Three Bombs and Hell
The DeHaven Went Down off Bloody Guad-A Fighting Ship
to the Last
By W. R. Stevenson SK3c
The sun came up, bright and red and gave its warning that the day was going to be another of those hot sultry days when a man couldn't find a breath of air, even in front of a fan. True to its prediction, as the day advanced, it became hotter and more stifling by degrees.
Today we were to make a pincer movement on the Japs. To complete the movement, the American troops operating out of Henderson Field were to push westward and meet other American troops that had been landed on the opposite side of the island. We were determined to wipe the Japs from Guadalcanal this month.
Our destroyer was the USS DeHaven DD469. We had had some fairly good encounters with the Japs, but up until this day we had gotten off well in every one. Yet, we all knew that our good fortune couldn't last forever, for even though we had the upper hand in the Solomons, we knew that as long as the Japs could muster any forces against us we would have to fight, and fight with all our heart and soul to hold our gains.
We could not, of course, know that today was to prove our fears, that once again the Japs would try to wrest from us the island we had gained by blood and toil and that this was to be our last trip on the DeHaven. The date was February 1, 1943.
We escorted the troops to their landing, and while they were on the beach unloading, we patrolled off shore.
This much of the operations took place without a hitch in the plans and preparations. I suppose we might say that as always, the Almighty Father on High was watching out for those that are right and are fighting to maintain that right. For more hundreds of men would most certainly have lost their lives than actually did had there been an attack during the transportation of the troops.
Upon completion of the landing, we again took our station, screening the empty invasion barges on the return trip. The day's operation of moving the troops had started early in the morning but now the day was well advanced into early afternoon.
Suddenly the alert signal, Condition Red, was sounded over all of Guadalcanal and Florida Islands. Our patrol planes had sighted enemy aircraft.
On board ship we immediately went to General Quarters. My station was or the Flying-Bridge at secondary control -the station from which the 20mm and 40mm guns are controlled.
We settled ourselves for the wait that must follow. Fifteen minutes passed, and then:
They were flying high and we couldn't be sure that they were Japs from the extreme distance. We tracked the, every man keyed up. At six thousand yards they were definitely identified as enemy aircraft and we asked permission to open fire. We held our fire, though, until they turned toward us and slipped over into a dive.
Unlike our dive bombers, they seemed to follow the wake of their bombs after they have been released, and then-level off about one hundred feet above the foremast.
The first bomb hit us in our forward engine room and put all the power out. After that we had to operate all guns by manual control. This made firing very difficult, but it didn't stop the men on the guns-they kept shooting as fast as they could.
A few seconds later, another bomb hit us in almost the same place.
As I have said, my battle station was on the flying bridge, which is supposed to be the weakest part of the ship. But when the first two bombs hits us, tearing the ship almost in half, we on the flying bridge hardly felt them. Why, I don't know, for the amidships section was in a devil of a mess. There were large holes in the deck and live steam and smoke were coming from these holes from the fire rooms and engine rooms below. The bulkheads on either side of the ship at the foot of the bridge were torn loose and were jutting away out into the water where they flapped like the wings on a crippled duck. Men, already wounded by the first two bombs, were being carried to the wardroom.
Then the third bomb hit us forward in the magazine. All our ammunition there exploded. Like the destroyer in Pearl Harbor on December 7, our bow and forward part of the ship was literally torn asunder. Gun No. 1 completely disappeared with the entire gun crew. Gun No. 2, when the bow split open, went through the wardroom dressing station and finally stopped its downward course in the plotting room. Almost all the men in the gun crew, battle dressing station, and in the plotting room lost their lives as the gun crashed through and the magazine exploded. The explosion also moved the bridge off its base and left it upside down about fifty feet away.
My companions and I were still under the bridge. After the magazine exploded, we instinctively realized that the ship was sinking. No one had to tell us. So, with reluctance, we left ship. But before the gun crews aft went over the side they brought down three Jap planes, and we had the pleasure of seeing them fall into the sea. The sight made you want to sing and shout with joy but we had the regret that we hadn't accounted for all the airplanes that had destroyed so many of our shipmates.
There were only three of the men on my station left out of fourteen. We three prepared to go over the side. I was the last to leave because I had to move the bodies of two of my buddies from on top of me before I could get up. Climbing out from under the wreckage, I found that I did not have to jump from the ship, for the water was already up to me. All I had to do was swim away.
The water was full of debris of all descriptions, wood, food from the icebox, records and correspondence from the ship's office. And over all was a scum of oil.
Trying to swim through that oil was next to impossible for the oil would push you under the moment you stopped moving. Personally, I don't know of a worse drink than fuel oil and salt water. It certainly makes one sick.
Even after the ship had sunk no one became excited, no one lost his head. We clung to life rafts that had been freed in the blast, and far from being subdued by the tragedy, plenty of hilarious humor passed between us. This, I've learned, is often the case of desperate men who have death on every hand. It is a method of maintaining the precarious hold on life.
Our Chief Boatswains Mate, on the raft, picked a book out of the water, a book covered with two inches of oil. He called to all hands near him, "All right men, now listen to this. It may help you some day. This is the procedure on plugging up shell holes in the engine room during battle." Then he commenced to read the imaginary instructions to us. Another fellow picked up a chicken and yelled, "Well, we won't go hungry out here, for sure. Here's a nice fat chicken." Of course, by this time the chicken was more oil than chicken. These quips succeeded in buoying our spirits and keeping us from losing our heads.
Luckily for us, we were only in the water about an hour before we were picked up and put aboard the other destroyers, and those who needed it were able to receive medical care right away. I was one of these unfortunates. For though I had only minor things wrong, they were serious enough to keep me in the hospital for a month.
By nightfall we had all been landed at Guadalcanal where more thorough medical attention was administered to us. Three days later we were flown out of Guad to an advanced base in the New Hebrides. On arrival here, we were taken on board a hospital ship for the last leg of our journey to the base hospital at New Zealand.
The DeHaven was a grand little ship and those of us who came out alive vowed to get another ship and get a crack at the Japs for the shipmates who are gone.
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