“Peril at Fifty Fathoms”
(See B. A. Grieves, pp. 18-22, Fall 1988 Naval History)
Mrs. Donald E. Macintosh—Reading the article about my first husband, Bill Millican, and his command of the Thresher (SS-220), was the most wonderful surprise I’ve had in 44 years. My daughter felt the same way when I called and told her all about the article. She’s the image of her father. She was only seven years old when he was lost in the Escolar (SS-294).
Mr. Grieves wrote a very exciting article and I commend him and thank him also. Bill told me about a lot of his experiences on his patrols, but I don’t remember his telling me about the one in the article. Guess he didn’t want to frighten me to death. After ten years’ separation, we had a wonderful year together before he was lost. The Escolar was built at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. He left New London in July 1944 and was lost in October. The conclusion was that the Escolar hit a mine. I know, though, that my husband died doing what he loved most in this world. The Navy and submarines were his life.
“Pearl Harbor: A Bibliography of the Controversy”
(See S. L. Falk. pp. 55-56, Spring 1988 Naval History)
Rear Admiral Kemp Tolley, U. S. Navy (Retired)—We are obliged to Dr. Falk for providing a wide bibliography of that perennially disputed incident. Pearl Harbor. Particularly useful are the Japanese books, without which no balanced view can be arrived at. He divides his list into the good guys, the traditionalists, and the bad guys, whom he describes as the “so- called ‘revisionists,’ who blame Pearl Harbor on the diabolical Washington conspiracy.”
Be a little more charitable toward these dedicated fellows, Dr. Falk. Revisionists have been around for a long time, rattling the cages of conventional thinkers since the time of Jesus Christ and before. They include such daring chaps as those who proclaimed that earth orbits the sun and not vice versa, and that it is not flat. Like good detectives, they continue to probe for clues, however nebulous, however improbable, often cracking the case. Pearl Harbor is not a closed case.
As for a conspiracy, if so, it wouldn’t be the first or last time on the shores of the Potomac—Teapot Dome, Tonkin Gulf, Watergate, and the Iran-contra affair, to name a few.
Many revisionists are professional researchers, writers, and insiders, such as Rear Admiral Edwin T. Layton, author of And I Was There: Pearl Harbor and Midway—Breaking the Secrets (New York: Morrow, 1985). (Most of Admiral Layton’s detractors were not there.) Some revisionists believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and perhaps some of his family had advance knowledge of the Japanese task force, the Kido Butai, approaching Pearl Harbor; that he withheld this information from the commanders on Oahu; that Roosevelt considered this to be justified by his estimate of the situation, which later proved to be faulty; that he had estimated there were one or two Japanese carriers; that the Americans would suffer some damage, but would win a stunning victory; and that the incident would create a legal pretext for using U. S. forces to support British forces in Malaya. Roosevelt had stressed that “the Japanese must fire the first shot!” Everybody agrees that Roosevelt did not want war with Japan until at least April 1942, but the Japanese did not allow him this luxury; they had launched the war by heading to Malaya before Pearl Harbor.
Information supporting the revisionists will continue to surface as more records are opened up, such as the recent British revelation that the Kido Butai did not observe total radio silence, but used voice radio between ships. This tends to make more realistic John Toland’s “badly flawed” (Dr. Falk’s comment) Infamy: Pearl Harbor And Its Aftermath (Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1982). Toland claims U. S. West Coast direction finder stations picked up what were believed to be Japanese transmissions, and the Dutch naval attache was shown the Kido Butai’s track in the Office of Naval Intelligence days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many of the books Dr. Falk listed were written before the full revelation of the immensity of the part played by the Japanese intercepted messages, “Magic.’’ Some of these books describe the mechanism of the attack admirably, but arrive at conclusions that are as wide of the mark as many scientific studies written before Albert Einstein discovered E = MC2. For example, Gordon W. Prange’s At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981) was published one year after Dr. Prange's death (with the help of D. M. Goldstein and K. V. Dillon), with all of the author's original conclusions, but without the benefit of Magic. Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, who commanded the fleet at Pearl Harbor, also lacked this advantage.
