We arrived in the area about midway between the Azores Islands and Iceland and smack dab between Newfoundland and Ireland. Our aircraft started hunting and on the afternoon of October 30th a U-Boat was spotted and attacked by Lieutenant (j.g.) Fryatt. The U-Boat dove and Fryatt’s bomb missed but we knew that we were in the proper hunting ground. It was always exciting operating with a carrier where things happened and we, most of the time, knew what was happening because our PA system was hooked into the radio network between ships and aircraft. On October 31st at about 1600 we heard the excited cry from Lieutenant (j.g.). Fowler—two bogies on the surface—after the report he descended to 500 feet and stayed behind the boats which were U-91 and U-584. He stayed behind until more of his Card squadron could arrive. We heard Fowler’s almost incredulous cry “they’re shooting at me” and indeed they were. Both boats cruising at about a mile apart began firing at Fowler but their attack was ineffective. U-91 wisely submerged and escaped just before the arrival of two more of Card’s aircraft piloted by Lieutenants (j.g.). Balliet and MacAuslan. As these planes closed in Fowler and Balliet each dropped a Fido, one on each side of U-584. The Fido was an acoustic torpedo only just introduced in the Spring of 1943 and it had proven to be very effective. In this case it proved to be deadly as U-584 went to her doom a few seconds later.
Because of the reports from the pilots, Captain Isbell thought that the escaping sub was a milk cow, a U-boat used to re-fuel and provision other subs. Sinking a milk cow would shorten the war patrols of these other submarines with the obvious benefits. With this thought in mind, we, the Borie, were ordered to search for her. Captain Hutchins, our commanding officer, informed us over the sound system that we had volunteered, “to search for the escaping U-boat.” Amidst cheers of all hands at sunset, and with mild seas, we set off for the area of last contact. We young bucks, dumb and happy, were really excited. Of course we had made attacks on submarines before but always on the defensive after attacked by them on a convoy under our protection. This time we were carrying the ball and out to score; we were the hunter, not the hunted, and it was an exhilarating feeling to all of us. Most of us stayed at our battle station even though we weren’t at general quarters.
Upon arrival at the designated area we went to general quarters and started to conduct our search with both radar and sound gear. My battle station being just above the bridge, I could hear the steady pinging of the sound gear, “ping, ping, ping, ping,” as the outgoing sound pulses were lost in the vastness of the distant water, At 2010 I suddenly heard the cry—“Radar contact bearing 095 degrees, range 6500 yards.” Earl Potter had detected something on the surface. Of course you couldn’t see anything that far away in the dark. But we all started to look anyway. With a hard turn to a heading of 095 the Borie crashed through the waves towards the enemy at a speed of 22½ knots. Radar contact was made and at 1700 yards we opened up with star shells. Boom, Boom, Boom, the sky came alive with bright flares, in the meantime the sonar kept up its monotonous “ping, ping, ping.” Nothing was seen. I heard “radar contact lost”; almost at once was heard “ping-boing, ping-boing, ping-boing,” the sound of return echoes which was followed instantly by the cry “sound contact” by Bob Manning. It was a classic example of our anti-submarine system working. The sub had submerged, we lost radar contact and at exactly the same bearing we obtained sound contact. Slowing down to 15 knots, we now made a depth charge run after losing underwater contact at 150 yds. Bombs were dropped and along with them a light marker float, ka-boom there was one hell of an explosion. It rattled our ship and blew out fuses. Within minutes we were heading for the light marker and again I heard the sound echo, “ping-boing, ping-boing, ping-boing” along with Manning’s cry “sound contact” followed by the range and bearing. The odor of oil was detected as we approached for the second attack, which was made, and was followed by the usual explosion. As we turned to make yet another attack, it was reported that the sub could be seen on the surface. But no one on the flying bridge saw it. However, sound contact was made again, another depth charge attack was ordered, after which sound contact was lost. We could not regain contact. We searched for three hours for evidence of destruction but nothing was found.
Captain Hutchins radioed back to the Card, “Scratch one pig boat.” The Milk Cow was done for. WRONG. U-91 was long gone and in fact was not a Milk Cow. Anyway we had found an attack submarine U-256. And it too was not sunk. After the war it was found out that U-256 had managed, in spite of severe damage, to make it home to Germany. This had been one of those strange twists of fate. Because U-91 had escaped we had found and damaged U-256. And because U-91 had escaped, fate was soon to deal an even bigger hand. Knowing that we were in an area known to contain submarines, we continued hunting, and; Bingo. “Radar contact bearing 170, range 8000 yards.” came the shout from below.” This from Manning also, as at this time he was operating the radar gear. From Captain Hutchins, “ALL AHEAD FULL, come left, course 170.” From the helmsman, “LEFT 170 SIR,” The sea was moderate, it was about 2 AM and as the ship speed increased to 27 knots, the excitement building up with the crew could be felt by all. At about 2000 yds., radar contact was lost but again we heard the returning echoes, ping boing, ping boing, ping boing. The order was given to let go depth charges. My exact response to what happened was “Holy Shit.” Because of a malfunction, all of the depth charges on the two racks rolled into the ocean at once. The resulting explosions lifted our stern and caused our ship to surge forward but the job was done. Nothing could survive that—RIGHT?—wrong. Looking back towards the marker flare, I was the first to see it. The conning tower of the U-405 I cried out , not in a true Navy fashion, “There it is, about 40 ft. to the right of the flare.” Radar contact was obtained and with that we turned on our 24-inch searchlight. Using radar bearings we were able to keep U-405 , not one of those two escaping subs, illuminated for the entire one hour battle that was to follow.
The conning tower appeared just off the port quarter and on it could be seen a large white Polar bear, after illumination. Only guns port, could bear on the target at that time and as I remember the order was given to fire, as we moved away to regain the sound contact. When we turned and moved in at 25 knots the range was over a thousand yards. I was due for another “Holy Shit.” As leading fire controlman, my battle station was director pointer and Jim Allegri was director trainer. In director control fire, the director aimed and fired all of the main battery in unison with pointer, me, pressing the firing key. As all the guns came to bear the order was given, “commence firing” I pressed the key and three 4-inch projectiles exploded as one, in the vicinity of U-405’s main deck gun, obliterating it before it was even manned. Depending on the range, the main battery gun fire control switched from director control to local control, throughout the battle. As the main battery continued it’s Boom, Boom, Boom, the twenty millimeter guns opened up with devastating power, made even more spectacular by the 1-in-5 tracer bullets that made it possible to follow all the streams from the machine guns.
The roar and smell of battle was just unimaginable. But watching the results of the converging streams of 20 millimeter bullets was both horrifying and fascinating. While the 4-inch projectiles made immense explosions, I really believe that the machine gun fire sweeping across the deck is what finally doomed U-405. Apparently, U-405 could not submerge, as it tried to escape into the darkness, and at the same time, sending men out to man their machine guns. The first few moments they were wiped clean off the platform with our machine gun fire. For some reason men started to come out of the forward hatch, about five at a time, and started an impossible dash of about thirty feet to get to their guns. No one ever made it. As they were knocked bodily over the side, arms and legs flying. They kept trying however. The speed and evasive tactics of U-405 was very impressive as we tried to maintain a parallel course to keep all guns bearing on target. The subs turning circle was smaller than ours, and I now know that she could do 17 ½ knots on the surface. U-405 made good use of both of these features. It was like chasing a scrambling quarterback. Just when you think you’ve caught him he’s gone.
When not busy I watched the sub try to get torpedo tubes pointed in our direction, or perhaps just escape as it twisted and turned, first in one direction and then the other. Captain Hutchins managed to keep the guns bearing most of the time in spite of our larger turning circles. At one time, now I must admit, that only one other person has told me that he remembers this incident without prompting. I was sure we were going to collide, not ram. I don’t know if there was an attempt by us to ram this time, but I could see that we were on a collision, almost parallel, course. It was at this time that I realized the surface speed available to U-405. Just as we were about to crash, I swear that the U-Boat turned on all of its power, picking up enough speed to pass right under our nose. Looking down, I could see the shining faces of the Germans that were still on the bridge. If I hadn’t received a letter from Bob Manning I would have thought the whole thing was a dream. But I don’t think that we both had the same dream. We kept up a continuous fire with all guns that could bear and the hammering that the U-405 was taking was just monstrous. With many men killed and heavy damage to their hull especially the conning tower, how long could they continue to endure this savage beating. At one time, I don’t remember exactly when, but probably about half-way into the battle, it came from the conning tower, a number of what appeared to be very pistol rounds. It was not of any recognition significant to any of us, but seemed also that U-405 either stopped or at least slowed down to an almost stopped position. And then now here on the bridge, in the bright shining light of our search light, a man started to wave his arms in an arm forcing movement, they had done it again.
Shortly before this, the gun captain’s telephone lines had become entangled in the empty shell cases that by now were rolling all about the deck. Getting frustrated, he had torn the phones off and thrown them down to the deck. Seeing the man on the deck of U-405 waving, Captain Hutchins commanded “Cease Fire” but the galley deck house 4-inch gun continued to fire. Hutchins now tried to shout directly across to the gun crew and could be plainly heard by us on the flying bridge. “Cease Fire, Cease Fire” unfortunately, however, it couldn’t be heard above the noise of the galley deck house and the big gun continued to boom out its death shots. Seeing this one man standing alone amidst all of this destruction with the big guns firing was awesome. It was not to last, as within a few moments the trunk of his body stood there momentarily, arms extended, but his head had just disappeared. It was a sight that was to give me nightmares for many months. Had the tangled phone line caused this man’s death, had he been the bravest of the brave, to volunteer to expose himself , to give a signal of surrender. We’ll never know as at this time U-405 picked up speed again and started to make evasive courses again.
The battle continued. Much as before with U-405 attempting to get away or train a torpedo to bomb us or both. We, meanwhile, were trying to close the range either to ram or to fire depth bombs. STAND BY FOR A RAM, the order was given to me by a Walter Dietz, the gunnery officer; for me to relay it to the rest of the gunnery division via fire control phone system. The last five minutes or so had been a very frustrating but exciting period. Because the range had closed so much, to almost point blank, we were unable to use the gun director and for a short period of time we were only spectators. But under these conditions, a short time can seem very long. I watched as if it were a game, the beautiful arcing tracers of the 20 millimeter guns and the smashing 4-inch projectiles hitting the subs, some of them careening off the rounded hull into the darkness as a dull, red, wobbly, glow. I watched with fascination. The German sailors being knocked flying over the side while trying to man their machine guns. As each one went over, another one would take his place. Bravery or desperation? STAND BY FOR A RAM I was suddenly brought back to reality from my revelry. “STAND BY FOR A RAM’ I passed on to the men at their battle station. There was instant chatter on the system from all stations, which I stopped at once. I soon knew what the next order would be and when. Looking over the wind screen, only about three feet high, I could see our bow crashing up and down rapidly closing on U-405 still in our search light beam. I started to think, holy mackerel, if we hit them at this speed, I’m going to sail right over the screen and on down to the foc’sle. I got behind the range finder and placed my hands on it in front of me, then I thought, Hell, no. This way I’ll get my face smashed. I then moved in front and put my arms over the range finder behind my back and prepared myself for the crash.
