Enlisting in the Navy and Joining the Armed Guard

Bad Weather and German U-Boats

Bad Weather and Close Calls

Shore Duty and Overseas Voyages

Sea and Shore Duty

Postwar Emplyment and Education and the Korean War



It's a Torpedo!


Curt Simmons was a member of the US Navy Armed Guard. He was born on a farm outside of Walters, Oklahoma and was a farm boy until he went into the Navy. Simmons joined the Navy on 1 December 1941. He had been recruited out of high school where he was working in a print shop. On 4 December he had an acute appendicitis and required surgery. He went on active duty in January 1942. Simmons took his boot camp training at Great Lakes. Boot camp was about four weeks during which he got his uniforms and shots. After boot camp he was told that he was going into the Armed Guard and sent to the Naval Reserve Center in Chicago for gunnery training. Boot camp was short. They learned how to march, did KP [Annotator's Note: kitchen patrol or kitchen police], and had some rifle training. They also took several tests to see what they would be best suited for. Out of a company of 120, about eight were selected for the Armed Guard. The gunnery training he received was next to nothing. The Navy had recalled a bunch of retired Gunner's Mates as teachers but they had forgotten just about everything. They learned to use the four inch gun, .50 caliber machine gun, and .30 caliber machine gun. They went out on the Great Lakes aboard the old USS Wilmette (IX-29) and fired the four inch guns at targets. After gunnery school Simmons was sent to the Armed Guard Center in Brooklyn, New York. Simmons had done some travelling before, but going into Chicago and New York was still exciting. They got some liberty while they were in New York. Simmons saw the Rockettes during a liberty. The Navy had three Armed Guard Centers. One was in Brooklyn and supplied men along the East Coast. Another was in New Orleans and supplied men for the Gulf Coast and Southern East Coast. The third was at Treasure Island near San Francisco that took care of the West Coast. The Armed Guard crew was made up of gunners, usually with an officer in charge, a radioman and signalman. Convoys consisted of 40 to 60 ships. There was an officer who was the convoy commander. In the Atlantic he was usually a British officer. Orders were passed using flags. The convoy could only go as fast as its slowest ship. To throw off submarine commanders the convoy would zig zag. The ships could usually go eight to 11 knots. The Liberty ships were 11 knot ships.


[Annotator's Note: Curt Simmons served in the Navy in the Armed Guard as a gunner aboard merchant ships in the North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.] The trips across the Atlantic from the East Coast to Ireland and England usually took from 18 to 24 days. They would travel the Northern Route. The weather in the Atlantic was very cold and rough. Dealing with the waves was tough. Some of the Liberty ships actually broke up in some of the rough weather. None of the ships had radar. Radar was in its infancy in the beginning of World War 2 and only the Navy ships had it. Traveling on exceptionally dark nights was dangerous. On a very dark night, a British destroyer came up next to the ship Simmons was aboard and flashed its search light at a big iceberg that was right ahead of them. Simmons was on watch at the time and was very scared. Keeping the ships the required 2,000 yards apart was also difficult. One night a ship came right up next to the ship Simmons was aboard and turned away at the last minute. The two ships did not collide, but the starboard side life boat was torn off of Simmons' ship. There were a lot of perils; if the submarines got after them that made things even worse. During 1942 and into the first half of 1943, they [Annotator's Note: German submarines] were sinking an average of eight ships a day in the North Atlantic. According to literature Simmons has, there were between 800 and 900 ships sunk in the North Atlantic. Those ships were usually loaded. Simmons made 14 trips across the North Atlantic. During his time at sea all he saw in the way of action was a lot of depth charges being dropped and an air raid in Bizerte, Tunisia, North Africa. During that air raid the ships in the harbor together shot down a bunch of enemy airplanes. During that air raid, Simmons was a gun captain on a three inch gun on the bow of his ship. The shells had a fuse that they would set. They would use the sights to get the shell to a spot at the same time the plane got there. With today's radar planes do not stand a chance. Early in the war they had very few guns to put on ships. On the old Panamanian flagged El Murante [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] that Simmons served aboard, they had a four inch, .50 caliber gun that was only good for firing at surface targets. They had a .50 caliber machine gun on each wing of the bridge, and they had two old Lewis .30 caliber machine guns. Their defense was very poor. At this time the British were primarily acting as escorts for the convoys. Simmons does not recall seeing American destroyers until later in the war. The convoys were made up of ships from all of the Allied nations. A 50 to 60 ship convoy could have ships from six or seven different nations. All of the supplies they were hauling were going to England. The English did not have enough ships to escort them. They usually had one destroyer and three little corvettes. The corvettes carried depth charges and had radar. If the escorts detected a submarine they would drop depth charges on it. As the war went on the radar became more sophisticated. Convoy protection increased when the Navy started using blimps. The blimps could not carry depth charges but they could notify the convoy escorts of the location of a submarine. The use of escort carriers also added to convoy protection. With the addition of aircraft the submarines became the hunted.


[Annotator's Note: Curt Simmons served in the Navy in the Armed Guard as a gunner aboard merchant ships in the North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean.] The Mediterranean was a very bad place in the early part of the war when the Germans controlled France, Italy, Greece and Africa. In order to support their troops in Egypt, the British had to steam all the way around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa instead of going straight through the Mediterranean. Simmons made three trips through the Mediterranean. During one of the trips, they went to North Africa and were caught in an air attack. Another of his trips was to Palermo, Sicily. Simmons was on the first ship into Palermo after it was captured. On Simmons' second trip to the Mediterranean they went to Naples. On his last trip through the Mediterranean they went to Odessa, Russia, where they delivered 10,000 tons of sugar which they had picked up in Havana, Cuba. The trip to Naples was interesting. When they were in Naples they had enough time to go ashore. Simmons got to see the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. When they went to England they usually had time to go ashore. On his first trip over they put in at Loch Ewe, Scotland, which is where many of the convoys were put together including those going to Murmansk, Russia. The Murmansk run was dangerous. The Germans took over Norway in 1940, so by the time the United States got into the action in 1942 they had fortified the coastline with aircraft and naval vessels capable of giving convoys a bad time. Simmons was slated to go to Murmansk. They sat in Loch Ewe for ten days to two weeks during which they were not allowed to go ashore. After ten days or two weeks they were pulled out of the convoy along with another vessel, unloaded their cargo in Edinburgh, Scotland, and returned to the US. Simmons later learned that the convoy he was to be in did form in June 1942, and headed to Russia but was badly mauled along the way by the Germans attacking from the Norwegian coast. The Germans had aircraft, torpedo boats, and other small naval vessels. The Germans did not use their big battleships because they had no way to protect them. They were sunk by the British. Simmons visited Norfolk, Virginia, one time and went into a visitor center where he learned about that convoy. When crossing the Atlantic, the sailors worked four hours on and eight hours off when they were not in a danger situation. If the captain decided that the crew had to be at their battle stations they would either man their stations continually or they would work four hours on and four hours off. Simmons was rarely in dangerous situations and saw very little four on and four off. They experienced a lot of rain, and darkness so black some nights that they could not see their hands in front of their faces. They would be on watch but could not see anything. When the weather was not bad the porpoises swimming next to the ship would cause the phosphorous in the water to glow. At times, the porpoises would look like torpedoes coming at them. That scared Simmons as much as when his ship nearly hit an iceberg. Without radar, ships could not see each other. Simmons experienced many close calls. In one incident, a ship got so close to them that when it turned away at the last minute it tore away a starboard side life boat. There were several times where they were almost hit by other ships.


