by CDR F. S. Bayley, Jr. USNR


This article was originally pub­lished in The Proceedings, Vol. 77,

No. 4, April, 1951 (@ U. S. Naval

institute, Annapolis Maryland)



hen the PCE(R) 851 first entered Pearl Harbor, it com­pleted a full circuit of Ford Island before the signal tower understood what kind of a ship it was. Whether the tower really understood is doubt­ful, because the cinching message from the ship was “We are a GIANT HOSPITAL SHIP.”

Such exchanges were not novel for the first ship of its class to reach Pearl Harbor. Even today the PCE(R)

meaning 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 Okinawa had felt the flames of a Kamikaze, the three “Peecers” that handled their wounded were well known, at least to Commodore Moosebrugger and his valiant ships.

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.

The PCE(R)s did not arrive in the Pacific until shortly before the inva­sion of Leyte; prior to that time the 851 and 852 had engaged in patrol and escort duty out of Bermuda. Two earlier ships of the same type, con­verted to Army Headquarters ships,

saw duty in that capacity with General Macarthur’s forces.

The 853 caught up with the ‘51 and ‘52 at Pearl Harbor, and the ships steamed in company to Manus where they reported to Captain Coward, of DesRon54, on the day before depar­ture for Leyte. By this time the com­manding officers of the ships had evolved a tenuous sort of plan for rescue work, which contemplated the rescue of survivors from the water, and the handling of wounded brought


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 Liberty ship asking for medical assistance and went alongside to remove sever­al Army Air Force personnel, includ­ing reserve P-38 pilots who had been shot up by friendly fire during the morning raid. The PCE(R) was so maneuverable that it was safer and easier to go directly alongside rather than to handle casualties with boats or slings. From this experience it was decided to transfer directly in every case unless sea conditions made it impossible, and in the following months the ships went alongside of almost every type of vessel afloat with the exception of carriers.

The first naval personnel handled by the ships came with the sinking of the Gambier Bay and its escorts. As a result of a direct appeal to the 7th Fleet Surgeon, the Fleet Medical Department became aware of what was anchored so close by on this day, and by nightfall the PCE(R)s were loaded to capacity with survivors and

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 Montpelier, New Orleans, Lamson. and numerous merchant ships and other naval ves­sels. While the ‘52 was similarly engaged. No sooner were wounded treated and transferred to hospital

-          .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 Philippines. She was damaged final­ly, in a minor way, at Mindoro, while going alongside the burning LST 472, and also was flooded forward by a friendly shell hit. As a result, the ‘51 was allowed to proceed to Hollandia at the end of December for repairs. She had been tinder way or anchored at war cruising condition on 5-minute ready duty since leaving Pearl Harbor in September. The crew had not during this time been ashore, and after five months together in a small ship tempers were growing short. Much stain arose from the fact that the ship had no air search radar, and visual sighting of planes had to be relied on. In addition, lacking a TBS, the ship was unable to tune in on many of the warnings from near­by vessels which caused a feeling of being alone in the ocean.

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 Liberty ship that had been hit at sea, and anchored at the northern end of Surigao strait, the 851 had 60 burned and wounded men below and 15 dead stacked on the boat deck. Out of the shadows of the straits, without warning, came a string of Japanese Bettys, flying low on the water. They passed close aboard to starboard, while the ship’s gunners blasted without success at them. In the course of some violent (and probably un-needed) evasive action, the corpses rolled wildly about the boat deck. For the balance of the night, the crew located bodies, and parts of bodies, by stumbling over them in the dark. The engine rooms com­plained when the bodies were stacked too close to the ventilator intakes and as they were moved from place to place, different parts of the ship called the bridge to grouse.

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 Iwo Jima landing force at Saipan, and patrolled off Iwo for a few weeks with empty hospital spaces. The Fifth Fleet at that time had the usual lack of knowledge of the PCE(R), and a commentary on its staff attitude was the fact that when the commanding officer started to tell a captain what his ship was

equipped for and how it was used in the Philippines, he was cut off with the remark; “That was the Seventh Fleet, son now you ‘re in the Fifth Fleet!”

The 851 was detached from Iwo in time to escort a “Brody” LST to Leyte and join DesRon 60 for the Okinawa invasion. It was the ship’s good fortune to come under the com­mand of Capt. C. A. Buchanan, who took copious notes on the capabilities of the ship for future reference.

The screening position of the 851, while steaming to Okinawa, was directly ahead of Admiral Turner’s big AGC. As the force steamed at 14 to 15 knots, and the ‘51 had a maxi­mum speed of 15 3/4 knots, screen­ing became of secondary importance. Captain Buchanan was aware of the predicament the ship was in and authorized a more or less straight course while the formation followed a zig-zag plan. This kept the ship out of harm’s way until at last, on the night before D-day, the Engineer gave the bridge a solemn warning on stack temperatures, pressures and Diesel engines in general. At the same time, an LSD was falling astern, so Capt. Buchanan assigned the 851 as escort for the cripple, and as dawn came the two ships chugged alone toward Okinawa.

Approaching Hagushi Beach, with the island about ten miles distant, the ships were relieved to hear over Local Air Warning that the condition was Flash White with no enemy planes in the area. As the 51’s gun­ners climbed out of their straps and seats and a cloud of smoke rose over the ship, an airplane engine was heard in the clouds. The gunnery officer, a tall and slow-spoken Texan, drawled, “Hell, Cap ‘n, that am ‘t no F6F—I bet it’s a JBJ.” (This latter was 851 talk meaning “lap By Jesus,” as opposed to FF0, meaning “Friendly, Thank God.”) No sooner had he spoken than through a rift in the clouds came a Zeke, diving almost vertically, with its propeller

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!”

At Okinawa the 853 arrived, fresh from the States, and joined with the ‘SI and ‘52 in performing most of the rescue work during that opera­tion. The Okinawa days were without a doubt the fastest moving and busiest days for these ships. Almost without cease, except during stormy days, the continuous raids called for the services of the PCE(R)s. To be readily available at all times to the picket ships, they were stationed well out at sea, separately, where they steamed alone until directed to a damaged picket. The duties of the ships were well expressed by Commodore Moosebrugger:

“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 Naval Institute, Annapolis Md


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 of Leyte Gulf and the invasion of Okinawa.


Although on occasion the dead were taken aboard with the wounded, as the 851 went alongside Maryland, it was necessary finally to refuse to do this at Okinawa. This was partly because of space limitations and the difficulty of setting the Graves Registration people on the beach to take the bodies away but principal­ly because of the adverse effect upon the morale of the ship’s own person­nel. The continual grimness of the duty was by this time making its mark upon all hands. In the case of other ships, unless they were hit, they rarely came in direct and immediate contact with the savage results of a Kamikaze hit. But the PCE(R)s saw little else for months, and the crews became disheartened and morbid as a result. The feeling that “they won’t get us” was slowly lost, and it became a certainty in the minds of the officers and men that the ship would be hit. The question with all hands was not “when” but “where.” Such a conclusion was inevitable, because the ships traveled alone, without air cover, and could only rely on visual sighting of bogeys. And then when the:, were sighted, there was little or nothing to throw at them. ~During night attacks, the 851 did not mini battle stations. The large number of ships hit at night, when the Kamikaze flew down the tracer path, forced the conclusion that no guns should be fired after evening twilight. Consequently, only the

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 Okinawa. But the most heartfelt relief came from being allowed a night in the transport area off Hagushi Beach. This rare experi­ence was welcomed invariably by cheers. The sounds of music and laughter that arose from the ship as it lay at anchor in the smoke screen must~ have puzzled the people on nearby vessels. -

A message directing the 851 to accompany a small task group in seizing the island of Tori Shium probably caused as much mental anguish as any ever receiveed. There

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 aboard off Iwo Jima after being shot down by a battleship, in broad daylight.

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.

· Amos E. Woodward, 2511 38th Street, Lubbock, TX 79413-2801