+15 Odyssey of USS William D. Porter DD579
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USS ANTHONY DD515
CONTRIBUTORS

Bill Wenger


Bill Wenger Page
Thanks to W.E. (Bill) Wenger, for this most interesting story.

THE ODYSSEY OF THE SHIP
USS WILLIAM D. PORTER DD-579


SOME 0F THE USS ANTHONY REUNION MEMBERS HERE TONIGHT, MIGHT REMEMBER A PICKET STATION INCIDENT, IN WHICH WE WERE AN "ONLOOKER', SO-TO-SPEAK.

WHILE WE WERE ON PICKET DUTY, WE WERE ORDERED TO THE SCENE OF THE SINKING OF THE USS WILLIAM D. PORTER DD579, THE W.D.PORTER HAD BEEN MORTALLY DAMAGED BY A MISS OF A KAMIKAZE AND WAS SINKING. WHILE OUR ASSISTANCE WAS MAINLY THAT OF EXTRA AA FIREPOWER, WE DID WATCH OTHER'S ON THE SCENE, RESCUING HER CREW, UNTIL SHE WENT UNDER.

WHAT WE DID, WAS ROUTINE DESTROYER ASSIGNMENT. ASSIST WHERE REQUIRED, BUT THE STORY OF THE W.D. PORTER IS ANYTHING BUT ROUTINE, AND IS ONE MORE TALE, OF THE "FLETCHER CLASS" DESTROYERS HISTORY.

THIS STORY CAME TO ME VIA A FORMER 1ST CLASS YEOMAN OF THE USS STEVENS DD479, FROM WHICH I TRANSFERRED ENROUTE TO THE USS ANTHONY. I ALSO ATTEND THEIR REUNIONS.  HE PULLED THE STORY FROM A MAGAZINE, "BATTLE ACTION CLASSICS" AND I UNDERSTAND HAS BEEN WRITTEN UP IN THE TIN-CAN SAILORS ASSOC. NEWS.

THE ESCAPADES OF THE 'WILLIE DEE', AS SHE WAS AFFECTIONATELY KNOWN, BY HER FORMER CREW, STARTED SHORTLY AFTER HER COMMISSIONING, IN ORANGE N.J., 6 JULY 1943. COMPLETING HER SHAKEDOWN AND ACCEPTANCE BY THE NAVY, SHE WAS ORDERED TO JOIN A TASK FORCE, FOR AN UNKNOWN FORAY INTO THE ATLANTIC OCEAN AND BEYOND.

THE VEIL OF SECRECY HAS BEEN LIFTED AND THE TASK FORCE CONSISTED OF FOUR DESTROYERS AND THE BATTLESHIP BB61, USS IOWA.  IT IS ALSO KNOWN THAT ON THE "IOWA", WAS PRESIDENT FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, CORDELL H. HULL, SECRETARY OF STATE, AND FLEET ADMIRAL ERNEST J. KING, CHIEF OF ALL NAVAL OPERATIONS.

THEY WERE ON THEIR WAY TO MEET WITH PRIME MINISTER WINSTON CHURCHILL, AND RUSSIAN PREMIER JOSEF STALIN, AT THE NOW HISTORIC MEDITTEREAN CONFERENCE IN THE MEDITTEREAN AREA.

ON THE MORNING OF HER DEPARTURE, FROM NORFOLK NAVAL BASE, THE 1ST "INCIDENT" OCCURRED.  WHILE BACKING AWAY FROM A SISTER SHIP, MOORED ALONGSIDE, SHE MANAGED TO DEMOLISH SISTER SHIP LIFE LINES, RAILINGS, DAMAGED THE BOAT DAVITS AND THE SISTER GIG PLUS OTHER ASSORTED ITEMS.  WITH ONLY A SLIGHTLY SCRATCHED ANCHOR.

IT ONLY REQUIRED 24 HOURS FOR A NEW ADVENTURE TO KEEP THE STORY GOING. THE TASK FORCE WAS RUNNING A MODERATE SPEED ZIG-ZAG PATTERN THROUGH WELL KNOWN "U-BOAT" INFESTED WATERS. RADIO SILENCE WAS THE ORDER OF THE DAY AND WAS STRICTLY OBSERVED. COMMUNICATION BETWEEN SHIPS WAS BY BLINKER LIGHT, SEMAPHORE, OR FLAG HOISTS.

