#6 USS Halsey Powell

USS Halsey Powell (DD 686) taken on November 13, 1943, place unknown. Image: Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum, via navsource.org.

I asked for a transfer to a fleet ship, preferably a destroyer. My request was granted. We were given 30 days leave and new orders. I was assigned to the Electric and Hydraulic School at the Washington, DC Navy Yard to learn about the new gun mounts on the new destroyers being launched. My crew, all being from the mid-west, were to report to the Armed Guard Center in Chicago. I never heard from them again and I assume they became gun captains of new Armed Guard crews.

Charlie went to school to learn about the 5″/38 caliber gun, which was the standard main armament on destroyers. This was a dual-purpose gun, used for both surface and air targets. You can learn all about it on Wikipedia. Charlie ended up manning one of these guns for the rest of the war.

5″/38 caliber gun mount. Image: Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

Somewhere along the line I finally got my Gunner’s Mate 2/c (Second Class) rating. Upon completing the course at the gunnery school I advanced to Gunner’s Mate 1/c (First Class). This rate and Boatswain’s Mate 1/c were two of the top rates in the navy. My next orders were to report to Staten Island, NY to join a new ship just being completed

In Navy parlance your “rating” is your profession, such as Gunner’s Mate, and your “rate” is your rank, such as 2/c. When combined they are usually just referred to as your “rate”. Gunner’s Mate and Boatswain’s Mate were two of the original ratings created by the Naval Armament Act of 1794, which was the birth of the United States Navy. In Charlie’s day both were “right arm rates” which meant that their rating badges were worn on the right sleeve as opposed to everyone else who wore them on the left. All ratings of the Seaman branch (Gunner’s Mates, Boatswains, Coxswains, and others) wore their badges on the right, and men in these positions were traditionally viewed as tougher and more “salty” than other ratings.

It was the USS Halsey Powell DD-686. She was named after Captain Halsey Powell who won a Distinguished Service Medal for service during World War I on the destroyer USS Parker.

The Halsey Powell was a Fletcher class destroyer, the most numerous American destroyer of the war. A full account of the class can be found on Wikipedia.

The 686 was launched on June 30th 1943 and put in commission on Oct. 25th 1943. On our “shakedown”, a trip used to test all the equipment to find any bugs, we had an unusual incident. Our ship had porcelain sinks and urinals. When we dropped our depth charges these cracked and fell off the bulkheads. They were later replaced with metal.

Charlie doesn’t mention this, but he was a Halsey Powell “Plankowner.” This is an unofficial honor for those who were part of the original crew when a ship is first commissioned.

Photograph of the Halsey Powell taken from the flight deck of the USS Cowpens, ca. 1943.

This picture was taken from the flight deck of the small carrier USS Cowpens somewhere in the South Pacific. When the Halsey Powell was launched she had two sets of torpedo tubes. This picture shows her with just one set and new back-to-back quad 40 mms amidships. At this time in the war the greatest danger was from planes, not enemy ships. I do not recall when we were refitted however it must have been after we were hit.

The Cowpens (CVL-25) was an Independence class light aircraft carrier. Launched in 1943 she had a busy career, earning 12 battle stars during the war. The quad 40s that Charlie refers to is the Bofors 40 mm autocannon. This was the most ubiquitous medium-weight anti-aircraft gun used during the war and came in single, double, or quadruple-barrel mounts. The Halsey Powell would eventually have fourteen Bofors guns mounted in both double and quad configurations. Charlie also mentions being “hit” here, a reference to the Kamikaze attack which he will discuss later.

Quadruple 40mm Bofors mount in action on the USS Hornet. Image: Wikimedia commons.

After a couple of months operating on the east coast sharpening our gunnery skills and maneuvers we headed through the Panama Canal for San Francisco. We then left for Pearl Harbor with a convoy of tankers. We then joined our first destroyer squadron and proceeded to the Marshall Islands.

The rest of the ship’s history and descriptions of the action is in my booklet, “History of USS Halsey Powell DD 686”, which I have at home and that you can have at some later date. I do not have much in the way of memorabilia of this time as most of my letters from home, etc. were destroyed.

Charlie gave me this booklet sometime later, though I don’t recall when. Since it covers the career of the Halsey Powell in detail I plan on devoting an entire post to it in the future.

Postcards from the Stage Door Canteen (this and the following two).

