- OTHER SERVICES VOICES:
- AIR FORCE
- COAST GUARD
|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Navy Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member: |
BM1 Thomas Groot US Navy (1939-1945)
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR CAREER PATH IN THE SERVICE?
I signed up in the Navy in Toledo, Ohio on September 13th, 1939. I attended two months naval training in Newport, Rhode Island.
The first ship that I served on was the USS McCalla (DD-253) a destroyer, she was in redlead (a preservative paint) row in the back channels of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After re-commissioning and her shakedown, we commenced neutrality patrol in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea and surrounding area in the Atlantic Ocean. In October 1940, I was one of a skeleton crew that sailed her to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she was decommissioned from the US Navy and turned over to the British Royal Navy where she became HMS Stanley (I73).
I went on to serve on the USS Reuben James (DD-245). While on board her, I attended three months of torpedo school in Norfolk, Virginia, Naval Operations Base.
I served on the USS Calypso(AG-35), a presidential escort yacht at Washington, D.C. escorting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s yacht, the USS Potomac(AG-25) on various Atlantic Ocean trips, one off Newfoundland that president Roosevelt met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the British Cruiser Prince of Wales for the Atlantic conference and charter meeting.
After that, I served on the USS Corry (DD-463); screening convoy shipping in the North Atlantic Ocean to England and Murmansk, Russia. We were assigned to the British Home Fleet operating in the North Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. I was involved in sinking a German submarine U-801 by shellfire, raiding a German radar station in Bodo, Norway, the North African Invasion, and the Normandy Invasion. I am a survivor of the USS Corry being sunk on D-Day at Utah Beach on June 6th, 1944. Given the choice of duty, I applied for a deep-sea Diving School and it was granted. A new class was forming in the US Navy Yard, Washington DC. My future wife lived in Washington D.C. After completion of diving school I was ordered to Piney Point MD to the '5 boat ' a sea going Tug that was rigged for diving and stationed there recovering “spent” or “failed to complete their run” torpedoes after being fired on the Test Firing Range.
I also attended salvage diving school in New York City, was awarded deep sea diver 1st class; appointed ad-interim captain on a tug rigged for deep sea diving operating out of Alexandra, Virginia.
I finished my regular Navy career as a Petty Officer First Class Boatswains Mate and First Class Deep-sea Diver and was Honorably discharged from the US Navy at Bainbridge, Maryland on September 19th, 1945.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS?
I served onboard the USS Corry from January 18th, 1941 until her life ended on June 6th, 1944 at Utah Beach in the Normandy Invasion. The Corry was awarded 4 Battle stars. The battle stars were for the North African Invasion, a raid on a German radar base in Bodo occupied Norway, and sinking a German submarine U-801 and the Normandy Invasion.
Sinking a German submarine U-801
On March 15th, 1943, the USS Corry was hunting a German submarine southeast of Azores that was first sighted in the area by a plane from the USS Block Island (CVE-21), Task Force TO 21.16, a baby carrier that we were attached to. A plane from the carrier had spotted a submarine on the surface and strafed it as it submerged, then dropping a smoke marker to spot the sub's location. After reporting the sighting to his carrier operation base, the USS Block Island, the Destroyer Corry and a Destroyer Escort Bronstein, operating in the area with the task force, was dispatched to the marked sub's location.
When we arrived at the scene, the USS Bronstein was there and had already dropped her smaller depth charges. Then the Corry took over. She located the sub, dropped charges on her, waited, relocated the submarine and dropped more charges. After the second run of charges, an oil slick and some trash surfaced. However, Captain Hoffman thought it was a trick of the submarine to make us think we had sunk them but he wasn't fooled by their stunt; they were known for tricks of that type.
The Captain, not convinced, kept searching for the sub. She succeeded in eluding us for the rest of the day. Using his skill in maneuvering with an ever-widening search, we picked up a sonar contact on the submarine early in the morning the next day. General Quarters was sounded and the crew went to battle stations. This time the Captain tried a different approach of dropping the cans on the sub, steering in the direction of the sonar bearings to the sub, taking ranges and plotting her course and speed. The Captain maneuvered the Corry directly over it matching her speed. The Fathometer (depth finder) registered the depth of the sub. The charges for a full pattern were set to that depth. The Captain brought the ship to a full stop over her, ordered 'fire depth charges' and at the same time ordered ‘flank speed ahead’ to get away from the shock-wave and surface eruption from the exploding charges before they went off. Our ship still took quite a shock from the explosions, but no damage was reported. From past experience when the charges are about to go off you raise your heels up off the deck or you could have some broken heel bones, it's like a sledgehammer hitting your feet from underneath. The Captain turned back to search the area. The sonar was a little erratic at the site where the charges exploded but no definite contact was made for some time after that.
I imagined that the submarine skipper was desperate by now; he fired two torpedoes at the Corry. The Ocean was dead calm and with the ship’s engines stopped we weren’t t making any headway at that time. With my head phones on, I had left my gun mount and was standing at the safety rail to starboard on the after deck house to search the water for anything floating. It was several minutes after we had dropped the last depth charge pattern on her. I was looking straight out on the beam to starboard and saw these two porpoise! At least that is what my first thoughts were when I saw them. It seems the two of them broached the surface about fifty yards out on the starboard beam. Seeing wakes following them I instantly knew then that they were torpedoes coming straight at the ship, directly where I was standing on the after deckhouse. As I watched the torpedo wakes on the surface coming at me getting closer by the second, I was thinking RUN but knew it wouldn't do any good so I leaned over the rail to follow them and watch them go off when they hit the ship's side exactly under me. An instant thought crashed through my mind that I would always remember what that explosion would look like. I was expecting a flash and explosion, but nothing! What a rush hit me, I was still alive. As if from a distance, I could hear myself hollering. They had run directly under the ship where I was standing without exploding. I then turned to the port side of the ship to see them going away from the ship on the other side. Unbelievable! Talk about sitting ducks and luck. If the torpedoes had hit the ship at that point, it would have blown up the magazines of guns three and four taking the whole after section of the ship with it and no doubt about it, we would have been sunk.
Then I heard a signalman, Dom Banuelos, standing out on the wing of the bridge waving his arms and hollering down to me, "Did you see the torpedoes go under the ship?" I turned to him and hollered back, “Yeah and there they go” and pointed with my arm to where the torpedoes were going out to sea. He was probably trying to warn me before that, but I had frozen watching them coming at me and didn't hear anything else but the swish of the wakes. I could see the air froth coming off the torpedo propellers turning into wakes on the surface. Did I actually see the torpedoes? No, but I saw two dark shadows moving fast, side by side a six or eight foot spread between them producing twin wakes. I knew they were torpedoes.
Later, after the submarine was sunk, several shipmates and I talked about why or how the torpedoes did not find their target. I talked to Matt Jayich of gun number Two Mount, which is higher up and forward on the ship bow. He told me he saw the torpedoes pass under the ship at about where the Quarterdeck is located (amidships). The number four Gun Captain, BC Mills, saw them go under the ship at his gun mount. It seems to me that the torpedoes must have gone under the ship a little forward of his gun mount or he was standing on the main deck directly below me and we both saw the torpedoes pass under the ship below us. The Corry's draft is 15 foot 8 inches, which would mean that the torpedoes likely cleared our bottom within inches, directly under gun mounts number three and four magazines. It's a good thing the Corry was dead in the water at that time, pardon the pun; if she had been under way she would have been down by the stern. Then there would have been - "POOF" a lot of smoke and a big glory hole in the Ocean. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be my fate.
After the torpedoes went under the ship, the Corry kicked up speed and went after the sub, establishing a good sonar bearing and laying a depth charge pattern of several 600 pounders over the suspected sub's position as the Corry charged over the contact. Then nothing on sonar, and a long wait. (Sonar 60/65 years ago wasn't what it is today the debris from the depth charge had to clear off before contact in the area could be made.) The Captain secured from G. Q. and the condition watch was set. That put me on my watch at the helm on the bridge. The Captain wasn't finished looking for the sub; he was giving different courses for me to steer. We continued the block search and back over the location that the last depth charges were laid down. The Captain sat on the front edge of his chair and took up the course that the ship was on at the last time the charges were dropped over the sub. After a few long moments and holding it steady on that course, making about ten knots, a lookout on the starboard wing of the bridge called out 'there is a whale off the starboard quarter." I heard another man yell in a more excited manner, "that's not a whale it's a submarine" and at the same time I heard sonar getting strong return pings. As I remember, sonar was hollering, "contact, bearing 170 degrees at 350 yards" things move into action now. The captain swings out of his chair calling for "General Quarters" and "man your battle stations," G.Q is sounded throughout the ship and at the same time the helm is given orders, "right full rudder". All of this takes place in seconds. The Captain is making a dash for the starboard wing, I answered back "Aye, aye sir, right full rudder" turning the wheel at the same time, hard to starboard, Everett Howard the quartermaster, takes over the helm, that's his G. Q. station. I didn't have to relay my last orders to him; he was standing right in back of me and said, "I got it". I made a dash to my G Q station, Gun-mount three, down the ladders from the bridge, two decks down and aft along the main deck. I could see the sub's bow cutting through the water a little abaft the starboard beam now cutting the water as it is surfacing. It's on the same course the Corry was on. As I hit the main deck running, I am going to guess she was making 20 knots, for a damaged submarine that’s pretty darn good. With the Corry’s 10 - knot speed the submarine is almost abreast of us, and just into the turn to starboard I gave it when I left the Helm and gaining speed. I'm at my gun three now on the after deckhouse. My gun crew is already there and I'm putting on my headset as the word comes over them "action starboard" and "fire when ready" is given. I give the orders to my gun crew, "Load-match up and shift to automatic". In seconds I hear my pointer and trainer say “on automatic” and on top of their voice I’m calling “commence firing.” My gun crew managed to get off three 5 inch rounds at the submarine before the gun trained to the stops, due to the ships swing to starboard that stopped the gun from firing. All of this happened from the time I left the bridge after giving the wheel that full right rudder. Before the ship, in its swing toward the sub, my gun had trained in a position against the stops as the submarine passed in front of our bow. That stopped my gun from further firing. Now that's how fast our Corry gun crews act going into action. When our gun was firing, I saw a large hole appear in the bow of the sub. You could see daylight through it. The conning tower was also being hit as the Germans come spewing up out of her and jumping overboard. That was BC Mill's gun, Captain of gun four that hit the conning tower. They never had a chance to man their guns. That's something the Corry wasn't going to let happen. We couldn't have taken the chance for allowing them to get to their deck guns. Guns one and two had been firing rapidly but had to check firing when the Corry came too close for the 5-inch guns to train and fire on the sub. Still, the small arms fire from our ship’s crew raked her. The Corry, still swinging around, must have virtually passed over the sub's stern. The right turn we were making took us away from the sub. Continuing the turn opened the distance to the submarine to where all of our guns could train on it again. We then commenced firing from starboard, hitting it continually. If it wasn't damaged enough by our depth charges to sink it, the shellfire did the job. To make sure it was going down Captain Hoffman was going to ram it and announced over the intercom “Stand by for a ram”. He had a collision course set for the ram but the submarine slipped back under the surface; her bow rose straight up out of the water and settled stern-first with fountains of water and air bellowing up from her bow. She was sinking. The Corry charged right over the top of her as she went down. I heard sometime later there were some quiet comments made about the ramming thing by a couple of the Officers on the Bridge.
