Chapter IV

The Canopus was seaworthy again in a few days, although much ammunition had been lost by flooding the magazines, and several store rooms were badly messed up by the explosion. This cloud, however, had a silver lining for our Supply Officer, Lieutenant "Gus" Johnson, who found his office wrecked and his accounts burned, giving him a heaven-sent chance to put an end to all his laborious accounting system for the duration. From that time on, our supply system was beautifully simple. What we had, we could use without the usual red tape, and if something was lacking, nothing could be done about it except to improvise a substitute or do without. There was nothing for the men to spend their money on, so there were no more pay days. Ice cream and canteen supplies were free as long as they lasted. All clothing became community property, to be doled out to whatever unfortunate should appear in the most nearly naked condition. This Utopian state inevitably led to much closer relations among the crew and officers, and welded us all into a great family, working and fighting a common cause, with only one aim -- do our damnedest to lick the Japs.

Curiously enough, the boys who had been the worst troublemakers in time of peace became our most shining lights in wartime. Perhaps they had just too much restless energy for their own good when things were more normal, but this same quality enabled them to perform prodigies when the chips were down.

Ordinary methods of discipline of course failed, since the men got no liberty or pay anyhow, and what normally would be extra duty was now only the usual stint for everyone. But punishments were fortunately unnecessary, as the spirit of the community would tolerate no shirkers, and the men themselves saw to it that no one was derelict in his duty.

When the last of the submarines, carrying the Commodore and his staff to a new southern base, had pulled out just before the New Year opened, we were left with something of the feeling of a mother when the last of her children has grown up and left the home fires, to battle the world alone. Nothing would seem more useless than a submarine tender with no submarines to look out for, but we were soon to find that there were orphans aplenty to be adopted. There were many small Navy ships which were also stranded by the tide of war ebbing toward the south. These needed constant repairs as well as additional equipment for the task ahead of them. The world also got around to all Army and Air Force Units, of the well equipped shops which could and did accomplish miracles of improvisation, and these groups were not slow in making full use of these facilities. Again the men of the Canopus could feel that they had a major share in the new mission -- to hold Bataan.

Tojo's war birds, however, still wanted to have something to say as to whether the Canopus would stay in service. Our first bombing had made it apparent that the ship was not exactly a safe spot to while away the daylight hours, so the policy was adopted of scattering as many of the crew as possible ashore, to sleep as best they could during the day, and return on board for work all night. Volunteers were called for to man the anti-aircraft guns during the danger period, with such response that practically no changes resulted in the resulted in the regular gun crews. With the Gunnery Officer, Lieutenant "Red" Otter in control, these enthusiastic boys felt that they were the lucky ones -- there was always the chance that some Jap planes might venture low enough to justify any risks.

Just a week after the first bombing, the Japs showed their annoyance at such temerity by sending another squadron of planes over the Canopus to try to settle the affair once and for all.

Again the closely bunched bomb pattern blanketed the ship, but again only one missile made a direct hit. This time it was a quick-acting fragmentation bomb which struck the side of the towering smokestack, and literally sprayed the upper decks with small fragments. The gun crews, which had ducked behind their shields at the last instant before the bombs landed, had little protection from splinters coming down from above, and three-quarters of them were wounded -- fortunately with no fatalities. No serious fires were started, but the upper decks looked like a sieve as hundreds had pierced the light plating.

Stretcher parties from ashore boarded the ship almost before the dust had settled, and carried the fifteen wounded men to dressing stations ashore, but the hardest part of the task was to convince each victim that someone else should not get attention first. One of the highlights of the scene was the sight of "Red" Otter dashing to the bridge, bleeding from half a dozen gashes, to make certain his skipper was all right, then dashing back to direct evacuation of the other wounded men before he would allow his wounds to be dressed. What "softies" our decadent democracy produces!

The damage due to the one direct hit had been only superficial, but inspection below disclosed that several near misses had also taken their toll. Each side had been pierced a few feet above the water line by forty or fifty fragments of bombs by contact with the water alongside. Another bomb had exploded deeper under water and dished in the hull two or three inches, cracking the plating and loosening rivets which were leaking steadily. These were wounds which had to be bound up to make the vessel again seaworthy, and the welders were soon on the job plugging the openings.

The tough old girl was not ready for her grave yet, but if she were to continue a career of usefulness, it seemed best to make the Japs think the last salvo of bombs had done the trick. It was useless to pretend any longer that we weren't there, but at least we could make them think that what was left was useless. The next morning, when "Photo Joe" in his scouting plane came over, his pictures showed what looked like an abandoned hulk, listed over on her side, with cargo booms askew, and large blackened areas around the bomb holes, from which wisps of smoke floated up for two or three days. What he did not know was that the smoke came from oily rags in strategically placed smudge pots, and that every night the "abandoned hulk" hummed with activity, forging new weapons for the beleaguered forces of Bataan. Evidently the Japs were completely deceived because only one half-hearted attempt was made a week later by dive bombers to finish off the faithful ship, and tat was driven away without damage, by our anti-aircraft guns. These had been taken off the ship and mounted on the hills nearby, so as not to draw further retaliation to the vessel.

Two of the larger anti-aircraft guns had been damaged by the second bombing, and ammunition for those remaining was almost gone. This battery was therefore dismantled to provide needed parts for similar guns which a company of Marines had mounted ashore at the head of Mariveles Bay, and which could be better protected.


Capt. Sackett's History