Tuesday, August 02, 2011

"Don't Shoot! We're Republicans!"

Some ships earn their cute custom phrases the hard way,
From November 1943, until her demise in June 1945, the American destroyer USS WILLIAM D PORTER (DD-579) was often hailed.....whenever she entered port or joined other Naval ships.....with the greeting....."Don't shoot, we're Republicans!"
... IOWA was carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the time, along with Secretary of State Cordell Hull and all of the country's WWII military brass. They were headed for the Big Three Conference in Tehran, where Roosevelt was to meet Stalin and Churchill.
The morning of 14 November 1943 dawned with a moderate sea and pleasant weather. The IOWA and her escorts were just east of Bermuda, and the president and his guests wanted to see how the big ship could defend herself against an air attack. So, IOWA launched a number of weather balloons to use as anti-aircraft targets. It was exciting to see more than 100 guns shooting at the balloons, and the President was proud of his Navy. Just as proud was Admiral Ernest J. King, USN, the Chief of Naval Operations; large in size and by demeanor, a true monarch of the sea. Disagreeing with him meant the end of a naval career.

Up to this time, no one knew what firing a torpedo at him would mean. Over on the Willie D, Captain Walker watched the fireworks display with admiration and envey. Thinking about career redemption and breaking the hard luck spell, the Captain sent his impatient crew to battle stations. They began to shoot down the balloons the IOWA had missed as they drifted into the Porter's vicinity.

Down on the torpedo mounts, the crew watched, waiting to take some practice shots of their own at the big battleship, which even though 6,000 yards away, seemed to blot out the horizen. Lawton Dawson and Tony Fazio were among those responsible for the torpedoes. Part of their job involved ensuring that the primers were installed during actual combat and removed during practice. Once a primer was installed, on a command to fire, it would explode shooting the torpedo out of its tube.

Dawson, on this particular morning, unfortunately had forgotten to remove the primer from torpedo tube #3. Up on the bridge, a new torpedo officer, unaware of the danger, ordered a simulated firing. Fire 1, Fire 2 and finally Fire 3. There was no fire 4 as the sequence was interrupted by an unmistakable "whoooooooshhhhing" sound made by a successfully launched and armed torpedo.

Lt H. Steward Lewis, who witnessed the entire event, later described the next few minutes as what hell would look like if it ever broke loose. Just after he saw the torpedo hit the water, on its way to the IOWA and some of the most prominent figures in world history, Lewis innocently asked the Captain., "did you give permission to fire a torpedo?" Captain Walker's reply will not ring down through naval history.....although words to the effect of Farragut's immortal "Damn the torpedos'" figured centrally within.

Initially there was some reluctance to admit what had happened or even to warn the IOWA. As the awful reality sunk in, people began racing around, shouting conflicting instructions and attempting to warn the flagship of imminent danger. First there was a flashing light warning about the torpedo which unfortunately indicated it was headed in another direction.

Next, the PORTER signaled that it was going reverse at full speed! finally, they decided to break the strictly enforced radio silence. The radio operator on the destroyer transmitted "Lion (code for the IOWA), Lion, come right." The IOWA operator, more concerned about radio procedure, requested that the offending station identify itself first.

Finally, the message was received and the IOWA began turning to avoid the speeding torpedo. Meanwhile, on IOWAs bridge, word of the torpedo firing had reached FDR, who asked that his wheelchair be moved to the railing so he could see better what was coming his way. His loyal Secret Service guard immediately drew his pistol as if he was going to shoot the torpedo.

As the IOWA began evasive maneuvers, all of her guns were trained on the WILLIAM D PORTER. There was now some thought that the PORTER was part of an assassination plot. Within moments of the warning, there was a tremendous explosion just behind the battleship. The torpedo had been detonated by the wash kicked up by the battleship's increased speed. The crisis was over and so was Captain Walker's career. His final utterance to the IOWA, in response to a question about the origin of the torpedo, was a weak, "We did it."

Shortly thereafter, the brand new destroyer, her Captain and the entire crew were placed under arrest and sent to Bermuda for trial. It was the first time that a complete ship's company had been arrested in the history of the U.S. Navy. The ship was surrounded by Marines when it docked in Bermuda, and held there several days as the closed session inquiry attempted to determine what had happened. Torpedoman Dawson eventually confessed to having inadvertently left the primer in the torpedo tube, which caused the launching. Dawson had thrown the used primer over the side to conceal his mistake.

