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article number 712
article date 04-12-2018
copyright 2018 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (Book) - Part 7: Depleted Strength . . . Last Offensive Actions . . . but President Quezon is Delivered
by W. L. White

EDITOR’S NOTE: As 4 or more [sailors] tell their story, the author switches between them, sometimes abruptly as needed. This editor repeats text regarding who is about to talk, before the switch, in the hope that it makes for an easier read.

* * *

said Kelly

. . . if the air force couldn’t get even one serviceable plane up here from Australia to take MacArthur out, what chance had we?

“Our job, I knew, would be to fight out the war in the southern islands—with torpedoes while we had them, and on land with rifles when they were expended. So better not get our hopes up.

“The boats were to be anchored off the beach, and before I left mine, I told my executive officer to check on the anchor—we were close to the beach and there was a lot of surf pounding the coral. Just to make doubly sure, I went on the forecastle for a last inspection myself. The line seemed taut. I tugged to make sure, and it came loose in my hand.

“‘Start the engines immediately!’ They were started in thirty seconds, but five seconds later there was a grinding scrape—one propeller had hit bottom. The other engine conked out, and when we did get it going it was too late, the waves were slapping at us broadside, each breaker driving us farther and farther on the beach.

“I yelled over to the 41 boat to get under way and give us a tow, but by the time we’d tied her line onto ours, we were stuck—hard and fast. We worked furiously four hours until the tide had gone out, and by midnight we were solid as concrete, in water so shallow that now there were only three feet of water aft and less than a foot forward. Impossible to get off that night. I went to bed disgusted.

“Next morning I was up at five and there she was high and dry except for six inches of water at her stern, and a crowd of natives gawking.

"It all happened because the anchor shackle had parted—the threads stripped. It was the old story—continuous usage and no replacement of parts.

“Since the MTB’s didn’t have the power to get us off, I finally found a sergeant in charge of an army launch powered by a ninety-horse-power Japanese Diesel and asked him for a tow. High tide was at 8:30. The little launch strained, puffed—lines parted—and at ten o’clock it broke off the tug’s towing post entirely, so that was out.

“Sunday, we were again up at dawn. We had persuaded the army to lend us a sergeant and a working party of native troops, and we started digging and pounding away at the coral the propellers and rudders had chewed into.

“Bulkeley came around at 7:30. ‘Frankly, Kelly,’ he said, ‘you’ll have a hell of a time to get her off. I’m afraid we’ll have to blow her up if the enemy comes. She’s certainly done her part, but this may be the end. I’ve got to go to Del Monte. However, keep working. It’s up to you.’

“I called the crew into the forward compartment and told them the skipper had left it up to us. I talked about what the old boat had done to date with them in it—sunk two ships and two landing boats. So now, were we going to let this be her end—sit by and watch the surf pound her to pieces? Or were we going to get her off?

“‘You’re damn right we’re going to get her off!’ they said, and someone suggested maybe we could hire work gangs of natives to help us, whereupon the whole crowd started pulling money out of their pockets and piling it on the table.

"They’d had no pay since the start of the war, but since they’d been down here in Mindanao, they’d had shore leave and a chance to play poker with the army.

"The government could cut the cost of the war by just paying the army and then giving the sailors a chance to play poker with them.

“We hired what men we could, and all of us got to work with them digging out those razor-sharp coral boulders with our naked hands. But there were other boulders fifty yards out. We got some dynamite and worked all one afternoon pounding holes in them and blowing them up.

Lt. E. B. Proctor, USNR, gives orders of the day to native working party at Fergusson Island, PT advance base. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part IV - Southwest Pacific - Conquest of New Guinea.

"With our money we hired natives driving carabao to pull pieces away, at the rate of one peso for the native and another for the carabao.

“We were about ready now for the test. Another army tug showed up. We hitched a line onto it, we bridled the wheelhouse of the first tug with a line, and as the tide came in we took soundings. The 34 boat needed five feet of water to float—that meant we’d had to dig a two-foot hole under her—had we done it?

“High tide was nine o’clock at night. At 8:45 the two tugs started a steady pull; she didn’t budge. The water churned as we took soundings. As nine approached, we signaled the tugs to give everything they had.

"At 9:03 the 34 gave a sudden lurch—she was free and would fight once more! But first something had to be done about her back end—rudders, struts, and propellers were a jumble of bent steel.

“Before he left for Del Monte the skipper had told us he’d heard of a little machine shop up the coast at Anaken which might possibly have tools to straighten our steel if by some miracle we got her free. So we begged a tug from an army colonel to tow us up there. We were gone ten days, and I missed one of the high spots of the whole campaign while we were gone.”

Bulkeley insisted

“It wasn’t much,” Bulkeley insisted. “Just one of those things where they thank you if you do it, but give you hell if you fail.

"The army called me in and said that President Quezon was over on Negros Island, and if he could be brought over here, they hoped to get him out to Australia by plane. The trip to Negros was risky—seven Jap destroyers were loose in the vicinity. Probably to cut off Quezon’s escape.

"So they weren’t going to order it. They weren’t even asking it. They were just explaining to me. But of course I knew they hoped for it.

“So we left at seven o’clock—I was in the 41 boat and Akers was commanding the off Apo Island, we sighted one Jap destroyer, but luckily she didn’t see us and we could dodge around the island in time It was one o’clock when we entered Dumaguete—it was pitch-dark; both the town and the harbor were blacked out. We had no chart—I’d never been there before—and when we pulled up to the pier.

"No President!

"However, his aide, Major Soriano, was there to meet us. He said three hours ago, after we had already left Mindanao, Quezon had got a telegram from General Wainwright ordering him to cancel the trip—there were so many Jap craft in the neighborhood it was too risky.

"But Soriano said as long as I was here, maybe we could go over to the President’s home—it was about forty-five kilometers away—and he might change his mind. We went ripping over there in Soriano’s car at sixty miles an hour.

"Quezon was up, dressed, and considerably interested. He listened to us, looked me over very carefully—I had a long black beard then, which must have been quite impressive—and finally said he’d go. (Later on when he saw me in Melbourne, shaved, he said he’d have never disregarded Wainwright’s orders if he’d known he was riding with a mere child of thirty.)

"Anyway, Quezon and his family were loaded into cars and we were off. So then we started for the dock.

“Meanwhile I’d left Akers on patrol outside the harbor. If a Jap destroyer came nosing around, I didn’t want him to cut off our retreat and figured Akers could handle him.”

said Akers

“I was riding back and forth, about two miles offshore in my 35 boat,” said Akers, “keeping my eyeballs peeled for any of these seven Jap destroyers, when all of a sudden there was a thud and a splintering noise—we had crashed into a submerged object, a raft with metal on it apparently, which ripped a twenty-foot strip out of our bow.

"Water came pouring in, and we got busy with buckets and pump—”

said Bulkeley

“—and kept right on with your patrol—” said Bulkeley—”which took plenty of guts.”

“The water kept gaining on us, but we thought we could hold it until Bulkeley got back with Quezon to the pier, although I knew we could never get her back to Mindanao in that condition. When I saw the lights of the car I figured it was safe to come into the harbor.

"She was sinking fast then, so we left her in a place where she would drift on the sand and in the morning the army could salvage her machine guns.

"Then we all climbed aboard the 41 boat with Bulkeley and the Quezon party. You might say that was the end of the boat, and yet it wasn’t quite, although she’d fought her last fight.

"Bulkeley was working frantically to keep the squadron together. A few days later he came over, plugged the hole temporarily, and towed her back to Cebu, where we hoisted her on the marine railway for repairs. We burned her just before the Japs came into the town.”

A PT is hauled on the marine railway at Thursday Island. Lt. Thomas A. Arnold, USNR, Squadron 7 engineering officer, looks on. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part IV - Southwest Pacific - Conquest of New Guinea.

said Bulkeley

“The trip back with Quezon was as rough as I’ll ever see,” said Bulkeley. “We left at three o’clock with one hundred twenty miles to go before dawn. At four o’clock a big sea landed us a punch in the jaw which knocked two torpedoes loose in their tubes and instantly they started a hot run—a terrific hissing of compressed air, the propellers grinding, it sounded like the end of the world.

“In a situation like that,” said Bulkeley, “the logical thing is to get them out by firing an impulse charge—touch off some black powder in the rear of the tube which sends them scooting. But we were having trouble with the mechanism—it took a minute to get this done, and meantime the two aft torpedoes were sticking out of the tubes so far they seemed about to fall.

"So the two torpedomen, Houlihan and Light, got out on them with their feet, hanging on by their hands to the forward tubes, and tried to kick them loose. They couldn’t, but they certainly impressed President Quezon, who, when he got to Australia, gave them the Distinguished Conduct Star of the Philippines for what they did that night, as well as to Ensign Cox and me.

"And it was a ticklish job for the torpedomen too. Before we blew the torpedoes out, their back ends, where their motors are, turned pink and then bright red from the heat. On a normal run, of course, the surrounding water keeps them , cool. But out of the water, they’re not nice things to crawl around on.

“At first President Quezon didn’t understand what was going on, and asked why we were getting ready to fire the two torpedoes. Not wanting to worry him unnecessarily, I said we were just firing them at the enemy, who was near by. When we got him ashore at Oroquieta, I explained that we’d really been in quite a dangerous situation.

“We found a passage through the coral reef outside Oroquieta just at dawn and found General Sharp waiting in his car. In order not to be recognized, Quezon tied a red bandanna over his face below his eyes But the natives all knew him in spite of it—hats were waving from the sidewalk as he rode off down the street.”

said Kelly

“We missed it all,” said Kelly, “because we were up there in Anaken trying to repair the crumpled steel in our hind end at that little oversize garage back among the bamboo which they called a machine shop.

"Native divers, holding their breath, took off the struts and shafts of the rudders and the propellers. We tried to pound the propellers back into shape with hammers on palm logs, while the proprietor did his best to straighten the rest in his machine shop.

“He was a nice guy, but he regarded us with mixed emotions. In one way he was glad to have us there, because if the Japs attacked by sea we could be most useful.

"On the other hand, if their planes saw us, they might blow his setup to hell trying to paste us. And he was doing a lot of good work for the army. The longer we stayed, the more unpopular we got.

“Finally there was a trial run. She’d make only 12 knots—a fraction of her normal speed—and the vibration was terrible; you’d think someone had packed an earthquake in our lazaret.

“At about this time the skipper showed up. He told us about the trip for Quezon and the damage to the 35 boat, which he had towed into Cebu for repairs. He was still out hunting for the 32 boat, which hadn’t been seen since he left it to rendezvous with the submarine on the MacArthur trip, and he had one-third of the entire American air force of the southern Philippines out combing the island channels for her.

"One-third of this American southern Philippine air force consisted of exactly one Beechcraft commercial pleasure plane, which when war started had been commandeered from a civilian, and an army major who flew Bulkeley around in it.

"The other two-thirds were a wheezy P-40 and a very tired P-35.

"Bulkeley risked his neck for days in this search, not knowing, of course, that the 32 boat had been sunk and her commander was now safely en route to Australia.

A Mark XIII torpedo slides from its launching rack, propellers spinning and exhaust gases escaping from its tail. Compare (improvement) with firing of Mark VIII torpedoes from tubes. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part II - Development - A New Type Emerges.

“The skipper was frantic to get some of our little fleet back into commission so we could finish out the fight. ‘We’d started the war with six boats. Two were lost off Bataan, One was lost on the escape trip south. That left only three, and two of these were wrecks, fit only for the dry dock, Bulkeley’s being the only craft left in fighting condition.

"But he was bound to get the others back into shape. Did I think I could get mine to Cebu? It was the second largest city in the Philippines and they had a real machine shop—no dry dock but a marine railway, one of those contraptions where a track goes down the beach into the sea. You load the boat onto a small car and winch it up the track.

“Well, we could try, and we started off, my poor old boat with her earthquake making twelve knots, her back end wiggling like a shipwrecked sailor’s dream of a French musical-comedy star. Whatever she was good for now, it wasn’t fighting, and I was glad we didn’t meet any Japs.

“The machine shop was run by ‘Dad’ Cleland, a seventy-one-year-old American who’d been in the islands since 1914, and a swell gent he was— originally from Minnesota and a typical hulking frontiersman. Didn’t look a day over fifty and was a kind of patriarch in those parts. His native name meant ‘the old man’ or ‘the head man’ in Tagaleg.

“He was a great gourmet, too. Had Bulkeley and me out to dinner and we had bottled beer (a great rarity), a big crab-meat cocktail, and then lobster Newburg, which was delicious, but ‘Dad’ kept warning us to hold back, because then he broke out a couple of roast ducks.

"‘Dad’ and I divided the biggest duck between us and had all we could hold. The skipper here, on account of his rank, rated a duck all to himself, but he foundered and couldn’t finish it. On the side there were canned asparagus and corn, pickles, and sweet potatoes.

“Dessert was simple, like the last bars of a symphony. Just delicious chilled mangoes and Chase & Sanborn’s coffee. It was a magnificent feed after the native chow I’d been eating.

"We talked about the war. People in Cebu felt the show was about up, unless miraculous help arrived soon.

“‘What are you going to do when the Japs come?’ we asked ‘Dad.’ He straightened up—all six feet two of him.

“‘Have my dignity to think about,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to the hills. I’ll stay right here and face them They can get me if they can, but they’ll have a fight on their hands first.’

“‘Dad’ was working for the government for a dollar a year. When he finally finished with our repairs—they took many days—we asked him how much the bill was. ‘We’ll forget about it,’ he said. ‘You fight ‘em and I’ll fix ‘em. It’s the least I can do.’

“He clenched his big fist, and it was about the size of a nail keg.

"Since I’ve come back here I’ve read about some outfits working on war contracts who were paying their stenographers fifty thousand dollars a year and charging it to the government as expenses until they were caught. It’s a waste of time to indict them. Just get old ‘Dad’ Cleland back here and let him go in and reason with them in their swivel chairs. With those big fists of his, he’d know how to expostulate with racketeers like that.

Metalsmith and shipfitters shop at Torokina Base, Bougainville. Left to right, W. B. Bradley, SF2c; O. G. White, MoMM1c; R. C. Steen CM3c. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part III - Guadalcanal and Beyond - The Solomons Campaign.

“Until we got to Cebu we hadn’t been paid since the war started.

"Well, in Cebu the men all got paid and it was quite a spectacle. The dozen on my boat, going from bar to bar, got rid of two thousand dollars in three days. If it had been two million instead, they would have got rid of it just as quick, although it might have strained them some.

"Then they settled back to their routine means of livelihood, which was playing poker with the army.

“But things were moving in Cebu, and very secretly we began to hear hints of a big American offensive which was coming rolling up from the south through the islands in time to save Bataan, which was almost out of food and ammunition.

"Word came that two submarines were arriving in Cebu, where they would be loaded with food and returned to Bataan—we brought the first one in through the channel.

“It was a big secret—the area was cleared for two miles around. The loading was done at night and by officers only—we helped until our hands were raw—because they were fearful that some sailor or soldier might drop a hint of it in a native bar where it would get to the Japs.

"For three solid nights we worked until my back and arms ached, stowing all that stuff in the subs, but all the time I kept thinking of Peggy and the grand old gang up there on the Rock and what was left of the peninsula—fighting on without hope or food. Well, here was a little of both we were sending, them.

"To make more room they stripped the submarines of torpedoes—gave ‘em to us, four for the 35 boat if we could ever get her into action, two for the 41 boat, which already had two, and charged them for us with compressed air from the submarine’s tanks.

"Now the MTB’s were ready for battle, and into the submarine’s empty tubes we stuffed food, and I kept thinking, as we shoved it in—there’s another square meal for Peggy back there on the Rock.

“But that wasn’t half of it. Because in addition to the subs—the last one shoved off on April 5— there were seven fat inter-island steamers being secretly loaded with food down near ‘Dad’ Cleland’s dock—medical supplies, quinine the boys were dying without, everything they needed to hold on.

"But how could they hope to get these fat little tubs up through the islands to Bataan? Bulkeley was to find out three days later.”

said Bulkeley

“The General in command at Cebu called me in and verified the hints we’d heard of the big American offensive,” said Bulkeley. “He assured me everything was set. It was to start at dawn the very next morning. That very night, twelve fortresses and heavy bombers were coming up from Australia. A swarm of P-35’S were on their way up from Mindanao to Iloilo, where they were to gas up and go into action.

“The bombers were to land at Mindanao, gas up, take off, and blow the be-Jesus out of every Jap warship in the region, and meanwhile the convoy of inter-island steamers would start for Bataan bringing food enough for weeks. Bataan was to be saved after all.

“The General showed me messages from all the other generals who commanded in different islands, co-ordinating the offensive. But there was one minor hitch, he explained.

“Aerial reconnaissance had spotted a couple of Jap destroyers steaming down the coast of Negros Island. Somewhat to the eastward there was a cruiser which carried four seaplanes, but they weren’t worried about it.

"But that afternoon report had come in giving the progress of the Jap destroyers. Obviously they were heading toward Cebu. Maybe they had broken down our American codes and knew about the inter-island steamers and were coming in either to blockade them or to shell them at the dock.

“Why couldn’t we have a part in this great offensive which tomorrow was to sweep up and blast Jap shipping and warships between Mindanao, Cebu, and Bataan?

"We could be helpful by going out tonight and knocking off one or both of those Jap destroyers, which by midnight should be approaching the narrow channel between Cebu and Negros islands. The cruiser—never mind her, American bombers would polish her off in the morning.”

said Kelly

“Bulkeley came in at eight o’clock that night and told me about it,” said Kelly. “My boat had been in the water just four hours—she was supposed to soak for twenty-four before she should be exposed to any pounding, but I asked him if we couldn’t go out with him. ‘I was hoping you’d like to,’ the skipper told me. ‘Think you can make it?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘but we’ll soon find out. This’ll be as good a dock trial for her as any.’”

Students of the Repair Training Unit at Melville put new planking on PT 40. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part II - Development - A New Type Emerges.

said Bulkeley

“To man the boats I called for volunteers,” said Bulkeley. “I had no trouble about that. I guess they understood by now that any man who doesn’t volunteer won’t be in the squadron long if I can get rid of him.”

said Kelly

“They were all tickled to be in on the big offensive,” said Kelly. “It was apparently so well prepared that the army had given us the radio frequency of the co-ordinating planes—that big American air umbrella which would be spread over us at dawn—in case we needed to talk with them.”

said Bulkeley

“We got out to the island passage about 11:30 that night and sneaked in close to shore,” said j Bulkeley “The moon wasn’t due until 2:30 I was riding in the 41 boat, Ensign Cox commanding, while Kelly had his boat.

"We’d worked out our strategy. If two destroyers showed up, my boat was to tackle the leading one and Kelly the second. If only one arrived, my boat would attack her on the quarter, and Kelly’s on the bow.

“At five minutes to twelve Glover, the quartermaster at the wheel, called ‘Look—there she is!’ A black object was coming round the point. ‘Jumping Jesus!’ said Glover. ‘There she is!’—because it was no little Jap destroyer but a thundering big ’Kuma’ class cruiser sliding around that point—so clear we could almost make out her 6-inch guns. She was loafing along at about ten knots.

“I gave our boat a hard right rudder, sneaking in toward the shore where the cruiser couldn’t see us. Apparently she was alone. Now we curved out, into firing position, on her port beam, making as little noise as we could, and as she passed, five hundred yards away, Cox fired two torpedoes, but they straddled her.”

said Kelly

“We fired two from our side,” said Kelly, “but they also missed.”

said Ensign Cox

“After that,” said Ensign Cox, “we in the 41 boat made a wide arc and attacked again with our last two torpedoes—Bulkeley himself firing them, and this time two of them hit, right under the bridge. They made no flash, but a good bump and a column of water.

"But even before that the cruiser had waked up—probably saw the wakes of one of the torpedoes—anyway she speeded up to twenty-five knots and her searchlight came on and she waved it wildly around in the air, probably looking for torpedo planes.”

said Bulkeley

“Our torpedoes were all gone in the 41 boat,” said Bulkeley, “but I turned around and ran astern of the cruiser to draw her fire so Kelly could get in for his second attack. Then we saw the destroyers, but they wouldn’t give chase, although I tried to create the illusion of a lot of boats by firing machine-gun tracers.”

said Kelly

“When the cruiser’s searchlight came on,” said Kelly, “I turned right to cross her wake and came in on her other quarter. She picked me up astern with her lights and began banging away at me with her secondary batteries—50-calibers and 40-millimeter guns—from about twelve hundred yards. The stuff was going right over our heads in a continuous stream of fire.

