by Paul Roberts
It was a straw that broke the camel’s back, and a straw that determined Moe Kottler’s fate. Four neighborhood friends decided, after the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, to enlist to fight our new enemy. They decided their fate by drawing straws to determine to which branch of service they would enter and Moe drew ‘Coast Guard.’ Little did he know that his choice would give him all the action he needed in one lifetime. He spent three years shuttling back and forth in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean on the Coast Cutter Spencer, a 327 foot long boat, guarding hundreds of convoy ships, bringing supplies and men to war torn England. They were part of ten groups of anti-sub warships, called Hunter Killer Groups, nicknamed by the Nazis “White Elephants” and were able by 1944 to reduce the staggering losses of torpedoed merchant ships by coordinating cordons of protection around hundred ship convoys. There were also destroyers, destroyer escorts, baby escort carriers (whose planes flew low, watching for the menacing U-Boats) and Canadian and British corvettes. By 1945 the U-boat losses were over 80%, making the Atlantic a peaceful lake.
Moe’s job was as a powderman on the Spencer, feeding their 5 inch 51 caliber gun, and in charge of the 600 pounder MK6 depth charge projectors, or “tin cans,” which had to be carefully calibrated before launching, setting barrages for different depth. The ship was well armed, carrying two 5 inch 51 caliber guns; two quadruple machine guns; anti-aircraft batteries; two 6 pounders and ten 3 inch anti-aircraft guns. One memorable success happened during riding herd on a westbound convoy of 63 merchant ships from Lough Foyle, Ireland, when the Nazi U-175 was picked up on radar and depth charges were deployed, forcing her to surface, and then raking her with machine gun and cannon fire. They aimed at the conning tower, successfully immobilizing and causing her to go under. Unfortunately, excited gun crews from nearby Liberty merchant ships of the convoy, staffed with overzealous Navy gunners, also began firing at the sub with their 3 inch guns, some shells over-hitting, and damaging the Spencer. This friendly fire caused 25 crewmen to be wounded, including Moe, and one killed, who was given the traditional naval burial at sea. Ironically, his abdominal wound by shrapnel never got him a Purple Heart medal, even though inflicted in battle. Perhaps the government was too embarrassed and wanted to hide it under the rug.
The records showed that during the winter of January to March 1943, plowing through rough, freezing seas, the Spencer participated in more engagements than any other American vessel. It was credited with at least 3 kills of U-boats while acting as a ‘guiding angel.’ In June she was detached from convoy duty and returned to the United States, where she underwent a conversion to an Amphibious Command Ship, and sent to the Pacific Theater, to act as the flagship for the 8th Amphibious Group on several occasions, participating in several amphibious landings in the Philippines and Borneo until the war ended.
Upon discharge from the Service, the excitement ended. He became a supervisor in the appliance business, fathered two girls and a boy, and became the grandfather of 23. Getting to know them, and their names, has become a full time effort, but he loves the role. His Fairways North apartment has become a very busy byway for visits.
All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland