A Gunnery Officer's Perspective of the USS DeHaven's Part in the Inchon Landing
By Lt. Arthur White
The USS DeHaven put to sea from San Diego for a routine forward area tour of duty operating out of Japan - usually a six months tour. At least twice before this tour when "asked" by Capt Lundgren to take over as Gunnery Officer, I had politely declined because I liked the electronics and communications duties. However, shortly before being ready to leave San Diego, the Gunnery Officer, LTjg Woolums, I believe it was, received orders off the ship. In no uncertain terms, Capt Lundgren told me "now dammit, White, you're Gunnery Officer whether you like it or not!" I had no choice, but it seemed quite a daunting job to take over just before going over seas. There were only two other officers in the Department - Ens. Pete Wood AA Asst. Gunnery Officer and Ens. Don Craig, as First LT.
Little did we know how events would change from the routine to participation in one of the boldest tactics ever used to cut off and encircle an large enemy land force. The operation was the invasion of Inchon, Korea, in September 1950 to cut off and defeat the North Korean army as it swept southward to conquer all of the Korean peninsula. The first step was to make an amphibious landing at Inchon, get a UN force under General MacArthur ashore, advance to Seoul and eastward to the east coast, cut off the supply route from North Korea, and entrap the entire North Korean force and compress it at the southern tip at Pusan.
In June 1950 while in the yard at Yokohama or Yokosuka we got word to complete the shipyard work and be ready to sail for Sasebo, Japan, in some 24 hours. We operated out of Sasebo during the summer of 1950 conducting shore bombardment on the east coast of Korea, sometimes above the 38th parallel. Small planes spotted enemy military forces and called for fire now and again at random. It was understood and ingrained in us that we should keep at least one five inch gun ready in case of hostile maneuvers that could threaten the ship. Retaliatory fire was authorized at any time and was known as "counter battery" fire to inflict damage on anyone shooting at us and to protect our ship.
In Sasebo after one of the trips we got word to ready the ship for an amphibious landing support in Korea, somewhere on the west coast. In those days, we operated with a reduced crew - barely enough personnel to run the destroyer and carry out fire support operations. There was enough crew to support the 5-inch mounts with ammunition from magazine to gun, but 40 and 20 mm guns would have to shut down after using up the ammo at each gun. Since we would be close to shore, 40's and 20's could be important for counter battery fire. Without ammo, the smaller caliber guns would be useless.
There were several gunners mates and others who had many months of experience in battle in the Pacific. We talked out their experiences with ammo hit by smaller caliber fire. Except for magazine and ammo dump explosions, they portrayed 40 and 20 mm ammo as comparatively safe from chain explosion under direct hits. We kicked around all available means of re-supply and decided to lash down cans of 40 and 20 mm ammo on the main deck near the 40 and 20 mm guns. In the open sea from Sasebo till we passed south of Pusan, we had a broadside sea that caused me considerable concern that we might be a bit top heavy - some of the rolls were rather long.
The morning of September 13th we sailed up the long estuary astern of the Mansfield, headed more or less north into what I now learn is the Salee River (thanks to the chart in the June 1996 newsletter). The tidal range in the area near Wolmi-Do as I remember was about 30 feet. We were entering the waters off Wolmi-Do at low tide, expecting to anchor and swing on the anchor as the tide started to come in - ready to head out of the river if need be.
My station for general quarters was on the left, forward side of the Main Battery Director just above the Pilot House. A fire controlman could train the director from the right, forward side. The rangefinder operator was stationed at the rear of the director in the center. The rangefinder was equipped with very powerful optics. There was no spotters scope at my station, so I had lashed my binoculars to the bracket where a scope may have been some years before.
We arrived on station as the dive bombers were plastering Wolmi-Do with bombs. The dive bombers were diving low as they dropped their bombs, so we had orders not to fire for fear of hitting one of our own planes. The bombing was to have stopped at 1300. As we sailed past Wolmi-Do, there was no sign of enemy activity that we could make out. But when we got anchored, we could see and hear shells exploding in the water mostly outboard from the shore. Some hit close enough without causing any topside damage, so that they must have been lobbed from shore high over the ship into the water outboard, probably mortar shells. I don't recall any splashes on the shoreward side of the DeHaven. One of the newsletter items mentioned that Ens Swenson on the USS Lyman K Swenson was hit and I concluded it was probably from shrapnel from one of the explosions. I have a vague recollection that there was a bullet hole a foot or so above the main deck, amidships - something like a 50 caliber.
