Some of Dad’s War Stories- a mostly Oral record
By Noel T. Braymer of Noel B. Braymer
In 1998 TV News Anchor Tom Brokaw, wrote a best selling book called “The Greatest Generation” about the generation of Americans who made up most of the combatants of American forces in World War 2 or worked in war related production during the war. My Father hated the title of Brokaw’s book. My Dad was 16 when the Pearl Harbor attack happened on December 7, 1941. Shortly thereafter with the signed but reluctant approval of his parents he enlisted in the United States Navy in December 1941. But he couldn’t start his training until he was 17 years old with his next birthday coming on February the 28th. His orders were to report for Basic Training on March 1st, the date of his Mother’s birthday. He was basically one of the few if any of his classmates in Pasadena, California to volunteer for military service. When my Dad tried to drop out of school and return his school books, the school refused to accept the books. After he reported for Basic Training in March and stopped going to school he was declared a truant. After my Dad finally finished Basic Training and got his first liberty he went to visit his old school and classmates in uniform which was required by law in war time. His classmates couldn’t believe my Dad enlisted almost 2 years before he would have finished high school. They didn’t want to join the military any earlier than they had to.
This was not an impulsive decision on my Dad’s part. Going back to late 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2 in Europe my Dad was certain that the United States would be involved and that he had to be prepared for when that day came. So at the age of 15 he bought his first slide rule which was the handheld analog computer for engineers in 1940. At the same time he also bought a book to learn calculus. Dad never did his math homework for school. It was more “fun” to be asked to solve math problems in class he hadn’t studied and be forced think out the answer. He always got the answers right. His next step was to learn artillery ballistics. Before Pearl Harbor my Dad was designing his first “engineering project”: a gun director. According to Wikipedia “A director, also called an auxiliary predictor, is a mechanical or electronic computer that continuously calculates trigonometric firing solutions for use against a moving target, and transmits targeting data to direct the weapon firing crew”. In 1941 my Dad was a computer nerd.
Needless to say it was a well know secret that my Dad had the highest IQ of anyone in his class. Needless to say his 2 younger brothers didn’t do as well in school as Dad. When he was 4 his Mother enrolled him in Kindergarten. When 5 after moving to another school district (Dad’s Father’s job had them move often at this time) his Mother tried to enroll him in first grade. The school refused, saying he was too young and so he had to take Kindergarten all over again. At age 6, this time at a one room school in the High Sierras on his first day of school while he was waiting for his teacher who taught several classes, he went to look for a book to read. He found and started reading “Mesopotamia, the land between the two rivers”. In grade school my Dad often read college level engineering books from the public library. From childhood he dreamed of becoming an engineer, but he wasn’t sure how he would pay for college to get an engineering degree.
During my Dad’s last school year, to be prepared when the United States got into the War, he asked to take a full academic load of classes as well as gym class and ROTC. ROTC stands for Reserved Officer Training Corp. This was suppose to prepare young men who wanted to join the military after high school or college. Most boys in high school joined ROTC to get out of taking gym class because it was less physically demanding. The most demanding part of ROTC was learning to march with World War 1 bolt action Springfield rifles. Despite the misgiving of the school administration of taking both gym and ROTC my Dad was allowed to do so. On December 8th, 1941 my Father was wearing his ROTC uniform while listening on the radio with his family to President Roosevelt addressing Congress to declare war on Japan. A few days latter the Army came by the school to pick up the ROTC’s rifles because now they needed them. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor my Dad was walking home from school when he noticed the army had set up an anti-aircraft gun emplacement on the grounds of a middle school near his home. What he saw interested him. He couldn’t help noticing the gun director, it looked a lot like the one he was designing. This was the first time he had seen an actual gun director. But what really caught his eye was the amount of radio equipment at the anti-aircraft gun emplacement . There was more than what would be needed for just communications. This lead him to think: is the army using radio waves to detect the range and angle from the gun to fire at their targets? Without knowing the name, in 1941 Dad had recognized a working radar set.
When my Dad got to Navy Basic Training or “Boot Camp”, he was about a hundred and thirty miles from home in San Diego. Part of the training was the need to march in formation. Dad was always at the front of the line of the marching formations. This wasn’t an honor, but because he was short, 5 foot 7 inches. The theory was to keep a marching formation together you need the slowest men up front to set the pace and the theory was short men with the shortest strides would be the slowest marchers. But my Dad had been very active and was in good condition when he left home for Boot Camp. In marches he usually set a fast pace. On marches Dad would often hear grumbling from the men behind him and calls to “slow down!”. The ironic thing is while his daughters were 5 foot 4 inches and his wife 5 foot 3 inches. Both his sons were 6 foot 3 inches. While my Mom wasn’t tall, her brothers and her Mother’s brothers were all tall. In the Navy Dad pushed himself to do his best. This trait didn’t apply to all of the other recruits. This was at a time when most of the enlistees were volunteers and highly motivated soon after the Pearl Harbor raid.
In early May 1942 my Dad was on another 20 mile march with full sea bag and an Enfield rife. During this march Dad wasn’t feeling well. He most likely didn’t look too good either because at the end of the march he was ordered to go to Sick Bay. In any military organization, if you are ordered to get medical treatment, you must be really sick. My Dad marched to Sick Bay still with his sea bag and rifle. Sick Bay found he had a high temperature of around 103 and had him transferred to the Naval Hospital. Dad found out that he had come down with the measles. The doctors transferred him to the children’s ward to expose him to as many “childhood diseases” as possible so he wouldn’t get them after he joined the fleet. Dad soon also caught the mumps. Dad spent 3 weeks in the hospital. He weighed 165 pounds when he went in and 130 pounds when he left. He was so weak after being discharged he had to walk up and down stairs backwards while holding the handrail.
Yet Dad felt his stay in the hospital saved his life, but not for the reason you might think. While Dad was in the hospital the Battle of the Coral Sea had recently been fought between May 4th-8th 1942. A little while latter survivors of the Aircraft Carrier Lexington which was sunk on May 8th were returning to San Diego. This caused quite a stir in the hospital and City of San Diego because most of these men were wearing the clothes on their backs when they left the Lexington or clothes they were given after the battle. None of these men had dress uniforms which was the rule for men to wear on Liberty. But given the circumstance the Shore Patrol soon gave a blind eye of the dress of the men of the Lexington. Soon after this the Boot Camp class my Dad was in was cancelled. All healthy members of the Boot Camp class were shipped out to join the Fleet. The Battle of Midway was brewing and as many hands as possible were needed to join the Fleet when the battle broke out on June 4th.
