USS Earle (DD-635), January 1943 at New York Navy Yard.
1/3/43 German radio reported attack on Casablanca the night after we left the area. The supply convoy of 35 ships was probably packed like sardines in the harbor. No dope on damage. Could have been murderous. Apparently we picked the right time to get out of there. Excitement galore today.
We were patrolling station in the “coffin corner” astern of the convoy. Shortly after I went off watch at 2000 we picked up an SG radar contact. Didn’t arouse much interest at first, everyone thinking of a dummy run or a ghost. Contact persisted, however. I had got to bed pretty tired and was very nearly asleep when: “all hands to general quarters! Show no lights! Followed by the general alarm. Whipped on shoes but no socks. Grabbed sweater, watch cap and life jacket and ran topside. Worrill still in his skivies when I left. Of course my telephone lines would get fouled in a pinch, but got machine gun batteries reported in in fairly good time. Hagan, my talker was on the JA circuit and could overhear a lot of what was going on the bridge below. FD radar picked up the contact, tracked it and got solution: target angle 180 degrees, speed 12 knots.
Captain conned ship so that contact was kept continuously on our starboard bow 030-009-063. Tenseness and excitement mounting. Then the order, “all machine guns load”, which I repeated to the guns. Rather surprised at my own coolness and steadiness of voice. Last target angle we had was 165 degrees last range 1400. Skipper yelled, “illuminate”. Then began comedy of errors. A signalman on the bridge opened up blindly with an uncontrolled signal searchlight. It was meant to be a standby 24″ in case of failure of the 36″ fire control searchlight. Perhaps 10 seconds later, it seemed like half an hour, the 36″ search light illuminated and there it was, plain as day. Conning tower colored gray and camouflaged. Bridge searchlight must have tipped him off because he was already submerging. I was leaning over the rail when skipper yelled “open fire”. I immediately gave the order: Guns five, seven and nine, open fire! Shaw the gunner on gun five opened up right on the target. Tracer stream didn’t waver at all. Fired 60 rounds Rogers at gun seven fired 23 rounds, Butler at gun nine couldn’t fire immediately as the gun was in the stops, but as we swung around, gun could bear and he fired 14 rounds of 40MM with several hits. Meanwhile all 4 five inch guns were blasting away although target was inside the range of the computer. Ten five-inch shells flung at conning tower. Some say two positive hits. Others say only one. Clatter was terrific. Brilliant, blinding flashes of different colors. Smoke drifting through search light beam. Water about the sub was so splashed up that the whole picture was confused and obscured.
Not even sure that the five inch projectiles were exploding. Cease firing given. Shortly after he disappeared and immediately depth charges started. When I saw the flash and heard the report of the K gun impulse charge, I thought sure the 40’s were firing after the word to cease had been given and remember thinking the skipper would give me hell.
Dropped one 600 LB charge and 5 300 pounders. Starboard K gun pretty close. Others definite misses. Noise of the whole thing was terrific. Shallow settings on depth charges jarred whole ship. Thought the 600 pounder had blown off our own fantail. Rehash of the whole thing was possibly sunk certainly hit several times, maybe severely damaged. Didn’t open up with 5 inch battery soon enough as the computer minimum is 1500 yards and range we fixed at was 1200. Torpedo would have been the thing for him but captain was afraid of hitting the convoy. Ramming would have finished him sure as we were already inside range. Total time for whole engagement was 45 seconds. Higgins confusing everything for 5″ guns, yelling for repeats. Hoist jammed in his mount and he fired only 1 round. Couldn’t locate Chief Gunner’s Mate to fix it. “Where the hell was Proulx? All guns report if the Chief Gunner’s mate is at your station send him to mount #1 if you see him.” Typical comments: The captain, “I wouldn’t mind seeing some wreckage but if we saw any floating bodies that damn doctor would probable want to pick them and stick them in the ice box. Willis: “The captain did a beautiful job of conning.” Thomas: “I never saw such a lousy job of conning, Did he think he could sink it with machine guns?” The XO: I think he knew we were there before we illuminated but there is no doubt he was still surprised. Probably thought it was some damn trawler or corvette. Must have thought he tangled with a mess of wild cats when we opened up.” Gawd, felt fine during the attack, except that you could have stirred my knees with a teaspoon.
1/4/43 this is too much! Another one tonight. GQ at 2345. In bed only three hours. Another contact on SG radar verified by FD. Tracked and solved before GQ. First appeared at 11,000 yards. We were inside screen, two destroyers being outboard of us on the port side of the convoy. Sub must have submerged to bet by Mervino (Squadron Commander). We approached to 3200 yards keeping him on our port bow. I didn’t get the dope from the bridge and was standing on starboard side of flying bridge with my view screened by the vase of the director. When we illuminated, I saw the beam of light but not the business end of it. As I rushed over, open fire came from the bridge. I repeated to guns 6,8 & 10. Immediately a stream of tracers blocked my view so that I never did see him. Ten seconds later we discharged a torpedo. The 5 inch guns had been pounding away all the while. Ammunition expended 360 rounds of 20MM, 6 rounds of 40MM, 34 five-inch shells, one torpedo and 1 K gun depth charge. Result positive destruction. We illuminated a second time to see results. Debris was sighted by some Fuel oil odor came to us. Best evidence was complete disappearance of radar pips in a manner that indicated disintegration rather than submerging. Perfect solution on main battery. Couldn’t miss, range a little to long for accurate machine gun firing. Gun #10 nearly incapacitated by blast from Mount #3 which tore off the gyro-repeater in secondary conn, smashed port life raft, burned one man on side of head, knocked everyone off his feet, knocked off helmets and telephones. In general caused so much confusion that the gun crew got off only 3 rounds at the sub. The flashes were so blinding that the loaders couldn’t see their ammunition or the guns.
Our policy is to throw everything at him whether it will reach or not. Everyone sore at the machine guns for obscuring the view. I think they won’t be used in the future except at very short ranges. No sleep for the rest of the night as I had to go on watch at 0330.
Note this was written by William Doherty in his diary. Transcribed by William O. Doherty, Jr.