Getting closer and closer with as many of our guns firing as could bear on the target, I watched and waited for the inevitable sudden stop. From my viewpoint, I could see everything. I could see the number one gun crew, bow gun, and wondered what they were thinking. As they would be the closest to the sub when we collided, bow on, and the most likely to be fired on as we came closer to a 90 deg. angle just before ramming. I could see the Germans in the bright light still trying to come up with some kind of defense, scurrying about in and near the conning tower. No one can deny that they had great courage. Closer and closer we came and I watched the sub get larger and larger and as I held my breath, waiting for the crash. Almost at point of impact, U-405 made a sudden turn to the port side, trying to parallel our course, and of course, to make us miss. Their move was too late. We went at them now at about a 30 degree angle, lickety split. A crash was imminent and downright soon. I closed my eyes, held my breath and prayed for the best. Sneaking a peak with one eye I saw our bow about to crash into the U-405 and I saw the fear in the eyes of a German as he tried to get aside. Holding tighter, I waited. Nothing, I looked up and saw that we were astride the sub with our bow, just forward of the conning tower. Just before impact, a large wave had caused us to rise above and over their deck. For a moment, there was a stunned lull in everyone’s action, and thoughts. Now all Hell broke lose on both sides. To our regret, the flying bridge had no small arms so, except for the phone messages, we were only spectators. In fact, from our vantage point, directly below the large search light, and looking straight down on the conning tower and circled by the bright beam it looked more like a Hollywood epic than an actual battle. I could see the Polar Bear symbol clearly and also the machine guns they had been trying to keep manned. There were six of them. One quadruple mount and four single mounts and they were all fired sporadically.
Ed Johnson started in with his 20 millimeter mount. Depressing it so that at first he had to shoot away the wind screen before hitting into the men on U-405’s deck. Although the action report says otherwise, my recollection is that no 4-inch gun could be depressed far enough to bear, so all firing was from the 20 millimeters and small arms. Dick Wenz had, upon hearing the ram order, broken open a steel small arms locker and passed them out to men on deck. The story in some newspapers, that he broke open the locker with his bare hands was a little bit of an exaggeration. He did, however, break it open with a fire ax. Flying bridge was almost exactly overhead of the conning tower, so as mentioned before, we had a great viewing spot. We were also in a great spot for their small arms fire, as they were doing most of their shooting towards the bridge. Except for a few Zitz as the machine gun rounds went by we weren’t aware of being a target, and their fire was not enough to distract us from the tableau enfolding below us. I saw Johnson open up and the explosions as the first shot hit the wind screen.
Many years later, Eddie was to tell me that he never got over feeling bad about killing all those men with his machine gun. I saw Walter Kurtz throw a 4-inch shell case into the group of men standing in the conning tower. And below on the bridge I saw a bright flash from a Very Pistol, and then watched a bright ball of fire arc across into a man’s chest; he went down, rolled over with his chest still burning, a sight I will never forget. With nothing to do, one of the range finder operators, a fearless kid, after watching for a while, started to scream. Kill, Kill, Kill the bastards. The day before he wouldn’t have killed a fly. I found out later that he had been nicked in the hand by a bullet just before that. Lt. Dietz reported an order to me from the bridge. We will not board, we will not board. My first reaction was “No Shit,” this didn’t go over too well at the time and later on the remark was forgotten.
I then got a call from the fire controlman at the fire control switchboard which was isolated by dogged-down hatches. “What the hell is going on up there.” He didn’t even know that we had rammed the U-405. I also saw one German reach out with his hand as if he wanted to be helped aboard the Borie, but no one offered to help Small wonder as they were still firing their machine guns. My most vivid memory is of two gallant crews standing up to each others actions and the appearance of every kind of weapon imaginable for the defense of his ship. There was no sign of fear or disorganization anywhere aboard the Borie, everyone went about his duty with the utmost confidence and I am proud to have been a member of this crew. I was to be even more proud by the time this whole action was over. I was stunned and impressed with the size of U-405. From my vantage point, I could see that with almost as large as our ship there were about 300 people on it, which was large for a sub during World War II. I had also been impressed by its speed and maneuverability before we mated with it. Sighting the part by what means I don’t know, I was again impressed by these features of U-405 and the ensuing action. Especially in light of the damage it had suffered. The Borie was to do well also, in spite of serious damage.