“But I was good and mad because our first torpedo had missed,” said Kelly, “so I decided to chase her. I told one machine-gunner to fire at her searchlight, which was blinding me, and the others to sweep her decks to get her gun crews.

“After a few minutes’ chase, we had closed in to three hundred yards, so close that her searchlight seemed to be coming right down on us from an angle—about like the sun in mid-afternoon.

"Then I drew out onto her starboard quarter and fired our last two torpedoes—an overtaking shot. They were the last two our squadron was to fire in the War.

“Then I gave the boat a hard right rudder and started running away—for we were defenseless now except for our machine guns. But the rain of Jap tracers kept right on, and suddenly another Jap ship showed up fifteen hundred yards away. Both started firing their main batteries at me and we were trapped between—splashes all around us now, as close as twenty-five yards.

"We started zigzagging wildly, trying to dodge the two searchlights, and also the streams of fire which were crisscrossing above our heads like wicker basketry, and landing in the water all around us. It seemed like weeks, but was probably only a few seconds. My junior officer, Ensign Richardson, had the wheel, while I was watching the cruiser through my binoculars.

"Suddenly I saw a big splash and detonation in the middle of her belly—another two seconds, another splash and detonation right in her engine room!

"Our overtaking shots had both hit home! Her searchlight went from bright yellow to orange to red to dull brick-red and finally winked out. Every gun stopped firing. She was jet-black now.

“But I didn’t have much time for philosophizing, because this other destroyer was on my starboard bow, closing in, banging away with her 5 1/2 inch guns and me with only 50-caliber machine guns left.”

PT crewmen cam young. Forrest Hall, S1c, USNR (left), 17 years old, helps Charles Regusson, GM2c, USNR (right), and Carl Ochsner, CMM, USNR, bring .50 -caliber ammunition aboard his boat at Dreger Harbor. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part IV - Southwest Pacific - Conquest of New Guinea.

said Bulkeley

“Kelly got twenty-three salvoes of 5 1/2-inch steel that night,” said Bulkeley, “but there was no doubt that his two torpedoes polished off the cruiser. I saw her searchlight fade out, and heavy yellow smoke arise. Her stern was under in three minutes—the destroyer put the searchlight on her decks, where the Japs were all running around, not knowing where to go—and she had sunk in twenty.

“But I was running around with three destroyers after me, which were firing all they had, and I could see another one hot on Kelly’s tail. That was the last I could see of him and I thought he was a goner.

“My destroyers chased me down to Misamis, but at dawn I dove into a place to hide—there were six miles of shallow water where they couldn’t follow even if they had seen me. We spent the day sleeping.”

said Kelly

“They didn’t get us then,” said Kelly. ‘At midnight our escape began. The destroyer lost me with its light temporarily, so I did a ninety-degree turn so as to pass astern of her and lose her. I continued on that course five minutes, heading directly away from her, then to the left in another ninety-degree turn, and I started looking around the ship.

“I found Reynolds, my port gunner (he was also cook), had been shot through the throat and shoulder. I got him down below and had the chief torpedoman and the radioman give him first aid.

“I found our mast had been shot off a foot over my head, so we couldn’t use our radio for sending. The port turret had been hit and its guns were out of action.

“Our objective now was to get Reynolds to a doctor. We were going like a bat out of hell. I couldn’t see the 41 boat—it was so dark I couldn’t even see the shore. I just had to look at the compass and make mental estimates as to how far we had gone in various directions since I last had seen land I recognized, and then guess where we now were.

"I thought we were near the narrow channel between the islands; would another Jap destroyer be laying for me there?

“Suddenly, directly ahead, a searchlight came on, less than a mile away—a Jap steaming full speed at me. I barely had time to give a hard left and a hard right and we went scooting past each other at a relative speed of sixty knots before he had a chance to fire a shot.

