ABBOT vs. Cowpens

Charles Angevine, S1/c, USNR

Angevine

On October 17, 1943, I was a seventeen year old seaman second class aboard the USS Abbot. I had been on board exactly five weeks and was still trying to absorb the differences between this fine new ship and my previous assignment, the USS Tattnall, a converted World War 1 four piper. At this time the Abbot was over crowded and I had not received a permanent bunk assignment. So at night I either "hot bunked" or slept on the deck top side.

Now, nearly fifty five years later I decided I would attempt to tell the story of the Abbot-Cowpens collision. Inquiring of my many associates I was finally directed to the National Archives where I purchased the following documents relating to the collision:

Needless to say, I was amazed by the fact that they could not provide similar records for both ships. Certainly, with a collision of this magnitude with deaths and damages to both vessels it seems there should have been more documentation on the collision. However, I will do the best I can with what I have.

Quoting from the USS Abbot ship’s history, the collision was reported in this manner:

“On October 17, the Abbot got underway in company with a carrier group to conduct training operations. At 0210 on the morning of the 18th, the Abbot was directed to leave screening station and take plane guard station for night flight operations. And at 0224, we collided with the Cowpens. Approximately thirty feet of our bow was twisted to a 70 degree right angle. Repair parties immediately went into action as well as all hands who could be of assistance.

“Bulkheads were shored to prevent further damage, water was pumped into the sea from the lower compartments, and through tireless effort, the forward part of the ship was secured to the maximum of watertight integrity.

“Unfortunately, three of our shipmates were killed, others injured. The Cowpens suffered only minor injuries. Thankful that our casualties were not more and with heavy hearts, we commenced the slow journey back to Pearl.”

Not very much detail in that report, but I guess when considering the whole ship’s history, this was just one small event. Also there’s not much there to build on in an attempt to re-tell the story after all these years.

Quoting now from the Casualty Assistance Branch Files, obtained from National Archives:

“As a result of a collision, the below listed fatalities and causalities were incurred on board:

“0405, NEDEAU, Frederic Louis, 667-15-64, S 2/C V-6 USNR was pronounced dead by the ship’s doctor. Death caused by compression of lungs.

“0425, HALLIGAN, Edward James, 201-69-03, BM 1/C USN and CERESNA, Arthur Walter, 706-50-25, GM 2/CV-6 USNR were pronounced dead by the ship’s doctor. Halligan’s death caused by crushing abdomen and chest, and Ceresna’s death caused by injuries, multiple extreme.

“SHENOFELT, A. K.,321-23-59 MM 1/C USN received severe contusion of neck, shock, possible fractured skull and possible dislocation of cervical vertebra.

“GOSLEE, Robert Anthony, 244-88-58 S 1/C USN received contusion of left hip.

“MAHNKE, Edward James, 620-62-32 F 1/C V-6 USNR received contusion of left leg and shock.

“NAULT, Noel Ludger, 573-12-30 S 1/C V-6 USNR received laceration of the right ankle.

“All the above listed casualties were given medical treatment by the ship’s doctor.”

More cold hard facts, as required by Navy Regulations. A sad commentary that nine men could be killed or injured and all you can get are cold hard facts.

Quoting now from the War Diary of the USS Cowpens:

“00-04 Steaming on course 085T in company with destroyer screen USS CHAUNCEY, USS Abbot and USS COGLAN. Standard speed is 15 knots, steaming at 27 knots, 282 rpm.

“0218 Changed course to 095T.

“0222 It appeared the USS Abbot was going to ram this ship. The Captain ordered right full rudder and sounded collision quarters About 0222-20 the USS Abbot struck the ship at frame 133 starboard side. Stopped all engines immediately. USS Abbot cleared the side and stopped on the starboard quarter of the Cowpens.”

This war diary goes on to describe the maneuvering that was done after the collision and a preliminary report of the damage suffered. One man on the Cowpens was injured in the collision, GUY, C.J. RM 2/C was admitted to sick bay with a diagnosis of contusions, multiple of the scalp and lower left leg. Injuries suffered during collision.

So once again we have the cold hard facts. As Joe Friday used to say on Dragnet, “The facts, ma’am, just the facts!” These facts I’m sure didn’t reflect what we 17 and 18 year old swabs felt during and immediately after the collision. I have written to many of my former shipmates to get their feelings, and so far the response has not been overwhelming. The comments from those who answered my letters are shown below. To those who didn’t respond, I respect the fact that you may not want to talk about it, or have forgotten over the years. If further responses come in I will append this story at some future date.

