Hunter-Killers in the Atlantic: October-December, 1943

In the late autumn of 1943, thanks to high-frequency electronic research and unlimited audacity, the Allied air-sea forces at last began to thwart the U-boat offensive. This is the heroic story which REAR ADMIRAL SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON, USNR (Ret.) tells in his new booh. The Atlantic Battle Won, from which these episodes have been drawn. This is the tenth volume in his magnificent history of our Navy in the Second World War.

by SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON

ECCE ET NAVES — There go the Ships. Always we come back to the convoys. Although the name is three centuries old, there had been nothing like these in all maritime history, and possibly never will be again: seventy to a hundred freighters and tankers of divers Allied and neutral flags — American, British, Panamanian, Brazilian, Dutch, Russian, French, Norwegian, and Greek; after 1943, Italian — manned by merchant mariners of every race and nation under the sun, from Finns with parchment-like faces to brown Lascars and black Africans; of all ages and conditions, from boys too young for the Navy to bearded and toothless old salts.

All American and British merchant vessels at this period — and many, too, under foreign flags — have guns and Naval Armed Guards. Besides the master on the bridge of an American vessel in a UGS (U.S. to Gibraltar slow) convoy is the commodore, and in another is the vice-commodore, who will take over if the flagship is sunk; both are retired officers of the United States Navy recalled to active duty, having the authority to crack the whip over smokers, stragglers, and rompers. No ego can be tolerated in these fleets of heavy-laden freighters, “fraught with the ministers and instruments of cruel war.”

Before the war most master mariners jeered at the idea of a convoy keeping uniform speed — it “couldn’t be done” with a fleet made up of perhaps thirty different types of hulls and engines; but it was done in World War I without radar and again in World War II with radar, greatest boon of scientist to sailorman since the chronometer. Even so, to an old-timer it seems a fresh miracle every morning when the rising sun lights the same ships in the same order as those dark shapes which faded in the deepening twilight the night before. And any vessel, even a Hog Islander or an average Norwegian tramp with more rust than red-lead topside, is transfigured to a fair argosy when flooded by the first rosy light from the sun rising out of Africa.

Outside the compact main body of the convoy, in which the 10 to 15 columns are 800 to 1000 yards apart, and each ship’s bow not less than 500 yards ahead of the next one’s bow, plies the screen. The majority of its units are United States destroyers or DEs, with a few fast minesweepers and perhaps a couple of Fighting French corvettes to escort provision ships to North Africa when the convoy breaks up. Nine to eleven is the proper number in the fall of 1943. The advanced screen may steam as much as 10 miles ahead of the convoy, in order to detect surfaced U-boats; the close screen, according to weather, number of ships, or other circumstances, may be 5000 to 8000 yards outside the merchant ships, in a circular disposition. Each is continually questing for underwater enemies with the monotonous “ping” of her sonar, and for surfaced or flying enemies with the rotating grids of her radar sets. At the rear of the center column steams an escort tanker which breaks off when the screen needs oil, and fuels two ships at a time alongside at fair speed while two others of the screen mount radar and sonar guard. The escort commander, a destroyer division or squadron commander, has the direction of the entire disposition even though he be junior by twenty years to the convoy commodore. It is he who receives orders and messages from Cinclant or Tenth Fleet from the twice-daily Fox schedule and transmits them by blinker in daylight or short-range voice radio by night to whomsoever in the convoy they may concern; for merchant ships must keep radio silence. And often against the skyline can be seen the welcome silhouette of an escort carrier, with planes coming and going like bees around a hive.

