Little Ship, Big War: The Saga of DE343 [NOOK Book]

Overview


Manned almost entirely by reservists, the USS Abercrombie (DE343) and her sister ships did the dirty work of the Pacific War. They escorted convoys, chased submarines, picked up downed pilots, and led the landing craft to the invasion beaches, yet they received little credit and less glory. This book is a stirring tribute to their heroic efforts, written by a naval officer who served in the Abercrombie during the war and later became a best-selling author. First published in 1984, it has long been acclaimed for ...
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Little Ship, Big War: The Saga of DE343

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Overview


Manned almost entirely by reservists, the USS Abercrombie (DE343) and her sister ships did the dirty work of the Pacific War. They escorted convoys, chased submarines, picked up downed pilots, and led the landing craft to the invasion beaches, yet they received little credit and less glory. This book is a stirring tribute to their heroic efforts, written by a naval officer who served in the Abercrombie during the war and later became a best-selling author. First published in 1984, it has long been acclaimed for presenting a view of the navy as the sailors actually saw it--the joys and pains, the humor and gravity, the successes and defeats.

Ed Stafford provides an authentic, day-by-day account of life on board DE343, from the Battle of Leyte Gulf and picket duty against kamikazes at Okinawa to the signing of the peace treaty in Tokyo Harbor. To create an accurate picture he consulted ship logs and after-action reports and interviewed members of the crew. Although the book focuses on events in a particular warship, it tells the story of every small ship and their valiant crews that rose to the challenge and fought with everything they had until the war was won.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
DE343 is the USS Abercrombie, which, along with many similar class ships (Destroyer Escorts) during World War II, ran escort missions, hunted subs, rescued downed pilots, and engaged in many other dangerous and noble endeavors. Yet the importance of these vessels has been overlooked by naval historians, who have concentrated on the more glamorous battleships, aircraft carriers, etc. Stafford's volume chronicles the history of the Abercrombie from its construction through its many missions and ultimately to its sale as scrap. "A fascinating and unique work for World War II collections" (LJ 7/84). Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612511931
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 10/11/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 602,521
  • File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

Orange, Texas


In the early months of 1944, the war was being waged on a global basis. And since the surface of the earth is nearly three-fourths water, United States naval forces were everywhere committed and engaged. In the English Channel ports, masses of ships were assembling and rehearsing for the long-awaited invasion and liberation of Europe. Along the ocean lifelines supporting Allied forces in Italy and North Africa, other ships and planes were battling the U-boats and Axis bombers. On the opposite side of the globe, fast carrier task forces were suppressing and neutralizing the main enemy base of Truk, "the Gibraltar of the Pacific," and supporting the capture of Kwajalein and Eniwetok. In the South Pacific, landing craft and their escorts were putting troops ashore to occupy Manus in the Admiralty Islands with its magnificent Seeadler Harbor. At the same time, final preparations were going forward for the recapture of Guam, Saipan and Tinian, an operation requiring more than 500 ships to deliver 127,000 troops to hostile islands 3,500 miles from the nearest major U.S. base.

    During those same months, shipyards on all three U.S. coasts, and even plants far inland, were cranking out ships by the dozens to meet those commitments. Seventeen coastal shipyards and a score of inland fabricators were building and assembling destroyer escorts. One such shipyard, the Consolidated Steel Corporation building yard in Orange, Texas, was turning out a new destroyer escort about every eight days.

    When I reported to Orange on 16 March, five DEs in variousstages of completion were moored to the company's long wooden dock on the Sabine. The dock smelled of creosote and dry wood, and a faint odor of still, muddy water wafted up between the heavy planks. Railroad tracks ran the length of the dock about ten feet from the water. Across the dock from the line of ships was a two-story, shedlike building with a peaked roof and a line of windows in the upper story. The lower story had four wide doors opening onto the dock and a huge, hangarlike opening at one end. A sign on the corner of the building read "Supply Department" and under that "Building 118."

