The West Loch disaster

The US Naval Institute Blog has a story about a deadly accident that occurred at Pearl Harbor on this date in 1944 while the fleet was preparing for the invasion of Saipan. In one of the pictures you will see a 180-foot WLB helping to deal with the aftermath. There is more information about the disaster here.

Coast Guard-manned LST 69 was one of the six LST vessels sunk; CG-manned LST 205 was heavily damaged and missed the invasion.

This and the Port Chicago disaster two months later led to stronger Coast Guard oversight of explosive loading.

26 thoughts on “The West Loch disaster

  1. LST-480 is still there. Check it out on Google Earth. When loading or off-loading ammo at West Loch it is always pointed out to crews as an example of what happens when you do not pay attention to the stuff you are handling.

    • Hi. My name is John Cervone, my dad served on LST 274 and was there at the West Loch disaster. His name was Jack nicknamed “Hap” because he did not smile much. I was in the Navy from 1968 to 1988 full and part time. I joined the National Guard in 1995 and served as a combat journalist for 14 years and served in Iraq in 2007 to 2008 with my son. I am writing an article about the fire and if anyone served with my dad could you please contact me…?..I would appreciate any information very much…my e-mail address is cervonej@yahoo.com and my phone number is 401-523-8012.

  2. There is a small book written about the West Loch story.

    Former USCG Pharmacist’s Mate William L. C. Johnson served LST 69 and 760.

    The West Loch Story: Hawaii’s Second Greatest Disaster in Terms of Casualties. (Westloch Publications, Seattle, WA, 1986).

    It may be out of print and I believe Mr. Johnson is now deceased. He tells the story from a number of angles and testimonies from other service members.

    It is a good read. Perhaps it is one that the Coast Guard should pick up and republish.

  3. My father was at West Loch when this disaster happened. He asked me to research more about the incident since at the time it was classified. He wanted to know how history remembered it. He actually spoke with Mr. Johnson some years ago when he was in the process of documenting the disaster, but lost touch with him. My father is now 90 and recalls this incident as one of the most traumatic of his Naval career. He had just been at that location and for some reason that he can’t recall, they had just been asked to go somewhere else to do something. I think he feels like he may have been killed or injured had that not happened. The book is still available but is fairly expensive for a paperback. Probably because Mr. Johnson paid to have it published himself. The History Channel also broadcast a documentary of the disaster that I will try to obtain for my father as well.

    • To Mary Reynolds–May 22 2011- I really hope your father still alive. My father was also there and has started talking about diving off the ship and buzzing through the water, first removing his boots, and staggering through the mud a couple of hundred meters away, getting stuck past his knees in mud and watching a car sized piece of metal come screaming down from the sky at him while he tried to make himself very, very small. Eventually he and a few other men made it past the hills above the coastline and some Navy unit (my father was in the Coast Guard) picked them up and gave them showers, food and clothing. I am sure he would LOVE to talk to your father–is your father anywhere near Minnesota?

      • Linda,

        I am sure someone from the Coast Guard would like to speak with him as well. In the meantime, record his stories. Not just of West Loch, but from the beginning to the end of his Coast Guard service. Ask questions and probe the areas that time and memory have made less clear.

        Also read about the incident so you’ll understand the terminology and situation. Around the nation, there are local history groups collecting World War II memories on video. There may be one in your area.

  4. Yipes! I did not know the book had become so expensive. It must be from the limited run.

    Mr. Johnson signed my copy. I think I’ll hang onto it for a while longer. ABEBooks.com and Alibis have it from $44 to $233. I bit much in my opinion. It originally sold for $11.

    It is a good story and Mr. Johnson did a good job with his first person account.

  5. Hi, there was a Nova special back in 2010, that focused on the Pearl Harbor attack. There is speculation that one of the Japanese mini subs, took shelter in West Loch following the attack and was then salvaged following the 1944 disaster. Please ask if your father may have any recollection of that. The event was placed in secrecy for fear of disclosing the upcoming Saipan invasion in 1944. Would like to hear back from you on this particular topic.

    Mike Marland

  6. My Grandfather was on that ship in 1944 he was thrown out to sea like rag doll. He said like many others he swam to the shore and watched the terror happening before him. He was one of the survivors and he was sent home not long after that happened due to an injury. He has now passed on and he kept most of it a secret only telling my Grandma and a few friends the story. His name was Melvin Johnson and he was a great American Hero.. Love you Gramps and God bless those who lost their lives..

