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September 28, 2000

 

USS Collett, DD-730  ~~ I  Remember

- I remember - graduating from the Navy's electronic technician school at Belleview (back then radar was so hush hush that even the word "radar" was secret) as a Radio Technician 2/C USNR and being assigned to the destroyer USS Collett under construction in Bath, Maine.

 

- I remember - the train arriving at the Bath Iron Works in November 1943, in a blinding snow storm, to report in; the snow was so deep that the surrounding farmers, as standard practice, built tunnels in the snow for access to their barns from the main house.

 

- I remember - the ship was named in honor of Lt. Cmdr John A. Collett, commander of Torpedo Squadron VT-10 (off the Enterprise), who went down in the Battle of Santa Cruz in defense of the Solomon Islands; and our skipper was Cmdr J. D. Collett, brother of John Collett.

 

- I remember - the launching of the Collett, 5 March 1944, and sailing to Boston's Charlestown Navy Yard to begin our shakedown exercises off Bermuda; and liberty at Bermuda, with its hordes of bicycles.

 

- I remember - our being assigned anti-submarine duty in escort of the Queen Mary (converted for troop ship duty) for the first 300 miles of her return to England; she had to throttle back so that we could keep up at our flank speed of 35 knots.

 

- I remember - the Collett's commissioning ceremonies on 16 May 1944, and our subsequent departure for San Francisco.

 

- I remember - our passage through the Panama Canal (awesome); liberty at Panama City; the red light district there (huge); the hundreds of Shore Patrol roaming the streets; and helping several blown away shipmates elude the SP’s and make it back to the ship.

 

- I remember - our outfitting in San Francisco, readying the ship for sea duty; the purchase of my first tailor made "blues"; and the weather - - whites during the day, blues and pea jackets at night.

 

- I remember - our arrival at Pearl Harbor 16 October 1944 and finding my kid brother Tom alongside shortly after we dropped anchor (he was a Bosun's Mate 1/C, in charge of a 45-foot "water taxi”, with his main duty ferrying the ships' captains to the frequent Admirals Meetings). I requested and was granted permission to leave the ship for "requisition of radio stores", and tootled off for a two hour visit and a couple of cold ones with brother Tom; repeated the tour two or three times before our departure.

 

- I remember - our passage to Ulithi in the Marshall Islands to join Task Force 38; full speed, zig zag course, darken ship, no smoking on deck, endless training exercises, condition "Easy" (all watches on alert, all watertight hatches buttoned), nothing but Tokyo Rose on the radio, sitting on the fantail at night watching the florescence in our wake, standing at the rail watching the dolphins and the flying fish race alongside in the bow wave.

 

- I remember - our crossing the International Date Line, and losing my initiate status as a pollywog.

 

- I remember - our arrival at Ulithi in the Solomon Islands 3 November 1944 (just missing the Battle of Leyte Gulf one month earlier); our assignment to Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 61 (nine destroyers of the Sumner Class, 365 man crew); and our introduction to the islet named Mog Mog - liberty site for the Ulithi fleet anchorage.

 

- I remember - steaming with Carrier Task Group 38.2 into the Formosa Straits during its air strikes against Luzon in December 1944 and getting word of an incoming typhoon; the Task Group reversed course and attempted to gain open waters before the storm hit - it didn't work: we got hit with monster winds and huge 50-60 foot waves; all of the carriers' overhanging forward flight decks were smashed in, one heavy cruiser broke in half (both halves remained afloat, and were towed back to Ulithi), two other cruisers were badly damaged, and three destroyers in the group capsized with the loss of all but a handful of their crews; our number one twin-5'' gun turret was smashed a foot down through the main deck and inoperative.

 

- I remember - getting somewhat woozy as the typhoon approached (had never had a trace of sea sickness), going below at the end of my watch to strap myself into my bunk, and waking up the next morning to learn of the horrendous damage done to the Task Group; that was the last time I ever slept in my bunk until we returned to the States - - I slept on a couple of blankets behind the transmitter cabinets in the Radio Shack, going below decks only to (hurriedly) shower and brush my teeth; not too bad a berth, considering, plus I had the fringe benefit of hearing the quad-40mm gun mount right above the Radio Shack start to train around every time we got an incoming bogey alert - - and thus a head start on the forthcoming general quarters.

