I was a seventeen-year-old quartermaster aboard LST 515 (“What Happened Off Devon,” February/March 1985), which was skippered by Lt. John Doyle and carried the flag of Comdr. B. J. Skahill. I was transferred to a land-based amphibious group shortly before Convoy T-4 sailed to disaster in Lyme Bay.
My duties aboard LST 515 were on the bridge, so I had observed the everpresent tension between Doyle and Skahill. There is always tension between the captain of a vessel and the flag officer of the squadron, because, though the safety of the ship is the responsibility of the captain, he is at the same time outranked by the flag officer. To show his independence, Lieutenant Doyle often would contest Commander Skahill’s suggestions, though always when Doyle was within his rights as captain to do so. So I’m not at all surprised that Lieutenant Doyle ignored Commander Skahill’s order not to return to the area of the sinkings.
I say this not to disparage Lieutenant Doyle, who was a brave and competent officer, but only to refute any innuendo that Skahill was more interested in his own safety than in picking up survivors. Skahill was a kind and gentle man, who once astonished me by his effusive solicitude over a thumb I bruised. I saw him display his contempt for anyone who showed timidity in the face of danger. He once reprimanded an LST captain for inching his ship out of place in a convoy into a less exposed position. This followed a U-boat attack on us in which we lost two ships. The message was hotly worded. I know. I was the one who sent it on the blinker.