On our way north, we intercepted dispatches about increasing activity up the Solomons in Kula Gulf, between New Georgia and Kolombangara Islands. Names like Vila Plantation, Rendova Island, Enogai Inlet, Bairoko Harbour and Blackett Straits sprinkled the dispatches. The new 2,100-tonner Strong was sunk by a torpedo and Chevalier seriously damaged her bow taking the survivors off. It was hard to follow the action with no Operation Order and the fragments of information we could glean from the few dispatches we could decode. On the night of the 5th of July, however, a major engagement had taken place, which became known as the Battle of Kula Gulf.
A group of Japanese destroyers, heavily laden with troops and supplies, slipped into the gulf to re-supply Vila Plantation and were intercepted on the way out. Our force consisted of light cruisers Honolulu, Helena and St. Louis, supported by new destroyers Nicholas, O’Bannon, Jenkins and Radford. Our ships, though strung out in the predictable column at the beginning, were handled with more skill than in previous engagements, but Helena was hit by several torpedoes and soon sank. The remaining ships continued to maneuver at high speed and raked the Japanese in a succession of small actions. In the end, two Japanese destroyers were sunk and five more were damaged. Destroyers Nicholas and Radford got special mention for rescuing some 700 survivors from Helena and shooting up two Japanese destroyers, sinking one of them.
As we zigzagged north shepherding the heavily laden Lackawanna, more details came out and more Helena survivors were picked up on the north coast of New Georgia. By the time we made our way into Tulagi Harbor on the 10th of July and turned right into the narrow mouth of Purvis Bay, messages were crackling about a new buildup at Rabaul. We topped of our fuel tanks from Lackawanna and reported for duty in the Destroyer Striking Force, at anchor in Purvis Bay.
The force was under the command of Captain T.J. “Tommy” Ryan in Ralph Talbot, with Gwin, Woodworth, Taylor, and McCalla making up the Force. Hardly had Maury relieved the departing McCalla when the force was ordered out to participate in a bombardment of Munda in support of the combined Army and Marine Corps drive to capture the airfield. About the time we got all four boilers on the line and were passing Savo, the operation was called off and we returned to Purvis Bay. We were kept on 15 minutes notice to get underway, so we knew something was brewing up the Slot.
Next morning the Captain had a chance to attend a “Skipper’s meeting” in Ralph Talbot and came back very much impressed with Commodore Ryan. He’d received instructions about our immediate operations and by early afternoon, our five-ship force had cleared Purvis and was headed westward to pass south of the Russells. Our orders were to sweep the partially enclosed waters south of New Georgia and around Rendova Island to make sure there were no Japs lurking there when a force of light cruisers and destroyers under RAdm. “Tip” Merrill swept through later to bombard Munda airfield.
For the task of making a careful radar and sonar search in confined water, our new CIC was perfect. We entered Blanche Channel at the south of the area about 2200. The SG radar painted the outlines of the islands with unbelievable clarity and navigation was a cinch—plot a single range-and-bearing to a known point and we had a “Fix.” We had drawn a chart of the area on translucent paper to the scale of 1000 yards to the inch and our DRT driven spot of light showed us exactly where we were at any moment. We glided through our assigned search area a low speed while the other destroyers covered their portions. We found nothing, so we re-formed and slipped out of Rendova Sound to the southwest, leaving the area clear for the approaching bombardment force.
At 0300, Merrill’s cruisers opened fire and poured hundreds of 6-inch shells into the jungle. When the cruiser fire had been completed, his five screening destroyers took their turn and saturated the jungle with 5-inch. By 0400, the bombardment was complete and the four cruisers were joined by all ten destroyers to the west of Rendova, passed south of the New Georgia group and turned towards Guadalcanal. As we entered Savo Sound, Merrill’s force continued east to clear the area and Commodore Ryan led his Striking Group northward towards Tulagi.
We got back to Purvis Bay about noon and took turns re-fuelling. Maury was the last to fuel and we had hardly shifted to our assigned anchorage when the entire force was ordered out again to intercept an enemy force sighted coming down the Slot.
By 1800, our five ships had all boilers on the line and were making 30 knots to rendezvous with a cruiser group under RAdm. Ainsworth. The combined force, which assembled about 2000, was designated Task Group 36.1. Nicholas, O’Bannon, Taylor, Jenkins and Radford under Captain F. X. McInerney were stationed as “Destroyers Van,” light cruisers Honolulu and St. Louis, plus the New Zealander HMNZS Leander, composed the Main Body, under Adm. Ainsworth; and Ralph Talbot, Buchanan, Maury, Woodworth, and Gwin, under Capt. Ryan, became “Destroyers Rear.”
We proceeded up the Slot in a cruising formation, with the cruisers in the center and the two destroyer groups fanned out in screens ahead and astern. There was plenty of time to make preparations for the expected action. At 0036, a PBY “Black Cat” searching ahead reported one cruiser and five destroyers heading towards us down the slot at 30 knots.
In our new CIC, all was going smoothly. By now, especially after our performance the night before, the skipper had faith in us and was becoming accustomed to getting information through the voice tube next to the helmsman. The PPI gave us a perfect picture of our formation and Brian Medler on the Surface Plot was keeping us “cut in” navigationally. Ken Bean and Len Shavick had become quite skilled on the circular Air Plot and were working it as a Maneuvering Board when needed. The TBS was the Primary Tactical Circuit and the unit commanders and ship captains used their own “nicknames” for identity. We had a TBS speaker and handset in CIC, in addition to those on the Bridge, and Shavik was charged with keeping the TBS Log. The Radio Shack next door would keep us up to date on anything coming over circuits we didn’t have.
At 0100, Honolulu broke the silence with, “SKUNK BEARING 298, 28,000.” The OTC ordered a shift to Battle Formation to put the Van destroyers in a column ahead and the Rear destroyers in a column astern of the cruisers. The destroyers, particularly those in the rear, had to scramble to shift from their stations in the semi-circular screens to their new places in column. A few minutes later Nicholas, leading the Van destroyers, reported “ENEMY SIGHTED!” Ainsworth immediately detached the Van destroyers and ordered them to attack with torpedoes. He then ordered the remaining ships to turn 30 degrees to the Right to close the enemy. Maury hadn’t completely reached its position as third ship in column astern of Ralph Talbot when the turn was executed. Neither had Buchanan, shooting for the place ahead of us, but we both rang up extra knots to catch up.
Our SG made contact at 18,000 yards and we could soon make out a column of several ships on the PPI, with one in the middle giving a bigger “pip” than the others. We started tracking the big “pip” and got an initial Target Course of 125 and Target Speed 25 knots. Medler raised the top of the plotting table to re-position the “bug,” because it was getting toward the western limit of its movement. Our homemade light projector broke off in his hand! Our Surface Plot was out of commission and we were roaring towards the enemy at 30 knots! Medler fumbled with the DRT bug trying to find a way to fix it, but it wouldn’t hold together. We’d have to depend on Bean to give us our target course and speed using the Air Plot as a maneuvering board.
When the range had decreased to about 12,000 yards, the admiral signaled a simultaneous turn 30 degrees Left, then almost immediately a second 30 degrees Left to clear centerline batteries, followed by the order, “Commence Firing.” Simultaneously, the “big” enemy ship turned on its searchlight. Tressler opened fire with our 5” battery in Continuous Fire. The Captain ordered, “Prepare to fire torpedoes!”
Bachman shifted the Torpedo Director a hair to be dead on the searchlight. Our CIC solution for Course and Speed was already cranked in. The Captain ordered two “Half-Salvoes” of four torpedoes each because of the long range and narrow target. Speed was re-set routinely without order as the Torpedo-run-to-Intercept decreased, and had just been shifted to Intermediate (36 knots). Torpedo Depth was set at 10 ft. and Torpedo Spread set at one and one-half degrees between torpedoes.
“Fire Torpedoes!” “Fire One!” Amidships, behind the trained-out Torpedo Mounts, Chief Fisher slammed his mallet into the firing pin of the left tube of Mount One—to ensure with percussion should the “electric fire” fail. Our first fish leaped from its tube with a muffled “whoosh” and a cloud of smoke from the black powder Impulse Charge. It dove cleanly into the water racing by. Three seconds later, “Fire Two!” and our second fish followed the first but a degree and a half to the Right. Three seconds more, “Fire Three!” then “Fire Four!” Our first half-salvo should cross the target’s course at intervals of about 200 yards.—the length of a cruiser.
