USS CORRY (DD-463) Survivors' First-hand Accounts of D-Day
At Norfolk, they told me the ship was in New York. I trained to New York and was told the ship was in Boston. Arriving there, I was told the ship was back in New York. In New York I was told the ship was back in Norfolk. When I arrived in Norfolk, I called to report for duty. The officer on duty asked whether I was assigned to the Corry. He said, "Wait right there. We'll pick you up and take you to a waiting seaplane to be flown to the Corry." The Corry had left that morning and was on its way to England. After getting my paperwork in order, they drove me to the seaplane base where I was put aboard the seaplane.
We flew for a couple of hours looking for the Corry and the three other destroyers escorting a munitions ship to England. I thought we would have to turn back as we were out of sight of land and still not able to locate the Corry. Finally, the pilot sighted the ships and tossed me a Mae West life preserver. The Corry dropped out of the formation around the munitions ship. It sent out a motor whaleboat, an officer and several seamen to pick me out of the water in the event I fell into the ocean while sliding off the wing of the seaplane.
At this time the sea had large swells and was getting rough. The pilot was all business and was able to position his plane for me to slide off the wing into the waiting arms of the seamen in the whaleboat. Aboard all the ships, there was much anticipation. This must be a very important person as he is being flown to the ship underway at sea! He must be an Admiral of some kind at least!
I was pulled aboard the Corry via a sea ladder. The crew must have been let down when they saw this one striper Ensign. Never having been at sea before, it was just a short time until I felt the effects of being seasick.
I was assigned to bunk with Ed Biddle (of the Philadelphia Biddles). After a short sleep, I was awakened for dinner and sat to the captain's left as I met all the other officers and was able to eat a small portion of the delicious meal that was served.
I returned to more sleep but was awakened at about 11:30 PM by the Jr. Officer of the Deck and told to report for duty on the bridge as I had the midnight shift. Ralph Nichols was the Junior Officer of the Deck. He led me up the ladders to the bridge.
My eyes had not yet become dark adapted as I followed Ralph into the bridge. All I could see were some dim red lights in the middle of the room. In a short time I heard the Officer of the Deck (a.k.a. the OOD) John Pratt giving orders to the helmsman for course changes as our job was to maintain station on the southwest quarter of the munitions ship, there being three other destroyers doing the same guard service in the three other quarters. The German submarines at this time were taking a heavy toll in sinking many of our hundreds of ships in the Atlantic Ocean. Our destroyers were our major line of defense against these attacks.
Maintaining station is accomplished by increasing or decreasing speed and adjusting the direction by compass changes. The OOD would be receiving reports from various parts of the ship - the engine room as to boilers, Combat Information Center (a.k.a. CIC), lookouts, and any other place where vigilance was a top priority.
Part of the learning and training process was to take bearings on the munitions ship so we could maintain our station. In order to do that, we had to step outside the bridge house onto the wing of the bridge and look through the telescope at the munitions ship and note the bearing on the compass. That information had to be reported to the OOD immediately so he could make the adjustments in direction and speed, if necessary. Ralph and I did this for 10 or 15 minutes and then I heard the OOD say, "Is he ready?" To which Ralph replied, "I think so."
With that, the OOD said, "Mr. Henson, you're now in charge as the OOD. Needless to say, I was not only surprised by I thought the safety of the ship and crew rested on my shoulders! We survived the 4 hour shift and I was relieved by the next watch from 0400 to 0800.
One of my duties was to train and inform all ship personnel of the planes and ships that we might encounter. Having been flown to the ship, I had only those materials that were aboard. We did what we could, holding classes all day long with the officers and men. The captain, George Hoffman, being an Academy graduate, had extensive knowledge of ships, but limited knowledge of planes.
As we approached Ireland, the captain spotted this ship some distance away. He said, "What kind of ship is that?"
I replied, "It looks like a destroyer to me, captain."
"That's right, but what class?" he asked.
"It looks like a Bristol Class, captain."
"That's close enough,' he said as he allowed me to pass his first test.
We continued our voyage and eventually tied up alongside the dock in Plymouth, England. There I was able to obtain a camera and films to enable me to conduct more and better classes for everyone.
One day I was sent on a short mission up the Thames River. On our return, we received a radio message to pick up an officer and deliver him to a dock a few miles away. Our passenger turned out to be the movie star, Robert Montgomery. And he was every bit as handsome in his naval uniform as we saw him in the movies.
While awaiting for the developments in the war, we were ordered to do submarine surveillance in the English Channel. There we received sonar reports of objects beneath in the Channel. We thought it was a submarine so we threw out a spread of depth charges on the port and starboard sides with more than one run.
One of the charges was set too shallow and exploded under the fantail. The ship shook from stem to stern. The stable element was knocked out in the gunnery system. They worked on it and finally had everything working in the computer except the stable element. The upshot was that we were forced to throw out our anchors for stability in firing of our 5-inch guns in the assault at Normandy on D-Day.
One day around June 1, 1944 a detail of three officers and men went ashore and returned with several canvas bags. The captain and a very select group of officers studied the contents of the bags. General Eisenhower sealed all ships.
NO ONE WAS PERMITTED TO GO ASHORE.
THE BAGS HELD THE DETAILED PLAN FOR THE ASSAULT ON HITLER.
On about June 4, 1944, we assembled for the assault across the Channel. There were thousands of ships. The assembly point was at sea, out of sight.
The destroyers were leading the long line of ships spread out over a few miles and headed for the beaches of France. Overhead were hundreds of fighter planes. I recognized the fast, well-armed P-47s. This vast array of ships with balloons anchored to many of the troop ships, along with the aerial fighter support, gave all of us a feeling of security.
Aboard the Corry, everyone was making preparations for the big battle that was about to occur. Condoms were in abundance for the waterproofing of personal pocketbooks and similar personal items. We knew we would be one of the ships closest to the shore in the height of the battle. We knew there was a good possibility that we might be sunk. Our doctor had prepared the Officers' ward room for an operating facility if necessary.
I saw the captain in the passageway. I was wearing the Mae West life jacket that was given me by the pilot of the seaplane. He asked, "Where did you get that Mae West?" I thought I was about to lose it but his better judgment controlled and I kept the Mae West.
Everybody else on the ship was issued the standard, waist belt type water life support. The difference is that a wound to the head or upper body with the waist life support might result in unconsciousness with the head submerging in the water. But the Mae West would support the head and upper body thus preventing the submerging.
We steamed for several hours toward France. The sea was rough and it was raining. Late in the afternoon of the 4th of June, we were ordered to turn around as the assault had been canceled. That was a bit of a let down and disappointment after all the buildup emotionally.
Then, a few hours later, we were ordered back to the original plane. The landings would take place on June 6, 1944—a delay of 24 hours.
As we approached the beach, the mine sweepers preceded us to clear those obstacles as best they could. We had assigned targets on the beach and beyond.
We thought we were about to witness the greatest show in history and we had front row seats! We went to the highest state of alertness—battle stations—early in the morning.
It was still dark but we could see the tracer fire from the beach falling short into the ocean. Behind us we could see the troops going down the ladders to the assault landing boats. There were thousands of them. As each landing boat received its load of troops it would join the circle of other loaded landing boats a short distance away. The landing boats would continue to circle until the order was given to dash to the beach.
Prior to the assault, the US Air Corp planes—B-24s —laid down heavy bombardment. We could see that was followed by the US B-25s medium bombers flying at a low altitude plastering the areas immediately behind the beaches with intensive carpet bombing.
As most of the B-25s flew past we noticed there were two B-26 bombers that broke off and flew out to sea about 1000 yards, at which point they made a sharp left turn and started laying a smoke screen. They screened all the hundreds of ships except the Corry and perhaps one or two others. Our men at the guns on the fantail started yelling as they thought we were about to be attacked. I knew what the planes were and all the circumstances of the moment made it clear to me and most of us that they were friendly.
After this bombing, we commenced firing at our assigned targets. We had switched to our 3rd or 4th target when we noticed that the German shore batteries were firing at us and we could see their shots splashing short in the water. Soon we saw that they were getting the proper distance and they splashed us fore and aft and on the quarters. Our navigator was cutting the splashes in on his charts.
The captain ordered full speed forward and then suddenly full speed astern. He was desperately trying to throw the shore batteries off their distance calculations. Then came the terrible jolt and explosion. We'd hit a mine we later determined.
