CALL TO DUTY THE DAILY COURIER, TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2012
Surviving a sea of war
By RON SEYMOUR The Daily Courier
orget what you think you know about torpedoes, Ron Rhine says. The popular image of torpedo silently and accurately closing in on a target didn’t often match reality in the Second World War, says Rhine, a
“It was more like letting go of a balloon. You could never tell for sure where it would go,” recalls Rhine, an 86-year-old West Kelowna resident.
For the last seven months of the war, Rhine served as a teleg- rapher aboard a motor torpedo boat in the English Channel and North Sea, detecting and intercepting German ships. Missions undertaken by the 30-man crews were always car- ried out at night, since they’d be easy prey for enemy aircraft during the day. They’d shut off virtually all their equipment, and simply wait to hear the diesel engines of passing convoys. “When we figured we were about 400 yards or so away from them, we’d open everything up and charge right in,” Rhine says.
The motor torpedo boats were extremely fast, capable of the equivalent of 60 mph, and highly maneuverable. “The torpedoes weren’t worth a damn, so we hardly ever used them,” Rhine says.
Instead, crews manned fixed-mounted machine guns capable of firing 750 rounds per minute, launched depth charges, even threw hand grenades at enemy ships.
“It was like the trench warfare of the navy,” Rhine says. It might take only a few seconds for the motor torpedo boat to blitz its way through a convoy, with crews basically firing at everything they saw. “We had the element of surprise on our side, and of course the Germans were worried about hitting their own ships when they fired at us,” Rhine says. “So we’d usually get in without taking much fire, but getting out, that was something else.”
Boats he served on were often shot up, but even serious dam- age didn’t lead to much of a respite. “We could have all these holes in the boat, but they could all be fixed up in a few hours, so out we’d go again the next night,” Rhine says. As a telegrapher who was stationed below decks, Rhine was also tasked with caring for crewmates who’d been wounded top- side. “I didn’t have any first-aid training,” he said. “My job was to patch ‘em up as best I could, make ‘em live. I still have night- mares about some of that stuff.”
Ron Rhine served as a telegrapher on a motor torpedo boat.
GARY NYLANDER/The Daily Courier A photo of Ron Rhine taken in 1945 is pictured with his duffel bag, hammock and seaman’s knife.
Sailor saved by lucky transfer H
By RON SEYMOUR The Daily Courier
oward Laatsch didn’t like the look of the first ship he was assigned to serve aboard during the
Second World War.
HMCS St. Croix was a relic of the First World War, built in the U.S. in 1919, and various improve- ments hadn’t done much to im- prove its seaworthiness, Laatsch recalls.
“It was just a big piece of junk,” he recalls bluntly. “It was all rusted out in lots of places.” His misgivings proved pre- scient. On Sept. 20, 1943, the St. Croix was sunk by a German tor- pedo boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
Of the 229 men on board, 148 died. To compound the tragedy, all but one of the men who sur- vived that attack died three days later when the ship that had res- cued them was itself sunk by a German U-boat.
Fortunately for him, Laatsch had been transferred off the St. Croix just three weeks earlier and posted to a new ship, HMCS Port Colborne, built at a ship- yard in Esquimalt, B.C. “I lost a lot of good friends when the St. Croix went down,” says Laatsch, now an 89-year-old resident of Kelowna. He joined the navy in 1941 when he’d been a wide-eyed Saskatchewan farmboy. “We lived near a little town called Southey, and I’d never been fur- ther from home than Regina un- til then,” Laatsch said. After sailing through the Panama Canal, HMCS Port Colborne joined the Battle of the Atlantic, escorting Allied con- voys. “We did everything we could to protect the ships, but it
GARY NYLANDER PHOTOS/The Daily Courier
Second World War veteran Howard Laatsch holds a picture of HMCS Athabaskan on which he was a crew member. He retired as a Master Warrant Officer.
was still pretty common to lose three or four of them in each con- voy,” Laatsch says.
On D-Day, HMCS Port Colborne was on anti-sub patrols as Allied troops established a beachhead in Normandy. Laatsch had three brothers who also served in the war, all of them coming home safely.
Laatsch went on to a long ca- reer with the navy, leaving the service in 1970 before opening a roofing and carpet cleaning busi- ness. Though the war is a long time ago, memories of it come back at unwelcome times for
“I see things pretty often in my dreams, things I didn’t enjoy see- ing the first time around,” he
says. “The war was such a big part of your life, I guess it never leaves you, no matter how long ago it was.”
Laatsch, left, holds a book called Deadly Seas in which he was in- terviewed by the authors about his wartime experiences while a sailor on board the St. Croix, which was sunk three weeks af- ter he transferred. Above: Laatsch is pictured beside his portrait at age 17.
| Page 2
| Page 3
| Page 4
| Page 5
| Page 6
| Page 7
| Page 8
| Page 9
| Page 10
| Page 11
| Page 12