Destroyer sunk by Tuskagee Airmen - More information needed
I am trying to find out more about an incident in which it is alleged that one of the Tuskagee Airmen sank a destroyer. Can anyone shed some light on this story?
On 4 June 1944, Rome fell, and the 332nd was moved north to begin operations as bomber escorts. They were re-equipped with hand-me-down Republic P-47 Thunderbolts, better known as the "Jug". The P-47 was a big, heavy, powerful brute of an aircraft that could dish out and take a lot of punishment, but needed all the runway it could find to get off the ground. It had its fans and detractors, one of the latter saying it was like "flying a bathtub" around in the sky. The 332nd took their P-47s on escort and strafing missions into Northern Italy and the Balkans, where they engaged German Messerschmitts and tore up ground targets. One Airman, Gwynne Peirson, even sank a destroyer.
The 99th Fighter Squadron which had already distinguished itself over North Africa, Sicily, and Anzio, was joined with three more black squadrons; the 100th , the 301st,and the 302nd to be designated as the 332nd Fighter Group. Flying from Italian bases they also destroyed enemy rail traffic, coast watching surveillance stations and hundreds of vehicles on air to ground strafing missions. Sixty-six of these pilots were killed in aircraft accidents or in aerial combat while another thirty-two were shot down and captured as prisoners of war. They destroyed or damaged over 409 German aircraft, (111 in the air) over 950 units of ground transportation, and Gwynn Pierson leading a flight of four P-47's sank a destroyer with machine gun fire, which was a distinctive achievement.
"The Airmen had an illustrious record in combat. Over Italy in 1944, Lt. Gwynne Pierson, Lt. Windell Pruitt and four other Tuskegee Airmen, flying P-47s, attacked a German Destroyer (TA-27) in Trieste Harbor. Accurate machine gun fire hit the powder magazine and sank the ship. Thus Pierson and Pruitt are credited with the destruction of an enemy ship using only machine gun fire."
This likely tell the true story. Hope it helps.
Here's some information I found on the Destroyer.
She was an Ariete class Italian Torpedo Destroyer launched April 15, 1943 under the name "Auriga".
On September 8, 1943 she was transferred to German control. The Germans renamed her the "TA 27".
She was sunk on June 9, 1944. I am seeing different accounts of the cause of her demise. In addition to the rather fantastic story of suffering a fatal explosion as a result of strafing by P-47's, I have also read that she succumbed to bomb damage.
At any rate, here are some of her specifications:
Length - 274 feet
Weight fully loaded - 1,110 tons
Armament - Two 3.9" guns, Six 17.7" torpedo tubes, Ten 20mm cannons
Engines - 22,000shp
Top Speed - 31.5 knots
Well, that's seem good information about that ship, but again Four P-47s seem enough to damage that ship well with their 8 x 50cals machine guns and I'm pretty sure they hit the magazine, not a bomb hit.
Even as close as 200 yards, an armor piercing .50 cal BMG round will penetrate 20mm of armor plate at 0 deg angle, 14mm of armor plate at 20 deg angle and 8mm of armor plate at 40 deg angle.
It may be that the armor surrounding the magazine was not of hardened steel plate quality but how much armor and other stuff like deck or bulkhead do you figure was between the interior of the magazine and those .50 cal rounds prior to striking?
I'm not saying its impossible but it does kind of make you stop and think doesn't it?
I think that ship has wooden decks, but I could be wrong then.
For 32 x .50 cals machine guns (four P-47 with their 8 x .50 cals), that's alot firepower I mean the "SPRAY AND PRAY" and it seem that it could make alot mess with that kind of firepower.
It's sort of odd--it's a story I've heard all my life, and since Gwynne is gone maybe myself or my brother can only tell it from his perspective (per our memories).
I guess I should introduce myself first. Currently, I work for the Department of State (US). I served in the Army. Unlike my father (who flew planes), I jumped out of them.
My father and Wendell Pruitt were returning from an escort when they came out of a fog bank and the destroyer was in front of them. They were in deep--they couldn't go over the boat and expose their bellies. They couldn't bank around the boat and expose their bellies. They were also low on fuel, which is why they were flying low. Their best chance was to open up and try to cause confusion on deck and then run like hell. They opened up, and Dad's gun camera (I've seen the film) shows his tracers hitting the water, walking up the side of the boat, and then going in an open hatch--which he thought was strange since boats under attack were supposed to secure all openings. The rounds went in the hatch, and the ship blew up. He always said his first thought was that he had to get around/over the explosion.
It is a fair guess to say that he hit the magazine--unless there was something else more unstable on the vessel.
