Harry Elmore DeVane, D-Day, Ferry over the Rhine and the USS FDR

Harry Elmore DeVane (1922-1946)

Harry Devane and the D-Day Invasion

Harry E. DeVane was a son of Caulie Augustus DeVane and Alma L Albritton, born January 9, 1922.  He was a grandson of Matthew Hodge Albritton.

Harry E. DeVane attended the Ray City School, and graduated with the RCHS class of 1938 along with classmates Harold Comer, J. I. Clements, and Billy McDonald.

During WWII, Harry E. DeVane joined the U.S. Navy.  He attended Naval Reserve Midshipmen school and was promoted to Ensign July 28, 1943.  He was classed as DV-G,  a deck officer, volunteer naval reserve.  By February, 1944, DeVane appeared on the Navy Muster Rolls  of USS LST 291, a Tank Landing Ship, with the rank of Ensign and assigned as a Boat Officer.

Landing Ship, Tank (LST) is the naval designation for vessels created during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto an unimproved shore. About 1,000 LSTs were laid down in the United States during World War II for use by the Allies.

LST 291 enroute to Plymouth, England, with tank landing craft LCT 615 on her deck.

LST 291 enroute to Plymouth, England, with tank landing craft LCT 615 on her deck. Harry E. DeVane, of Ray City, GA served as an Ensign on LST 291 .

LST 291

THE LANDING SHIP Tank 291 was built by the American Bridge Company at Ambridge, Pennsylvania. It was completed late in 1943 and floated via the inland route to New Orleans, Louisiana in charge of a civilian ferry crew. At New Orleans it was placed in commission at 1200 on 22 December 1943. LTJG A. G. McNair of Yonkers, N. Y. became her first Commanding Officer.

After commissioning a busy period of fitting out the ship for war commenced, and was finally completed on 29 January 1944. The ship had its shakedown cruise off the cost of Florida near Panama City, returning to New Orleans on 14 February 1944. In the meantime the ship’s Captain was spot promoted to full lieutenant. At New Orleans supplies were taken aboard, and the LCT (Landing Craft Tank) 614 was loaded on her main deck. The ship then sailed for New York city and received aboard three (3) Army Officers, thirty (30) Army troops and sixty (60) hospital corpsmen as passengers for the trip across the Atlantic.

On 8 March 1944 the ship sailed for Boston, Massachusetts and suffered its first real difficulty. It ran aground in the East River, New York. The Captain had the conn, and the Pilot took over and got the ship free. Arriving at Boston on 9 March 1944, the next day a diver was sent down to inspect the ship ‘ s hull, especially ballast tank B-409-W. The ship then proceeded to dry- dock in Boston and had the hull damage repaired.

Receiving orders to sail to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ship got underway on 18 March and arrived at Halifax 20 March 1944. At Halifax a seize of scarlet fever attacked members of the crew, and the ship was delayed until 17 April from sailing to Milford Haven, ‘ Wales.  She finally did sail and after an uneventful voyage, anchored off Milford Haven on 1 May 1944. On 2 May the 291 sailed for Plymouth, England where she launched LCT 614 on 4 May 1944. On 23 May the 291 towed US Rhine Ferry No. 17 to Portland, England.

On 5 June 1944 the 291 got underway and participated in the big landing off Normandy. The ship had been waiting and was ready in all respects when the big day arrived. The many succeeding days were spent crossing back and forth between England and France carrying troops and equipment so necessary to sustain the beachhead. Under Orders from Commander Western Task Force the 291 hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. From D-Day (6 June 1944) until exactly one year later, the 291 completed forty-nine (49) trips across the English Channel carrying to France 6,887 troops and 2,422 vehicles. On return trips, the ship carried 1,630 prisoners of war, 1,392 troops, and 11 vehicles back to England. During this period the 291 took care of 900 personnel casualties.

Harry E. DeVane made the voyage to England with LST 291 to participate in D-Day .   In Beachhead Normandy, Tom Carter tells the story of LCT 615 and its piggyback ride on LST 291 to participate in the Invasion at Normandy. On D-Day LST 291 did its job of landing tanks, trucks and troops at Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.    George Jones, who served with DeVane on LST 291, gives an account  at World War II: Stories in Their Own Words  of the horrorible scene they experienced on D-Day, and Paul Handwerk, who was a lieutenant on LST 291 gave a 1994 newspaper interview about LST 291 and D- Day.

Cover of Beachhead Normandy, by Tom Carter

Cover of Beachhead Normandy, by Tom Carter

Among other Ray City men participating in the D-Day invasion was Hubert Felton Comer, who was serving on the destroyer USS Rich.  Comer was killed on June 8, 1944 when his ship struck a mine and sank.  LST 291 fared better in the Normandy Invasion.  After landing its cargo, LST 291 then acted as a hospital ship with an operating room, and  ferried hundreds of casualties back to England. In D-Day Survivor, Harold Baumgarten describes his evacuation from Omaha Beach to LST 291 where he was treated for five wounds received in the Normandy Invasion.

Cover of D-Day Survivor, an autobiography by Harold Baumgarten.

Cover of D-Day Survivor, an autobiography by Harold Baumgarten.

Harry DeVane and the Ferry Over the Rhine

After D-Day Harry DeVane continued to serve with the Navy in Europe.