Bean’s plot now showed Course 120°, Speed 28 Knots, so Bachman cranked in the new values for the second half-salvo. The enemy’s searchlight was still on so we had a perfect point of aim. As the second series of fish leaped from their tubes, the admiral ordered a 180 Turn to the Left, but as the order come in, the flagship’s TBS started to fade. Captain Sims came left with Standard Rudder, keeping an eye on Woodworth astern as we reversed our course. Some ships missed some of the course change orders and asked for them to be repeated. Both Ralph Talbot and Buchanan turned wide and continued to the southwest.
As we completed our turn and settled on a course of 095°, an explosion occurred in the middle of the cruisers, now off on our Starboard Quarter. Several minutes and as many thousands of yards passed before there was any explanation. Finally someone came up on the TBS and reported that Leander had been hit by a torpedo. Meanwhile Maury had fallen in astern of Gwin and Woodworth, who were trying to stay ahead of Honolulu and St. Louis, who were making 30 knots on course 065 and still firing. At 0134, the cruisers changed course by column movement to North, so Commodore Higgins, in Gwin, to whom Commodore Ryan had passed tactical command of Destroyers Rear, led our three destroyers to the northwest to get ahead of the cruisers on this new heading. We were making some progress, when the admiral ordered the cruisers to turn simultaneously 60 degrees to the left, putting them in a line-of-bearing on course 300, with our three destroyers once again behind them, Buchanan closing steadily, and Ralph Talbot still far behind. Higgins increased speed to 35 knots and ordered, “Follow me.”
On the new course the battle area, with Jintsu still aflame, was no longer in the blind sector of Honolulu’s radar, but Ainsworth could not locate Leander. After a series of intermittent and largely garbled TBS transmissions, he determined that Leander was able to make 10 knots and was proceeding eastward escorted by Radford. He ordered Ryan to send a destroyer to assist Radford, and Ryan asked Higgins to designate the ship. Higgins chose Maury for the task, so Ryan ordered us, “Stand by Leander.”
It seemed a strange order to us, since we were now among the few destroyers that might offer some protection to the cruisers. Captain Sims asked for a repeat of his instructions, but nevertheless brought the ship around to the Left, maneuvered under the stern of Buchanan, and tried to get his bearings. A light mist had risen from the relatively calm waters and occasional showers hampered visibility. The stricken ship, however, must be somewhere to the southwest.
In CIC, our PPI showed a mess of uncoordinated pips and we had no DRT Plot! The enemy ship that had turned on its searchlight—later determined to be the Japanese light cruiser Jintsu—had been smothered with gunfire and hit by at least one torpedo, maybe ours. She was a burning wreck, dead in the water and sinking slowly. The remaining Japanese ships had disappeared from our PPI into some “rain clutter” to the north. We guessed a group of pips to the west was from the van destroyers, and the ships nearer to us were all surrounded by areas of “sea return” from radar reflecting from wake waves. The Line-of-Bearing formation so useful in identifying the three groups in our formation at the beginning no longer existed, so there was no pattern to be recognized. When the Captain asked me to pick out Leander, I could only report that I didn’t know which pip, if any, was hers.
Commodore Ryan repeated his instructions to stand by Leander and said she was bearing 240°T from us. There was a ship in that direction, but it was going like hell in the same direction as our other ships. We increased speed to close her enough to identify her as friendly, probably Ralph Talbot, Ryan’s own flagship, and then turned west to await an opportunity to clarify the matter, because the Admiral had instructed “small boys” to stay off the TBS: he was busily using it to determine the location of McInerney’s ships. After several minutes of intermittent TBS contact, with most messages relayed through O’Bannon, McInerney succeeded in informing Ainsworth that his destroyers were close to Leander, so he was directed to provide assistance to her and Maury was told to re-join Ryan. We headed towards the cruisers at top speed, but it would be a long haul; they were still plunging ahead at 30 knots, well out ahead of all but Gwin and Woodworth, and we were now several miles southward.
Just before 0200, Honolulu reported a radar contact on her Port bow at 23,000 yards. The identity of the contact was unknown and could be McInerney’s destroyers with which radar contact had never been regained. Ainsworth consequently ordered a “roll call” of all ships to determine their positions and the minutes clicked by while the range dropped steadily. When he finally decided that his new radar contact was enemy, he ordered a turn of 60 degrees to the Right to clear his batteries, but before the turn could be completed, torpedo wakes were sighted. Honolulu, then St. Louis, and then Gwin were hit by torpedoes! Bridge saw the explosions, but they were a long way ahead. Ralph Talbot managed to fire a torpedo spread in the direction of the enemy, as they headed for home behind a smoke screen, but our cruisers never fired a shot during this phase of the battle! Both cruisers were hit in the bows and temporarily lost communications, but could still maneuver. Gwin, however, was hit hard, losing all power and communications.
As they maneuvered to take screening positions to protect the cruisers, Buchanan and Woodworth collided, adding to the general confusion. As we approached from the south to help if we could, there were seven pips on the PPI and no way to tell one from another. In addition, passing rain showers reduced visibility and made both sighting and identification difficult. We reduced speed and approached gingerly, finally identifying the two cruisers by eye. There was little to do except screen them, since neither was on fire and both could maneuver under its own power.
When the Admiral finally got his TBS working again and took charge, Maury was posted astern as the shattered force headed eastward. At least the Admiral’s TBS was now “Loud and Clear” as he organized the remaining ships for the slow trip down the Slot. There was a round of queries about the condition of each ship and, unable to raise her on the TBS, the admiral announced that Gwin had “Gone to the happy hunting ground.” After an hour of working slowly to the southeast, we finally heard from Commodore McInerney’s group, which reported it was shepherding Leander towards more friendly waters.
Suddenly the TBS crackled and Commodore Higgins, aboard Gwin, announced she had not gone to the “Happy Hunting Grounds” after all! With a little help, he thought she could make it home. Ralph Talbot was told off to go back and find her.
The damaged Cruisers were now making about 15 knots, but it was clear that we would still be far from safe waters when daylight came. Three of McInerney’s Destroyers were called up to join our Screen and when they arrived at 0440, Maury was ordered back to help Ralph Talbot with Gwin.
By this time, the two ships were far behind and we steamed at high speed for more than an hour before we made radar contact on them. We reached Gwin with the first gray light of dawn, her bow high and her stern awash. Ralph Talbot was alongside, attempting to tow her. As the two ships began to move down the Slot, we circled, pinging for submarines, with our guns at Air Ready.
We were about 15 miles to the North of Kolombangara on a glassy sea. It was slow going. Even when Ralph Talbot got Gwin moving and up to perhaps 5 knots, she would have to cast off and get ready to fight, as Jap planes approached from the northwest. Both escorts would circle Gwin at battle speed, all guns at the ready, prepared to take the attackers under fire. From time to time we actually got off some shots, but each time we were under severe threat, a group of friendly fighters showed up in the “nick of time” and drove off the “bandits.” We had no control of the fighters and couldn’t even listen to their chatter, since they had the new Ultra-High Frequency radios and we didn’t have any UHF equipment. We didn’t even know where the planes came from, but that didn’t dampen our appreciation.
As we worked our way slowly down the Slot, we could see a large area of black oil and debris, which marked the spot where Jintsu had gone down. We passed less than a mile from the edge of the debris and could clearly see oil-blackened figures clinging to life rafts and other flotsam. A pulling boat and a motor boat were in sight moving towards Kolombangara, but the enemy planes kept us so busy there was no time to think of rescuing any of them. We had Japanese planes in sight most of the time and our gun director was grinding around constantly, shifting from one target to another.
Just after 0800, Gwin reported “Periscope Sighted” and opened fire across our bow. Our own lookouts reported a periscope “feather” ahead, so the captain ordered “Flank Speed” to head for it. It was soon apparent that we were heading for a different target from Gwin’s, so the Captain dropped an “embarrassing” depth charge to frighten any submarine in our vicinity and continued towards our sighting. It proved to be an aircraft belly tank with a bird sitting on it—across the glassy sea, a very convincing periscope. Gwin had been shooting at another piece of debris.
About 0845, an extra large group of Zeroes came in and were met by more friendly fighters. We got a few shots in at the edges to little effect, but as the air melee wound down, an F4F glided down and landed in the water close aboard. In a few moments, we had the pilot, Ensign Ernest Ingold, aboard and found he was from Squadron VF-28, operating out of fighter strip in the north Russell Islands. No wonder our Fighter support had been so good!
