C. F. Eckhardt
THE KING’S TEXAN
AND USS TEXAS
Ludlow was born in Waco
in the early part of the last century. His father worked for a cotton firm there.
The family was well-to-do. Archie was in elementary school when, in 1910 to 1912,
the two newest battleships for the US Navy—the Texas Class, USS Texas and USS
New York—were under construction. Money was tight for building battleships, and
the Wilson administration in particular, with avowed pacifist William Jennings
Bryan as Secretary of State, was reluctant to put money into implements of war.|
At the same time, of course, the world was preparing for war. There was an
international arms race, particularly at sea, to catch up with the Royal Navy.
Britain launched the first completely modern battleship, HMS Dreadnaught, a few
years earlier. HMS Dreadnaught was superior to anything afloat at the time.
Subscriptions were taken in Texas—and possibly
in New York as well—to “help build the battleships.” In one such subscription
school children were asked to contribute one day’s lunch money to help build USS
Texas. Archie put in his lunch money. “I think I had a quarter that day,” he told
me many years later.
WW I Archie’s dad was transferred to the Liverpool, England office of his firm.
He took his family and they settled into life as a well-to-do English family.
Archie was sent to an English ‘public school,’ which in Texas
would be an exclusive private school. At school he made friends with an English
boy who was fascinated by Archie’s Texas drawl. He took his Texas friend home
over ‘the hols’ so his sister could hear how the young Texan talked. Apparently
the sister liked Archie’s drawl, and she found she liked the young man who talked
that way even more. Eventually she and Archie were married.
father-in-law was a blue-water yachtsman. He introduced his new son-in-law to
the delights of the practice. The boy from the mud flats of the Brazos took to
the sea like he was born to it.
1937 war clouds were again gathering over Europe. There was no question there
would be war, the only question was when it would begin. The Royal Naval Volunteer
Reserve put out a call for competent yachtsmen to take an examination for possible
commissioning in the RNVR.
This posed a problem for Archie. England
was home. He’d grown up there, married there, his children were English-born.
Yet he was still an American citizen. Since the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, formed
primarily by American communists with the clandestine backing of Stalin’s USSR
to fight Franco’s Falangistas in the Spanish Civil War, joining a foreign
armed force could result in loss of US citizenship—and Archie prized his US citizenship.
For the record, very few US citizens lost their citizenship if they joined Allied
armed forces. Several of the pilots in the Battle of Britain were American volunteers,
as were a number of people who joined the Canadian armed forces. Even so, the
threat of loss of US citizenship was very real.
Still, to Archie England
was home. He took the exam and was commissioned an Ensign in the Royal Naval Volunteer
Reserve—one of the very few Americans and certainly the only native Texan to wear
the uniform of the Royal Navy. Come Dunkirk and Archie was there with his yacht,
rescuing British, Canadian, and French troops from the beach.
meantime USS Texas had become obsolete. However, after December 7, 1941, she was
one of the few US battleships still seaworthy. She was, though, completely outmoded.
In the military euphemism for such equipment, she was ‘expendable.’ She was relegated
to convoy-escort duty in the North Atlantic. Surviving that, she was assigned
to the English Channel to aid in covering the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.
May, 1944. Archie Ludlow, now a Master—the US Navy’s equivalent rank is ‘Lieutenant
JG’—was commanding a minesweeper off the Normandy coast. Minesweepers performed
an invaluable service, removing sea mines from the invasion path. To do this a
minesweeper must sail slowly, in a perfectly straight line. They effectively remove
the sea mines, either by detonating them at a safe distance from the ship or by
cutting their mooring lines so they will surface, where they can be detonated
by rifle fire from the minesweepers’ decks.
The necessary slow speed
and precisely-predictable course makes a minesweeper an easy target for artillery
batteries ashore. A two-gun battery of heavy guns, well protected behind a concrete
revetment, took Archie’s vessel under fire. Two rounds splashed to starboard,
then two more to port. The minesweeper had been bracketed. The battery had the
range. The third salvo would almost certainly destroy the vessel and its crew.
Out of the early morning mist a huge, bluff-bowed ship—an old Great
War type—appeared. Her huge 12-inch guns came down to point blank. The entire
English Channel appeared to shudder as she fired a massive broadside. The German
guns that, a moment before, had Archie’s minesweeper bracketed, vanished in a
cloud of smoke, fire, and steel. Archie turned to his signalman. “What ship is
that?” he asked.
The signalman opened his identification book, looking
for the number. That she was a US battleship there was no doubt—the numbers on
her bow were prefixed with BB, the US Navy’s designation for battleships. In a
moment he replied “USS Texas, sir.”
Archie made signal: ‘Thank you.’
As he told me, more than half a century after the incident, “You know, Charley,
that quarter had to be the best investment I ever made in my life.”
his nineties Archie returned to Texas to live. He and his wife settled, for a
time, in Seguin. It was there,
in Seguin’s First Presbyterian Church, that he and I met and he told me the story
of how USS Texas saved his ship and the lives of himself and his crew on that
misty May morning in 1944.
Archie is gone now. He never got to visit
his old friend. When he went to Houston for the purpose of visiting her, she was
undergoing extensive restoration. He regretted he never got the chance to thank
the old girl again. All that remains is the story.
For information purposes,
USS Texas is the only ‘Dreadnaught’—type battleship still afloat anywhere in the
world. HMS Dreadnaught was scrapped, as was USS New York. All other Dreadnaught—type
battleships were either sunk during the two World Wars or scrapped after WW
I or WW II. Only USS
Texas remains, a reminder of a bygone era and a veteran of the two greatest conflicts
in world history.