Prange’s second volume. Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1986) would be more accurately entitled PearI Harbor: the Verdict of Prange as Interpreted by Goldstein and Dillon. It was published six years after the author’s death, apparently was compiled from odds and ends from Prange’s files and was heavily padded with long quotes from the news media. Although Dr. Falk strongly recommends it, it contains many questionable conclusions and statements that I expect were not written by Prange, with whom I had a considerable exchange of ideas and most amicable relations.
Verdict also is sometimes inconsistent. It states that Roosevelt properly refused the meeting in Hawaii that Japanese Premier Prince Konoye proposed; since Konoye was a supine tool of the militarists, nothing useful could come of such a conference. Later, the book states that Konoye was the evil genius who was responsible for Japan's aggressive policy. Could Konoye and Roosevelt have relieved the potentially lethal pressure that was aiming Japan irrevocably toward war? Of course not, thought Prange; Tokyo had been planning the Pearl Harbor attack since January 1941. So what? As late as the 1930s, the basic war plan (against Great Britain) still was being kept up to date in Washington. Any competent military organization plans in advance for any eventuality, however remote, however unlikely.
Verdict also stated, in effect, that the logic of Japan’s avarice in planning an East Asia takeover is destroyed when one sees Japan today as a top industrial power without any such territorial aggrandizement. He should have recalled that in 1941, Imperial Europe tightly controlled the present Third World’s gigantic treasures in raw materials and markets— vividly demonstrated by the mid-1941 stranglehold Britain and the Netherlands had on Japan’s supplies of iron ore, tin, rubber, and oil. Ironically, Japan’s sleeper ally in this shucking off of the shackles of Imperial Europe was Roosevelt. His son James recorded that one of his father’s greatest hopes was to see the breakup of the great European overseas empires, so all could have equal access.
Verdict is particularly critical of certain statements I made in my book. Cruise of the Lanikai, Incitement to War (Melbourne, Florida: Krieger Publishing Co., Inc., 1982; original, Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1973). The USS Lanikai, a 75-foot two-masted schooner, was one of the “three small ships” that President Roosevelt personally ordered the Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet Admiral Thomas C. Hart, to obtain. The ships were to be placed in positions indicated by the President that were near the concentration points of Japanese naval forces in Indochina which were known to be about to attack Malaya and possibly the Netherlands East Indies. “One gun and one machine gun . . . commanded by a naval officer . . . would suffice,” said the President, in his 1 December 1941 dispatch to Admiral Hart. “U. S. warship wantonly sunk by Japanese,” U. S. newspaper headlines might scream.
In The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931- April 1942 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1948, revised, 1953), also on Dr. Falk’s list, historian Samuel Eliot Morison mentions Roosevelt’s proposal that U. S. cruisers “pop up unexpectedly” here and there in the Pacific to “keep the Japanese guessing.” Morison, Harvard University class of 1908, who was hired by Roosevelt, Harvard University class of 1903, as court historian wrote:
“The President’s later proposal to Admiral Hart to operate river gunboats [sic] as picket boats in the South China Sea did not stem from the same idea [cruisers] but from a desire to supplement the work of our patrol planes in reporting Japanese ship movements ...”
The Lanikai's primitive radio was inoperable, as Admiral Hart well knew. And of course the “three small ships” were not river gunboats. The adroit manipulation of words to change intent subtly is not uncommon with biased historians. The President’s “proposal” was not a proposal; it was, as I indicate in my book, a flat order. The first line of the message to Admiral Hart, dated 1 December 1941, said, “President directs that the following be done as soon as possible and within two days if possible ...”
Rear Admiral John B. Heffeman, Director of Naval History, asked Admiral Hart to review Morison’s manuscript of Volume 3, The Rising Sun in the Pacific. Hart wrote 16 single-spaced pages of corrections, none of which Morison used. Admiral Hart’s comment on the “three small ships” was:
“ . . . should be rewritten to accord with facts or be entirely omitted; it is not a piece of history of which to be proud.”
Thirteen reprints later, in 1961, Admiral Hart’s suggestion had been followed; all mention of the “three small ships” had been expunged.
Dr. Falk also lists Roberta Wohlstet- ter’s Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), saying it made "a lasting contribution by carefully analyzing the intelligence available in 1941.” Captain Laurance F. Stafford, Director of the Communications Security Group, Naval Communications, at the nerve center of Magic, scrawled corrections and notations of egregious errors, filling the wide margins of his copy of Wohlstetter’s book. Wohlstetter apparently was unaware that naval message time and date groups were based on Greenwich, not local, time, and therefore mistimed many events. Unfortunately, Stafford’s encyclopedic knowledge of the origins and conduct of the war was never recorded. He was so obsessively protected at home, after being interrogated exhaustively by the Joint Congressional Committee (JCC) in 1945-46, that we had to meet semiclandestinely in the National Archives, where he had a letter drop so he could control his own mail. His courageous testimony before the JCC is contained in John Toland’s Infamy: Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath, mentioned earlier.
One of the most revealing books on Dr. Falk’s list. Admiral James O. Richardson’s On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor unfortunately received no wide publicity or distribution, because it was published by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government Printing Office, under the aegis of the Naval History Division of the Navy Department. Completed in 1958, it was published intentionally 15 years later, in 1973, after the death of its principal characters. Two of those roughly handled were General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, and Admiral Harold R. “Betty” Stark, Chief of Naval Operations. At the Roberts Investigation, two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, neither could recall where he was on the eve of the most momentous episode in U. S. history, nor did they ever do so in subsequent investigations. (Toland and Admiral Layton also cover this incident in their books.) According to then-Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, he was with the two men at the White House, awaiting the Japanese action after intercepting Japan’s 14-part message breaking relations with the United States on 6 December.
By all means, read Dr. Falk’s book selection, plus my own Cruise of the Lanikai: Incitement to War, and judge for yourself. You might even turn out to be a “so-called” revisionist.
“In Focus: The Brothers”
(See p. 70. Spring 1988 Naval History)
Lieutenant Commander Victor Clarke Besancon, U. S. Navy (Retired)—I remember when the photo of all of us Navy brothers on board the USS Ranger (CV-4) was taken. I have one that I thought was identical, but when I looked in my photo album I got quite a surprise: they were not quite the same. As I now remember the event, the picture published in the magazine was taken first. We were told to square our hats on our heads for the official picture that would be sent to the Navy Department. Three minutes later a second photo was taken; this time we tilted our white hats on the backs of our heads in typical sailor “shore leave” style. We all received copies of this second photo to send home to our families or girlfriends and our family was delighted to have it.
I dug out this second photo, in which my brother Moody and I are pictured (bottom row, first and second sailors on the left), together with individual photos of us years later. Oddly enough, we both remained in the Navy after our first enlistment, were both commissioned as officers during World War II, and both retired as lieutenant commanders.
Seeing the photo sparked my interest in trying to identify those 40 of the almost 1,000 men I served with on board the Ranger. I attended the ship’s 22nd reunion in San Mateo, California, and showed the photo around to see if anyone could help. I did not have much luck.
Besides myself and my brother, I easily could recognize Harold McLaughlin, who, like myself, was a radioman. We lived in the same compartment for about a year, during which time his brother Bennie occasionally visited.
Working on my own to identify more of the sailors in the brothers’ photo, I visually inspected each person’s uniform using a magnifying glass to determine as much as I could about his rating. I looked for such indicators as the number of stripes on a sleeve; whether the shoulder stripe was white or red; whether there was a shoulder stripe at all; and, finally, for the petty officers, what his rating and his exact specialty were. Some of the stripes and badges were not visible.
Next, I searched through the Ranger muster list for the quarter ending 31 March 1937. There were 1,000 names on this list. I first extracted all names that were spelled the same. There were quite a few—way over the 40 in the photograph-
To try to identify the individuals, I used the sailors’ service numbers, which were included on the muster list. Before 1956, a service number was issued to all enlisted personnel at their recruiting station and was formatted (XXX-XX-XX). Since then the Social Security number has taken its place. I went through the same-name people on my list and extracted only the ones whose numbers started with the same three digits. In those days each recruiting station used a block of numbers; for example, “359” was Houston, Texas. So if you look at the muster listing for myself and my brother, you will see 359 because we both enlisted at the same recruiting station. Our next four numbers are not consecutive because we enlisted about a year apart. If you check the McLaughlins’ listing, however, you will see that the last four numbers are consecutive, indicating that they enlisted the same day. That is verified by the enlistment date shown in the next column of the muster list.
By applying these rules, I came up with a list containing only 14 sets of brothers (28 sailors). Some of the missing names must have been on my first large list, but I can’t account for the differences in the first three digits of their service numbers. Perhaps these brothers enlisted in different cities or the recruiting station received a new block of numbers between •he enlistments of the two brothers.
I searched the roster of the Ranger Reunion Group and, besides my own name, found only two other names from my own list of 14 sets of brothers: Boom- bower and Waite. I telephoned Ford L. Waite and sent him a copy of the photo- graph. He identified himself and his brother, Ralph E., who is recently deceased. I have attempted to contact Lee D. Boomhower, but have heard nothing yet.
I continue to keep my eyes and cars °Pen for more information as to the identity of the brothers. I hope other readers of the magazine also will be able to help. This has been quite a project. It was a lot more work than I anticipated, but I enjoyed it. I like all things about the “old Navy” and its history.
The Dream List
Captain Vincent J. Colon, U. S. Naval Reserve (Retired)—When I was called to active duty in 1951 for the Korean War, I had been in the Naval Reserve for almost 20l years. Invariably, every training or Permanent assignment had placed me in a destroyer—about a dozen of them.
For this most recent duty, I was ordered to Glenview Naval Air Station for training. Several weeks before the end of the course, we were handed a “dream list” application, a form on which to list, in order of preference, three choices of duty to which we would like to be assigned. My choices were as follows:
1. I do not want a destroyer.
2. I positively do not want a destroyer.
3. I absolutely do not want a destroyer.
I was assigned to a destroyer.
At the end of the Korean War I returned to Washington, D. C., drilling with reserve units at the Navy Yard. I shortly became commanding officer of a composite officer company. During one of our drill meetings each month, I invited a high-ranking officer from the Navy Department to be our guest speaker and to be the guest of the company staff at a dinner at the officers’ club.
At one dinner and drill, I invited the chief of personnel. During the dinner, we engaged in casual conversation. I don’t recall how the subject came up, but I believe the admiral indicated that at one time he served at the destroyer detail desk at the bureau. I told him about the “dream list” I had submitted in 1951, whereupon he burst into laughter and. hardly containing himself, said, “So you’re the guy who sent that one in?” Wiping the tears from his eyes, he continued, “We thought that was so funny, we had copies made and posted on every bulletin board in the section for everyone to enjoy.”
I asked him why I was nonetheless assigned to a destroyer. He replied, “Anyone who felt that antagonistic about a destroyer had to be eminently qualified to serve on one.”
When my staff and I rose from the table, the admiral had stopped laughing, but the tears were still there. We left him with the bill for five dinners.
“Flank Speed to Eternity”
(See W. Jordan, pp. 12-17, Spring 1988; F. B. Turberville and A. A. Schaufelberger, pp. 6-8, Summer 1988; B. C. McCaffree, Jr., and F. B. Turberville, Fall 1988 Naval History).
John Russell—-While it is technically correct to identify the New York Naval Shipyard as the repair site of the Wasp (CV-18) in 1952, she was actually docked at the annex in Bayonne, New Jersey. Docks five and six in Brooklyn were occupied by the Hornet (CV-12), which still had some time until her conversion was completed, and by another, forgotten, ship.
The bow transplant referred to in the caption on page 16 of the spring issue was from the Hornet to the Wasp. The Hornet was not at Bayonne, as page 8 of the summer issue reported. The Hornet’s forefoot was carefully burned off and transported by barge to Bayonne, where it was welded to the Wasp. Less than two weeks after she had arrived, the Wasp steamed slowly down the bay.
“A Ship for All Seasons”
(See J. M. Waters, pp. 34-41, Winter 1988; W. L. Johnson and A. Stolze, pp. 2-5, Spring 1988; B. T. Brooks, pp. 9-10. Summer 1988 Naval History)
Lieutenant Commander F. Ray Shield, Jr., U. S. Coast Guard (Retired)—In May 1941, I was the eighth officer commissioned into the U. S. Coast Guard Reserve. My first orders were to the cutter Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34), then berthed at the Bethlehem Steel docks in Baltimore, Maryland.
After Pearl Harbor, the Alexander Hamilton was directed to sail to Portland, Maine, for training with the Navy and for antisubmarine warfare and convoy operations. Additional equipment for these missions was ordered but never received. The training in Portland subsequently was canceled and the ship instead was sent to Argentia, Newfoundland, for similar training. Shortly thereafter, the ship was ordered to join a convoy bound for England as one of its escorts.
While we were on that convoy, we discovered that a mistake had been made: the U. S. Coast Guard cutter Alexander Hamilton had been confused with the U. S. Navy fast minesweeper Hamilton (DMS-18) and we apparently had sailed under that ship’s orders!
Nevertheless, we proceeded eastward with the convoy. After turning the convoy over to English escort forces, our ship was directed to proceed to Iceland for fuel. Shortly after starting toward Iceland, we received an SOS from the USS Yukon (AF-9), a Navy refrigerated stores ship bound for Iceland with a cargo of frozen beef for our troops.
The Yukon had a main engine malfunction and was unable to maneuver under her own power. She was 400 miles off the Irish coast. Along with two Navy destroyers, we went to her aid. Once we arrived at her location, it took us four or five hours to pass a towing hawser to the Yukon because we were in the midst of a rough Atlantic storm. At one point during the efforts to get a hawser across, the messenger parted and the Alexander Hamilton drifted across the line. Our commanding officer. Commander A. G. Hall, was concerned that the hawser would foul the shaft, so our executive officer. Lieutenant Commander Moody, dove overboard to examine the shaft and make sure it was clear. We finally secured the hawser to the Yukon and began to tow her toward Iceland, some 600 miles away.
The two destroyers that had accompanied us had to leave because they were short of fuel. We were advised that two relief destroyers would be coming from Iceland to join us. As we slowly towed the Yukon across the North Atlantic, the Alexander Hamilton and her tow were sitting ducks, with German submarines all around the area. After several days, our escorts arrived and we felt a bit more secure. For the next four or five days we continued our tow, with escorts dropping depth charges around us to keep submarines away.
Early on the morning of 29 January 1942, when we were about 50 miles from Iceland, the senior officer present afloat (SOPA) in Iceland advised us that we were to transfer our tow to a British salvage tug. Our skipper was worried about our vulnerability to submarines during the time we would be transferring the tow, and notified the SOPA of that concern. He suggested that the Alexander Hamilton could complete the tow and bring the Yukon into port as well as any tug could. The SOPA then sent a direct order to transfer the tow hawser to the British vessel: it seemed that Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt had an agreement that assigned all salvage rights in the Iceland area to British forces.
We stopped and transferred the hawser as directed. We were just getting under way again when, at 1314, 29 January 1942, we were hit by a torpedo. It hit the main bulkhead between the engine room and the boiler room and crippled the ship in a matter of seconds. We lost power, stream, and heat. More than half the ship's boats were destroyed, along with emergency diesel, the main damage control station, and all the ship’s pumps.
By 1600—dusk at that latitude—and with the weather threatening to deteriorate, the ship had taken a significant starboard list. She was settling slowly with about four feet of freeboard when the CO reluctantly decided to abandon ship. The USS Gwin (DD-433) came close aboard with cargo nets over the side, and the crew abandoned the Alexander Hamilton. The next morning, an attempt was made to tow her into port, but Navy officials were afraid she would sink in the channel and block access to Reykjavik. Instead. she was towed out to sea and her irreparably damaged hulk was sunk by gunfire born friendly ships.
To respond further to several points raised by Captain Brooks, the Alexander Hamilton was not on convoy duty at the time of her loss. Rather, she was towing the Yukon while under the escort of two S. Navy destroyers that failed to keep the attacking submarine at bay. Captain Brooks’s speculation that what appears to he damage in the photo of the Alexander Hamilton is actually a boat cradle is dead wrong; that is a rupture in the ship’s hull. Produced by the torpedo. In response to bis assertion that the loss was “best swept under a rug,” we must remember that the sinking can be attributed to the failure of the ship to receive the proper equipment for antisubmarine warfare, the dispatch of the ship in the place of a Navy ship of similar name, and the rejection of the CO’s judgment that it was unwise to transfer the tow to another vessel.
If saving the Yukon and obeying orders (even when inadequately equipped to do so) can be construed as “a sorry and disgraceful event,” then sweep it under the rug. Otherwise, give credit where it is due, to those who labored hard with little W hopes of accomplishing much.
Although my recollections are not •00% consistent with his, I invite the interested reader to compare my views of the loss of the Alexander Hamilton with those of my shipmate, then-Ensign, now Bear Admiral E. C. Allen, Jr.
Rear Admiral E. C. Allen, Jr., U. S. Coast Guard (Retired)—I am writing to rebut the ill-advised, arrogant allegations of Captain Brooks. His letter is replete with errors that cannot and will not go unanswered. The honor and traditions of the U. S. Coast Guard, the memories of my 26 shipmates who lost their lives in this unfortunate engagement, as well as the requirements for truth of Naval History deserve and demand no less.
Captain Brooks’s opening paragraph states, “No one has ever written up this loss in any detail, perhaps because it was a sorry and disgraceful event—best swept under a rug. I know because I was there.”
He is wrong. I know because I was there, serving in the Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34) when she was torpedoed by the U-132 at 1314 on 29 January 1942, eight miles from Skaggy Point, Iceland. I also wrote the article titled “The Death of the Cutter Alexander Hamilton,” published in the March 1946 edition of the Coast Guard Academy Alumni bulletin and republished in that journal’s April- May 1986 edition. The event was tragic and unfortunate (as were scores of losses of our naval vessels over the next few years); however, it was far from “sorry and disgraceful.”
At the time of the torpedoing, the USS Gwin (DD-433) was in the general area and remained so until 0630 of the following day. At about 2000 the Gwin and the Alexander Hamilton were joined by the British tug Restive and a number of destroyers. The USS Belknap (AVD-8) with Ensign Brooks embarked did not appear on the scene until about 1100 on 30 January. Thus it was absolutely impossible for anyone embarked in the Belknap to have any personal knowledge of the weather conditions or conditions of trim and list of the stricken ship.
In accordance with standard U. S. Navy procedures, a court of inquiry was convened by Navy Rear Admiral Alexander Sharp, Commander Battleship Division Five, U. S. Atlantic Fleet, at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, on 31 January 1942.
The record of proceedings of the court of inquiry contains the following:
“Findings of Facts
26. That, commencing at 2030, January 29, 1942, HMS RESTIVE attempted to take HAMILTON in tow; that these operations were continued without success until about 2240 when they were abandoned until weather should moderate; that at this time the list and trim by the stem of the HAMILTON was such that the lee scupper aft was observed to be awash as the ship rolled in the trough of the sea; that by midnight the wind was ESE force 7, sea condition 5; that the HAMILTON was observed to be rolling easily but not deeply.
27. That at 1015 January 30. 1942, the weather having moderated considerably, the HAMILTON was taken in tow by HMS FRISKY; at this time the condition of trim and list of the HAMILTON was observed as follows; list 15 to 20 degrees, seas breaking over starboard side aft, with the fore part of the ship well out of the water.
