October 1, 1943, Friday, steaming on base course 060° True, formation speed 10 knots, in company with vessels of Task Group 32.5.1. Chevalier joined the formation at #4 in the screen. (She had six days to live.)
On watch at 0400. I was asleep when #3 K-gun fired a depth charge, which at ten knots explodes under the water too closely. It scared the hell out of me and a few others, but it was only an accident.
Four ships assigned to the task group from Santos joined the force: USS Thatcher, Roamer, Murzin and Pathfinder.
I finished a USAFI correspondence course in the evening before chow. Went to bed at 2000 and was up at 2330 for the watch.
October 2, 1943, Saturday, steaming on base course 322° True, speed 10 knots, in company with vessels of Task Group 32.5.1.
Had the midwatch and slept after dawn alert.
I got up at 0930 to take the end-of-course exam, proctored by a lieutenant.
We made landfall on San Cristobal Island before noon.
I went on watch 12 to 1600, afterwards showered and tried to sleep but found it too hot. Topside the rain is continuous.
October 3, 1943, Sunday, steaming on base course 311° True, speed 9 knots, in company with Task Group 32.5.1.
I had the midwatch, off at 0400. Finished repairing the Leslie Regulator after the watch; typed some lesson returns, then went down in the plant for the dawn alert.
We are inside Sealark Sound, having passed through Lengo Channel while I was on watch. I hit the sack after dawn alert, and was awakened to fuel ship in Tulagi. We had been detached from TG 32.5.1.
Doc Ramsey is packed and leaving. He has been assigned to a mobile hospital unit on Guadalcanal. He’ll now be working in tents or quonset huts. We all wished him well.
A big day: Commander Chandler has relieved Captain Ryan as ComDesDiv 41 and ComDesRon 21. He got an early initiation, for we got underway shortly after the change-of-command.
We passed through the anti-torpedo nets first, followed by O’Bannon and Chevalier. We went to four boilers and 27 knots.
I had the watch 12 to 1600 for the power build-up.
We went to battle stations at 1900.
CIC announced a radar contact at 1926, surface target bearing 277 True, distant 5,000 yards.
Chevalier illuminated the target with starshells. There were two supply barges. We opened fire with the main battery and set the barges afire.
We left the destroyed targets and changed course to patrol Vella Gulf.
October 4, 1943, Monday, steaming on base course 030° True, speed 25 knots in company with O’Bannon and Chevalier in column astern at 600-yard intervals. All ships at battle stations.
Chevalier reported a surface contact at 035, range 8,000 yards. The squadron maneuvered to close the range; then we illuminated with searchlights and identified a small Jap patrol craft.
All three destroyers opened fire and the target sank. Afterward we found nothing but wooden debris and oil on the water.
We patrolled the gulf at high speeds until 0600 when we passed through Blanche Channel enroute back to base.
At 1130 we secured from battle stations that had lasted since 1900 last night, some 16 hours.
We stood into Tulagi Harbor at 1340, then alongside the fuel barge; moored starboard side to Chevalier. Fueled ship and took ammunition aboard in replenishment. At 1840 we moved to Berth 9, Purvis Bay.
As soon as we anchored I hit the sack, having been up 36 hours.
October 5, 1943, Tuesday, anchored in Berth 9, Purvis Bay, Florida Island. We are under 10 minutes notice for getting underway: the regular Condition II Mike steaming watch, engines jacking over.
I had the 08 to 1200 watch... But I had all night in!
Studied USAFI courses until on watch at 20 to 2400.
This was not my best day, very depressed.
October 6, 1943, Wednesday, anchored in Purvis Bay, Berth 9.
0540 Formed anti-sub screen for LST Task Group 31.6. The OTC sent us to Tassafaronga to try and wash free a grounded LST. We got up speed and maneuvered to cause a wash to roll her loose. It succeeded.
At 1330 we were detached from escort duty and proceeded to New Georgia. My watches were 08 to 1200, then the second dogwatch.
October 7, 1943, Thursday, steaming on base course 320° True, speed 8.8 knots. We are covering destroyer transports that will land troops.
On watch 04 to 0800, then slept and read all day.
At dawn alert this morning we learned about our squadron mates’ clash with nine Jap destroyers during the night. Lots of damage: Selfridge under tow; Chevalier sunk; O’Bannon damaged badly.
