CIC officer, USS Corry (DD-463)
In the cold waters of the English Channel, I looked around, saw John and
started swimming towards him. "You owe me five bucks," I said. "If we make
it, I'll buy the first round!"
Well, I won my bet, our destroyer had been sunk! This dark fact came as no
surprise once I saw the operation order. The whole mission and location was
fraught with possibilities, all unpleasant. The advance knowledge of those
awesome events did nothing to minimize the emotional response to them,
although oddly enough, fear came later. Out of nowhere, I recalled an
incident when I was eighteen. A group of us had planned a boat trip when
school closed for the summer. The excitement level ran high. One day, my Dad
took me aside. He said, "Mort, about this boat trip, it's got your Mother
worried. I know you're old enough to make your own decision, and that you'll
be careful, but all that aside, Mother is worried. I'll leave the decision
to you." After much thought, and regret, I bowed out. How ironic to be on
the first ship sunk on Invasion Day, and to be swimming around in the
The last cruise of the USS Corry started routinely. Our destroyer squadron,
four ships, played nursemaid to a fully loaded ammunition ship headed for
the invasion by way of Belfast. It was May 1944, the weather pleasant with
summer, and the invasion on the horizon. After a slow and boring crossing,
we arrived in Belfast Lough, as the harbor is called. No sooner had we
dropped anchor, when the signal lights began flashing among the ships. Off
to starboard was the Texas, which was sent to the beachhead where her
14-inch guns could provide fire support for the landings. As I surveyed the
scene, in good old navy fashion, the signalman on watch called down to me, "
I have a message for you, Mr. Rubin." As a very new Ensign, that struck me
at first as no more than Butch's familiar sense of humor. But no, it was the
truth, and he promptly balled up the message and dropped it down to me from
the signal bridge. The message was from a storekeeper on the Texas, which
said that my brother Allen was in the Dockside Barracks, and included an
address." It later developed that by brother, who I had not seen for two
years had met this sailor at the USO, and told him to keep his eyes open for
the USS Corry. He had done just that. Our Exec sent me ashore with the Guard
Mail, and although I soon found the place, my brother was out. I left a note
saying I'd be back if possible, and the next day we had a joyful reunion. My
brother Allen was five years older, but that had no effect on our close
relationship. A graduate of Harvard, he never quite made the step to
Officer's Candidate School that we all expected. He adjusted to being a
Staff Sergeant, and was ensconced in a Port control unit that was
comfortable and safe. The last time we were together was during my
Midshipman School at Notre Dame. My parents would be pleased to hear of our
After two days at anchor, receiving and passing rumors, we sailed for
Plymouth, England. Once there, the reality and imminence of the invasion was
oddly juxtaposed for the next two weeks with going ashore into the lovely
Southern English countryside and sightseeing. Each day as more and more
shipping arrived in the harbor, the new arrivals were anchored upstream and
camouflaged with branches.
Then one day, we saw a whaleboat approach with an officer and several
bulging mail sacks. This was not ordinary mail. The detailed operation order
was at hand. No more liberty, no going ashore, no mail off the ship, just
sit and wait. The next days were spent studying the operation and most
particularly our role. Essentially, we were to weigh anchor 31 hours in
advance of H-hour, which was to be 6:30 AM on June 5, 1944. The essence our
job was to deliver a tug and tow to the transport area off Utah Beach. We
were then to pick up the channel, swept earlier of possible mines, which
would lead us towards the Beach. The channel would turn to the right and
allow us to take a position one mile off the invasion beach .
The tug would be towing a large floating steel raft to be used ultimately in
the construction of an artificial harbor. Mulberry was the code name. There
were two soldiers on the raft with no shelter or comfort at all. What they
were to do, or could possibly do, was a mystery.
So, at dusk a day and a half before the "festivities" were to begin, we
started out to make our share of history. A characteristic Channel fog and
drizzle greeted us as we emerged from Plymouth Harbor. We had been alerted
to the presence of German PT boats that had been creating some annoyance in
the area, but the danger from them was minimized by the fog. With our
excellent surface radar we could detect them earlier than they could us.
The channel crossing was slow and frustrating. As a "greyhound" of the deep,
destroyers seldom travel at four or five knots, which is just steerageway,
bouncy and uncomfortable. This was necessitated by our mission to keep close
watch on the tug and tow. We soon developed a pattern of small forward
surges followed by stopping to allow our wards to catch up. Whenever we got
within hailing distance of the raft and its shivering soldiers, our men
called over greetings and threw candy bars. This fatiguing and unglamourous
procedure continued on through the night. Just before daybreak, we received
a radio signal to turn around, because the invasion had been delayed 24
Jesus Christ! Could this be a fake message sent by the Germans? If so, it
certainly was a beauty. We sailed under radio silence, no acknowledgements,
no questions. If someone was thoughtful maybe we'd get a repeat. And even if
it was genuine, there was always the possibility that some ship wouldn't get
the message. You could just picture a lone destroyer or minesweeper going in
on its own private war and tipping our hand to the Germans. Well, our job
was clear and it had to be done.
