An Engineer’s Memoir of the Merchant Marine, 1942–1945
By Herman E. Melton
Edited by Will Melton
Publication Date: 8 September 2017
In 1942, after the United States entered World War II, Herman Melton received an appointment as midshipman to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY, the academy’s first appointee from the state of Kansas. Though born in Texas, he was then attending Garden City (Kansas) Junior College and was introduced by his girlfriend to the member of Congress from that district who offered to nominate him. Upon Herman’s graduation in 1944, he was offered commissions in the U.S. Naval Reserve and the U.S. Maritime Service. More than 65 years later and in his 90’s, Herman wrote his memoirs of wartime service. It is to be published as the third volume in a series sponsored by the American Merchant Marine Museum. An exhibition organized by the Museum about Herman’s experiences in World War II on Liberty ships battling both the Germans and the Japanese will open on the date of the book’s publication.
During his time on convoy duty in three oceans. Herman saw much enemy action and participated in the treacherous Murmansk Run of 1942-43, when American-made vessels known as Liberty ships delivered Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union while under attack by German U-boats and torpedo bombers. In a 1994 ceremony at the Russian Embassy he was awarded a medal from the Russian Government for his service on the Murmansk Run.
During the January 1943 voyage across the Arctic Sea to north Russia, Herman’s Liberty ship, SS Cornelius Harnett, was attacked by torpedo bombers of 1 Staffel (first squadron) of Küstenfliegergruppe 406 (Coastal Air Group 406) which was based in Kirkenes, Norway. Herman’s combat assignment during the action was to serve as a reloader for the U.S. Navy Armed Guard gun crew aboard the Harnett, and the gunners helped to shoot down two of the He 115’s. The gunners’ commander received the Silver Star from the U.S. Navy for his performance in the action.
Eighteen months later in December 1944, Herman was aboard SS Antoine Saugrain in an allied convoy (Task Force 76.4.7) steaming from New Guinea carrying troops and equipment for the American invasion of the Philippines. Attacked by Japanese torpedo bombers, the Saugrain took two direct torpedo hits and the Saugrain’s captain gave the order to abandon ship off Leyte Island. Although the ship’s rafts and lifeboats were insufficient for the more than 200 crew and soldiers to be rescued, all hands survived, thanks to two US Navy destroyers dispatched to the scene to pick up men in boats and swimming in the water. The Saugrain remained afloat and an American tug following the convoy attempted to tow the ship to port. Japanese bombers, however, returned to the Saugrain and finally sent her to the sea bottom.
After the sinking of the Saugrain, Herman served as an engineer in salvaging two Liberty ships severely damaged in kamikaze air attacks in the Philippines. After returning the SS Wiliam Sharon to service, he was part of a skeleton crew that sailed the Liberty ship to San Francisco where it went into dry dock for more extensive repairs and later returned to duty. Herman was serving as an instructor of Merchant Marine recruits on Santa Catalina Island, California, when the Japanese surrendered, enabling him to return to civilian life. Liberty’s War details Herman’s wartime assignments and provides a full account of his training as a cadet-midshipman of the newly founded U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.