Rear Admiral Allan B. Roby, the KIDD's first commander, relates his experience of the KIDD's first ordeal by fire, . . . friendly fire, that is, at the hands of the battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55).


 

"Friendly Fire" from Battleship NORTH CAROLINA Part 1

 

While cruising with a task force in the central Pacific en route to the Gilbert Islands campaign, we received an unusual gift. This is the way it happened:

 

The battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55).

The battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55).
Photo courtesy of George Quarré.

Our trip was a long one and to keep us on our toes between the Panama Canal and the islands, the task force commander gave the battleships permission to hold such exercises as they saw fit. A classic attack doctrine in those days was for a destroyer division to come charging in on the capital ships at high speed, fire spreads of torpedoes at them, and then zoom off, making smoke and zigzagging erratically to avoid destruction by the battleship's guns.

 

 

This was a game to test the alertness of the battleships as well as the skill of the destroyers. It was played just before the daily call to darken general quarters so we weren't losing much sleep anyhow.  If the battleships discovered their attackers on the way in, they would illuminate them by star shell [flare] and then proceed to theoretically blow them out of the water. In that case, they won the game.

On one particularly dark morning, the KIDD, representing a destroyer division, came boring in through the darkness, getting ready to theoretically fire a spread from our torpedo mount amidships and annihilate the USS NORTH CAROLINA. Her lookouts were on their toes, however, and as we charged in, we could see the dull red flashes of their five-inch guns shooting at us. Fire control doctrine required them to track us in, aiming for hits, and then crank a star shell correction into the gun director to elevate the guns above the target so the star shells would burst 1,000 feet above and 1,000 yards behind, silhouetting us as a sitting duck. Alas! The fire controlman forgot to crank in the star shell correction. We heard two loud bangs, which were followed by much yelling from over our TBS: "Cease firing, you are hitting us."

I went down from the bridge to assess the damage and was greeted by the rich, fruity smell of good brandy. One shell had passed through Dr. Herendeen's stateroom, smashing the ship's medicinal brandy safe and turning his entire wardrobe of uniforms and civies into rags.

 

The other shell came into a compartment just below and out the other side at the waterline. Everytime we plunged into a swell, there was a column of water five inches in diameter blasting in from each hole.

We got permission to stop while we assembled shores, wedges, and skillsaws for damage control, and before long we were back in formation.  That afternoon, we were ordered alongside the NORTH CAROLINA and a large, mysterious-looking package was sent across by highline.  When we opened it, we found a huge cake, big enough to feed all 300 of us and decorated as a Purple Heart ribbon.

The Purple Heart cake seen here in NORTH CAROLINA's galley just prior to being highlined over to KIDD.

The Purple Heart cake seen here in NORTH

CAROLINA's galley just prior to being highlined

over to KIDD.  Photo courtesy of Battleship

NORTH CAROLINA Memorial.


KIDD was generally alert to emphasize the positive aspects of any event. In this instance, it happened that the forward damage control party was exercising in the immediate vicinity of the location where one star shell entered the crew's quarters. They had an assumed casualty strapped in a stretcher preparing to lift him up to a medical station on the deck above. Just as the stretcher was about to be lifted from the deck, the star shell entered and crossed just above the chest of the pretended casualty. A fleck of steel, or paint, or a splinter struck the right forehead of the pretended casualty. It was a minute abrasion having no harmful effect. The skipper sent a message to OTC, something as follows: "KIDD claims to be the best prepared ship in the Navy. We had a victim already strapped in the stretcher when he was wounded."

 

Lieutenant (jg) Arthur Black recounts the NORTH CAROLINA incident in more detail regarding the "pretended casualty."


 

"Friendly Fire" from Battleship NORTH CAROLINA Part 2

 

As I recollect--and I may be wrong--one shell passed through the doctor's quarters and took out all of his clothes. The other shell, which went through the ship from starboard to port, passed directly over one of my radarmen, namely Walter Jordan, who was acting as a casualty in a simulated disaster drill. Walter, at the time, was strapped down in a basket-type stretcher. To this day, nobody knows how he ever got out of it. But out he got and was up in the radar shack within a few seconds, shaking like a leaf, but declaring that he was okay and not really scared.

