USN 440by Bob Johns (Plankowner)
UNS 440 Bremerhaven, GermanyShortly after the inauguration of President Eisenhower in 1953 five CTSN's (Harry Bertram, Bowman, Bob Johns, Ed Lankford and John Marshall) left the U.S. Naval Security Station, Washington D.C. for Bremerhaven, Germany. We traveled to New York (Brooklyn Navy Yard) to await transportation to Germany After several weeks we shipped out on the MTS Blatchford for Bremerhaven. We crossed the North Atlantic at about the worst time of the year for rough seas. The Blatchford was transporting a great number of U.S. Army personnel to Europe and seven U.S. Navy Personnel (five CT's, a Gunners Mate, and a Corpsman). Since there were so few naval personnel being transported we were accorded special accommodations (the forward brig). With the winter storms and our accommodations being in the bow of the ship it became a memorable trip. The only member of our select group to be assigned any real duties aboard the Blatchford was the corpsman who worked in the ship's sickbay. Each trip to the mess hall required us to pass through portions of the ship that were occupied by the army personnel in transit who were not holding up very well under the rough seas. We lost a lot of appetite on these trips back and forth and the fact that they served army mess did not improve the situation at all. The corpsman felt compassion for his mates in the brig and managed to bring us food, snacks and beverages. We were allowed to wander freely about the ship as long as we stayed away from the dependents quarters. Several of us spent a good deal of the time on the fantail curled up in coiled hawsers reading and watching the fury of the following sea.
We arrived in Bremerhaven in early March of 1953. Upon debarking the Blatchford we were bussed up to the Naval Advanced Base (NAB) which was at one time Hitler's Submarine Officers Training School. At NAB we were given the normal indoctrination and told what barracks we were assigned. One entire barracks was assigned to personnel who would be working NAVSECGRU. Exploring the barracks we found that it was in the process of being rehabilitated and only the upper floors were ready for use. After Navy barracks at boot camp, Treasure Island Electronics School, San Diego CT School and the Washington and Brooklyn Naval Receiving Stations, NAB was a dream. The barracks were all brick and of an architecture that was more like military academies than any military base where I had been stationed. The halls were adorned with paintings of submarines and gun racks. A lot of the paintings were painted over in the rehabilitation of the barracks but when I left the paintings and the gun racks were still there. The floors in the rooms were all inlaid parquet.
When we arrived in Germany the exchange rate was 4 marks 20 pf to the dollar. The primary mode of transportation for the Germans was bicycle and the taxi cabs were either Volkswagens or Mercedes 180 diesels. Coffee, if the Germans could get it, was 20 marks a pound and cigarettes were 2 marks a pack. Civilian clothes were not allowed on or off base until June of 1953. When you went on liberty a bockwurst, knockwurst or sleisasheir and a beer from a stand or kiosk cast about 1 mark 50 pf. It was difficult to spend 20 marks for a truly great dinner in a good restaurant Mock turtle soup, a rump steak, brat kartoffels and many beers in almost any of the local gastates was about 5 marks. Victoria was the local beer and cost about 25 pf a bottle. Gasoline, if you had a car or motorcycle, was rationed but sold through the European Exchange gas stations for $.14 a gallon and sold by the liter.
Germany was divided into sectors after the war and Bremerhaven came under British jurisdiction and was part of the British enclave. The Germans in Bremerhaven made a great distinction between English and Americans. Bremerhaven, we were told, was a secondary target for many of the air raids during the second war. While the bomb damage was not really very noticeable on the Naval Advanced Base itself, it was noticeable downtown. The extent of the bomb damage was not equal to Hamburg but was extensive enough that in the rebuilding of Bremerhaven a new downtown or main shopping area was created. To the populace this was the fault of the English. When we arrived there was a new water tower and gas works which had signs painted on them Marshall Plan. This assistance we provided many have been a positive influence on their feelings for Americans. I am sure anyone who was in Bremerhaven remembers walking Hoffenstrasse and window shopping. I spent many hours looking at clothes, Hummels, clocks, appliances, jewelry, cutlery and selecting items to send home as gifts. One each of these walks I am sure I stopped and had a wurst with hot mustard and a beer.
Since the war, Germany was not allowed to have any military, but on the NAB there was a Labor Service Union (LSU) attachment. I don't remember too much about the organization but it appeared to be a naval group.
The compound that made up the NAB also contained an Army Detachment. The Army facilities had an enlisted mens club, and a European Exchange (EEX). The NAB had a Ship's Store which was run by naval personnel versus the EEX civilian personnel. This made for a lot of competition between the two stores. The Ship's Store profits were used to supplement many things of the naval personnel. We were given free haircuts, laundry, shoe repair and a great EM club off base in Berger Park. In an effort to reduce the competition between the two stores the Army exchange negotiated a price increase on cigarettes sold at the Ship's Store form $.80 to $.90 a carton so they would each be selling at the same price. Once the Ship's Store went to $.90 a carton the EEX went to $1.00. Since the Ship's Store actually had a greater number of non-navy customers than navy, it just made more money and continued to subsidize the services we were given.
The Naval Security Group Detachment, USN 440, was not at the NAB but at the Army Staging Area. The NAB provided a bus service between the two locations, additionally there was an Army bus service from the Army controlled section of the NAB into town and out to the Staging Area. The building used by NSGD, while inside the Army compound was away from the main part of the base. This building housed the Armed Forces Radio Station and the Air Force Radio Squadron Mobile detachment as well as NSGD. We had at least half of the building and it was all empty when we arrived.
With the five new arrivals the NSGD had a total personnel complement of about 10 enlisted men and 2 or 3 officers. Lt. L.L. Nicholson was the commanding officer.
Gradually, we started receiving supplies for the building of USN 440. The arrival of each freighter to Bremerhaven brought us more equipment and the arrival of each transport brought additional personnel. We were finally commissioned and on our way to becoming USN 40. In its initial configuration the first floor of the building was all administrative and the second floor was all operational. Then we started all over again wit the total refurbishment of the first floor in the new operations area. The largest portion of the first floor was once a kitchen and mess hall. It was almost all tile and had large drains in the floors s the entire area could be hosed down and kept spotless. All of the tile was removed from the walls and the floor was covered with asphalt to make it level. Then the divider walls were installed, separating the operational, maintenance and administrative areas. The commanding officer's office was redone in wood paneling with green accessories. We had established NSGD Bremerhaven. To show his appreciation for the hard work of all personnel Lt. Nicholson had a party to celebrate our first anniversary.