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Ship’s Wheel from D-Day Assault

Ship's wheel from the SS David O. Saylor, which was part of the D-Day invasion force on June 6th, 1944, offering fire support for the landing troops. On June 8th she was scuttled off Utah Beach to create the "Gooseberry 1" breakwater. With the exposed waters off the Normandy coast, it was necessary to create protected waters and harbors for the supply ships necessary to support the landings and their subsequent advance until a port could be captured. Gooseberry 1 was the breakwater off of Utah Beach, created by sinking 10 blockships. The SS David O. Saylor was a concrete cargo steamship built in 1943 by McCloskey Shipbuilders of Hooker's Point, Tampa, Florida. A sailor on board the SS Vitruvius, a sister ship also present with the Saylor, recounted the event. He wrote, in part: "One day Army Engineers came aboard with several cases of dynamite and set up charges in each hold. On June 1 we headed out to sea. About two days out, the Captain called all hands on deck to read a letter from General Dwight D. Eisenhower telling us we would be making history -- participating in the invasion of Normandy. We rendezvoused at Portsmouth, England with the others destined to be "blockships." Crossing the channel on D-Day was not a big problem for us... The coast of France was a sight to behold. Ships everywhere. Battleships with guns blasting the shoreline. Destroyers, destroyer escorts and every kind of landing craft imaginable. The day was cloudy, but occasionally a plane would stick its nose through the clouds and every ship, including ours, would fire their 20 mm Oerlikons. It was the 4th of July multiplied tenfold. We had a bird's-eye view of landing craft heading for shore, the fighting on the beach and bodies floating in the water. I was sure glad to be on a ship -- even if it was concrete. On D-Day+1 we tried to maneuver to our assigned position, but German 88s started exploding around us. We got out of there just in time. We tried again on D-Day+3 with the same results. On D-Day+4 we went in without any problem. We got off the ship into an LCI and watched army engineers set off the dynamite. A big puff of smoke and she sank quickly in the shallow water with about half the ship still showing."

The David O. Saylor was forced to withdraw from Utah Beach because of heavy artillery fire which was straddling her on June 7. She was also forced to withdraw once on June 8 but was successfully scuttled in the afternoon. Her Armed Guards left on June 13. Another sailor witnessing events from the shore was Lieutenant LeRoy Arthur Gemmell, a chaplain attached to the Navy Seabees on the beach. Shortly after the ships of "Gooseberry 1" sank, he boarded the partially submerged SS Saylor and, with the help of Chief Alex Brodie, removed the ship's wheel as a souvenir of the invasion. The mahogany wheel is of fine quality and condition, with contrasting strips of inlaid holly, measuring approximately 36" in diameter with a 6" brass spindle. A circular brass manufacturer's plate mounted to the wheel is engraved "American Engineering Co. Phila." The historic wheel has been in the Gemmell family since 1944. Lt. Gemmell also served aboard the USS General George M. Randall (AP-115), a Navy troopship (1944-1945) and the light cruiser USS Denver (CL 58) from 1945-1946. Included with the wheel are several newspaper clippings, numerous personal photographs and a cruise book for the USS Denver titled Life Aboard the U.S.S. Denver 1942-1945. Laid-in the book is Gemmell's commission document signed by Franklin Knox, Secretary of the Navy. Includes wall mount and a central brass plate engraved "Utah Beach/SS David O. Saylor/June 8, 1944". As more and more of our WWII veterans are passing away, interest and demand for historical WWII relics is increasing and driving prices to record highs. A badly tattered 48-star US flag taken from an LST (Landing Ship, Tank) present at the D-Day landings recently brought $386,500 at auction and another tattered flag from an LCC (Landing Craft Control) at Utah Beach just sold for $514,000 at auction. This ship’s wheel was witness to the same historical event and comes with similar provenance, yet is a far more attractive display item at a small fraction of the price.

W1169 $6995

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DAVID O. SAYLOR (s/v) Yard No.2 (MC Hull No.1446)

Build: 1943.11.

4.690 grt, 3.248 nrt.

Dim: 107,74 x 16,45 x 9,81 m.

Engine: T 3-cyl. Prescott Mchy. Co., Menominee, Michigan. (Mchy. Aft)

Owners: 1943, United States Maritime Commission, Tampa, Florida.

1944.06.08: Sunk as a breakwater, Utah Beach, Normandy.

(This vessel and VITRUVIUS formed part of the small convoy CK2 which sailed from Charleston on 7 April 1944 bound for the UK, and arrived safely at Milford Haven on 13 may after crossing of some 37 days. The Convoy consisted of two floating cranes in tow of the V4-type tug HILLSBORO INLET, a dredger in tow of the US Army tug LT 23, the small cargo vessel JULIUS H. BARNES (1940, 1.623 grt) the VITRUVIUS carrying lumber and the DAVID O. SAYLOR with a cargo of superphosphates.)