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The Corsair in the war zone online

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mariners is curiously restrained and matter-of-fact.
It is to be found in the pages of ship's log-books,
which are, as a rule, the dryest possible reading.
This hurricane, for instance, in which so many
amazing and heart-quaking things happened, in
which the Corsair all but foundered, is dismissed in
such entries as these, so far as the ship's record is
concerned :

8 p.m. to Midnight:

8.25 changed course N.N.E., speed 7 knots. 8.45
changed course N. Hurricane blowing from North.
Sea very rough. Ship making no headway and shipping
a great deal of water forward and over stern. 11.00
reduced speed to 5 knots. Possible to steer ship only
by using propellers as well as rudder.

R. J. McGuire
Lieutenant (/.£.) , U.S.N.R.F.

Commences and until 4 a.m. :

Hove to with head to wind, speed about 2 knots,
whole gale with frequent hurricane squalls from N.



At 3.00 a heavy sea came on board and stove the for-
ward deck-house. Seas also carried two French mines
overboard and both mines exploded astern. Changed
course to South and ran before gale at 5 knots. Man-
hole plate to lazarette washed off and large quantity
of water entered, flooding engine-room. Water waist-
deep in crew quarters and six feet deep in No. 1 hold.

W. B. Porter
Lieutenant Commander, U.S.N.R.F.

4 to 8 a.m. :

Running before heavy Northerly gale on South
course, speed 6 knots. Very heavy following seas which
broke on board very frequently. At 7.30 motor sailer
broke loose but was secured with some injuries. Very
heavy rain and hail squalls. Ship's decks continually

R. J. McGuire
Lieutenant (J.G.), U.S.N.R.F.

8 a.m. to Meridian :

Steaming on course S. by W. -112 W. Speed 7 knots.
Sea very rough. Hurricane blowing from North. Fre-
quent heavy rain and hail squalls. Ship taking consid-
erable water over the stern. Continued running before

A. K. Schanze

Ensign, U.S.N.R.F.

Meridian to 4 p.m. :

Steaming on course S. by W. -112 W. Speed 7 knots.
At 12.42 changed course S. 31 W. Hurricane blowing
from North. Seas very large and coming over quarter-
deck and both sides.

J. F. W. Gray

Ensign, U.S.N.R.F.



The war diary compiled by Commander Kittin-
ger for the Navy Department is somewhat more
explicit, but displays no signs of emotion. One be-
gins to catch glimpses of the situation, however,
and even to conclude that this intrepid naval officer
would have felt much safer ashore. He also commits
himself to the statement that the wind blew with
hurricane force. A sailor will seldom go as far as
this. When he does, you may be sure that old
Boreas is giving the ship about everything he has
in stock. What the agitated land-lubber calls a
storm, and refers to it as a narrow escape, the
skipper jots down as "a strong breeze"; or if it
blows hard enough to snatch the hair from a cat's
back he may stretch a point and log it as a " mod-
erate gale." There seems to have been no disagree-
ment among the experts that the Corsair poked her
nose into a bona-fide hurricane, to be certified as

It was believed at this time, 8.25 a.m. [states the
commander's report], that the storm had reached the
maximum and in a few hours it would moderate and
permit shaping the course and returning to the base.
The sea kept getting higher and higher and speed was
reduced to six and then to five knots. The ship steered
poorly and it was necessary to use the engines to keep
her headed to the sea. At 9.20 p.m. took a heavy sea
over port side which stove in the deck-house abreast
the engine-room hatch. The sea was kept about one
point on the starboard bow to prevent taking water
in large quantities down the engine-room hatch. The



gangways were awash and it was impossible to keep
water from going down the breach.

