Chapter 8: Destruction of Enemy Ammunition Ship
19 February 1943

After concluding the bombardment, Task Group Mike continued its eastward retirement from its patrol area. When night fell, course was reversed and patrol west of Attu was resumed. The group was now divided into two sections, with the Richmond, Bancroft, and Caldwell operating to the south of the Indianapolis, Coghlan, and Gillespie. Capt. Vytlacil of the Indianapolis, commanding the northern unit, ordered extreme vigilance, since he anticipated that the maneuvers of the group might have deceived the Japanese into thinking that Task Group Mike had cleared the area and that it was safe for supply vessels to run the gantlet to the western islands.

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At 2000 on 19 February the Indianapolis was in latitude 51º23' N., longitude 171º09' E., about 120 miles southwest of Attu. Scouting course was 000º T., with speed 16. The Gillespie was screening the Indianapolis, while the Coghlan steamed six miles to the southward. At 2037 the Gillespie was ordered to a position six miles north. About an hour later the Indianapolis changed course to 162º T.

In the vicinity of the Coghlan the weather was excellent, with a full moon contributing high visibility. A moderate sea was running. At 2220 the Coghlan made SC radar contact on two objects, 9.6 miles away. An immediate report was flashed to the Indianapolis by TBS. The contact later developed as a single vessel. Capt. Vytlacil ordered the destroyers to concentrate on him.

At 2223 the Indianapolis went to General Quarters. Two minutes later a smoke smudge was sighted on the starboard bow. Simultaneously the cruiser's SG radar picked up an object bearing 204º T., range 25,900 yards. The Indianapolis closed rapidly on course 220º T., later changed to 210º.

In 20 minutes the Coghlan had taken a position ahead and the Gillespie astern. Various changes of course and speed followed in response to evasive maneuvers begun by the strange ship at 2259. By 2312 the Indianapolis had closed sufficiently to challenge the vessel, which proved to be about 400 feet long and of 3,000-5,000 tons. The answer, consisting of Japanese code for Able, was unsatisfactory. Consequently, at 2316, the American ships opened fire. The Indianapolis scored a direct hit with the third main battery salvo, and the enemy vessel began to burn. Our destroyers were also finding the mark with their 5-inch 38s, as was the Indianapolis secondary battery.

The Japanese ship fired three or four rounds from a small gun on its bow, plus a long burst from an automatic weapon. All shots fell far short. By 2325 the target had stopped. A minute later the Indianapolis fired a salvo which struck a vital spot. The enemy vessel began to blaze furiously from stem to stern to the accompaniment of continuous minor explosions, indicating that the cargo included fuel and ammunition. Our task group ceased fire (the Indianapolis had expended 37 rounds of 8-inch HC and 70 of 8-inch AP), but the enemy ship did not appear to be sinking. Her fires illuminated the entire area, and there was danger that our ships would be subject to submarine attack if they remained in the area much longer. It was therefore decided to sink the hulk with torpedoes.

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The results of this endeavor were disappointing. At 2359 the Coghlan fired one torpedo at a range of 3,000 yards, depth 10 feet, speed 46. The run was hot, straight, and normal, but the torpedo passed under the target without exploding. Eleven minutes later another was launched with a depth setting of five feet. It detonated 500 yards short, possibly as a result of striking wreckage. A third torpedo set at two feet was fired from 2,000 yards to explode on contact. It passed about 10 yards astern.

The Gillespie then launched a torpedo which appeared to head for the target but missed. A second torpedo began porpoising and zigzagging and passed astern.

Finally, the Coghlan was ordered to sink the wreck with gunfire. Four 4-gun salvos aimed at the water line produced several hits. Fires and explosions resulted, but the hulk remained afloat.

The Coghlan then tried again with a torpedo set at zero depth. This detonated 50 yards short with some probable damaging effect. At 0124 the destroyer fired two more 5-inch salvos, and the enemy vessel finally sank by the stern. The Coghlan proceeded to search for survivors, but found none. A life jacket, marked lumber, and one bamboo life raft were recovered by grapnel. The life jacket was Japanese army equipment.

Our ships reformed their scouting line and continued their patrol.

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