There were a string of men floating in her wake where she was surfacing.So that sub, the U- 801, was apparently damaged enough by our depth charges to sink her. Or they had had enough and she was making a run to the surface. Her men were abandoning the submarine as she rose, using escape hatches before she broke the surface. We picked up 47 men, now German POW's. Her Captain and several others were killed when the conning tower was hit by shellfire from the Corry.
By questioning the POW's, it was determined the submarine’s Captain thought that the Corry was a US Cruiser and set the depth on the torpedoes accordingly. There were four DE's with us giving him reason to think that the Corry was a Light Cruiser. Immediately after missing his target he knew he had misjudged setting the depth of the torpedoes, realizing too late that it was a US Destroyer; and that by firing the torpedoes exposed his position. The submarine’s Captain was killed when he came up on the bridge and stopped to help his crew out of the conning tower hatch. Two other officers were killed with him.
The POWs were aboard for several hours before they were turned over to the USS Block Island. They were treated well while on board the Corry, given clothing and ate in our mess compartment. They were very young men most, in their teens; blond headed with long hair and they all wanted combs. There were older crew-members and Officers that were kept under separate guard away from the younger group. Captain Hoffman believed they might try to cause trouble on board our ship if kept together.The young ones thought their submarine was in the Pacific Ocean and were surprised to find out they were in the Atlantic. Later the Corry pulled up to the Block Island to take on fuel and more depth charges. We transferred the prisoners over to the Block Island by makeshift breaches or buoys made out of US Mailbags. We saw several of the younger German prisoners later on, aboard the carrier when we were along side of her. They all had their heads cut in a GI hair cut and were dressed in POW uniforms. They seemed happy though the war was over for them, especially after the horror they had experienced for two days of being depth charged by us, thinking their Submarine would be their tomb. Before transferring them to the carrier, Captain Hoffman held a burial service at sea on board the Corry for their Captain and the others killed that we had picked up from the sea. Their bodies were weighted and sewn up in canvas, with prayer slid off into the sea under the German flag. The prisoners were all present for this service.
(ED note – read the USS Corry's Action Report here & the sinking of U-801 from one of the German surviving sailors http://www.uss-corry-dd463.com/d-day_u-boat_photos/U-801_E_Wagner.htm)
The Plane Crash
On the Twenty-first of February 1944, The USS Corry was attached to a Hunter Killer task force TO.21.16. In company with four DE's: USS Bronstein, Thomas, Breeman and Bostwick, an anti-submarine Task Force operating in the Atlantic Ocean, around the Canary Islands, the Azores and North Africa covering the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea where a German Submarine main supply base was operating. The Carrier USS Block Island was the command ship. The carrier planes patrolled a wide area around the task force 24 hours a day, searching the waters for enemy submarines.
One particular day, I’m on my watch at the helm of the Corry when I hear this plane start to make a screaming sound like it was in a dive. That is a weird, high pitched whining, screaming noise, it's not a forgettable sound, if you have ever heard it. The sound becomes louder and the pilot of the plane comes over the radio speaker with a frantic voice; “I can't pull up. My controls are out!". He’s screaming it now. Captain Hoffman is trying to talk to him on the radio, telling the pilot to "eject, eject" after that all that the pilot said was "my controls don't work I can’t make any of ‘em work". After futile attempts to contact him again his radio remained silent. The entire bridge personnel are out on the starboard wing watching the plane. The sound is getting much louder now, I hear them out on the wing saying, “He’s going to crash”. I’m alone in the wheelhouse now and I don’t know if he is going to crash into the ship or the ocean. However, I see someone point out away from the ship to starboard. That relieved my tension somewhat. The plane is making an ear splitting scream now in its dive. I stretch a look, keeping my hand on the wheel; out the hatch toward the direction they were pointing to see what was happening. I did see the flash of the plane as it hit the water, with a loud splat, and then eerie silence for a few seconds.
There was nothing left to see but a large foamy spot in the ocean where it hit the water. I understand one of the wings had been torn off of the plane by the speed it was making going straight down before it hit the water, about fifty yards out to starboard from our ship. I felt sorry for that pilot, I guess he couldn't even eject from the plane at that speed. One can only imagine the pilot's predicament and fear he was feeling, knowing he was going to slam into the water at that terrific rate of speed and die?
The Captain gave me a "hard right rudder" to make a quick turn back to the place of the crash and made a search for the pilot at the wreckage site. The ship was right there before the bubbles stopped coming up from where it hit the water. Usually a plane will stay afloat for several minutes after it hits the water, but not at that speed, there was only a single glove of the pilot found at the site.
Being on the helm, I didn't actually see the whole scene that took place at the crash area. My close friend Matt Jayich, who had helped in the search for the pilot told me what did actually take place at the crash site. He was on deck, starboard side when the plane hit the water and saw it all. He tells me right after the plane hit the water, the depth charges that were on the plane exploded, sending black water spewing into the air, a instant later one of the planes tires shot into the air 'as if it was shot from a cannon. The tire went about a hundred feet in the air. The Damage Control party had put over the side a metal cargo net or boarding net as they were sometimes called with chains running through them. This was dragged through the wreckage site, when the nets were pulled up there were small unidentifiable, buoyant plane parts and small bits of body parts stuck to the chains. The pilots glove, they found hooked in the net. It showed evidence that it had been blown off his hand because all the stitching had been ripped open, including the fingers and it was very limp. The depth charge, set to explode at a predetermined depth, would have been directly under the pilots seat.