    Sailors in dungarees and undress blues, and chiefs and officers in khakis and the new grays, crossed back and forth between ships and shed. Most of the officers carried clipboards and gray, Navy-issue flashlights or rolled blueprints or plans. One of the ships was already in her "dazzle" warpaint of black, gray and white irregular, sweeping curves and blotches. Another was in the process of being painted, with spray guns hissing and the smell of paint in the air. The cross-dock traffic was heavier at those ships and it moved faster. There was a feeling of organized urgency.

    The ships themselves were draped with a spaghettilike tangle of electrical cables, compressed-air lines, oxygen and acetylene hoses, ropes and rigging. They rang with riveting and flashed with blue showers of welding sparks. Dockside cranes swung large, heavy objects aboard and lowered them gently into place—twenty-millimeter guns, chestlike ready-ammunition lockers, long loops of anchor chain, crates, bales and boxes.

    I walked down the dock in the thin spring sun, stepping over the lines and cables, trying to stay clear of the cross-dock traffic, anxious for my first look at the ship in which I would go back to the war. It was one of those moments that are clearly of huge personal significance. The orders I carried in a large official envelope were specific: "Report to the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Consolidated Steel Corporation, Limited, for temporary duty commissioning and fitting out USS Abercrombie (DE343) and duty aboard that vessel when commissioned." When aboard I was to be First Lieutenant (the First Lieutenant on a DE is third in command after the Captain and the Executive Officer). He is in charge of the deck force, responsible for the maintenance and integrity of the hull and all its fittings, and for damage control and fire fighting, should those be necessary. All that was known. What was not known was what kind of a ship Abercrombie would be. Every ship has its individual personality: competent, lackadaisical or incompetent; aggressive or reluctant; homelike or barrackslike; lucky or unlucky, happy or unhappy. That personality derives both from the quality of her construction and equipment, and from the officers and men of her crew. What would Abercrombie's men be like? For better or for worse they would be married to her for years, years in remote and hostile seas, years of danger, discomfort and deprivation. Two hundred men and a dozen officers, each highly individual, would go to war in Abercrombie. Would they mesh into an efficient fighting machine which would enable Abercrombie to accomplish the missions for which she was designed, and incidentally improve the chances of her men's survival? Or would they be merely 212 assorted young men operating a sterile seagoing machine without character or focus? What relationships would develop among those men, jammed under the pressure of war into a 306- by 37-foot steel hull for no one knew how long? Lifelong friendships? Bitter hostilities? Simple, fraternal companionships? All of the above?

    It would of course be impossible to answer any of those questions by simply looking at the new ship for the first time. But it was a place to start.

    The DE sparkling in her completed coat of dazzle paint was, according to the lettering across the stern, the John C. Butler, and the white numbers on her bow were 339. She was the first of this new class of warship, with 12,000-hp geared steam turbines, dual-purpose five-inch guns and a new, low, clean silhouette. It was obvious that when the tangle and mess of the yard were cleared away, the DE would be beautiful in a clean-cut, deadly, efficient way. The big guns fore and aft, poking out of enclosed mounts raised above the narrow decks, looked competent and formidable. One level up in the superstructure behind each 5"/38, the twin forty-millimeters with their heavy recoil springs and flash-shield cones on their muzzles, capable of hammering out 160 explosive rounds a minute, were comfortably menacing. The short, raked single stack amidships just abaft the mast added a touch of dash, and just aft of that, high on the boat deck where it could launch over either side, the triple torpedo mount was an exciting reminder that in a pinch the Butler could give pause to any enemy ship afloat. The clean, straight sweep of the deck from the anchors at her high, sharp bow to the depth-charge racks low on her fantail and the ordered symmetry of her armament made her as graceful as a yacht. Her appearance inspired a feeling of pride and promise, an itch to stand on her bridge and feel her take the sea.

    The partially painted ship was the O'Flaherty, number 340, and behind her lay the Raymond, number 341, still spotted and pale yellow in zinc chromate primer. Raymond looked raw and naked with her guns not yet aboard and the holes in her deck fore and aft where the 5"/38s would go. Astern of Raymond lay Richard W. Suesens, number 342, obviously still farther from completion, since even her mast had not yet been stepped.

    Then suddenly there she was, a mastless, gunless yellow hull with empty hawsepipes and gaping holes in her decks. Through a huge opening toward the stern, a crane was lowering heavy machinery; parts of her engineering plant were still being installed. But on her yellow bow the neat white numbers stood out clearly—343—and evenly spaced across her broad transom the single, unforgettable long name: A b e r c r o m b i e.

    I stood for a long time looking at her, thinking how very well I would get to know every inch of this now unfamiliar hull, wondering what distant seas and lands I would see from her decks, what kinds of storms and skirmishes and battles we would face together, and what would be the circumstances of our eventual homecoming. And as I stood staring at this potent new entity in my life, I felt the first stirrings of affection. She seemed so vulnerable in her unfinished state, like a premature infant. I knew she was just a steel hull in the final phases of fabrication, yet I felt a touch of embarrassment for her with that heroic name on her stern yet still only half a ship, high and ungraceful in the brown river, her innards open to the sky, no mast for symmetry and vision, no weapons for defense, and dressed in that callow coat of blotched and faded yellow. She seemed to be pleading for completion, for her mast and guns and warpaint and crew so that she might get to sea where she belonged.

    Through one of the big doors across the dock, in a makeshift office surrounded by crates and boxes, I found the beginnings of her crew, two officers and a chief yeoman. Art Hellman, the Stores Officer, had been in Orange since 3 March, and Gus Adams, the Engineering Officer, had arrived only four days ago. Art was an affable, outgoing reservist not long out of a flourishing paint business in Ohio. Gus was a rather taciturn, no-nonsense regular Navy officer who had earned his commission the hard way, up from fireman through chief and warrant officer. The Chief Yeoman, expertly clattering away on a big manual typewriter, was Jim Larkin from New Orleans, young for a CPO, with dark hair and brown eyes. Larkin would be responsible, under the Executive Officer, for all the paper work—records, reports, files and correspondence—that would flow from Abercrombie's little ship's office during her active life.

    Both Hellman and Adams were Lieutenants (junior grade)—"jaygees." I was a Lieutenant, period, so I found myself in charge.

    When the introductions were over, Larkin pulled the paper out of his machine and handed me a copy. It was the current crew list. It showed that a total of twenty-eight men had reported thus far, including three chiefs, five first class and seven second class petty officers—a nucleus of experts in engineering, gunnery, communications, navigation, seamanship, administration, medical matters and food service.

    Both Hellman and Adams reported Abercrombie progressing on schedule, with roughly half her allowance of stores and equipment already in Orange and more gear arriving every week. Commissioning was scheduled for late April.

    I found it hard to believe that that half-empty yellow hull across the dock could be transformed into a man-of-war in less than six weeks. But that was because I had no conception of the ever-increasing tempo of activity during that time. Abercrombie's crew worked from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and later, when required by the arrival of a large shipment of gear to be inventoried, logged, lugged aboard and, in some cases, installed. That was seven days a week. The yard worked around the clock, also seven days a week. While the yard literally put the ship together, the nucleus crew put together the organization that would make her functional when she was complete. But the crew also carried, stowed, tested, calibrated and kept continuous track of what had arrived and what was still required.

    I was not "Officer-in-Charge, Precommissioning Detail, USS Abercrombie (DE343)" for long. On 24 March the Captain arrived.

    Lieutenant Bernard H. Katschinski, USNR, was a well-built, slightly florid man in his early thirties, about five feet ten inches tall, with a receding hairline and a manner which alternated between geniality and severity. He could be an amiable and urbane dinner companion ashore in the evening, and a tyrant with a temper aboard in the morning. But he knew his business. His questions were probing and pertinent, and when he got the wrong answers he knew what to do. He came to Abercrombie from command of a DE of an earlier class. Before the war he had been the manager of a packing company in San Francisco. Before that he had graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a commission as ensign from the NROTC unit there.

    For two weeks after the Captain's arrival, Abercrombie's nucleus crew remained essentially the same—Katschinski, Stafford, Hellman, Adams and thirty-odd men. During those days the skipper and I lived with our wives in furnished apartments in Beaumont, and car-pooled the twenty-eight miles back and forth to Orange. Hellman and Adams lived in bachelor officers' quarters, and the enlisted men in barracks in Orange, about five miles from the yard, riding battleship-gray buses back and forth to the ship.

    And every day we watched the Abercrombie grow. Each day more equipment was lugged or lowered aboard and bolted, welded or wired into place. Each day before our eyes she became more a warship and less a hull. Day by day she settled more deeply in the river with the weight of her arms and stores. One by one the holes in her deck were sealed. She acquired a funnel and a mast. By mid-April her five-inch guns were in place, covering the last openings in her weather deck. She was still that awful yellow, still cluttered and tangled in the webs of the workmen, but we could see the warship breaking through and we no longer felt embarrassed for her.

    On 14 April there were five officers and thirty-five men. Lieutenant (j.g.) Keith Wheeling had reported as Communications Officer and two more chiefs had arrived. Keith was about the skipper's age but his opposite in temperament, quietly competent, steady, warm and kind with frequent flashes of contagious humor.

    A week later our little nucleus was joined by the main body of Abercrombie's crew, 160 men and five officers. There were only ten days left before commissioning. The tempo of activity aboard the nearly completed ship, on the dock and in the hugely expanded office ashore accelerated until it was just short of frenetic. It had to be. There was a nearly inconceivable amount of work to be done in that time.

    First, 195 men had to be organized into departments and divisions, each with its own leading petty officer and division officer. Within each division the men had to be assigned to watches—three watches for Condition III when a third of the armament would be manned and a man would stand four hours on and eight hours off, and two watches for Condition II when half the weapons would be ready and the crew stood four on and four off. Every officer and man had to be assigned a battle station for Condition I—when all the armament would be fully manned. Within each division ("O" for ordnance and gunnery, "E" for engineering, "C" for communications, "S" for supply, and the First and Second Divisions of the deck force), each man would be assigned a bunk, a locker and a cleaning station. Bills had to be drawn up so that each man would know where to go, what to bring and what to do in case of fire, man overboard, plane crash, rescue of survivors, fueling at sea, abandon ship and other emergencies. Each man had to be assigned a station for entering or leaving port or maneuvering in restricted waters (Special Sea Details). Then each department and division had to test and inspect each of the hundreds of items of equipment, from ammunition hoists to rescue breathing apparatus (RBA) to radar, sonar and the galley ranges.

    In the ship's office, personnel and correspondence files had to be set up, typewriters and mimeograph machines acquired, desks and file cabinets lugged aboard and bolted into place.

    On the navigation bridge, charts of half the world had to be acquired, corrected to date and stowed; sextants, chronometers, stopwatches, navigational tables to be checked; signal flags to be sorted and arranged in the flag bags; halyards to be rigged; signal searchlights installed and checked out.

    In the radio shack, transmitters, receivers, speakers, microphones, headphones and special communications typewriters called "mills" had to be installed.

    On the fo'c'sle, two hundred fathoms of anchor chain would have to be painted and marked, the capstan and anchor windlass and pelican hooks and stoppers tested. Mooring lines, heaving lines and messengers had to be made up, and fenders acquired, rigged for use and stowed.

    At the opposite end of the ship in the steering engine room, the big electric motors and rams which controlled the rudders had to be tested along with backup control systems with different power sources and even chain falls for moving the twin rudders by hand if all else failed.