A few minutes later Gwin reported her pumps could not keep up with the flooding and she doubted she could make Tulagi. Ralph Talbot was clear of her side because of the air attack, so we could see how much deeper she had sunk in the water. Ralph Talbot had previously taken off essential bridge and Damage Control parties, so Maury was ordered alongside to take off the remainder. Captain Sims put our bow against Gwin’s side just forward of her bridge where the deck levels were about equal. In two minutes, we had Captain Fellows and the 30 or so men of the salvage crew aboard. Finally, Commodore Higgins, who “pulled rank” and insisted on being the last to leave his flagship, stepped across with a neatly folded set of striped pajamas and a few toilet articles—his “Abandon Ship” kit.
Just as we were backing clear, an oil-blackened whaleboat approached, running at top speed with a single figure at the tiller. As the boat passed close astern, we threw the lone occupant a line, he grabbed it and jumped over the side—the boat continuing on its way towards the horizon. We hauled him aboard and when we’d cleaned enough oil off for him to speak, we learned he was a Gwin seaman, stationed in the magazine below Mt. 54, near where the torpedo had hit. He had been blown out of the ship unhurt, swam about for hours until he found the whaleboat—almost certainly from Helena, sunk the week before—climbed in and went to sleep. He was awakened by our firing at the Jap planes, started the engine, and caught up with us just as we were about to leave.
As we cleared Gwin, Ralph Talbot took position to sink her. Firing from about 1000 yards, her first torpedo passed right under Gwin’s bridge and continued out the other side, but there was no explosion. The second shot was the same. And the third! The fourth shot hit amidships with a huge explosion. Both her bow and stern rose into the air as she sank in the middle. As she went under with a big surge of bubbles and debris, a Jap Zero dove in to attack. Both Maury and Ralph Talbot took him under fire. As soon as our tracers reached his altitude, he broke off the attack and headed for home.
We wasted no more time in the battle area, falling in astern of Ralph Talbot as she headed down the Slot at 30 knots. We caught up with the Leander Group abreast the Russells about noon and made it back to Purvis Bay by nightfall. There we moored alongside Gridley, which had arrived to join the Striking Force, just too late for the battle. It was good to have an old friend join the band.
It was a busy day in port on the 14th as we replenished ammunition, fuelled and provisioned. There was also a conference of Commanding Officers to learn the details of the battle and to re-organize for the future. No one was favorably impressed by our achievements in our latest battle, but among the destroyer commanders, it was a firm conviction that cruisers were not the right ships for night actions. It was also obvious that so long as cruisers were in the force, destroyers would be held back to take care of them.
About noon on the 15th, a reconstituted force got underway to rescue the last of the Helena survivors from the north coast of Vella Lavella, the westernmost of the islands south of the Slot. In addition to the original 700 survivors rescued on the night of the battle by Nicholas and Radford, a further 88 in three motor whaleboats and as many rafts, led by Helena’s captain, made it ashore on New Georgia. They had been picked up the next day, not far from Rice Anchorage, by Gwin and Woodworth.
A group of about 200 was not picked up in either operation. Under the leadership of LCdr. Jack Chew, they stuck together in their lifejackets, holding on to anything that would float. During daylight on the 6th, they were spotted by a Navy patrol plane, which dropped lifejackets and three rubber inflatable boats. The wind and current moved them slowly up the Slot with their huge blob of black oil, but struggle as they could, they were not able to gain Kolombangara before they were swept by.
On the morning of the 8th, having been in the water for more than 48 hours, they found themselves only a mile from the north shore of Vella Lavella and being swept slowly past. The rubber boats and swimmers finally made it ashore along an eight-mile stretch of the coast. Two Australian coastwatchers and their small army of loyal Melanesians rounded them up, took care of their emergency needs and got a message off to Guadalcanal that they were there.
The “Rescue Group” under Commodore Ryan consisted of destroyers Taylor, Gridley, Maury and Ellet plus the APD destroyer transports Waters and Dent. Commodore McInerney’s destroyers operated separately as a covering force for the operation.