After the war I was to find out that U-405 was only 220 feet long. It’s strange what stress will do to your judgment. The whole crew knew at the time that it was at least 300 feet long and it got bigger and bigger as the years went by. We, on the flying bridge, did not know it yet; but the Borie had received serious underwater damage in both engine rooms but the forward engine room was already flooded by the time we separated. It seemed like an eternity. It probably was between ten and fifteen minutes. When separated, U-405 made a mad dash into the night with Borie firing whatever guns could bear and doing it very effectively. A 4-inch shell was seen explode in the sub starboard diesel exhaust. It didn’t seem to slow it down anywhere as she took advantage of her small turning circle and opened range to about 500 yards. We fired one torpedo but missed because one of these fast-type turns. U-405 continued circling in the very tight turn which Borie could not match. Plus Borie’s movements were also now hampered by the flooded engine room. We did however, manage to maintain our murderous shelling and by now between 20 and 30 of the subs crew had been killed while trying to man their guns. Not being able to close range on U-405 because of the difference in the radius of our turning circles, Captain Hutchins used a clever ruse. He ordered the search light turned off. And of course, the sub immediately tried to escape into the dark of the night. Now we tracked them by radar until they were in a position and it was to our advantage. With our entire starboard gun battery bearing on U-405, “On searchlight, commence firing,” came the command. And U-405 again came under heavy, damaging gun fire. We started to close to ram again but before we hit, U-405 turned into our starboard quarter and seeing an advantage, Hutchins swung our ship hard to port using both rudder and engines. This move brought us to a parallel course with U-405 and within range of our depth charge projector. Three charges were fired with a perfect straddle being achieved. One over and two short. Boom, Boom, Boom. All three exploded at a depth of 30 feet. We not only heard, the explosions, they damn near knocked our socks off since we were also almost dead in the water. Well what we felt was nothing compared to what it must be like on the sub. U-405 appeared to lift out of the water and it almost stopped, thus ending what appeared to be an attempt to ram us while heading directly into our still heavy gun fire. It just wouldn’t give up. But then they turned toward our stern and apparently tried to get away but by now their speed just wasn’t good enough. They were on the starboard side heading away after us. Close on them again we started to circle around to our port side so at first the range opened up and at about 700 yards the remaining torpedoes and the port tubes were ready. Hutchins ordered “STAND BY TO FIRE TORPEDOES.” Tom Neary sitting on a torpedo tube first matched pointers with the torpedo director. The unit that measures the proper angles so that the fish hits the target. At just about the firing time a full salvo of the main battery let go with the usual jolt throughout the ship, causing an engine room hatch to jump open. The open hatch stopped the tracking of the tube just before we heard the Whoosh of the fish leaving its tube. Being set shallow, all of us on the bridge could see it charge through the water on its death mission and we watched in fascination as yet another tableau emerged. This time fate was on the side of U-405 as we watched our torpedo slither by their bow, missing it by about 10 feet.
In the meantime, we were still firing all guns and shortly after the torpedo missed we again hit the sub starboard diesel exhaust which finally brought U-405 to a standstill. Out of the conning tower came a shower of very pistol stars splashing the night with white, red and green lights, indicating that they were at last ready to surrender. This time Captain Hutchins ordered a cease fire, received by all guns and the night was silent, after one hour and some minutes of unexcelled carnage. One or two men appeared from the conning tower and started to throw yellow, two-man, rubber life rafts into the water. They were tied together and gave the appearance of a string of very large hot dogs. U-405 was now settling fast by the stern and what was left of the crew, about 20, managed to get off and over to their rafts. Just before U-405 went down, it went into an almost vertical position and went down. An underwater explosion was felt soon after. The German survivors in their rafts continued to fire Very stars as we moved slowly towards them still in our search light beam. It’s thought that they were signaling another sub as a white star was reported in the distance. With the survivors just off our port bow and so close that we could see their shining faces looking up at us, sound operator Potter reported, “Torpedoes bearing 220.” Hutchins ordered, “Hard to port heading 220 all available speed.” This heading unfortunately caused us to go through the group of survivors. I vividly remember seeing the face of one young boy as I looked straight down on him. His eyes were wide, his mouth was also wide open and in a silent scream as he extended both arms, hoping to be picked up. It was not to be. Someone reported seeing a torpedo traveling down along our port side. All of us were upset because we had to leave them, but we hoped that the other sub rescued them.
Once the battle was over they were no longer the enemy but were brave fellow men. In light of what was to follow they wouldn’t have been much better off and probably would have cost the loss of more Borie men, whether or not torpedoes really had been fired at us.
Now came the time to separate the men from the boys. You know what. There were no boys aboard this ship. It’s a good thing because by now we had been without sleep for twenty-one hours and our ordeal was not even close to being over. We left the battle area at a speed of, at best, 10 knots and while making evasive zig-zag turns to get away from a possible sub attack, we assessed our damage. They were considerable.
It was only now that we, on deck, found out about the courage and ingenuity of the men who had been struggling below decks during the battle. From the Action Report: “Conduct of the entire crew was uniformly excellent. All hands executed their duties in above average fashion.” The men below decks had been in a different type of battle, but no less dangerous and no less important. When we rammed U-405 we, on deck, did not know what havoc had been reaped below. A large hole had been made in the forward engine room which immediately started to flood. While the guns above were booming, the men below had to, with water up to their necks, keep the ship’s speed up and at the same time try to repair the damage. The men in the after- engine room also did an outstanding job in operating their plant and at the same time repairing two holes in the ship’s hull. At the same time, other men in the damage control party, with their backs close to hot boilers, shored up the bulk head between the forward and after engine rooms , which could have collapsed as the forward engine room filled up.
There were so many examples of courage, intelligence, and ingenuity that it is impractical to name all of the men involved. But the executive officer’s statement in the action report covers it all. “They, the crew, manned their stations and obtained the maximum efficiency from the equipment at hand. A completely disregard for personal safety, and the initiative shown by all hands was an inspiring sight.” There was no sleep in sight for our tired crew as we tried to make our way back to the Card group on a course of 00 true and a speed of 10 knots. We radioed this information to the Card at 0452, still not fully knowing the seriousness of our damages. With the forward engine room completely flooded, we had lost all power, except the emergency radio power, which was used for the last message.
