Ray Kurlander

A current portrait of Kurlander

Ray Kurlander

by Paul Roberts

Ray was a petty officer torpedo man who never fired a torpedo in anger. For one year he sailed on a destroyer escort, guarding massive convoys across the North Atlantic, against the Nazi wolf packs of U-boats preying on Liberty and merchant ships conveying men and materiel to what was to become the initial invasion of North Africa by the combined might of the Allied forces. His ship, a DE (destroyer escort), 300 feet long that could do 20-knot, was designed as an anti-submarine ship as an alternative to fleet destroyers, was comparatively easy to produce and equip with state of the art anti-submarine devices and weaponry. It had a tighter turning radius and more specialized armament, such as the forward firing Hedgehog Projectors and the MK6 Depth Charge Projectors, which accounted for the sinking of five U-boats (for which he could confirm). They had help guarding convoys from attacks by the Navy’s K-type, non-rigid patrol blimps. Capable of providing a close defense for over 500 miles, cruising at 400 feet height and was a menace to any lurking submarines. Also, observing convoys from home ports were the OS2U-3 (Kingfishers), pontoon-equipped bombers, flying in echelon formation, carry deadly 100-pound bombs for use against small crafts and submarines. With all this protection the U-Boats were still able to sink a good many ships.  

“I delighted in watching as I deployed the Hedgehogs going over the side, forming a perfect arch, plunging into the sea, and then waiting for that muffled explosion.” The Hedgehogs fired 144 rockets simultaneously; the depth charges (known as ‘tin cans’) were dynamite explosives, projected overboard that exploded when making physical contact with a submarine. There was never an occasion for Ray to fire torpedoes. In spite of the use of sounding buoys these submarines managed to sneak into the line of convoys and sink precious ships. At night ships were most vulnerable, like sitting ducks. These were the moments when the crews were at their highest alert.  

The first time he got to North Africa, he was shocked to see the havoc inflicted on the French fleet by the British Royal Navy, as a step to prevent the fleet from falling into the hands of the Nazis. It would take a long time for the French to understand the necessity of the action, but time heals all wounds. It seemed the right decision to make at the time, and proved right. Shortly after, the release of a depth charge caused a submarine to surface, which was boarded by a boarding party and captured the crew.

After service in the North Atlantic, Ray was transferred to Hawaii, trained on acoustical torpedoes. This was a relatively new technique, used by the Germans, especially for attacking escort vessels and merchant vessels in a convoy. The torpedo aims itself by listening for characteristic sounds of its target, or by searching by using (acoustical homing).

All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland