At this point I think I will take some time to describe the Newcomb, my home for the next two years:The Newcomb was a 2,100 ton, Fletcher Class Destroyer, built in Boston. The keel was laid down on March 19, 1943; she was launched on July 4, 1943, and commissioned on November 11, 1943.
Displacement: 2,050 tons
Length: 376.6 ft
Beam: 39.6 ft.
Draft: 17.75 ft.
Power: 60,000 horsepower; 2 fire rooms, 4 boilers; 2 engine rooms, steam turbines
Speed: 35 knots (40 mph) and a bit more (~38 knots)
Five 5" 38 cal. guns; ten 40mm guns in five twin mounts; ten 21" torpedoes in two quintuple mounts; numerous depth charges and 20mm guns.
The Newcomb was designated Flagship of DesRon 56 (Destroyer Squadron 56) composed of three sister ships in three divisions of three each. The “normal” complement was 20 officers plus 309 enlisted men, but with the “Flag” on board we had nearer 350 people.
A great deal happened aboard the Newcomb during her two years in commission, and I will not try to give a thorough coverage; it would be too long and mostly boring. Rather, paralleling my coverage of my antecedents, I will give a brief overview of the history of the Newcomb and follow that with more personal input.
For the initial overview, I will quote directly from The “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships”, vol.V, 1970:
“Newcomb shook down in the West Indies for a month, then made passage to the Marshall Islands, arriving 4 April 1944 for two months duty on antisubmarine patrol off the Japanese held Mille, Wotje, and Jaluit atolls. She next joined the assault on Saipan as flagship for the screen from 29 May until 5 August, serving as fire support and patrol ship at both Saipan and Tinian. On 22 June, while guarding transports, she and the Chandler (DMS 9) sank Japanese submarine I-185, and on 4 July her well-directed fire broke up a Japanese banzai attack north of Garapan on Saipan.
“Operating in the Fire Support and Bombardment Group for the assault on the Palaus 6 September to 1 October, Newcomb fired 23 separate shore bombardments and also covered underwater demolition teams providing bombardment control spotting. As flagship of Destroyer Squadron 56, Newcomb joined in the Leyte landings 12 October to 4 December, covering underwater demolition teams and firing pre-invasion bombardment, call-fire, night-harassing, and illumination missions.
“Her squadron made a daring night torpedo attack in the Surigao Strait phase of the Battle for Leyte Gulf 25 October. At least one [actually 3—nhc] of her 5 torpedoes struck the battleship Yamashiro, sunk in this action. Closely straddled but not damaged, Newcomb went to the aid of stricken Albert W. Grant (DD 649) providing medical aid and a tow out of the battle area. In this classic sea battle, Newcomb and her sisters played a key role in the great American victory which insured the success of MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, and effectively ended major Japanese naval threats for the remainder of the war.
“Often under fire from Japanese aircraft, several of which she destroyed, Newcomb continued important service in the Philippines, engaging Japanese shore batteries at Ormoc 9 December while screening landing craft, fighting a convoy through heavy enemy air attack to Mindoro 19 through 24 December, and driving off 2 would-be kamikazes during the Lingayen landing 6 January 1945. She covered operations in Lingayen Gulf through 24 January, then prepared for duty as fire support ship at Iwo Jima from 10 February, where she covered minesweeping for three days prior to the landing. During the invasion the destroyer engaged shore batteries and fired pin-point accurate bombardments of inestimable assistance to troops ashore. She again engaged a Japanese submarine 25 February, with unknown results.
“Departing Iwo Jima 10 March, Newcomb joined the Okinawa assault force 11 days later, and again covered underwater demolition and minesweeping operations as well as antiaircraft and shore bombardment until 6 April, when she was screening minesweepers off Ie Shima. At least 40 enemy aircraft were observed in the area during the day, and at 1600 suicide attacks began. Though handicapped by a low ceiling, her gunners were able to drive off or shoot down several attackers, but over the period of an hour and a half, she was struck five times. With a skill and fighting spirit which won them a Navy Unit Commendation, her crew worked furiously to repair engine damage and extinguish fires, while continuing to fight their ship and maneuver to avoid further crashes. Aid was rendered by Leutze (DD 481), herself struck by the fifth kamikaze skipping across from the Newcomb, and Beale (DD 471). Indomitably afloat, fires and power out, with 18 killed, 20 missing, and 64 wounded, Newcomb was towed to Kerama Retto by Tekesta (ATF 93).