      In an unusual assignment hundreds of miles inland, U.S. Navy sailors [including Harry E. DeVane]  and their landing craft helped Army forces breach Germany’s last major line of defense.
      In March 1945, villagers in northern France, Belgium, and Germany were treated to the peculiar sight of large boats seemingly floating across late-winter fields. It was not an optical illusion. Columns of 70-foot trailers hauled by brawny two-ton trucks were transporting U.S. Navy landing craft down narrow roads and through small farming villages, demolishing the occasional house or cutting down scores of trees when the fit was too tight.
     These craft were 36-foot LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) or 50-foot LCMs (landing craft, mechanized)—boats that had brought U.S. troops ashore at Normandy. Now, far from the ocean or English Channel, they were on their way to the Rhine River, the physical and symbolic barrier to the German heartland—broad, swift, and hemmed in by high bluffs for much of its rush from alpine headwaters to the North Sea.
      The U.S. Navy’s involvement in breaching this mighty obstruction demonstrated the adaptability of U.S. forces, the possibilities of interservice cooperation, and foresight in putting these large and specialized craft in the right places far from the sea, at the right time, to facilitate the final thrust that brought victory over Germany.   – V.P. O’Hara, Naval History Magazine

Devane participated in the Navy’s operation to ferry troops and equipment across the Rhine River. The LCVP or Higgins boat was used extensively in amphibious landings.  The LCMs were capable of ferrying tanks and other heavy equipment.  The boats had to be transported over land on trucks to reach the Rhine.

An LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized) negotiates a sharp turn on its way to the Rhine. Once at the riverbank, one or  two cranes would be required to get the 50-foot craft into the water.

An LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized) negotiates a sharp turn on its way to the Rhine. Once at the riverbank, one or two cranes would be required to get the 50-foot craft into the water.

Between March 7, 1945 and and March 29, 1945, the Navy transported more than 26,000 troops and 4,000 vehicles across the Rhine. On March 11 the Navy ferried 8000 men across the river one mile south of Remagen. The navy boats operated under fire from artillery and aircraft, and patrolled against saboteurs. On March 12, 1945 the LCVPs assisted in the construction of a pontoon bridge to span the river.

March, 1945, A U.S. Navy landing craft with dropping depth charges on the Rhine River to detonate possible mines and discourage saboteur attacks on pontoon bridges.  Naval personnel involved in the Rhine crossings were required to wear Army uniforms.

March, 1945, A U.S. Navy landing craft with dropping depth charges on the Rhine River to detonate possible mines and discourage saboteur attacks on pontoon bridges. Naval personnel involved in the Rhine crossings were required to wear Army uniforms.

On the 14th of March more LCVPs ferried 2,200 troops of the 1st Division across the river in three hours; 900 more men and eight jeeps were ferried across on March 16, 1945. On the 22nd the LCVPs acted on their own initiative to ferry infantry men of Patton’s Third Army across the river at Oppenheim, carrying more than 4000 troops and 250 vehicles across the Rhine while under enemy fire.

U.S. 79th Division soldiers atop an armored vehicle ride across the Rhine in an LCM on March 24, 1945.  National Archives

U.S. 79th Division soldiers atop an armored vehicle ride across the Rhine in an LCM on March 24, 1945. National Archives

On March 24, while under attack from German antiaircraft guns, the LCVPs ferried the 87th Division across the River at Boppard at the rate of 400 men per hour.

U.S. Third Army infantrymen are ferried across the Rhine in a Navy LCVP near Boppard, Germany, on March 25, 1945.

U.S. Third Army infantrymen are ferried across the Rhine in a Navy LCVP near Boppard, Germany, on March 25, 1945.

And in 48 hours beginning on March 26, LCVPs carried 6,000 men, 1,200 vehicles and heavy cannon of the 89th Division across at Oberwesel. From March 26 to March 29 LCVPs and LCMs ferried 10,000 men and 1,100 vehicles across the river at Mainz while under fire from German artillery.

Harry E. DeVane would later be decorated for the part he played in transporting U.S. forces across the Rhine.

Harry DeVane and the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt

After the surrender of Germany and Victory in Europe, Harry Elmore DeVane was promoted to Lieutenant and transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was constructed at New York Naval Shipyard. Sponsor Mrs. John H. Towers, wife of the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, christened the ship Coral Sea at the 29 April 1945 launching. On 8 May 1945, President Harry S. Truman approved the Secretary of the Navy’s recommendation to rename the ship Franklin D. Roosevelt in honor of the late president.

Roosevelt was commissioned on Navy Day, 27 October 1945, at the New York Naval Shipyard. Captain Apollo Soucek was the ship’s first commanding officer. During her shakedown cruise, Roosevelt called at Rio de Janeiro from February 1 to February 11, 1946 to represent the United States at the inauguration of Brazilian president Eurico Gaspar Dutra, who came aboard for a short cruise.

During her shakedown cruise USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1–11 February 1946. Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

Lieutenant Harry Elmore DeVane was serving on  USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) during her shakedown cruise when she visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1–11 February 1946. Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

Aircraft Carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, off the coast of Rio de  Janerio, February 1-11, 1946. Image: During her shakedown cruise USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) visited Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1–11 February 1946. Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

Aircraft Carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, off the coast of Rio de Janerio, February 1-11, 1946.  Image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/02/42.htm

While serving on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, on February 7, 1946, Harry E. DeVane was killed in a shipboard accident. The Atlanta Constitution reported his death.

Harry Elmore DeVane killed

Harry Elmore DeVane killed February 7, 1946

Atlanta Constitution
February 17, 1946

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 17. – Lt. Harry Elmore Devane, of Ray City, Ga., was killed instantly Feb. 7 when he was struck by the propeller of an airplane on the new carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt.
        The Navy Department said the ship was on maneuvers off Rio de Janeiro when the accident occurred. Devane was recently decorated for wartime duty transporting men and materials across the Rhine river in Germany.
        He was the son of Mrs. Caule Devane, of Ray City.

Grave of Harry Elmore DeVane, Pleasant Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

Grave of Harry Elmore DeVane, Pleasant Cemetery, near Ray City, GA

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