|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #196|
|Russell S. Crenshaw, Jr.|
|USNA Class of 1941|
|April 25, 2001|
|Interview conducted by Donald R. Lennon|
Do you want to do this on a question and answer basis?
I will be making notes as we go along. If something comes up that I'd like for you to expand on or elaborate on, then I'll ask you a question at the end or save it until you catch a breath and then ask you again. The least I say, the more depth we get out of it because it gives you more time for talking about your career.
Well, are you more interested in human-interest kinds of things, or are you more interested in historical things?
A combination. I always encourage sea stories as part of it, but we also like to hear the variety of experiences you've had and everything that goes with that.
Alrighty. As you know, I wrote my memoirs for my Naval career and I've written a couple other books, which I'll mention later. But the reason I have this piece of paper is that I've been asked by certain organizations to give them biographical notes from which to write a resume and things like that. And so I prepared this for an old ship that I
was in, so I'm going to use it just because I had to go back, and I verified all the dates to make sure they're right.
So where should I . . . ?
Begin with your childhood, where you were born and reared.
Well, that's very simple. My father was a naval officer. He was born in Richmond, Virginia. My mother was born in Richmond, Virginia. I was born in Richmond, Virginia. Most of my brothers and sisters were born in Richmond, Virginia. But I never lived in Richmond. My father was a naval officer and generally speaking, as a boy, when he was on sea duty he was with the battle fleet based in Long Beach, California. He had various jobs, he was gunnery officer of the TENNESSEE, he was fleet gunnery officer and then he was on various staffs. When he was not at sea he would come back to Washington and he was aide to the CNO for awhile, back in the very early days. He spent World War I in the Navy Department as the director and organizer of the convoy system. And for that he was decorated by the U.S. Army and by the British government. He was made a Knight of the order of Bath, I think, except he couldn't accept the title. He has the decoration.
So we essentially cycled from Chevy Chase--where our home was on Northampton Street, Chevy Chase, D.C.--out to California for two years, three years, two years, three years. And that's what we did in most of my time, except for one particularly interesting time when dad was commanding officer of the Naval Mine Depot, YORKTOWN. During my years, from twelve to fifteen-- and this is the most magnificent place in the world--eighteen square miles of fenced in area with very few people and the
captain's quarters was a colonial mansion on a bluff overlooking the river. The other officers--of which, they were rather interesting-- Turner Joy was one of the junior officers and Felix Johnson, who was another one of the junior officers, both became famous admirals later. As far I was concerned, I was a twelve-year-old boy enjoying life. I loved the river. I was always trying to build boats, and built a couple. I sailed on the river and all summer I was either in my sailboat or out crabbing or fishing. In the fall we had excellent duck hunting out on the river, and so forth.
I went to school at Matthew Whaley High School in Williamsburg. They didn't have, at that time, a high school in Yorktown. So I went to Williamsburg and benefited from a circumstance that was interesting. While I started school in Long Beach, California--at the age of five, I guess it was--I went through the first grade or the second grade, or something like that. When I got back to Washington, they stuck me in--I ended up halfway through one of the years. So they stuck me in school in Chevy Chase, and apparently I wasn't doing too well because there was a conference between my mother and the teacher. They decided that I was bored, and that they would put me into summer school for a session and that would bring me even with the years, and they'd move me ahead. So they moved me up in the fourth grade. I got along fine, and everything went fine, and then when we moved down to Williamsburg, I was going into the eighth grade. But in those days, the schools in Virginia had cut from twelve years back to eleven, and so the eighth grade made me a sophomore in high school. And so I went ahead, and when I came up to senior year, when I'd gone into the eleventh grade, we moved to California, so I reported in as a senior in high school and the result was that I graduated a couple months after I was sixteen years old.
I was too young to get into the Naval Academy, so I did various things. Just to practice, I took the entrance exams to Cal Tech just to see what it was like, and I was accepted by Cal Tech. But the Naval Academy was very highly competitive, and we didn't have any political connections--Dad being in the Navy and so forth. So I had to win a presidential [appointment] to get into the Naval Academy.
Was there ever any doubt that you would get into the Navy?
The question never arose. There was never a single moment when my mother and father ever said, “Oh, you're going to be a Naval officer, aren't you?” or something like that. It never came up. However, I might mention right now why I'm named Rusty. I was named Rusty before I was born. I was the second son in this family, and my older brother--who should have been Russell Jr.--was born just after my two grandfathers had died. Grandfather Robbins was a colonel in the Confederate cavalry under Jeb Stuart, and he was a very famous Confederate cavalry officer. Then my grandfather on the other side had just died, so they named my older brother William Robbins Crenshaw, for the two family names. When I came along, my grandmother asked my mother, “Well, what are you going to name the baby if it's a boy?” And my mother said, “Oh, I don't know, I think we'll name it after Russell,” my father. My grandmother, who was a very famous writer--she supported her family after her husband was an invalid by writing--and she wrote bestsellers in the early 1900s. She was the secretary of the Virginia Historical Society, quite a well-known literary figure. Granny said, “Well Polly, I want you to know we're not going to have a Big Russell and a Little Russell in this family, so you're
going to have to figure out something else.” So they decided on Rusty. So I came along, and I was Rusty.
I'm sure that having a father who was off at sea for long periods of time and gone from home on tours to various places comes normal to a Navy family, but to an outsider it would sound like . . . .
It never came up as a problem as a child, you know? You just take what you get. At first I had two mothers in a particular way. My Aunt Marion, who was fifteen years older than my mother, her husband died and she came to live with the family. So in our family, we had Aunt Marion and my mother--equal authority and either one could tell us what to do. Furthermore, in those days, there were no deployments. No overseas deployment. My father--they graduated him early, as a passed Midshipman, and he made the round-the-world cruise in the battleship VIRGINIA, the Teddy Roosevelt White Fleet around-the-world back in 1906, 1907, or 1907, 1908, I guess. At one time, on the shakedown--he was the executive officer of the AUGUSTA, and he put the new AUGUSTA into commission. They made a shakedown cruise to Australia and came back. Except for that they'd never be at sea more than . . . they had what they called battle practice. They'd go out for a week or two weeks, but we were never separated for long periods from the family. So the family went along just fine.
Did you ever go out to sea with your father?
No. I understand that Admiral Joe Taussig took young Joe out.
There was another Navy junior in his class that went out.
I'm trying to think of who it would be. But you see, Admiral Joe Taussig was more than the Arleigh Burke of his time. The reason being that Admiral Joe took to the
shores over at Queenstown. He was the only naval hero we had in World War I, because you see, except for destroyers--the four-pipers--not much got in the war. Admiral Joe would have certainly been the commander-in-chief of the fleet and the CNO, except that he irritated young Franklin Roosevelt, who was an assistant secretary of the Navy. I think that the problem had to do with . . . you remember Josephus Daniels was the Secretary of the Navy, and he was a very stiff, difficult man. Admiral Joe was involved and he found that the treatment of prisoners at the naval prison of Portsmouth--I think it was, Portsmouth, New Hampshire--was improper and he spoke out about it. He said, “You have to straighten it out!” Well, this reflected badly on the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who was Franklin Roosevelt, and Roosevelt never forgave him. So when Roosevelt became President, and Admiral Joe was coming up to be Commander of Battle Force and Commander-in-Chief of the fleet, he got moved aside and other people were put up in place. But Admiral Joe Taussig was quite a guy.
So he could get away with things.
Well, Admiral Joe was also non-conformist, just like his son was. And I'm sure that he took young Joe out. Now I used to go out on Saturdays. You see, Saturday was not a working day, and if my dad had the duty . . . well, then later on he was captain of the ship, he was captain of the PENSACOLA later on. He would invite me, take me out to the ship. I could spend Saturday morning on the ship, and have lunch on board and come back in the afternoon. I loved that. Usually I'd go back on the fantail with the Filipino boys and fish for mackerel.
Well, that's what a boy was interested in! More than all that other stuff. I remember dad used to take me through the turrets and show me the stuff. And I'll never forget--he gave me a piece of smokeless powder. And oh boy, I said, “Well dad, is it dangerous?” And he said, “Well, watch out, it'll burn, but it won't explode or anything. It's like a piece of wood, but it burns very rapidly.” We never tried to do anything like that. But Roger Payne--the Paynes and Crenshaws were very good friends--Roger Payne got ahold of some from his dad and he tried to make a bomb one time, and luckily he wasn't successful in setting it off. They found him a couple of pounds of smokeless powder, but he couldn't make it burn. Anyway, that's the kind of thing that could happen. But it was no problem.
I didn't mean to take you away from the presidential appointment.
Anyway, getting back to the presidential appointment . . . so I went back to prep school with Mr. Swavely. Eli Swavely was the greatest educator that I ever had anything to do with. Eli Swavely was a Pennsylvania Dutchman and a brilliant man. He had been successful, I think mostly at Lafayette College. And then he got interested in boys and training them for the academies, and he started Swavely Prep School at Manassas, Virginia. This was quite a fine school. It had nice dormitories, nice classrooms, and I remember a big football field. It even had a golf course. My older brother Bill went--he was the Class of '37--Bill went to Swavely for two years, because my brother Bill wasn't as lucky in school as I was. He didn't pass the exams the first year, and he just barely passed them the second. They had a terrible time getting Bill into the Naval Academy, but he got in.
The year after Bill was there came the Depression, and Swavely lost his school. He had to go bankrupt, and I had had a scholarship. I don't know, it was one of the Navy scholarships given by Mr. Swavely. I remember it was worth $700, which was big money. And of course, our family never had any money so it was a big amount of money. Mr. Swavely gave up the school but he decided to move to Washington and start teaching a prep class. He had a contract with the Woodward School in Washington, and it had classes down at the YMCA on G Street, down right next to the State War Navy Building, which is now called the Executive Office of the President. Swavely was down there starting it. In the meantime, he was teaching at Woodward School. When I first reported in, Swavely said he was going to honor the scholarship. So whatever arrangement was set with my parents, I don't know. But I took the train and went to Washington, and reported in at the YMCA. I lived in the YMCA in the fall of '36 through the spring of '37 prepping for the Naval Academy exams. When we first started we had three students. We eventually built up to a grand total of eight, and then a couple of day students.
My roommate was a nice guy by the name of Jim Leonard, who was from the hills of Pennsylvania and hard as nails. He was about nineteen years old. He didn't want to go to the Naval Academy or anywhere else, but his father was in politics and had gotten him an appointment. But Jim didn't understand it and wasn't interested in it, so Jim never did much. I was the only one who got into the Naval Academy that year. But we went ahead. Swavely, the first thing he did, he taught us to say, “I don't know.” That's the most important thing a man can learn, I don't know, and then listen to what the right answer is. The second thing was that every day, the first thing we did was to sit
down and write a five-hundred word theme. And for a sixteen-year-old kid that isn't easy. But we got to where I'd write a five-hundred word theme with no problem. [Swavely] was an excellent instructor in mathematics. Excellent English teacher. Excellent on physics and so forth. They put history back on the backburner and we just had an intensive course in history for about three weeks before the exam, so we could remember all the dates and so forth. We went in and I took the exam in Alexandria, at the courthouse in Alexandria, the first I ever recalled being in Alexandria. As time went on, I've lived in Alexandria very much since that time. I went to the courthouse and had no problems with the exam. It seemed to me they took three days.
I ended up . . . in those days the number I remember I'm not sure is true, but there were fifteen presidential appointments for sons of service officers. There were twenty-five Naval Reserve and twenty-five from the Fleet--I think that's right--of appointments. The only one I could qualify for was the straight presidential. My understanding is that something in the neighborhood of five thousand boys took those exams to compete, and I came in fifteenth. I got the fifteenth out of the fifteen. Now, they also had rules that if you got an appointment from somewhere else, you had to give up your presidential. So, by the time I got into the Naval Academy, I think I was about seventh on the list or something like that . . . But an interesting aspect to this was that I wasn't at all sure I was going to get a Presidential, so every time I had a chance in Washington, I'd go to Capitol Hill and walk up and down the corridors of Congress. I'd walk in, introduce myself to a guy and ask him if he had any appointments. And without an exception, I was always treated with great courtesy, and in many cases they would simply say, “Well look, I'm sorry, but you don't live in our state and I can't give you the appointment.” Or they'd
say, “Okay, we're always looking for good competition. We will let you compete for a second alternate, or something like this.” To make a long story short, nothing came of it, but it gave me a feeling about Congress and about the Capitol, and the way Washington works. It served me well.
How about the Virginia Congressman, since you were living in Virginia?
We had no viable connections with Virginia. You see, my father had never lived there. My mother's family . . . well, there were no Robbins living anymore in my mother's family. My grandfather Crenshaw had died, and so there were no connections. Senator or Representative Carter Glass was the one who appointed my brother Bill. But then again nobody was worried about me because I was still young and this was going to be my first crack, so they weren't worried about trying to take care of me, now if it had been two years later, a lot of people would have really tried but they didn't. So I got in, and it was the first year I could do it because you had to be seventeen on the first of April, and I wasn't seventeen until the fifth of April.
I was getting ready to ask you if you had turned seventeen by this time.
No. So I was seventeen when I entered. I entered on the sixth of June, 1937. My brother Bill had graduated on something like the first of June. The whole family, except my father [was there] . . . now this was a time we were separated. My father was on a cruise somewhere. Oh, I know. They were having a battle problem out in the Pacific and he was chief of staff of the scouting force. But we were there, and my brother graduated, and then I went in, and between those two times I became a movie star. They were making a movie. I forget the name . . . Midshipman Jack, I think was the name of the movie, and they needed extras. You could make five bucks a day by being an extra. You
report in, and then they would send you to the tailor shop and they'd give you a Midshipman uniform, and then adjust the trousers and sleeves for you. And all you had to do was to go out when they told you walk around with pretty girls, back and forth, and you were background for all this drama going on in the foreground. So I made fifteen or twenty dollars doing this movie.
In 1937 that's not bad.
Oh man, that was big money! A plebe only got four bucks a month, so that five dollars a day was big money. But we reported in, and I reported in along with forty-five, a total of forty-five candidates came in on the same day. They took us in, and they took us up to the sick bay for our physical exams. And this was fine. We all took all our clothes off and we'd run all around with a piece of paper and this and that. I remember they were testing my eyes to see where I could focus, and being a competitive guy I would say, “Yeah, I can see that,” and so forth. Then they dilated our eyes and it was the first time they had ever done this. They put solid cocaine--I think it was--in our eyes. I say that, it might have been . . . the word “aderbern” (?) comes up, I'm not sure what aderbern (?) is. But I think it was actually granular cocaine they put in to paralyze the muscles of your eyes. Then they refracted this. Then we went to see the examining doctor and he said, “Well sorry young man, better pack your gear and go back home.” I said, “What?” He said, “You've got myopia.” I said, “I can see fine.” And he said, “Sorry, we can't accept you.” End of the world. They gave me some black glasses.
At that time, mother had rented a house on Maryland Avenue, about four blocks out. You know, right across, the beginning of the first commercial block. Big old house. It was painted yellow then. And I had to go there and tell mother that I had failed. It was
just unbelievable. So I started to go out, and some other guys were going in, and I moped around. We started out, and down at the bottom of the apartment house just outside of the gate, I guess it's gate two now, but the main gate--on Maryland Avenue--there was a place where you could get Coca-Cola and sandwiches. I went down in there and there was Joe Taussig, Telly Sheldon, Doug Hine, and I forget who else, all with black glasses like that, all . . .
Did you know them at that time?
Did you know . . .?
I knew a couple of them, and somehow or another I was sitting with friends that day. We never knew each other well as boys, but this day I knew them. We sat down and said, “Oh my God, what are we going to do now, we've got to tell our folks that we failed,” and so forth. So I went home, and I told my mother. I said, “Mother, they kicked me out of the Naval Academy because I've got myopia.” And she said, “What do you mean?! Who says you've got myopia?” I said, “Well, the doctor at sick bay.” “I'll see about this!” And so she got on the phone and she called Oscar Smith, who was Head of Ordnance Gunnery, and said, “Oscar? Some damn young doctor over at the Naval Academy said there's something wrong with my boy Rusty! There's nothing wrong with my boy Rusty! I want you to get this thing straightened out, Oscar.” So I'm going, “Mother, mother, mother!” And she said, “There's nothing wrong with you! I know there's nothing wrong with you. I had you examined before, there's nothing wrong with you.”
So Oscar called up Dougie Woods--Captain Douglas Woods was the commanding officer of the hospital. He called up Dr. Woods and said, “What can we do about this?” And he said, “Well, I don't know, there must be something wrong. Send him over tomorrow and I'll examine him.” So I reported over to the hospital at eight o'clock the next morning. Dr. Woods examined me and said, “There's nothing wrong with your eyes. You're fine. You've got a little bit of myopia, but it's nothing. We won't worry about that.” So he signed me 'accepted.' And you see, he was Captain and the Lieutenant Commander turned me down.
So I went back to the Naval Academy that day, and they gave me the haircut and so forth. Larry Geis was the guy out of thirty-nine that took me through to fill my bags and all that, to go through Midshipmen store and take some of this. You get your shoes measured and all that. Larry was an upperclassman, and my bag's getting heavier and heavier. I've got two of these laundry bags like this, and old Larry up there, saying “Yeah, come on, let's get moving,” and so forth. As soon as we got around the corner when nobody else could see him, Larry said, “Give me one of those bags.” Larry put it over his shoulder and he and I went up. The upperclassman helped me even getting in that bag. And I ended up there.
That day that I went in they rejected forty-three out of forty-five applicants. All forty-three of them got back in, but a lot of them went all the way home back to Montana or Arkansas or you name it, and then they had to come back.
I never could understand why they wanted to do what they did in dilating your eyes.
The world is very interesting, but the Navy had these requirements that they wanted perfect specimens, and we were as perfect as you could get. There's a tragedy involved with this. Erling Hustvedt. Erling just died about two or three weeks ago. Erling was a fine, fine Naval officer. Erling and I were going to room together, but I didn't know about it. His father and my father were good friends in the Fleet and they were chatting and decided, “Wouldn't it be great if those two boys roomed together?” So Erling was told about it, but I never even heard about it. Erling went to have an exam and he had the same kind of problem I had, except that in the aftermath, he didn't have Captain Woods to look out for him, and Captain Hustvedt somehow crossed swords with the Chief of Medicine and Surgery, who was a rear admiral. The result was that although Erling had been re-examined many times--they said his eyes were perfectly okay--they never could get the Chief of Medicine and Surgery to back off, and Erling didn't get in. So Erling went to MIT and he graduated, and he ended up being commissioned, I think, senior to us. Erling got into the Navy before we did. Eventually he had a good naval career. But there was an example. And of course now I don't know what they accept, but even when I was still on active duty they used to have a lot of officers who had to wear glasses, and it didn't interfere . . . you didn't let them be officer of the deck if they couldn't see well. And I can tell you this, I don't wear glasses today. With any of the ships I ever commanded, I was always the person who saw everything first, I could see further than they could see. I'm sure it's because I was interested. That's the main thing, that I was interested. And they weren't as interested as I was. The Navy's physical exams were just extreme and it wasn't constructive.
It probably cost the Navy some good officers.
Oh my God, I'm sure it did. It resulted in a big distortion of the naval officer pool. Anyhow, I got in and after I got in, everything went fine. I enjoyed it thoroughly from the day I got there to the day I left. I loved it. I was running and jumping and so forth, and of course about two weeks later I sprained my ankle and ended up in the hospital. But I got over that pretty fast, and then I went out for football and fancied myself as a very skillful tailback. I was gonna be a great runner and passer and all that. I got out there. The Naval Academy had hired or brought in selected athletes for the first time. We went out there to go out for football, and there were 165 plebes going out for football out of a class of, at that time, 600. So one quarter, one out of four Midshipmen, were out there and we got all these old uniforms, shoulder pads, shoes and helmets. We were running around there. Then they said, “Okay, all you guys come in here.” So they called out eleven names. And eleven plebes jumped up in brand new uniforms, right out of the bandbox, and they tossed them a ball and said, “Okay, so these guys start calling signals and right off.” They called out eleven more names. Eleven more guys jumped out there, and they ran them out. They called out eleven more names, and all of them in brand new shoes, brand new everything, and off they went. And then the coach, who was named Hank Hardwick--I didn't like him very much--said, “Okay, all the rest of you guys . . . you see those signs? Stand in line there at the sign.” They had a sign for tailbacks, for quarterbacks, for halfbacks, and so forth. There were thirty or forty guys behind 'tailback' and fifteen behind the other ones and so forth, and I said, “Wait a minute.” I said, “This doesn't look . . .” So I looked around and over here there's 'running guard.' And there's only two guys. So I go over and stand in line for 'running guard.' And so I said, “Okay, you're going to be a running guard.” I started competing,
and I made the team. I made the squad, and eventually worked my way up, so much so that I made my NA, which is next to making a letter, in football.
These guys that came in in new uniforms, knowing all the plays in advance . . . had they gone through the same procedures that the rest of you had to get into the Academy?
Or were they mainstreamed in just to play football?
Yes. The answer is that they came in later. It was much, much tougher than it is for an athlete today, where they hire them and bring them in. I'll tell you a couple of interesting stories. They had to pass the entrance exam, but they didn't have to pass the full exam if they had had one year of college. So all these people had had one year of college. This is where they demonstrated their ability. They were also all a lot older. I mean, all these were right up, eighteen, nineteen, or twenty. Right up to the limit, but they only had to pass a substantiating exam. I forget what they were, but I think they had to take a substantiating exam in math, physics, and English, I'd guess. But I don't know. It was three subjects, and they had to pass that. Anyway, they made it easy for them. However, the most interesting thing is that once we were in the Navy, they didn't make any allowance for them. They had to compete. And to make a long story short, they brought, I think, thirty-five in, or certainly thirty-three. At the end of plebe year, I think, only about ten of them were still there. The rest of them had been bilged out. And one of the most interesting ones was there was a big guy, and he was a standing guard from Georgia Tech. I remember he was a big guy. He weighed about 210 lbs, which was big in those days, and he was old and he was a tough country boy. I remember trying to
block him one time, and I went boom-boom! It was like running into a tree! But he didn't like being in the Navy. We were inspected for every formation, and we all had to wear high block shoes, but his toes hurt him. So he slit his shoe with a razor, so his toe could ease out. The officer inspector said, “What's wrong with your shoe?” And he said, “Well, sir, I had to cut that open. My little toe hurts, you know? And I can't have that.” “You're on the report for improper dress. Don't you do that again.” Three days later, he was on report again. Officer put him on report. And he says, “Hey, listen! That's a bunch of crap! I came here to play football.” He said, “I'm not going to put up with this foolishness! Back down at Georgia Tech they gave me a house, I got a car, they gave me allowance, and my gal can live with me. All this foolishness here, I'm not going to stick around!” Hal says, “Well, up and resign.” And he did. So all these other people who managed to stay in did just as well as anybody else.
Anyway, at the Naval Academy I didn't have any trouble plebe year with hazing and so forth, because I considered it mostly a joke, and the upperclassmen considered it as a joke. It was a game of wits with them. You'd play the game, and they would play the game. I really only got my tail beat once or twice, and I'd ask for it, so I didn't complain. Another thing . . . I was on the training table. I was first on the football training table, then the wrestling training table, and then the lacrosse training table. So I really didn't spend as much time on the tables. And that's where every day the old grind, where you get to dislike people. I never disliked anybody. They all got along fine.
A few times underneath the table, I reckon.
Yeah, they put you under the table, so what do you do? You get some matches. Stick them in the edge, then go down to the other end, stick them in the edge, and light
the match. Then get them on the other end and all of a sudden, 'waaa!' Did you ever have that happen?
Oh man, it hurts. It's like it hits you with a hammer. Anyway, we did things like that. And then when they beat you with a bread pan after that you were laughing because-
You got yours first.
I got mine first! [Laughs.] But the Naval Academy was a lot of fun. I never had any trouble with academics. My worst marks were in Spanish. And then I didn't do too well in English, until first class year. They had a course in poetry, and I liked that. And I did very well. Then another thing happened, which was very interesting. This happened first class year. Going into first class year the Trident Society, which was the literary society of the Naval Academy, had some people that had been working on the magazine. This particular fellow that was going to be the president of the Trident Society was a fellow that irritated a lot of people, so the upperclassmen came to me. I was the art editor. I used to draw pictures for the art, the Trident, for the Log, and so forth. So they asked me if I would be president. I said, “Gee, you know, I've never written anything. I don't think it's right for me to be president.” And they said, “Look, please Rusty. Be the president. Because if you don't, they we've gotta have this guy, and we don't want him.” So I said okay. So I became president of the Trident Society. Next time March came out, English, I had been standing--by this time we had about five-hundred in the class--I had been standing one-hundred and fifty, one-hundred and eighty, two-hundred, something like that. I stood eight.
So I learned about politics.
Anyway, so then we came along and athletics were a big deal. I did well in lacrosse. Oh, I didn't play football because I got hit in the head. I tackled a guy without being careful enough and knocked myself out, and then I did it again about six months later. I had two concussions where I lost my memory. It was very interesting. My memory came back backwards. In other words, I couldn't remember anything for six to eight months before I'd been hit. Then little by little I could remember seven months, then four months, and three months, and then one week. And finally, about a year later, I could remember right up until the accident. That happened to me twice. So they said uh-uh, no more football for you. But lacrosse was okay. Of course, I wasn't a very good football player, but I was about as good a lacrosse player as they had. And the reason I was a good lacrosse player is not because I...you see, people like Telley Shelly could handle a lacrosse stick like it was magic, and I never was very good at that. But I just had the aggressive spirit to go in and make the goal, and I weighed about 175, 180. I was big enough and strong enough so that the defensemen couldn't stop me. I could throw a shoulder into a defenseman and knock him on his can and go on in and shoot. So that's what I did.
So then I graduated . . . oh, let me tell you a couple other things, because they had something to do with where I was going. First, I loved the battleship crew, just to be at sea, be part of it. But I didn't want to be in such a big organization, because I watched the junior officers doing nothing, just standing around. You had to be a lieutenant or
lieutenant commander to get to do anything on a battleship. Then we went on a second-class cruise with the 'four-pipers,' four-pipe destroyers. I started off in the engineers . . . we had twenty-four Midshipmen, so eight of us were in engineering, eight of us on deck, and eight of us in navigation, or something like that. I reported down to the engine room of that four-piper. It was the USS ROPER 147. And I reported down there, and there was a third-class machinist's mate standing the engineering officer of the watch. We came aboard with twenty-four Midshipmen and the ship had fifty-four people, officers and men. The ship had three officers, and I think we brought one Naval Academy officer with us. That made four officers and seventy-five people, I guess. That was what the crew was. So we went down there and this third class was saying, “Well now, this here is the turbine. These are the turbines and that's the reduction gear and . . . excuse me.” He grabbed a wrench, went over there, and there was this vertical reciprocating pump, and he hit it with the wrench. It went crunch-crunch and he came on back and continued with explaining what the pumps were. All of a sudden he grabbed the wrench again and hit this thing again. And that was the way it was. That was a main feed pump, and it would jam, and that was perfectly typical of these linear reciprocating pumps. But his ears were just tuned to it. Whenever that pump stopped, he knew it without anybody saying anything, and he knew that he was going to hit it and it would start again.
So then he said, “Okay, now you guys gotta stand and watch.” He said, “You two go on up to the steaming fireroom, the number one fireroom.” The next guy to me was Willie Demater (?). Willie Demater (?) was a particularly interesting classmate who died last year. And Willie and I were thrown together all through our careers, because 'Cr'
and 'De', everything is alphabetical. So 'Cr' and 'De' came together. So Willie and I go up and we go over to the welder-gear and we climb down the hot air hole into the number one fireroom. And in the dim light of the fireroom there's one emaciated fireman down there jerking the burners, and so forth. And he says, “Oh, good to see you guys! You ever jerk burners before?” We said, “Yeah, we used to jerk burners on the battleship.” “Okay, well, here they are. This is how it works.” “Yeah, you take the burners.” “How about the checks?” “What are they?” “Oh, well, you know, you gotta see where the water is in the boiler.” “Okay, well, here's the valve and there's the glass.” “Yeah, I've done that before.” “Boy, how about the blowers?” “Oh, I don't know anything about that, but there's the valve.” “And see that periscope? You better watch out. The skipper gets mad as hell if you get any smoke. So you keep your eye on the periscope. If you see any smoke, then you jiggle the valve. Sometimes up, sometimes down, but you do it until you don't get any smoke.”
So Willie gets on the checks and the blower, and I'm on the burners. And we're going fine, and the guy says, “Hey, that's fine! I'm going to go to the main engine room and I'll see you later.” He disappeared, and we never saw him again. Jerking burners-- running the fireroom. Of course, these are 150 pound appliances, so this wasn't a big deal. But there we go, and after three hours . . . and they had an open galley. Any time you wanted something to eat . . . Midshipmen are always hungry. That's the main thing, is to get enough to eat. And with an open galley, you go to the galley night or day and get a jelly sandwich, for example. Or if they had anything left over from lunch, it would be there in a pan, and you could have a little bit of it.
I just fell in love with destroyers. I just thought it was great. They let you do anything. You could stand officer of the deck watch and actually steer the ship, keep station. So I decided a destroyer was where I wanted to go, and then I got a ride in one of the brand new destroyers. It actually was Admiral Carney's destroyer; he was lieutenant commander then. I knew him because he lived at the . . . When we were kids on Northampton Street, we lived there. We had, on Northampton Street, at the foot of the street was . . . .
. . . This was on Chevy Chase Parkway, was C.A. Cooke (?), who was the four star admiral Commander of the Asiatic Fleet at the end of World War II. And we had Ted Sherman, who was one of the famous carrier admirals in World War II. He was right over here. That whole area there, we must have had half a dozen or more Navy families, all of whom were important players in World War II.
But anyhow, I knew Mick since Betty and Gay and I all played, and lieutenant commander Carney used to come up and play with us. We'd play after dinner time. And so he was coming . . . they'd bring in the football team. This was, must've been youngster cruise. This was before I got hit in the head. He was commanding officer of the DRAYTON. And we went roaring up from Norfolk up to Annapolis at 27 knots. Boy, I tell you, I looked at that and said, “Boy!” They were like beautiful yachts. And I said, “I'll do anything to go to sea in this _? .”
So then, as we got towards graduation, we went . . . the way you decided where you were going to go is you do precedence numbers. The night they were drawing precedence numbers down in Mem Hall, my roommate had the duty, so he asked me to draw for him. I went down and I told them . . . it became my turn and I said, “Well, now
I'm going to draw for Joe Reedy.” And they said, “Fine.” So I reach in and stir around, pull out--and I guess there were 450 numbers in there--and I pull out number five. “Oh my God!” Joe, you know, this Joe is an awful nice guy, but this is my career! So I said, “Okay, okay. Now I'm going to draw for myself.” And I reach down and pull out number one.
I got number one! So I signed up for the newest destroyer in the Pacific fleet, and Joe signed up for the newest destroyer in the Atlantic fleet. I got the USS MAURY, the 401, and he got the USS MAYRANT, the 402. That was just wonderful. So then we graduated, and I did respectably, but not spectacularly. But I enjoyed it, and I never worked very hard in the Naval Academy. So I went to sea and reported to MAURY in division eleven, squadron six. And Admiral Conolly, er, Commodore Conolly was our squadron commander at the time, and Ed Snare was my skipper. And we had a division commander. E.P. Sauer was the division commander. I never really knew him very well. And we were operating with a battle force. We were Destroyer Battle Force, and we'd go out with the battleships and we'd practice the squadron maneuvers and the division maneuvers. Mostly we were mainly torpedo boats. These ships carried sixteen torpedoes. We would go and make these squadron and division attacks at echelon and so forth.
One time in the fall of 1941, we went out and if I recall correctly, the second flotilla . . . we had 126 torpedoes in the water at one time. And that was the way it was. You know, battle fleets, the battle line, and the cruisers and echelon and then the flotillas and the destroyers. And then you'd attack the enemy, and the idea was to bring all the
firepower to head. You'd put the enemy battle line into a crisscross of all these torpedoes.
Well now, were these live torpedoes?
They were the regular torpedoes that we would use in the war, but they had an exercise head on them. This was a warhead of the same weight as a regular warhead, but filled with water, and had some compressed air added. What would happen is, you'd fire this and you would set it to pass twenty feet or so under the keel of the ship you were shooting at. And then at the end of the run, the compressed air would blow the water out, and the warhead then would become buoyant and bring the whole torpedo up after it had run out of gas. Then you'd go out and recover it, then go overhaul the torpedo, and get ready to go again.
During those maneuvers like that, there was no way of telling whether the torpedo was defective or not.
Uh, well, no. That of course, is the key point of my whole career. Or should we say, certainly the key point of my writing since I retired. There was beginning to be some suspicions, but not by people of my intelligence, or my experience. We had a rule of how fast the bubbles from a torpedo would rise. And they said that they would rise at three feet a second, or something like that. While I was out there, between . . . I reported in March of 1941, and then, of course, Pearl Harbor was in December of 1941. But sometime, say about May or June of 1941, they came out with some instructions saying, “Well, there's obviously some problems here. We've got the wrong number, so we better set the numbers at . . . the rate of rise is less than what we thought it was.” I think it went something like from three feet per second to two feet per second.
Now there was a hint that the torpedoes were running deeper than they figured, because if you stop and think about it, it's nonsense that they can't measure and calibrate the rate of rise of bubbles through salt water. And therefore, if they're getting a different rate of rise, it must be that the depth is different from what they think it is. But that was beyond my competence to worry about. It never occurred to me at that time that there was anything wrong. Everything else was fine, and we fired . . . the new thing in the fleet was automatic control on the guns. In our case, we had hydraulics but some ships had all electrics. They had vacuum tubes, and the vacuum tubes would go bad, and some other things would happen--night battle practice and things like that were quite exciting. But they were working hard on adding air gunnery, all of which would have been moderately effective against horizontal bombers, but there was no provision for dive bombers.
I was assistant gunnery officer on the ship, and Ed Miller, who later became an admiral, was my boss. I was studying how the computer worked. They actually called it a range-keeper in those days, the Mark X. [I] discovered that it only computed for horizontal motion and very limited vertical motion. And when you threw it to dive bombing--it had a knob on it that said 'dive'--all that did was put it on automatic range rate correction, but didn't do anything about elevation and/or deflection. So I decided, “Well, what do we do about it?” And I said, “Well, here's what we can do. The plane will be coming in right at us, so we're not much worried about deflection. We can take care of the elevation by just setting a little bit of superelevation to take care of the drop. And then, set up a barrage fire to have the burst occur at three thousand yards in, two thousand yards in, one thousand yards in, that kind of thing.” I went to Lieutenant Miller with this, and I said, “Mr. Miller, I have been studying the range-keeper and it won't
solve the problem, and here is a proposal on how to do it.” He got really upset, and got mad at me and said that I shouldn't do that, that that was not a proper thing for an officer to do, to get into details like that. That was for enlisted men, and I shouldn't question what the Bureau of Ordnance had put out, because obviously they were the brilliant people who know these things. He said, “Well, we're not going to pay any attention to this.” Well, now this was dangerous. Incidentally, I'd gotten interested in anti-air gunnery much earlier, because even as a Midshipman, I had calculated the problem of lead angle, from duck hunting and so forth, and so I invented a way of computing the lead angle from the rate of motion of the gun, to make a lead computing sight. I proposed this when I was a second classman, and sent it to my ordnance professor. He was a fellow named Freddy Wolsiefer (?). Freddy was an old China hand, and he wore half-Wellington boots and had embroidered things inside his uniforms and all that. “Well,” Freddie said, “I'll send it to the Bureau of Ordnance.” Well, what happened is that it goes on up a bunch of people that have no imagination and no intellectual curiosity, and they don't have any expertise, either. So it goes up, and they write a letter saying, “It's nice for that young Midshipman to be interested in these things,” and that's all that happened.
In the meantime, Stark Draper, a professor at MIT who I later studied under at postgraduate school, invented the Mark 14 sight, which is exactly the same system, but he had a much better system than I had. I did it by electrical generation, basically fixed, but he used gyros, which measured the motion in inertial space. His was more correct; mine really wasn't a perfect solution. But I was on to the right way, and had I been put in contact with people like Draper. Draper said, “Wow! This is just what we want to do
now. We'll base this on a gyroscope and we'll do it.” But there's no system in the Navy to take care of this, and I ran into it frequently during the war. When you come up with a proposal, with an improvement, the system doesn't have a way, and you get back to what happened on torpedoes. You have one commander sitting in Washington on what they call the torpedo desk. Then you've got a group of people up in Newport, at this time, who know all the secrets. No one else is allowed in the fraternity, and these people can make stupid errors, as they did, on the Mark VI Explorer, stupid errors, as they did, on the depth mechanism in the Mark XIII, XIV, and XV fish. And nobody knows about it. I can assure you that the same thing goes on in the nuclear program.
When I was in the Bureau of Ordnance much later, in charge of Taylor's (?) Program, they finally broke down the doors and got in behind things a little bit at Los Alamos. These people were using obsolete technology. They had their minds closed. They didn't let anybody in. There was no criticism. There was no competition. And that's what leads to these horrible things.
If you had been an admiral instead of a lieutenant, they would have probably paid some attention to you, wouldn't they?
You'd had to have really rattled the cage.
Admiral Jules James is a vice admiral, and he was always, in his papers, there were all kinds of drawings and everything for inventions to improve ordnance and improve various things he was working with.
He was doing the same type of thing you were doing.
That's right. Look, if I'd been an admiral or captain in the Bureau of Ordnance, fine. But just like what happened to me, in a way . . . I did this all my life, you see. The truth of the matter is real simple. When you get up to the top, and you have somebody rattling the cage, trying to change the Navy, or to change things, the old hands, the people in charge, say, “Look, we don't want to have a change. We like it the way it is, and we don't want people making waves and 'upsetting the apple cart.' Our problem is getting along with Congress. Let's get along with Congress! Let's not rattle the boat.” And as soon as a Naval Officer starts designing something, all of the sudden he's got the scientific community, the huge academic machine that's out there, all the laboratories. “Who the hell is he to be doing this? That's our job! We're the brains, let us do the thing!”
I always said, “Give the Russians all of our plans. Everything. The most complicated stuff we've got. Give it to them! They're all engineers, they're all scientists. They'll never listen to anybody else!” I mean, they live in a world where they're trying to outdo the other guy, and the only thing that counts is what their papers say, and what their academic reputation is--where they stand in the engineering hierarchy. It's a very complicated, difficult problem to cause people to open their minds; to have people learn that there is value out there. Listen to those people, they might know things you don't know!
It hasn't changed any.
Hasn't changed at all.
Or the Osprey scandal wouldn't be what it is.
You're right, and so many things like that just go on and on. Anyway, we still haven't gotten to the war yet. But that's all right.
I had a wonderful time when I reported out to the Fleet. The MAURY was great. I was the eighth officer in the ship. She was an absolutely magnificent yacht. You didn't put your feet on the deck--you had raised walkways. You had stainless steel wire all around. You had paneling; the inside was beautiful. I was the eighth officer, and I had to double up. That was the first case where two ensigns had to room in the same room. You had a crew of 156, and in your mess compartments you could have the whole group sitting down for a meal that was served by mess cooks, bringing the food out from the galley. Great. We had four boats. We had two whale boats, captain's gig and a thirty-foot motor launch. We had sixteen torpedoes. We had the newest thing in fire--the five-inch gun. We had a wonderful new Mark XXXIII director, and that's what I got so interested in, in fire control. They were magnificent ships.
The first time I went on the bridge to take the con of that ship, I walked up on the bridge a junior officer. The captain sitting there, the head snare, he was a very interesting guy. He said, “Mr. Crenshaw, you know anything about ships?” I said, “I studied them, sir.” He said, “You ever handled a destroyer?” I said, “Yes sir, I handled a four-piper when I was on a second-class cruise.” He said, “Okay. Take the con. Formation speed is thirty-six knots. We're number four column, standard distance is 300 yards. I don't want you further out than 325, and not closer than 250. And don't use more than 39 knots to keep station.” “Aye-aye, sir.” So I relieved the officer of the deck, took over, and I watched the statimeter and so forth. And of course, everybody was watching. They knew exactly. You see, I was riding right on the crest of the stern wave of the CRAVEN,
the ship ahead. And no matter what you did, it's like trying to balance on top of a basketball. Then if you go just a little long you go scooting down. So I started to scoot down, and boy, the distances went 290, 280. I cranked off three turns, which is nothing. Cranked off five turns. Took off ten turns. Then when she hit 250 I took off thirty turns, which is three knots. She went into about 230 yards, and then she started going back. And I started cranking more. By this time, you see, I'm on the back side of this wave. I got up to my thirty-nine knots and she was just barely creeping back up. She opened out to almost 500 yards.
The captain shook his head. “That wasn't so good.” “No sir. I'm sorry captain.” And the whole bridge dissolved laughing. They knew it, and they went ahead. And because they wanted me to stand watch and floor, particularly in port, they qualified me in two weeks. And so I was a qualified officer of the deck in a fleet destroyer in Pearl Harbor and had my twenty-first birthday party in the wardroom of the USS MAURY.
I really had an awful lot of luck. Then we spent three months in overhaul in Pearl. We had a very nice summer in Honolulu. All the j.o.'s got together and we rented a little house in Waikiki and had a grand time. It was just wonderful. Then the war clouds started coming in.
As we went out, about the 25th of November, 1941, we were going out for routine operations training. As we stood out at Pearl Harbor, they sent out signals from the ENTERPRISE for Cruiser Division Five and Desron Six to join Admiral Halsey and form Task Force Eight. We steamed south until we were out of sight of land, and then we turned west. We formed up into a circular formation with a squadron of nine destroyers
around the three cruisers, with the ENTERPRISE in the middle. Then Admiral Halsey put us on war basis, and we brought up ready service ammunition. We started standing condition watches, and we steamed west and then, about a day later, they told us that we were taking a squadron of Marine fighters out to Wake Island to beef up the defenses because they were afraid that the Japanese might attack.
So we went on out. It must have been about the first or second of December. We crossed the international dateline, and we crossed it twice back and forth so I didn't know which day it was. And we went in close enough and we flew off the fighters. If I remember, I don't know if they were Brewster Buffaloes or what. I think they were Brewster Buffaloes, not FOFs. Anyway, then we turned around and came on back. Every day, we'd have a dawn general quarters, we'd fly out the morning search, and we'd fly out an afternoon search. So we were flying out an eighteen plane search twice a day.
We were steaming back to Pearl, and we were going to get there on Saturday morning, the sixth of December. Then the tradewinds picked up. It got rough, until it got really hard. We'd been running at twenty-two or twenty-three knots, something like that, so we slowed down to fifteen, and they were still too rough. The destroyers were taking a beating. So they slowed down to maybe ten or twelve knots, because of the wind. And so our arrival time moved from the morning of the sixth to the evening of the sixth, and then to the morning of the seventh, and then it was finally going to be sometime later in the day of the seventh.
Weren't you lucky?
We didn't know it, of course.
One question. You didn't meet or get to know, or remember a Marine officer in that air wing by the name of Paul Putnam, did you? He was a major.
No. No, I didn't. The only Marine that I ever knew much was Archie Vandegrift. Archie Vandegrift was a friend of my dad's, and a classmate. We used to see the Vandegrifts frequently, but not during the war.
Putnam was in that group that was forced to surrender at Wake Island.
The movie Wake Island was-
We never met any of the fliers, you see. Unless you met them ashore. You never had any exchange like that. Anyway, on the night of the sixth of December, I had the Mid-watch. And I also recall that I stood the Mid-watch in white service. You know the high collar?
Up in the director. White cap. The squadron commander had permitted us to shift to a new uniform, which was blue trousers and a white tunic, because you just get the trousers wet. In condition watches and so forth you get your trousers all mixed up. So I had stood Mid-watch, and I turned in to get sleep. It was going to be Sunday morning, and we weren't going to get in until after lunch or so. So I expected to sleep in. All of a sudden, my roommate, Harry Hughson, came charging in and said, “Hey Rusty, get up! The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!” I jumped out of my lower bunk and I stood up and I said, “Oh my God. That Harry, trying to pull a practical joke like that and get me out of my bunk on Sunday morning!” So, in my pajamas, I walked on into the wardroom, which was just around the corner. And there, in front of the radio, was Ed
Miller, Harry Hughson, and somebody else. Three officers. They were just listening, and a voice was coming in from Radio Honolulu saying that bombs were landing in Aiea Heights, one of them up near the Pali. Parachutes were coming in and so forth. It was something. Then I said, “Well, if you're gonna go to war, they say you better make sure you're clean because you could get an infection in your war wounds.” So I went and took a shower, and got all dressed up in a clean uniform. Then I went into the wardroom and Wyatt, the big mess attendant, was there and said, “Mr. Crenshaw, what can I get you this morning? It looks like we're going to have a busy day!” I said, “Wyatt, give me my regular.” So he gave me a great big stack of hotcakes with two fried eggs on top, and that was my standard super breakfast. I ate my super breakfast and had my fruit juice.
I was just finishing my coffee when telecorders (?) went--it must have been about 8:45--a message came in saying Pearl Harbor had been attacked. We went to general quarters. We were up there--a beautiful day. We were charging around, airplanes were flying. All the airplanes . . . from the time we left the airplanes had been carrying bombs, and they had been testing their machine guns and things like that, but the bombs were still painted yellow, and the torpedoes were still painted yellow. You could see them, a bright yellow. We attacked a couple of destroyers. We had sonar contacts--we called them “sound contacts.” Sonar wasn't invented--the word wasn't invented until somewhat later. But I think they were mostly whales--nothing happened.
It was either morning or afternoon--I suppose it was the morning--but we didn't really find out about it until later. One of the planes didn't come back, but everything else happened normally. And then about sunset, some ships came out from Pearl--it seems to me it was a light cruiser, the RICHMOND, maybe--one of the light cruisers
came out, and a couple of destroyers. They joined up, and then they deployed us for a night search and attack. You put the destroyers in sections--two destroyers--and we were on five-mile centers. We spread across about twenty-five, thirty miles of sea. We went screaming down at high speed, twenty-seven knots or something like that, and the cruisers would be one cruiser behind each division of destroyers. So we had the three cruisers like that, and I guess there were two destroyers that came out from Pearl that had been told to look out for the ENTERPRISE. We went down, and we were running out of gas. We didn't have much fuel left. We didn't find anything. We were going to the south, and the Japs were up north. So then we turned around and went on back and reformed, and then we went in and went through a very complicated approach procedure. We got up to the entrance of Pearl and they said, “We're not ready for you.” So we had to turn around and go back, and then we came back and did the exact same thing again. We arrived just about noon.
We were one of the last ships to go in. I say that, but I'm not sure. There were ships ahead of us. As we went through the gate at Pearl, on the Pearl Harbor channel, we could see smoke up ahead, but we didn't know what it was. They opened the gate, and they had a barge--an admiral's barge--that was coming around. It was all messed up with fuel oil, and it had a Marine in his dress jacket all open, and a couple of sailors there, all messy. They had a Lewis gun up on top and they had submachine guns and rifles. Ed Miller must have had the deck. So I was taking care of the fantail. As the barge passed close astern, and I yelled over and said, “Hey! What happened? We heard on the radio that the Japs sank three battleships! That isn't true, is it?” And the coxswain said, “Nah, that isn't true! They sank five.”
Then we went on up, and we shot up the channel, and as we looked over there at Hickam Field all of the quarters and all of the lawns had been dug out, and they had machine gun nests there, machine guns pointing all over. And you looked over at Hickam Field and things are still burning and smoking, and you'd see the wrecks of the hangars and the wrecks of a few B-17s that were burned out. There was nothing flying around. Then we went up, and the first thing we did was to make a turn at Hospital Point, and here was the NEVADA. She was up on the beach and still smoking, and I looked at her and said, “Oh my God.” Joe Taussig was one of the anti-aircraft officers, and the aftermast was all burned out. I said, “Gee, I don't know what happened to Joe.” And then everyone said, “Oh, my God!” We looked up there, and there was battleship row. And at the end, this big fire was still going, just enormous amounts of black smoke. The OKLAHOMA was upside-down, and her hull was up out of the water like that. It looked unreal. The ARIZONA was at the end and still burning, but her masts were up. All the rest of them, the WEST VIRGINIA, the TENNESSEE, and so forth, they were heeled over, they were down low in the water, and it was a mess.
About that time we got next to the floating dry dock, and there was the SHAW sitting there. Unbelievable! The floating dry dock was down at one end, and it looked like someone had taken a little ship model and just smashed it. It was just terrible. And over at the head of 10-10 dock were the big dry docks, and the PENNSYLVANIA was in there, and the CASSIN and DOWNES were in there, and still smoke coming out. We went in, and there was the OGLALA and she's over on her side. I guess it was hell on the inside, but there was a cruiser--I think it was a cruiser--inside. I don't know what
happened to our cruisers or the ENTERPRISE. Maybe we went in first, because I don't remember seeing them at all.
We went over to the sub base, and we tied up to the pier. I guess we were all alongside, one place or another, or we might have been two in nests. They brought a train alongside, and he just opened the doors and said, “Come and get it!” You know, before you always had to have a requisition for everything? Well, we went in there and we got great big sides of beef, everything you could think of. My job was ammunition, and I went to Mr. Miller and said, “What should I get?” Ed said, “Gee, I don't know. Ask the captain.” So I went up to the captain, and the captain said, “You take all the ammunition you can.” “Fine.” So we loaded on about double the amount of ammunition. If I recall correctly, we were supposed to have fifteen hundred rounds of five-inch, and I think I had twenty-eight hundred rounds of five-inch.
Good thing they didn't hit the ammo-dumps.
