My Recollections of the Collision of USS Murphy (DD603)
By Fredric E. Sheller, former Yeoman 2C, USNR
(Occurred on October 21, 1943, at about 9:20 PM (2120 Hrs military time), approximately 100 miles out of New York Harbor.) (Collision was with the SS Bulkoil, American Tanker, as the Murphy and other ships were underway and forming a convoy heading for England.)
I had reported aboard the destroyer, USS Murphy, August 28, 1943, as a Seaman Second Class—S2C, for a short time, I was assigned to the First Division (Deck Hand) with BM2C Tom Hilliard as our leader.
I then was assigned to be a Striker (OJT) as a Fire Control man in the CIC Room, across from the Ship’s Office. I began slowly learning the “ropes” of adjusting to being at sea and receiving training in the Fire Control Field (radar-directed aiming of the 5”/38 guns). Y1C Duke Mayzurkiewicz (now Mayzurk) attempted to get me into the Ship’s Office to “strike” for Yeoman, as he was short-handed and needed my help. I declined and was content in staying where I was.
On the night of October 21st, 1943, I was on duty in the CIC Room, along with FC1C or Chief Suellwold (quite certain that’s who it was). I had headphones on and was reading training material in the Fire Control man field. Suellwold (again, I believe that’s who it was) was back behind the first “computer” (or whatever it was called at that time).
All of a sudden a call came from, I believe, the Bridge asking for information as to a possible target.
I immediately turned the phones over to Suellwold. He began cranking in “stuff” to the computer and me
Was not aware of what was going on. Suddenly, there was this loud crashing sound, like a Greyhound Bus slamming through large plates of glass. The lights went out and the emergency wall lantern came
on. Seawater began coming into the compartment. Suellwold said, “We’d better get out of here.” As I headed for the door, the ship began rolling onto it’s starboard side. I was grabbing for my lifebelt which was hanging on a hook near the doorway to the compartment. As I attempted to get my lifebelt, I had to grab hold of the doorway frames as the ship continued rolling on it’s side.
The electrical boards in the CIC Room began to topple over. Typewriters and other items began falling through the CIC Room doorway, coming from the Ship’s Office, as I was hanging there in midair. I had the feeling that someone fell past me also, but I had no idea who it was.
I lifted myself up onto the bulkhead (wall—the ship being completely over by that time—seconds, (I guess) and began crawling along. I suppose, not being totally familiar with the layout of the ship, and especially since it was on it’s side, and the fact that everything was now covered with crude oil, I slipped down across the next compartment (which was our chow room; men bunked there also) to the other side and fell into crude oil and saltwater. After a few seconds, someone called out, “Who’s down there,” and I shouted, “Sheller.” immediately, someone had me by the belt and seat of my dungarees and pulled me up out of there (I never found out who that was).
Several other shipmates and I began climbing the Galley way double-ladder (stairs). The bow now on its side; in the dark, of course, except for a lighted emergency lantern (which automatically came on when the electrical lights went out) hanging on the bulkhead. We got almost to the top of the ladder, it being on its side, and a couple shipmates up above, in the Galley way, closed and began “dogging” the double-hatch watertight cover (proper shipwreck procedures in order to attempt to save the ship or to keep it afloat longer) thereby trapping us down below.
Someone grabbed the lighted emergency lantern from the bulkhead (unknown* who it was) and he started heading forward with a couple of shipmates and me following, crawling on our hands and knees. All we could do was head to higher levels as the ship was going down. Seems we headed for where we smelled fresh air. I can’t tell exactly where we came out from below the main focsle deck, but I have always believed that it was Gun Mount #2. Whoever was in front of me getting through the mess below deck had already gotten up to the side lifeline, slipped into the water as the ship was sinking, or was some place else. I had no way of knowing about them. I had to try to get off the bow somehow. (It is possible that I knew who these guys were at the time, but I have since forgotten.)
As I stood up on the slanted Gun Mount #2, I looked down to my left and could see the phosphorescence bubbles of seawater enveloping the bow as it was going down. I was slipping around as my shoes were so oily from the crude oil. There was no way that I was going to get out of my predicament, so I sat down on the gun mount, took off my shoes and socks, and because I couldn’t get my belt-buckle to open (didn’t have my Navy knife attached to my belt where I could cut the belt), I rolled up my dungaree pants legs to high on my legs, ripped off my shirt. I was then ready to “dig in” and jump up to catch the lifeline on the side of the bow. I knew that I had to make that jump the first time! I was a short sailor at only 5’5” and that was a long jump! I pulled myself up onto the side of the bow and could see two or three persons at the forward edge of the bow near the port anchor. When I got to them, I saw that it was our Skipper, Commander Bailey; the others I didn’t recognize. The Skipper had a light of some sort. He finally said, “Well, boys. Looks like we’ll have to get off here.” And then, I jumped into the water (it was high in the air and I couldn’t estimate that height). I just knew that I had to get off!