This too, was not to last very long, the loss of all electrical power made it extremely difficult to run the ship and make repairs. Also feed water from the boilers could not be recovered, so we began to realize that we might be in a little trouble. When the light of day appeared, we found out that indeed, we were in a lot of trouble. The emergency radio power was gone, there was a heavy fog, and we were taking on water rapidly. All available gasoline had to be used to keep the pumps running trying to stay ahead of the incoming water, so none was available for our radio generator. To help keep the ship afloat, Hutchins now gave the order to “lighten ship.” All hands “turned to” to accomplish this and the “can-do attitude” of the American sailor was never more evident. Bucket brigades were formed and the guys worked their butts off. Specific pieces of equipment were ordered jettisoned. I’m sure each leading petty officer has his own story to tell, but of course, I only know my own.
We dumped our boats, the gunner mates threw over all 4-inch shells except for ten rounds for each gun. They also threw over several machine guns. The torpedo men dumped their two torpedo mounts which was quite a feat. The boson department let go all our anchor chain which was sent to the bottom with a long, metallic, rattling roar.
I was called to the bridge by Captain Hutchins who gave me the order, “I want you to dump the gun director over the side and I don’t want it to come down on my bridge.” I really have no idea what the gun director weighed, but with the size of it, and the fact that the base was made of bronze, I think that a fair estimate is between 1000 and 2000 lbs. The navigational bridge below, extended out about five feet out on both sides of the flying bridge. There was no way to swing it out from above. In spite of serious doubts, I replied “Aye, Aye, Sir.” I can’t remember who helped us, but Jimmy Allegri and I could not handle this alone. I disconnected all the wires coming out of the base into a junction box on the bridge overhead, which is the ceiling of the bridge. We then started to pry the director up with pry bars, inserting wedges, whenever possible. Gradually the director started to lean over to starboard until it was finally, almost, balanced on an edge. For once the large waves were an advantage to someone as we rolled way over to starboard we all pushed and “bump” it dropped neatly into the sea and didn’t even come close to Hutchins’ bridge.
By mid-morning, still in fog, with our headway dropping slowly but steadily because we were now using sea water in our boilers. It then became apparent that abandoning ship was a distinct possibility. Hutchins ordered chief torpedoman Cronin, to drop depth charges off the stern racks. I had previously met a sailor that had safely abandoned a destroyer going down, only to be seriously injured when the depth charges exploded. He received almost fatal internal injuries and told me that it felt like someone had inserted a red hot poker into his rectum. Two charges were dropped. Baroom, Baroom, they exploded at a shallow depth, lifted our stern, and shoved us forward. Our already stricken home, shook, rattled and groaned. Hutchins gave the word “set them on safe.” Baroom, Baroom, and we felt the concussion and surge forward again. Hutchins screamed GOD DAMMIT, I SAID ‘SET THEM ON SAFE’.” Chief Cronin screamed back “GOD DAMMIT, THEY ARE ON SAFE.” As I remember it they had to remove the detonators to keep them from exploding. At least once we thought we had heard the sound of an aircraft above the fog and it well could have been. Because at 0650 the Card had catapulted four aircraft, on anti- submarine patrol with orders to be on the look out for the Borie. The Borie wasn’t sighted nor anything else, so at 0950, the aircraft still in the air were directed specifically to look for DD 215.
Because of the bad weather, all airplanes were back on board with negative reading results by 1030. By now we were practically stopped and for the most part all of us were just standing around, wondering when, and if, we would be found or would another sub get us first for the coup de gras. After all we were still in an area reported to have a heavy U-boat concentration. Waiting, waiting, listening, and hoping for the best. The whole crew now had time now to realize what a hell of a predicament we were in. Sometime before 1100 Lt. Lord thought of collecting all the light fluid, kerosene and alcohol aboard ship and using the whole mess to run the emergency radio generator. It worked. At 1110 the Card received our message sent out by Cameron Gresh, "Commenced sinking.” Huff duff did it again and two avenger aircraft were sent out to search the area along the high frequency bearing. Despite the limited visibility we were found 14 miles away from the Card at 1130. I don’t remember if we spotted the airplane or not, for sure, but my recollection is that we were aware that it was there. We later heard that, (this is hearsay), in addition to the radio bearings, the pilot located us by flying along the line of spent 4-inch shell casings. On getting a report of our sighting, the Card would change course to our bearing and speed towards us at a speed of 18 knots. By the time they arrived we had lost all power and were now wallowing in the troughs of huge waves. Were we ever happy to see our fellow warrior the USS Goff coming close aboard at about noon time of November 1st. You can bet your sweet bippy we were.
At last we were no longer alone in sub infested water and tangible help was near by. We saw the Card catapult four airplanes which headed off into the four quadrants of the compass. Presumably to sweep the whole area surrounding our task force, which was now in a precarious position. We were dead in the water. The Goff nearby and the Card moving at slow speeds with only one escort, the USS Barry. By now I would have given a years pay to be on the Card or the Barry. The Goff came along side, bow to bow, and attempted to pass over suction hose and handy pumps. It was finally decided that it wouldn’t be of help as we had no fresh water available for our boilers and the seas were too heavy for the transfer of water from other ships. The possibility of towing was abandoned as we had no towing engine and , if you remember, we had dumped our anchor chains. Hindsight, maybe the time to abandon ship was when the Goff was along side. Sure, the waves were high, but not as high as later. It was daylight, and both ships were standing still or nearly so. We will never know, will we?
