THE "WAR HERO"
L. RON HUBBARD AND THE U.S. NAVY, 1941-50
3.4 War in the Atlantic: the USS YP-422
He is not temperamentally fitted for independent command.
- signal from Commandant, Boston Naval Yard (Sept 25, 1942)
The Happy Time
The Church of Scientology has claimed, and continues to claim, that L. Ron Hubbard's service in the North Atlantic was aboard one or more "corvettes" or "an antisubmarine escort vessel with Atlantic convoys". The claim originates with Hubbard himself, who stated that one week after being admitted to hospital in Vallejo, California in "Spring" (actually April) 1942, "they ordered this casualty to duty in command of a corvette in the North Atlantic". 1 Scientology has in recent years alternatively claimed that Hubbard's vessel, the USS YP-422, was a "hastily fitted subchaser". 2
All of these claims are, in fact, totally incorrect. Hubbard's vessel, the USS YP-422, was neither a corvette nor a subchaser but a converted trawler, responsible for patrolling coastal waters rather than escorting convoys across the North Atlantic. A simple visual comparison between the YP-422 and a genuine corvette, the USS Temptress (formerly HMS Veronica), illustrates the drastic physical differences:
The YP-422's hull number also indicates that it was not a corvette. Under the US Navy's standard nomenclature scheme, devised in 1921, corvettes were classified as PG- (Patrol Gunboat) and subchasers as PC- and SC- (Patrol, Coastal and Sub Chaser). The YP-422's hull number classes it as a "Yacht, Patrol". Its armament was a single 3" gun - mounted on the forward deck, it can be seen under covers in the picture, above and to the right of the vessel's hull name - and two .30 caliber machine guns for anti-aircraft defense.
Although a trawler may seem an unlikely warship, its presence in the US Navy was necessitated by the desperate situation in which the Navy found itself in the early days of World War 2. When the United States entered the war on December 7, 1941, decades of neglect of its small vessel fleet had left it with only a dozen or so anti-submarine craft that were any smaller than destroyer size. The Navy had only five subchasers to protect thousands of miles of coastline. Added to that, the country had virtually no experience of a high-intensity submarine conflict such as that in which it now abruptly found itself engaged. There was no blackout in US ports; merchant ships did not travel in convoys and kept their navigation lights on in US coastal waters; and the lack of onshore security made it easy for German spies to inform the Kriegsmarine of US ship movements. The result was a massacre. German U-boats had free access to North American coastal waters, sinking ships in New York harbor, in the waters off Long Island, and far down the St Lawrence River. Up and down the Atlantic coast, from Newfoundland to Bermuda, hundreds of vessels were sunk. It was no wonder that the U-boat commanders called this period "The Happy Time".
Britain had found itself in a similar situation at the outbreak of war in 1939. The British were slightly luckier in that they had already begun production of small anti-submarine ships - corvettes - but to provide additional security in the waters around ports, civilian vessels such as trawlers and yachts were requisitioned and converted into gunboats. The US adopted a similar solution, converting civilian craft and also loaning ten corvettes and 22 anti-submarine trawlers from the Royal Navy, the latter manned with British crews. Depending on size, converted vessels were classed as Patrol Gunboats (PG), Patrol Yachts (PY) or Patrol Yacht, coastal (PYc). Trawlers were among the smallest vessels converted and usually were designated as coastal patrol yachts.
When Hubbard arrived at the commercial yard operated by George Lawley and Sons in Neponset, Mass. on June 25, 1942, he was put to work overseeing the conversion of the Mist, a heavy beam trawler, into the US Navy gunboat YP-422. When she was ready to put to sea, he was to take over as her Commanding Officer.
The vessel was never given a name (there was no "USS Mist" - the name has not been used for any US Navy vessel this century). Nor, despite the claims of the Church of Scientology, was she British; the only Royal Navy ship to bear the name Mist was an Admiralty drifter built in Aberdeen in 1918.
The conversion work went smoothly, and exactly one month after arriving Hubbard was able to take the YP-422 out of her dock for a trial trip in the harbour which was recorded by a Navy photographer. Engines were revved up and down, controls were tested and the compasses were adjusted (a tedious task for which several hours were needed). The following month, the YP-422 put to sea under Hubbard's command for the first and only time. The vessel did not see action on that trip: she conducted 27 hours of training exercises, during which a few practice rounds were fired to test the gun. There was no suggestion that any enemy vessels had been involved. According to a former crewman, Eugene LaMere, "the YP-422 never saw combat". 3
The Church of Scientology claims that Hubbard "did see action in the North Atlantic, but aboard a different vessel". 4 This claim cannot be substantiated. There is no record of Hubbard having served aboard any other North Atlantic vessel, and the Church has never given details of when, where or even what this other vessel might have been.
