9:07 a.m., the Gambier Bay

9:07 a.m. — The Gambier Bay, the first American carrier ever to fall to the guns of a hostile force (in nearly three years of fighting, which is really saying something), sank. The call to abandon ship had been issued twenty minutes before.

We now see the sinking from the point of view of Captain Vieweg, “among the last to leave the ship.” Again, the total mastery (and stellar writing)! Hats off to you, James D. Hornfischer!

  • Vieweg felt his way aft, looking for the ladder down to the starboard catwalk. In the smoke and steam he missed the ladder altogether and plummeted into a void. The smoke was so black and the heat so intense that the captain, thoroughly disoriented, feared he had fallen right into the main exhaust stack. On a CVE its yawning black chasm was nearly flush with the flight deck. Panicked, Vieweg grabbed the rim of the steel enclosure he lay in and hauled himself out of it. Then he was falling again. He broke into clear air, fell about forty feet into the water, and was nearly choked by the strap on his battle helmet when he plunged in. He surfaced to find the carrier’s ten-thousand-ton bulk rolling to starboard, threatening to come down on top of him. He swam madly toward the stern and cleared the ship by the time it finally turned turtle, exhaled the last of the stale air from its compartments, and entered the formidable depths of the Philippine Sea.

And that, dear blog readers, is how you write about a man abandoning ship.

That is all.

Stellar Writing

If James D. Hornfischer were still alive, I’d sign up for a master class. His command of his subject is total. He’s traced the fates of each individual ship AND crew of Taffy 3 during the morning of Oct. 25, 1944 and it is incredible. I don’t think I’ve every read anything like it. As the ships go down one by one, he shows you their fate, right down to the moment when the men slip into the water.

Chapter Thirty-Six: The Roberts Goes Down

In two hours of battle, Captain Copeland had steered his ship so adroitly that it avoided getting a single hit. When a blow finally landed, however (how long can a light destroyer keep a battleship at bay? Two hours is pretty good. You’d think help would be forthcoming from the other ships in Leyte Gulf, but no), other blows followed, in a quickening crescendo.

At the waterline, about two-thirds of the way to the stern on the port side, gaped a cavernous hole seven to ten feet high and some fifty feet long. The massive opening would have neatly garaged a semi trailer parked sideways. The number-two engine room was completely demolished. When the after fuel-oil tanks ruptured, they threw flaming oil everywhere.

As if to remind the skipper that life could get worse, a torpedo wake came bubbling in to starboard. There was no way to avoid it. As the faint white wake came straight on amidships, Copeland gripped the edge of the bridge wing and screamed, his voice cracking, “Stand by for tor — !” But one last miracle remained, it seemed. The torpedo passed just under the destroyer’s escort’s keel, missing, by the captain’s estimation, by no more than a foot.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, p. 298

The USS Hoel

At 8:40 a.m., Commander Toshio Nakagawa wrote in his ship’s log, “Cruiser blows up and sinks.” This was in all probability the USS Hoel.

Six Japanese ships had cornered the Hoel and submitted her to barrage after barrage. “Boxed in by the enemy on three sides, the Hoel had no propulsive power to escape through the box’s open bottom.”

Chapter Thirty-Three is what happened to the men who were still alive on the Hoel when the ship sank.

At 8:35 a.m., Captain Kintberger ordered his men to abandon ship. The PA system was dead, so the order was given by word of mouth. Gunner’s mate first class Willard Henn passed gunnery officer Lt. Bill Sanders tangled up in some rigging. Both his legs had been blown off at the knees but he was still alive. Henn made to help him but Sanders said no, the order was to abandon ship.

Eighteen-year-old Paul Miranda jumped into the water and belatedly realized that he didn’t know how to swim. Everett Lindorff was “working the plotting table when the abandon ship order came,” and was the last man to get out of the Hoel‘s CIC. Bob Wilson, machinist, had been wounded by shrapnel and could no longer walk. He crawled over the ship’s side.

Lt. Jack Creamer, assistant gunnery officer, walked down the starboard side, helping survivors into life jackets. “All around the ship clusters of heads bobbed, survivors riding the slow, rolling swells. Creamer watched numbly as a Japanese salvo struck the sea a few hundred yards to starboard, right in the middle of a big gathering of wounded survivors.”

Several of the men reported their last sight of Captain Kintberger standing on the bridge, watching as his men hit the water.

This chapter is very, very hard to read. But Hornfischer is relentless. This is only a little past the halfway point of The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.

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