 

- I remember - our shore bombardment support in the invasions of Lingayen in the Philippines (November 1944 to January 1945) and Iwo Jima (February 1945); and my heart going out to those marines, some of whom we had transported to the invasion area.

 

- I remember - how impressive the salvos from our six 5-inch guns seemed to be; but, compared to those from the battlewagons' nine 16-inch guns whistling over our heads like a thousand banshees, we could have been throwing rocks.

 

- I remember - watching the echo spike of our out-going 5" shells travel across the A-scope display of our fire control radar; and I remember the shock of seeing the echo of Japanese shells travel back across the screen; and I remember the fingernail scratches in the steel bulkheads as the rubber neckers watching the bombardment cleared the decks when the "incoming fire" word was passed. (No, we were not hit).

 

- I remember - having to climb the main mast to repair the SC search radar antenna - - in heavy weather, with the ship rolling about 35 degrees (45 degrees, and you're capsized).

- I remember - the ferocious Japanese air attacks against our carrier group, with our Combat Air Patrol (CAP) aircraft knocking out scores of the incoming raiders, then swerving off to let the Task Group's anti-aircraft guns take on those that got past the CAP; the screening destroyers got the first shots in, soon joined by the awesome fire power of the carriers and the capital ships; the sky was almost blotted out by the shell bursts and the 20mm & 40mm tracers; unfortunately, a few of the raiders would get through for a bomb or torpedo hit or  to crash dive their aircraft into one of the big ships,  ignoring the tin cans for bigger game.

 

- I remember - our ship occasionally getting peppered by 20mm shells from over zealous gun crews on the carriers as they tracked the low flying torpedo bombers attacking the group.

 

- I remember - we were designated as Task Force 38, 3rd Fleet, when the fleet was under the command of Admiral William "Bull" Halsey, and as Task Force 58, 5th Fleet, when under the command of Admiral Raymond Spruance; when under Halsey, it was hell bent for election; under Spruance, things were a bit more contained.

 

- I remember - our participation in the air strikes against Okino Daita Shima, Kyushu and Honshu during February and March of 1945 under the command of Admiral Halsey; Halsey's tactic was to move the Carrier Task Force close in to the Japanese shores, launch and recover his air strikes, then withdraw and steam flank speed overnight to repeat the maneuver hundreds of miles away up or down the coast. During one of those overnight runs, we ran into pretty heavy weather; our Squadron Commander signaled the Flag that the "small boys" were taking a real beating at that speed - - answer came back maintain formation; and, I remember hearing the rivets pop and watching the cracks open and close in the main deck.

 

- I remember - our skipper, the junior command in the squadron and his ship named after his brother, volunteering for every crappy assignment that came up; we drew "flight picket" duty (behind the carriers at launch time to drop back and pick up any flight crew who didn't make their takeoff, while the Task Group steamed on at flank speed out of sight); we drew "sub picket" duty (several miles off the carrier group, all alone and pinging merrily away so that any sub in the vicinity could track us); and, best of all, we drew "strike picket" duty (stationed all alone and almost dead in the water some 50-odd miles away from the carrier group at the turning point on the dog-leg course that the returning aircraft had to take, with a radio beacon chirping away for them (and every body else) to home in on, then vector them in to the carrier group position - or pick up the crew  from any aircraft that couldn't make it back to their carrier and had to hit the water, which happened frequently); the reward for returning a downed flight crew member to his carrier was a gallon of gee-dunk (ice cream) for the rescuing destroyer.

 

- I remember - on one of the sub pickets, our being the target of two Japanese "Betty’s on a low flying bombing run; one was splashed about 500 yards short of the ship; the other flew about 50 feet over the bridge, a dead pilot at the controls, and splashed - - close.

 

- I remember - on another sub picket, our interrogating a low flying unidentified (no IFF signal) in-coming aircraft; after repeated attempts with no response, and with the aircraft about 1,000 yards away, it was shot down; it turned out to be a USAF PBY amphibian; the crew were recovered from the wreckage unharmed - - but very unhappy.

 

- I remember - thanking my lucky stars for the chiefs and 1st class petty officers and their yards of hash marks that we had in the crew - - they were the glue that held the ship together, and had the moxie to make it work.

 

- I remember - in the middle of some engagement, somewhere, our fire control radar going out, and the Captain almost instantly shouting down from the bridge, "What's wrong with the MK-IV?", and then one minute later, "How long is it going to take to fix it?"; if I knew all that, I'd have the damn thing fixed already - - we were back on the air within five minutes.

 

- I remember - having an attack of acute appendicitis, with all the symptoms and a raging white blood cell count indicating an eminent burst appendix; we were in heavy weather, the ship's doctor was an Ensign fresh out of med school who had never even witnessed an appendectomy, the Pharmacist Mate was no better off, and the ship's OR was a table in the mess hall; the Doc opted to wait it out, hoping that the white cell count would subside; two days later it did, and the big event was canceled - - don't know which of us was relieved the most.

 

- I remember - payday twice a month (two dollar bills!) at sea or anchored, at which time virtually every off-watch sailor got into a crap or poker game; within 24 hours 90 percent of the loose payroll cash was in the pockets of the same two or three heavy hitters; I remember one such crap game in the Chief's quarters, way up in the bow of the ship - - we were in heavy weather and pitching so badly that the dice would fly off the deck and hang in mid air.

 

- I remember - cigarettes from the Ship's Stores were 10 cents/pack; and after a few months at sea every brand tasted like mildew.

 

- I remember - being at sea 3-4 months at a time,  re-provisioned with food, supplies, spare parts, ammo and fuel every few weeks by a small fleet of transports and tankers; all of the fresh food would be gone long before then; in-between times we would re-fuel from the carriers; in heavy seas the destroyers would bob up and down like fishing corks, with the carrier seemingly as steady (and tall) as the Empire State building; during one such refueling, three of the deck hands handling the hoses were washed overboard and were never recovered - - our only casualties.

 

- I remember - the ship's cook and his mess crew and their Herculean efforts to keep us well fed; and they succeeded in large part - - until the fresh ingredients ran out (the taste of Spam and dehydrated eggs and potatoes lingers on to this day); and then there was the problem of keeping your mess tray on the table in heavy weather; no problem though when the going was really bad - - we got cold sandwiches.

 

- I remember - one time when the full Task Force was steaming together in formation, looking out from our position in the destroyer perimeter screen across the massive expanse of carriers, battleships, cruisers and destroyers, reaching virtually to the far horizon - unbelievable!

 

- I remember - being at sea one Christmas; the Chiefs celebrated with torpedo juice (made from torpedo alcohol), then, having run out of the makings, raided the ship pharmacy for a bit of grain alcohol; still not satisfied, they broke into the aft emergency con magnetic compass and drained its alcohol; the skipper was livid but couldn't pin down the culprits, so he gave away all of the beer on board (which was there to be rationed out two bottles per crew member for Mog Mog liberty when back at Ulithi) to the other destroyers in the squadron.

 

- I remember - coming back to Ulithi the first time and finding my brother Tom in his 45-foot "water taxi" alongside soon after we anchored; back to the "permission to leave the ship for radio stores" again - - tapping my own supply of cold beer, thank you very much; I got to repeat the radio stores bit every time we came back in.

 

- I remember - watching the movies on the fantail in Ulithi, and having to scatter for general quarters when Japanese planes overflew the anchorage.

 

- I remember - supporting our Carrier Group (this time Task Force 58) during the Okinawa invasion in April-May 1945; I don't remember how we managed to escape being hit by one of the swarms of Kamikazes that the Japanese flung at the invading fleet; three destroyers were hit and sunk; many others were hit and badly damaged, but survived for another day.

 

- I remember - in conjunction with four other destroyers, detaching from the carrier group and sinking the Japanese submarine I-56 on 18 April 1945; we had made depth charge runs on several other submarine tracks with a couple of possibles, but this was the only confirmed kill.

 

- I remember - our squadron being selected to make a high speed torpedo run, an "anti-shipping sweep", into Tokyo Bay; we left the Task Group several hundred miles off the Japanese coast early morning of 21 July 1945; there was to be no air cover; a typhoon was moving northeast towards the Tokyo area, and on the 22nd the seas were running 12-15 feet; midmorning the Moore left the formation to stabilize the ship by heading into the seas to make it easier for the ship's doctor to perform an emergency appendectomy; the surgery was successful and she rejoined the formation; about midnight of the 22nd, the squadron was in column order making about 27 knots in heavy weather and had just entered the Bay when a four-ship Japanese  convoy  crossing the Bay with two escort ships was detected on radar; the column lined up for a  torpedo run on the convoy; all nine ships were ordered to launch a salvo of two torpedoes at a range of about 11,000 yards, followed by open fire with all main batteries; my battle station was in the CIC and my recollection is that all 18 torpedoes ended up on the beach; however, two cargo ships in the convoy were severely damaged  and one was sunk by shell fire; the original plan of attack was to sweep through the harbor on a counter clockwise course, circling the small island in the center of the outer harbor, and return to open sea, engaging any targets of opportunity and gathering intelligence enroute; however, since the presence of the squadron was now disclosed and in view of  the worsening weather, the decision was made by the squadron commander to turn the column and run like hell; later, it was determined that there were operational Japanese submarines and suicide PT boats in the area, and that the Bay was heavily mined and ringed with coast defense batteries of up to 16" guns.

