U. S. Navy: Destroyer Kalk's Travail for the 41st

by Dr. Hargis Westerfield, Division Historian, with Naval Commanding Officer H. D. Fuller and Executive M. M. Gantar


            When a 41st Division soldier boarded a Navy ship, he found good food, clean sleeping space, and running water. His reaction was, "What an easy life in the Navy!" He never saw the agony of a Navy ship when a torpedo or bomb struck her. This is the agony that Destroyer Kalk endured when serving our 41st Division fighting on Biak.

On 11 June 1944, Kalk was part of a convoy escorting slow LSTs 330 miles from Hollandia to Biak. On that morning, Kalk sped ahead from this LST convoy with a safehand message to General Fuller that bad weather would delay the LSTs' arrival.

Returning to rejoin the convoy, Kalk sighted a Nippo landing barge heading north from Padiadori Island southeast of Biak. At Range 6,000 yards, Kalk fired her first round of 5-inch anti-aircraft shells across the Japs' square bow. Evidently the barge did not stop. Although next three shots missed, Kalk scored direct hits on last two shots. The barge sank in a few seconds - a barge which could carry 50 Nips.

Arriving again with the convoy at Biak 0600, 12 June, Kalk was detailed to escort two LSTs into Mios Woendi Lagoon, that fine roughly horseshoe-shaped anchorage southeast of Biak, which was also a PT Boat base. Kalk then took up patrol near Mios Woendi entrance, which opened to the south.

Kalk's crew probably did not know of a Jap Air Force kill already on 12 June, when many Kalk men would die. At 0130 that morn, four bombs from a Nippo plane had blasted 49 Air Group's Ground Echelon who were crowded in a bivouac near Bosnek. Killed were 19 ground force men and 29 wounded. Later at 0940, when 163 Infantry's 2nd Battalion came in from the Toem-Wakde area, just after 2nd Battalion 163 began unloading, four Jap planes dived on it from low brushy Bosnek Ridge to the north. All four planes were killed. (Perhaps these were the same planes that Kalk's anti-aircraft men saw before the bomb hit them.)

But the bloodiest raid of 12 June was destined for Kalk. Earlier, on 10 June, Admiral Soemu Toyoda had ordered his Jap 23 Air Flotilla to evacuate all their planes from New Guinea to the Palau Islands. For Toyoda had halted all efforts to regain Biak from our 41st Division. On 12 June, 23 Air Flotilla tried their last raid - struck down on Kalk patrolling south of Mios Woendi Lagoon.

But all was serene off Biak about 0931, 12 June 1944. Many anti-aircraft guns guarded our beachhead. Fifteen powerful, stubby P-47s hovered above. Six destroyers patrolled offshore. Kalk calmly patrolled off Mios Woendi Lagoon.

Then came the raid. At 1026, Destroyer Craig relayed from Destroyer Grayson the fighter director that plane “bogies” were spotted on the radar. At 1027, Grayson herself told Kalk that the “bogies were only 26 miles off, and closing in.

Gun-crews alerted at once. Kalk rang up “flank speed” – high speed on both engines. She began a right turn to keep close to the LSTs and PT boats she guarded off Mios Woendi.

            Heading northwest at 1034, Kalk sighted Nippo bombers speeding towards her from Bosnek. Our P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighters pursued them. The Japs were "Kates," Nakajima torpedo bombers. Kalk did a fast left turn to port; she unmasked our starboard 20mm batteries.

     The "Kates" flew low and seemed to near the range of Kalk's main 5-inch batteries' gun-fire. The main battery was tracking the Jap planes with gunners tensely waiting to fire.

But we never fired on the "Kates." Suddenly death smashed down on Kalk from another direction. At 1036, a lone plane circled out of the sun into the blurred eyes of our spotters. It was already in a killing dive - a deadly medium bomber, a "Tony," with death in that dive.

Instantly, all three of our 20mm guns to starboard opened fire, and the single 20mm gun on the port side that could bear on it. Our fire was accurate - 80 exploding machine-cannon rounds. We saw our shells strike the "Tony."

Yet "Tony" blasted Kalk with one bomb. Men topside heard a thunderous explosion to the starboard. (Yet to Lieutenant Gantar, Executive Officer below at his phones, the blast did not seem serious: an unusual sound, but with a very slight shock.) At once, all radars and lights failed. "Bridge" phoned down that there were many casualties on deck.

