Contributed by Gordon Cook - 42-43
During the first two years of my navy sea experience, Nazi subs were my prime concern and preoccupation. My wife and I parted after our first two weeks of married life and each went our own way from New York City. She returned to Cleveland, Ohio, to her work as a librarian and I proceeded by train to N.O.B. (Naval Operating Base) Norfolk to report aboard the USS Salamonie. Cooling my heels in the ServLant office while my orders were being endorsed, I learned from a newspaper that two subs were known to be lying off Hampton Roads, waiting for shipping and there had already been merchant ship losses.
I imagined that the Salamonie was tied up in Hampton Roads only long enough for me to report aboard and then we would proceed to sea to run the Nazi blockade. I further imagined that this was to be my first and only trip and it would end beyond Cape Henry with a Big Bang. Newspaper headlines and stories of merchant tankers sunk off our East coast by Nazi submarines during the first months after the Pearl Harbor disaster were alarming.
The Yeoman returned my endorsed orders and I found that I was to proceed to Casco Bay
(wherever that was) by public transportation (train) to await further transportation to whatever port the Salamonie might be in. This was a welcome reprieve, but I regretted
that Betty had not made the trip with me and seen more of this eastern part of the country.
Arriving at Casco Bay, the harbor adjacent to Portland, Maine, I reported to Commander, Destroyers, Atlantic, whose headquarters were on USS Denebola AD-12 anchored
several miles out in Casco Bay. Here I met Newman Cryer, another newly commissioned reserve Ensign who had orders to Salamonie. We roomed together at the Eastland Hotel and made daily trips to COMDESLANT (Commander Destroyers Atlantic) via ship's launch through cold, foggy weather to report in. Once we traveled in style on a Navy tug. On another trip through thick fog, our coxswain lost his way. We heard auto traffic nearby, so he headed for the sound and managed to get a "fix" on our position from a motorist. We made these trips each morning for a week during which no transportation
was available to wherever the SAL might be. Finally we received orders to report with our gear to the USS Arcturus AK-18. (Arcturus had sailed in May 1941 with Task Force
19 that carried U.S. Marines to Iceland.)
Meanwhile we discussed the sub situation with each other and we studied newspaper accounts of the destruction of merchant tankers and cargo ships all along the East Coast.
We were pretty well keyed-up. The war was only two months old and our pictures of the war at sea were imaginary but illuminated by news headlines and front-page stories.
We reported aboard our temporary home, were assigned bunks and handed a slip of paper
that told where we were to report during emergencies. Our battle station was on the starboard side of the Captain's Cabin. Our abandon ship station was on the port side next
to a life raft. This was February 1942 - a cold year in the North Atlantic. I often wondered how I would survive abandoning a sinking ship in those frigid tossing waters.
Our escorts for this trip were three 4-pipe destroyers reactivated from WWI. This was a luxurious escort for those early days of the war. Once again we heard stories from the crew, of subs lurking outside the harbor. We were underway at 0900, and were out in the open sea about an hour later. On exiting Casco Bay, G.Q. was sounded and we reported for the first time to our battle station, on the starboard side of the Captain's cabin..
At 1100 the General Alarm sounded again. Running to my station I heard a dull booming sound, which I recognized at once as depth charges. Sure enough, one of the destroyers was tossing them over and great spouts of water rose in the air astern of it. A black pennant flew from the yardarm indicating that she had a sound contact. We changed
course and got out of the area together with one or two of the "cans". We secured from Battle Stations about lunchtime.
While at lunch, I was almost lifted out of my seat by a loud roar. I knew that was not a depth charge, so it must have been a torpedo! However, it turned out to be firing practice to test the new 5"51 cal gun that was newly installed just above the wardroom. All day long I tried to catch a catnap but unfamiliar events like these went on incessantly.
During the three-day trip to Newfoundland, we had more alarms and depth charge attacks but so far as I know, nothing was sunk except the taxpayers' money.
We found USS Salamonie swinging at anchor in Placentia Bay (where President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill held their first historic meeting) and we reported
SALAMONIE had a successful encounter with a submarine just previous to my arrival aboard. The OOD (Officer of the Deck) sighted a vessel dead ahead, far distant. It
resembled a sub, so he notified Captain Waldschmidt, who had served in submarines. He
identified it positively as a surfaced German sub. He ordered all hands to Battle Stations and reversed course to put the sub dead astern.
