USS CORRY (DD-463) Survivors' First-hand Accounts of D-Day

Bill Beat
Radio Technician, 2nd class,  USS Corry (DD-463)

On the Morning of June 6, 1944, aboard the destroyer USS Corry (DD-463) at Utah Beach, Normandy, my normal battle station would have been in the Combat Information Center (CIC). I would usually be standing by to assist Chief McKernon in making sure that all radars, sonars, and other electronic equipment were operating properly. However, this day the Corry was involved in a special operation and I had been trained for a special assignment. I was in the engineering log room, on the main deck level, operating a new electronic device for jamming German radio guided missiles.

Early in the spring of 1944, I and about 20 other radio technicians from the Atlantic Fleet destroyers were sent to a Navy electronics lab in Cambridge Massachusetts. There, we learned that German radio missiles had become a serious threat to Allied ships in the Mediterranean Sea. We learned that a German bomber could carry two missiles which were gliders with warheads and radio-controlled tail surfaces. German pilots would approach ships, and while still out of range of the ship’s guns, would direct their planes toward the ships and release missiles. As a missile dropped away from a plane, a brief rocket charge in the missile would accelerate it to about 300 mph. Then the German pilot, with his radio controls, had about 30 seconds to guide his missiles into a ship. There was great concern because these missiles were causing considerable damage to Allied ships in the Mediterranean and there was no effective defense.

A team from the electronics lab had gone to the Mediterranean to study the menace. They observed the German medium bombers in action. They filmed activity, recorded signals and brought back an unexploded missile and the electronic control box from a bomber that had crashed in shallow water. The research team noted that the German pilots would switch on the missile controls to warm up the vacuum tubes and observe the operation of the missile control surfaces long before they were in the target area. The countermeasure developed by the electronics lab was a special tuner that controlled both a receiver and a transmitter. The sensitive receiver could be sharply tuned to the German missile frequency. The signal from a German plane testing a missile while approaching a ship could be detected from a maximum range of about 30 miles. When the characteristic signal from the plane indicated that the missile had been dropped, the jamming equipment was switched from RECEIVE to TRANSMIT and a powerful signal from the transmitter could take control of the missile and spin it into the sea.

Technicians from the navy electronics lab helped me install and test the new secret jamming equipment. A 3-foot whip antenna was mounted on the forward side of the number 2 stack and a coax cable was run down into the engineering log room. Engineering officer Chechames put up a major objection to locating this equipment in his small crowded room. However, that’s where it had to go. One metal chassis was secured to the top of a file cabinet and an aircraft type tuner was mounted to the forward bulkhead beside the desk.

A few months later, the Corry, surrounded by hundreds of other ships, was crossing the English Channel. As I looked out at the large armada of ships I began to realize the importance of the missile jamming equipment for which I was responsible. I felt confident that the equipment would work and that I knew how to operate it to knock out the German missiles. Many hours were spent listening for German missile signals during the long, slow Channel crossing. I was set up to communicate with the bridge and to log signals but none were heard.

Early on the morning of June 6th the tuning and listening operation ended with a terrific explosion. I, my chair, the desk, file cabinets and everything in the room were thrown up into the air. I hit my head and shoulder on the overhead and came back down on the aluminum chair. The chair broke so I was setting on the deck with my legs under the desk and the seat of the chair still under me. After a few blank minutes, B.J. Petersen stuck his head in the door and said, “Are you alright?” I was too dazed to know, so Petersen helped me to my feet and we went out on deck. I didn’t know what had happened – there was orderly confusion, but no panic. Everyone on deck seemed to be busy getting injured people into lifeboats and helping shipmates that needed help.

I made my way up to the Combat Information Center where I found my boss, Chief McKernon. Mac said we had been hit by shore batteries and all ship’s power was lost. The word was out to abandon ship so Mac had activated the built-in incendiaries to destroy the radars. Mac said we had better go to our abandon-ship stations. I met my friend Pete McHugh, a radar operator, on the main deck. Most of the crew was now off the ship and the danger of staying aboard was increasing. The Corry was bending amidships as the below deck compartments filled with seawater and the shore batteries were still firing. However, Pete and I decided to delay just a little longer in the hope of getting into a lifeboat rather that the cold water, but it didn’t work. A young officer came along and thought we were frightened. He put an arm around each of us and said, “Men, we’re going to be alright – Let’s all go into the water together.” The three of us just stepped in amidships where the water was already knee-deep. We swam away from the ship about 50 yards before inflating our life belts and then turned around to take a last sad look at our ship. We stopped complaining about the cold water when another German shell hit the ship. Then a shell hit the smoke-laying equipment on the fantail and we were engulfed in smoke that made breathing difficult for a few minutes and the three of us became separated.

About two hours later a PT boat came along and took me aboard. I was later put aboard the Corry’s sister ship, the USS Fitch (DD-462). On the Fitch, I got some dry clothes from the ship’s laundry. After a sandwich and coffee I went to the Combat Information Center to see my friend from navy electronics school, named Damasse. About an hour later, the many Corry survivors were transferred from the Fitch to the USS Barnett, a troop transport that was completing the unloading of invasion troops. After a hot meal and a good night’s rest, I woke early the next morning in a port in Southern England.

Bill Beat
Radio Technician, 2nd class
USS Corry (DD-463)

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