I also remember that Jack Matthews, who was junior officer of the deck at the time, stuck his head into the radar shack and said to George Hill, our exec at the time, "Mr. Hill, star shells are hitting us, and this is no drill."

When we finally rejoined the formation, we were called alongside the NORTH CAROLINA and received packets of ice cream for the entire crew. We also received a huge box for the wardroom, and when it was opened, there was a huge cake which had on it the date of the "engagement," the name of the ship, USS KIDD, and a large Purple Heart in icing. After that, we were always treated very well by the NORTH CAROLINA.


Lieutenant Jim Gilboy was Assistant Damage Control Officer aboard the KIDD at the time of the "attack."  He recounts the rather ingenious way the damage control teams stemmed the flow of water into the ship's messdeck.  He also recalls the humorous story of the KIDD's "one-up" on the NORTH CAROLINA in the aftermath.

 


 

"Friendly Fire" from Battleship NORTH CAROLINA Part 3

 

This is the story of our first day in combat and my first experience in damage control.

We passed through the Panama Canal in August, 1943, and were escorting carriers and battleships to the southwest Pacific area, crossing the line [equator] on September 2nd. The task force commander ordered the KIDD to take position as a target for star shell practice. We went to the usual dawn General Quarters, a standard practice in any combat area, and positioned the ship away from the task force. The KIDD, being a new ship, and I, being Assistant Damage Control Officer, it was my job to inspect fittings to be sure we were watertight. Finding some "X" fittings open, I went looking for Arnold Smith, CM1/c, in charge aft, and was told he could be found in the crew's messhall. Heading forward, I found wooden splinters scattered over the main deck, a bit unusual, I thought, on a metal ship.

I descended into the crew's messhall, found water swishing on the deck and the executive officer, George Hill, in charge of utter confusion. To my question "What happened?", George ordered me to use my derriere to stop up a hole in the port side of the hull saying I could be of some use to the repair party. I complied, not questioning an order, and found the water cool and refreshing. Eventually a patch was rigged and I lost my position, but I didn't even get a "Thank you" or a letter of commendation.

The story was the NORTH CAROLINA needed a target for their star shell drill. The KIDD was chosen. Their 5"/38-cal. battery director sighted us dead on target and fired a salvo--forgetting to correct elevation of the guns for star shells--the accuracy of their gunnery was perfect, making three hits, one on the motor whaleboat, one through the hull at the waterline, and one into the officer's room just aft of the wardroom. This last shell hit the wardrobe of (I believe) Dr. Herenden, ramming a hole through all his clothing and nesting there. Doc Savage, the gun boss at the time, retrieved the shell, carrying it nestled in his arms for all to see, who scattered on sight. He eventually disarmed the flare and it became a wardroom trophy.

We had one casualty: Handy, I believe, who was (as a participant in a drill) strapped into a Stoker stretcher when the shell passed over him, causing him to suffer a cut finger. No Purple Heart medal--shell was friendly.

Several days passed and, ordered alongside the NORTH CAROLINA for fueling, a large frosted cake decorated with a replica of a Purple Heart medal and ice cream were passed over to the KIDD along with an apology.

Even better is the epilogue. According to stories (I wasn't there), the off-watch officers and Captain Roby went to dinner at PI Y. Chungs in Honolulu. Finishing and needing a way back to the ship, they hitched a ride in an Army station wagon. At the entrance to the restaurant, the Army wagon encountered a Navy station wagon, resulting in slight damage to each. Captain Roby, being the senior officer aboard, volunteered to discuss the encounter with the occupants of the other vehicle. The first alighting from the Navy wagon turned out to be the Captain of the NORTH CAROLINA. Captain Roby, with usual calm, collected control opened with "I believe this now evens us up."


The battleship USS NORTH CAROLINA (BB-55) also survives to this day as a museum vessel like the KIDD. She is moored in Wilmington, North Carolina. The "Showboat" features stories from her crew on her own website, just as we do here. Currently, you can find recollections from two NORTH CAROLINA shipmates involved with the "friendly fire" episode with the KIDD. Read the other side of the story at the NORTH CAROLINA's website by Clicking Here.

 

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