The condition of the wind and sea did not improve
and at 2.55 a.m., December 17th, a heavy sea broke
forward and completely carried away the hatch cover-
ing of No. 2 hatch and demolished the forward bulk-
head of the forward deck-house and stove in the roof
forward to about half way aft. This admitted great
quantities of water below and conditions became

Two French mines were washed overboard which
exploded about two minutes apart. These mines had
been set in a safe position and were inspected before
dark. Apparently the safety pins had worked out of
position during the buffeting of the heavy seas. The
others stowed on deck were inspected and it was found
that^ some of the safety pins had worked out of posi-

At 3 a.m. the ship turned and ran before wind and
sea. The water below had gotten about one foot over
the engine-room floor plates but was soon under con-
trol. The ship made better weather but was by no
means out of danger. Fortunately no seas broke over
the stern although quantities of water were taken over
which came through the after skylights which had
been damaged earlier. At daylight the next morning
it was found that a great deal of damage had been done
to all skylights, deck-houses, boats, and deck fittings,
and that both the after deck-houses had been started
on the port side.

At 10.00 a.m. took a heavy sea over starboard
quarter which stove in the starboard side of the engine-
room deck-house. The wind and sea continued. It was
evident that the ship would not reach a French port
as her safety lay in running before the sea. At noon


• ».•»». 3




got a doubtful fix by observation and shaped course
to pass west of Finisterre. At 3.00 p.m. got a good fix
by observation which verified the course. At 12.50 a.m.,
December 18th, passed Cape Villano abeam, distance
eight miles.

Consideration was given to a port of refuge. The
nearest available Allied port was Lisbon which could
not be reached until nightfall. As there was no infor-
mation concerning entrance to this port, nor a code
for radio communication, I decided to make Vigo,
Spain, and rest there until Lisbon could be made by
daylight. Anchored the ship at Vigo at 8 a.m. and
communicated with the American Consul and with the
Spanish Military, Naval, and Health authorities. Re-
ceived weather reports and other information.

At 5 p.m. got under way and arrived off Lisbon about
8.30 a.m., December 19th. Took a pilot on board and
obtained permission to enter port at Cascaes Bay.
Moored to buoy off Lisbon at 10.30 a.m. Got into
communication with the Portuguese Naval authorities
who viewed the damage and said that repairs could be
effected without difficulty. At 3 p.m., December 20th,
took berth alongside of dock at Naval Arsenal and
started repairs.

In their own diaries and letters home, the men
of the Corsair managed to get more excitement out
of the hurricane than one might infer from the
tabloid narrative of the skipper. There were un-
usual features, such as the explosion of the depth
charges which washed overboard and " functioned
perfectly," blowing up so close astern that many
of the crew supposed the yacht had hit a German
mine or the boilers had gone up. Other "ash cans' '



were adrift on deck, thumping about with the
drunken motion of the ship or unreeling the cable
which detonated them. In the tumult and commo-
tion of wind and sea, petty officers and seamen
groped to find these perilous metal kegs, diving
after them as though they were so many footballs
and trying to hold them fast.

Dave Tibbott, for example, was discovered with
a depth charge jammed against his stomach while
he clung to it and the rail. E. L. Houtz won a letter
of commendation from the Secretary of the Navy
for clambering down into the blackness of the laza-
rette and hoisting out a depth charge which had
plunged into this compartment when the hatch
cover was washed off. The cable had unwound and
he followed it down, hand over hand, so locating
the infernal machine. He floundered about with it,
managing to get a footing upon some boxes, and
so hung on by the eyelids until comrades could
help him and his burden up the ladder. One of the
quartermasters wrote his own impressions, some-
how finding a dry spot in which to use a pencil :

December 16th. Pretty heavy sea, and gale blowing
and hitting us hard. At 2 p.m. asked permission of the
convoy to leave for Brest before the big storm breaks.
Later, This may be the last entry I '11 ever make. We
are in a hurricane and a mountainous sea. Unable to
proceed without swamping and are now hove to in the
teeth of the gale, barely making headway. The water
is about four feet deep on the decks. ... 17th. A ter-
rible day and none of us expected to live through it.



At 2.45 a.m. there was an awful crash and then a flood
of water poured below. We all thought she had foun-
dered and fought our way to the topside through water
and wreckage.

I had just reached the deck when there was a tre-
mendous explosion and the ship took a bad list. Water
poured in everywhere. I heard some one yell, "My
God, we're torpedoed," but I thought it was one of
the boilers. Some of the men were manning the boats,
and I had some battle to get to my station on the
bridge without being washed off like a chip. I had just
climbed to the bridge when there was another explo-
sion, and a flash. My first thought was that we had
struck a mine-field and then I heard one of the officers
say that our own mines were going off.