An odd aftermath--after his military service, my father was also one of the first African-American officers in the Oakland Police Department (1947-1970), during which time he worked his way through three degrees in social criminology. His first job after retiring from OPD was designing a security program/patrol/operation for the projects in downtown St. Louis, Missouri--one of which was named Pruitt/Igoe. As many know, there was an extended debate about whether it was Wendell or Gwynne who got the destroyer, which was only settled after viewing the film from the gun cameras.
My father was able to carve out three separate existences in his life--a pilot in service to his country, a police officer who served the community that he loved, and a college professor who was one of the best social criminologists of his time. He was a great athlete--loved baseball, and could do everything but hit (Batted left, threw left). He was a revered human being. He would not let enlisted men salute him in garrison overseas--he never thought himself that different. In Oakland, he was there during the Black Panther years--but the Panthers had declared him a "no touch". Many of them had participated in the Police Athletic League in Oakland and had been coached by him--they knew him to be a straight-up good guy. In his years teaching at Howard University, he helped many of his students get into the Justice Department.
He was a good man, a great father...and the best friend I could ever have.
The Destroyer was a part of him--just didn't define him.
23 July 2007
An enjoyable reply Scot...
Can I ask do you know how the museums coming along ?
I had the opurtunity to work on it's design and layout for a short while (I didn't do much)...
I hope it's getting the visitors
It looks nice, the P51 in the cinema theatre being an interesting touch..
The object of that attack was very unlikely to have been TA-27, which was sunk at Portoferraio on the island of Elba June 9, on the other side of Italy from Trieste and some ways down the peninsula, in the zone of operations of the 12th AF. One published source is Rowher "Chronology of the War at Sea" pg 277. Some web sources repeat this, some presumably also coming from Rowher. Pairs of ships in her flotilla, consisting of captured Italian TB's TA-24, 26, 27 and 30 were conducting night minelaying operations in the area. Groner "German Warships 1815-1945" pg 225 gives the time of the attack as 2245hrs, so it's an interesting seperate question what unit would have made this attack at such a time.
Also, some web accounts of the 332nd FG's claim put the date June 25.
In any case the 332nd pilots did not claim to have sunk TA-27 specifically, obviously, the correlation of that ship's loss with their claim was done after the war, I'd guess long after and unofficially by some individual researching their record. But I'd have to say he wasn't careful, to not notice that large discrepancy in location, and possibly date as well, in published sources, and not explain it with specific primary German sources. This doesn't mean they didn't destroy a ship at Trieste in that period, it's just that more (and better, frankly) research is needed to determine what that target was. And airmen of all air forces in WWII made good faith claims which cannot be verified at all in enemy records.
Last edited by JoeB; 07-23-2007 at 10:55 AM.
Great post Scott. Sounds like your Dad was a pretty neat guy. Sounds like the crew of the ship were as suprised as your father was. Hence the reason for the hatches being unsecured. Med in summer is hot. Below decks must be like an oven.
Do you still have the films? Or a still from it? Might be able to describe the vessel in the picture and solve some of the questions being presented. Personally, if it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and blows up like a duck...it's a destroyer.
Generally, I've stayed out of the picture in regards to much of the talk regarding that. I was satisfied with the mural at Lambert Field in St. Louis.
Plus, I've been living overseas a lot the last two decades and many of the people Gwynne flew with are gone, and much of the history has gone with them, obviously.
On digging around a little further, TA-22 was heavily damaged near Trieste June 25, 1944, which is when most accounts say the claim was made. She was not sunk outright, but was never repaired, so effectively a total loss. The incident is mentioned in Rowher p. 288, a web account said ran aground trying to avoid air attack, Groner says hit by 2 bombs, towed back to Trieste with 15 KIA, but all accounts agree damaged that day by a/c near Trieste and never repaired.
This was the old Italian destroyer Giuseppe Missori, built in 1915, seized by the Germans after the Italian surrender and put into their service with Sicherungsflottille 11 in the Adriatic as Torpedoboot Ausland (foreign [captured] torpedo boat) -22.
This site gives some specs:
I don't think one could say 100% certainly this was the target either, subject to clarifying those variations in specifics, and whether any other Allied air units made similar claims the same day, but it seems pretty likely. I also noticed on googling that it's been suggested as the target in other web discussions, nothing is really new
In the HBO movie Tuskegee Airmen I believe the actual b/w gun camera footage of the p-47 shooting and the resulting explosion on the ship was shown. Because of the limited budget of the film every plane shown in the movie were P-51's. You could slow the movie footage down enough to see what was hit that caused the explosion.
TA-22 was no destroyer and not classified as such. It´s classification appears to be in context of torpedoboats, a shipclass smaller than DD´s and on par with brittish escort corvettes or very light US DE´s.