L11-1/A12 serial 0724
DESTROYERS, PACIFIC FLEET
From: Commander Destroyers, Pacific Fleet.
To: The Secretary of the Navy.
Via: (1) Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet.
(2) Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Fleet.
Subject: Sinking of the U.S.S. SIMS (DD-409) by Japanese Bombers in the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942.
Enclosure: (A) U.S.S. SIMS - Description of Bombing Attack and Narrative of Events Following Attack by Japanese Bombers on May 7, 1942.
Survivors of the U.S.S. Sims were informally interviewed by members of my staff in an effort to obtain as much information as possible on the tactics of the enemy, the performance of material, and other circumstances which may be of value to destroyers in future operations. The following men were interviewed:
RATE GENERAL QUARTERS STATION
Dicken, R.J. CSM Bridge
Savage, J. FC3c Director
Munch, E.F. MM2c Steering Engine Room
Reilly, T.F. WT1c No. 1 Fireroom
Canole, V.F. MM2c No. 2 Fireroom
Vessia, V.J. F2c No. 2 Fireroom
Ernst, G.E. FC3c Plotting Room
Gober, A.C. Sea2c No. 2 Gun
Information obtained from these survivors is reported in Enclosure (A).
Information obtained from the obove survivors indicates that throughout the action, and during the events following, all hands performed their duties in a manner which is in keeping with the traditions of the Service. Though many instances of heroism may never be revealed, Commander Destroyers, Pacific Fleet, believes that further questioning of these survivors will reveal that special commendation for service above and beyond the call of duty is due the following:
Lieut-Comdr. W.M. Nyman, USN -- Commanding Officer
Lieut. N. Silverstein, USN -- Engineer Officer
CSM R.J. Dicken, USN
E.F. Munch, MM2c
V.J. Vessia, F2c
It is recommended that suitable awards be made to these men.
Copy to: ComDesRon TWO
CO HAMMANN Detail (Comdr. A.K. TRUE USN)
U.S.S. Sims - Description of Bombing Attack and Narrative of Events Following Attack by Japanese Bombers on May 7, 1942.
During the forenoon of May 7, 1942, while acting as anti-submarine escort for, and patrolling station ahead of the U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23), the U.S.S. Sims was attacked and sunk by Japanese bombers in the Coral Sea. The weather was clear, with alto-cumulus clouds at about 15,000 feet altitude; the sea was smooth, with a slight swell; wind was about three knots.
The ship had steam on all boilers and one 5-inch gun, as well as all four 20 mm. anti-aircraft guns, was manned. The SC radar was manned, and was searching; no FD radar had been installed.
At about 0910 a bomb landed in the water at some distance to port, abreast of the forward guns. One man at Number Two Mount was injured by a fragment, but no material damage was incurred. Gober states, however, that the hearing of all hands at Numbers One and Two Mounts was impaired by the explosion and that normal hearing did not return for about one hour. After the bomb had landed, a lone twin motored reconnaissance plane was sighted at about 15,000 yards range, flying high and crossing above the ship. General Quarters was sounded immediately; the 20 mm. guns began firing; and the 5 inch gun which was manned began firing in director control. The first three projectiles failed to burst, while the following shots appeared to be well off in deflection. Savage says that the plane apparently changed course every time he noted a flash of the gun. This plane then flew out of gun range and continued to shadow the Sims and Neosho. An enemy contact report was sent out by the Sims after this attack.
The Sims had numerous radar contacts following this first attack and about 0930 sixteen high level bombers in two groups attacked the Sims and Neosho. They dropped bombs which missed wide, causing no damage to either ship. Sims survivors stated that the bombers were apparently disturbed by the fire from the 5-inch guns, all of which were firing in director control. No information was obtained as to whether any of the planes were shot down. A total of 328 rounds of 5-inch ammunition was expended in these first two phases of the attack.
The horizontal bombers disappeared from sight but the Sims continued to pick up planes on her SC radar. None were sighted, however, until twenty-four dive bombers appeared at about 1130. As soon as these planes appeared, The Sims went
to flank speed and turned left to take position on the port quarter of the tanker; fire was opened by the 5-inch battery in director control when the planes came within range. The attacks were directed primarily at the tanker and came in from various bearings astern in three waves. The planes approached at about 15,000 feet and dove close to the ship in shallow dives of about 30°. Bombs were released quite close aboard, because survivors state that some bombers were destroyed by the blast of their own bombs. The Sims made a direct hit on one bomber with a 5-inch shell and the plane was seen to explode in the air. The 20 mm. guns fired continuously at the dive bombers as they passed overhead and tracers were seen to pass through the planes, but the projectiles failed to burst and destroy the aircraft. One of the forward 20 mm. guns jammed early in the action and was not cleared during the remainder of the engagement.
Four planes broke off from one wave of Neosho attackers and directed their attack at the Sims, diving on her in succession from astern. All of these planes were single motored, had fixed landing gear, and had a silhouette similar to that of Japanese dive bombers. The first released a bomb which landed in the water about amidships to port; the second released a bomb which landed on Number Two Torpedo Mount and exploded in the forward engine room; the third released a bomb which apparently hit the after upper deck house and went down through diagonally forward, exploding in the after engine room; the fourth plane is believed to have made a direct hit on Number Four Gun, but this cannot be definitely established. Numbers Three and Four Mounts and the after 20 mm. guns were put out of commission by the bomb hits, but the forward mounts in local control and one 20 mm. gun continued firing at the planes until all of them were out of gun range. The total number of rounds fired by the Sims cannot be ascertained, but one survivor states that over 200 rounds were fired from Number Two Mount alone. During this last attack, the paint on the barrel of Number One Mount blistered and caught fire; the crew, however, continued to fire with the complete length of the barrel in flames. Several planes were brought down by gun fire during this attack. Neosho survivors told Sims survivors that the planes which attacked the Sims were never seen to emerge from the blast of their bomb explosions. It is believed that the bombs dropped were about 500 pound size.
Though there are only thirteen known survivors of the Sims, these men are from widely separated battle stations and it is possible to reconstruct a fairly accurate account of the damage.
As previously stated, the first bomb released at the Sims during the dive bombing attack was a near miss to port. There appears to have been no material or personnel casualties as the result of this hit. The fireroom survivors say that missiles were heard hitting the shell of the ship but none penetrated.
Because the three direct hits on the Sims came in fairly close succession, it is not possible for the survivors to recall accurately the events connected with each hit. Therefore, the damage can probably be best described by recounting the stories of each individual survivor interviewed.
The immediate effect of the first hit was a complete loss of power. The ship stopped dead in the water and all lights went out. The auxiliary diesel generator started and picked up the electrical load on those units whose power supply cables had not been damaged. When this bomb exploded, flames shot about 150 feet in the air, the forward section of the ship vibrated violently, knocking people down, a lookout stationed on top of the director shield was blown overboard, and Savage, who was stationed at the director, was knocked down by the blast. The radar antennae fell from the mast and landed in the port motor whaleboat; all signal halyards dropped from the yard but the mast stays did not part. Dicken reports that the pilot house "was a shambles"; the chart desk in the chart house was torn loose from its fastenings and the quick acting doors leading from the inside passage to the deck below were jammed shut, leaving the vertical ladder at the after end the only access to and from the bridge. The general alarm sounded with a continuous hum, which is the customary signal for gas attack. This gave several men the impression that they were being subjected to such an attack. This sounding of the alarm, however, was remedied quickly by pulling the switch on the circuit.
No real material damage was noted in the plotting room. The first bomb explosion caused several instrument glasses to break, but all equipment appeared to continue functioning until all power was lost after the second bomb hit, at which time the diesel generator stopped. Ernst then attempted to get onto the main deck by going up through the main deck hatch and out through the galley passageway but he found all quick acting doors in this area jammed shut. He went back down and forward along the first platform deck through C.P.O. quarters and finally succeeded in getting out onto the forecastle deck through the scuttles in the hatches leading to the C.P.O. mess room.
Reilly states that the first bomb caused no damage other than the breaking of gage glasses in the forward fireroom. All lights went out immediately and by the time Reilly was able to light a battle lantern to look at the steam pressure on the boilers it had already dropped to 200 pounds per square inch and was falling rapidly. On feeling a second shock, which was probably the second bomb hit, he secured the boilers, closed the master oil valve and all of the crew left the fireroom. No steam or feed lines in the fireroom carried away as a result of these two explosions.
In the after fireroom no extensive damage resulted from the first hit. The after bulkhead of the fireroom appeared to hold and no water entered the space. The fireroom gratings were knocked out of place, lights went out, and the steam pressure dropped to zero. Apparently, Canole and Vessia left the fireroom after the first bomb hit, because the latter states that on coming up onto deck he met the Chief Engineer who ordered him to go back down to insure that the boilers had been secured. (One other survivor states that immediately following the first hit he saw the Chief Engineer, Lieut. W. Silverstein, USN, who was in charge of the Repair Party stationed in the machine shop, lying on deck unconscious. He apparently recovered quickly and directed damage control work in a commendable manner, as will be brought out later in this report). Vessia went down again into the fireroom and secured the boiler. While he was doing this work, the second explosion occurred. The blast from this bomb split the deck open overhead and forced the after fireroom bulkhead forward almost to the boiler casing. The fuel oil heater, which was mounted on the bulkhead, dropped down into the bilges. There was no immediate flooding, nor was any steam or feed water released, because Vessia states that he was directly under the lines and would most certainly have been burned had this been the case. Other survivors state that the lathe in the machine shop was knocked loose and was hanging suspended down through the hole in the main deck, and that a small fire, which was easily extinguished, was burning in the machine shop. It is believed that all hands were killed at their battle stations in the engine rooms.
Only one man stationed in the after section of the ship during the attack was rescued. This man, E.F. Munch, MM2c, was stationed in the steering engine room. He states that the two other men at this station with him survived the explosions but were probably lost in the water later. When the first bomb hit the ship, Munch states that all power was lost and all communication except with the I.C. Room was severed. Power was restored when the diesel generator started and was maintained for about two minutes. In the berthing compartment immediately forward of the steering engine room all bunks dropped onto the deck and some water entered. Flooding did not appear to progress, however. After the second hit, Munch and the other men stationed in the steering engine room went up to the main deck. What became of the other two men is not known, but Dicken states that Munch remained on the fantail as the ship was sinking and secured a loose depth charge which was rolling about. Munch was later picked up out of the water by Dicken after the Sims had sunk.
An accurate description of the damage to the after end of the ship cannot be pieced together. It appears that the first bomb hit the after torpedo mount and exploded in the engine room below. The torpedo mount was blown overboard and some of the warheads, which must have been sheared off, were seen on deck. The forward torpedo mount was canted upward and the spoons were driven into the stack. The second bomb hit apparently wrecked the after upper deck house, setting it on fire, and probably exploded in the after engine room. Six of the eight life rafts aboard the ship were in the vicinity of these explosions and they were blown to bits. Number Four Gun had apparently received a direct hit, because every one in the gun crew had been killed and the gun was wrecked. A gaping hole was blown in the main deck above the engine rooms. Dicken states that the deck was ruptured from starboard to port. He further states that, from the bridge, the damage did not appear as extensive as it really was, and that the Commanding Officer had every intention of saving the ship and directed his every effort to do so until the last.