28. That the HAMILTON at 1720 January 30, 1942, having been towed approximately 18 miles, rapidly increased her starboard list, and at 1728 capsized in latitude 64-32N, longitude 22-58W, floated bottom up, and then was sunk by gunfire from USS ERICSSON [DD-440],
6. That following the explosion the ship’s company conducted themselves in a creditable manner.”
On pages 126-27 of the record of proceeding appears the following testimony from an officer in the Restive:
“Q. State your name, rank, and present station.
A. John William Evenden, lieutenant, Royal Navy Reserve, rescue tug section, stationed at Reykjavik.
Q. Can you state to the Court what was the condition of the HAMILTON with regard to trim and heel when you first contacted her?
A. She had about 25 to 30 degrees list to starboard, and she was a little down by the stern in trim, and the main deck starboard was awash.
Q. Can you state what her condition of trim and heel was like the following morning?
A. I should say very similar, sir. I couldn’t estimate any difference.
Q. What was the weather condition at the time you reached the HAMILTON?
A. The wind seemed to be fresh all the time. It was a heavy swell and rough sea.”
So this event was not “swept under a rug,” as Captain Brooks alleged.
After successfully towing the disabled Yukon (AF-19) in terrible North Atlantic winter weather some 600 miles to the swept channel entrance of Reykjavik, the Alexander Hamilton constituted a sitting duck target as we recovered about 100 fathoms of twelve-inch towing hawser, after which 15 knots was rung up, but never attained. The torpedo was a perfect hit, and demolished the bulkhead between the fireroom and main engine room—thus, among much other damage, the two largest compartments were flooded and wrecked. Four feet of freeboard were lost instantly and only two to three feet of freeboard remained when I was pulled aboard the Gwin some two and a half hours later.
About two hours later, when the Gwin offered to evacuate those officers and men remaining on board, the CO faced the following facts: the wounded had been evacuated long ago via undamaged small boats to Icelandic fishing trawlers; those 101 remaining on board were powerless to assist the stricken vessel; darkness was fast approaching; absolutely no power of any kind was available; all damage control gear had been wrecked or lost; the ship was listing; more than two- thirds of freeboard had been lost; the wind had increased significantly; seas had begun to break over the quarterdecks; no rescue assistance was in sight or on the way; the submarine was still lurking in the vicinity; and no food rations, water, blankets, or other supplies were available. The CO’s decision was to order evacuation by the Owin', this decision no doubt was influenced by the executive officer’s advice (after viewing damage below) that the ship would remain afloat only about half an hour.
Soon after evacuation to the Gwin, a repair party was formed to reboard the Alexander Hamilton if she remained afloat—and if rescue tugs arrived. Severely worsening winds and seas, however, caused the CO of the Gwin to decline to effect such a transfer. Rightly so.
The Gwin departed the scene at 0630, 30 January. Under the circumstances facing the commanding officer at the time, I think he made the correct and only decision. Furthermore, at that time and under the conditions that existed, I think that any other experienced and responsible commanding officer would have made the same decision.
Thomas J. Keefner—I was on board the USCGC Alexander Hamilton, looking at the USS Yukon (AF-9), the ship we had been towing for five days, when the torpedo hit us. I was blown into the air and came down hard on the deck.
Chief Boatswain’s Mate (CBM) John Peterson came running by. “Get on your gun,” he said. “We’ve been hit.” Events happened all at once. The men lined up at the lifejacket locker to pass out jackets as if it were a drill. Everyone was very orderly; there was absolutely no panic. One man was draped dead over a railing. I was told he had fallen from the crow’s nest. At the time the torpedo hit, the warrant gunner was taking a shower. He ran naked back to the depth charge racks and set them on safe. I would call him a dedicated man! A fireman, Dallas O'Neal, had been down painting the engine room bilges when the torpedo hit. He was trapped by twisted steel. Later he said he had been ready to give up when Quartermaster Burton Shearer reached down and pulled him out. Several men said that the Alexander Hamilton was so low in the water that later, when the USS Gwin (DD-433) came alongside to rescue us, the men on the destroyer had to lean over the side to grasp our wrists, and the Alexander Hamilton's crew had to jump up to meet them.
