From: Oregon, USA
October 27, 1942
Aboard USS Gridley
Location: 40 miles east of Noumea
Attached to: TF 276
Mission: ASW Patrol
Ship's Status: Sys damage 14, engine damage 7
Fuel: 239 (45%)
Gridley and Cummings cruised south. They were making one last sweep along the coast of New Caledonia before turning east and putting into Noumea. The day was clear and the early afternoon sun bathed Gridley’s steel deck in heat.
“I’ve got a contact!” blurted out Schweitzer, the sonar operator. “Contact bearing two six five degrees.” Attention on the bridge sharpened. Captain Stickney, however, merely turned his head to look at Schweitzer.
“How solid?” he asked. There had been several false alarms over the last few days.
“Very firm contact, sir,” replied Schweitzer. “It’s gotta be a sub.”
“Very well,” said Stickney. “Sound General Quarters. Signal Cummings that we have a contact. Helm, bring us around to port.” A flurry of activity erupted on the bridge as the “whang-whang-whang” of the General Quarters klaxon began to blare.
“Sir,” said Ensign Puhls, “we’re getting the same signal from Cummings. They’ve picked it up too and are turning to port.”
“Helm, course one-one-oh degrees. Prepare for depth charge attack,” said Stickney. The captain was planning on crossing behind Cummings, then curving around so that the two destroyers would criss-cross over the contact location.
“Contact depth one hundred twenty five feet,” said the sonarman. “Range four hundred yards. Sir, he’s diving.”
“He saw us first,” said Stickney. “He’s trying to run. Set depth charges to one hundred fifty feet.”
A pennant fluttered aloft on Cummings, indicating the destroyer was launching depth charges. The destroyer charged over the contact location, flinging depth charges to either side. A pause, and then the sea boiled upward astride her wake. Gridley repeated the maneuver a moment later, the destroyer shuddering slightly as the K-guns fired.
“What have you got, sonar?” said Stickney as Gridley began another loop around. Schweitzer was hunched over the sonar panel.
“Sir, he’s still diving. Contact is fading. He’s turning, I think…”
“What heading?” Stickney barked.
“South…I think,” said Schweitzer. There was frustration in his voice. Stickney waited as Schweitzer adjusted his controls The sonarman shook his head. “It’s no good, sir. I’ve lost him.”
Cummings came back around on another pass but did not launch more depth charges. A signal from the other destroyer indicated that they had also lost contact.
The two destroyers searched for a time but could not reacquire the submarine. Commander Martinez ordered the search called off and the two destroyers resumed course, turning west towards Noumea.
“I have a contact!” said Schweitzer again about half an hour later. “Bearing seven-five degrees, range 500 yards, depth…depth about one hundred feet.” Again the general quarters klaxon sounded. Both destroyers converged on the spot, but the contact quickly faded. Once again Martinez ordered his ships to conduct a search grid.
“Could it be the same sub?” Steubens asked his captain a while later as they searched. Stickney pursed his lips.
“He might have gotten north of us,” he said, “but I don’t think he could have gotten ahead of us. Not unless he was actually heading northwest when we lost contact, not south.” He glanced at his sonarman.
“I don’t think so, sir,” said Schweitzer, who was listening intently to his headphones. “I mean, I suppose I could have picked up an echo and he was actually on a reciprocal bearing, but…”
“Given your success today, it seems possible,” said Steubens dryly. Schweitzer flushed slightly. The captain narrowed his eyes.
“If there are two submarines,” he said slowly, “and the first one followed us…”
“That would take a lot of guts,” said Steubens, “to trail after two destroyers.”
“It would,” agreed Stickney. He grabbed a pair of binoculars and walked out onto the portside platform off the bridge.
“Sir!” called the sonarman. “I have high-speed screws approaching! Torpedoes, sir! Bearing two three five!” At almost the same moment one of the aft lookouts gave a cry. Gridley at the moment was heading almost due west. A spread of torpedoes was reaching up from the southeast to intercept her.
“Full speed!” said the captain, urgently but calmly. “Helm, emergency turn to port.” The bridge crew leaped into action. In the engine room the annunciators clamored for emergency speed and the engine crew responded at once. Gridley shuddered as her engines roared to full power.
Gridley was one of the fastest ships in the US Navy and she showed it now. The destroyer leaped ahead and then healed over to starboard as she began a tight turn back towards the oncoming torpedoes. Stickney and every crewman on decks on the port side watched the torpedo wakes reaching for their ship, but in the end it was not terribly close. Both torpedoes passed well astern.
“Clever, clever bastard,” muttered Stickney as he came back inside. He issued orders for the destroyer to slow and begin hunting for their attacker. The enemy submarine, though, faded away like a ghost.
“I don’t know who’s driving that I-boat, but he’s good,” Stickney said as Gridley and Cummings abandoned the search and resumed course to Noumea. His gaze strayed out over the water, as if his eyes could pierce the depths and spy the Japanese submarine where it lurked. “You win this round,” he muttered to himself. “But maybe we’ll meet again someday.”