On the morning of the 23rd of March, 1941, attired in my new White Service uniform of Officer’s Twill, resplendent with my Ensign Shoulder Marks with their single gold stripe, wearing my sword, carrying my Commission in one hand and my Orders in the other, I boarded a Motor Whaleboat with “DD 401” on each bow to make my way across the blue waters of Pearl Harbor to my new home, USS Maury, named for the famous Commander Mathew Fontaine Maury, Virginian and the father of U.S. Navy Hydrography. Audrey, the coxswain, greeted me cooly, ordered the bowhook to cast off, kicked the engine ahead with one “Bell.” With no verbal orders, he threaded his way expertly into the busy traffic flowing around the Fleet Landing and, kicking her ahead with four “Bells,” headed towards the Destroyer Berths in Northeast Loch. As he stood in the stern pulpit astride the tiller, arms folded across his chest and steering with his body, slim but muscular in his “undress” whites with flaring bell bottoms, white hat down almost to the bridge of his nose and curled down to the sides, he looked the epitome of the “Can-do” destroyerman. I stood up in the stern sheets to avoid any chance of soiling my starched uniform.
Maury was nested alongside her sister-ship, McCall (DD-400), moored bow and stern to buoys at the end of a long line of destroyer nests in the northern part of Pearl Harbor. The Petty-Office-of-the-Watch, wearing a .45 Automatic and Belt as badge-of-office, greeted me courteously and led me forward to the “Exec.” Lt. Pierce Chilton, neatly dressed in White Service, welcomed me cordially into his small cabin next to the Captain’s and informed me that I would report to Lt.(jg) Ed Miller, the Gunnery Officer, as his assistant. Chilton had been aboard since the ship was commissioned in 1938 and was about to be transferred to some well-deserved shore duty. After filling me in on the background and current duties of Maury he took me in to meet the Captain.
LCdr. “Ed” Snare was a tall, awkward man, sandy haired and balding, wearing a small brush of a mustache above his fleshy lips and receding chin. He welcomed me aboard perfunctorily while looking me over with his pale gray eyes and gave me his standard speech about the growing war threat in the Pacific and that we were the cutting edge of the Fleet. It was almost noon, so he soon led me down to the wardroom to introduce me to the other officers.
Lieutenant “Chet” Brown, Chief Engineer, sprawled on the transom in wrinkled khakis that didn’t conceal his emaciated body, crinkled a smile and crowed, “My relief!” He’d been elected Mess Treasurer, though normally too senior for the menial job, to force him to attend meals. Chet had a wife problem, a drinking problem, and a dog he loved named “Dopey.”
Lt.(jg) “Ed” Miller, Gunnery Officer, my boss to be, was the All-American boy! Handsome as a movie star and dressed in spotless whites, Ed greeted me with a broad smile and genuine friendliness. I felt lucky to be placed under such a nice guy.
Ensign H.E. “Gil” Gilmore was Communications Officer and arrived for lunch in filthy whites, collar open at the throat, to greet me with red-rimmed eyes and vulgar language. Gil was married to a lovely child still in her teens and they were struggling to exist in expensive Honolulu on the pay and allowances of a married Ensign, $186 per month. To economize, Gil had given up sending his clothes to the Laundry and using soap or toothpaste. He had an affliction that caused his eyelids to form red scales and crumble. It fitted well with his personal habits and philosophy—Gil was enamored of Communism!
“Blackie” Weinel, Naval Academy ’39 and Bill Warren, a V-7 Reserve Officer, made up the list of Ensigns. I was the junior officer in the wardroom and soon found I was entitled to the traditional title of “George,” as in, “George will do it!” As predicted by Chet Brown, at the end of the meal I was officially elected Mess Treasurer and instructed to provide Steak and Eggs for breakfast every day and, upon pain of death, not to let the Mess Bill exceed $15 per month.
Maury was the newest of the 1,500-ton “Gold-platers” on duty in the Pacific Fleet. A “single stacker,” 341 ft. long with a 35 ft. beam, her four boilers and high performance turbines produced 52,000 HP. She had done 42.8 knots on her trials before commissioning in 1938! Her “Main Battery” was the sixteen Torpedoes she carried in four quadruple mounts amidships. Captain Snare, ex-submariner, and Pierce Chilton, classic destroyerman, never let us forget our torpedo broadside was more lethal than a battleship’s gun battery. She also mounted four 5-inch/38 dual-purpose guns controlled by the sophisticated Mk-33 Director atop the Bridge structure. Her weapons were rounded out by four .50 Cal. Machineguns and two racks of Depth Charges.
But Maury was more than a heavily armed warship; she was a beautiful yacht. With her single stack, raised forecastle and low after deck, she looked lean and powerful. Her profile rose in steps over the forward two enclosed 5-inch Mounts, the Bridge, and the Mk-33 Director to the raked Foremast with its one-man Crows-nest, then dropped to the flat-sided stack, plunged to the Torpedo Battery in the waist of the ship, rose again with the after superstructure with its short Mainmast, Searchlight Platform, and Aft Control Station, falling in two steps over the after 5-inch Mounts (open mounts without shields), and finally to the Fantail with its Depth Charge racks and Smoke Generators. Every man aboard had his own bunk in a dedicated Berthing compartment and his own seat at a table in a Mess compartment. There were portholes in all compartments above the waterline. Topsides, on the Main Deck, one did not walk on the steel deck—there were raised walkways running fore and aft. On the Bridge, one stood on wooden gratings both in the Pilothouse and on the wings. In living spaces and offices, the “overhead” and “bulkheads” were covered with smooth painted sheathing to conceal the wires, pipes and unattractive metal structure. In addition to the Captain’s beautiful Gig, with its permanent aluminum canopy, she carried two 26 ft. Motor Whaleboats and a 30 ft. Motor Launch. I was the eighth officer and we had 156 men in the enlisted crew.
At the outset, I had a double stateroom to myself, a ten-foot square compartment with two combination desks and chests of drawers, upper and lower bunks, two closet lockers and a single lavatory with double medicine cabinet. Air Conditioning was unheard of, so the two electric fans were treasured. I soon got my few belongings moved in, but I had to use both chests of drawers to store the dozen suits of White Service I’d been advised to bring—destroyers have a very limited laundry capacity and “whites” had to be sent off to the Tender. Maury was enjoying an “In Port” upkeep period when I reported for duty, so I had plenty of time to explore the ship.
My first significant duty was to take a working party of 50 men over to the Ammunition Depot at Lua Lua Lei to “gauge” our 5-inch ammunition. There had been a series of breech jams in the 5-inch/38s and it was thought that oversized “corks” that sealed the powder charge into the brass cartridge case and acted as a cushion between the case and the separate projectile had caused the problem. All of our 5-inch ammunition, about 2,000 rounds, had to be taken to the Ammunition Depot and checked for size. I was assigned two 50 ft. Motor Launches from the Destroyer Tender Dixie for the job, so I not only had a crew, I had two “ships.” It took us several days to complete the job, so by the time we had all of our ammo back on board, I knew the Gunners mates and most of the Deck Force personally.
At sea I found I’d joined the fast moving navy I’d dreamed of. “Sortieing” with Gridley, McCall and Craven, we formed Destroyer Division ELEVEN of Destroyer Squadron SIX. Our Squadron Commodore was Captain R. L. Conolly in the Destroyer Leader Balch, and Division TWELVE, with Fanning, Dunlap, Benham and Ellet, completed the squadron. As we cleared the Pearl Harbor entrance buoy we fanned out to form a semi-circular anti-submarine screen from Waikiki to Barber’s Point, swinging five miles to sea. When the cruisers, battleships, and finally the carriers came out, we split up into smaller groups for exercises. Sometimes we’d be escorting the battleships, other times we’d be “plane-guarding” for the aircraft carriers, and frequently we’d be operating with other destroyer squadrons and cruisers practicing flotilla torpedo attacks. As “tail-end Charlie” in the division, Maury’S job was usually keeping station 300 yds. astern of Craven.
The first time I took the “Conn” as Junior-Officer-of-the-Deck, we were steaming in Squadron Formation “H,” which placed our two divisions abreast at 1,000 yards and Balch ahead in the center. Maury was number four in the left hand column with 300 yards between ships; formation speed was 36 knots and the Captain told me, “Hold her between 250 and 325 yards from the ship ahead, but don’t use more than 39 knots to keep station.” In moments, I’d skidded back to almost 500 yards astern and was using all of the 39 knots trying to climb back up Craven’s stern wave.
We were moving 24 hours a day and, when not at General Quarters, I was standing instruction watches on the Bridge. The Officer-of-the-Deck (OOD) is responsible for the safety of the ship and for keeping her on her assigned station. We measured distances with an optical Stadimeter by day and by estimating distance through 7x50 Binoculars by night—from the top of her 91 ft. mast to her waterline, a “1,500 tonner” fills 2/3 the field of a 7x50 at 300 yards. Tactical signals were transmitted by flag hoist in daylight and by a hand-held “Blinker Gun” or keyed signal lights mounted on both main yardarms at night. Every tactical signal had to be checked with the General Signal Book, even though we had just carried out the same maneuver a dozen times. Messages other than tactical signals were transmitted between ships by blinker or semaphore and a good OOD had to be able send and receive both. In column at night, the OOD had to handle one Blinker Gun while the Signalman handled the other.
We were equipped with the new TBS voice radio, but it was rather unreliable and used infrequently because some of the older ships were not equipped. Our normal administrative communications came in by Morse code over the Fleet Broadcast “FOX Schedules” which were transmitted continuously from several powerful U.S. Navy transmitters spaced around the globe. A ship at sea anywhere in the world could intercept the “FOX Skeds” without having to revealing its position by transmitting (it was always assumed that if a ship transmitted on any frequency, an enemy would immediately know its location). In the Radio Shack there was always a radioman on watch tapping out the incoming “FOX” on his typewriter at about 15 words per minute, usually balancing a cigarette and a cup of “Java” against the roll of the ship, but ready to carry on a conversation with any visitor. It was said that a good Radioman dreamed in Morse code!
After handling the ship as Junior-Officer-of-the-Deck under Ed Miller’s watchful eye for three weeks of intensive exercises, it was decided that I could be qualified as a regular “Officer-of-the-Deck-at-Sea-In-Formation”; the highest level of qualification. Bill Warren was senior to me and, aided by having been a Coxswain in the Navy before going to college, he was an exceptional seaman and fully qualified to be an OOD. They had kept Bill waiting for his qualification because they had four regular Watch Officers without him, but Gilmore was going on leave and Chet Brown had convinced the Captain that the Chief Engineer should be off the Watch Bill to handle emergencies, so they needed another qualified officer to permit at least a Watch-in-four while in port. Bill was qualified first, because he was senior, and I was officially qualified in mid-April. I could proudly write home to my father that I had celebrated my 21st birthday as a regular officer at sea and two weeks later was a “Qualified Watch Officer!”
The day I was qualified we had been operating with a submarine off the island of Kahoolawe and returned to Lahaina Roads, between Maui and Lanai, for the night. The Sub anchored off the village, but we were instructed to stay at sea to patrol the south entrance to the channel. As junior man on the Watch List, I drew the Mid-watch, so from Midnight until 0400, I just steamed the ship back and forth from the coast of Lanai to waters of Maalaea Bay in the calm of a tropical night. Signalman First Class Burns, the senior Signalman, was on Watch as Quartermaster and, since there were no navigation lights visible most of the time, we navigated in the black night by shooting bearings on the volcanic peaks and the sharp tangents where the islands plunged into the sea. I could have stayed on that watch forever!
My “Battle Station” was in the Mk-33 Director as Assistant Rangekeeper Operator to Chief Firecontrolman Wilson while I learned my duties. A “Director” is like a “master” gun, without a barrel, to which the firing guns are “slaved.” Its telescopic optics follow the target, its rangekeeper calculates the corrections and offsets for the guns and its gyroscopic “Stable Element” compensates for the roll and pitch of the ship. The heart of the Mk-33 was the Mk-10 Rangekeeper, a 5 ft. cube jammed with shafts, gears, cams and switches, which continuously solves the three-dimensional, ever-changing problem presented by a moving target. The director transmits the resulting firing “Orders” to the guns electrically through a system of “Synchros.” The guns could be shifted to “Automatic” and could follow the director’s orders without further action by the Pointer, Trainer or Sightsetter. An essential key to accurate firing is Range-to-the-Target, which was measured by a stabilized “Stereo” Rangefinder mounted in the front of the director. The inputs and outputs of the rangekeeper were presented symbolically on the face of the rangekeeper where the operator could make adjustments and corrections as required. A good rangekeeper operator could produce a “Solution” on a moving target, air or surface, in about 30 seconds.
The Mk-33 was really a small “house” which pivoted on a pedestal on top of the Pilothouse. Its top sloped gently forward and the Rangefinder, looking like a 12 ft section of large pipe, was mounted horizontally across the front. The house was about 10 feet cube and at General Quarters almost a dozen operators were crammed inside around the central Rangekeeper and complex optical system. The Pointer and Trainer kept the Director pointed at the Target through telescopic sights. The Leveler and Cross-Leveler were “standing by” to stabilize the system +using horizon telescopes should the Stable Element fail. The Rangekeeper Operator and his Assistant were on the right side of the central box and two other operators, handling “Follow-ups” and “Illumination Control,” were on the left side. The “Prima Donna” of the Director Crew was the Rangefinder Operator, sitting front-center, who had to be able to “see” stereoptically to measure ranges, and who, through his powerfully magnified “Eyes,” ten feet apart, had the best view of the target. The Control Officer stood in the right, after corner of the director, with his head out a small hatch in the top, from where he commanded the director and all of the 5-inch/38 guns.
The Director was the province of the fire control “gang” and this group of a half-dozen men was the acknowledged “Elite” of the Gunnery Department. They spoke in the jargon of the rangekeeper “Schematic” and were responsible for all control instruments in the gun mounts, the switchboard in the “Gyro Room,” all elements of the gun director, the Torpedo Directors on the Bridge, and the complex wiring which connected them all. I spent long hours every day learning from the firecontrolmen. The gunners mates kept the guns operational and took care of the ammunition, but it was the firecontrolmen who were responsible for hitting the target. Chief Wilson was nominal head of the gang, but Copeland FC 1/c, was the real leader and final arbiter. Moore, FC 2/c, a taciturn perfectionist, was the respected Rangefinder Operator, Canaday, FC 2/c ran the port side of the director and backed up Moore, Jaworski, FC 3/c, a jolly Pole, was Director Trainer and “Pierre” Plamondon and “Spider” Serwitz, both Seamen, were the bright “Strikers” who carried the tools. The rest of the Director Crew was made up of Yeomen and Storekeepers, chosen for their brains.
A part of my qualification process was to complete the Officer’s Information Course. It was composed of twelve assignments covering all facets of the ship and its operations. I was expected to complete one assignment a week. The assignments on the Gun and Torpedo Batteries were right down my alley, but I found the several engineering, communications and supply sections a bit boring. Much of the course was to sketch the various systems installed in the ship to understand the inter-relation of the elements. It was quite acceptable to copy the work of those who had gone before, so much of my submission was “warmed over” Blackie Weinel. By June, I had struggled through the assignments and the Exec Checked me off. Later I often wished I’d done a more thorough job of learning the ship.
With an expanding crew and extra Watches, we needed more officers. The Naval Academy couldn’t begin to meet the needs of the Fleet, but the V-7 Reserve Officer program produced a steady flow of “90-day wonders” from the training ship Prairie State, moored to a pier in New York City. Ensign Hiram H. Hughson, USNR, recent graduate of the University of California, Berkley, was our first addition. Reporting for duty in a black and white plaid sports jacket and lavender shoes, his first words were, “I managed to get out of the Draft, now how do I get out of this?” With an ingratiating smile and startling stories about the carefree life at “Cal,” he soon became a pleasant addition to the Wardroom. He was assigned as Gilmore’s assistant and soon dubbed “High School Harry” Hughson, which he soon worked down to plain “Hi” or “Harry.” He was soon followed by “Norm” Young and “Chuck” Cheyney and who filled up all the available bunks in “Wardroom Country.”
In June, we were assigned a three months Overhaul in Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. This was a big disappointment to some, but most of us were content to stay in Hawaii. Hi Hughson, Norm Young, Chuck Cheyney and I pooled our resources and rented a brand new little cottage in Waikiki. It was a perfect “Snake Ranch” and, though the rent was high, $200 per month, split four ways we could afford it for a couple of months. As soon as the day’s work was completed, if we didn’t have to stay aboard with the “Duty,” we’d head for Waikiki and be on the beach at Fort DeRussey within an hour. We lived in swimming trunks, Aloha shirts and “Pushalongs.”
Our paradise didn’t last long, however, because Hughson had the habit of falling asleep with a cigarette in his hand and burning holes in the furniture. Our patient Chinese Landlady accepted excuses and promises the first few times, but finally she notified us that our lease would be terminated at the end of the second month. We had scheduled a big “Housewarming” party just before we received the disheartening news, inviting all of the ship’s officers and their wives plus all the pretty girls we knew, and our friends learned of our misfortune during the celebration. The Skipper, who had consumed his share of the refreshments, became enraged that “His fine young officers should be treated like dirt!” and demonstrated his feelings by returning the compliment to our Landlady by pelting the cottage with clods of dirt. This aroused the neighbors who called the police and it took a good deal of talking to calm things down. Next day, our Landlady announced our lease was terminated at the end of the first month!
June also brought promotion to Gilmore and the increased pay was welcomed. His promotion made Blackie Weinel the “Bull” Ensign, not that he needed a title, and his influence on his juniors increased. Blackie taught us all of the unwritten laws of the Navy and had a way of explaining away almost any problem. He was magic with the Captain who had a violent temper that could be set off like dynamite. Occasionally I would be the object of the Captain’s wrath, usually for something I had not done, but the Captain wouldn’t let me open my mouth before blasting me. He was a genial and charming host ashore, but at times a raging maniac at sea. Blackie related that the Skipper had been “Passed Over” for Lieutenant, then for Lt. Commander, and now he had just been Passed Over for Commander. On each occasion something terrible had occurred, not his fault, but he had suffered the consequences. He would be damned if he was going to let anyone else ruin his career! Blackie explained this was why the Skipper was so quick to react to imagined errors. When the Captain would explode against one of us, Blackie would caution us to stay out of sight. When sufficient time had elapsed, Blackie would approach the Captain with his ingratiating smile and soon have the Captain discussing things far away from the problem which had cause the eruption. He would then lead the Captain to the problem and let him blow off steam about how terrible the event had been. With Blackie listening intently, the Skipper would run out of steam. When the time was ripe, Blackie would say something like, “Well, Captain, you know Crenshaw is pretty young, but I think he’ll be coming along. Suppose I talk to him before he goes back on watch.” The Skipper, having forgotten he’d banished me from the Bridge forever, would respond, “O.K. Blackie, you handle it, but tell him to be more alert in the future.” And I’d be back on the Watch List.
The winds of war were blowing ever more frequently. The Nazis invaded Russia just after we entered the Yard and soon it looked like Moscow would fall like a rotten apple. There were “Sub Scares” even before we went into the Yard and we’d hardly gotten out of the yard when the whole Squadron was ordered to “Sink the submarine sighted off Barber’s Point.” With no questions asked, we roared over to the Southwest corner of Oahu to handle the intruder. We found nothing, but it was a good test of our “Readiness.” The papers were full of our rising stresses with Japan and during the fall there were so many “Alerts” for “Submarines” or “Unidentified Aircraft” that they became routine.
The Battle of Britain was in full swing and additionally the Royal Navy had begun to get into action. There was a brisk Destroyer battle off the southern Norwegian Coast in which the British took severe damage. The Loss of the Carrier Illustrious in the Mediterranean emphasized the danger of fire even if a warship is built of steel. A British team, led by Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten himself, arrived in Pearl to look our ships over and advise us on steps to take to minimize damage. Soon orders went out for all ships in the Fleet to “Strip Ship!”
“Strip Ship” meant to remove all inflammable material from the ship and it was devastating to the feeling of well being and comfort in the ship. Below the Main Deck all portholes were removed and steel plates welded over the holes. All linoleum and rugs were removed. All of the beautiful sheathing that concealed the bundles of wires and ever-present pipes had to come out. All curtains and slip covers disappeared. Even the accumulated paint in the interior spaces had to be chipped off, leaving the metal bare or covered with the garish yellow of a thin coat of Zinc Chromate, which we soon learned to loathe. The Captain’s Gig and our 30 ft. Motor Launch were removed with their Davits. The mahogany bridge railings and our Teak Accommodation Ladder were sacrificed because of danger from splinters in case of a hit. Even our beautiful Bridge gratings had to go and we were left to slide around on bare metal. Still worse, we had to change the ship’s color from the lovely light “Haze Gray,” which blended into the morning fog, to a hideous dull black! Stripping ship took the joy out of life and converted our graceful yacht into an ugly black war machine! We were soon spending much of our time scheming to replace the creature comforts we lost during the frenzy of “Stripping Ship.”
Our training schedule took on more importance and the tempo picked up. As Assistant Gunnery Officer, I attended the Gunnery Officer’s School held on Dixie once a week and heard the Squadron Gunnery Officers expound on the arcane art. One could read all about the technical details of our guns and fire control in the manuals, but hearing how to handle the equipment from the best in the fleet brought it all to reality. Automatic Gun Drives were still new in the Fleet and were plagued with reliability problems. The intricacies of the Mk-10 Rangekeeper were baffling to most officers. I found it all fascinating and listened with relish.
At sea, we had a vigorous schedule of firing exercises at both air and surface targets. During the official competitive “Battle Practices,” every shot was photographed by the Fleet Camera Party and it was one of my duties to compute by trigonometry the “Fall of Shot” with respect to the target. The two or three-dimensional distance from each projectile splash or black burst to the Sled or “Sleeve” target had to be calculated for each shot and made a part of the Exercise Report. I spent dozens of hours filling the fifteen or so columns of huge “Gunnery Sheet Five” forms with intricate calculations, one line for every shot, then carefully plotting them in ink on the report forms provided.
From the “Sham battles” we had with our own carrier planes, it became clear that in war we would be subjected to attacks which broke very quickly, seldom with any warning. When an incoming plane was sighted, we would struggle to get our director’s sights on target, measure the rapidly closing range, adjust the Mk-10 to a solution and simulate opening fire before the attacker could complete his attack. Frequently we’d still be “slewing” the director to get on target when he roared overhead, attack completed. We held tracking drills at every opportunity to improve our ability to acquire targets quickly, but we had no mechanism to point out the target to the men on the director’s telescopes—the control officer had to coax them on by voice. I became seriously concerned that we couldn’t handle incoming dive or strafing attacks.
There was knob on the front of the Mk-10 labeled “Dive Attack,” which was to be pulled out in case of such an attack and by which “Dive Speed” could be set into the rangekeeper. When I dug into the schematic to see what this did, I discovered that it only decreased ’Target Range” at the rate set in, but did nothing about the “Lead Angles” in either elevation or bearing. Our fancy Mk-10 Rangekeeper couldn’t calculate a solution for a dive attack! It could calculate correctly only for horizontal, or nearly horizontal flight! With the help of the firecontrolmen, I worked out a system to eliminate any errors from previous settings and provide an estimated lead angle which should be effective for an attacker coming straight in at us. I showed this to Ed Miller, the “Gun Boss,” to get his permission to use it, but got “chewed out” for getting into things that weren’t the province of a junior gunnery officer!
Torpedo practices were an especially important part of our training. Our Mk-15 Torpedoes could be fired to run straight in the direction they were pointed when they left the Torpedo Tube or with “Gyro Angle” to make a turn by a set amount after they were in the water. This allowed us to fire a “Spread” of all 16 torpedoes covering 30° of arc at the Target, for example, if a 2° spread between “fish” was used. Using Gyro Angle, which was continuously set into each individual Torpedo automatically from the Torpedo Director, one of which was mounted on each wing of the Bridge, we could shoot our spread in almost any direction, regardless of the heading of the ship. Torpedo Speed settings of 45, 36 and 27 knots yielded Torpedo Run ranges of 4,500, 7,000 and 11,500 yards respectively. Our Destroyer Torpedo Doctrine called for firing massive numbers of torpedoes in high speed attacks while, in contrast, Submarine Doctrine called for stealth and slow attack speeds.
As our training proceeded, we moved into combined operations with the other elements of the fleet. In our fleet Battle Formation, the column of battleships with their huge guns formed the backbone of the formation, divisions of cruisers, advanced on each side of the axis of engagement, protected the flanks of the “Battle Line”, and Flotillas of destroyers, even more advanced than the Cruisers, were poised to deliver massive cross-fires of torpedoes. The carriers and their escorts were far over the horizon on the disengaged side. In the largest of our training exercises during this period, our flotilla, in a single attack, actually fired 120 torpedoes with practice heads at the “enemy” battle line!
The most exciting maneuvers were at night. The destroyer squadrons would deploy in a long line abreast of two ship Sections, about 5,000 yards between sections, and a similar distance ahead of a supporting line of cruisers. We’d charge into the black of the night at over 30 knots searching for the “enemy.” When contact was made, we’d maneuver to attack from as close a range as possible. The enemy “Battlewagons” took us “under fire” with their searchlights and we indicated firing our torpedoes by firing flares up into the night. One night, as we pressed our attack home, we were so close to NEVADA as we flashed by that our flares landed on her deck!
When we weren’t at battle practice we were practicing something else. Fueling at Sea was in its infancy and the equipment and procedures for effective replenishment at sea had not been worked out. Fueling from the battleships was especially difficult and many a destroyer gashed its side against the big ship’s armor as it struggled to maintain position about 50 feet out from the BB’s side. Initially fleet doctrine called for the destroyer to pick up a line from the big ship and be towed alongside while fueling, but this soon proved to be a bad idea. If the destroyer skipper put any strain on the line it would pull him in against the battleship’s side! The tow Line idea was soon dropped, the hoses were lengthened, and destroyers just steamed alongside while taking on fuel. Daring skippers tried to stay in close and paid for it with damage. Prudent skippers soon found riding 90 ft. or more out from the side of the battlewagon produced the best results.
Anti-submarine warfare was another destroyer chore. Maury was equipped with retractable “Searchlight” Sound Gear, which could detect a submarine at about 2,000 yards if all went well. Captain Snare, as an ex-submariner, was eager to show us his expertise and the first time we had the services of a “tame” submarine he went after the old “S” boat with relish. We made contact at about 1,500 yards and the captain headed in to attack, stopwatch in hand, ready to release his depth charges in accordance with the delays specified in our firing table. As the bearing changed, he planned to steer the ship right or left to “lead” the sub appropriately. The bearing started moving to the Right so the Captain brought the ship to the Right, but the bearing of the Sub moved right so rapidly that we were soon passing him. Frustrated in failing in his first try, the captain brought the ship around for another attack and the same sequence occurred. Baffled, the captain accused the Sound Gear Operator of giving him bad information. On the next attack, he moved back into the Sea Cabin where the Sound Gear was located to watch the dial himself. The results were the same and the Sub escaped down our starboard side with unbelievable alacrity. We ran out of time and had to return to port without ever having made a successful attack.
A few weeks later, while entering port after a weeks training, the skipper managed to run the ship over a cable near the floating drydock. It caught on the Sound Gear, which had not been retracted, and bent it so badly that we couldn’t retract it. They put us into the drydock to fix the problem and when they removed the Sound Head to straighten the bent shaft, they found the Sound Head, mounted with six bolts, had been installed one bolthole to the Right! Our dials at the console in the Sea Cabin were reading straight ahead when the Sound Head was actually pointing 60° to the Right!
The tempo of the Fleet Training remained high and a pattern developed of intensive training periods at sea followed by periods of upkeep. We usually went to sea in a big Fleet Sortie on Monday morning and returned to port the following Friday evening for the weekend. On the 24th of November, we went to sea as usual, expecting to engage in Type exercises followed by Fleet exercises, but we were hardly out of sight of land when signal flags started to flutter and we were ordered to join a special force being assembled to the southwest. We soon found ourselves a part of Task Force 8 composed of the Carrier Enterprise, Cruiser Division Five (Northampton, Salt Lake City and Chester) and the nine destroyers of DesRon 6. The Task Force was under the command of RAdm. William F. Halsey, whom I’d heard of before but never seen. We were soon heading west in a cruising formation at good speed.
In the late afternoon, an SBD skimmed low over our forecastle and dropped a copy of the Operation Order informing us that the force was proceeding to Wake Island to deliver a Marine Squadron of Brewster Buffalo Fighters to bolster the defenses of the island. Since this was in violation of an agreement concerning the fortification of Wake, it was not known how the Japanese would react, so Task Force Eight was ordered to assume a readiness status for any event. This meant setting “Condition III,” in which one third of the ship’s armament was manned and ready at all times, and “Material Condition Baker,” the second highest condition of watertight integrity. Radio silence was established and all ships were ordered to steam “Darkened Ship”—no lights of any kind showing between sunset and dawn. All ships went to full battle readiness at “General Quarters” for one hour beginning at sunset and for the hour before sunrise. “Ready Service” ammunition was brought up to all gun mounts so the ship could start firing immediately. Exploders were installed in the torpedoes and Firing Pistols in the depth charges. By sunset on the evening of the 24th of November, 1941, all of the ships of Task Force Eight were at full war readiness! We were steaming on a Secret Mission of obvious importance and there was a special sense of adventure in the air.
Next day, when the Morning Search of SBD Scout Bombers took to the air, we could see their 500 lb. bombs, still painted “ammunition depot” yellow, slung below their bellies. The TBD Torpedo planes took off later with the yellow noses of live torpedoes thrusting forward just below their engines, and the newly introduced Grumman F4F Fighters of the Enterprise Combat Air Patrol tested their machineguns guns as they climbed out over the destroyer screen.
Our Wardroom had changed a good deal since I’d reported aboard the previous March. Pierce Chilton the Exec was relieved by Chet Brown early in our Yard period and Lt. “Al” Gebelin, USNA ’34, had taken over as Chief Engineer and a month later Lt. Warren Armstrong, USNA ’35, reported aboard to relieve Ed Miller as Gunnery Officer. Chet was a pitiful replacement for the dashing Chilton and spent most of his time at the wardroom table drinking coffee. He was never well and turned himself in to the Naval Hospital the week before we sailed. Lt. Fred Hilles, Staff Gunnery Officer, had been sent over by the Commodore to replace him temporarily. Gilmore had left for Flight Training and Blackie Weinel had taken over as Communications Officer. Harry Hughson was assigned as Assistant Communicator, because Blackie had also put in for Flight Training and expected orders in a few months. Chuck Cheyney had become Torpedo Officer and Norm Young was Assistant Navigator. Ensigns Jim Winn and Clarence Mykland had also joined the wardroom, but had to bunk forward in Chief’s Quarters. As we were now in Readiness Condition III, the normal cruising condition during wartime, we stood a Watch-in-Three, with a Control Officer in the Director in addition to the OOD and a JOOD in training. Bill Warren, Chuck Cheyney and I stood the Director Watches, still dressed in White Service as required for officers on watch.
We steamed steadily West over beautiful tropical seas with azure sky lightly flecked with puffs of white clouds. No ships or aircraft were sighted, but the Admiral prudently initiated a gentle Zigzag Plan that cut down our rate of advance only slightly. We knew when we were near Wake only by the Navigator’s report and the two dozen Marine Fighters were flown off with no problem. Our return trip was equally pleasant for the first few days, but soon the Trade Winds picked up and we began bucking into heavy seas. Our regular Cruising Speed of 20 knots was dropped to 18, then to 15 and our arrival back in Pearl shifted from Friday evening to Saturday, then to Sunday Morning, but the size of the waves continued to grow. Finally, the speed was dropped to 12 knots to keep from damaging the ships and our arrival in Pearl slipped to Sunday at noon.
I drew the mid-watch as Sunday the 7th of December arrived. I left the Director at 0400, resolved to sleep in until Special Sea Details was called for entering port. We were a bit over 100 miles to the West of Barber’s Point.
Copyright © 2003 Capt. Russell S. Crenshaw, Jr., USN (Ret.)