Suppose we follow westbound Convoy GUS-18 (Gibraltar-United States slow), fifty-five merchant ships, most of them from Italy and the Middle and Far East. Formed at Port Said, it calls at Oran and at Gibraltar, where, on October 17, 1943, the British escort commander turns it over to Commander John Connor in Stevenson, whose escort group comprises eight destroyers and U.S.C.G.C. Spencer. Captain G. L. Woodruff is convoy commodore in S.S. Thomas Pinckney. Three ships join off Gibraltar and four are detached; off Casablanca, nine more merchant vessels, sweeper Staff, and escort oiler Kennebee join. The convoy now forms up in 13 columns, the center ones with six ships each, tapering off to two-ship columns on the wings, a circular formation that facilitates patrol by the screen. Steaming against the autumn westerlies, the speed of advance is set at 8 knots, and stations are well kept. Destroyer Turner, one of t he advanced screen 7½miles ahead of the convoy center, runs down a radar contact in the evening of October 23 and sights a U-boat close aboard; she attacks with gunfire and depth charges and has the satisfaction of seeing the submarine assume an angle of 70 degrees and plunge. All she gets from the hard-boiled Tenth Fleet assessors is “insufficient evidence of damage,” which turns out to be correct— that submarine escaped.

Copyright 1956, by Samuel Eliot Morison.

During the first two days of November, Convoy GUS-18 is scattered by foul weather over an area, roughly 40 miles square, but re-forms successfully as soon as the storm abates. It enjoys continuous air coverage from departure to October 25, and again from the 31st until the Norfolk and New York sections part company off the Capes on November 4. An escort carrier group built around U.S.S. Card has furnished a part of this air support; but Card and her destroyers have had a good deal else to do during this passage.

The Card scores

Well-blooded escort carrier Card, commanded by Captain Arnold J. Isbell, has as her screen the 1917-vintage flush-deckers Borie, Barry, and Goff. While Card was undergoing two weeks’ overhaul at Norfolk in September, her escorts were fitted with the new FXR (“Foxer”) gear, a contraption of parallel rods which clack together when towed, making an unholy racket designed to attract and detonate the new German acoustic torpedo. That it did, and very successfully, as Card’s next cruise proved; unfortunately the noise drowned out the delicate sound gear on the towing ship at 10 knots or more, nullifying her principal means of sparring with a submerged U-boat. As no scientist came up with a remedy, some destroyer skippers took to stationing a bluejacket on the fantail with a sharp axe, ready to cut away Foxer when sound contact was established.

On his eastward passage to Casablanca in wide support of Convoy UGS-19, Captain Isbell at 9:01 A.M. on October 4 received a radio signal from one of his Avenger pilots: he had sighted a veritable jackpot — four submarines fueling within a radius of 500 yards! The biggest, U-460, had just topped off U-264 and was getting lines across to U-422 while U-455 stood by for its turn. Card, 83 miles distant, launched three more planes. Lieutenant R. L. Stearns, who sent the message, attacked at once. Wealing his way among antiaircraft bursts from all four boats, he planted a 500-pound bomb between U-264 and the milch cow. Doenitz had ordered every member of his thinning group of 1600-tonners to submerge immediately if attacked; but the commander of U-460, instead of so doing, argued with the skipper of U-264 over who should dive first. As a result, only U-455 had submerged when Stearns’s air reinforcements appeared. A Wildcat and an Avenger buzzed the surface trio like a pair of hornets, silencing the antiaircraft fire of two of the boats after taking numerous hits. The skipper of the 1600-tonner now belatedly tried to submerge, but Stearns dropped a 500-pound bomb just ahead of the swirl, and the big boat disintegrated, spewing forth gruesome human debris.

Captain Isbell at 10:38 launched five Avengers and three Wildcats, which joined those already in action; four of them found U-264‚ which fought back so skillfully as to force an attacking Avenger to drop its bombs prematurely. It looked as if three out of the four had escaped; but later in the same day damaged U-422 had to broach 5 miles from the scene of battle and was promptly jumped by a waiting fighter-bomber team piloted by Lieutenants (jg) S. li. Holt and S. E. Doty. A 500pound bomb released by Holt finished this boat— the sixth kill by the Card group.

Foul weather now set in. On October 7, Card lost an Avenger, snapped off the flight deck in a sudden lurch, with the pilot and a crew member. Captain Isbell turned south in search of better flying conditions, fueled, and moved north at flank speed as wind and sea abated. On Columbus Day, October 12, his airmen flushed the nucleus of another fueling concentration, supply boat U-488. Twice attacked, it was damaged and ordered home. On October 13, P-402, hopefully nosing along toward its milch cow, was forced to dive by squadron commander Howard M. Avery’s Wildcat, and sunk by a 500-pound bomb dropped by an Avenger piloted by Ensign B. C. Sheela.

The Borie’s last battle

On the return trip westbound, Captain Isbell’s group provided cover for Convoy GUS-18 until it was well clear of the Azores, doubled back around Santa Maria, then turned northwest to break up a submarine fueling concentration some 500 miles north of Flores. The fringe of this concentration had just been cracked, and 1600-ton U-220 sunk by the Block Island escort carrier group. On the afternoon of October 80, Lieutenant Fryatt, one of Card’s “hottest” Avenger pilots, flushed a U-boat at lat. 48° 43′ N, long. 32° 19' W. In accordance with Grossadmiral Doenitz’s latest instructions, canceling his previous “fight back” tactics, the submarine dove before Fryatt could drop a 500pounder, and escaped. But another fueling pair that Lieutenant (jg) W. S. Fowler spotted next day failed to obey the new doctrine. One of them, U-91, got away; but Fowler and Lieutenant (jg) L. S. Balliett (who had been promptly vectored to the scene) each planted a ,500-pound bomb which sent U-584 into a 2000-fathom deep about 656 miles north of Flores.

Captain Isbell had no intention of allowing U-91, which he mistakenly assumed to be a milch cow, to escape. It was too late in the day for flight operations, and his carrier needed her three-destroyer screen as protection against submarines known to be nearby; but litdecided nevertheless to send destroyer Boric to search for l -91.

I’.S.S. Boric was an old flush-decker, commanded by Lieutenant Charles 11. Hutchins, w hose officers had astounded a na\‘al constructor at New 5 ork with their proficiency at throw ing knives and dishes about the wardroom. They were just warming up! Although the junior C.O. of the screen, Lieutenant Hutchins had impressed Captain Isbell, who chose him for this mission as the skipper most likely to gel results. And he certainly got them, in the shape of an old-fashioned slug-fest recalling the light of C.S.S. Constitution with H.M.S. Java in 1812.

Borie reached the scene of the recent sinkings after dark on October 31, and before long obtained a radar contact on a surfaced boat. Lieutenant Hutchins made three attacks in heavy seas, saw the submarine go down, heard an underwater explosion, and signaled Card “Scratch one pig boat!” That particular enemy, U-256, managed to limp back to Brest; but Hutchins continued searching nearby. At 1:45 A..M. on November 1, he made another radar contact at 8000 yards. The target dove when the range closed to 2800 yards, sound contact was made at 2200 yards, and Borie attacked when about a quarter of a mile distant. Every depth charge then in her racks was expended because something had gone wrong with the release mechanism; but this proved to be a lucky break. The submarine, 500-ton U-405, responded to this shower of deadly confetti by coming to the surface, where her whitish, 220-foot hull, silhouetted by a flickering float light, looked as big as a battleship.

Then followed a gunfire-torpedo duel. Hutchins trained his 24-inch searchlight on the target and opened fire with main battery and machine guns, starting at 1400 yards, and also trying to ram. German sailors swarmed out of the conning tower, some wearing only skivvies, many with long hair and brightly colored bandannas, which offended our bluejackets’ sense of propriety and made them the more eager for a kill. A few submariners reached their guns and slammed shells into Borie’s forward engine room and bridge, but many were cut down by the destroyer’s 20 mm. machine-gun fire; and U-405’s largest gun was literally blasted over the side by a well-directed 4-inch shell.

After the antagonists had steered parallel courses for several minutes, Boric firing continuously, she closed the boat’s starboard quarter and turned left to ram. Just before the crash, U-405 also turned hard left. Boric struck it on an angle about 30 feet abaft the stem and rode up and over the forecastle. The two ships remained locked in mortal combat, one under the other, at an angle of 25 to 80 degrees, for ten minutes. Two of Borie’s main battery guns and three 20 mm, machine guns kept a continuous fire on the sub’s conning tower and deck, which were still above water. Negro mess attendants who manned a 20 mm. battery fired through the metal weal her screen; bluejackets not otherwise occupied fired tommy guns, pistols, shotguns, rifles, or whatever they could lay hands on, at the Germans. In a fairly heavy sea — waves 20 feet from trough to crest — the two vessels pounded and rolled against each other, adding the noise of grinding steel to the roar of gunfire, the clatter of machine guns, and human shouts and screams.