At 1630 with the weather getting progressively worse and darkness setting in, Hutchins had no choice but to abandon ship. Even though we didn’t appear to be in any danger of immediate sinking, with the bulkheads bulging and the waves getting larger, there was always the danger of capsizing. Which would have been catastrophic. And then began the most harrowing experience of my life. At about 4:30 PM the order was given to abandon ship with the seas running about 20 feet or greater. I was on the flying bridge just above the navigational bridge and I heard the order before it was passed on to the crew. My first feeling was one of anger, as I had worn a brand new warm up coat, given to me by my brother, and blazing with Kearny High School on the back in bright red. Everyone on the ship, including the Captain, had admired that coat. Captain Hutchins once had even called me to the bridge and suggested that I should give it to him because he was the captain. This was a miserable day and why should I be more comfortable than the captain. Knowing that I had no choice but to go over the side, I said , Oh Shit, and dropped the coat on the deck while moving towards the first ladder. After descending to the bridge, I inflated my rubber life jacket and at the same time, watching an event that was to be only one of several that would change my philosophy of life forever. Previously, while at sea, Bill Schmalberger, now one of my best friends, had held a non-denominational church service on Sunday. A gorilla like chief petty officer would make it a point to walk through the compartment each time and hassle us with obscene remarks, while jostling as many as possible during his walk through. Now, while adjusting my life jacket, I see this 6 foot plus bruiser, on his knees in a corner praying and shouting. “Don’t let me die, don’t let me die.”
I am sure all of us were apprehensive in one way or another but there were very few cases when men showed their fear. Watching the men climb down the side of the ship, and their actions later told me that most men do what is needed in times of danger and that rank or position do not indicate a mans stature. From then on I would always respect my superiors for their position, but never again would I be in awe of anyone.
After inflating my life jacket, I proceeded down the next ladder to the main deck and went to my abandon ship station. Remember, we had thrown away our boats trying to save the ship. Now I find that the life raft on starboard side can’t be moved away from the ship because of the winds and the waves. This was to become a serious problem later on when all hands were finally off the ship. I turned and went over to the port side and, in doing so, picked up an old kapok life jacket and donned it over my rubber one. As I passed the hatch a young sailor came out wearing only his underwear and life jacket. The only way to survive in water of such low temperatures was to be dressed warm, so I ordered him to go below and put more clothes on. He was so frozen with fear that I couldn’t make him do anything. He was another tough guy that folded when put to the test. He was to do more damage later on. While I was talking to him Ed Malaney came up to me and told me that his life jacket had broken. I gave him the kapok one I had saying that I didn’t need two. That was a mistake. No, not really, as we both made it and who knows what may have happened to Ed without that jacket. When I reached the port rail I found that men had already put out the lines; here goes anything. I crawled over the side holding onto the line while the ship was rolling over to starboard about 30 degrees. I didn’t have to climb down, it was a matter of crawling down the side of the ship and in doing so however, I had to climb over heavy armor, about 1 foot thick. I just cleared the armor when the ship rolled back to port causing the armor to hit me on the top of the head and drive me deep below the surface of the ocean. I came to the surface with a very sore head and spotted two life rafts about ten yards away. I swam to the closest one and hung on. Looking up I saw Mousey standing by the rail waiting to go over the side. Not realizing that there was a coating of oil on the surface, I shouted, “Hey Mousey, come on down, I’m too skinny for this stuff.” In doing this I got a mouth full of oil and I thought I was done for, but it soon passed. The raft was now very crowded, so I swam to the other one which was almost empty. I had just reached it when I found myself being crushed between both the rafts. When it felt like my chest was just about to burst, I screamed, “Jesus Christ,” and the two rafts just drifted apart. It was a strange feeling. It was soon dusk with none of the rescue ships in sight, but most of us had taken it in stride. Remember the man that wouldn’t put more clothes on? He was next to me, with his arms around the neck of an older chief , choking him. I tried to break his hold but I just couldn’t. Chief Long lost his grip and they were both torn away from the raft by the waves. They drifted away, wordless, never to be seen again. The Chief died because of a man that didn’t care for life at all.
A petty officer holding onto the raft next to me soon told me that my life jacket was broken, and I looked down and I saw that it was. When I was crushed between the rafts the pressure must have broken the holding clamps. The jacket was now useless and it soon drifted away. The petty officer had two, and when I last saw him he still had two. Darkness came and now we wouldn’t be able to see a rescue ship even if one were to come along, nor could they see us. We had other problems in addition to the darkness. Our raft had so many men that we had to hold on to each other like a bunch of grapes while the raft was riding up and down the huge waves. We didn’t realize the trouble we were in as we would joke and occasionally break into song. I lost all sense of time, so I don’t know when this happened. Someone saw the silhouette of a destroyer bearing down on us and we all started to cheer. We soon stopped cheering when we realized that they hadn’t seen us. They were going to hit us with the bow, dead center. There were about 30 men on our raft with about 4 sitting in it. One of them was Tom Neary. Now Tom is one of those nice quiet guys that never appears to be around but always gets his work done. Fortunately, he was around this time as he reached into his jacket and very calmly pulled out one of those cheap flashlights that never work, and flashed it towards the destroyer. It worked. It was the USS Barry and we saw them veer to their port, but not soon enough. The starboard side of their bow hit our raft on the side opposite to me, it was a terrible sight to see. Some men scrambled up the side of the ship, but many were killed between the ship and the raft and nothing could be done.
