Should be a picture here, of an old destroyer under way
USS Mallory TG – 1
USS Mallory, named for the Secretary of the Navy in Jefferson Davis’ Confederate administration, built as a Destroyer of the ‘Paulding’ class, converted by Cavite Navy Yard in 1928 for service as a Torpedo Gunboat in the Philippine Islands. After her conversion, she was armed with five 3”/50 caliber guns; two .50 caliber machine guns and two .30 caliber machine guns. Her original torpedo armament was six 18” tubes in two triple sets. On conversion she was rearmed with one set of 21” tubes in a triple mount. Later she received four depth charge projectors and one depth charge rack.
USS Mallory was lost to enemy action on 26 January 1943
NOTES OF AN INTERVIEW WITH
William G. Finnell
Chief Gunner’s Mate (Retired) USN
“She was a queer old bucket, was the ol’ ‘Mallory’. A high foc’s’l’ed three piper left over from before the last Great War, named fer a Rebel Navy man, too. Ain’t no wonder she ended up like she did.
“Y’see, back in the ol’ Philippines, things wasn’t so settled in them south islands as was up around Manila ‘n Cavite. Up there, y’ had nearly the whole damn Army an’ the Asiatic Fleet, y’see, while down where we was, there weren’t but us an’ a few troops o’ doughboys an’ PC’s - tough little buggers, too. An’ there was lots o’ pirates, smugglers, bandits, an’ rebels to contend with ashore and at sea, which was mostlt our business. We stayed purty busy most o’ the time.
“Anyways, the ol’ ‘Mallory’ started out as a Destroyer, but over the years she got converted into a sort of Navy Coast Guard cutter, a fast gunboat, sorta. She didn’t belong to th’ Fleet, but to the District Headquarters. We operated more with the Army than the Navy anyhow, and we usta joke about bein’ the Army’s Navy. Speakin’ o’ that, the Army had quite a fleet of their own, y’know. They had them big Mine Planters an’ their Freight an’ Supply coasters kept the whole place in grease an’ grub. An’ their transports ran between ‘Frisco and Manila regular, too. I bring all that up, ‘cause they play a part in this whole story.
“But lemme finish tellin’ about the ‘Mallory’. Cavite took out two boilers and one set of torpedo tubes an added some mounts for fifty caliber machine guns. These were the old water cooled guns you probably never saw. They built a frame for a canvas deckhouse for the PC platoons we hauled around when things got too hot fer them Missionary stiffs. I guess I oughta say them PC’s was boys from the Phillipine Constabulary. Mr. Wickham, our Exec, usta call ‘em our Phillipine Marines. They was good little fellers, the PC’s and hard fighters, too. But there I go again, spoutin’ off ‘bout stuff you don’t care ‘bout! Anyways, like I was sayin’, them bluenoses caused us an awful lot of trouble, pullin’ their fat outa the fire. Fact is, they probably caused most of the rebel trouble amongst them Moros. Wonder why it is folks just can’t leave other folks alone, but always got to be botherin’ them about somethin’
“Well, anyhow, The ol’ girl could still get twenty-four knots with a clean bottom in any fair sea at all. We used that Dutch Marine Railway at Balikpapan for that and the tender ‘Black Hawk’ gave us an availability period just before the war started. She was there up until the end of December ’41, I think, and did a lot for us. So we was in purty good shape, to be in the shape we’re in, if y’know what I mean! Heheheh!”
Here the old man paused to refresh himself, and cut a new chaw from the plug of Brown Mule he carried in his bib overalls. A deep draught of iced tea “wet down the ol’ pipes”, as he used to say. He looked out across the lawn long and thoughtfully, not seeing the green grass and Cedar trees, or the tall sticks of the Pines off a way, but instead, seeing again the brightness of tropical days, a shining azure sea, and a fiery sunset over dark and forbidding Borneo. You knew he could feel the soft, warm breeze across his leathered cheeks and taste the salt in the spray.
He shifted his chew, and his bottom in the old cane rocker. “Well, lemme see, where was we? Oh, yeah, the ship, well, we was in purty fair shape, as I say, an’ about as ready as we’d ever be fer them Japs. ‘Course we had no idea at all of how ready they was fer US! All before the war, they was talk about what would happen, an we’d purty much figgered Admiral Hart and his boys would hold ‘em off ‘til the Fleet got there and chased ‘em back to Yokosuka.” He pronounced the name “Yokuska”, which he told me is the “right way ter say it”. “So we wasn’t too worried ‘bout it, an’ sorta figgered we’d go on doin’ what we’d been doin’, Japs er no Japs. Brother, did we ever have it wrong!”
“Well, anyhow, we took on ammunition and stores from the ‘Black Hawk’ and topped off our fuel and lube oils from the pier at Balikpapan. We got underway for Zambo and our patrol area early one mornin’ an’ that was the last we saw of the ‘Black Hawk’. She had replaced our torpedoes with war shots fresh from her torp shop. No sooner than he got ‘em and Netherland, our Torpedoman, went through them and had the new magnetic pistols pulled and went over the impact exploders. He said he’d been in the Navy since Noah was a boot, and he wasn’t about to gamble on some harebrained piece of crap from Newport with the only three shots he had.
“Now the Japs was raisin’ hell all over the place, but mostly up north in Luzon but we still wasn’t worried much. MacArthur had said he could handle ‘em if they got ashore, and the fleet was still around. Somebody told us the Limeys had sent out a couple of battlewagons, and ours would be on their way before long. Hell, none of us had ever give much thought to airplanes or airplane carriers. Most of us hadn’t seen one.
A Carrier, I mean. We saw them PBY’s all the time, an’ our Cruisers had their float planes, o’ course.
“Then the Army mail an’ rations boat came down from Manila and broke the news that things wasn’t goin’ at all good fer Uncle Sugar or the Limeys who had lost both their battleships in one day, and at sea, too! We found out how bad Pearl’d been hit too, and we were a pretty glum bunch a’ swabbies, I can tell ya! She was usually a purty happy ship, was the ol’ ‘Mallory’, but news like that’s hard for sailors to take. Real hard.
Hart had sent the Cruisers and his cans south and the soldiers said we was not far off from bein’ the whole US Navy in an’ aroun’ the Commonwealth. That was her last trip, too, by the way, they got her on her way back north. All her people went with her.
“The Captain tried to get orders from District headquarters, but we never actually got any . . . I reckon things was purty hectic up there by that time, what with folks pullin’ out for the Rock or Australia, dependin’ on how their luck was.
Anyways the skipper and the Exec and the bull soldiers had a meetin’ on the beach to figure out what to do. Was we gonna fight, hide, or run? There was no talk about givin’ up.
“Well, the Dutchies was gonna make a fight of it, they said, so Captain Currier and the big dog soldier, said ‘Well, Hell! If ol’ Hans is gonna fight, we might as well throw in with them! If we can hold ‘em off long enough for the Aussies to get up here, an’ all them Army planes comin’ from the states, to get here . . . Why, hell, they got to have a place to land, don’t they?’ That’s sorta the way we was thinkin’.
“An’ it didn’t look so bad at first. Mr. Moto hadn’t yet sent none of his battleships around, an’ we hadn’t seen too many planes that looked like carrier planes; so, if all we had to deal with was a few tinplate cruisers and some ‘cans, why, it’d be over before Flag Day! The Dutchies had cruisers of their own; we still had ours, an’ the Limeys an’ Aussies had some, too. What the hell, we’d give ol’ Moto a run fer his money, fer sure!
“The skipper contacted the ‘Houston’ by radio and requested orders, which came back as for us to maintain a close patrol in the Sulu Sea especially at night and scout for the fleet. We was supposed to be ready to pick up any of our aviators what went into the drink, too. They gave us a patrol line to steam, an’ we ended up walkin’ the beat like some flatfoot cop.
“Only trouble was, Mr. Moto didn’t come our way, an’ the Dutchies an’ ever’body got they ass handed to ‘em, leavin all eighty six of us lonesome polecats out there with nobody but some hungry tinhat soldiers for company! So they got all the Great Minds up to the head shed an’ had another meetin’ to figger out ‘what next?’ The soldiers wanted to slip back into the hills an’ fight on, hopin’ that Mr. Roosevelt had some ace up his sleeve. Well, that was OK for them, most of them had local connections, if you get my drift, since they’d been on the island since God dropped it there.
“Us Bluejackets had a differn’t tale to tell. All our stuff was in Zambo an’ that damned ol’ Takayama Watashi owned it now. All our Filipina babies were now Yokohama Mammas. We was orphans sho’ nuff! Well, the local PC’s said they’d fight, an’ the Army’s sailors said they’d fight, so what the hell could we do, but stay an’ fight!
“They counted up what we had, an’ it came out somethin’ like this, if I remember it right. The ‘Mallory’, o’ course; an Army Mine Planter; two of their F & S boats; a crazy Dutchman with a tug and two barges, one with fuel oil and one with diesel. The Army had two battalions of Phillipine Army recruits, and a battalion of regulars. They had some 3” AA guns an’ a battery of them little ‘whatchcallits’, them pack howitzers. They had some native horses an’ there was two missionary airplanes on the island. There was some gas stowed around at the differn’t plantations, an’ a lot of local folks had shotguns and such.
“The Colonel made a fine speech, about he had been in the islands as a young Lieutenant an’ knew how well the Filipinos could fight, an’ how brave they was an’ all that. Our skipper (He was a Lieutenant, Navy Grade) made a little talk an’ said how we’d hide the ships up in creeks and rivers, camouflaged real good during the day, an’ come out at night to pick off whoever wasn’t lookin’. He also said we might have to fly the Jap flag to fool their fly guys, in daylight, but if their guys were like ours, it didn’t take much to fool a flier anyway.
“An’ that’s purty much how we got into the pirate business. Next time you’re here, I’ll tell ya how we sank that Seaplane Tender. Pass me one them beers, will ya, son?
“Well, where’d we get to, last time? Oh, yeah, I was tellin’ ya about how we got inta the pirate business.
“See, they was things goin’ on all around us, but down there in the Java Sea an’ aroun’ the Dutchie’s islands. So we didn’t really get into any of them famous battles. ‘Course we all felt like hell when the ‘Houston’ an’ the ‘Pope’ an’ all just disappeared. We had no doubt Mr. Moto got ‘em, but, dammit all! They shouldna’ had to die alone, like that!
Nobody knows what happened to ‘em but the Japs who did it, I guess. Damn those rumble-gut politicians at Washington, and their flunky admirals, too! And damn that Roosevelt fer lettin’ us get creamed like that.
“Now, I was just a Gunner’s Mate, see, a second class, back then, but all of us knew that they pulled our Wagons and Cruisers out of the Pacific and sent ‘em to watch the Krauts, who we wasn’t even in a war with, an’ us wit’ the Japs lookin’ down our throat. If we’d a' had them ships in the islands wit’ us, we might coulda done some real good! I grant ya we didn’t expect to have that much trouble wit’ ol’ Moto, but, still, it hurts to know they big guns was swingin’ aroun’ the hook somewhere’s while our buddies are bein’ blown outa the water!
“Now, I ain’t got nothin’ against the Limeys, but they had the biggest navy in the world, -an’ damn near all of it handy to home back then. They’d awready got a couple of them Kraut big ships an’ had the rest bottled up. Somthin’ they Jack Tars never let us forget, too. What the hell did they need our ships for? They allus said they could handle the Krauts an’ the Guineas, together or one at a time, as they liked it. An’ I believe it. Ol’ Roosevelt just wanted to get into the scrap’s what I think, an' let us go to hell for it!
“Well, hell! You ain’t come here to hear some’ ol’ fahrt spout off ‘bout high politics, I guess, so I’ll quit wit’ that crap an’ get on to the sea story. Pass me one o’ them beers, will ya? How about some pretzels? These are them good Pennsylvania kind, the big hot ones, y’know. Neighbor lady makes ‘em.
“Well, I guess, as I wasn’t sayin’. All the time the Japs was takin’ the NEI; they had ships runnin’ down the Sulu Sea bringin’ ‘em the beans and bullets, more troops an’ such. None of ‘em was in convoy, so the skipper – Dave Currier, hell of a guy! Anyway, he figures to slip out an’ take one or two of they cargo boats, an’ turn ‘em into ‘Q-ships’. You know what that is, eh?”
I confessed I wasn’t sure, but thought they were decoys to catch submarines.
“Well, yeah, they used ‘em fer that too, somplaces, but the Cap’n wanted to cruise the Jap sea lanes wit’ one of they own ships, rigged up wit’ guns an such, an’ pick off they merchies wit’ it.”
I replied that he wanted to turn them into Armed Merchant Cruisers, like the Germans had in the Atlantic. He shifted impatiently and then brightened.
“Yeah, like that! Funny you should say that, ‘cause there’s one o’ them in this story, too. Anyhow, the Colonel took them Missionary airplanes an’ one they found at a plantation, an’ had ‘em painted up to look like Jap planes. Some of our Army fliers had turned up getting’ out of the mess up north, an’ volunteered to stick aroun’ an’ fly scout, which they did. I oughta say they was some Aussies and Dutchies an’ one Frog, who they say had a coupla screws loose. Anyways, I didn’ know none o’ them guys, but only heard the beer talk wit’ th’ soldiers.
“We gets word that there’s a big cargo ship headed south, an’ it oughta be in our reach after dark – see, we pretty much had ta get our business done before sun up an’ the real Jap planes went over. They wasn’t many of ‘em, but they did go by once in a while. Our officers thought they was just haulin’ asses an’ trash back an’ forth, but the Colonel worried about it.
“Now we had the ship pulled up hard against the bank an’ worked up under a bunch a’trees, an’ we’d painted her decks out with a kinda muddy brown an’ green splotches. We hung ol’ fishin’ nets over the awning wires an’ such, to where our Airedales said it was purty hard to see. We did that to all the ships we had, in differn’t creeks an’ such. Anyways, it took us a while to unship a lot a’ that to get ready for sea, y’unnerstan’
“We got underway about dusk an’ shaped a course to meet Mr. Moto an’ either take him or sink him. Mr. Ethridge had some a’ that Japanese lingo an’ the deal was, we would overhaul this guy, like we was some officious Coast Guard sum’bitch or somethin’, an’ Mr. Ethridge would tell him in plain language Jap to heave to and stan’ by to receive our boat. Nothin’ else. We was s’posed ta be Japs, see, an’ we hadda act like Japs. An’ we all knew from bein’ out on the China Station that the Jap Navy didn’t give a damn about their own merchant marines an’ lorded it over ever'body they could. An’ we also knew them merchant skippers would kowtow to some kid JG if he had the ‘cookie’ on his cap. The ‘cookie’ is what we called that chrysantheum, or whatever the hell that flower it is they wear.
“So we didn’t figger ol’ Moto would be surprised or think it strange that one o’ his emperor’s ships would push him aroun’ a little, specially in a war zone. So off we went, as full a’ confidence as new Christian wit four aces an’ a loaded forty four!
“Sure enough, about halfway through the eight ta twelve, here he is, cruisin’ along like it was the middle a’ May in Boston Common. We overhauls him on his starboard quarter an’ lights him up wit’ our searchlight. He has somebody runnin’ aft to hang out the meatball on his flagstaff in just a shake; an’ Mr. Ethridge gets on the signal lamp. ‘Clack, Clack, Clackitty, Clack’ real slow an’ all of us is about to pee in our pants ‘cause we’re all thinkin’ this guys gonna tumble pretty quick to our dodge. Did I mention we was all in whites, ‘cause the Japs ain’t got no dungarees, an’ that’s what they has to wear. Blues or whites. He had a gun – at least a four-inch, on his fantail, but they never even tried to man it.
“We lowered the boat an’ shipped the Filipino boarding party, dressed in whites, an’ under their own officer, while Mr. Moto lowered his accommodation ladder. Boy! I wish I’d been there! Them PC’s said you’d never seen anybody so surprised in all yer life! “We hadda use the PC’s ‘cause all our guys was too big to be Japs, an’ them boys wanted a piece of some Jap’s ass in a big way, anyhow! They whole country was about took over by them an’ they’d awready heard about that march outa Bataan where they lost about 25,000 guys.
“The Jap captain was a short fat guy an’ he couldn’ believe what was happenin’ to him or his ship. He’d never even bothered to send a radio, see, ‘cause this sort of crap went on all the time with his navy and he was pissed off, but not worried until it was too late. Once they was took, our Radioman pulled down their antenna so’s they couldn’ send if they wanted to. The skipper took him (the Jap) as a prize of war and left the PC’s aboard while we took him into port. Daylight came before we made it, but we had no trouble an’ saw no planes. We made a little smoke, so’s we’d not look like we was tryin’ to sneak along, an’ we had the Jap flag at the gaff. We looked like we was convoyin’ this guy along, or at least keepin’ company.
“Well, turns out he was loaded wit’ construction supplies and trucks and dozers an’ such, not much we could use, but they unloaded the stuff an’ hid it away under the trees ‘just in case’. They trimmed the ship so she was down by the head and had a port list, and strowed lumber dunnage aroun’ so’s she’d look like she’d been bombed, if a Jap came over on a snoop. They poured enough oil on the water to make a slick, so’s she’d look like she was leakin’ fuel, too. They wanted her to look like she wasn’t worth botherin’ with, until they figgered out how to do what they wanted to do with her.
“She did have some papers that they said were good fer us to have, but I don’t know nothin’ about what they might be. Charts an’ stuff, I guess. Maybe radio frequencies an such, too. So, we’d caught our first big fish on our very first try; an’ now we hadda come up wit’ a real plan to make use of her. The officers bent on to that problem while the rest of us looked for the sake we KNEW he hadda be carryin’.
“I went over her guns an’ found them in pretty good shape, for merchant marines. It was a four – inch, an’ she had a coupla weird lookin’ machine guns, too. Nambu lights that fed from a box magazine on top an’ had a ribbed barrel an’ just looked like somethin’ from Buck Rogers er Flash Gordon. The PC’s took them an’ all the ammo fer ‘em, too, to pass on to the guys out in the hills someplace.
“I hadda pull guard on the Jap captain an’ his mates one day, an’ he bitched constantly, in English an’ Jap about bein’ caught like he was. He wasn’t worried about the war part of it, he was worried about what his owners would do to him when he got home. They turned ‘em over to the soldiers after they got what they could outa them, an’ I never saw ‘em anymore. They was merchant marines an’ civilians, I guess, but truth be told, I didn’t give a damn what happened to ‘em, one way or th’ other.
“Look, I gotta go to th’ head, an’ then I gotta cut the grass, so, why don’ ya come back later an’ we’ll take up where I left off. That is, if I ain’t borin’ ya’ wit’ this crap. Most folks don’ wanna hear nothin’ about them days, now.”
“Hello, there, son! Well, since ya’ came back, I guess ya’ll be wantin’ t’ hear some more about them ol’ days . . .or is it yer just wantin’ another free beer an’ pretzel, hah? Well, either way’s OK, ‘cause ta tell ya the truth, it gets kinda lonesome aroun’ here these days. Mosta my ol’ buddies are all gone now. The only guy aroun’ here now, from them early days, is Kendall, but he’s Army Air Corps an’ wasn’t in the Pacific at all. What can ya talk about wit’ a guy who lounged aroun’ England for three years, getting’ liberty ever’ other night an’ laid, too. Well, t’hell with them easy livin’ cardboard sojers’s what I say. All they knows about war is how to spell it.
“Lemme see, now, we was talkin’ about the ‘Chosen Maru’ an’ kinda left it off there, didn’t we? Well, they was a whole lot of high strategy goin’ on, about what to do and how to do it, an all like that, that was over our heads. We just did what we was told and got on with it.
“Word comes about a tanker headed north through the Sulu Sea, a big bastard of about 10,000 tons, so they say. Mr. Wickham, the Exec, says it looks like we can get her as she’ll be passing through our area, but it’ll be in day light.. Now, by this time, we’ve painted out the sides and superstructure in that real dark gray the Japs used – thanks to the ‘Chosen Maru’s’ cargo; and painted a meatball on the bows, where the hull numbers used to go. So we’re goin’ aroun’ brazen as all hell, painted up like a Zambo whore, not even tryin’ to hide anymore. A coupla times Jap planes passed over while we was in port at one place or another, an’ they just ignored us. Prob’ly thought no more of us, than our guys would have before the war. They thought they’d won, y’see, an’ weren’t worried about nothin’ at all.
“So we goes out after this tanker this day, with no thought of takin’ her as a prize, but puttin’ her down an’ keepin’ her cargo of Dutch oil from them using it. The old man gets us together at quarters before we sailed, and says, ‘Boys, we’re gonna get this guy, an’ we’re gonna use the fish to do it. What I got in mind is we come up on him again, just like before, but this time we break a flag hoist, and while he’s figgerin’ that out, we slip a fish into his guts. If it works, we’ll be away clean. If it gets messy, we charge aroun’ like a pissed off terrier and drop a depth charge or two, just in case anybody’s watchin’ I want the guns to be ready to shut down his radio shack, if need be.’ ‘Course the old man used better words than me, I’m talkin’ from memory here, y’ unnerstan’, but that was the gist of it.
“This was our first daylight attack, though we’d been steamin’ aroun’ getting the Peanut Gallery used to our bein’ aroun’, y’know. We even escorted our own convoy of them Army F & S boats an’ the Mine Planter up to Coron Bay, where they dropped off a bunch of mines. A big Jap seaplane flew buy an’ waggled his wings at us on that trip. I’ll tell ya about that one some time, if ya want.
‘Bout time fer the first dog watch, here she comes, up over the horizon, plowin’ along, lookin’ like an island herself. She’s loaded deep and makin’ a huge bow wave, even though she’s only crawlin’ along. Truth is, she surprised us. We didn’t expect her along just yet. She keeps her course an’ we swing towards her and bend on a coupla knots. We’re on a closin’ course, comin’ into her Port bow, when all of a sudden, our Lookout hollers from the Masthead, “She’s got an escort!” Hell’s Bell’s! What the hell do we do now?
“Skipper walks on to the bridge, looks around calm as an undertaker, and says, “Well, we’ll just have to take him, too! I’ll take her from here, George” he tells the OOD. Carnahan, the Lookout, yells, “Deck there! He’s on her starboard side an’ he looks like a minesweep!” Whew! Says I, at least it ain’t one o’ their big Tin Cans. Skipper asks “Anybody see any planes?” Ever’body instantly checks the sky! No planes.
“OK, Ready tubes! Torpedo Action Port! Make depth ten feet, full salvo. Guns! Ready for surface action Port! I’m going to fire on this beam, pass astern of him, then come up on the escort to port. Tell the fireroom, No Smoke! All ahead full! Stand by to break our colors!”
“Radio, hear anything on their freq?”
“Anybody see any signals from the tanker?” ‘Course we can only see one side of that fat bastard, but ever’body replies, ‘Negative!’
“OK, I’m betting the escort hasn’t seen us yet, since we’re masked by the tanker’s forebridge. Tubes! Stand By! Tom, I’m going to hold this course, you fire when you’re bearing is good, your range will be about 5000 yards; and tell Netherland those damned things better work ‘cause we’ll be crossing their course in a few minutes if they don’t!
“ The ol’ girl is up to the bit now, chargin’ along, spittin’ spray aft along the foc’sle and wettin’ down my gun an’ the bridge. Y’see, we only had an open bridge, with nothin’ like they got now. They had canvas fer a spray screen on the lifelines up there an’ that’s all. I looks back at the skipper an’ he’s up there starin’ at the tanker with his glasses, no tin hat or nothin’. Somethin’ odd about him, though, until I realize he’s wearin’ a smokin’ jacket! Damned ol’ red smokin’ jacket his missus sent him!
“The ship gives a little shudder, like she does, an’ we know the fish are away! Fiorella, the pointer on my gun, yells, “Here we go!” an’ points off to the track, arrowin’ off at an angle, through the white horses for the tanker. Porter, my first loader says, “Sheeit! We’re gonna miss!” The ship heels over into the turn to get around his stern, an’ the Quartermaster holds up one hand, while watchin’ a stop watch, timin’ the fish.
“The Talker hollers, “Stand by!” as the Minesweeper comes into sight. He’s just stoogin’ along, with no clue as to what’s about to happen. Most ‘sweepers have they gun mounted for’rd, so we’re masked from his fire as we sweep around the tanker to come up on his port side. I can see a coupla his guys dumpin’ garbage off his fantail, an’ they’re lookin’ at us like, “What the hell?”
“’Bout then the fish hit, an’ that tanker just busts into the biggest damn cloud o’ fire an’ smoke you ever saw! Them poor bastards never had a chance! She musta been carryin’ gasoline or somethin’ ‘cause it went up like Fourth of July in Boston.
“Talker hollers ‘Fire! Fire! Fire!’ an’ Porter says ‘No shit, Sherlock!’.
“Commence Firing! Goddamit!” the skipper yells, an’ I realize what’s happenin’
Ever’body was just dumbstruck by the tanker explosion. All this takes no time at all, but I remember it today like it was yesterday. We uncorks our first round at the Mines-weeper. I notice the two guys still standin’ on his fantail with their garbage can.
Lookin’ toward the tanker, ever’body’s dumbstruck! We miss. Over.
“Now I’m yellin’ at the Trainer an’ Pointer to ‘Get on that bastard!’ an’ we fire again.
Another miss. Somebody back aft has done good, as a flash of fire an’ a ball o’ smoke crops up right at the base of his stack. The two guys have dropped their can an’ are haulin’ ass up the main deck. We fire again. We don’t miss. The two guys are gone.
“The ship slows down an’ we’re pepperin’ them with three inch an’ fifty’s. Keerist!
This is takin’ forever! The smoke from that tanker is bound to get somebody’s attention!
The skipper brings the ship in real close an’ we shoot for his waterline. Finally, the sum’bitch sags over to starboard, while we punch holes in his main deck an’ bridge.
He’s on fire, an’ his gun is no longer firin’ – not that he did any good with it when he was. Jeez! Will this bastard never sink? We all feel like a fly on a tablecloth now.
We’re prayin’ an’ cussin’ at the same time. Crazy to be prayin’ some poor sum’bitch will die, ain’t it?. But you gotta get the hell away from there, before somebody comes along and does fer you, like yer doin’ fer him!
“Finally, she just sort gives up, an’ settles deeper an’ deeper. She comes back to an even keel an’ sits there awash for a bit, then slides under, stern first. It’s like she’s backin’ down, only she’s goin’ under. We can see some guys in the water, and we ease over to them, but they swim off, so we finally just steam away.
“We had no casualties an’ took no hits. It was a quiet trip back, though, what with ever’body thinkin’ about them poor bastards we left back there. It’s kinda one thing to hate somebody ya can’t see an’ don’t know, an’ another thing to watch some poor sum’bitch dyin’ an’ dyin’ ‘cause o’ yer doin’s. They was real bastards, was them Japs, but these guys were sailors, after all, an’ in their goin’ we could see our own likely endin’.
“I can still see, sometimes, them two kids on his fantail, dumpin’ their garbage with no idea at all they’d never see sundown that day. War’s a bitch, son, an’ it’s ain’t never over just ‘cause some flannelmouth politician says it is
"You wanna hear more about them days? I figgered I run you off that last time you was here."
He rubbed his nose and smiled a little. Kind of a shy smile, then he ‘harrumphed ‘ and twisted some in the old rocker.
"The Japs hadn’t caught on yet that we was slippin’ aroun’ in their backyard, so to speak, so the Colonel an’ our skipper just went on wit’ the plan. Ther wasn’t a hell of a lot else ta do, y’see. We didn’t think we could make Darwin wit’ the whole gang, an’ nobody wanted to leave anybody behind. So we stayed an’ played out our string.
"We operated mainly outa ports on Palawan but shifted to other islands from time to time, just to keep ‘em from pickin’ up a pattern. The Catholics had a bingo deal an’ the Cap’n an’ Mr. Wickham gave numbers to differn’t ports an’ such, then had the balls tossed. We went where the ball said go. Nobody was too much worried. We been runnin’ aroun’ by then for nearly a year wit’ no real trouble, after all.
“Y’see, son, all armies an’ navies, an’ I s’pose, gummints, is purty much alike. Don’t make no real obvious trouble for nobody an’ they purty much leaves ya’ alone. We damn sure never gave no Jap admiral cause to wanna take us into his DesRon. We was ol’, ugly and weatherbeat. If they thought anythin’ at all about us, they prob’ly felt sorry for the poor bastards stuck on that ol’ rustbucket, doin’ nothin’ important or excitin’.
"Well, we wasn’t exactly doin’ nothin’. The Army boys an’ the PC’s had set up a purty good watch on the Jap ports an’ so forth. They had the ol’ Army telegraph line runnin’ through the jungle still – they just let it overgrow an’ the Japs never did find it. We had bancas out fishin’ an’ scoutin’ all the time. We purty much knew who was doin’ what most of the time. Them ol’ Zambo gals was a great help wit’ that spyin’ stuff, too. Don’t seem like none o’ them folks liked poor ol’ Mr. Moto much at all. “
‘At reminds me, son. You even know who Mr. Moto was?
I shook my head for ‘No’.
"Well, he was a Jap guy in the movin’ pitchers before the war, an’ the name just sort of got tagged on all of ‘em, leastwise amongst our gang a’ bandits. We never heard of Tojo er none o’ them other guys. It was Mr. Moto er nobody at all fer us.
"Anyhow, this one time we heard that he was sendin’ down a coupla troopships, on down to the NEI. We also heard that they thought our doin’s was done by our pigboats, so they was sendin’ this bunch wit’ an escort. Turns out they had four merchant ships an’ three subchasers an’ another Minesweeper. All of us on the messdeck racked our skulls one way or another tryin’ to come up wit’ a dodge that would let us get a crack at ‘em. The officers was doin’ the same thing, an’ they came wit’ the idea. We’d have our own convoy again, this time the ‘General Nuisance’ – that was what we called that Army Mine Planter. Her real name was ‘General E. T. Newsome’ ; an’ the ‘Chosen Maru’ would be in it, an’ fitted up with guns.
"We was all assholes an’ elbows getting’ them ships fitted up like the ol’ man wanted ‘em. The Army gave us the 75mm pack howitzer battery, troops an’ all. They was National Guard fellas from Idaho or someplace up there. We rigged ‘em in the Newsome’s well deck, as broadside guns, just like ol’ Ironsides. They came up wit’ a 37mm gun, a little bitty scaper, the Infantry used to lug aroun’ - we fitted it to a mount on her focs’le; an’ a 37mm anti-tank gun we rigged to her boat deck. All this was covered up with canvas.
"The ‘Chosen Few’ still had her four inch deck gun, an we jury rigged two Army thee inch AA guns to her main deck midships. We used her cargo sticks to handle the loads and laid the ‘Nuisance’ alongside, like we was tryin’ to salvage the big ship, but nobody flew over an’ we got everything done wit’out no trouble. They was little bitty railroad that ran down the pier the ‘Chosen Few’ was at, an’ that brought all our heavy stuff down to the ships. Hot, hard ass work, my boy, an’ in hurry, ‘cause we never knew if or when some Jap sightseer might zoom over.
"Now, the ol’ Nuisance was only good for twelve knots, an’ we didn’t really know what the ol’ ‘Chosen Few’ could do But Mr. Ethridge had found a coupla Korean guys in her crew who spoke Jap but hated their guts as bad as our PC an’ PA boys. These two Koreans said there was another guy, a Jap Christian guy who might change sides if he was asked. Now, what was funny about this was, the Japs themselves had told our soldiers guardin’ ‘em that they wanted these two low class Koreans out of their barracks. So ol’ man Moto shot his own self in the foot.
"Turns out that Jap Christian guy came out of their black gang, an’ he ‘volunteered’ after the Koreans reasoned wit’ him a while. So, between a Korean AB an’ the crazy Dutchman on the Bridge an’ a Jap engineer in the hole, a bunch o’ soldier gunners, Phillipine and Yanks, she was as ready as she would ever be. The ‘Newsome’ had her own crew an’ her Cowboy gunners, along wit’ PA crews for the two 37mm was ready, too. We were low on 3" ammo but still had some fish left from those we’d deckloaded from the the ‘Black Hawk’ before she left.
You still wanna hear more about them days? I figgered I run you off that last time you was here."
He rubbed his nose and smiled a little. Kind of a shy smile, then he ‘harrumphed ‘ and twisted some in the old rocker.
"Well, Them Japs still hadn’t caught on yet that we was slippin’ aroun’ in their backyard, so to speak, so the Colonel an’ our skipper just went on wit’ the plan. There wasn’t a hell of a lot else ta do, y’see. We didn’t think we could make Darwin wit’ the whole gang, an’ nobody wanted to leave anybody behind. So we stayed an’ played out our string.
"We operated mainly outa Palawan but shifted to other islands from time to time, just to keep ‘em from pickin’ up a pattern. The Catholics on the beach had a bingo deal an’ the Cap’n an’ Mr. Wickham borried it an’ gave numbers to differn’t ports an’ such, then had the balls tossed. We went where the ball said go. Nobody was too much worried. We been runnin’ aroun’ by then for nearly a year wit’ no real trouble, after all. "
Y’see, son, all armies an’ navies, an’ I s’pose, gummints, is purty much alike. Don’t make no real obvious trouble for nobody an’ they purty much leaves ya’ alone. We damn sure never gave no Jap admiral cause to wanna take us into his DesRon. We was ol’, ugly and purty weatherbeat. If they thought anythin’ at all about us, they prob’ly felt sorry for the poor bastards stuck on that ol’ rustbucket, doin’ nothin’ important or excitin’.
"Well, we wasn’t exactly doin’ nothin’. The Army boys an’ the PC’s had set up a purty good watch on the Jap ports an’ so forth. They had the ol’ Army telegraph line runnin’ through the jungle still – they just let it overgrow an’ the Japs never did find it. We had bancas out fishin’ an’ scoutin’ all the time. We purty much knew who was doin’ what most of the time. The Army had set up secret communication wit’ ol’ Dugout Doug down in Australia, but they was purty shy about usin’ it. Ever’ time they spoke them buggers, they’d send us all kinds of daydream @#%$ to do for ‘em, that we had neither ships nor men to do.
"I think Mac woulda been happy if we invaded Mindanao all by our selfs. Worse thing was they started callin’ us the ‘Palawan Pirates’ an’ braggin’ on our operations on the damned radio! Didn’t them jerks know Moto had ears? I don’t ever see a McDonald’s big Mac that I don’t think of that big headed bastard mouthin’ off like that! Anyway, them little ol’ Zambo gals was a great help wit’ that spyin’ stuff, too. Don’t seem like none o’ them folks liked poor ol’ Mr. Moto much at all.
" ‘At reminds me, lad; you even know who Mr. Moto was?”
I shook my head for ‘No’.
"Well, he was a Jap guy in the movin’ pitchers before the war, an’ the name just sort of got tagged on all of ‘em, leastwise amongst our gang a’ bandits. We’d never heard of Tojo er none o’ them other guys. It was Mr. Moto er nobody at all fer us.
"Anyhow, this one time we heard that he was sendin’ down a coupla troopships, on down to the NEI. We also heard that they thought our doin’s was done by our pigboats, so they was sendin’ this bunch wit’ an escort. Turns out they had four merchant ships an’ three subchasers an’ another Minesweeper. All of us on the messdeck racked our skulls one way or another tryin’ to come up wit’ a dodge that would let us get a crack at ‘em. The officers was doin’ the same thing, an’ they came wit’ the idea. We’d have our own convoy again, this time the ‘General Nuisance’ – that was what we called that Army Mine Planter. Her real name was ‘General E. T. Newsome’ ; an’ the ‘Chosen Few’ would be in it, an’ fitted up with guns. That name was hung on us by that priest from Puerto Princessa wit’ the Bingo deal. He was bein’ Chaplain to them PC an’ PA fellas; so we renamed the Chosen Maru to fit.
"Now, the ol’ Nuisance was only good for twelve knots, an’ we didn’t really know what the ol’ ‘Chosen Few’ could do. Mr. Ethridge had found a coupla Korean guys in her crew who spoke Jap but hated their guts as bad as our PC an’ PA boys. These two Koreans said there was another guy, a Jap Christian guy who might change sides if he was asked. Now, what was funny about this was, the Japs themselves had told our soldiers guardin’ ‘em that they wanted these two 'low class Koreans' out of their barracks. So ol’ man Moto shot his own self in the foot. Also turned out ‘Chosen’ means somethin’ in Korean.
"We was all asses an’ elbows getting’ them ships fitted up like the ol’ man wanted ‘em. The Army gave us the 75mm pack howitzer battery, troops an’ all. They was National Guard fellas from Idaho or someplace up there. We rigged ‘em in her well deck, as broadside guns, just like ol’ Ironsides. They came up wit’ a 37mm gun, a little bitty scaper, the Infantry used to lug aroun’ - we fitted it to a mount on her focs’le; an’ a 37mm anti-tank gun we rigged to her boat deck. All this was covered up with canvas.
"The ‘Chosen Few’ still had her four inch deck gun, an' we jury rigged two Army three inch AA guns to her main deck midships. We used her cargo sticks to handle the loads and laid the ‘Nuisance’ alongside, like we was tryin’ to salvage the big ship, but nobody flew over an’ we got everything done wit’ out no trouble.
"They was a little bitty railroad that ran down the pier the ‘Chosen Few’ was at, an’ that brought all our heavy stuff down to the ships. Hot, hard ass work, my boy, an’ in hurry, ‘cause we never knew if or when some Jap sightseer might zoom over.
"Turns out that Jap Christian guy came out of their black gang, an’ he ‘volunteered’ after the Koreans reasoned wit’ him a while. So, between a Korean AB an’ the crazy Dutchman on the Bridge an’ a Jap engineer in the hole, a bunch o’ soldier gunners, Philippine and Yanks, she was as ready as she would ever be. The ‘Newsome’ had her own crew an’ her Cowboy gunners, along wit’ PA crews for the two 37mm was ready, too. We were low on 3" ammo but still had some fish left from those we’d deckloaded from the ‘Black Hawk’ before she left.
“Well, war can be funny, too, son. We’d busted butts to get ready for this deal, an’ it turns out we missed ‘em. They went by while was shorin’ up the ‘Chosen Few’s main deck, I guess. Prob’ly worked out for the best, I guess. We was low on ammo, like I said, an’ it was prob’ly too big a job for us anyhow. Moto woulda surely tapped our keg if we’d a pulled it off. No way we coulda kept all them radios from sendin’; and they’d most likely been survivors picked up. Still, though, if we coulda knocked off a regiment of them coots; it’d been somethin’.
“The Cap’n was kinda touchy until he heard there was another good size ship, sailin’ independent, an' headed our way. And she was carryin’ seaplanes! Ol’ Darin’ Dave got his tail up for sure, when he heard that! Remember, the ‘Mallory’ was a small ship wit’ a small crew. We knew everythin’ about everythin’ about as soon as it happened or the word came aboard. This one the skipper was gonna get, come hell er high water!
"‘Cept that’s when our main feed pump quit. Them poor ol’ snipes ran themselfs ragged an’ the Ol’ Man himself was down there in the hole wit’ ‘em – he used ta be an Engineerin’ Officer, y’ see, an’ he knew more about their plant than most o’ them did! "
Anyhow, wit’ that minor delay, we slipped out after this guy, intendin’ to catch him about midnight or so. Skipper said, ‘Escorted or not, this bird’s gotta go! If they set up a seaplane base anywhere aroun’ our gooses is cooked, an’ so’s the Army’s. We gotta nail this bastard, but good!’ Like I said before, y’ know that the Cap’n talked a lot better than me, I’m just recallin’ the idea fer ya, y’see.
“It was a Hunter’s moon, an’ we threw off phos. . . flou . . ., dammit, that glow in the dark stuff in the water! I can’t say the name of it to save my life! You know what I’m tryin’ to say?
I assured him I did, and he rustled and bristled a bit.
“I hate it when I can’t think of what it was I was gonna do, or what I was wantin’ ta say! These here so called ‘Golden Years’ is all just brass dipped bullshit, if ya ask me!
“Anyway, we’re cruisin’ along, leavin’ a wake about a million miles long an’ three wide; an’ that at sixteen knots, when the masthead reports smoke on the horizon, bearin’ 280. They train the rangefinder over there an’ after a while, they make out masts an’ kingposts of a big merchantman, headin’ south. He blew tubes, I guess, an’ in that light, it stood out. They track him a while, until Mr. Wickham an’ Connolly, the Quartermaster, calc’late we’re on a convergin’ course and just a little faster. We slow down a bit, while they scope out the situation. Nobody can see any more masts or smoke anywhere, so we go back to sixteen knots and edge his way just a little. The Cap’n had wanted us to be in the moon glow when we hit this guy, so we’d be harder to see in that puddle of glitterin’ water, but it wasn’t gonna work out that way. We wasn’t at battle stations yet, but ever’body was up an’ hangin’ aroun’, watchin’.
“No sooner did that bugger’s topworks break the horizon, than he bends on some speed an’ turns toward us! Pretty soon, his light’s flashin’ away like he’s a goddam flagship er somethin’! ‘This guy’s Navy’ The Ol’ Man squawks! Which means he’s prob’ly got guns an’ people who know how ta use ‘em! I thinks. Now I can see him, an’ I’m guessin’ he’s about eight or nine thousand tons, which means he’s prob’ly got a coupla five inch an’ some AA stuff. I look back at the bridge an’ see the skipper, the gun boss an’ Mr. Friend, the Torpedo boss, in a huddle. Mr. Wickham is watchin’ Moto through the rangefinder an’ callin’ out ranges. Connolly is foldin’ up the Risin’ Sun flag we use; ours is at the gaff. Bill Kennedy, the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch, pipes ‘Battle Stations’ an’ hollers, “Gun Action, Port!”
“We’re manned an’ ready in a half shake, “No sweat’, I tell my guys, we’ll be alongside fer breakfast, an’ ashore by noon. ‘Yeah? Alongside who an’ ashore where?’ Porter says, pointin’ towards the AV comin’ our way. I’m about to tell him to stow it, when our light starts flashin’ back at the Admiral over there. Clackety, clack, clack, clackety, we send him a long message. He flashes back, like to say ‘What the hell are you talkin’ about?’ More clackety-clack. Dash flash back, which means ‘wait’, I guess. Silence, but he’s slowed down. You can see the bow wave droppin’ off. He’s turnin’ back to the south. Light flashes, short message. Long dash from ours. We can’t see whose sendin’ from our bridge, an’ ain’t got no idea at’all what they’re sayin’. Neither one of ‘em. But, as long as they’re talkin’ he ain’t shootin’.
“I look back at the bridge, an’ the huddle is broke up. Mr. Wickham is still readin’ ranges off, when it dawns on me. Ol’ Dazzlin’ Dave is settin’ up for a torpedo attack! I notice we’re still on a convergin’ course. I hear the Cap’n order ‘All Ahead Full! An’ I feel the ol’ gal surge ahead under my feet. The bow’s risin’ and fallin’ now, as we cut across the swells. Spray soaks the foc’s’le an’ the deck is slippery under foot. We’re closin’ but not as fast as I’d like. I’m still thinkin’ about them five inch, y’see. My ammo passers are barefoot for better purchase on a wet deck. The spray has washed away the sand we’d put out. ‘Spread some more sand’ I tells ‘em, an’ the bucket passes for’d an’ back. We’re laid on the Admiral, loaded and waitin’. The Trainer keeps the muzzle movin’ along with his target, leadin’ him a bit, while the pointer keeps his sight on by fiddlin’ with his wheel as we come up an’ down.
“His light starts flashin’ like “What the hell do you think you’re doin’? We clack somethin’ back, but he ain’t buyin’ this time, he lights us up with his big searchlight. ‘ Yup, he’s definitely Navy. Five inch will be here shortly’, I thinks to meself. All of a sudden, the ship’s siren starts howlin’! Our searchlight comes on an’ starts sweepin the sea between us an’ them. The ‘Y’-gun fires one to port, an we heel over in a hard turn, skiddin’ the starboard lifelines under on the fantail. ‘Those guys better hang on!’ I thinks, Dashin’ Dave is puttin’ on a show fer ol’ Admiral Moto over there, like we’re after a submarine, an’ all the time slippin’ in a little closer. I look up there an see him standin’ at the rail, grinnin’ bigger’n a beaver an’ havin’ a big time.
The charge was set shallow ‘cause it went off in no time, throwin’ a huge column o’ water up. The Jap searchlight caught it, an’ they musta wet they pants ‘cause they forgot all about us, an’ soundin’ their own siren, they threw their wheel over an’ started zig zaggin’ away like crazy! One o’ their AA mounts opened up on somethin’ an threw a stream o’ tracer out inta the drink astern o’ themselves. ‘Lordy, I thought, I hope they ain’t no real sub aroun’!’ The Dutch an’ our boats still slipped aroun’ now an’ again, so I hoped it was all Big Dave Currier’s Wild West Show, an’ not some poor pigboat bastard out there, wonderin’ who queered his attack an’ who this crazy tin can was.
“Lookin’ back about the same time as I felt the tell-tale quiver, I saw Connolly raise his hand, an we heeled into another hard turn, siren still whoopin’ searchlight shinin’ astern now, lightin’ up our wake. When the light an’ siren quit together, it was like we went inta a tunnel. He chopped our speed an’ she came to a dead slow, killin’ our flamin’ wake. About then, two big “BOOMS” an’ two columns a’ water shot up on the Admiral’s starboard side, one for’d o’ the house an’ one just abaft, about where number four hold might be. A ball o’ fire at each end of his hull told where those fivers were, an’ their rushin’ by overhead was as clear as Gabriel’s horn. While I was countin' my beads, I heard somethin’ an’ couldn’t figger it out, until Porter jerked my arm an’ his thumb at the bridge. It was the skipper hollerin’ at me!
“’Hey, Finnell! You think your mob can hit somethin’ that big? I want his well deck aft lit up. That’s where the planes are! Shoot fast an’ straight! I’m countin’ on you an your boys!’ Now, them was his words exactly. I’ll never forget that. That’s the kind of skipper Cap’n Currier was, he’d get ya into it, whether ya wanted to be or not. He made ya wanna do better than you’d done before. We were pickin’ up speed again an’ turnin’ in on him, makin’ a full circle out to starboard. I guess them fivers kept firin’, but I never noticed ‘em again until we were closin’ on him again. His AA mounts that could bear kept up a steady stream of tracer our way, but none came near the foc’sle. I found out later that the Torpedo gang caught hell from them, an' our after stack was sieved.
“We came in on him at an angle, so’s the after guns could bear, an’ ever’body opened at once. I purely concentrated on the space between his after Kingposts and the Poop, throwin’ ever’thin’ we had in there. I don’t believe we missed a time, God bless Fiorella an’ Watson, my gunlayers! Pretty soon, we had a big fire goin’ an’ with the wind from astern, it swept for’d, making the whole midships pretty hard to live in. It also shut those damn AA guns up. Mr. Martindale, the Gun Boss, said later Schoen’s number four gun got his after five inch, an’ it seemed like the for’d gun couldn’t bear aft of the beam enough to hit us. He kept shootin’ but it all went wide. They called ‘Cease Fire!’ when I was down to about nine more rounds.”
“We turned away again an’ made another high speed circle, comin’ in real close to his starboard quarter. We were wonderin’ what the hell this was about, when both ‘Y’-guns fired, again to Port, an’ we tucked our tail an’ scooted away from there, still in a tight turn. Well, son, if you ain’t never seen what two depth charges set shallow can do to a merchantman’s hull, I’m tellin’ you, you missed somethin’! She come plumb outa the water for a third of her length, an’ heeled over hard to Port, before crashin’ back down, with her sticks an’ riggin’ all adrift; an’ immediately began settlin’ by the stern. I reckon we opened seams and busted packin’ glands loose all along her starboard quarter, not to mention the shaft packin’. We stayed aroun’ a bit, but there wasn’t much use tryin’ to rescue anybody, an’ when we left, she was standin’ on her stern post, bows straight up, an’ slippin’ fast.
“On the way home, Radio said they’d heard her callin’ and workin’ somebody. They’d held a key down on her transmission, but they didn’t know if she had more than one transmitter or used more than one frequency. We could only cover one at a time. They mighta called the cops on us.
"One of our Torpedo gang died from his wounds, an’ another was laid up ashore fer a while. The tubes was done fer. The guy we lost was Baxter, West Virginia kid, chubby, cheerful little guy. He used to fahrt right
through his dungarees an’ hold a Zippo to it an’ shoot a blue flame.
“Well, time to feed an’water, so I guess I’ll see ya later. C’mon back if ya got a mind to hear some more war stories."
“ Ya know, since I been rattlin’ on an’ on about the ol’ Mallory’s doin’s out there in the PI, I figger I oughta at least ask ya if ya know anythin’ about them Islands. So, do ya?”
I replied that I didn’t know very much about them, aside from the usual Bataan and Corregidor stories.
“Well, let’s set that ta rights, now, so’s I can be sure ya got a good idea of th’ layout”
He unfolded a National Geographic Map, worn at the creases and a bit limp, jabbing a gnarled, blunted finger at the island of Palawan. The fingernail was gone.
“Now there’s Palawan, an’ ya can see all these coves an’ inlets, where we usta hide.
See the whole island ain’t nothin’ but a mountain ridge covered with jungle. Not much there to attract ol’ Moto’s attention. Them hills is populated by some right mean little buggers, not sociable at all. Definitely no reason for Watash’ to go pirouettin’ aroun’ explorin’ the place, when he could end up in somebody’s mess gear. Now, along the coast, they was mostly Mohammadens, an’ only a little less ornery than them hill fellas. Either way, Moto left well enough alone!”
“This here’s the Sulu Sea” The big finger plunked down on top of the printed name, tapping twice.
“Ya can see it ain’t no Pacific Ocean. It’s maybe three, three fifty across an’ maybe four hundred longways. If ya look close, ya can see little bitty islands all over the place, an’ we used to hide aroun’ those, too. We’d run from hidey hole ta hidey hole, y’see. Now, down here is Zambo, an’ dribblin’ off to the southwest there is the Sulu Ark . ..archi… ‘What the hell’s that word there!”
“Archipelago. Means a string of islands.”
“Yeah, that’s right, a string of them islands. Now, this whole string was full o’ them Mohameddans, too, an’ a meaner bunch o’ bolo swingin’ bastards ya never met! That is if they was mad to ya. Otherwise, they was OK. ‘Course they didn’t much care for Manila or us roundeyes too much. They had they own Sultan an’ all an’ didn’t see no need for another bunch of bossy do-gooders pushin’ ‘em around.
“Anyways, what I’m getting’ to is, that Moto ain’t no dummy. I said before that most armies an’ navies is pretty much alike, an his wasn’t no exception. Them fat ass Colonels an’ Captains took over the same chairs where our fat ass Colonels an’ Captains parked they butts, before the war; put they feet up on them same desks an’ hollered for some a’ that same cheap gin. Nobody in his right min’ went lookin’ for trouble. An’ don’t forget, they’d, by damn, won! They war was purty much over, save the shoutin’!
“An’, too, they didn’t have all the fellas in the world to go rootin’ aroun’ lookin’ for a maybe, when they had a damn sure certain comin’ at ‘em from the south an’ east, ner ships neither. So, ever’ once in a while, a patrol boat would nose along the coast an’ what they didn’t see, didn’t have ta be checked out, if ya get my drift. Moto had him a fleet anchorage down here at Tawitawi, but no airfield, so seaplanes would fly they big wigs back an’ forth to Manila or Zambo, more er less direct. What they didn’t see along the way, didn’t get seen.
“So, wit’ ol Moto worried about New Guinea, Guadalcanal, Coral Sea an’ Midway, he had nobody to spare huntin’ down rumors an’ scares. Besides, the almighty by-God staff was sure our doin’s was done by submarines, anyhow, or so them Zambo gals said, an’ if anybody would know what Moto was thinkin’, it was them gals that waited on ‘em, day an’ night. They put a bunch o’ subchasers out there an’ some Minesweepers fer escorts, an’ flew a reg’lar beat hopin’ to catch one of our boats on the surface or whatever. Mostly they did that aroun’ the main passages through the islands, like down here at Sibutun strait an’ over at Surigao.
“I guess what I’m tryin’ ta say, is that all these war stories sounds purty desperate an’ excitin’, but really, it was just a lot like our regular doin’s. Well, ‘cept for the torpedoes an’ such, I mean. Before the war, we slipped aroun’ tryin’ to catch some pirate er smuggler, an’ durin’ the war, we was the pirates an’ smugglers. Ya just sorta turn yer hat aroun’ an play fer the home team, so ta speak.
“Kinda look at that map there, an’ be thinkin’ about how things really work. Ya know that the general run o’ folks only does what the boss makes ‘em do, so it won’t be hard to figger out our dodge. I gotta go pump sanitary to overboard discharge, but I’ll be back in a minute.”
When I looked blankly at him, he said “ I gotta go pee, boy! You need some sea time, son, you don’t know nothing!
When he returned, he had two beers and a couple of what looked like big tamales on a paper plate.
“Here, kid, put somethin’ in yer gullet.” He handed me a little pony bottle of Asahi beer and the plate. He dodged back inside, the door slapping once before he was back with another.