Hubbard received an "above average" rating for his work on the conversion of the YP-422, but he was still not entirely happy with his posting; he continued to express a preference for "patrol vessels" in "Caribbean waters". Presumably he hoped that his ship would be sent there when she was commissioned.
By September 9, Hubbard was confident enough about his vessel to send a message to the Commandant of Boston Navy Yard reporting that USS YP-422 was in excellent condition, crew training was "approaching efficiency" and morale was high. "As soon as a few deficiencies are remedied," he added, "this vessel will be in all respects ready for sea and is very eager to be on her way to her assigned station or task force."
Relieved of Command
The YP-422 embarked on her shakedown cruise in October 1942. Her Commanding Officer, however, was not on board. Hubbard had been involved in an unwise altercation with the Commandant of the Boston Yard. Considerable tension had developed between the officers in charge of the conversion work and those officers assigned to crew the ten YPs being converted at the Neponset shipyard, culminating in an extraordinary order prohibiting YP officers from approaching the conversion office or even speaking to any of the shipyard workers. Hubbard had taken it upon himself to fire off a memorandum to the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations (VC OPNAV) in Washington, naming the officer responsible and pointing out that the YP commanding officers were all "startled" by the order. On September 25, the Commandant requested that Hubbard be relieved of command:
LT L RON HUBBARD IS IN COMMAND OF YP 422 COMPLETING CONVERSION AND FITTING OUT AT BOSTON. IN THE OPINION OF THE COMMANDANT HE IS NOT TEMPERAMENTALLY FITTED FOR INDEPENDENT COMMAND. IT IS THEREFORE URGENTLY REQUESTED THAT HE BE DETACHED AND THAT ORDER FOR RELIEF BE EXPEDITED IN VIEW OF EXPECTED EARLY DEPARTURE OF VESSEL. BELIEVE HUBBARD CAPABLE OF USEFUL SERVICE IF ORDERED TO OTHER DUTY UNDER IMMEDIATE SUPERVISION OF A MORE SENIOR OFFICER.
(Source: Cable from Commandant Boston Yard, September 25, 1942) (DOCUMENT A)
Hubbard evidently was determined not to go down fighting and, that same day, sent a telegram to VC OPNAV protesting his removal:
BECAUSE OF MY REPRESENTATIONS MADE TO THE VICE CHIEF OPNAV 12 SEPT 1942 COMMANDANT NAVY YARD BOSTON RECOMMENDING MY REMOVAL FROM COMMAND TO BUPERS. RESPECTFULLY REQUEST INTERCESSION MY VESSEL IN CONDITION SUPERIOR TO ANY OTHER IN DIVISION.
LIEUTENANT L RON HUBBARD USNR COMMONWEALTH PIER ONE
(Source: Telegram from Hubbard, September 25, 1942) (DOCUMENT B)
His plea fell on deaf ears. On October 1, 1942, he was summarily detached from command of the YP-422 and ordered to report to the Commandant of the Third Naval District (in New York) "for such duty as he may assign you" (DOCUMENT C).
Hubbard's service aboard the YP-422 did not remotely qualify him for European-African-Middle Eastern campaign decorations, which were awarded for service east of a line drawn down the middle of the North Atlantic. A photograph shows him wearing the campaign ribbon nonetheless and Scientology continues to claim it for him to this day. 5
Hubbard later made an extraordinary series of claims about his brief service aboard the USS YP-422. They are detailed in the 1996 Church of Scientology publication L. Ron Hubbard: The Humanitarian. We are informed that having returned from "hard action in the South Pacific", Hubbard was given command of "a hastily fitted subchaser". There is no doubt that this refers specifically to the gunboat YP-422, as the vessel is mentioned by name and is shown in an accompanying photograph (the same one shown earlier in this section). But Hubbard's biggest problem was the crew:
... Unofficial naval policy was to man [such vessels] with only expendable crews. Consequently, upon entering the Boston Navy Yard, Ron found himself facing a hundred or so enlisted men, fresh from the Portsmouth Naval Prison in New Hampshire. A murderous looking lot, was Ron's initial impression, "their braid dirty and their hammocks black with grime." While on further investigation, he discovered not one among them had stepped aboard except to save himself a prison term.
(Source: L. Ron Hubbard: The Humanitarian, Church of Scientology, 1996)
The impeccably humanitarian Hubbard apparently told his "ex-convict" crew that all slates were now clean and all past crimes immaterial, whereupon he drilled them until "these men were standing sea watches in undress blues merely because they thought it would look better". After only six weeks they had been transformed from criminals to superb seamen - according to another Scientology account, the finest in the fleet - "with some seventy depth charge runs to their credit and not a single casualty". The author of this work appears to have gotten somewhat confused at this point, as Hubbard's much-vaunted depth charge runs were actually made aboard a completely different ship in a different ocean at a different time, the Pacific-based subchaser USS PC-815 in May 1943. Needless to say, the claim that he captained a ship of criminals has never been corroborated.
The Submarine Chaser Training Center
Hubbard was now at a loose end at the Naval Receiving Station at Long Beach, Long Island. He still wanted to serve on "PC Boats, patrol" in "Caribbean or Gulf", as is shown by the fitness report covering his tour at the Receiving Station. On October 8, 1942 he wrote to the Chief of Naval Personnel requesting that he be nominated to the Submarine Chaser Training Center (which he referred to as "PC School") in Miami, Florida (DOCUMENT D). His request was approved by the Commandant of the Third Naval District - no doubt because it solved the problem of what to do with Hubbard - and on October 20, a reply came back authorizing his detachment to the SCTC. He reported there on November 9, 1942, and quickly made friends with a young lieutenant named Thomas Moulton.
The Submarine Chaser Training Center was set up in March 1942 to answer a pressing problem for the US Navy. The Navy's growing fleet of subchasers (PCs and SCs) had been designed as patrol craft, not long-range escort vessels. Nonetheless, the severe shortage of anti-submarine vessels necessitated the use of PCs and SCs on the convoy routes between New York and Brazil, and in the Mediterranean. This was far beyond their planned capability and conditions were acutely difficult for the crews. Older officers simply could not stand the strain. As the subchasers were to be officered entirely by reservists it was necessary to provide a special training school for their crews. Other naval training stations were already overtaxed and nobody wanted responsibility for the "Donald Duck Navy", as the subchaser fleet was derisively nicknamed.
Hubbard fitted in well at the SCTC, though he seems to have regarded his posting there as a cushy break. He recalled his time there in a 1964 lecture, "Study: Evaluation of Information", commenting that "it was a lovely, lovely warm classroom, and I was shipped for a very short time down into the south of Florida... and, boy was I able to catch up on some sleep." His friend Thomas Moulton later recalled under cross-examination that Hubbard had presented himself as an authority on destroyers:
Q: And to your knowledge had [Hubbard] any previous naval experience before attending the Sub Chaser School?
A: It was common knowledge that he had been in destroyers for some time before that.
Q: You don't have the exact details?
A: Other than hearing the instructors in the classrooms refer to it. He was used as something of an authority in the classroom.
Q: Do you know what his position was on these destroyers?
A: I am told he was gunnery officer on the EDSEL [sic - should be Edsall]. I don't know about the others. 6
In fact, Hubbard had never served aboard any destroyers and there is no record of him having anything to do with the USS Edsall; that ship had been sunk in March 1942, conveniently lost with all hands, so there was no danger of a crewmember contradicting Hubbard's claims.
Hubbard seems to have done reasonably well in the warm classrooms of Florida, as he was rated "Qualified for command of 173" Submarine Chaser", ranking 20th in a class of 25. It must have been with some satisfaction that, at the end of the 60-day course, he received news that he was being put in charge of his own subchaser: the PC-815, then under construction in Portland, Oregon.
1 Ron The Poet/Lyricist (1997) - see http://www.ronthepoet.org/p_jpg/thewar1.htm; original claim made in Hubbard lecture of 1958, The Story of Dianetics and Scientology
2 L. Ron Hubbard: The Humanitarian (1996) - see http://humanitarian.lronhubbard.org/respect3.htm.
3 'Scientology Unmasked', Boston Herald, March 1, 1998
4 "Correction of False Reports in 'Scientology Unmasked', Boston Sunday Herald March 1, 1998" - internal briefing document by Church of Scientology, March 1998.
5 See 3.10 - Hubbard's Medals.
6 Moulton testimony, Church of Scientology v. Armstrong, 21 May 1984