    The five-inch guns forward and aft had to be worked out in director, local and even manual control, the hoists for bringing up projectiles and case assemblies tested, the recoil and gas ejection systems checked.

    The two twin 40-millimeter guns and the ten 20-millimeter guns had to be cleaned of the Cosmoline with which they had been coated for preservation and shipment, then lubricated and tested.

    In firerooms and engine rooms, an assortment of blowers, burners, pumps, generators, air compressors, condensers, evaporators, valves and gauges had to be tested, checked and calibrated.

    From bow to stern, from bilges to bridge, fire hoses with fog and foam nozzles, fire extinguishers, and battle lanterns had to be inspected, tested and stowed, ready for use.

    A life jacket for every officer and man had to be brought aboard, equipped with a light, dye marker and shark repellent, and stowed where it would be readily available. A steel helmet for every man had to be stowed near his battle station.

    Down aft in sick bay, there were sterilizers which had be hooked up to steam lines; medicines and instruments to be inventoried, checked and put away; records to be set up; bunks to be readied. A large sterilizer had to be installed, and packages of instruments and dressings located in the wardroom, which would be the primary battle dressing station in combat.

    In every department, but especially in engineering, there was crate after crate of spare parts and tools to be unpacked, cataloged and located ready for use.

    And everywhere in the brand-new ship, the watertight doors and hatches came in for special attention. What made them watertight was a rubber gasket on the moving part which met a steel lip, or knife-edge, on the stationary part. But unless both parts were clean and even, water could get through. So now began the endless battle of the knife-edges and gaskets, which seemed to have a dogged affinity for rust and paint, respectively.

    And that was only the smallest sampling.

    While all this was taking place, the gray buses each day took scores of sailors to the nearby firing range, where they learned or relearned to fire revolvers, automatic pistols, carbines, rifles and even twenty- and forty-millimeter guns. Other gray buses took teams of conning officers, sonarmen and helmsmen to the antisubmarine "attack teacher," where, to the reverberating pings of a simulated sonar, they practiced attacks on simulated subs maneuvered by instructors who watched the lighted, flatiron shapes of DE and sub perform their deadly adagios on a vertical glass screen.

    Somehow the pressures of the ordered rush of those final ten days, the close cooperation required to get things done and the long hours working toward the same goals drew the hodgepodge of officers and men together and began to shape them into a crew, a unique one formed and tailored to fit the now clearly recognizable new warship, the Abercrombie.

    In the course of that process the five officers of the old nucleus crew began to become acquainted with the five who had arrived on 21 April. One was Abercrombie's Executive Officer and Navigator, John Hicks. Hicks was a fat man in his middle to late twenties with heavy jowls and thin, slicked-back brown hair. Like the Captain he was a Californian, although he came from Los Angeles and was a bachelor. At work he attempted earnestly, if somewhat obsequiously, to get things done the way the Captain wanted them done. Ashore he laughed loudly and often and frequently carried a small case with a couple of bottles of whiskey. It was hard to envision him working closely with the demanding and somewhat fastidious Katschinski.

    Two of the new arrivals were the officers of Abercrombie's gunnery department, Tom Parlon, the Gunnery Officer, and Red Bond, his assistant. Tom was from Pennsylvania, slim and short with direct blue eyes and a high forehead. He knew his gunnery, and knew how he wanted to run his department. And he ran it that way. Red Bond was out of rural Illinois, tall, quiet and steady, a few years older than most of us, with a knowledge of weaponry that went right down to the smallest pawl, cam, sear and spring. Both Tom and Red had had previous sea duty as Armed Guard officers on merchant ships. Tom had been sunk and machine-gunned in the water by a Japanese submarine off Suva in the Fiji Islands, an experience which perhaps accounted for his evident dedication to his job as Abercrombie's "Gun Boss."

    Since one of Abercrombie's primary functions would be to counter enemy submarines we were glad to see her Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) Officer report. His name was Cyrus C. DeCoster III. Cy was literally "a gentleman and a scholar," polite, considerate, intelligent, with a master's degree in romance languages and on his way to a doctorate when the war interrupted his studies. He had been Communications Officer and then skipper of a small patrol boat in Panama. It was Cy who immediately arranged the daily sessions on the attack teacher.

    The last of the five new arrivals was Ensign Otto Braunsdorf, assigned as Assistant Engineer under Gus Adams. He was young and inexperienced in the ways of the Navy and the sea, but bright with a good engineering school and a year of work in a boiler factory behind him. It was obvious that salty, pragmatic Gus Adams and intelligent, educated Otto Braunsdorf would make an effective engineering team for the new ship.

    In fact it began to be apparent, even in the maelstrom of activity leading to commissioning, that either by design or chance or a combination thereof, the ten Abercrombie officers with their differing backgrounds, experience and personalities were fitting together to form a kind of mosaic of workable leadership.

    At the top was bright, professionally competent but volatile and impatient Katschinski. Some of the volatility and impatience was filtered out as his orders and policies passed through Hicks for implementation, leaving the rest of us with an impression of sharp if demanding professionalism that instilled confidence and was easy to follow. As third in line, in charge of the deck force and damage control, I had a year of wartime command behind me, had grown up around boats and the sea, and had just completed damage control and fire fighting schools. In gunnery, Tom Parlon, the quietly hard-nosed administrator and Red Bond, the steady, hands-on supervisor and troubleshooter, made as effective a team as Adams and Braunsdorf in engineering. Cy DeCoster's considerable intellect was challenged by the theory and practice of ASW, and he responded with an energy and enthusiasm that inspired his young sonarmen. Keith Wheeling's orderly, incisive mind was ideal for his communications job with its strict security and inventory requirements, and Art Hellman, the likable, extroverted former paint salesman, was natural and successful as Stores Officer.

    There is an often-quoted saying that it is the chiefs who really run the Navy, and it is true that they provide the day-to-day, man-to-man leadership, along the lines established by the Captain and implemented by his officers, which every crew requires. It is the chiefs who have the technical experience and expertise in their fields and with those, the respect of their petty officers and nonrated men. The same is true to a lesser degree of the first class petty officers, especially in departments and divisions where there are no chiefs and the first class is effectively acting chief.

    Abercrombie's nucleus crew was blessed with five chiefs and five leading first class petty officers. There was chief water tender Jim Elliot to organize and operate the firerooms, chief machinist's mate Ralph Schoeneman to do the same for the engine rooms, chief electrician's mate Rus Benedict to monitor and supervise the electrical installations and electricians, chief quartermaster Ellis "Zeke" Marmon to run the bridge gang, and chief yeoman Jim Larkin in charge of the ship's office. Doing the jobs of chiefs and soon to be wearing the uniforms of chiefs as well were radioman first class Wallace Doty, bo'sun's mate first class Albert Lee Murphy Holloway, pharmacist's mate first class Charles Holston, gunner's mate first class Jim Ramsay, and ship's cook first class Roy Glidewell. In firerooms and engine rooms, the chiefs were backed up by first and second class petty officers. Chief electrician's mate Benedict was supported by a second class and a third class petty officer. In gunnery there were also a third class firecontrolman and a third class torpedoman. Under Chief Marmon on the bridge was a second class signalman; in supply, a store keeper second class; and in my area of construction and repair, a second class shipfitter and carpenter's mate. In the ship's office, Chief Larkin was assisted by college-educated yeoman first Earl Evans. To help set up and operate the wardroom mess, there was a steward's mate second class.

    It was these experienced specialists who under their officers had to organize, train and lead the rest of the crew in all the multiplicity of tasks the new ship would be assigned, and in the ultimate test of action with the enemy for which she was built and manned. That was a big job. Because most of the rest of the crew were alert and patriotic but largely inexperienced kids from cities, towns, villages, hamlets and farms all over America. The majority were under twenty and right out of boot camp. Some had been to special technical schools—radar, sonar, signal, refrigeration, fire control, torpedo, gunnery, radio, cooking and baking—and would be putting their new skills to use for the first time in Abercrombie.

