Welcome! Friday 9/22/2017     11:42 PM  
Part Four  | Part One  | Part Three  | Part Two  | Ports of Call
VII

The KRETCHMER remained in Manila Bay eight days, during which time our coxswain and his whale boat were kept busy taking in and returning with liberty parties that visited the war-torn city of Manila which had been retaken by U.S. forces from the Japanese on 3 March 1945. Early in the morning of 17 September, the KRETCHMER in company with the BLOCK ISLAND, GARY, BRISTER AND FINCH in CARDIV 27, proceeded out of Manila Bay with orders to sail to Okinawa. Three days later we took channel formation making our approach to Hagushi Anchorage, Okinawa and remained there -- except for fueling, taking on fresh and frozen provisions, and conducting flight operations -- for nine days.

On 29 September we engaged in flight operations during the morning, but at 1130 we were ordered to rejoin CARDIV 27 and take on fuel in preparation for an approaching typhoon. In the afternoon we passed two mines which were exploded by gunfire from ships in the formation. At 1846 all ten ships in the group stopped, lying in formation throughout the night as a mine precaution. We cruised to the northwest of Okinawa to avoid the typhoon until the afternoon of 1 October when we returned to the Hagushi Anchorage, Okinawa. We remained there until the 7th when we again got underway, taking action to avoid another approaching typhoon. The typhoon worsened on the 8th, and on the 9th the seas were mountainous during the entire day, the winds estimated at force eight. By the 10th, however, the worst of the typhoon had passed and we were ordered to rejoin and stand by the USS SALERNO BAY while repairs were made to the hangar door and escort her to Hagushi, Okinawa.

At 1345 on 11 October 1945 we sighted a small sailing craft on our port bow about six miles distant. We were ordered to investigate the craft at a time when the sea was rough with heavy swells, an aftermath of the recent typhoon of 9 and 10 October. In his report of 20 October to the commanding officer of the USS SALERNO BAY (CVE 110), Captain Bulfinch wrote the following:

U.S.S. KRETCHMER proceeded to close vessel and identified it as a Japanese Junk with nine Japanese aboard, dressed in remnants of uniforms. The junk had been dismasted and was hove to, lying to a sea anchor and riding easily. The hull of the junk appeared to be in sound condition, and the crew of nine appeared to be in good health and full of vigor. KRETCHMER reported these findings to SALERNO BAY and rejoined the formation. At 1545 KRETCHMER was ordered to take the junk in tow, if possible, and proceed to Hagushi Anchorage, Okinawa. At 1638 a towing cable was placed aboard and the junk taken in tow. At 1702 towing cable parted. At 1844 our heaviest wire towing cable was passed to the junk and at 1910 KRETCHMER was enroute to Hagushi Anchorage, Okinawa, with junk in tow at speed of six knots.

The morning after we arrived at Okinawa with the junk in tow, a boarding party went aboard and searched the vessel and personnel for arms and ammunition. Captain Bulfinch wrote that nothing of interest was found except what was thought to be the ship's log.

One man had a broken leg which was temporarily splinted by the Pharmacist's Mate. There was fresh water and dried fish on board, but no other provisions. The Japanese seemed cooperative and very happy to have been rescued. There was no interpreter in the boarding party, so little information could be gained from the personnel, although by using a chart, it was deduced that the junk had sailed from Manchuria enroute to the Japanese home islands, and had been dismasted south of Korea in one of the earlier typhoons. There were two fair-sized cargo holds, both empty. The hull itself was in fine condition, the ship was dry, and it appeared to be recently built, about eighty-five feet long, displacing about 100 tons.


Captain Bulfinch concluded his report by noting that, "In the afternoon of 13 October 1945 a tug from Naha, Okinawa, took junk into Naha and it is assumed the Japs were turned over to the Provost Marshall, Naha for custody as directed by Commander Naval Operating Base, Okinawa.

The very large amphibious operation directed against Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands, in the spring of 1945 had brought U.S. forces within 350 miles of the Japanese homeland. Its capture enabled our forces to step-up the serial bombardment of Japan and provided staging and supply bases for our planned invasion of Japan. The Japanese fought stubbornly for every square inch of ground, employing large numbers of suicide or Kamikaze planes by which we lost thirty warships and had an additional 223 damaged. Altogether, more than 4,000 Japanese planes were shot down and about 763 U.S. aircraft destroyed in the battle of Okinawa. Total U.S. men killed were about 12,500 and 36,600 wounded. Approximately 110,000 Japanese were killed and 7,400 more were taken prisoner. The campaign against Okinawa was not declared over until 2 July 1945.

