Monday, March 2, 2009

Rogue Wave

My father was a Chief Machinists Mate during WW II. He was also a plank owner on the USS Ericsson, DD 440. ( I've written about the Ericsson before. Links are here and here) He began going to ship reunions later in his life. While I was going through his papers after he died, I found some of the programs and notes from those reunions. What follows is the notations from the ships log concerning an incident at sea.

25 January 1945

0800 Position – 35 deg 12.5 N, 65 deg 54.0 W
1200 Position – 35 deg 04.7 N, 65 deg 13.0 W
2000 Position – 34 deg 50.0 N, 63 deg 45.5 W
Steaming as before
0056 ATHERTON returned to station #2 in screen. ERICSSON returned to station #1. Took heavy sea on port side, lurched heavily to starboard. Lost steering power. Gyro repeater system disrupted, small fire in I.C. room caused by salt water dripping on electric panel. Fire extinguished immediately. Motor whale boat carried away. Lost man overboard.
0303 Steering power restored. Commenced steering by magnetic compass.
0330 BANGOR ordered by CTG 60.7 to remaining area to try to rescue man overboard.
0705 Gyro compass restored to service

26 January 1945

0800 Position – 34 deg 59.5 N, 61 deg 28.0 W
1200 1200 Position - 35 deg 01.0 N, 60 deg 45.9 W
2000 2000 Position – 35 deg 15.0 N, 59 deg 14.0 W
0447 BOOTH (DE 170) joined screen, took station astern of convoy.
0834 AMICK left station to identify contact on starboard bow of convoy
1015 AMICK returned to screen
1500 BANGOR returned to normal screening station having rescued man overboard.

The rather laconic phrase “lurched heavily to starboard” and “small fire caused by salt water dripping on electric panel” don’t quite describe what was happening during those early morning hours.

What follows is an excerpt from the personal recollection of the incident by CMMSnuffySneeden that was in the package of Dad’s papers.

“Our watch relieved the forward engine room at 0000 hours. Things were as normal in the engine room as they could be in that sea. It seemed like the seas were playing with the ship like a cat would play a mouse, by throwing it up in the air and catching it on the way down.

We had an inclinometer in the compartment and it was indicating that we were rolling from 35 to 45 degrees both port and starboard……

I do not remember the time but Ericsson made an extreme roll to the port side and I started to slide down the floor plates to the port side. I remember sliding past Ray Mylott. He was holding on to one of the throttle valve wheels and sea water was gushing from one of the fresh air vents all over him, he looked drowned. At the same time sea water was pouring from another air vent all over the electric distribution panel at the #1 generator. There were many electric sparks and the generator went off line. All the lights went out and the emergency battle lamps came on, which was very little light. I came to rest against a small stand-up desk on the port side, lucky all the phones were there. Ray Mylott called out “No Steam” and everything stopped, the ship was still on its port side.

The telephones were out except for the sound powered one. I called the forward fireroom and they reported sea water had come down the smokestack and put out fires in both their boilers, the after fireroom reported water had put out the fire in one boiler but they had fire left in the other. The after engine room had their generator and pumps running, but sea water had shorted out their distribution board also…….

I have heard later that the roll was logged at 68 degrees. That surely must have put the post wing of the bridge under water and also the port yard arm.”

The man washed overboard and later recovered was John Nealon.

To put this in perspective, remember that it was the end of January 1945. The Battle of the Bulge had been won and the Germans were being pushed back to the Fatherland. Everyone must have known that war was close to ending and didn’t want to end up being killed in a storm at sea.

I can relate to what they must have been feeling. I was once on board a drilling rig that was under tow to a new location in the Gulf of Alaska. There was a good storm blowing when the tow line parted. It left us at the mercy of storm and we were being rapidly blown to the coast of Alaska. At times like those, you can get focused real quick. We had to manually recover the tow line and then jury rig a new tow line using the rigs anchor and chain. Obviously, it all worked out for the best but it gave me a new respect for men “who go down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters.”

If you want to learn more about the Ericsson and other destroyers, go to Destroyers On Line.

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