USS Pavlic - APD-70 A History

USS Pavlic, the Ship

The USS Pavlic (APD 70) was built in Pittsburgh as a destroyer escort, (the DE 669). It is shown below being launched. It was then floated down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Orange, Texas, where it was to be modified to perform specialized functions to meet the Navy’s need for better amphibious invasion capabilities. This was highlighted by a costly invasion mishap at Tarawa in the Pacific. In that battle, Marine landing craft were stuck on a reef off shore and had to wade a half mile in to the beach under enemy gunfire, losing a third of the 5,000 men in the initial landing. The Navy decided they needed a ship that could deliver underwater demolition teams close in to shore to find possible obstacles that could impede landing craft. These “frog men” would blow up coral knobs, mines, or anything else the enemy might place in the way, days ahead of the initial assault wave. The ship also needed to be capable of providing close-in covering gunfire to protect the “frog men” from snipers. It was determined that destroyers and destroyer escorts could be modified to perform these functions. The modified ships, called “fast transports”, were initially an adaptation of old four-stacker WW I destroyers. Improved models were subsequently made by modifying the newer-model destroyer escorts, “DE’s”. The Pavlic was one of the latter models, a converted Buckley-class DE.

USS Ahrens (DE 575)

Destroyer escorts were a new World War II ship development, requested by the British to protect convoys from the U-boat menace while going across the Atlantic. Destroyers were expensive, and in high demand for protecting major fleet units and numerous other missions. A somewhat smaller, but open ocean-capable escort ship was needed in quantity. It didn’t require 40-knot speed like a destroyer, which had to run with 33-knot aircraft carriers. A 20-knot capability was sufficient for chasing the submarines of the day. Equipped with three 3” guns, a DE could duel with surfaced submarines if necessary. The 3” guns were not in turrets, so the crews had to man those guns in whatever weather or seas they found themselves. 5” guns in turrets were desired, but in short supply initially, so almost all early DE’s were armed with 3” guns. Additional anti-aircraft defense was provided by a 1.1” Mk 2 quad machine gun and 20 mm guns. The principal target was the submarine, so DE’s were well equipped with sonar detection systems, depth charges and “Hedgehog” missiles. The USS Ahrens (DE 575), in the photo at left, is a good example of a destroyer escort ship.

DE’s were 300 feet long and 36 feet wide at the widest point, and carried a crew of about 200 men. They had good surface search and air search radars, which made them very valuable at Okinawa in the radar picket patrols. After the North Atlantic submarine threat had been brought under control, use of the DE’s in the Pacific kept increasing. In fact, production of DE’s had increased to the point that they were looking for alternative missions for the ships. It was the ideal vessel for conversion to meet the Navy’s needs for making more effective amphibious landings in the Pacific.


Conversion of the Pavlic

USS Pavlic crew members leaving the ship
on their #2 Higgins Boat.
Captain's gig in background.
Yokosuka Harbor, after the surrender.

Four large boat davits were added to the Pavlic to carry landing craft for vehicles and personnel, (LCVP’s), also referred to as “Higgins Boats”. These were flat-bottomed boats built to run right up on a beach, drop down the front ramp, which was also the front of the boat, and let troops run right out on the beach. They weren’t huge, but could each put 40 fully equipped men ashore.

Higgins boats were used everywhere for putting men ashore for invasions. Eisenhower called Andrew Jackson Higgins, a New Orleans boat builder, “The man who won the war for us.” The USS Pavlic’s #2 Higgins boat is shown in the photo at right.

To provide temporary housing on the Pavlic for the added invasion troops who would go ashore in the Higgins boats, the outside deck passageways on each side of the superstructure were enclosed. Inside these newly created covered passageways, fold-up bunk frames were attached to the outside wall, 4-tiers high. Bunks were let down and used only when troops were aboard. The converted passageways allowed us space to temporarily bunk an additional 160 men. The photograph below (taken in more recent times) shows how it was possible to house all those additional men in the newly created ship passageways.

Our regular crew compliment was 200 men and 13 officers. Regular troop transport ships were called “AP’s”. The Pavlic was a troop transport ship with a destroyer-type hull, so was called an “APD” or “Fast Transport”.

In terms of armament, the USS Pavlic had only one cannon, a 5” gun in an enclosed turret, the type they would have liked to put on the earlier DE’s. She also had three sets of twin Bofors 40 mm guns, and six Erlikon 20mm guns. For submerged subs she had two depth charge racks on the stern, and from somewhere we had managed to acquire a 50-caliber machine gun, which was ultimately mounted up near the bridge.

The ship had good air-search and surface-search radars that let us know direction and distance of airplanes, ships, and landforms. A properly functioning radar was crucial, and our chief radar technician, Eugene Fellers, was to my mind, the most valuable man we had aboard.

A photograph of USS Pavlic (APD 70) in her wartime camouflage is shown below. The photo is a pretty clear depiction of our class of APD. Note the high boat davits amidships. The port davit here has been slid out for launching or retrieving a Higgins boat. The outside deck modifications are also visible which provided temporary housing for extra troops.

USS Pavlic at Yokosuka Harbor, 1945

In fighting our island-hopping battles of the South Pacific, the APD greatly assisted in putting underwater demolition teams (UDT’s) in close to shore to scout out, identify, and hopefully, destroy obstacles to the landing craft of an invasion force. The APD also facilitated the landing of small forces around the islands, and the 5” gun provided some shore bombardment capability and daylight anti-aircraft capability.

We didn’t have radar fire control for our guns, so our nighttime fire control was not good. Kamikaze raids at Okinawa typically started at dusk and ran on into the night, so the planes could see us, and our wake, much easier than we could spot them. On a clear night, out on the deck, you could see this beautiful, shimmering, phosphorescent wake astern, pointing at us like a big white arrow. From our air-search radar, we knew the direction in which to look for “bogies”, but the gunners couldn’t fire until they were close enough to see visually, and by that time, they were right on us. The APD was not an especially safe ship to serve aboard.

Up-to-date destroyers of the day had five or six 5” guns, with radar fire control and shells with proximity fuses. They were thus able to engage kamikazes sooner, at higher altitudes, and more effectively than we could. Our one advantage was that we could zigzag faster than a destroyer.

Next: Trip to the War Zone

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