|U.S.S. Allen M. Sumner DD-692|
|"The Albert A. Masulis
By USS Cooper crewman Albert A. Masulis
The night of December 1st, the USS COOPER was
assigned patrol in the straits north of Leyte Bay. All through the night she
steamed back and forth across the strait, which at that point was about seven
miles wide, watching for any Nip submarines that might try to sneak through into
Leyte Bay. No sub contacts were made but the crew was called to General Quarters
twice during the night as "bogeys" appeared on the radar screen.
During the mid-watch one unidentified plane did sneak through the radar watch,
flew in under the cover of a mountain, made one strafing run, and disappeared.
Not one round was fired in retaliation for the attack was so unexpected that no
gun was brought to bear on the target before it had flown out of range. No hits
were made on the COOPER and the attack was without result except to key up the
crew and get them jittery with tension and lack of sleep. However, we weren't
getting very much sleep those days anyway.
At dawn the fog came down and it started to rain, one of those tropical showers that are regular downpours and it seemed it would continue all through the day. The watches on the open guns were miserable and wretched in their oilskins and damp clothing, but the major problem was to keep the guns partially covered to protect them from the weather as much as possible but still have the covers fixed so the guns could be brought into action with a minimum of time and motion.
Everyone was patiently waiting for the relief destroyer to show up so we could return to Leyte Bay for a good rest. We were relieved about 1300 and returned to Leyte Bay, arriving there about 1530.
At 1900 special sea details were piped and the ship got under way again. In Leyte Bay the COOPER joined six other destroyers and two cruisers and the small force proceeded north along Leyte. Watch three, condition three, was set and those of the crew not on watch did as they pleased, however most of them took the opportunity to catch up on their sleep, take showers, etc.
There was much speculation going on among the crew as to the destination of the small task force, the consensus of opinion being that another routine patrol would be made.
At approximately 2030 all arguments were ended for "GQ" sounded accompanied by the shaking concussions of the twin 5"38s, the "Bloom! Bloom!" of the 40-MM and the rattle of the 20-MMs that were manned. There was wild scrambling from all the compartments, the crew was stampeding to their battle stations.
The first of the crew topside saw a falling meteor just aft of the starboard beam plummeting into the sea and tracers probing the clouds directly overhead endeavoring to locate the mate of the Nip plane that had just taken it's crew to their ancestors. The 40-MMs on one of the cruisers. the USS NASHVILLE I believe, had made contact with the luckless Nip plane and it had burst into a ball of flame, but the wingman flew through all the steel thrown up by the task force and if any hits were scored only the Nips knew about it. Word was passed down from CIC (Combat Information Center) that three bogeys were in the vicinity but none of them made a pass at the task force but kept shadowing it to determine it's destination.
Arguments started again among the crew as to what the task force assignment was--but everyone agreed that it could not be too bad for did we not have two cruisers and six destroyers with us? This force had speed, maneuverability, and fire power. If any Jap force was encountered we had the 6" rifles of the cruisers to give us punch and range, we had speed to maneuver and run with, if necessary, and excellent AA firepower to repel air attacks.
At approximately 2230 the Captain spoke over the public address system to advise the crew that air reconnaissance had spotted a Japanese convoy consisting of five transports and a light naval escort proceeding toward Leyte and it was the purpose of our force to endeavor to intercept the Nips and sink the transports. He told the crew to be on their toes, for the success of the venture would depend on their alertness and teamwork.
At the northern end of Leyte every heart on the Cooper sank for the two cruisers and four of the destroyers steamed on north toward the San Bernadino straits, and the MOALE, SUMNER, and COOPER turned west to go around Leyte. Now we were really on our own for we did not know what was ahead of us. The fleet had not penetrated these waters except for raiding sorties by PT boats and occasional destroyers.
The Captain spoke again over the PA system to advise the crew that our destination was Jap held Ormoc Bay on the western side of Leyte, their last supply port on the island. He again requested the crew to be on their toes and to report any object that was afloat for we were endangered by mines, PT boats, and planes that could close to a minimum range before being spotted by our radar because of the mountains jamming the screens.
Shortly thereafter the Nip planes found us again and started to maneuver for an attack. The three destroyers steamed along abreast of each other, the COOPER in the center, the SUMNER off it's starboard beam, and the MOALE off it's port beam. Bogeys were abundant and each ship fired at any target on which they could get a good fix. After several firing runs the SUMNER shot down a plane in flames off it's starboard bow.
A plane came in from dead ahead and made a run on the COOPER. It leveled off about 20 feet from the water and closed steadily and surely without evasive action, apparently a suicide run. The COOPER drove it into the water after it had closed to within 200 yards. The splash it made was too close for comfort.
The yells that went up were cut off for a bogey was closing fast from astern. Mount 3 was the only one that could bear on the target but the crew of that gun outdid itself in loading those twin guns for it sounded like a machine gun. The tracers kept going dead astern for about twenty rounds and then swerved to starboard and we knew the firing had been too hot for that plane and he had given up his run. Another closed in rapidly from the port quarter and all port guns (except the 20s) opened fire. The 40s were under radar control, as were the 5"38s and all we could see were the innumerable tracers curving off into space and finally winking out.
I glanced at the MOALE to see if she was tracking the same target but it seemed as if her guns were tracking and firing at a target off her port bow. Suddenly a shadow seemed to cross her bow and a large column flame shot up from the face of turret two, a bright, angry flame which leaped to a height of a hundred feet and was whipped back over it's stern--it seemed as if she was entirely in flames. We gave her up for lost but the flames were active only a few minutes, the damage control party had the fire under control in a very short time.
Control advised us that a kamikaze had crashed the MOALE but had only wiped off a wing on turret two and then gone over the side. The front of the turret was sprayed with gasoline which had ignited--hence the conflagration. The most amazing thing was the ignorance of the gun crew inside the turret of the fire raging around them--they just kept loading and firing the guns and credited the increase in temperature around them to their labors, tension, and the guns heating up. It was odd to see the outside of the turret a mass of flames and the twin barrels sticking out of the cauldron, recoiling and spitting out it's own flame as it tracked a target across the ship's bow.
A short while later our radar got a perfect fix on a bogey coming in from our port bow and after one salvo it was a ball of flame plunging into the sea. After this fourth loss the Nips pulled off and we were thankful for a breather and the opportunity to replenish our ammunition supply.
However, one plane must have grown careless for it flew within our extreme range. In as much as our radar had a good fix on this plane dead ahead, turrets one and two opened fire and after each gun had expended about five rounds of ammunition the plane just disappeared from the screen and the COOPER was credited with a "probable" because there was no visible evidence of a hit. After another flurry of firing all bogeys withdrew and we were not pestered any more.
At that time the COOPER has two kills and one probable, the SUMNER had one kill, and the MOALE had one "Divine-Wind" to her credit--the only casualties that we had were burns suffered by some of the crew of the MOALE.
It was then about 2315 and mess cooks came around to all the crews with hot soup, crackers, and coffee. Word was passed down that a "Night Cat" had spotted the Nip convoy just entering Ormoc Bay and that we would contact the enemy at about 2400. The moon came up over the mountains and it was certainly a beautiful night, a few fleecy clouds floating lazily across the sky, the islands on each side of us dark, menacing, and mysterious.
At about 2355 we were advised that we had entered Ormoc Bay and all guns were ordered to "stand by", ready to go into action on the word "commence firing". I was standing within the shield of the amidships control between 40-MM mounts #43 and #44. Schade, BM1c, the gun captain of 44, and my best friend, was about ten feet to the port of me. He made a habit of repeating aloud the control officer's instructions so that his whole crew was always aware of the location of and the range to the target.
At 2400 Schade called out, "Surface craft bearing zero-five-oh, range is 15,300 yards, all guns stand by". I climbed on top of the barrel box and with binoculars searched the shoreline off our starboard bow and noticed a large Jap destroyer anchored along the beach, perfectly silhouetted by the moon which was just over the mountains beyond the Nip can. Our little group was steaming at 34 knots in single file - the SUMNER leading, the MOALE in the center, and the COOPER last, zigzagging all the time.
At 0001 Schade repeated "Salvo fire, commence firing". All six of our 5"38s blasted out flame and burning cork with a deep, shaking roar, then there was silence. I watched six specks of light converge on the target and the Nip destroyer was silhouetted by a big splash as the projectiles hit the water and exploded. I yelled "OVER" to the gun crew to let them know that our salvo had missed and was beyond the target. The second salvo was short for when the splash occurred I could not see the target for an instant and I called out "SHORT". The third salvo sped on it's way but when the tracers winked out there was no splash and I realized that we were on the target and I called "HIT". The guns cut loose with rapid salvo fire and there were very few splashes indicating that practically all salvos were in the target. After nine or ten salvos were fired into the target I wondered how much more of a battering it could take. There was a big flash of flame from the target and a Nip can folded up and joined Old Man Jones' locker.
I then noticed red, winking lights along the shore line and from the Nip convoy along the beach and I realized that they were returning our fire. Cold chills raced up and down my spine and I looked for splashes to determine how close they were in their range. I couldn't see any splashes fore, aft, or to the starboard, but off our port beam there seemed to be an impenetrable wall of water raised by the projectiles as they flew over us and exploded harmlessly in the water.
Schade again called out, "Shift targets, surface craft bearing zero-four-oh, range 11,700 yards", and I spotted it immediately as a small Japanese destroyer, similar to our DEs. Our first salvo was short but the second was in the target, and after about seven salvos this ship also exploded and sank.
At this time CIC warned all lookouts and topside gun crews to be on the alert for aircraft as three bogeys were in the vicinity but a relative bearing could not be given because the planes were flying low among the mountains which jammed the screen.
We were notified that the COOPER had been assigned to make a torpedo run - we were to go in as close as possible, fire a ten fish spread, and then run for it for all we were worth. The SUMNER and MOALE were to stay out in an attempt to draw all the fire and cover our attack.
Suddenly a large transport loomed up on our starboard bow an we opened fire at a range of 7,000 yards. The first salvo was a hit and we put four rapid salvos in her. A fire started amidships and I turned to the Quartermaster who was standing at my left elbow and yelled "There goes another of the bastards". I hazily remember someone scream, "There's a plane!", a 20-MM opened fire and then it seemed that the world came apart.
I felt myself flying though the air end over end, but I could not feel my legs. "Damn tem, they've hit me - they've cut me in half - I know it - I'll be dead soon", kept running through my mind. I was sure that I had been blown in two.
After a seemingly interminable time I hit the water and went down, down, down. I felt myself around my waist and was surprised to find my body intact for I expected the lower part of it to be gone. I ran my hands down each leg and was further surprised to find them both still wit me. It puzzled me because I couldn't feel my hands on my legs. I reached down again and after much fumbling around I untied both shoe laces, pulled off my shoes, and pinched each foot as hard as I could but felt nothing and there was no response in either leg when I tried to kick them.
I realized that I had been under the surface of the water a long, long time and wondered when I would come up. I knew that my kapok lifejacket would bring me back to the surface eventually. Thoughts flashed through my mind - would the ship come back for me, were there any more men in the water with me, would the Nips capture us?
My left elbow began to ache and when I felt it I could feel bones grate and knew that it was smashed.
Finally me head emerged from the water, I unbuckled my helmet and slipped it off my head, and looked around for the ship. It was not ahead of me, nor to the right or left of me. When I turned and looked behind me my heart sank for I was against the main shaft -- the whole fantail sticking up into the sky. As I looked up the screw descended slowly toward me and I began to churn the water in an effort to get clear of the screw. I did clear the screw but the rudder caught my jacket and some projection hooked it securely, and as the hulk sank I was pulled along with it. "Well, this is it", I thought. Down and down I went until my lungs were bursting and my ears popped. I couldn't hold my breath any longer and as I started to inhale the water I started to cough and sputter. Fortunately the fantail came up once and as I was thrown clear an empty 40-MM ammunition tank floated past my nose, I grabbed it and hung on for dear life, coughing, gasping, and sneezing.
With a deep gurgle and roar the fantail vanished beneath the water and I spun round and round in the whirlpool created by it's suction. I hoped that none of the torpedomen had taken the safety forks off any of the depth charges, for if they did I knew I would be blown sky high as soon as the charges reached their set depths, however, there weren't any underwater explosions.