“ The ol’ ‘General Nuisance’ got sent up to Mindoro this one time, haulin’ some stuff fer the guerrillas up there. They went by stages, up the coast an’ from island ta island, usually crossin’ wide water by night. Anyway, the poor ol’ ‘General’ got caught by one of our submarines in the strait and got sunk by her own side. The boat surfaced an’ picked up the survivors, only to be surprised as hell when they turned out to be American an’ Filipino soldiers. Easy enough mistake ta make, it bein’ nighttime an’ all; an’ our guys not recognizin’ an Army ship. It cost us some guys, er, I oughta say it cost the Army some guys, but that’s the way war is, crazy as hell sometimes.
Transcript of interview: Bennett De V. Marston, Capt. SC AUS (Ret)
“Well, Bill told me to fill you in on the details of our operations on Palawan, so, if you’re ready, I guess I am.”
__”Yes sir, I’m ready. I’d like to start with some background – of yours, I mean. Some of your personal history, if you don’t mind doing that.”
“OK, I guess. How about if I skip the early stuff and start with the Army?”
__”That’d be fine, sir. I’d like to get a feel for the kind of guys who did all this stuff, you know, the kind of people who can handle situations like that you found yourself in at that time.”
“Well, hell, we were just ordinary guys. Nothing special. We just did what we thought we had to be done at the time, you know.”
__”OK, if you say so. Where did you go to school?”
“I’m originally from Louisiana, so I went to LSU for two years, but I never did graduate. I joined the National Guard in ’39 to help pay for school and we were called up in ’40. It was a Signal outfit and they sent me to the MOS’ schools and to OCS while we were in federal service. After I got my commission, I accepted an immediate appointment to active duty ‘cause I thought it’d be good experience. They were just starting to build new camps all over the country, and I thought I’d get a good chance to learn the telephone business from the ground up.
“Well, they sent me to the Philippines straight away, and we put in wire all over Luzon first, in preparation for Macarthur’s forward defense strategy. Then I went to Palawan, where the Army had a timber and rock operation and the Constabulary. Palawan was rough. It was jungled mountains and barely settled. The hills were inhabited by some pretty primitive people, which was scary at first – I was just a kid Lieutenant then, you know. Later on, when the Japs came, the tribes’ fierce reputation paid off for us, ‘cause it kept the Japs out of the countryside.
“The Japanese would land a combat outfit to seize the port or town or whatever they were after, then they’d move them out and replace them with occupation troops. These guys were usually your older reservists mixed with category II conscripts - Younger guys with some problem that kept them out of their line outfits. Some guy who was running the haberdashery in the Shimbo Department Store in Tokyo last month would be called up and sent down to become Town Major. Oftentimes he got a promotion and too often all these guys got carried away with their importance. You can’t give a little man complete authority, usually for the first time in their lives, and the means to enforce it without some serious screw-ups along the way. When I say ‘little man’ I am not referring to physical stature, by the way.
“Normally, the Japanese occupied the bigger towns and villages along the coasts, sending patrols from these enclaves hoping to control the interior and the roads. It was mainly the economic assets that attracted them. They generally didn’t give a damn about coconuts or timber, but if there was mine or mill around, they wanted it. They didn’t have the manpower to be everywhere all the time, either.
“So, on Palawan, their ‘Show the Flag’ patrols went out, from time to time, to impress the natives. They didn’t do much of that ‘Hearts and Minds’ crap. They were convinced they were the best there was - ‘Asiatic Nazis’ somebody called them. Their arrogance played against them in another way, in that they couldn’t bring themselves to admit we were there and doing what we did right under their noses.
“Anyway, One of their patrols would pull into a village, rough up the locals, demand services and generally make themselves obnoxious as hell for a day or two, then they’d climb back into their Ford ton and a half and move on. They didn’t think much of Filipinos and the feeling was heartily reciprocated, I can tell you!
“Colonel Riordan’s strategy was to avoid head on conflict with the combat troops, but give the occupation guys all the hell we could dream up. The idea being that a veteran Infantry Regiment Commander who called for help, would get it, muy pronto, while some overweight reservists would be discounted as panicky bean counters not in control of their situation. They’d most likely get an ass chewing and ultimately, relieved if they cried to Mommy too much. So the Colonel counted on human nature in our operations.
On the Jap side, nobody wants to be seen as a failure; while on our side, we needed the successes to boost our men’s morale and our position. So we deliberately picked on their second team, while improving ours until we could meet their varsity on even terms.
“Some background for you, the US Army had the Philippine Division, a mixed organization consisting of white regulars and Filipino regulars, enlisted in US service.
The Philippine Army, a distinct organization, consisted of Filipino units with American advisers. The troops we had were draftees or reserves who’d had almost no previous training. The Colonel used our Regulars – the Scouts and the Constabulary to train the new guys, and the Americans to provide the specialist training. The PA were armed with the Model 1917 rifle, a .30-06 bolt - action piece which was an excellent weapon, but too big for our guys. As soon as we had the necessary numbers, we got them the 6.5mm Jap Arisaka, a weapon more manageable for them.
“We had Lewis guns and were tickled to find a consignment of them in the ‘Chosen Few’s cargo, in the 7.7mm Japanese caliber. She also carried a goodly supply of ammo in both calibers. We didn’t like the Japanese machineguns; a big ugly Hotchkiss design, which fed from a stripper clip; and so kept our own water-cooled ‘thirties’ as support guns. With our battery of 75’s from Idaho and the pick up pieces we were able to scrounge from ships the Navy or our guys brought in, we were not fat by any means, but we could sure as hell give somebody a bloody nose. Later, we got some mortars from Australia and radios and stuff, but for the first year we used captured stuff.
“A bit more background is necessary here. The people of Palawan with whom we dealt on a daily basis were mostly Mohammedans. They were not thrilled to have a bunch of Christians from the northern islands, and a gang of reprobate sinners from America thrown amongst them. It is eternally to Colonel Riordan’s credit that he managed to win them over in fairly short order. He did that by insisting on proper respect for their ways by our troops, and keeping the worst of our people out in the hills away from town.
It also helped that the Japanese stepped in it themselves, wherever they held Moslem ground, alienating the locals, and contrasting sharply with the ‘correct’ behavior of our garrison.
“The Mountain peoples were tribal primitives, who soon learned to despise the Japanese, and who became extremely valuable allies and recruits for us. I doubt that any movement of Japanese troops went unreported for very long. And the Betaks way of war was such that the Japanese were mostly content to stay behind their fortifications and keep their heads, than challenge them for their mountains. In the field, Jap soldiers had to go to the latrine by squads, or none would come back at all.
“There were feral hogs and jungle scavengers which made a terrible mess of the dead and wounded, a fact the Japanese were horrified to discover early on. It was one thing for them to die gloriously for the Emperor and be enshrined up at Yakusi and quite another to end up hog shit on some steamy remote island. Their morale was seriously eroded by the prospect.
“At first, we mostly did exhaustive training and conditioning the troops, developing small unit leaders and building confidence. We concentrated on building our network of intelligence and communications with Guerrilla units, and left most of the early fighting to the Navy and a great job they did, too! As I mentioned earlier, I was a Signal Corps officer, but branch of service meant little out there then. I commanded rifle companies and was even a staff Wallah at times. Fortunately, soldiers were trained in those days to be soldiers first, and specialists or technicians later. Had I not lost the leg in Korea, I might have made a fair General, I think.
“Our logistics were not terribly complicated. We subsisted on the land, and ‘bought’ most of our rations from local ‘contractors’ who supplied meat and fish and the vegetables of the region. Fuel was drawn from the two barges and the ‘Chosen’, supplemented by capture of ships and boats at sea. Fortunately, ours was not a mechanized army, and we used only minimal amounts. The ‘Chosen’ had carried a number of Engineer equipments and drums of fuel and oil for them, as well. Our original intention for her was modified and she became our power plant, machine shop, radio station, hospital and supply point. We had her looking like a derelict and were only bothered twice by the Japanese. We had our Air Force in our three light planes, but they were only rarely used.
“Ahh! Nice to see you again. Ready for more Old Soldier meanderings?
“Yes, sir. I don’t mind at all. It seems the more I hear, the more I want to know.”
“Well, intellectual curiosity is to be encouraged whenever encountered, and the opportunity to bore a volunteer albeit still captive audience is too rare to miss, so, if you’re ready, shall we begin?”
We each made ourselves comfortable in our wing chairs, on either side of the hearth.
“Last session we covered most of the generalities, I think. What say we get into a bit of derring – do this evening? It is a rather amusing story, I think.
I nodded my assent, having just burned my upper lip on the coffee.
“Well, one day we’d invited the Colonel and some other guests to lunch in the First Brigade’s mess. The Colonel was in an expansive mood and everyone was having a pleasant time, when he paused, dabbed his lips with his napkin; he seemed to be in deep thought about something, so the table chatter dwindled away, each officer waiting and watching expectantly for the thought to be aired.
‘Gentlemen, this Brigade is in fine shape and lacks only one thing I can think of.’
He said. “Of course we were all ears and anxious to learn what we’d forgotten or failed to do.”
“A Band, gentlemen. This Brigade needs a good old fashioned tub thumping band to make it complete! Rousing music, that’s the stuff! Make these boys feel more like regular Soldiers! Yes, indeed, a Band! He smiled that beatific Irish smile which was always a sign that someone was in for something. He favored each man at the table, until, finally coming to rest on poor old Tom Martindale, of the Mallory.
“Tom, how’s your bum leg these days? Ready to suit up and play?
“Yessir! I’ve been getting around pretty good lately, and to be honest, I’m ready to go back to sea.”
“Splendid! Splendid! Glad for you, son. You’re the assistant S3 for the Artillery at present, is that right?”
“Yessir! A little different than naval gunnery, sir”
“Ah, well, a loud noise here and a loud noise way over there, it’s all of a piece, eh?”
“I suppose so, sir.”
“Excellent, most excellent! Tom, as you’re our resident expert on loud noises – and not incidentally, the junior man here – and a sailor at that, you’re obviously eminently qualified to put together a band for the Brigade, eh? What say all?
A chorus of cheers and table thumping confirmed Tom’s appointment.
A red faced Tom stammered out his ignorance of music and lack of experience in Military music in particular, he looked beseechingly around for allies or relief, only seeing the grinning faces of his Army counterparts.
“Now, Tom, you needn’t be modest. I happen to know that grotesque pile on the Chesapeake,’ The Colonel looked around innocently, ‘Acropolis’ is it? Whatever, has a band, and you’re being in the same outfit and all, why you’re a natural!”
“We have no instruments, Sir” Tom pointed out hopefully.
“Ahhh! If the President will permit a guest to offer a suggestion, the old Puerta Princessa
High School had a band, and I happen to know they’ve closed down for the duration rather than submit to the Japanese. I’m sure they’ve stored their flooglehorns and tenpenny drums or whatever they are. And I happen to have in my Parish a graduate of that noble institution – and a former bandsman, who can lead you right to the very place.” The old Irish Jesuit beamed radiantly upon the poor distracted Tom.
“Good, then it’s settled.” The Colonel declares, “Mister Martindale, you will plan and conduct a raid launched from the sea, with the object of securing for our Brigade Band, those instruments now gathering dust and tarnish. A subsidiary object will be the theft of several of the enemy’s trucks, and the destruction of as many of the remainder as may be practicable
“You will extract your force by road, using the purloined transport, into which you will have transferred the necessary hooters and bangers. It is expected that the enemy will resent this intrusion and pursue your gallant corps, we hope, right up the road junction at Inagauan, where Major Douglas will be waiting with yet another annoying surprise for our neighbors. I expect you’ll want to use the cutter, for the outbound trip and if you choose to take along a few of our Marines, I’m sure Gunner Hanrahan will be delighted to accommodate you. Be careful with them, though, they are not many and quite useful when they’re sober.
“The good Father here tells us that there’s a lovely shoaling beach, out of the traveled way and a mere brisk walk to the areas of interest, quite suited to your purpose. You will, of course, determine the date and time, and we will adapt accordingly. You will have your pick of 1st Brigade and your own people, naturally. It would be nice if this were a joint service endeavor, and included a majority of Philippine troops as well.”
“Tom, it speaks well of you that you and your service that you so readily volunteered for this lark, eh, gentlemen?” More table thumping and another chorus of cheers.
“Well, as military adventures do, the initial mission scope began to grow. They even have a name for it now . . . ‘Mission Creep’. In those days we just wondered where all this BS was coming from.
“Anyway, the BIG GUY down in Australia heard of the scheme – less the band instruments part, of course – and decided to expand the mission and put one of his staff toads in charge, while letting us carry the ball and Tom Martindale be the scapegoat if one was necessary. Y’see, they could disavow the whole deal as some unauthorized crackpot thing thrown together by rogue guerrillas and a Navy job at that, if it failed; while being in position to reap the all benefits if it succeeded.
“The Wizards of OZ wanted us to sink ships in harbor, destroy stores and equipment, and kill as many Japs as possible, at whatever cost to us and no cost to them at all. Their idea
was guaranteed to bring down regular combat troops in reinforcement and initiate a major campaign against us, for which we were not prepared. It was diametrically opposed to Colonel Riordan’s idea of striking them where they’re weak; and imposing the death of a thousand cuts, rather than seeking decisive battle at this stage of the game.
“I was Staff Duty Officer the day the Major from Mac’s HQ’s showed up with his brief case full of plans and orders. (They shipped this guy by submarine when they claimed they couldn’t provide radio batteries or spare parts.) Anyway, it fell to me to meet the guy, and bring him in to see the Colonel.
“It didn’t start well, with this supercilious bastard in fresh khakis telling Riordan how it was going to be and who was going to do what, and who would be in charge. The Colonel sat at his field desk, the fingers of his right hand alternately clenching into a ham sized fist or drumming on the worn old desktop. He sat facing the desk, with his head bent forward and turned to the Major, as in rapt attention. The Major finished his spiel and, with an eyebrow raised and his pencil mustache slightly cocked in a smirk inquired “Any questions?”
“Aside from the question of how you all down there get anything done at all, with your heads so far up your asses and your elbows bent backwards patting yourselves on the back, I don’t think I have any questions. Now, let me tell you something, Sonny boy, there’s absolutely no question of who’s commanding this raid; and there’s absolutely no question of whose commanding the commander of this raid. Is that clear?
“Tell your boss to review his Order of Battle! He’ll nowhere find this command listed, as we were constantly reminded when we asked for supplies and support. Tell Disappearing Doug that we could have bled those bastards to death on Luzon, and damn near did, had he not changed the plan. Tell the Field Marshal that too many good men and too many good horses died because of his “strategy’ that cost us most of our food and medical supplies. He damn near lost this war for us and got the Medal for it. He left; we stayed, simple as that. He commands where he commands; I command here! As it is this command owes damn little to your Hollywood outfit, and their sending some popinjay staff turd to collect credit for what my men do, ain’t gonna fly here.
“Finally, Major, I’ll put your mind at ease. You’re definitely going on this raid. I’m gonna put your pristine ass out there where Togo can find it, and give you a whiff of powder! But you’re going as supernumerary, which is War Department for an extra pain in the ass to my boys. But there’ll be no Pathe News footage for Douglas this day!
The Colonel turned on his cherubic smile and inquired ‘Any questions?’
The Major sputtered and fumed, and seemed about to speak when the Colonel said
“I remind you, sir, that, while the Navy owns the submarines in which Macarthur sent you here. I own the boat that brought you ashore, and I own the boat that will take you to Puerta Princessa. It goes without saying that no boat here will take you back out to that submarine until I approve the transfer.
“Benny, show the Major to the VOQ and provide him with the facilities to draft the report I’m sure he’s itching to make. I’m afraid, though, Major, that since we use captured enemy radios, which are crystal controlled, we have no radio facility able to send your message. (This was not strictly true, as we’d been able to retune a few of their radios to American frequencies. I suspect what the Colonel meant to imply that the queue of traffic was so large that it’d be 1948 before the Major’s message got off. In any case SOWPAC rarely answered us, with more than acknowledgment.)
“Oh, and by the way, Major, we have no soldiers to spare here for Orderlies, I’m afraid you’ll have to rough it for a while. Good Day to you.”
The Visiting Officer’s Quarters (VOQ) was something of a euphemism, being in actuality a tent located behind the latrines and intended for a purgatory-like stay for obnoxious visitors. And the Orderly situation was not as bleak as the Colonel made it, either, though his statement was completely true. We used volunteers from among our Japanese enlisted prisoners. Amazingly, once they’d accommodated themselves to the idea of being live prisoners, they adapted readily and gave good service at whatever task we set them. They were shocked when we paid them for their work.
“The facilities provided for the Major to draft his report consisted of a ‘Big Chief’ writing tablet scrounged from the Elementary school and a number two lead pencil.
The tablet was one of those the children used to learn to write, with the little dotted lines for small letters and so on. The Major was considerably subdued when I left him, after telling him to be very careful which slit trench he chose for shelter, in the event of air raid or naval bombardment.
Meanwhile, Tom Martindale had been busy putting together his team and planning his mission. It was decided to use the Lugger rather than the cutter, and sail it up the coast to conserve fuel for the ‘high speed’ return. A rendezvous was selected down the coast from the initial insertion point, where the boat would wait in case something went wrong.
Macarthur’s proposal wasn’t all-bad, and the Ordnance people got busy constructing improvised Limpet Mines for use by two pirogues we had built. Ships blowing up in the roadstead might just provide a nice diversion for our pudgy friend, the Imperial Japanese Army Island Garrison Commander, Colonel Watanabe Mitsuo
Lashing rain and a heaving sea made life aboard the Lugger and Cutter somewhat less than easy, and the seasick Philippine troops made it distinctly unpleasant. But all things, good or bad, come to an end eventually, and the boats made their landfalls more or less on time. The Cutter was to sheer off and land south of the great bay, the troops to make the approach march by foot and position themselves for action the following night.
The Lugger meanwhile, proceeded into the bay itself, seeking a hide in which to lay up for the day, scout for targets and to prepare the mines for use with the pirogues.