Wilson Sea Stories Library



How the 5"/38 Gun Crews Operated

By Dick Baker
Updated 24 September 2002


The 5"/38 gun mounted in Destroyers was carried in single and twin mounts. The Trainer sat on the right side of the gun, with a vision port/sight and the Pointer on the left, also with a vision port/sight. The Trainer moved the mount in bearing (azimuth) while the Pointer moved it in elevation. Both stations had 'follow the dial' instruments for Director control or by Main Battery Plot, and the means for local control, which meant the Pointer and trainer, actually aimed the guns. This was true of both single and twin mounts. The seats were those perforated steel tractor type which got pretty uncomfortable after a while.

The Main Gun Director, of course, was located above the Bridge and had the rangefinder and radar gear. Four men, including an officer, manned it. Main Battery Plot was located below, right aft of the Mess decks, in the IC Room, with the main gyro. Guns could be fired from the Director, Plot or locally. It was the practice in most ships for all firing keys to be closed at the command "Fire" so that the circuit would be completed, no matter what.

On twin mounts, projectile hoists were located between the guns and serviced by the upper handling room, immediately below the mount. Projectiles were carried nose down, the fuse being set automatically by the mechanism in the hoist. Projectile men were trained to wait until the last possible instant to remove the round from the hoist, as the fuse setting was constantly being adjusted. The projectile weighed around 55 pounds and was painted and stenciled according to its purpose. They had a brass rotating band toward the base, which was sharp and occasionally cut one's palm as the round was handled.

It was the drill to grasp the projectile firmly at the base with the right hand (for the right hand gun) pulling it into the left hand about midway along the ogive. It was raised to a 'Port Arms' position across the chest, then laid in the tray ahead of the powder case. The Projectile man had, of course, to wait for the Powder man. Once all was set, the Projectile man hit the rammer lever with his right hand, in passing en route to the hoist to grab another round.

The hydraulic rammer stuffed the packet up the spout and tripped the breech stop allowing the vertical breech to slide up and close. The breech slid in bronze rails and there was a fair amount of polished brass and gleaming steel, necessary for the mechanical functions. Paint could foul or otherwise gum up the works, so nothing important was painted.

The Powder man stood immediately to the rear of the Projectile man, and received his goods through a scuttle in the deck plate, shoved up from the handling room below. The cartridge case came with a protective steel fitting over the primer, called a 'butterfly', which the Powder man had to knock off as he pulled the case up from the scuttle. This required a certain dexterity of the wrist, as the butterfly had a small ring handle on it, to help the loader lift the 35-pound charge. One didn't want to flip the butterfly off before having solid control of the cartridge, you understand. Having done his gymnastics, it remained to throw the case onto the tray, steadying it with the left hand, while the first loader manipulated his projectile. This also required some athletic ability, as the gun was wildly training and elevating, trying to track a 'fast mover.' Immediately to the Powder man's right rear, the Hot Shell man stood, armed with a huge Asbestos mitt, to catch the fired casing and discharge it through the port provided in the rear of the gun house. These, being propelled from the breech at really healthy rate, could be a serious embarrassment to a gun crew, should this worthy fail, and allow them to ricochet around the interior of the mount. He had to be very fast and very accurate. He only got the one chance, you see. Normally the gun fired and ejected instantly.

The Gun Captain stood to the right rear of the gun, on a little elevated stand, supervising this orchestrated chaos. His was the responsibility for manually operating the breech in the event of power or hydraulic failure and commanding the crew in local control.

The Mount Captain commanded the mount, and operated the sound powered phones, passing orders and giving firing data as needed, and controlling the mount in local control. He perched on an elevated throne at the rear of the gun house between the guns in a twin mount, with a hatch he could stand in, the better to see his targets, etc.

In a twin mount, firing against aircraft, in a lively ship coursing through any sort of sea at all, life in the gun house was intense at times. It was invariably hot, an acrid odor of powder fumes permeated the place, a thin veil of smoke filled the air, and, for some reason, the unfired powder cases and projectiles had this peculiar sour smell, which burnt the throat and eyes. Imagine trying to maintain footing on heaving deck plates slick with hydraulic oil mist; hustle 55-pound high explosive shells into a gun now vertical, now at forty five degrees and now vertical again, all in a third of a second, for the accepted standard was twenty rounds a minute, bar nothing.

As the gun elevated, the breech end descended smartly into a well in the deck plates. It was not unknown for gunners to lose legs and feet as the heavy breech dropped down at an unfortunate moment. It has been known that gunners were mashed into chili by the breech, as a result of an untimely lurch. There was no warning or time for one, really, one had to keep his wits about him.

