by Kenneth R. Williams
On 26 February 1945, during the battle of Iwo Jima, the USS Gregory (DD 802) at 0900 hours was ordered by Cmdr. Task Force 51 to proceed at highest speed to rescue three airmen from the USS Enterprise in a rubber raft floating in water near Chichi Jima, approximately 200 miles north of Iwo Jima. The Enterprise would furnish fighter cover for the Gregory on the way north for the rescue. With all four boilers lit a maximum speed of 38 knots (400 rpm) was attained and held until 1200 hours. While under full power, the destroyer sure did vibrate. One of the old chiefs said, "If we keep up this speed much longer, we are bound to pop a few bolts." The ship was really plowing through the water. The sky was completely overcast, ceiling low with constant rain which varied between light and heavy. Horizontal visibility varied between 2,000 and 4,000 yards.
The captain, Commander Bruce McCandless, after looking over the charts with his executive officer, decided to pass east of Haha Jima far enough distant to avoid identification when they arrived in the area. He would then have the ship clear Chichi Jima, out of gun range until east of the position reported where the airmen were down. The destroyer would run in at high speed, search the area and effect the rescue, if contact was made.
At 1219 hours, approximately 11 miles east of Chichi Jima we sighted two planes orbiting overhead. They were our CAP (Cover Air Patrol) Corsairs. At 1223 hours we sighted Chichi Jima and Haha Jima. No additional information was secured from any source on the downed airmen. The information received from the two planes in the area indicated they could not see the downed airmen and the visibility (for them) was extremely poor.
Despite the bad weather the captain decided to make the run in hoping the area could be searched before the Japanese definitely ascertained our ship's identity. Moving at a speed of 38 knots, we cut back to 25 knots to permit stopping or backing quickly should the airmen be sighted without endangering the engineering plant.
As we approached the beach, the visibility and ceiling improved with remarkable rapidity and, at 1240 hours, when the ship, was 3,900 yards off Ani Jima we turned north. The weather was beautiful. The shoreline and intervening sea could be easily searched. The planes overhead likewise searched between ship and shore. The ship's turn north had carried the Gregory 500 yards nearer the beach and it was skirting waters that were probably mined. That was as close as the captain dared take the destroyer.
Chichi Jima was then clearly exposed to view - tall peaks, dark green signal station, a pair of radio towers - grim, silent, forbidding. Not a sign of activity of any kind was to be seen.
Captain," came a voice from the port wing of the bridge. "There's a signal station over there calling us by light. Shall I answer him?" The Gregory could have been standing into Pearl Harbor for all the signal man seemed to care.
"Hell no, don't answer him! Keep looking for the raft."
The destroyer was still a few hundred yards outside the point where the airmen had reported down. Yet, no sign of the raft or the men.
The captain's view of the shoreline was suddenly obscured by four tall, white, tightly grouped splashes close aboard to port, accompanied by the "crump, 'crump, crump, crump" of' heavy detonations muffled by water. The Japanese had spotted the Gregory. 'The snipes down below felt the concussions and inquired, "What the hell is going on, topside?"
The captain hollered, "Control, 'pick up the 'target! Fire when you've gotten them!" Three salvoes nearly nailed us.
"Hard right rudder! All engines ahead emergency!" The captain knew that there would be more on the way and ordered, "Make smoke!" The ship swung seaward again' picking up speed. Crossing to the star-board side of the bridge, he called to the steerman,' "Steady up on course 070!" as he went through the pilot house. He arrived on the starboard wing of the bridge, just in time to see another group of tall, white columns close aboard, followed by the sickening sounds of "crump, crump, crump, crump." A quartermaster on the starboard side' called out, "The flashes came from the base of the radio towers. Bearing 22 degree true in line with the radio towers. High up, must be about 600 feet." His view was blanked off by the rising cloud of white smoke that came pouring from the smoke screen generator on the ship's stern. More plumes of water, that time off the starboard bow, closer than the others had been and those crump sounds again. The smoke from the generator was filling in nicely, and stack smoke, black and sooty, began to appear, complementing the white smoke of the generator.
The shore battery was blanked off then, but so were the Gregory gunners as a shout from control told the captain, "Just got on target when the smoke blanked us out." The skipper knew if it worked both ways, it would take several salvoes to drop one in the Japanese laps - if the gunners from the Gregory could be reached up there. And the Japanese guns were already sighted in on the Gregory. There was a whirring, whistling noise. as a salvo passed overhead, off the port bow. The Japanese artilleryman had crossed the target! He then would half the difference and lay the next salvo aboard. He would, that is, if he could see where his splashes were rising. The skipper was betting, and praying, that he couldn't. The fifth and last salvo fired by the Japanese in the hills of Chichi Jima landed harmlessly in the Gregory's. wake, lost to .side in her smoke.
The Gregory was soon out of gun range and ceased making smoke.
There was no sign of the airmen we had come for. A quick check added up to only one thing - they were not around. The skipper decided to search downwind, to seaward.
The skipper mentioned that the Japanese battery was firing deliberately and no "rapid fire" was given. The Japanese waited for each salvo to land, appeared to apply a spot, then fired the next salvo. Had he opened up with rapid fire, or shifted to it, they most likely would have hit the Gregory for sure. The skipper was annoyed that he had not been able to get off a single salvo in reply. At 1402 hours the planes sighted the raft with the three airmen in it.
A few long minutes later, the Gregory was alongside the raft, reversing the engines and stopped. Three swimmers hit the water together. Lines were passed, a few instructions given and the three airmen were again airborne - to the deck of the Gregory. Up came the raft and the swimmers, hand over hand via cargo net, in came the net and the rescue was done. The Gregory got underway again for Iwo Jima.
Two of the planes were released from the search, the other two planes stayed as our CAP.
The airmen rescued were Lt. James Stanley Moore, USNR, Lt. (JO) Robert Burrows Hadley, USNR and Thomas Truman Watts, ARM 1/ C, USN. The two officers were not injured; however, Watts, upon examination, was found to have a fractured sternum and he would have to be transferred to a hospital ship.
Our skipper notified Cmdr. Task Force 51 and the USS Enterprise that the airmen were safely aboard the staghound, (Gregory call name).
The aviators recounted how their torpedo-bomber had been hit by AA fire during the mornings raid on Chichi airfield, and how they fluttered on beyond the island and ditched as far offshore as they could. Before their plane sank, they had hauled out its rubber boat, inflated it, got in and paddled for their lives away from the island. They were in the water about 7 1/2 hours.
The three airmen were placed aboard the USS Hamlin (AV 15), a-large seaplane tender. The, Gregory, was ordered to give fire support to the Marines on the northeastern beaches at targets in the ravines, bunkers and pillboxes.
Thanks to our Skipper he got our destroyer of a tight spot.
At the time our destroyer came under fire from the Jap shore battery there were no surface ships within 200 miles of the Gregory. If the 5 salvoes from the Jap shore battery hit our destroyer this "Rescue At Sea" would never have been written.