SILENCE AND SPEED, IN THOSE WATERS WAS CONSIDERED THE BEST OF SUB DEFENSE. IN THE WEE HOURS OF THE MORNING WATCH, A TREMENDOUS EXPLOSION WAS FELT THROUGH-OUT THE FORCE. IMMEDIATELY SHIPS BEGAN PRE-PLANNED ANTISUB MANEUVERS WHICH CONTINUED UNTIL IN REPLY OF WHAT HAPPENED AND WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE CAME THE REPLY, FROM THE SKIPPER OF THE 'WILLIE DEE', "WE DID IT".

A DEPTH CHARGE ON HER FANTAIL RACK HAD NOT BEEN SECURED PROPERIY, VIBRATED LOOSE, AND ROLLED OFF THE STERN.  OBVIOUSLY THE DEPTH HAD BEEN AT A DEEP EXPLOSIVE SETTING OR THE "WILLIE-DEE" MIGHT HAVE LOST HER STERN. TO PUT IT MILDLY. THE CAREER OF CAPTAIN WILFRED A. WALTER, LT.CDR USN, WAS FAST BECOMING SIDE TRACKED.

THE NEXT EVENT HAPPENED SHORTLY THEREAFTER. ADDING TO THE WOES OF THE SHIP, A FREAKISH WAVE SWEPT OVER THE SHIP, TEARING LOOSE LIFE RAFTS, SAFETY RAILINGS AND EVEN ONE POOR LONE SAILOR WENT OVERBOARD AND WAS NEVER FOUND.  IN ADDITION THE WATER WENT DOWN THE INTAKES DROWNED OUT THE FIREROOMS LEAVING THE SHIP WITHOUT POWER.  THE CAPTAIN WAS NOW REQUIRED TO MAKE HOURLY REPORTS OF READINESS TO THE TF COMMANDER. IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MERCIFUL IF SHE HAD RETURNED TO NORFOLK FOR MORE TRAINING BUT THAT WAS NOT TO BE.

THE STAGE WAS NOW SET FOR NOVEMBER 14, 1943, A DAY WHERE THE DAWN CAME WITH A MODERATE SEA, BRIGHT BLUE SKY AND A MODERATE BREEZE. THE TF WAS JUST EAST OF BERMUDA AND THE PRESIDENT MADE A REQUEST THAT IOWA AND OTHER SHIPS RUN THROUGH THEIR PACES WITH ANTI-AIRCRAFT PRACTICE AND SIMULATED TORPEDO RUNS.  EVEN IN SUB-INFESTED WATERS, THIS IS A REQUEST THAT CAPTAINS GROW GRAY HAIR, AND SAY "AYE-AYE SIR".

THE BATTLESHIIP IOWA STARTED LAUNCHING WEATHER BALOONS FOR TARGET PRACTICE.  IT WAS EXCITING TO SEE OVER 100(?) GUNS FIRING AT THE BALLOONS. THE PRESIDENT WAS DULY PROUD OF HIS NAVY. ADMIRAL ERNEST J. KING WAS JUST AS PROUD, A TRUE MONARCH OF THE NAVY, WHERE DISAGREEMENT WITH HIM, IT IS SAID, COULD BE THE END OF A NAVAL CAREER, YET UP TO THIS TIME NO ONE KNEW ABOUT SHOOTING A TORPEDO AT HIM!!

WE KNOW THAT BALLOONS CAN'T SHOOT BACK! MEANWHILE, OVER ON THE "WIILIE-DEE", CAPTAIN WALTER WATCHED THE DRILL ON THE IOWA, AND POSSIBLY THINKING A BIT ABOUT CAREER REDEMPTION, REQUESTED PERMISSION TO SHOOT DOWN ANY STRAY BALLOONS THE IOWA GUNNERS MISSED. PERMISSION WAS GRANTED AND THE GUNNERS WERE ACCURATE AND THE CAPTAIN WAS HAPPY.
THE LAST EXERCISE OF THE DAY WAS FOR THE DESTROYERS TO MAKE 'MOCK' TORPEDO RUNS ON THE IOWA AND THROUGH A SYSTEM ANALYSIS BE ABLE TO SCORE THE EFFICIENCY AND ACCURACY 0N EACH RUN. DOWN ON THE TORPEDOE MOUNTS OF THE 'WILLIE DEE', THE CREW PREPARED TO TAKE THEIR TURN AT THE PRACTICE RUNS, AND WERE WORKING HARD AT BEING READY. THE IOWA, EVEN THOUGH AT 6000 YARDS AWAY WAS DESCRIBED "AS SO LARGE SHE BLOTTED OUT THE HORIZON". THE TORPEDO MEN RESPONSIBLE FOR EACH MOUNT, OF WHICH THERE WERE TWO MOUNTS, WERE IN PLACE, AND WERE IN PRACTICE SESSIONS, RESPONSIBLE FOR REMOVING THE ACTIVE DETONATORS, IN CASE OF ACCIDENTAL FIRING, THE TORPEDO WOULD NOT EXPLODE. UNFORTUNATELY, SOMEONE FORGOT OR MISSED THE PRIMER TO FIRE ONE TORPEDO AND A SURPRISE WAS COMING TO A SHIP.

UP ON THE BRIDGE THE ORDERS WERE GIVEN TO COME ABOUT, IN LINE WITH THE REST OF THE DIVISION OF DESTROYERS, AND WHEN THEY CAME ABEAM OF THE TARGET IOWA, IN FIRING POSITION, THE NEW TORPEDO OFFICER ORDERED THE SIMULATED FIRING, AND COMMANDED, "FIRE ONE","FIRE TWO", AND "FIRE THREE:,
THERE WAS NO ""FIRE FOUR"", AS THE SEQUENCE WAS INTERRUPTED BY AN UNMISTAKABLE SOUND "W-H-0-O-O-O-S-H", AND THE SOUND OF A TORPEDO LEAVING THE TUBE.

ONE OF THE OFFICERS, A LT.  H. SEWARD LEWIS, WHO WAS ON THE BRIDGE, LATER DESCRIBED THE NEXT FEW MOMENTS, "AS PANDEMONIUM IN HELL", WOULD BE LIKE IF IT BROKE LOOSE. JUST AFTER THE TORPEDO HIT THE WATER, HE INNOCENTLY ASKED THE CAPTAIN" DID YOU GIVE PERMISSION TO FIRE A TORPEDO?" CAPTAIN WALTER UTTERED SOMETHING AKIN TO "HELL N-0-0-0-0-0-a-a-a-a-a-a, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED"??

THE NEXT 5 MINUTES UP ON THE BRIDGE WERE PURE PANDEMONIUM. MEN WERE RUNNING BACK AND FORTH, ORDERS WERE BEING SHOUTED, CONFLICTING ONE ANOTHER, THE QUARTERMASTER STATED, HE WAS TOTALLY CONFUSED TRYING TO LOG EVERY ORDER ACTION. BY BLINKER THEY TRIED TO CONTACT THE IOWA, BUT THE DIRECTION OF THE TORPEDO WAS REVERSED, FLAGS WERE USED TO INDICATE EMERGENCY SITUATION, SO FINALLY THE CAPTAIN OF THE "WILLIE DEE" WENT ON THE RADIO "TBS", WE CALLED IT "TALK BETWEEN SHIPS", WHICH WHILE NOT TECHNICALLY CORRECT, WAS ALL RIGHT.  THE RADIO OFFICER ON THE IOWA WAS DEMANDING TO KNOW WHO THE OFFENDER WAS BREAKING-SILENCE, BUT FINALLY UNDERSTOOD THE DANGER, AND STEPS WERE IMMEDIATELY TAKEN TO HAVE THE IOWA INTO A FLANK SPEED TURN TO AVOID THE ONRUSHING TORPEDO.

THE PRESIDENT HAD BEEN NOTIFIED OF THE PROBLEM.  HIS SECRET SERVICE MEN ALL SURROUNDED HIM, WITH THEIR "45'S" DRAWN, AS IF TO SHOOT THE TORPEDO OR STOP AN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT. THE PRESIDENT HOWEVER WANTED HIS WHEELCHAIR PUSHED OVER TO WHERE HE COULD LOOK AT THE TORPEDO.

SUDDENLY THERE CAME A TREMENDOUS EXPLOSION BLAST AS THE TORPEDO HIT THE CHURNING WAKE OF THE POWERFUL BACKWASH OF THE IOWA'S SCREWS IN A FLANK SPEED TURN, AND EXPLODED. DISASTER HAD BEEN AVERTED AND SOME NAVAL CAREERS WERE IN STEEP DECLINE.

