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Rear Admiral George H. Miller, USN (Ret.) (1911-1994)

Rear Admiral George H. Miller, USN (Retired)

Based on 13 interviews conducted by John T. Mason Jr. from January 1971 through January 1974, the volume contains 520 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1975 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the restrictions originally placed on the transcript by the interviewee have since been removed.

Miller's early years in the Navy included service in the USS California (BB-44), Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Zane (DD-337), Goff (DD-247), Gilmer (DD-233), and St. Louis (DD-233). He was damage control officer in the light cruiser Houston (CL-81) in 1944 when she was twice torpedoed off Formosa. He tells a harrowing tale of the survival of the Houston and her crew--the ship took more water aboard than had been taken aboard any ship that survived in World War I or World War II. Miller was XO of that ship the latter period of the war. Later tours were: plans officer for President of Naval War College; CO of the Hollister (DD-788) during Korean War; plans officer, Commander Joint Task Force 7; Head, Strategic Studies Board, CNO; Commander Surface Striking Forces, Seventh Fleet; and several positions in strategic warfare, finally as continued on active duty as Naval Advisor to Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Maritime Affairs.

 

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

 


 

Rear Admiral Miller: I recall the night that Houston was hit - the great majority of the people on board the ship were in a state of shock. The ship was helpless, everything was dead, the engines, we had no power, most of our guns could not be operated. We were lying to, listing, deep in the water, decks awash, starboard deck awash. The ship was literally helpless. It was a liability to the commander of the task force at the time. We were off Formosa - less than 70 miles, perhaps. The Japanese were still attacking. Bettys were everywhere. We could see them. They cate in low, they cate past us. We believe they fired a couple of torpedoes at us after the first one hit. The Task Force Commander wanted to get out of there and put some distance between himself and the position he was in by daylight.  

I was down in damage control, of course, when Houston was hit, and I went through my routine testing. My people down there tested all stations and soon realized that the after boiler room and forward engine roan flooded immediately. The forward fire roan was flooding rapidly and had to be abandoned. Then we learned that the after engine roan was also flooding, and the flooding could not be controlled. So, I then ordered the damage-control efforts to confining the flooding within the boundaries of the main engineering spaces, fore and aft, and above these compartments.

As the reports began to come in, I found that the third deck above fire after fire room and forward engine room, the armor plate had been breached and that the deck was flooding. I then ordered them to confine the flooding on the second deck to the spaces directly above the after fire room and the forward engine room. Since we now had, I realized by guide calculation, that we had more water on board in comparison with our displacement than any other ship that survived in World War II. I was unable to reach the bridge by phone. They were busy with other things. So, when I had given all the instructions about confining the bounds of the flood water, my crew and I left Damage Control Central and moved up to the second deck.Extensive torpedo damage to the stern and rudder of USS Houston (CL-81).

When I got to the second deck I learned that the order had been given to abandon ship. I found at that time that the ship, including the bridge, were all in the process of preparing to abandon ship. I seemed to have very little help in working the damage-control problem. I was able to identify a very few key people and I'll name them at the present time. There was Julius Steuckert, a lieutenant, a phlegmatic introverted lieutenant, who was my damage control assistant. He says, "What do you want us to do, Boss?" I recall Carpenter Schnabel, also a rather phlegmatic, unpopular, quiet sort of individual. He came up and asked what I wanted him to do. I recall Charlie York, a lieutenant, an ex-enlisted man, who stepped up. And I remember Joe Simpson, an ex-enlisted man lieutenant, who was in charge of the after engine room and who had to abandon the compartment because flooding could not be controlled. I sent Carpenter Schnabel to the after part of the ship to check on the flooding boundaries to ensure that they were holding and to confine the flooding to the after part of the third deck in the area where it had been breached. The second deck was also flooding through doors and hatches open to the weather deck on the starboard side. The forward and after bulkheads of the flooded engineering area were bulging, so I asked that the flooding boundaries be watched for any evidence that flooding was extending.

I told Charlie York and Julius Steuckert to go forward and prepare for towing. I then went to the bridge to report to the captain what I had done, and the Captain said, "George, we've been ordered to abandon ship."

John T. Mason, Jr: That was Captain Behrens?

Rear Admiral Miller: Yes. I then went to the after part of the bridge and talked to the executive officer, Commander Clarence Broussard. I told him that I thought we could control the flooding at least for the night and that I wanted to stay. He listened for a while, then said, "All right. Let's go back to the captain."

Flooding in the USS Houston's (CL-81) hangar after a second torpedo hit at the Battle of Formosa.Commander Broussard told the captain he agreed with me and that he thought we should stay. The captain asked me if I was sure the ship could survive for the night. I said, "No, I'm not sure, but I think we should try. If the main longitudinals hold, we'll probably last through the night." This discussion went on for some time, and when the captain understood my feeling about the situation, he went back to the Task Force Commander, recommended that we stay aboard and requested a tow. Meanwhile destroyers were lying-to close alongside and, while the ship was rolling heavily, the crew was abandoning ship and they were being picked up by the destroyers.

John T. Mason, Jr:  The general order had been given before, hadn't it?

Rear Admiral Miller: Yes. When I got to the forecastle I could see people who either were abandoning ship or fully intended to abandon ship. Some of the key people were survivors from the previous ship I mentioned earlier. I asked two of them in particular to stay and prepare for towing - but they left along with all their people who were familiar with the forecastle gear. I felt no resentment even at the time, because nobody else on board - or in the area really expected the ship to survive.

In our efforts to prepare for a tow, we had very little help from those who were in charge of the forward decks - of the forward part of the ship. However, in the course of time, we did get enough people together to prepare for towing. It was very dark, the ship was rolling very heavily, occasionally the starboard side of the deck would receive a large wave and it would work its way down onto the second deck, so we continually had the problem of keeping the watertight doors of the main deck secured, because flooding was still continuing over the main deck.

Going back a little bit, while we were still down in Damage Control Central, it looked for a short time like the ship was in danger of capsizing. As I recall, we had calculated that if the ship rolled more than, I believe, 41 degrees with the kind of water we had aboard, she would go over, and I believe that our maximum roll did reach about 38 degrees to starboard. The problem was that as long as the big engine compartments were only partially flooded, you had what you call free water surface, and free surface, if excessive, gives you a dangerous stability situation. As I watched the roll, I noticed that as she settled deeper in the water, and the big compartments filled to the top, the roll subsided somewhat, and before I left the damage control I felt that at least the ship would not capsize. I was unable to reach the Captain by phone at the time, despite continuing attempts, to give him my view of the situation.

John T. Mason, Jr: This was before you moved to the second deck?

Rear Admiral Miller: Before I moved to the second deck, yes. I had enough information on the roll - that was the first danger, you see. The other thing was that, as the ship settled, the Mg longitudinals were beginning to buckle because of the weight of water amidships. The buoyancy was in the bow and stern.

It was very dangerous to go into the second deck compartments to take a close look at these longitudinals because rivets were flying at the speed of bullets, they were flying throughout the area, and it looked for a while like the ship was going to break in half. It looked to me at first that the keel itself had been severed by the explosion.

 

(Note: Due to edits, corrections, and/or amendments to the original transcription draft, there are some inconsistencies between the recording and the text.)

 


 
 

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