November 12, 1942
Reported to the USS Bennett, DD 473, at Boston Navy Yard, Charlestown, MA as Asst. Eng. Officer. Ship was being built.
February 9, 1943
USS Bennett was commissioned.
Shakedown cruise to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. We picked up survivors of a torpedoed freighter. Also had a possible kill on a sonar-detected submarine. During 1942–43 the U-boat menace was at its height. Returned to Boston.
May 11, 1943
Mother’s day and my 21st birthday. Ship left Norfolk, VA, expecting to go to North Africa but orders opened 50 miles at sea had us escorting USS Essex, the first large carrier commissioned since the start of the war, through the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor. Many nights during this trip we acted as plane guard 1000 yards astern of the Essex while the pilots were being qualified for night landings. It is tough enough to land a carrier during daylight, but these landings were made at night with only a red masthead light showing. Seven pilots were lost—such a waste.
Gunnery training around Oahu. Spent a couple of nights at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu. The Navy took it over and submarine and destroyer sailors used it. Part of R and R.
Escorted a troop transport to the South Pacific. We crossed the equator and the international date line for the first time. We left the convoy and went to Samoa. The transport continued on to New Zealand, then to New Caledonia (Nouméa, Éfaté, Espiritu Santo) and up to the Solomons. We anchored off Guadalcanal, which had been secure since early 1943. By this time the Marines had moved up through the Russell Islands, Kolombangara and Vella Lavella, but the Japs were still sending ships down the “Slot” (sea passage through the center of the Solomons) to strengthen the positions they still held. We were based at Purvis Bay, Florida Island (near Tulagi). This was also the PT boat base that J.F. Kennedy operated from.
November 1, 1943
Escorted transports to the invasion of Bougainville Island in the Northern Solomons. The Japs sent several air strikes at us from Rabaul. One large troop transport, the American Legion, ran aground at about this time and we had our hands full trying to fend off the dive bombers. We escorted the transports to a safe area about 50 miles south at sunset. That night we witnessed a major sea battle between cruisers and destroyers on both sides. The USS Foote took one of the Jap 24-inch torpedoes and lost her whole stern. The night sky was full of tracer shells and star shells (bright flares released from shells fired from guns and held in the air by small parachutes). We supported the Marines ashore for a couple of weeks with shore bombardments.
On a pitch black night we transported about 15 Marine raiders to Green Island, north of Bougainville and east of the Jap Stronghold of Rabaul, New Britain. We dropped them off about 300 yards from the beach in rubber rafts. The plan was to return a few days later with a troop transport and supplies. This we did and the raiders had knocked off the Jap detail before our return. A few days later, while patrolling off the island, an Army Air Corps fighter pilot had to ditch his plane in the water near us. The plane sank and after what seemed like forever, the pilot bobbed up out of the water. I took my shoes off and dove in to help him along with a couple of other guys. He was about 200–300 feet from the ship. I got to him first and we all managed to get him aboard. He had a back injury which wasn’t too serious. When I got aboard, everybody told me that they never saw anybody swim as fast as I did. What happened was that I dove off the ship about 40 feet forward of the fantail and the captain had just happened to put the engines in reverse. So the big twelve-foot propellers created a great wall of water which carried me directly out to the pilot.
We received orders to proceed to Sydney, Australia for one week of R and R. It is such a beautiful city. Approaching from the ocean, white cliffs run north and south from the harbor entrance. Inside the harbor, the most prominent things are the steel arch bridge (like the Hell Gate Bridge in New York’s East River, only bigger) and the city skyline. Even in 1944, it was quite cosmopolitan. I recall I was invited to play golf at a club where they rolled out the red carpet. I also recall visiting the racetrack for the Sydney Cup. I was with two pals; we each placed a bet in a three-horse race and none of us picked the winner!
May 8, 1944
Were were back to the action soon enough. We patrolled the “Slot.” The Japs were using submarines to supply troops on islands around the Shortland Islands. One day, as we passed Poperang Island, the gunnery officer asked the captain if he could fire on a lookout tower. As he prepared to fire, puffs of smoke appeared by the tower and four shells straddled the Bennett. We took off at flank speed and we found out that their guns were bigger than our five-inchers. An interesting appendix to the story: after we returned, the USS Montpelier, with bigger guns, was sent up to knock out the shore battery. She sat offshore about far enough to put it in range but before she fired a shot, the shore battery opened up and one shell hit the Montpelier’s anchor chain and the anchor dropped in the water. She left in a hurry, too! A battleship was finally sent up to destroy the shore battery. Of course, the Shortland Islands were bypassed in the US island-hopping operations.
We headed up to the Central Pacific where a large task force assembled at Eniwetok for the invasion of the Marianas Islands (Saipan, Tinian and Guam). We escorted the troop transports and then did shore bombarding. Much of the activity we saw on all the invasions consisted of lying off the coasts a few hundred yards and firing as directed by Marine spotters on the beach. Before the troops landed we picked our own targets and cruisers and battleships fired over us. It seemed nobody could withstand this “softening up.” But the Marines still had a tough time establishing a beachhead and advancing into Saipan.
Taking Saipan and Tinian afforded two large airfields for B-29s to bomb Japan. During this campaign we were at sea for 90 days. We rendezvoused with tankers and supply ships to get fuel, food, ammunition and—most importantly—mail and movies. While the battles raged, on shore or offshore, we could be at general quarters (battle stations) for days at a time. That meant eating K-rations (high protein food that really kept everyone alert). At this time, my GQ station was a damage control group in the after part of the ship. Later, when I became chief engineer (December 1944), my GQ station was the forward engine room. During GQ, living spaces were closed off and ventilation was shut off. In the tropics, these spaces reached 90–100° in no time.
During the Guam invasion the Bennett was called in to within 500 yards of the beach to provide fire support for a group of Marines. They directed our fire by radio to our gunnery officer using a pre-arranged grid map to pinpoint the Jap positions. We fired full salvos for about two hours (that is, five 5-inch guns firing four rounds per minute). With all guns blasting, the ship responded with a shudder! It turned out that I missed this event. The following morning one of my fellow officers said, “Where the hell were you last night?” When he told me what had happened I didn’t believe it until I read the ship’s log. I slept in my 100° stateroom through the whole affair. My bunk was two decks below No. 2 5-inch gun and the general quarters signal was loud enough to raise the dead!
At this time, the Japs sent a task force from the Philippines to fortify Guam. We joined up with battleships and cruisers and headed west to meet them. But an aircraft carrier group spotted them and finished them off. It was known as the First Philippine Sea Battle or the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.”
One sad note: by the time the pilots had accomplished their task it was twilight and although Adm. Mitscher ordered his carriers to “turn on the lights” in spite of the risk of Jap submarines, many pilots had to crash land their planes. We found one pilot and his crewman.
After Guam, we escorted transports to Peleliu in the Palaus and took part in shore bombardments. At the north end of the islands, Kossol Passage was a large atoll ten miles in diameter and ideal for a fleet anchorage. We were sent up to assist in minesweeping operations. The minesweepers had paravanes (cables which fanned out from the bow with floats on the end of both cables and cutters to cut the mines free). When the mines bobbed to the surface, we exploded them with gunfire. We operated with the USS Wadleigh, alternating each day following the minesweeper within the passage. However the minesweeper reported sweeping many more mines than we were exploding. One morning, while patrolling seaward of the passage, we spotted three mines floating seaward from our patrol path, which meant they had floated across our path during the night. The next day, the Wadleigh struck a mine and almost sank. The whole operation was abandoned at this point and Kossol Passage was never used as an anchorage.
We then went to Manus in the Admiralty Islands where we saw probably the largest group of ships ever assembled during the Pacific war. It was the staging area for the Philippine invasion. We would miss this campaign because we received orders to return to the States for retrofitting and overhaul. We escorted the USS Idaho back to Seattle from Pearl Harbor. She was an old World War I battleship similar to the USS Arizona, which had gone down on December 7, 1941 at Pearl. We left Seattle and headed for San Francisco where we got 21 days leave and 21 days in San Francisco. However, I had one little misadventure with one of my shipmates. The ship left Seattle at 7 a.m. but we didn’t get to the pier until 7:15 a.m.!!! See the attached reprimand. But, what the hell, it was the first night back in the States in 1½ years. The States sure looked good to us.
December 1944–January 1945
We departed San Francisco in mid-December and proceeded to Pearl Harbor. At Pearl I was assigned engineering officer. As a “plank owner,” I knew the whole crew and it was an easy transition. Because of my training at the NYS Merchant Marine Academy in navigation, rules of the road, seamanship, etc., the captains wanted me to stand watches as officer of the deck on the bridge. This ceased when I became chief engineer. No more 8 to 12, 12 to 4 or 4 to 8 watches on the bridge and my GQ station was the forward engine room.