I remembered that a few moments before I had left my friend, Joe Kment. down in the engineer’s office on the starboard side midship, just above where the torpedo had entered. I went down below to find him. We were dead in the water, without electricity or lights, so it was dark in the starboard companionway. There was steam and the smell of cordite- I called down the fireroom ladder several times to see if anyone down there was alive. I decided I needed a flashlight and worked my way forward to the crew’s quarters where I had one under my pillow. On my way back I stopped at my locker and grabbed my camera and billfold. Then I heard two shots ring out— the distress shots.
I ran topside. One lifeboat on the starboard side was lowered. They were calling out my name. Someone handed me a large-caliber gun and ammo belt for use in case the submarine surfaced. I climbed into the lifeboat. As we pulled away from the ship, I was in the bow sheets. I took several pictures: the flag upside down— for distress, the hole in the side, men climbing over the side, and the overturned capsized lifeboat astern of the Alexander Hamilton. One picture shows the men still on board the ship lined up on the deck against the starboard bulkhead in an orderly manner. I saw no panic at all.
The lifeboat I was in was loaded with men who had been in the starboard companionway above the boiler room when we were hit. They were severely burned. We had abandoned ship around 1400 and rowed until dusk, firing flares all the way. Finally we ran across the bow of a Danish fishing boat that hove to. We transferred our casualties to the fishing boat, secured the lifeboat astern, and set off for Iceland. Six men had died in the lifeboat.
I was told to accompany the lieutenant (junior grade) and CBM John Peterson, who knew some Swedish or Danish, to the pilot house and we persuaded the skipper to take us to Iceland. Once on land, I remember carrying a stretcher with a casualty on it to a fishing village. We stayed and were fed at a small inn or Private home until the U. S. Army sent ambulances and trucks for a long ride to a Quonset Hut Hospital.
Later we were taken to the USS Stratford (AP-41), a Navy transport anchored at Hvalfjordur. We held memorial services on board the USS Texas (BB-35) and borrowed uniforms to be pallbearers.
Commander Calvin T. Durgin, Jr., U. S. Navy (Retired)—Captain Brooks, who served as an ensign under a “timid” captain in the USS Belknap (AVD-8) and Whose advice was given but found unacceptable, believes that only because his commanding officer failed to heed his advice, the USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34), torpedoed and abandoned by her crew, was lost.
Brooks records that Captain Mort Deyo, senior officer present U. S. Navy (SOPUS) Iceland, “flying his flag in the . . . USS Vulcan (AR-5),” ordered the Belknap to the scene of the Alexander Hamilton's torpedoing. This order, implies Captain Brooks, was because of the “basic antipathies between . . . line officers versus aviators,” because better antisubmarine-equipped ships were available. I did not know that captains flew their flags, that aviators were not also line officers, nor that basic antipathies existed between the two. Maybe I served in a different navy than Brooks. My navy at that time had few ensigns ready to assume SOPUS Iceland responsibilities as well as high seas ship commands.
Frankly, Captain Brooks’s snide and arrogant comments concerning the loss of the Alexander Hamilton and his part in this episode do not ring true to me. Brooks expects us to believe that less than two months into the war, he, a reserve ensign with less than two years’ commissioned service, was sufficiently objective or experienced to pronounce judgment on a senior officer with more than 18 years service. Commander Gazze graduated in the upper third of the Naval Academy class of 1927. Although it seems doubtful that so early in the war he could have been a distinguished fighter pilot, he certainly had served at sea as a shipboard officer; officers were not sent to Pensacola in those days within two years of academy graduation, and rotation of service ensured that regular aviation officers were qualified to command if needed.
No, sir. Captain Brooks, your commentary is not only self-serving and arrogant but lacks believability. Your charge of timidity on the part of your CO is not only unwarranted almost a half century later, it is insulting to Captain Gazze and insulting to all past and present intelligent-thinking naval officers.