The Loss of PC 814

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This letter has recently been provided to me by the son of Arnold Goldstein. It documents the demise of PC 814 in the great typhoon that struck Okinawa on October 9, 1945. The letter is written peer to peer as Arnold was a former commanding officer of Lt. Paul W. Neidhardt on PC 1172.
23 October, 1945
Dear Arnold [Goldstein],
It was might pleasant to get your letter, and particularly to learned that you have rejoined the ranks of the civilian population. I’m sure that you know of the recent AlNav promoting all lieutenants with date of rank up to 1 October 1943. Even though you theoretically are out of the service, the fact that you are on terminal leave should enable you to report to 3rd N.C. for the promotion that is due you. It seemed like a screwy thing to do—jump so many thousands of officers to higher grade after taking so long previously. I don’t plan to rise to the bait and stay in the necessary 11 months to qualify for the August circle of two-and-a-half-stripers.
Things here are in a bit of a muddle. I have the points necessary for release . . . have had them since Sept. 15. However, so does the skipper, and he has a few more. On top of that, I have orders to relieve him.
Now comes the real complication . . .
Perhaps you read or heard of the typhoon of October 6-10 that hit her so hard on the 8th. From radio reports we heard from Frisco, it seemed that the Navy Department was vastly minimizing the damage.
In brief, 208 craft are sunk or aground, including the PC 814, which is hard and fast on a coral reef at the entrance to Buckner Bay. Of the 208, something between 85 and 90 are commissioned ships ranging from SC’s up to transports. The shore facilities were wrecked. I understand that the report at home said that 90,000 were homeless. That’s no exaggeration. Tents went down, of course, and the great majority of Quonset huts went, too. In fact flying tin roofs from the Quonsets cause some deaths and many other casualties ashore.
The wind was recorded officially at 123 knots [141 mph], and our barometer hit 28.01. The center passed just east of the island, so close that we had the ear-popping and other vacuum sensations described in the textbooks as characteristic of the center of such storms [Dad had a barometer in the living room for the rest of his life at Kenton Road. I have it today].
There was no safe place in the Okinawa area. All the “protected” anchorages are as clogged with grounded and wrecked ships as Buckner, and ships were lost at sea. The PC 1128, for example, went down with only 12 men surviving.
We had “tracked” the storm from the 3rd, when it was first reported near Saipan. For four days it headed west, apparently heading directly for the northern Luxon-Formosa area. It was reported to be of 80-knot intensity at the center, which made it seem like a mere babe among typhoons.
On the 8th, it began to curve. the local weather boys reported that it would pass 150 miles southeast of Okinawa, with 60 knot winds expected here. Then the report changed . . . ‘intensifying, recurving . . . will pass 50 miles southwest of Okinawa . . . gusts 70 to 100 knots expected. Center will pass 0600 to 0900 (I)”
We had a 700 pound anchor, picked up from the beach after we had lost an anchor in the typhoon of September 16. We picked us a good spot and got set. In the last storm several small craft had been lost at sea, so we figured we’d chance it inside again.
At 0730 on the 9th, we began to drag. Until then we had been congratulating ourselves and our 700-pound anchor, because other ships around us . . . LST’s, and Liberties included, were having trouble, and the inner shore of Buckner Bay was already getting crowded. The wind was coming from about 070 at about 80 knots.
We got underway, but figured the center would pass soon, so what the hell! Then the radio came through . . . “center will pass close to Okinawa at about 1200 (I) . . . storm intensifying.”
We threaded our way through the anchored ships and got out to the outer area of the bay, where there was plenty of room to maneuver. We picked out a couple of fine buoys in the channel and started to run back and forth between them. All was going ok as noon approached.
By noon, however, there was no sign of the center’s passing. The wind still blew from 070 and was getting worse all the time. It was necessary to conn from the flying bridge to see at all, and in order to stay up there, the conning officer (Bill and I alternated hourly) had to wrap both arms around a stanchion and brace both feet against the 20 mm. stand. The wind and rain made it almost impossible to see anything. In fact after 1200 visibility went to absolute zero.
Well, to make a shorter story of it, we did ok until late in the afternoon. Our radar was grounded out by water at 1530, and after than it was impossible even to guess where we were. We hit the reff at 1605. First impulse was to jettison to try to get off, since we didn’t know ehether the ship would stay put or break up. there was no panic, but some people did some screwy things. Bill had the conn at the time we hit. I was down inspecting for damage up forward. When I came up, I found the 1st lieut. in the wardroom pantry, handing dishes out to be thrown over the side. All the wardroom furniture went, and I just go to the pilot house in time to save the binoculars, sextants, etc.
Our main engine room was hold badly, so it was important that we stay on the reef if possible. Fortunately we did stay. Damage beside the main engine room: Lazarette flooded [most likely a storage space], every fuel tank and fresh water tank pierced, storage compartment below the auxiliary engine room flooded with fuel from ruptured tank. A310L flooded with fuel for the same reason.
The center of the storm had passed at around 1530, so the storm abated by 2100 to the extent that I thought it would help if someone took the lead and turned in. So I crawled into my sack for a few hours of badly needed rest. We kept a regular steaming watch set (except for the main engine room) all that night.
The rescue crowed got around to us two days later, by which time we had consumed all the water on the life rafts and most of the fruit juices aboard. We were taken ashore, where things were chaotic. However, after a few uncomfortable days, everyone was housed in reasonable comfort in tents.
If salvage is not deemed desirable, we will strip the removable gear, and decommission where she sits. Then personnel will be reassigned or returned to the states . . . no decision on this policy yet. Since I have the points, that would mean a fairly early departure for me. If she’s to be salvaged, I will have to take command and await a relief from Pearl. The present 3rd officer is definitely not qualified for command.
Well, that’s a long, long exposition of my personal woes. We were very fortunate. There were lots of casualties in the storm, and bodies were fished out of the bay and surrounding waters for several days afterward. I understand that nine ships were sunk. Even today the inner shore of Buckner is a mass of wrecked ships — drydocks, hotel barges, LSM’s, Liberties, etc., all piled together. the toughest story I’ve heard was of tan IX — about 10,000 tons that was doing ok until an ammunition barge hit its stern and blew up. What was left got on the reef ok, when along comes an LST with such force that it went clean through. The LST bow is poking out the other the other side of the IX, and its stern is tangled up with a big APL.
Hope that you find the transition to civilian life completely without hitch and that the paper finishing business response quickly to your stimulating efforts. My sincere best to Paula . . . when do I hear the big news about you two? And, as always, my warmest greetings to your parents and to Augusta and Seymour, who always treated me as if I were on of them.
Phyllis is awaiting the stork, or was at last report. The old bird may deliver any day now.
Hope my path leads to NY and 2597 Sedgewick [Arnold’s parents] before many months
Sincerely,
Paul

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