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North Atlantic Patrol


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Between the North Atlantic and Pearl Harbor

Victory at Midway

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North Atlantic Patrol

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One of our destroyers is continually circling us, as the Captain bellows from the bridge: "Get those men aboard!" After sixty-five minutes a few exhausted men still bob along our side. The Captain says to me: "We are in great danger. I cannot risk the ship and her company much longer." Now there are two or three left. -- A contact directly astern with a Submarine! The telephone buzzes in the wheel house -- the other destroyer gets it too! There is nothing for it. We order the ensigns on the raft aboard with all haste, the engine telegraph is snapped forward full ahead and we leap away, leaving two survivors to swirl astern. We roar away and the other destroyer lets go a pattern of depth charges, the white rising columns of water tinged with blood color in the dawning. We search, lose contact, and return, and the other ship picks up eleven men while we circle her. We hope she got the two we had to leave! A third destroyer comes back to relieve us with orders to search the spot until noon, and we with thirty-six survivors, and the other rescue ship, catch up with the fleeing convoy at twenty-five knots.

"Secure from General Quarters!" Ten-thirty and we can go to breakfast! Hot coffee -- Lord, it's nectar! We have been on the bridge since 5:23! The ship is a mess -- her decks, rails and ladders are covered with oil and the smell of it. At lunch I am amazed to see two perfectly naked ensigns walk into the holy precincts of the wardroom, their eyes, hair and ears still plastered with oil in spite of the scrubbing that they have given themselves! Ropes, life jackets and the men's clothes are piled along the decks in black and soggy manses. Four men with hemorrhages are put into officers' bunks. We learn that all the Officers died with the blowing up of the forward part of the ship, and we had many friends among them.

Two-ten P.M. -- The peremptory rasping of General Quarters The look-outs have sighted five ships. When nearer they turn out to be five British corvettes and they give satisfactory signals. At nine O'clock, with intermittent moonlight, the gunnery officer high above the bridge, has picked up what he thinks is a sub on the surface. He asks permission to fire star shells, and with splitting roars our No. 2 turret fires five shots. Hardly has the whine of the last five inch shell ceased when the whole surface of the distant horizon is lit brightly by their burst, and we make out an English corvette, off her station. In the dark wheel house the Captain turns to me: "Is today more than you bargained for?" "No, Sir!" "Well, I hope it's close enough for you," he says with a grin. At that moment two star shells burst high in the air to eastward, followed by heavy firing. Again the dreary rattle of General Quarters! Two corvettes and one of our destroyers dash off to investigate, and report to us by phone that a couple of escort ships had seen two German subs on the surface sneaking in towards us, had opened fire, made them dive, and dropped ash cans where they were. So for the last time that day, General Quarters is over and I turn in at twelve o'clock. I grope my way down from the bridge past the dim battle light in my hall, into my sealed-up cabin, post my log -- and an eerie Hallowe'en is ended.

nap11.jpg (24395 bytes)

On Bridge All Day, Lots of
Bearings - All Ship's Company Alert

November 1st, 1941

Awakened five o'clock by distant depth charges. On bridge, find that three British destroyers have joined us during the night. At six General Quarters is sounded to bring all men to stations for the most dangerous hour before dawn. At eight-fifty we part from the convoy that we have held so carefully together, turn north and leave them to their British escorts. We are not far from the Irish coast. The two American merchantmen come with us. At eleven-ten the other rescue destroyer flies her flag at half mast, and buries the dead seaman she picked up from the REUBEN JAMES yesterday. We learn from two recovered survivors that they are the only men saved from the forward part of the JAMES. One, the quartermaster at the wheel, was thrown upward against the deckhead when the torpedo hit, landed back on his feet and half-stunned, grasped the wheel. Fifty seconds later, when the magazines beneath him blew up, the top of the wheel house opened up like the petals of a flower and he sailed through, landing clear away in the water. The other, the boatswain's mate, was coming up the outside ladder to the bridge and was blown clear of the ship. The other hundred officers and men forward perished instantly.

At two-forty an English bomber flies over us, signals and circles around us for an hour. Our life by this time has become a canny routine. We have orders to sleep in our clothes and never to come on deck without life jackets. I always have my flashlight and knife in the pocket of my jacket, and have coolly decided that should we have to abandon ship, if boats can be lowered it will be cold weather gear and heavy arctics; but if it is a jump overboard for a life raft, it will be uniform and life jacket for greater freedom for swimming. Each man has his own plan and we joke about it at mess. Chow is always late after General Quarters, for the stewards' end mess boys' battle stations are deep in the ship below the magazine. Every man has his duty in a fighting ship.

November 2nd, 1941
Under fire

At six-ten as I arrive on the bridge, nearest destroyer wheels, runs off and lets go two cans. General Quarters sounded, and telephoned reports of stations manned, coming in to bridge from all over the ship, establishes ship's record for speed and breaks out broad smile on the Skipper's face. Pharmacist's Mate appears beside Captain, salutes, and reports death of one of JAMES' men. At six-fifty tin can ahead reports contact. At same moment we get it dead ahead, and then one at ninety degrees and we know there are two submarines. Destroyer ahead swings broadside to us a mile away. Telephone buzzes: "Torpedo wake directly under my bridge and across your bow." From inert listening position, she pulses with life and leaps ahead, white foam whipping past her flanks. There is a flash of fire on her after deck. For a split second I think she is hit, but it is the propelling charges from her "Y" guns hurling death containers into the sea. Three more ash cans tumble over her stern in quick succession, and the third rising column of water is jet black. We crouch for the spring forward to ram her, should the submarine broach. Telephone buzzes as the destroyer swings away in a wide circle, asking us to mark spot of her attack with smoke bombs. As we leap forward to carry out this request, a torpedo wake passes directly across our stern only forty-five yards from our racks laden with depth charges! This is like the unexpected deadly strike of the cobra, foiled by the quick leap aside and sudden crushing bite of the mongoose -- the one that strikes home first, wins. "Oil to port, Sir!" sings out the watch, and changing course slightly, we follow segregated circular oil slicks bubbling up, and get a contact directly beneath us. Officer reports floating cork. And so we hunt for an hour, until a peremptory buzz from the telephone orders us to return to fleeing convoy. Later, over hot Java, our mess unanimously decides that the Nazis are after destroyers this trip, and not the convoyed merchant ships. Happy over the morning's excitement, I break out some salty Maine stories making several direct hits with the "gentlemen of the mess".

The pharmacist's mate talks by phone with the only doctor in our squadron, and his destroyer decides to lower a boat and send him aboard us to care for the remaining stretcher cases. As usual, I "pass the word along" for Clasby. We circle her as she lowers the boat, and then she circles us after the tiny eggshell, rising and falling like a roller-coaster at Coney Island, makes our ladder. The doctor, a young Lieutenant J.G., executes a perfect jump for it. After tending his patients, the doctor comes to the bridge to "shoot the breeze" with us. humorously he tells of the watch on his bridge gripping the iron rail with white knuckles as the torpedo wake passed directly beneath them this morning. We swap yarns of our respective ships.

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Depth Charges, North Atlantic Patrol
from sketch made in destroyer

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