Lieutenant Hutchins’s exec. Lieutenant Philip B. Brown, had told his men exactly what to do if they came to close grips with a submarine, and they did it. Brown himself bounded out of the now useless combat information center to the bridge, whence he sprayed the U-boat’s decks with a tommy gun. A sheath knife hurled by Fireman First Class D. F. Southw iek buried itself in the belly of a German running to man a gun; another “Kraut was knocked overboard by an empty 4-inch shell case thrown by Chief Boatswain’s Mate Walter C. Kruz.

Although some 30 submariners were killed in this close fighting, as against none of the destroyers crew, the Germans below decks were far safer than Borie’s “black gang,” which was making a gallant fight to keep up steam. The destroyer’s plates, light enough at her birth in 1920, had by now been chipped and rusted almost paper-thin, and the whole port side became crushed and holed as it ground against the U-boat’s hard pressure hull. All hands stuck to their stations and, under the lead of Engineer Officer Lieutenant Morrison R. Brown, managed to keep up full power even when salt water was lapping the boilers. Firemen working in water chest-high were pounded by heavy gratings as Borie lurched from port to starboard. Brown remained at the throttle with the water level shoulder-high. Motor Machinist’s Mate Irving R. Saum dove into the oily water of the after engine room to close a drain fitting, making it possible to place all suction pumps on that room. Thus Borie kept on fighting.

After ten minutes of this melee the submarine managed to back out from under and opened the range to 400 yards, then went into a light turn. Borie, which had a larger turning circle, ran around the submarine, trying to get into a position to ram, and firing furiously. Four-inch hits on the starboard diesel exhaust probably penetrated the after torpedo room of U-405, and certainly did it no good. Borie fired a torpedo which missed. Lieutenant Hutchins, observing that the submarine’s after “stinger" tubes were pointing right at him, doused his searchlight, hoping that the enemy would straighten out and try to escape, which he did. Now, ordering depth charges set shallow, Hutchins bent on 27 knots, turned on the searchlight, and closed to ram. He was on collision course with the U-boat, on his starboard bow, when it swung hard left and endeavored to ram Borie on her starboard quarter. Hutchins, with great presence of mind, ordered Hard Left Rudder and, with port engine backing full and starboard engine stopped, slewed his fantail with its depth-charge projectors right across the path of the submarine. Three charges fired a couple of seconds later made a perfect straddle around the conning tower, lifting U-405 bodily and stopping it dead when its stem was only 6 feet from Borie’s stern. The submarine backed its engines and attempted to pull out. Borie swung rapidly to port and pursued, firing with all her guns and, as the range opened, launching a torpedo which missed. One 4-inch shell blew Korvettenkapitän Hopman and his bridge crew overboard; another shell made a “very, very effective hit” on the U-boat’s exhaust tube, and the boat glided to a halt. Submariners were now coming on deck with hands raised and firing white Very flares in lieu of a white flag; but, as some were running toward their guns. Borie continued to fire until cries of “ Kamerad!” were heard. At 2:57 A.M. on November 1, seventy-two minutes after the first contact, U-405 plunged stem first and exploded under water. A yell of triumph went up from the deck of battered Borie.

Hutchins intended to pick up survivors, but the Hermans, in life, rafts only 60 feel away, set off colored flares which were answered from a distance, obviously by another submarine. Borie had to ring up flank speed to dodge it torpedo from the direction of the distant answering flare, and in so doing ran down a number of Germans. She zigzagged clear of the area on one engine.