The whole incident was chalked up to an unfortunate set of circumstances and placed under a cloak of secrecy. Someone had to be punished. Captain Walker and several other PORTER officers and Sailors eventually found themselves in obscure shore assignments. Dawson was sentenced to 14-years hard labor. President Roosevelt intervened; however, asking that no punishment be meted out for what was clearly an accident.

The destroyer was banished to the upper Aleutians. It was probably thought this was as safe a place as any for the ship and anyone who came near her. She remained in the frozen north for almost a year, until late 1944, when she was re-assigned to the Western Pacific.
Read the whole thing - what a cursed ship - almost as bad as LPD-17.


Salty Gator said...

ouch on LPD-17...I'd say almost as bad as LCS!  You only say LPD-17 because she is older:  she's had more opportunities to suck!

Byron said...

Talk about snake bit...

Byron said...

LCS would be afraid to get out where the big nasty waves are...stuff might start cracking and the twidgets on board might not be able to help the DC/MR/EM1 plug the holes up.

Outlaw Mike said...

<span>From the CDR's link:</span>
<span>'The Willie Dee suffered mearly a slightly scratched anchor, but her career of mayhem and destruction had begun.'</span>
<span>I don't want to brag, but I find it actually a sad thing that I, a non-native English speaker, have to point out it must be 'merely' instead of 'mearly'.</span>
<span>I'm just back from a holiday in Scotland and Ireland. From Scotland I recall a street sign with 'sorry for any inconveniAnce'. That was trumped by a sign on the beam at the exit of a parking lot adorned with a sign reading 'Gate Open Automatic' instead of 'Gate opens automatically'.</span>

<span>The West is fucked up. Completely fucked up. Peeking in the schoolbooks of my kids sometimes makes me nauseous, the stuff they're learning them!</span>

<span>Otherwise an interesting read CDR. Quite hilarious, but sad for the crew and the ship involved.</span> 

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Er, I am sure you mean nauseated.  Not nauseous. 

Oh, there is little regard for proper English. 

"Disrespect" as a verb.  "Irregardless".  "Acclimatize". 

Every other word out of the mouths of our youth is "like".  Which is, like, SO not correct.  But, like, I digress.  And, like, every sentence, like, sounds like a question?

Outlaw Mike said...

Touche URR. Nauseated.

Hey, I've got an alibi.

Anonymous said...

Just thought Id try to comment on my Nook, which is way cool! Byron

pk said...

one fine day in pearl in the mid sixties one of the de's or possibly dd's tied up along side of the tender on ford island managed to "bloop" a weapon alpha into the water roughly midway between ford and the shipyard.

naturally every diving boat in the world congregated out there to retrieve the missle.

then about a day later another ship in the nest managed to dump an asroc right in the middle of the divers.

(i know that this happened because i had the watch when the asroc went off).

the sea story is that about four days later one of the ships at 1010 dock had an accidental torpedo launch across the parking lot and it ground to a halt right in front of the exit door to the exhange just as one of the admirals was leaving after having bought a pack of cigarettes.

i heard that they had one of those discussions and sleeve stripping sessions a couple of days later.


UltimaRatioRegis said...

You do, indeed.  English is, like, SO not your first language!

LT Rusty said...

Don't listen to him, Mike - he's just a grunt.  Either 'nauseous' or 'nauseated' may be used in the above case.

From Merriam-Webster:  "[N]auseous is most frequently used to mean 'physically affected with nausea,' usually after a linking verb such as feel or become."

ewok40k said...

at least LCS has little in the ways of inflicting friendly fire...

UltimaRatioRegis said...

Au contraire, young Lt.  Not only am I not a grunt, but you are incorrect in the use of the vocabules in question.

Nauseous and nauseated are NOT synonyms.  Though they will be listed in many dictionaries as being used that way, that will be due to "contemporary usage", which is incorrect, but acknowledged as being common. 

Feeling nauseated occurs because you found something nauseous.  The smell of the East River is nauseous.  And the stink makes me feel nauseated.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

Or agressive fire, either.

James said...

OMG! You guys are like SO! Grammar Nazies......Like i know right!


LT Rusty said...

Wasn't there an incident in the 80's or 90's where a flag's car got torpedoed at Mayport?

chief torpedoman said...

...flag's car got torpedoed at Mayport...

I think that was from an FFG (Jack Williams?) My Weapons Office on the Nicholson (DD982) told us about it. He was the CDO then, but not in weapons dept.

Seems that they did not unload all torpedoes from the tubes when firing air slugs. Add in a micommunication and an ST on the tubes and you ended up with a torpedo on the pier.

MR T's Haircut said...

I LOVE THIS PORCH!!!  Learn something new every damn day!

awesome story!  never ever knew it!