On 14 October the KRETCHMER, in company with three escort carriers and the GARY and FINCH in Task Group 74.3, left Hagushi, Okinawa, and set course to Formosa Island in the Kiirun area to provide air cover for the landing of the Chinese 70th Army in Formosa. After accomplishing our mission, we proceeded independently to Okinawa to pick up mail for Task Group 74.3, later rejoining and passing mail to the ships in this group on 20 October. Early in the morning of 23 October we rendezvoused west of Saipan with USS KULA GULF (CVE 108) and USS BRISTER (DE 327) to transfer air groups of KULA GULF and BLOCK ISLAND. All air groups flew to Kobler Field, Saipan, except the new air group from KULA GULF which transferred to the BLOCK ISLAND. The BLOCK ISLAND and KRETCHMER were then detached to conduct flight operations throughout the morning to the westward of Saipan. At 1353 we anchored just to the south of Berth 33, Saipan, Marianas Islands.

From the afternoon of 23 October until the early morning of 5 November, we remained anchored in Berth 33, Saipan. We then engaged in training exercises at sea, including anti-aircraft firing practice with three escort carriers and two destroyer escorts for three days, after which we remained at anchor at Saipan again for six days. On 30 November 1945, we got underway at 00707, in company with USS SIBONEY (CVE 112), USS PUGET SOUND (CVE 113), USS BAIROKO (CVE 115) and the destroyer escorts GARY, BRISTER AND FINCH. At 0955 flight operations commenced, taking plane squadrons aboard. These operations plus tracking exercises continued on the following two days.

On 3 December at 0922, while we were engaged in flight operations, a TBF plane from the USS SIBONEY CVE 112) crashed into the sea after take-off. Eight minutes later swimmers from the KRETCHMER completed the rescue of the plane's crew and none of them were injured. Ted Webb, Seaman First class, wrote to the author recently recalling the part he played in the rescue. He said that when members of the crew were allowed to swim over the side of our ship, he had been one of two dare-devils who had dived from the catwalk on the mast.

Because of our fearless diving from the catwalk (he wrote), the other seaman and I were assigned as official swimmers for the purpose of diving for and pulling pilots out before the plane went down. We had only one plane to miss the carrier and crash. Fortunately for me the other diver (Don Haberman, Seaman First Class) who was a six foot ex-football player for Michigan was called on to handle the situation. The pilot was stunned and had to be pulled from his harness that was attached to the plane. This took a lot of time, strength and endurance that the other diver had. With my small frame and weight -- only 132 pounds in those days -- I would not have been able to haul the pilot out the way he did. For his efforts the crew was rewarded with ice-cream from the aircraft carrier.

Webb also recalled an amusing incident when we were anchored off Saipan. He was made coxswain of the LVP (landing Craft) that was lent to our ship. Webb had been trained as coxswain of a whale boat which is steered with a tiller, whereas the LVP had gears and a steering wheel. Captain Bulfinch ordered coxswain Webb to take him to the flagship, not knowing that Webb had had only three hours of training on the LVP. "Everything went fine," writes Webb, "until we pulled alongside the aircraft carrier to let Captain Bulfinch board the flagship. I came in too close and hooked the Jacob ladder and broke one side. Captain Bulfinch turned to me and said, 'Webb, you are supposed to drive this thing just like a car.' What I wanted to tell Captain Bulfinch then and finally did forty-two years later, was that I did not know how to drive a car."

From Saipan the KRETCHMER, as part of Task Group 72.1, proceeded to the Philippine Islands, anchoring in San Fernando Roads, Luzon, on 6 December, and proceeding to Manila the following day. The morning of 8 December we anchored in Berth 34, Manila, where some of the KRETCHMER'S personnel, including the author of this history, were discharged.

Our ship was also ordered to pick up mail and spare parts for the task group. Rejoining the group on 10 December, the KRETCHMER took part in flight operations during daylight hours and assumed her station in the screen at night. This continued for more than three days. Then, at 1015 on 13 December, the KRETCHMER moored to Buoy 16, Western Goods Anchorage, Hong Kong Harbor, Hong Kong, China. The men of the KRETCHMER enjoyed a recreation visit to Hong Kong from 13 to 20 December.

On 21 December, we got underway as part of Task Group 72.1, enroute to Manila, Philippine Islands.We arrived there the afternoon of 23 December and remained anchored in Manila Bay over Christmas when numerous liberty parties went ashore. On the 26th the KRETCHMER proceeded out of Manila Bay to Subic Bay in the same island in company with the BRISTER for repairs. Two days later the ship moved to the berth alongside USS MARINE FLIER at Liberty dock, Olongapo, and remained there through 31 December 1945. This was the last entry in Captain Bulfinch's War Diary.

Returning to Hong Kong, the KRETCHMER anchored off Kwaloon, and on 5 January 1946 was dispatched to Hoi How, Hainan Island, to investigate harbor facilities for the pending repatriation of Japanese soldiers back to their homeland. The mission was accomplished on 11 January when she returned to Hong Kong. Art Palmer tells about this mission.