My Dad like many combat veterans believed that their survival and the fate of the men they fought with was mostly a question of fate or luck . Dad knew that the Navy had its highest casualty rates in the Pacific in 1942 when the Navy was still small and far below the 3 million sailors at its peak in 1945. Because of his measles he was able to go to Fire Control School and be sent to the Atlantic and not the Pacific.
When Dad went back to Boot Camp it was with a new class. Despite still being weak and tired, the work load was lighter than before he got sick. Much of the traditional Boot Camp training was dropped and the effort was to train as many men as soon as possible and get them to the fleet. My Dad remembered that much of his time was spent cleaning up new barracks after the contractors finished building them. The worse part of finishing Boot Camp was trying to sleep at night. Most Boot Camp classes were made up mostly of men shipped out from the same region. My Dad’s first class members were mostly from California and the West Coast. In his new Boot Camp class were men mostly from the South. Every night there were long discussions after lights out in the barracks of why “We lost The War”. In other words, why the South lost the Civil war. When it was time to graduate from Boot Camp a friend that my Dad made, offered to take him to a bar in San Diego to buy him his first alcoholic beverage. Since his friend was 21 he would take care of it. When they got to a table at the bar, the waitress first asked my Dad who was 17 what he was going to order. Dad said something like “a beer”. The waitress then turned to Dad’s older friend. But before taking his order, she first asked for his ID to prove his age. Dad always looked and acted older than his years.
Fire Control Class
After finishing Boot Camp, Dad went to a beginners Fire Control class in San Diego taught by a retired Fire Control Chief Petty Officer who was bought back into service to train the new sailors. This Chief encouraged the men to get hands on experience with several of the Fire Control machines used for aiming and targeting different naval guns in their spare time. Dad was one of the few men to take up the offer of their instructor. Most of the men in this class were older than Dad, mostly early 20’s who came from jobs such as electrician, working for the telephone company or working with radios before joining the Navy. Dad was sent to Fire Control school after he took a battery of tests in Boot Camp to find what job he would be most qualified. He must have scored very highly on Fire Control after his years of self education before Pearl Harbor. On the last day of class at the end of the class, the old Chief said to the class in a low voice. “Men, when you join the Fleet you will learn about something called radar.”
Soon after this in the fall of 1942 my Father who by current ranking had risen from what today is called E-1 for Seaman Recruit to E-3- Seaman. second class. He was a passenger on a troop train from San Diego headed east destination unknown. The train first went into Mexico then went northeast through the low desert of Southern California. It was a slow, boring, crowded and uncomfortable train trip. The highlight of the trip was a stop at the then almost new Cincinnati, Ohio Union Station. It is still a large Art Deco building and with some train car doors opened, some of the men started leaving the train to look around and stretch their legs. Soon the Shore Patrol came running and forced everyone back on the train. My Dad’s final destination was the large and busy Naval port at Norfork ,Virginia.
Dad arrived in the evening on October 1942 and was taken to a then almost new Destroyer commissioned in 1940, Sims Class #419 USS Wainwright. He was escorted to the ship’s Fire Control Chief Petty Officer Gorman in the ship’s plotting room which contained a large machine. The builders plate said something like Ford Instrument Company, Long Island New York, Fire Control Computer Mark#1 . This was one of the first Naval Fire Control machines to be called a computer. It was a major improvement over the machines of the past. With it most of the aiming and firing of the major ship guns at moving targets had been automated. The first class of ships in the US Navy to get Mark 1’s were the Sims Class Destroyers starting with #409, the Wainwright as #419, was the 10th ship out of the 11 Sims class ships built that all got Mark 1’s. Starting in 1940 all US Destroyers built for World War 2 got Mark 1’s, Cruisers and Aircraft Carriers would have 2 with the new Battleships having 4. That night was an exciting moment for Dad and soon he was doing all that he could to learn more about the Mark 1. The Ford Instrument Company was owned by Hannibal Ford who had been producing Fire Control machines for the Navy for several years by 1940.
Of course now that Dad was on his first ship, where was he and the ship going? The Navy never told the crews their ship’s destination until well at sea. Before the Wainwright and the majority of the ships at Norfolk went out to sea, a very drunk and lowly seaman in his early 30’s came on board. He had been in the Navy for at least 10 years and never gotten a promotion. He was happy to be fed, given a place to sleep and money to get drunk on liberty from the Navy. At the top of his lungs he yelled out “We’re all going to North Africa.” And he was right. He learned what was then the biggest secret of the Navy at that time at a brothel he went to in town
The Wainwright was part of a large convoy of ships headed for the Invasion of North Africa which started on November 8, 1942. The invasion force was made up of several sections and objectives with both British and American forces. There were 3 landings being made in the Atlantic by American forces with one Task Force and in the Mediterranean by the British with 2 Task Forces for 6 landings on the coast of North Africa. The Wainwright was part of the escort for the largest American warships of the Invasion. This included escorting the brand new American Battleship USS Massachusetts and heavy cruisers Tuscaloosa and Wichita. So new was the Massachusetts that its trip to North Africa was both its maiden voyage and shake down cruise. This new battleship was needed to attack the harbor of Casablanca. This included disabling an unfinished French Battleship the Jean Bart. While the Jean Bart was unable to leave the harbor, but its guns were used for the harbor’s defense. At this time Casablanca was part of “French” Morocco which was governed by the French Vichy Government which had signed a peace treaty with Hitler after the invasion of France.
One night on the Wainwright’s way to Casablanca, my Dad was at his watch station in the Mark 37 Gun Director. It was basically a turret at the highest point of the ship on top of the ship’s bridge. Instead of guns this turret included a Mark 37 radar and the ship’s optical rangefinder. Both were needed to supply data to the Mark 1 to aim and fire all 4 of the ship’s 5 inch guns . It was a quiet night and the Gun Director turret didn’t have windows. My Dad was in the Gun Director when he heard a very loud collision alarm. Destroyers didn’t have collision alarms. My Dad opened a hatch on the turret and found himself looking up at the anchor of the Massachusetts. What happened?
