“Is Dad’s Ship Ready for War?”

Memory from: Robert H. Tate, Jr.

Setting the Scene

In 1959, USS KIDD was transferred from the Pacific to the Atlantic Fleet. Based out of Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, she served as a Reserve Training Ship. In this duty, she provided a training platform for naval reservists on weekend cruises. As the Cold War warmed and cooled during international incidents and crises, though, KIDDóan aging vessel with increasingly obsolete weaponryóhad to be ready for the possibility of war. Robert H. Tate, Jr., the KIDD's gunnery officer from August of 1960 to October of 1962, recounts how he came aboard just prior to and during international relations between the United States and the Soviet Union surrounding the construction of the Berlin Wall and how someone high in rank with a soft spot for the KIDD helped make certain that she was ready when needed.

The Recollection

The Naval Reserve Unit in Wilmington [North Carolina] had many components from a Minesweeper to an Intelligence Group with we surface people in the middle. In May 1960, the Intel boys had been in D.C. for active duty and came back with the hot word on the Russian activities, and call up of some Reserves was being “kicked around.” I thought about it for a while and finally on a Tuesday called up Captain Oller who was now Head Surface Assignment Officer at BUPERS [Bureau of Personnel]. He said the call was very timely since he needed a gunnery officer for a destroyer. He said they were looking into calling some people up. “Do you want to shoot bullets or tote bags? If I call you up now, you can chase submarines if not shoot bullets.” I talked to my boss at the Savings & Loan, got in the car, and drove to D.C. to hear what was going on. He said there was a growing need to have more ASW [Anti-Submarine Warfare] ships ready for sea. On a weekend cruise, the reserve doctor on KIDD was concerned about the appearance of Lieutenant Bill Welborn, the gunnery officer. The next week, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I would be his replacement. The next Monday, I was in Gunnery Officers School in Newport [Rhode Island]. There was no contact relieving; I just became gunnery officer.

KIDD had several months of employment with various ACDUTRA groups including the Reserve Crew. Enough time to know the issues between our Skipper and the designated reserves. We entered overhaul in our home port area of Philadelphia but at SUN SHIP in Chester, Pennsylvania. Snow was falling on the late afternoon of November 17, 1960, as we returned from offloading ammo in Yorktown, Virginia, and it was a bad winter. No one likes a winter overhaul up north for the quality of work is poor, especially in private yards under a Navy Industrial Manager. The low point for the crew was when we moved during the Christmas period to another berth with new steam lines. That was a Friday, and I had the duty by choice. On Saturday, we started loosing heat, and I got everyone I could into the act. The ship’s regulators were being clogged with small rubber balls. The new steam lines were not approved for use. Replacement lines were too late for the havoc wrought, but one berthing compartment was warm and we all took up residence there. If “don’t ask, don’t tell” had been in effect, there could have been more than two in a rack. The worst event was that we had been in drydock for weeks waiting for a temperature above 32 degrees to paint the hull.

At last, there was a forecast for 38 degrees. The problem was the temperature of 18 degrees down in the drydock, but paint they did. I put my objections in the decklog. The reality check was that bigger fish needed the drydock and we were costing SUN SHIP (the Pughs) money. Senator Hugh Scott’s wife was a Pugh, and the Navy needed his vote. We left SUN SHIP the day of the Philadelphia Flower Show, and there was still snow on the ground. Lieutenant Commander R. C. Dressell, our X.O. [Executive Officer] and a designated TAR, told me I needed to augment regular Navy ASAP [as soon as possible] to have a future. Captain Oller agreed, and soon I was Lieutenant, USN. [Editor’s Note: Lt. Tate moved from Naval Reserve status to Active Duty “regular” Navy]. I had a good relationship with the Ready Reserve Crew. Unique among them was Lieutenant Graeme Murdock from Haverford on the Main Line. Graeme clued me in on the local pecking order, thus I knew about Senator Scott and the Pughs. He took me to the Union League Club and the meeting of the First City Troop several times. It seems Robert McNamara had been of low station with the First City Troop when called to be SECDEF [Secretary of Defense]. At sea operations soon showed a noise spike developing around the sonar dome. That hull paint was peeling off was confirmed by our reserve diver. I’m not sure whether the OPSKED was the reason we went to the SEABEE base at Davisville, Rhode Island, to have the hull redone or that need drove the OPSKED. Whatever the reason, we were made available to SUBLANT as target for training, and we could host the annual KIDD-BLACK reunion the weekend before with a nice cruise on Long Island Sound. That night, we had dinner at New London and showed the 16mm film of the Okinawa kamikaze attacks filmed by the squadron doctor. You could see the face and scarf of Lieutenant Shigehisa Yaguchi, IGN, just before impact. I hope the film will turn up some day.

On Monday, we began target services east of Newport in a calm sea and unlimited visibility. KIDD steamed her prescribed route in the busy North Atlantic shipping lanes. We had sonar contact at about 10,000 yards. As the sub closed, a surface contact was moving through the area from southwest to northeast. It seemed to us the sub was going to use the ship as a cover. On SUMNER (DD-692), the sonar shack was in the bowels of the ship, but on KIDD it is on the Bridge Level. The two contacts soon merged a few miles away. The merchantman of the American Export Line, I think it was the EXPORT EAGLE, soon sounded short blasts. The sub had raised her periscope and struck her! There began a legal experience in maritime law. DESLANT found us a JAAG Commander who was submarine qualified. The sub skipper said we should have warned them! We had a complete reel-to-reel sound tape of our concerns about his tactics and were dismissed from the proceedings of his Court Martial. On October 02, 1961, RESDESRON 30 [Reserve Destroyer Squadron 30] detached KIDD, and she was transferred to DESDIV 322 [Destroyer Division 322] in Norfolk. After adjusting to our new selves, we sailed to NORVA [Norfolk, Virginia] for a Tender Availability alongside TIDEWATER (AD-26). On a Friday afternoon, I had gone to TIDEWATER to scrounge something when I ran into Commodore Kidd! [Isaac C. Kidd, Jr.–son of the admiral after whom the KIDD was named] He asked, “Is Dad’s ship ready for war?” I replied, “Well, it’s going to be interesting because I have two rifles and three smooth bores.” He responded that he wanted to see the “history,” so over to KIDD we went. The sounding of four bells and “COMESDRON 32 Arriving,” would normally have caused general panic, but myself and two junior officers had taken the weekend duty so the others could go back to Philadelphia to put things in order. GMC Outlaw brought the “Ordnance History” to the Wardroom, and the Commodore checked our StarGauge reading and our past appeals for replacement. He said we were absolutely correct: they were shot out and unreliable. He said he would take care of it, and he did. [Editor’s Note: Lt. Tate has just informed Commodore Kidd that three of the KIDD’s five 5″/38-cal. guns have lost the rifling in their barrels, effectively becoming smooth-bore cannons unable to spin any shells fired and thus losing all accuracy. The Commodore has confirmed this by looking at the gunnery department’s maintenance logs.] It was a good thing we were alongside TIDEWATER because on Monday there was a flat car on the pier with three new barrels. I knew the man had traction, but not that much. No wonder he became CHIEFNAVMAT; he loved to scrounge but not get dirty. Man, did we ever get dirty! Outlaw got drums of oil of wintergreen, this was before WD-40, to break down the corrosion. It took TIDEWATER hours to find the equipment we needed, but fortunately Outlaw had done this before.

The second day of this process, the “Word” came that President Kennedy was visiting Norfolk facilities and everyone was to be in blues. We were all a mess, but I went straight to the Commodore and said we needed “a Papal dispensation” to be ready for war. He laughed and said he would take care of COMFIVE, if needed. Some tours later, I was in several meetings with him as CINCLANTFLT [Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet], and he never forgot and made a little sign of the Cross upon meeting. We soon went to GITMO [Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba] for a shape up the new crew REFTRA. The arrival inspection reported that the “Junior Officer in the Gunnery Department is not in training as Gunnery Officer but it is noted that the Junior Officer is the Gunnery Officer.” The previous skipper had misgivings about the skill of Commander Moser as KIDD’s captain, but the transition was seamless. Commander Moser had confided in me that the accountability was not yet his, but he was ready if the time came. We had an overkill of talent. There were some other real exploits to tell about, but I’ll leave that to others. She was ready for war as much as any sister ship in the Fleet. She and her men were good to me.

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