While they were standing to, a kamikaze plane hit the ship port side, amidships, right at the 40 mm ammunition locker. It exploded its bomb, and that coupled with the gasoline started a fire that immediately spread to the torpedo tubes forward. An extremely motivated and heroic torpedoman's mate stationed at the forward mount tried to turn the tubes out away from Claxton. The power apparently was knocked out; so, with his whole body engulfed in flames, he manually cranked the tube mount out to starboard and, with a hammer, manually fired all five of the torpedoes.
Little did he know or care that all six of the old battleships that formed the main battle line for the Battle of Surigao Strait were in his line of sight, about 6,000 yards away. All five of the torpedoes ran hot, straight and normal right at the battleship California. When Claxton skipper Miles Hubbard saw this, he immediately radioed to California the situation. You have never seen an old tub of a battlewagon like the California belch so much smoke and move so fast. Fortunately, all the fish missed their mark.
Meanwhile, aboard Abner Read, the fire spread furiously, engulfing the ammo in the 40mm locker, causing an explosion that penetrated the five-inch magazine just below and inboard. With the damage control party aboard Claxton, there was no orderly attack on the fire and the magazine blew up.
With the explosion of the magazine, the whole ship was ablaze with flying debris slicing through the rigging of Claxton, just 60 feet away. I had gone forward on Claxton with the supply officer to break out a fire hose with a spray nozzle to try to cool down the area forward of the bridge. Abner Read had drifted within range of our spray when an enormous explosion wracked her. At that point, Claxton pulled away to a safe distance while Abner Read continued to burn and explode.
Her crew abandoned ship by jumping over the side. There was no time to lower any rafts or boats.
Aboard Claxton all hands commenced rescue attempts by lowering life lines, life jackets and anything that would float for the crew in the water to hang onto. On trying to pull men to safety on board, we found that they were so badly burned that their flesh pulled right off in our hands. We rigged sheet bed springs with slings and lowered them over the side so that the men could swim onto them and be hauled up on board without having to grasp them. It was like seining for fish.
Within minutes of the magazine explosions, the Abner Read rolled over and sank stern-first. Claxton rescued 180 of these men and another destroyer rescued all but fourteen men of the total crew. What an amazing feat to rescue that many men from that totally exploding and destroyed ship! For some reason, the saga of those two ships and the heroism and heroic feat of rescue never received the recognition it deserved.
During the remainder of the day as suicide attacks continued. Claxton, with 180 extra souls aboard, continued to defend herself against air attack. To provide as much safety as possible for the extra people on board; each time there was another attack, they were sent below. As soon as they heard the guns start to fire, they would break out and come topside, adding a disturbing influence to the furor topside. When they all ran to one side, the ship would heel, causing a decrease in the severely decreased stability of Claxton. It was impossible to make them go below.
Fortunately, Claxton and Abner Read injured and survivors were transferred to other resources for treatment and Claxton was assigned an anchorage off Tacloban air strip; where she was able to provide anti aircraft protection for the air strip while at anchor making repairs in preparation for her run to Manus for the permanent fix.
An interesting sidelight is that both Claxton and another destroyer were moved into the large ABSD-2 floating dry dock at Manus; one on either side of the bow of the light cruiser Canberra, which had suffered a torpedo aft; and all three were lifted together. I can't remember the name of the other DD at the moment. This was some feat of engineering!