We turned 180 degrees after duly signaling our wards. Even this maneuver was
not trivial. The mere act of reversing course for a tug and its tow entails
seamanship of a high order. The big risk is in fouling the tow line around
the screws of the tug. Slack must be kept in the cable while turning. But
this gray dawn greeted the effort with success and we were safely, for the
moment, headed back to England in a choppy sea that would have stimulated
the creative juices of a Joseph Conrad.
The next 24 hours was a tortured time of waiting and alternating moods
thinking of the family left at home, touching chords of fear, fatigue, and
loneliness, accompanied by nausea, cramps, incipient tears, and visions of
memorial services, or worse yet, seeing-eye dogs and wheel chairs.
At least the validity of the message was confirmed, and we spent the time
backing and filling and trying to keep from alerting our ever-vigilant foes.
We talked, played cards, told lies, and comforted each other in an
unconscious ritual. We were young and resilient. War is definitely a young
Finally, dawn of June 6th arrived. We slowly approached the transport area.
This is not like going into a parking space... it is a pencil line on a
chart. We knew we were there because of the ships, which had preceded us. We
signaled "Good Luck" to our exhausted charges, and proceeded to find the
designated channel that the minesweepers we hoped had cleared.
There's the little white marker flag on its buoy just where it belonged. A
good omenů It's soon followed by a series of markers. Kilroy was surely
here, bless him. All this time we were at battle stations, mostly indoors,
cooped up in our own little cocoons. Although idle conversation was
verboten, the lookouts topside reported some flattening of the seas and a
little lightening of the sky. The horizon was dotted with the silhouettes of
history's greatest gathering of ships. We were not alone.
After leaving the transport area, we formed a line with our three squadron
mates, and steamed slowly down the swept channel towards the French coast,
taking our right turn as directed. We fired randomly at the beach to soften
up our adversaries. We monitored the radio carefully, but fruitlessly, for
requests for fire support from spotters who had parachuted ashore earlier.
Situated only 2000 yards off shore, one nautical mile, we knew we were
within range of anything from a peashooter on up. Our dire expectations were
not long in being realized. The batteries on shore began to fire at us. The
splashes in front and then in back of us presaged the ultimate. Within
minutes of the first splashes, the lookouts reported hits on the forecastle
and shrapnel on the exposed topsides. The speaker summoned a corpsman
topside, We had taken our first casualty. The skipper maneuvered the ship
back and forth to present a more difficult target, but the channel was
narrow. The consensus was that we were the target of 88 MM guns, a versatile
and popular weapon. Of course, no one really knew, like most conclusions
during an action it was all guesswork.
From my battle station in the Combat Information Center, it was clear that
the strong flooding tide was moving us towards the beach and out of the
swept channel. After duly reporting this development to the bridge, we heard
the Skipper order the Boatswain to lower the anchor to short stay. This
means that the anchor was barely touching the bottom, with the chain
vertical, and we could get clear in matter of seconds. Almost immediately we
heard the voice of the Admiral's staff inquiring about our action, which was
surprising to say the least. Our skipper explained, and the vigil went on.
It soon became clear that we had to use the engines to maintain station, the
anchor only served as a pivot point and we hauled it up. The shore firing,
which had abated, picked up again.
In a little while we were scheduled to cease firing at the shore because our
landing craft were going into action. At that time we were restricted to
targets called in by radio spotters, who were presumably behind the
immediate shoreline, though the radio continued to be silent. The ship was
maneuvered back and forth in a dual effort to stay in the prescribed area
while making us as difficult a target as possible.
Suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion. I was thrown to the deck, the
compartment went completely dark, and an ominous silence dropped over the
ship like a huge cloak. Our radar operator dutifully reported no signal, "no
nuthin'" on the recently active screen. There was also no power, no light.
The Exec and I exchanged brief comments, and I climbed the one deck level to
the bridge to report our condition. As I entered the navigation bridge the
quiet there was also pervasive. Whatever hit us was big, probably lethal.
