USS UNDERHILL (DE 682)
Various Actions and 24 July 1945 Sinking in the Philippine Sea

By Ithiel Worden

 

My name is Ithiel Worden and I am going to tell the story of the U.S.S. Underhill (D.E. 682) which was sunk on the 24th day of July 1945.

For personal information, I was born in Lubbock, Texas on April 2, 1926. We lived in various towns in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas before moving to Washington, D.C. in July 1940. I attended high school in D.C. 'for 1 year then we moved out to Cheltenham, MD where I attended high school at Brandywine, Maryland.

I enlisted in the Navy on June 1st, 1943 and went to boot camp at Bainbridge, MD, then was stationed at Norfolk, VA and assigned to mess cook detail for 3 months. Actually, I lucked out and was appointed Master at Arms of the mess cook barracks. Therefore, I didn't have to work as a mess cook. After that duty, I was assigned to D.E. school and got some preparatory training to work in the engine room of a turbo electric driven D.E. My assignment after the D.E. school of 1 month was to be a part of the commissioning crew            of the U.S.S. Underhill. We were commissioned in November 1943 at Fore River Yard in Boston, Massachusetts. We went to Bermuda on our shakedown cruise.  We were then assigned to convoy duty in the Caribbean and escorted convoys between Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Port of Spain, Trinidad and other Caribbean ports. That area was known as torpedo alley in those days. We dropped a lot of depth charges down there with no tangible results.

We then returned to Boston Navy Yard where our torpedo tubes were removed and some additional anti-aircraft guns were installed. The reason for this was that our next

assignments were to escort convoys to Mediterranean ports because German JU 88 torpedo planes flying out of Southern France had been taking a heavy toll on convoys in the Mediterranean.

Our first convoy was to Bizerte, Tunisia. We were detached after we delivered the convoy to Bizerte, and we went out and steamed all night in the Mediterranean at flank speed with our lights on. I still don't know what we were doing out there that night. It was strange that we were steaming with our lights on in waters where German subs and possibly aircraft could be. The invasion of Southern France was made a few days later and I've wondered if we were part of some kind of diversion. We returned to Bizerte the next day and as we were coming in we ran over a sunken ship in the channel and damaged one of our screws. We then proceeded from Bizerte to Oran, Algeria to go into dry dock for repairs to the damaged screw.

The next convoy was from-the East Coast of the U.S. to Plymouth, England. We had just got out of the harbor at Plymouth on our return trip and were still close to land when we got a submarine contact. We were standing in line for breakfast chow when the general alarm sounded. We dropped depth charges most of the morning. We didn't force any sub to surface, but we did run over a submerged object that we think was a German sub and destroyed our sonar sound head. We made another round trip with convoys from the East Coast to Oran, Algeria. We were then sent to New London, Connecticut for training with some subs up there before we were sent to the Pacific. We left New London for the Pacific on February 8, 1945. Our first convoy in the Pacific was to Lingayen Gulf, Luzon and we had four days radar picket duty there. Then we went to Hollandia, New Guinea and Biak then back to Leyte.

On our next trip we left Leyte on June 10, 1945 for Hollandia and in route we got a mayday call from an airplane that was down. We were diverted to the crash site along with the U.S. S. Thadeus Parker D.E. 369. There was also some air search. The Parker and air search had abandoned the search earlier when Underhill lookouts spotted some green dye marker and a ration can floating in the water. The O.O.D. changed course to investigate and they saw these three survivors floating in the water. They had been in the water about 60 hours in life jackets - no life raft. They were pretty well used up. I remember seeing them out there in the water. They looked like coconuts floating out there. We picked them up and they were happy to be aboard that D.E. We then proceeded on to Hollandia. We also visited Manus, Admiralty Islands, BoraBora, Society Islands and Palau, Caroline IS. We left Leyte Gulf on July 9t" with a convoy going to Okinawa and arrived up there on July 14. We were then assigned to radar picket duty until relieved to serve as escort commander of a convoy from Okinawa to Leyte--Gulf on July 21, 1945. Our convoy consisted of one troop ship and six LST's carrying troops of the 96th division back to the Philippines for rest and reinforcements. The convoy escorts with us were PC's 1251, 803, 804, 807, SC's 1306, 1309 and PCE 872.

On the morning of our third day out on the 24th of July, our radar picked up Japanese Dinah bomber circling the convoy about 10 miles out. We went to battle stations but the Jap plane did not close. He was apparently establishing our base course, etc. and passing the info along to the submarines.

We secured from battle stations on the plane alarm and went back into patrol stations. After the subs got our course they released a dummy mine in the path of the convoy. When our lookouts sighted the mine our ship's commander changed course and stood in to sink it. After repeated hits the mine was determined to be a dud and a diversionary tactic by the Jap subs 1-52 and 1-53. There was probably a third 1-boat there due to the number of Kaitens released in the area. Each 1-boat carried 4 Kaitens and we had at least 8 Kaitens in the water during this engagement. The 1-52, which sank the Indianapolis a few days later, still had Kaitens aboard so this indicates that there were probably 3 1-boats in the area the day we were sunk.

After securing from the mine threat, we made sonar contact that began to look positive but lost contact during course change. We regained contact and guided PC 804 into depth charge attack with unknown results. A few minutes later a sub was sighted on the surface in the area where PC 804 had dropped charges. The Underhill changed course and word came down to stand byto ram. The sub was diving so he went under us and word was changed to stand by for depth charges. We dropped a 13 charge pattern on the sub and the depth charges brought up oil and debris. The PC following us said we had sunk him. The Underhill then reversed course, reloaded the K- guns and passed through the debris of the first sub, then we picked up another contact. There were two Kaiten subs on the surface: one on the port side and one on the starboard side. The Kaitens were too close to bring the guns.to bear on, so the Captain gave the order to stand by to ram. The Kaiten subs were about 35 feet long and each: had the equivalent explosive charge of 2 torpedoes. The Underhill rammed the port side Kaiten.  There was a huge explosion, then in a second or so, another explosion. I was in the after fire room on, the evaporators at the time, and when the word came down to stand by to ram, I grabbed a handrail with each hand. The first explosion kind of ripped me lo6se from my handholds. I had just got hold of the handrails again when the second explosion came and the jolt tore me loose from the handrails again. Chief Boatswain's Mate Stanley Dace was in the fire room standing about 3 feet from me when we were hit. He was leading a damage control party that was, repairing damage from the depth charge attack on the first sub.    Another member of the damage control party, I believe his name was Dodson, then went up the ladder and tried to open the hatch to get out of the fire room. He was twisting the hatch to open it and couldn't get it open. He looked down at us and said, "This damn thing won't open!" Well, I thought this is the end of the line. I was just sort of sad thinking that I was probably going to die there and was only 19 years old. I was also concerned about my widowed Mother: especially since my younger brother, John, had been killed in a traffic accident in September 1943. Someone got the hatch open from topside and we were able to get out of there. The forward engine room hatch was just forward of our hatch and they were coming up at the same time we were. C.M.M. Goulet was coming up at the same time I was and I remember that he was shaking his head and saying "Thank God!" at every step on the ladder. Chief Dace and I got topside and were standing on the quarterdeck. I didn't know what had happened, but saw this bow floating by on the starboard side with probably 10 or 12 feet sticking out of the water. I made the comment: "Well, we got that S.O.B. anyway!" Chief Dace said to me, "Worden, that's our own bow." I then looked and saw that the bridge and the forward part of the ship from just forward of the stack was gone. Of course the bridge and all that was in the water underneath the little part of the bow was sticking up. I saw our life rafts, etc. floating off and I told Chief Dace that I thought we needed to go over the side. Chief  Dace said, "Don't go Worden, you haven't been ordered to abandon ship. So, if you go I'm going to have to shoot you in the back of the head when you go." I've kidded Dace in later years about threatening to shoot me, but he was taking charge and keeping order.

Chief Dace, more or less, assumed command of the ship at that point. He went below decks forward to check our watertight integrity and to evaluate whether the remaining after half of the ship would stay afloat. While he was down there he found Frank Doughety floating in a pool of oil in one of the compartments. He first thought Dougherty was dead but saw his eyelid move, and realized that he was still alive. Chief Dace picked him up and carried him topside and aft to near the number 3 gun mount. Dougherty lost a leg, but he survived. I've seen him at several of the recent reunions including the one on 7/24/97.

