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One Who Survived
SEAMAN HEYN’S STORY FROM THE NAVAL ARCHIVES OF WORLD WAR II
June 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 4
Then we were in column again and I could see a Jap battleship, because it was awfully big and it was firing right at us. It seemed like everyone was giving it to us, you know. There was a big flash, and the salvos would hit the water on one side of the ship and splash all over and then they would hit on the other side. They didn’t have it [the range] just right. Then something hit up forward. I don’t know what it was because it hit again and the ship shook all over.
The ship seemed to be out of control kinda and someone says, they passed the word around to cut some of the life rafts loose. There were four or five of these doughnut rafts stacked on top of each other on the main deck aft and they were secured, so two or three guys from the battle station where I was went up and cut them loose with a knife and come back.
You could see ships around us, Japanese ships, and we were still firing at them. And I don’t know how it was but then the electrical power on the 5-inch [gun] mounts got out of whack, the juice was cut on them or something happened to the connections somewhere and they had to train them by hand. [Without electric power, such guns could be moved in the horizontal plane only very slowly, making aim very difficult.]
After that things started to quiet down a little. We got out of position and didn’t see any more ships around us. The forward part of the ship seemed to be way down in the water and the fantail way up high. And we couldn’t make very good speed. You could hear the things cracking underneath there—the propeller shafts and the rudder. They were bent or something.
We got off away from the rest of them. You could still see them firing. It looked just like the Jap ships were shooting at each other, that they didn’t know that we weren’t there. And they just kept firing and firing and we kept getting a little further away and they passed the word all over the ship to be sure to not have any lights or anything and to keep real quiet because we were going to try to get out of sight of the enemy somehow. We cruised around there, right next to the shore.
It was beginning to get daylight by then and we got out in the open sea again. The radars and things didn’t work very good; they were all shot from the explosion. Then the lookouts picked up ships ahead. They signaled recognition signals and we found out then it was some of our own task force.
It was the San Francisco, the Helena, the Buchanan, and I don’t know the name of the other can. The Portland or the Atlanta wasn’t there, they’d been hit already and they were still in Guadalcanal. And we got together and it seemed like they were deciding what to do because we kept circling around off San Cristobal Island, just kept making a big circle.∗∗ Heyn is slightly in error concerning the destroyers, which were Fletcher, Sterett , and O’Bannon. Buchanan was not among them. This wounded force was retiring toward the New Hebrides for repairs; San Francisco , particularly, was full of wounded men; both her flag officer (Admiral Callaghan) and her captain were dead. The “circling around” mentioned may be that occasioned by anti-submarine attacks being delivered by the escorting destroyers. (Morison, op. cit.)
The San Francisco sent over word to our ship asking for a doctor and some pharmacist’s mates to come over and aid them. We only had two small motor launches on the davits and they were all torn away. So they [ San Francisco ] sent a boat over, and a doctor and I don’t know how many pharmacist’s mates got in. After they got there, we were always having alerts. There were planes flying around. We were still at our battle stations and didn’t know for sure what planes they were. They’d come in and then we’d find out they were our own and then they’d have submarine contacts and we’d go on Alert One.
Then it was kinda quiet and it was sort of a lull for a few minutes, and everybody was kinda talking and breathing a little easy—everybody was pretty well shook up from the night before. I remember I was just relieving another man on my gun on the phones. We took turns every once in a while so it would be easier. It was pretty hard on your ears and everything and I took over one phone. I was putting them on while he was taking the other ones off.
And I said to him, “Are you all ready?” And he didn’t say anything, he just looked at me, kinda with his mouth open. I didn’t know what it was, somebody was passing the word over the phone or what. It just seemed like everybody was just standing there and then an explosion. A torpedo struck or something. It struck about midship because the whole thing just blew up and it threw me against a gun mount and I had one of these steel helmets on and when I came to, everything was all torn apart and there was oil coming down the air and I thought it was rain but it was just the oil from the feed-tanks or something. The tanks had blew up in the air.
And there was smoke and there was fellows laying all around there and parts of their gun shields torn apart and the fantail where I was was sticking almost straight up in the air. It was so slippery that you couldn’t walk up it and the guys that was still able to climb over the side couldn’t walk up. They were crawling over the side and holding on the lifeline trying to pull themselves further aft and jump over. And they were jumping over and bumping into each other.