Ensign Schanze ran aft to see if our stern was gone
and found the watch chasing loose mines all over the
deck. As fast as they were caught, the detonators were
removed and they were pitched overboard to get rid
of them. I stood at my post on the bridge expecting
the ship to sink under my feet at any minute. I had
made up my mind not to try to go in a lifeboat on
account of the size of the sea, but to grab something
wooden if I could. At this time a heavy rain squall
swept over us. When I saw that the ship was not sink-
ing, I went below to the engine-room to get warm.

I found conditions pretty serious there, with two
feet of water around the engines and the engineers and
firemen working in water up to their knees. The word
was passed that we had turned and were running be-
fore the sea, and as long as the waves did not start
breaking over the stern we could stay afloat. At 7 a.m.
the seas got worse and began coming over. First to go
was the engine-room bulkhead. It caved in with a
frightful crash. Our radio also went down. Things

, 159


looked mighty unpleasant, believe me, and after a'con-
ference with the executive officer, our commander
decided to run straight ahead and try to fetch the coast
of Spain. It was our only chance to save our skins, so
we plugged ahead at a few knots.

Early in the afternoon the seas rose sixty feet high,
at a safe guess, and began combing over our stern
again. The after bulkheads were now giving way and
it looked like our finish. The skipper had passed the
word for all hands to turn to and save ship. We tore
down doors, lockers, anything for lumber, and set to
work reinforcing bulkheads. As soon as one carried
away, we built another. The deck had tons of water
on it and was leaking badly. Also the fire-room was
filling up. The pumps were set going and we kept about
even with the water. It was a flip of a coin whether we
would win through and every man was fighting for his

At 6 p.m. the wind and sea decreased a little and the
water stopped coming over. At 10 o'clock we sighted
the lighthouses on the Spanish coast and felt that we
had better than an even break of getting into port.
It was a tough experience, one that we don't care to
repeat, and the poor old Corsair is all in, pretty much
of a wreck barring her hull and engines. The ship's
company are a smashed-up, tired-out lot. There is
hardly a man aboard without an assortment of bruises.
My back is almost broken.

Throughout the ship men were endeavoring to
do their duty and to perform the allotted tasks,
just as this quartermaster had struggled to his
station on the bridge when he thought that the
Corsair had been blown up. When one of the boats^


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was in danger of being whisked away by a breaking
sea, young Henry Outwater climbed into it and
rove new falls, sticking to it until he had finished
the job of working the stiff rope through the blocks.
He was under water part of the time, and the fury
of the wind was such that "he whipped straight
out like a pennant," as he afterwards told his
mates. At any moment he and the boat were likely
to go careering off together on the back of a thun-
dering sea. No officer of the Corsair would have
ordered him to risk his life in this fashion. He did
it because he thought it ought to be done, a detail
in the line of duty. The same spirit was shown by
Boatswain's Mate Mulcahy, who noticed that the
port anchor needed to be secured. The ship was
plunging her bows clean under as he crawled for-
ward and fought the smothering seas while he
wrestled with the lashings.

It was bad enough on deck, but worse to be far
down below in the engine- and fire-rooms where the
black water swashed to and fro and rose higher and
higher. The pumps had choked with coal and ashes
and it was touch and go before they were finally
cleared. In this immensely difficult task, working
mostly under water, Carpenters Mate Evans
bravely helped to free the bilge suctions. Engineers,
oilers, water-tenders, and the grimy watches of the
furnace gang had dumbly, courageously run the
chance of death by a torpedo through voyage after
voyage. Now the sea had become an enemy even



more ferocious than the U-boat, showing every
intention of drowning them where they stood ; but
these were no quitters and the ship had steam
enough to hold her hove to or to send her surging
off before it. They were alert and steady for the
signals from the bridge and they kept the heart of
the ship beating strong and responsive to the need.

