By Joe Pickett
Former Base Librarian
Editor's Note: This is the sixth article in a series on the history of Naval Station Mayport in recognition of the 75th anniversary of the base's commissioning in 1942.
Dictioniaries define a porgy as a "sparid" food fish found in the Mediterranean and off the Atlantic coasts of Europe and America.
What the dictionaries do not reveal is that the porgy, when it is being processed into fertilizer, has a terrible odor - as many of the men assigned to the Mayport Section Base discovered.
The small, silver fish is used as bait, food and fertilizer.
Mayport had a porgy fertilizer processing plant. Besides the odor from the plant, the personnel, especially U.S. Marines and Navy security guards walking the perimeter of the base, had to contend with hordes of mosquitoes. Why someone named Mayport's little patrol fleet the "Porgy Patrol" is not known, but the name stuck, and is now a part of Frontier Section Base history.
The Porgy Patrol consisted of 15 YPs and other craft, including U.S. Coast Guard Reserve vessels that were converted yachts. The latter arrived at Mayport in late 1942; however, the YPs were detailed the brunt of the nightly patrol missions.
Royce Rocher, a petty officer 2nd class at the time, defined the mission of the Porgy Patrol as "trying to seek out submarines and, if one was sighted, radio ashore for aircraft to rush to the scene."
Standing orders regulated the conduct of patrols, including the rquirement that crews were "never to get outside of the 12-mile limit," according to Rocher. But, as Rocher admits, the limit was stretched more than once to as many as 20 or 25 miles out to sea.
The sinking of the tanker S.S. Gulf America by the German U-boat U-123 on april 10, 1942, created a flurry of activity by the Navy to expand the number of craft in the small patrol fleet at Mayport. Shrimp boats, trawlers and yachts were hastily requisitioned from private owners and converted at the Gibbs Shipyard in Jacksonville for anti-submarine patrol duty.
The small boats were equipped with 12-att radios, .50-caliber machine guns and depth charges. The YPs were also equipped with a buzzer, according to Malachai Haughton III, which could be activated with a push button by the lookout on watch if he had to sound general quarters.
Patrol areas were established along the Florida-Georgia coast in may 1942. The porgy boats patrolled as far north as Sapelo Island and southward to St. Augustine.
There were times when, depending on the missions, they patrolled as far south as Miami or as far north as Charleston, S.C. Most patrols lasted six to eight hours, but again, depending on the mission, there were times when a crew was out on patrol for as long as five days.
Haughton and Joseph C. Brown remembered that standing procedures for patrolling also called for "boxing the compass: and :periodically changing course, zig-zagging, stopping and listening."
These tactics were designed to confuse the enemy if U-boats were in the vicinity. The commanders of the 15-foot craft were usually ensigns, and were required to follow these tactics. However, not all of them did so. The porgy boats patrolled in both the Sixth and Seventh Naval Districts; everything north of the St. Johns River was in the Sixth and everything south of the river was in the Seventh.
When Haughton first arrived at Mayport, he reported to Chief Petty Officer Anton Johnson and was immediately assigned to duty in the signal tower that stood on the north side of the Administration Building (now Building 1). Later, he pulled duty on the guard boat anchored just east of the entrance to the basin. The Mission of the guard boat was to challenge and stop all vessels entering the river.
Guard boat crews had to check out the cargo manifest of the vessel and the number of personnel on board the ship.
(Jaeme Haviland, a saxophonist in the base orchestra, related that the crews on the guard boat traded peanut butter, jelly and cigarettes to the crews of incoming shrimp boats for fresh shrimp.)
Haughton was reassigned to YP-526 as a "striking quartermaster." YP-526 was a 45-foot converted shrimp boat and one of the first converted vessels to arrive at Mayport in May 1942.
