TASK FORCE X
By Charles A. Rawlings
A Post correspondent sails on a troop transport, tells how it(The Saturday Evening Post -- 5 June 1943)
feels when Jap torpedo bombers drop by for a visit.
For three days, every time we looked over the harbor, the big gray ships were there, anchored far out. The blue-gray color of the ships and the sun brown of the men at their rails were the only somber note in the harbor. It was one of the big sea paddocks of the American war in the Pacific and it wore the garish colors of the South Pacific's land and sea.
The troops were Army contingents--infantry with their packs and rifles, and ammunition stowed under them in the lower holds. They were part of a movement to the northward to consolidate an island that had been won, and then, perhaps, move on toward Japan. The fighting was over for the moment where they were going, but it was not over in the air and water that lay between, and there was a tenseness and expectancy in the look of the transports that does not come when one looks at loaded ships waiting to move from port to port back home. They had been modern passenger liners with a turn of speed before the war. Now they were well armed, with light ack-ack guns mounted on their ample decks and superstructures, and they cruised with a fine destroyer screen. The designation given the flotilla had a fighting sound. Its name was Task Force X. The command, however, after the custom of convoys, bore the grand name of commodore (Ingolf N. Kiland, CAPT, USN) and he flew his flag, not in one of the fighting ships but in a transport. He was a four-striper in the Navy and had been in the same class at Annapolis as the transport's skipper, also a Navy captain. They looked somewhat alike, both medium-sized, heavy-set men of middle age with wrinkles about the eyes and the weathering of this Pacific war, which differs from the ruddy weathering of the Atlantic because of the constant sweating and a slight oriental tinge of yellow from atabrine that appears on those who work the coasts. The two captains were happy to be together again as they had been twenty-odd years before at school.
"You are probably as uncomfortable aboard as the rest of us," the skipper said. "A crowded ship and heat and this damned humidity. It is going to get much worse. I'd give you the run of the bridge, but this time I have a commodore."
The commodore's eyes twinkled. "He's not spoofing me with that talk," he said. "All he's given me up here is the whistle lanyard for emergency turns and a right to run the TBS (talk between ships) radio. What do we expect? Why, Tojo's got ants in his pants from the defeat up north. He may try for a little face with us."
Below, the big ship was an oven from the heat steel hulls gather from the sun and their own engine-room fires and the cooking fires in their galleys. The tropical nights were not cool enough to penetrate her and the heat stayed even, night and day. It was the only heat I have ever known that deserved the adjective, "crawling."
The upper decks were long corridors, and doors with sliver doorknobs instead of steel dogs, and a central stairway, and solid rows of staterooms that had been designed to house a man and a woman in luxury back in the days of bright night lights and open ports and peace. Now, dimly lit by blue battle lamps, they were crowded with a half dozen steel bunks set in double layers.
The holds that had smelled once with the deal and hemp and burlap smell of general cargo reeked now with the heavy odor of troops. Stretching back from the hatchways into the dark recesses was tier after tier of pipe bunks. The bunks could sleep 1200 men, but there were not enough of them. Cots that could be stowed in the daytime filled the narrow passageways at night. Then, when the hatches were closed to darken ship, the air in those holds stirred only with the breath of the men, the flail of their tossing bodies and arms, as they dreamed in sweat-drenched sleep.
The departure of Task Force X was as silent as the gray dawn that watched it. The destroyers swung into the steaming screen ahead and the big ships took station astern. It was roughly the pattern of a broad,squat spear, sharp and quick of blade, stout and heavy of shaft. There was a tenseness, a hushed expectancy in the air. Cargoes of material are millions of dollars, vital adjuncts of war, but they are cold and can be almost forgotten under way. Cargoes of men packed tight and warm and red in the holds, sleeping over bilges filled with cases of .30-caliber ammunition, are something else. Troop transport is a poignant business.
Task Force X got on with it. The officers' wardroom was bright and achatter with first breakfast. It had been the bar and great lounge when the liner was a lady. It was trimmed in golden-yellow hardwood, with modernistic bas-relief murals in pastel. Sunlight streaming in through big ports shone on clean table linen and silverware. The tables were crowded with 100 officers, infantry and Navy sitting together. There were scrambled eggs and bacon on the menu, and the eternal wheat cakes and sausage that Americans must have on the thermal equator or the Arctic Circle.
There were two doctors at our table. One was a commander, CDR W. Patton, MC, USN, who belonged to the ship and the other, a major, was traveling with the troops. His hospital unit had gone on ahead of him and he was unhappy about that. He comforted himself that there were many men from his home town aboard. The place was Hartford, or New London, or Bridgeport--some place in Connecticut. Our troops were part of a division that had been known originally as the 1st Connecticut, he explained.
Dan Coffey, our chief bos'n, was at the table. He was a wise, stout burgher of the sea, the sort of man Poseidon loves. He had a wife and daughters and a brick house somewhere that he called home, and a feeling of kinship and domicile with twenty ports whose names his family could not even pronounce. He had grown up in the old Navy and been a chief petty officer for years. None too enthusiastically, he had taken a commission for this war, and as if trying to make the change over to officer and gentleman by act of Congress more convincing to himself, he had donned a pair of rimless spectacles. But the commission stripes and the scholarly glasses could not change him. "Chief," everybody called him, and there was not a bottle that popped a stealthy cork within three decks of him that he could not smell nor one trick of running his crowded deck that he did not know.
Father Foley was the chaplain and Dan Coffey's boon shipmate and confessor. They shared the same batch and sat beside each other at table. Father Fogey had been a chief signalman in the last war, and had gone to a seminary and taken Orders afterward. He had a parish in Philadelphia and had roared his way back to sea over objections about age and weight. He was a jolly and understanding ship's priest, quite handsome in his officer';s cloth with the small gold cross on his collar. He hated sin, understood the small comforts of the flesh and loved his boys. He had been able to hider his altar wine so that Dan Coffey had never been able to find it.
We journeyed north like that, with laughter and jokes and yarns--as if there was no sense in thinking always about danger. The troops, healthy, lean youngsters who had been toughened by two months of training jungle warfare in the New Hebrides, had dismissed it, too, after nothing happened the first day and night at sea. They swarmed at the rails and lolled in the personnel-landing boats that crowded our main deck.
But the ship lived with the danger. She was a tight ship. She demanded a tenseness at gun drill, and the sound of feet on the deck over my head answering the routine call to general quarters that comes every morning and night to every Navy ship at sea never once shuffled, but always ran. "Lead em!" our 20-mm. gun shields shouted. The command had been stenciled on the steel shields in big white letters. The crews, seamen and cooks and pantry men, and here and there a cox'n, swung the lean muzzles of their mounts, pretending the little clouds were Aichis and Mitsubishi. They brought the sights hard on and then swung ahead as they counted "one-two-three" and then pulled the mute triggers. They were crews full of fight, and the loaders and magazine boys would burr their lips and make the "ba-ba-ba-ba-ba" sound of a .20 mm. casting its small fragments of lightning, and the gunners would shake their shoulders and arms as if the guns were alive and racking them with their jumping recoil. "Lead 'em", the gunner's mates, watching, cried. "Always lead 'em!"
The troops watched, slightly disdainful, as regulars would watch the drilling of militia. The blue dungarees of the gun crews made them look like a pick-up army. "Lead 'em!" became a good-natured wisecrack, shouted on the crowded ladders.
We could be in the middle of the submarine very soon.
"Subs are the cans' job," Dan Coffey said. "No one or two subs are going to bother us, with all those cans cocked. A fleet of them might try it. We'd sink plenty."
There were nights when it was beautiful on deck. The troops were allowed to sleep there, a half company at a time, and they had learned to let the night air salve their prickly heat. Heat rash comes differently to different men and there were bare bellies and groins and buttocks all about, cooling in the moonlight. The exposure could not be complete, for every man had been ordered to wear his clothing. Many of the bad burns of this war have come to men when bodies were not properly clothed. The split-second flash of torpedo and ammunition explosions have burned exposed flesh to the bone and left untouched parts covered with the thin gauze of a skivvy shirt.