That was the only identifiable item found, the one glove. What a tragedy.Some memories never vanish. They are a necessity to cherish
The Corry is searching in an assigned grid several hundred miles north of the Azores, which was assigned to the Corry by the Task Force we were operating with. A radar contact was picked up, and we went after it at full speed, believing it was a submarine on the surface. It was some thirty miles off, and early in the morning. It was just before sunrise when the Corry arrived at the location, slowing speed, where the radar indicated the contact was. At first there was nothing there to see, little swirls of mist rising up from the calm, cool ocean waters in the gray mist of the warming morning air, the horizon is not even distinguishable.Then a call from a lookout came over the headset to the bridge, "Object in the water -straight ahead." The Captain had posted lookouts forward on the forecastle (bow) and was approaching cautiously to the contact area, thinking there may be a submarine surfaced there. There are two of the ships four 5-inch guns fully manned at all times, one forward and one aft, and at G.Q. the others would be set in less than a minute. What the lookouts saw was unexpected, there were several large balloons tethered to floats, the balloons had strips of metal foil suspended from them. The metal strips was the reason for the radar contact. Right away the Captain thinking this was a setup to lure the “enemy“ into a trap, made a quick evasive move away from the balloons and alerting sonar to step up the search in a full sweep around the ship for a submarine laying in wait. After a thorough wide search of the area and no sonar contacts were made, the Captain went back to the decoys and had a little shooting match, staying at a cautious distance, to shoot the balloons down and sink the floats with the 20-mm guns and 30.06-BAR rifle fire.
There could have been a German submarine there, seen us coming and made an emergence dive, leaving his decoys and still have time to get away, also figuring we would stop at his decoys that would give him more time to get further away. On the other hand, he could lie off from the decoys and fire torpedoes at any unsuspecting arrival. Anyway there was no contact of a submarine around the area. In addition, the ships sonar would have picked up on a submarine at the decoys on its first approach to the decoys. " It is better to Fool than to be fooled."
"Probable Sinking" of a German Sub
We did surprise a German submarine on the surface early one morning just before dawn. Our radar picked up a surface contact some distance off and the "OOD" called "Captain to the Bridge" the Captain, after receiving the information, immediately altered the ships course toward the contact and asked for course and speed of the target from the Plotting Room. They came back in a few moments with "she is dead in the water sir, bearing 000º," the ships course was right on it, he ordered full speed ahead. The ship is closing in on it when the contact went off the radar screen before we got to it. That meant one thing, it was a submarine and it had submerged. A few minutes later sonar contact was made near the location where the radar contact was lost. Pursuing the sonar contact a depth charge pattern was laid down over the submarines presumed position, an oil slick and some clothing along with other debris surfaced at that same place the ash cans (depth charges) were dropped. With no further contact on the submarine, the crew all thought that we had sunk it. The Captain determined there wasn't enough proof there for him to call it a “Kill". Even though there was no further sonar contact in that area.
Several days later, a carrier plane dropped bombs on a submarine and reported sinking it. This submarine in another area far from where we had the oil and debris surface was thought by some to be the same submarine. The Corry was detailed to rescue the survivors from the water of the sunken submarine that the plane had bombed. Corry proceeded to the location arriving the next morning where the plane had dropped smoke markers to locate the survivors. The Corry retrieved seven survivors from the sunken submarine and also two of our men from a Block Island plane that had crashed near the site of the submarine sinking.
This is risky, to Lay To in the ocean in Enemy waters. An all around lookout was posted, sonar and radar put on extra alert, gunners with rifles, are stationed around the ship's upper decks for a shark lookout. The Repair Party lowered the motor whaleboat and began picking up survivors; they picked up three Officers including their Captain and seven crewmen from the ocean. One seaman found dead was picked up later, and he was given a sea burial with all the proper ceremonials due a Sailor of the Sea, prepared in a weighted canvas, slid off a ramp, with Prayer, under the German Flag. The German POW’s that were aboard witnessed the burial.
The ship is under way looking for more survivors around the area when two torpedoes were found floating in the water where the submarine was sunk, there were no warheads on either one of them and there was some clothing floating near the torpedoes. That indicated the submarine was caught on the surface, working topside on those torpedoes at the time the plane bombed them. Being caught on the surface would leave the torpedo airflasks floating when the submarine went down, the warheads would have been detached and lashed to the submarines deck. Our Captain wanted one of the torpedoes to bring back to the States. So the whaleboat was put in the water again to retrieve one. It was brought onboard with the use of the boat davits and secured onboard. The other torpedo airflask was shot at by our gunnery officer several times in an attempt to sink it, with no success. I was standing right in back of him, he was nervous with all us watching him. The torpedo airflask, floating vertical in the water, was bobbing up and down in the water and out of sight at times riding in the swells. The Captain had the BAR rifle handed to the first class Gunners Mate to sink it. He hit it the first shot but put a couple more into it for good measure to make sure it would sink. When the first shot hit it, it started to spin like crazy from the air escaping from the bullet hole in it. I knew about torpedoes,as I had been to three months of torpedo schooling at the Norfolk Naval Operating Base in Virginia. So I knew what was being shot at, some of the men weren’t quite at ease with it though. I think that is why the Gunnery Officer couldn’t hit it. It was just a high-pressure air cylinder and an air driven motor. What would be of extreme interest to the USA would be the torpedoes guidance system.