THE TASK FORCE COMMANDER HIMSELF ALSO BROKE RADIO SILENCE WANTING TO KNOW WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FIRING OF THE TORPEDO. BACK CAME THE RADIO REPLY FROM THE CAPTAIN OF THE WILLIAM D PORTER, "I AM SIR, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE".

IMMEDIATELY, ORDERS WERE ISSUED TO THE "WILLIE DEE", To PUT INTO PORT AT BERMUDA AND ALL SHIPS COMPANY, MEN & OFFICERS ALIKE WERE TO BE CONSIDERED UNDER ARREST, WHILE A NAVAL INQUIRY WAS HELD. IT IS THE ONLY TIME IN U.S. NAVAL HISTORY THAT AN ENTIRE SHIP WAS PLACED UNDER ARREST TO AWAIT POSSIBILE COURT MARTIAL.

WHEN THE SHIP APPROACHED THE PIER, WITHOUT INCIDENT, SHE WAS MET BY A FULL TURNOUT OF U.S. MARINES TO STAND GUARD OVER HER. A BOARD OF INQUIRY WAS QUICKLY CONVENED, BEHINND CLOSED DOORS TO DETERMINE THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE ENTIRE INCIDENT AND TO PUNISH THE APPROPRIATE OFFENDERS.

IT TOOK SEVERAL DAYS OF QUESTIONING OF THE BRIDGE & TORPEDO PERSONNEL WHO WERE INVOLVED. AFTER A LENGTTY SESSION OF QUESTIONING, LAWTON DAVIS, TORPEDOMAN 3RD CLASS, ADMITTED IT WAS HE WHO HAD NEGLECTED TO DEFUSE THE TORPEDO AND HAD THROWN, THE FIRING PRIMER OVER THE SIDE, TO HIDE HIS MISTAKE.

THE FINDINGS OF THE INCIDENT WERE THEN CLOSED AND COURT MARTIAL AND REPRIMANDS WERE HANDED DOWN, SO THE NAVY DIDN'T WAIT TO HAVE THEIR DUCKS IN ORDER AND SET FOR A REVIEW BY HIGHER AUTHORITY. THE CAPTAIN AND SEVERAL OTHERS FOUND THEMSELVES HEADED  FOR OBSCURE ASSIGNMENTS AND TORPEDOMAN 3RD CLASS LAWTON DAVIS WAS SENTENCED TO 14 YEARS HARD LABOR AT PORTSMOUTH NAVAL PRISON.

HOWEVER, PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT HIMSELF REVIEWED THE INQUIRY PROCEEDINGS, AND REQUESTED "NO" PUNISISHMENT BE HANDED DOWN AS HE FELT IT WAS AN ACCIDENTAL AND UNINTENTIONAL MISHAP.  THE "WILLIE-DEE" RECEIVED NEW ORDERS,SENDING HER TO THE ALEUTIANS FOR PATROL DUTY. APPARENTLY THE NAVY FIGURED SHE WOULD BE IN A SAFE PLACE, WITH HER TALENT FOR MISHAPS. HOWEVER, JUST TO KEEP HER RECORD INTACT, UPON ARRIVAL AFTER A SHORT TIME IN THE AREA, SHE PULLED INTO THE LOCAL NAVAL OPERATING BASE, AND MANAGED TO FIRE AN INERT 5"-38CAL. SHELL WHICH WHEN IT CAME DOWN, HIT IN THE FRONT YARD OF THE NAVAL OPERATING BASE COMMANDERS YARD. NEEDLESS TO SAY, BUT OKINAWA HERE SHE COMES.

HER POPULARITY WAS NOW BEGINNING TO BECOME KNOWN AND SHE WAS THEN ASSIGNED TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC FOR DUTY AS A RADAR PICKET SHIP. IT WAS HOPED SHE JUST MIGHT DO SOME DAMAGE TO THE JAPANESE FOR A CHANGE.

WE UNDERSTAND SHE DID DISTINGUISH HERSELF BY KNOCKING DOWN SEVERAL KAMIKAZES, BUT  BUT ALSO WAS CREDITED WITH 3 U.S. COMBAT AIRPATROL AIRCRAFT.  OF COURSE WE ON THE ANTHONY KNOW HOW RECKLESS AND DETERMINED THE CAP WAS, SO I FOR ONE WOULD BE HESITANT TO BLAME THE "WILLIE-DEE" ENTIRELY. AS ALWAYS, WE'LL NEVER KNOW.

