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How DE Rich Died
Defoe Workers Hear Story of Last Battle
George Lucas' story of the Rich's invasion action from the Bay City, MI Times




    Death throes of the USS Rich, gallant Destroyer Escort, sunk off Caen two days after D-Day, were described by one of the survivors Saturday to men and women of the Defoe Shipbuilding Co., who had given it birth with their welding torches and riveting tools.

    The last time George E. "Ted" Lucas, electrician's mate, first class, came to Bay City was a year ago this month - then to join the Rich's crew to deliver the ship to New Orleans, where she was commissioned.

    This time he arrived as a "sailor without a ship," but with memories of a trim, efficient warcraft, lost heroically in action. The Rich is the first Defoe-built DE reported lost.

Speak to Workers

    Now on leave in his hometown -Port Huron-the sailor spoke to the Bay city shipbuilders over the public address system during their lunch hour and commended them for the part they played in the successful onslaught against the enemy off the shores of France. After the distinguished visitor's speech an engraved watch was presented to him in the yards to replace the one he lost when the Rich went down. Later the firm had a luncheon in the navy man's honor.

    The sailor's story is pregnant with the dramatic horror of warfare, and exemplifies the speed of invasion action, so fast that it outruns "official" recording.

    "But you guys weren't supposed to be in the invasion. The Rich is on patrol in the North Atlantic," gasped astonished officials when the survivors returned to England, according to the Port Huron
sailor.

    "We were on patrol duty in the North Atlantic," Lucas related, "when we got orders to proceed to an English port to replace another DE that had been put out of commission. Everything happened so fast that there was never any official record that we were in the invasion. The transport that had our sailing orders went to France with our papers on board.

    "We went across the channel with the first ships after the mine sweepers and planes had cleared the way for us. We arrived off Caen and our assigned beachhead, Dog White and Easy Red, about midnight on June 5. We were part of a fleet of 48 ships. 44 American, two Free French and two English. The Germans didn't even know we were there until next morning when the first shots were fired."

    In Lucas' own words, here's the story of the Rich's Invasion action.

Invasion Story

    "Our air cover was good and the only tough fighting was on land. There was an E-boat attack on the 6th but we laid down a smoke screen and they didn't get us. The destroyer Corry was hit about 500 yards to stern of us and went down.

    "A German plane made a run at us on the 6th and we were ordered to hold our fire in order not to give away our position. One of its torpedoes fell across the fantail missing us by about 10 feet. The destroyer Meredith was hit and sunk in that attack.

    "At 10 o'clock the morning of June 8, the Rich was helping troops to go ashore by knocking out German pillboxes, when the destroyer Glennon was hit The Rich, the nearest ship, was ordered to pick
up her survivors. 

    "We came along side and picked up about 18 men. Most of them were on the port side so we backed around to get them. Just as we got into position a near miss shell knocked out our generators and broke the steam lines in the torpedo tube which put the ship's anti-magnetic mine equipment out of commission and mines began to surface.

Mine Did It

"The first mine, which exploded, blew off about 75 feet of the fantail and killed or wounded all men in that part of the ship. Steam was escaping from the torpedo tubes and it looked as if they were about to explode so everyone ran forward.

    "The second mine hit then, right in the most crowded place, and the whole forepart of the ship was gone.

    "Then a third blast hit us amid-ship in the No.1 fire room and No. 1 engine room. By that time the ship was sinking rapidly. I had been in the engine room during all three explosions trying to get power back up. A man went aft to see what was happening and came back with the order to abandon ship.

    "All this time they were shelling us. The concussion was so great that men and equipment were blown through the air. A blast sent one life raft 150 feet through the air and then blew two men right after it, landing them safely on the raft."

Bulkeley Aids Wounded

   A PT boat, commanded by Lt. Cmdr. John D. Bulkeley. hero of the "Expendables" in early stages of the war in the Pacific, took the wounded off the Rich.

    Only about 18 of the Rich's crew of more than 200 were able to walk off the ship, Lucas said. The captain, a pharmacist mate, The chief machinists mate and Lucas all miraculously on their feet, took off
about 65 badly wounded men on stretchers.

    "We gave morphine to those pinned under the wreckage so they wouldn't know what was happening when the ship went down," Lucas said.

    "It was getting hot in there and as the Rich started to go down the PT boat pulled away. We jumped into the water and the PT boat came back after us."


Escapes Death

    Once Lucas was on the Rich's deck with two others, he knelt down to put a tourniquet on a man who was bleeding badly. "Just at that minute a piece of shrapnel hit and killed both of the other two. If it had been a minute sooner it would have got me too," he said.

    The PT boat -took the survivors to an LST hospital ship in the bay and they headed for England.

    Speaking with affection of the 1,400 ton Rich, Lucas said "when were were on convoy duty our captain, Lieut. Cmdr. Edward A. Michel, Jr., of Jamestown, N.Y., was the only regular Navy skipper in the convoy and we always got the dangerous positions and the dirty work. We used to say that she was either a doggone good ship or no good at all so they wanted to get rid of her."

    Lucas came to Bay City with his wife, Dorothy. He enlisted in the Navy Feb. 15, 1942 shortly after Pearl Harbor, and was first stationed on a sub-chaser. He is a former Detroit Edison Co. employee.
 

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