Minutes earlier the Officer of the Deck of the Wainwright, had given orders to the helmsman to change course. The ships in the convoy regularly changed courses in a zig-zag pattern to make it harder for German U-boats to attack the ships. The problem was the Officer of the Deck can’t order changes to the ship’s course without the ship’s captain’s approval. The ship’s captain was sleeping in a small cabin on the bridge which most warships have and are used when the ship is at sea. When the Officer of the Deck reported the course he ordered to the captain, the ship’s captain jumped out of bed and ordered a change of course. It was just soon enough to prevent a collusion between the Wainwright and the Massachusetts.
During the battle for Casablanca the Wainwright and other Destroyers were covering the ships and landing crafts heading for the landing beaches. The Massachusetts was further off shore bombarding the Casablanca harbor, particularly trying to hit the Jean Bart. It did hit the Jean Bart’s main turret and put it out of service. But it also fired most of its 16 inch shell ammunition in the process. Soon after the battle was over the Massachusetts turned west and headed for the Pacific. During the entire battle for Casablanca, Dad and several other men were below decks in a small windowless room breaking open wooden crates and pulling out 54 pound 5 inch shells, removing the grease the shells were coated with and sending the shells off to the 4 gun turrets of the ship, each with a single five inch gun. When the battle was over, some of the ship’s officers put in requests for transfers for shore duty in the US. Dad was disgusted by their actions. This was a minor battle compared to what was to come.
After Casablanca was secured, there were lots of big shots visiting the troops including President Roosevelt. Many of them came ( but not the President) abroad the Wainwright. DD 419 was not only one of the newest Destroyers, it was also the flag ship of a Destroyer Squadron which usually included 5 ships including the flag ship. The “Commodore” of this squadron was Naval Captain Donald Pardee Moon. He was often referred to as D.P. Moon, often called Dippy Moon by the enlisted men behind his back. One of the VIPs who came abroad the Wainwright was General George Patton who led the troops during the amphibious landing at Casablanca. Patton walked right past Dad reviewing the sailors on the ship. I asked Dad what he thought about Patton. This was after the release of the movie Patton. The 17 year old’s impression was “what an old man”. Patton was 57 in 1942.
Without going through Dad’s military records, its hard to track his rank or location during this time. According to what Dad wrote in retirement, he made Petty Officer 3rd Class which today is also known as an E-4, shortly after Operation Torch before the end of 1942. As a Petty Officer in World War 2 one of the jobs that came with the rank was Shore Patrol. The Navy didn’t have a full time professional police force in the 1940’s. The Shore Patrol’s job was to pick up often drunk seamen “for their own protection” to prevent them from being robbed or hurt. Dad said Petty Officers didn’t get much training for Shore Patrol. This included when it came to practicing firing 38 caliber revolvers or how to use the billy clubs that they carried without seriously hurting someone. Shortly after landing at Casablanca Dad was paired up with another Petty Officer to patrol the “Casbah” of Casablanca at night. It was the old rundown part of town were the poor native Moroccans lived. As Dad and his partner walked in the dark and scary part of the Casbah he heard a noise. He drew his revolver for the first and only time aiming it were the noise was: it was a cat.
Promotion to Petty Officer 2nd Class
Dad was ordered back to the States from the Wainwright for additional Fire Control training and promotion to Petty Officer 2nd Class also known today as an E-5 early in 1943. This was just after his 18th Birthday which was on February 28, 1943. He had been in the Navy just over a year. While Dad was back in the States he became the Senior Shore Patrolman for New York City which was the only place the Shore Patrol in the United States carried side arms. He was the only one who could walk alone on Patrol. He would check up on the different pairs of his Shore Patrolmen. Dad also had the job of escorting people arrested by the Shore Patrol usually to the FBI. These were usually men wearing Naval Uniforms who were not in the Navy. I got the impression from my Dad that these men weren’t spies, but mostly men wanting to play being a sailor without worrying about getting killed. This reminds me of people who claim to be highly decorated war hero’s who never served in the military. It was also at about this time that my Dad first met my Mom one night at Times Square. The Pepsi Company was giving away free Pepsi with the purchase of a hamburger to servicemen. The burgers cost around 15 cents which was cheap even in 1943. This attracted lots of young servicemen, which in turn attracted many young women to Times Square. My Mom came with a girlfriend of her’s. Her friend knew Dad and started a conversation with him. Slowly my Mom got into the conversation. After talking a while with my Mom, Dad noticed her friend had quietly slipped away. After spending most of the evening with Mom, Dad asked if he could walk her home. I think he got as far as a ferry at the Hudson River which Mom caught to get to where she was staying in New Jersey.
The Wainwright’s Boatswain’s Mate
One of the character’s on the Wainwright was a Boatswain’s Mate. A Boatswain’s Mate is responsible for work details for the Seamen. The main qualification for this job was to motivate or more likely bully the men to work hard maintaining the ship or unloading supplies. He was a tall man with broad shoulders and a thin waist. For the 1940’s he had the look of a body builder. One night he came into a part of the quarters of the enlisted men. He pulled out his Boatswain’s Mate knife, and came over to a sailor laying in a hammock. He cut one of the ropes holding the hammock and the sailor fell to the deck. The Boatswain’s Mate then said. “This is the second time you have been late for your watch. There won’t be a third time. I’m docking the cost of a new hammock from your pay.” Then he walked off. A common job at sea was refueling for Destroyers since being small ships they couldn’t carry enough oil for long trips. Also since Destroyers often operate at high speeds this also burns quite a bit of fuel. So refueling from tankers or larger warships was common for Destroyers like the Wainwright. I’m not sure of the other ship if it was a tanker, Cruiser or Battleship. But I think it was likely a warship. To start the refueling the ship with the fuel shoots from what looks like a rife a “line” which is a rope. The rope is connected to thicker ropes and finally to the hose to fuel the ship. The man with the line fired the “rife” and the line flew up into the air and then fell into the water. Next there was a loud shout. The Boatswain’s Mate had been standing by with a line for just this moment. His line sailed into the air and landed on the deck of the fuel ship, much to the delight of the crew of the Wainwright. As my Dad said , most military services believe that they had the most dangerous job. This was true of the Destroyermen. They tended to look down on the “soft life ” of those on larger and more comfortable ships. Serving on an American Destroyer in World War 2 was one of the most dangerous jobs in the Navy. During the war the Navy lost 80 Destroyers with one of if not the heaviest losses of any class of American Naval ship.