That grounded LST must have caused us to miss the action.
We watched an air raid over Munda. We went to battle stations for 10 minutes before it was over.
After the watch, at 2000, I studied for two hours then to bed.
October 8, 1943, Friday, steaming on base course 320° True, speed 8.8 knots. On watch 04 to 0800.
At 0545 APDs commenced landing troops off Barakoma; destroyers patrolling at 15 knots to seaward.
At 0700 the APDs, having unloaded troops, stood out from the landing area. Destroyers formed an anti-sub screen and, maneuvering at 22 knots to conform to the Channel, stood out for The Slot. At 1000 the destroyers were detached from the APDs.
We went to battle stations at 1230 and stayed there until 1530 due to enemy air activity all over the New Georgia area.
A B-24 bomber dropped a smoke float. La Vallette investigated and found an oil drum, which she sank. They were used to float supplies to the Jap garrisons; the resupply ship needed only to plot the current, then dump over the waterproofed supplies to float to their forces. At Guadalcanal it became an important supply link to the garrison.
Off watch at 2000, showered and changed mattress covers. Then to bed. Condition Red over Munda. Battle stations for 30 minutes, and back to bed again.
October 9, 1943, Saturday, steaming on base course 090° True, in company with Task Group 31.6, less ComTransDiv 12.
On watch 04 to 0800. We escorted our supply vessel responsibility to Lunga Point, then proceeded to Purvis Bay to fuel alongside Erskine Phelps.
1450 Condition Red over Guadalcanal; all hands to battle stations preparing to sortie. It lasted only thirty minutes, so we proceeded to Berth 6 in Purvis Bay.
I had the first dogwatch, we are jacking over engines on 15-minutes’ notice. After the watch I showered and stayed up for the film.
Freeman decided that tonight was the best opportunity to cure a leaking boiler vent valve, so after the film we went below to blow off the steam remaining. It got cool enough to work on at midnight. Two hours later it held cold water pressure at 600 pounds-per-square-inch.
October 10, 1943, Sunday, anchored as before in Berth 6, Purvis Bay, Florida Island. Senior Officer Present Afloat is ComDesRon 21 in this vessel.
I had the midwatch, then slept the morning away.
After evening chow, I watched the film and had two hours of study before going on watch at 2345. We are still on 15 minutes’ notice and jacking over main engines.
October 11, 1943, Monday, anchored in Berth 6, Purvis Bay, Florida Island.
On watch until 0400. After the watch I dismantled the emergency feed pump to replace the piston packing, brand-named “Rock-hard,” and it was rock hard to work with. Finished the job in six hours and it tested o.k.
At 0930 we topped-off the fuel tanks alongside Erskine Phelps, then back to the anchorage in Purvis Bay.
Lt Mathews, “Navigatin’ Matt” the C & N gang call him, was detached to attend Sub Chaser School in Florida today.
October 12, 1943, Tuesday, anchored in Berth 6, Purvis Bay, Florida Island.
On watch until 0400.
0900 Underway to Koli Point, Guadalcanal. At 1000 we lowered a boat for the Squad Dog. Patrolled the Sound until 1450 when our boat returned with the Squadron Commander.
Condition Red and battle stations 1455 to 1530. The planes didn’t get close enough to see. We returned to Purvis Bay and moored starboard side to La Vallette in Berth 14.
The Jap raiding tempo is up in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area. Two days ago they torpedoed two cargo ships, which are still burning off Guadalcanal.
O’Bannon and Selfridge came into the Bay, O’B under her own power and Selfridge under tow. Selfridge is total destruction forward of the bridge, the 5-inch mount looks ready to fall into the water. O’B looks as though she had only lost her peak tanks, but there must have been some shock damage. I had several good friends in Chevalier, but we haven’t seen a survivor list yet.
Coming back into the bay we passed close aboard O’B, and there were cheers and jeers on both sides. A gunner sitting in the door of Gunmount No. 4 of O’B shouted, “If Old Nick had been there we’d have sunk all nine of ’em!”
The crew’s bulletin board had the exchange of messages with O’B right after their engagement in Vella Lavella Gulf:
From Captain Hill: “CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR GOOD FORTUNE, MAY YOU HAVE THE BEST OF LUCK IN FUTURE OPERATIONS X FROM US ALL IN NICHOLAS.”