The hoist hung under the gun, into the upper handling room. That space did not move with the mount, as does a turret, but merely with the ship. The compartment is circular, and holds all the ready service ammunition in racks along the bulkhead. The Shell man handles the projectiles and the Powder man the cases. In his case, he simply grabs one and shoves up through the scuttle to the Powder man above. All charges are the same.

The Shell man, however, has to grab the selected round from an assortment around the compartment and hustle it to the hoist, set it in the cup properly, lest he jam the hoist, and see it on its way. Both are working in a stifling hot, heaving space filled with the noxious odors and, I might add, no hope of surviving if something goes amiss.

Below them, in the Magazine, a crew keeps the handling room supplied with the necessaries, manually humping the projectiles and powders in conditions even worse than those above them.

I know of one ship where Mount 52 fired just as Mount 51 opened the breech of the right hand gun, the mounts were so trained and pointed, that a flashback occurred from the muzzles of Mount 52 into Mt 51. Powder was ignited and all 17 men were killed instantly. Had a projectile gone off, the ship could have been lost. The Navy subsequently built some sort of stops into the firing circuits to prevent a recurrence. (My old man was a Gunner's Mate and he says this happened off Korea in 52 - 53)

The guns' crews are made up of Seaman branch sailors, from the deck force. Bosun's Mates make up the gun crew's petty officers, in the main. Gunner's Mates are the 'tech's but also serve as Mount Captains and sometimes, Gun Captains. The Director is manned by Fire Control Technicians, as is Plot. The Gunnery Officer may be in the Director or in Plot.



Richard Baker

USS Robert L. Wilson DD/DDE 847

As told to Jack Scully on February 13, 2016

Our ship was on her way home from a pirate catching mission in the Caribbean early in 1961. We were lollygagging along the equator coming north back to Norfolk. It had been a really hard two weeks, and so the skipper (Lt Cmdr Holt - a prince!) had the thought to hold swim call out there in that emerald green sea.

The water was so clear you could see a dropped quarter for thirty feet or more under the surface. The ship hove to and we rigged for the evolution and put the motor whaleboat in the water.

The boat was the standard US Navy, 26' wooden, motor whaler. It was a great sea boat and had a Gray Marine diesel. It was the official Navy drill to have the boat wet, with a corpsman and an officer aboard, for this sort of thing. Riflemen were appointed to watch for party-crashers, and everyone was lined up on the port lifelines ready to leap in when the Old Man gave the word. He himself was togged out in swim bloomers and wife beater undershirt ready to go . . . when somebody hollered "Shark!" It most certainly was, about 15 feet or so in length. This focused everyone's attention until somebody else yelled, "HOLY @#%$!" and another shark came out from under the ship, cruising lazily out toward the boat, which lay parallel to the ship. This bugger was H U G E. Big barrel and long as hell!

When he slid under the boat, along the keel, we saw that his snoot and tail extended past the ends of the boat. All interest in recreation evaporated instantly, and the Gunner's Mates were looking for a shot with their M1's. Others ran off to grab some concussion grenades. The sharks hadn't broken the surface, so the boat crew was wondering what all the galloping about, arm waving and yelling was about.

JC Cole was the corpsman, and a black guy. He finally looked over the gunwale to see what everyone was pointing at, and friends, I have heard all my life, about blacks being scared white, but, buddy, I've seen it. JC literally blanched. The Chief - no officer actually went out in the boat on chores - saw the "little" one and they were alongside in a flea fart and hooked on. And this time, and this time only, did they ride those monkey lines all the way up to the blocks and swung inboard onto the chocks, before they let go and came out of that boat.

From the 01 level, the chief looked back out there and saw the BIG one, and liked to crapped. No time was wasted in securing from swim call and the Wandering Willy was soon shed of that place on the chart and headed home.

Nobody got a picture, but when 'Jaws' came out, I know about 90 guys who were believers.




Personal tales of Harold Walter’s adventures aboard the Wilson

as told to Jack Scully on November 9, 2014


One time, when we were anchored out in Norfolk Bay I had duty of running the liberty launch into the fleet landing. About midnight, we went to the landing and there was a crowd of sailors waiting for the boat. Two of them were so drunk they couldn't hit the ground with their hats. One fell into the bay and the other one jumped in to save him. Neither one could swim. Sherman Zudekoff, my motorman, swam out to help the sailors who fell in. I quickly untied the whaleboat and shoved it out to them and helped get all three on board. Zudekoff didn’t take any flotation equipment with him and they almost drowned him. When we got back to the ship, we reported the incident to the officer of the deck. Zudekoff got a nice letter of accommodation in his record for helping to save the sailors lives.

Not far from the CE piers where we tied up was a place where coal was loaded into freighters. If the wind was out of the north, we would get covered in coal dust. One Saturday morning we were to be inspected by an admiral. We shined and painted everything and had the ship looking really good. On Friday night the wind shifted to the north and by Saturday morning the ship was BLACK. Everything had a layer of coal dust. Oh, no. Luckily, a thunderstorm came up and washed us shiny clean again. The admiral said ours was the cleanest ship he'd ever been on.

One time when I was in charge of the 2nd division, we fell out for inspection and one of my men had terrible looking shoes. I had just bought a new pair and hadn't had time to polish them but for a couple of coats. I ran down and got them and had the sailor put them on. They were miles to big. When the admiral inspected us, he stopped in front of this sailor and pointed at the shoes and said, "Now that's the way shoes should look."  We all nearly laughed out loud.

As you know, we were supposed to get our hair cut every two weeks. On a Friday night, just before an admiral’s inspection, I borrowed a pair of clippers and cut hair on the fantail until after Midnight. On Saturday morning when we were standing inspection, the admiral had us do an about face and hats off. He checked each one of our hair cuts and said, ours was the only division on the whole ship that everyone had their hair cut like it should be. Again we nearly laughed out loud. I wasn't that good of a barber, but it got us an extra liberty.

The other day I read an article and in it they said, "We don't regret the things we did or said, but we do regret the things we didn't do or say." I don't know about you, but that is sure true with me.

Did I ever tell you my favorite car story? This couple had been to town to buy groceries, etc. On the way home, the driver looked in his mirror and there was a state trooper behind him with his lights flashing. The driver said, "Oh my gosh I forgot to fasten my seat belt. "So he quickly did so and pulled over. The trooper came along side the car and told him he was going to have to give him a ticket for not wearing his seat belt. The driver said I've got it on, see. The trooper said I know you have it on now, but you didn't before. Oh yes I did. Oh No you didn't. They argued a little while, then the driver said tell him hone, I did have my seat belt on, didn't I? She leaned forward and said to the trooper, "You might as well give up officer because I learned a long time ago that when he's been drinking you can't win!"

I was on the Wilson from 1951 through 1954. I was seaman when I came aboard and they put me in the 2nd division deck force. During WWII, I was on an LCI and when the war was over I was boat coxswain ( BM 3rd class). When they called me back in during the Korean War, they made me a seaman with the promise that at the end of 6 months I would again be BM3. ENS Billings was in charge of the 2nd division. He was a graduate of Annapolis. He never knew I was supposed to get my petty officer rate back, so I didn't get it and had to take the test the next time it was open.

We operated out of Norfolk as an antisubmarine warfare ship. We spent three months in the Philadelphia Ship Yard, then we went to Gauntanamo Bay for shake down cruise. We played tag with a sub all over the Caribbean, then back to Norfolk, then to the Med as part of the 6th fleet. We operated out of Vila Franc on the French Riviera and all over the Med, then back to Norfolk and the east coast.

I passed the test for BM 2nd class petty officer and was in charge of 2nd division for quite a while. I was also Quarter Master of the Mess Deck for a while. Then as a petty officer in 1st division, I took the test for BM 1st class and was 5th in the Atlantic fleet, but I didn't get the rate because they didn't want me to be ahead of Keller, the BM in charge of the 1st Division. So I was still a BM2 when I was discharged. I was in Philadelphia a second time, then down to Guantanamo Bay and the Caribbean, then back to the Med a couple of times before I got discharged.

When hurricane Hazel was supposed to hit Norfolk, we were sent up to the north end of the Chesapeake River where we put out both bow anchors and steered between them. I was lashed to the bull nose and pointed out where we were between the anchors. I couldn’t be seen from the bridge so they had another person lashed to the forward 5-inch mount with a telephone. He could see me once in a while, and would tell the bridge where I was pointing. We dragged anchor for seven miles, but didn't sustain much damage. Other ships got quite a bit of damage, especially when they got side ways to the storm. We should have gotten submarine pay that day.

The picture of our ship on our memorial plaque was taken when we were in the North Atlantic.  It was taken from the carrier we were with. There are three pictures. One where we are out of the water clear back to the forward mount (90ft) and the second where we are diving into the next big swell, and the third when the water was going over the bridge. The only time I was seasick enough to be relieved from duty was when we were acting as plane guard for the Monterey out of Pensacola where pilots learned to land on an aircraft carrier. We headed up the east coast of Florida and ran into a storm.  I was messenger on the bridge and was so sick I was throwing up blood. In the middle of the night, I was lying on the pilothouse deck and the captain stumbled over me and shined his light in my bucket of blood. He got sick too after he looked in my bucket, so he ordered me to be relieved from my next watch.

