USS Chevalier DD 451
Care of Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California
15 October 1943
From: Report of Enemy Action Resulting in Loss of Vessel.
Reference: (a) Art. 712 U.S. Navy Regulations.
(b) Pacflt Conf. let. 36cl-42 of 8 Nov. 1942
(c) Pacflt Cong. memo 39 gm-42 of 29 Nov. 1942.
Enclosure: (A) Executive Officer’s Report of Action.
1. The following action report is pieced together from replies to questionnaires submitted by all CHEVALIER survivors, from the quartermaster’s notebook and personal recollections. No Track chart is submitted because the dead reckoning tracer was completely destroyed by the blast and the track which had been kept thereon could not be found. In verbal conversations with the commanding officer of the U.S.S. O’BANNON, however, we found ourselves in almost complete agreement as to times and courses etc., and it is believed that O’BANNON’s track chart might well serve for CHEVALIER.
2. Events leading up to action - (all times love)
Task group 31.2 had been directed by commander Task Force 31 to proceed to a point 10 miles Southwest of Tipi Sako Point, Choiseul Island to arrive by 2100 and to operate in that vicinity to intercept enemy barge traffic. One black cat had been ordered to search the area ahead. Shortly before sunset, about 1830 love, further information was received from C.T.F. 31 that a large number of enemy barges, SC’s, PT’s and possibly as many as 9 enemy DDs might attempt an evacuation of Vella Lavella from Marquana Cove, retiring in the direction of Treasury Island. The RALPH TALBOT, LA VALLETTE and TAYLOR were ordered to rendezvous with task group 31.2 at 2300 and the combined forces were directed to intercept and destroy enemy forces encountered.
From about 1900 on task group 31.2 was trailed continuously by from 1 to 3 snoopers, dropping flares along the track. CHEVALIER was at general quarters during the entire period. The sea was calm, bright moon with occasional overcast. The Group Commander maneuvered by column and turn movements in an attempt to shake off snoopers, however all attempts at deception of snoopers were of no avail. We were cruising at 21 knots searching with sound gear. At 2134 increased speed to 25 knots. At 2239 increased speed to 30 knots formation line ahead, order SELFRIDGE, CHEVALIER, O’BANNON, distance 500 yards. At 2240 made surface radar contact bearing 280ºT by head of column movement to develop contact.
3. Narrative of Events - (all times love)
2241 - I was informed by CIC that there were five ships in group. I designated our target as the second ship in column and directed CIC and control to commence tracking. I then ordered torpedo control to load primers and be prepared to fire a half or full salvo as ordered, firing tube 2 first.
2250 - Changed course to 240ºT, by head of column movement. The range was closing rapidly and enemy were plainly visible silhouetted DDs or small CLs plus 2 DDs. Received orders by TBS to stand by to execute “WILLIAM” one half salvo, plus information that group commander would turn to port. This was later changed and word received to turn to starboard.
2252 - I ordered “stand by to fire torpedoes to port, hard right rudder, come to 280ºT.”
2253 - The ship’s head was steady and I ordered “fire torpedoes one half salvo.” As best as can be reconstructed now the following data was used in firing: Target angle 305º, target course 115ºT, target speed 28 knots, range 4000 yards, unit spread 1½ high speed. A good solution had been obtained prior to firing.
2255 - Received order via TBS to execute “DOG” and opened fire on same target. Range 3700 yards. Our second salvo was a direct hit, and we evidently kept hitting.
2256 - Noted a large explosion in number 3 ship in column, evidently a torpedo hit.
2258 - The three leading ships were aflame and #3 sank. I directed control to shift targets to #4 which the SELFRIDGE was firing on. #4 apparently was being hit by SELFRIDGE.
2259 - Received orders via TBS to “be prepared to illuminate.” Ordered control to be prepared to illuminate. At this time we were informed by CIC that two small high speed targets were approaching on starboard beam. I swung left to bring the 1.1 machine gun to bear and ordered them to open fire on anything sighted. I did not feel justified in taking the main battery off target since the group commander had just informed us that he was attacking the group of four ships ahead. I noted that he was turning right so I ordered “right full rudder” come to course 300ºT, so as to bring my battery to bear for illumination of his target.
2300 - I directed Lieut. (jg) Hewes to report via TBS that we were ready to illuminate. I also ordered the helmsman to leave his right rudder on so as to unmask the battery a little more.
2301 - I was at the center bridge window and was just about to order “rudder amidships” when the torpedo hit. There were two distinct concussions, the first being the explosion of the torpedo, and the second, almost simultaneously, being Gun 2 magazine. All personnel on the bridge were stunned. I was thrown to the deck and I presume somehow between the compass binnacle and the wheel, since that is where I found myself when I came to. My first thought was to warn O’BANNON that I was out of control swinging right. I saw Crudele, CSM, and directed him to send that message via blinker tube. I did not realize he was injured, but he fainted as he started to call the O’BANNON. In the meantime, still a bit dazed, I inquired as to the extent of the damage. I was informed that the entire bow forward of the bridge had been blown off. All communications were out. I dispatched a messenger, Ensign Mcquilkin, to the engine room to order “back emergency full.” By this time, possibly 2 to 3 minutes after the explosion, my head had cleared sufficiently so that I knew what I was doing. I ordered the Executive Officer, Lieut. Hansen, to make a survey of the damage and report to me as soon as practicable. Just then, I felt another shock aft on the starboard side, and presumed it to be another torpedo hit, but was informed that the O’BANNON had rammed us in the after engine room. All light and power were lost, but the ship slowed, stopped and her bow, if such it could be called, came up some. Before, the wreckage of the bow and the hole in the I.C. room and forward fireroom bulkhead had cause the ship to start submerging like a submarine. I believe she would have gone under in spite of everything if the O’BANNON had not stopped our headway. I sent word to the executive and the chief engineer via Hubbard, SOM3C, to attempt to keep power on the ship as I had hopes of backing her in, or at least keeping her pumped until we could be towed in stern first. I received word back that the forward fireroom bulkhead was crumpled and the fireroom had been secured when the water reached the burner level, that the fuel oil suction lines aft had been cut and no oil suction could be obtained, that the after engine room was flooded above the upper gratings and was untenable, that the fresh water tank in the after fireroom and the after starboard bulkhead were ruptured and that we were making water fast in the after fireroom. I then informed O’BANNON by blinker tube that it was doubtful if we could save the ship and asked her to come alongside to remove wounded and survivors. I had the word passed via voice that no one was to abandon ship and that absolute quite must be maintained to expedite the handling of wounded. While this message was going out I directed that the torpedoes in tube one be set on low speed, the gyro angle set at zero, with no spread, the tube trained on the blazing enemy vessel slightly abaft our port beam, which was being circled by two DDs, and one torpedo fired every 30 seconds. I hoped to crack one of the two who could still maneuver but only succeeded in possibly hitting the wreck, which blew up and sank some minutes after we fired our last torpedo. Whether we hit or not, I cannon say, since the vessel was in a bad way already. In the interim I ordered the torpedo officer to proceed aft and personally supervise the removal of all pistols, boosters and detonators from the depth charges and to tell the executive to jettison everything on the starboard side. I directed the gunnery officer to proceed aft to direct the jettisoning of all ammunition in the upper handling room of gun #3, this gun having been jammed in train by the collision. Upon completion of this he was ordered to take station so as to control the fire of guns 4 and 5 in event we were attacked.
The O’BANNON in the meanwhile was attempting to come alongside to port but her smashed bow made her very unhandy at slow speeds so she reported she was sending her whale boats to take off the survivors. Alonzo, BM1C, had managed to lower our starboard whale boat so I ordered the executive to to put a boat officer in the boat and commence loading the wounded for transfer to O’BANNON. The wounded were collected on the port side amidships under the supervision if Iverson, CPHM, who superintended the loading into the boats. I then directed Lt. (jg) Hewes and End. Mcquilkin to make a thorough search of the ship for wounded and killed. Lt. Cowan, the chief engineer, reported to me that all efforts to keep steam had failed due to lack of oil suction and that the water was gaining in all engineering spaces. I directed him to secure all boilers and lift safeties, and to ascertain that all hands were clear of engineering spaces. I then directed that all registered publications be destroyed, the ECM machine, all radar and radio transmitters be demolished. I personally witnessed the destruction and throwing overboard of the ECM and ABK. I directed Lt. (jg) Tillisch to get his pay accounts and Ens. Weber to obtain all records from the ship’s office. They returned almost immediately and reported that both the disbursing office and the ship’s office had been carried away. During this time I had two men searching for the Damage Control Officer, Lt. E.R. Breed, Jr. U.S.N.R., and the ship’s doctor, Lt. E.C. Kley, MC, U.S.N. They reported unable to locate the two officers and I presumed that they had been lost in the initial explosion. Doctor Kley was later recovered and states that he was blown clear into the water. He swam to O’BANNON and was picked up about an hour later. Lt. Breed is still missing. Since the evacuation of the wounded was proceeding in an orderly fashion, I decided to make a tour of the ship and see for myself what was done. The bridge was a shambles. The only thing left intact in the pilot house was the wheel and rudder angle indicator. All radios were blown off the after bulkhead. No 2 20mm had been blown through the forward bulkhead together with four magazines. The starboard wind was a mass of twisted wreckage, the pelorus stand was gone, and a 20mm magazine had knocked the starboard torpedo director back into the starboard flag bag, which had in turn given way and was hanging over the midships deckhouse. I sent for some members of the damage control party to cut this away and jettison. I do not remember who did the work but it was accomplished in a very few minutes. About this time Lt. (jg) Hewes reported that one dead man was buried under a mass of debris on the director base platform. We identified the man as Hunter S1C by means of his clothing. I made a personal check and found his head and body were buried under the 20mm gun plus wires and part of the F.D. radar screen, which had fallen off the director. I directed that the body be left there. I then returned to the bridge deck, collected Westphal, SM2C, and Sims, SM3C, with their blinker tubes and told them to follow me. I went to the main deck and tried to get into officers country. At this time there was nothing left forward of frame 72 below the main deck, and the main deck was ruptured in several places. I peered into the escape hatch from the plotting room and reached the oily water with my arm so I decided to investigate no further in that direction. About this time the bridge deck collapsed leaving the pilot house draped down over the water at about a 30º angle.
