We were three destroyers plus the cruiser Birmingham and we all drilled almost constantly, day and night. This included close order drills with the ships 500 yards apart going 25 knots! Exciting, and no room for error. Most of our daylight drills up ’til now were conducted using signal flag hoists for much of our ship-to-ship communication. Because I was intimately involved in signaling, and because the system was pretty interesting, I’ll spend some time describing it.
On the mast, about 40–45 feet above the bridge deck, was our “yard-arm”; and suspended from blocks (pulleys), attached to the yard-arm, were 8 signal halyards, 4 on each side of the mast. Down on the bridge level, at both after corners, were “flag bags” containing the signal flags, and which had cleats for securing the signal halyards. Each flag-bag was about 6–7 feet wide, 2–3 feet fore and aft and about 6 feet deep; having a welded pipe frame and a very heavy canvas enclosure. Inside were long racks, with slots for each flag in the bag—perhaps 60–80 in all.
Every flag had a small 1-inch diameter ring sewn to the top, and about 2 feet of halyard with a snap hook attached to the bottom. One man would use the snap-hook on the end of the halyard to snap onto the ring at the top of the first flag; a second man would haul it up a bit, and the first man would then use the snap-hook at the bottom of the first flag to attach to the second flag, etc. In this way, we could put up a “signal” of several flags very quickly.
The procedure for “executing” a signal was simple and precise: the ship originating the order would hoist the signal to the top of the yard arm (known as “two-blocking” the hoist). The receiving ships would see the signal and hoist the identical set of flags, but hoist them only half way up. Then, as each receiving vessel understood the meaning of the signal, they would two-block their hoist. The originating ship would watch all the others. When all hoists were truly identical and two-blocked, it was clear that all ships understood the command. The signal to carry-out, or “execute” the command was given when the originating ship smartly lowered its hoist. All others lowered too, and the command was carried out. Really pretty neat.
All signalmen and quartermasters were constantly on the alert for signals from the “Flag-Ship.” It was a point of pride to be one of the first to see, respond, and understand a flag signal. In time, we got to know the meaning of many signals and could two-block them very quickly. To be the slowest in the fleet was not good! If a ship was too lax, public chastisement could result!
We arrived Pearl Harbor on Feb. 23 and finally discharged our “passengers”—much to the satisfaction of all involved. Our five days in Hawaii were largely spent at sea practicing AA fire at towed sleeve targets, and practicing shore bombardment. However, there was opportunity for each of us to have liberty in Honolulu—very much a military town. It seemed beautifully exotic to most of us, but we soon discovered that the town seemed to be comprised mostly of bars, tattoo parlors and photo shops where one could be photographed with a lightly clad Hawaiian beauty, or buy photos of un-clad Hawaiian beauties!
Quite a few of the guys decided to get a tattoo to show how “salty” they had become. This was a rather painful process and frequently involved some serious infection, but this did not deter many. Fortunately, I couldn’t see decorating my body with something that would be there for the rest of my life. On one liberty, in the spirit of derring-do, Harry Meeks and I decided to find some “piratical” ear-rings. We found a pair that looked like crescent moons, and required pierced ear-lobes. So we bought them, each pierced one ear with a needle, and wore them. Naturally they became infected. This lasted 4–5 days until the Captain saw them and said, “Get rid of those damned things!” I think we were both glad to be rid of them. (I still had mine up to a few years ago—but I don’t know where it is now.)
Some of my shipmates who were “in the know” headed for Hotel Street where the action was a bit more serious—more about that later.
From Pearl Harbor, we headed for the Marshall Islands. We were 6 destroyers: Newcomb, Callaghan, Longshaw, McDermut, Halsey Powell, and Frazier; and we were heading west, to areas held by the Japanese. And we continued to drill, seemingly all the time, to improve our skills at various potential battle scenarios.
The Newcomb and the Halsey Powell split off to Majuro Atoll, where we experienced our first non-practice GQ, and where we picked up 4 Fleet Oilers (large Navy tankers) to be escorted back to the 180th meridian (out of harm’s way). Enroute, we had our first REAL sound contacts, and dropped our first depth charges with intent to kill (unsuccessful).
In the Newcomb, we had a great many “sound contacts,” and made a great many depth charge attacks. The Japanese had both full size submarines and miniature subs, which could infiltrate a harbor. One of a destroyer’s major duties was to “screen” or protect larger ships from attack, air attack, surface attack, and submarine attack. We screened carriers, battleships, cruisers, troop transports, ammunition ships, oilers, landing craft, etc.
Even with a small convoy of 4 oilers, a sound contact could prove very exciting! Generally, the group would be steaming along zig-zagging according to one of the many zig-zag plans. The destroyer having the sound contact would so announce over the voice radio (TBS—Transmission Between Ships), and the group would usually execute an emergency turn away from the contact. This of course required all ships to be on the alert and to turn properly—one ship turning left instead of right can thoroughly mess things up!
If we (the Newcomb) had made the contact, we would go to GQ and head for the target. Because the sound gear and operator were directly aft of and connected to the pilot house, we could all hear the outgoing “pings” and the echo returns. The soundman would call out range and bearing plus any information that could be obtained from the “Doppler” effect (echo pitch varies depending on whether the range is opening or closing). The Captain would try to second guess the sub’s actions and would direct the attack. If the sub were near the surface, we would attempt to ram it. Our depth charge pattern was made up of smaller depth charges fired from the K-guns on each side of the ship, plus the large charges rolled off the stern. The charges could be set to go-off at any depth. When the 600 lb. charges were set on “shallow,” they would explode very close to the stern of the ship, and would bodily lift the ship’s stern! You would think we would fall apart—but we didn’t—although we did pop a few rivets!
When a charge exploded, we would see a huge “hump” in the water, followed by a great geyser— truly spectacular. Of course, we also had contacts on pitch black nights when we could see nothing.
The submarine Captains were well trained in this “cat and mouse” warfare. The sound waves from our gear could reflect not only from a submarine, but also from a zone of different water temperature, or from the roiled up water due to a prior attack or from the destroyer’s wake. And so a sub could “hide” in the roiled water; or simply dive down deep and not move.
We did destroy one large submarine (the I-185) near Saipan (after attempting to ram it); and we also may have destroyed a miniature sub. We definitely destroyed one very large shark at the expense of many depth charges!
We spent about 2 months in the Marshall Islands doing patrol duty, escort duty, and drilling. We were at Kwajalein, Majuro, Wotje, Jaluit, Mille, and Eniwetok.
We returned to Pearl Harbor for more drills, working with troop transports and LSTs during practice landings in preparation for the Marianas operation. While in the Pearl Harbor area, we were moored part of the time, and again had opportunity for a couple of liberties. We all knew that the next foray would be deep into Japanese territory, and acted accordingly. Some got drunk, some got tattooed and some sampled the wares of Hotel Street. Let me tell you my tale:
On one liberty that started on a Saturday or Sunday morning at about 9 a.m., four or five of us decided that we should sample the “delights” of Hotel Street. This was to be a new experience for me (and quite likely for the others too). As usual, it was hot and sunny; and being early, we decided to stop at a few bars on the way to Hotel Street (we apparently had no trouble being served liquor even though we were all under age). So we all arrived at Hotel Street a bit worse for wear.
The “active” section of Hotel Street, perhaps a block or two long, was lined with gray, non-descript, 2-storied, wooden buildings; shops, offices, etc. On a number of these buildings was an outside wooden stairway leading to the second floor; and at the bottom of each stairway was a long line of Sailors, all dressed in white, plus some Marines and soldiers all awaiting their turns. We joined a line, in the sun, and slowly made our way to the stairs and thence to the top of the stairs. Needless to say, the alcohol we had consumed, plus the long wait in the sun, had somewhat reduced our ardor.
When we finally entered the “House,” we each paid the $3 tariff, and then sat down in a waiting room for what seemed like a long time. In due turn, we were each called, and led by a wizened old lady to a small room furnished with a bed and not much else. And there I again waited! To make a long story short, by the time a stocky, very busy young lady joined me, I was not in a condition to carry out my mission—certainly not in the 3 minutes allotted! And so I retired from the scene of battle, defeated, and joined my buddies.
We were all in about the same condition having mixed youth, alcohol and sunshine. But being stalwart U.S. Navy Sailors, we most certainly could not admit defeat to each other. So we put on smiles, acclaimed the recent delights and went on to take the next step.
Across the street from the “Houses” was a small building painted white—the only white one on the street. This was the U.S. Navy prophylactic station where we were issued kits to prevent venereal disease. We each, whether we needed it or not, went through the motions. And of course, we would never admit that we really didn’t need them!
So that is my tale of Hotel Street! A true tale! (continued)