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"Gunboat Rescue"

Contributed by: Bob Daly/PC-1181


Schonian Harbor, Peleliu, Palau Island Group

Thursday, 29 March 1945, the USS PGM-29, under the command of Neal Rumbaugh, Lt., USNR eased alongside the store ship USS Arctic (AF-7) for provisions and stores. Later, after topping off our fuel and fresh water tanks from a station tanker anchored in the harbor, we anchored for the night.

Early on the morning of Friday, March 30, 1945, under orders from CTF 94, we departed Schonian Harbor thru the Denges Passage and took up a ten mile long air/sea rescue and patrol station off the east coast of Babelthaup Island with orders to take under fire anything that moves on that island. At 1645 hours, we expended 17 rounds of 3"/50 ammunition into a beach area on the island.

Dusk found us on night patrol station Four-Easy off Eil Malk Island. At daybreak the following morning, we resumed our Air/Sea rescue and patrol station off Babelthaup Island.

Saturday 31 March 1945. At 0900 hours, a flight off our marine Corps F4U Corsair's from VMF-121 lifted off from the airstrip on Peleliu Island. Each carried a full load of ammo and a 100 pound bomb. Their mission was a barge sweep operation and to shoot at anything that moved on the island. The island was reported to be the home for about 25,000 Japanese troops that had been bypassed by the allied troops and part of VMF-121's job was to help keep them isolated.

Paul J. Keller, Lt., USMC, the flight leader of the sweep over Babelthaup, had initiated a bombing run on some small bridges along a much used supply route near the east coast of the island, when his plane was hit by enemy fire. He felt the projectiles hammering into the bottom of his aircraft while in a shallow dive at approximately 1200 feet. Releasing his bomb on the target, he pulled the "Corsair" up into a gentle climb and headed out to sea. The three remaining members of his group meanwhile had dropped their bombs on the bridges and also turned out to sea climbing to join the flight leader.

Lt. Keller had begun to noticed smoke in the cockpit and asked them to look his aircraft over for any damage and he was informed that his plane was on fire and burning on the underside of the fuselage. He immediately made preparations for ditching, tightening his safety straps and headed southeast to find a suitable ditching location outside the reef.

One member of his group, with his emergency IFF system activated, began to climb to provide top cover while the other two stayed with the burning aircraft.

Lt. Keller, jettisoned his canopy and with his engine still running, ditched his aircraft into the wind and waves at near stalling speed. The landing was smooth and mild. Exiting the aircraft he inflated his "Mae West" and jumped into the water. Swimming away from the aircraft he inflated his life raft and climbed aboard where he watched the FG-1A Corsair #14271 sink into the sea.

At 0921 hours, the PGM-29, while on Air/Sea rescue patrol, received a radio report of a downed aircraft. Coming about, they proceeded at full speed to that location. The pilot was found sitting in his life raft with a big grin on his face floating in a sea of dye marker with two Corsairs circling overhead.

After he was hauled aboard, the two fighters made a low level pass of the gunboat waving a thumbs-up salute as they thundered by.

The fighter pilot had been in the water for less than a half hour. After a shower, dry clothes, and some medicinal scotch whiskey he was fed. We returned to our patrol station during which time he roamed thru all compartments thanking the crew for his timely rescue.

At 1830 hours, the gunboat re-entered Schonian Harbor to go alongside the LCI-730 where the rescued pilot left the ship. Underway again, they returned to their regular night patrol station off Eil Malk Island.

"Operation Crossroads and the PGM-29"

Contributed by: Bob Daly/PC-1181

After the first atomic bomb was detonated at Los Alamos, New Mexico on 16 July 1945, serious consideration was given to the possibility of testing another bomb on the major Japanese Naval Base on Truk Island in the central Carolines. This would test the effect of atomic power on a fleet of ships. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was suggested to use the captured Japanese fleet in an atom bomb test. Due to the fact that there were very few capital ships of the Japanese Navy left at the end of hostilities, this idea was quickly forgotten.

In early 1946, the Joint Chiefs of Staff with President Harry Truman's approval created "Joint Task Force 1" (JTF 1) with Admiral William "Spike" Blandy in command. Born in New York City in 1890, he graduated first in his class from the Naval Academy in 1913. After some naval action in Europe he was appointed Chief of the gun section of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance holding this job for over fifteen years.

In February of 1941, Blandy, now the youngest line Admiral in the Navy, became head of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance and quickly developed a reputation for getting things done. The Navy had a desperate need for reliable anti-aircraft guns. Licenses to build the Swedish 40 mm Bofors and the Swiss 20 mm Oerlikon were quickly obtained. He instituted the awarding of the Navy "E", a flag symbolizing outstanding excellence in the production of naval guns. Rear Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, of the Submarine Service, went to his old friend from the Naval Academy days to get the problems of the Mark XIV torpedoes
straightened out.

Admiral Blandy had been at Normandy and all the major Marine landings in the central Pacific. The admiral had the command of Task Force 52 at the Iwo Jima landings. Its job was the pre-invasion softening up of the beachhead, and taking out the Japanese big guns on Mount Suribachi and in the center of the island. In 1945 he was appointed Deputy Chief of Naval Operation in Special Weapons to oversee the development of atomic bombs and guided missiles. He was the perfect choice to assume command of JTF 1.

The task force was to be comprised of 200 ships (100 used in the test fleet and another 100 ships in the service fleet) and 150 aircraft. The 42,000 men were needed to run the test came from all branches of the armed forces and civilian scientists.

Three tests were deemed necessary to correctly measure the destructive power of an atomic bomb on a fleet of ships. The explosive power of each test was to be the equal to 23,000 tons of TNT.

First -Test "Able" was to be dropped from a B-29 and exploded at a low altitude (500 - 600 feet).

Second -Test "Baker" was to be an under water explosion with the bomb being suspended in a concrete cassion 90 feet under a specially modified landing ship (LSM-60).

Third -Test "Charlie" was to be a deep underwater detonation but was canceled for fear that it might cause a giant tidal wave and because fissionable materials for the bomb was in critical short supply.

The location selected for the test site was Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Island group. Two thousand miles southwest of Hawaii and 250 miles north of
Kwajalein island.

The atoll was comprised of 25 small islands connected in an oval by a reef with Bikini being the largest. The lagoon was 20 miles long and 10 miles wide with an average depth of 33 fathoms (200 feet). Its normal weather conditions were excellent. The center of the target area was to be located about two miles southwest of Bikini island.

The Bikini atom bomb tests were opposed from the moment they were announced. Congress, the press and the scientific community had a field day. The scientists from the Manhattan Project avoided any participation in the tests, and by late march of 1946 because of the delicate international situation, it looked as if the tests would be called off.

It had been rumored that the real reason that Congress was fighting for a postponement was that Congress was in session and so many congressmen wanted to attend, they were trying to get then postponed until they were recessed.

The Navy organized a sophisticated public relations campaign. They orchestrated the whole show picking a cross section of reporters correspondents and writers that were friendly to the Navy...One women allowed.

The president of the California Institute of Technology argued that the tests would not prove anything. "The bombs were powerful enough to sink a few ships but then what. This isn't a real test of atomic power. This is a demonstration of power by the U.S. Navy. They are staging it for the U.S. Congress so that the Navy will look good and they can get larger appropriations and a bigger fleet."

Finally on 12 April 1946, President Harry Truman announced that the tests would go ahead as scheduled.

In the early spring of 1946, the ships to be used in the test began to arrive. Most came thru the staging area at Pearl Harbor. The old battleships Nevada [BB 36], painted bright red and orange to make a better target, Pennsylvania [BB38], Arkansas [BB 33], and the New York [BB 34]. All participants in Admiral "Spike" Blandys Task Force 52 at Iwo Jima.

The veteran aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3) and the three year old Independence (CVL-22). The majestic German battle cruiser "Prinz Eugen"
[IX 300]
steamed in and the crippled 44,000 ton jap battleship "Nagato," flagship of Admiral Yamamoto, was towed in from the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan with an LST moored alongside to supply crew berthing, power and water. Visitors observed her as "the stinkingest, bug infested, filthiest ship in the test fleet."