O’BANNON’s reply: “NUTTIN’ TO IT, NUTTIN’ AT ALL.”
I went aboard La Vallette tonight to see how repairs had been effected after the torpedo damage last February. All new people, of course, where the hit occurred. The replacement equipment is the same make and in every way the area is like the original.
We again have a strong tide of scuttlebutt that the whole squadron will be shifted to a new area of operations. If it is toward Truk, look out!
The word is out that we sail tonight shortly after midnight. Vella Lavella? Such a euphonious name for such a nasty place . . .
October 13, 1943, Wednesday, moored starboard side to La Vallette in Berth 14. So many Red Alerts that on one got any sleep before getting underway.
We got underway at 0130. I got to bed at 0200.
We joined up in Sealark Sound with ComDesDiv 45 in Spence, consisting of Stanly, Thatcher. These plus ComDesRon 21 in Nicholas with Taylor made up Task Group 31.6., taking protective station on LSTs 460, 449, 390, 446 and 447.
On watch 08 to 1200. I started making up lesson plans for firemen; then had second thoughts. We have what we want: cool operators. Being letter-perfect on theory is not much of a boost.
The CPO Mess applied for separate mess status due to the poor food preparation. Not even the beans come out right.
On watch 20 to 2400.
October 14, 1943, Thursday, steaming on base course 285° True, speed 9 knots, in company with Task Group 31.6, enroute Vella Lavella.
At 0500 dawn alert general quarters. At 0530 commenced passage of Gizo Strait approaching Barakoma, Vella Lavella Island.
After the alert, I ate breakfast and went back on the forenoon watch. From boosting boilers, we put them all on the main line and went to 30 knots on a separate assignment.
Sighted APD 33 off Vella Lavella and escorted her back to the task group.
On watch 20 to 2400.
October 15, 1943, Friday, steaming on base course 090° True, speed 10.5 knots in company with Task Group 31.6, consisting of LSTs and Nicholas, Spence, Taylor, Thatcher and Stanly.
0635 APD 33 left the formation proceeding independently to Russell Islands.
Nicholas detached and proceeded independently to Tulagi and moored alongside Erskine Phelps to fuel. When the fueling was completed, we moved to anchorage in Purvis Bay and moored alongside Taylor in Berth 22 at 1430.
On watch 1530 to 2000. Off watch, I read instead of sleeping until midnight.
October 16, 1943, Saturday, moored portside to Taylor in Berth 22, Purvis Bay, Florida Island.
On watch 04 to 0800. I worked on machinery until 10 a.m.
The word spread fast, Sharkshit Scott got orders Stateside. The man will be missed both technically and for his bubbling personality.
I had left the plant to go forward around chow time, and I saw Scott going forward as well. It crossed my mind to congratulate him and about a dozen others had the same thought at the same time. He was caught when he was about waist-deep in the hatch to the CPO Mess, and he was surrounded with well-wishers. Uncharacteristically solemn, he stopped and said: “I hate to leave such a great bunch of shipmates . . .”
Hank Gallagher interrupted with a shocked, “What?”
Scott doubled over with laughter: “I had to tell just one more lie—and that was it!”
I had been letting my pay ride since July, living on games of chance and two anchor pools. I drew $60 today, for I don’t want my records to get lost or sunk while the Government owes me money.
October 17, 1943, Sunday, moored portside to Taylor in Berth 22, Purvis Bay, Florida Island. Engineering Department is under 15 minutes notice to get underway.
Strong scuttlebutt still: we are being relieved for all kinds of luscious assignments. The reality is a smaller prize: Scott leaves me his bunk with the fan; he leaves some lucky machinist’s mate a vacancy for chief petty officer.
At 1030 we moved alongside Erskine Phelps and topped off the tanks with 17,000 gallons of black oil fuel.
Sortied from the bay at 1300 and into Sealark Sound, then proceeded to Lunga Point, Guadalcanal to join up with Task Unit 32.4.3., consisting of Crescent City, Hunter Ligget, Fuller and Fomalhaut.
There are so many transports visible in the sound it must mean the Bougainville push is on.
October 18, 1943, Monday, screening transports of Task Unit 32.4.3. off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal.
On watch 04 to 0800. After the watch .I worked on USAFI assignments.
While we were patrolling the sound, the ship held advancement in rating exams in the mess hall. I was assigned to be the proctor. My guys were struggling; maybe I should hold school at that.