 

- I remember - during the rest of July and August 1945 tearing up and down the Japanese coast with the Carrier Group for more air strikes under Halsey as a softening up element of the enormous preparations for the invasion of Japan.

 

- I remember - our squadron were scheduled for close offshore fire support of the landing forces when the invasion began.

 

- I remember - receiving the news of the A-bomb drops and of the resulting decision by the Japanese on 15 August to surrender; we may have given some thought to the destruction wrought by the A-bombs, but our overwhelming reaction was thank God, no costly and bloody invasion!

 

- I remember - our steaming into Tokyo Bay (the second time) on 14 September 1945 to "attend the ceremonies", and four days later departing for a west coast overhaul.

- I remember - the cruise back to the states in escort of the damaged battleship Texas, who was able to make 12 knots, tops; no more darken ship, no more skinned shins, no more "smoking lamp is out" on deck at night, no more battened down hatches, no more battle stations, no more Tokyo Rose; and, hearing for the first time in years the finest music in the world: "PepsiCola Hits the Spot"!

 

- I remember - the ship (and its crew) receiving six battle stars; and having eight (?) Japanese aircraft, one Japanese submarine and one American PBY painted on the bridge.

 

- I remember - requesting "Permission to Leave the Ship" for the last time in San Francisco, as a battle weary Radio Technician 1/C, USNR.

 

- I remember - how proud I was of having been part of the "Dungaree Navy" and of being a plank owner of one of the finest fighting ships ever.

 

- I remember - getting on the train for Norman, Oklahoma to be discharged; and, discovering upon my arrival there that I had to be discharged in San Francisco!

 

 

Walker Dix

Scottsdale, Arizona

 

P.S. - I  "remembered" many of the above dates with a lot of help from the Navy archives

 

ADDENDUM

 

Sumner Class Stats:                                                       Destroyer Squadron 61:

70 ships launched; 4 lost in action                                    DD-727  USS De Haven

Displacement :   2,610 tons (3,210 tons full load)             DD-728 USS Mansfield

Length:             376 feet, 10 inches                                   DD-729 USSLyman K. Swenson

Beam:               40 feet, 10 inches                                    DD-730  USS Collett

Draught:           14 feet, 2 inches                                       DD-731  USS Maddox

Armor:              1/4 inch hardened steel plate                   DD-744  USS Blue

Performance:    60,000 shp for 36.5 knots                       DD-745 USS Brush

Range:              3,300 naut. miles @ 20 knots                 DD-746  USS Taussig

Guns:                six 5 inch; twelve 40mm; eleven 20mm DD-747 USS Samuel N. Moore

Torpedos:          ten 21 inch

Crew:               365, full war time complement

 

 

Makeup of Task Force 38, July 1945    TG 38.1           TG 38.31          TG 38.4 Total

Heavy Carriers (CV)                                        3                      4                      3          10

Light  Carriers (CVL)                                       3                      2                      3             8

Battleships (BB)                                              3                      2                      3             8

Heavy Cruisers (CL)                                       6                      7                      6           19

Destroyers (DD)                                           19                     17                     22         58     

Total Ships                                                    34                     32                     37       103  

                                                                                          1 Merge of 38.2 & 38.3

 

Commendation:

 

From: Commander Third Fleet

To: Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet

Subject: Anti-Shipping Sweep in Sagami Nada, Honshu, Night of July 22nd - 23rd, 1945

 

Commander Third Fleet notes with great satisfaction the success of this well planned and executed attack.  Commander Destroyer Squadron 61 is to be congratulated on the solid judgment, initiative and aggressive spirit displayed in "beating the weather" to drive this attack home at the very door of the Empire.

 

Signed,

W.F. Halsey