The old friends, the Great Bear and the North Star, were gone from the sky, and one who has lived with them and used them as the feel of a familiar door jam in the dark to orient the rest of a room, cannot bare to use the Southern Cross that way at once, but some hunt it out amid the strange white stars in the black savannah of the southern sky. But splendid Orion burned his great Belt and jeweled Sword directly overhead, and you could look aloft at him and shut out the breathless sea and the fetid tropic smells and the bitter yellow enemy, and smell the frost in the air and smell the crisp white snow sparkling on the February fields of home.
Ahead in the hot moonlight, the destroyers were small shapes carved out of obsidian and green jade. Alongside, our sister transports silently kept pace, their big superstructures like moonlit, deserted ruins. At our guns the watches stood behind the breast-high shields. Only the occasional movement of a helmet, like a Trojan helmet watching from a moonlit casement atop Troy's walls, showed that wee were awake and on lookout. Our floating city was as populous as old Troy, thousands of sweat-damp men asleep.
Task Force X brought up the disarmingly cool, hush dawn. It ran its steady eighteen (twelve knots) knots through one more shimmering white noon. It carried on into the breathless afternoon and watched the sun go down in Japanese water. The moon took over once more.
Hidden behind it, Japan's attack was forming. The destroyers had been insisting that something was hiding in the haze astern since four o'clock in the afternoon. A secondary condition of defense had been quietly set at Task Force X's guns. There was no hurry about the change of watch. The troops, unaware, did not stop their laughter.
At six-thirty o'clock the watch officer on our signal bridge answered the phone, then clamped his binoculars to his eyes and tried to make them pierce the dark astern. "Unidentified plane bearing one-eight-oh," was what the telephone had told him.
"One-eight-oh," he pleaded to the lookouts. "Can't anybody see anything?"
Nothing! Darkness came swiftly, and the watch officer dropped his glass and let it hang by its strap while he rubbed his tired eyes.
As silently as the drift of a falling star there was alight thread of fire down the sky. It ended abruptly and at its end a ghastly flower bloomed. The watch officer dropped his hands from his startled eyes and stood, legs spread, staring up at it. The strange flower cast a powerful heliotrope-white light, hard, searching, relentless. As slow as his stopped heart--mine, too, for I stood beside him--it was floating down off our port quarter. He lurched against me, falling toward the communication phone an arm's length away.
"Flare!" he cried into it. "Flare off the port quarter, sir! ... No, sir, it is not a rocket! It is an enemy flare! ... Sound general quarters!" he called down a voice tube.
The "da-a-a-a, da-a-a-a-a-a-a-, da-a-a-a" beat of the horn calling to quarters filled the ship with its alarm. The sound overflowed the ship and out into the night, adding the portent of sound to the freezing portent of that drifting light.
"They're lighting us up!" the young watch officer shouted over the hubbub.
A second magnesium flare was falling, this time off the starboard quarter. We could see its small white parachute in the light of the first flare. Out of the side of my eyes I was conscious of a destroyer boiling past astern, wide open.
The second flare was perfectly timed. No sooner was it fully alight than the first one spluttered and died. There was no diminution in the hard hellish light that beat down on us. It glared--that light--with a coldness, a relentlessness impossible to describe. It seemed to sear into your skin, into your bones. "Find a shade from that hell's moonlight" was what instinct told you to do. Dart this way and that like a panicked animal caught in a killer's torch. Those who have experienced all the terrors of this Pacific war say there is but one experience that exceeds the feeling of nakedness under enemy flares. That is the sudden blinding illumination by enemy searchlight opening a night naval battle.
The watch officer felt naked too. "Where's my tin hat?" he bellowed at a signalman. "Hand me my tin hat!"