The twin screws helped to steer her, now with a
thrust to starboard, again with a kick to port,
whenever the hurricane would have rolled her
helpless. One of the bridge watch, yarning about it
in Lisbon, recalled this incident:

"I went below to roost on the steam pipes and
thaw out, and you could n't call that outfit excited
at all. What made a hit with me was a kid of an
oiler who stood in the water between the two throt-
tles, with a grip on each of 'em while he nursed the
engines along. He had to help steer the ship as he
got the word, opening up a little on one, shutting
off on the other. Getting drowned was the least of
his worries. All he had on his mind was coaxing the
ship as she needed it, and the water was splashing
around his legs, at that."

"It reminds me," chipped in another of this
reminiscent group. " In the morning of the big blow,
a guy of my division appeared on deck all dressed
up in his liberty blues. The bo's'n's mate asked him
what he meant by turning out all dolled up like
that. 'Why, Jack,' answered this cheerful gob, 'I
have a date with a mermaid in Davy Jones's locker.'



"Like a couple of huskies of the black gang," said
some one else. "They were in their bunks snoring
away like a pair of whistling buoys, dead to the
world, although the fo'castle was flooded and the
water was sloshing under 'em. The hurricane had
worked itself up and was going strong, but they
were off watch and the important business was to
pound their ears. The first depth charge exploded
and shook the ship up, and all hands were heating
it for the deck, leaving their clothes behind. These
two birds rolled over and sat up and yawned. ' Say,
bo, do you suppose we 're torpedoed? ' observes one,
sort of casual-like. 'It sounds and feels like that
same little thing,' replies the other. 'I guess we
might as well dress and see what it looks like.' They
were calm and deliberate, just like that, waiting to
put on their shoes and pea-jackets and oilskins, and
sort of strolling topside. My theory is that they
had dreamed of being torpedoed and talked about
it until the real alarm had no pep to it at all."

"Do you fellows remember this? Somebody
found 'Tex' on his knees, just after the whole wet
ocean spilled into the after hatch. He was not a
prayerful man, as a rule, so the spectator stood by
to listen to 'Tex' at his supplications. He was n't
praying for his own life, but for the safety of
Shelton Farr who had tried hard to make 'Tex'
follow the course of a virtuous sailor. 'Oh, Lord,
don't bother about me, but save Farr,' was the
petition. 'He is entirely too good to die.'"



" I said my prayers earnest and often," confessed
a stalwart gunner's mate. " On the whole, the crowd
behaved pretty darn well. I happened to see two or
three boys sort of sticking to each other for com-
fort, and there were tears in their eyes and maybe
one did blubber a little, but they were mere kinder-
garten infants, sixteen or seventeen years old, and
it was a rough deal to hand 'em. A quartermaster
came off watch from the bridge and one of these
babies stopped him to ask what the skipper and
Captain Porter thought about it. 'They say the
ship is going to pull through,' the quartermaster
tells these children. That was all they wanted to
hear. They bucked right up and began to grin. ,,

To have the deck-houses smashing about their
ears was enough to make the battered crew un-
happy, but the most serious accident was the loss
of the heavy round hatch plate which covered the
entrance to the store-room or lazarette. Into this
opening the sea poured in torrents as it broke and
roared aboard, and it might have sunk the ship in
a short time. You may be able to fancy how they
labored to plug this hole with anything that came
handy, while searching parties crawled and groped
to find the missing hatch plate. Never was a game
of hide-and-seek so desperately energetic. Luckily
the metal cover had not gone overboard and before
the holds filled with water it was found and screwed
down to stay.

Much water flowed down the stairways and lad-


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ders when deck-houses and bulkheads were rent
and twisted, and the living quarters were as wet
as a duck farm, but such damage was not vital.
When the spacious forward house, used as the offi-
cers' dining-room, was crushed for half its length,
among the debris flung this way and that was the
panel with the carved couplet:

" North, East, South and West,
The Corsair sails and knows no rest."

It was fished out from under the deck planking
which had been pried up by the sea, and the sea-
man who found it eyed the oaken board in a pen-
sive manner as he said:

"Truer words were never spoken. The old boat
has sailed every which way in the last two days,
including upside down, and you can take it from
me that there's been nothing restful about her,
nothing at all."

