Keep Oral Histories coming through your tax-deductible donation now.

VADM Robert Taylor Scott Keith, USN (Ret.) (1905-1989)

Based on two interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell in January 1987, the volume contains 134 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1996 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

A 1928 graduate of the Naval Academy, Admiral Keith spent much of his active career in battleships and destroyers such as the USS Utah (BB-31), Arizona (BB-39), Overton (DD-239), and Aylwin (DD-355). He was the commanding officer of the destroyer USS Nicholas (DD-449) during combat in the Pacific in World War II. A substantial part of the memoir recounts his command of the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) in 1954. He spent three tours on the staff of the Naval Academy, including duty as Commandant of Midshipmen in the mid-1950s. As a flag officer, he commanded the naval base at Subic Bay, the Pacific Fleet Cruiser-Destroyer Force, and the First Fleet.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

In this selection from his first interview at his home in Coronado, Califonia, on 13 January 1987, Admiral Keith describes the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-37 by the USS Nicholas in November 1944, and his reaction to learning about the deadly kaiten suicide wepons the submarine carried on board.

Admiral Keith: This would be November of '44.[1] Somewhere around 8:00 o'clock in the evening, the Nicholas picked up a radar contact, and our SG radar really was well-operated.[2] They got this contact at over 21,000, 22,000 yards. We closed, and we found that we had a disappearing contact. We went in and got sonar contact. About 8:30, we dropped one depth charge pattern. We continued to pick up intermittently an echo on our sonar, and we never could get him dead to rights, get a good lead on him. We figured afterwards that we had damaged this sub in our first attack, when we had rolled or thrown 18 or so depth charges at him. He was probably using the disturbed water from that first attack to try to sneak away from us. A depth charge does leave roiled water around, which you couldn't range through. But we were so clever that he couldn't get away, so we were patting ourselves on the back.

USS Nicholas (DD-449)About two hours later, we got a contact, and we had him pretty well dead to rights and had a good lead on him, which you had to take in those days to drop. As we went in, we had a left lead. We got to about 175 yards, which is about the shortest range you could get, and you were committed when you got there. Then my sonar officer said, "Captain, that bastard is going right as hard as he can." We spun the wheel right, backed on our starboard engine, and let go with depth charges, because we were practically right over him then. Sure enough, several minutes later, after the last depth charge had gone off--how many minutes, I can't say now; it's in my battle report--we got one of the durnedest underwater explosions you ever heard. I was standing on the pelorus, watching to see when to make my next turn to try and regain contact, and I was almost lifted off my feet up in the air. I couldn't have been lifted off my feet, because some damage would have been done to the hull, but none was. But it was a terrific explosion, and you could feel it. It lifted the ship somewhat.

Immediately the St. Louis and the Taylor, which had withdrawn to the south of me, called me and said, "Are you all right?" They could feel it that quickly, the concussion through the water, 25 miles away from me by this time. So it was quite an explosion.

Well, after the war, we found out that we had sunk the Japanese I-37. Until this year, I thought that we had damaged him and that he had been trying to escape us all this time. One of my young sailormen on the Nicholas, that I saw at a reunion down at Jackson, Mississippi, asked me if I'd read a book called Suicide Torpedo, Suicide Submarine. I said I'd never seen it. So he sent it to me. He said, "You'll be interested in it, because it talks about the I-37 being sunk by us, and it was one of the carriers of the suicide torpedoes."[3]

A Japanese Kaiten type 1This young Japanese tells about being recruited into the secret weapon system that was going to win the war for the Emperor in June of 1944. They carry him across Japan and out into one of the outlying southern islands, and he goes down, gets there at night. The next morning he goes down, and he sees this great Long Lance torpedo, with a compartment on it and with a periscope on it. He says, "Oh. I'm going to ride a suicide torpedo." That's what they told him: that they were going to carry him in and give him a steer for his target, and he was going to then be able to go and deliver a 3,000-pound warhead and destroy anything that it hits, big enough to really blow them out of the water--100 hits, and 100 ships would be sunk.

So then he goes on to say that they put these torpedoes on the first three Japanese submarines, and they carried four of them. They had four hatches connecting the torpedoes to the steerers' compartment on the torpedo, and they had four cables on to hold them down. They sent out the first three of them, two of them to go to Ulithi, and one of them to go to Kossol Roads. He said, "My friends that were in the one headed for Kossol Roads were unfortunate. They met the USS Nicholas and never came back." It was in there, four young men with their swords in their hands, a picture taken before they went out to ride these torpedoes, and that's the first time I've ever seen anybody that I killed. So it was a new experience.

[1] The incident described here took place on 12 November 1944.

[2] The SG was a surface-search radar.

[3] Yukuta Yokota, with Joseph D. Harrington was the author of The Kaiten Weapon (New York: Ballantine Books, 1962). Page 46 tells of the I-37 being sunk by the Nicholas. U.S. sources identify the victim as the I-38.



Conferences and Events

WEST 2019

Wed, 2019-02-13 - Fri, 2019-02-15

Sharpening the Competitive Edge: Are We Ready to Compete, Deter, and Win Globally? Wednesday, 13 February - Friday, 15 February...

2019 U.S. Naval Institute Member Event

View All

From the Press

17 January - Book Talk

Thu, 2019-01-17

18 January - Presentation

Fri, 2019-01-18

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 140 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership