The compartments forward of the messdeck contain two of the crew’s berthing compartments. These compartments contain bunks for the crew’s enlisted sailors. Sailors slept three high, on top of canvas bunk bottoms and mattresses. Each man got a small footlocker below in which to stow all of his belongings. Petty Officers received the upright lockers. There were a total of seven berthing compartments for the enlisted crew aboard the KIDD (not counting Steward’s Berthing): three spaces forward (including the Messdeck) and four spaces aft. A compartment in Enlisted Berthing might contain anywhere from 18 to 65 bunks.
Living in these spaces, men had to get along in an extremely crowded environment. In general, when the ship was underway, one-third of the crew was on watch, leaving two-thirds asleep in the compartments. The watch changed at 2400 (midnight) and 0400 hours (4:00 a.m.) and crewmen got very adept at changing clothes quietly in the dark so as not to wake their shipmates. In such an environment, consideration for one another was the most important feature in making such a living situation bearable.
These spaces were not air conditioned in the slightest. Ventilation ducting piped air in from the exterior and sucked it back out, creating a breeze in an otherwise stifling environment. In the South Pacific, it could often reach 100˚ on the main deck. Belowdecks in the sleeping quarters, it could easily reach 110˚ if not for the ventilation ducts and small 12-inch fans mounted sporadically on the bulkhead.
During peacetime, each division was housed in specific quarters (i.e. gunnery, engineering, deck force, etc.). However, in times of war, the crew was scattered throughout the berthing spaces regardless of division to ensure that a fatal hit to one area of the ship did not wipe out the personnel for an entire division.
A sobering thought is the fact that inmates in the various prisons throughout the United States during World War II lived in better, less-crowded conditions than did sailors aboard a destroyer like the KIDD.
Take a good long look at this compartment. These are the conditions under which the enlisted crew lived. Look at the thickness (or, more accurately, the thinness) of the mattresses and the severe lack of privacy. Keep in mind the fact that you are now standing directly above the KIDD’s forward magazines. One deck below is the storage area for the 5″/38-caliber ammunition and one deck below that is the 20mm ammunition storage. Should the ship ever take a hit to this area of the ship, anyone in these compartments at the time of the attack stood little chance of making it out alive.
The men who lived in the forward-most berthing compartment always received the roughest ride on the ship without fail. Imagine that you are lying in your bed at night and drifting off to sleep. Suddenly, without warning, something lifts your house 20 feet into the air, throws it forward 30 yards, and drops it back down. That’s what it was like for the men who lived here whenever there was rough weather on the high seas. For their part, the men living in the aft berthing compartments had the constant “whump whump whump” sound of the propellers to help keep them awake.