Two cruisers, seventeen destroyers, eight submarines, twenty-five merchants ships and forty-five landing ships and craft of different types. Over 100 ships were anchored in their assigned locations.



From the Quartermasters day log.

On Monday, 6 May 1946, pursuant to ComSerDiv 11, the PGM-29, as OTC, left Pearl Harbor in company with the PGM's 24 and 25. Proceeding at 12 knots abreast of each other with the PGM-24 on the port beam and the PGM-25 on the starboard beam.

At 2000 hours on Wednesday, 8 June 1946, the PGM-25 had a major engine breakdown. We hove-to for an hour while temporary repairs were made.

The following day we hove-to for a few more hours while the PGM-25 made further repairs. Underway again at 1300 hours on a course of 257 true. We crossed the International Date Line at 1100 hours on Tuesday 11 June 1946.

At 0850 on Saturday, 15 June 1946, Bikini Atoll was sighted and by 1200 hours we had reported in by signal lamp to the Port Director and were anchored at berth 56- A in 11 fathoms of water with 45 fathoms of chain on the starboard anchor.

At 1300 on Monday, 17 June 1946, we got underway to go alongside the salvage vessel USS Valve (ARS-28) which was moored alongside the repair ship USS Ajax (AR-6) which was moored alongside the Japanese battleship Nagato. After three days of various repairs (engine and deck), we were underway back to our anchorage stopping alongside the USS Wildcat (AW-2) for fresh water.

We stayed anchored doing logistical shipboard work until thursday, 30 May 1946 when we were ordered to go alongside the USS Saidor (CVE-117) to take aboard a party of USMC photographers under the command of Henry Anglan, Lt., USMC. This was a two week duty picking the party up in the morning and spending the day steaming around in the target fleet and the support facilities.

On Saturday, 15 June 1946, we went alongside the submarine tender USS Fulton (AS-11) to pick up a survey party with photographers and proceeded to Aomaen island (code name "George") on the north end of the lagoon. Some of us got to go ashore with the party. Another time we took Commander K.C. Lovett (C.E.G.) with his staff and a survey party with photographers to Ourukaen Island (code name "Zebra") on the south west perimeter of the lagoon for the day.

All this time we were picking up our dry stores, fuel and fresh water from the LST-388, USS Severn (AO-61), USS Enoree (AO-69) and the USS Wildcat (AW-2). Our ships company was now down to 43 enlisted men and three officers.

On Saturday 22 June 1946, we got underway at 1600 hours and proceed to area "Packard," 23 miles east of Bikini Island steaming in company with the PGM's -24, 25, 31 and 32 pursuant to orders from CJTF 1 to await rehearsal for atom bomb test "Able."

At 0800 the following morning, we entered Bikini lagoon escorting three LCPL's in accordance with test rehearsal order OP-1-46. After steaming around the target area we anchored near the command ship USS Mount McKinley (AGC-7). Underway again at 1830 hours we returned to area "Packard" steaming in company with the other PGM's and the USS San Marcos (LSD-25). The following morning, Monday 24 June 1946, we again proceeded into the lagoon for a practice run. Picking up the three LCPL's at the atoll harbor entrance, we proceeded into the lagoon and conducted radiological safety procedures. We were anchored by 1800 hours. For the next few days we moved around the lagoon picking up stores, lube and fuel oil and topped off our fresh water tanks.

At 1330 hours on Sunday 30 June 1946 we were underway and steaming to area "Franklin" (20 nautical miles ENE of Bikini) according to Op-1-46 "Able" day operations. After arriving on station we steamed in company with the PGM's 24, 25, 31 and 32 steering alternate courses of 075 true and 255 true all night within area "Franklin."

On Monday, 1 July 1946 at 0900 hours, (Bikini time and date) the "Able" test bomb, adorned with a picture of Rita Hayworth was dropped from the B-29 "Dave's Dream". The bomb run was made at 28,000 feet and was detonated forty-eight seconds later 518 feet over the lagoon's surface. It had the explosive energy of 23,000 tons of TNT. The surface temperature of the fire ball was over 1,000,000 degrees fahrenheit, hotter than the surface of the sun. The operation went smoothly except that the bomb missed the target area by 2000 ft. Instead of exploding over the battleship Nevada, the bomb went off almost directly over the aircraft carrier Independence. The Air Force stated that the bomb was of poor ballistic quality, it had a bent fin and was a "wobbler." The radioactivity created by" Able" had only a transient effect. The prevailing winds soon carried the radioactive clouds away to the south-west. Within a day nearly all the target ships could be safely reboarded and it was safe to swim in the lagoon. Five of the target ships were sunk as a result of this test. The press corps gave it a "ho-hum" rating.

0000-0400 hours -Monday 1 July 1946. The PGM- 29 was steaming in formation with the PGM-24, 25, 31, and 32 within area "Franklin" according to OP-1-46 plan for "Able" day.

At 1150 hours they proceeded into the lagoon to test water for radioactivity. For the next four days we got underway after colors and spent the day moving around the lagoon taking water samples. On Sunday 7 July 1946 we went alongside the USS Wildcat (AW-2) to top off the fresh water tanks with 3000 gallons
of water.

Underway again at 1640 hours they moored alongside the repair ship USS Ajax (AR-6) to have a ships generator overhauled. For the next six days we received power from the repair ship. On Sunday 14 July 1946 the engine repair work had been completed and we proceeded to anchor at berth #55 in the lagoon. (15 fathoms of water with a coral bottom).

On Friday, 19 July 1946 we were again underway for "William Day" ...A dress rehearsal for the underwater "Baker" test. A party of six radiological and oceanographers came aboard for the rehearsal. We proceeded to area "Franklin" in company with the PGM's 24, 25, 31 and 32. The PGM-25 was the OTC. We spent the next two days steaming various courses and speeds carrying out radiological practice missions around the target ship area.

On Sunday 21 July 1946, we moored with the PGM-32 alongside the repair ship, USS Cebu (ARG-6) to pick up engine spare parts.

Tuesday 23 July 1946. At 1300 hours we were underway from the repair ship and went alongside the USS Enoree (AO-69) to take on 8000 gallons of fuel oil and the to the USS Severn (AO-61) for water. After topping off our fresh water tanks we anchored for the night.

24 July 1946 -"Baker Day" minus-1. At 0700 hours E.C. Whiker, CPHOM, USN, Lt. COMDR. P. G. Sullivan, USNR and H. E. Whitiner, CPHOM, USCG reported aboard for temporary duty. At 1015 a six man Radiological Safety Party from the hospital ship, USS Haven (AH-12) came aboard. At 1440 hours, pursuant to OP 1-46 of CJTF we left the lagoon to take up patrol duty in area " Franklin" approximately 18 miles off Bikini Island in company with the PGM's 24, 31, and 32.

On 25 July 1946 at 0830 hours, the "Baker" test bomb with the words "Helen of Bikini" chalked on her side was exploded in a concrete caisson suspended 90 feet under a specially modified landing ship (LSM-60). It was detonated at the precise time and the exact depth and location picked by the Navy. The result was spectacular. As reported. "there was a gigantic flash gone in the wink of the eye. In its place was a giant chimney of water estimated to be 2,200 feet in diameter and rising 6,000 feet into the air spreading out in a mushroom cloud. Gravity took over and the column of water collapsed back into the lagoon, creating enormous rolling waves of spray, mist and fog which bathed the ships of the test fleet and the lagoon with enormous quantities of radioactive materials. The underwater atomic explosion sank nine ships and seriously damaged dozens of ships. The battleship Arkansas, anchored 225 yards from point Zero, was lifted up like a toy by the column of water and then sunk within seconds as did a number of landing ships and three submarines. There were no "ho-hums" from the Press Corps this time except from "Pravda." Test "Baker" was a colossal explosion. Worth some very serious thought. The aircraft carrier Saratoga anchored 350 yards from point "Zero" was badly damaged and sank at 1610 hours the same day. Within the next week the Japanese cruiser Sakawa slowly rolled over and sank and the Japanese battleship Nagato disappeared into a shallow grave... The amount of radioactive material in the lagoon and that covered the ships of the test fleet after test "Baker" was enormous. Initial dose rates of radiation was 20 times higher than the single fatal dose rate.

The radiation safety section had warned that test "Baker" could cause serious contamination of the lagoon and the target ships but these warnings were basically ignored ... despite the automatic readings being sent back by the drone boats of double the lethal daily dose rate in the test fleet. The first patrol boats were ordered into the lagoon within 40 minutes after the blast to measure the radioactivity levels and retrieve instruments. A salvage group was ordered into the lagoon within two hours of the detonation and boarded a few ships for inspection. Out of ignorance, many compromises were made...

The PGM-29 was patrolling area "franklin" in company with the PGM's 24 and 25 eighteen miles south of ground Zero. At 0830 hours everyone was on deck to observe the detonation of "Baker."

At 1100 hours, the gunboat was ordered to enter the lagoon with radiological and photographic parties. They carried out operations in section "Denmark" (east to southeast of surface Zero) in company with LCPL's B-12, B-13 and B-14.

At 2250 hours, due to the excessive amounts of radioactivity accumulated while carrying out "Baker" day activities, most of the crew of the PGM-29 was evacuated to the USS Appling (APA-58).

Only the Captain, Executive officer and six crewmen stayed aboard as watchkeepers. The following morning the crew reboarded at 0600 hours and assumed regular duties. 1230 hours. Underway and proceeded to area "Holland" to take water samples.

At 1400 hours we were alongside the USS Mount McKinley (AGC- 7) to pick up Admiral William H. Blandy (CJTF 1) and his party which included Rear Admiral William S. "Deak" Parsons, Nuclear scientist and Weaponeer aboard the "Enola Gay", General Kipper, Dr. Stafford Warren, head of the Radiological Safety Section, Joseph Myler, Elton C. Fay, Frank Allen, Jack Rice, Eurinc Kauseman, Lt. Riley and Ralph Peterson came aboard. Five members of the Press Corps also came aboard with press officer, Captain Felyhugh. Kieth Wheeler (Chicago Times), Waldo Drake (Los Angeles Times), Howard Case (Honolulu Advertiser), M. Khokhlov (USSR delegate), and M. Lebarthe (French delegate).

As the PGM-29 motored in close to the test fleet, the radioactivity increased at an alarming rate, the Geiger counter needles when "off the scale." Dr. Stafford Warren strongly recommended that Admiral Blandy order the gunboat to come about and leave the area immediately.

Admiral Blandy and his staff and the press corps were returned to the USS Mount McKinley at 1520 hours.

A few days after the blast, because of the spreading radioactivity in the waters of the lagoon, many support ships had to shift their anchorage to an area off Enyu Island (George).

A week later, all of the test fleet was still too "hot" to work on. No more than fifteen minutes on deck was allowed. Work was permissible below deck but with out lights and blowers it became impossible. The Navy ritual of "clean sweep down fore & aft" was of little consequence. The decks were scrubbed with soap, lye, acid and foamite. Radioactivity had fallen like a coat of paint and could not be scrubbed off. The impossible monumental job of sandblasting everything topside was the only solution.

The support ships began to have problems with the scale inside their evaporators picking up radioactivity and the algae growth along the waterline and the salt water lines (fire and flushing) lines were becoming radioactive.

Thursday, 8 August 1946. At 0830 hours a scientific party came aboard to make a radiological survey of the vessel... We were not privy to their results.

Saturday, 10 August 1946. Operation "Crossroads" as an experiment was abandoned. Radioactivity had beaten them. Deadly radiation had fatally poisoned every ship in the test fleet. Some of the test fleet ships were eventuality towed back to the west coast but many were towed out to deep water and sunk.

At 1800 hours in obedience to a CJTF 1 visual dispatch, the PGM-29 cleared the lagoon entrance buoy. Right standard rudder, all ahead standard, Steady on 150 en route for the island of Guam by way of Kwajalein. As OTC and guide, we were traveling in company with the PGM's 25, 31 and 32.

The deck log entry for 1900 hours reported rain clouds to port and fresh winds from the east. We get the impression that the crew felt that they just awoke from a nightmarish dream.

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