Monday, December 1, 2008

USS Reno hit by torpedo, almost sinks

USS Reno damaged by torpedo and nearly sinking

After surviving a kamikaze attack as well as the largest naval battle ever, the USS Reno began preparations with the rest of the task force for a strike against the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Just before midnight on November 3, 1944, in the San Bernadino Strait, a torpedo hit the USS Reno on her port side, striking a fuel oil tank. Fuel oil was blasted through the large holes created by the torpedo, and water immediately flooded into the ship. Continued water seepage caused short-circuiting of the electrical system and created small electric fires. By 2:30 a.m., all electrical power was lost throughout the entire ship, and a battery-operated radio was the only means of communication.

Francis S. Key, a seaman on board the USS Reno, survived the attack and related the following story, “I felt my leg was being sucked into a fire, like Satan was after me and pulling me into Hades. The guy next to me caught a piece of shrapnel in his leg, and the guys on the other side of him were all dead.” The torpedo hit just below where Key was sleeping in his bunk. Key said that men were ordered to abandon ship after the attack.

The torpedo caused extensive damage, killing 46 crewmen and wounding many others. By the time the USS Caperton reached the USS Reno, the cruiser was close to capsizing, tilting so badly that water was sloshing over the deck, and drifting helplessly with a gaping hole in her side. The USS Caperton picked up 120 men. The 46 seamen were given burials at sea.

Some men had started jumping overboard and were crushed between the two ships. The USS Anzio, an aircraft carrier, also joined in the rescue efforts, arriving November 4, along with Navy salvage tugs USS Zuni and USS Arapho. With lines, nets and life boats, the surviving men of the USS Reno were rescued.

Fessie recounted the events surrounding the rescue several years later, telling of the rough seas and chaos. He said that he was one of the last men to abandon the ship and when he jumped into the ocean to grab a line to pull him toward the rescuing vessel, the rope had disappeared and he had to find his way blindly through the rough waves. It is not known which vessel Fessie swam to for rescue.

Fessie told the following story about his life jacket and how it saved his life. Days earlier, a commanding office had ordered the men to wash their life jackets. Fessie knew better than to do so since washing would remove the protective film of the life jacket, thus its buoyancy, thereby disabling the life saving capability. Fessie’s disobedience resulted in a reprimand but saved his life. Others were not so fortunate, he said, and drowned.

The USS Zuni, assisted by the USS Arapho, towed the USS Reno to Ulithi, 700 miles away, where temporary repairs were completed on the Reno. The destroyer USS Cogswell and the aircraft carrier USS Anzio guided the the wounded ship’s passage to Ulithi, providing protection from enemy attack in sub-infected waters. Each night, salvage operations stopped and all lights above deck were extinguished due to the ever present menace of enemy submarines.

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