These postcards were given out at the “Stage Door Canteens”. The canteens were in all the major cities and on liberty we would visit for free chow, to write letters and even dance with some movie stars. Many celebrities would donate their time to entertain the service men. We enjoyed visiting these places because not having much money and not knowing anyone in these cities we could enjoy ourselves and get away from our ship for a few hours.

Novelty “Last Will and Testament” of Hitler, 1942.
Novelty “Last Will and Testament” of Hitler, 1942.

People at home would send us gifts, cookies, scarfs, shaving lotion, etc. I do not remember if I thanked Mr. Martin.

Moral-boosting letter to Charlie from the home front, ca. 1943.

The invasion of Saipan and Tinian was a tough battle for the Marines. It lasted from 6/15 to 8/10 1944. We shelled the island as the Marines were landing and then provided fire support as they proceeded to over-run the Japanese defenses.

As you can see in the image below, the Halsey Powell (at the top) was joined by numerous ships including battleships, heavy and light cruisers, and destroyers during the invasion of Saipan. Among this group were the battleships California and Tennessee, both sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequently rebuilt, as well as the ill-fated cruiser Indianapolis.

Fire support for the invasion of Saipan. Image: navsource.org.

One of the sailors on my ship had to go before the captain for some infraction. This is called a “Captain’s Mast”. I was ordered to take him ashore and turn him over to the Marines to help bury the Japanese dead as we were to spend a few days mopping up the Japanese. Although most of the Japanese soldiers died fighting [there] were many taken prisoner. I bought these buttons from a Marine guard. I’m not sure whether they are from a sailor’s or Japanese marine’s uniform.

Japanese uniform buttons purchased by Charlie from a Marine on Saipan, 1944.

Both the large center badge and the small aluminum badges were from Japanese navy conscripted civilian workers. On the aluminum badges the character in red is simplified from the Kanji character for “conscript” (), and the green leaves represent the weapons department. The large badge is from a navy cap, and the white zigzag stripe means that the owner was a civilian.

This story was printed in the newspaper at home. Because of restrictions the correspondent could not give the names of the ships involved nor the date. They are as follows:

Date: August 30, 1944

Carrier: USS Intrepid

Destroyer: USS Halsey Powell

During out tour of duty we rescued and returned to their ships 10 pilots and 12 air crew.

Newspaper story recounting the Halsey Powell rescuing airmen from the USS Intrepid, 1944.

Our ship participated as part of Task Force 38 on the assault on the Philippine Islands. The army captured these Japanese when they took back the island. They might have been a construction battalion.

Japanese prisoners after the liberation of the Philippines, 1944-45.

Japanese two man submarine captured in the Philippines.

Japanese Type A Kō-hyōteki-class submarine captured in the Philippines, 1944-45.

To keep the Japanese guessing the task force would attack different islands every day or night. This required steaming at full speed to reach the targeted area. This used up great amounts of fuel. We would meet with tankers at a predetermined destination. The large ships [such as] carriers, battleships, or cruisers would fill their bunkers and later the destroyers would come in off the picket line and take on their fuel. It was a difficult job and took good seamanship.

This picture show shows how difficult it was. The job was done by “deck apes” (Seaman 1st and 2nd class) as well as “strikers” from other divisions under the direction of “bosun mates”. This picture shows guns 1 and 2. The gang of onlookers were probably off duty “black gang” members”.

“Deck apes” were members of the deck department and were responsible for maintenance and upkeep of the ship. Many thought this was a tough, undesirable job. “Strikers” were men who did not have ratings (occupations) and were usually sent to the deck department. “Black gang” refers to the crew who worked in the engine room. The name comes from the time when ships were fired by coal, and the engine room crew would literally be black with soot.

Newsreel showing the destroyer Samuel N. Moore refueling at sea from an aircraft carrier, 1954. This procedure was exactly the same when Charlie was on the Halsey Powell, and this film shows how hair-raising it could be.
Card certifying Charlie as a Shellback (having crossed the Equator). He had already crossed on the SS Alexander H. Stephens but didn’t have his certificate with him on the Halsey Powell. He thus had to be re-initiated into the Ancient Order of the Deep.

One thought on “#6 USS Halsey Powell

  1. Cheryl Rogan
    Cheryl Rogan says:

    When of the best blog yet. So interesting, loved the way Dad wrote what he thought! Great film clip too!

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