Next came Iwo Jima. The Army Air Corps bombed Iwo for over 60 days and just before the invasion the shore bombardments from our battleships, cruisers and destroyers was so intense that we didn’t think anybody could survive it. We escorted the Marine transports to Iwo and the landing took place on February 19, 1945. They hit stiffer resistance than any other invasion site because, as we found out later, the Japs had a large underground network of caves on the island. While on patrol north of Iwo one very dark night, a Jap plane was picked up on radar and was making a run at us. I got impatient trying to get information from our phone man who was connected to some guy on the bridge. So I climbed up the ladder and out the hatch to the main deck just in time to spot the exhaust flares from a twin-engine torpedo plane (Betty). He was very low and heading right over our bow. All the guns were blazing away and they downed him after he crossed over the ship. The next morning we went in near the island to pick up mail. I was on the foc’sle with the first lieutenant, John Jessup. He looked down and spotted a 12-inch hole in the ship just below the waterline. It seems that the Jap Betty had dropped a torpedo and it was a dud! The paint locker was flooded and that was it. We took off for Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and were repaired in a floating drydock. Leyte was the staging area for the hundreds of ships being assembled for the upcoming invasion of Okinawa. In was here that I saw my brother Phil, who was on the flagship of an LCI flotilla.
Leyte Gulf was the area where the Philippine invasion took place in October 1944. We missed it because of our overhaul in San Francisco. It was the biggest confrontation between the two fleets during the war. There were surface battles between battleships, cruisers and destroyers. In the middle of it all, a typhoon hit and did some damage of its own. Three destroyers capsized in weather with the barometer pressure so low that it couldn’t be recorded. This was the big storm that became one of the climaxes in The Caine Mutiny. It was at this time that the “kamikazes” made their debut. There were many ships of all types hit by kamikazes during the Philippine campaign but this was not reported by the press.
We escorted the Marine transports to the Okinawa invasion of April 1, 1945. The invasion came off without problems. Surprisingly, they didn’t hit any real resistance until a few days after they landed.
We were assigned to Picket Station No. 13 south of Okinawa. After moving to several different stations, we went into Kerama Retto, a small island with a harbor southwest of Okinawa, to pick up mail and supplies. This came to be known as the graveyard of navy ships. We saw several damaged ships but the USS Newcomb stood out. She had been hit by five planes and everything on and above the main deck was a tangled mess of steel. It was April 6—a terrible day. Ten destroyers and three destroyer escorts were hit by kamikazes that day. We were attacked by several planes. Again, being in the forward engine room, it was hard to know what exactly was going on. The phone man on the bridge told our phone man in the engine room that a plane was diving on us at a very steep angle. Then—nothing! We heard two explosions which sounded like depth charges exploding. I climbed up the ladder to the main deck and was facing our chief radioman, who was as white as a sheet. He said the plane hit the water 20 feet from the ship, going straight down. The main deck amidships off the port beam was wet from the splash and his two bombs exploded under water.
We reached the dreaded Picket Station No. 1 in the middle of the night about 3 a.m. April 7. This was north of Okinawa and it was spotted first by the kamikaze pilots coming down from Honshu, the Japan mainland. We were looking for survivors from the USS Bush and USS Colhoun, sunk just after sunset April 6. After sunrise, the planes started coming at us. We had a team of combat air controllers on board. They did an outstanding job of directing Navy fighter planes to the kamikaze radar contacts. The Navy Unit Commendation for the Bennett spells out their excellent work. One of the kamikazes was coming at us with a Navy fighter right on his tail. The fighter pulled away when he was about one thousand yards away from us. Then our guns opened up. He appeared to be hit and hit the water about ten feet from the starboard side and bounced against the side of the ship. His 500 lb. bomb released and tore through the skin of the Bennett and exploded against No. 2 boiler drum in the forward fireroom. Fortunately, this boiler was not fired up. The explosion ruptured several steam lines fed by No. 1 boiler and blew out a large section of the bulkhead between No. 1 fireroom and No. 1 engine room. Live steam filled the two spaces rapidly. The 6-inch steam lines were wrapped heavily with asbestos insulation or lagging. So, along with the live steam there were particles of asbestos flying around. This was terrible if it was inhaled, but it did adhere to freshly-burned skin and acted as an insulator. We lost seven people—six in the fireroom and one in the engine room. Everyone who emerged from the engine room looked like a snowman because of the asbestos. Doctor McNamara set up a treatment room in the wardroom. He gave me a shot of morphine and rubbed some salve overall of the burned areas—face, hands and lower legs (exposed parts). I guess the shock and the morphine resulted in pain insensitivity because it didn’t seem to bother me too much.