When I came aboard, it was cold weather. I didn't like working in my pea coat, but there were no foul weather jacks available. I found one up by the after stack. It was filthy and had no buttons and the zipper didn't work. It also had a big tear in the right sleeve. I scrubbed it and repaired the tear and found buttons here and there and sewed them on. After I got it fixed, a guy came by and said that I had the coat that was assigned to him and he wanted it. I was fresh from the farm and told him sure he could have it if he was able to take it away from me. He kind of lost interest in it then. I had it until spring when we had to turn them in. There were a few other jackets laying around in about the same shape and so filthy no one would wear them. I thought, If I can fix one somebody else could too if they really wanted to.

There was a sailor on board we called Whitey. He was about my size. He and I would put on the boxing gloves every now and then. We'd go three rounds about even, then in the forth round he'd hit me up along the left side of my head.  I never did know where that glove came from. I used to box with the golden gloves champion from South Dakota. His name was Walter P. Wiedmeyer. I've seen him carry a 50-gallon drum of oil. Of course, he always won. I was the only one dumb enough to go against him. When he hit you it was like being kicked by a mule. One time he hit me in the solar plexus and I couldn't raise my gloves up at all. That stopped that fight.

   Harold Walter, BM2

Article written by Phil Dilloway for the
July-August-September 2010 issue of THE TIN CAN SAILOR

Sea Story Leads to


Memorial in Centralia, IL

Every sailor has favorite sea stories. What follows here is one of mine. While this is not a heroic or glamorous story, it is an example of how we passed our time during the Cold War. Early in 2009 I got a phone call from the post commander of a veteran’s lodge in Darby, Pennsylvania. I was surprised to hear from him, because we had never met, and was even more surprised when I learned why he was calling.

Thus began a strange turn of events that began over sixty years ago and that involved a naval artifact, a U.S. Marine Medal of Honor recipient, his namesake ship, and the crew of that ship for twenty-eight years who were Cold War warriors. For decades, ever since the destroyer USS ROBERT L. WILSON (DD-847) was stricken from the navy’s list of ships, her port anchor adorned the entrance to a veteran’s post lodge in Darby, Pennsylvania. It was a historical artifact on loan from the U.S. Navy Historical Branch. The ship was the namesake of PFC Robert L. Wilson, USMC, who received the Congressional Medal posthumously for his heroism on Tinian Island early in World War II. The anchor was displayed just off the sidewalk on a concrete slab at the entrance to the post building. There was no signage and, as far as is known, no member of the post ever served on the WILSON.
In 1999 members of the lodge made inquiry to the ROBERT L. WILSON Association, a veteran’s organization of former ship’s crew members about the anchor’s provenance. They proposed that they would someday like to get a brass plaque made to chronicle the ship’s history. As secretary/treasurer of the association at the time, I made a trip to Darby and took a picture of the anchor. I had a strange bond with this inanimate object as will be seen in the following account of a weather event in the Med in January 1952.
Oran, Algeria. 21–23 January 1952: We had recently arrived for a Med deployment with the squadron as part of a hunter/killer group operating with the carrier USS TARAWA (CV-40) and a diesel submarine. Our port of call was Mers El Kabir, a small breakwater-sheltered seaport outside of Oran, Algeria. Upon arrival, the carrier moored at the breakwater quay to the north. The destroyers were in nests of three about half a mile away in the western part of the inner harbor. The WILSON was the inboard ship with two other destroyers outboard. The commanding officers and execs were all at a meeting ashore. Half the crew was on liberty; a tour group had left for Siddi Bel Abbes, the French Foreign Legion training post south of Oran. The ships in our nest had their boilers shut down, except for one to provide electric power and steam to the others.
As the first lieutenant, I was on the forecastle checking the mooring lines when I noticed dark clouds forming to the north out to sea. Storms come up very suddenly in this part of the Mediterranean at this time of year with little or no warning. One such storm was about to bear down upon us. The first clue of any impending danger was the lorry I was watching drive down the quay toward the carrier. A wave broke over the breakwater and picked up the truck and pushed it into the bay. A chop quickly turned into waves within the sheltered basin. The ships in the nest started to work against one another and one of our bowlines snapped, then another. Fenders between ships were being ripped apart and ultimately we were metal to metal. The wind had picked up considerably and, though we had doubled up our lines, we were still parting hawsers. In the mess deck, a crew from the deck divisions was feverishly splicing parted hawsers. It was a losing battle. We would no more repair one than we had to replace a parted one. The nest was crushing the WILSON amidships. I gathered a detail of boatswain mates and crawled up to the anchor windlass. The wind was so fierce we could hardly stand. The sky was black and the sea angry. The carrier had been driven from the quay and had dropped anchor to stop from drifting down upon us in the inner harbor. As inboard ship, if we could make fast to the pier with our port anchor chain, we could perhaps hold the nest. It is possible to secure the anchor in its hawse pipe with the pelican hook chock release and disconnect the anchor from the chain. This we did quickly, while lashing ourselves to the forecastle as best we could. With the anchor disconnected, we payed out the chain to the pier and lashed it with a shackle around a stout bollard. The windlass took up the slack, and we rode to the chain and held the nest.
As quickly as it started, the weather abated. The WILSON had held the nest but in exchange suffered irreparable damage to several ribs aft of amidships. We got an emergency tender availability for repairs in Cannes, but for the rest of her days the WILSON was “wasp-waisted”.  Just another uneventful day during the Cold War, but we did get a good lesson in seamanship.
During our reunion in 2005, we dedicated a plaque to our ship at the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation. The ceremony truly amounted to a naval reenactment with the original cast. A professionally edited DVD was produced, and we sent a copy to the post’s lodge commander in Darby, Pennsylvania. They had the provenance they asked for in 1999.
Fast forward to January 2009. The call from the post commander informed me that, due to membership attrition, the post was being deactivated, and the anchor was to be returned to the Washington Navy Yard. The sender would bear the expense of shipping 3,800 pounds of iron. The question was, could I find a new home for our ship’s anchor?
Clearly from the description above of the events of January 1952, this anchor was particularly significant to me. After a few false starts it was most fortuitous for us that the one organization most suitable and most qualified to be custodian for our anchor was the Centralia Area Historical Society, who maintained a museum. We made contact, and the events that followed put us on the road to creating a monument to the history of our ship, and her crew.
The cost of moving the anchor was quickly subscribed by the generous donations from members of the ROBERT L. WILSON Association and many Centralia area veterans and friends of the museum. Custody of this historic artifact was given to the museum.
On 13 April 2009, the anchor arrived in Centralia, Illinois. What followed was a major effort, which at this writing is ongoing.
Top priority was given to prepare a suitable design for a monument that incorporates the anchor as the main object. The theme is to celebrate the service history of the ship. Plans are to dedicate the monument on 9 October 2010 at the Hillcrest Memorial Cemetery in Centralia a few hundred yards from where Robert in now interred.
The USS ROBERT L. WILSON Association is deeply indebted to all who have made this strange course of events come to fruition. The anchor will now be displayed with dignity as the Navy Historical Branch requires. Our association has a stronger bond with the citizens of Centralia through the museum and its exhibits about the ship and Robert. And we can all perpetuate the memory of our days onboard through subscription to commemorative pavers that comprise a quarterdeck that will surround the anchor.