So many of Borie’s thin plates had been stove by the pounding that she was in a dangerous condition. One engine was out, generators died, and the sea was rising. Hutchins fired all torpedoes and most of his ammunition, and jettisoned everything possible, from anchors to guns and torpedo tubes, in order to keep afloat and make the planned rendezvous with Card, The remaining condenser was not working properly, and both feed and fuel tanks were badly contaminated with salt water. Salt locked the blades on the remaining turbine, and at 9 A.M. Borie went dead in the water. When fuel for the radio’s auxiliary generator was on the point of exhaustion, it was spliced with lighter fluid, kerosene, and rubbing alcohol, so that a message could be put through to the escort carrier at II A.M.: “Commenced sinking.”

Captain Isbell, consumed with anxiety over Borie his planes could not find her in the low visibility — got an HF/DF bearing on Hutchins’s far-fromcheery message and immediately launched two Avengers. One of these sighted the destroyer at 11:29, only 14 miles from the carrier, dead in the water, wallowing heavily and down by the stern. Next he sent Goff with hose and handy-billies to pump fresh water for Borie’s boilers, but it was now so rough, with swells up to 40 feet, that she could not get alongside. Late in the afternoon the task group commander communicated by TBS with Goff, one of whose leather-lunged chief petty officers shouted to Borie by megaphone that Lieutenant Hutchins had better consider abandoning ship, since it would be dark in an hour’s time and the weather would be worse before it got better. Shortly before sunset on November 1, Hutchins reluctantly gave the word. He knew that Borie could not make New York under her own power, and it was not feasible to await a tug in those subinfested waters. Captain Isbell sent Barry, his one remaining escort, to assist in the difficult process, leaving his carrier stripped of her entire screen. The abandonment, which began at 4:44 P.M. on November 1, was seamanlike and orderly, but the waves were running so high that it was almost impossible for boats and rafts to close the rescue ships. Some men were killed by a plunging propeller guard; 3 officers and 24 men left their rafts to swim through very cold water to the rescue ships, and were drowned.

Throughout the first watch and into the midwatch of November 2, Goff and Barry searched for survivors in heavy seas and under pouring rain until a total of 7 officers and 120 men were rescued. All through those hours of heroism and misery, Card circled nearby at 10 knots—what a target for a roving submarine! And one was after her, too. In pitch darkness, as eight bells marked the beginning of the morning watch, her radar registered a contact at 4000 yards. Isbell closed the two destroyers and signaled: “Submarine on our tail . . . pick it off!" Barry and Goff tried to make contact; the submarine’s distance from Card narrowed to 2800 yards before its blip disappeared from radar screens probably frightened away.

The feeling of relief was only momentary since, according to information received from Cominch and the Admiralty, there were still fifty submarines (an exaggeration) within 800 miles of Card. Captain Isbell decided that, in order to save his carrier, he must abandon further efforts at rescue. He sent Barry to torpedo the derelict hulk of Borie. Three torpedoes missed, but four depth bombs from an Avenger sent the gallant old ship to the bottom at 9:54 on November 2.

This memorable battle took place in one of the loneliest stretches of the Atlantic about hallway between Cape Race, Newfoundland, and Cape Clear, Ireland. And all of it in the dark.

Since Card was in no situation to prolong her cruise, Captain Isbell now turned his group toward Hampton Roads. The pilots were exhausted, but with undaunted spirit and splendid stamina they continued daily flight operations, catapulting Avengers at 40-second intervals when the carrier was pitching so violently that catapult shots had to await a comparatively smooth spot. The cruise ended at Norfolk on November 9.

Christmas at sea

Following the sinking of Borie, Captain Isbell was given a screen of flush-deckers dating from 1919— destroyers Leary, Schenck, Decatur, and Babbitt, but the last-named developed engine trouble and had to return to New York for repairs. The outward passage was uneventful. After two days at Casablanca they departed on December 17, initially in support of Convoy GUS-24. On orders from Washington soon after, the Card group was detached to track down a submarine concentration reported to be around lat. 45° N, long. 22°W.

