man your battle stations! All hands! Man your battle stations!” It was the U-801. Our depth charges had caused enough damage that the sub had begun to take on water. The only two choices it had were to surface quickly or to stay down and continue to sink.

In addition to the Corry’s mounted guns, practically every available man on the ship was equipped with small arms out on deck. We weren’t going to take any chances if that sub might have a mounted 6-inch gun, which would be even more deadly than our 5-inchers. Just one well-placed shot from it could do considerable, even lethal, damage to a tin can like ours. The first place they’d probably try to aim for would be our torpedoes amidships. U-boats also were equipped with several mounted heavy-caliber automatic weapons that could cut things up quite a bit. Even though I was chief radio technician, I was at the bow of the Corry, ready with a .30-06 rifle in my hands and a Thompson submachine gun at my side. My six years of infantry marksmanship before the war would be valuable experience now. [Mac served six years as an infantry radioman in the Pennsylvania National Guard from 1934-1940.]

As the U-boat surfaced, from a distance we opened fire on it with our main 5-inch guns and all other guns that could bear. Some of the shots hit the conning tower of the sub. As soon as the sub’s crew felt the hits and saw big splashes going up all around them, they immediately abandoned the vessel, pouring out of several hatches and jumping over the side, getting as far away from it as they could. They would put up no fight today.

With the U-boat crew abandoning, a cease-fire was ordered. We all watched as the sub began to slowly take on more water. However, it wasn’t sinking fast enough for our captain. To speed the process, as we moved in a little closer he ordered our 5-inchers, as well as our 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter guns, to fire on it some more. Then everyone with small arms also got into the act and started shooting at the sub. Extra small arms were passed out on deck for even more crewmembers to fire with.

Yet, despite everything we were firing into it, the U-801 still wasn’t sinking fast enough, so our captain decided that he was going to ram it with the Corry to ensure that it would sink. Hearing this, we thought, Ram it? Won’t that hurt the Corry more than the U-boat? We don’t have a ramming bow. The captain was resolute, however. He exclaimed, “It’s not sinking fast enough! Full speed ahead! Ram it!” I ran away from that bow faster than I’d moved in quite some time. We all braced ourselves for collision as the Corry steamed through the water and closed in on the dying sub. But fortunately for us, the U-801 finally sank before the Corry could hit it. Half of it rose up into the air and it then smoothly slid down into the deep.

From the U-801, we took 47 prisoners aboard the Corry. We knew the Captain on the carrier would be very happy with this catch. There wasn’t much room for them on a destroyer, however, so the next question was how to get all those prisoners over to the aircraft carrier. Someone came up with an ingenious solution. When we arrived next to the carrier, we ran a line over to it. Then we got out large canvas mail sacks. We put two prisoners in each sack and sent them across. After the last prisoner was taken on board the carrier, the Captain said to us, "Thank you, sub busters!"


German prisoners from the U-801 told guys on the Corry, “We fired several torpedoes at you last night. We thought you were a light cruiser.” Destroyers’ and light cruisers’ silhouettes looked similar at a distance, but a destroyer’s depth in the water was only about 15 feet, while a light cruiser was several feet deeper. The Germans had set their torpedoes at a depth that would blow out the bottom few feet of a light cruiser to break its keel. That way the ship would have the most severe damage done to it and it would sink rapidly. But due to mistaken identity, the torpedoes were set too deep in the water and they went just under the Corry. When we got the startling news, we quickly wanted to reach down under our heels and pull the ship up even higher out of the water as we anxiously imagined torpedoes running just feet below our keel.


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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