Chief Dace told me later why he made the decision for the survivors to remain aboard the remainder of the ship and not' abandon. We had too many seriously wounded who would not have survived in the water: he was trying to avoid losing any more of "His Men" than was necessary.

Chief Dace continued to direct the survivors to maintain an orderly effort to minimize casualties and to function as a seaman like crew of a warship. The other escort vessels of the convoy lowered motor whaleboats and were picking up people who had been blown over the side into the water and who were still alive They rescued a number of people and some of them were seriously injured.

Our Chief Pharmacist's Mate, Nicholas, had been killed when we were hit. The only surviving medical personnel was Joe Manory who was a Third Class Pharmacist's Mate. Joe was only about 18 or 19 years old at the time. Joe did a magnificent job that day in caring for the wounded. We had seriously injured people everywhere and only one young Pharmacist's Mate to tend them. I remember that some of us went down to the sick bay and brought supplies up for him to use and I went down into the fire room and got water from the evaporator tank for Joe to use.

Norman McCarty MM 1/C and someone else took a life raft and went over the, side to aid a fellow named Gilio who had been blown over the side and had gotten tangled up in the screws of the ship. The other guy held Gilio while McCarty amputated his leg with a hunting knife. Another incident: PC 804 approached our ship shortly after we were hit. They came up a ways out from us and the Captain used a bullhorn to call over to us. He stated that they still had contact and did we want them to try to take us off or ............ About that instant everyone on our, ship hollered out in unison, "Go get that Son of a Bitch!" It was like we had been drilled to call back to him like that. They gunned their engines and away they went to drop some more depth charges. As the day wore along the PC's would come along side, take a few off, then get contact and leave to drop depth charges.

Most of the survivors were still aboard the half ship that was still afloat, excepting the ones who were blown over the side and picked up by the whaleboats. A lot of the survivors were seriously injured. There were dead and seriously injured scattered over the ship. Quite a few people had serious burns. It was a gory sight. Chief Dace's decision for the survivors to stay aboard until rescued was obviously a good decision since a lot of those people would not have made it in the water.

There were walking wounded who manned the remaining guns and were prepared to fire on any sub that surfaced. They didn't get a shot at anything, but were prepared.

The PC's took the last of us off just before dark, and we had been hit at 3:10 PM. Chief Boatswain's Mate Dace, Rodger Crum EM I/C, and Paul Adams EM 2/C went back aboard after we were all off to check the ship to see if any survivor was still aboard. They made the search and didn't find anyone else. Chief Dace was the last man to leave the ship.

The PC's stood off and fired shells into the floating half of the Underhill until they had sunk it. I remember standing on the fantail of one of the rescuing PC's and watching our ship being hit and sinking.

We lost II 2 men of the, 243 aboard during the sinking. The lost included 10 of our 14 officers. The loss included our Captain, Lieutenant Commander Robert Newcomb.

The surviving officers were the two engineering officers, Lieutenant Timberlake and Lieutenant Kearney. Lieutenant Rich was one of the two deck officers to survive. And I have forgotten the name of the other deck officer. For years I thought it was Lieutenant Carrington, but I see he is listed among the dead. I saw an officer, maybe it was Lieutenant Rich, after we were hit. He had been hit in the head with shrapnel or something. His head had been cut around the bottom of his hairline on the front portion of his head, and his hair was kind of laying on the back of his neck. He looked like he had been scalped. For years, I thought that was Lieutenant Carrington.

 We never lost a ship from one of our convoys during the war, and another source of pride is our rescue of the three Airmen. One of the rescued Airmen came to our reunion in Annapolis in July 1996. He was the navigator on the downed plane. He told us they were Air Sea Rescue. They would fly out and the bombers would fly over them and they would pick-up stragglers from the bombers on their way back. A Jap sub had surfaced and shot them down and these three were the only survivors from the airplane crew. They had been in the water for nearly 60 hours with sharks to contend with so it was fortunate we found them when we did. The man that came to our reunion is the only one of the three who is still living.

Chief Boatswain's Mate Dace had written a history of the U.S.S. Underhill before his death in November 1995. 1 have used a lot of material from the history that Chief Dace wrote in writing this account. Chief Dace had a much broader perspective of this engagement than I did because of his rank and superior seamanship ability and experience. Chief Dace was also our leader out there that day and his superior performance in leading the surviving crew members is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U. S. Navy.

 

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