My plan before I started was to interview, by mail, those I wrote to. Since the response has been so small I will have to interview myself first and hope that more info will arrive before I finish.

First Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43?

Answer: Charles N. Angevine, age 18, seaman second class.

Second Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: For the life of me I can’t remember exactly where I was. I know I was off watch and probably sleeping somewhere.

Third Question: What were your first thoughts when you heard/felt the collision?

Answer: Probably “what happened, did we get hit by a torpedo? Are we going to sink?” Being a non swimmer this bothered me no end. After things calmed down some I remembered that the 18th was my 18th birthday. I will say I never have received such an outrageous birthday gift as the one I received on 10/18/43. Hopefully I never will.

Fourth Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: Mostly I guess I remember “all hands” turning to and dragging both anchor chains from the chain lockers, in the bent bow, back to the deck of the fantail. Let me say it was some tough job, that chain is heavy and it seemed to almost be endless. As for the trip back to Pearl, I wondered if we’d make it or not and as I recall it seemed to take forever to get there. Once it got to be daylight and I saw what had happened and where the bow folded to starboard I thanked God for saving me. A few days prior to the collision I had “hot bunked” in the row of bunks where the bow folded. Had I been there that night I probably wouldn’t be here writing this today.

Fifth Question: What do you remember about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being re-built?

Answer: Mostly the hard work getting the old girl back in shape. Scraping the bottom while in dry dock was about the most unpleasant task, followed closely by unloading and reloading the ammunition. Being a pretty skinny kid in those days, manual labor didn’t come easy to me. But it had to be done, and seamen were invented to do the hard and dirty chores of the Navy. The barracks life at Aiea Heights wasn’t too tough to accept and partly, at least, made up for the long, hard days at the dry dock.

Sixth Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: None that I can think of, unless you count my always having a life jacket nearby. Being a non-swimmer I had always tried to do that. I guess I was more conscious of the need to do it after the collision.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43?

Answer: Herschel Bonnet, I was 18 and an SK 3C.

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: I was asleep in my bunk, which was the top one in that tier. This was in the compartment just forward of the mess hall, and just aft of the compartment where the men died.

Question: What were your first thoughts when you heard/felt the collision?

Answer: I have a history of being a sound sleeper and my first knowledge of the collision was when someone woke me up. As I looked around the compartment the lights were on and the damage control party was shoring up the forward bulkhead. I believe we went to General Quarters about that time.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: The three(?) days steaming back to Pearl very slowly were difficult. As a member of the supply gang, I had the responsibility of storerooms and several of ours were flooded forward of the CPO quarters. I clearly remember it was necessary to store some of the deceased in the mail room which was on the starboard side, just opposite the supply office. Standing watches at night were difficult in passing this area as the stench was overwhelming. I don’t know why we weren’t able to use the ship’s reefers for this purpose.

Question: What do you remember about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being rebuilt?

Answer: After arriving in Pearl I remember the deceased being taken down the gangway. The three who were killed were Halligan, BM 1/C; Ceresna GM 2/C and Nedeau S 1/C. Oddly just a few days before the collision, Halligan and I had a discussion up on the flying bridge about his life insurance beneficiary situation. We all had $ 10K insurance which cost us $ 6.40 per month. During the installation of the new bow, I remember the daily bus trips back and forth from the barracks on red hill. We had considerable work in supply to document the loss of Title B equipment, preparing surveys, etc. (subsequently, we were able to explain the loss of other equipment as being lost due to the collision and this was never challenged).

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: I think the most significant change in my life is continuing the memory of the three lost shipmates, I knew them well. I can’t recall the exact circumstances but I’ve always remembered that I should have been in Nedeau’s bunk that night. When I came off mess cooking in August, I should have moved out of the mess deck and into the forward compartment where Nedeau bunked.... for some reason, I ended up in the next compartment aft... my memory of this is that Nedeau was my relief as a mess cook and we should have just exchanged bunks. I don’t recall any panic or fear at the time -- that’s just the way most of us felt at that time in our teenage lives.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43.

Answer: Neil P. Ross, age 18 and a seaman first.

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: That night I was most likely asleep in my bunk, which by the way, was the bottom bunk next to the aft ladder to the fantail. When the ships collided I woke up on the deck and quickly got up and headed up the ladder as the feeling was that we had been torpedoed.

Question: What were your first thoughts when you heard/felt the collision?

Answer: I was half way up the ladder when the General Quarters alarm sounded, so I started back down, as my GQ station was in the lower handling room of gun number 3. I had to fight my way down the ladder as others were fighting to get out. After a struggle I made it to my station along with the other three men stationed there. As you know the hatch is closed and locked by the damage control

gang once the station is manned. This was always a nerve wracking experience, and much more so on this night. My duty was to man the phones connecting us to the bridge, which I did as fast as I could and immediately asked what happened. The reply was,"My God, the bow is gone."

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: When I told those in the room with me what I learned a panic occurred. One guy was a mess attendant and he made a dart for the ladder out when one of the white boys pulled his knife and said," No one goes up that ladder ahead of me." Naturally we could only get out if the damage control guys opened the hatch, so we were a scared bunch of guys. Making it back to Pearl was a big relief to all.

Question: What do you remember about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being rebuilt?

Answer: We were taken off the ship to live in barracks while the ship was being repaired. I remember many great liberties, especially staying at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for one night at the cost of twenty five cents.

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: The tragedy of this event stays with me and I remember the three shipmates who were killed in the collision, especially so as I had to stand watch over the three body bags while waiting for them to be taken off the ship by ambulances.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43?

Answer: John F. Connors, JR, age 26, EM 2/C.

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: I was standing watch in the after engine room. I was in the process of greasing the electric motor on a ventilation fan. At the moment of the crash the orders came down from the bridge for "Crash Astern". This resulted in bells, sirens and whistles going off. This order came shortly before the impact. There was no panic, the machinist mates carried out their duties in a well trained and disciplined manner.

Question: What was your first reaction to hearing/feeling the collision?

Answer: I do not recall the force of the impact. General Quarters was then sounded and I went to my battle station which was in the emergency diesel engine room. It was located two decks down in the same area as the mess hall, one compartment aft of the point where the bow had been folded back.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: From this point on my memory doesn’t serve me too well. I do remember the slow trip back to Pearl Harbor. I also remember the bodies were kept in the 40 mm ammunition locker on the starboard side on the main deck. On occasion, as we passed by we could observe the bodies and it seemed to me that they were turning black. I must be the luckiest person in the world being on watch at the time because the bunks of the men that were killed were one ahead of me, one below me and one across the passage way. I also remember that when I was finally allowed to enter my sleeping compartment to retrieve my possessions, I could see an aluminum locker jammed into my bunk. Of course we were in shock and frightened, but due to our youth and being thankful for being alive. A sense of immortality, as we had survived this terrible incident. As a result of this incident, fate may have spared us the rigorous and murderous attacks of the Kamikazes in the Okinawa campaign.

Question: What do you remember most about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being rebuilt?

Answer: I can’t add anything further, either to this question or the next one.

NEXT MAN

The next man isn’t a shipmate, in fact it is a widow. When I sent out my letters full of questions I wasn’t aware that Vic Loranger had passed away on 2 May 1996. His widow, Betty, was kind enough to answer my letter and to tell my what she remembers Vic telling her about the collision.

Question: Betty, what was Vic’s age and rank on 10/18/43?

Answer: He was 19 years old and a Yeoman third.

Question: Where was he when the collision occurred?

Answer: I believe he said he was in his bunk.

Question: What was his first thought when he heard/felt the collision?

Answer: He said he was very surprised and wondered if we really got hit and by what.

Question: What were his thoughts during the time we were getting the Abbot back under control, and during the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: He felt that we had the best young men and officers of any ship. He also felt that he had a lot of fun there, but had no desire to ever go back.

Question: Did he have any after affects or changes in his life as a result of the collision?

Answer: He thanked God that we were still alive and could continue to serve our country.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rate on 10/18/43.

Answer: Art Hoffman. I was 26 and a CY. I served on Abbot from 12/42 thru 8/44 when I was commissioned and transferred to new construction.

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred ?

Answer: I was in the ship’s office.

Question: What were your first thoughts when your heard/felt the collision?

Answer: I thought we had been torpedoed.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: After GQ sounded, Cdr Gabbert and I went forward through the watertight doors — I with phones to the skipper (Cdr Dornin) — through the chief’s quarters with JSCG assessing damage as we went. He had thought the bow "would go under" and did not want to risk any of the crew (except him self and his talker). I also wondered if we’d make it back okay.

Question: Were there any after affects or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: Regrets at the loss of the three guys and the letters that had to be written.

Art had these additional comments:

While the ship was being outfitted with new radar in Pearl before the collision I had "bribed" shipyard workers to install a locker and bunk in the ship’s office for my use. When I moved there from the Chief’s quarters, Halligan, BM 1/C took over my bunk and part of my locker. He was one of the three that were killed, a great guy and he had such plans for "after the war". Lt. Ed Tremper had the conn that night. I am not sure but I think the Abbot was cleared in this collision.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43?

Answer: Ken Moore, age 20, BM 2C

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: I was asleep in the forward compartment with Halligan, Ceresna and Nedeau and the others. I fell to the deck unharmed and felt I was one of the lucky ones.

Question: What was your first reaction to hearing/feeling the collision?

Answer: I was still half asleep and thought I was dreaming until I heard screams from the other side of the compartment. It was Foster Hodges, trapped behind two bunks. Someone ran to the mess hall and got bolt cutters and we freed Hodges. About that time the GQ alarm sounded and we went to our battle stations for muster. As you know, all but three were accounted for.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: I was so busy doing whatever I was told that I don"t remember much else.

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: The only after affect I had was that I never slept in that compartment again.

NEXT MAN

Question: State you name, age and rank on 10/18/43?

Answer: Albert E. Johnson, age 18, FC 3C

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: In my bunk asleep.

Question: What was your first reaction to hearing/feeling the collision?

Answer: I thought a torpedo had hit the ship.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: I thought of the men who were trapped and also wondered if the ship would make it back to Pearl.

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: I had no after affects, once the initial shock wore off I was okay.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank as of 10/18/43?

Answer: George J. Pacitti, age 20, ships cook third class

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: I was in the galley off the main deck.

Question: What were your first thoughts after you heard/felt the collision?

Answer: Very mixed, we’ve been hit, got to go forward and help.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: I was very down. My best buddy had died with me next to him. This was Fred Nedeau, S 1/C. We had been through boot camp together.

Question: What do you remember about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being rebuilt?

Answer: None given.

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: Not really. The hardest part of this whole ordeal was when I finally got home and to go and see Fred’s parents and tell them what had happened. Since then I never talk too much about it, except to say that I was on a destroyer, USS Abbot in the Pacific.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43

Answer: Arthur Donely, age 18, GM3/C

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: I was on 0000 to 0400 watch on the #4 40 mm gun. Out of boredom I had climbed up to the aft stack platform where the electronic gun sight was.

Question: What were your first thoughts when you heard/felt the collision?

Answer: From my position on the aft stack I was an eye witness to the collision. When we dropped out of formation I could see that collision was imminent. I shouted down to the gun crew to tell them we were going to ram. When GQ sounded I went down to my battle station at the 40 mm gun.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: I remember being able to see the causalities when they were brought up from below. I saw Dr. Kelly give each of them an injection of heart stimulant. But it was too late as they were already dead. The bodies were placed in body bags and stored on the port side of the main deck under the balsa raft. Not in the ammo locker as someone else stated. I know because one of my duties was to maintain the ammo lockers.

Question: What do you remember about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being rebuilt?

Answer: I remember being one of 6 men who were the honor guard at the burials. Others were: Eldred, GM3/C; Emerson, GM3/C; Shannon, GM2/C; Dressel,GM2/C and Hutchens, GM2/C.

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: I guess not. Ten days before the war ended I reenlisted for 4 more years.

NEXT MAN

Question: State your name, age and rank on 10/18/43

Answer: Howard Nickerson, age 21, FC3/C

Question: Where were you when the collision occurred?

Answer: I was near my bunk after a late watch relief and about to take a shower. I felt the hair on the back of my neck begin to rise and had a premonition that I shouldn’t shower. So I washed off a little and hit the sack.

Question: What were your first thoughts when you heard/felt the collision?

Answer: I had only been in the sack a short time when there was a bang, a crunching of metal and a jolt occurred and the ship seemed to stand still in the water.

Question: What do you remember most about the time immediately after the collision and the trip back to Pearl Harbor?

Answer: I remember hearing noise and confusion from the forward compartment. I dressed and looked in the compartment and could see bodies, bedding, clothes and mattresses scattered around. I went to my battle station when GQ sounded and the word was passed that we had collided with the Cowpens. The trip back to Pearl was slow and the bow would sway from the waves and the sides of the ship would buckle, mostly on the starboard side.

Question: What do you remember about the time spent in Pearl while the ship was being rebuilt?

Answer: Unloading all provisions, fuel and ammunition, even the water tanks. We then were in dry dock where the damaged bow was cut off the ship, and the openings were closed off. Next we were alongside a pier while the new bow was built across the street. All the guns and torpedo tubes were lifted off and the raceways machined to be sure the collision had not warped the raceways. One job I had was to go down into the water tanks and scrub them clean. It was a hot and confining job.

Question: Were there any after affects, or lasting changes in your life as a result of the collision?

Answer: None stated

Also see Charlie Angevine’s memories of the navy.