With the nine German POW's and the torpedo secured onboard from the sunken submarine the Corry is ordered home to Boston, Massachusetts. One of the prisoners onboard is the submarine's Captain. This Captain was given a lot of privileges on board the Corry that caused some concern with the ship's crew, and I am sure the Officers had inquires with the Captain also about it. After a couple days sailing toward home, he practically had the run of the ship until we arrived in Boston. Several times during the cruise home, when I was on the helm our Skipper let him take the Con on the bridge and give orders to different people, our Skipper stayed right with him constantly. I'll give the submarine’s Captain credit though, in those two days he picked up the routine of running the bridge. One thing was the zigzag course the ship was using, he had picked it up by himself. The Skipper asked him if he would like to take the Con. He was a little skeptical about it but said yes. Our Captain announced on the Bridge "Captain Leupold Guntor has the con." He took over the con and did a good job, picking up the ship’s course and position from our charts and giving orders. He gave me several course changes corresponding to our zigzag course to Boston. He also spoke good English. As it turned out, our Skipper was getting sensitive information from him about the German submarine operations and information on their naval operations. Our Captain received a letter of Commendation from the Secretary of The Navy for the information he received from questioning the German Captain. By the way, that submarine Captain was the youngest U-Boat Captain in the German Naval Submarine service, 24 years old. The torpedo flask and after body we took on board along with the nine POW's, were eventual turned over to the authorities at the Boston Navy Yard
D-Day, The Normandy Invasion at Utah Beach, France
On Tuesday June 6th, 1944 at 0633 was the sinking of our great ship USS Corry in the Normandy Invasion Utah Beach of France.
The Normandy Invasion actually started on June 5th, 1944, but the worst storm in fifty years hit the English Channel early that morning. General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Europe, ordered a twenty-four hour delay in the invasion of Normandy and the whole Fleet of the invasion force was recalled back to England. The Corry was designated to proceed on toward France to turn back those ships that did not get the word of the postponement.
Very early the next morning, more like midnight, the Corry was under way again and we knew this would be “IT”. There was a lot a maneuvering and waiting crossing the channel and then very carefully entering the narrow mine swept channels guiding the Invasion Forces leading to Utah beach. The ship is at G.Q. In the darkness you could hear the planes by the hundreds flying over us. Shortly, the whole shoreline jumped into view from the exploding bombs dropped by the planes that continue, over us. The flashing from so many bombs was like chain lightning at night in the clouds of a great thunderstorm, lighting up the shoreline for miles with brilliant red-orange and white flashing, silhouetting the clouds of smoke with the flashing bombs, making an unforgettable and horrible sight. The thundering sound from it was shaking your clothing and you could even feel the sound waves on your face over the wind. This is my view from atop the gun mount as the ship was approaching its designated firing position off Utah Beach as Gun Captain of the number 3, 5-inch gun mount on the after deckhouse of the USS Corry.
The Gun Captain’s General Quarters station is a small stand in the rear of the gun mount with a hatch opening above it that allows the Gun Captain to stand waist high over the top of the mount. From this position, the Gun Captain has control of firing the gun locally, or by automatic settings from the main Director that directs the fire control of the 5"-38 Guns.
The Corry was closing in on the beach. An island suddenly loomed in sight off to starboard (St. Marcouf Island). It is after 0530 and getting light enough to see the shoreline when the word was passed over my headphones to “Load, shift to automatic and stand by”. The crew reacted quickly, the word soon followed to “Commence firing”. Then it was on like all hell was breaking loose.
My 5-inch gun crew is experienced and very good at what they do. My 5-inch-gun mount is firing in automatic very rapidly, controlled by Combat Information Center (CIC). I am still standing on my little platform head and shoulders above the mount watching the shore. It is about 05:40, and still a mass of exploding shells and bombs are dropping on the shore from the planes and ships bombardment, unbelievable, the whole shoreline is a solid line of fire, as far as you can see in either direction. The mass of shelling from other ships and with the Corry’s adding to it, I cannot tell which ones are ours; ours was directed at predetermined inland targets. The battleship USS Nevada and several cruisers, one being the USS Quincy, are out of sight to seaward of us. The USS Nevada’s shells can be heard, a rapid swish-swish-swish going over my head. I can hear each salvo from atop the gun mount and mushrooming on shore adding to the booming thunder. The skies over the beaches are a mass of layered smoke clouds highlighted by the simultaneous bomb flashes, with some further flashes inland lighting up the back layers of clouds. There are German antiaircraft shells bursting over us targeting the bombing planes coming in over them in the early dawn. I see one plane get hit and go down leaving a trail of smoke. Orders come over the headphone to check fire. Our gun-mount has fired about ninety rounds of ammo thus far. The gun crew has rotated in there loading positions, one 5-inch shell weighs 54 pounds with separate powder casings weighing some-what less. Over the shore, I see another plane get hit and go down in flames. The ship has swung starboard side to the shore, tending with the tide with the ship at anchor it is back into firing position and commences rapid fire again. Scuttlebutt on the headphones tells me that we have dropped the anchor to short stay at a 1000 yards distance from shore. I hear over the headphones, “knock off the noise”. I believe that was the last chatter that came over them for some time. My Gun-Mount is firing rapidly, about three rounds per minute.
Many various size shell plumes are hitting the water close by and can be seen mixed with the whitecaps on the water caused by a brisk wind. A shell hit the water off the starboard quarter, maybe 75 yards, raising a large plume of water, followed by another one close to the starboard bow. Looking back to seaward, a B-24 plane is laying a big smoke screen and silhouetting the Corry against it. Turning back toward the shore, there is another plane laying one between the Corry and the beach. I am looking right at it when a German antiaircraft shell had a direct hit on it. The plane blew up in a huge ball of fire and smoke cloud. Nothing was left of the plane but a few small pieces that splashed down into the water that was hard to distinguish among the little white caps. I watched to see if the Pilot emerged out of it, I really didn't expect to see a chute open up though with such a huge explosion, bellowing white clouds, fireworks going off in the center of it, fifty yards off the starboard quarter. That really left the Corry a sitting duck against the smoke screen to seaward of us for the shore batteries to target us. The bow of the ship and the bridge both took a direct hit. Shellfire raked the ship. Shell plumes, large and small are hitting the water all around us, with the choppy water kicking up little white caps. The large white smoke cloud drifting off where the plane had blown up, I'm thinking in the back of my mind that this is a beautiful sight to see.
