BY GEORGE H. KEELER JR.
Copyright © 1988 G. H. Keeler, Jr.
Used by permission
June 17, 1988
There are two areas I would like to address in this document, one is my personal memories of October 25, 1944, the other is a set of facts about the engineering design of this class of ships. It must be realized that I am relying on memory and time has drawn its veil over those events, so that what I remember is imperfect at best.
Immediately after December 7, 1941, all of the vast resources of the construction and manufacturing industries of the United States rallied behind the war effort and brought all the ability, inventiveness and innovation that had been to a large degree dormant during the depression years to bear on producing a tremendous stream of supplies and material. One of the bottlenecks that developed was the production of reduction gears for Large ships. The accepted method of propelling large ships was with steam driven turbines, which run at about 5000 revolutions per minute. Since the propellers need to run at about 100 to 300 r.p.m., a train of reduction gears is interposed between the turbine and the propeller. The final gear in this train is very large (15 or 20 feet in diameter), and this gear was the bottleneck. There were only a few machines that could cut the teeth on these large gears, and the work had to be done in an air conditioned room to avoid any distortion in the gear. Several steps were taken to bypass this serious bottleneck. Some of the Destroyer Escort vessels were fitted with a "Turbo-Electric Drive" designed and built by Westinghouse Electric Co. In this system, the propellers were driven by an electric motor which was operated by an electric generator and the generator was driven by a steam turbine, thereby eliminating the need for gears.
In the class of ships to which the KALININ BAY belonged, consideration was given to the need for maneuverability, and what seemed to be a step backward was taken. Two steam driven reciprocating engines were installed in these ships; direct connected to the propeller shafts. They could be stopped and reversed in a few seconds; so fast in an emergency situation it seemed that the propeller shafts were going to tear themselves out of the ship! While these engines did not have the power we sometimes wished for, they made our class of ships as maneuverable as any ship of its size or larger. These engines were made by the Nordhoff Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
On the morning of October 25,1944 I was the Engineering Officer of the Watch in the Starboard or after engine room when at about 0700 word was passed on the intercom that a large group of enemy ships had been sighted at about 20,000 yards, and at this time we received the order "all engines flank speed" and the order to make smoke. General Quarters had already been sounded of course, and I was soon relieved of the watch and proceeded to my GQ station. I was the "A" division officer at this time and my GQ station was the officer in charge of of a large repair party below decks amidships. We made the Engineering Log Room our headquarters, and we had men in the mess hall and in the Machine Shop. The Engineering Log Room was on the starboard side below the CPO Mess. From there a passageway ran athwartships between a set of four fuel oil settling tanks and the fresh water tanks. At the end of this passageway were some compartments including the Small Arms Locker and a ladder leading down to the machine shop.
We had learned that the Japanese task group consisted of Battleships, several Cruisers and many destroyers, and we soon began to receive near misses and then hits from the Cruisers. I believe the first hit came through from the port side, struck a main beam of the foreword elevator, and burst in the radar room; causing all the deaths that we sustained. Either the same shell or another severed a bundle of control cables in an upper passageway, thereby cutting off nearly all communication between the Bridge and other parts of the ship including loss of rudder control. Control of the rudder was taken over by an Electrician's Mate on watch in the Steering Engine Room. Since he had no experience as a helmsman, he had considerable trouble holding a course and answering orders. A helmsman from the bridge was sent down to relieve him, and even he had some problems because he had to face astern and everything was backwards to him! We, in Repair Party 2, knew we were receiving hits, but they were not in our part of the ship. Then we heard and felt a crash so severe it nearly knocked us off our feet. I must have stepped out of the log room, because I remember seeing Claude Funk coming through the passageway between the fuel oil settling tanks; the tanks being bulged out so that he had to squeeze sideways between them, with the others in the engine room close behind.
Claude reported that a shell had entered the part side just above the machine shop, angled down through the machine shop overhead and burst in the fresh water tank and the fuel oil settling tanks. This was especially alarming, since our boilers were using from these tanks, and of course we would be dead in the water in a few minutes if the boilers could not get oil. The "Oil King", Wilkerson, and I immediately went up to the hangar deck where the sounding tubes far these tanks were. There were four settling tanks in a cluster, and they were filled from the other storage tanks on the ship. Each fire room used from two of these tank alternately. As Wilkerson and I were sounding the tanks we could hear a lot of crashes and other noises, but above all others we could hear men screaming. This was very unnerving and we completed the soundings in record time. We found two tanks empty and two full, and I reported this information to the control engine room. We learned that the fire rooms were both using from the full tanks. Of course if it had been otherwise we would have already been dead in the water. Our ship wasn't called the "Lucky K" for nothing!!
We went back below decks and found that the machine shop had a mixture of water and oil in it. It was sloshing back and fourth as the ship rolled; coming up above the floor plates, but didn't seem to be rising any. We got a report about this time from the forward engine room that they needed timbers to shore the bulkhead between them and the machine shop. I knew that this was not necessary since there was not that much water in the machine shop, and decided to go on down there to assure them of this fact. Chief Machinist Vincent met me at the foot of the ladder in the engine room, and he was very hot and excited because he thought the after bulkhead was about to rupture and innundate them. I don't know where he got that misinformation. I explained that there was only a few feet of water and oil in the machine shop, and he calmed down some then. The forward engine room also had quite a bit of water and oil in the bilges; almost up to the floor plates. I soon discovered Funk skin diving in the bilges, trying to clear the suction of the bilge pump. He finally came up with a pair of dungarees, and the pump began to carry the level of the liquid in the bilges on down. Claude is still looking for the bird that left those dungarees in the bilges!
The shelling seemed to have at least slacked off, and as Vincent was looking very tired, upset and hot I relieved him and told him to go out on the fantail and get some air. But I don't think he did. I was pretty tired myself and I sat down on a valve manifold. I thought the repair party was dealing with the water in the machine shop and a small fire in the small arms locker OK, and there didn't seem to be any more shelling, so I began to calm down some. Suddenly there was a terrific crash as through something had slammed into the starboard side of the ship, and I thought, "well, they are back to finish us off; well never survive another bombardment like the one we just went through." The shock of this explosion tripped the electric generator, and the lights went out; but the electrician kicked it back in in about one half a second. We didn't know it at the time, but this was the bombs of the second kamikaze exploding only a few feet from us. This was the last of the battle but I lived in terror for a long time before I was convinced that it was over. The one thing that impressed me most then and now was the way all the men that I had any contract with stood by their posts and did their jobs calmly and efficiently in the face of almost certain death. I salute them all.