"He turned, holding me down with his light like a bug under a pin, and started chasing, blazing away with big guns—two splashes four hundred feet away, two more fifty feet away. I started zigging to squirm out of that light—wouldn’t let my gunners fire a shot; it would help him keep our position.

"I was getting away, all right, but he kept firing for ten minutes, although his accuracy was going to hell. By 1:30 I could barely see his light, which was waving around, searching the water back of us.

“I kept on, wide-open, wondering how we’d ever get in, since we had no charts, it was black as pitch, and I knew coral reefs must be all around us. At four o’clock I slowed down and headed into where I hoped the beach was, taking soundings.

"The water suddenly shoaled off and bump! we were aground—a pinnacle of coral under our belly. Looking down with flashlights we could see the water was twenty feet deep with coral pinnacles all around us about every twenty feet, like a petrified forest, rising to within five feet of the surface.

“Studying the shore line, I realized we were about ten miles too far up the Coast. I sent Ensign Richardson ashore in a rowboat to send an army doctor and ambulance out from Cebu for Reynolds, and also a tug for us.

“For the next hour we sallied ship—rocking it, trying to jiggle it off the pinnacle, backing with the engines—and finally managed to roll it off. We backed carefully out of that petrified submarine forest—it was five o’clock now—and started looking for the channel entrance. Since we had no charts, it had to be guesswork and guessing had proved dangerous, so I decided to lay to out there in the open sea, waiting for dawn.

“And why not? Didn’t we have air superiority now? I hoped with luck that maybe we’d see some of the big squadrons which had roared up from Australia during the night, and would spend the day pounding Jap shipping and warcraft. Well, they needn’t bother about the cruiser—we’d attended to her.

Results of enemy air attack on Rendova Harbor, August 1, 1943: PT 117, beached with a gaping hole in her bow. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part III - Guadalcanal and Beyond - The Solomons Campaign.

“Reynolds was feeling fine now. I’d suddenly remembered a little present Peggy had given me on the Rock, went down to my locker and brought it up for him—a couple of codeine tablets and a sedative pill. Now he was sitting topside smoking, although he couldn’t drink because the water would leak out the hole in his throat. They’d been short of drugs on the Rock, but she sneaked these out for me just in case I got wounded out on patrol. A hell of a thoughtful present, and much more valuable and useful than a gold cigarette case.

“Well, tonight we’d helped pay her back. The cruiser was out of the way, the planes would be here any minute, to put the destroyers on the run. Presently the seven fat little inter-coastal steamers, loaded deep with supplies, would be waddling up the coast so Bataan could hold on.

"It looked like a good war now. Of course our torpedoes were all gone and you could technically say we were expended. But we had plenty of fight left, and if the tide of war had really turned, there would be more torpedoes and gasoline.

“Dawn came with a low fog which shut out the coastal contours, and because of all the coral we had to stand well off the coast. The sun was well up but that didn’t worry me; with air superiority we didn’t need to skulk in the dark any more. By 7:30 the sun had burned the fog away and we started out on two engines—one screw had banged up on the coral but that didn’t matter—we were crippled now, but ‘Dad’ Cleland would quickly fix us. At eight o’clock we spotted the entrance to the long channel and turned in.

“So there we were, fat, dumb, and happy, heading up the narrow channel at fifteen knots, when all of a sudden—Wham! It was a hundred-pound bomb which landed about ten feet oil our bow. It blew a hole into the crew’s washroom you could walk through. It tore the port machine gun off its stand. It blew all the windshields in—and covered us with water and mud.

“What did I think? Well, I remember what I said. Before even I looked up, I yelled, ‘Those crazy bastards, don’t they know we’re on their side?’

“Then I looked up, and here a second plane was peeling off, coming out of a cloud. But instead of the big white stars of the American air corps on her wings, there were the flaming suns of Japan!

“I didn’t have time even to wonder what in hell had become of our big American offensive and the air umbrella, because I had to throttle back, stopping the boat momentarily so that the next bomb would land twenty-five feet in front instead of squarely on us. Then I gave her the gun and started trying to zigzag in that narrow four-hundred-foot-wide channel, meanwhile giving word to our machine guns to start firing.

