Monthly Archives: October 2015

Daily Life

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“The working hours are from 8:15 am to 4 pm. We still get up at 5:30 am though. I don’t know my way around the ship / only a small portion and don’t even know how to get to it or back again. The decks inside are all that hard stuff like hard rubber you probably have seen by now as they had it at the training station. We sleep in bunks now and have lockers instead of sea bags. The bunks fold up in against each other during the day. The officers’ quarters are like a hotel with all the bulkheads painted a pea green that the walls. They even have sailors in white jackets to serve them and keep their quarters clean. There are six mess halls, three in a row and a big galley running between them so you can get a rough idea as to its width as the mess halls are about as large as an ordinary room only not so high and probably longer. The Marines are on board for guard duty / they have quarters of their own and the different [divisions] such as Engineers etc. have their own quarters including wash room head (toilet) and showers. So you see there is plenty of places and compartments.”

- Letter from Donald Ross, May 6, 1941 [BB55 is in New York Navy Yard]

“We met up with the rest of the Task Force this A.M. Course is due North. We just finished bringing all our Supply records and pay rolls down to the third deck so they will be safe. As I am writing this all the fellows are in the pay office singing. It reminds me of the saying ‘Be merry tonight for tomorrow we die.’ It looks like the attack will be in the morning.”

- Barney Wagenhauser, Storekeeper 3/c, August 5, 1942

Commander Robert Ferrin

‘First I get up about 6:30 A.M. and eat breakfast about 7:00 A.M. For breakfast we might get pancakes or eggs or beans or chipped beef on toast. At 8:00 A.M. we begin the ship’s work. Everyone that isn’t on watch works. I might be assigned to work on antenna or in the [radio] compartment or work with one of the petty officers on some radio equipment. Knock off work at 11:30 A.M. Eat lunch. After lunch I can listen to the ship’s band (which plays during the lunch period) or crap out (sleep). Afternoon work begins at 1:00 P.M. Knock off at 4:00 P.M. From then on is our own time (maybe).

- Letter from Radioman Charles Paty, November 3, 1942 [BB55 is in Pearl Harbor for repairs]

“Mr. Ross, our Director Officer, was great. When you have six and sometimes seven men in a [5-inch] director, day-in and day-out, it gets on one’s nerves. He would start the crew one at a time and tell us what he didn’t like. It would smart a little. Then, he would say ‘What don’t you like about me?’ Boy, when the five of us got through the air would be cleared for a couple of months! He was the only one of the officers that did that. He was the first reserve officer to come aboard. He took his lumps from his fellow ‘Academy’ officers. He was a smart man with a lot of common sense. We got along really well.”

- Harold Smith, Fire Controlman 1/c

Ralph Saunders

“We are on course 090. We may be going back to Ulithi. About four days ago in 72 hours I had 11-1/2 hours sleep and out of the last 24 hours I haven’t had any sleep at all. We are standing four on and four off [watches] and air defense and G.Q. every morning. The signalman doesn’t get any sleep.”

- Leon Bryant, Signalman 2/c, November 27, 1944 [BB55 is an area between Luzon and Ulithi]

“Just an average quiet day. Fueled and took on supplies. 180 tons. Took on U.S. mail and received six letters. The dope today was we will go to Pearl Harbor at the completion of the Okinawa operation. The main purpose will be to have Sky II repaired. Some more dope stating we might go to the states. Probably bum dope.”

- Jerry Kass, April 23, 1945

Stormy Weather

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BB55 Crashing into swell during December December 1944 typhoon

BB55 Crashing into swell during December December 1944 typhoon

“It rains at least 10 times a day down here [Ulithi] but you soon get used to it. The sea is pretty rough and all hands were warned to keep clear of the main deck. We hit the edge of a typhoon and it’s plenty rough. I sure feel sorry for the destroyers. The storm has done considerable damage to our lighting system. The planes are all grounded and our 20mm gun shields on the bow are bent like pretzels. Wind reached 100 mph velocity. The task force has lost 10 men overboard in the last two days.”

Diary of PFC George W. Kietzman, November 1944

“December 1944, we were caught in a typhoon while we were steaming through the Philippine Sea. I remember the winds got up to 100 mph and the Ship was tossed around like a cork. I was in Spot I on watch at the time and believe me, I got the ride of my life! The waves were at least 50 to 60 feet high and the bow would go under one and over two. Most of the time we couldn’t see because of the spray and solid sheets of water. The Ship was rolling 30 degrees and we thought she was going over. We could see the ocean coming up to meet Spot I and we were holding on for dear life. I was sure that would capsize but she would just shudder a bit and then roll the other way. I guess Spot I was the worst place to be during a typhoon.”

Jim Masie, Fire Controlman 3/c

USS LANGLEY rolls in heavy seas with USS WASHINGTON nearby, December 1944. The LANGLEY rolled consistently to 35 degrees on both sides.

USS LANGLEY rolls in heavy seas with USS WASHINGTON nearby, December 1944. The LANGLEY rolled consistently to 35 degrees on both sides.

“We started into that typhoon and in just a little bit it had all those mess tables unhooked, sliding across the deck and coffee and cups and it was a real mess. [Some] tables were tied with a rope to the poles. You had sandwiches and nothing hot. There were four or five of us that got the bright idea to climb up in the mast up to the crow’s nest. We went up there and of course it was blowing and we got all sopping wet. The Ship was rolling…35 degrees. We found out later that if she had gone 39 degrees she would have gone on over. We had ammunition boxes [250-300 pounds welded to the deck] and everything all over the main deck, which were torn loose.”


A destroyer almost disappears from view in the trough of heavy seas before or after the peak of the storm, December 1944.

A destroyer almost disappears from view in the trough of heavy seas before or after the peak of the storm, December 1944.

“I went out onto the deck on the morning of December 18th, near my 40mm shop. I walked over to portside of the deck to view the storm. The rain and seawater blowing so much you could hardly see the other ships, even close ones. I saw small carriers and destroyers rolling and pitching quite a bit. As I started back the ship started rolling so I took several steps and put myself into a slide on the wet deck. I crashed into the lifeline around the deck and grabbed a hold to keep from going overboard as the water was lapping close to the deck. We were supposed to stay inside below.”

C.J. Baker, Fire Controlman 3/c

“You can imagine winds up to 100mph beating around in an open sea. We are talking about a 45,000 ton ship. It bobbed us around just like a cork in the water. At one time we went 30+ degrees…actually laying us on our side. The maximum rule of this vessel was 36 plus degrees before it would capsize. [Note: The Damage Control chart indicates that at 18 degrees the edge of the main deck would have been at the waterline.]

I was stationed in Spot II. It is about 65 feet above the water line. I opened the hatch at the top of the director to take a look out to see how bad it was. I got splashed in the face with salt water. That is 60 feet of waves come up over the Ship, which is a tremendous amount of height and pressure. I just almost lost my breath.”

Stan Shefveland, Fire Controlman 3/c

Bob Wayne Noble, Boatswain’s Mate 2/c

“Coy Adams and I worked our way through the Ship up into the conning tower above the bridge where we had a bird’s eye view of the storm and could feel the force. I watched the destroyers bob around like corks. Half the time you would lose sight of them. The large carriers were taking green water over their flight deck. It has been said that this typhoon did more damage to the fleet than the Japanese Navy.”

Bill Fleishman, Water Tender 2/c

“I can remember being out on deck at signal bridge [03] level. You wouldn’t see very far because of the spray in the air and the rain. The seas were positively mountainous. I remember quite vividly that the tops of the seas were often higher than I was. I went into CIC and watched the eye of the typhoon on the radar scope. The eye passed right over us. On voice radio…the carriers were telling of the aircraft that had broken loose on their hanger decks and flying around. I have a rather vague memory of watching at least one blip [destroyer] disappear as the ship went under.”

Captain Ben Blee, USN (Ret.)

BB-55 plows through heavy swells while escorting the USS ESSEX, December 1944.

BB-55 plows through heavy swells while escorting the USS ESSEX, December 1944.

“Today we postponed fueling because of real rough weather. Some tin-can men were washed overboard and most of them were picked up. Sea was even rougher today and we had to postpone fueling again. Three cans [destroyers] ran dry and are now dead in the water. The wind reached 72 knots and some of the swells were at least 100 feet high. All day today we’ve been traversing debris filled waters. We lost 100 crates of potatoes and I’m not the least bit sorry, either! We only missed the center of the typhoon by 19 miles. Ship is rolling to about a 30 degree angle. Nobody seems to know what we’re doing out here right now.”

Diary of PFC George W. Kietzman, December 1944

Read more about it: Typhoon: The Other Enemy/The Third Fleet and the Pacific Storm of December 1944, by Capt. C. Raymond Calhoun, USN (Ret). Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1981.