Anchored there with no room to maneuver was a sure fire way to get the name "sitting ducks." I didn't recall that the Collett was not with us, having been replaced with the Southerland.
About 10 or 15 minutes or so before the 1300 cutoff the rangefinder operator called out to me that he could see people headed for a gun emplacement on the shore to the north of Wolmi-Do, maybe in the vicinity of Red Beach (there was no sign waiting for us). I could barely make out any details of the figures with my binoculars, but got a running commentary from the rangefinder operator. The gun appeared to be behind a low bunker or berm. We could see the men getting ammo, training the gun around toward us. I believe I requested an OK to fire on the emplacement at least two and maybe three times. Each time I was refused, but when I saw the blossom at the gun muzzle, I shouted "commence firing" over the sound powered telephone and the squawk box. All six 5" guns let go. I could see the projectiles converge on the beach and a big cloud of explosion and dust erupted in what looked like a direct hit. I could see where the shells were headed before they hit. The guns were depressed below horizontal - we were that close to the beach.
Then I shouted "check fire", "cease file" and everything else I could think of at the top of my lungs to get the guns stopped firing. Then they stopped abruptly to almost complete dead silence. The first thing I remember hearing was the voice of the Chief Firecontrolmen in Plot over the SP phones. "What are you stopping for, there isn't a ground light on the board." At almost the same time, all hell broke loose from the Pilot House and the deck outside the Pilot House!!! All I remember shouting back was "Counter battery, Captain." I could see myself facing who knows what. I offer sincere apologies to those men who were forward on deck during the firing.
The reference to the "ground lights' bears some explanation. When I took over as Gunnery Officer, one of the hard realities of life was that the wiring and equipment making up the main battery fire control system were in bad shape. Wiring had deteriorated badly; there were numerous grounds in the system and the main battery computer had to be worked on by, as I remember, the manufacturer's rep. The grounds are caused from bare wires in contact with metal parts of the ship's structure. The computer was a mechanical and electrical marvel that would be considered a stone-age gadget by today's computer literates. There were transmitters (synchros in those days) from the director and the guns, motors, indicators, wires and cables by the mile, and a host of other pieces that made up the fire control system. The main battery fire control system in Plot could even be interconnected to the 40 mm aircraft guns and controlled from Plot. But the point of it all is that the Chief Fire Controlman - and for the life of me I cannot remember the names that I should - spent months before and during our deployment repairing the system and testing it out to ensure it worked properly. The one thing he couldn't test was how it would stand up under the shock and vibration of the full battery going off at once. His call "there's not a ground light on the board" clinched perfectly the achievement he had attained.
Soon after the "counter battery", things quieted down to a lazy day in the sun. The LCM's, or whatever the landing craft were, headed past us to the beach with hardly a murmur from the beach. Within hours, the forces (UN, I believe) were long gone inland for their sweep south to bottle up the North Koreans. No wonder the North Koreans are not now very friendly toward us. Later on, we headed back to Sasebo and the States.
I never reviewed the ship's log for the events of that day, nor have I heard a word one way or another about the firing some 5 minutes before it was authorized. Until the DeHaven newsletter resurrected the memories of the Sitting Ducks off Wolmi-Do. I was just relieved that all the ships and the DeHaven in particular had been fortunate enough to receive as little damage as they did. The enlisted men on the DeHaven, from seaman to chief, who did the kind of work they did contributed the most to the defense of the ship - more than that of the fresh-caught, young officers in the Gunnery Department, Ens. Pete Wood, Ens. Don Craig and me, with little time as a "jg."
|Copyright © 1997-2017
USS DeHaven Sailors Association
2606 Jefferson Avenue, Joplin MO 64804