In expectation of foul weather, the crews of Card and consorts had eaten Christmas dinner in Casablanca before sailing, and were very glad they had, for winter weather in the Western Ocean does not agree with aged destroyers, escort carriers, or planes. At daybreak on December 23, around lat. 47° N, long. 19° W (about 695 miles west of St. Nazaire), the sea was so rough that planes could not even be taxied to the catapult. One Wildcat which managed to take off at 10:25 A.M. sighted a merchantman steaming north and flying the red ensign. She failed to answer his challenge correctly, and the pilot reported to Captain Isbell that he suspected the ship’s colors to be false. Nevertheless the group commander decided not to send destroyers to investigate, since his destroyers were low on fuel, and U-boats were already about. After consulting Gibraltar by radio, Captain Isbell realized that this ship was the German blockade runner Osorno. She was bound from Kobe to Bordeaux with a load of rubber. Doenitz had sent Group “Borkum” of thirteen U-boats to patrol lat. 45° 25' N between the 21st and 24th meridians, in order to help her get home safely; and these were the boats that Card had been sent, north to find. The Luftwaffe, too, was looking for Osorno, and one of the German pilots the previous afternoon had sighted Card.

The seas were so heavy that just before dusk on December 23, after the one search plane had been safely recovered, a Wildcat on the flight deck, with its pilot, was tossed over the side by a violent lurch, and both were lost. All three destroyers were already more than half water-ballasted, and one {Decatur) had to be steered by hand after a heavy sea flooded her steering-engine room. Captain Isbell had already decided to make best speed to the Azores in order to refuel in sheltered waters. But the northwest wind was blowing a full gale, roughing up the sea to such an extent that the carrier, all the previous night, was forced to head between 135 degrees and 110 degrees instead of 197 degrees, the rhumb for Pico Channel; and by the time it was possible to lay the correct course, at 8:50 A.M. on December 23, the U-boat group “Borkum” lay 85 miles dead ahead, barring his route. NYashington so informed him; but Captain Isbell decided to go on ralher than evade. In consequence of the Luftwaffe’s sighting report on the 22nd, Doenitz had diverted Group “Borkum” from shepherding the blockade runner to attacking Card, of whose movements he was well apprised through a second aircraft sighting that afternoon. All moved north so as to intercept the carrier group on the night of December 23-24.

At 9:20 P.M. on December 23, Card began to fish up enemy transmissions on her HF/DF. A quarterhour later she began to get surface radar contacts, and at about 10 P.M. U-305 sighted her and signaled the pack to close. At 10:30 Card’s radar spotted a target at 13,000 yards; and before long so many were popping up that it was impossible to investigate every one. Card had only three escorts, her planes were not equipped for night flying, and Captain Isbell dared not open with gunfire lest the flashes reveal his position. So he ordered Schenck to attack and took evasive action, escorted by Leary and by Decatur, the latter steering by hand.

Events followed in rapid succession. Card’s “evasive” course took her into the range of U-415, which she sighted as “large black object trailing” 3700 yards astern. She was unaware that the “object” had already fired three torpedoes at her. Having heard that Schenck was tangling with a U-boat, Captain Isbell detached Leary to assist her, and turned Card to course 220 degrees, making best speed away in hope of avoiding torpedoes until he had light enough to launch planes. He signaled Leary over TBS at 1:11 P.M. on December 24: “Keep subs down during night. Rendezvous at 0600, forty miles SNN of Schenck’s last contact. Good luck.” One or more submarines pressed Card vigorously and continuously until daylight; at 6:30, when she commenced catapulting planes, one was 7000 yards on her port quarter. But for Isbell’s keen tactical sense and a liberal supply of luck, Card might have received a “fish” that wild night.

In the meantime, two destroyers were engaged in a grim battle with two members of Group “Borkum.” Schenck (Lieutenant Commander E. W. Logsdon) scored several hits on a contact that she made before midnight, and then joined Leary in a systematic search. At about 1:30 A.M. on December 24 they made three radar contacts 5 to 7 miles north. As Leary moved out to run down the more distant, Schenck made a fourth contact, lost it at 2500 yards, sighted the U-boat diving, evaded a torpedo, closed to 800 yards, and at 1:45 dropped a nine-charge pattern. This probably damaged U-645 since that boat surfaced about half an hour later.

Schenck’s radar picked it up at 4000 yards. Again the boat dove; Schenck found it again at 1900 yards by sonar, and dropped a shallow ninecharge pattern at 2:27, when the range had closed to 200 yards. Two minutes later an explosion was heard. German records prove that this marked the end of U-645.