At least, some of the 80 20mm shells killed the Jap "Tony." It passed over Kalk just 200 feet above the deck, settled down close to the sea, and crashed three miles away.

Tony's bomb crashed Kalk' s deck on the starboard side, just aft of No. 1 stack, and near the torpedo mount. It weighed 100 kilograms - some 220 pounds. It had an instant fuse of the type used against troops on the beach. Added concussive power came when it ruptured our torpedo air flasks. Kalk became a cripple; the starboard engine stopped dead. Since Kalk was at flank speed, the port engine began a fast turn, hard right, about 260 degrees. She listed to port.

The quartermaster steadied Kalk on a northern course to close up to Bosnek Beach to get all possible protection from shore anti-aircraft batteries and patrolling planes. She began the long labors of putting out fires and clearing up the dead and wounded.

A fourth of Kalk' s crew were casualties - 30 dead, and 40 wounded, mostly on the topside. (Even a front-line rifle Company, G Company 163 Infantry, lost only 32 dead in three campaigns.) Most wounded were burned; the smell of burned flesh permeated Kalk.

Fires blazed in the machine shop, the torpedo workshop, and the storage area. Ensign Cokeley the Repair Officer took charge of forward and after repair parties. (Midships repair party were all dead.) They attacked the fires first with hoses, and then with gasoline "handy billies." Fog nozzles helped curb the flames and escaping steam. In 40 minutes, fires seemed under control. Yet they flamed up again, but by 1145, the last fire was totally out, 1 hour and 9 minutes after the bomb had struck.

            While we battled the fires, there was great danger that shattered torpedo parts and intact depth charges would heat and blow up. Led by the Torpedo Officer (name omitted), men of the forward repair party went quietly and efficiently into danger. From the port side of the main deck, they jettisoned two hot torpedo warheads and two torpedo air flasks. At the stem racks, the repair party set depth charges on "safe" and dropped them into the sea. In the port racks, the depth charges were rolled overboard after the detonators, the "pistols," were removed.

Casualties were 25 percent of Kalk's crew - 30 killed, and 40 wounded. Entire midship repair party died instantly - and the Chief Engineer and his leading petty officers. A fragment slew the Chief Machinist's Mate of the watch. He was the only man dead in the forward engine room. Other men therein escaped with burns of varying degrees. Medical Officer and one pharmacist's mate was killed; the other pharmacist's mate was injured.

Medical aid began at once. Executive Officer Gantar spent the next 30 minutes aiding the 10 casualties he found under foot on the bridge. With the Chief Quartermaster, he gave morphine, applied tourniquets, bandaged wounds, and made the pained men as comfortable as possible. Other crewmen helped also.

Twenty-four minutes after the blast, Destroyer Hobby rushed to assist Kalk with her Medical Officer, Pharmacist's Mate, and stretchers. When they saw the smoke, many fast little PT Boats hurried from Mios Woendi Base to begin taking off wounded in their 80-foot craft. They carried our 30 dead to Bosnek for burial, and the wounded to LST 469 which had a surgical team. This team was reported to have performed miracles of healing for Kalk's 40 wounded.

Kalk's Captain Fuller wisely noted the importance for his surviving crew of this prompt first aid and evacuation of the wounded. Fuller said that if they were left aboard, they would have positively deterred the drive and energy of his remaining crew who needed their full capacities to work the ship. Here commended mass training for all personnel to do a little for the wounded but quickly move them. Despite the bombing and casualties, morale did seem to stay high among Kalk's crew.

While fires still raged and live torpedo parts and depth charges were jettisoned, Damage Control men were appraising Kalk's chances to live and return to safety at Hollandia. Damages were heavy, for just one bomb. The 220lb bomb had pierced the deck and combined with the instant blast of four torpedo flasks.

Impacting just behind the forward stack on the outer side of the starboard torpedo mount, the bomb made havoc. It had pierced the "overhead" of the machine shop and exploded an instant later at Frame No. 93. (A frame was a steel beam cross support.) Entire starboard area between Stacks 1 and 2 blew outboard. From Frame 85 to Frame 103, the deck was forced down like a dish.