There was a deathly silence all around me and the night seemed darker than ever. In the distance I could hear the roar of firing and knew that either the SUMNER or the MOALE or both of them were still dishing it out to the Japs who were really catching hell but we had our share of it now.
I again tried to move my legs but I could not feel a quiver. After some consideration I decided my spine was severed. I pictured myself a hopeless cripple, a burden to everyone for the rest of my life, and decided life was not so sweet after all. I untied the ties on the kapok and attempted to open the snap hook which belted the jacket snugly around my waist, but because of the oil in the water and my smashed left elbow I was not successful. It would have been very easy at the time to just sink with the ship. As I struggled with the snap hook, swearing to myself, I thought that I felt my right ankle move. I stopped struggling and concentrated on moving the foot again but was not sure that there had been any response. I took a deep breath, ducked down, pulled my right leg up until I had a foot in my hands, and tried to move it again. I felt a slight jerk. I tried again and was sure it had moved.
I came up spluttering and thought, "My spinal cord must be O.K. but I wonder what's causing the paralysis". Perhaps I had received a terrific blow on the back and was only stunned. I tried the ties and again started to survey my surroundings.
In the distance I saw tracers still flying around like a Fourth of July celebration. To my right someone screamed for help a time or two in a hoarse voice and then there was silence. Someone to my left called out "Anyone find a raft?" Somebody behind me answered "We've got a couple of rafts over here. Everyone swim this way". I called out to them to keep talking so we could find them, and shoving the tank away from me I started to swim toward the voices, stopping occasionally to get my bearings.
After swimming seemingly limitless miles I reached the raft all out of breath and eager hands reached out to pull me aboard.
"Who are you?" Someone asked. "AL Masulis, gunners mate of 44", I replied. "Gee, you got off of it, eh, Al?", this person asked as he started to pull me over the side. "Easy", I said. "My legs are paralyzed, I think my back is broken and I know my left arm is broken".
The lad then called for others to help get me inside the float and many willing hands pulled me to safety. The base of the raft was gone, blown out when the explosion occurred I suppose, so they tied my legs to the netting and laid me across the side of the raft.
Soon the firing began to swell in volume again and we spotted two ships bearing down on us rapidly. "It's the MOALE and SUMNER" someone yelled "Perhaps they'll pick us up". However, they passed within a few hundred yards of us firing and running and the last we saw of them was a barrage of tracers curving up into the sky from beyond an island. The boys cursed the two ships for not stopping for us even though we knew it would have been suicide for them to attempt it.
Thick, dark silence settled down on the water and the moon seemed to fade and hide behind clouds. Occasionally the silence was broken by a murmur from the boys, groans by those that were injured, and the gentle slap of wavelets against the rafts and floater net. It developed that two rafts and a floater net had come clear from the ship.
Men kept arriving all through the night for we would call out each time we heard someone splashing near. Often the someone would jabber something in Japanese and splash away from us.
At dawn a thick fog settled down and a drizzle started to come down. It seemed like a deserted, desolate, wet world with the fog enclosing us on all sides.
Someone spotted two masts appearing above the fog bearing toward us and our hopes took an upswing for perhaps they were rescue craft. We watched two subs pass about three hundred yards from us, their bows and conning towers showing intermittently through the banks of fog. Then we saw the "rising sun" flapping dismally from the tallest mast coming toward us and we knew that the remnants of the Jap force was leaving the Bay. All the boys slid from the rafts and submerged as far as possible and I felt as big and conspicuous as an elephant as I laid across that raft. I was sure I would be spotted for how could they miss seeing me.
A Jap freighter, a small destroyer, and a large destroyer sailed by. They passed within a hundred yards of us and that large destroyer loomed up so large that I could have sworn that it was a cruiser. We could distinctly hear commands being shouted, the murmur of the blowers, could see men spread out all over the deck like cordwood, sailors walking around among them, and gun crews at their stations all searching the skies, but none of them looked at the water. At any moment we expected a shout and a deluge of machine gun bullets, but the ships disappeared into the fog like phantoms and we could hardly credit our eyes, it seemed so much like a dream. Relief, approaching hysteria, flooded us for we knew if they had spotted us they would have machine-gunned us mercilessly.