Schenck could not stay around to gather evidence since Leary (Commander James E. Kyes), 5 miles distant, had just reported that she had been torpedoed. After leaving Schenck she had experienced a series of minor mishaps which added up to her destruction. At 1:58 A.M., upon making radar contact at 6500 yards, she tried to illuminate the target (U-275) by star shell and succeeded only in lighting up herself. As the U-boat submerged to periscope depth, one of the destroyer’s guns, by a misunderstanding, went right on firing star shell. The noise created by gunfire blasts and by the Foxer gear prevented sound contacts being regained soon enough to permit swinging ship to start a proper depth-charge attack. At 2:08, when sound contact was finally made at 750 yards, the “squawk box” between sound room and bridge failed to function, and almost two minutes elapsed before Commander Kyes got the word and, too late, ordered Hard Right Rudder.

U-275, whose commander, Oberleutnant Bork, had enjoyed a periscope view of Leary for almost ten minutes, already had two torpedoes in the water, well aimed under the bright illumination unwittingly provided by his victim. At 2:10, when the last star shell was fading and just as Leary commenced her turn, two Zaunkönig torpedoes hit her in quick succession, one in the after engine room and one in the after hold. All power was lost; the ship listed 25 degrees and settled so rapidly by the stern that a forehanded group of seamen barely had time to set the depth charges on safe. The entire after part of the ship became a tangle of jagged and twisted steel, mixed with arms and legs and other human debris. Radio Technician Francis R. Hauer started the auxiliary generator and called Schenck, which had neither seen the flash nor hoard the explosion.

Three or four minutes after the second torpedo struck, the exec‚ Lieutenant R. B. Watson, concluded a quick inspection. In the course of this inspection, he found the deck covered with a thick, “gooey” substance, and was astonished to see two seamen seated on a torpedo tube, calmly eating Boston cream pie. The cook had just baked a batch, and the explosion had spattered most of the cream over the deck. Lieutenant Watson reported to the captain that Leary was settling fast. Kyes ordered Abandon Ship. Boatswain’s Mate Walter Eshelman calmly directed men to jettison all floatable gear, and abandonment was orderly, as if it were a drill. Watson then reported that everyone except himself and the skipper had left, and obtained permission to make one more look-around to see if any wounded man had been forgotten. A moment later another unit of Group “Borkum,” U-382, moved in close and launched a third torpedo, which at 2:41 exploded with a burst of orange flame in the forward engine space. Leary began to go down fast. Commander Kyes, last to go over the side, gave his life jacket to a colored mess attendant in the water who had none, and was never seen again.

This supreme act of devotion was the finest incident in the story of a devoted crew. Over 60 men were killed by the explosions; about 100 abandoned ship, but only 59 survived the four hours of darkness in cold water. I he sea was not rough, but a brisk rain squall whipped up whitecaps, and the men had only two life rafts and some cork-buoyed nets to keep them up. Lieutenant Watson ordered them to keep quiet lest they attract attention from the U-boat; and for four hours he personally kept a mess attendant afloat. This lad died of exposure after rescue. “That hurt me more than anything else,” said Lieutenant Watson; “he was such a game, plucky little fellow.”Water Tender F. M. Norris “instilled hope and confidence in those who were near the point of exhaustion.”

The 3 officers and 56 men of Leary who were saved owed their lives to the fine seamanship and good judgment of Lieutenant Commander Logsdon, skipper of Schenck. While passing the wreck at 15 knots in search of the submarine, he lowered his gig to recover survivors and continued the hunt while his boat crew pulled benumbed sailors from the water. “Leary survivors will never forget his courage and skill in maneuvering his ship into position, both to effect transfers from the gig and to rescue scattered groups direct from the water.”By ton o’clock on December 24, the last had been taken on board. It was a sad Christmas at sea after the loss of so many shipmates.

Two old “cans,”terriers of the fleet, had fought a good fight with their traditional verve, skill, and courage. Even the pilots remarked, “Who said this was an airman’s war?”