by Elmer Humphry
Editor’s Note: When I talked with Elmer at Costco he said he wanted to send me some material on the Green Dragons, and asked for my address. I wrote it on a product wrapper in his shopping cart. A letter arrived a few days later telling more about the Green Dragons, a fleet of 32 ships, which worked independently. He was assigned to one of them. Below is his letter. You may want to re-read the previous article from the March 2021, issue, for reference.
There is one little thing you might not know for openers:
There are two main fleets in the navy, the battle fleet with ships – of the line such as in battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, and the auxiliary or “A” fleet, with tankers, supply and troopships, each with identifying letters and number.
The APD’s were originally DDs, or destroyers, built around the early 20th century and WW I. Their new assignment in WW II, from retirement, resulted in some redesigning. These ships had two engine rooms, two fire rooms each with two boilers. The boilers in the front, number one fire room, and the two forward smokestacks were removed. The now-empty fire room became a living compartment for small troop occupancy. Most assault armaments was removed and four Davis davits were installed, two on each side of the ship, for four landing craft. Combat engagement was not the purpose of an APD. If you read the flyer (flyer on next page) completely you can tell that this special fleet operated all over the world and in places you never heard of. They are there.
Probably no two ships operated the same. We worked with the Third Marine Raiders and the Fourth Underwater Demolition Team on pre-invasion necessities. The ship was camouflaged to the extreme and the crew dress was standard navy dungaree but everything we wore…everything…was dyed black. And, although the ships’ company was not part of the Special Forces per se, we worked closely together and we always wore a Marine Kay-Bar combat knife to cut rigging and anything else that got in the way.
The U.D.T.s were all breath divers…Scuba had not yet been developed by a French sole-mate who got tired of holding his breath. Their gear was a face mask, an oversized snorkel, normal beach swim trunks and regular swim fins. I always get a kick out of the reaction I get from almost everyone when I mention “no scuba,” it is almost universal. “No scuba?????”
We operated a lot in fading light or dark and our signalmen communicated with an Infrared system that was not visible to outside observers. Sneaky, sneaky. Radar and sonar were in their infancy but I won’t go into that.
There was one side point. Ordinarily, ships like ours, small and aged, would have a middle-ranked officer as the Skipper. Our skipper was a high, top-drawer Commander, the reason–apparently because we did sneaky work in unusual locations and decisions had to be made on the spot depending on the situation. He couldn’t call home for help. It showed up sometimes when we were at sea, going from A to B, and we would join a convoy going the same way just to add strength to the unit. These convoys were usually formed with newer, bigger, prettier ships, but convoys are commanded by a lead ship skippered by the S.O.P. A. — Senior Officer Present Afloat – and our skipper, with our old, beat up expendable junker, always outranked any of them so we hoisted the proper pennant to the yardarm and took command, much, we hoped, to the exasperation of the other ships. When we got to where we were going, we broke off and they got their convoys back.