Atherton Shipmates Reunite With A German POW - A must read story!
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Display Aboard USS Slater DE-766 Museum

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USS ATHERTON DE-169 ~ ANOTHER PROUD CHAPTER IN DE HISTORY

By: Patricia R. Perrella, Volunteer Curator, USS SLATER DE-766 Museum


Although USS ATHERTON DE-169 was credited with one of the final statistics of the WWII Battle of the Atlantic, she is still writing history with events that continue to reflect on this Cannon Class Destroyer Escort ship, her dynamic and personable skipper LCDR Lewis Iselin, other officers and crew.

Only recently, shipmates learned she is still serving proudly as RAJAH HUMABON-11 with the Philippine Navy, after serving Japan many years as HATSUHI FF-6, thus making her unique for any WWII era vessel. The remaining ATHERTON crew have also discovered the fate of a young German POW who underwent an emergency appendectomy in DE-169 “sick bay” while the ship was underway on the Atlantic escorting GUS-84 back to the United States in April 1945.

Following commissioning at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 29 August 1943, Lt. Comdr. Paul L. Mansell, Jr., USNR commanded DE-169 through shakedown exercises in Chesapeake Bay and Bermuda. While ATHERTON’S crew drilled for antisubmarine warfare (ASW) patrol duties through the remainder of 1943, they also recognized the weather challenges the Atlantic could produce between Chesapeake Bay and the warmer Caribbean Sea.

ATHERTON operated with Task Force 62 on escort duty for transatlantic convoys from Norfolk and New York City that included Mediterranean ports in Casablanca, Morocco; Bizerte, Tunisia; and Oran, Algeria. Because these areas were supplying a military buildup towards reinforcing southern Europe, German aircraft and U-boats constantly barraged this region and the escort crews spent much of their time at General Quarters or sleeping in their clothing while keeping lifebelts nearby. Using their ASW training, ATHERTON’S crew challenged several sound contacts, dropping depth charges as they worked to protect their convoys that were transporting men and supplies to the essential Mediterranean ports and returning others back to the United States.

During the closing weeks of the European war with Germany ATHERTON, then commanded by LCDR Lewis Iselin, returned to the United States with TG 60.7. She was headed to the Boston Navy Yard to transfer a German POW, dock for much-needed repairs, stores and eagerly anticipated crew “Liberty” when this urgent message arrived from COMEAST Sea Frontier:

“5 May 45 – 14:55 P.M. - SIGNAL LIGHT * FROM CTG 60.7 TO TASK GROUP 60.7. U.S.S.
AMICK, DE-168, U.S.S. ATHERTON, DE-169, & U.S.S. MOBERLY, PF-63. ALL SHIPS FULL
POWER, FULL SPEED ADVANCE ENROUTE. U.S.S. MOBERLY IN CHARGE GROUP OF
THREE X U.S.S. ERICSSON, DD-440. WILL STAND ON BUT KEEP IN VOICE
COMMUNICATION X GO BY XRAY BAKER X ETA CLEVELAND LEDGE 2300 BOSTON
LS X BEAT IT IF YOU CAN”

The location was the shallow continental shelf waters off Block Island, Rhode Island and Point Judith Lighthouse where S.S. BLACK POINT, a small coal collier, bound for Boston, had been sunk by a torpedo fired from U-853. This deadly strike had torn away 40 feet of her stern and she sank quickly taking 12 men to the bottom while 34 others were rescued by local boats that quickly came on the scene.

ASW experience served the TG 60.7 crews well as the three ships took station 3,000 yards apart and proceeded to pick up sonar contacts with MOBERLY and ATHERTON instituting depth charge and hedgehog attacks on the doomed U-853. Quite disappointed not to remain part of the attack, AMICK was ordered to escort a merchant ship to Boston via Cape Cod, so had to leave the chase. Following a relentless attack by ATHERTON and MOBERLY, substantial debris surfaced indicating the U-boat had been destroyed by 10:45 the following morning, 6 May 1945.

U-853 was captained by 24 year old Helmut Froemsdorf who evidently chose to fight to the bitter end as his superior Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz had issued a “Cease fire at once . . . Stop all hostile action against Allied shipping” Order to all German naval vessels on the evening of May 4th. This Order followed the suicide of Reich Führer Adolph Hitler and the looming victory of the Allied forces.

When the formal German surrender was announced on 8 May 1945, Naval personnel involved with the U-853 incident recognized S.S. BLACK POINT was the last ship officially sunk in the war.  ATHERTON and MOBERLY were credited with destroying one of the last two U-boats in WW II, with U-853 certified as the only enemy ship sunk in U. S. waters since the War of 1812. (Note: USS FARQUHAR DE-139 sunk U-881, also on 6 May 1945 in the North Atlantic, south east of Newfoundland @ 48.18 N, 44.44 W)

When ATHERTON shipmates gather for reunions they have the usual sea stories to share while they recall the U-853 incident and the fate of the German crew under a Kaptain that disregarded “cease fire” orders. However, one particular story was always left unfinished until 61 years later on the occasion of their 2006 Reunion held in Albany, NY.

Ironically, while U-853 was under deadly attack, with ATHERTON rocking amidst the tremendous noise and force of the exploding ordnance, a life-saving drama was taking place below deck in ATHERTON’S “Sick Bay” and photographs bear witness to the unprecedented event. A German POW was being tenderly attended by Jewish Lt. Maurice Vitsky (Dr.) USN, Surgery, following an emergency appendectomy. Pvt.1/c Franz Krones, German Army POW #31G668894, had been transferred by breeches buoy to ATHERTON from M/V 2-1 on 20 April 1945, while GUS-84 was forming near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean. Krones was critically ill with a ruptured appendix and Dr. Vitsky, as Division Medical Officer aboard ATHERTON, operated immediately with the assistance of 20-year-old Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class, Thomas J. Ciaccio. The prisoner was helpless and desperately ill. Dr. Vitsky and Phm. Ciaccio compassionately nursed their patient throughout the Atlantic voyage and U-853 attack to drain his infection, administer penicillin and provide whatever nourishment he could
sustain. Capt. Iselin was also concerned for his charge and frequently took time to inquire about the status of the patient. The ATHERTON crew never forgot Krones and always wondered about his fate after he was transferred to a military hospital when DE-169 finally reached Boston.

Preston L. Davis of Stafford, VA is a very patient and caring Southern gentleman who has spent years tracking down former shipmates while planning ATHERTON reunions. Davis served as a Gunners Mate 2/c aboard DE-169 and has maintained files of the ship’s history and prepared, along with his son Tim, several posters showing ATHERTON’S crew with “then and now” photos of the 73 shipmates he has located. During one of his e-mail exchanges following a May 2006 inquiry from a German researcher, Davis mentioned his own search for Franz Krones. Shortly thereafter, Davis received e-mail from Krone’s daughter, Irmgard Pospischil, living in Otzberg, Germany informing him that her father was alive and well and included photos of the family!

This amazing news quickly spread through the ATHERTON crew network with hopes Mr. Krones and his family could join the crew for their June 2006 Reunion in Albany, NY. Because of his age (85), Krones decided it would be too difficult for him to make this trip. Instead, with the aid of his daughter and son-in-law, he made a “videobotschaft” (video message on a CD) that was shown at the Reunion. Even though he spoke in German, the U.S. crew could see him again and also read an English translation of his thoughtful message that expressed his heartfelt thanks for the good care that saved his life. Although being painfully ill, he recalled, “being packed in a bag” and brought to another ship by “some kind of ropeway”. He especially mentioned his gratitude “that I was not so important . . . and we were still in the war and I did not expect such a big expenditure with a prisoner of war”. While not understanding English he knew he was receiving penicillin and attentive care by Dr. Vitsky who tried to communicate with him using a form of “Yiddish” - a Jewish dialect of German origins. Realizing Krones was Catholic, Dr. Vitsky also brought him a rosary while trying to reassure him he was in “safe” quarters.

The remaining ATHERTON shipmates have added another chapter to their ship’s history as they have finally discovered what happened to their young prisoner. After two additional operations, Krones was sent to Camp Edwards, MA and in November 1945, released back to Germany. Finding his home destroyed and his family displaced, he finally located his mother through an uncle living in Vienna, Austria and then came to Otzberg where he worked on a farm. He married in 1951 and he and his wife have a son, daughter and four grandchildren. Krones worked as a civil servant for the German Federal Armed Forces and according to his daughter, he has told his story “many times” over the years and is now amazed that the Americans were interested in him and that photos existed of his transfer and operation.

According to his daughter, Franz Krones always suspected the doctor was Jewish and said “Der Arzt war ein sehr feiner mann” (The physician was a very fine man) and this always impressed his family who are thankful and thrilled to finally be in contact with the remaining crew of ATHERTON. The Krones grandchildren are also very excited over this discovery and have brought the interesting news to school to share with their classmates.

Ms. Pat Vitsky, daughter of Dr. Vitsky who died in 2004, remains in communication with the ATHERTON crew and the Krones family and was very familiar with the event because her father always had worried about his young German patient after leaving him at a port hospital. The Vitsky family lives in Richmond, VA where Dr. Maurice Vitsky returned to his bride Betty, after the war and practiced for many years as an OB-GYN specialist at Richmond Memorial Hospital.

Along with the photos, documents and “Video Message from Franz Krones” Preston Davis has donated
to the SLATER Museum, additional documents have also been donated to the Virginia Holocaust
Museum archives in recognition of this unforgettable story involving human compassion and goodness
that evolved from an otherwise dreadful time of wartime history.

Destroyer Escort veterans have always told stories of “caring and sharing” with their buddies during service days and many attribute this camaraderie to the smaller structure of the ship, with a smaller crew who got to know each other quite well as they shared many wartime experiences together. We can also point to this example of the concern and care shown to Franz Krones by ATHERTON’S crew and be very proud of this chapter in Destroyer Escort history.

Thanks to ATHERTON’S shipmates and their families, Locker # 3 of SLATER’S C-203L Museum contains an outstanding display of artifacts relating to this ship’s unique history. These include uniform articles belonging to LCDR Iselin, U-853 Kapitan Froemsdorf’s hat, life-raft and other pieces of debris, the DE-169 Commissioning program, de-commissioning Ensign and numerous photographs. They can be viewed online, here.

Anyone interested in contacting the USS ATHERTON DE-169 shipmates can write to:

Preston L. Davis
75 Driftwood Lane
Stafford, VA 22554 or by E-mail at: USSAthertonDE169@aol.com


Webmaster note 1 June 2008 - It is will sadness that I report to you the death of Franz Krones on 5 May 2008.

 

Franz Krones transfer to DE-169 by Breeches buoy with Cdr. Lewis Iselin

Operation photo with Dr. Vitsky & Phm. Tom Ciaccio

Franz Krones

Dr. Vitsky "then and now"

Tom Ciaccio "then and now"

Krones family group in June 2006

Preston Davis in 2006

DE-169 Reunion Group on SLATER

ATHERTON DE-169 Locker #3 Exhibit aboard SLATER

RAJAH HUMABON-11 in 2006; ex-USS ATHERTON DE-169




 

Atherton Shipmates Reunite With A German POW - A must read story!
Photo 1  |  Photo 2  |  Photo 3  |  Photo 4  |  Photo 5  |  Photo 6  |  Photo 7  |  Photo 8  |  Photo 9 
Display Aboard USS Slater DE-766 Museum

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