HOWEVER, THE USS LUCE DD522, (LATER A CASUALTY OF THE KAMIKAZES), SPOKE VERY UNKINDLY OF THE "WILLIE-DEE", AFTER DURING AN ENGAGEMENT THE "LUCE'S", DECKS SIDES AND SUPERSTRUCTURE WAS HIT BY 20mm AND 40inm FIRE WHEN COMING ON STATION THE COMMON THING TO HEAR WAS, "DON'T SHOOT, WE'RE REPUBLICANS", FROM THE INCOMING CAP. BY THIS TIME SHE HAD BECOME USED TO THE JOKES ABOUT THEMSELVES AND THEIR SHIP.

ON JUNE 10th, 1945, 2 YEARS AND APPROX. 10 MONTHS, HER LUCK, MOST OF IT BAD CAME TO AN END. WHILE ON STATION, IN COMPANY OF ANOTHER SHIP (?), THEY WERE TRACKING A FLIGHT OF BOGIES.  A PLANE LATER DESCRIBED AS A "VAL" APPARENTLY HEADED FOR THE SISTER DESTROYER, AND WHILE UNDER HEAVY AA FIRE SUDDENLY VEERED AT THE "WILLIE-DEE", AND CRASHED ALONGSIDE.

WE HERE TONIGHT, KNOW WELL THAT EXPERIENCE AND FEELING.  TWICE IF WE CAN COUNT, AND WE WERE LUCKY THE RESULTS WEREM'T THAT OF THE "WILLIE-DEE". THE KAMIKAZE HAD MISSED THEM AND THEY WERE BEGINNING A SIGH OF RELIEF, WHEN SUDDENLY THERE WAS A LOUD UNDERWATER EXPLOSION THAT SHOOK THE SHIP.  AS YOU WELL KNOW THESE EVENTS TAKE PLACE IN SECONDS, ALTHOUGH IT MAY SEEM LIKE HOURS, LATER.

THE AIRCRAFT BOMB HAD DETONATED UNDERNEATH THE SHIPS HULL, IT PROBABLY WAS A LARGE, POSSIBLE THE EQUIVALENT TO OUR 500 LB TYPE, BUT WHEN IT WENT OFF, IT CRACKED THE PLATING AND SEAMS OF, BOTH ENGINE AND FIREROOMS, FLOODING ALL SPACE, CUTTING ALL POWER AND DAMAGE CONTROL WAS DEEMED IMPOSSIBLE.  THE SHIP WAS SINKING.

WITH NO CHANCE OF DAMAGE CONTROL, HIS SHIP WAS SINKING UNDER HIM, THE CAPTAIN RELUCTANTLY GAVE THE ORDER TO ABANDON SHIP. IT WAS A VERY ORDERLY OVER THE SIDES, NO WOUNDED, LOGS AND CODE BOOKS WERE SAVED, INCLUDING MANY PERSONAL EFFECTS.

THREE HOURS (APPROX) LATER THE CAPTAIN RELUCTANTLY LEFT HIS COMMAND AND HAD RECEIVED A GREAT RESPONSE TO HIS CALL FOR ASSISTANCE IN THE RESCUE OF HIS CREW.

THERE HAD TO BE MIXED EMOTIONS AS THE OFFICERS AND CREW WATCHED THE WILLIAM D PORTER DD579 SLIDE STERN FIRST INTO THE 400 FATHOMS OF THE DEEP BLUE PACIFIC. THIS FROM A SHIP THAT ALMOST CHANGED NATIONAL AND WORLD POLITICS.

EVERY SO OFTEN THE CREW, OFFICERS AND MEN ALIKE, GATHER FOR A REUNION AND THE SEA STORIES ARE REPEATED OF FABLED LIBERTIES, AND TO MOST OF ALL GIVE THANKS FOR BEING HERE TODAY. THERE ARE CHUCKLES AND LAUGHTER BUT NOTHING LIKE THE HEART WRENCHING EMBARRASSMENT OF NOVEMBER 1943.

WE WISH THEM ALL GODSPEED.

END OF THE STORY



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