Friday, September 25, 2015

Fullbore Friday

History shows that every warship must be able to defend itself. It must be able to fight hurt. It must be able to have sufficient people for damage control. There is no "safe area" at sea. You can make a mistake - and so can the enemy. There is not time out. There is no do over. 

Your nation has been at war for only a few months. You are part of a hobbled together, but powerful battlegroup set to blunt the spear of the enemy who has been marching forward without rest.

You have prepared yourself and your ship for this from day one. There is a problem however; your ship has engineering reliability issues.

Everything is ready for war ... but in the heart of your ship, going back to when she was built, your boiler tubes are iffy. Repaired, yet problems remain. The commander of the fleet as it prepares for battle is a detail man. Detail to the point of micro-managing each ships fuel load resulting in a non-stop UNREP cycle.

He knows your ship has problems. On the eve of battle, the Admiral decides he needs to move his non-fighting High Value Unit (HVU) out of harm's way. Over to a quiet part of the sea, so after the battle, his ships can UNREP again.

That ship, the USS NEOSHO (AO-23), will need an escort. No Admiral wants a snake-bit ship to break down in the middle of a battle, so your ship, the USS SIMS (DD-409) will steam off with the oiler to ride out the battle in peace.

As all the other ships ready for battle, you do as ordered - head off over the horizon to hide with pride.

Fate has her own plans, however. The crew of the SIMS and NEOSHO were about to face a trial that if it were not true, would be considered a fevered fantasy fiction. War is like that. It has its own reason.

I just finished a great book, The Ship That Wouldn't Die: The Saga of the USS Neosho- A World War II Story of Courage and Survival at Sea. Inspired by that book, this Friday is Part-1 of a 2-part FbF about this part of the Battle of the Coral Sea; the trial of SIMS and NEOSHO. We will start with the lead ship of her class, the SIMS.

One persons failure to properly recognize what they see. One bad report. Read it all ... but "it won't happen" happened;
One hour after dawn, Neosho and Sims were precisely where they were supposed to be – at 16°S, 158°E. At dawn, also Admiral Takagi had a suggestion from Admiral Hara, the carrier division commander. Let Hara send Zuikaku's planes out to search one area behind the carrier force, and Shokaku's planes to search another -- just to make sure that the Americans had not circled around and come up in the rear of the Japanese covering force. Takagi approved. The Zeros and the medium bombers revved up and took off from the Japanese carriers, circled and set out at 0600. 

At 0736 the Japanese searchers in the eastern section of the zone spotted ships on the water. The observers radioed back to the carriers that they had come upon the American carrier force. Below, said the Japanese observer, were a carrier and a cruiser. Admiral Hara directed the bombers to the location and the Japanese began to close in. But the ships on which they were moving were not the American carriers, but destroyer Sims and oiler Neosho. 
Just after eight o'clock that morning, lookouts on the Neosho spotted two planes, but assumed they were American planes checking on the safety of the oiler and her escort. Shortly after nine o'clock in the morning, Chief Petty Officer Robert James Dicken of the USS Sims was sitting in the chiefs' quarters, when he heard a loud explosion. From Neosho's bridge, Captain John S. Phillips could see that a single plane moving over Sims dropped that bomb, which exploded about a hundred yards off the starboard quarter of the destroyer. 
From the bridge of the Sims, Lieutenant Commander Willford Milton Hyman, the captain of the little one-pipe destroyer, passed the order: General Quarters. The ship was under attack. At the moment, some aboard the destroyer thought it was all a dreadful mistake, that one of their own planes had failed to identify the ship and bombed them by mistake. Frantically, chief Signalman Dicken on the bridge began blinking his light, sending recognition signals. There was no response. The single medium bomber disappeared off to the north. 
Captain Hyman ordered full speed. The ship's guns opened up on the retreating bomber, but the plane quickly disappeared into the clouds. Neosho changed course to starboard, and Sims, the little bulldog, kept out ahead of her, Neosho traveling at 18 knots, and Sims racing back and forth in front, from port to starboard, the sea swirling in her excited wake. 

Fifteen minutes went by, and then twenty. The ships moved on, the lookouts craning around the horizon, squinting into the sun and waiting, sure now that it was no mistake and that there would be more bombs to come. On the bridge Captain Hyman's orders were quiet and terse; it was an eerie time, the whine of the engines driving the propellers, the swish of the sea alongside the ship, the clang of metal on metal -- and still it seemed very, very quiet. Sun and sky and sea had never been more peaceful.

The Attack Continues
Then, about half an hour after the first attack, little specks, ten of them, appeared in the sky in the north, before the noises of their engines could be heard. The lookouts on Sims saw them coming. Captain Hyman called up Captain Phillips to warn Neosho; the lookouts of the oiler had not seen the planes. The ships changed course, swung around in a wide arc to throw off the approaching enemy, for now every man on the destroyer and the oiler knew what he must face.

The Japanese pilots saw, and with no effort at all, it seemed, adjusted and came moving in. Still they were very high, paralleling the course of the American ships on their port side. The bombers were so high that although Sims began firing rapidly, they were hopelessly out of range.
Go back - and read it all.

I cannot do this justice without going to the complete report by DESTROYERS PACIFIC FLEET. Read it all and be humbled.
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.
Of 237 men on board the morning of the attack, only 15 made it in to a whaleboat that made it to the NEOSHO. Of those, only 13 survived the attack.

13 of 237. 94.5% killed in the attack.

A note about the SIMS Class of destroyers.  Of her Class, 12 were commissioned between 1938 and 1940. By the end of the war, five were sunk in action against the enemy. 42%.

Beautiful ships in peace.

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