by CDR F. S. Bayley, Jr. USNR
This article was originally published in The Proceedings, Vol. 77,
No. 4, April, 1951 (@
hen the PCE(R) 851 first entered
Such exchanges were not novel for the
first ship of its class to reach
Patrol Craft Escort (Rescue) — is one of the least known types
in the U. S. Navy. But by the time the last radar picket on the line at
The PCE(R) was designed for the rescue of personnel from other ships. It embodied in its’ stubby 185’ hull an 80 bed hospital, plus a surgery, pharmacy and X-ray. The medical department was in charge of a medical officer, who had a staff of 15 pharmacist mates, including various technicians. The staff was augmented from time to time, as the need arose, by additional doctors. In addition, to assure its hybrid nature, it was equipped with the latest sonar gear, and sported a modified CIC. Thus, escort duty was performed on the way to an invasion beach, but immediately upon arrival the ship was transferred to rescue work. At least this was the doctrine as finally it evolved by trial and error.
did not arrive in the Pacific until shortly before the invasion of
saw duty in that capacity with General Macarthur’s forces.
The 853 caught up with the ‘51 and ‘52
No one in authority seemed to have heard of the ships, and no specific task was designated. The vessels were most frequently confused with Air-Sea rescue ships, or with PCs.
One staff officer announced that he knew all about the type — and then went on to inquire whether the seams didn’t open up when a speed of 35 knots was maintained in heavy seas! Actually, the two GM Diesel main engines, with a total of 1,800 horsepower, had to strain badly to get 16 knots out of the ship.
Shortly thereafter, the 851 intercepted
a signal from a nearby
The first naval personnel handled by
the ships came with the sinking of the
wounded. With the advent of the Kamikaze a few days later, the ships became, and stayed, busy.
The ‘51 and ‘52 soon evolved a teamwork
method of supplementing each other with personnel and supplies, loaning
doctors and medicines as needed. They anchored at short stay, with steaming
watch set at all times, and as raids approached. the
main engines were lit off and kept warm. They were able to get under way within
three minutes, and frequently did so! At this time the ‘51 had gone alongside
- .ships than a next load would come
aboard. In the surgery, operations of every kind were constantly performed, frequently while under fire.
Shortly before the Ormoc
landing in December of 1944, the 852 and 853 were returned to Manus for overhaul
and repairs, and the, ‘51 stayed as the only rescue ship in the
The grim nature of the duty gave rise to humor of an equally grim sort.
see PCE(R) 851 / page 8
USS PCE(R) 8.5 1 continued from page 5
Returning at dusk from a
In the morning the ship went alongside a hospital LST to unload. Seamen on that ship were busily painting out its numbers, because Tokyo Rose has identified them by number as a target for the Kamikaze. She was also generally understood to have the 851 in mind when she accuse our Navy of employing armed hospital ships to shoot down the “indominatable” Nipponese flyers. But if so, she must have been joking because PCE(R) armament consisted of one 3” 50, two 40MM (Army Type), and six 20MM (to which on the 851, an ingenious gunnery officer had added several single and twin 50 caliber machine guns, bartered from thirsty aviation personnel, with medicinal whiskey).
After repairs at Hollandia,
the 851 joined the
equipped for and how it was used in the
The 851 was detached from
The screening position of the 851,
while steaming to
spinner centered directly on the bridge of the ship. Being unfamiliar with the laws of relative motion, the pilot passed behind the funnel, a few inches above the starboard motor whaleboat, and slashed ten feet from the ship.
Not a shot was fired.
When the incident was reported later to Captain Buchanan, his remark was only, “If you think you scared him to death, claim him!”
“The services of these ships were urgently and almost continuously required. Whenever a vessel was damaged in action, one of these PCE(R)s would be directed immediately to render aid.
Many heroic rescues of wounded personnel from alongside burning and sinking vessels were carried out, frequently in addition to saving survivors from water. The frequent and unpredictable enemy attacks required that the ship stand by on instant notice, twenty-four hours a day, day after day. Her station while awaiting call was an isolated and remote one from which she could proceed with the least delay to the distant Radar Picket Stations. Frequently under attack herself, she had to fight off enemy planes with her own gunfire and by maneuvers.
to be continued
Risky Rescue — part 2
the story of USS PCE(R) 851
by CDR F. S. Bayley, Jr. USNR
submitted by Amos E. Woodward
This article was. previously published in the Proceedings, Vol. 77, No.4 April, 19510U5
Synopsis: PCE(R) 8S1 was one of the first vessel of her class to deploy to the Pacific. Most fleet
commanders were unaware of the ship’s ability to render emergency medical
assistance in forward combat areas. But all that changed following the battle
Although on occasion the dead were taken
aboard with the wounded, as the 851 went alongside
damage control stations were fully manned, and the crew was ordered to disperse. with all hands except watch standers in the engine rooms, above the water line and with no more than ten men in any compartment. When a bogey closed the ship, word was passed to hit the deck. In this manner, the ship had many low-flying planes pass close aboard, but none ever hit
it. One moonlight nights while returning from Radar Picket Station #2, and well north of the island, the 851 had four, low-level passes made by one plane. The last three passes missed the bridge by not over 30 feet, then the plane flew off, leaving the ship with a badly overheated steering engine and a watery kneed bridge gang. In the distance the tracers of another ship were seen streaming across the water, followed by a flash of flame as the plane dove in alongside it.