Received a copy of Benet’s Western Star.
Had the first dogwatch, and we are still maneuvering in Sealark Sound.
October 19, 1943, Tuesday, steaming on base course 135° True, in company with Task Unit 32.4.3., American Legion (OTC), Crescent City, Fuller and Fomalhaut screened by Fletcher (ComDesDiv 42), Nicholas and Taylor. Hunter Ligget and La Vallette joined up.
I had the midwatch and stayed up for the dawn alert. I stayed topside in the cool of the morning until we entered the channel to Purvis Bay. We went directly alongside the ammunition lighter to unload ammunition. A very good sign of a standdown somewhere.
On watch 12 to 1600. Studied after the evening meal, then to bed at 2000. And the fan is running!
October 20, 1943, Wednesday, steaming on base course 125° True with vessels of Task Unit 32.4.3.
On watch 00 to 0400, satisfied that we are proceeding southeast. Off watch I slept until 1100, then back on watch at 1145.
For an hour in the afternoon the machine gun battery was exercised.
Got in some study before and after chow, to the sack at 1900.
October 21, 1943, Thursday, steaming on base course 154° True, with vessels of Task Unit 32.4.3.
I had the midwatch, and when relieved waited up for the dawn alert. The word around is that we are going to Nouméa.
Went to bed at 0630, and at about eight the 5-inch gun No. 2 blasted right overhead and brought me out running. The ladder from the CPO Mess passes but one at a time, so there was a traffic bottleneck with a couple of guys insisting upon the priority of self-importance. It was solved by push and strength.
It had been a cute trick by the Old Man to fire the gun; but the firing on that bearing disclosed a structural weakness, for it crumbled a door on the deckhouse.
On watch 12 to 1600, studied before sleeping, then on watch 20 to 2400.
October 22, 1943, Friday, steaming as before.
At 0430 made a landfall on New Caledonia at 16 miles. Nicholas detached from TU 32.4.3, proceeded toward Espiritu Santo.
When I came on watch after chow at 0745, Jab had the second boiler on the line, we were building up speed.
“Anything . . .?”
“Nope. S-O-S” (same-old-shit) “I’ve got it.”
Came off watch at 1145, caught a brief lunch, then went topside while we entered Segond Channel to Espiritu Santo. We anchored briefly before coming alongside SS Chester Sun to fuel.
After fueling we went alongside Dixie, outboard of Charles Ausburne.
I went on watch 20 to 2400. At ten we got underway and sortied. Where now?
October 23, 1943, Saturday, steaming independently on course 180° True, speed 20 knots.
Between 0550 and 0650 entered Havannah Harbor, Éfaté Island, and moored starboard side to Jenkins in the nest with destroyer tender Medusa.
We have four days availability, so we started immediately to cleaning No. 2 boiler, its 1000 hours had come up.
ComDesRon 21, Cdr A. D. Chandler, came back aboard “hoisting his pennant” from a sojourn in Jenkins.
I got ashore to the Rec Area at noon with four (!) beer tickets; back to the ship at five in time for chow. Saw the film and studied afterward.
October 24, 1943, Sunday, moored in nest alongside the portside of Medusa, Tracy, Jenkins and Nicholas in that order.
Up at seven after a sick night. It wasn’t the beer but it could have been the food.
We worked in the plant all day: the petty officers on machinery preventive maintenance, the firemen on boiler cleaning.
I went to Medusa for some errand having to do with the Repair Officer, some of my equipment that only a tender could resolve with their expertise. I waited, for he was with the Chief Engineer, a lieutenant. When I saw the Chief Engineer I had to laugh: He was under my instruction in Omaha in ’41 as a Pennsylvania state naval cadet. A problem-child, he could never be roused out for a night watch . . . After a week of trying I just marked him absent after one call. In two months he had never stood a night watch. He’d never survive in a destroyer . . . On a tender he’s got a nine-to-five sinecure.
October 25, 1943, Monday, moored in nest as before in Havannah Harbor, Éfaté Island.
Worked all day in the boilers.
There are rumors that we will be assigned to a battleship task force. If they are to be used as last fall it may get hairy. We fueled ship in the morning. Jenkins and Tracy got underway. La Vallette came alongside to port in the afternoon.