“They bombed us for thirty minutes, and the farthest bomb was thirty feet away. We would wait for the bomb release, see it start falling, then I’d give hard rudder and it would miss by a few feet. All the while we had to keep in this narrow channel so we wouldn’t be beached helplessly on a coral reef, and work our way down it toward port, where presently some of the newly arrived American planes would see what was going on and come to help. We didn’t doubt, of course, that they’d arrived.

Two PT’s stand by during a bombing attack on shipping in Leyte Gulf. The Liberty ship in left background was hit in this attack. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part VIII - Southwest Pacific - Return to the Philippines.

"Four Jap seaplanes were after us, working in rotation—undoubtedly those from the second cruiser the army had reported as being around.

“When their bombs were exhausted they began diving down just over our mast stub to strafe us. With their first salvo they killed Harris. He was my torpedoman and also manning the starboard 50-caliber machine guns—a fine kid he was—he slumped down from his guns and rolled on the deck when a bullet ripped into his throat. So I put in Martino, or started to, but found they had also hit the gun and put it out of action.

“But meanwhile Ross, with the starboard 30-caliber machine guns, had shot down one of the four planes. The next plane got Ross in the leg, and also put out his gun.

"So we now had no guns, only two engines and a boat full of holes with three planes diving down to less than one hundred feet, raking us with fire which we couldn’t return—only try to dodge.

“The engineer now reported the engine room was full of water and the boat was sinking, so there was nothing to do but beach her, if we were to save the wounded men. I headed her over towards nearby Kawit Island, and there she beached, hard and fast.

"There were about twelve hundred yards of shallow surf, four feet of water over an uneven bottom of coral and sand, and then the palms. The planes kept up their strafing as we lay there, but there was nothing to do now but dodge while we got the wounded ashore.

“I went down into the engine room and there was Hunter, my chief machinist’s mate, with his arm practically blown off—a bullet had entered his elbow and gone out a three-inch hole in his forearm, but he was still manning the engines.

"I gave the order to abandon ship. It turned out that there were only three of us unhit, so it was a job getting the wounded out while the Japanese dived to rake us. We made the mistake of taking off our shoes, and the coral cut our feet to ribbons as we staggered carrying the men.

“I found Reynolds, who had been wounded in the throat during the night, now lying with his hand over his belly.

“‘Mr. Kelly,’ he said, ‘leave me here.’

“‘What happened?’ I asked.

“‘When the planes attacked,’ he said, ‘there didn’t seem to be anything for me to do, so I went below and lay down on Mr. Brantingham’s bunk. They hit me in the belly while I was lying there. I’m done for, sir. I’ll be all right here. You get out the others.’

“Well, the hell with that. So in spite of his protests, Martino and I carried him ashore. Then we went back for a last trip. Only Harris was left, lying where he had tumbled into the tank compartment. But the radioman and I carried his body ashore, because we hoped to give him a decent burial.

“Then I rounded up some native soldiers, who got stretchers, and in these we carried the wounded to the other side of the island where they could be loaded into a launch, putting them in charge of Sheppard, a first-class machinist’s mate, to get them to the hospital.

“At this point a banca showed up, and in it was a native doctor, the one we had sent Ensign Richardson ashore for, before dawn, for Reynolds, who by now was en route to the hospital. So I loaded the ship’s papers, binoculars, and stuff into this banca, and with them I shoved off for Cebu.

“Halfway over the three planes came back and we tried to hide behind a fish trap—a net with bamboo poles sticking up out of the water. But they weren’t strafing now. They were looking for the fourth plane we’d shot down. They scoured the area for twenty minutes.

"After they left we went on in, and of course I went straight to army headquarters, and met the colonel in charge—the No. 2 officer of the island. No, he hadn’t heard from Bulkeley, but he’d send out a radio message to hunt for him if he was still alive.

"And maybe I’d better give my report direct to the general. . . .

PT 40, a battle-scarred veteran of Guadalcanal, returns to the MTB Squadrons Training Center in July 1944 to be used in training repair personnel. From ’At Close Quarters’ book, Part II - Development - A New Type Emerges.
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