Remembering my basic (boot) training at Sampson Naval Training Station, New York, as soon as I hit the water, I began to swim for all I was worth as I could feel the pull (like suction) of the bow going down. After a while, I turned onto my back, looked back at the bow still up high in the air. Our Skipper was still there apparently because I could see a light. I don’t know how he got off the bow. Phosphorous was hitting me as I struggled in the water, swimming, floating, praying (not for me, but for my family and friends). That phosphorous hitting me was a burning sensation. It was still pitch black and the sea was quite choppy. I could see the fluorescent phosphorous in the waves. I kept swimming and floating with no way of knowing at the time if I would be rescued. I heard yelling and shouting in the immediate distance, so I started swimming towards those sounds. I then could see that a ship was out there with searchlights playing over the water, and the lights never stopping in one place. They kept moving! It was a weird feeling, as though they weren’t seeing anyone in the water, but I could see heads bobbing around.
All of a sudden something hit me and I recognized it as a small fresh water cask (evidently it came out of one of the life rafts). I grabbed hold of both ends of it with my fingers and held on. I wasn’t able to get it under my arm. I kept hold of that cask, paddling with my feet towards the sounds that I had heard. Then, I came upon a life raft with shipmates in the middle of it and others holding on to ropes all around the outboard of the raft. Suddenly, someone, holding on to the raft, grabbed my right wrist, held onto me and I finally lost the cask. But, I was fortunate that someone got hold of me and I was safe alongside the raft. I discovered later that it was Emmet S. Wold, CSK (Chief Storekeeper).
The raft drifted alongside the ship rescuing us (the USS Glennon DD620). While the raft kept banging against the side of the rescue ship, I’m sure that we lost some shipmates right there as they were being slammed against the ship due to the heavy waves. I saw that some of the crew of the rescue ship was tossing ropes down to us. I finally grabbed hold of one, but the rope kept slipping through my extremely cold and oily hands as the guys on the ship were pulling up the rope. However, luckily there was a huge knot towards the end of the rope, and when my closed hands got to this knot, up I went to the deck of the ship where Glennon crew members were awaiting to assist me.
I didn’t observe any of the other rescue efforts done by the crew of the USS Glennon as I was immediately taken into the head (bathroom to non-sailors) where diesel oil was applied all over me by Glennon crew members in order to get the black, crude (fuel) oil off. After this was done, I was put in a cold shower, and then a hot shower to get me cleaned up. I presumed that other shipmates of mine who were rescued were given the same treatments. Then I was given a good shot of whiskey in order to get my heart and body back to normal temperature and to relieve the shock. Next, I was taken below deck to the crew sleeping quarters and was given a bunk to sleep in with extra, navy blankets to get me warmed up. I must have fallen asleep right away because next thing I remember is next morning when I was given some clothing by Glennon crew members. A tall, black mess steward gave me his set of whites. I had to roll up the sleeves and pants legs as they were so long. It was a kind gesture for him to give me his clothing and I thanked him, never knowing if I would ever be able to see him again and return his clothing. In fact, I never did! Someone gave me a pair of heavy, woolen socks which I used as shoes the next few days.
That was my dress outfit for the next few days. Even when we survivors were transferred to other ships, transported to Pier 92 in New York and while being processed there by the Navy, I wore the same outfit until
proper clothing was issued. Ships transporting rescued back to New York were the USCGC Cartigan, which I was on, and the PYc 37. I was transferred to the USCGC Cartigan just after noontime on October 22, 1943, one of 100 officers and crewmen that ship received.
The Glennon passed a towline to the after section of the Murphy, still afloat, and began towing it just after midnight of 21-22 October 1943. At about 1153 hours, October 22, 1943, the civilian tug SS Rescue took over towing the Murphy from the Glennon, heading back to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, N.Y.
Repairs began immediately on the Murphy, to get a new bow section (half the ship) constructed. Crew members were assigned to quarters on Mrytle Avenue, Brooklyn, while this reconstruction was taking place.
I was asked by Y1C Mayzurkiewicz (Mayzurk) to help him establish an office on the dock where I could help him with reports, reconstructing lost records of the officers and crew, and other administrative duties.
I began these duties with Mayzurk and our New Executive Officer, Lt. J. A. McTighe. Since there was no work for me to do on the ship otherwise, I volunteered to help. After a short time, Mayzurk managed to get me promoted to Seaman 1C. Mayzurk eventually had to be transferred to the hospital due to some injuries he received in the collision. Mr. McTighe had his wife come into the office to help with our administrative operations. Then, Yeoman 1C Tim Barrett came aboard and we worked together in the office. Barrett got me to be interested in becoming a Yeoman, had me complete the Yeoman course, and finally got me promoted to Yeoman 3C.
I had so much running around to do, getting mail and reports delivered to proper offices at the Navy Yard and Post Office that Mr. McTighe managed to get me a bicycle for use in getting my running done. I kept the bicycle on the ship when we were recommissioned and out to sea a few months later. The bicycle was then used by me and the other yeomen as well as the ship’s mailman when we got back into a port.
The Casualties Folder for the Murphy at the National Archives includes a list of 38 officers and men declared missing, but a later memorandum states that 3 of those listed were rescued by the USS Jeffers (DD621).
Finally, in April 1944, the Murphy, with a new forward section, was ready for sea once again.
(Note: 9/2005. This will be revised soon in order to add some interesting information about the leader mentioned in the second paragraph of Page 2. Through phone conversations and e-mails, I have found this person to be my former shipmate, Ray Preeschl, GM3c. Other recently-discovered facts about my rescue from inside the sinking bow will also be added…..)