“Repairs to her hull were made by Vestal (AR 4) under frequent enemy air attack, and 14 June she left under tow for Saipan, Pearl Harbor, and San Francisco, arriving 8 August. The end of the war ended further repairs, and Newcomb decommissioned 20 November 1945. Stricken from the Navy List 28 March 1946, she was scrapped at Mare Island Navy Yard in October 1947.
“Newcomb received 8 battle stars for World War II service.”
It’s difficult for me to describe my “feelings” for the Newcomb. For almost 2 years she was to be my home. As such she satisfied my love of salt water and my love of things mechanical. She was to take me to far places, to put me in harm’s way, and to bring me home. She was my introduction to adventure, to extreme fear, to the knowledge of my own mortality, and to a camaraderie that can only be experienced, not described. We the crew became, over time, a very tightly-knit group; each dependent upon the others for all of our needs, indeed, for our very lives.
The ship itself was a wonderfully complex example of contemporary technology; ship design, ship propulsion, electronics, radar, sonar, hydraulics, and naval armament. As a young kid, I realized that we had been given a great fighting machine. Today, as an experienced engineer, I can truly appreciate what a wonderful, complex machine it was.
The ship by itself was a fine man-made entity, but as the crew became well trained, the ship seemed to take on a character of its own. The synergism between ship and crew produced a unique, living, entity.
As you can tell, my “feelings” for the Newcomb went deep (and still go deep). I probably can’t convey these feelings, but perhaps I can give a little insight by taking you on a written “tour” of the Newcomb.
I would like to take you for a brief “walking tour” around and through the ship, describing a bit of what you would see.
We will start on the main deck at the bow. The Newcomb was a “flush-deck” destroyer, in that the main deck was at one level from the bow to the stern. There were walkways down both the starboard (right) and port (left) sides. The main deck from the bow back to the mast is the “foredeck”; and because the foredeck of a destroyer is frequently under water during rough weather, there is a bulkhead with hatches at the rear of the foredeck to keep the rest of the main deck a bit drier.
As we walk aft from the bow, past the facilities for anchoring, we come to #1 (number one) 5-inch gun; then on top of the forward deck-house is #2 5-inch gun. Behind #2 are twin (2-barrel) 40mm guns, one pair on each side of the ship. The ammunition magazines are all in the bowels of the ship, and ammo is passed up via mechanical ammunition hoists.
In the forward deck-house, in addition to ammunition handling and storage space, and ladders (stairways) going up and down, is the officer’s wardroom, the Squadron Commander’s stateroom, and the radar and plotting room where we kept track of ships and planes.
Going up one level (just aft of #2 gun) we find the radio shack, decoding area, and the chart-room with chart racks on either side of the chart table. Below the chart table were our 3 chronometers. Because the charts and chronometers were the Quartermaster’s responsibility, I spent many off-watch hours in the tiny chart-room (perhaps 6 by 8 feet).
Going up one more level we find the bridge level or navigating bridge: the pilot house forward, then the sonar room and fire control station, and, at the aft end, the Captain’s sea cabin. All around these enclosed spaces were the “wings” of the bridge; here, on each side, was a 40mm director (for aiming the 40mm guns) and a torpedo director for aiming our torpedoes). In addition, all the signaling, with blinker lights, flag-hoists, or semaphore flags, was done from here. The bridge level is where I spent all of my “watches,” inside the pilot house and out on the wings.
Finally, up one more level is the small, high, windswept area called the “flying bridge”, in the center of which is the enclosed, armored, main battery director. This director has its own fire-control-radar, optical sights, and optical range-finder. Through electrical connections and a primitive computer, the director could control the 5-inch guns, and set the time-fuse on the 5-inch projectiles. If desired, the director could also control the 40mm guns. In addition, of course, all of our guns could be fired under local manual control.
The deck of the flying-bridge, all around the director, we called “shrapnel-alley”—a name derived from the exposed location, the desire of the enemy to damage the bridge, and from the fact that the only “armor” was a 30 inch high canvas wind-screen.