There was one seaman on the Wainwright who really wanted out of the Navy. He did everything he could to get in trouble. It got so bad he was put in the small “brig” on board the Wainwright. Why was this sailor in such a hurry to get out of the Navy? His big plan was to joint the Merchant Marine and get a job on a cargo ship which paid much better than the Navy and the work wasn’t as hard.
The trip back for my Dad to the Wainwright was something else. Dad was put on LST 209 which had only been in commission as of June 10, 1943 . Dad was to travel to Bizerte in North Africa for the invasion of Sicily which begin on July 9, 1943. Landing Ship Tank was a cargo ship class with a flat bottom and large doors on the bow. This allowed the LST to beach itself. It would open the bow doors of the ship and drop a ramp allowing tanks and trucks to unload onto the beach. To get off the beach it would wait for high tide and pull itself off the beach pulling on anchors at its stern it had dropped before beaching. The captain of the LST (which some sailors claimed stood for Large Slow Target) was a Lieutenant in the USNR (naval reserve). It was clear that the navy tried to put their most qualified men on the warships. For auxiliary vessels the standards tended to be lower. When this LST left port with Dad the ship had 2 large diesel engines. One was the good one, and the other one had problems. Not long after they left the East Coast in a convoy, the “good engine” broke down. This was in the summer 1943 when Uboats were still a problem. Anyway the LST continued to fall behind and dropped out of the convoy.
LST 209 made it to Gibraltar. There it was placed with a “slow” convoy of ships running at about 3 or 4 knots of mostly hand stoked, old coal burning British cargo ships. The LST couldn’t even keep up these these slow ships. Finally they came to their destination harbor in the Mediterranean which was the staging point of the next amphibious landing, Operation Husky. The 209 ran aground on a sandbar and blocked the harbor to all the ships for the coming landing. Dad was in charge of a gun crew in the bow of the ship. He made repeated attempts to alert the bridge of the sandbar and ask for permission to leave his post before the ship beached itself. He never got a reply from the bridge. So as the other members of the gun crew abandoned their post, Dad braced himself for impact and remained because he wasn’t ordered to leave. I think he also did this in large part to show his contempt for the officers of this LST. Shortly after this most of the LST officers got in a boat and left to go ashore. This left only the most junior Ensign to face a very upset Harbor Master who wanted his Harbor cleared so they could get on with the coming invasion! I think the Shore Patrol was sent out to round up all of the LST’s officers to return them to the ship. Also on the LST was a middle age Coast Guard Officer who knew much more about ship handling than the LST’s officers. Using anchors the Coast Guard Officer supervised getting the LST off of the sandbar and to its berth.
But there is more. Once the ship was docked the LST captain tried to steal a jeep. He wanted surface transportation at the harbors he would be going to. It looked funny that a ship was loading a Jeep so near the front. So they got caught doing that. Latter it seems the captain tried or succeed in stealing a motorcycle. Is this the end of the story: no. The 209 was also part of the next upcoming operation. The LST’s landed in a group and were loaded so the most important supplies could be unloaded first. What the 209 had was most of the gasoline and diesel fuel I assume in cans to fuel the trucks and tanks in the other LST’s. I know that sounds stupid but that what I was told by my Dad. On the day of the landing, the destroyer escorting the LST’s to shore cancelled the landing because the conditions were not safe. All of the LST captains got the message except for guess who? The LST with most of the fuel landed and didn’t blow up. So what did the Navy do? According to Dad, they awarded the LST’s captain a medal, he got good press for the folks back home and they got him out of the theater. Naval records show that the first captain of LST 209 had the shortest tour of duty of that ship running from June 10th to August 28th 1943.
During World War 2 the most common job in the Navy for Black men were as Messmates. This included weapons training and having a battle station to go to when the ship went to General Quarters. By and large for most Black Messmates their chances of promotion were slim. Their main job was food preparation and as servants for senior officers. On the Wainwright in 1943 when my Dad served on the ship, the Executive Officer, the man second in command behind the Ship’s Captain was a white man from the South no doubt from an old established Southern family. The Executive Officer was constantly complaining about how stupid the Messmates were, spilling food or coffee, screwing up his laundry or forgetting things. The other officers on the Wainwright never had these problems. The messmates didn’t like the Executive Officer and got their revenge on him by messing things up. Just about every one on the Wainwright was in on the joke except the Executive Officer.
Anyone on this Ship Speak German?
After the invasion of North Africa according to Wikipedia the Wainwright had convoy duties escorting supply ships across the Atlantic. By June of 1943 the Wainwright was escorting convoys in the Mediterranean as part of the buildup for the invasion of Sicily in July. For most of the rest of 1943 the Wainwright was in the Mediterranean. In the first half of December 1943 the Wainwright was at anchor in a French Naval Base in Algeria. It may have been at Mers-el-Kebir or Algiers. The ship was powered down, a third of the crew was away on liberty and it was something of a day off for the crew. The peace was shattered by several explosions in the harbor: there was a U-Boat in the harbor firing torpedoes at the shipping! The Wainwright quickly dropped its anchor chain and rush out going maybe 2 knots. Most of the ship’s boilers were off line. The ship’s crew were relighting the boilers as quickly as possible, but it takes time to heat water hot enough to make steam. The Wainwright and most American Destroyers at this time had 50,000 horsepower steam turbine engines for a ship weighing around 2,000 tonnes for a top speed of 35 knots . This was more horsepower than any of the old battleships had at Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 which all had a top speed of 22 knots.
The Navy put together two Hunter/Killer teams of 2 destroyers each to hunt the U-Boat. This included the Niblack and Bensen as well as Wainwright and HMS Calpe. It was on December 13,1943 that the Wainwright’s sonar detected a German U Boat which turned out to be the U-593, 10 miles north of Algiers. What was a first was the Wainwright used its Mark 1 Fire Control Control Computer to track the movements of the U Boat. Chief Gorman had been working on this for quite sometime. Where Dad was sitting during this hunt blocked the access of the gunnery officer’s seat. At first the gunnery officer tried to tap Dad’s shoulder with his foot to get him to move. But Dad in his excitement had major tunnel vision because of the hunt he didn’t even notice the gunnery officer when he was kicking and yelling at him to move. Dad’s back was black and blue for weeks. Dad commented that the British Calpe was very good at dropping depth charges while the Wainwright had better sound gear. In the course of the pursuit and depth charges the U-593 surfaced.