Well, that's right. Or the fuel dock. That would have been terrible. Then I brought aboard a depth charge. We had a depth charge locker down below that would hold about sixteen depth charges. We filled that, and then we filled the racks, and then we put some on deck. So we had about fifty depth charges on board. Then a bunch of guys came down and they said--I was on the quarterdeck, maybe I had the deck, I'm not sure--they said they wanted to see the captain. So I took them up to the captain. There was something secret. And the captain comes down and said, “These men are going to do something to the torpedoes. Let them do whatever they want, and don't ask any questions.” So they came down, took out all of our exploders and put in new exploders. They didn't tell us what it was, and off they went. And those were the Mark VI
exploders. They were all so super-secret nobody could know about it. After we got to sea, the captain told us that these were new exploders that would blow up under the ship, and that they were just the thing to have.
Then we had men start trying to straggle on board. They asked if they could come aboard. They said, “Our ship is lost.” So we took on about twenty to twenty-five. We took some people from the SHAW, from the battleships--the OKLAHOMA and so forth, I guess the ARIZONA, I don't remember. But we took them aboard, and they didn't have any clothes or anything, so we scrambled around and got them stuff. Of course, one of the main problems was the psychological problem of what happened up in Honolulu. A lot of these people had families, so they would get on the telephone to find out, but it turned out that nobody got hurt and apparently the news reports were not accurate.
After we loaded up with everything we could carry, we went out to the buoys north of Ford Island. We still had condition watches, with the gunsmen ready to go. Every once in a while, a machine gun would open up somewhere. Then about sunset, some airplanes started to come in and some people on Ford Island started shooting, so the airplanes pulled off and they went on around. I understand that somebody got shot down, but I didn't see it.
Yes, someone was.
The next morning we were out at the crack of dawn, and we went out, formed up, and moved up north of the island and operated up there. Rough as hell up there, and cold. We were trying to shake down all these new people and get everything organized, and we stayed up there for about a week. Then we came on back in, and this time when we came in, we got about another thirty or forty men who had orders, but they didn't
have any uniforms. They had volunteered on the seventh or the eighth of December, mostly in Los Angeles, and they just packed them up and sent them out, and we had them come aboard in civilian clothes. So we just had to integrate them into the crew, and that's what we did. We went from a crew of 150 to a crew of about 200.
Could you use that many men?
Oh yes, condition watches. You see, you can use a lot of people on condition watches because you need ammunition handlers as well as pointers, trainers, and loaders. And you need extra lookouts. So we needed the men, we could use them. Of course, these people didn't have any training, and they also didn't have any uniforms. We had one guy who came aboard that was seasick, and he couldn't get over it. The chief boatswain mate said, “Oh, I can solve it.” He gave him a broom and said, “You sweep the deck. Just sweep the deck all day long.” This guy is sweeping all the time, and would just stop and puke over the side. And he just couldn't get over it, so the next time we got into port, which was about three weeks later, we just had to land him because there wasn't any way that he could make it. But that was the way the war started.
The feeling of everybody was one of shock and anger. We wanted to avenge those people and we weren't smart enough to realize that we had observed very skillful naval operations. They had come in, hit hard and effectively, and gotten out. And everybody said, “Boy, too bad that they caught those ships at port. If they caught them at sea, they'd have sunk them all.” I mean, the Japs had torpedoes that worked. They had first class pilots, first class airplanes, first class carriers, very good battleships, and very good destroyers. And if we tangled with them with our torpedoes not working, man oh man, it would have been a much greater defeat than Pearl Harbor was. But we didn't
know that, and our attitude was, “Let us at those Japs! We'll fix their clocks!” and all of that. Well, of course, we didn't know what we were talking about.
After steaming around north, towards the end of January, we went south and went down towards Samoa. We got down, I remember, on the equator steaming along, and I saw a whale shark. We came right by a whale shark. A whale shark is an amazing thing. A whale shark is thirty feet long and five or six feet in diameter. It was just lying on the water there, and we steamed right past him. Didn't seem to bother him. I remember that. And that night, we were right on the equator. That night, they told us we were about to make a raid on the Marshall Islands, and they would distribute the operation order the next day. And they did, and an SBD came by and dropped our operation order on a line, and it went across the fo'c's'le and we hauled it up--man it was in a bag. We found out that we were assigned to bombard Maloelap Island on Jaluit Atoll. I think that's right . . . yes. Maloelap. I think that's right.
We were to go in with the CHESTER and the BALCH. The BALCH was squadron leader. She was an 1850, and she had only surface guns. She had six five-inch and three double mounts, twin mounts. We had four five-inch in singles and the CHESTER had eight five-inch twenty-fives. The CHESTER had a 1.1, and so did the BALCH, 1.1 four-barrel machine gun. We had the rest of it. We had fifty-caliber; we didn't have any twenty-millimeters in those days.
So we went in to do our bombardment. We got in there just about at daylight, and I think we were about 10,000 yards out. And we were told that Maloelap was going to be built as a seaplane base. It had a couple of ships in there, and they were working on an airfield, but it wasn't operational. They wanted us to knock out the fuel tanks and things
like that. We had a bombardment plan and so we opened and we fired our rounds, and the CHESTER was firing her's. As soon as we opened fire, or very shortly thereafter, all of a sudden fighters started coming off of one end of this thing, and bombers started coming off the other end. Hey, this was not a seaplane base, this was an airbase! So we finished our rounds and we started our retirement.
They didn't attack you though, huh?
Oh yes they did, this is when they started. And they came out, and they would come out, and these were Nakajima 97 fighters; they had fixed landing gear. Each of them carried a pair of 100 kilogram bombs. And there were 200 pound bombs. They would come in pairs, and when we would start shooting at one of them, then the other one would attack. Then we would shift back and forth. So, we were being attacked constantly by these fighters, and we were shooting at them with fifty-caliber, trying to get on them with five-inch, but it was almost impossible. You see, you didn't have a slew sight in that director up there, and you had to be trying to coach your trainer to get on. Ed Miller turned out not to be a very good combat officer. He got frightened and didn't act well and couldn't make up his mind. So we didn't do much, except we got off only a couple of shots with the five-inch--the rest of it was fifty-caliber. But the captain kept going at a high speed and maneuvering, and the bombs would hit close aboard, and we got splashed. I actually got wet. My job was on range keeper, and we kept the door of the director open because it was so hot in there. So I'd be hanging in there and my back got wet with saltwater a couple of times by these near-miss bombs. But nobody got hurt. They didn't hit us. The same with the BALCH and the CHESTER.
We were steaming on out. The big event was when, all of a sudden, a formation of about ten or twelve twin-engine bombers, in a V-formation, were flying towards us. And we spotted them, and they were at 10,000 feet. We got a perfect solution on them, and we opened fire. We had the new mechanical time fuse. These are supposed to be much better than the powder time fuse on the five-inch. Moore, who was on the range finder, he could see everything. He had binocular vision--stereo vision. We fired, but we didn't get any bursts! And we were firing. We would run away (?), and we were firing only the F-2 mounts because the two forward mounts couldn't bear. They were firing only the after mounts. We were getting no bursts, and he said, “No bursts! No bursts!” And here they were coming in on us, and then all of a sudden, he yelled, “Oh, it's falling like snow! The bombs are just coming down!” And they let go, and we hadn't hit a damn thing. So I looked out there, and here was the CHESTER steaming along. These bombs hit, and I said, “Oh man, there goes the CHESTER.” The ocean was just completely covered with spray from the bombs, and here comes the CHESTER charging through, and it hadn't hit her!
I'm sure they were about as shocked as you all were.
Well, no, that was the beauty. They weren't any better than we were. And then, another little Nakajima came out, and he went for the CHESTER. I watched him, and he went down, and he let his bomb go, and he missed. He turned around, still on his tail, went right back out, and he came around, and came down the second time and hit her right in the middle.
There was a big flash, and some fire. And they got the fire out pretty quickly. I don't think anybody was killed, but they had a couple people wounded. The ship was
damaged because of fire. The fire got one of the airplanes. The gasoline from one of the CHESTER's airplanes--it caught on fire and burned.
So then we went rushing back in and went back to Pearl. That was the first act in the war. I think it was something like the 28th of January or the 31st of January, 1942.
Well, after that, then we went back to Pearl. I don't recall many details of it, but we went out on our next operation at the end of February. The operation was to attack Wake. By this time, I think the Japs had taken over, and the Marines had surrendered. I'm sure the Japs were in command. So we went out, and the ENTERPRISE sent in air attacks, and in this case, we were in the . . . I guess we had at least two cruisers shooting, and we were the first ship in the bombardment group. I'm not sure where the BALCH was, the squadron leader, but she was there. I guess maybe the BALCH was on one bow and we were on the other bow. We were on an inside, engaged bow towards the island, and we were on an easterly course. We were firing to starboard. We went in, and we opened fire at the normal time, and this time we hit a few things--fuel tanks, and things like that. There was quite a lot of stuff going on. The ENTERPRISE planes were in there, but all of a sudden, we started getting attacked by Zero ? planes. These were very maneuverable planes, and they were even more skillful than the ones that attacked us before. We were in the most engaged position up on the starboard bow, and we were maneuvering to keep from getting hit. Again, bombs were hitting all around, but they didn't hit us, and we didn't hit them. But we did some damage ashore, and after awhile their attacks stopped.
On the way out . . . during this, it must have looked pretty bad because the squadron commander, Commodore Connolly--who later was known as “Close-in
Connolly,” you might have heard of him--Admiral Connolly called up the captain and said, “Please report your casualties,” because he thought we had really been beat up. And the captain said, “No casualties,” and he said, “Please repeat.” He didn't believe it, but we hadn't been hit. As we went on out, we ran into a couple of fishing boats, little Japanese fishing boats. And we were sent to sink one of them. We went over, and the sea was a long achy swell, and so this fishing boat was going up and down. We expected to shoot one shot, hit the thing, and that would be it. So we started to open fire at about three thousand yards, and we didn't hit it! We'd shoot over and the boat would drop down, or a wave would come up in between us and trigger our projectile. So we didn't hit it. And the captain started getting mad. He had a terrible temper. He started cussing Ed Miller out, “What the hell is the matter here?” So we finally had to shift the guns into local control, and went in at about five hundred to six hundred yards. But that fishing boat was chugging along at about five knots on a course, and I guess the crew had abandoned ship before we got there. When we got in there, we finally started hitting the thing, and we'd hit it and it would be a big explosion of paper coming out of the thing. Finally, the captain said, “Cease fire.” And I guess they called us back. Big sneer in his voice, “You can't even sink a fishing boat!” That boat, when we last saw it, was still making five knots going along. It was wooden, and we hadn't sunk it. We had knocked a lot of chunks out of it, but that was the story. Some of us began to realize that our weapons weren't nearly as deadly as we thought they were. So that was the raid on Wake.
That had to be demeaning to be firing away at a wooden fishing vessel and not being able to sink it.
Well, it was absolutely devastating, and of course, everyone was totally embarrassed by it. But it was the way it was.
What kind of paper was coming out of that ship?
Who knows? Maybe it was newspaper, maybe it was anything. Of course, who knows what the boat's character was? All we know is that it was out in the ocean and they told us to sink it. That's all we knew.
Then we went on in, got back to Pearl, and Captain Snare was relieved. He was relieved by Lieutenant Commander Gelzer Sims. And Gelzer Sims had been skipper of a mine destroyer or minesweeper--I forget which one. It was a converted four-piper. Captain Snare had been a submariner, and he was a bad luck guy. He had been passed over for lieutenant, passed over for lieutenant commander, and now he'd been passed over for commander. And he was sure it was never his fault. It was always somebody else's fault. So he was just paranoid about letting anybody take any responsibility for anything. He had a furious temper at sea, and he kicked me off the bridge two or three times. But at shore, he was a perfect gentleman. He was a gracious host, a very nice man. But at sea, he could be a really sorry son of a gun.
Tension got to him.
Well, and in battle and action, he was as cool as a cucumber. He was at his absolute best when they were shooting at him. Whereas Ed Miller, who was the All-American boy, handsome fellow, just froze when he got into action.
But anyway, Gelzer Sims came along and Gelzer was a little guy, about five feet five and a half, he wasn't five feet six. And you had to be [at least] five feet four, which was the limit. But I think he was about five feet five. He was a little pudgy, thirty-eight
or thirty-nine years old. And he'd had acne, and now had pockmarks all over his face. His two front teeth stuck out, so when he was relaxed you'd see these two front teeth, and he looked like a little rat. But Gelzer, I tell you, there was a captain. He could handle that ship. When Ed Snare would take us alongside another ship, and as the MAURY would come up, they would yell out, “Clear the rail. Here comes the boy!” Gelzer could put that ship anywhere he wanted it. Just perfect.
By this time, I was first lieutenant and assistant gunnery officer. Smashing a buoy is not easy to do, because you've got to put a ship there, get this very heavy chain over and get it shackled to the buoy. When the wind's blowing, you've got to do something to hold the bow there. The captain has no control of the bow. He can move the stern, but he can't move the bow. So we went in there, and this was the first time I was handling the fo'c's'le. We went in--the chief boatswain mate was Han Rudall (?)--and he screwed it up. We had the lines twisted and so forth. It took us something like a half an hour to get it hooked up. And the captain called me up, and he said, “Crenshaw, we're not going to stand for that! I put the ship where it ought to be, you ought to be able to get it hooked up to that thing.” I said, “I agree with you captain.” And he said, “We're making a bow stern buoy and you've got to snatch that bow buoy just as fast as the fantail grabs the stern buoy.” Well of course, the fantail's just putting a wire out. That's easy. The chain is the problem. So I said, “Okay.” I went back and I called the chief up, and we went over it, and I said, “Are you sure you're all set on this?” “Okay.” So he knows how to do it, and he said, “That dumb lummox we have down there, Smith or whatever his name is, he's the guy that fouled it up.” The chief always had a reason why it wasn't him.
So this next time we came in, we were going out on ASW training, I think. And I let the chief do it again. He screwed it up again. Captain said, “You guys stay on that fo'c's'le until I tell you to come up.” So I had to keep the whole first division up there. He made us sit up there an hour before he let us off the fo'c's'le. And he called me back and said, “Crenshaw, you gotta get it straightened out or we'll get somebody else to be first lieutenant.” So I said, “Okay, what do you think we ought to do, Captain?” And he said, “I don't know, but the system you're using just isn't working.” And I said, “Well, what do you think?” He said, “I don't know. Think about it. How would you do it?” So I figured out how to do it, and I figured, “Okay, here's what we'll do. It's easy. We'll put a line out. Here's the water, and there's your buoy. And there's your ring, and here's your ship. Like that.” Now, if I could get a line out to there just as fast as they could do it on a fantail. So, hey, let's use that! Here's my anchor over here, and here's my chain. The anchor is off; I've taken the anchor off. I've just got the chain out and I guess I had the chain up here. So I'll put the chain down here and I will put a shackle around here, and we'll let that thing be a trolley. Just go on down there, and slide down there.
So I said, “Will that work, Captain?” And he said, “Yeah, that'll work. That looks like a good way to do it.” I got the chief, and I said, “This is what we're going to do, Chief.” And he told me, “I don't know if that's any good.” I said, “It doesn't make any difference whether you think it's a very good way to do it. This is what we're going to do. And I want you to get it all ready, get it all laid out ahead of time and do it!” So I go up there in the fo'c's'le about a half an hour before we went in, and the chief's got it laid up the way he had before. He didn't do it my way. And I said, “Chief, I told you
what you had to do. I told you you had to do it, and this was the way we were going to do it. And I got that approved by the captain.” “Mr. Crenshaw, I've been in the Navy for twenty-three years, and I've been a chief petty officer for the last twelve, and I know how to do it, and you young whippersnappers don't!”
Well, why hadn't he been doing it?
And I said, “Chief, get off of my fo'c's'le. You're not going to set foot on my fo'c's'le again. Go below.” “You can't do that!” I said, “I just did it, Chief.” He went down. Scaldony (?) was the first class, and I said, “Scaldony (?), do you understand what I wanted done?” “Yes sir, Mr. Crenshaw. I understand what you want.” I said, “Get cracking. Let's get it rigging.” Scaldony (?) did it, and we went it there, and we got hooked up forward just as fast as it got hooked up there, and the captain picked up his megaphone and says, “On the fo'c's'le, well done.” From then on, Gelzer Sims was my greatest supporter and the greatest teacher I ever had at sea. He taught me everything that I learned. I read a book, Naval Ship Handling, about the things that Gelzer Sims taught me. But that was that.
We missed the next thing, which was the Doolittle raid, taking the B-24s or B-25s on the Tokyo raid, because we were getting our first radar. They were putting radars in, and we were pretty far down the line. We got our SC radar, and also took off our fifty-calibers and put six twenty-millimeters. So by the time the task force got back from the Doolittle raid, we had radar and we had twenty-millimeters.