After the attack was over the Commanding Officer ordered everyone off the bridge except himself and the Chief Quartermaster. He ordered all hands to assist the repair party in charge of the Chief Engineer in jettisoning topside weights. All loose material was thrown overboard; Lieutenant Silverstein, with several machinist's mates, attempted to free the forward torpedo mount to permit firing the torpedoes. The port boat was lowered over the side and it sank immediately. The two remaining life rafts, located at about frame 76, were launched and the starboard motor whaleboat was lowered. Although this boat had been holed by a large splinter, it was kept afloat by stuffing life jackets in the hole and by continuous bailing; the motor operated satisfactorily. Gober, Cannole, Chmielewski, Scott, Reilly, and Vessia manned this boat. The Commanding Officer then ordered Dicken to take charge of the boat and to go aft in it to put out the fire in the after upper deck house and to flood the after magazines. Dicken had to swim out to the boat from the ship and he noted that there was no oil on the water at this time. On taking charge of the boat Dicken proceeded around the bow to the lee side of the ship aft. As the motor whaleboat approached, the ship seemed to break amidships and start to sink slowly. The stern went under first and appeared to draw the bow aft, pulling it down stern first. All hands began abandoning ship in life jackets, swimming for the rafts. Just as the water level reached the top of the stack and began running down into it, a terrific explosion occurred. What remained of the ship was lifted ten to fifteen feet out of the water, and the surface of the water around the ship was covered with oil. This great explosion was followed by another smaller one, which survivors definitely identified as a depth charge explosion. The remaining forward section then settled slowly, sinking in about five minutes. One man who couldn't swim was seen hanging onto the anchor until the stem disappeared into the water. Survivors estimate that the ship sank in about fifteen to twenty minutes after receiving the first direct hit. Under conditions of stress such as existed at the time, minutes would seem like hours and it is quite possible that the ship sank much more rapidly than these men estimate.
The survivors are of the opinion that the terrific explosion was a boiler explosion. This seems hardly plausible, though, because both fireroom survivors state that the steam pressure had dropped to zero. A depth charge or warhead explosion appears to be more likely. No survivor knows definitely whether or not the depth charges were set on "SAFE", but Dicken states that the usual practice on the Sims was to keep them set on "SAFE" until a submarine contact was made.
Following this explosion, Dicken, in the whaleboat, proceeded to pick up all men in the water whom he could find, and who appeared to be still alive. He succeeded in saving a total of fifteen men, including himself, and then began looking for the life rafts in order to take them in tow. His search was fruitless, so he headed toward the U.S.S. Neosho, which was dead in the water, listed about 25° and burning. He approached to within 250 yards and awaited instructions. After about thirty minutes he was called alongside and several of the Neosho wounded were put in the boat. During the night of May 7th Dicken and the survivors of the Sims, along with the several Neosho men, stayed in the boat, keeping in the vicinity of the Neosho. On May 8th they again went alongside and transferred the wounded back aboard, where mattresses had been laid out on deck. The Sims crew attempted to patch the hole in their boat and succeeded in stopping it somewhat, but continuous bailing was still necessary. They tried to repair the engine, which had stopped, but could not start it again. On the evening of May 8th the captain of the Neosho gave all hands the choice of remaining aboard through the night or taking to the boats. Dicken and his men (one had died during the night), along with ten from the Neosho, spent the night of May 8th in the boat. The sea was quite rough that night and the Sims whaleboat drifted about three miles away from the Neosho. Dicken realized that the best course was to stay near the Neosho, but without a motor he had no way of getting back. He ingeniously rigged a sail, using blankets and boat staffs, and sailed back to the tanker on May 9th. Meanwhile, the men who had stayed aboard the Neosho had succeeded in launching a 40-foot motor launch and had rigged hoisting gear by which they were able to lift the Sims whaleboat clear of the water to permit patching of the hole. The punctured buoyancy tanks were replaced with 5-gallon cans, a sail rigged, and the boat was stocked with provisions and water. However, since it appeared that the Neosho hulk would remain afloat, all hands remained aboard until they were rescued by the U.S.S. Henley (DD-391) on May 11th.
