I was the first Supply Officer of the USS
ALLEN M SUMNER, and as such, one of the first four officers assigned to
her when she was still in the building yard at Federal Shipbuilding and
Dry Dock Company in Kearny N.J. The
other three officers were Captain Norman Sampson, then a newly frocked
Commander, Lieutenant Dan Bergin, Engineering Officer and Lieutenant
Leichty, Gunnery Officer. I
was a newly commissioned Ensign, USNR (a fresh MBA from the Harvard
Business School), with a direct commission, ie., not even a 90-day wonder.
The others were Annapolis (trade school) graduates and, especially
the Captain, (who already had a Silver Star) experienced salt-water
As a preface to why I was the GQ Air
Defense Officer (not usually a duty assignment for a lowly SC staff
officer) I should disclose that Capt. Sampson, contrary to most
"line" oriented officers, believed in utilizing all the
resources available to him including employing his staff officers, i.e.,
the Doctor and Supply Officer, in non traditional roles and duties.
As a result, I was "requested" to volunteer to start on
the same path of all new "line" Ensigns and accept an underway
assignment as watch officer in the 3 officer underway CIC watch bill. You all know what that means, 4 on and 8 off with the
1600 to2000 being dogged. Inasmuch as I was an aviation enthusiast and had
spent the first 3 months of active duty at a Naval Air Station, I was also
detailed to train lookouts on aircraft identification, from which I
quickly graduated to Aircraft Identification Officer and thence to Air
Defense Officer. My GQ post
was on the outer bridge where I directed fire of the 4 40MM and 5 20MM gun
crews. So I had a "cat-birds seat" for all the surface action of
Captain Sampson was an incredibly
competent sailor and ship handler. I
am sure he was assigned to the AMS (the class ship of the new 2200 class)
in substantial part because she would probably carry a squadron or
division flag. As it turned
out, our sister ship built in Bath, Maine i.e., Barton et.al. beat us out
of construction and the Barton was assigned to DESRON 60 and we carried
I commend you to read Captain Sampson's
accurate narrative report of the action on the night of Dec 2-3, 1944, to
which I would like to add a few additional recollections.
The silent passage between Canigao and Leyte Island through a
suspected mine field was almost surreal.
We were in column with Cooper and Moale with AMS as guide. Although the Captain's account states the passage was 1/2
mile wide (about 1000 yards), I swear it looked less than 150.
There was a full moon and a clear sky.
You could plainly see the foliage of trees on the shoreline
on either side of the ship as we slipped quietly through.
A sniper on the bank with a night scope could have picked off
the bridge crew like ducks in a shooting gallery.
But the Captain led the column through as if it was a piece
of cake. I remember the confidence he engendered.
I believe there wasn't a man on that bridge had any doubt he
knew exactly what he was doing.
So if he was "holding his breath" as he states, he
hid it from us.
As Air Defense Officer, I was in contact with CIC via head
set sound powered telephone. The
air search radar CIC officer would report relative bearing and
ranges to all "Bogey" contacts. The first bomb attack, a
close miss on the starboard bow that peppered our starboard bow and
forward quarter of the ship with some 90 shrapnel holes and started
a fire in the paint locker in the bow, came as a complete surprise.
We had received no preliminary report of the
"bogey": that penetrated our radar screen from the 180
degree position. I
should add, we were operating with all 4 boilers on the line with
superheat and our wake made a brilliant white path in the water.
I was told later the wake was accentuated by plankton in the
sea which became phosphorescent when agitated by our props.
We weren't zigzagging at that point so he must have flown
right up our wake and just missed us.
The "green water" the bomb splashed up on the outer
bridge surely got our attention.
From that time on we were fully occupied with many air and
surface targets which the Captain's report fully and accurately
One incident which we later took as a lesson to live by
occurred early in the attack on the transport and destroyers near
the beach. We had 4 or
5 6-gun salvos in the air before the first salvo landed on those
ships. Our 5inch gun
crews could sustain a salvo every 15 seconds for a short period of
time. But during that
first barrage, someone mistakenly inserted a smokeless powder charge
(used in the daytime) for a flashless charge (used at night). The result was a blinding flash from one of the 5-inch
guns, which was immediately responded to by very accurate artillery
fire from the beach area. I
remember watching the incoming red-hot shells, which first seemed to
be aimed long until they got immediately overhead when they seemed
to fall right straight down on us.
We were "straddled" but not hit before our own
5-inch silenced the Jap artillery. We learned to respect the optic range finder sights of the
Japs who didn't have radar to direct fire at that time.
Almost simultaneously with hearing we had lost the Cooper
(she just disappeared from the radar screen), I saw a torpedo wake
approaching off our starboard bow.
I was standing right next to the Captain who immediately
ordered "hard left rudder".
It was almost like watching it in slow motion as our ship's
head turned left and the torpedo passed within feet in front of our
One of my shipmates who writes you under the nom-de-plume of
Ensign Scuttlebutt tells of the Captain ordering the guns to fire on
Jap personnel in the water. That
order did not originate from Captain Sampson.
After our initial firing run and after we executed a "18
Turn" to pass back past the destroyed enemy ships, you could
plainly see many men in the water.
Commodore DESDIV120, in operational command of the attack,
called the Command center on Leyte and advised of the enemy in the
water requesting what course of action to take.
I remember hearing the succinct command "Kill
Them". This command came over a plain language TBX and was
heard by the entire command circuit.
I'm not sure but I believe we also dropped a shallow pattern
of death charges.
The trip home was a nightmare as well.
The Jap night fighters followed us all the way back to The
Surigao Strait. Because
they were invisible to the eye, I could only direct my aft quad 40s
to train out directly astern at a 45 degree angle and when the
closing bogey was reported to be within 4000 yards commence firing
training right and left for about 15 degrees so the attacker would
have to fly though a screen of 40 mm fire to position himself to
drop on us.
The trip back was made at maximum speed (approaching 35
knots). At one point
Dan Bergin, the engineering officer came to the bridge to
advise the Captain he had a shaft bearing so hot he was cooling it
with a salt-water hose. He wanted to know if we could slow to save the shaft from
seizing. His request
was refused. Later we
found we had a defective temperature gauge but we surely worried
whether we could maintain those high RPMs.
As a footnote, we kept calling for CAP that night and were
advised our airfields were so wet the fighters could not take off.
I remember the Commodore fuming about the Japs having the
same weather but not having the same problem with getting aircraft
in the air.
From Supply Officer's prospective. I learned that a result of
the close miss bomb many pieces of shrapnel which penetrated the
hull also passed through the clothes lockers in the chief's quarters
forward and the two officers quarters just forward of the wardroom,
one of which was mine. I
won't speak for myself, but, pursuant to the authority in the Bureau
of Supplies and Account Manual, I refurbished the Chiefs and three
Officers with complete new wardrobes of uniforms.
In particular, I discovered the Chiefs of the AMS had been
the best dressed and most completely uniformed CPOs in the US Navy
The best news of all was that except for one finger
amputation, all our injuries were minor and we lost no personnel.