[End of Part 1]
|EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION|
|ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #196|
|Russell S. Crenshaw, Jr.|
|USNA Class of 1941|
|June 20, 2001|
|Interview conducted by Donald R. Lennon|
. . . Would you take it up at that point.
Okay. All right. I guess we were at the middle of May, about 1942. In the Pearl Harbor Naval shipyard we got our twenty-millimeters. They took off our fifty calibers and put in six twenty-millimeter singles, and put in a clipping room where our old movie locker used to be. So we were then equipped with heavy machine guns, which were much more effective than any we'd had before. We also got an SC radar, which was an air search radar, good to about fifty or sixty miles on a large airplane. It was not very good at low angles and not at all good when you're close to land, because it had so many side lobes. The whole screen would be smeared, and it didn't have a PBI. We just had an A scope, and so you had to watch the wiggles, and see when you got something.
So then, we rejoined the task force when it came back from the Doolittle raid, and I'm trying to put together . . . I guess [it was] about the 25th of May. The ENTERPRISE, I guess, was in the yard being repaired at that time, but we went out and went to sea towards Midway. About the first of June, 1942, we got the first indications that a
Japanese raid on Midway was imminent. We were out there with Spruance, who had taken over for Halsey. As history notes, Halsey was in the hospital. Apparently, Frank Jack Fletcher had the YORKTOWN . . . let me see . . . we had the YORKTOWN, ENTERPRISE, and HORNET at that time. Frank Jack Fletcher was in overall command, but as far as we were concerned, our task group was under Spruance.
I'm trying to remember the dates, I think it was the fourth of June, when the battle actually commenced. It started off early in the morning. Our assignment was plane guarding the HORNET. We were one of two plane guards, I presume, or two escorts that were aside the HORNET. We spent most of the day doing air operations, plane guarding. So we watched the launch when they went out. I guess the morning launch was something like 7:30 . . . well, wait, they sent the search out and we watched the planes go out on the search. And then we watched the various launches and I remember distinctly when Torpedo 8 was supposed to come back, and nobody came back. There were no TBF's that came back at all on the HORNET. And when Bombing Eight, the HORNET air group was Air Group Eight. So you had Bombing Eight, Torpedo Eight, Scouting Eight, and Fighting Eight. That would be the original assignments. But when the bombers came back, in those days they were still flying triangular formations. So you'd have eighteen planes in a squadron and then they would be plotted in six three-plane sections.
I remember as they came back they were formed up, and there were gaps in the formation, so you knew there'd been losses. And then some planes came in--damaged planes. In the middle of the day, a raid came in and hit the YORKTOWN, which was north of us. And we could see the YORKTOWN, just her tops. My brother was the main
engine division officer of the YORKTOWN, so I was very much concerned about the YORKTOWN getting hit. We could see the smoke rising from her. There was an attack going in and anti-air fire, and then we saw smoke from her. Finally, the smoke went down, so we figured things were getting better. As the American attacks went in on the Japanese, the air-to-air circuits started talking, and we could hear the bomber pilots and the fighter pilots talking about it. They were yelling back and forth about what they'd done, and so forth. We kept score on the bridge; Captain Sims kept score, and by the end of the day he was persuaded that we had damaged four Japanese carriers. He had heard such statements that he that felt there were only four carriers. By that time--I don't know just to what extent it was valid--we had the impression that the Japanese had several battleships and several cruisers, and plenty of destroyers. The normal fleet battle doctrine in the Pacific fleet at that time would have called for a night torpedo attack made by U.S. forces on them. We would go in on what we would call a night search-and-attack, where we would go in with the destroyer squadrons, spread out--usually two destroyers each five thousand yards on a big line, and behind them about every ten thousand yards would be one cruiser--and they'd make that search until they made contact. And when they made contact, it was up to the local tactical commanders to do what they were going to do. Destroyers were fully ready to attack in two ship sections, but it was up to the squadron commander and the division commander whether they wanted to consolidate the four ship divisions or nine ship squadrons. They could do that. It would depend on the circumstances. As for the cruisers that were backing us up, we would have had their firepower of their eight-inch guns to cover us as we went in on the attack. We believed that that was going to occur so much so that almost everyone aboard the MAURY stayed
up until at least midnight. Now, you've got to remember, when you're standing watch at three, you get your sleep in four hour snatches, and sleep becomes a major commodity that you're interested in. So that was quite unusual for everybody to stay up. But everyone was up and ready to go, feeling very confident, feeling like, “Boy, this is going to be great; we're going to get a real chance to avenge Pearl Harbor.” And then, we got an order--we'd been steaming off to the northeast, and we felt, well, “I guess he's trying to get into a better position,” or something like that. And then, they didn't change course. They kept going off to the northeast and going away from the enemy. Finally, about midnight, we just realized that we were not going to be sent in, and that Spruance was obviously just a coward, and he wouldn't go in and attack the enemy when he knew they were damaged. What kind of guy was he? And wasn't this terrible?
We knew Spruance, and I had actually met him personally as a classmate of my father's. We had met him socially, and Margaret Spruance, I think Bob Hayler had a date with her on the night of the sixth of December. He was a very studious man. He was quiet, very formal, very courteous and nice. A clean-cut, quiet man. We knew him by sight by him having gone alongside the flagship for this and that. So when we'd see him on the bridge he'd sort of wave. But, oh, we were disappointed. Here we were, and Spruance had really fouled it up. Well, by the morning of the fifth, we got information about the damage that had been done. By that time, we were steaming back to the southwest to get back first to the north of Midway, and then to the west of Midway.
The report of the badly damaged cruiser, which we assumed was the MOGAMI-- and I'm not sure that she turned out to be the MOGAMI, maybe she was--she was out there, and the bombers went in all day on the fifth to try and get her, and they hit her. As
the photos in Life Magazine show, she was badly damaged, but she wasn't sunk. So they were sending us in on the side they sent the destroyers in, and they peeled off the MAURY and . . . I don't remember the other two . . . the DRAYTON was one, it seems to me. Anyway, we had four destroyers being sent out to get the MOGAMI and torpedo her. We were running so low on fuel; it was a major problem. About midday, on the sixth, they called us off, and they sent a tanker out--an oiler--to refuel us. We went alongside and fueled quite satisfactorily. We were very low, but we got our fuel all right. But while we were alongside the destroyer on the other side--I forget which destroyer it was, but I would say the RAYTON or something like that--one of the 5th Squadron ships actually lost suction, and she just lost power and went back, pulling out the hoses. And in those days, we used to have a towing line, and it was abandoned very shortly thereafter. But they ripped everything, and off she went. Her fires were out in her boilers, and they had her relight the fires and they found enough oil somewhere to get the boilers going again and she came back on the line, came back alongside and got enough fuel to get going.
Then we sort of went back to Pearl.
When did you find out the extent of the damage to the YORKTOWN? You being concerned since your brother was in the YORKTOWN . . . .
I didn't have any information on that, and I was just sitting there worrying. We knew the YORKTOWN had not sunk. We knew they were still working on her, but the total conditions we didn't know. And then, it seems to me it was on either the fifth or the sixth that the HAMMANN was alongside the YORKTOWN, and that's when the YORKTOWN was torpedoed. And that's when she went down. So I guess we knew that,
but I don't recall anything about that, except that the HAMMANN was lost and the YORKTOWN went down. So I didn't know whether my brother made it or not.
We steamed back to Pearl, and we got back to Pearl . . . exactly when, I don't recall. Several days. When we got there, my major concern was to see whether Bill was okay. So Gelzer, the captain, knew about that and was very much concerned. And so as soon as we got in, he let me go ashore to see if I could find my brother. I got in, and if I recall correctly, I got to the Officer's Club landing, which is what they used then. And there was Bill and Mike Wadley (?), his roommate, in brand new khakis that they just bought. They'd lost everything, so there they were. He was okay, and Mike was okay. And oh boy, this was great. I said, “Boy, we'll have to have a big reunion.” “What should we do?” “Well, let's go into Honolulu.” So we went in, and as we left the club, we said, “Well, we'd better take some supplies.” I was going to say, we had had prohibition before, but I guess you could buy things. It ended up, the only thing I could buy was champagne. So we bought six bottles of champagne, which was the limit we could buy for three officers, and went into town. And we went over to Harvey Lanham's house, or apartment. Harvey and his wife Shirley were there. They welcomed everybody, and so we had a party in Harvey's apartment. Harvey was one of the bomber pilots in Bombing Six, and he felt he had gotten one hit on one carrier and a near miss on another carrier, on two separate bombing runs. So we had a happy reunion. Then, Mike went back to the States, if I recall correctly, and I think Bill had some leave, and then he went to the staff of ComCruDiv . . . I'm not sure, it must have been CruDiv five or four. I guess it was ComCruDiv four in NORTHAMPTON. And so he was in NORTHAMPTON, the flagship.
So then Task Force Sixteen got reorganized, and we sailed probably around the middle of July. And we went to Tongatabu, went south by Samoa, and we ended up at Tongatabu. And there was a great gathering of ships there, the ENTERPRISE, the SARATOGA, and the HORNET. Then we had most of the fleet, and we might have had the first of the new battleships out there, like the NORTH CAROLINA. But while we were in Tonga they had all kinds of meetings, and of course, we junior officers . . . I did get ashore in Tonga, and found it to be a fascinating place. We would walk out into the coconut groves, and there were thatch huts and natives there. They were very nice, good-looking people.
Then we sailed from there, and along with lots of amphibious transports and cargo ships, we sailed west. They informed us after we were at sea that we were about to make amphibious landings at Guadalcanal and at Tulagi. So we then got the operations orders, and we steamed out essentially west, and then north. I'd have to have the charts to try to figure out where we went, but we were south of Guadalcanal with the ENTERPRISE on the sixth of August, 1942. The amphibious forces went in, and they made their landings and we learned from the radio that they'd had no problem going to Guadalcanal, but going into Tulagi they had met considerable resistance, and there was quite a bit of battle going on there, as I recall, on Gavutu. But as far as we were concerned, we were maybe a hundred miles south of Guadalcanal steaming, more or less, east to west. So nothing came in to attack us, but in the afternoon, an attack came in. It didn't do any damage, as I recall, to the U.S. fleet, but there was some air action and a couple of fighters got shot down. I wasn't aware of it at the moment, but my brother-in-law, Pug Sutherland, was the commander of the combat air patrol that first intercepted the Japanese bombers
coming in. As he went in with his four fighters, they were hopped by a much larger number of Zeros that came in from the sun. And although Pug and his wingman got in and made their first firing run, the other two were shot down by the Zeros as they went in. Well, Pug went in, and he got--these were 'Betties'--and he claimed one Betty on his first run, and then he came back and came in and made another side attack, and got another Betty. So he got two Betties, but then he was jumped by the Zeros and his wingman disappeared, and so Pug was there trying to fight. He fought as long as he could, but he ran out of ammunition. So in the last bit of this--and he was losing altitude--he would just duck in behind . . . they'd come in and make a pass . . . he would just duck in behind his armor, and they would shoot, and then go by. He finally was getting down pretty low, but he'd gotten in over the tip of Guadalcanal. So when he was down around 4,000 feet, he decided that he'd better bail out, so he bailed out and he described his plane before he left it as “in shambles.” The engine would still turn over, I think, but he had lost power, and oil was all over the place and gasoline was leaking. So he parachuted and landed in a little clearing in the jungle, near Cape Esperance. He quickly got away from his parachute, in fear of being machine-gunned. And then he had quite a saga. It took him about eight days to make it back through the jungle, with the help of natives. He got back to American lines, and he had been wounded rather badly in one foot, but no other wounds. It turned out he had gotten malaria, and he was running a big fever. Anyway, they evacuated him, well, or he got through the lines. He was in the field hospital when the first major Jap attack came through, and they were shooting through the tent and everything else.
Well, after the invasions of Guadalcanal, and the first battle of Savo Island, which we heard very little about, except excerpts that it had been a real mess, and that the ASTORIA, the QUINCY, the VINCENNES had been sunk, and the JARVIS had disappeared, and I guess the CHICAGO had been torpedoed, and the [HMAS] CANBERRA had been lost. We were going on down, and I don't recall the exact sequence at that time, but shortly thereafter, on about the first of September . . . you see, I had not known that Pug had been shot down. But about the first of September, we went alongside a tanker . . . oh, I know, we came back and we had to run up. We got back to Noumea--oh, we got peeled off to Noumea--the ENTERPRISE went back down to Noumea, then we went up to Espiritu. And then we escorted a couple of ships, a small convoy of two or three ships, with one other destroyer. We got them up, and we got them back. And we were coming back, and we met a tanker on the way back. The tanker was coming back from Guadalcanal, and as we went alongside, this figure was running along and waving. It turned out that that was Pug. He got on the phone, and he told me what had happened. And that was the first time that I had known he had been shot down and wounded. But he was now being evacuated, and we chatted on the bridge-to-bridge phone for maybe twenty minutes. Then Pug had them send us five gallons of ice cream, so that was great.
Well, then we went back, and the ENTERPRISE . . . oh, the next event was the Battle of Stewart Island. The Battle of Stewart Island was on the twenty-sixth of August. We were with the ENTERPRISE at that time. The SOUTH DAKOTA was also in our task force at that time. The Battle of Stewart Island was, as far as we were concerned, an air attack. We contacted the Japs, then we sent our bombers and torpedo planes out and our
air group out, and their air group came in, and they met in the middle. But when the attack came in, it was a well-executed attack. A very high angle. They came diving in, out of the sun. Warren Armstrong was our gunnery officer, and I was assistant gunnery officer at that time.
Getting a Mark 33 director on a high angle attack is very difficult to do. The gunnery officer doesn't have a slew sight. He had to coach his pointer director on, and they were down there on the telescopes trying to get it. Well, we never got on a single target. And so, we didn't fire any five-inch during the entire attacks. I'm trying to remember how many attacks, but anyway . . . there was certainly one attack, and the ENTERPRISE got hit.
Incidentally, one of our classmates, Bill Williamson, was the battery officer on one of the five-inch gun groups, and he was incinerated by a bomb hit on . . . the gasoline blew up and so forth. The whole gun group was wiped out. Bill was one of the wipees. We didn't get any five-inch shots off; we got some twenty-millimeter shots off. It was not clear whether we were effective at all. We were in close alongside the ENTERPRISE, but we didn't do that much. The SOUTH DAKOTA was firing like mad, and got the reputation of “Battleship X,” because she was supposed to have shot down twenty-five airplanes. Nobody aboard the MAURY saw any of that. Several airplanes went in, but why they went in . . . there were a few clear shoot-downs, but generally speaking, what was happening was that a Jap plane would go down and release his bomb, and just keep going. It could be that the pilot had been hit and killed by a machine gun, but it wasn't clear at all.
The ENTERPRISE was clearly hit, I think at least twice. Once on the after gun sponsons, and one forward that damaged her deeply and severely forward, and put her forward elevator out of commission. So then . . . the SARATOGA was somewhere out there over the horizon, but we didn't see her. We picked up several fighter pilots after that. When we were going back, we had to transfer from the ENTERPRISE . . . no, wait a minute. We picked up from the SARATOGA a lot of equipment for the ENTERPRISE, as well as some fliers, and then we went over and delivered them to the ENTERPRISE. Then the two task forces separated, and I think at that time went on down to Noumea. Then we re-gathered, and the next event was the Battle of Santa Cruz.
The Battle of Santa Cruz was on the twenty-sixth of October, 1942. In that case, we had the ENTERPRISE and the HORNET as two task groups. In the meantime, the SARATOGA had been torpedoed and was going back to be repaired. So we only had the ENTERPRISE and the HORNET in the forward area at that time. We were to the right, and the HORNET was to our left, as you face north. Things started happening at about eight o'clock or nine o'clock in the morning, it seems to me. In the meantime, I had become gunnery officer. Freddy Hillis (?), our executive officer, had been transferred--I think given a command--so Warren Armstrong fleeted up to be executive officer, and I fleeted up to be gunnery officer.
In the meantime, Gelzer had just chewed Warren out like mad for not getting any shots off at Stewart Island, so he told me, “Russ, now I want you shooting. I wanna get some runs out there.” So my orders were pretty clear to shoot like mad.
At the Battle of Santa Cruz, when the attack came in . . . I think the first attack was a bomber attack. Some bombers came in, and I think we got off a few rounds of
five-inch and plenty of rounds out of twenty-millimeters. And then, as things calmed down and the ENTERPRISE . . . I don't remember. She was hit during the Battle of Santa Cruz, but I don't remember precisely when she was hit. But about that time, there was a submarine contact, and the PORTER, which was squadron leader, was sent out to do something about the submarine, to try to find it, and she was torpedoed. She lost power. The torpedo hit the engine room, and she lost power. So they decided to abandon ship, and they sent the SHAW and the MAURY out to take the survivors off the PORTER.
