AT SEA WITH AN AMERICAN NAVAL FORCE, March 26--(Delayed)--
I have just watched an American naval force repel a much larger Japanese
fleet in one of the few modern naval battles which could be seen in its
entirety from the bridge of a participating vessel. It was a four-hour
daylight shelling which resembled a miniature Jutland in some of its
aspects and set several records.
SEES THREE VESSELS
The experience has left me quite without descriptive adjectives but
with a new respect for the men and equipment of the United States Navy.
I am the only newspaper correspondent aboard the American force.
The monotony of a protracted period at sea ended at dawn today with
the repeated sounding of an alarm bell. On the ladder toward the signal
bridge (I was aboard the flagship) a messenger stopped me.
"Commander Peter Harrison," he said,
"told me to be sure you got up because this is the real thing."
The message was from Commander Peter Harrison, of Honolulu,
Chief of Staff to Rear Admiral C. H.
McMorris. My first look through field glasses showed three
vessels on the horizon. They were specks topped with black smoke,
obviously already in full retreat.
SPOUTS OFF STARBOARD
A lookout from topside reported that two of them were transports.
Someone on the bridge beside me said "duck soup." I looked again and
there were five instead of three. The lookout said three were
destroyers, two transports.
I crossed the bridge to try to see the rest of our force coming up
behind the flagship; and by the time I returned to my original position,
the lookout was reporting still more vessels.
I lost count of the number of ships on the horizon. For a minute,
it seemed as though they were all over the northern side of the sea. I
picked on one to watch--a three-funnel vessel with high masts fore and
I was still watching it when it began to blossom fire. A man
somewhere back of me said, "Hell, there's two heavies and a light."
There was what seemed a very long time and then there were six
waterspouts just off our starboard.
The flagship batteries replied almost immediately, but the smoke
around the Jap ships prevented me from seeing where our salvos were
landing. I did not notice that the two transports, belching
huge clouds of black smoke (they could have been coals burners)
were disappearing rapidly. The line of black warships--- my three-stacker
turned out to be a light cruiser---covered the whole horizon, their gun
flashes like the lights on a busy telephone switchboard.
A Jap shell exploded near by. The bridge of the flagship jumped. An extra tin hat rolled across the deck and the door to the chart house, half open, slammed into the shoulders of a signalman standing next to me. The man, unhurt, tried vainly to close it again, found it jammed, finally forced it shut.
The heavy cruiser behind us was dodgin shells. The flagship was almost out of range, but the second cruiser was in the midst of almost constant waterspouts. A few of them straddled her neatly. Others burst off her bow. When one pattern of shells landed ahead of her and to starboard, her captain turned her sharply. By the time the Jap gunners had corrected their range for the next salvo, the cruiser wasn't there.
Admiral McMorris, hands jammed in the pockets of his parka, said, "Order two destroyers to lay a smoke screen."
The destroyers seemed almost to turn on a pivot. Lt. Commander A. A. (Bull) Ovrum, pointed at the leading Jap ship.
"That cruiser's afire,' he said. "look at him."
The Jap was dropping back. Course changes for the American forces
were being ordered fast. I stopped trying to keep track of our
direction. I was not conscious of the fact that we were again closing
with the Jap fleet rather than running away until the dry voice of the
flagship captain, addressing the admiral, asked permission to open fire
on the nearest Jap vessel. It was my old friend the three-stacker, out
all by herself on the end of the Jap firing line.
The flagship's batteries opened immediately, shaking the ship.
Admiral McMorris, his lips hardly moving, said, "Order three
destroyers to make a torpedo attach."
An aide said, "Aye, aye," No one else on the bridge said anything
at all. Not then, not when the three little destroyers--they look big
in the harbor but terribly small in battle--turned away from us and back
toward that Japanese fleet coming relentlessly toward us just beyond the
criss-crossed pail of smoke that hid our second cruiser.
There was confusion of new reports. On the other side of the smoke,
the gun flashes ran together. One flash was larger than the others,
with an exploding smoke ball above it. Then there was just the smoky
center to a seascape, with three destroyers snouts coming out of it.
The flashes continued. She still fell near us. But there were
finally none at all. The communications system bawled new reports.
Commander Ovrum grinned at me.
"We're going east," he said.
Commander B. A. Robbins said, "Ill be damned if it didn't work."
Lieutenant W. L. Lamberson,
his face still long because he had not been allowed to take his airplane
off the catapult, turned directly to me. "You and I," he said, "might as
well go make some sandwiches."
I was astounded to find out that it was an hour and a half past
Japanese ships pumping shells at this smaller force for more than
four hours scored one of the lowest casualty lists on record. The
American losses: Seven men dead, six seriously injured, 14 slightly