Some of the gun crews were vexed at this passive procedure until the ship took casualties from the Maryland, where a night Kamikaze had struck directly in the midst of a group of 2OMMs on the top of Number Three turret. This and other similar sights soon took the itch from their fingers.
On brilliant moonlight nights, when the
tension of cruising alone became too great, the ship would on occasion,
steam slowly southward toward the friendly smoke of Ic Shima, or into the land
shadow of the islands north of
A message directing the 851 to accompany a small task group in seizing
are two islands so named. One lies about half-way between Okinawa and Kyushu, the other about a hundred miles west of Okinawa.
When the commanding officer and the navigator looked at the chart. their eyes fell only on the northern island. “My God!” said the navigator. in awed tones, ‘Turner must have lost his marbles.” They reported aboard the Biscavne Bay the next morning to Captain Buchanan, who was designated task group commander. As the Captain shook him by his moist hand, asking “How would you like to visit Tori Shima?” the only possible response was a look of horror. The mistake was soon clarified, and as a result the trip to the island seemed easy in spite of a couple of near misses from Kamikazes.
During these days a jocular sort of camaraderie existed between die 851 and 852. If they joined up during a moonlight night there was quiet discussion over the SC 510 voice radio as to who would stay up the path of the moon, or who would take station astern, where most of the fire power lay. At other times the signals usually involved such priorities as who was entitled to ask first for permission to go in for supplies, or water, or repairs. Since the ships were a fairly independent unit, such matters usually were agreed upon first, and permission requested in accordance with that agreement.
As the days and nights wore on. the three rescue ships became more scarred and beaten. They were not properly designed to go alongside vessels while underway, being high sided with gun tubs flush to the sides.
The 851 lost half of its portside stanchions and gun tub supports
· wbile backing away from Laffey on Radar Picket Station #l, and ran for three weeks with the gun platforms supported by 4 X 4 shoring before availability was granted alongside a repair ship. ~“&a.; -fl
see PCE(R) 851 I page 8
PCE(R) 851 from page 5
The technique of going alongside was developed to the point that the Special Sea Detail was done away with and the 851 used what was commonly known as the “Special, Special Sea Detail,” which consisted of a small number of highly proficient line handlers and the ship’s best helmsman. This left more men free for the casualty party. The casualty party was a carefully chosen group of men who were trained in emergency aid techniques by the medical officer, and whose duty it was to scramble aboard the stricken ship with Stokes litters and bring back the wounded. Pharmacist mates led this party, checking on who should be moved first, and the medical officer either went aboard or stayed close by the rail to supervise and direct the seamen on where the injured were to be taken.
The bravery of most of the wounded was characteristic of the Navy. One burly sailor, clothed only in shorts with the rest of his body a blackened and charred mass of flesh, walked to the rail of his ship and across the brow to the 851. As he approached the step down from the brow he stopped, held out his arms, and indicating his wrists said, “Grab ‘em there, boys.” Other story book examples of heroism were too frequent to mention. A fairly common remark, heard from wounded men
was something like “Poor Mike, fl~ed at this B______ until he smacked into his gun,” or a bewildered, “The last 30 rounds went right into the s.o.b.’s nose and he didn’t even waver,” or “I saw him coming in on the port side and the next thing I knew I was up to my knees in waler on the conci.”
One of the angriest men to come aboard the 851 was a marine pilot
fished out of the water, who kept saying, with a shocked expression, “They
teach these carrier guys rezognition for six months,
and then they shoot down an F4U.” He had been picked off by a Navy pilot. His
wrath was equalled only by the TBM pilot who came
The general conclusion reached by personnel serving on the PCE(R)s was that they were a most valuable addition to the fleet; but that they should be ten knots faster, carry more guns, and should be specially const.ructed for close-in work with loading ports in the ship’s sides. In addition, all ship’s officers should be instructed in the task of the rescue vessel in what its capabilities are and when it should be called upon. Many lives were saved by the PCE(R)s but the number could have been increased had their qualities been more fully recognized and proper acivantage taken of them.