I had a tin hat. It was three decks below in my cabin. I do not remember the ladders between. I was there in the dark cabin and the turtleback, round, sand paper feel of the helmet was under my hand. It was where I had left it, atop the life preserver. It felt heavy, but comforting on my number head. The life preserver collar turned in and caught, as it always does, as I struggled into the left arm hole, and I remember cursing it terribly between closed teeth as the loudspeaker's giant voice said, "Troops lay below! All troops return to quarters on the double! Troops lay below!"
I sad on the edge of the bunk and tried to think in the darkness. What kind of attack was coming? "Troops lay below." That did not indicate anything. The troops would be marshaled there in any sort of attack. They must be got out of the way, so the ship could be fought. They must be assembled and held under discipline by their officers. A thousand men out of hand could immobilize a ship, choke her passageways, impede her damage control, her fire-fighting details. They only place for transport troops in an attack, poor devils, is where they live, in the holds. But a torpedo, with men massed below--No! No torpedoes, please God. High-level bombing attack. Surface attack. Make it one of those. And while you are on the line, listen to the reporter's lament once more: O Lord, if I only had a gun, if I had only been born a kid gunner or a kid gunnery ensign, with something to hang to, some to do instead of ---
The way to deck was up a long corridor past two battle lamps, up the main stairway and into a small foyer lounge. The grand stairway was amidship, and on each deck where it made a landing there was a small lounge. They were all brightly lighted, but controlled by door switches. When the doors out to deck were opened, the lights went out and plunged the place into sudden and startling darkness. They came blasting on again when the door clicked shut. Infantry officers, medical-staff men who had no troops to command, were sitting thereon the edges of ridiculous gold Louis XVI chairs and a long pink divan. Dan Coffey, looking like a warrior, towered over them. His helmet, with a "D.C" lettered in white for a crest, was as huge as Achilles' and painted bright green. His Mae West life jacket was green also, one of the new kapok jackets that have been treated with fireproof paint.
"Now I've got you in a good place," he said. "The main deck will hold back some of the stuff comin' down topside. Anything drivin' up from below won't reach you, unless the ammunition goes. Stay here!." He yanked open the door and the lights went out and he was gone.
Outside, there was a different light on the sea. It was not heliotrope-white, but a hard blue. It made the transport on our starboard quarter look arsenic green, with high lights on the green and deep black shadows. There was a figure at the rail, straining out and looking aloft. It was Father Foley in his battle helmet. I leaned out beside him.
There was a blue burst hanging above our masthead. It was like a 4th of July firework of my youth called, I believe, on the Pioneer Club's picnic programs, Floating Stars.
"Light," a deep voice reported on the deck above, a calm, official-sounding voice. "Light bearing about one-five-oh. Looks like a small searchlight signal. Do you see it, captain?"
Father Foley and I saw the light, a small yellow eye, either on or close above the water. There was a second one just like the first on the starboard beam. Then there was another off the bow. They were not searchlight signals; they were Mitsubishi 97's, Japan's two-motored torpedo bombers, signaling their positions to each other. The blue star burst overhead was their signal to attack.Their motors sounded now. They were smooth and humming at first, but rapidly they grew in dissonance, clanking and roaring. Their roar was wiped out by a tremendous single blast of our ship's whistle, the commodore's signal for an emergency turn. The deck tilted slowly under our feet as the big ship answered her hard-over helm. She was singing into the sound of the planes.
Ahead the sick night sparked with a train of small white-hot beads strung on a white-hot wire. It was 20-mm. tracer coming from a destroyer's gun, our opening fire. There were a dozen trains of the jumping fire now, and a distant popping, like firecrackers sputtering, with the blind roar of the angry motors. Then such ah great chattering and barking burst from our own ship that she trembled and jiggled and the air was a crazy carnival of yells and roars and screams and millions of white-hot tracers crossing and crisscrossing out over the water.
