Rewind: Out-of-service diesel engine saw action during World War II

Story and photo by Rosalie Currier

Image Details: Keith Skaggs, Jeff Haack and Dave Johannes of the city of Sturgis diesel plant with the World War II diesel engine.

A valiant World War II veteran has been unnoticed, but is at home in the city of Sturgis diesel plant since the end of World War II. Come to find out, one of the four diesel engines used to provide electricity has a brilliant military history. After World War II, the city acquired four diesel engines from Cleveland GMC. Eventually, they were installed in the brick diesel plant on West Chicago Road and in a quonset hut built near Chicago Road.

Al Pieronski, now retired from the city's diesel department, remembers when the engines first arrived they "sat under the water tower" for several years, awaiting a generator. Once installed, the engines ran for decades until EPA regulations mandated they either be upgraded or to be taken down. Dismantling was the least expensive solution, Pieronski said, so several years ago they took out three, but decided to leave the engine along the east wall as a museum piece. Although it’s disconnected, they spruced it up where it awaits admirers — which are few. "We had an open house during the dam celebration, but no one came," Pieronski said.

However, operators love the history of their trade and last year, Dave Johannes, one of the plant operators, was talking to a friend who owns a tugboat in the New York harbor. It runs by the same diesel-engine model as the one in Sturgis. Johannes' friend had connections with the owner of the old Cleveland GMC records and told him, "You know, you can find out where it has been."

Tracing the numbers, they learned that of the four engines purchased by Sturgis nearly 70 years ago, the only one that saw action in World War II was the engine the city happened to keep.They chose it because it was in a good place for display and out of the way for the rest of their needs, Johannes said. Records show it initially was one of four engines on the USS Kingsmill, a U.S. Navy destroyer launched in 1943 and on loan to the British navy.

During its service, the USS Kingsmill was an escort in the British Navy on the English Channel. On June 6, 1944, it was part of the Normandy Invasion fleet. In November that year, it was part of the invasion of the Netherlands at Walcheren. The Kingsmill was decommissioned in October 1945 and sold for scrap in 1947.

Among the four engines on the ship, two went back to the Navy, one to New Zeeland and one to Sturgis. Here, it functioned in another quartet, but was the only one with an active duty record. According to Pieronski, it ran the best of the four and would still be making power today if not for the EPA regulations.

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