On my last auxiliary watch I was rereading Captain Hardwick’s epic poem to his comrades during the cholera epidemic in India (1850). It lent itself easily to parody, so I had fun for an hour or so putting DesRon 21 in the heroic role. When I showed it to Shoftstall he asked for a copy. “Alright, but you do the typing . . .” He did, that’s how it got into the diary pages:
U.S.S. NICHOLAS (DO 449)
(A parody on Captain Hardwick’s Epic)
We stand on the swaying deck plates,
Muse on our thinning hair;
Our dreams displayed on the bulkheads
By the naked women there,
So, stand to your stations—steady!
Give no heed to the dopster’s lies;
The four-forty-nine is eternity,
One bottle of beer the prize.
There’s many a hand that’s shaky,
And there’s many a cheek that’s shrunk:
The strong men still are celibate,
The others at home, or...sunk.
So, stand to your stations—ready!
Decisions-of-heart are not wise.
I put in a chit to get this shit!
All those who didn’t rise.
Who dreams of States-side returning?
Who dreads the coming chores?
Yearning, we are unanimous
For any friendly shores.
Stand to your fart sack early!
All we have left to prize
Is a stolen can of peaches
And the semi-annual pies.
We are the Elite Squadron,
A terrible terror to Nips;
In spite of it all—in spite of the haul—
Our only objectives wear slips (pink ones).
So . . up The Slot, and stately,
Stalwart men and true;
By sinking Japs earn “beer-battle-caps”
To wear on our dress blues.
October 26, 1943, Tuesday, moored in nest with Medusa in Berth 15, Havannah Harbor.
We worked all morning in the plant. We received ammunition before chow.
At noon, being well ahead of planned maintenance, I got ashore to the Rec Area for some ball games and—unlike Santos—some unrationed beer. You could buy all you could afford or carry inside.
My funds and my beer capacity were never in agreement.
When I got back to the ship the evening meal was acceptable. The film was Lillian Russell. When you can watch the flesh there is less need for a story.
October 27, 1943, Wednesday, moored starboard side to Medusa in Berth 15, Havannah Harbor, with La Vallette moored alongside to port.
We started cleaning No. 1 boiler ahead of the 1000-bour schedule. Taylor stood in at noon.
Since about two weeks I have been bothered by insomnia: get horizontal and wait; nothing happens. For me it is rare. But I got in two hours of study before hitting the sack tired.
October 28, 1943, Thursday, moored In nests starboard side to Medusa; La Vallette and Taylor moored alongside to port.
Cleaned fire- and watersides of No. 1 boiler all day. At 1800 Fletcher stood out.
Ammunition barge alongside, and we took on more ammunition.
October 29, 1943, Friday, moored in nest starboard side to Medusa; La Vallette and Taylor alongside to port. La Vallette got underway in the morning watch.
In the forenoon I worked in the plant, and since the Rec Area has some ships stores, and while I still have some funds, I bought two CPO uniforms (blue) and khakis and caps for when the promotion comes through. And, naturally, I stopped at the athletic field to have a couple of beers and watch a good game of softball.
Back to the ship, we worked until 1900 to get ready for imminent sortie.
At 2000 we held dock trials—that is, engine tests: a few turns of the screw ahead and astern, avoiding too much movement of the hull that would strain the mooring lines.
October 30, 1943, Saturday, moored alongside Medusa.
Up at 0400 to light off the main plant and No. 2 boiler.
0600 Underway to conduct post-repair engineering trials. Cut in all boilers and tested engines and auxiliaries at various speeds.
At 0950 back into harbor and moored starboard side to USS Cache to fuel ship, moved to mooring at a buoy in Berth 22, Havannah Harbor.
All afternoon until after the evening meal was spent in resetting all boiler safety valves: a hot, sweaty and tedious undertaking that is go-by-the-book exactitude.
October 31, 1943, Sunday, moored to buoy in Berth 22, Havannah Harbor, Éfaté Island, New Hebrides.
Underway 0644 from port, Radford, Fletcher, Taylor and La Vallette also underway. Maybe our duty has changed. No need for small task forces with all these battleships around.
The battleships sortied as we covered the channel from seaward: Washington (Commander Task Group 43.2), Massachusetts and BatDiv 9, Alabama and South Dakota.
On watch 12 to 1600. The sea is very rough and sick sailors hang allover railings and life lines.
I read and studied until 1830, then hit the sack in preparation for the midwatch.