    But with long hours, hard work and a dash of good luck, the necessary organizing and training were accomplished and the final installations in the ship completed.

    On 21 April, under the scrutiny of Gus Adams, Otto Braunsdorf and a team of yard and naval engineers, Abercrombie's engineering plant was fired up for the first time—the Navy Special fuel oil ignited and flared in her two boilers, turning the water there to steam, which hissed through the new valves and piping to spin the big turbines, and by means of reduction gears, turned the twin shafts and propellers. Each shaft was run ahead and astern for one hour while the engineers recorded steam pressure, steam temperature, main condenser vacuum and bearing temperatures, and the mooring lines drew taut against the pressure of the turning screws. When it was over, Abercrombie had passed her Preliminary Acceptance Trials.

    On the twenty-sixth, a fleet of the gray buses pulled up alongside the ship, and the crew, sea bags on their shoulders, filed aboard to take up indefinite residence. One man, electrician's mate second class Harry Miles, carried a nondescript black-and-white puppy under his left arm.

    Then on the twenty-ninth, another team of engineers and naval officers came aboard with flashlights and checklists on clipboards. They divided into parties of two or three to each department and, accompanied by Abercrombie's officers and leading petty officers, spent almost all day inspecting every inch of the new ship, operating every piece of equipment from windshield wipers and whistle to main engines and five-inch mounts. The next day was the longest and busiest yet as the discrepancies they had found were corrected; but at quitting time the Captain announced that Abercrombie had been formally accepted by the Navy of the United States.

    On the first day of May 1944, Abercrombie was commissioned.

    We had been peripherally aware of other commissionings during the weeks in Orange—John C. Butler on 31 March, O'Flaherty on 8 April, Raymond on 15 April, Suesens on 26 April—but we had been too busy to notice more than some strains of music from down the dock, the flash of white uniforms and summer dresses, and periodic ripples of applause.

    Now Abercrombie was at center stage. On the morning of the the first of May, work began as usual, but toward noon the yard workers, male and female, began to leave the ship, taking their tools and equipment and reeling in their lines, power cords and hoses as they went. For the first time ever, Abercrombie was without that obscuring and disorderly tangle, and it was as though she had been suddenly unveiled. Her crew turned to with brooms and swabs; and by early afternoon, in her bright new paint with the Texas sun full on her, she was as handsome a warship as ever saw the sea.

    The short ceremony began promptly at three o'clock. On Abercrombie's broad fantail, officers and crew stood at attention in silent, white-clad ranks. On the dock in rows of folding chairs sat the invited guests, mostly the wives, sweethearts and families of the crew, my own wife and father among them. In the center of the front row were Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Abercrombie of Kansas City.

    Adjacent to the guests, in other folding chairs, a band played Sousa marches, the musicians having put aside welders' masks, pneumatic drills and paint guns for drums, trumpets and bass horns.

    A few minutes after three, the band quieted and a little procession of dignitaries stepped up to the podium on the fantail. First, the vice president and manager of Consolidated Steel Corporation formally turned over the new ship to the U.S. Navy. Second, the supervisor of shipbuilding at Orange, representing the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, read the orders empowering him to do so and then formally accepted the ship for the Navy. At the conclusion of his remarks, he ordered, "Hoist the colors!" Forward, a sailor broke out the Union Jack, with its white stars on a Navy blue field, at the jack staff. Aft, another sailor ran the national ensign up the short, aft-slanting flag staff. And amidships, a third sailor sent a fluttering sliver of red, white and blue soaring to the truck—the commission pennant. Abercrombie became in that instant the United States Ship Abercrombie, a commissioned warship.