One of the larger German shore batteries is zeroing in on us. I see a huge shell plume hit the water just astern of us, the largest shell plume I have seen so far. Taller than the mainmast of the ship, it caused me to duck my head down in the mount, but I was right back up in time to see another shell plume hit close to the bow, the same size large plume that hit astern of the ship just seconds earlier. Whoa! I was thinking they just straddled us and to get down in the mount. At the same time the ship shuddered and seeing the foam from the screws kick up, I knew that full speed ahead had been rung up, and the anchor must be in sight. Ducking down into the mount and shouting to my gun crew that we had been straddled by some big shellfire and to stand by for a hit. The top hatch was about closed and I was removing my left hand from the hatch combing when at the same time it hit. My helmet and headphones went flying and I was trying to hang onto the hatch handle. This action shook me loose from the hatch I was holding onto and threw me across the inside of the mount landing on top of the hot shell-man. All power is lost; the ship seemed to turn upside down. Sea-water came squirting in from all the openings around the inside of the mount. It poured up from the ‘hot shell’ opening in the bottom of the mount in a large clear column of water brightly lit up with sunlight that allowed me to see plainly all around in the closed gun mount. I was then thrown back across the top of the inside of the mount. A column of water is now pouring in, flowing toward the top of the mount practically filling the mount with water. I have a flash moment that I'm suspended in air or floating in water inside the mount and didn't know down from up. A bad thought hit me that the mount had been blown off the ship and it was sinking. The ship finally did turn upright and the water drained out of the mount down the shell hoist and powder case opening into the handling room soaking everything in it. Later, finding out that when the three 210 mm (8.5 inch) shells hit and blew up in the engineering space; with the force of the explosion it healed the ship over on its starboard side and slew her on her side some fifty feet, keel first, then submerging the gun mount completely under water dredging up water into the ‘hot shell’ opening as the ship slid on its side. The gun-mount had swung around radically from the starboard side that we were firing from, and hit the stops on the port side of the ship ending up facing the ships port quarter. That accounted for the disorientation and being thrown about in the mount. We were all shaken up from that action of the mount swinging around it also put the gun out of commission. However, we all managed to get out of the mount in fairly good condition. Thanks to my hot shell-man breaking my fall, I ended up with only a small knot on my head and my right arm wrenched from trying to hang on to the hatch cover. Looking back into the mount there is a 5 inch shell laying in water down in the elevation well and a 5 inch powder casing, with the safety cap off, crushed, laying next to the shell with the wet gun powder spilled all over the deck of the mount. Luckily, the powder was wet. My trainer tells me that the gun cannot be trained in either direction and the pointer says his control doesn't operate in manual position. I cannot help noticing the barrel of my 5-inch gun; it was depressed almost touching the deck; which is not normally possible. The heavy breach end of the gun at one time during the explosion was down into the elevation pit, a fully elevated position, mashing the power casing, splitting it open and spilling the power over the inside of the mount. The liner in the barrel from the heat and friction from firing it was extended four to five inches out of the barrel. The outside of the barrel had the paint all burnt off of it from the heat. We had fired about 130 rounds (my count) during the last shore bombardment.
The ship was going around in a large circle out of control from the bridge. All electric power is lost and the ship is driven by the after boiler’s remaining steam. Men are scrambling around the after steering hold, trying manually to steer the ship away from the shore to seaward. The ship made one complete circle and ended up back in the same place where the shells had hit us. She then went dead in the water and was beginning to buckle downward in the middle, between the forward upper decks and the after deckhouse. The ship is sinking. Word is being passed by mouth to abandon ship. My crew went down off the deckhouse to check out the handling room and magazine to see if the men in them were all out.
Several of the men are releasing the life raft from the port side of the after deckhouse this is our abandon ship station. The ship is taking shellfire from the shore; I can hear them zipping by me. Making my way down the port side ladder from the deckhouse, away from the shore side, I went in to check the handling room myself. There are several mashed and mangled open gunpowder canisters and powder is spilled completely over the deck; several mashed canisters still jammed under the shell hoist. Fear wells up in me to see it, knowing what could have happened. Going down into the opened hatch of the Magazine, it is dark, I hollered to see if anyone is left in there, nothing. No one answers. Upon coming up out of the magazine hatch, Captain Hoffman enters the handling room with the question “What are you doing in here?” I tell him "checking it out sir". He asked me what I thought hit the ship to cause that much force to split it in half and sink it? I tell him my thoughts about the very large shell splashes straddling us and said I thought it was one of those larger guns from the shore that hit us.The Captain said "it must have been something bigger than that. “Probably a mine” he says.Then he tells me to abandon ship. “Aye Sir” I say, and he was gone. (No time to stop and chitchat).
My abandon ship station was just outside, to port of the deckhouse. The men, too many of them for what the raft was designed to support, were already in the water around the raft. They were urging me to hurry and jump. As I jumped it, it was only about two feet to the water. Once in the water, I am squeezing my May West (CO2 cartridge inflated life jacket). I came up gasping from the cold water and reaching for the raft, before being able to see good; I grabbed a man’s sheath knife blade as he was cutting a line holding the raft to the ship. He hollered at me to let go, several times, to let go of the knife, he still would not pull the knife out of my hand, until I let go of it, so he could finish cutting the line. My left hand was cut pretty bad, judging by the sting of the salt water. Despite the cut, I managed to tie myself to the life raft. The men on the raft tells me when I came up out of the water that a shell came right through the deckhouse bulkhead right where I was standing the instant after I had jumped overboard into the water.
The Corry was sinking. Water was rushing across the mid-ship deck, from port to starboard, and it was trying to take our raft with it. Men were shouting to swim, and we were desperately swimming to get away from the ship fearing it would take us down with it, and at the time not knowing how deep the water was, or if she would blow up. To no avail, the rushing water with the incoming tide took us right across the ship and toward shore, just what we were trying to prevent from happening. This put us right out in plain sight in front of the ship for the shore batteries to shoot at, with the smoke screen to seaward of the sinking destroyer and our life raft. The life raft was overcrowded and just under water. We are all tied to it with lifelines. We agreed to stop swimming it was getting us nowhere in our struggle. By now we were completely exhausted from swimming and towing the life raft in the attempt to get clear of the sinking ship.
Shells are hitting in the water around us. Some men are staying afloat with powder canisters under their arms. There are white phosphorus shells bursting just above the water and toward the shore, very close to the raft.Still other shells from shore are landing close by, one hit so close that water completely covered the raft. I feel the concussion in my guts. One man across the raft from me is stretching himself up above the raft “to see what was going on”, he said. Several of us told him to keep his head down. Too late, he fell with his face down in the raft water when a fragment from an exploding shell close by caught the top of his head. We cut him loose, there was nothing that could be done for him now. He had a life jacket on and knew he would be picked up later. The men are quiet now around the raft, starring while not seeing anything, and the cold water is getting to us.
The shelling has considerably slowed down. It’s sometime later, and I’m feeling a little dazed and weak. The USS Fitch, another destroyer that had been next to the USS Corry in bombarding the shore, pulled up to our raft with cargo nets thrown over the side, and commenced pulling us on board her. Being unable to move, two men came down and pulled me out of the water and on board. I can still hear the Captain of the USS Fitch yelling down from the bridge to “get that man on board, we have to get underway”. The men literally pulled me up the net to get me on board; I couldn't stand up so they took me to the casualty area in the Officer's Ward Room where the other men from our ship were being taken care of. My clothes were cut off me. I had trouble keeping them from cutting through my money belt that had $400 tucked in it. With some hot coffee and a sandwich, feeling a little better and coming out of it, sitting there with a blanket and a pair of khaki pants that were given me to put on. Motioning to an officer’s steward that had just came in the Ward Room with some bottles of (medicinal Medicine) on a tray, he came over and holding my cup up he poured it half full. That was the best Bourbon I’d ever remembered drinking, and thanked him for another. Afterword, he said you’re welcome sir. He never suspected the difference. After getting on my feet again a Boatswain’s mate from the USS Fitch that I’d met several times before, took me back to the crews quarters and gave me some of his dungarees and I flopped onto a bunk. After a little rest, I remembered and went to the Ward Room and sorted through the pile of clothing with some help from an Officer and found my belt with the money in it.
The Corry’s survivors that were on board the USS Fitch were transferred at about 1100 hours to the USS Barnett; a troop transport that was headed back to Portsmouth England. One crewmember that was wounded in the explosion that sunk the USS Corry was too critically wounded to be moved from the USS Fitch, the ship that rescued him from the water off Utah Beach. I understand that man latter died. From there we were all, including our Captain, Lieutenant Commander George D. Hoffman transported by railway to Glasgow, Scotland, for a 30-day stay in a rest camp in Edinburgh Scotland, then back to the U.S.A. via the Queen Elizabeth in July, 1944, just three days crossing " the old Ditch" to New York City and a receiving station in Manhattan. It usually took us seven days to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
DID YOU RECEIVE ANY AWARDS FOR VALOR? CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW THEY WERE EARNED?
No awards for valor, but I was awarded the good conduct medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, American Defense Service Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the Soviet Union's Great Patriotic War Medal (1941-1945).
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER, WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT AS BEING THE ONE WHICH HAS HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU?
Watching the two German torpedoes coming straight at the Corry. They were quickly approaching the ship and would run under the ship exactly where I was standing at on the after deck house by number three gun.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU...AND WHY?
I had to think on this one; there were a lot of impressive people I've served with in the service. Going back to the first ship I served on fresh out of boot training and starting out as Mess Cook. There was an old lanky, weather-beaten Boatswains Mate that runs the ship, a friendly old salt. Today in 2010, I still see his image in dungarees with the white hat squared on his forehead, cup of coffee in his hand standing on the weather deck of that old four-piper destroyer USS McCalla in 1939. His name is Hawkins he taught me seamanship that I would use all through my Navy career. Seamanship is not just an ordinary ole word it's the heart of the Navy's operation. He would never embarrass a man in front of other men, taking them aside and explain their trouble. I never heard him say NO to any man; it was always an explanation why. To me he was a wise seaman and an unforgettable character.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULARLY FUNNY STORY FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
This took place back in the 40’s when I was serving on the USS Calypso, the escort yacht to the US President's Yacht USS Potomac before war time. This cool day we were out in the Chesapeake Bay with the President Franklin D. Roosevelt on his yacht fishing. The Calypso carried a powerful Cress-Craft for guarding the President and keeping all small boats away from either yacht. The Cress Craft is a beautifully spar varnished mahogany looking slick boat with double seats up front, a long engine compartment and one seat aft in the stern. The engine compartment lids open from the center to out-board revealing the engine. The Cress Craft ties up to a boom rigged out on the starboard side of the Calypso, while at anchor, to deploy the on guard patrol from there. The boom has a six-inch flat surface on top of it for walking on, to a rope ladder near the booms end, using the out-rigger line to the boom for holding on to getting to the rope ladder to access the boat tied up under the boom. I’m a Seaman 1st Class and this is my first time on guard patrol. Earlier I heard the Chief ask the Captain for me to be on this Patrol. I make it out on the boom in dress blues and peacoat with a Thompson submachine gun strapped over my back. The Chief Boatswains mate in the seat behind me is leaning over into the engine compartment checking the engine; the ships anchor chain is tending out from the ship straight ahead of us. I’m taking all of this in