Truk Attack and Return to USA with Damaged Ships

From the Memoir of Lieut. John P. (Jack) Underhill, Jr. USNR:

Tactical surprise was achieved. A dawn fighter sweep caught most of the Japanese planes on the ground. The Japanese fleet was not in the harbor, only two light cruisers and eight destroyers. However, there were SO supply vessels in the harbor including six fleet tankers. During the attack, the six tankers were sunk along with 20 other ships. The warships managed to get underway, but one cruiser and two destroyers were sunk and the other warships damaged. Two hundred airplanes were destroyed on the ground and another 70 damaged.

That evening, Japanese torpedo planes attacked our carrier task groups which had retired to the east of Truk. This was the first time that we fired our guns at the enemy. The carrier INTREPID in our task group was hit in the starboard quarter, flooding the steering engine room. After being hit, the INTREPID had its rudder jammer and could only travel in a circle. The STEPHEN POTTER and another destroyer were directed to stand by the INTREPID and form an anti‑submarine screen for her.

It was pitch black at night, and we could barely make out the carrier. We were still at General Quarters where I was at my station as the GQ Bridge Officer. In those early days, Captain Crichton took the conn of the ship during General Quarters. After l gained more experience, I took the corn of the ship during General Quarters.

As we turned toward the INTREPID to take station on her port bow, Captain Crichton turned to me and said, "Underhill, what side of the INTREPID is the superstructure on?" I don't know, so I turned to the First Class Signalman Duffin and asked him. He didn't know either.

At the time, INTREPID was dead in the water as they tried to force the rudder into midship's position. We could not determine which was the bow and which was the stern of the ship in the darkness. Fortunately, the other destroyer headed for the starboard bow and solved our problem for us. After the ENTERPRISE got her rudder into the midship's position, she was able to steer with her port and starboard engines and make 20 knots. The ENTERPRISE was detached from the task group and ordered to return to Majuro. We were ordered to accompany her.

Taken from "USS Stephen Potter - The Story of DD538" compiled and edited by Lt. Wilson F. (Bill) Minor USNR (Ret).