For the first year aboard ship my GQ (general quarters) or battle-station was as Quartermaster in the pilot house and on the bridge wings. In November, 1944, when we started to have more and more air-raids with numerous suicide planes, my GQ station was changed. Because I had had some aircraft recognition training, I was put in charge of the GQ lookouts up on the flying bridge—shrapnel-alley! Here I could communicate by phone with the fire control directors, and if need be, climb up the side of the main director to make myself heard. Ironically, as previously mentioned, I had never had recognition training for Japanese planes; so, if I couldn’t identify a plane as friendly, it was automatically an enemy! Of course, I had learned through experience to recognize some of the various enemy planes. Also ironically, my eyesight was now pretty important. Fortunately, my left eye was far-sighted and I could see very well with glasses and quite well without.
If now we go down one level below the main deck, below the forward deck-house, we find the CIC (combat information center) aft, then officers’ quarters, and then further forward, the CPO (chief petty officer) quarters.
Down another level is the crew’s mess-hall and forward crew’s quarters. Below these are ammo magazines and storage. Under the keel, forward, is the “sound-head” which sends and receives the “pings” for our sonar gear, and which can be raised and lowered. I might note that the crew’s mess, which covered perhaps 400 square feet, handled 3 meals per day for over 300 people! Also, a number of less fortunate men had their bunks in this area—obviously their bunks were not available at mealtime!
If you look at the cutaway view again, you see that the central third of the ship, below the main deck, is occupied by our propulsion equipment: the forward and after fire rooms, each having two boilers, and the forward and after engine rooms; one engine driving the starboard propeller and one the port. Each of these spaces is completely isolated by bulkheads which go all the way across the ship providing “watertight integrity.” The only access to these spaces is through hatches coming down through the main deck.
Above the forward fire-room, on each side of the ship, was a 26-foot motor-whaleboat slung on davits. These could serve as lifeboats for a few, but were mainly for general harbor transportation.
Directly above the engine and fire rooms is the amidships deck-house. Much of this is taken up with vents to the stacks, with workshops for gunners, torpedo men, fire control men, etc. It also houses the sick-bay, ship’s office, the brig (aka potato locker), and most importantly, the galley and the laundry. The galley, of about 160 square feet, provided all the food for everyone! The bakers (ours were very good) would work in the wee hours of the night to make many loaves of bread and sometimes pies. The officer’s food (different from the enlisted men’s food) was cooked by Filipino mess cooks and served by black stewards who had to carry all the food from the galley, along the deck, to the wardroom. The men’s food, cooked by (white) ships cooks, had to be carried along the main deck and then down two levels to the mess hall! Getting the food from the galley to the mess-hall in bad weather was no simple chore. The galley was a hot and busy place, but when they were baking it sure smelled good!
Above the midships deck-house were two banks of 5 torpedoes, our heaviest armament. These could be fired to port or starboard, and controlled either from the bridge directors or locally. Also above this deck-house, on each side of the after stack, were twin mount 40mm guns and directors. On the main deck, on either side of the after stack, were a pair of 20mm guns.
On top of the after deck-house are #3 and #4 5-inch guns plus a fith twin 40mm gun mount and director. Inside the after deck-house, from fore to aft, we find a 5-inch ammo handling room, the after crew’s washroom and battle dressing station, the after crew’s head (toilet), and another 5-inch ammo handling room.
On either side of the after deck-house were depth charges and K-guns for firing them off to the side of the ship. Further aft we see #5 5-inch gun, more 20mm guns, and racks of the big, 600 lb. depth charges which were simply rolled over the stern.
Directly below the aft deck (or fantail) and part of the after deck-house, are the after crew’s quarters in three watertight compartments. Access is via hatches (doors) in both sides of the #4 gun ammo handling room, and then down ladders to the compartment. Watertight hatches between the three compartments were closed during GQ.
The after crew’s quarters were my home! In a space about 60 by 30 feet, including bulkheads, ladders, and a 5” handling room, about 160 of us bunked. The bunks were stacked three high with foot-lockers under; and the overhead (ceiling) height was about 6.5 ft. Any excess space was filled with vertical lockers, safety equipment, etc.
My bunk, when I first came aboard ship, was at the foot of the ladder coming down from #4 handling room. This was OK, except during rough weather. Occasionally when someone would open the hatch to get in from the main deck, they wouldn’t time it right, and water, sloshing down the deck, would come in the hatch, and some would get down to the bunks. It could be quite damp!
Over time, as crew members come and go, there is a pecking order for the better bunks, and after a while I was able to move to a fine bunk; the middle bunk right up against the #5 handling room bulkhead (wall). At the head of my bunk were vertical lockers, and at the foot was a scuttlebutt (water fountain). Because I was the same length as the bunk, my feet often hung over the water fountain a bit! But this didn’t seem to bother people; at least no-one gave me any grief about it.
There was always discussion whether the forward or the after crew’s quarters were preferable. In rough weather, both rolled the same, but the forward areas had much more vertical movement. However, in the tropical heat of the day, the after quarters were directly below the very hot decks, whereas the forward quarters were shaded. People bunking forward could get to the bridge structure without going outside on deck, those bunking aft couldn’t. The noise from the screws and rudder was more noticeable aft. Also, we were often called upon for “night harassing fire”; this meant firing a single 5-inch shell, at enemy locations ashore, every minute or two, all night long. Because our officers lived and slept forward, #5 gun, the farthest aft, was always used for harassing fire, and my bunk was essentially under #5. Noisy!
I guess the forward location was a bit better on balance, but once you have made good friends in one area, you are content to stay. Aft of the crew’s quarters are workshops, storage spaces, and the steering-engine room (my Special Sea Detail). Below the quarters are various storage spaces and ammo magazines.
To put this into perspective, in a space about the size of one floor of a moderate sized house, some 150 of us lived! 150 of us also shared the toilets and washroom in the after deck-house. In the barracks we had lived in, the head (toilet) was a room with several standard flush toilets in a row, but with no privacy. On board, the officers had flush toilets, but the enlisted men had troughs; two stainless steel troughs, 6–8 feet long, with wooden cross-pieces to form “seats” for 3–4 people. It was chummy! Salt water flowed continually through the troughs, and a box of toilet tissue was at one end—rolls were passed back and forth. This was all OK, once we were used to it, except in really foul weather. When it became too rough, and the ship rolled 20–30 degrees, water, etc. would slop out of the trough—so—the flushing water was shut off! I will leave the result to your imagination! Of course, in really foul weather, the main deck was covered with water most of the time; and if one really had to he could simply go aft near the depth charges, and hold on to a stanchion—everything was washed overboard!
The washroom, forward of the head, was much more civilized; there were perhaps 20 wash basins with mirrors, and two showers. Of course, aboard ship all fresh water had to be made from salt-water through distillation; and our capacity was limited. The “evaporators” also had to produce all the make-up feed-water which went into our four boilers. This water had to be distilled more thoroughly than that used to cook, drink, and wash. So we were strictly limited in water use.
The water to the crew’s showers was turned on for only a few hours at a time. If it was on, to take a shower we stood in line, then took a couple seconds in the shower to get wet; and the shower automatically shut off when you released the handle. Then you stepped out to “soap-down,”,\ and then, in your turn, quickly back in to rinse off—a simple procedure that requires little water. Every so often the “evaporators” were shut down for maintenance and the showers were also shut down for some days. Then, the standard procedure was to hang a salt-water fire-hose over the barrel of #5 gun, and announce “salt-water showers on the fantail.”
The washroom also served as the after battle dressing station, and as such had a variety of sinister looking stainless-steel implements that we hoped would never be used.
*** End of Walking Tour ***
Prior to our moving aboard the Newcomb, the officers had been busy making up the “watch station” lists. For administrative purposes the crew was assigned to “divisions”, with an officer heading that division: the deck division, communication division (mine), engineering division, deck division, gunnery division, etc. Then we each had a number of assignments depending on what was happening:
In addition to our GQ and watch duties, we were each assigned off-watch duties; a wide variety of jobs that had to be done for general ship operation and maintenance. During a “normal” day, perhaps from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., when we weren’t on watch, we were expected to “turn to” (keep busy) at these jobs. One of my jobs (a very tedious one) involved keeping our charts and Sailing Directions up to date from some hundreds of changes listed in the monthly “Notice to Mariners.” For the charts, using pen and ink, we had to add/move/delete buoys, lights, beacons, rocks, wrecks, etc. Sometimes, in the broad Pacific, land masses and reefs had to be relocated some distance from where they had been charted. For the Sailing Directions, corrections and additions were pasted into the book at the proper location; we called it “cutting out paper dolls”; and was just about as exciting!
