Monthly Archives: July 2013

General Quarters

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20mm gunners

An all hands evolution that required every officer and man on the ship to be at a particular station. In the war zone, the greatest danger of Japanese air attack was at dawn and dusk. General Quarters (battle stations) were held one hour before dawn and, again, one hour before dusk. When that call came over the ship’s public address system, everything was interrupted as the crew ran to battle stations and made ready to defend the battleship against attack.

“The average time it took us to have the conditions set, which means full battle readiness set, is five minutes. I don’t know whether you appreciate how fast that is. If General Quarters sounds at 4:30AM, the entire ships except the people on watch are in their sacks. You have to get out of bed. There are men everywhere. Put on your clothes; travel probably a city block. Up and down a ladder or two, through hatches and then get to your battle stations. Make sure all the hatches, the bells, the ready boxes, and the gun crew, everything that you have to do when the ship is ready to fight. Fully ready to fight in five minutes. It is extremely fast.”

Donald Wickham, Musician 2/c

“Drill, drill, drill. Until you are blue in the face. In the daylight. In the dark. You know, General Quarters in the middle of the night. Darkened ship. You knew where all the steps were on the ladders. You knew where all the instructions were. In fact, you could tell how old the people were aboard ship because if they had beat up heads and scraped shins, they hadn’t been here too long.”

John VanSambeek, Boatswain’s Mate 3/c

Mick Gorman Cartoon

“General Quarters would sound anytime and I’ve been to battle stations more than once just in my skivvies with my clothes under my arm. Down the hatch I’d go.”

Ortho Farrar, Machinist’s Mate 1/c

“When you went to battle stations, you had to have shoes, socks, trousers, your dungaree shirt on especially. You must remember that at Pearl Harbor most of the men died from flash burns from explosions. You would have to have your shirts — shirts were long-sleeved to give you protection from flashing guns or explosions, to keep you from being burned. We dyed our white hats blue so they wouldn’t be quite so obvious (the wood deck was painted blue also); so easy to see from the air. Blue hats against the ship’s color would be better. What you would do if you weren’t completely naked is grab your clothes and get up there and dress at your battle station as best you could. We took pride in the fact that we used to man the Signal Bridge so quick.”

Jackson Belford, Signalman 3/c




Work Stations

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Officers and crew stood watches to ensure that the ship was properly and safely operated 24-hours a day. Watches lasted four hours on a rotated schedule. A full eight hours sleep occurred once in four nights due to watch rotation. For the other three nights, men received between four and six hours – and the six hours were split in two periods.

“While in boot camp, you were an apprentice seaman. When you came on board, you became seaman or fireman third class. The seaman branch consisted of yeomen, hospital corpsmen, storekeepers, gunner’s mates, boatswain’s mates, quartermasters, signalmen, radiomen, firecontrolmen, etc. The fireman branch consisted of the men associated with the engine room and auxiliaries such as water tenders, boilermakers, machinist’s mates, electrician’s mates, etc.

After about four months, you became a seaman or fireman second. You took an oral exam to become seaman or fireman first. You could tell which branch a man was in by a single stripe that encircled his shoulder seam. The seaman stripe was white and on the right shoulder. A fireman wore a red stripe on the left shoulder. While a seaman or fireman, you were a striker for a rate within your division. Striking is on the job training as opposed to attending one of the official navy schools. Rate is a word for your job like radioman or boatswain. Within the rate are first, second, and third classes. Class refers to your experience and that you have passed qualifying exams.

Your rate basically described your job that was known as your work or duty station. It was where you carried out your daily tasks. Normally, you worked eight hours, unless you had watch duty.

Watch duty was in addition to your work station. Everybody stood watch except the laundry guys. Your watch lasted four hours. If you had watch during the night, you still had to put in eight hours at your work station. The purpose of watch is to keep the ship at battle readiness so all the guns, radio rooms, damage control, fire control, engine rooms, bridge, etc. would have watches 24 hours a day to be ready. The ship was divided into port and starboard watches and each division was divided into sections. This system enabled the ship to fill six 4-hour watches per day.”

Paul Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c



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Berthing on third deck

“Below decks it was HOT, no air conditioning. Air was taken from topside (outside) and blown into the living compartments. At night when you slept in your bunk, you sweat. Your mattress would get real damp. When you got up the first thing you did was cover up your mattress with a fireproof cover. This would be almost airtight and after a few weeks your bunk became pretty ripe. First chance you had the ship would air bedding. You would take your bedding topside and air it. I had a large air duct alongside my bunk. I cut a small hole in it and fitted a piece of a tin can to divert some air onto me. It helped.”

William Taylor, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c

“When I came off watch at midnight, I’d get a blanket and a pillow and go up by the forward 16-inch guns and sleep on the deck until it was time to go on watch again or breakfast. That’s the only way you could stay cool.”

Ortho Farrar, Machinist’s Mate 1/c

Sleeping on deck

“They let me work in flag plot. It was a small place. I can remember it was air- conditioned. I was so lucky to be able to work in there and I even had a little canvas cot and I slept in there at night.”

Lieutenant Ben Blee, Combat Intelligence Officer

“The trick was to take a shower, go quietly in your bunk, even though the ship itself might have been a 100 degrees, to go to bed before you start sweating again, to get at least a half hour sleep before you wake up again from the sweat and everything else and continue on the day.”

Leo Neumann, Machinist’s Mate 1/c

“A lot of times we’d be very tired. You got very little sleep. I’ve actually gone on my gun stations like some of the other men. I’ve seen them do it. You’d lie down as soon as you could get a break. I’d hang my arms over the gun’s shield and just dose off. I could go to sleep standing up. When we were allowed to, we’d lie down on top of one of the 40mm gun boxes and get some sleep.

Ollie Goad

“I slept outside. Everybody slept more or less near their battle stations, and I slept outside. “

Paul Wieser, Boatswain’s Mate 1/c

Sleeping topside on a ship

“Routine was to bring your mattress up from the bunk down below because nobody wanted to get caught below if we got torpedoed. Sleep up on the Signal Bridge. Every once in a while you wake up in a puddle. It would rain in on you.”

Jackson Belford, Signalman 3/c