Soon two rubber boats approached us loaded so with our survivors that they were on the verge of shipping water. One contained the Captain (Commander Mel A. Peterson). They left saying they would try to reach a deserted stretch of beach on Leyte, endeavor to meet some Filipino guerillas and try to contact the U.S. Army forces. The boats disappeared toward a dark mass that showed occasionally through the fog, which started to left at this time. Some of the uninjured boys decided to swim after the boats and they splashed off into the fog. At times we heard the rattle of rifle fire and wondered if some of our boys had met some Jap forces.
My strength seemed to ebb slowly, the water kept getting colder, and I shivered uncontrollably. My chest ached (I did not know then that my breast bone was fractured) and my face began to swell from my dislocated jaws. I started to lose consciousness, and each time that I did my head fell forward into the water and as I breathed it, it revived me and I would come up sputtering and swearing at the men around me for not holding my head out of the water.
Once, when I regained consciousness, the fog had thinned out considerably and there was the roar of a plane flying above us. "Is it one of ours?", I asked. "It's a Nip", somebody answered, "and he has looked us over once". I saw it suddenly nose toward the beach and a stream of tracers appeared from it's nose and wings and beat the water into foam. We noticed then that the pilot was strafing the boys that were swimming toward the beach. "My God, they haven't got a chance", we thought. However, our pity and horror was short lived for the pane nosed toward us its guns winking and I passed out again.
When I revived I asked if any one was hit but for some reason the pilot had not finished his run but flew off into the fog. We believed that some of the swimmers had been killed for we could see shapeless bundles floating in the murky water but they were too distant to determine if they were bodies in their lifejackets or just wreckage from the sunken ships.
I kept begging for some morphine and many fruitless searches were made but the medical kits must have been dislodged or blown from the rafts when they were blown from the ship.
We were all thoroughly discouraged, cold, wet, and miserable. As we drifted toward a beach we paddled like mad with broken boards, our hands, and our feet, in an effort to get the rafts to the beach but that merciless current always carried us on by and away again, as if to torture us. This happened an innumerable number of times so that we were ready to cry with vexation and exasperation.
When the fog lifted we could see the beach very plainly and knew that any hostile forces on the beach could spot us just as easily. The only sign of life that we could see was a truck or some sort of vehicle moving on a road far back on the mountain. We noticed a few houses or barns in some clearings along the water front but could not see any sign of life around them. Perhaps the beach was entirely deserted.
Suddenly there was a loud bang and a cloud of smoke appeared about 200 yards away between our rafts and the beach. The b------s were firing at us with a shore battery but they did not have the range - they were firing short. We waited and waited for the next round but none came out. Just as we decided that they did not intend to waste any ammunition on us another burst appeared, it was also short. They kept firing at us intermittently, with long intervals between rounds. It was nerve wracking for we could do nothing - just stay there and wait until a round hit us.
The sun had come out and because I passed out so often it was decided that I would be more comfortable and warm if the boys stretched me out on the floater net. At least they could stretch me out on the net so I would be on my back. After they got me moved and stretched out I lost consciousness for a couple of hours.
When I came to the sun was beating down on my face, I was very thirsty, my skin felt all dried up and shrunken, and because of fuel oil burns my right eye was swollen shut and I could only open the left one just a little.
About twenty-five to thirty P-38 Lightenings were flying around us, they were they prettiest planes I'd ever seen in my life. Four of them had spotted us as the shore battery was getting the range on us, and after the four of them had thoroughly rocket bombed and strafed the beach we were not bothered any more by that battery. Occasionally one of them would come down very low, their landing flaps and wheels down to slow the plane as much as possible, and as they sailed by the pilot would wave or give us the "thumbs up" sign. They were certainly morale boosters.
My day was a succession of comas and short periods of consciousness. When I came to the first thing I always asked was, "Is there any sign of a rescue craft yet?"
About 1400 I regained consciousness to find an outrigger canoe containing three Filipinos was bobbing at the side of the raft. The boys were discussing whether or not I was strong enough to take the trip in the canoe to the Filipino village on a small island just off the coast of Cebu. It seemed that about 15 or 20 of our men had been carried by the cross currents to the island and were now hidden in the village.
I said I wanted to be taken ashore so the boys moved the canoe as near to me as possible and rolled me to it. Many hands lifted me carefully to the canoe but I passed out from the pain. When I again regained my senses I found that they had placed me in a kneeling position in the canoe, it was so narrow that I was sitting on the edges, my body lying face down, my head cushioned on my right arm which was across the gunwales. We were about a hundred yards from the rafts but the canoe was overloaded for one of the gunners-mates and the chief torpedoman had also climbed aboard with the assistant engineering officer, making seven of us it it. We hit some swells and the canoe shipped water and foundered. Everyone except the officer and I, slipped over the side and pushed the canoe back to the rafts.
I was lifted out and placed back on the floater net and all hands turned to, to bail out the canoe. It was a hard task for they only had their hands to use as scoops, but they did it. When they started to lift me into the canoe again, I passed out again.
When I came to we were far out in the bay, the rafts out of sight, and land far in the distance. The paddlers were plying their paddles steadily and tirelessly. The Filipinos, the assistant engineering officer and I were the only ones aboard the craft. The Filipinos would occasionally make low voiced comments to one another in a language that sounded like Spanish. I was just aft of the bow paddler, an old, gray-haired, lean Filipino. I asked him if there were any Japs on the island that they were taking me to and he shook his head in the affirmative. "Take me back to the raft then, I'll take my chances out there", I said, but they just kept on paddling away. I then asked him if there were any Yanks around and he held up his hands twice so I surmised that there were about twenty of our men there.
Finally, after what seemed ages of time, we drew in toward a small pier jutted out into the water, loaded with masses of people and the beach swarmed with them. Many men waded into the water and practically carried the canoe out of the water.
In the crowd stood Begley, a signalman from the ship, and it was wonderful to see a familiar face. "My God, Al", he said, "What in the world happened to you?"
"Tell those people to go easy with me, my back is busted, my legs paralyzed, and my left arm is broken", I answered.
Carefully the men pulled me upright and cut the lifejacket from my body. However, the slight movement caused me to pass out again. When I came to I was being carried up a street, face down - two men at my shoulders, two at my hips and two at my legs. Begley was walking alongside and as soon as he noticed that I was awake he reassured me that everything would be all right and that I was being taken to a house where I could be made comfortable. I glanced around and was surprised to see that the homes were wooden frame houses just as we have in small towns. Of course everything was weather beaten and paintless, however, I expected grass huts and a primitive civilization.
They carried me into a small sparsely furnished room containing a cot, a bare table, one chair, and near each of the two windows stood a Nip rifle, with several bandoleers of cartridges scattered around. All my clothes except for a pair of shorts were off and thrown in a soggy, oily heap in the corner.
A crowd of women, children and elderly men filled the room. Now that I think of it, there were very few young men to be seen. Many of the women knelt at the side of the bed and prayed, I suppose that I looked so bad that they expected me to die at any moment.
Between my periods of unconsciousness I was able to talk to the young man who had been an intern at the University of Manila when the Japs invaded the islands. He was the only person in the village that spoke English fluently.
I was given two soft boiled eggs and a glass of milk which was a job in itself as my teeth only opened about a quarter of an inch. I understand that a search party was organized to scour the village in an attempt to locate some soap with which to bathe me but the search was fruitless. No soap could be found. They tried to wash the oil off with hot water but it only smeared it around and made it worse.
A fourteen year old boy was introduced to me, and despite his youth and small stature, he had killed twelve Jap sentries with a knife. He did not seem to be old enough to be away from his mother but he was waging a man's war on the Nip forces.
I asked the young doctor for a shot of morphine but he smiled and told me that they had not seen any medicine for three years. He did have one package of sulpha powder that had been salvaged from an American plane and it was put on the abrasion on my right elbow. He did not deem it necessary to put splints on my left arm as the swelling of the elbow kept it perfectly straight.
At approximately 1800 a PBY Catalina taxied to within a hundred yards of the beach and we were taken out to it in canoes. It was wonderful to be put aboard it for then I knew I was safe. I was immediately given a shot of morphine and a cigarette, but after a few drags I fell asleep, safe at last.
(Thanks to Richard Sementelli, who was aboard Sumner during this battle, for the contribution of this article)