Where Dad was posted were the controls to fire the 5 inch guns. Sticking out of a vertical panel were what looked like the pistol grips of 2 automatic pistols. The left grip when the trigger was pulled gave the gun crews a warning that the gun was going to be fired. Gun crews on 5 inch guns were expected to be able to fire up to 22 rounds a minute, that’s a 54 pound round loaded and fired in less than 3 seconds. The right grip had the trigger to fire what guns the Mark 1 had been set to fire. Dad pulled the left trigger and the warning alarm went out before the guns fired. Then he pulled the right trigger and nothing happened. It was a good thing too because the U-593 was so close to the Wainwright that had the guns fired the rounds would have gone through the deck and out of the hull of the destroyer or “Tin Can”. The crew of the U-593 had surfaced to surrender. Only one U-boater was injured (shrapnel in his butt). But then the question was: anybody speak German on this tin can?
A young Seaman was found who’s family came from Germany. He knew a few words of German but wasn’t fluent. He was brought to the U-Boat captain in front of most of the crew. The U Boat Captain stared at the young man trying to speak German for a while and then said ” Speak English Man.” The U-boat Captain was 28 year old Gerd Kelbling, from Hamburg and was recently married according to an intelligence interview after his capture on the Wainwright on December 13, 1943. Kelbling said most German Officers spoke some English. On his Midshipman Cruise in the German Navy on a Cruiser in 1935, he stayed for a day or 2 in Baltimore and visited the nearby Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Once Dad was walking through the Officer’s Wardroom on the Wainwright where he found a book that was left out. Dad picked it up and starting reading it. It was an intelligence briefing book with the names of enemy ships, the names of the senior officers of the ships and and places the ships has been. An officer had left out unsecured a highly secret intelligence report. I think Dad just left the book there and moved on. Today we know that much of the secret information in this book came from Allied success in breaking and decoding the Axis Power’s coded messages.
One thing war does to machines is it wears them out.
After the invasion of North Africa most of the work for the Wainwright and the rest of it’s squadron was escorting convoys first across the Atlantic, and later in the Mediterranean. After the invasion of Sicily the ships of DeERon 8 which I believe was the name of the Destroyer squadron the Wainwright was the flag ship for. I think that the names of the other 4 ships of DesERon 8 were the Mayrant, Trippe, Rhind and Rowan. Squadrons were formed largely for administrative purposes. It was common to mix and match destroyers from other squadrons for missions based on need and availability. The case of teaming up the Wainwright with the HMS Calpe as a hunter/killer team is an example of this. After over a year since Operation Torch, the 5 ships of DesERon 8 were beat up or so badly damaged they were more a liability than an asset. One ship was sunk while another was no longer usable. My Dad told me when the squadron was in formation the ships usually were following each other in a line spaced a thousand yards apart. Dad was at his watch post in the Mark 37 Gun Director one night where he was watching the radar screen noting the location of the other Destroyers in the formation. There was a sudden flash outside of the gun director. My Dad got up and opened a hatch to look outside. There were no lights and everything was dark. When sat down and checked the radar screen, one of the dots which represented one of the destroyers in the squadron was gone. Dad met up with a man from this ship latter in the war who had the same job as he did that night. He was one of only a few survivors and while he was at the highest point on his ship, he barely made it out in time. Until the day my Dad died he was never sure what sank this Destroyer. Was it a mine, bomb or torpedo ?
Looking up on the Internet the ship that sunk most likely belonging to DesERon 8 was the Rowan. The following info is from a post on the website Destroyer Squadron (DesERon} 8 of the Destroyer History Foundation
“On 9 September (1943), Rowan entered the Gulf of Salerno in the screen of the Southern Attack Force. That day and the next as the assault force and supplies were landed at Paestum, she screened the transports and freighters. Late on the night of the 10th, she headed back to Oran with the emptied ships. Shortly after midnight, German E-boats attacked. Rowan pursued and fired, then, as her quarry pulled away, ceased firing and changed course to rejoin the convoy.
Within 5 minutes a new contact was made, range less than 3,000 yards. Again she changed course, to avoid torpedoes and bring her guns into position. As the range decreased to 2,000 yards, Rowan was hit by a torpedo by a German E-boat. She sank in less than a minute, taking 202 of her 273 officers and men with her.”
This comes as close of the ships in DesEron 8 to match the description of the ship loss that my Dad remembered. Reading official action reports often seem to glance over many details. But according to this report the Rowan did sink quickly with major casualties.
Also from the website of the Destroyer History Foundation
“Moving around to the island’s north coast, Mayrant was damaged off Palermo on 26 July by a near miss from a German bomber.
Less Mayrant, the division continued to the Italian mainland for Operation “Avalanche” at Salerno in September 1943. It was the last invasion for two ships:
Rhind suffered near misses from German bombers in both July and September. After repairs, she spent the remainder of the war until May 1945 in Atlantic convoy and patrol duty.”
These losses don’t add up with what my Father remembered. There was one ship in the squadron which had a great deal of damage from an attack that in fact there was no point repairing it. But for reasons to avoid tipping off the enemy the ship was not reported as a loss, only as damaged. I think the ship was towed back to the States but not repaired. The Wainwright received heavy damage docking at a French Naval Base in Algeria in late 1943. The ship had to back in and be secured from the stern to the dock. The Wainwright’s stern instead crashed into the dock which shortened the length of the ship by a few feet. It also bent one of the propeller shafts. The result was the Wainwright couldn’t travel much more than 20 knots because any faster would cause vibrations in the ship from the bent propeller shaft. Another factor which damaged ships in DesERon 8 was an air attack by the Luftwaffe where DesERon 8 was moored I believe in Sicily. The Luftwaffe found a blind spot on the ships radars at this anchorage because the ships were located near an overhanging cliff. This blocked the ship’s radar from detecting the approach of the Luftwaffe planes if the planes came at the right angle. Dad was away from the Wainwright when it was attacked. Much of the damage from the attack was hard to see. In the case of the Wainwright the bombs exploding in the water created high water pressure near the ship creating damage to the hydraulic system which controlled the gun turrets. This is the same effect as depth charges on a submarine which can cause damage exploding some distance underwater from the ship. This caused the hydraulic system to leak oil and for the system constantly needing extra hydraulic oil to be able to move the gun turrets.