The skipper confirmed that we had been hit by a mine. He simultaneously sent
me aft to the emergency steering station with orders to manually position
the rudder amidships. It had jammed at an angle. I saluted and descended
quickly to the main deck, where I was confronted with a huge cleft in the
main deck like an earthquake fissure. There were 12 to 15 inches of
separation between the fore and aft sections. Moving rapidly aft, I found
the aft steering station in shambles with no possibility of moving the
rudder. I started back to report this latest situation to the bridge but was
distracted by a call, "Mr. R, I'm hit, can you help me?" Looking to the left
I saw the wounded seaman who seemed to be going into shock. My first attempt
to give him the morphine that each officer has been equipped with for such
emergencies failed. In my haste I did not puncture the tip. A second try
worked, and I dragged the man forward to the aid station and a corpsman.
Turning again to report topside, I caught sight of a sailor on deck in a
basket stretcher. It was 'Ski, the boilermaker. His entire body had been
scalded by escaping steam when the boiler lines were ruptured.
"Help me, Mr. R," came the weakened voice, "can you give me some morphine? I
hurt like Hell." As I bent over, I saw the tag indicating that morphine has
already been given. Two doses in close succession would be lethal. I told
him that he would begin to feel less pain in a few minutes, but I could not
do anything more now. The corpsman caught my eye, made a thumbs down motion
and looked away guiltily. I told 'Ski to stay loose, that the Doc would take
good care of him. I cursed the lie, the war, the world, and turned to go.
"Abandon ship, abandon ship" came the cry. Nevertheless, I climbed up to the
radar shack to blow up the magnetron in the radar. It was my job to destroy
this highly secret device, which today can be found in any microwave oven.
As I arrived, I saw Mac, our First Class petty officer and my trusted right
hand man. We discussed briefly the situation and what to do. The problem was
that the upper decks are thin aluminum and any charge I used would inflict
further injury to the several casualties on deck just outside of the radar
shack. We looked into each other's eyes, and the words come out as if
rehearsed, "To Hell with it, the guys are more important!"
Back on the Main deck, some sailors had already begun to jump into the
water. The ship was slowly but visibly settling. The cleft was bigger and
the ocean remorselessly flooding in. My only thought was to retrieve the
beautiful English sea boots, so recently and laboriously acquired in
Glasgow. Opening the door to the windowless wardroom, which led to my bunk,
I was struck as if by a brick wall by the black silence. In the quietest of
times, noises of life permeated the ship. Fans, motors and assorted
equipment comprised the pulse of a living organism. This was Death. Afraid
of getting caught in this trap, I hastily beat a retreat to daylight and the
deck, putting the boots out of my mind forever. The order to "Abandon Ship"
was now pervasive and with it heightened activity, but not panic. Making a
panoramic swing of the scene, my attention was attracted by calls from the
water by men floating and trying to swim. Not ready for 52 degree water,
their confidence in being able to stay afloat left them in panic. Since the
deck was cluttered with five inch powder cans, I quickly resealed a few and
threw them overboard to the men in distress. Almost 40 inches long, these
buoyant aluminum cans would serve their new owners well.
Looking around at the unfolding picture, a voice from the water shouted,"
Hey R, what are you waiting for?" My reverie was short lived. The skipper
appeared with his hat on, " Come on Rubin, let's go, I can't leave until you
do." As he disappeared forward I stepped up to the rail, now only inches
above the sea. I bent over to untie my shoes. Wet laces can jam, and
water-filled shoes are no asset. Feeling an odd weight at my waist, I
remembered the '45 pistol so eagerly desired. I had every intention of
stealing it, given the opportunity. With no hesitation, I unbuckled the web
belt and merely let it drop to the deck. " I won't be needing this for a
while", I thought. One last check before the step off into who knows what.
My knife was at my waist with its arms-length lanyard, my inflatable life
belt, slept with on the prior night to insure its reliability with its snap
and ring, should I be rendered unconscious in the water, and finally, my
wallet containing the wardroom mess funds wrapped in a condom. This was
The step overboard was a leap over a cliff, though the water was only inches
below. The icy water woke me up in a hurry. I inflated my life belt
immediately. I looked around to get my bearings and saw my friend J. nearby.
I paddled over to exchange status reports. He was OK except that his shoes
had filled with water and were weighing him down. With the bulky jacket he
was wearing, bending over in the water was awkward so he floated on his back
and put his feet within my reach. In a moment I was able to pull the shoes
off. We both watched as they lazily sunk out of sight. We wondered aloud
about how long we were likely be in the water before getting picked up.
