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Vice Admiral Eli T. Reich, USN (Ret.) (1913-1999)

Volume I

Vice Admiral Eli T. ReichBased on 11 interviews conducted by John T. Mason Jr. from April 1978 through January 1979, the volume contains 520 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1982 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

Volume I covers Admiral Reich's career prior to 1963. He graduated from submarine school in 1939 and was assigned to the USS Sealion (SS-195). In Manila in December 1941, he was lunching on a ship in the harbor when the Sealion (which he had left moments before) was demolished by Japanese bombs. His descriptions of submarine experience in the Pacific and Sea of Japan are graphic and detailed, as are his experiences in destroyers. He concludes his volume with his command of the missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2) and his fight to uncover the flaws in the Terrier missile system. It was this experience that led him inevitably to the job as "czar" of the investigative study of the 3-Ts--Tartar, Terrier, and Talos--as chronicled in Volume II.

 

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

 


Vice Admiral Reich: The next high point occurred after we had headed south. The sea was very flat and we were running on the surface at night. I got a report around midnight that radar had a contact at 44,000 yards. Well, it was unbelievable, I jumped out of my bunk and went up to the conning tower. The radar officer (Dan Brooks) was already up there. He was a very fine radar man and the radar had been performing well. There it was, visible on the screen. Now, my first reaction was that what these fellows had contacted was the north point of Formosa. That's a mountain. No, they in­sisted, that couldn't be. It had to be a ship - 44,000 yards over 20 miles.

Well, I told them we'd close in any event but I had my doubts. I went down, got dressed and came back up fifteen or twenty minutes later. Meanwhile, we were heading south and closing and then we lost it. We lost the target at about 32,000 yards. I expressed surprise and disgust but at 24,000 yards we picked it up again. Well, what we finally determined was one, why the extreme range? and two, why were we losing it? Now under certain environmental conditions the radar will get these skip distances and you get rather phenomenal results. In effect, you have a bending of the radar beam and you get a reflection over the horizon - it's a ducting effect.

At about 30,000 yards we started to get delineation. We now had more than one target. We knew we must have something big to give us a range like that, so we went to battle stations and got into an attack position. Now the sea had started to build up. When this incident started around midnight, we'd had a placid sea. But as we were heading down the sea started to pick up - not too badly but it was picking up. I took my battle station on the bridge and I had my diving officer, Harry Hagen, with me. My exec was down in the conning tower running the control party.

Bryant and Shorty Bates were running the torpedo data computer. The radar had good returns on the targets, so we elected to attack on the surface. We made that decision because that was the only way we could get into a firing position. Now, as I said, the sea had begun to build up and there was an overcast so I began to feel a little better about that - the weather was in favor of us as far as visibility was concerned. So I told the exec officer (since the target had been delineated) what we would do. We be­lieved it was a four major ship task force; a major ship following by a larger major ship, another large major ship followed by a major ship, with about six escorts. We clocked their speed at about 16 knots and they were headed up that course that I'd told you was parallel to the mine fields. So we headed on into an attack position. We were going to look for a position so that we could take the second ship in column as the major target.

John T. Mason, Jr.: Was that the biggest one?

Vice Admiral Reich: Well, it was the first big one - what'd we say, a cruiser, a battleship, a battleship and a cruiser; so we'd take the second ship in the column to be the major target.

Now the escorts were a concern but I told the XO we'd fire on the second ship; so we got a firing set up and started closing the range so we'd have some chance of hitting him. The XO was worried about the escorts and I again told him not to worry. So, we went along with that scheme - we had a solution and tracking was solid, the torpedo run was such and such - it must have been about 4500 yards - an extreme target for the Mark 18 but she could do that. The XO assured me that they were ready to fire and that they'd like to fire whenever I gave the word.USS Sealion (SS-315)

I said, "Now, look, Jim, that's the word I'll give you. Let me worry about that. You just worry about keeping that damn computer on the target and keep that solution solid. There's no point in firing from where we are - we've got to close this guy - right now we'll not worry about the es­corts."

Well, you see, they were down there getting these radar ranges and once in a while they would pick up the escorts and, of course, the escorts were a hell of a lot closer. That was giving their nervous system a little excitement.