Assuming the loss to the squadron the of the Rowan, and Mayrant, plus the Rhind which“suffered near misses from German bombers in both July and September. After repairs, she spent the remainder of the war until May 1945 in Atlantic convoy and patrol duty” This left only the Wainwright and Trippe in the Squadron by the winter of 1943. By the time of the landing at Anzio in January 1944 the code name for the Wainwright was something like Spare Part. There were no plans to use the Wainwright for the Anzio operation. However when things started to go wrong at Anzio the Wainwright was sent there. But because of the problems with her hydraulic’s she was unable to swing the guns quickly enough to defend against air attacks. The Wainwright was more of a liability than an asset at Anzio and soon pulled out and finally sent back to the States.
USS Vicksburg (CL-86)
When my Dad returned to the States in 1944 he was assigned to a new Cleveland Class Light Cruiser which was launched at Newport News Virginia on December 14, 1943. It was commissioned on June 12, 1944. When he first arrived in the States in early 1944 he was temporarily stationed at the Newport Rhode Island Naval Base. He was traveling by train every other weekend to be with Mom then in New Jersey. He was soon busy during the pre-commissioning phase training the novice sailors for their new ship and and making sure the new guns on this ship were in good order. Unlike the Wainwright in 1942 which was mostly manned by volunteers and men with years of experience in the Navy. Almost everyone on the Vicksburg had little experience and many according to my Dad were draftees not volunteers. This caused a lot of headaches for my Dad. While waiting to move onto the ship the crews were in barracks near by. Every morning there would be morning roll call when it was expected the ship’s company would be cleaned up and dressed. Dad would call off the roll for a section and usually got a “present” or “here” for every name called. Then he would count the number of men in the section he had just called off. It wasn’t unusual for there to be one or two men missing. Then Dad would send some men to the barracks to see if they were there. This was usually the case, I don’t think anyone went AWOL.
As part of their training there was physical exercise. Dad would run along with the men and run as hard as he could. He was always near the front of the runners. But Dad felt that most people he was training where trying to do as little as possible if they could help it. An example of this was one of his jobs to inspect the guns he was responsible for on the ship. If he found a gun that needed cleaning, he would so inform the crewmen responsible for that gun. Latter he would ask if that gun had been cleaned and be told it had. Then he would recheck the gun and often find it had not been cleaned. My Dad’s favorite gun crews were the ones manned by Marines on board the Vicksburg. Dad never had to tell the Marines twice to do something.
One of the problems dealing with the shipyards was they weren’t very flexible. In the case of airplanes or motorized vehicles on a production line, there generally were no problems making improvements to the planes or tanks being made without needing to stop the production line. In the case of the shipyards it was easier to stick with the original specifications than to try to get the shipyard to make changes after the contract for the ship was signed. In the case of the anti-aircraft guns on a ship the original guns ordered when the US first entered the war would be installed. So it was with the Vicksburg after it was launched. Almost as soon as the Vicksburg was in the water it was towed to another shipyard to install more modern weapons and modifications added after the original design. In the case of anti-aircraft guns, these included in 1944 the 5 inch guns which could be used against airplanes or surface targets up to 5 miles away. There were the Bofors 40 millimeter guns which were effective up to 2 miles. Bofor’s guns I believe could be controlled by the Mark 1 or manually. The Oerlikon 20 millimeter machine guns were effective to one mile or less. The Oerlikon 20 millimeter machine guns needed only one crew member to operate and was aimed manually. My Dad tried to teach the seaman not to aim these guns at airplanes where it was now, but to lead the shot to where the target would be when the shells arrived. This was one of the hardest things Dad found to teach the recruits.
One afternoon all of the original out of date anti aircraft guns had been removed from the Vicksburg after it had been launched. The understanding was these guns would taken away and the night shift at this shipyard would install the more modern replacements. The next day when my Dad returned he found that the night crew had reinstalled all the old guns back on the ship. On another day at the second shipyard the Vicksburg had been moved to, my Dad over heard some of the shipyard workers bragging about how much money they were making. They had never made so much money. At least one of the shipyard workers said something like he wished the war could last forever. My Dad wasn’t getting rich from the war and he certainly didn’t want to war to last forever. Dad felt that in many ways the enlisted men were treated like second class citizens. The fact is most of them were young, under 21 years old: Dad was 19 in 1944.
While all this was going on, Dad was dating Mom again. He spent a lot of time riding the trains between Virginia and New York to be with Mom usually on the weekends. At one point he bought tickets for both of them for the Musical “Oklahoma” then on Broadway. Mom got to the theater with the tickets, but Dad had to go to sea because of rumors that the East Coast was going to be attacked with “Buzz Bombs” from U-boats. It was a false alarm but Dad missed Mom and the show. By the end of Summer and into the Fall of 1944 the Vicksburg was at sea for testing and training. The reality of war is a small percentage of trained soldiers or sailors are needed to train large numbers of new recruits. During this time Dad got little rest because most of the seamen didn’t know what they were doing. Dad would jump into his bunk to sleep and someone would soon show up saying something didn’t work. Dad would ask “did you turn the power on?” They would say yes. He would ask a few more questions and got answers “that they did it, but it didn’t work.” Dad would get up, look at the machine , flip the power switch and it would come right on. Dad would return to his bunk and the process would soon repeat itself. During this time in late summer the Vicksburg had a shake down cruise to the British West Indies. Unable to get leave to go to New Jersey to get married at Mom’s church. Dad had Mom take the train to Norfork, Virgina and they were married in September 16,1944 at the Naval Base Chapel by a Navy Chaplin.
USS Vicksburg heads to war
All Fall until the end of the year according to Wikipedia the Vicksburg ran training exercises, gunnery trials and mechanical repairs and adjustments. On January 1, 1945 the Vicksburg with escorts left Norfork, on January 17th she arrived at Pearl Harbor. For the rest of the month the Vicksburg continued gunnery trials and practice exercises. Not reported in Wikipedia was once after gunnery trials, as the Vicksburg entered Pearl Harbor all the Gunnery Officers had their bags packed and were standing by to leave the ship to be relieved by their replacements. The scuttlebutt was that instead of hitting the target the guns hit the blockhouse at the gunnery range. Whether that was true or not, the Vicksburg was going to need more gunnery practice and they were going to get plenty soon.