Curt Simmons served as a US Navy Armed Guard gunner aboard merchant ships. Even at the start of the war there were plenty of merchant ships available for convoys. The United States was producing a lot of stuff. Had the United States not entered the war then, it would have ended differently. Simmons never went to the Pacific. Simmons left the ship he was serving aboard in New Orleans in January 1944, where he was waiting to be assigned to another ship. At the time he was a Second Class Gunner's Mate. There were so many sailors around that there was nothing for him to do, so he volunteered to go through a gunnery class on the five inch, .38 caliber gun. He had already gone through this class in Little Creek, Virginia, so when the guy teaching the class got sick he recommended to the commander that Simmons take over teaching the class. For the next year, Simmons taught the class. The Navy had a rule that after a year at a shore duty station a sailor had to go out on a ship to give someone else a chance to work at a shore station. The commander of the gunnery school had it worked out with the personnel officer who assigned crews to ships to put Simmons on a ship that was about to go on a short trip. Simmons boarded a ship in Savannah, Georgia, and went down to Havana, Cuba. From there they went to Russia. They were in Russia, taking on water from a water barge, when they got word that President Roosevelt had died [Annotator's Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945]. After taking on water, they steamed to Smyrna, Turkey, where they took on 40 tons of tobacco to deliver to the American Tobacco Company. When they put in at Baltimore, Simmons was pulled off the ship and sent back to New Orleans where he ended the war. While he was teaching at the gunnery school in New Orleans he was twice sent to the naval gun factory in Washington to learn to use the hydraulic systems on the guns. The ship Simmons was aboard put into the port at Bizerte in the middle of the afternoon. That night, a flight of about 20 Ju 88 bombers attacked the port. The reconnaissance plane that they suspect had flown over earlier in the day had missed a British battleship and its escorts that had put in to the port before sundown. The battleship shot down at least one enemy plane. The ships in the harbor shot down several of the German planes. It was the only time Simmons ever fired his guns at an enemy. Simmons never gave any thought to transferring to the fleet but believes that had he not been assigned to teaching at the gunnery school he most likely would have been. Near the end of the war, many of the gunners in the Armed Guard were transferred to the fleet. During his time in New Orleans Simmons was stationed at the naval base in Algiers. When he first arrived in February 1943 he did not have much fun. He was assigned to a ship and went out for about a year before returning to New Orleans. The ship Simmons was assigned to in February 1943 was the SS Ponce de Leon, the first Liberty Ship built at the St. Johns River Shipbuilding Yard at Jacksonville, Florida. He reported aboard the ship in Jacksonville after its shakedown cruise. After going aboard, they went up to New York to load up then joined a convoy headed to the British Isles. One day the helmsman lost control of the ship. They sent up a flag to notify the convoy that the ship was out of control and tried to find out the cause of the problem. About 30 minutes later it was discovered that the valve controlling the steam to the steering windlass had been closed. The valve had been mislabeled as a ballast valve. During this time Simmons was trying to hook up the auxiliary steering. When the ship rolled, a member of the gun crew fell overboard but they were able to get him back aboard. Simmons made a run to Liverpool, England, and back aboard the SS Ponce de Leon, and made a trip to Sicily, and a trip to Naples aboard it. He was aboard the Ponce de Leon when he experienced the air raid in Bizerte.


The first ship Curt Simmons served aboard was the old Panamanian flagged ship El Murante [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. At the time, duty in the North Atlantic was so dangerous that if the Navy was able to give sailors leave after each trip they would. After the trip, Simmons got leave and went home to Oklahoma. When he got back he was put aboard a Dutch ship named the Cota Getti [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] which was in port having American guns installed on it. The Dutch captain had the American seamen reassigned and Simmons got orders to report aboard the Corilla. The Corilla was a former United Fruit Company ship. Simmons went aboard the Corilla in New York and made trips to Cardiff, Wales, and back; then another trip to Liverpool, England and back. After returning to the United States from Liverpool he was relieved from his duty aboard the Corilla and assigned to the Armed Guard Center. From there he was sent to Baltimore to report aboard the Esso Baton Rouge. The Esso Baton Rouge was in the ship yard having damage from a torpedo hit repaired. While aboard the Esso Baton Rouge, Simmons made two coast-wise trips. When they got back to New York, Simmons and another sailor requested leave and were let off. The Baton Rouge was later sunk. Simmons feels that he was protected having crossed the Atlantic so many times and only experiencing combat one real time. After completing the gunnery school in Little Creek, Virginia, in January 1943, he was asked where he wanted to go; he chose New Orleans. While Simmons was teaching in New Orleans he would volunteer every time a crew was needed for a ship and every time the commander would not let him go.