We didn't take any survivors. The SHAW took the survivors, and then they went out and the SHAW torpedoed the PORTER to sink her. And I don't recall that, except that they fired several shots that didn't work, and they finally torpedoed her on about the fourth shot. Then we turned around, and we were heading back to rejoin, and as we rejoined, a torpedo plane attack came in. The attack was coming in right over us. So we got out, and we got off a few five-inch shots at the torpedo planes coming in, but then they came right in over us, and we got one torpedo plane just off the bow, and we got another one as it was passing astern.
How many were there in the squadron?
How many torpedo planes?
I think there were twelve torpedo planes in the attack, and these were carrier torpedo planes, these were KATES, you know, with a pilot forward and a gunner aft. We had two cases: one passed about fifty yards down on our portside, and you could see the faces of the pilot and the gunner as they went by, and the gunner was pointing his gun down to shoot at us, but he couldn't see anything happening. Of course, with all the
noise . . . and then, the other guy that came right in over the top of us, passed within fifty yards of us, and it looked like he was going to hit our mast, but he went over the top. And in the meantime, we were hit by fire from the PORTLAND. The PORTLAND hit us once with a forty-millimeter below the waterline on the starboard side because we were in a tight turn to port to starboard.
What was the PORTLAND firing at?
The PORTLAND was firing at the planes passing right over us.
It hit you below the waterline?
The ship was heeled over, and it was a low shot, and it happened. It hit us below the waterline. Not much, maybe two feet. And then we took a couple amidships, and one of them hit the torpedo shack. It wasn't a forty-millimeter; maybe it was a twenty- millimeter. One of the fragments hit a torpedoman in the head, who unfortunately at that moment was just changing helmets. The talker had just taken his helmet off to hand it to another guy, and he got hit in the back of the head, but it didn't hurt him much. He bled, but it wasn't serious--it was just a cut. One of the forty-millimeters came in the bridge and it went through the pilot house, bounced around, and came to stop right in front of Captain Sims. Captain Sims was there; we had mahogany rail there, just inside of the venturi. And this projectile came up and stopped right in front of the captain. So the Captain turned around, waited to see if it was going to explode, and after it cooled down, someone grabbed it and threw it over the side.
In this particular event, the destroyer next to us--and I should remember the name, but I don't remember it right now--was kamikazed by a torpedo plane, and it burst into
flames. It was blazing forward like mad, and incidentally, Tory Eaton, one of our classmates, and who was the gunnery officer, was killed by this torpedo plane.
The destroyer--and I don't recall its name at this point--was steaming right next to us and blazing like mad, with black smoke coming out. But they kept full speed, and they went into the wakes of the ENTERPRISE and SOUTH DAKOTA and the spray came over and helped put the fire out.
So pretty soon they had the fire out. But she was very badly damaged, and her forward gun and half of her bridge were gone. She didn't sink or anything, but they lost a number of men.
Did you all have the opportunity to harass the PORTLAND later on for trying to take you out?
We always referred to her as 'the Black Beast.' The Black Beast was always painted with this terrible . . . they called it sea blue, but it was black, and it was terrible looking. And she was just a black ship. The PORTLAND, before the war, was the prettiest cruiser we had. But we all just referred to her as the 'Black Beast.' Well, the Black Beast was always dangerous; we always stayed away from her, and whenever we got a chance we harassed them, of course.
Later, an attack came in and . . . maybe the HORNET was hit on the first attack, because I remember that over on the horizon you could see that she was flaming, and that there was smoke coming out. Then we had another attack come in. It was mostly a dive- bomber attack. We got an assist on one of the dive bombers coming out, so we basically
thought we got one clean cut kill on a torpedo plane. We got an assist on another torpedo plane.
But none of the torpedo planes or the bombers did any damage?
Wait a minute. The bombers did some damage. No torpedo plane succeeded in hitting, and I think we shot down probably all of them. Very close to all of them. On the bombers, we didn't shoot down that many, and they made a hit on the ENTERPRISE again. They hit on the SOUTH DAKOTA; they hit the number two turret.
They were going for the larger ships.
Yeah. They had a hit on the forward turret, and while it didn't penetrate the turret, it pretty well wiped out the forward machine gun group. They lost maybe thirty or forty men on that. Captain Gatch, the skipper of the SOUTH DAKOTA, was wounded. I think it was a facial wound; I think he was hit in an eye.
We went alongside the SOUTH DAKOTA the next day, or maybe that afternoon, to fuel. Let's say it was the next day. So we got a good look at the area that was hit. Again, a classmate was aboard there and he told me about what he'd seen, and so forth. That was the story there. At the end of Santa Cruz, we had twenty-one aviators aboard. We had had something like seventeen of them during the battle, because the night before at Santa Cruz they had sent out a search. They didn't find anything, but they stayed out so long that when they came back--and they came back after dark--we were plane guarding and three torpedo planes lost power, ran out of gas, dropped in the water, and we picked up the crew. So we got three for each of those, and then we picked up a couple of fighters. We certainly had a dozen fliers aboard during the battle. One little vignette there was that Gelzer Sims was always a great believer in the medicinal qualities
of whiskey. He made sure we had plenty of whiskey onboard. Little medicinal bottles. He issued to the senior aviators . . . Scooper Coughlin (?) was one of them, and we had a couple of aces onboard--“Killer Kane” was aboard . . . no, we got “Killer Kane” the next day. I forget. But he gave three or four bottles to each of the senior aviators, so if anybody got wounded they could immediately administer some whiskey. So we went through the battle and nobody got wounded, but all the whiskey got consumed.
Anyway, coming back from Santa Cruz . . . hmmm, I don't recall in great detail after Santa Cruz . . . but we got the ENTERPRISE back to Noumea, and she was sort of limping. And they didn't want to commit her, so they stripped the Task Force Sixteen, and they sent us up to join Task Force Sixty-Seven at Espiritu Santos. In early November, there were the Battles of Savo Island. We had the first one on the eighth of August. Or ninth. Then we had the next one, the Battle of . . . we called the second battle . . . Norman Scott was the commander, and that was to the west of Savo, and that was a cruiser action. That's when the SALT LAKE CITY got shot up . . . and what was the name of the . . . one of the light cruisers got shot up badly, and we lost the FARENHOLT and the AARON WARD was badly hurt. And then one destroyer--I can't remember the name of it--Whitey Taylor was the skipper, and they got in between the lines and she was shot up, burned up, and sank the next day. But then the third Battle of Savo Island was the one with the SAN FRANCISCO. And then the fourth battle was the one with the WASHINGTON and the SOUTH DAKOTA. At that time--that was on the thirteenth or fourteenth of November--we were back down with the ENTERPRISE. So after the losses of the third and fourth battles of Savo Island, they sent us up to Task Force Sixty-Seven,
reconstituted at Espiritu Santos. Kincaid was the commander of Task Force Sixty-Seven, but then he got orders to go as commander of the North Pacific. Carlton Wright took over as commander of Task Force Sixty-Seven.
We had five cruisers, and we went up with four destroyers because they had peeled off some destroyers to help with some convoy work. So we went up with the NORTHAMPTON, the MINNEAPOLIS, the NEW ORLEANS, the HONOLULU, and the SALT LAKE CITY. Is that right?
That sounds right.
No . . . and the PENSACOLA. And under the destroyers, we had the FLETCHER, which was a twenty-one hundred tonner; we had the DRAYTON; then we had the MAURY; and the fourth destroyer I don't recall now.
Well, how many destroyers are normally part of a task force like that?
Well, normally in a task force you would usually have eight destroyers for a screen. In the basic fleet organization, you would have nine destroyers in a squadron, and one squadron would go with one cruiser division, with one carrier. That was the prewar organization of the carrier task force. By this time, you'd lost so many destroyers, and you'd lost half of the destroyers in each of these battles, more or less. So by this time, you were “catch as catch can,” and we didn't have a division commander. The skipper of the FLETCHER, who was a first class officer, was commanding the destroyers forward. And then, of course, we had two admirals: Admiral Wright and Admiral Tisdale, who I guess was the number two admiral for the second division of cruisers.
So we went up, and there's been a lot of criticism about what we call the Fifth Battle of Savo Island, which is now known as the Battle of Tassafaronga. In fact,
Admiral Wright did a first class job of getting all the skippers together and talking it over. We had a warning that the Japs were going to make a run down, and that we were to intercept them. Wright had the call; he took over and laid out what he was going to do. And he used the battle plan, the battle doctrine that Kincaid and he had worked out. You see, he was the second in command under Kincaid. And he said, “We will adopt that; we will use it,” and it called for the cruisers and destroyers to be in separate columns, and the cruisers to stay at least twelve thousand yards out. And never closer than ten thousand yards was the rule. Destroyers would go in and make their attack; the cruisers would hold fire until the destroyers' torpedoes had hit; then the destroyers would get clear, and then the cruisers would engage in gunfire. So that was the name of the game.
We got all of this before, and then we sailed. We sailed from Espiritu just after sunset on the twenty-ninth of November. In order to get out through the minefields, they had to have boats out there with lights on them, so that we could get through the mines or get the big ships through. We, the destroyers, had been doing this for some time. We got out, formed up, and headed on up. I expect we were running at twenty-six or twenty-seven knots on the run up there, because time was of the essence. The next day, we got some additional information and additional planning data from Admiral Wright. We felt that we knew exactly what we were going to do and how it was going to go. Then, we were going up Indispensable Straight, we got up inside of Guadalcanal to the north of Guadalcanal . . . [we moved] close alongside [the land]. We were so close as we went through that evening--it was the evening of the thirtieth--that you could smell the flowers. I remember that. Then we went through the channel, and we went by Lengo Channel, which is a narrow channel. We went through, came out, and then he turned us essentially
north--I think 340 was the course--and he slowed down to twenty knots. He had the destroyers off on the port bow, and had them stationed ahead. As soon as he got all the ships clear and out where he wanted to, he turned us to the west. I think the course was something like 285. He moved at twenty knots to make a sweep. The story was . . . and this was just as planned, and I recall that it was a very nice, clear night, and that it was cool and pleasant up on top of the director, where I was. Everybody was perfectly confident about what we were going to do. Our torpedo batteries were ready to go.
Oh, just before we had got to Lengo Channel, out came a task force with a lot of amphibious ships--four or five--and they peeled off two destroyers, the LAMSON and the LARDNER, to join our force. But there was no time to give them the battle plan or anything else, so Admiral Wright just told them to tack on astern, and he would give them whatever . . . whatever he told them I don't know. But they tacked on astern, so we had two more destroyers astern of the cruisers. So then we came out, and we began this sweep to the west, and it was now getting to be around ten or eleven o'clock at night. There had been reports that the Japanese were going to have some transports, and it wasn't clear about whether they were going to have any battleships, but they were going to have cruisers, transports, and destroyers. Just about at eleven o'clock, radar contact was made by the ships that had SG radar: MINNEAPOLIS and the FLETCHER. And the DRAYTON turned out to have one of the best radars of all. The DRAYTON was just ahead of us, and made contact.
We got the information that they were out there, and the destroyers were told to go on in and make their attack. They tracked the torpedoes. In the meantime--I forgot to tell you earlier--in May we had gotten not only an SC radar, but we'd gotten an FD radar,
which was a radar for the Mark 33 director. We were scanning with the FD radar, trying to make contact on the bearing that they were feeding us. We were having trouble. And just when the range got down around ten thousand yards, we finally made contact. So I had a target that I could track. We were tracking, and we tracked the target at being on course about one-two-zero or fifteen knots, or ten knots. It was not very fast. It was slow. Captain Fletcher asked permission when the position was just right, when the range was around eight thousand yards. This let us get our torpedoes off and get clear, and never get closer than about six thousand yards. We'd do it all by radar. However, the torpedo run would have been around four thousand yards.
He asked permission to fire. But Admiral Wright said no, and it looked to him like the range was too far, and he said, “Hold fire.” So we lost about five minutes. In the meantime, everything was going past. We passed the optimum firing point, and we got closer to the enemy. Finally, he ordered, “Commence fire.” Well, he said, “Permission granted to fire.” But at the same time, he let the cruisers commence fire. So at the same that the torpedoes were being fired by those ships that had a good track--we did not have a good track--the gunfire started. I was there, and so I said, “Permission to commence fire, Captain.” He said, “Go ahead, fire.” So I opened fire on my target, which was at that time about, I recall, 8,000 yards. On the first salvo, there was this big flash of arcing in the radar console that was there in the director, and acrid smoke coming out. And we'd had a short inside of our radar. So we lost the radar, but I continued to fire. And I fired twenty-five salvos, I fired rocking ladder, and then I kept rocking for twenty-five salvos, and then we didn't have any target. We couldn't see anything, so I checked fire.
In the meantime, the whole area was totally covered with starshells, and the starshells were in between us and the enemy. They were blinding us, so we couldn't see. And you could see the cruisers firing like mad and the other destroyers were firing. At about that time, somebody on the bridge yelled, “Torpedo wake!” And my assistant gunnery officer just went berserk, and he yelled, “Torpedo wake!” and he started climbing out of the director. He was coming out of the forward hatch there, and I told him to get the hell back down into the director because he was our illumination officer. He had control of the searchlight, and we had to use it. Also, if we were going to fire any star shells, he was going to do it. But he was just paralyzed with fright, and he was lying on top of the director between me and the enemy. So I checked fire, and then we stood by to see something. And I never did really see . . . I saw what looked like maybe a part of a ship, but the range finder operator, who had better optics, said that it looked to him like a small merchant ship, and it was just steaming along. That's what he said. Well, about that time, the firing had continued, and Fletcher ordered the column to change course to the right to course, about 000. So we came basically sixty degrees to the right, and we were making, if I recall correctly, we were now up to thirty knots. And we were making thirty knots going away. We could see all this smoke and clouds, and some flame back there. We were heading up, and then they came left a bit to get around Savo Island. Just about that time, there were these enormous explosions astern of us, and we didn't know what it was. And then there was a second enormous explosion, with flames like mad. We asked the bridge if they knew what was going on, and they said, “We don't know, but it's on the bearing of the cruisers, and they must be blowing up.” About that time, we saw the great arcs of red tracers going over, which had to be the HONOLULU.
The HONOLULU fired rapid fire, and they had red tracers. She had fifteen guns, you see? So you've got fifteen guns firing almost at the same rate you fire a five-inch. So that just gives you a continued bridge of projectiles. But we didn't see many explosions at the other end.
And then, we went around behind Savo Island. So the island was between us and the battle, and just about that time was the biggest explosion of all. Just a huge “boom,” and it was just unbelievable. I guess there were clouds, so we saw this against the clouds. And then we came around Savo Island, and we had received no tactical instructions or anything at all since the battle started.
So each ship was just on it's own as far as . . .
Well, we didn't know. I'm up on the director. But we under control of the skipper of the FLETCHER, Bill . . .I forget his name. A fine officer.
So we rounded Savo Island and started to go right. Then he ordered us into two sections of two ships each. And Captain Sims, being senior, was the commander of our section, so we had two sections: the FLETCHER, the DRAYTON, and the MAURY and PERKINS. The PERKINS was the fourth ship. We were heading south to go back down to Guadalcanal, with Savo Island on our right. And we were heading down there to make a sweep through, to see what we could find. Off on the left, we could see three or four fires. One seemed close to the beach, but there were several out there. What they were, we didn't know. So we were going down, and we were all set for ? fire ahead and everything. We were all going in for a torpedo attack. Then, we got orders, “Small boys stand by the big boys.” So we had to break off our torpedo attack and swing around. We were then sweeping to the southeast, or about 120. I guess we slowed to something like
twenty-five knots then. We could see these fires up ahead. We went down there, and we looked ahead. We were all set. We had one of these flamers ahead of us, and so we were all set to torpedo it. And when we were close enough to see it, it looked something like a cruiser, but it wasn't right! It was sort of cut off or blunted. It could have been a merchant ship; we weren't sure what we had.
So we were going there, but it wasn't burning. We challenged it with a blinker gun, and it's supposed to either come back with a blinker gun answer or fire flares. And it was green-green-white. These were the fighting lights, and those were the identification colors that night. So we go in there, and out of this thing comes white-green-green. Then, almost immediately, from all over the ship it came green-green-white. These were Vary (?) [for variable] stars, you see? Somebody had fired them wrong from the bridge, so everybody else was trying to correct it.