UNITED STATES PACIFIC FLEET
FLAGSHIP OF THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF
CincPac File No. A16-3/C.S. L11-1/BD/(90)
1st Endorsement on ComDesPac L11-1/A12
(0724) dated July 8, 1942.
From: Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet.
To: The Secretary of the Navy.
Via: Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet.
Subject: Sinking of the U.S.S. SIMS (DD-409) by Japanese Bombers in the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942.
The following points stand out in the narrative of the sinking of the Sims:
Although a ship may have radar, a high standard of vigilance by lookouts must be maintained; even while searching with SC radar, Sims' first knowledge of enemy planes in the vicinity was a bomb dropped alongside.
Quick acting doors were jammed shut by the bomb hits so that many or all of them could not be opened.
Large personnel losses were caused by explosions that were probably the ship's own depth charges. Commanding Officers have been repeatedly warned of this danger and must take every precaution to prevent it.
Despite the recent excellent increase in type and number of close range AA weapons, ships still have too few. With only four 20 mm. guns, Sims lost one fourth of her close range defense when one of them jammed; this may have meant the difference between her escape and destruction. Destroyers must have at least eight 20 mm. or equivalent guns.
Apparently only four dive bombers attacked the Sims, yet three of them made hits. This percentage of hits on a high speed maneuvering ship, especially on a destroyer, is extraordinary and has few if any parallels in this war. Fifty-eight of our carrier dive bombers attacking two Japanese destroyers in the rout after MIDWAY failed to make a single hit. The japanese pilots' success probably resulted from pressing the attack home to a very low altitude without regard for their own safety.
The ineffectiveness of high altitude horizontal bombing was again brought out. A total of 17 planes dropped bombs from high altitudes at Sims and Neosho without making any hits; 24 dive bombers attacked and repeatedly hit both ships.
In the cases of both the Hammann and the Sims reports have contained statements that the depth charges were set on safe. In each incident after the ship had sunk violent explosions, attributed to either the ship's torpedoes or depth charges, killed many officers and men.
Various theories have been advanced as to the cause of these explosions, but most agree that either warheads or depth charges, or both, were involved. Some of the points brought out are:
Safety forks may have been knocked out when enemy bomb or torpedo hit - though in the case of the Hammann depth charges on deck were examined by a competant petty officer after the ship was hit. In accordance with standard precautions neither ship had pistols in depth charges other than those on deck.
Boiler explosions may have in some manner detonated warheads or depth charges. In the Sims, however, pressure in one boiler dropped to zero during the attack before it was secured, and personnel at the other state that the pressure had dropped below 200 pounds and was falling rapidly when they secured the boiler and evacuated the fireroom.
Fire may have set off magazines. This factor does not seem proved in either ship. The Hammann went down so rapidly that fires could have had little chance to get started, and there is no indication in the Sims of severe fire below decks.
Pistols or exploders may have been at fault, due to poor assembly or to exposure.
In both ships internal explosions occurred after the stern had gone down. In the Sims depth of sinking is exactly indicated by the statement that a terrific explosion occurred just as the water reached the top of the stack and began running down into it.
Torpedo air-flasks in the after mount of the Sims were blown up by bomb hits, and warheads were rolling around on deck but none exploded at this time.
From the evidence of these sinkings, it is believed that only a part of the depth charges or warheads exploded. This points to the probability that only those on deck were involved, and it might narrow the field of experiment to pistols and exploders.
It is considered that this matter is of sufficient importance to warrant the Bureau of Ordnance undertaking experiments to determine the reasons for depth charge or torpedo explosions during the sinking of a ship and after she has submerged to a considerable depth. These explosions have caused greater loss of life than the enemy hits that sank the ships.
This ship was fought in the highest traditions of the service both in the engagement with the enemy and in the determined and persistent efforts to keep the ship afloat after she had been hit. Suitable awards will be recommended by separate correspondence.
Copy to: BuOrd