WWII (1943-46)

“Torpedoes In The Water” — Rescue Off Rabaul

Memory from: Bill Cox

Setting the Scene

Bill Cox, one of the KIDD's wartime torpedomen, relates his experience of an incident which occurred on November 11, 1943, during the Bougainville landings just a few months after KIDD's run-in with NORTH CAROLINA.

The Recollection

The action that I remember probably the clearest was the 11th of November, 1943, the invasion of Bougainville, which was in the slot between Rabaul and Bougainville. We went in to pick up a pilot. We put a strike over at dawn into Rabaul and we had probably just landed most of our aircraft and one of ’em had apparently gone down. But before we got to pick him up, the Japanese jumped right out of the sky on us and the first one I saw came right around our fantail on the port side and right straight up the starboard side. I could have hit him with a spud. He lasted about 10 seconds. There was an F6F right on his tail and he splashed him right there. After that it got very interesting. We went out to try to pick this [American] pilot up, and every time we slowed down, the Japanese thought we were dead in the water and they came in to try to polish us off. At one time, I was on the port side of the bridge, and there was a fish [torpedo] in the water coming in on the port quarter and there was a plane flying in on the starboard bow: a Japaense torpedo plane with a torpedo slung right underneath the plane. Well, he dropped it and it was running hot, straight and normal. Being a torpedoman, I knew exactly what that meant: it’s gonna blow us straight to hell. So, the old man [Captain … at this point in time, Cdr. Allan B. Roby] didn’t see it.

He was looking at the torpedo on the port quarter and the guns were going off, so he couldn’t hear me screaming at him, so I just pounded him on the back until he turned around and looked at me and I pointed to the torpedo in the water. He immediately ran into the pilot house and grabbed the engine order telegraph and pushed it flank speed ahead on one screw [propellor] and emergency astern on the other. And we just sat there and vibrated. And one fish went up the starboard side and the other one went up the port side. And that’s gospel. I was so damn scared. I walked around on the starboard side and lit up a cigarette and figured “Well, how high is that son of a bitch gonna blow me?” I was so absolutely certain that we were gonna be hit. It was a remarkable maneuver by a man that really knew how to conn a ship. After this same action, we went on picking this man up and we went alongside with lines and nets and we tried everything we could to get ’em in there, but every time we’d just about get ’em, the Japanese would jump on us again, we’d have to take off and leave ’em. And finally, Lang went over the side. He was a gunner’s mate and was holding this one aviator up.

And we went back again and again trying to pick him up and every time we did, the Japanese would either bomb us or strafe us or do something. Finally, the old man put a boat in the water and they went out and picked him up and it took about a couple of trys to get the boat back in ’cause they still kept jumping us, ’cause we were way outside the formation and they figured we’d been hit. We finally got the boat back on and got back into the squadron. And we pulled that famous naval maneuver known as “getting the hell out of there.” Editor’s Note: KIDD conducted this rescue operation alone, while away from the main battle group. Official reports list her as being attacked by eight (8) enemy aircraft. By the end of the engagement, she had splashed three (3) of the attackers and rescued both downed airmen, returning them to their carrier, USS ESSEX (CV-9). This action won Cdr. Roby the Silver Star for gallantry.

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