Ensign Schanze tried to tell what happened when
next he wrote to the folks at home and he suc-
ceeded very well, adding details and touches which
might otherwise have been overlooked :

Picture to yourself the situation of a ship partly
filling with water, at three o'clock in the morning, in a
storm of ever-increasing violence, everybody on board
wet and cold and exhausted, and then suddenly having
a few beer-kegs loaded with dynamite going off just
astern of her. It was a five-reel thriller and no mistake.
We took the seaman's forlorn hope of turning in that
sea and trying to run before the storm, and we got



away with it. The danger in that point of sailing lies
in the possibility of having a sea board you from astern,
and when that happens the ship usually founders.

When I say that the Corsair was wet, I mean wet,
not merely moist. There was not a deck or a room in
her, excepting the chart-house, which had at any time
less than six inches of water sloshing about in it. At
the instant just preceding the big smash that made us
turn tail, I had left the bridge to go aft and look the
ruins over. The big sea that squashed us, after doing
its dirty work, rushed aft just as the ship rose to climb
the next oncoming wave. At that moment I had
reached the foot of the ladder that leads from the
lower bridge to the main deck. As she was rolling hard
and had a foot of water all over that deck, I was hang-
ing to the hand-rail that runs along the deck-house.
I heard the crash and knew what was stepping in my
direction, so I clawed onto the hand-rail with both
hands. The water came racing aft and piled up against
my back until I was in a depth of at least six feet. My
hold on the rail was useless and I was carried down
the deck about a hundred feet in a most undignified
attitude, to wit — in a posture halfway between sit-
ting and lying on my back. Just as I regained my feet,
the first mine went off. You can imagine my thoughts
on the subject.

As it was out of the question to sleep in any of the
regular living quarters, our men clustered around the
engine-room hatch and in the blower-rooms and got
what sleep they could in that manner. None of the
officers got any sleep for thirty-six hours. At one time,
when we were running before the storm, I looked into
one of the blower-rooms and saw a man seated in about
six inches of water, fast asleep. Tommy, the ship^ cat,
was asleep in his lap. A comber boarded us over the



side and increased the depth of water so that the next
roll of the ship got Tommy very wet. He jumped from
a sound slumber in the man's lap to a wide-awake and
frightened posture upon the man's shoulder. Another
sea climbed aboard to disturb poor Tommy again, so
he perched himself upon the man's head and there he
stayed for two hours.

I saw Commander Porter get into an argument with
a big boarding sea and my next view showed him lying
alongside the outer rail in water two feet deep. There
is no sense in arguing with a sea like that. One must go
where it takes him and be glad when he is jammed
into a secure corner.

Several boxes and packages came aboard for me
just before this trip, each marked "To be Opened on
Christmas," so I carefully stowed them away. The
hurricane flooded my room, of course, and drenched all
my precious holiday packages. Despite the big flood,
everything came through in fairly good order, barring
the Christmas cakes, which turned into a beautiful
clinker after they had been dried out on a steam radi-
ator. Now we have to dig them apart with an ice-

The walnuts and Brazil nuts sent by my loving
friends did very well in the storm. They went adrift
early in the excitement and got caught in the bilge
strainer during the time we were pumping the water
out of the ship. The chief engineer found them all when
he put on his diving suit to see what kept the pumps
from working, and I claimed the whole bunch, knowing
full well they were mine. Several odd socks also min-
gled with the bilge strainer, but they were not mine.
The captain, Gray, and I had a nut party in my room
on Christmas night and very much enjoyed the bilged



Yeoman Connolly was not likely to forget the
night of the storm which caused him to say of his
own emotions:

All went well, except for a few seas we took over the
side, until three o'clock Monday morning. I was in my
bunk below decks at the time and, by the way, all I
had on in the line of clothing was my underwear and
the heavy sweater sent me from home. It was the first
time since the day I watched the Antilles go down that
I had turned in without all my clothes on. We figured
that we were free from the danger of submarine attack
in such a rough sea, hence our "nighties." I fell asleep
about midnight and was slumbering peacefully when I
heard and felt an explosion and woke to find every-
body making for the hatches. Dazed, I ploughed
through about four feet of water, almost naked, and

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Online LibraryRalph Delahaye PaineThe Corsair in the war zone → online text (page 11 of 20)