Combat Training and Anti-Sub Duty
July 5th to August 9th, 1942

The balance of July was training events and escort duties. The fleet tug USS Iuka towed rafts for surface target firing. Various Coast Guard and Navy aircraft owed sleeves for anti-aircraft firings. We had problems with our 1.1-inch anti-aircraft machine guns. One problem was the concussion of the 5-inch batteries nearby knocking out their control circuits. Yet there was no equivalent rapid-fire replacement.

July 21st, with destroyers Barton and Schenck, escorted the new battleship USS Massachusetts to Boston Harbor. We returned to Casco Bay with the two destroyers. Captain Brown seems to have quite a few numbers on other skippers because he is usually senior among the destroyers and assumes senior-officer-present-afloat status, which has begun to be called officer-in-tactical-command (OTC).

July 22nd we interrupted anti-aircraft firing practice to run down a submarine contact with Roe and after a concerted team search, we lost contact. Every time I see a newspaper, there is an account of picking up merchant ship survivors of ship sinkings. A warship may tempt a submarine, but there are less risky targets.

July 24th we joined the screen of USS South Dakota, another new battleship in training, and that is encouraging. Our screen destroyers were Ericsson, Eberle and Roe. All the ships practiced AA firing while we operated together. I had little chance to listen in on the exercises being too busy below the main deck.

During the midwatch, there was a submarine contact that sent us to battle stations for a couple of hours.

I was dog-tired by the underway watches and by the battle watches, so I hit the sack right after morning quarters-for-muster. I had just gotten to sleep when my bunk erupted upward and bounced me off the overhead. Light bulbs burst and dust and long-lost welding-rod stubs came out of the crevices behind the armored cables. I carried shoes and dungarees and scrambled for the up-ladder—the beeping general alarm sounded on the way up. It was a hit, I was certain. Topside I could see the roiling, muddy water astern. We had dropped a depth charge at low speed because the sonar contact had been close aboard. Nothing broken except my sleep and tranquility. The sensations that my imagination had generated came back later in other dreams. What I mulled over all day long was the inescapable, tiring dreariness of modern war, for the helpful adrenaline surge comes only when you know what is going on and one is able to initiate action to thwart the enemy. Most of the time the duty is to wait blindly, one cannot participate because only the captain and a few people on the tactical radio net are in-the-know. The sense-or-participation is very brief: there is BOOM (near-miss) or BOOM (all-gone).

Late in the day, we set course for New London to operate with submarines in Block Island Sound. We were to fire dummy torpedoes but visibility prevented that with fog low on the water and we could hear rather than see the channel buoys. While we were socked-in, I was thinking about the closeness of New York and of my friends there, and also of the ones I would like to know.

But no liberty. I worked on repairs to auxiliary machinery until 9:30 that night, drank coffee and told lies with the auxiliary watch until about 11:00.

We exercised with the submarines until the end of the month, detection and firing approaches. On July 29th, we had liberty in New London, but I had the duty. That duty turned out to be shore patrol. Digging out my leggings, I tried to remember when I had worn them last, Brazil? I found them after unloading the whole locker, then to the quarterdeck to get my badge-of-office, gunbelt, nightstick and SP armband. By chance, I was the senior petty officer of the Nicholas’s contribution to the peace of the town, so I took my detail of four shore patrolmen to the city police station for the area assignments by the shore patrol officer from another command. Routine instructions: bad places on the city map, telephone numbers of aid stations, hospitals and police. Assignments were three-to-one on the waterfront. That is where I went, and the sailors fresh ashore had gotten there first.

A sailor’s crimes also reflect his appetites, and whatever is fun is also illegal, (U. S. Code, Title 34, Section 1200) Articles for the Government of the Navy.

That shore patrol evening was overwhelmingly spent in preventing a fist fight between Gunner’s Mate Fox and Firecontrolman Peipsak. In the boat back to the ship I had a prisoner, a youngster who had had so much to drink that he fell off the pier; some beachguard from another ship had arrested him. My prisoner and I circled around between the two fighting cocks to prevent another crime from getting splashed upon the Nicholas escutcheon.

“Crissakes, Chief, let me out of here!”

“Where I go you go, son!” One of his many endearing qualities was, he called me chief. I forgot his name, but it is recorded in the ship’s log for a deck court martial in the Archives of the United States of Americain wartime!

July 30, 1942. At sea. I took my second written exam for chief petty officer and made a 3.73. That was a useless exercise and I couldn’t imagine why the exam was offered. When I became eligible due to time-in-rating as first class, a well-paid thinker in the Bureau of Naval Personnel decreed a halt to fleet-wide competitive promotions in favor of authorizing commanding officers “to fill vacancies on board.”

It follows that captains of combat vessels do not transfer any part of the first team when his reputation and his ass are on the line. The on-board allowance for my specialty being one, it would take foul play to correct the injustice! I’d like to send the conundrum to Admiral King. I can imagine the fraud in promotions available to the fringes of the Fleet.

July 31st. We arrived in Boston Navy Yard and moored at the Ammunition Depot at 8:30 p.m. Took on stores, fuel and depth charges. We turned in all target ammunition (solid metal projectiles—the last ones I ever saw).

August 1st, 1942. Moored in Boston Navy Yard. I worked all day on one leaking steam valve. The seat defect was almost invisible, but the fine grinding compound slowly cut across it to make a complete shiny ring.

Chevalier was in the Yard, having just come down from Bath. I took them some operating information, and had a nice visit with the guys from their fitting-out detail. I got ashore with enough money to eat dinner at Freda’s on Hanover Street, Boston. Freda’s had continental cuisine and a female vocalist with torch songs in her repertoire. It was a comfort to go through a nice ritual dinner with a bottle of wine while watching a pretty lady perform. It took two days’ pay.

I returned to the ship through the Yard before midnight and encountered some shipmates who were blaspheming the “battleship” Nicholas—the idea being that tin can sailors, unlike the battleship variety, serve a dungaree Navy with lots of permissiveness. We didn’t have that. There is such a thing as being half-right—there ought to be some compensation for destroyermen if only for the overtime in labor.

August 2, 1942. Underway with destroyers McCalla and Barton to escort USS Massachusetts to Base Hypo (Norfolk, Virginia).

August 3, 1942. At sea. Zigzagging with Massachusetts, McCalla and Barton enroute Base Hypo. I got off midwatch at a quarter to four. I read in the fireroom for a while, then when I got topside to go aft to my bunk, the eastern horizon had brightened against some low clouds. I waited. In the east was that monster, Hitler. But I soon forgot him. The cloud combination diffused the sun’s rays into golf and the horizon held a sharp, dark-blue division of color. It held for maybe a minute. Wow!

We passed Cape Henry about one p.m., and then came up the swept channel to moor alongside USS Bancroft at the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk. We fueled for an hour, then got underway to make a full power run back to Boston—engineers on watch-and-watch (four hours on, four hours off). I slept on the tank top in the forward fireroom because it was cooler than the living compartment.

The tank is like a segment of the inner hull and conforms to the hull shape. It contains the ship’s water supply, a major portion of which is consigned to boiler feed water. The Service Doctrine has it that the boilers have priority on the water to extend the fighting capability of the ship, in time. World history is replete with events when victory or defeat hung on fractions of time, seconds, minutes or hours—and maybe time in the water.

August 4, 1942. We passed though Buzzard’s Bay Channel in the morning watch, through the Cape Cod Canal, then moored alongside USS Doran, Pier 6, Boston Navy Yard. We cut out all boiler fires and connected up to shore services for steam and electrical power; the “cold-iron” watch was set in engineering spaces (one man on watch to patrol the spaces and look for fire and other hazards).

We have, it was announced, ten days “availability for repairs,” to perform ship alterations as handed down from the Bureau of Ships in Washington.