Well, we realized at that time that if they were doing that, it was friendly and not Jap. But we still didn't know what we had. So the skipper said, “Hold fire.” We slowed down, and we came in, and here was, it turned out, the NEW ORLEANS with the bow blown off. That's why she was cut. Her full forward turret was gone. Everything forward of the number two turret was gone. And here she was floating. So we went over and we blinkered and said, “What can we do to help you?” So they said, “Well, we've got things more or less under control.” So we peeled off the PERKINS to take care of that. The FLETCHER and the DRAYTON went off somewhere else -- I don't know where. Then we [the MAURY] kept on going. We went on to the next fire. And the next fire we came up to was still smoking. They had fire there, in flames. We went there, and as we got closer, there we could see the PENSACOLA, down very much by the stern and
heeling over port, with a fire still going in the after superstructure. So we went alongside to see what we could do, and one of the other shores (?), I presume it was the DRAYTON, went alongside and sent over hoses to help fight the fire while we patrolled--had a submarine patrol all around. We did that, and escorted the PENSACOLA until she was up close to Tulagi, and then we turned around and went back.
So she was able to stay afloat?
Oh, she was afloat, and she still had propulsion. She still had one shaft. So she was doing alright. Then we went back to the NEW ORLEANS, and the NEW ORLEANS had both propellers, but she was very grudging about ramming her bow into this, because she had no bow, and it was only the interior bulkheads holding against the water. So we went back, and escorted her in. When we got up to Tulagi Island, about where they wanted to anchor and stop, she didn't have any anchors. They'd lost their anchors. So we had to go alongside and then drop our anchor to anchor the ship. So we were tied up to the NEW ORLEANS. Well, now it was getting about daylight, and about that time . . . and all of a sudden he said, “My God, look!” And here came the MINNEAPOLIS, coming in with almost as bad of damage and missing her bow. She hadn't lost her number one turret, but everything forward of the number one turret was gone. So here we had two cruisers with their bows blown off.
Well, then it turned out while we were doing all this, that the NORTHAMPTON had sunk. We didn't know this. That was the big explosion; it was the NORTHAMPTON. We didn't know that, but the FLETCHER was out there, and the torpedo boats--the motor torpedo boats--from Tulagi were out there getting the survivors from the NORTHAMPTON. So we stayed alongside the NEW ORLEANS for awhile, and
then they decided to take her up, and tie her up against the beach up in Metrana (?) Creek, up behind Tulagi Island. So we stayed alongside her going up to act as a tug, and they were very careful about using her engines. We used our engine to push her up. We got her up behind Tulagi Island, and then something happened. She ran aground, and this was obviously her bow still hanging down. So that caught on the bottom, and we had to use a lot of power to overcome it. It finally broke off, and she came loose after about ten or fifteen minutes of forward and back struggle.
So then we took her on up, and we moored her alongside the JAMESTOWN. The JAMESTOWN was a motor torpedo boat tender that was up under some camouflage netting. So we put the NEW ORLEANS alongside, and we were outside. Then we brought camouflage netting all over the top, until it came out all the way out over the MAURY. So we had three ships under camouflage up against the beach, and the motor torpedo boats were all nested up in the jungle around us. The NEW ORLEANS had lost electrical power and steam, so we were supplying her with electricity and steam. That was what our job was. We stayed alongside her for a couple of days while they were getting things shored up inside, getting all the wounded off, and the debris.
One of the first things that happened the next morning--this was the second day after the battle--I went out on deck, and my classmate, Pierre Charbonnet on the NEW ORLEANS said, “Hey Rusty! Guess what happened!” I said, “What?” He said, “We just got promoted to be lieutenants!” I said, “Yeah, that's the last thing in the world of any concern of mine.” [laughs]
We did have the opportunity to take a couple of rubber rafts and paddle up the creek into the jungle - to put our foot onto Tulagi and have a look around. And we had
plenty of guns. Everybody had a gun or a pistol, and a couple of hand grenades. We got up in there. We were looking for a native village, but we didn't find much. We were going along, and it had been raining, and I looked down there, and here was a footprint. With a heel. A real sharp heel, and it wasn't any American heel. So we said, “Wow!” We'd just been walking along this trail, so we fanned out and went back very carefully-- got the hell out of there. That was probably one of the most stupid things I ever did during the war, was to go into the jungle there, because there were still Japs up in the jungle.
Well, the battle was on the night of the 30th of November. I think it was on the fourth or fifth of December that they decided that the NEW ORLEANS could take over her own power supply and get her boilers lighted. So we then moved on out, and stood by. The MINNEAPOLIS was moored in a different place against the beach, and the PENSACOLA was out in the middle. We were to take the PENSACOLA back to Espiritu. Incidentally, during the time from about the second of December until something like the fourth of December, we were the only fully operational U.S. Navy ship in the forward area. All the rest of them had gone back to . . .
I was going to ask you: what happened to the rest of the task force?
Well, they disappeared. The HONOLULU wasn't hurt at all, and she went steaming around. Then she went back with a couple of the destroyers. But then they came back up . . .
Were any Japanese ships damaged?
Yes. The TAKANAMI. Every ship in the U.S. force fired at the same target, which was the TAKANAMI. And she was the forward picket ship for their force. She got off the world's greatest torpedo broadside, but then she was just clobbered by all the gunfire and she eventually sank. It took her about three or four hours to sink. But she was burning furiously with explosions all over the place. But she got off eight torpedoes, and in that one torpedo spread, she got both the MINNEAPOLIS and the NEW ORLEANS. Of course, hitting the MINNEAPOLIS was quite interesting because as soon as it hit, it blew off all communications to the admiral. So it just severed Admiral Wright from his command.
So that's why they weren't getting any orders.
Yeah. And Admiral Tisdale was back there in the HONOLULU, and he didn't realize that Admiral Wright had been wiped out. He didn't know, and he didn't do anything about it. Captain Hayler, Bob Hayler's father, when he saw the NEW ORLEANS and the MINNEAPOLIS badly damaged and the PENSACOLA moving left, he wisely went right and he got the hell out of there. The PENSACOLA, going left--which was the proper thing for her to do under the doctrine--she passed between the fires on the NEW ORLEANS and the MINNEAPOLIS and the Japanese. So she was completely identified, silhouetted, and the Japanese saw her and said, “Wow.” And they evaluated her as a Texas-class battleship.
I have made quite a study of this battle, and as a matter of fact I've written a book about it. They identified her as a Japanese battleship, so all of these other Japanese destroyers--which included seven undamaged destroyers--they concentrated on attacking the battleship. Although the MAKINAMI, the flagship of the Japanese admiral, was
targeted and had an awful lot of gunfire come close to her, she wasn't hit except a little superficial damage in a smokestack. None of the other ships were hit at all.
Well, in night battle like that, where there's so much fire and so much confusion and ships going off in different directions on their own, how great is the danger that you're going to fire on one of your own ships?
There's a danger. In that particular thing, I forgot to tell you that the LAANCE and the LARDNER would come up astern, you see? And after this battle started, they saw everybody firing less, so they tried to get a target and they fired a few shots. And then, when the HONOLULU turned out, they tried to escort her, go with her, and the HONOLULU . . . or the NORTHAMPTON--I forget which--opened fire with machine guns on them. So the division commander just said, “The hell with this,” and he pulled off. He pulled his ships out and they stayed out until things were going to clear up, and that's what happened to them. But there was a case where, under those circumstances, they made a mistake and were firing at friendly ships.
I was thinking that the indications of the NEW ORLEANS, when you came upon it, that it . . .
Well, we were ready to shoot, but we were also careful enough not to. We did not. Nobody fired at any of the damaged ships. So we can say that.
Well, that takes us through that one. Then after that, we did various things. Escorting convoys back and forth to Guadalcanal. We had some overhaul time down in Noumea. The fleet was being reorganized, but the next action we were in was a night torpedo plane attack bringing up a big reinforcement up to Guadalcanal. And this was quite hair-raising. But they sent in . . . it was on the 17th of February, it seems to me, and
we were escorting something like five transports and a tanker up to Guadalcanal. We had a screen of six or eight destroyers--I forget the exact number--and it was a night radar attack, a night battle. They came in, the torpedo planes, and this was about a week after the CHICAGO and that whole group had been attacked, and the CHICAGO sunk. So we were alert to the fact that these were very deadly attacks. Captain Reifsnider, who was the amphibious commander who commanded the task force, maneuvered the ships beautifully throughout the whole thing, basically keeping astern of all the ships, and any attack coming in. The torpedo planes came in, and one of them in particular . . . we opened fire on it pretty far out, but we didn't knock him down, and he came in and he was coming right straight for me, personally. When he was about a thousand yards out, you could see his bomb bay open, and about a thousand yards out he dropped his torpedoes. So the torpedo was running right for me. The plane went over the bow of the MAURY so low that I could see from the director into the cockpit of the airplane, and see the pilot and copilot sitting there, with the green glow of their instruments. Then the plane went off and hit the water two or three hundred yards to starboard. And the torpedo was heading right for us, and I thought, “I'm gonna be blown right out of the ship!” The gunnery officer's in a hatch, so I put my arms against the hatch like this so that my arms wouldn't be ripped off when I got blown out of the ship. But nothing happened, and I don't know what happened to the torpedo.
Did it miss?
I think it was dropped so close that it hadn't come up to depth by the time it went under the ship.
But I couldn't tell you what happened with that torpedo. Then, very shortly after that, another torpedo plane came in, and we could see it on the portside. The twenty- millimeter machine guns were concentrating on it, then somebody else's twenty-millimeters, and then it went up into a ball of flame astern of us, and went into the water. So we participated in two torpedo planes being shot down. There were no hits made by the Japanese torpedoes, and we shot down, certainly, four or five of their airplanes.
So then we formed up, and went on up to Guadalcanal. That was one event. Another event occurred . . . I guess in March or April. We made the invasions of the Russell Islands. In the Russell Islands, these were about thirty to forty miles to the northwest of Guadalcanal. It wasn't clear whether they were occupied or not; we went in on the basis that they were occupied. They didn't have any amphibious forces, amphibious ships. They didn't have LSTs at that time. So, each destroyer towed two landing barges full of gear astern. We loaded the troops onboard the destroyers from Guadalcanal, and then we picked up these two . . . we had an LCM and an LCVP astern on tow-lines. We started chugging along to the Russell Islands at about sunset, and went on up. It turned out that aboard the MAURY, we had the battalion commander and his staff, and we had twenty-three chaplains onboard. And then we had something like three hundred troops. The first thing the chaplains did was that they ate all of our oranges. I remember that (laughs). They ate everything we had. But then, they said they'd like to have a prayer or a service. And the Captain said, “Well, that's a good idea. Go ahead, we'll have it on the fo'c's'le.” They went up and announced they were going to have a church service on the fo'c's'le, so the chaplains went up there and most of the troops went up there. So we had the troops, some men from HP's Company and the chaplains
on the fo'c's'le as we were steaming along. What happened is that the bow of the ship went down, the stern of the ship went up a little bit, and it rubbed against the tow cables that were over the fantail. And so as the ship rolled and pitched, it was eating away at the tow cables. So after the service was over, I guess, towards the end, the towline broke. So there we are, out there in the middle of the night, trying to recover these two boats that we were towing astern. Well, that's not easy to do at night, and these are heavy cables. They're one inch wire cables, and they're very heavy. We were getting people into the boats, and all of this was a mess. We lost about two hours, so by the time we got our boats tied up and together again, we were way behind everybody else. So we then go on in, and as we go in it's getting to be about dawn. We were supposed to have gone in, landed everything, and gotten out before daylight. But now, it's daylight and we're going in.
In the meantime, Warren Armstrong, the exec, had gotten orders to command a minelayer, and I'm going to fleet up to be the exec. So the skipper says, “Well Russ, you're gonna have to be navigator, so you'd better start navigating us.” “Aye, aye, sir.” So I start trying to navigate, and there's no useable correlation between the chart I had of the Russell Islands and what I see out there. So I tell the skipper, and he says, “Well, let's check.” He said, “Well, you're right. Turn your chart over. I'll take the ship in by eye. Turn your chart over and shoot tangents on everything you can see once every couple of minutes. And by the time we finish, we'll have the outlines of those islands.” So we did that, and he got us in. We got into this little channel there where they were making the landing. We floated around there, and we got the boats alongside and started to load them. Well, Warren Armstrong goes back there and says, “Okay, now . . .” Oh!
What happened was the battalion commander and his staff jumped in the first boat and off it went. So then the second boat, we said, “Okay, everybody in this boat for the second wave.” Nobody moved. Warren said, “Where are your officers?” There weren't any officers. So Warren said, “Who's supposed to be in this boat?” Nobody said anything. Warren said, “Okay, all you soldiers from here to there get in the boat.” Nobody moves. Warren pulls out his .45 and said, “Okay soldiers, from here on out there or I start shooting.” So from there on out, they got in the boat. Then the boat went on off.
What had happened to the officers?
So there we sit. And we sit. Nothing happens. So the squadron commander--I'm trying to remember which ship was there--he went in and . . . sent the staff officer in the squadron gig to see what was happening. It was Dave Johnson, out of [the Class of] '39. And Dave went in there, and he found that all of the boats had gone in and grounded. The troops that were in them had jumped out and run into the woods and dug foxholes, and they wouldn't come out. They wouldn't unload the boats.
Were they under heavy fire?
No, there wasn't any fire! There was nothing! So Dave walked up in the woods and he finally found the battalion commander and said, “Look, they can't do this!” And he said, “I'm not in charge of that.” Dave said, “Yes sir, you are in charge. You're the only commander there is of these troops and the troops won't do anything.” So finally they got it straightened out, and they unloaded the boats. But it took them . . . it was almost noon before the first boats came back to get the next load of troops and the deck cargo, and stuff like that. We didn't get out of there until almost sunset. And we had
something like six destroyers up there, and nobody got out. Nobody could communicate with the troops ashore, and nobody knew what was going on.
So we went back to Guadalcanal, and the squadron commander reported this to the naval commanders, and said, “This is absolutely outrageous.” So the only solution was for us to get Army radios and put them on deck so we could talk to these people. The Army had no idea about how to make an amphibious landing! These troops had been . . .
This was by 1943?
This was the spring of '43. And this was, I think, the 37th division. That was it.
We went back and forth, and we shuttled and carried troops down. And then we got some LCT's--Landing Craft Tanks. You know, small ones? They started putting all the stuff in the LCT's, and we would just escort the LCT's. So that's the way we made the invasion of the Russells.
In the meantime, the strategy was to divide the Army troops into two parts and they sweet around the island like this. When they finally met each other, they had a fire-fight and couple of soldiers got wounded. There were no Japanese on the island at all. So that was that one.
Then the next one was the invasion of New Georgia. This was a huge operation; the biggest operation that ever was done almost up to that time. Oh, wait a minute. I forgot. We went up on a couple of bombardments of Munda. Wait a minute, I'm getting mixed up. I'm getting ahead of it. But we went up on a bombardment of Munda
Airfield. So we had bombarded Munda before the invasion. But then we went up for the . . . no, no, no. I'm all mixed up now. I take it all back.
We had been sent back down to Guadalcanal, and down to Noumea. We went down there, and we operated with the SARATOGA and the British carrier VICTORIOUS, I think it was, came out. Let me see, maybe I've got it here [looking through papers]. It doesn't say. Ah, here's the notes I made. But we operated with them, and then the invasion of New Georgia was underway and being organized into a big operation, and then they sent us on a couple of trips to here or there, and then we got into Noumea and we got an SG radar put in. And we built ourselves a CIC. So after that, we were sent up to Guadalcanal to join the destroyer striking force up there. I don't want to get mixed up on this . . . I know what it was. We joined the destroyer striking force, and we went up on a bombardment of Munda. The troops were already ashore and they were trying to get into Munda Airfield, but they had not succeeded. We went up under command of Arleigh Burke. Arleigh took over. Our first operation was under Commodore Ryan. And then Arleigh Burke came in, and we went up, and our first operation was a bombardment where we went through the Munda Channel and we fired the airfield. We got a little return fire, but it was very inaccurate. Gelzer started maneuvering, zigzagging, to make it more difficult. And we fired about four hundred rounds of ammunition in that bombardment. But it didn't seem to do anything to dislodge the Japanese because the troops tried to go in the next day and didn't manage much.
Then, when we got back from that operation, Burke's flagship was transferred back to Noumea, and so he transferred his flag to the ship of his old executive officer, who was Gelzer Sims! So Arleigh Burke came onboard the MAURY, and we were his
flagship. Gelzer had told all these stories about 'Old Pearshape.' And Old Pearshape was shaped liked a pear, and he was a very unpopular sundowner in peacetime down in San Diego. He required all officers to be onboard before he arrived in the morning, and he always arrived at seven o'clock. All officers had to stay onboard until he left, and he seldom left before six o'clock in the evening. And in peacetime, in those days before the war, that was a pretty sorry way to keep officers happy. He was also famous for being fat. So Gelzer comes back to the ship, and he's white. I said, “What's the matter, Captain?” He says, “Wait 'til I tell you.” And he told me that Captain Burke was going to come aboard and fly his board (?) command in the MAURY. I said, “Well, we'll solve that problem.” He said, “Yeah, but you guys have got to forget all the stories I told you about Arleigh Burke!”