Ryan led his ships up the south side of the Solomons chain and passed into Vella Gulf through Gizo Straits about 0100. Just as we were in the narrow part of the straits, a plane dropped flares overhead and all hands thought we were in for trouble. Nevertheless, with no further incident, we arrived at the entrance of Pareso Bay, about 20 minutes later, to pick up the first group of survivors. Taylor led the two transports in to the rendezvous. McInerney’s group had come strait up the Slot and we sighted them about 0200. At 0230, we picked up “bogies” on the SC radar and a couple of bomb splashes were observed, well away from the ships.
At 0330, the operation at Pareso completed, we shifted about 10 miles west to Lambu Lambu cove for the second group. By 0600 the pickup was completed and we headed East at 25 knots. At 0650, McInerney’s four destroyers joined us and we swept down the Slot to safer waters. About 1030, when we were almost to the Russells, low flying planes were reported coming down from Rabaul, but our efficient friendly fighters took care of them and none reached us.
After refueling in Purvis, we moved out into Tulagi Harbor to receive eight replacement torpedoes. We were delighted to see that these were fitted with the new 800-lb. warheads instead of the usual 450-lb. type. There were many critical observers while the new fish were routined and loaded into their tubes. Those torpedoes belonged to every man in the Ship’s Company!
Torpedoes might be our Main Battery, but it had become more and more obvious that there was something terribly wrong with U.S. torpedoes. Submarines had repeatedly reported making good shots that produced no explosions—in some cases, they had actually heard their fish hit the enemy hull with no effect. Hundreds of torpedoes had been fired by our destroyers in the night actions of Ironbottom Bay, but hardly a hit on an enemy ship had been reported. We knew from our pre-war experience that we could shoot torpedoes with great accuracy—in most cases, they were observed to pass right under the target ship!
In training exercises, torpedoes were set to run about 15 feet below the keel of the target ship, to pass harmlessly beneath its keel. In battle, they would ideally be set to run slightly shallower than the target’s keel to hit at the “turn of the bilge.” All destroyers were well trained in the use of their main weapon, yet in dozens of occasions during the battles around Savo Island (and more recently during the two battles at Kula Gulf), our torpedo fire had produced little clear result!
It was inconceivable that the torpedo crews could have made mistakes in so many firings. The “Law of Averages” should have produced a substantial number of observable hits in so many shots, but we knew of no occasion in the Pacific area where American destroyer torpedoes had clearly sunk an enemy ship! And the same was generally true of our Motor Torpedo Boats! We’d had a good chance to talk to the Motor Torpedo Boat men while up the creek alongside New Orleans and they told of shooting many fish, but not of getting any explosions. Something was wrong!
Since the earliest days of the war, submariners had been asking questions about the performance of our torpedoes. Frequently they had fired at easy, close range targets, seen the tracks of their torpedoes running straight to their targets, but nothing happened! Our secret Mk-6 Magnetic Exploders were suspected of being the culprit and after more than a year of bickering with the torpedo experts of BuOrd, ComSubPac ordered his ships to deactivate the magnetic feature of the Mk-6 and depend on the contact feature. This meant firing torpedoes to actually hit the hull instead of passing close underneath the keel of the target. Returning submarines reported some improvement, but not much.
The Destroyer torpedo, the Mk-15, was almost identical with the Submarine Mk-14 torpedo, so any problem for the submarines was probably a problem for the destroyers. ComDesPac did the submariners one better, he ordered all Mk-6 Exploders replaced with the old standard contact exploder we had used before the war. We were happy to receive contact exploders for all sixteen of our torpedoes at Tulagi.
But even a more reliable exploder didn’t answer all of the questions. We had watched Ralph Talbot fire three shots—set to run at a shallower depth than Gwin’s draft—pass right under her and continue out the other side. They had not touched her hull, though she was down in the water and certainly drawing more than her normal draft. We’d also watched Shaw’s fish pass right under Porter with no effect. Our fish were obviously running deeper than their Depth Settings—how much deeper, we didn’t know.
And then there were the tactics! Our formations and their handling had been absolutely unprofessional. Cruisers are large targets with relatively thin skins, but their guns can reach much farther than a destroyer’s. They should never have been brought within range of a destroyer’s torpedo if it could have been avoided. Destroyers, on the other hand, are more expendable and had the speed and maneuverability to be more difficult targets. They were designed to press in to short range, where it would be difficult to avoid their torpedoes. To tie the two types together in a tight formation exposed the Cruisers and limited the Destroyers, yet this had been the commander’s choice in most of our actions. We had literally run out of heavy cruisers in the forward area. We were well on our way to do the same with our light cruisers.
On the 18th of July, we sortied in the early afternoon with Commodore Ryan now in Taylor, with Maury, Gridley and Ellet, to escort the destroyer transports Kilty, Ward, Waters and McKean to re-supply our Marines making their way through the jungle on the perimeter of Munda. We were to land the supplies at Enogai Inlet on New Georgia, deep into Kula Gulf, and we expected trouble. A covering force consisting of the newly arrived light cruisers Columbia, Denver and Montpelier screened by McInerney’s four destroyers swept up the Slot ahead of us. The Transports were carrying 800 fresh marines, which were expected to stimulate our bogged down attack on Munda.
We arrived off Enogai just after midnight and patrolled outside while Taylor guided the APDs to the landing beach. The Marines were landed with no opposition, though we were illuminated by aircraft flares overhead about 0230. The unloading was completed about 0325 and we formed up and headed north out of Kula at the APDs’ top speed of 25 knots. Flares and heavy AA fire could be seen to the north. The TBS told us the covering force was being attacked. No damage was done, however, and it became clear that the Japanese hadn’t realized what was going on. They were obviously just conducting normal harassing operations to draw fire and determine the composition of our force. Things quieted down about 0400 and we got home to Purvis about noon.
On the 20th we left Purvis early with Gridley to escort a group of seven LCIs (Landing Craft, Infantry) carrying reinforcements to the troops attacking Munda from the southeast. These ungainly little ships could only make about 10 knots, so it was a long trip from Guadalcanal to New Georgia.
We’d been in the Striking Force for only two weeks, but fatigue was showing in everyone’s face. At sea, we were always at “Battle Ready” with the ship closed up to preserve our watertight integrity. In port, in addition to refueling and reloading, the little tasks of administration and maintenance had to be accomplished. There was always General Quarters for an hour at dawn and again at sunset. Most nights we’d be jerked out of our bunks a couple of times for CONDITION RED, even if it were only “Washing Machine Charlie.” Since there was nothing else to drink but water, we drank coffee night and day. We smoked steadily when we were awake, particularly at GQ. If we were up 24 hours, we’d frequently consume four packs of cigarettes. All hands slept when they could and were they could. The Plan of the Day, and most normal routine except “Chow Down,” was soon forgotten.
Captain Sims was under the greatest strain and it began to show. His normal smile and quick wit were seldom seen. He was snapping at everyone. Harry Hughson, General Quarters OOD, was a special target. Maury’s Bridge became an unhappy place. I went back over the Logs and figured he’d averaged less than two hours rest per day since we joined the Force. I’d averaged less than three! Something had to be done and I was the one who had to do it.
The lazy trip to New Georgia with little threat from the Japs was just what we needed. I asked to speak to the Captain privately and he led me aft on the Bridge level, just forward of the Mast. I told him he had to get some rest—not just for himself, but for the good of the ship. He was the key to our safety and success and he had to be at his best. We had several hours of easy cruising ahead with little risk. I asked him to go below and sleep until we entered Rendova Sound. I’d be on the bridge and would call him immediately if anything happened. His tired eyes looked into my soul and he replied, “You’re right Russ. Call me when you need me.” Wyatt, his Mess Boy, peeked into his cabin five minutes later and reported the Skipper fast asleep.
We approached Blanche Channel about 0230 on the morning of the 21st and I called the Captain. Sims ordered the ship to General Quarters and we scanned Rendova Sound by radar. No sign of the enemy. The LCIs arrived at Onaivisi, five miles east of Munda Point, well after daylight. Maury and Gridley patrolled outside in the Sound while the LCIs unloaded troops and cargo, but it was just a hot sultry morning with nothing going on. The Captain sent me below to catch some sleep. The LCIs started coming out of the shallow channel about noon and the force turned back towards Guadalcanal. We got back to Purvis Bay at 0400 on the morning of the 22nd. The Captain had relaxed the ship to Condition III as soon as he could. All hands had gotten some much needed rest on our New Georgia trip.
Copyright © 2003 Capt. Russell S. Crenshaw, Jr., USN (Ret.)