Another of my jobs involved our ship’s clocks and chronometers. There was a weekly routine which assured that we knew the correct time to within a second or two. In those days, navigation at sea depended on star and sun sights (celestial navigation). In order to determine longitude, the time at Greenwich, England had be known precisely. An error of one second in time would give an error in longitude of up to a quarter mile. So weekly we would get an exact time check by radio, and then “compare” our three chronometers. This way we would know exactly how fast or slow each was, and how much it changed daily. By comparing all three, we could determine if one of them started to miss-behave.
For the first six months aboard ship, another of my weekly jobs (a rather trivial one) was winding and setting all of the regular ship’s clocks. This was both fun for me and instructive in that I had to go all over the ship, and get to know a lot of people. There were 20 clocks; I happen to still have a list of them, which I feel compelled to report here. They were located as follows:
On the fourth day we were aboard we started having GQ (General Quarters) drills. The Quartermaster (when so instructed by the Captain) would throw the GQ switch to sound the gongs, and would “pass the word” over the PA system. Then ensued a MAD scramble—almost chaos at first! Every man aboard had to get to his GQ station “on the double”. Of course, if you were already on watch, you had to wait until relieved before going to your GQ station. If you were asleep, you dressed (at least partially) and then made a dash for it. For me, for instance, sleeping in the after crew’s quarters, this involved climbing up to the main deck, running forward to the bridge structure, and climbing 2 or 3 ladders. And you must remember, there were 350 others who were trying to get where they belonged also! To avoid the obvious traffic problems, we were supposed to go forward and upward on the starboard side of the ship, and aft and downward on the port side. We all soon learned that this system had merit!
Up on the bridge, we would get reports from various groups: “Forward fire-room manned and ready”; “#2 gun manned and ready,” etc. Eventually, all would be manned and ready. The first few times we went to GQ, in daylight, at the dock where the ship didn’t roll, it took 15–30 minutes. A few months later, when going to GQ was not a drill, but was for real, we had it down to 3 minutes! And this could be in pitch dark (no lights ever at night), and in a rough sea. I am still impressed at how “well oiled” we became as a crew.
While we were getting the Newcomb (and her crew) ready for sea, the crew had regular liberty every other night; and many of us, who had not had any leave for months, were given a few days leave. I am not sure of the exact dates, but I had leave over Thanksgiving, probably from November 24 to 28, 1943. Collie and I had been writing for some time—and she had come home from Elmira College for the Thanksgiving holidays—and we had our first two or three dates! I met her folks, (and had my first “drink,” a rum and coke at her house). We had a fine time. Need I say more? We became quite well acquainted, both mentally and physically, and I guess I can say that we “fell in love”!
I don’t remember very much about those dates, and I won’t report what I do remember, but I will quote from a letter that Collie wrote the following July— “It’s a funny contrast when I compare how you used to write before Thanksgiving and after. I often think of how I thought, coming home on the train, that something nice was going to happen to me that vacation—and it certainly did. The best thing that ever happened to me in my life!”—and that was more than fifty years ago!
By November 30 the ship was ready for several days of sea-trials. We went out from Boston harbor daily for thorough testing of the ship. We tested the boilers and engines up to full speed. We were supposed to be able to put out 60,000 horsepower—but in test, our engines put out 64,000! We tested all the guns, we tested all systems. We tested the crew also! I well remember one day, I was off watch and had some free time, so I thought it would be just fine to go up on the forward deck, near the bow—just to enjoy the ride. And it was just fine; there was a nice swell running and the Newcomb knifed through the swells, probably at 15–20 knots, sending spray to right and left—up to a point. Then she buried her nose; and when the bow came up it carried tons of cold Atlantic water—and I took my fair share of it. A lesson learned!
On December 9, at 1501, we got underway enroute to Bermuda, BWI for our “shakedown cruise”. It turned out to be a shake-up cruise as well as shakedown, because we hit a storm the first night out of Boston. Not everyone aboard was seasick, but most were. This was one of the few times that officers and enlisted men were treated equally—probably 90% of us were sick!
I particularly remember this trip because we had an undiscovered fault in the ventilation system for the steering-engine room. As the sea built higher, and we all became sicker, the waves washing across the stern deck flooded into that particular vent, and shorted out the electrical switching system that powered the steering motors. So the Newcomb had to be steered by hand; and you may recall that for my special sea detail I had been trained in hand steering. The result was that I spent many hours (it seemed like days) in the steering engine room that was perhaps 10 feet square and full of machinery. We had four men to turn cranks (who were relieved occasionally), and me to steer. There was no ventilation; there was several inches of cold Atlantic water sloshing about the deck; and several people had been sick—in the water! As an understatement, I can say that was not one of my best days.
A destroyer is always difficult to steer in rough weather. Under manual steering, however, when the rudder movement is very, very slow, “steering” became a euphemism for “wandering” in the general direction of Bermuda. To compound the problem, while steering manually, signal flares were sighted which we tried to investigate, and we also had a sound contact (potential submarine contact) which was either false or we couldn’t steer well enough to properly evaluate it. Eventually the steering gear was repaired, and in spite of a sick navigator and not quite knowing where we were, we found Bermuda! This was not an auspicious beginning.
We spent a full month training in the vicinity of Bermuda. We trained, both day and night, at everything a destroyer might do: ASW (anti submarine warfare) with depth charge attacks; torpedo runs on other ships (we used unarmed practice torpedoes that we recovered); gunnery, firing at targets towed in the water and in the air; close formation drills; navigation; GQ; GQ; and more GQ.
We went ashore in Bermuda for a few short liberties, and had a chance to bicycle around the island; a pretty, peaceful place in those days with very slow, simple transportation. I still have a soup-cup that I “liberated” from the Elbow Beach Club where several of us had lunch one day. “Island Rum” was plentiful ashore, and, on occasion, some of us consumed perhaps a bit more than we should have!
We spent Christmas 1943 in Bermuda. We got underway to calibrate our radio direction finder, and then anchored in Great Sound in 9 fathoms of water with 50 fathoms of chain to the starboard anchor.
Fortunately, I had already given Collie her Christmas present. But I didn’t think I would be back prior to her birthday (January 13), so I sent her some money and asked her to purchase something nice. As I recall, her mother didn’t think she should keep the money ($50 which was quite a bit back then), but her dad said it was fine. She bought some additional pearl jewelry which she also still has!
By the end of our shakedown, we thought we were pretty good; and compared to a month earlier we were. On January 11 we headed back to Boston, arriving on Collie’s birthday. On the way back we hit a January Atlantic Storm; rough and very cold. Salt spray froze all over the ship and all the way up the mast! It was bitter cold on the bridge where the lookouts were exposed for 15–30 minutes at a time; so they were issued a set of fleece lined short jackets; a great help. But, the officers on the bridge, who were in the pilot house most of the time (as I was), were issued similar coats that went down almost to their ankles. We were learning that “rank hath privileges”. By the time we reached Boston, the ice was several inches thick; a potentially dangerous topsides weight. Live steam hoses were used to remove some of it.
We spent January 13–26 at the Charlestown Navy Yard making last minute alterations, doing maintenance, taking on ammo and supplies, etc. I was able to get home once and had two more dates with Collie. These brought our grand total to five dates and fifty hours—a very small foundation on which we eventually built a solid structure—using mostly pen and ink!
We then headed for the Pacific with various stops enroute. At Norfolk, VA we joined two other destroyers, the Uhlmann and the McCook, and escorted the aircraft carrier Wasp to Trinidad. Then, in company with the Ulhmann we proceeded to and through the Panama Canal. On all of these runs, we were, of course, constantly training; and we initiated the “dawn alert” in which the ship went to GQ for the hour prior to sunrise (when air attacks were most apt to occur). For the next 19 months, when we were at sea, we held “dawn alert”. We saw a great many sunrises; many were beautiful, but after a few months not too well appreciated!
At the Canal Zone, half of the crew had liberty at Colon on the Atlantic side. I had “the duty” that night and was on watch when a number of our senior officers returned to the ship rather worse for wear! It was probably a good thing that we had to have a pilot to take charge going through the canal the next day. We made a high speed transit of the canal—5 hours! For the transit we were at special sea details, and I couldn’t see too much from the steering engine room proper, so I perched at the top of the escape hatch and was able to see a bit.
My half of the crew had liberty in Panama City (Balboa Harbor on the Pacific side). Four or five of us jumped into a cab which took us to a spot where the driver said there was “action”; and action there was! The name of the establishment was “Le Chat Noire”, the location was quite isolated, and it was a combined nightclub-bordello—really quite nice! It was supervised by the Navy: the Shore Patrol was on duty, and we were told that the “Ladies” were checked by Navy MDs weekly.
We sat around a large table, drank the drinks of our choice, danced with the girls, who were very well dressed, and who had joined us at the table; and we had a delightful time. The more courageous, exploratory types went upstairs with a girl; returning 15 minutes later, $7.50 poorer, but with large smiles! I don’t recall who all went up; I know that Harry Meeks did because he gave us a blow by blow description! I can truthfully say that I did not; whether from fear or scruples I cannot say. I can also truthfully say that for weeks afterward I kicked myself for not going—after all—we were headed into harm’s way, and who knew what the future held in store?
Together with the USS Uhlmann we took six days to steam north to San Diego. The six days (and six nights) were well used in many types of drills; GQ, firing drills, emergency drills, etc. It was a fine cruise; the seas were calm, and the temperature perfect. We had been seeing many flying fish, and now we saw a huge school of porpoise—perhaps 5–10 acres of them leaping into the air! It was beautiful, and we had them in sight for over an hour.
No-one drilled harder than our 5-inch gun crews. There were drills using the optical sights and range-finder on the director, drills using the fire-control radar, and drills using local manual aiming and firing. But the major drills were to improve the speed and coordination of the gun loading crews. We had a “loading machine” on the main deck amidships which was simply a simulator for training the loading crew.
In normal firing of the 5” guns, the process was as follows: The guns were loaded by hand inside the turret (which rotated). The barrel could be elevated to 85 degrees; and the loading process varied with gun elevation.
The ammunition was kept in the magazines except for a few rounds in the ready room or handling room, which was just below the turret. The 5-inch ammo was in two pieces: the projectile, 5 inches in diameter, about 16 inches long, and weighing 55 lbs; and the powder charge, in a brass cartridge case about 6 inches in diameter and 30 inches long, and weighing about 26 lbs. There were several types of projectiles: timed fuse, proximity fuse, armor piercing, star shells, etc. Men in the magazine placed the proper ammo on an ammunition hoist which took it to the handling room. Here, other personnel set the fuse and sent the ammo to the turret.
Inside the turret, one man placed the projectile in place, another put the powder can in place. Under normal conditions these were automatically “rammed” into the barrel, and then were fired. During firing, the gun recoiled greatly, and the very hot shell casing was ejected from the rear of the gun. It was the job of the “hot shell man” to catch, deflect, or whatever to assure that the powder casing was removed from the turret via a powder casing hatch at the rear of the turret. If the hot shell man missed, the very hot casing would careen around the turret, and could easily hurt people.
It took perfect timing to fire the 5-inch guns on “rapid fire” as the ship rolled and pitched, the turret rotated, and the gun’s elevation changed. At first we could get off only a few rounds per minute; but by the time we were in action, each gun crew was able to fire 20 shells per minute—a real accomplishment—and very important during air-raids!
We spent 4 hours at San Diego; some personnel changes, got rid of garbage, and took on 111,090 gallons of fuel. Then, again in company with the U.S.S. Ulhmann, we headed for San Francisco.
We spent 2 days in San Francisco, and had a chance to see a bit of the city; a lot of sailors, but a very friendly place. We took on 80 tons of commissary stores and about 75 “passengers”; Navy enlisted men being transferred to Pearl Harbor for further assignment. This made for an interesting 5 day trip.
As I have pointed out, a destroyer with 350 people aboard is thoroughly packed. When you add 75 passengers, with no obvious place to “sack out” except in our bunks, things become even tighter. And when there are heavy seas so that most of the 75 passengers are sea-sick, life becomes a bit trying! In order to get some sleep, we literally had to pry people from our bunks; and our passengers had been sick everywhere—you can fill in the details! (continued)