He ordered the Gunnery Officer to open fire with the #4 5"51 cal gun above the fantail. Mr. Nelson ordered "Commence firing!" As the first round was fired, Dr. Garnett strolled out on deck directly under the muzzle of the gun. He was blown to the deck on his rear. The peace-time canvas awning was ripped to shreds. The spotter observed a splash short of the sub. After the sec- ond or third round, the sub submerged, leaving USS Salamonie
victorious in her first round with the enemy..
The alarm for Battle Stations was a frequent event on board Salamonie in Atlantic waters. It was standard practice on all U.S. ships to schedule this routine at sea every day an hour
before sunrise and again at sunset. Those times of low visibility were ideal for sub attacks. We went to Battle Stations every time an escorting DD Captain hauled up the
black pennant. This was so frequent that we finally came to look forward to trips made without escorts. Steaming independently we relied solely on our speed of 18 knots and
zigzagging to keep us out of danger, but we did manage to get almost a decent night's sleep. I usually slept fully clothed at sea because it was such an effort to get dressed and
undressed as often as we had alarms in the North Atlantic.
In the chart house the navigator, Lt. Lord, kept a large wall map of the Atlantic Ocean on which he indicated the current positions of known submarines by colored pins. All of
the Nazi subs reported to their home base by radio each evening at sea. Our shore stations picked up those radio messages with RDF, plotted their positions and radioed those to us each day. Lt. Lord posted a chart of the Atlantic in the charthouse, and
marked submarine positions with colored pins to indicate whether each sub was moving toward our coast, toward home or was on station. The sweep and concentration of U-boat warfare as shown on this map was impressive. So far as we were concerned, it was interesting but of
no practical use. We steamed at 18 knots, the courses given us by the
various sea frontier commands, regardless of how many colored pins were stuck on or near our course line.
A depth charge attack at night
was fascinating to watch. Patterns of
six or eight charges were dropped off racks or shot from Y guns and I guns. The guns held a large charge of
black powder and this made a sparkling, scarlet arc through the darkness briefly illuminating the after parts of the firing destroyer in a red glow. If the attack were close
enough, we would see the luminosity of the boiling hill of water after the explosion.
One time, while steaming independently from the States to Newfoundland, we were at sunrise Battle Stations when we saw a ship dead ahead across our course, hull down on the horizon. My station was in Number 2 gun, in charge of both #1 and #2, located on the fo'c'sle. I was wearing a sheepskin coat, galoshes, kapok life jacket, pistol and belt, gloves, scarf, facemask and old style tin hat. We regarded these 3"23 cal guns as "popguns" and quite useless. We had one more of this type aft plus the 5"51 cal on the
deck above the fantail, plus four 50
cal machine guns. We knew that a German pocket battle ship was loose in the Atlantic and through binoculars it appeared that we had found
The bridge signalman blinked our identification code at the strange ship, but with no response. The bridge talker ordered us to "Stand-by".
We broke out some of our puny 3-inch ammunition and stood by with butterflies in our stomachs. I could imagine the newspaper headlines tomorrow morning. "GALLANT
NAVY OILER DUELS GERMAN
POCKET BATTLESHIP. NO SURVIVORS".
Finally a light blinked from the stranger. As we drew closer I could make out the lines of a large Coast Guard Cutter of the Hamilton class. So we lived to sweat another day.
During one of our trips to Africa in 1943, with a fast troop convoy on a warm, pleasant evening, we received word on the TBS (Talk Between Ships - radio) that the cruiser in our escort had sighted a submarine's periscope about one mile off our port quarter. Captain Von Heimburg was skeptical about this report and did
not order the ship to Battle Stations. However the OOD, Lt.jg Gehrz, told the bridge talker to relay the word about the sighting to the after lookout and tell him to keep alert.
The bridge talker could not raise the after lookout on his phone. This was not surprising because the after lookout was not supervised and, in this scene with many escort ships
around us, the temptation to talk with nearby shipmates was strong. Well, the OOD assumed the worst and sent the bridge messenger aft to find the after lookout.