A Mitsubishi's port motor exhaust was streaking blue flame like a comet right in the thickest of the mad dance of tracers, and then, lit by the tracer light, we could see the lunatic plane. It was flying crazily past our swinging bow, not twenty feet off the water. It seemed to be propoising in the air, for its course was up and then down, as if it were hopping hedges.
Our whistle roared again. It was doubly terrifying this time, for our every nerve end and cell were poised, waiting for the impact of the torpedo the Mitsubishi must have launched out in the darkness. We could hear the 20-mm.'s again. They had been barking all the time, but our ears had shut them out. They were hammering the plane unmercifully. They were stinging it to death with white-hot hornets. The tracer was hitting and mashing in red rosettes on its wings, its fuselage. It was tasting destruction--not us. It carried on past our length, slid weakly another length, and then it did what enemy planes do in dreams--it plunged into the sea. The splash was not water but licking yellow flames and a puff of black, ascending smoke, and in the light of that fire our guns slowed down and stopped. Only far away there was firing like laughing little firecrackers.
In the silence I turned my head to speak to Father Foley. He was not there, and I could not have spoken anyway, for my throat was rasping and on fire. I ended up in a mad spasm of choking that bent me double and stitched my side. Then I saw the father. All rosy in the light of the burning plane, he was slowly rising from his knees. He looked at the doomed plane.
"Good boys," he said. "Good boys."
And then for a breath there was actual silence that seemed thick enough to cut. Out of it, faintly, like an echo, deep throated, many-throated, the cheer of our troops came up from the hold. The news that we had killed had cascaded down deck by deck and just reached them. And our gunners, as if this tribute from their brothers in arms in the holds made them aware that it was not easy to stay below and wait, cheered back. The courage of action saluting the courage and duty of passivity, instinctively done in a breath, a passing breath in the midst of action, and beautiful because of that.
FIVE TO NOTHING
The distant chatter of machine-gun fire went on. It came from across the convoy, far over on the port side. Then the destroyers were firing up ahead. And blown by a gusty wind, the mad dog swept around us again. We were firing. The transports on both sides were firing. Everywhere was a wild, drumming whirlwind of sound and fury and fear and hate, plane motors, mad 20-mm. fire and men's shouting and our great whistle all mixed up together. And the, quite suddenly, it was all over.
Four Mitsubishis were burning on the sea. Ours, the first one, was far astern charring down now. The others were to port. In the heart of the four small bonfires were the Japanese bomber crews, dying or quickly dead. For some reason that thought did not come at once, but at the end of the marvel that we had won, and when it did come, it inspired no feeling of kindred suffering or even pity. It inspired nothing at all.
In the lounge the Army had obeyed Dan Coffey. The officers were still sitting on the edges of the gold-painted chairs. The only change in the scene was the ashtray standing in midfloor. It was overflowing with cigarette butts. They were heaped in a mound in the tray and seemed to be flowing over its rim and dripping on the floor like foam from a tankard of ale.
"We are enjoying a lull," the loudspeaker said. Our captain himself was making the announcement. "The score is four or five to nothing. Troops stand easy."
The medical major stirred a wan hand and one by one pulled loose the bow knots that held his jacket. Then he lifted his heavy helmet and set it, crown down, in his lap.
A thing like this," he said, "consumes a great deal of adrenalin."
The score was five to nothing. Up on the bridge I heard the last score come in. The sea was peacefully asleep in gentle moonlight again. Astern, the fires form the Japanese planes had died too. All that was left of the battle was a smell, very faint and lingering. It was the clean acridity of American smokeless powder. The commodore and the captain, side by side, were leaning, with elbows hooked, over the wind screen. Their baggy trousers hang over their identical rumps exactly alike. The commodore was chewing abstractedly on a match stem. They might have been two successful wheat farmers or a pair of crony bankers on a fishing holiday, hanging over a fence swapping yarns in the moonlight. The raucous voice of the intership radio came from the bridge house. A destroyer was reporting.
"Pennant calling Standard," the dark metallic voice said, as if bored with life. "Pennant calling Standard. Take over, please. Pennant calling Standard," the destroyer said. "There is another Jap plane in the water here. DId not catch fire. Two-engine Mitsubishi. Two Japs in the water. What shall do? Come in, please."
