14 July 2016


“No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”  Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, RN

Our Navy is in trouble. Before I explain why I say that, consider this:

I am the son of a Squared Away North American Bluejacket.  From the time I was eight, until I discovered the Marine Corps after high school, I dreamed of being a naval officer. I was 11 when I first wrote to my Congressman about an appointment to the Academy. 

I read about the heroes of the American Navy.  And where else would I have started but with Captain John Paul Jones and USS Ranger and USS Bonhomme Richard?   Jones who wrote “I wish to have no Connection with any Ship that does not Sail fast for I intend to go in harm's way.”

Remember Jones and Bonhomme Richard against HMS Serapis off Flamborough Head.  “Struck, Sir?  I have not yet begun to fight!”

By some accounts, the inquiry from Serapis was occasioned when Bonny Dick’s colors were shot away, prompting Jones to order that the replacement colors be nailed to the mast!  Later in the fight, according to Captain Jones’s after action report, he responded to another similar inquiry “in the most determined negative”. Some of his sailors were quoted in British newspapers at the time as saying his reply was really “I may sink, Sir, but I'll be damned if I strike!”  

In fact, Bonhomme Richard did sink, but not before Serapis struck her colors and was taken a prize.

Speaking at an address to the Brigade of Midshipmen in Bancroft Hall in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt said of Captain John Paul Jones

The future naval officers, who live within these walls, will find in the career of the man whose life we this day celebrate, not merely a subject for admiration and respect, but an object lesson to be taken into their innermost hearts. . . . Every officer . . . should feel in each fiber of his being an eager desire to emulate the energy, the professional capacity, the indomitable determination and dauntless scorn of death which marked John Paul Jones above all his fellows.

Remember also Captain James Lawrence, USN, mortally wounded while in command of USS Chesapeake against HMS Shannon during the War of 1812.  His final orders to his men were “Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks!”

Fast forward to international waters in the Eastern Med off Israel in 1967 when the Israeli sneak attack on USS Liberty failed to sink her.  IAF aircraft first strafed the ship, knocking out her communications array, and killing, the entire bridge watch except for the Captain who was seriously wounded in the arm and leg.  Then Israeli torpedo boats attacked the ship, firing five torpedoes for a single hit and then shot away all of the ship’s life boats. A second air attack again killed the entire replacement bridge watch, except for the Captain.  Then, a few minutes later, the Israelis again attacked with the clear intent to destroy Liberty and her crew so as to hide the fact that they had intentionally attacked a United States Ship.  Due to the unbelievable heroism of the crew, a jury-rigged mast was put into service and the Sixth Fleet was alerted.  The Israelis then pulled away.  The ship suffered 34 KIA and 172 WIA.  In addition to the torpedo hole, there were over 800 holes in the ship measuring 30 mm or more. 

Captain William McMonagle, USN, was hit in the first strafing run, suffering a gash in one leg that ran from the crotch to the knee.  The gash was closed using safety pins and his web belt was used as a tourniquet.  He refused to leave the bridge, and after realizing that all of the bridge instruments were shot away, he walked from bridge wing to bridge wing all night, navigating by sightings of the North Star.  He finally left the bridge the next morning only after Liberty rendezvoused with two American destroyers that had been dispatched to escort her.  Captain McMonagle received the Medal of Honor.

In his report, he stated that after the Sixth Fleet was alerted, an Israeli torpedo boat came along side and asked “May we be of assistance?”  He replied, “No thank you.”  One of his crew told me that the real reply was “Get the hell away from my ship or I will run you down.”  Captain Jones of Bonhomme Richard would surely have approved.

Through the intervening years, the American Navy has set the example.  From 1776 forward, our Navy has been characterized by gallantry in action, aggressiveness, and taking the battle to the enemy.

Consider the gallantry of the ships, officers, and men of Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3") fighting one of the famous two hours in the history of our Navy.

The Place:  Philippine Sea off Samar Island, in the Philippines

The Date:   25 October 1944. 

In no engagement of its entire history has the United States Navy shown more gallantry, guts and gumption than in those two morning hours between 0730 and 0930 off Samar.

Samuel Eliot Morrison, RAdm, USNR, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume XII, Leyte

Consider, the Battle of San Bernardino Strait (aka,“Battle Off Samar”) in which a Japanese task force of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers was able to get to within a few miles of the amphibious and supply ships effecting and supporting the invasion of Leyte (Philippines). 

Get close, but….

A small force of three destroyers HoelHeermann and Johnston, and four destroyer escorts DennisJohn C. ButlerRaymond, and Samuel B. Roberts,  spotted the enemy and immediately attacked!!  (By way of comparison, a single Japanese battleship in the enemy task force, IJS Yamato, displaced more tonnage than all seven attacking American ships.)

Two hours later, with the American defenders sunk, sinking or on fire and the way open to destroy the Leyte invasion force, it was the Japanese force that broke off and fled, having lost three heavy cruisers sunk and three other heavy cruisers and one destroyer heavily damaged.

But if you want to really understand what our Navy and its Bluejackets are all about, listen to Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague, commander of Taffy 3, that morning:

At 0925 my mind was occupied with dodging torpedoes when near the bridge I heard one of the signalmen yell, '... dammit, boys, they're getting away!' I could not believe my eyes, but it looked as if the whole Japanese fleet was indeed retiring.... At best, I had expected to be swimming by this time.

Three of the American ships, HoelJohnston, and Samuel B. Roberts (the "destroyer escort that fought like a battleship"), were sunk and three more, Heermann, John C. Butler, and Raymond, were severely damaged.  Captain Ernest Evans of Johnston was awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously). 

Aboard Samuel B. Roberts, Gunner’s Mate Third Class Paul Henry Carr, USN was the gun captain of the Roberts’ Mount 52, its after 5-inch/38 gun.  Under his charge, Mount 52 kept firing continuously throughout the battle.  In ordinary operation, electric power was used to train and point the gun, and high pressure air was forced through the barrel to cool it.  At the time that power and air were lost due to enemy fire, Mount 52 had already fired over 300 rounds in less than 30 minutes.

GM3 Carr then began firing rounds by hand, accepting the risk that without air the gun would not cool down between firings. With seven rounds left in the magazine, the tremendous heat in the gun breech "cooked off" a round while the breech was open, exploding the projectile loaded in the gun and killing most of the gun crew. When a damage control party member made his way into the shattered mount, he found Carr, literally torn open from neck to thigh, attempting vainly to load a shell into the demolished gun breech. The rescue team member took the round from Carr and laid him aside as he began to remove the bodies of the others of the gun crew.

Returning to the mount, he found that Petty Officer Carr had dragged himself back to his gun, and with projectile in hand, he was trying to load his gun. Carr begged the sailor to help him get off one last round. His shipmate pulled him from the mount and laid him on the deck, where he died a few moments later, beneath the gun he served.

Petty Officer Carr was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, and USS Carr (FFG-52) was named in his honor.

 “Struck, Sir?  I have not yet begun to fight!”

Don't give up the ship. Fight her till she sinks!”

“Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”  Lt (jg)  Howell Forgy, ChC, USN, USS New Orleans, Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941.

“Take her down.” Cdr Howard W. Gilmore, USN, off the Solomons in USS Growler, 7 February 1943 (His dying words from the bridge as he placed his ship and crew before himself.)

“A ship that won’t be sunk, can’t be sunk!”  Capt L. E. Gehres, USN, USS Franklin, off Honshu, 19 March 1945

 "No! I'll never abandon ship as long as a single gun will fire." Capt F. Julian Becton, USN, USS Laffey, Radar Picket Station 1 off Okinawa, 17 April 1945

"Write something about Aaron Ward. She was a great ship.”Alexander Sharp, VAdm, USN (ret), referring to USS Aaron Ward (DM 34) and her 40 minute fight for her life on the evening of 3 May 1945, Radar Picket Station 10 off Okinawa.

“Get the hell away from my ship or I will run you down.”

“Dammit, boys, they’re getting away!” 

That was our Navy. That is the proud heritage of the Navy.  

Whether or not it still is remains to be seen.

No comments: