USS CORRY (DD-463) - Hunter Killer Task Force Stories
Thomas L. "Red" Groot
USS Block Island (CVE-21) - Hunter Killer Task Force
On the 21st of February 1944, the USS Corry (DD-463) was attached to a Hunter Killer Task Force TO.21.16. We were in company with four DE's—USS Bronstein, Thomas, Breeman and Bostwick, an anti-submarine Task Force Operating in the Atlantic Ocean around the Canary Islands, the Azores and North Africa covering the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea where a German Submarine base is operating. The Carrier USS Block Island (CVE-21) was the command ship. This made up the task force. The Carrier planes patrolled a wide area around the task force 24 hours a day searching the waters for submarines and boxing them in the Mediterranean preventing them from marauding Allied shipping in the Atlantic Ocean.
A "Probable Sinking" of a German Sub
Working with this Task Force, we surprise a sub on the surface early one morning just before dawn. Our radar picked up a surface contact some distance off and the OD [Officer of the Deck] called "Captain to the Bridge." The Captain, after receiving the information, immediately altered the ship’s course toward the radar contact and asked for course and speed of the target from the Plotting room. Plotting came back in a few moments with "She is dead in the water sir, bearing 000º." The ship’s course was right on with the bearing reported from the radar. He ordered full speed ahead. The ship is closing in on it when the contact went off the radar screen before we got to it. That meant one thing, it was a sub and it submerged. A few minutes later sonar contact was made near the location where the radar contact was lost. Pursuing the sonar contact a depth charge pattern was laid down over the sub's presumed position, an oil slick and some clothing along with other debris surfaced at that same place the ash cans (depth charges) were dropped over the sub. With no further contact on the submarine after the depth charging, the crew all thought that we had sunk it. The Captain determined there wasn't enough proof there for him to call it a “Kill" even though there was no further sonar contact on a sub in that area.
The following quote is from my shipmate and friend Matt Jayich, a very efficient Boatswains mate, about the oil slick and clothing that surfaced after dropping chargers on the sub:
“WE DID DROP ASH CANS ON A SUB IN THAT AREA BUT I DON'T KNOW IF WE SANK IT OR NOT. THE GENERAL OPINION WAS THAT WE DID SINK IT, BUT ALL THAT WAS VISIBLE WAS AN OIL SLICK AND SOME DEBRIS FLOATING ON THE WATER, MY FEELINGS, LIKE THAT OF A LOT OF OTHERS, WE SANK IT, AND WE SHOULD HAVE MORE SUBS THAN WE GOT CREDIT FOR”
Moreover, I’ll have to agree with him. In
my opinion the ship should have credit for the sinking of, at least, three
U-boats. Two were called “probable”. I can't believe the two subs GOT away
like that. After dropping charges on the subs with good sonar contacts,
several times and then finding no further sonar contacts on them for days in
the same area. That wasn't enough proof for the Captain to make a claim of a
"Kill" like the U-801 where it was depth charged, it surfaced and was
shelled and then we rescued the survivors. That's what evidence is to our
Several days later, a carrier plane dropped bombs on a sub and reported sinking it in another area far from where we had the oil and debris surface in that last depth charging the Corry had made on a sub. The Corry was detailed to rescue the survivors of the sunken sub the plane had bombed. Corry proceeded to the location arriving hours later and made a sweep around the area with sonar for any possible German submarine waiting around the survivors of the sunken U-Boat.
This is risky, to Lay To in the ocean in enemy waters. An all around lookout was posted, sonar and radar put on extra alert, gunners with rifles are stationed around the ship's upper decks for a shark lookout. The Repair Party lowered the motor whaleboat and began picking up survivors; they picked up two officers including their Captain and six crewmen from the sea. One seaman found dead was picked up later and he was given a sea burial with German Honors later that day. Maybe I shouldn't tell this about the dead sailor we picked up; it's vivid in my mind though. So after the whaleboat picked up the live sailors out of the water that they had been in for hours, and delivered them on board the Corry, they relocated the dead seaman and picked him up. He was floating in a 'dead man float' position (you remember your swimming lessons, curled up with head down in the water arms apart, holding your breath for a minute, relaxed, motionless under water). This man was in the water long enough that he was rubbery and stiff in that posture, Rigor-Mortise I think it's called. There was trouble getting the body out of the water and into the boat. Even though the wind was calm, the sea swells were up a bit to where the ship was wallowing slowly from side to side. That is trouble when lowering and hoisting a boat in open seas, depending on the degree the ships roll. In cases like this the Captain maneuvers the ship into a 'wash' condition for the boat to come along side in the smoothed out water, from the ship slewing sideways for the boat to be picked up in. By the time the boat is up to the gunwale (a little above main deck level) the ship is wallowing again and making it hazardous to handle the boats swinging in the boat davits. While the deck men are trying to control the swing of the boat and grip it in to the ship's side, the men in the boat are picking the curled up dead man in the boat to hand him over to the men on the ship. At that instant the ship lunges sideways from a larger swell or a wave hitting it on the other side of the ship from the whale boat, causing the ship to roll. It sent the men that were on deck sprawling backwards and the men in the boat lost control of the wet, slippery dead man. While he, dressed only in his all together went flying across the deck in this dead mans floating posture. Landing on one arm and that acting like a spring bounced him around in a complete summersault and about the deck, each time he bounced on either arm or legs. Seems like he'd bounce higher each time, with the ship wallowing in the swells that caused the man to bounce all the more. At one time, if it hadn't been for the boat being there right at the side of the ship he would have jumped back into the sea. The men were trying to grab him, and they too were sliding around the wet deck. (Salt water on a ship's deck is as slippery as ice). Finally, after a couple of minutes the men managed to grab him, a rather small man, and hold the body down. With the ship having headway on now the ship stooped it's wallowing. Shocked at what I'd seen, I'm on my G.Q. watch at Gun 3, standing on the after deck house some thirty feet from it, watching this whole episode take place below me. Now after all that, the corpse had to be straightened out so it could be clothed somewhat, weighted and sewn up in canvas for burial at sea. It took a half dozen men to unceremoniously straighten the body out enough to be sewn up in the canvas.
The ship is under way again looking for more survivors around the area when two torpedoes were found floating in the water where the sub was bombed. There were no warheads on either one of them and there was some clothing floating there with the torpedoes. That indicated the sub was caught on the surface working topside on those torpedoes at the time the plane bombed them. Leaving the torpedo airflasks floating in the water when the sub went down, the warheads would have sunk with the sub if they were on the sub's deck. Captain wanted one of the torpedoes to bring back to the States. The whaleboat was put in the water again to retrieve one. It was brought on board with the use of a jury rig on the boat davits and secured on board. The other torpedo airflask was shot at by our Gunnery officer several times in an attempt to sink it, with no success. I was standing right in back of him, he was nervous with all of us watching him. The torpedo airflask, floating vertical in the water, was bobbing up and down in the water and out of sight at times riding in the swells. The Captain had the BAR rifle handed to the first class Gunners mate, BC Mills, to sink it. He hit it the first shot but put a couple more into it for good measure to make sure it would sink. When the first shot hit it, it started to spin like crazy from the air escaping from the bullet hole in it. I knew about torpedoes, I had been to three months of torpedo schooling at the Norfolk Naval Operating Base in Virginia from a previous ship, the USS Reuben James. So I knew what was being shot at. Some of the men weren’t quite at ease with it, though. I think that is why the Gunnery Officer couldn’t hit it. It was just a high-pressure air cylinder and an air driven motor. What would be of interest to the USA would be the torpedo guidance system.
A Job Well Done
With the German
POW's and the torpedo secured on board from the sunken sub the USS Block
Island's plane sank, the USS Corry is ordered home to Boston, MA from the area of the
Cape Verde, Azores, and Canary Islands we were operating in. One of the prisoners is/was the
submarine's Captain. This sub Captain was given a lot of privileges on board
the ship that caused some concern with the ship’s crew and I am sure the
officers had inquires with the Captain also about it. After a couple days
sailing toward home, he practically had the run of the ship from that time
after departing from the task force, till the time we arrived at Boston, MA.
Several times in the cruise home when I was on the helm our Skipper let him
take the Conn on the bridge and give orders to different people. I'll give
the sub's Captain credit though, in those two days he picked up the routine
of running the bridge, our Skipper stayed right with him constantly. One
thing was the zigzag course the ship was using, on the way home to Boston;
he had picked it up by himself. The Skipper asked him, I think it was the
first time he'd asked, if he would like to take the conn. He was a little
skeptical about it but said yes. Our Captain announced on the bridge,
"Captain (his name) has the conn." He took over the conn and did a good job
receiving information and giving orders. He also spoke good English. As it
turned out, our Skipper was getting sensitive information from him about the
German sub operations and information on their Naval operation. Our Captain
received a letter of Commendation from the Secretary of The Navy for the
information he received from questioning the German Captain while he was on
board the USS Corry (DD-463). By the way, that sub Captain was the
youngest U-Boat Captain in the German Naval Submarine service. [23 years
The Plane Crash
One particular day, I’m on my watch at the helm of the Corry, I hear this plane start to make a screaming sound like it was in a dive. That is a wired, high pitched whining, screaming noise from a high altitude, it's not a forgettable sound, if you have ever heard it. The sound becomes louder. And the pilot of the plane comes on the speaker with a frantic voice, "I can't pull up. My controls are out." He’s screaming it now. Capt. Hoffman is trying to talk to him on the radio, telling the pilot to "Eject, eject." All the pilot said was, "My controls don't work." His radio went silent after that. The entire bridge personnel is out on the starboard wing watching it. The sound is getting much louder now. I hear them out on the wing say, “He’s going to crash.” I’m alone in the wheelhouse and I don’t know if he is going to crash into the ship or the ocean. However, I see someone point out away from the ship to starboard. That relieved my tension somewhat. The plane is making an ear splitting scream now in its dive. I stretch a look, keeping my hand on the steering wheel, out the hatch toward the direction they were pointing, to see what was happening. I did see the flash of the Plane as it hit the water with a loud splat, and then eerie silence for a few seconds. Usually a plane will stay afloat for several minutes after it hits the water but not at that speed, There was only a single glove of the pilot’s found at the site. The Captain gave me a "Hard right rudder," to make a quick turn back to the place of the crash and search for the pilot at the wreckage site. The ship was right there before the bubbles stopped coming up from where it hit the water. There was nothing left to see but a large foamy spot in the ocean where it hit the water. I understand one of the wings had been torn off of the plane by the speed it was making going straight down, before it hit the water about twenty / thirty yards out on the starboard beam from our ship. I felt sorry for that pilot. I guess he couldn't even eject from the plane at that speed. Can you imagine that pilot's predicament and fear he was feeling knowing he was going to slam into the water at that terrific speed?
Being on the helm I didn't actually see the whole scene that took place as the plane crashed. My friend Matt Jayich that did help in the search for the pilot – he told me what did actually take place at the crash. He was on deck, starboard side, when the plane hit the water and saw it all. He tells me right after the plane hit the water, the depth charges that were on the plane exploded, sending black water spewing into the air. A few seconds later one of its tires shot into the air "as if it was shot from a canon." The tire went I believe about a hundred feet into the air. However, the glove wasn’t the only thing that was picked up. The Damage Control party had put over the side one of those metal cargo nets, or boarding nets as they were sometimes called, with chains running through them, and dragged it through the wreckage site. When the nets were pulled up there were small, unidentifiable buoyant plane parts and small bits of intestines and other body parts stuck to the chains, His glove, they found hooked in the net was brought on board. It showed evidence that it had been blown off his hand because all the stitching of the glove was gone, all around it including the fingers and it was very limp, like a rag. The depth charge, set to a predetermined depth, exploded right under his seat.
The one glove was the only item found of the pilot’s. What a tragedy. There is no way of knowing what was the cause of the plane’s control failure. Reports of the plane crash, the location, and what was found at the crash site were reported to the Block Island.
Some memories never
The Bombing Incident
Another incident that happened with the planes from the USS Block Island that involved the USS Corry while with this submarine Hunter Killer Task Force. This was one of those special dark nights; no moon and no stars were out; the black windows in the wheelhouse didn't even reflect the couple of red lights in the wheelhouse or my Binnacle light. I was on my watch in the wheelhouse at the helm again; I don’t remember the time of night it was, well after sunset. Every thing is quiet on the bridge, which is normally so at night, and especially on dark nights. However, there are exceptions and this is one of those nights. The Captain is sitting in his swivel chair when all of a sudden the radio from one of the Carrier’s planes sounded off on the radio. That alerted every one in the wheelhouse, they all tensed up. Our radar personal had been reporting on a plane over us and the Captain knew of it. The Captain moved up to the front of his seat. The pilot is saying, “I have a radar contact – I am commencing a bombing run, I believe it to be a submarine on the surface”. He is talking to his Home Base, the carrier Block Island when the distinct sound of a diving plane was heard directly over us. The Captain made a fast grab for the microphone and started yelling, “Pull up! Pull up! You're diving on the Corry! That screaming sound of the plane is getting louder, quick. Captain's repeating for him to pull up. There is a long silence, (about two seconds) then, "OKAY Corry, I roger that, I am pulling out of it," and something about aborting. At the same time I hear the plane pull out of the dive, low, right over the top of us. I heard the pilot say, “Whew, hey that was close, I had my finger on the bomb release button.” I thought he was trying to be humorous there. There was a lot of happy shouting on the bridge as to how close that was. Something like that makes a person appreciate life. The Captain had a few words to say to the pilot before the pilot apologized. In addition, an apology came from the Carrier, USS Block Island that was monitoring the plane’s radio as base station. It's a little hard to keep your composure in an intense situation like that, before things settled down to the night routine, keeping an eye on the binnacle and staring out the black windows of the wheelhouse.
On Dark Dull Nights
Things happen on dark nights. Here is a little episode that happened to me on one of those nights while on watch about 0200 in the wheelhouse. I'm on the helm, the ship is steaming along at 12 knots and the OD [Officer of the Deck] with the conn is sitting in the Skipper's chair staring out the black windows. It's warm, the ship has a long shallow roll with the slight swell in the ocean. The ship is steaming almost parallel to the swells. When, [as long as I have been steering the ship, you get the feel of the ship under you. You don't have to watch the compass constantly to stay on a set course. As the ship gently rolls from side to side, you're standing at the wheel leaning against your hands that are on the top of the wheel. The roll of the ship shifts your weight to one side or the other, then you let your shifting body weight turn the wheel with it. That is just enough course correcting to compensate for the ship roll in the ocean swell, than ride it back when the ship comes to even keel. The ship will stay right on course, that's what I was doing this night as I've often done.] I see the OD turning his head to watch me several times. I'm looking straight ahead at the black window keeping a lookout, my eyes half closed; this went on for some time. The next thing I know he's standing right along side of me looking at my compass. I caught him out the side of my eye and wouldn't move, as the ship slowly rolled I moved the wheel with the shifting of my body with the roll of the ship, then I moved my head to glance at the compass, I was exactly on course. I turned to him and said, "Is everything OK, sir?"
He just shook his head and said, "I've
never before seen a man asleep at the wheel, steer the ship and keep the
ship right on course." He went back to his chair shaking his head, saying no
more. I just let it slide also, but he had me wondering, what was he
thinking, will he put me on report or he may have second thoughts about
whether I was sleeping or not. Anyway there was nothing more said or done. I
never did remember him leaving his chair to come stand beside me. On the
other hand, how long was he standing beside me? So we went back to staring
out the black windows. You can't imagine how black a dark night is. The ship
keeps a strict black out at night including running lights when out to sea
in Wartime. All inboard lighting is dark red, almost infrared. (Red light
does not effect the pupil of the eye. Did you know that?) When you're
outside on deck at night you can't see your nose in front of your face on
the dark nights I'm referring to. There are small lines rigged fore and aft
on topside to guide your way around the ship’s topside from
hatch to hatch. Seems
like your eyes are the only part of you moving through the dark. The ship
sees with radar and it identifies friendlies.
The Radar Contact
The USS Corry is searching in a grid several hundred miles north of the Azores which was assigned to the Corry by the Task Force we were operating with. A radar contact was picked up, and we went after it at full speed, believing it was a sub on the surface. It was some thirty miles off, and early in the morning. It was just before sunrise when the Corry arrived at the location, slowing speed, where the radar indicated the contact was. At first there was nothing there to see, little swirls of mist rising up from the calm, cool ocean waters in the gray mist of the warming morning air, the horizon is not even distinguishable. Then a call from a lookout came over the headset to the bridge, "Object in the water -- straight ahead." The Captain had posted lookouts forward on the forecastle (bow) and was approaching cautiously to the contact area, thinking there may be a submarine surfaced there. There are two of the ship’s four 5-inch guns fully manned, one forward and one aft, always in a ready condition when at sea and G.Q. would be set in less than a minute if necessary. What they saw was unexpected. Instead of a sub it was several large balloons tethered to floats the balloons had strips of metal foil suspended from them. The metal strip was the reason for the radar contact. Right away, the Captain, thinking it was a setup to lure the “enemy“ into a trap, made a quick evasive move away from the balloons and alerted sonar to step up the search in a full sweep around the ship for a sub laying in wait. After a thorough wide search of the area and no sonar contacts made, the Captain went back to the decoys and had a little shooting match, staying at a cautious distance, to shoot the balloons down and sink the floats with the 20-mm guns and .30-06-BAR rifle fire.
There could have been a German sub
there that saw us coming and made an emergency dive, leaving his decoys and
still had time to get away, also figuring we would stop at his decoys. That
would give him more time to get further away. On the other hand, he could
lie off from the decoys and fire torpedoes at any unsuspecting arrival.
Anyway, there was no contact of a sub around the area. In addition, the
ship’s sonar would have picked up on a sub at the decoys on its first
approach to the decoys.
© T.L.Groot 2006
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