USS Kretchmer at Hong Kong USS KRETCHMER (DE-329) AT HONG KONG, CHINA

“I was told that if I volunteered as a member of the crew that was to chart the harbor at Hoi How, Hainan Island, there would be a good chance that we would be able to go ashore. Of course, that was all the inducement I needed to be a volunteer.

The members of the detail included Captain Bulfinch, three officers and several enlisted personnel. We started out in high spirits, heading for the beach area. Suddenly the whaleboat ran aground and we were still a long, long way from shore. Finally after getting a Sampan to lead us through the “channel” we tied up alongside the concrete pier.

The captain gave us permission to walk through the town while he and the officers contacted the local Chinese authorities. I remember how the children followed us as we were walking around. They were amused at the way I was smoking my “bulldog” pipe. I guess they were not use to that type of pipe.

When we reported back to the whaleboat, the tide was out, and it was up to the waterline in mud. We were told it would be around midnight before the tide would be back in enough for us to get back to the ship.

The Chinese treated us to a banquet, complete with rice wine. I was fortunate to be sitting at the officers’ table as they needed some extra chairs filled. The Chinese immediately proceeded to make toasts which we drank to with the wine. When the captain reached for his water glass and was told by the interpreter that he should use the wine, he designated me as his representative for honoring the toasts. This was agreeable to the Chinese and I proceeded to be in a contest with one of the Chinese officers.

There was a serving girl for each two men at the table. For the main course they served a pig that had been cut up into small squares and put back together. This allowed it to be eaten with chopsticks. I was taught, by the girl assigned to myself and one other, how to eat with the chopsticks.

I remember that they had what looked like teapots with a tall funnel in the lid. The girls would pour the wine into the pot and then pour it into the glass. It wasn’t long before they dispensed with the teapot and poured direct from the bottle. I continued to be in competition with the Chinese officer. As the evening progressed, I was beginning to sink further down in my chair. Finally the Chinese Officer reached for his waterglass. Of course I protested, but he smiled and used the waterglass.

After that, the captain realized my condition and ordered me to go back to the pier and relieve one of the guards at the whaleboat.

The next thing I remember is being shook awake by the supply officer. The whaleboat had water up to its waterline and everyone was ready to go. I remember putting one foot in the water and the other foot in a sampan, in order to reach the whaleboat.

Going back to the ship, the captain was the coxswain, one officer was the engineer and the supply officer handled the bowhook. Most of the enlisted men were passed out. They had to lower the net over the bow to get us aboard the ship.

The next morning, when I woke up in my bunk, there were several shipmates waiting to ask me what the heck we had done when we were ashore. I know Bill Peralta, stayed sober enough to be alert throughout the whole thing. I still know how to use chopsticks.”

On 23 January 1946, Lieutenant Thomas Bulfinch, USNR, was relieved of command of the KRETCHMER by Lieutenant Commander Harry J. Kelly, USN. Captain Bulfinch never revealed to the author much about his background, but it was known by some of us that he was born and raised in Massachusetts in a distinguished historical family and as a student at Harvard University was enlisted in the Naval Reserve Officers Training corps. Before coming on the KRETCHMER he commanded a Patrol Craft (or "PC") in Caribbean and Central American waters. He was Executive Officer of the KRETCHMER from shortly before her commissioning in December, 1943, until he became Commanding Officer in May, 1945. Like Captain Wing, he was an expert navigator and seaman. He brought to his command a deep concern for the safety and well-being of every member of the crew. His proudest achievement was the fact that under his command the ship never lost a man. Captain Bulfinch's personal qualities as a concerned and humane leader were shown by the talk he gave at the first reunion of the KRETCHMER at Emporia, Kansas in September, 1988, forty three years after the ship returned to the States at the end of World War II. He recalled our greatest wartime achievement, the rescue of the Allied prisoners of war on Formosa. To him the single most memorable incident was the six-hour struggle to save the ship from a raging hurricane that struck when we entered New York harbor in September, 1944. Here he saluted the officers and men whose skill and courage saved the ship from the dangers of collision, sinking or grounding. He praised the men in the engine room, wheel house, radar and radio shacks, and on the deck. Responding to skilled commands from the commanding officer on the bridge, they kept the KRETCHMER'S bow headed into the wind, started and stopped the engines to maneuver in a confined body of water, and raised and dropped the anchor which held only temporarily. After the storm abated, the ship pulled alongside the pier and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

This magnificent performance, Bulfinch said, brought officers and crew together and contributed measurably to the high morale and performance that was manifested by the men of the KRETCHMER during the remainder of their service in World War II. The resounding applause following his talk gave evidence of the admiration, respect and love with which Captain Bulfinch was regarded by the survivors at the KRETCHMER'S first reunion.


USS Kretchmer at Shanghai USS KRETCHMER (DE-329),
25 FEB 1946 ON THE WHANGPOO RIVER AT SHANGHAI, CHINA

Pt 4

© Copyright 2017 usskretchmer.org powered by digitalfrontporch v5.1, a service of houstonpcpro.com