as I was just setting down in the front seat to starboard of the steering wheel. The Chief, still bent over the engine compartment, calls for me to put a little port rudder on the wheel. I guess he didn’t like the way she was riding alongside the Calypso. Anyway, I reached over with my right arm across my chest to turn the wheel to port and as I did so the engine speed jumped up to full throttle. The Cress Craft squats, the bow raised up and lunges forward parting the bow and stern lines. I’m seeing the anchor chain coming at the boat fast, I knew if the boat hit the chain it would tear us up. So I gave the wheel a quick turn to port to miss the chain and that headed the boat for the side of the Calypso. I then quickly reversed the wheel to starboard to miss hitting the ship. The boat heeled over to starboard and shot up through the narrow space between the anchor chain and the ship now the boat is headed for open water still at full throttle. Up until now I didn’t have time to look back at the Chief. Then, as I am looking and at the same time hollering to him “what happened,” he was trying to get up from out of the stern seat. He was head first in the seat with his backside up in the air. When the boat lunged forward it must have thrown him all the way across the engine compartment from the second seat and landing him head first into the stern seat. The look on his face and his cap jammed down on his face, it wasn’t a bit funny. At that point I thought he had done something at the engine to make it go to full throttle. He came scrambling up over the engine looking at me saying something about the throttle and pointing at the wheel. This is the first time I was in the boat, not being familiar with its controls, I was just the guard, I felt a little awkward, and he looked at me like I was a real klutz. When he reached the wheel he grabbed behind the wheel and pushed a leaver down that slowed the engine to an idle. Instantly, when he pushed that leaver down I realized what I had done. He saw me grab at my peacoat sleeve and he too then realized that my peacoat sleeve had caught the throttle lever when I reached over to turn the wheel to port. He had his face right up in my face and looked mad enough to bit nails or throw me overboard, but a big grin came over his face and then he began to laugh. I wasn’t laughing though, he slapped me across the back and said “you done alright at that Red, by steering the boat away from the chain and then away from the ship at the same time, I don’t know how you did it, but there is not a scratch on the boat”. How he had seen it happening I don’t know unless the boat swerving violently port to starboard rolled him over in the stern seat several times and saw the anchor chain and Calypso going by. It shook me up though and after him talking and acting like that I’m starting to feel a little better about it and proud of myself for saving the boat. However, returning to the ship there was some explaining to do, seems that the Captain (an old mustang Chief Boatswains Mate) saw the whole thing. The Chief explained everything to him even taking the blame for it for leaving it in gear. He related my actions to the Captain about saving the boat. The Chief wasn’t hurt, I got a thumbs-up from the Captain and everything turned out happy.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
I worked for the Washington Terminal Rail Road Company, a company serving all trains operating through Union Station in Washington, DC starting out in a three year electrician apprenticeship that took in the whole range of electrical work from the round house to Union Station, power plant operations, high voltage distribution, operating steam driven turbines, 2,300 volt generators switching on line, heavy duty armature winding, railroad diesel-electric engines, and railroad control systems for thirteen years as an Electrician.
I moved on to Walter Reed Army Hospital's Maintenance Branch employed as a high voltage electrician, and was later assigned to a six man Laboratory Construction Team, remodeling the laboratories inside the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Center. One task was, and I have a Letter of Commendation for it, assembling and installation of large electron microscope. The installation called for complete redesign, remodeling and construction of a four zone air conditioning system; all within the Researcher Center’s temperature specifications for a low tolerance and minimum variable temperature change.
In 1964, I was hired on at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland as an electrician / electronic technician maintaining all base communications and pagers. I assisted in the designing of the electronic maintenance shop and repair shop for the Center to not only meet, but exceeded all FCC rules and regulations. I attended Atomic Qualification Schooling and became a maintenance leader for the GSFC central alarm and fire warning systems throughout center. I ended my career as the Electrical Construction Representative under the Facility Engineering Branch for GSFC.
My Wife and I met seventy years ago and we are still happily married today. I retired in May, 1977 and built our home overlooking the Shenandoah Valley 12 miles west of Winchester, Virginia next to a lake, 33 years ago in May, 2010. Now, at 91, I am still functional and struggling along with this G-4 MAC.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
VFW and The American Legion.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
My service time in the US Navy starting as a 19 year old really matured me, made me wiser in many ways, educationally and socially. I fit in with the civilian life easily after being discharged with some friends help. I've utilized the knowledge I learned in the service throughout my life, plus my Deep Sea Diving and schooling in actual working at it gave me experience and knowledge and also gave me an advantage in promoting my career, not as a hardhat diver but as an electrician, and if I may brag, a good one at that. If you read the previous interview question, there's a lot more there that I could bore you with about my career as an electrician.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Get out of it! Only kidding. Ha ha! I would say get all of the education you can out of it you will need it when you do get out.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I'm a rather new member on TWS. Being my time is in an era of History (WW ll), TWS helps recall my memories, some which have even lapsed with time. TWS is a natural bond with the Navy to me, once the old saltwater gets in your veins, it's irremovable, "once a sailor always a sailor". Keeping up with the 'Modern' Navy is so different from my time like the old Windjammer sailor compared to the coal burning, White Fleet sailor.
Fair winds and following seas.
This edition of "Voices" was produced with the assistance of TWS Living History Team members Joe Armstrong & Rhonda Kiker.
Share this Voices on:
TWS Voices are the personal stories of men and women who served in the US Military and convey how serving their Country has made a positive impact on their lives. If you would like to participate in a future edition of Voices, or know someone who might be interested, please contact Diane Ruth, Military Heritage Director HERE
This edition of Navy Voices was supported by:
For current and former serving Members of the United States Navy, TogetherWeServed is a unique, feature-rich resource enabling Naval personnel to re-connect with lost Shipmates, share memories and tell their Navy story.
To join Navy.Togetherweserved.com, please click HERE