Moments later, the after lookout
appeared on the bridge wide-eyed, gesticulating and pointing out to sea. His jaw worked open and shut but no words were formed. When he
calmed down enough to speak, he told the OOD that he had seen a periscope right astern of us. He tried to inform the bridge watch over the phones but he had lost his voice.
Then he tore off the headphones and ran to the bridge to point at it. The periscope was not sighted again, but in view of the cruiser's report and our sighting report, each made
independently, a destroyer was detailed to remain in the area during the night to hunt and hold down the sub until the convoy was over the
Compared with Nazi U-boat warfare, the Jap subs were far less dangerous. German U-Boats looked for merchant targets, while Japanese reserved their very fine torpedoes for destroyers or larger fighting ships. I served 18 months on APA's (Auxiliary Personnel Attack) in the Pacific, and witnessed only three or four sub alarms. One of these was a
few miles off Ulithi, as we approached the huge atoll in a troop convoy. I was navigator of USS Bollinger APA 234 and had just finished an early supper and planned to take a short nap before we proceeded to our assigned anchorage in Ulithi Lagoon. For a while I
watched the maneuverings from the bridge. Since Captain Printup had the conn, and the OOD was still on the bridge, I decided to return to my room. That space was designed to
be the Captain's sea cabin, but he generously gave me the use of it since it was adjacent to the charthouse and bridge.
Well, the Old Man noticed my absence and found me sitting on the bunk in the sea cabin. Fortunately he was in a good mood, because he had kept station so well in all of the
emergency turns. I told him that after many months of North Atlantic sea
duty, I just wasn't very much concerned about Jap subs. His wartime experience had been in the
Pacific as Gunnery Officer of the cruiser USS Helena and then CO of two Pacific Fleet APA's. He allowed as how I might be right.
As always, we secured GQ after some depth charge attacks by DD's and DE's. Next morning we learned in Ulithi that the escorts had sunk a Jap "certain". There was sufficient evidence in the way of oil, debris, bodies etc to be certain that a submarine had been sunk! Well, that was another lesson learned from experience.
In November 1944, USS Missisinewa AO-59 was torpedoed and sunk at anchor just inside the Ulithi harbor entrance. Boat crews from the USS Lackawanna (Auxiliary Oiler) AO-40 rescued many of the survivors. William Murray was then Chief Quartermaster of the AO-40. Their Executive Officer on AO-40 was Newman Cryer, who began his navy career on Salamonie. Bernie Youngquist, R-Division officer of Salamonie, told me that Old Sal was anchored that day in Ulithi Atoll, and he saw the torpedo hit AO-59.
Twenty-two years later, CQM Murray, who had been promoted to Captain, was in command of USS
In 1945 a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis CA-35 enroute to the Philippine Islands after having transported a nuclear bomb to the Mariannas Islands. For the next 5 days, those who survived the sinking of Indianapolis floated and swam in
shark-infested waters, under the hot sun during daylight and clear, cold nights before rescuers found them. Of about 800 men who survived the sinking, only 316 men survived
those five days of shark attacks, hunger, thirst, hypothermia and hallucinations, one was LT. Richard
Redmayne, Chief Engineer of Indianapolis who by 1962, had been promoted to Captain and was Commanding Officer of USS Salamonie in 1962-63.
A memorial to this tragic event stands today in the heart of Indianapolis, embellished with the names of all survivors.
A brief notice appeared this week (December 2000) in a Tampa, FL. Newspaper, to report that a specially appointed committee has completed a bill to be introduced in the next congress regarding three high ranking officers. Two of the officers
were Admiral Kimmel and General Short who were removed from office and reduced in rank by a court
martial after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The third officer was Captain McVey, CO of the USS Indianapolis, whose ship was lost by enemy submarine attack in the South Pacific.
The report recommends that each of those officers, posthumously, be returned to his previous rank and that they be absolved of blame of negligence for those events. I believe
that Captain Edward L. Beach served on that comrnittee. He and his wife are making a Christmnas
visit to their daughter in New Zealand so I cannot confirm that.
There will be current reports of the progress of this Bill through the new Congress in 2001.