The roll of the ship was getting very sluggish and she seemed to have trouble righting herself. The starboard rail was rolling under. I directed Westphal and Sims to station themselves on the port side amidship and take any messages from O’BANNON. I started down the forward fireroom hatch and stepped in the water at the third rung of the ladder. Using a flashlight I could see that this fireroom was almost completely filled and that #1 boiler seemed to be twisted, with the front pointing to starboard. The water in #1 engineroom was about two feet deep over the lower grating. The water in the after fireroom was up to my hips over the lower grating. The after engineroom was completely flooded, and the ship seemed to be working around the hole in the starboard side. I believe that the starboard shaft is the only thing which held her together. After completion of this inspection I decided to make no further effort to save her, and returned to the main deck and directed Lt. Comdr. Hansen to instruct all hands to inflate life belts, jump in the water feet first, with their hands over their eyes and ears. He informed me that all flotation gear available had already been thrown in the water.
The crew abandoned her in a very orderly fashion, the whale boats took life rafts and floater nets in tow and proceeded to O’BANNON. I then directed all officers to abandon ship and made one last tour of the main deck to see that all hands were clear. When I returned I found Westphal and Sims still waiting for me. They hailed a boat and we abandoned ship together. Upon arrival alongside O’BANNON, her executive officer assured me that the boats were still searching for survivors and would do so until certain none were in the vicinity. He urged me to board as the captain wished to see me. I told Captain McDonald that I guessed the CHEVALIER would remain afloat for about another hour and a half if the present calm sea prevailed. He assured me that he would see her sunk before leaving the vicinity. I later learned that the LA VALLETTE torpedoed her about an hour later.
4. Lessons learned
We should have turned away at least 90º after we fired torpedoes and opened the range to 7-8000 yards. Nip fire control being what it is and ours being what it is I believe we could have inflicted as much damage as we did and ourselves remain uninjured.
My decision not to take the fast closing small targets under fire was wrong. I should have immediately fired on them, since I was not being hit by enemy shell fire. We could possibly have sunk them and then returned to the kill unharmed. The PT boats definitely got us since we were hit on the starboard bow. I am sure, as almost everyone else is.
Communications with our aircraft are abominable. To my knowledge we obtained no information what-so-ever from our black cat. If previous information of enemy disposition had been received, the burden thrown on the task group commander of making an instantaneous decision would have been removed. He could have given us his plan and individual commanding officers would have been free to fight their ships, knowing what to expect. I think that the battle was fought in the best possible manner, and doubt if any different tactics could have been employed even if previous information had been furnished, but someday this may not be the case.
The value of harassing surface craft by aircraft at night is not appreciated sufficiently in our operations. Even if no damage is done, speaking from experience, I know that the commanding officer’s mind is directed from the main object often by the Nip tactics of dropping flares and bombs. The strain is sufficient to upset some nicely timed maneuvers sometime. It would also build up the morale of the crew immensely, if they knew their own planes were dropping flares on the enemy and that the other side was receiving the same treatment we are.
6. Comment on Own Forces
Considering the odds against us, I feel that we did very well. There were no material casualties in CHEVALIER prior to being hit. The engineering plant, 5”/38 battery and torpedo battery all functioned normally. As a result of enemy action and subsequent sinking, casualties to personnel were as follows:
NO. OF OFFICERS KILLED: NONE.
NO. OF MEN KILLED: 11
NO. OF OFFICER MISSING: 1
NO. OF MEN MISSING: 42
OFFICERS SERIOUSLY WOUNDED: NONE
MEN SERIOUSLY WOUNDED: 5
OFFICERS SLIGHTLY WOUNDED: 12
MEN SLIGHTLY WOUNDED: 29
I cannot praise too highly the coolness and daring of the captain, officers and crew of the U.S.S. O’BANNON in standing by for some two and one half hours and taking off survivors from CHEVALIER, while in the presence of a superior enemy force who were in a position to attack the two damaged ships at any time. The total number of men taken off included all but 1 officer and 5 men whose battle stations were not forward of the bridge.
In conclusion I would like to make the unqualified remark that I had the honor to command one of the best officered and manned ships in the South Pacific. I have nothing but praise for the conduct of each and every individual attached to the ship. I would also like to recommend that the entire group, officers and crew, be ordered to commission a new DD - they have all expressed their desire to do so and if this recommendation can be followed, I feel certain that the fleet will have an excellent fighting ship from the day she is commissioned.
7. Recommendations for individual awards and commendations will be made the subject of separate correspondence.