CHAPTER SIX

OUR STAY IN THE PHILIPPINES

Shortly after midnight on 20 October we took a “picket” station 10,000 yards ahead of the formation. “Picket duty” is for the purpose of establishing an “all is well” for the rest of the ships, and to intercept any enemy contact in the area. We returned to join the formation before daylight and accompanied the transports into San Pedro Bay.

We were all at our battle stations, expecting the worst, when shortly after dawn one “bogie” appeared high and fly-like in the still dim western sky. A beautiful dive was all that saved him. While everyone thought that he was going to hit the “drink,” he pulled out and was gone, but not for long. We screened the bay throughout the day, while the smaller ships were unloading troops and supplies. Early in the evening we proceeded to the fire support area north of Surigao Strait through a smoke screen, as air raids were expected. And the expectation came true but the smoke was so thick that the planes were unable to see us and we were unable to see the planes. While necessarily, but cautiously, underway in the invisible undercast, we made a beautiful maneuver in coming alongside a transport. Everyone remembers the sarcastic, ironic remarks made between personnel of the two ships, but Abbot men more clearly recall how rapidly they manned their, and in some cases, someone else’s battle station when three twin-engined Nip bombers nearly took off our mast. With a fantail 20mm, Ritenour, S1c, ably coached by CTM Witt, was the only man that got a good shot at the planes. Throughout the entire night the moon shone brightly, and small barges kept smoke pots burning to hide the ships. Battlewagons and cruisers fired their salvos directly over us throughout the night, while other ships could be seen firing ack-ack at various intervals. Anything that looked like a “bogie” drew a stream of fire. We fired starshells into the Dulag area early in the evening. The remainder of the night we conducted harassing shore bombardment on enemy lines at several different points, expending over 200 rounds of 5-inch ammo.

During the pre-dawn alert on the morning of the 21st there were several Jap planes in the vicinity, but due to the large number of ships present in the bay, firing was kept at a minimum. We did take a “Frances,” (a twin-motored bomber) under fire on our port bow, opening fire at a range of about 5,000 yards. We threw everything at that plane but the “dehydrated spuds” but didn’t bring him down. The Jap was after the “big stuff,” however, and tossed his bomb at the bow of the U.S.S. California in an unsuccessful attempt to damage her. The tables were turned and the “Prune Barge” scored a direct hit on the “Frances” as it passed over her bow and crashed on her starboard side. For the next few minutes there was shrapnel falling all around and the splashes in the water from other anti-aircraft shells didn’t look like fish flopping. This incident will always be a “sea story” for Abbot crewmen. Never will it be determined how that “Frances” got through our barrage.

We patrolled the bay for the remainder of the day. That night we retired with a transport group and headed for Hollandia to pick up more “dogies.”

The Abbot anchored in Humboldt Bay, Hollandia, New Guinea on 25 October with a pronounced sigh of relief that we had come through another “hot” engagement. After receiving a supply of ammo, provisions, other necessities, and of course, the always looked for but “hard-to-get-more-than-your-share” of beer, we proceeded to Aitape, about 110 miles “down” the coast of New Guinea. In our group was one transport which was to pick up a load of “dogies,” who were indeed anxious to leave the area. Our sentiments were the same. It looked to be a desolate place, and the soldiers were willing to swap anything to get a carton of smokes or some candy. We got our first taste of army “clodhoppers” when we swapped them for some chow. The two Plouffe brothers met here after not having seen each other in over two years.

We returned to Hollandia on 1 November but were underway again on the 2nd, setting our course for Morotai Island to pick up troops and mechanized equipment. Arrived Morotai on the 5th where we were subjected to nine Jap air raids during the five nights we spent at the port, sometimes keeping us at our stations for three hours. But we persisted in our usual beer parties to help ease the bitterness that the Nips were causing.

All too jovial was the crew, when at reveille one morning, word had leaked out that we could expect to return to Pearl Harbor. In fact, the word was so “hush-hush” that our Comm. Officer, Lt. Magill closed the door of the coding shack and placed the cover on the “jeep” while breaking the message. But not long afterward another message was received that our squadron would return to Pearl Harbor but — and this is where it hurt — less the Abbot and the Stembel, one of our sister ship in the squadron. All this seemed untrue and scuttlebutt really got hot until Lt. Baranger, our Exec, gave his well to be remembered “just one more operation” speech on the fantail. The basis for his statements being the fact that we had missed the Gilbert’s operation, but ironically, the words became the theme for crew members as we began every new assignment thereafter — “just one more, boys, just one more.” And there were quite a few more. While on exercises out of Morotai, lookouts spotted an outrigger canoe drifting in the water. Since the First Lieutenant was a hobbyist of the first degree, he finally convinced the CBM to hoist it aboard, with much expended effort from many of the men. It was never learned what happened to the canoe since it disappeared from the fantail during the dark night hours. Someone may have pulled a “rubber life raft special” and swapped it for some urgently needed requirement which only a native’s daughter can possess.

We were underway on November 10 for Leyte with various types of resupply ships. On the 14th, a “Jill” (Jap torpedo bomber) made a run on the group, strafing a destroyer and tossing his, fish at the Catskill (LSV-1). The Catskill, while turning a hard right rudder to avoid the “fish,” shot down the plane which crashed about 1000 yards forward of us. There was much debris scattered about as we passed through the area and the Captain stood by with his trusty rifle, ready to engage any survivors who might bob up to the surface of the water. Meanwhile, the “fish” completely missed all possible targets and its wake was visible for a considerable distance.

The Abbot arrived at Leyte on the fourteenth of November and it was not long before we were under attack by four enemy planes. Ack-ack from ships got one and P-38’s polished off the other three. We remained at condition “one easy” all during the day and ate chow at battle stations late that afternoon. The ship got underway for Manus. While en route our orders were changed, however, and we joined another task group which was headed for Leyte. While transiting the entrance to Leyte Gulf during the night of the 22nd, we were under attack three times. There were several “bogies” in the area and one “Jill” dropped a “fish” about 500 yards off our port quarter. There are many stories as to how close both the plane and the fish came to the ship. It is a known fact, however, that the greater number of men having battle stations around the fantail hit the deck as the plane was coming in. And their judgment was sound as “things” could have happened.

The 23rd of November, Thanksgiving Day, was celebrated in Leyte Gulf; and did we eat chow! — “K” rations — although that wasn’t the planned menu. But such is war. We were at battle stations all day. Our spirits were greatly bolstered by receipt of mail, however. While trying to absorb our “sugar reports” a squadron of P-38’s shot down a “bogie” off our port bow and in desperation he tried to dive into a transport anchored nearby. The plane came about as close as was possible without hitting it, and we fired about 20 rounds of 5 inch at a “Judy” a short time later and sent it away smoking. In the afternoon another acrobatic “Judy” tested the skill of nearly all the ship’s gunners in the gulf as he maneuvered along the horizon darting up and down and around the shell bursts, but he kept right on going until the deadly skill of a more maneuverable P-38 pilot sent him spinning and burning into the “drink.” We also fired at “bogies” that night while proceeding to Hollandia with unobserved results.

Arriving at Hollandia on the 29th, we merely stood by while the remainder of our squadron displayed homeward bound pennants. These were trying days in our young lives. Our buddies were going home while we had “just one more operation” to do, and we began to wonder when that operation would commence.

For 23 long days the Navy seemed to forget us. The Mindoro operation was in the offing but the “A” was not included. Our “sugar reports” weren’t coming through regularly; the only things we seemed to get plenty of was recreation and beer. Saw a few WACS with negative results.

See the Christmas dinner menu

We remained at Hollandia until 23 December when we got underway for Leyte with the Alfred M. Lunt, a merchant ship. The trip proved dull and uneventful. Christmas Day services were held in the mess hall while underway with a very appropriate program planned and presented by both officers and men. We had good chow on Christmas Day but certainly suffered for it later. We entered San Pedro Bay on 27 December and moored alongside the S.S. Cape St. Elias for repairs.

The Japs were no longer a menace in that area, and air raids were few and far between.

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