HISTORY OF USS LITTLE DD 803
By: Melvin Fenoglio, X/Y3c © 1985
Republished with permission 04/10/1999
BIRTH OF THE LITTLE
The history of the U.S.S. LITTLE (DD803) had its beginning on 13 September 1943 when her keel was laid by Todd-Pacific Shipyards of Seattle Washington. However, the DD803’s inception occurred many years earlier. Her predecessor, U.S.S. LITTLE (DD79), later re-designated (APD4), came into existence on 18 June 1917 when her keel was laid at Quincy, Massachusetts. The sinking of the APD 4 off the coast of Guadal canal on Sept. 5. 1944, paved the way for DD803’s birth. The history of the APD 4 will be treated briefly in another section of this history.
LAUNCHING AND COMMISSIONING
U.S.S. LITTLE (DD803) was launched on 22 May 1944. Her sponsor was Mrs. Russell P. O’Hara, wife of a prominent lawyer of Vallejo, California. Commissioning date was 19 August 1944.
Commander Madison Hall, Jr. was in command of the LITTLE when her crew took her on a shakedown cruise to test her seaworthiness. Her executive officer was Lt. Comdr. Marlin D. Clausner. Complement of the LITTLE was 16 officers and 309 men, but actual numbers of the ship’s crew varied above and below its designated complement from time to time.
NAMING OF THE LITTLE
The LITTLE was named after Capt. George Little, USN, a native of Massachusetts, who was born on 10 April 1754 and died at Weymouth, Massachusetts on 22 July 1809. He was first lieutenant aboard the Massachusetts ship PROTECTORS in 1779 and was captured by the British after an encounter with the British ship THAMES in 1781. Imprisoned, he later escaped and returned to the United States. After his return he was given command of the Massachusetts ship WINTHROP, which subsequently captured two British privateers, the armed brig, MERIAN, and a number of other vessels. He was given command of the United States frigate BOSTON on 4 March 1799 with the rank of captain. He later fought skirmishes with the French and captured several French vessels.
WESTBOUND TO THE PACIFIC
The U.S.S. LITTLE (DD803) was placed in full commission on 19 August 1944. Following her shakedown cruise at San Diego and a post- shakedown availability at the Puget Sound Navy Shipyards, she got underway on 11 November from Seattle to escort a convoy of eight heavily-laden supply ships to Pearl Harbor. She was now bound for war.
For safety precautions and because the supply ships moved at such a slow pace, the LITTLE took zigzag patterns much of the trip, which required a journey of 12 days.
On 23 November, LITTLE and her escorted ships arrived at Pearl Harbor at 2000 hours. The convoy was dissolved and LITTLE reported to Commander in Chief, Pacific (CinCPac) and Commander Destroyer, Pacific (ComDesPac) for duty.
AT PEARL HARBOR
At Pearl Harbor the LITTLE and her crew entered a variety of routine exercises, She conducted gunnery exercises, damage control drills and fighter director exercises with her sister ship, VAN VALRENBURGH, and “Hari Kari” gunnery and drone firing exercises. She provided escort duty for U.S.S. SARATOGA for several days on practice missions. Shore bombardment exercises were undertaken as well as gunnery exercises at Kahoolawe Island. Other escort duties performed during her stay at Pearl were with the U.S.S. INDIANA.. U.S.S. TUSCALOOSA, U.S.S. HENRY A. WILEY, and U.S.S. YOSEMITE.
On 22 Jan., 1945, the LITTLE departed Hawaii for war. She Pearl Harbor for Eniwetok, Marshall Islands. The International Date Line was crossed on 29 January 1945. On 3 February the LITTLE entered the deep passage of Eniwetok Atoll, anchoring there. The Captain felt that the men needed some un’limbering, so he permitted the crew to have a beach party. Sand and palm trees were in profusion. Crew members enjoyed a beer party, swam, and played games on the sandy beach.
On 5 February the ship got under way from Eniwetok, heading for Saipan. The LITTLE reached Saipan on 10 February where she anchored at Berth T39, Again the crew was given shore leave at Saipan. Crew members hit the island with a variety of activities in mind. Some commandeered jeeps for trips around the islands. Others sought recreation as Navy men have done for years while on shore leave. They were warned that, although the island had been secured, Japanese snipers were still holed up in the hills and that precautions should be taken while touring the island not to leave the immediate secured areas.