I was at my battle station on the flying bridge above the bridge house, in control of all the anti-aircraft weapons—20- and 40-millimeter guns. The explosion from below in the forward boiler room. I was propelled into the air about five feet, coming down on the nearby voice tube, used for communication when necessary. I was bruised and injured on my tailbone and received some scratches on my legs, but otherwise I was OK.
Shortly thereafter, the captain received his reports from the engine room and other parts of the ship and ordered, "Abandon ship." There had been 13 men killed, the engine room flooded, the keel broken and a split of several inches all across the deck amidships.
Not having been assigned an abandon ship station, I asked Johnny Pratt where to go. He said, "Follow me." We jumped into the water on the port forward side of the ship. Having both my Mae West and the waist life support, I felt an extra sense of security.
The life raft was already well loaded with other people so I hung onto the raft by hand. I saw a seaman sitting in the raft with his right shoulder ripped open about 12 inches long and about one inch deep. It must have been terribly painful if the salt water got into it.
We had anti-personnel shells being exploded near us. They were designed to burn anyone they came into contact with. The shore batteries were still firing and some hits were being made on the ship which now was mostly under water. All of us were fearful that the ship's powder and shell magazines might be struck and kill all of us. We all paddled as best we could to get on the other side of the ship and head for a nearby island—Saint Marcouf. We finally were able to get on the other side of our ship and as far away from it as we could.
After being in the water we were picked up by two other destroyers in our division. We had no idea that anyone had time to help us. The cruisers and battlewagons were shelling and our group destroyers were still firing at their assigned targets. After a couple of hours, we saw the motor whaleboats from the USS Fitch (DD-462) making runs back and forth to the life rafts. They got the last of us on our life raft on the 2nd pickup.
While all of this was going on, the troops were hitting the beaches and many would not make it. We later learned that the island to which we were heading was occupied by the Germans and that many were killed in its assault.
We were hauled aboard the USS Fitch where we were given medical treatment and stimulants for being in the cold water for more than two hours. After a few minutes and receipt of dry clothing, we were transferred to one of the command ships and transported back to England. From there we went by train to Rosneath, Scotland, near Glasgow.
We were quartered in Quonset huts for about two weeks while we recuperated and the Navy decided what to do with us. It wasn't all that bad as the people were most gracious and Glasgow provided entertainment.
Eventually, we boarded the Queen Elizabeth and in a few days we were back in New York City. As we prepared to disembark at Pier 92, I bent over to pick up my rather large seabag full of my belongings. In doing so, my service issued trousers split in the seam in the back. But we were so happy to be back and alive, the split was minor in our succession of events. I marched down the gangway in front of hundreds of well wishers. It didn't bother me and I dare say it didn't bother them!
Within a few hours we were ensconced in the Plaza Hotel at 59th and Central Park. I still have the bill someplace for $3.00—per night!
Events took place there in New York City which changed the course of my life. Orrin Tovson was one of the ensigns aboard the Corry. We were both at the Plaza Hotel. He was from Iowa and I was from Ohio. I didn't know anyone in New York. He had been there before and visited the Officers Service Club where he made friends. He called this girl he knew and she invited him to dinner. He boldly asked if he could bring his fellow officer along as he was a complete stranger in the City. She readily agreed to the additional guest.
Having become acquainted with this young lady, she invited me to visit her on lower Wall Street where she worked. That visit led to further meetings and eventual dates around New York City. Finally, it came time for me to return to my family in Ohio as I had some leave coming and they were most anxious to see me and I wanted to see them, especially my mother.
Helen and I agreed to write to each other. She was fun to be with and very attractive. But she was a Catholic and I was a Midwest Methodist. Each group was somewhat intolerant of the other.
Back in Ohio I made the usual rounds of family, relatives and friends. But life was different and I couldn't forget the little Irish girl from New York City. I'd written to her and weeks went by before I heard from her. I'd all but decided that she wasn't interested in me. But then the letter arrived and all was well again.
While in Ohio I visited my friends at the Ohio State Journal and they ran a story on the front page of my being on the Corry at Normandy and all the details of being sunk. I visited my professors at OSU, dated an OSU student and had a good time.
In the course of events, I was interviewed by an old time newsman who picked up on the OFFICER WHO WAS FLOWN TO HIS SHIP AND SWAM AWAY FROM IT.
story ran on the front page of a few papers. It was eventually dramatized on
radio. I spoke before Navy personnel groups in training. I got a lot of
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