    Then the new warship was turned over to her Captain, and Katschinski, now wearing the gold oak leaves and two-and-a-half stripes of a lieutenant commander, read his orders, assumed command and ordered Hicks to "Set the watch." At three-thirty exactly, the watch was set, and the positions manned on quarterdeck, bridge and engineering spaces, which would be occupied continuously in port as long as Abercrombie remained in commission.

    The ceremony ended with the playing of the national anthem. Then there were cake and punch in wardroom and mess hall followed by informal tours of the shining new ship by the invited guests. For another hour, Abercrombie's gray passageways and compartments and the apple-green staterooms of "officers' country" were on display, felt the tap of high heels, lilted with female voices and were fragrant with perfume, an experience never to be repeated. And an experience that was only slightly marred when a party of officers and their families peered into the handling room of the forward five-inch gun expecting to see casing and powder hoists, but were startled to see instead a sailor and his girl in an advanced state of undress and amorous activity. (The party quickly moved on while a petty officer was left behind to assure the couple's departure and to record the man's name for appropriate disciplinary action.)

    By four-thirty all guests had left the ship and the yard workers were back aboard, because although Abercrombie was now a commissioned man-of-war, much work still had to be done before she would be ready for sea.


    The deck log for that first day of Abercrombie's life listed 10 officers and 195 enlisted men "attached to this vessel on date of commissioning." The entry for the 16-20 (4:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.) watch read:


USS Abercrombie moored portside to City Docks, Orange, Texas, with six wire hawsers to the dock. Ships present USS Richard W. Suesens, SOPA (Senior Officer Present Afloat), and other ships as listed in log of SOPA. Receiving telephone service from the dock.


    The 20-24 (8:00 P.M. to 12:00 midnight) entry read simply "Moored as before." Both watches were signed by Tom Parlon. The day's log was signed "Examined" by J. R. Hicks, Navigator and "Approved" by B. H. Katschinski, Commanding Officer.

    The following morning a naval message clattered out of a teletype in New Orleans and was instantly received in Washington. It was from the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, and addressed to the Chief of Naval Operations:


USS Abercrombie DE343 ACCEPTED 29 APRIL COMMISSIONED 1 MAY LTCMDR BERNARD H. KATCHINSKI USNR COMMANDING.


    A warship had been born.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 7
Prologue 15
Book I
1. Orange, Texas 23
2. Galveston 36
3. Bermuda 49
4. Boston, Aruba and Panama 65
5. San Diego, Hawaii and the Admiralties 85
Book II
1. Samar 111
2. Lingayen 163
3. Okinawa 211
4. The China Sea 276
Book III
1. Korea and Japan 289
2. Homeward Bound 301
Epilogue 315
Itinerary and Chronology of Significant Events 321
Crewmen Contributors 325
Bibliographical Notes 327
Index 329
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    My naval service was but 8 years. I enlisted in 1985 as a Hospi

    My naval service was but 8 years. I enlisted in 1985 as a Hospital Corpsman. My first tour was at Bethesda Emergency Dept. where I met Adm Arleigh Burke a few times. My sea daddy sent me to the fleet. I was in Harry E Yarnell, CG 17. 1200 psi steam plant. Got ESWS on her and switched to the Green Side. After my Combat tour with Task Force Ripper as a Second Class I got out. I love to read. Suprisingly this was a great read. You can feel the deck under your feet as they go to flank speed. You can smell the gunpowder as they fire w 5 inch 38, 40 and 20 mike mike as the divine wind boys try to kill them. It is amazing that most of the crew were reservists. They take you from an ugly orange hull in the Sevine River , and follow the Ship to San Diego after the war. For todays sailors who do not know the basic steam cycle...it is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2001

    Well written book

    I thought that this book was very good. I liked how Mr. Stafford took me through the beginning of the ship through to the end of the war. He used his own expereances aboard the ship to tell some very good stories. Some of the stories were entertaining. I would recommend this book to everyone and hope that they liked it too.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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