On 15 February the LITTLE was underway, heading for Iwo Jima, with ships of Task Group 51.14 to assist with the invasion of Iwo. Arriving at Iwo on 19 February, the LITTLE was assigned screening duties. The invasion by American forces occurred on 19 February as men of the 4th and 5th Marine divisions scrambled ashore in what was to become the second bloodiest battle of World War II. Many authorities say only the battle of Okinawa was a more bitterly fought and costlier battle, in terms of loss of human lives. After 36 days of savage combat, 7,000 Americans were dead. Of the 21,000 Japanese troops occupying the island, only about l,000 survived. In all some 26,000 casualties were suffered by the Americans on this small 2-mile wide by 5-mile long island.
Some critics have charged this was too high a price to pay. supporters of the invasion counter that it was a necessary though costly operation because it was needed as an emergency landing base for B-29 bombers making raids over Japan. A mistake in strategic calculations caused tremendous losses of American lives. It was expected that the island could be secured within a few days. The Marine Commander, Gene Holland M, Smithy had asked for 10 days of preliminary bombardment, whereas only three days of bombardment was provided. One action that has caught the imagination of the American public was the planting of the flag on Mount Suribachi (we called it “hot rock”). Many of our shipmates were privileged to see the planting of the flag which was shot down, but later replanted., on Mount Suribachi.
The LITTLE performed many duties during her stay at the battle of Iwo Jima. She did screening duties, shore bombardment., made smoke, and conducted night illumination with starshells. After 5 days at Iwo, the LITTLE was ordered to Saipan with a group of LST’s for refueling and resupply operations. On March 4 she reported back to Iwo Jima and took up bombardment and screening duties until assigned to take radar picket duties north of Iwo on 11 and 12 March, She then returned to Saipan to begin preparations for the last big operation of the warp the invasion of Okinawa.
Before leaving the Iwo story, its well to note here, that the LITTLE earned the first of her two battle stars during this battle.
On the 25th of February the LITTLE took leave of Iwo for Saipan, the last time she was to see that island in the Marianas chain. It was during this last visit that the crewmen had the opportunity to view the big bomber base and observe much of the activity from that base. They watched the B-29 aggregations take off in the early morning hours for runs on Japan, only to return in the afternoon in depleted numbers, many crippling back, barely making the runways. Others not quite so fortunate, crashing short of their designated landing site.
ON TO OKINAWA
After detailed rehearsals off Saipan and Tinianv the LITTLE had four days of tender availability before sailing on 27 March for Okinawa. At Okinawa, and as a member of Task Group 51.5, Task Flotilla Five, she was assigned to the demonstration group, whose duty it was to make fake landings on the opposite side of Okinawa from the real landing beaches in order to confuse the enemy and to divide Japanese defenses. These “decoy” actions were made on the southeastern beaches on 1 and 2 April while the actual landings were being made. The LITTLE remained with the transports until 12 April, when she was ordered to escort four LST’s to Hagushi Beach. This was successfully accomplished. On the 16th the ship escorted a group of cripples clear of the area and then returned to Okinawa, where she was assigned illumination duty on 17 and 18 April. On the 19th she was ordered out to a radar picket station number one.
Deployed in a ring around the islands the LITTLE and her sister destroyers, called “small boys”, acted as interceptors of enemy air raids from the Japanese Empire and performed detection duties for both surface airborn and underwater craft. Japan was only 350 miles away from the Okinawa periphery. The LITTLE and her sisters came under relentless air attack by suicide and orthodox pilots, suffering tremendous casualties.
During the period 20 to 24 April the ship came under one daylight attack and several night attacks, firing three to four hundred rounds of antiaircraft in her defense. She came through with no damage, however, and then received a logistics period at Hugushi and Kerania Retto. Crew members did suffer from loss of sleep. It seemed that no sooner had you retired at night than the clanging of the General Quarters bell woke you to the horrible reality that this might be “the time”. Long duty hours during the day, punctuated with numerous general quarters drills at nights took their toll on LITTLE sailors, resulting in frayed nerves which sometimes resulted in fisticuffs and harsh words being exchanged by friends and comrades.
MAY DAY AT OKINAWA
The LITTLE was ordered out again on 28 April. Continuing picket duties during the latter days of April and early May, the LITTLE resumed a hum-drum existence, divided between performing regular duties, looking for aircraft, and investigating pips on the sonar scope, always fearing the possibility of submarine attack. Sailors passed what little spare time they had visiting on the fantail after chow. Or eating “pogey bait” on deck, or swapping stories about girl friends and wives back home. Or playing poker and shooting craps when not under the watchful eyes of the officers. Or making and consuming “torpedo juice” behind officers’ backs. Sometimes, we felt, the officers really knew what was going on, but conveniently turned their eyes, allowing us swabbies some small pitiful efforts to forget the worries of war. Much time was spent in writing letters home, to loved ones, whether they were wives, girl friends, sisters, brothers in other areas of war dangers, or just friends. Or reading, and then re-reading letters from home at infrequent mail calls, letters being stowed in safe places for further readings and reminiscences when more time was available.
On 3 May the LITTLE was operating on Radar Picket Station 10 with the AARON WARD and four smaller ships (commonly referred to as the “Pall Bearers”). Four planes were circling overhead as a Combat Air Patrol was directed by the WARD. Suddenly, enemy planes began to appear on her radar screen at about 1415, but it was not until four hours later that the first attacks came.
According to the Action Report of the sinking of the U.S.S. LITTLE, the first action which resulted in the attack on the LITTLE occurred at about 1815. The first of four planes to hit the LITTLE crashed into her at 1843 on the port side. Second plane to attack was shot down short of reaching its goal at 1843.30. The second plane scoring a hit rammed the LITTLE in about the same location as the first, at 1844. Third plane scoring a hit was believed to be a “Zeke”. It came strafing and was thought to have resulted in the death of one of the LITTLE’s crew members. It crashed into the starboard side between the after fire room and the forward engine room at 1845. Almost simultaneously a fourth plane came vertically in landing into the after torpedo mount. These two planes, together with the one to port, finished off the LITTLE. One was vertical dive, one was low level, and one was gliding in. As we can conclude, coordinated suicide tactics were utilized by the attacking Japanese planes. After absorbing two hits to port, one to starboard, and one on the No. 2 torpedo mount, the LITTLE sank at 1855. All these hits were concentrated in the amid-ships sections vicinity of the No. 2 stack. LITTLE gunners shot down two planes, one of which would have crashed the AARON WARD and the other the LITTLE.
FOUR SEPARATE RAIDS
During the battle which sent the LITTLE to the bottom, there were 4 separate raids noted inside 30 miles from Radar Picket No. 10. Raid 1, believed to have been a small bogey (1-3 planes) at 1813 was located about 35 miles from the LITTLE. Raid 2 which was observed at 1815 was spotted at a distance of about 50 miles and consisted of 6 planes, Raid 3 and Raid 4 were made up of planes that had split off from Raid 2. In all about 18-24 planes were observed. Six “Vals” were identified among the attacking planes.
SINKING OF THE LITTLE
At 1845.30 the LITTLE lost steering control, power, and communications. The ship was dead in the water. At 1850 the main deck was awash at starboard. The keel was broken and the ship sagging. The order was given to “prepare to abandon ship”. Captain Hall gave the final order to abandon ship at 1851. At 1855 the LITTLE sank to her watery graves about 850 fathoms deep. A knot welled up in many survivors’ throats as they witnessed their destroyer sinking, midships section first. The stern section went down in a 45 degree angle and the forward section went down in a 90 degree angle. The forward section, before being inundated loomed tall into the air and seemed to signal a final salute to its departing crew members.
The LITTLE sank before sunset. But the Navy, because of the continuing battle actions, did not send rescuers out until after dark. Several pall bearers and the U.S.S. NICHOLSON (DD442) answered the call. Hundreds of survivors, including survivors of the LSM(R)-195 and other ships, were treading water with life jackets on when darkness approached. Then, all of a sudden, a bright, almost dazzling light shone in the area as searchlights were turned on by rescuing ships. overhead could be heard a protective aircraft cover being flown. The story of the rescue operations makes one proud of the United States and, to those of us who were in the waters, we will be forever grateful to our country for its humaneness. The greatness of our country was exhibited in the fact that surface ships and their crews, subject to underwater and sky-born enemies, risked their lives in behalf of their fellow citizens who were in trouble. Had they chosen the Navy could have written off those in the water as being expendable in the war effort, if they could not have been rescued in the daylight hours the next morning. Few probably would have criticized their actions. According to the action report of 7 May 1945, 5 officers and 74 men were wounded, one other man, John A. Larason, GM2C died aboard and went down with the ship. Other crew members dying while en-route to hospital ships were Edward C, Carr, S2C; Gale H. Johnston, GM3C; Roy W. Lucas, S1C; Allen C, Pedersen, MM2C; and Richard C. Wilgus, Cox. A later report on the “History of the U.S.S. LITTLE”, prepared by the Division of Naval History states that the LITTLE lost 31 of her crew as a result of the action, while another 49 were wounded.
IN THE WATER
A history of the LITTLE would not be complete without treatment of the actions that occurred while the crewmen were in the water. Survivors, during the daylight hours they were afloat, witnessed bombings, strafing, and dogfights. Shortly after the survivors were in the waters, and while Japanese aircraft were still in the vicinity, the engine sounds and famous gull-wing silhouette of the F-4U Corsairs appeared on the scene. Manned by Marine Corps fighters, the Corsairs quickly hopped on the tails of the slower moving Japanese planes. Spouting flames from their machine guns, the Corsairs rode the enemy planes almost to the sea. When smoke spouted from the tails of the enemy planes, the Corsairs pulled off, flip-flopped back up into the sky–gone hunting again. As an enemy plane crashed into the sea, a cheer that would put a football crowd to shame, went up from the LITTLE survivors At times it appeared some of the planes were ready to make strafing runs on survivors, but none apparently reached their targets.
Although the LITTLE crew members were not around to observe it, Okinawa was secured from Japanese control. But not before l2,500 American service men lost their lives. It was estimated that total Japanese casualties in the battle amounted to 110,000. The Japanese also lost 7,800 planes. The conquest of Okinawa gave the United States forces new air bases close to the Japanese homeland. Daily bombing runs on Tokyo and the other cities would now be easier to accomplish.
The LITTLE and her crew members earned their second battle star and commendation ribbon at Okinawa.
LITTLE survivors following the May 3 catastrophes were sent home for 30-day survivors leave, The crew now was split up and various crew members rode different.ships home.
A glorious sight met their eyes when they arrived on the California Coast, Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, the weary fighting men felt that they were now home. They arrived at Treasure Island where personnel and pay records were reconciled. A few days later they bade goodbye to their shipmates and were off to homes at diverse towns and cities and countrysides throughout the United States. They little realized it would be 35 long years before some would meet again at San Diego to rehash their “fighting times and fighting days”. At San Diego the circle was completed.
ROLE OF THE DESTROYERS, WORLD WAR II
Before we conclude the history of the LITTLE, it behooves us to address the important role that Destroyers played in World War II. An example of that importance was English Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s simple cable message to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in May 1940, “We urgently need destroyers.” President Roosevelt rejected the Prime Minister’s request. With her back to the wall, after losing 11 of her own destroyers the Prime Minister in July sent another urgent appeal: “Mr. President, with great respect, I must tell you that in the long history of the world, this is the thing to do now”. The President complied with this request.
From 1941 when the United States entered the War, until 1946 when the war was concluded a total of 60 U.S. destroyers were lost as a result of enemy actions concluded John C. Reilly II in his book United States Navy Destroyers of World War II. Brock Yates, in his book Destroyers and Destroyermen states that during the four years of the Pacific war 82 of our destroyer-type ships were lost to the enemy, Then more were lost in the Atlantic. The bulk of the destroyer-type ships were flying the American flag by the end of the war. To quote Yates, “no other ship has ever turned in such an impressive and versatile performance. Whether they were bombarding a beachhead in the Gilbert Islands, sweeping for mines in the North Sea, chasing submarines in the Atlantic sea lanes, the destroyers were proving themselves to be the most adaptable fighting ships the world has ever seen.”
THUS ends the grand testimony to the U.S.S. LITTLE and all other destroyers —- the “small boys” who performed a “man-sized” job.