It was February 5, 1945 when the Vicksburg left Pearl Harbor . After a short stop at Saipan the Vicksburg met the rest of the Pacific Fleet on Feb 14, 1945. For three days the Fleet with the Vicksburg bombarded the Island of Iwo Jima. The Marines had asked for 7 days of “softening up”. Despite this and months of aerial bombing, very little of the deeply dug defenses on Iwo Jima had even been damaged. After 3 days of bombardment the main Pacific Fleet left Iwo Jima for several locations in Japan to destroy as much as possible of the Japanese military. What was left at Iwo Jima were all the remaining old ships in commission before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. These even included some of the Battleships that were at Peal Harbor on Dec 7th, 1941. At Iwo Jima for just over a month there were lots of cargo ships, old warships and an almost brand new Light Cruiser. Why was it left at Iwo Jima? My Dad was soon to find out.
Naval Ground Gun Fire Support
By the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima a Naval Gunnery Officer arrived on the Vicksburg. He was an expert at Naval Gun Fire Support of Marines in the field. He was also an expert using the Mark 1 Fire Control Computer for accurate aiming of ships guns. He had a temporary commission and he would revert to a Chief Petty Officer after the duration of the War. He had his own forward observers on the ground to give target coordinates. What he needed from the Vicksburg besides its Mark 1 and Five inch guns were 2 Fire Control Petty Officers 2nd Class to operate the Mark 1. My Dad was one of at least a dozen Fire Control Petty Officers 2nd Class on the ship with the lowest seniority of all them. This Gunnery Officer was very professional and likely did a lot of research finding 2 assistants for him on the Mark 1. One of his choices was Dad. Dad never forgot this officer, but as he got older he couldn’t remember his name.
A great deal has been written and said about the raising of the American Flag on Mount Suribachi on the first week of the Battle of Iwo Jima. What is never talked about was why was a flag needed so soon during the Battle? The original plan was that the battle would last only about a week. Most of the fighting lasted about a month with record numbers of casualties. For months after that the Island was still not fully secure from resisting Japanese troops who fought to the end. So why was a flag needed on Mount Suribachi? My Dad wrote: ” The famous flag on “Hot Rocks” (radio code name for Iwo Jima) was not bravado: that was his (the gunnery officer’s) optical point of aim. A primitive radar transponder at the base (of the flag) was his reference for Line Of Sight, LOS distance.” My Dad was waiting for the news of when the first flag was going up. He got permission from an officer to view the raising of the first flag from a ship’s periscope. A larger flag was later raised mostly for the benefit of the Marines on the Island which is the flag seen in most of the pictures of the flag on Suribachi. When the second flag was brought up, also carried were spare batteries for the radar transponder at the base of the flag.
Basically Dad was saying that to aim the ship’s 5 inch guns accurately at the targets it was trying to hit, the Mark 1 Fire Control Computer needed to constantly track its exact location measured from the flag at Suribachi and its optical point of aim. With this the Mark 1 would be able to produce firing solutions to accurately hit targets the forward observers were calling in by radio with the map coordinates. During the battle, of the Vicksburg’s 12 five inch guns, 8 barrels were so worn down they needed to be replaced and rebored after each had fired over 2,000 rounds. The other 4 guns had barely been fired. This was because those 4 guns were not in a good position to hit the targets from where the guns were placed. Of the battle my Dad wrote years latter he was working with the Mark 1 below the water line operating the electrical firing key for about 4,000 rounds.
Accurate Gun Fire?
During most of the battle of Iwo Jima most of the ships providing Gun Fire supported were just south of the landing beach and the base of Mount Suribachi. The Vicksburg was on the north side of Mount Suribachi. During this time a 14 inch shell from one of the old battleships overshot its target and landed in the water no more than 100 yards away from the Vicksburg. This was the most dangerous episode of the entire battle for the Vicksburg. Dad said that from the ship bullets from the Island could be seen splashing in the water by the ship. The ship was at nearly the maximum range for most of the land based guns. From the Vicksburg using powerful optics Dad could see what the Marines were dealing with fighting the Japanese. Another thing Dad could see was the entrance to the bunker containing the radar set on the island. Dad could see sentries posted in front of the door to the radar bunker and watched them present arms when Japanese Officers came by. Intelligence wanted to capture the radar set whole to examine it to see how advanced it was. But this also kept the radar in operation which gave early warning of the approach of US B-29 bombing raids on Japan. A compromise was made to disable the radar by blowing up its antenna. Typical artillery practice to find the range of a target is to first shot a test round over the predicted range, the second test round under the predicted range and the third round at the assumed range. The 3rd and last round blew the radar antenna off its mount.
The Vicksburg stayed off of Iwo Jima up to March 5th when it headed to Ulithi Atoll which was a large bay used as the forward base for Naval operations, supplies, repairs and recreation for the ships crews. Dad and other enlisted men could have one or two beers and take time off on one of the Islands on this Atoll. Dad went for a long swim which he hadn’t had in quite some time. As a teenager Dad had jobs at the beach in Long Beach, California renting stuff for a day at the beach, Part of his job was to swim out and bring back paddle boards people had rented but lost control of. By the end of his swim Dad had a terrible sunburned back. He dared not report it by going to sick bay because the Navy punished behavior that could be looked at as a way to get out of work. Dad suffered with his sunburn for many weeks.
On the evening of March 11, 1945, Dad and most of the rest of the crew of the Vicksburg where siting at the fantail of the ship waiting for the start of this night’s movies to begin. During this time the Officer of the Deck left the bridge and could be seen trying to find the ship’s captain who was sitting along with the other crew members waiting for the start of the movies. Soon after this an airplane buzzed just over the top of the Vicksburg. Dad had vivid memories of the blue exhaust from the plane’s radial air cooled engine as it flew overhead. This was part of what had been planned as a major Kamikaze attack on the US Pacific Fleet. Of the 24 Zeros that took off for the attack only the plane that buzzed the Vicksburg was able to hit a ship. The Kamikaze struck the USS Randolph, an Essex Class Carrier resulting in the death of 25 crewmen. But the ship was never in any danger of sinking and was in the right place already to be repaired. There was one other Zero that made it to Ulithi which crashed on a warehouse on an Island of the atoll.