Haughton remembers that the crew and the YP would sometimes be on patrol for "three or four days" at a time, after which they would be replaced by a relief crew. Most patrols were quiet, with a few alerts from time to time, but nothing to speak of, except for one patrol that stands out vividly in Haughton's memories.
One October night in 1942, YP-526 and its crew were on patrol in the northern section, 15-20 miles east of Cumberland Island. The weather and sea were calm and a light mist was on the water.
"The watch had just changed," according to Haughton, and he had gone below deck. Ensign M.K. Green was the skipper, M.E. Cook was on lookout duty, D.D. Dotson was handling the depth charge rack and M.M. Dawley was the engineer.
Haughton and others who had come off watch had settled in when the general quarters buzzer was sounded.
They rushed topside where they found cook telling Green, "I saw it. It was a periscope and it was moving straight north."
Green gave orders to "come about" and "flank speed." (Flank speed for YP-526 was all of 11 or 12 knots.)
Fifty to 100 yards after coming about, Green gave th order to drop the "cans" and Dotson proceeded to do just that.
The first depth charge detonated, after which the YP proceeded north for 30 seconds, still at lfnak speed. Dotson then dropped the second depth charge, which did not explode.
A third cane was dropped and detonated with no apparent results. The crew of the 526 stayed on location and radioed the base, reporting the sighting and their location. Other patrol craft were sent in, including two subchasers with sonar gear.
They swept the area but "did not find anything," according to Haughton. However, oil residue was observed, and samples were recovered for analysis. The Navy determined that the oil was not from a U-boat.
John Drew of Mayport was a 16-year-old deckhand on the dredge "General," which was deepening the basin during 1941 and 1942. When he reached his 17th birthday on Nov. 9, 1942, Drew enlisted in the Navy and was ordered to report to Mayport, where he stayed until September 1944.
After his training at Mayport was completed, Drew was assigned to YP-486, a craft that was being used to tow paravanes as part of an "experiment." He remembered that two of the converted shrimpers, YPs31 and 32, were assigned to the patrol area near the St. Johns lightship.
The area around the lightship was the focal point of considerable enemy activity during the early months of 1942. In April, the refrigeration ship SS Esparta was the victim of a torpedo just north of the lightship. On Aug. 8, U-98 dropped 12 mines near the mouth of the river. On Sept. 30, an additional 10 mines were dropped in the same area by an unknown U-boat. The existence of the additional 10 mines were reported by U.S. Air corps Capt. C.R. Bailey in a 1946 lecture on "aerial mine warfare." It is understandable why, given these circumstances, the base personnel would "experiment" with paravanes, using wood-hulled YPs as towing vessels.
Drew was later reassigned to YP-459, which was formerly owned by Harry F. Solomon, owner of a large fleet of shrimp boats. Solomon's fleet was taken over in part by the Navy for use as anti-submarine patrol craft.
However, Solomon's boats weren't the only possessions the Navy took. His son, Donald, enlisted. After taking his boot training at Mayport, he was assigned to one of his father's shrimp boats.
J.R. Rutherford enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birtday, June 27, 1942, and, six days later, received orders to report to Mayport.
Rutherford was immediately assigned to YP-486 as a "diesel engineman." He was on the 486 until January 1943, where he was sent to diesel school for eight weeks of training, after which he reported for duty on LST-277.
Rutherford's first duty assignment on YP-486 was in the "signal tower" as lookout. Everyone was "broken in this way" as part of the initiation for new crewmembers. Each crewman pulled duty at the wheel and the lookout, and had to take his turn cooking. It was four hours on and four hours off during patrols, according to Rutherford there were quite a few alerts, but, he noted," we did not contact a submarine."
Rutherford vividly remembers one event in late 1942, when "a minesweeper was training degaussing equipment on its way out to sea and set of a mine inside the jetties."
Apparently, the minesweepers sent down from Charleston, S.C., in August and September of that year did not get all of the mines that were dropped by the German U-boats.
The next article will deal with the Frontier Section Base orchestra.