Friday, March 19, 2010

I like the cut of your jib, sir!

We have great weather forecast this weekend at the Dockyard - and so we are finally ready to paint the interior of the Monomoy Pulling Boat! Today and tommorrow we'll be prepping all interior surfaces, first blasting them with the new pressure washer (Tim Allen 'ho ho ho') then sanding every surface before a final chemical wipe-down. Sunday, we'll start applying paint - provided we can come up with a plan for covering and heating the boat should it rain on Monday as predicted and keep it all above 50 degrees. Hmm. Well, more time for that as we prep. But special thanks to the volunteers from the spar team, gunner's crew and carpenter's crew who are assisting with this project.


Now, on for another edition of the twice forgotten (appologies) FULLBORE FRIDAY. PS - I stole that term from CDR Salamander, a navy blogger whose opinions I greatly appreciate. Sorry, sir, but imitation is, in fact, the sincerest form of flattery.

This week's anecdote comes from a long-forgotten engagement off Samar made famous in recent years by James D. Hornfischer's book Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. If you haven't read this book yet, get hot, especially if you're in the navy.

The action was a minor note in the annals of history, but as the book's subtitle describes, it is trully "the untold story of the US Navy's finest hour." Japanese Admiral Kurita, with a force of four battleships, six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers, aimed to attack the US landings in the Phillipines as another force of Japanese aircraft carriers distracted ADM Halsey's much larger battleship and aircraft carrier force. To most, it would seem a hopeless fight-

The very powerful force of Japanese battleships, cruisers, and destroyers commanded by Admiral Kurita engaged a US task unit of six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. The Americans were taken entirely by surprise because the Seventh Fleet had firmly believed that its northern flank was being protected by Admiral Halsey's immensely powerful 3rd Fleet, which consisted of eight fleet carriers and six fast battleships.

The brunt of the Japanese attack fell on the northernmost of the escort carrier units, Rear Admiral
Clifton Sprague's Task Unit 77.4.3 (usually referred to by its radio call-sign "Taffy 3"). Ill-equipped to fight large-gunned warships, Taffy 3's escort carriers attempted to escape from the Japanese force, while its destroyers, destroyer escorts, and aircraft made sustained attacks on Kurita's ships. The destroyers and destroyer escorts only had torpedoes and up to 5 in (127 mm) guns, nonetheless they had radar-assisted gun directors; the Japanese had heavy caliber weapons up to 18.1 in (460 mm) but relied upon less accurate optical rangefinders. The US also had large numbers of aircraft available which the Japanese lacked. The ordnance for the escort carriers' aircraft consisted mostly of high-explosive bombs used in ground support missions, and depth charges used in anti-submarine work, rather than the armor-piercing bombs and torpedoes which would been more effective against heavily armored warships. Nevertheless, even when they were out of ammunition, the American aircraft continued to harass the enemy ships, making repeated mock attacks, which distracted them and disrupted their formations.

In all, two US destroyers, a destroyer escort, and an escort carrier were sunk by Japanese gunfire, and another US escort carrier was hit and sunk by a kamikaze
aircraft during the battle. Kurita's battleships were driven away from the engagement by torpedo attacks from American destroyers; they were unable to regroup in the chaos, while three cruisers were lost after attacks from US destroyers and aircraft, with several other cruisers damaged. Due to the ferocity of the defense, Kurita was convinced that he was facing a far superior force and withdrew from the battle, ending the threat to the troop transports and supply ships.

The book analyzes the battle from the perspectives of several participants, many of whom went on to have ships named after them. One such person is Gunner's Mate Third Class Paul Henry Carr:

Japanese shells from several ships finally found their mark, knocking out all power, compressed air, and communications on the destroyer escort. During the battle, Paul Carr kept his gun mount operating continuously, firing over 300 rounds until power and air were lost. Carr then began firing rounds by hand, accepting the risk that without air the gun would not cool down between firings. With seven rounds left in the magazine, the tremendous heat in the gun breech "cooked off" a round, exploding the projectile loaded in the gun and killing most of the gun crew. When a rescue team member made his way into the shattered mount, he found Paul Carr, literally torn open from neck to thigh, attempting vainly to load a shell into the demolished gun breech. The rescue team member took the round from Carr and laid him aside as he began to remove the bodies of the gun crew. When he returned to the mount, he again found Paul Carr, projectile in hand, trying to load his gun. Carr begged the sailor to help him get off one last round. The sailor pulled him from the mount and laid him on the deck. Paul Carr died a few moments later, beneath the gun he served so well. The crew of the SAMUEL B. ROBERTS finally had to abandon ship, but they did see the Japanese force turn away, believing by the ferocity of the attack that they faced a large and potent foe.

Paul Henry Carr was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He is survived by eight sisters, who keep an active interest in their brother's ship, USS CARR (FFG 52).

Complete as this description is, it doesn't do Hornfischer's narrative justice. Read the book - you'll feel like a better American for the appreciation of the navy you'll have. And present day sailors - you'll want to throw on your dress uniform and go have a drink to honor these guys - it will make you that proud of our heritage.

See some of you in the Dockyard tonight! Be ready to get dirty!



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