U.S. Navy – Underway Replenishment (UnRep)

Question from Sonarman Rufus Walker : What is the helmsman role during UnRep?

You asked about the Helmsman's role during UnRep. Here is a bit of background.  This is probably the most dangerous maneuver ever done in peacetime due to many factors such as wind and sea state, ambient temperature, draft of the ships, fragility of the apparatus and lastly the skill levels of all involved. The major players are the Officer of the Deck (OD) or whichever officer has the “Conn,” the helmsman and the man on the annunciator. One of the most important principles of ship handling is that there be no ambiguity as to who is controlling the movements of the ship. One person gives orders to the ship's engine, rudder, lines, and ground tackle. This person is said to have the "Conn” (control of the engines and rudder).

Often the Captain will take the Conn. UnRep is truly an American invention which many world navies try to copy. NATO forces follow us. I don't have current information, but for the longest while, the Russians were not equipped to perform this evolution underway, they had to stop. Under wartime conditions, ship's of the screen, the Small Boys, replenished every third night or before going into action, if time permitted. Ships are very vulnerable to air attack when in UnRep formation.

The ships have a base course to follow, no Zig-Zag pattern, and a base speed. The best helmsman on board is assigned. He is usually a petty officer, maybe even a First Class and not necessarily from the Deck Division. I believe Jack Scully, FT3 was an assigned UnRep helmsman. Your ship approaches the Carrier or Oilier and messengers (light weight lines) are fired across. Lines are passed and fittings attached for fuel hose or highline transfer. Slack is taken up by the delivering ship. There is a separate messenger with highly visible markings Red,Yellow and White. I recall they were spheres. They were used by the conning officer to maintain distance abeam. This distance is critical and in heavy seas, very difficult to maintain. The conning officer will call out slight heading changes as you surmised. Speed is adjusted by commands to the Annunciator in terms of number of turns in RPM, Like "up two", or "down three." There will also a Talker connected to the Loading or Fueling Trunk station on the main deck. The conning officer is on the wing of the bridge next to the Peloris.  All heading and engine orders are promptly repeated. It is a very tense and trying watch demanding the very best of what you have to offer.

Submitted by Phil Dilloway (First Lieutenant – USS Robert L. Wilson)


Addional UnRep Information

During UnRep at sea, I oversaw the fueling station as First Division officer and later as First Lieutenant.  Lots of things could always go wrong with two tossing ships hauling close aboard in uncertain seas.  We guys on the UnRep station always appreciated the care and attention that the bridge and the engineers gave for maintaining that constant 90-foot gap between ships.  It was never an easy feat and we well understood that.

Let me characterize the situation metaphorically.  As the pig said to the chicken regarding a "ham 'n egg" breakfast, "You may be involved, but I'm committed."  Similarly, the deck sailors manning the UnRep station were very much like that pig.  Had the two ships collided, we guys on the UnRep station would certainly have been bacon.

Submitted Mark Scully (LTjg - USS Willis A. Lee)     


USS Robert L. Wilson

"AKA USS Forrest Gump"
Willie Boat became the USS Forrest Gump on Med Cruise 1970. The Mid-East and Cold War had turned hotter than a Southern frying pan. The Wilson was taped for OIC duty. OIC Operation Intelligence Communications, or ELINT. A team of CT's Communication Tech's (Radiomen Spys) boarded and an OIC Van was welded to the flight deck. Wilson Radiomen worked with the CT's running antenna cables and receiver hookup cables to their Van. The CT's took over the DASH Hanger as their sleeping quarters. The Wilson was now on "independent OP's", we went closer to Egypt than the Liberty which had been badly shot up doing same mission, the difference was we had 2 5" Gun Mounts. 50 Cal's were mounted on the Signal Bridge. Next was Suda Bay Crete to spy on Turk-Greek civil war and monitor activities. Next we were ordered to the Black Sea ("independent OP's"). The Black Sea is a Russian Lake and we had no friendlies to call on. Every night Soviet ships would cross our path making life aboard a bruising experience, we turned smartly to avoid collision and would bounce off bulkheads, ladders, transmitters and the rails! After 2 weeks in the Black Sea we were all ready to wave farewell as we sailed through the Darnell Straits our loud speakers blasted out the Beatles song "Back in the USSR". Then it was back to Egypt more close in electronic spying. The Wilson was everywhere, much like where's Waldo task Force ships would report on seeing us, we became the Forrest Gump of the 6th Fleet. Payback We offloaded our guests in Naples (SHAPE HQ) and unwelded the OIC Van off the DASH Flightdeck. Back on anti sub duty we spotted a November class Soviet submarine using snorkel to take in fresh air. Capt. Rodin Cantacuzine ordered Wilson Full Speed towards periscopes and snorkel, we were moving fast tossing white water everywhere at 30 knots we shook pretty well then a CRUNCH was heard as our sonar dome most likely took off parts of that submarine. Payback for the Black Sea, and for the time a Soviet Cruiser (she had more missiles than we had Christmas lights) lite off their Gun Directors as we went to retrieve F4 Pilots who ditched into Med (that was tense). Add DAWN PATROL and OP MEDEX and we called that a busy Med Cruise.
RM2 Jay Patterson 1969-71 Wilson Duty



"The Sinking of the Wilson"

In the summer of 1957, Bob Johannesen, Midshipman 3/c, U.S. Naval Academy, served in USS Robert L. Wilson (DDE 847).  That summer, DDE 847 steamed the Caribbean, crossed the line and earned the crew the title of Trusty Shellbacks, and pulled into Santos, Brazil, for some great liberty.  Like all of us, he never forgot that experience nor his ship.

Twenty-three years later (January 1980), Commander Johannesen, Commanding Officer of USS Steinaker (DD 863), was assigned escort duty for our “Willy Boat’s” final mission.

Stripped of identity, hull markings gone, and referred to as a hulk, ex-USS Robert L. Wilson (DD (847) was delivered to Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, for duty as a test target for the Harpoon anti-ship missile.  Preparing for tow to the Atlantic Missile Range, she was boarded by Commander Johannesen one last time to check on her sea worthiness and to revisit the aft berthing compartment that he knew so well from those halcyon days as a Midshipman when DDE 847 was a proud ship of the line.  In the yellow light of a hand held battle lantern we can but imagine what were his thoughts as he looked around one last time, switched off the lamp, then climbed the ladder.

Here in pictures, thanks to him, we see her as she proceeds toward station in Davy Jones’ Locker after completing her final mission.

Our USS Robert L. Wilson (DD/DDE 847) served her country honorably to the end.