The rumors commence because somebody knows something. But the combat zone was certified when it was announced that Saturday’s personnel inspection would be in peacoats and watch caps: we were headed for the tropics. And in August 1942, the tropics were the Southwest Pacific. Further confirmation was in a three-section, 72-hour liberty for all hands taking a full nine days.

My mother’s allotment had been $50 a month, and I raised it to $90, keeping $6 a month, for there was no place to spend money in the Pacific. Except in gambling, but then low funds are an edge in gambling.

August 5, 1942, moored in Boston Navy Yard. We were busy cleaning firesides and repairing leaky valves all day. The Yard began to install our new “Sail George” radar. We took on fuel and stores and all kinds of ammunition. The Baker flag was at the foremast all day (no smoking, no open flames and watch-your-ass).

That evening Jab Bauer and I persuaded Bill and Bernice Scott to meet us for dinner at Freda’s. We had a fine time except when I slipped and called Bill “Sharkshit.” Bernice was very unhappy with that, and she forbade it again. Bill was the author of the nickname. In Bath he had declared, “When Nicholas puts to sea you can just call me Sharkshit, because that’s how’ll I’ll wind up.” On the ship he had become “Sharkshit” Scott.

Jab and I went to the Casa Mañana. We listened to Jimmy Gallagher for awhile; then we went to the Cocoanut Grove for the rhumba band. The competition was more than we could overcome—so back to the ship.

August 6, 1942, moored in Boston Navy Yard. After all day in the plant, I went topside for air. Having the duty, I hung on the rail watching people come and go in the Yard. Unlimited tomorrows down there. There were still welding cables running up over the bridge wing for the work on the new radar. I noticed a tampion missing from the muzzle of No. Two Gun; would have to tell someone about it before going below. The duty section was going about their business; the quarterdeck watch, in crisp whites, supervised the gangway, sailors and Yard workmen were coming and going across the brow. I reflected solemnly—not on Nicholas’s readiness, which hinged so much on the captain; we were drill competent—but that is not the whole test. The entire war had been continued retreat. Would it ever be turned around? It had been willful blindness that put us at such a disadvantage. The subject distressed me so much that I kept my mind off it. What become most important now was time ashore; since 1940 it had been in short supply.

August 7, 1942. I worked until 5 p.m. on a safety valve leak. I got ashore in time to meet a girl on a dinner date made in the Cocoanut Grove and reconfirmed by telephone. We met at an Italian restaurant and it immediately became a strange proceeding: her face didn’t crack either a smile or a frown. There was no emotional content to her nos and yesses. I ordered, which was for me an expensive dinner and a bottle of wine—the wine should have loosened her up but it didn’t. In an hour and a half there had been no change in her demeanor. As we left the restaurant I hailed a taxi. As I handed her into the taxi there came a flash of inspiration. I gave the cabby three dollars (one day’s pay) and told him to take the lady where she wished to go. I didn’t see her face for I didn’t look.

August 8, 1942. We doubled up the duty for two sections due to the 72-hour liberty of one whole section. Cold iron watches were only one man at a time, so that was no chore. We worked later, though, because of boiler cleaning.

August 9. 1942. The news: we have made an assault landing in the Solomon Islands. Now is the time to “fondle the left nut!”

I worked all day in the plant; repairs and preventive stuff. In the afternoon, I went over to visit Strong, just down from Bath for commissioning. When I was in Bath, Strong’s chief engineer had asked me to join his department. I visited awhile with their key people and passed on our experiences with the equipment.

August 10, 1942. In reassembling the watersides of No. 1 boiler, we found a handhole plate missing. Doctrine dating back to the beginning of the age-of-steam around 1850, I guess, dictated that there be no boiler closure if a part was missing. The crisis went all the way up, and common sense came all the way back down. Hold up a ship’s sailing for a boiler part? The old reasoning had been that a part could be lodged in a tube where restricted flow might melt that tube. But that handhole plate was too big even for the downcomers. We installed a new plate because we had spares.

There had been a lot of accusatory glares and suspicions of guilt thrown around, and some idiotic assumptions. “If you ain’t got a reason you’ve got emotions to spare . . .”