I didn’t attempt anything because I knew that without a life jacket I would only get one chance and not a very good one at that. After that pass, we remained alone in darkness again for I don’t know how long but there was no more singing or horsing around. This was no longer a game.
The Barry showed up again, but this time I think they saw us or at least it didn’t appear that they were going to hit us head on. By now my mind wasn’t too sharp, but to the best of my recollection, there were still about 10 or ‘12 men on, or holding on, to the raft and we were all very wary. The cold, angry seas were still there and the Barry looked foreboding as a dark form was approaching, crashing up and down on the waves, it hit us again but at this time we were all on the far side of the raft. No one was hurt this time, rather it was every man for himself and tried to scramble up somehow. As far as I know, most made it this time by climbing on the raft and then jumping to the rail. But I was afraid to try at first. There was another problem, an officer had been along side me for a while now, and he was in bad shape. He had been fine before the Barry whacked us but now he was hysterical and nothing I said or did helped. I hit him on the shoulder as the raft slid down the side of the ship, to alert him, but he didn’t respond. I now saw a screw guard approaching and I knew this was my best chance and that I had to go. I climbed up on the raft, crouched down, waiting. Don’t forget, no life jacket. The Barry was on a roll away from us as the raft went under the screw guard so I stood up to grab it. And just then the ship started to roll back. Whack, I was hit on the back of my head and momentarily I saw the guard crush the officer’s head against the rail. I then became unconscious I came to under the water feeling the beat of the screws under my feet and my arms were folded over one of the bars of the screw guard. Whether it was instinct or my stiff heavy jacket that kept me stuck to the screw guard, I don’t know, but the worse thing was that no one was there. I hung on and shouted but to no avail and for the first time I began to feel that I was going to die. I remember thinking, only married three months and I’m going to die.
My life, starting at about twelve years old, was whistling by in color I know it was about twelve because it started with me in a boy scout uniform and one had to be twelve to join the scouts. It went on from there in a series of stills, showing me at different ages, with different friends and members of my family. Suddenly this kaleidoscope ended with tugs at my neck and I returned to consciousness into my hazardous position. I was still hanging onto the screw guard of a destroyer in a very high sea, at night, and the water temperature at approximate at 40 degrees. My head was alternately above and below the surface with my feet dangling only inches above the whirling propeller of the rescuing destroyer. I looked up and saw two brave men trying to save me. Yes, your life really does flash before you when death is near.
Now came the tugs on my shoulders, and there were two men that were trying to save me. One man was on deck holding onto the other who had climbed out on the guard, which was still rolling pretty good. He had me by the back of my neck, holding on to my jacket and pulling as hard as he could, all the while shouting, “let go, let go.” I was now alert and afraid that if his hand slipped I was a goner. I shouted back “Bullshit, if you let go, I’m dead.” He soon convinced me that this was the only game in town, so I let go and they hauled me aboard. My troubles were over, right? Wrong. I had been in the water for about 71/2 hours and by now I was stiff as a board and totally helpless. I couldn’t move a muscle, so they dragged me by the neck across the deck, bouncing me over pipes and whatever else was on the deck. Now I’m not complaining, they had to get me out of the way and get back to their rescue work. There were still men out there that needed their help and I was so very thankful to be aboard.
The head, toilet that is, on a four stack destroyer was in a small deck house on the fan tail or the stern and that’s where they put me for safe keeping. So what better way to end your day then on the deck of a head in a rolling sea. None, when one considers what my alternative had been. Now, lying flat on my back, on the deck, wouldn’t have been all that bad except that I couldn’t move a muscle and I was pressed against the port side bulk head directly under the urinal trough. There was water on deck and every time the Barry rolled to port I had to hold my breath to keep from drowning. I was conscious all the time and I was thankful that I was still alive, realizing that some of my friends were gone forever. Two men, during a lull, finally came and carried me down to the crew’s department, put me on a lower bunk which was below the mess table. Just above me, on the table, was a huge dish pan filled with old soapy water and garbage. The rescue attempt had started at about evening mess time and all four stackers weren’t equipped with dishwashers. They’re equipped with dishwashers okay, but they are the two legged kind. All hands were top side looking for survivors and that was okay with me. Lying there, still immobile , I was thinking about all that had happened and suddenly the ship rolled hard to port. I now found myself covered from waist to top of my head with dish water and potato peels and I wasn’t even hungry.
Sometime later, the ship’s doctor and a medic came to see me and proceeded to clean me up when we came out of the hunt, and best of all, they gave me a large shot of legal brandy. This was the first time I ever had a legal drink aboard a ship and it couldn’t have been a better time. I went off to sleep and didn’t wake up until after daylight. Upon waking up, I found that I was in pretty good shape and able to get around, not to mention the fact that I was so very happy to find out that I had really made it. Now came the gathering of survivors to swap information about our shipmates, trying to find out who made it and who had not. There were many hugs and many tears during this period and all in all it was a very emotional time. Of my three best friends, I only knew that Mousey had made it because he was on the Barry with me. We received partial lists from the Goff but Jim Allegri’s name and Bill Schmalberger’s name weren’t on them. Later on Jim told me that he and Bill thought I was dead because someone had seen me crushed between the rafts and said that I never could have survived.
