WWII (1943-46)

“Friendly Fire” from Battleship NORTH CAROLINA — Part 1

Memory from: Rear Admiral Allan B. Roby

Setting the Scene

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).

The Recollection

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: 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.

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