I said, “Aside from that, we've got to find a place for him to stay.” And I said, “Captain, you can't give up your cabin. You need all the rest you can get. I'll move out of my stateroom and move back in with the gunnery officer, 'cause that's where I just left. Let Burke have my cabin.” “Uh, oh, alright.”
So, they next thing we know, here comes Burke. The whaleboat from whatever destroyer it was comes alongside. Man, this slim blonde guy comes up the sealiner, bounces aboard, reaches down and grabs his seabag, comes up, and said, “Hi Gelzer! Good to see ya!” And I'm introduced to this blonde giant--Arleigh Burke--with the most piercing blue eyes you ever saw. I said, “Commodore, welcome aboard. We're so happy to have you.”
I welcomed Commodore Burke on board and I told him that I had moved out my stateroom for him, and he said, “No, no!” He wouldn't do it because he had a sleeping bag, and he was going to sleep up on the bridge. Well, I knew that that would be absolutely unacceptable, so I begged him and persuaded him, and he finally understood. He said, “Okay, I'll take your stateroom.” So he went on up. Well, Burke came aboard and he hadn't been aboard for twenty minutes before we got orders to go out. And we went out, and we were charging up the slot under Arleigh Burke. And Arleigh Burke was just a breath of fresh air. He was really a great, great leader, and everyone loved him.
Why? Why then had the captain told all these horrible stories about him?
Well, they were true! Arleigh Burke . . . I knew him at the Pentagon later. Arleigh Burke was a workaholic. He was the stuffiest guy you can think of on little details and demanding everything from everybody all the time. But as a combat commander, when the chips were on the table, hell, he was relaxed. I'll tell you a couple of stories in a minute, but he was a different man entirely.
We went on up and the first operation up there, we didn't find anything. They thought some Jap destroyers were coming in, but they didn't. He liked our CIC. We had built it ourselves; it was the first one he had ever seen. It was the first one we had ever seen. So he decided he would fight his battles from the CIC, so he was down there right next to me. And he had the radio, had the TBS in his hand, and he could order everything ahead. He had the FD radar right there, and had a voice tube to the Captain. So we were all set. I got to know him pretty well as we would operate up there. He was just as nice a guy as you could imagine, and all he wanted to do was to find Japs and fight them.
Strictly a wartime admiral.
Yeah. He was just absolutely wonderful. Then we made a trip up, and we landed some troops at Anagi (?) Island. Anyway, some replacements for the Marines that were trying to work down towards Munda from Kula Gulf. There was no real shooting while we were doing that, but he was worried about the way these torpedo attacks, these night actions, had been handled. He thought that the destroyers had been badly handled and that they really ought to have a doctrine. So he had some ideas, and his idea was to split into two groups, and to have them go off basically at ninety degrees. One group would be the torpedo group, and the other would cross the bow of the enemy and be the gun group. Nobody would fire until the torpedoes had hit. And then, the gun group would open fire immediately to draw the attention away from the torpedo group, which was more exposed being closer. That was the basis of his doctrine. But he wanted to have everything just right, so he wrote this doctrine. Then he took it around to people like me, all the communications officers and the torpedomen and everyone, to make sure everyone understood it and thought it was a good idea. Man, the crew just loved him! He'd go and talk to the cooks and bakers and seamen and everybody, and they just thought he was the world's greatest guy.
So everything was coming along with Arleigh Burke, and then things eased off. We'd been working like hell; we even had a couple of nights in port and we would just sleep all night. Things like that. I figured that Gelzer got less than two hours of sleep for a month while we were in the first month of the destroyer striking group. Well, at the end, it was just about the second or third of August, Burke suddenly got orders back to take over a squadron, which was Squadron 23, and Freddy Moosbrugger, who'd been
skipper of the MCCALL in our division, became our Division Commander. Freddy took over as the commander, relieving Arleigh Burke. We weren't at all sure about Freddy. We knew Freddy was a fine gentleman. We liked Freddy, but we didn't know what kind of combat commander he would be so we were disappointed to see Burke go. But Freddy had a conference with all the captains of the striking group, and they came away with everyone understanding what they were going to do, and Freddy said, “We're going to use Burke's doctrine and this is the way we're going to do it.”
So then he had a couple of conferences over at Guadalcanal and then came back, and we went on up. The story was that there was going to be a Jap run on Vella Gulf, and we were going to go up there for it. In the meantime . . . I completely forgot the Battle of Kolombangara. When the destroyer first got up there, and we were under Ryan, we participated in the Battle of Kolombangara. “Pug” Ainsworth was the admiral, and we were in destroyers rear.
Here's a picture taken from his flagship.
Oh really? Yeah, that's some picture. Ainsworth was the admiral, and we joined. We had just barely gotten up there, and we were destroyers rear. Ryan had the destroyers rear and McInerney had twenty-one hundred tonners and they were destroyers aft. Ainsworth had the HELENA, the HONOLULU, and the ST. LOUIS. They also had the ACHILLES, an Australian cruiser. So we went up, and we got in and made this approach. We contacted the Japs, just as we expected to. The battle evolved, and we were ordered to turn right and then turn left, and we were to fire torpedoes. We were using our CIC for the first time, and just at the critical moment the plotting officer decided that we were running out of space, so he opened the top of the DRT and move the bug back to give us
some more space. And the little lamp, which we had on top to project the position of the ship, broke off. So on the CIC we lost our plotting capability just at the wrong time. Luckily, our air plotting team, two ensigns that I had been training, these guys took right over and they plotted it as a maneuvering board and they came up with a fine course and a base torpedo course. We came around, and we fired our starboard broadside in two half salvos of four torpedoes each. We fired them, and we were the last ship to get our torpedoes off. The other ships had maneuvered away.
There was a good deal of confusion on the radio tactical signals because the HELENA . . . oh, excuse me . . . the HELENA had been sunk in the first Battle of Kula Gulf. We were not in that battle. Now we were up in the Battle of Kolombangara, and he was flying his flag in the HONOLULU. And the HONOLULU had bad problems with her TBS and particularly, if you were astern of her, you couldn't hear her. So we missed some of the turn signals, and it was a lot of tactical confusion out there. As it turned around, we turned away, and then he turned the cruisers away. And just after they turned, a Jap torpedo hit the ACHILLES. She dropped out, and it was a problem. She didn't sink, but she was dead in the water for a short time before getting underway very slowly.
The Japanese had the JINTSU cruiser and five other destroyers. As far as we were concerned, it looked like we had done substantial damage, and something was afire and burning up there. We turned around and made a sweep, and we were trying to follow the cruisers and get up ahead. We had a screening position, but the cruisers were charging off at thirty knots and nobody could get up ahead of them. So they went on up to the northeast, and then they went north and then northwest. We were still not catching up with them. About that time, they told the MAURY to peel off and go stand by the
ACHILLES. We didn't know where the ACHILLES was, and in the meantime, we didn't know where McInerney and his destroyers were. They had disappeared. You see, when we turned around they were behind us. So we didn't know where they were. The skipper said, “Where are they?” And I said, “Captain, I'm sorry, I don't know. The DRT broke down and we're doing the best we can down here, but I don't know.” And he said, “Well, okay. Set course for 270 and we'll just search.” So we headed 270, slowed down, and we were going at twenty-five knots to the west while all these other guys were charging up to the northwest at thirty knots.
Well, visibility also wasn't the greatest. There were some rain squalls around and so forth. After a while, we heard the transmissions back and forth and it was obvious that the HONOLULU had been torpedoed, and the ST. LOUIS had been torpedoed. So here we are; we're running out of cruisers. We didn't see that, but we came up . . . oh, and the GWIN was torpedoed. We then were told to rejoin . . . oh, McInerney's group said they had the ACHILLES under control.
I was going to say, did you ever find the ACHILLES?
They had it under control, and they went back, so we didn't have to worry. We went out and joined the other ones, and it was just complete confusion. Ainsworth didn't seem to have a grasp of what was going on. I guess he didn't have an SG radar, either, because it had been knocked out by the explosions. You see, both of them got hit in the bow. In addition to that, the HONOLULU was hit in the stern, but the torpedo didn't go off. As far as the GWIN went, we thought it had been wiped out, so we were heading on down. Then, after an hour, they asked, “Where's the GWIN?” And nobody knew, so they turned around and told the RALPH TALBOT, Ryan's flagship, to go on back and
find the GWIN. So he turned out to go looking for it, and about an hour or two later they told the MAURY to peel off and go back and join. So we went charging up to the northwest looking for the GWIN and RALPH TALBOT, and about four o'clock in the morning we finally made radar contact and found the GWIN and RALPH TALBOT. The RALPH TALBOT was trying to take the GWIN under tow alongside. We arrived, and as they would do this, we would make circles around. As dawn came, the first thing that happened was we saw a big Mavis--you know, a four engine Japanese patrol plane. We saw it a couple of times, and then a couple of American fighters came in and they attacked it, and it blew up and the wing came down. So we saw that happen.
During the morning, Jap planes would come out and they would circle around. We would take them under fire when we could. And whenever they could, they'd start in on an attack and we'd start shooting, and then they'd peel off, or some American fighters would show up. We had no communications with the American fighters. We didn't know where they were coming from, but they were there. And finally, an American fighter got shot down. So we go over and pick the guy up, and he isn't hurt. We get him aboard, and we ask him where he's from, and he tells us that he's flying out of the Russell Islands. They built an airfield on the Russell Islands and that's where they were flying from. So all of this air cover is gratuitous that we're getting from Russell Island, and we don't have any control over it. But it's great.
Well, how badly was the GWIN hurt?
Well, she was way down by the stern, and she had taken a torpedo and was awash. Her stern was underwater, and she was awash back at the number four turret, number four gun mount.
Then, after awhile . . . Commodore Higgins was aboard the GWIN and Captain Fellows was skipper , and they decided that the GWIN wasn't going to make it. So they talked it over with Ryan and Higgins, and they decided that they would have to abandon ship. So we go alongside--and Gelzer did a beautiful job putting it alongside--and we got the . . . you see, the RALPH TALBOT had already taken off everybody but the last thirty or forty men--the salvage crew were still onboard trying to keep her going. So we went there and took them aboard. They were rather interesting as they finally . . . the last two to come aboard were Higgins and Fellows. So Fellows said, “After you, Commodore.” And Higgins said, “No, after you, Captain.” Fellows said, “But Commodore, the Captain should be the last to leave his ship.” And Higgins said, “Fellows, I was Captain of this ship before you were! I order you, get on over!” “Aye, aye, sir.” So Fellows came aboard, and then Higgins came aboard.
Higgins was carrying his survival kit - lavender silk pajamas and a shaving kit. And that was Higgins' survival kit. Well, Higgins turned out to be a wonderful guy. John Higgins always said, “If I'm going down, I'm going down in style.” Well they came aboard, and so then they told the RALPH TALBOT to sink the GWIN. So we were lying off there. We watched the RALPH TALBOT fire four torpedoes. The first three just went under and came out the other side, and didn't go off. And then the fourth one hit her and down went the GWIN.
So then we went on; the GWIN was down and we went up to speed. And we went on down, and the next thing we knew there were fighters over the top, so we were feeling much better. We got to Guadalcanal with no problem. Well now, that was the Battle of Kolombangara.
So now, we're going up to what turned out to be the Battle of Vella Gulf. And we've got Freddy Moosbrugger as our commander. On the way up--I've been thinking about this, and we've all been thinking and talking about this--I go back to the PORTER, back at the Battle of Santa Cruz. When the SHAW tried to sink the PORTER, the first torpedoes didn't hit and it took the fourth torpedo before it had hit. All the stories of these other battles--why hadn't the torpedoes done the damage? You hear the stories -- they fire the torpedoes and see them hit, but they don't go off. They fired torpedoes that should have hit, but they didn't. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I watched the GWIN, I watched her sit, and I asked Captain Fellows, “What depth were they set at?” And he said, “The first ones were set twelve feet and the last ones were six feet.” Well, the six-footer had gone under her and the twelve footers had gone under. She must have been drawing twenty feet. So I said, “Hey, we've got a problem.” I went up to the Captain and said, “It's obvious that we've got problems with these torpedoes, and they're running deeper than we think they are. Let's set our torpedoes at the shallowest we can set them.” Well, the Captain argued a little bit, but not because he didn't agree with me, but because the orders from Moosbrugger and so forth had been to set them at standard depth. That was later changed, but anyhow, that was the story. So we set our torpedoes at five feet. Furthermore, the Mark VI exploders, which were magnetic exploders, they had finally decided that they were not working correctly and word came out from Washington to stop using the Mark VIs and disconnect the magnetic feature and use contact on them. In addition, the last thing was that our torpedo warheads had been really too small, and they put in torpedo extenders or new torpedo warheads. So we had 800-pound warheads instead of the 450-pound warheads. We got all of our torpedoes converted to the heavy
warhead. The MAURY had the heavy torpedoes, and we had made every correction, with our torpedoes set at five feet.
So we went on up, and we went south of the New Georgias and up through Gizo Straits. Then we made a sweep into Vella Gulf. And we came across, and swept on up. Moosbrugger had the torpedo group, and I forgot the name of the other commodore, but he had the gun group. They had forty-millimeters, so they were better for that. We made contact almost on the button. We made contact at basically 21,000 yards is about what you can do, top to top, between destroyers. We tracked them; we got a good track on them; we went in. Moosbrugger used a general signal book by orders, exactly the way they should be; just the way we'd always been trained on. There was no slang; everything was just perfectly handled. He took us right in. We fired at the optimum point. He turned us immediately out, and we made our run out. When the torpedoes were supposed to hit, we had plotted each torpedo and we called them. Out of eight torpedoes, five times within five seconds of one I called the hit and we got a big explosion. The Captain was just ecstatic.
As we were running out . . . well, we also had the fighter director group on board. The fighter director officer, “Mac” MacInnes--whom I've known all my life now-- Mac came charging into the CIC and said, “Man, you guys have got to come out and see what you did!” So one by one, we went out and took a look, and gee, it was fantastic. The sea was afire.
How many ships did you fire at?
There were four ships. We were the third ship in our column. We took the left end (?) ship. So we shot at the lead ship. The first three ships were hit and sank. The
last ship, which was the SHIGURE, who was also well astern--double distance astern--turned away immediately and went north. We got contact on him momentarily. After we fired the torpedoes, we came out and we turned north. We were out to about 10,000 yards. We turned right--I said north instead of turning south--started to fire, and I immediately ordered cease fire because our radar started to go bad. The other ships kept firing, so in moments, we were the only ship with an SG. We made contact on the, SHIGURE but then the SHIGURE went into a rain squall and we lost contact. And the SHIGURE just went on back to Rabul. But three ships sank. Immediately when the torpedoes hit . . . Roger Simpson had the other division, he had the LANG, STACK and STERETT, and they opened fire immediately. They fired at everything they saw, and they saw the ships roll over and sink. But we got three destroyers, and when we hit them, the flames were up a thousand feet. It was unbelievable. We said, “Boy, these warheads are really something!” Those ships had deck cargos of gasoline, so that was gasoline going up.
Oh, I see.
As a matter of fact, the surface of the water was burning for thirty minutes, and we made a big sweep up, and then we got down and tried to bring survivors aboard, and the Japs wouldn't come aboard. Then about that time, the MAURY's main feed pumps started crapping out, and we first lost one, and then we lost the other. Then we lost our cruiser, and we were down to our emergency feed pump and a limit of about ten knots. But our engineers got busy and, unbelievably, I think a lot them got badly burned by the high- pressure steam, but they replaced the packing and we got back on a line and back down to Guadalcanal.
What caused them all to go out at one time like that?
Well, we just wore them out. We were wearing those ships out. But why we'd been having trouble all the time it was just . . . as a matter of fact, when we started the run, when we left Tulagi to Purvis Bay to make this run up to Vella Gulf, we had informed the Commodore that we had one bad feed pump that could only be used in an emergency, and the other one was questionable. So everybody knew that we were right on the edge of trouble. But we got back to Guadalcanal, and everything was okay.
You ought to have been at sea for quite a while without any repairs.
Well, in the first year of the war, we averaged something like sixteen knots day in and day out from the first of January to the thirty-first of December. And we had been in the forefront of the whole war from the seventh of December, 1941, until the sixth of August, 1943. Then after we got back to Purvis Bay, they said, “Gee, we'll have to send you back.” So they sent us back to Espiritu and they examined us. They said that the only thing to do was to send us back to the States for overhaul and have those pumps replaced. And that's as much time as I've got right now.
[End of Part 2]
[End of Interview]
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