Curt Simmons was in New Orleans on VJ-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory Over Japan Day]. In order to get discharged, the servicemen needed a certain number of points. Simmons had just enough points to get out. He was discharged in New Orleans and nine days later he went to work for the Navy, decommissioning ships. This entailed packing and preserving ordnance. The heavy guns were removed from the ships and put on flat cars that took them to a storage facility. Simmons was discharged on 5 October 1945, went to work for the Navy ten days later, and resigned from the Navy in June 1946. He left New Orleans and went to Houston, Texas, to work at his cousin's auto repair service until an opening came up at LSU and he was called back to Baton Rouge. Simmons started school at LSU in January 1948. He graduated with a degree in vocational agriculture in June 1953. While in school at LSU, he joined the Naval Reserve. When the Korean War started he was recalled to active duty for 15 months. He was assigned to the general repair ship Kermit Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: USS Kermit Roosevelt (ARG-16)]. In addition to being a repair ship, the Kermit Roosevelt was also made the mother ship for a fleet of mine sweepers tasked with sweeping Wonsan Harbor in North Korea. They lost four mine sweepers on the first day. It was said that Wonsan Harbor was the most heavily mined harbor in the history of naval warfare. The United States needed the port at Wonsan for the drive up the peninsula. MacArthur [Annotator's Note: General Douglas MacArthur] had landed at Inchon, on the west coast, and went into Seoul. MacArthur started heading north and wanted to cross the Yalu River, but Truman [Annotator's Note: President Harry S. Truman] would not let him. That is when MacArthur was fired. At the same time, the Chinese communist crossed the Yalu River the US Army had to evacuate. Simmons ship was sent up to Hungnam to support the evacuation. The most pitiful sight Simmons ever saw was when an LST tied up alongside his ship that was packed with Korean refugees. The temperature was about zero degrees, and Simmons felt sorry for the thousands of people standing on deck exposed to the elements. While Simmons was there, the aircraft carrier Boxer [Annotator's Note: USS Boxer (CV-16)] was launching airstrikes against North Korean positions and the Missouri [Annotator's Note: USS Missouri (BB-63)] was there firing it's 16 inch guns at targets inland. While they were sweeping mines at Wonsan Harbor they would send a whale boat out with sailors armed with .30-30 rifles who shot the mines that had broken loose. Simmons was asked to go out with them since he was a First Class Gunners Mate. He refused to go unless he was ordered to. He had gone through World War 2 without a scratch, and he intended to do the same in Korea. During his time in Korea, he never set foot on Korean soil. Simmons returned to the United States on 18 November 1951. He had been called back in July of 1950. When he had been called back to active duty he was 40 hours short of getting his degree. He returned to school during the first semester of 42 [Annotator's Note: he means 1953], and got his degree in June of 43 [Annotator's Note: 1953]. Simmons had worked for a printer before going into the Navy so he went to work for the LSU school paper, the Reveille, as a student. After returning to LSU, after his tour in Korea, he went back to his job at the paper. When Simmons graduated from LSU he decided that he did not want to teach, so he continued to work for the paper and spent 37 years there. For the last 16 years he was the director. Simmons feels that he has been fortunate. He lost his first wife to Lou Gehrig's disease but has remarried. He and his wife have travelled extensively.


Curt Simmons is trying to get the D-Day Museum [Annotator's Note: The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana] to let him work with them to make a good exhibit on the Armed Guard. An idea he has is to have a large white board with text on it explaining the function and creation of the Armed Guard. The Armed Guard had been formed during World War 1, but was disbanded after the war. When World War 2 started, ships going into port for repairs would have guns installed at the same time. There were over 143,000 men in the Armed Guard. About 2,000 of them were killed, and many others injured. Simmons would like to see a joint Merchant Marine and Armed Guard exhibit. Eisenhower [Annotator's Note: General, and later President, Dwight D. Eisenhower] said that if it were not for the Higgins boats [Annotator's Note: Andrew Higgins designed and built the LCVP or Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel] we could not have won the war. Simmons feels that without a lot of people we could not have won the war. Simmons feels strongly about having an Armed Guard and Merchant Marine exhibit at the D-Day Museum. The interviewer has met with other members of the Armed Guard who Simmons served with and who served aboard the same ship Simmons was aboard but at different times. Simmons never got close to the guys he served with. Simmons feels that he has been fortunate. He went through nearly four years of World War 2, and over a year in Korea, without being injured. He had a reasonably successful career and has had good fortune with his family, with the exception of the loss of his first wife. He has had many blessings. Simmons works out three times a week. He started doing so when he was in his 50s. For years he worked out at the Lady of the Lake Hospital but now works out at LSU.

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