"Too 'em two cans of C ration," a low voice quickly said over the phone. It was an eavesdropping destroyer, trying to be funny. The commodore snorted and hurried across the deck and took the phone.
"No more of that!" he barked. "Clear the air, you! ... Standard to Pennant: Make sure of position, then return to screen. Over!"
"Pennant to Standard," the bored destroyer said. "Understood."
The commodore strolled back to his place beside the captain.
"We'll let NOB [Naval Operating Base] send out in the morning and bring them in," he said. "I'd like to see one of those planes myself. Harry probably wanted to pick up those men, but this is not the time for it. We may not be done with this business yet."
He resumed chewing the frayed white matchstick.
"Oh, I think so, Bill," said the captain.
The wardroom was half full when the "Secure from general quarters" command came. There was a movement of release in the room, a pick-up in the hum of conversation. Men reared out of chairs and peeled off life jackets that had been hanging open, and tossed them into corners. The stewards who had not been at the guns brought out the coffee that had been kept simmering. Outside there were scattered catcalls and the sound of running feet. Part of the gun crews were coming off the guns, and they were going below to swagger with the troops.
"Did we le 'em?" came a shrill voice. "How'd you like those apples, Army? Five of those yellow --------."
The infantry officers, who had been below with the men, came up after a time. Their brown shirts were the same color all over, as soaked with sweat as if they had fallen into the sea. A big captain undid the cuff of his shirt and twisted it in a red-furred fist.
"Well," he grinned at Don Coffey, letting the wrung-out sweat rivulet through his fingers and splash on the floor, "guess you did a pretty good job for us. We got one, I hear."
"I'm going to put the name of that port-bridge-wing gun in," said Dan. "He was on that plane from way over here"--Dan pointed off his right shoulder--"to the time that damned Jap cleared astern. Those boys were changing magazines so fast they were tossin' them up and catchin' them in the slot. ... Henderson!"
Our big chief steward, a six-foot-six colored boy from Harlem, was just getting into his white coat. He stepped up, buttoning the last button, and stood very straight.
"Yes, sir," he said.
A D D E N D U M
This action the author is writing about took place on 17 February 1943. The ships involved were the USS Jackson (APA-18), USS Adams (APA-19), USS Hays (APA-20), USS Crescent City (APA-21), a tanker whose number and name I no longer remember. It was, however, the first tanker to be taken to Guadalcanal and was traveling in our convoy at a speed of about 12 knots. (In a convoy you can only go as fast as the slowest ship, which in our case was the tanker, thus 12 knots).
On the night in question the USS Crescent City was the flag ship and Commodore I.N. Kiland was in command. We were passing through what euphemistically was called sunset pass--between the islands of San Cristobal and Rennell. We would usually reach this area about sundown (thus the name sunset pass) in order to anchor off Guadalcanal in the early morning hours.
I was a corpsman in the forward battle station in #2 hole. We had just secured from general quarters which would be ½ hour after sunset and it was black out. I had climbed down from the gun platform and had taken only a few steps on the main deck when a star shell broke over our bow--at that instant we had started a hard 90° turn to starboard and general quarters again was sounded. We all immediately were at our stations. Many things happened over the next 55 minutes of night action. Piecing it together later over shaking cups of coffee and cigarettes, it went something like the following.
The Japs had laid a trap for us and we rode right into it unknowingly.
Submarines were lying in wait on each side so that we would pass between them. The Jap aircraft were to light us up for the subs to knock us off. Again, which so often happened in that war out there, luck or providence was on our side. Just after we had secured form general quarters and about the time my foot hit the main deck (I had gone up on the gun platform to shoot the bull), the Commodore noticed a blinker light near (I think) Rennell island. He started the convoy to turn hard starboard--the star shell borke and general quarters sounded--all at about the same time. We found out later that two Jap subs were still on the surface and evidently didn't expect us so soon, or something. At any rate, they must have been giving each other last minute instructions before submerging. Whatever the reason, the Commodore, always alert and on the ball, started the ships to change course immediately. Thank God he did because we were lit up like a Christmas Turkey with star shells of 10,000,000 candle power falling all over the place and torpedoes were coming at us from every direction. Aircraft were diving on us from all angles and were bound to get that tanker. I learned later that the plane we shot down was crossing our fan tail and our gunners had placed the fuse setting on the 5" shell at its shortest explosive range, fired and blew the plane apart. The plane had lined up to launch its torpedo at the tanker which was off our starboard quarter at about 1,000 yards when we blew it apart. Shortly after this an explosion occurred off our quarter, we could not tell which starboard or port which shook the ship like a cat would a rat. We thought at first that we had taken a hit from a torpedo. Fortunately this was not true. It was only a near miss or else the torpedo was of the acoustic type and exploded near our propeller--we never found out. (Later in dry dock in Wellington, N.Z., we found some ruptured plates on the hull on the after part of the port side low down. Fortunately not serious enough to cause much damage.)
BM1/c Max House, who was a big man, some 6'3" and 220 pounds, for reasons unknown, started running up the port ladder across the boat deck down the starboard ladder across the main deck and up the port ladder again. This continued during the entire 55 minutes battle. Max was the gun captain on the two twin mount forties aft and just above and forward of the 5" gun on the fan tail. When the battle was over, the guys asked me to talk with Max. They wanted me to stop him while he was running, but no way would I do this. (The reason I was asked to do this was Max and I were friends--as Max wsa friends with all us corpsmen, my name popped out first I guess.) At any rate, when the battle was over I slapped Max on the shoulder and said let's go have a cup of coffee--he snapped right back into the living world and said okay. Max never knew what happened or that he had been running the full time--that whole period of time from the first star shell until I slapped his shoulder remained a blank. As far as I know, this never occurred to Max again. I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I had tried to stop this big guy from running!!
The outcome of the battle was five Jap planes shot down and three and possibly four subs sunk by our destroyers, without a casualty in either ships or men to our side. It was one hellava show, and one not to ever be forgotten. I know of nothing more terrifying than night fighting on ships at sea ....
It might also be added that we had with us a brand new flush deck destroyer just out from the States. She had the new fire control automatic computer system. I was top side and saw her shoot down a plane with her new system. At first the destroyer tried to manually turn her turrets, then all of a sudden I saw the turret turn very quickly, guns position and fire, miss, make the correction, shoot and hit. It was so fast I could hardly believe my eyes. It was months later when I found out what had happened. The gunnery officer came aboard our ship to have his teeth taken care of and I was in the dental office at the time. He related to us that was the first time for them in action and that they were not sure just how well the system would work. Needless to say, it worked very well.
Commodore Kiland received the Navy Cross for this action. We got a "well done" from ADM Halsey. Commodore Kiland was later promoted to Rear AdmiraL and retired from the Naval Service as a Vice Admiral, having attained that rank during the Korean War. He lives on Coronado Island in San Diego, California.
Just before dawn, our ship's forward deck seemed carpeted with casualties. Over every square foot of space down there, curved around bitts, half draped over spars, pillowed in shell cleats, sprawled one across another with heads mingling with feet, backs across bellies, our men lay asleep. The color of their wet shirts was bright in the moonlight. The brown of the Army and the faded blue dungarees of the Navy were all mixed up together.
On the bridge, the two classmates were still at the wind screen. They might not have moved, save that the moonlight shone white on a pair of sneakers the captain had donned since I had last seen him. His feet hurt him and he had slipped into something comfortable.
"We're an hour behind ETA (expected time of arrival)," volunteered the commodore. "Those damn Japs cost us an hour."
Through the fine pair of Mark VI binoculars mounted on the rail, I could see our landfall. It was a long way off, but I could see the metallic shine of its coconut groves. Guadalcanal was still and waiting ahead in the moonlight.