The hulk was scheduled to be a principle player in a routine Sinkex, or Sink Exercise.  The Sinkex was intended to involve both Air Wing Three A-7 squadrons and the A-6 squadron, training at Cecil Field, NAS, Jacksonville, FL.  My squadron was VA-37, the “Bulls”, an A-7E light attack squadron.   I was called to a briefing aboard the carrier flagship and was told the target was the former DD 847 to be bombed and then ultimately sunk to create a barrier reef.  The Admiral’s staff was surprised when I recited the ship’s full name and call sign.  “How in the world do you know that?” the Chief of Staff asked.  My answer, “My father was Commanding Officer of the Wilson when was I was a kid. On one visit”, I said  “I broke this tooth on a coaming while running down the passageway. I remember the Wilson well.”

Since I was the Senior Attack Squadron CO, we got first crack at it. We hit it with a few bombs dive-bombing and after I put almost a full magazine (1000 rounds) of 20mm into the ship at the waterline, it rolled over and sank just as our sister squadron, VA-105 “Gunslingers”, led by their CO, arrived on station.  Their CO asked me where the target was and I replied  “It’s gone.”  That night I wrote a letter to my Dad telling him we’d sunk his ship.

There is a painting of the Wilson in my den.  That’s the way I’ll always remember the ship, which my Dad loved deeply.

As told by Asbury “Sandy” Coward, IV, Captain, USN retired.

Submitted By Phil Dilloway, April 2014


All At Sea
by Hugh Tulloch '61 

Reporting aboard my first ship was an unforgettable experience. I was a brand newly minted ensign, having reached the pinnacle of my dreams, and now I was to serve on a destroyer, Greyhound of the Fleet! (It was only later that I learned that the carrier sailors referred to us as "Small boys".) 

The USS Robert L. Wilson (DDE-847) was assigned to Destroyer Squadron 36, a part of Task Group Bravo, an anti-submarine force. Task Group Bravo was operating in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1961, so I took myself to McGuire Air Force Base to catch a flight and meet her. We all got into a well-travelled C-118, and flew via Newfoundland to Shannon to Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main AFB. I then took the train to Naples, where the ship was berthed. Of course, when I got there, I found out that it had left a couple of weeks before, so I spent a few days seeing Naples and Capri. It would have been more fun doing it with someone special, but I still got a kick out of the hydrofoil ride to Capri (quite a new technology in those days) and the Blue Grotto. After a while, the Navy figured out that the ship was due in Genoa shortly, so I retraced my path on the train northward. 

Enroute, I learned about the charming Italian custom of throwing your suitcase out the train window when you arrive at your destination: so upon arriving in Genoa, I boldly thrust my suitcase out the window, and ran out to retrieve it, fortunately undisturbed. I made my way to the port somehow, despite my lack of Italian and their lack of English, and reported to the Executive Officer as required. 

The XO was a crusty Naval Academy graduate who looked at me with a jaundiced eye and promptly assigned me to lead Fox Division, probably because he figured I wasn’t smart enough to understand the machinery in the Engineering Department. After all, he had access to my records from the Naval Academy, where I proudly graduated in the top two-thirds of my class, and that only because of honors in English and history and standing first in my class in foreign languages. You can only imagine how low my grades in the engineering classes were. Fox Division included the Anti-Submarine crew, along with the fire control men who maintained and operated the equipment to point the ship’s guns.

Fortunately, the ASW division had an incredibly smart Sonar man First Class named Steve Vargas who did all the hard stuff, and let me stand up in front of the division at morning quarters. His best advice was when he told me gently, "Please, Sir, don’t touch any of the switches." 

The sonar men were mostly a nerdy bunch, with a couple of wonderful exceptions, like Chico Castillo, a Mexican Golden Gloves champ, who could hear a submarine around a corner and through all the other noise in the ocean, whale farts included. Chico was a wonderfully funny, capable guy who bounced from Seaman Recruit to Sonar man 2nd and back because of his exuberance ashore. At sea, he was the very best. Ashore, he was a terror, as we shall see later. 

The torpedo men were classic Old Navy types. TM2 Donald DeVault stepped straight out of the recruiting posters, and knew his stuff. We still had the old-fashioned MK15 steam torpedo tubes, massive hunks of iron on the upper deck. I don’t believe we ever fired them while I was aboard, for which I’m profoundly glad. They served mainly to produce running rust and keep the torpedo man strikers busy, chipping and painting and wondering why they had transferred from the deck force. We also had depth charges, the "modern" teardrop-shaped version and K-guns which launched them out from the sides of the ship to cover a wider pattern. We never dropped them either. We also had the new MK32 anti-submarine acoustic torpedoes, one strapped to each side amidships. It was never quite clear to me how we would get them over the side to attack a submarine, but never mind, we never launched one of those either. 

Finally, the premier ASW weapon, the hedgehogs. These were a British invention from World War II. The Wilson’s designation as a DDE meant that it was primarily an anti-submarine ship. They had stripped off the 40MM Bofors gun mounts to decrease topside weight, and the Mount 52 5/38 gun to make room for a trainable MK 15 hedgehog mount. The hedgehog mount could be trained right and left, just like a gun mount, which meant that you didn’t place the ship right over the top of the sub. The mount itself looked like a row of steel railroad tracks, onto which someone had welded 24 steel stubs (called spigots) onto which you slid the hedgehog projectile. When you got within range and had a good fire-control solution, you blasted these off in a circular pattern which was sure to trap the sub and blow a hole in the pressure hull. That’s the theoretical solution. The reality was quite different. First of all, finding the submarine was the principal challenge. 

The Med is relatively shallow, and when the summer sun warms it, thermal layers are created which make the water virtually impenetrable to sound waves (the sonar). The ray is trapped and bent down, so you’re looking at the ocean bottom rather than out in front and around the ship. Detection ranges (if you get lucky) are down in the low hundreds of yards instead of thousands, which is what you need if you are to carry out a well-planned attack. However, once in a while, the gods smile, and someone like Chico is able to detect, classify and track a submarine at a reasonable range. This usually happens in the North Atlantic, where the water is churned up by the winter storms, and the thermal layers disappear. You then begin to feed the data into the MK 105 Attack Director, which calculates the course to steer to make the attack. The MK 105, made by Librascope, was a marvel of its time. It was an electro-mechanical device, which means it was made of approximately seven zillion gears, cogs, shafts, lights and dials. It had to be tended like a baby, and, like a baby, it frequently produced a product which was more fragrant than useful. The serviceable time of the MK 105 on an extended cruise was measured in the low hundreds of hours if you were lucky. 

Today’s computer Blue Screen of Death is a trifle compared to the MK 105. But it was state of the art at the time. OK, now Chico has detected the sub and is tracking it. By some miracle, the MK 105 appears to be giving you a good solution, and the helmsman is actually able to follow the indicator to give you a good attack course. The torpedo men go out on deck into a howling gale to load the hedgehog mount, slipping and sliding on the wet deck as the ship rolls 30 to 40 degrees to each side. (Remember, you’re in the North Atlantic in January now.) Fortunately, you’re only firing practice charges, which are considerably smaller and lighter than the real rounds, which probably weigh about 50 - 60 pounds each. You salvo-fire the rounds, the ship turns away, Chico loses the submarine in the ship’s wake, and you start all over again. And this is in peacetime, with nobody shooting back! 

That was ASW in the ‘60’s.
From John Patterson


Easter-Pig Memorial Day Festival In Honor of all veterans, families, supporters, and those who hold dear to the principle, "the price of freedom is constant vigilance", Thomas Jefferson. The Willy-Boat Easter-Pig Honorarium The first major example being the semi-quarterly, tri-anual, quarterly, anywhere on dry land "Easter-Pig Wine Festival" in honor of QMSN Jerry Aldridge from Shelbyville KY, who spent 29 days 23 and 1/2 hours AWOL, exactly 1/2 hour from being declared a deserter during wartime. The ship had recently returned from a year's duty in Vietnam. He was the first "Willy Boat" sailor I met as I reported aboard for active duty. Jerry was a large framed, bearded country boy who previously taught local Sunday school ("because he could read"), he knew Col Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame in person and "knew every rock in the County Jail". The festival honors his drunken unauthorized leave to the Vatican City in Rome where he goosed QM3 Dennis Sullivan while attending Holy Mass in the Sistine Chapel. He aquired the nickname Easter-Pig and was reduced in rate a half dozen times or more, he could often be seen cleaning the ship's aft "head" most mornings as extra duty punishment. In Rememberence The Patterson household shall hold a 21st Century 1NH1 Swine Flu Pandemic Pork Fest, consisting of Italian sweet sausage, country pork spare ribs, slow roasted smothered in 100 Proof KY Burbon and Bar-B-Q hot sauce, these ludicrious traditions were born on the USS RL Wilson DD847. Remember these are some of the men we honor each Memorial Day, for their services rendered far above and beyond the call of duty, each contributing their special talents for the moral, amusement, welfare and security to their fellow comrades in arms. GOD bless em wherever they are. Missing somewhere in Civlant, Robert Litchfield RM2 his lovely wife Linda and my Godson Jason. John P Patterson RM2 also known as Jay, Rover or Pat NYC NY soon to move to Montana.