COMING TO THE HOUSTON'S AID


In early October, 1944 as Task Force 58 was retiring from the initial carrier air strikes on Okinawa and Formosa (now Taiwan), the I-cruiser CANBERRA took a torpedo hit and had to be taken under tow by tree II cruiser WICHITA. A slow‑moving towing group was ordered to form up, with two light carrier, two more cruisers and four destroyers. We got assignment as one of the destroyers.

As the rest of the Task Force proceeded south toward Luzon, out little band of ships creeping along with the damaged cruiser was tagg as "BAIT GROUP ONE." A Japanese torpedo plane slipped in on the even. of October 14 and delivered a "fish" that hit the cruiser HOUSTON amidships, leaving it without power. Abandonment of the HOUSTON was first considered, but then she was taken under tow by the BOSTON. Tv fleet tugs arrived after another day and a half to take over towing the damaged cruisers.

The Japanese soon began picking on the bait group, sending a str of 107 aircraft, much of which was knocked down either by ship's gur or combat air patrol from the carriers. One torpedo plane, however, h the HOUSTON for the second time, this time in the stern.

(In his memoir, Jack Underhill remembers the occasion):

As OOD, I had the conn. I was standing on the wing of the bridge, looking out across the sea. I spotted two planes, just specks on the horizon, circling the formation low on the water. I had the fire control director to check them out for IFF (FRIEND OR FOE). It became clear they were Japanese. The question was whether or not to go to General Quarters and man all five S‑inch guns. That's what I decided to do.

None of the other ships had spotted the two until we opened fire. One of the planes came right over us, this was the plane that torpedoed the HOUSTON. The plane then went down in flames, while the second plane, going just astern of us was hit by our gunfire as it narrowly went down off the bow of the SANTA FE.

Again, abandoning the HOUSTON was in doubt, but even though she was perilously flooded, it was decided to save her, with only 200 men left aboard and the remaining to go over the side to be fetched from the sea by the "small boys," the destroyers. Our ship was designated to pick up men who jumped off the HOUSTON'S stern, and clustered together in the water. We lowered our cargo nets so they could grab hold and climb aboard, many being helped up by our people. We turned over two berthing compartments to the 90 men we picked up. After three days aboard, they were transferred to a hospital ship.

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