“Days He’ll Never Forget”
By: Anthony DiAngelis USS Atlanta CL-51
November 1942 As I Remember
After we escorted the transports to Guadalcanal, I recall one evening, while under way, stepping out of the mount for air and noticing we were in a line - a battle line I learned later. Nothing happened that night.
Thursday, November 12, we protected the transports from bombers. Later that day we escorted the transports south, away from the canal. After dark, we formed a battle line.
Being a lowly seaman, I didn’t know what was going on. I was a fuse setter in mount two, connected with three other mounts and main control with sound-powered phones; therefore, I was privy to what was happening only because main control was passing information to the mounts. One of the first things I heard was Bogies at 32,000 yards. As it was dark, I took it to mean surface Bogies. I had no idea if we were alone or with other ships. The ranges were coming in, in increments of 1,000 yards. We, inside the mount, were told to be alert. When the ranges neared 5,000, we were told to stand by to fire. From practicing a lot, it didn’t make that big of an impression me, never experiencing ship-to-ship battle and this being my first time. When the range became 1,500, the mount captain sang out, “Commence firing.”’
Shortly, when the torpedo hit, I was lifted off my seat about six inches; and just as fast, the mount stopped moving (about 10° to port). Everything became quiet. The phones were dead so I took them off and told the captain. He opened the starboard hatch intending for us to bail out. We had to stay where we were as the 20mm storage cabinet behind mount three was cooking off. When it was safe, we bailed out and dropped down to the main deck.
I idled by the rail. There was no disorder or confusion. It was very quiet. They were putting the injured in front of mount one. As I didn’t know anything about first aid, I stayed clear. As I was staring out to 90° starboard true, I saw a shadowy ship which I recognized as a Brooklyn Class (USS HELENA). We were dead in the water and it moved from our bow about 500 yards on a reciprocal heading. It glided silently out of sight. As it disappeared in the darkness, I saw a terrific explosion almost dead astern. It was far enough away that I didn’t hear the noise.
As it was eerily quiet and I felt all alone, I started walking aft on the starboard side. When I reached the boat davits, I almost stumbled over something by the rail. I stooped down and discovered it was a torso. I don’t know why I decided to roll it over the side. As I started to grab it, another seaman coming forward helped me toss it over. He continued forward and I moved aft. Coming to a doorway, I entered. Moving to port, I saw another door leading out to the deck. Before exiting, I saw a box by the door.
It was still very quiet. I decided to sit down and somehow I fell asleep. I awoke as it became light. About that time a coxswain from the 1st Division saw me and yelled, “What the hell you doing here? Get up to the foc’sle. They need you.” I stood up and moved forward on the port side. As I rounded mount one, there was no one in sight. I continued aft again until I reached mount five. There I met some of the crew looking inside mount five. Looking in myself, I was shocked to see every one inside dead from concussion. I moved to the port side to mount four and it wasn’t there. The only thing left was the big ring gear I had sat on. As I looked forward, I noticed the foremast was leaning directly out to port with the yardarm almost touching the water. I moved back over to starboard and I don’t remember how but another seaman and myself got in the whale boat with instructions to search the port side for swimmers.
In the boat, an injured seaman sat quietly. His face was blistered and his hair was burned. I didn’t recognize him and asked his name. I was shocked to hear his name, as he was a 1st Division seaman whom I made liberties with. I ignored him as I was busy running the engine. The other seaman sat in the bow and every so often would jump in the water and kick the boat to port as we had no rudder; otherwise, we’d go in a continuous circle. After about 20 minutes, after not finding any swimmers, we returned to the starboard side and climbed back aboard.
I mingled about the quarter deck area with other idlers for about an hour. About noon, an LCVP pulled alongside the starboard side to take off injured personnel. Without being told, I jumped down to help with the stretchers. When it was loaded, the boat headed for Lunga Point. I stayed on the boat, thinking it was returning for another load. When we reached Lunga Point, all the injured were removed. As I wasn’t a boat crew member I was ordered off. A person in khakis, who I thought was a Marine, took me in tow. He took me in among the trees to a ten-man tent and said, “You can use that cot.” He left me there and I remember it getting dark and my falling asleep.
Around midnight, the Japs started bombarding. I had fallen into a deep sleep. The men in the tent all dove into the dugout. A few minutes later, one of them remembered the new guy. He ran into the tent, grabbed my foot with a big jerk and yelled, “They’re bombarding.” Coming awake real fast I beat him to the dugout, jumping in head first. After about an hour, we went back into the tent. I had a lot of mosquito bites. For the next two days I worked with them, unloading DC3’s and loading injured for Espirito Santo.
We also suffered another bombardment the second night. The third day I was in a chow line when Carper, a shipmate, spotted me and asked me why I wasn’t in the survivors camp with the rest of the Atlanta crew. He also said I was listed as a deserter.
I immediately contacted the Division Officer, straightened everything away, and moved in with my shipmates. (In later years, at a reunion, I was told the guys I was first with were CUBs.) To this day I don’t know what CUB stands for.
On the third day I was with a work party on the LIBRA, unloading 500-pound bombs. About noon, a Chief Bos’n yelled down to us in the hold, “Stand by for an air raid. Stay where you’re at.” None of us moved but we certainly were sweating bullets. He finally yelled “All clear” and we resumed unloading. On the fifth day we were on the BARNETT, heading for Espirito. We arrived and, after taking on stores and fuel, we left for the States.
The first night at sea I slept on the hold hatch cover. When morning came I tried to stand but collapsed from dizziness. Someone carried me to sick bay where I was diagnosed with CAT fever. All day long, everyone was coming down to sick bay and they finally decided it was malaria. We arrived in San Diego on December 21.
Incidentally, there were about 400 of us, survivors from about a half dozen sunken ships. We were all issued new gear and, with $5 from the chaplains, we were given liberty. The people in San Diego didn’t know a war was going on. They refused to let us young’uns buy beer. The next day a savvy yeoman gave us I.D.s which made all of us 21. On the 24th, I had orders for a 30-day leave and report to Boston for new construction and was on board when they commissioned the USS BOSTON.
ED: (the battle he speaks of took place the early morning of 11-13-42.)