Dad’s first reaction was anger: at the Officer of the Deck. It made no sense in an anchorage of so many warships to have all radars running all the time. Only a small number of the worships were needed to be on duty to track possible air attacks. The Vicksburg was one of these few ships on duty at Ulithi watching for possible air attacks. The Vicksburg’s radar tracked the planes almost from the minute they took off from Yap which wasn’t far from Ulithi and this was reported to the Officer of the Deck. The standing order was in such a situation was anytime unidentified planes approached the fleet that all ships be alerted and go to General Quarters. Dad knew this. Instead the Officer of the Bridge wasted time by seeking the ship’s Captain to ask him what he was suppose to do. After the war Dad often had nightmares in his sleep recreating the events of the night of March 11th 1945. What scared him most was the thought of what would have happened it the plane crashed on the Vicksburg with most the sailors exposed on deck. It would have killed more than the 25 men who died on the Randolph.
Fire Controlman 1st Class
While at Ulithi my Dad got new orders, he was to report to the Washington area to attend advanced Fire Control Training. This would result if he passed in his promotion as Petty Officer 1st Class. Dad had just turned 20 back on February 28, 1945. Dad left for San Francisco on a ship with 5,000 wounded Marines from the Battle of Iwo Jima. When he got back to the States he contacted his wife to leave her job in New Jersey and move to Washington to join him. They got a room. Once in “school” Dad presented some problems for his teachers. The tests usually had 50 question each worth 2 points. Most class members usually scored in the 70 range which would be 35 right answers out of 50. With my Dad, even though he never got 100 percent scores, his scores were usually in the high 90s. This created a problem for the instructors since the test was graded on a curve. If they included Dad’s score with everyone else, that would mean several men would fail the test and the class which they would have passed without Dad’s score. Finally the school decided not to add Dad’s score to the curve. No matter what he would pass this school. The class continued for most of Spring 1945 onto Summer. After VJ Day for Victory over Japan on September 2nd with the War finally over most of the class left. It was only then that my Dad realized he was the youngest man in the class. The majority of the men in Dad’s class had been in the Navy before the Pearl Harbor Raid. Even after they had served a full enlistment they were still required to remain for the duration of the war. With the war now over these men were now free to leave.
My Father knew that he was going to be assigned to a new destroyer to be used for the Invasion of Japan. Dad had already done the job of Petty Officer First Class on the Wainwright when the ship was short a Petty Officer First Class. While he was relieved the war was over, he was concerned by the use of nuclear weapons. The classes continued with I think only 3 students. The Navy wanted Dad to stay in. My Father had seriously considered staying in the Navy because there were no guarantee he’d find a job soon with a wife and child to support, My Dad was looking forward to the birth of his first son. The Navy wanted to Dad to go to MIT for classes. During the War MIT was the center of research for both radar and early computers. There was much talk during the War of radar controlled anti aircraft guns. The Fire Control Computers controlled the guns and the radar aided in finding the targets. The Navy also had plans for Dad to work at a factory in upstate New York to design the next generation of Fire Control Computers.
As tempting as these offers were, Dad decided that what he really wanted to do was go home to California and get his wife settled in before she gave birth. For months my Father had little to do. He spent quite some time at Camp Elliot which was part of the Miramar Air Base in San Diego. The government didn’t want to demobilize the military as rapidly as after World War I. This resulted in a major recession because many people lost their jobs at the same time former military personnel where out looking for jobs. After World War 2 former military personal were given unemployment payments to tide them over till they found work or grants to go to college. My Father stood out at Camp Eliot as one of the few or any other Petty Officer First Class waiting to be discharged. The military had a system based on points earned during the war. These included number of dependents, time in combat, time over seas and so on. My Dad had plenty of points, more than most the men at Camp Elliot. What was keeping him in was that he had enlisted for 4 years. Officially his enlistment ended on March 1st 1946. Most people who had been discharged had signed up for the duration of the war which ended on September 2nd, 1945.
My Dad was able to get Liberty and visit his parents from time to time. He also made arrangements to have Mom flown over to move in with his parents in Pasadena. Mom never liked traveling. So getting it over the sooner would be better. Finally the Navy made arrangements for Dad to get discharged in late February. This came at about the time that Mom went into labor. The Baby Boom was already well underway. I think my Dad was shipped from San Diego to Long Beach were he got lost in a heavy fog. He got his official discharge at the Long Beach Naval Base. I’m not sure if he got a ride or took the Streetcar to Pasadena. But Dad made it on time on February 24, 1946 to be out of the Navy and to see his Daughter Marian Ruth (after Dad’s Mom) Braymer. The first look Dad had of my big sister was at St Luke Hospital in Pasadena. All the new babies were in one big room each in their own bassinet. The room had a large glass window to allow the Fathers and other family members to see the babies. But this was done for fairly short periods of time to allow the babies to get rest. As Dad and mostly other Fathers waited, the curtain finally started to open. The problem with most newborns is they mostly sleep most of the day, But there was one live wire in the back screaming and kicking so hard she knocked off her diaper. Dad looked up and thought to himself “That’s my daughter”.
One of the first things my Dad did when he got home was to enroll in classes at Pasadena City College to get his High School diploma. At roughly the same time he got a job at a company called Consolidated. Coming home to Pasadena meant he was in a hi-tech hot spot with Cal Tech also in Pasadena. Dad was hired as a technician on the production line of Consolidated. What the company made were analog computers to automate production. The company at this time built mechanical analog computers for example to control production at oil refineries. There was the engineer of production at Consolidated who had a much higher opinion of himself than his supervisors had of him. The man may of had a drinking problem. One of the supervisors came up to my Dad and asked him if he would be able to do the Production Engineer’s job. Dad said yes. In a few days my Dad was the new Engineer of Production at Consolidated. Over the next 40 years my Dad was a pioneer of digital electronics and had numerous patents issued for his inventions. His proudest technical achievement was to modify one of his inventions a Frequency Synthesizer for the Pioneer 10 Satellite project which started in the early 1970’s to visit most of the planets before leaving the solar system. The need was for highly precise measurements to receive the signals from Pioneer 10 satellite back to earth as it traveled away from Earth and the Solar System.