Written Documents

USS Patterson DD-392

Home on leave before shipping out.

onleave.jpg (18895 bytes)

Picture was taken sometime between January 1944 and March 1944.

The following 1945 letter home was written by Robert "Austin" Coburn, Sr., Storekeeper 2C to his wife, Pauline, his four year-old daughter, Sandra, and his four month-old son, Robert.   Austin was born on October 18, 1908, and was 35 years old when he entered the Navy from a small west Texas town named Haskell.  Before the war he served as City Secretary and Deputy Tax Assessor-Collector.

 

c/o Fleet Post Office
San Francisco, California,

4 September 1945.

Dearest Pauline, Sandra and Robert:

Sometime ago I wrote and told you about some of the places I had been, and some of what I had seen and done. Now that Japan has surrendered, I can send you a few more details. This time the censors say you can talk about it, too, and let the neighbors in on our doings.

I mentioned before that we were in the Saipan Operation and then traveled with the fast carriers and battleships from one end of the Western Pacific to the other. Now I can say a little more about the Battle of the Philippine Sea that we were in. We were kept posted about the operations by word from the exec. over the loud speaker system. One night he told us we could expect to see real action before morning, but the Jap Fleet steamed away at high speed, and our ships couldn’t catch them. The morning of June 19, 1944, reports came in that a large air attack was coming our way. We were with the heavy battle force, steaming just over the horizon from the carrier groups. We formed a big circle for defense against the expected attack, and it was comforting to nestle in between the IOWA and the NEW JERSEY with their big batteries of AA guns. When the attack came most of the Jap planes were polished off miles away by our fighters but a few managed to sneak through. Those battleships, cruisers and destroyers really went to work on them. You couldn’t imagine the sight of so much gunfire; the air was filled with 5" and forty millimeter bursts. One plane was lucky enough to run the whole six mile length of the formation, but eventually our ships guns knocked him down, too. One of the battle wagons suffered slightly from a near miss near her stern but other than that there was no damage.

Late the next afternoon our planes found the Jap fleet and gave them the licking you read so much about. Our planes came back after dark and many had to make water landings due to low fuel. Our whole task force steamed up and down through the waters where they came in and many were picked up.

A few months later we were still with the Carriers, striking far into what was then all enemy territory hitting Formosa and Northern Luzon. The night of October thirteenth is one I won’t forget for a long time. Jap torpedo bombers came in low on the water about dusk that night. We twisted and turned, and none of the planes made a hit. Unfortunately, some of the Japs managed to get inside the circle of destroyers ringed around the big carriers, and in shooting at the planes some of the carriers’ fire hit our ship. Three of my shipmates were fatally wounded and several more had serious injuries. They are the only casualties the PATTERSON has suffered from the time we left the States until now.

In late October, our carriers were in the Philippine sea giving direct support to the Leyte invasion forces when word came that the Jap fleet was out again. Orders came in the early morning of the 25th to form the heavy striking force and steam north and head them off. We were among the destroyers picked to go along with the fast battleships and cruisers. That morning our carrier planes launched a heavy attack and turned back the enemy force off Cape Engano, on the northern tip off Luzon. Since most of the ships from the north had been knocked out, and the Seventh Fleet with its little escort carriers, off Leyte to the south of us, were being attacked by a Jap battle formation our battleships were ordered to go down and help them. We were sent on north with a force of heavy cruisers and destroyers to finish off what was left of the Jap’s northern fleet. Just before dusk we sighted a Jap carrier, damaged by our planes, but still moving. The cruisers poured heavy shells into her, and finally we were ordered to close in with some other destroyers and finish her off with torpedoes. We started in, but before we reached her, she settled down in the water and sank. Many of the men saw Jap survivors all around us, but we had more work to do and didn’t stop to pick them up, nor did we kill them as some suggested. Another crippled ship was reported farther north. The night was black. We maneuvered at high speed in close formation and detected two ships together. As our cruisers opened fire, one enemy ship fled at high speed, the other tried to avoid us and then seemed to come at the formation, probably attempting a torpedo attack. The cruisers formed column ahead and kept firing at their target with the big guns. Another division of destroyers was sent in to make a torpedo attack, and were taken under fire by the enemy. We were too far away to be a good target, but we heard at least one shell whiz over head. The other destroyers fired their fish and got out in a hurry without observing whether they were successful. The cruisers had the range now and were scoring many hits. Finally, fires broke out on the enemy ship, identified as a light cruiser or a heavy destroyer, before long her magazines went up with a mighty blast that hurled debris far into the air, and the ship settled and sank.

Not long after that, we experienced the first of many suicide plane attacks. We were with a carrier unit of Task Force 38 the afternoon of October 30 when a group of Kamikaze’s suddenly struck. There was no warning, and the first thing we knew the flight deck of the carrier BELLEAU WOOD burst into flames with a terrific explosion. A Jap plane had dived straight into her from high in the skies. Another enemy plane hit the carrier FRANKLIN. When the other attackers had been driven off, the PATTERSON was ordered to search for survivors. We found many from the BELLEAU WOOD and our Medical Officer worked heroically to save them after we had pulled them out of the sea. In spite of his efforts two died and were buried at sea the next day, but many recovered in spite of terrible burns and near drowning.

We had a short rest at Ulithi after that, and then reported for duty with an escort carrier group. Not much happened until early December, when we took part in the Mindoro operations. That was a dangerous job. With our CVE’s, some old battleships, cruisers, and other destroyers we steamed through Leyte Gulf, transited Surigao Strait, went through the Mindanao Sea into the Sulu Sea. This was penetration far into the heart of the Philippines, at a time when only a small part of Leyte Island was held by our forces. We were frequently under air attack. Just as we emerged from Suriago Strait Jap planes came in. One dived into the destroyer HARADEN, just 600 yards ahead of us and she had to return to base. The next day more Jap planes came in, but gunfire drove them off, and our fighters shot them down. The day after that, we had our first air alert at four in the morning, and kept having more alerts all day. We fired on many planes and that afternoon succeeded in shooting one down. Several made suicide dives, but their only success was slight damage done to one carrier. After that we had more alerts, but no planes got through to the formation. We were glad indeed, when the invasion of Mindoro was completed and our force retired to its base.

Around the first of this year we joined up with another outfit and prepared for the invasion of Luzon Island. We were assigned as a "screen" again for the baby carriers; cruisers and old battleships were also in the formation, along with other destroyers. The Japs didn’t like our invasion idea a little bit, and they sent air attack after air attack to try to stop us. We were headed for the area off Lingayen Gulf, taking much the same route our Mindoro attack force had followed. The fourth day out, in the Mindanao sea, a lone Jap plane managed to sneak in and crashed with warning into the flight deck of the carrier OMMANEY BAY as she steamed in formation just a thousand yards away from the PATTERSON. We tried to get alongside her, but flames and explosions were too great, and it was soon evident that her fires were out of control. We stood by to pick up survivors as orders to abandon the carrier were given. With a terrific roar and a blast that shook our ship and sent pieces of metal and wood flying in all directions, the carrier’s magazines blew up and the doomed ship drifted far astern. We were ten miles away when one of our destroyers was sent back to sink her with a torpedo. When the torpedo hit, there was a blast far greater than the earlier one, the horizon was lighted up for miles and a great round ball of flames rose hundreds of feet above the water, then burst in a shower of fire and left only stray bits of debris where the OMMANEY BAY had been. The PATTERSON’S rescue crew brought more than a hundred men aboard safely, and other ships rescued many more. That night, in the calm of an enemy sea, the whole force stopped, and we moored alongside the NEW MEXICO to transfer survivors to the larger ship while other destroyers transferred those they had saved to other large ships. Before morning we were underway again for the assault area.

The next day attacks started early. It was not yet light when an enemy plane crashed in flames off our port bow. Two enemy planes were shot down close by other ships a little later, and after that we had our most terrifying raid: An enemy "Val", just outside gun range to starboard was attracting attention when suddenly a new threat came in from the port side - fire. "Zekes" flying low on the water, executing the curious weaving maneuver - called "Jinking" - that seemed characteristic of the "Kamikaze: - special suicide attack - units. The PATTERSON opened fire with her main battery when the attackers were five miles away. As they came on inside the outer ring of ships one plane broke off, did a wing-over and crashed into the side of a destroyer escort. When they came closer, we opened fire with our 40 millimeter guns and then with 20 millimeter machine guns. Three passed just ahead of us. Seconds that followed stretched into hours as we watched one plane after the other head his nose into the air, twist onto his back, and dive straight into his target. We were pouring bullets into the planes, but they kept coming. One picked an Australian cruiser near us for his target, and scored a hit on that ship’s stack, starting a fire that was quickly brought under control. A second crashed the deck of a carrier on our starboard bow. A third on which our machine gunners had been concentrating their fire, slid into the water, just astern of the same carrier. As the plane went down, what looked like a parachute fluttered out above the water, quickly sank. The carrier was afire, but quick work put out the flames and damage was slight. Two days later, the heavy ships left, and we were alone with the CVE’s and other escorts. We had several more alerts, but after the landing was made at Lingayen, the carriers were not bothered much by Jap planes, and toward the end of January we headed back to Ulithi.

There we had nearly three weeks for rest, routine repairs and replenishment of supplies. In February we were off with our light carriers again, this time headed for Iwo Jima. Our part in that operation was small, compared with what the Marines did on the beach. We furnished them air support and protection against Jap planes, from a position a few miles off shore. There were the usual number of alerts, but no air raids developed against our force until February 21. Just at dusk that day we heard reports that the SARATOGA, operating about 20 miles from us, was under air attack. Our carriers were told to expect homeless SARATOGA planes to land on their decks. Unidentified planes were then reported closing the formation from ahead and fighters were sent out to investigate. Their report said the planes were friendly SARATOGA aircraft, but PATTERSON lookouts were doubtful: what they saw was our patrol at a high level with friendlies just below; but lower still were some we thought were Japs. We couldn’t fire until we were sure, but soon had no doubt and put out the word on our inter ship radio - "Bandits coming in, low and fast, from dead ahead." Just then a ship ahead and to port opened fire and our guns started firing also. Four Jap planes were coming in on our port side. Suddenly the executive officer, keeping watch on the starboard side, shouted as a lone Jap plane came in, skimming the water on our starboard. The executive officer took charge of a light machine gun and put the gunners on the new target as it passed less than a hundred yards off our starboard side, about the level with the bridge. Our starboard guns scored a few hits but couldn’t stop the plane as it screamed around our stern and headed for the nearest carrier, the BISMARCK SEA. The Jap scored a clean hit and the small carrier went up in flames. We dropped back to help, along with three of the escorts, but flames and popping ammunition prevented our coming close. As the fire got out of control and magazine explosions occurred, we stopped and put our boat in the water, and a heroic crew went out in it to rescue survivors. We stood by helplessly, watched the BISMARCK SEA explode again, heel over and sink. We spent a long time picking up survivors. Many were badly burned, many injured and half-drowned. Two were brought aboard who seemed already dead, but artificial respiration was started immediately. After hours of work, one of the two was declared dead, but the other showed signs of life and later recovered. We stayed in the area through the night picking up more survivors all the time, more than a hundred in all, and at dawn a scouting line of destroyers made a thorough search of the whole area. When it was decided no more could be found, the rescue vessels steamed into the harbor a Iwo Jima to transfer the survivors. On the way, those who had died were buried at sea. Many months later we heard from some of those who lived and today we show proudly on our quarterdeck the metal plaque they sent us with its inscription "To U. S. S. PATTERSON from the Survivors of the BISMARCK SEA in grateful appreciation for the heroic and unselfish assistance given to us on the night of February 21, 1945 at Iwo Jima."

We retired again to Ulithi after Iwo Jima was secure, and stayed in port until it was time for the Okinawa Operation. Here again we had it easier than many ships, with no raids getting through to our own carrier group. We did have some excitement, however, one day when we went into Karama Retto, a small harbor just a few miles south west of Okinawa, used as a temporary base during the invasion. We arrived there early in the morning, planning to fuel and take on provisions while the carrier LUNGA POINT replenished her supply of bombs, rockets and other necessaries. When we left, shortly before dusk, a large number of ships, mostly transports, was steaming out of the area for the night. When about ten miles out, a group of unidentified planes was detected thirty miles away, closing. In a few minutes the transport group on our starboard quarter opened fire, and enemy planes were sighted. Two headed for our small formation: one CVE, two destroyer-escorts, one destroyer. When they came within range we opened fire; one turned off early and as the planes closed we sent up a volume of fire greater that any had see our ship put out before. That plane, too, turned away, and shortly afterward one of the planes was seen to hit the destroyer-transport DICKERSON a fatal blow. The second plane had scarcely broken off when another was seen rounding our stern at some distance and then paralleling our course to port. Our guns poured lead at her and as she came abeam she turned and was seen end on. I was sure at that moment she was heading into us on a suicide course - but miraculously her silhouette grew smaller; she had turned away. Again we shifted fire to starboard, again to port. When it was over, observers said we had knocked down two planes, aided by other ship’s guns, and gave our ship a large share of credit for turning back the attack on our carrier.

Life since then has been mild. We were detached in the early part of May and proceeded to Guam for some urgent repairs. We stayed in port about a month, and then returned to the carrier force off Okinawa after a quick trip to Leyte. When the carriers were no longer needed our force returned to Leyte, stayed for a while, then went to Saipan, where we were assigned patrol and escort duty, until last week, when we received a new assignment that has brought us to Manila. Where we will go from here, I don’t know, but wherever it is, I’m confident now that it will be a step on the long road home.

With all my love,

Austin

 

   

     

     

 


This page was last updated on 06/30/03

Copyright 1997,1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003  Robert Coburn   All Rights Reserved