The sea was still quite heavy and we were surprised to see that the Borie was still afloat. We never could have stayed aboard however, because the major bulkhead between the engine room and the fire room was bulging and could have given away at any time. It would have been chaos, trying to abandon ship in the dark , with such heavy seas, and the shortage of life saving equipment. Although the storm had passed during the night, the sea was still quite heavy the next morning and the Borie, while afloat, was down by the stern and wallowing heavily in the troughs.
According to the Card’s Action Reports of November second, here was the group’s position. The nearest port was Horta , about 690 miles. Iceland, Ireland and Newfoundland were all about nine hundred miles. We were in the approximate center of five reported submarine groups. The Borie’s condition was so bad and danger from the U-boat so great that it was decided that salvage was impossible. Orders were given to sink the Borie. Torpedoes and shell fire were tried first but heavy seas made both methods inaccurate. Shell fire did set the bridge on fire however, but she was finally sunk by bombs from the Card’s planes. Although badly mauled by the previous battle and the heavy seas, she still went down as a valiant lady. It took three depth bombs close aboard before she went down swiftly by the stern at 0955.
On a previous trip we had rescued 44 German survivors from submarine U-664 that had been sunk by our planes. As you could imagine, it was rather crowded, it was decided to transfer them to the Card by a pulley line, so we placed them inside a canvas bag and, at a signal, men on the Card would run down on the deck and pull the bag across the water between the two ships. We thought this was great fun, but the Germans didn’t like it at all. Now we were in the same boat, as the Barry and Goff were also crowded, and our mission was not yet over. There were 22 Borie men on the Barry, 107 Borie men on the Goff and these destroyers were only designed to hold just so many men. So, you guessed it. We were to be transferred to the Card by pulley line and I didn’t like the idea at all. The transfer was to take place during the regular refueling of the destroyers from the Card. With a bag hanging on the block and tackle, rigged between the Barry and the Card, we prepared to go. At least we, on the Barry, traveled first class, only one man at a time. The men on the Goff were transported two at a time in the bag. I climbed into the bag, no life jacket, and they closed the bag over my head with the draw string. I took off like a rocket as a large group of men on the Card ran down the deck. Some of what happened now was told to me by my friends in quotes, who almost died laughing, but most of it I felt personally. At about mid-point I came to a sudden stop and I mean sudden. There I was hanging in a mail sack about 50 feet above the ocean, mid-way between two ships that are about 50 yards apart. When the ships would roll together, I would drop like a rock, and when they rolled away from each other, I went up like a sky rocket. All this time I was thinking that only a magician could get out of this situation and since I wasn’t Houdini, all I could do was hope that I wouldn’t be dropped into the ocean in a closed mail sack. Just as suddenly, I moved forward at a high rate of speed only to be stopped again by the soles of my shoes hitting a solid object. I didn’t exactly stop, however, instead I flew up and over and came down on my hands, knees and face. My patience had begun to leave by now so when the bag was opened I came out screaming. “Jesus Christ if it is one damn thing it is another.” The Card’s chaplain greeted me with “Glad to have you aboard son.”
We spent another week at sea on the Card and it was interesting to watch and be part of a Carrier’s operations. More important, it was a time for the survivors to spend time together trying to find out all we could about the men that were lost. It was during this time that Ed Malaney took me to Captain Hutchins and reminded him that he had promised to give five dollars to the first man that spotted a sub on the surface and it was I who had. I expected him to hit me on the head after losing his ship but no, he reached into his pocket and gave me a five dollar bill. All of the survivors from my life raft signed it and then Ed Robertson framed it for me while we were homeward bound. It now hangs on the wall in my office.
Some human interest stories were told by many of the survivors. One man that hadn’t heeded the warning about not drinking water while ashore in Casablanca, contracted dysentery and he was confined to his bunk. He was not seen abandoning the ship. A hospital corpsman who had not turned in all his alcohol had invited men to the sick bay for a drink or two of pineapple juice and alcohol. He was last seen, somewhat drunk, and no one saw him leave the ship either.
A sailor’s sailor, fearing that he wasn’t going to make it gave his money belt to another sailor with instructions to give it to his wife. The friend died but the sailor’s sailor made it. Ensign St John helped men board the heaving Goff while holding on to the screw guard until he, a brave man, was lost. Captain Hutchins abandoned his ship in true Navy tradition. He made one last inspection by flashlight and was the last man to go over the side. He carried the ship’s colors with him, which flag is now in the Smithsonian Institute, and on and on and on.
The men on the Card treated us very nice, giving us clothing to wear and letting us use their bunks. There was one amusing, question mark, incident. One of the Card sailors said to me “you know, when you guys were floating around last night, we were without any protection. As you might guess, I wasn’t very impressed. The planes went out on a few missions and it was impressive to watch them come and go. We had come to recognize some of the pilots by their voices over our loud speakers when they were attacking subs. You could imagine our shock when some little kid would climb out of plane after a mission. After one mission, we heard that one of the hottest pilots was coming in and we couldn’t wait to see what he looked like. He zoomed in, jumped right out of the plane, and then sauntered down the deck swinging his helmet, all 5' 6" of him.
When we were near Norfolk, and I presume out of danger, memorial service was held for our missing shipmates. I think it was only then that we really knew that we had lost friends of three years, 27 of them.
Task force arrived back in Norfolk, Virginia on or about November 9th, 1943 where we were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Also awarded were three Navy crosses, two silver stars and one legion of merit. I got a new Chapstick because I lost mine when the ship went down.