Some of you have read this account. The story has been on my mind today, so I thought it would make a timely posting.
On November 29, 1944, while we were performing radar picket duty in Leyte Gulf, a formation of six Japanese planes was sighted and fired upon. When the general quarters alarm sounded, I was sitting in the wardroom. I was supposed to eat dinner and then relieve the Junior Officer of the Deck on the bridge. So dinner would be delayed. I got up and went to my battle station below the main deck in the compartment that housed the computer which took signals from the gun director and converted that information into coordinates that aimed the five-inch guns.
I didn’t know what was happening when I went below. Maybe it was just some planes flying over on their way to other targets. But when the first plane’s bomb exploded off the port bow, the ship shook, and I knew we were under direct attack. Then I saw that the signals coming from the gun director indicated another plane approaching. All the guns were firing, and the range continued to close. I can still see the computer operator turning the knobs and matching dials to send the signals that aimed the guns. That second plane was making its run, approaching from the stern, fishtailing back and forth to avoid gunfire. Hit several times, it was burning as it passed over the stern. It almost overshot its target because of the ships maneuvers. But one of the wings hit a mast guy wire and the starboard wing of the bridge, causing it to careen in and down. It crashed into the ship, and a bomb exploded.
I still didn’t know just exactly what happened, but soon found out. I was on the same telephone circuit with Bob Cousins, the gunnery officer in the director and Jim Hahn, another assistant gunnery officer on the flying bridge. I remember Bob saying, “My God, Murph, flames are shooting out of Gun 2 fifty feet in the air.” I heard nothing from Jim. He had been hit by a bomb fragment.
The next few seconds were tense for those of us in the plotting room. We knew flames were shooting out of one of the forward 5-inch guns, and we knew that the handling rooms and magazines under those guns were loaded with ammunition and were not too far forward and below us. So we knew if the flames got to the magazines, the bow would probably be blown off, and the ship would sink rapidly. But the steel casements surrounding the hoists that carried the ammunition from the magazines to the guns were supposed to be flame-proof – and they were.
The next concern was whether more planes would attack. None did, and we wondered what it was like up on the decks above. Bob Cousins filled me in as best he could, but he couldn’t see everything from his station. At one point he remembered looking down onto the flying bridge and seeing Jim lying there looking up at him with no expression on his face. Someone had already given him morphine, and he didn’t appear to be in pain. He died of his wounds just a short time later.
Casualties were heavy among the forty millimeter gun crews and on the bridge and flying bridge. Bomb fragments penetrated the # 2 five inch gun house and exploded a shell inside. All the men in the gun house and the handling room beneath it were killed by the flames and force of the explosion.
Thirty-one men were killed, one was listed as missing and sixty-five were wounded. One of the most seriously hurt was the doctor. His battle station was in the wardroom where I had been sitting when general quarters sounded. The starboard bulkhead of the compartment had been blown in, and tables and chairs were in shambles. It was not a good place to be, and the doctor, who was one of my roommates, never had the chance to carry out his mission to help others.