The Mighty Midgets of World War II

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Writers Note: Each month, members of the American Legion Post 20 honor a different Dallas County area veteran for their service to God and Country. The honoree for April is Lewis Calvin Singley, U. S. Navy, who served in the Pacific Theater during WW II.

The development of a Landing Craft Support (LCS) gunboat called a “Mighty Midget” was one of the Navy’s secret weapons during World War II in the Pacific.

The naval bombardment from offshore ships at Tarawa failed miserably to inflict serious damage on the Japanese defenses. The time between bombardment and the troops actually landing on the beaches gave the Japanese time to recover, and placed Marines in serious peril from Japanese coastal units.

Therefore, the idea to develop a gunboat to provide close in fire power to support amphibious troop landings began a gestation period.

An unlikely candidate for one of these souped-up gunboats was a native of the Black Belt region of Alabama.

Lewis Singley grew up on a cotton farm in Greensboro and probably wouldn’t have been required to go off to war at all.

There was a real need for men to stay behind and farm. In addition to the farm deferment, Lewis was a victim of polio at

13 and was left with a slight limp.

To

their credit, Lewis and millions of other young men during this period wanted to go.

There was a very strong desire exhibited by the World War II generation to serve

their country and likewise humanity in general.

Lewis never considered a deferment or a disability reason enough for not serving your country. Matter of fact, he has never considered himself to be disabled.

W.T. and Addy Singley only had three sons Alvin, Tommy and Lewis. The older brother, Alvin, led the way into the service and served with distinction in the 31st Infantry Division known as the "Dixie Division.&uot; When Alvin shipped out of Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in Virginia headed for the South Pacific, Lewis made the decision to enter service himself. After talking with recruiters, he was persuaded to join the Navy. The Navy welcomed their new recruit on May 8, 1944, and immediately sent him to Great Lakes, Illinois for basic training.

The next stop for Lewis was no walk in the park after being selected for the Navy’s all new "Mighty Midget" force. Solomon’s Island, Maryland was the premier training facility for Marine Corps and Navy personnel in amphibious assault techniques. Navy personnel trained alongside Marines perfecting the skills necessary to assault and secure beachheads under enemy fire. The training was long, hard and arduous with the expectation of perfection from the men.

All trained and ready for the next adventure, Lewis traveled to Portland, Oregon where a brand new ship awaited the anxious crew. The Landing Craft Support (Large)(Mark 3) ship built by Commercial Iron Works, Portland, Oregon was launched on October 1, 1944, and commissioned USS LCS(L)(3)-39 on October 16, 1944. The Mighty Midget carried a roster of six (6) officers and sixty five (65) enlisted men. Being a gunship meant it was loaded for bear or, in this instance, loaded for Japanese. The Mighty Midgets were only used in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Armament included a single mounted 40mm bow gun with two (2) additional twin 40mms, four (4) single 20mm cannons and four (4) 50 caliber machine guns.

In addition to all this fire power, there were ten (10) Mark 7 rocket launchers between the forwards twin 40mms and the bow gun. It was an awesome one hundred fifty eight foot (158′) long diesel powered arsenal of fire power. The primary purpose of its being was to get troops on the beachheads with the least amount of casualties as possible; although they also proved very effective on radar picket duty and destroying mines cut loose by mine sweepers.

After shake down runs along the Pacific coast to correct any defects in the new vessel, they joined a convoy to Pearl Harbor on December 1, 1944. They arrived at Pearl on December 11, and acclimated themselves there for the next six or seven weeks. Ultimately, the Western Pacific was their destination and Johnson Island was the first stop along the way.

Shortly after arriving in the western Pacific, Lewis experienced his first typhoon at sea. The experience was unforgettable with waves rolling over the ships deck. The small ship would go from the toe of the waves-where only churning sea could be seen-to riding the crest with nothing but angry sky all around. All the while the ship pitched and rolled in the turbulent seas with items not securely tied down being tossed around like loaded dice on a crap table. Wind gusts were so strong sea spray would tear at your face like coarse sandpaper. Summarized and sanitized, it was terribly disruptive to the human digestive processes.

Although they probably weren’t aware of it at the time, Okinawa was on their radar screen. It would be the first battle for an island considered Japanese territory. The island was heavily fortified and occupied by Japanese bent on fulfilling their fight to the death Bushido code.

Orders came down for April 1st and this was no April fools prank. The invasion of Okinawa was on. The Mighty Midgets were the lead ships of the invasion and they lined up and took three runs at the beachhead unleashing full firepower. At 1000, 800 and 500 yards from the shore, rocket barrages were fired. After the rockets were fired, the bow guns opened up to within a few hundred yards off the beach where they would turn parallel to the beach and fire at targets of opportunity. On the third pass by the Mighty Midgets, the landing craft would slip through the barrage and begin delivering Marines on the beaches. The Midgets continued close into the coastline and provided protection for the waves of unloading troops.

When the mission of establishing a beachhead was completed, Lewis and the other LCSs took up positions around the island warding off suicide ships and airplanes. Radar picket duty off Okinawa garnered the LCS-39 special commendations from Vice Admiral Turner, Fleet Admiral Nimitz, and Tenth Army Commanding General Buchner. Admiral Turner stated "We are very proud of the magnificent courage and effectiveness with which these vessels have discharged their difficult and hazardous task.&uot;

Fleet Admiral Nimitz and Commanding General Buchner concurred with Vice Admiral Turner’s assessment. Later, General Buchner was killed during the ground fighting on Okinawa.

The missions around Okinawa continued for two months until ordered to Saipan on June 02, 1945.

At this time, a planned invasion of the Kyushu Island- southern most island of the home islands-was scheduled for November. Only the unleashing of two atomic bombs in August brought the Japanese to the surrender table and the end of hostilities before it happened. The unconditional surrender was signed on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.

On September 14, the LCS-39 left Saipan for Tokyo Bay. For the next three months, they worked around the home island bases of Japan. Even with the surrender in place and the war over, all the mines set by the Japanese had to be cleared. It was their unenviable job to destroy the underwater mines cut loose by the minesweepers. On December 16, 1945, just one day before being relieved of duty in the area, Lewis and crew of Mighty Midget LCS-39 logged seven mines destroyed.

On December 17, 1945 the LCS-39 was ordered back to Wakayama for onward routing to Saipan and Pearl Harbor. After a tour of duty at Pearl, it was back on the high seas, but this time the destination was the West Coast of the United States. It was a trip they had all dreamed about for so long.

Lewis eventually ended up at the Naval Air Station in New Orleans where he was released from active duty on June 26, 1946. No one had to point the way home. A Navy recruiter offered to buy Lewis a round trip ticket home and back if he would re-up. Lewis answered with only wanting a ticket to the state line, he would hitch on in from there, if need be. The Navy recruiter rightfully summarized, "I suppose you’ve seen enough.&uot;

Shortly after returning home, Lewis decided to continue his education at Livingston University, although he hadn’t received a high school diploma before enlisting. After beginning college level studies, a group of students were bussed to Tuscaloosa to take the high school equivalence exam.

Lewis was really enjoying the Joe College life style and began wooing some of the college girls. He had no intentions of getting serious, just having fun and working toward a degree. Dancing was popular with the students and Lewis always had a date for the dances. One night while with a date, a pretty young blond walked in and Lewis did a subdued version of Jim Carrey’s Mask impression. Naturally, he asked his date for the name of this beauty and in return received nothing more than a cold stare.

After the dance, Lewis persisted until he found out and so started a courtship that has lasted in a marriage spanning 58 years. Kitty McCrory Singley and Lewis have together reared four children and are now content with retirement together, as always.

James G. Smith, Commander

The American Legion Post No. 20

W.T. and Addy Singley only had three sons Alvin, Tommy and Lewis.

The older brother, Alvin, led the way into the service and served with distinction in the 31st Infantry Division known as the “Dixie Division.”

When Alvin shipped out of Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation in Virginia headed for the South Pacific, Lewis made the decision to enter service himself.

After talking with recruiters, he was persuaded to join the Navy. The Navy welcomed their new recruit on May 8, 1944, and immediately sent him to Great Lakes, Il. for basic training.

The next stop for Lewis was no walk in the park after being selected for the Navy’s all new “Mighty Midget” force.

Solomon’s Island, Maryland was the premier training facility for Marine Corps and Navy personnel in amphibious assault techniques. Navy personnel trained alongside Marines perfecting the skills necessary to assault and secure beachheads under enemy fire. The training was long, hard and arduous with the expectation of perfection from the men.

All trained and ready for the next adventure, Lewis traveled to Portland, Ore. where a brand new ship awaited the anxious crew. The Landing Craft Support (Large)(Mark 3) ship built by Commercial Iron Works, Portland, Ore. was launched on October 1, 1944, and commissioned USS LCS(L)(3)-39 on October 16, 1944.

The Mighty Midget carried a roster of six officers and 65 enlisted men.

The Mighty Midgets were only used in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Armament included a single mounted 40mm bow gun with two

additional twin 40 mms, four single 20 mm cannons and four

50 caliber machine guns.

In addition to all this fire power, there were 10 Mark 7 rocket launchers between the forwards twin 40 mms and the bow gun.

It was an awesome 158-foot long diesel powered arsenal of fire power. The primary purpose of its being was to get troops on the beachheads with the least amount of casualties as possible; although they also proved very effective on radar picket duty and destroying mines cut loose by mine sweepers.

After shake down runs along the Pacific coast to correct any defects in the new vessel, they joined a convoy to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 1, 1944.

They arrived at Pearl on December 11, and acclimated themselves there for the next six or seven weeks.

Ultimately, the Western Pacific was their destination and Johnson Island was the first stop along the way.

Shortly after arriving in the western Pacific, Lewis experienced his first typhoon at sea. The experience was unforgettable with waves rolling over the ships deck. The small ship would go from the toe of the waves-where only churning sea could be seen-to riding the crest with nothing but angry sky all around.

All the while the ship pitched and rolled in the turbulent seas with items not securely tied down being tossed around like loaded dice on a crap table.

Wind gusts were so strong sea spray would tear at a sailor’s face like coarse sandpaper. Summarized and sanitized, it was terribly disruptive to the human digestive processes.

Although they probably weren’t aware of it at the time, Okinawa was on their radar screen.

It would be the first battle for an island considered Japanese territory. The island was heavily fortified and occupied by Japanese bent on fulfilling their fight to the death Bushido code.

Orders came down for April 1st and this was no April Fool’s prank.

The invasion of Okinawa was on. The Mighty Midgets were the lead ships of the invasion and they lined up and took three runs at the beachhead unleashing full firepower.

At 1000, 800 and 500 yards from the shore, rocket barrages were fired. After the rockets were fired, the bow guns opened up to within a few hundred yards off the beach where they would turn parallel to the beach and fire at targets of opportunity.

On the third pass by the Mighty Midgets, the landing craft would slip through the barrage and begin delivering Marines on the beaches. The Midgets continued close into the coastline and provided protection for the waves of unloading troops.

When the mission of establishing a beachhead was completed, Lewis and the other LCSs took up positions around the island warding off suicide ships and airplanes. Radar picket duty off Okinawa garnered the LCS-39 special commendations from Vice Admiral Turner, Fleet Admiral Nimitz, and Tenth Army Commanding General Buchner. Admiral Turner stated “We are very proud of the magnificent courage and effectiveness with which these vessels have discharged their difficult and hazardous task.”

Fleet Admiral Nimitz and Commanding General Buchner concurred with Vice Admiral Turner’s assessment. Later, General Buchner was killed during the ground fighting on Okinawa.

The missions around Okinawa continued for two months until ordered to Saipan on June 2, 1945.

At this time, a planned invasion of the Kyushu Island- southern most island of the home islands-was scheduled for November.

Only the unleashing of two atomic bombs in August brought the Japanese to the surrender table and the end of hostilities before it happened. The unconditional surrender was signed on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945.

On September 14, the LCS-39 left Saipan for Tokyo Bay. For the next three months, they worked around the home island bases of Japan.

Even with the surrender in place and the war over, all the mines set by the Japanese had to be cleared.

It was their unenviable job to destroy the underwater mines cut loose by the minesweepers.

On Dec. 16, 1945, just one day before being relieved of duty in the area, Lewis and crew of Mighty Midget LCS-39 logged seven mines destroyed.

On Dec. 17, 1945 the LCS-39 was ordered back to Wakayama for onward routing to Saipan and Pearl Harbor.

After a tour of duty at Pearl, it was back on the high seas, but this time the destination was the West Coast of the United States.

It was a trip they had all dreamed about for so long.

Lewis eventually ended up at the Naval Air Station in New Orleans where he was released from active duty on June 26, 1946.

No one had to point the way home. A Navy recruiter offered to buy Lewis a round trip ticket home and back if he would re-up.

Lewis answered with only wanting a ticket to the state line, he would hitch on in from there, if need be. The Navy recruiter rightfully summarized, “I suppose you’ve seen enough.”

Shortly after returning home, Lewis decided to continue his education at Livingston University, although he hadn’t received a high school diploma before enlisting.

After beginning college level studies, a group of students were bussed to Tuscaloosa to take the high school equivalence exam.

Lewis was really enjoying the Joe College lifestyle and began wooing some of the college girls.

He had no intentions of getting serious, just having fun and working toward a degree. Dancing was popular with the students and Lewis always had a date for the dances. One night while with a date, a pretty young blond walked in and Lewis did a subdued version of Jim Carrey’s “Mask” impression.

Naturally, he asked his date for the name of this beauty and in return received nothing more than a cold stare.

After the dance, Lewis persisted until he found out and so started a courtship that has lasted in a marriage spanning 58 years. Kitty McCrory Singley and Lewis have together reared four children and are now content with retirement together.