      • If you have his discharge papers (DD214?), it should be on there. I remember seeing my father-in-law’s discharge papers after WWII and his units were listed.

  7. No DD-214 in those days. However, his discharge papers should have a history of his service on the reverse. They used to type it out. Look in the family papers or perhaps some letters he may have written home.

    You may also get a copy of his record from St. Louis. I do not believe the “Js” were destroyed in the fire. His discharge may also be in the local county records. Some counties have special books for records of veterans.

    What service was he in. The disaster involved Coast Guard, Navy, Army and Marine Corps.

  8. I have a friend and neighbor that was on the LST179. He has told me about what happend that day and how he survived falling into the water. His name is Dudley McGough (MAC) and was a Marine aboard the LST. He is looking for survivors from LST179 and would like to learn more about what happened that day. We all know it was kept a secret. Appreciate any response. As I talk with Mac who has been through three wars and retired from the Marine Corps, history has a new meaning and I would like to help him put closure on this disaster.

      • My uncle was also lost on LST 179. His name was Edward R. Smith he was a PHM 1. I think all the killed are listed as Unknown. I would like to see them identified. His sister is alive. She is my mother.

  9. My Father was at West Loch as well. He was a gunner on LST 205. He was one of a handfull of young men who joined the military early. He entered at 16 years old. His parents fudged his birthday. He was 4 months shy of 17. He was an Arkansas farm boy who wanted to see the world. Not until the end of his life did he talk about West Loch. My husband and I took him to Hawaii and he relived some events. He remembered jumping the ship and running barefoot through pineapple fields. He jumped back into the water at some point and pulled an officer to safety until the officer said, “let go son”. The officer was blown in half. My Father was a big, strong, handsome boy who became a man that day. He was George C. Owens, Jr.

  10. My father was on LST-205 as well. He took that day to his grave. He talked about having some free time in Seatlle due to the ship needing repairs. I am now connecting the dots and it makes sense. I guess they had lots of free time while they were there as he actually got to know a bartender well enough to tell stories about him 50 years later. He’s been gone 10 years, I wish he were around to see all the stories that are here now. He was Seaman 1st Class Jesse Cashman

  11. walt slater october,15, 2013
    I was a member of the crew on the L.S.T.274 I remember the 205, and the 225 tied up to our port. we were able pull away an beach our ship in walker bay. I hope to get to hawii next may 21,2014.

    • December 11, 2013 – We will be very pleased to have you participate in the
      Celebration of Life & Memory of West Loch Internees at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl next May 21, 2014 at 3pm with full military honors.
      Deloris Guttman
      Historian
      aadcch@aadcch.org

  12. My father, Burt Withee, was an 18 year old Marine corporal aboard LST 179 when the explosions began. He went to fantail to jump ship but took an anchor rope down to avoid jumping on all others in water. The water was afire in spots and he avoided that before grabbing onto the side of a raft being towed by a Higgens boat. The Higgens and raft were filled with soldiers. Once ashore, he helped load the injured aboard an Army truck. Withee and another soldier began walking and hitchhiking back to base. A marine brigidier general driving by stopped and asked what was going on in the Harbor. The men were greasy and oily and undoubtedly concussed and the general gave them directions to the nearest hospital (Aiea). Withee remained in hospital for several days but was soon aboard LST 213 as part of the invasion of Saipan. He related this account again in Dec. 2015.

  13. I am the baby sister of George W. Wagner Navy Sea Bee serving aboard LST480 and he was a survivor of West Lock tragedy, 21 May 1944. I also have his book written by William Johnson “The West Loch Story” that Mr. Johnson wrote in and sent to him in 1989. He never spoke much about it but it was deep in his heart! He quit school to serve his country.

  14. I am the grandson the Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate on LST 179. Clarence James “Jim” Beazel served on it, and later on LST-938. He rarely spoke of his service, and only once of his memory of the West Lock disaster. I believe he and one other crew member were on shore leave that night – and for that reason was one of the few survivors. He was a good man, who passed away in January of 2007. Per his request, he was buried in his uniform.

    • My father, Lt. Commander Robert L. Whitman, was on the LST 179 for a year or two before this accident. He was in charge of the engine rooms. Perhaps your grandfather and my father, who passed away in 1999, knew each other!

  15. Pingback: Coast Guard and CG Manned Vessels Lost in World War II | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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