But on the other hand, I had a couple of excellent lookouts. I had my engineer officer also and he was a good lookout and I thought I could see pretty good but I couldn't see a damn thing. Once in a while, we'd think we could see a shape and I felt that if we can't see them then they can't see us. The only worry was, did they have radar? I didn't know whether they did or not.

Well, a little later on, sure enough, a shape was off the bow and the lookout picked it up and reported it. I thought I could see it too and I knew we must be getting fairly close. If we were going to do anything, we had to do it fast, as I had to get the hell out of there pretty soon. So I told Jim to commence firing when he was ready. I said, "Now as soon as you get your bow out, we'll swing around 180° and get the stern up. Just steady the solution and fire the bow tubes - after reversing course we'll get a bearing that's a steady then we'll empty the stern tubes."

The lookout said he thought he saw a pagoda mast but I never saw the pagoda mast but this fellow said he did but anyway we got six fish out forward. We swung around and got three fish out aft. Then as we swung around we were now in a good escape direction. We were just holding steady at slow speed just to settle down the fire control problem and as soon as we got that bow nest out then we increased speed to reverse course and then we slowed to steady down enough to keep the stern steady - to fire the stern tubes. Then we went to full speed. Now, as we were running away, I could see the plumes - I saw three explosions. That would be around right because you see these were slow torpedoes. These fish only ran about thirty knots. We definitely had three hits under our belts.

Then there was hell to pay in terms of depth charging but we were on the surface and we could hear the depth charges. For some strange reason, the Japs must have thought that we'd come in from the east when in fact we'd come in from the west and so they were depth charging on the other side.

Later on I learned (after the patrol was over and after the war ended) that there was a destroyer on the east side of the battleship and he caught one of the fish. He blew up and he went down. Actually, we got four hits - we got three hits in the battleship and one in the destroyer.

John T. Mason, Jr.: You didn't know he was there?

Vice Admiral Reich: No, we didn't know he was there. But the fact is, that he went down. Well, we pulled around and paralleled this outfit and started to get into a new attack position. In the meantime we reloaded our tubes while we were still cranking ahead for position. Next the fire control party reported that the speed of the targets was greater than it was when we first fired.

John T. Mason, Jr.: The three shots were to no avail?

Vice Admiral Reich: We definitely knew that we had three hits because we could see the plumes of light and we heard the explosions. Now, remember I told you that the sea was building up. Now by this time it had really built up. As it turned out, this was the beginning of a typhoon through there and it lasted for about two days. But this was the beginning.

I had all engines on the line and we were up to the most we could make under those conditions at about 18 knots and we were trying to go out and come back in for another shot. The first firing must have taken place about two or three o'clock in the morning. We must have run about an hour in order to get back out and into what we thought was a good firing position and all at once the target slowed to stop. We were out ahead about five or six thousand yards and if he'd have come by we would have had him. But he sat there in the water - still. And then there was this tremendous explosion. We saw this big ball of fire and then darkness - nothing. I've always thought that what happened was that he took about three hits and this probably started a fire in the vicinity of his magazines and they foolishly pushed their luck (this is all hindsight) that they would escape any further attack and that they could continue. They were pushing the ship and the fire spread and then the fire got out to the magazines and she ignited and blew up. When she blew up it wasn't a torpedo explosion - it was a major magazine explosion.

John T. Mason, Jr.: Did the post-war reports throw any light on that?

Vice Admiral Reich: Somewhat along those lines. I remember, vaguely, reading somewhere that the Japanese said there were not too many survivors.

John T. Mason, Jr.: This was the battleship - BB Konga - and do you know how big a ship she was?

Vice Admiral Reich: She was about 32,000 tons. She was about the vintage of our own Mississippi class.

 

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


 

Reich, Eli T. (1913-1999)

Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)

Volume II

 

Based on 15 interviews conducted by John T. Mason, Jr., from February 1979 through January 1980. The volume contains 681 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 1982 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee has placed no restrictions on its use.

 

Continues career in 1963 when the admiral was Director, Surface Missile Systems Project, followed by his tour as Commander Antisubmarine Warfare Group Five in Southeast Asia. He then was assigned to Washington as Director of the Logistic Plans Division and as Acting Comptroller of the Navy. Prior to his retirement in 1973 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Production, Engineering and Material Acquisition). Later he was appointed Administrator of the Office of Petroleum Allocation in the Department of Interior and then was a consultant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense where he was given special cognizance over shipbuilding problems and contracts.

 


 
 

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