In 2012, PADUCAH LIFE Magazine brought you Dr. Rob Robertson's story of the USS Paducah, the US Navy gunboat that bore the name of our city while serving during both World Wars.
The story eventually made its way to Randall Haines, great grandson of Frank Gibble, a seaman who spent a year of his life aboard the vessel.
"I began a family military history project that was mainly focused on myself and my grandfather. I did two tours in Iraq, and my grandfather was in the Navy in the early 50s. My grandfather told me about his father and gave me four of his diaries."
The diaries detailed Pennsylvania native Frank Gibble's life during World War I. "After I read those, I realized there was more there than anyone had thought! Tucked inside the diaries, I found four letters, two photos, some German money and a write-up about a submarine incident that took place on September 9, 1918."
Frank had joined the Navy in April 1917 and spent time aboard the USS Oklahoma and the USS Druid before coming to the Paducah on February 2, 1918.
The USS Paducah worked primarily as an escort ship, providing protection to merchant ships throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Convoy escort duty was extremely hazardous. Small gunboats like the Paducah had to keep up with the larger, faster ships no matter the weather or sea conditions.
The chances of colliding with another ship were greater than being attacked by an enemy submarine as Germany only had about twelve submarines continuously operating on station throughout the whole war zone.
Even though the odds were against a submarine attack, the Paducah managed to find itself pitted against them on several occasions.
According to the diary details, just twelve days after boarding the Paducah, Frank Gibble encountered a German sub that followed the convoy for about twenty minutes. Eleven depth charges were readied, and the guns were fully manned, but the sub seemed to simply disappear. Two days later, the Paducah received word that a ship was sunk by a German submarine roughly fourteen miles from their position where the sub was spotted.
In April, another attack occurred on the convoy, and the Paducah, seeing the wake left by a German sub, dropped three depth charges where they estimated the submerged vessel to be. A crew aboard an English vessel in the convoy claimed the Paducah got the submarine, but no confirmation was made.
In September, the Paducah was part of a convoy that escorted nineteen merchant vessels. It was on this journey that Frank saw the most action.
In his diary dated September 9, he wrote:
"Underway from Gibraltar, Spain to Genoa, Italy with convoy. Fine day and warm sea like mill pond. At six o’clock pm the sun set and about 7:04 pm the convoy was attacked by a German sub. It fired a torpedo and sank a ship on our starboard hand. By that time some of the ships had fired at the sub. We ran over to where we thought the sub was and dropped a three hundred pound depth charge, and about thirty seconds later the sub came up and our guns crew fired three shots. Two of them hit the sub, abaft of the conning tower. The sub then disappeared. We then ran over to where the ship went down and looked for survivors but all we seen was the empty life boats. The survivors had been picked up by the trawlers. And I seen other wreckage of the ship. About 7:55 pm the ship sank below surface of the water. The rest of the convoy kept on going. But we stayed around vicinity of the torpedoing all night. Moon and ship went down together.”
In addition to protecting merchant vessels, the Paducah provided assistance when ships ran into trouble. The day after the torpedoing, one of the merchant ships caught fire. The crew abandoned ship as the blaze grew, and the Paducah fired upon the vessel in order to sink it. According to Frank, the Paducah fired 101 shots, hitting the ship 72 times with the four-inch guns and 29 times with the six pounder. He stated, “That is the 3rd ship we lost since I was on the Paducah.”
Just two months later, hostilities ended and the Paducah set sail for home, arriving in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on January 7, 1919.
Frank returned to Pennsylvania, married Mary Earhart, and had three children. He died in 1961 and is buried in Lancaster County,PA.