Abandonment of the "Duncan" and Rescue of Her Survivors by the "McCalla"
While making two torpedo hits on a Japanese cruiser from a position between our cruiser column and the enemy force, the Duncan was simultaneously hit by four or more shells, including several from our cruiser column. Her No. 1 fireroom had already been damaged by a shell hit, but the crew had remained at their stations in order to secure the forward boilers. This devotion to duty cost them their lives, for when the fire-room was hit again, all men in it were killed. Other shells burst and killed all personnel in the charthouse and the main radio room. Another hit near the charthouse killed four men on the wings of the bridge. One of these men was standing next to the commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Ennis W. Taylor. Uncontrollable fires quickly broke out near the No. 1 fireroom and the main radio.
No. 2 gun mount was a mass of flames, with fire and explosions from the handling room cutting off access to the forecastle. Everything from the bridge level up was isolated by fires roaring just below. The chart-house and after end of the navigating bridge were wrecked. The forward and after parts of the ship were two distinct units, separated by flames from the fire in No. 1 fireroom. All communications from the pilothouse to other parts of the ship were dead. The gyro-repeater was out. There was no answer from signals over the engine room annunciator. Bridge steering control was lost, and with her rudder jammed left the Duncan was carried clear of the line of fire and away from the battle area. She was still making 15 knots.
The director crew and the uninjured personnel on the director platform lowered the wounded to the starboard wing of the bridge. But the bridge was isolated from all parts of the ship by increasingly serious fires raging beneath, forward and aft. Accordingly, Lt. Comdr. Taylor ordered the personnel gathered on the bridge to abandon ship. Efforts were made to reach the life net just beneath the port wing of the bridge, but the smoke was too thick and the flames too fierce. Escape from the bridge level was possible only by dropping into the water over the starboard wing. All bridge personnel left the ship in this manner.
During their escape and for many minutes afterward, Lt. Comdr. Taylor strove unsuccessfully to signal the crew of gun No. 1 and the survivors from gun No. 2, who were gathered in the eyes of the ship, isolated by fires which had spread to the magazines under gun No. 2. After a final effort to communicate with men in the after part of the ship, and when an inspection of the bridge level showed that the port wing was on fire and that all living personnel had got clear, Lt. Comdr. Taylor jumped from the starboard bridge shield at about 0100, a half hour after giving the order to abandon the bridge.
The remaining personnel forward and aft made persistent efforts, despite continually exploding ammunition and intense fires, to bring the flames under control with fire and bilge pumps and the handy-billy. Both bilge pump and handy-billy failed. At about 0200, with the flames increasing in intensity and ammunition exploding ever more violently, Lieut. Herbert R. Kabat ordered all personnel to abandon ship.
The McCalla, meanwhile, had followed the course of the San Francisco during the battle with little difficulty. When the engagement was concluded, at about 0020, she was in her station astern of the flagship.
At 0055 she was ordered by Admiral Scott to locate the Boise which had last been reported 12 miles from Savo Island on bearing 295° T. The McCalla searched in vain for the damaged cruiser, using FD radar, on various courses and speeds. The only vessel sighted was gutted with fire, drifting so close to Savo Island that it was thought she might be on the opposite side of the island from which the action had been fought. As the McCalla neared the flames, several explosions were heard, and it seemed the ship was aground. The McCalla approached cautiously because the large fires made it impossible to determine the ship's characteristics. At 0220 her fires had diminished, and she was illuminated by searchlight from an approximate range of 2,500 yards. She was
clearly not the Boise. Shortly, a lookout detected the numbers 485, and she was identified as the Duncan.
At 0300, the McCalla lowered a boat and despatched a salvage party under Lt. Comdr. Floyd B. T. Myhre with instructions to take no unnecessary chances, approach with caution, and fire a red Very star if immediate assistance was required. Lt. Comdr. Myhre was told the McCalla would remain in the vicinity for about half an hour, and then continue to search for the Boise, returning to the Duncan only if the Very star signal was observed.
The salvage party went aboard but found no signs of life. Many fires were still burning, which Lt. Comdr. Myhre gradually brought under control. After a brief examination of all parts of the destroyer, he decided there was a hope of salvaging her. He and his party worked steadily for several hours jettisoning equipment which was irretrievably damaged, and trying to restore power.
Meanwhile the McCalla searched north and west of Savo for the Boise, unaware that she had by that time resumed station in the Task Force. Around 0600, the Duncan was again encountered. She was still smoldering forward, but all large fires had burned themselves out. As the McCalla closed, Lt. Comdr. Myhre reported that she had been abandoned but could be salvaged, and asked Lt. Comdr. Cooper in the McCalla to send a repair party, stating that the Duncan, though deep in the water aft, could be towed by the stern.
Lt. Comdr. Cooper decided first to recover the Duncan's personnel. Many survivors could be observed in the water as daylight approached, clinging to life rafts and debris scattered in a roughly rectangular area to the eastward of Savo Island, about 8 miles north and south and 2 miles west. The largest group rescued included 31 men lying on 3 life rafts which had been lashed together. Rescue operations continued from 0630, when the first survivors were taken aboard, until 1209. The McCalla was aided by planes and landing boats sent to the area by the Commanding General on Guadalcanal. In all, 9 officers and 186 enlisted men were rescued, the great majority being taken aboard the McCalla.
Most of the Duncan's personnel were picked up without incident. But while one man was being picked up, another, 200 yards away, was seen being viciously attacked by a large shark. Three members of the McCalla's crew were armed with rifles. Their many accurate shots kept the shark at
a distance until a boat could be lowered and the victim, Lieut. Kabat, taken aboard. Several other survivors were closely investigated by sharks, but only 3 were attacked. Fortunately, no lives were lost as a result.
When the Duncan's survivors had been taken aboard the McCalla or sent to Guadalcanal, the McCalla endeavored to tow the Duncan. But all efforts were unavailing, and she sank shortly after noon.
At 1430, a large number of men were sighted from the McCalla, floating in the sea near the scene of the previous night's action. Investigation revealed that these were Japanese seamen, survivors of the several enemy ships on the ocean floor beneath. The McCalla tried to pick up several of them by heaving them lines. None would catch hold, however. The McCalla lowered a boat and captured 3 survivors, not trying to seize more because she was already overcrowded and had very limited space in which to confine them. A message was sent to the Commanding General at Guadalcanal, with the request that he rescue those remaining in the sea. Two destroyers were dispatched from another task group in the area. Between them, these ships picked up 113 Japanese prisoners. How many were eaten by sharks is unknown.
Last updated: May 28, 2003Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation