In Their Own Words...

USS Hughes 1942

Those Damned Kamikazes


Louis P. Swan

USS Hughes (DD-410)

espite the fact that the date was December 10, 1944, the weather was hot and sunny.It was always hot in the Philippines and my ship was one of the first to return since the Japs had taken over a few years earlier.
I was serving as a radio operator on the destroyer Hughes, DD-410, a sleek, single-stack, 1500-ton job that had a top speed of 42 knots.  She had been built in Bath, Maine and was commissioned in September 1939.

But to get back to the day at hand.  We had just finished the Ormoc Bay landing, and were now anchored in Leyte Gulf.  We had been the flagship for the operation under the flag of Rear Admiral Struble.  Although the day was spent in taking on provisions and ammunition, it seemed like a busman’s holiday not being in some hot action for a change.

However, as in any hot war, a day of rest has to end sometime, and for us it ended about 1400 when we were to depart for our picket station off of the island of Dinagat.  Normally picket duty is considered routine and none of the ships crews cared for the duty.  The ships selected for picket duty would just cruise around the area trying to pick up enemy planes on their radar screens that cold not be detected by the land-based radar due to the mountainous terrain.

We were to relieve another destroyer that was on picket duty in the Dinagat area at 1700 that day.  However we never saw the other ship.  We arrived on station at 1650 and the skipper was giving us a rundown on what to look for and since some of these islands were no more than mountains jutting out of the sea, we were told that the radar would be ineffective in some areas.

While the skipper was passing the word over the P.A. system, another voice was heard in the background informing him that a flight of ten bogies (enemy planes) had been picked up on radar.  No sooner had the word come over the loudspeaker than the General Quarters alarm was sounded.

I was working the mid-shift in the radio room that week and decided I would sleep through chow.  I lay in the sack listening to the voices coming through the speaker and as soon as I heard the alarm I jumped up.  I was fully clothed except for my shoes so I slipped them on, not bothering to tie them.  My bunk was forward of the mess hall and galley near the bow of the ship and my battle station was on the twin-mount 40-mm guns just aft of midships.  I rushed through the mess hall and up the ladder to the main deck leading aft.  I was third loader for my gun position.

All hell seemed to break loose.  All the 5” 38-caliber guns were firing simultaneously and the 20-mm and 40-mm guns were chattering like a cage of excited monkeys.

The enemy planes were circling just out of range of our weapons and probably deciding who would be the first to die for his glorious Emperor.  Suddenly one of the planes broke formation and was approaching the Hughes from our starboard side where he intended to crash into us.  However the hail of fire was so great that he swung in a circular motion around the stern of the ship and was coming in on our port side now.

All guns were trained on this lone challenger and tracers could be seen flying all around him.  At last we could see that plane’s engine was on fire.  We had scored a hit!

Everyone was excited and thought surely the plane would either explode or crash into the water.  But no, although the plane was burning fiercely, the plane was still heading in a death dive for our ship.  We tried evasive action but to no avail.

The plane crashed into our port side midships, gouging a huge hole in the side and main deck.  The plane’s engine continued down into the engine-room where a tremendous explosion shook the destroyer.

Mass confusion seemed to reign.  Everyone was running around and shouting orders.  The skipper, using a megaphone, instructed all hands not manning guns to move aft to the stern of the ship and await further orders.  The damage control party went to work putting out the fires that still enveloped the ship.   Handy billies were set up in the damaged engine-room to pump the water out of the ship.
Our gun was inoperative so the crew moved aft.  As I ran toward the stern, my shoes became entangled in the phone line.  I lost both shoes, but kept going.  I could feel something sticky on the bottoms of my feet.  When I reached the stern I fould that my feet were soaked in blood from the deck.  Shrapnel had found its way to our gun mount and several of the crew were bleeding badly, some dead.

The water continued to pour in the hole in our side.  A large spool of 5” line had been hurled through the air and landed on the bridge, starting fires there.  It seemed the Hughes was doomed.  Badly listing from all the water that was pouring into her bowels, it must have appeared to the remaining nine bogies that they would not be needed to finish us off.

All power was knocked out when the boilers in the engine-room exploded.  Using his megaphone, the skipper informed all hands that we were not to fire any guns at the remaining planes so that they would think we were finished.   However, at the precise moment he was talking, one of the crewmen on 5” gun #1, due to the excitement, kicked out a round at the circling planes (although we had no power, the guns could still be fired manually).  It was pitifully short of the target and only seemed to infuriate the enemy planes into further action.

A second plane peeled off from the formation and headed for our ship.   Everyone was waiting tensely by their guns for the plane to come into range.   They knew that they would have only one chance to knock him out of the skies before he would be on us.

Just when we thought it would all be over, a flight of four of the most beautiful P-38’s came to our rescue.  One of the men on duty in the radio room had manned a battery-operated radio that had been left aboard from the Ormac Bay landing and had sent out a distress call.  The P-38’s were on patrol duty and had picked up the call and had come to our aid.

As soon as the bogie spotted the P-38’s bearing down on him, he turned and fled back to his formation.  With the P-38’s still in hot pursuit, the enemy planes disappeared over the mountains and were not seen again by us.  It was later reported that the planes had flown over Leyte Gulf and some of them were shot down while others crashed into the big merchant ships at anchor there.

By this time a drizzling rain and fog had closed in on us.  We were all wet and miserable but glad to be alive.  Everyone had calmed down by this time (to some extent) and an assessment was made of the damage.  One thing was certain—we would not make Leyte Gulf under our own power.

About 2000 we received word that help was on the way.  The sea-going tug QUAPAW, was sent out to tow us back to safety.  A cruiser and two destroyers were sent along to see that we were not attacked again.

At 2200 the tug arrived and lines were secured to our ship and once again we were underway.  We arrived in Leyte Gulf the next day and work was begun immediately to repair the damaged ship.  The dead and wounded were transferred to a hospital ship.  A final count showed eighteen dead and 40 wounded.

The Hughes was slowly put together as well as possible and a huge Army generator was set up on the main deck to use for power.  Just before Christmas we made a trial run around the Gulf and found that the ship could make a top speed of about 18 knots.

We left Leyte in company with the Cruiser Canberra for Noumea, New Caledonia.  Upon arrival, we had more extensive repairs made and then sailed for Pearl Harbor, once again in company with the Canberra.

During the trip we encountered rough seas that split the seams of the ship where it had been temporarily welded.  It seemed that the Hughes was just destined not to reach Pearl.  However, we fell in behind the Canberra and followed in her wake.  This seemed to help, and finally we reached Pearl.

We spent a few days at Pearl before continuing on our trip to San Francisco where we would enter drydock for a complete overhaul.  One amusing thing happened while at Pearl.  Our ship was at anchor and the crew was just lounging around on the decks.  One man was asleep on the torpedo deck.  A low-flying plane buzzed our ship to inspect the damage, presumably, and the sleeping crewman, thinking we were under attack again, rolled off the torpedo deck breaking his arm.   The skipper requested that no other planes buzz our ship because the crew was still a little leary of any planes flying too close to us.

The Hughes departed Oahu unaccompanied, as the Canberra was headed for the East Coast through the Panama Canal.  The trip was slow and uneventful until we reached the waters outside of San Francisco.  We were flying our homeward bound pennant after many months of continuous fighting in the Pacific.  We had been away from the States thirteen months on this trip and a lot of action had been seen from the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific to the Philippines.

Our luck ran out once more as we neared the Golden Gate Bridge.   The steering mechanism went out and the Hughes once again had to call for help.   We were towed into Hunter’s Point Naval Drydock where we were to spend the next five months on a complete overhaul.

Upon completion of our shipyard availability, we were assigned to the North Pacific Fleet.  Since so many new destroyers had been built since the beginning of the war, the Hughes was now classified as an outdated ship.  We were to be used on bombarding missions in the Kurile Islands and to hunt out Jap fishing fleets in the Sea of Okhotsk off Sakhalin and sink them.  This continued until the end of the war.

Since the Hughes had served through so many of the major engagements in the Pacific War, it was only fitting that she be selected to be in on the unconditional surrender signing that took place in Ominato Bay aboard the U.S.S. Panamint at the same time the signing took place in Tokyo Bay aboard the Might Mo (U.S.S. Missouri).

This still does not end the story of a glorious fighting ship.   During the Bikini atomic blast, the Hughes was to ride out this last bit of action as a ship in the target area.  However, the Hughes survived and was towed to the Bremerton, Washington shipyards.

I have often wondered what happened to the Hughes since then and often think of that dismal day in December 1944 when I lost some of my best friends.   It’s been over 21 years now but that day is as fresh in my memory as if it were yesterday.

USS Hughes as built


My father wrote this memoir in 1965.  In the years following, he learned that the Hughes—after surviving the atomic testing at Bikini Atoll—was sunk as a target by Navy planes off the coast of Washington.  My guess is that he learned this from his Navy brothers at one of the many Hughes reunions he attended over the years.  Of the 12 destroyers used in the testing, only two had so little damage that they were remanned and sailed back to the United States.  The U.S.S. Conyngham was one.  The Hughes was the other.
“Operation Crossroads,” the code name given to the nuclear testing performed at Bikini Atoll in July of 1946, included both below and above water blasting.  The idea was to examine the effects of nuclear explosions on wartime vessels.  I’m assuming the Hughes took part in the underwater testing because I remember my father saying the Hughes was literally blasted out of the water, turned in the air, and landed hull-down, continuing to float.

He was very proud when he told me this.  I never knew if it was legend or truth, but to me it doesn’t matter.  It was what my father believed.   And it’s what I want to believe, too.

Robert Louis Swan

Editor's note:
Robert has produced some fine models of his Fathers ship that can be found in the Ships of Robert Swan gallery.

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