All of the wounded were transferred to the USS Crescent City, a transport which was transformed to a hospital ship after the troops went ashore. It was anchored about a mile off Okinawa. We stayed on board for nine days before being moved to the USS Hope for transport to an Army hospital on Saipan. The worst part about the stay on the Crescent City was the air raids—several each day. There were triple-decker bunks and I was in an upper with my face about one foot from the overhead. When the raids came in I could hear distant guns firing. Then it got closer and louder and of course it is human nature to think that every bomb (or plane) is aiming at you.
As the wounds healed, the odor in these rooms became fierce. My hands contributed greatly and I couldn’t get away from them! On the USS Hope, as my beard started growing, I started to look like something dragged up from the bottom of the sea. The salve on my face had long since caked and it came off in bits and pieces. They held a little contest on the ship and I was voted the second most ugly. The poor guy that came in first took a .50 cal. shell through his face—in one cheek and out the other. He only lost two teeth and the doctors had high hopes and expectations that plastic surgery would make him better looking than he was before.
One of the great days on board the Hope was when I got my first shave. Things were a little tender but it was clear that any scars would soon disappear. The barber was very gentle. During the five weeks following April 7, my constant companion was Chief Fire Controlman Homer Hurlburt from the Bennett. He came from Burlington, VT and we have kept in touch over the years. He was in the gyrocompass room, just forward of the forward fireroom and he took a piece of shrapnel in his arm when the bomb exploded. On Saipan, we used to walk down by the eastern shoreline and watch the B-29s take off for the raids on Japan. About four planes per minute took off for a two-to-three hour period every day.
We left the convalescent hospital on May 6 and flew back to Pearl Harbor where we boarded the Bennett, limping back to the States on one engine. The repairs were done at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, WA, and took about three months.
1. Sam Barbier, Water Tender 2c, was in the forward fireroom tending No. 1 boiler. The bomb blast blue his shirt off and while exposed to live steam, he had the presence of mind to turn off the oil burner valves on No. 1 boiler. He did get into the bilges, but with the water rising because of a large hole in the ship, he attempted to go up the two sets of ladders to escape to the main deck. He made it, but sustained more serious burns. The large hole was caused by a large section of No. 2 boiler drum, which was blown downward through the skin of the ship below the waterline. Sam received the Silver Star for his heroics. He spent the next seven months in Navy hospitals and was released in December 1945.
2. Frank Hanratty, Electrician’s Mate 1st class, was our senior electrical man. After we were hit, the main generator in the forward engine room was out of commission. The emergency diesel generator was located forward of the No. 1 fireroom. Cables had to be run from the emergency generator to the after engineering spaces, not exactly a task described in the manuals. The Bennett was dead in the water at this time. Frank and his electrician gang jury rigged the power cable, made the necessary connections and had the port engine in the after engine room running in short order. This was a tremendous feat, demonstrating skill and ingenuity under difficult circumstances.
In San Diego, we received top secret orders to go back to Bremerton and escort a Navy weather station group to Petropovlovsk, Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. About fifty people with weather equipment were on board the USS Harry Corl. This weather station was intended to monitor weather conditions during the invasion of northern Japan. The entrance to the Russian harbor was a very narrow channel about ten miles long running into a bay ten miles in diameter. There were dozens of lend lease ships anchored and the piers were stockpiled with all sorts of lend lease materials—trucks, jeeps, tanks, etc. We stayed about ten days, but after a few clashes between our crew and the Russian vodka, we were restricted to the ship. The weather people set up their station 50 miles up in the mountains. We left and visited Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and Sitka. The weather and the fall foliage were spectacular. However, a big winter storm hit while we were in Kodiak and we left the harbor to ride it out. Four inches of ice formed on our gun turrets and superstructure. One 5-inch gun turret sustained some damage from being hit by large chunks of ice. We spent Navy Day, October 27, 1945, in Sitka, where the townspeople really laid out the red carpet for us. The ship then headed for San Diego to go into mothballs. I finally got my orders to leave in December and arrived home just after Christmas.
The Bennett was eventually given to Brazil and was remained Paraíba—the flagship of the Brazilian navy.