Concussion plus bomb fragments had tom up the engine room below. Ruptured were cross-beams 93, 96, and 99, and longitudinals 1 through 5. Large fragments had pierced the deck and slashed fires and broken pipes of all sizes throughout the engine room. Turbine bearings and reduction bearings were damaged because of breaks in lubrication pipes and loss of steam pressure. Salt water had entered the feed system, while fresh feed water was lost from ruptured pipes.

There were multiple damages by fragments in the super-structure also. Radar was jammed; coaxial lines were punctured; radio antennae severed. Both stacks were holed in many places, and fire room blower intake sheathing. No. 2 boiler uptake was split at the seams and punctured by fragments. The leaking smoke generator had to go overboard. Still, despite the battered equipment and some parts of the ship, Kalk's hull was undamaged and had shipped no Seawater.

If the souls of the valiant dead Japanese fliers could have looked down from a Shinto or Buddhist heaven, they could have rejoiced at their victory over Kalk.

After the fires were out, a first job of Damage Control parties was to make the starboard engine operable to help Kalk to steer in a straight line. But intense heat from escaping steam prevented even a view into the forward engine room. Since Kalk had lost her cutting equipment in the explosion, Destroyer Hobby's engine crew boarded us with theirs. They cut an access hole through the main deck to the inside valve on the auxiliary exhaust line into the forward engine room. After they secured the valve and the steam dissipated, they saw water on the lower floor plates. They lowered two submersible pumps through the escape hatch and quickly pumped it out. We closed the valve to stop water from coming in from the main injector to the condenser.

Besides engineer crewmen from Hobby, we also borrowed two electrician's mates to help our surviving electricians to repair damages in wires. They rigged jumpers from our after generator to reactivate our forward main switchboard. They accompanied us on crippled Kalk's return voyage to Hollandia.

Now Kalk faced the travail of having to voyage 330 miles back to Hollandia for safety from sure destruction by more Jap air-raids. Six hours after the bomb, she was underway again to see whether she could keep up with a convoy. At two-thirds speed on the port engine, she patrolled south of Bosnek while her gunners watched the skies. Three hours later, she joined the Hollandia convoy, for security abreast of the center of the starboard column. She did not patrol but kept up the formation speed of nine knots an hour.

But mechanical failures dogged crippled Kalk. At 0046 that night, she halted from a fuel pump accident, but regained station in 23 minutes. At 1024 next morn, the convoy's radar spotted an unidentified plane 25 miles away. For her protection, the convoy formed a close anti-aircraft screen. Sixteen minutes after the sighting, she lost her main power because a super-heater tube had ruptured. She dropped to two knots an hour. Meanwhile, the unidentified plane had left the area.

Kalk limped on, now with Destroyer Stockton towing her to stay in the convoy. Excessive salting of the boiler retarded her. Radar reported another plane at 12 miles, but it also disappeared. And 18-knot an hour wind handicapped her in her tow for six hours to midnight, 13 June.

Finally at 0745 14 June 1944, Stockton passed her tow to seagoing tug Sonoma, who had been ordered out from Hollandia to drag Kalk to her berth. Crippled destroyer and some 200 remaining crewmen were now safe, three days after the bombing.

In the whole month of June 1944, the Air Force reported that 71 Nippo planes had made 71 raids on Biak. Kalk was only ship, however, that suffered great losses from any June raid. But when just one bomb could cripple a destroyer and kill 30 sailors and wound 40 more, a 41st Division member can easily perceive the dangers that our Navy endured. Impact of a single bomb or torpedo or cannon could flame or wreck or sink a ship with numerous wounds or death. Kalk was still lucky.

 

CREDIT: Most facts for the story are from H. D. Fuller's Action Report - USS Kalk - Period 6 to 14 June 1944 - an 8-page single-spaced typescript. Fuller was probably Commanding Officer of Kalk with probable rank of Captain. Important also is a 2-page typescript attached to Fuller's report, by Lieutenant M. M. Gantar, entitled "Battle Report of 12 June 1944, Executive Officer's." Some information comes also from Samuel Eliot Morison's New Guinea and the Marianas (Vol VIII of his History of United States Naval Operations in World War II ), and The Pacific - Guadalcanal to Saipan (Vol IV of W. F. Craven and J. L. Cate's The Army Air Forces in World War II. My work has been to unscramble Fuller's and Gantar's reports and collate with Morison and Craven-Cate's details.