Since it was about H-Hour, 6:30 AM on a grey day with leaden skies, I
allowed that we'd better be patient. In the course of a war, one small ship
and its crew were expendable. And, if we weren't expendable we were not high
on the priority list. There was an island offshore beyond our position, but
the flooding tide made the prospect of swimming a mile or so against the
current unlikely at best. For all we knew it too might be occupied by
Germans. For the moment we were together and in good shape, better relax and
Suddenly J. pointed at the battleships firing their big guns. The Texas and
several other capital ships were now shelling the area behind the landing
beaches to prevent the Germans from bringing in reinforcements. We could
actually see the fourteen-inch projectiles as they emerged from the muzzle
blast, slowly arching their way inland. We looked on in awe. I told J.,"Look
carefully and remember all this; this is history. If we're lucky we'll be
telling our kids and grand children about it." With a sardonic look, he
replied, "I hope you're right."
Just then I saw little splashes in the water near us. I was about to call
J.'s attention to them when I felt some pressure in my bottom. We were under
fire from the shore-based 88's. The splashes were bits of shrapnel, and the
sensation was the result of the explosions being transmitted through the
water as they made contact. Our eyes met and wordlessly we both paddled off
away from this threat. Fifty years later, at a reunion, I would learn that
our shipmate N. was killed in the water by this shelling. That news struck
me hard. N. was the only other Jewish officer on board. That April 1944,
when in Boston, he shared the Passover service with my family. My Mother
shed copious and bitter tears when I told her a couple of months later that
he was missing.
As we swam to avoid the shore guns, I noticed we were becoming separated. I
cautioned J. that we should stick close. Groups tend to be picked up more
quickly than loners. He agreed, but the current was too powerful. It was
then that my eyes began to tear, and I felt a burning in my throat. "What
the Hell is this all about?" I asked myself. As the shells exploded on and
around the sinking ship, the acid-filled tanks on the fantail were
punctured. These tanks held chemicals which were mixed with compressed air
to form "smoke." A useful capability when evading enemy guns, now, the acid
dripping slowly on to the deck and vaporizing in the light breeze, it
floated a cloud of burning irritant over us. A wet handkerchief over the
face helped some, but the taste of vinegar taken straight continued to choke
us. That would be ironic; get successfully off a sinking ship to suffocate
in the sea. No thanks. Again we kicked and swam off to get away from this
Looking around to maintain contact with J., I couldn't see him or anyone
else nearby. S@#t! Well, no sense panicking now, in these situations you're
on your own in the final analysis. Some shouting off to one side called
attention to the ship settling down in the 30-foot water. One last look as
the hull broke at the cleft, the bow and stern rose up, and the bubbling
around the hull signaled the dying gasps of the USS Corry (DD 463). In a few
minutes all that was visible was the radar antenna atop the masts. We had
the foresight to keep away from the sinking ship lest we get caught in the
suction. As if to reassure me, I felt a slight tapping on my upper back.
There, floating free, was one of the five inch powder cans I had resealed.
My first reaction was, "thanks, but no thanks." Then I reconsidered. These
pneumatic belts don't last forever, and this could be cheap insurance if the
belt sprung a leak. I then proceeded to snap my rescue line on to the ring
handle and let it float with me. Its regular bumping on my head and
shoulders gave me a comforting feeling of not being wholly alone.
Who can tell time in these circumstances? One minute it seemed as though the
clock had stopped, each minute an eternity, and then the next minutes flew
by like the changing images of a kaleidoscope. After what I guessed was
about two hours in the water, I saw a whaleboat looking for survivors. I
shouted, got their attention, and the coxswain headed my way. In seconds I
was clawing the gunwales in an effort to get aboard. The crewman leaned over
the side, grabbed me by the rear end and hauled me unceremoniously in.
Noticing my rank, he apologized for the manhandling. He was immediately and
completely absolved with my added thanks. Attracted by the clatter of my
aluminum friend, he looked at me as though one of us was crazy. Since I was
the officer, the "anointed one," pointing to the can, he very tactfully
asked me what this was about. After a quick explanation, we threw it back
into the water for another hapless soul to use.
EPILOGUE: In the whaleboat I saw my trusted radar operator, a non-swimmer,
shivering under the canvas. We exchanged stories as the whaleboat picked up
several more survivors and returned to her ship, the USS Fitch, our squadron
The subsequent events were happily routine, consisting of being given dry
clothes, transferring to an empty troop ship, going back to Plymouth to the
warmest of welcomes. This was followed by a month in Scotland in a camp on
the Firth of Clyde, exploring the beautiful and hospitable Scottish hills.
Finally, a trip to New York on the Queen Elizabeth and a month's leave.
USS Corry (DD-463)
Copyright 2000, Richard Angelini and Mort Rubin for the Benson-Livermore
class destroyers site. http://www.geocities.com/usdestroyer/corrysinks.html