John J. Gobbell ~ Articles

Novels by John. J. Gobbell

Articles by John J Gobbell

John J. Gobbell is the author of seven historical novels of World War II, Pacific Theater. His newest, EDGE OF VALOR, is due for release July 15, 2014. For media inquiries, appearances, and more information, please contact him at


Radio Interview

John was a guest on This Week in America with Ric Bratton. He discusses A CALL TO COLORS and shares historical anecdotes. Click through to watch the recording!

Now in Hardcover!

Published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, EDGE OF VALOR is the next thrilling Todd Ingram novel set during events right after August 15, 1945 in the Pacific. This time, Ingram discovers a secret so terrible, all sides try to suppress it. Now available in Hardcover! Buy it today.


These are stand-alone naval action adventure novels featuring Todd Ingram. Historically accurate, they are set in World War II's Pacific Theater and portray some of the critical naval battles in that period.


Now Available from StarboardSide Productions, this ebook features Commander Mike Donovan, skipper of the destroyer USS Matthew. With General MacArthur's 165,000 troops just ashore to begin the Philippine liberation, Donovan finds himself embroiled in what becomes the Battle of Leyte Gulf - the largest naval engagement in the history of mankind. It is available for Kindle and Nook.


This contemporary techno-thriller was published by Charles Scribner's Sons in hardback in 1991. John likes to feature technical-centerpieces in his works and BRUTUS, a long-legged mini-submarine powered by fuel cells, takes former SEAL Brad Lofton to Petropovlovsk, Kamchatka, where he meets Spetsnaz Colonel Anton Dobrynyn, an identical twin Lofton never knew that...

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Articles by John J. Gobbell



USS McCambell (DDG 85) Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) class destroyer

(Video clip Courtesy of James V. Ferguson)

It isn’t often we see a new modern destroyer steam past in such elegance. She is the USS McCampbell, homported in Yokosuka, Japan and in this clip, headed up the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon for modernization. The shot is so great since we get to stand on the riverbank and see her steam right past. Note her dipped anchor is ready to let go which ships do when they’re in close quarters and may have to stop suddenly. Otherwise, they haul the anchor back in when the ship is safely moored.

These Arleigh Burke class destroyers are amazing. They have four LM 2500 gas turbines that provide 100,000 horsepower. Thus, they keep up with the fast carriers at thirty plus knots and up. See the spec sheet below. As of 2016, there were 62 of these destroyers in service. At last count, another 42 are planned, the largest class of ships since World War II.

My thanks to my USS Tingey (DD 539) shipmate, Jim Ferguson, for his great camerawork on the mighty Columbia thirty miles upriver on the Washington side and giving all of us a great look.

Displacement: 9,200 tons
Length: 500 ft. 6 “ (155.30 M)
Beam: 66 ft. (20 m)
Draft: 31 ft. (9.4 m)
Propulsion: 4 GE LM 2500 gas turbines. 2 shafts
Speed: Excess 30 kts. (56 km/h – 35 mph)
Compliment: 380 officers and enlisted
Armament: One 5 inch/62, Mk 45 Mod 4 Naval gun
Four 25 mm Mk 38 auto cannons
Four 50 cal. Machine uns
One 20 mm Phalonx CIWS
Two Mk.32 Torpedo Tubes. Mk. 46 torpedoes
96 – cell Mk 41 vertical launch system
RIM 66 Standard Missile 2
BGM Tomahawk
RUM 139 VL ASROC missiles
Aircraft: Two SH 60 Seahawk Helicopters

* * * * *


(As printed in the Spring 2019 issue of Tin Can Sailors, magazine.)


I marvel at the way this was revealed to me. I marvel at the way our Navy works without tipping its hand. The first of several dots connecting this story began in 1949. As twelve year olds, we were at a family friend’s wedding, the festivities held at the Allen Center Officer’s Club, Long Beach Naval Station. The reception was in full swing and John, younger brother of Joan, the bride, and I had no idea what all the whooping and hollering was about. So, we ducked out and went to explore the Long Beach Naval Station. At about 2015, on a clear balmy evening, we walked under a full moon down to the quay wall. We had the place to ourselves. The United States was four years into a relaxing peacetime and our mouths were soon agape as we passed American warships, fast asleep, their exhaust blowers softly humming.

At length, we stumbled on a lone submarine. Except for distant music from Joan’s wedding, it was quiet. We walked the submarine’s length and drew up to the brow. Water lapped at her hull. A gull squawked. The moon was almost overhead, illuminating us, as if we were on stage.

A voice called from the bridge. “What are you fellas up to?”

“Just looking, sir,” we mumbled.

“You wanna come aboard?” was the reply.


“Well, come on over.”

So, we scrambled over the brow and to the base of the conning tower where the Sailor in a pea coat looked down to us. After a moment, he gestured us up a ladder.

Soon we joined this bored second class quartermaster, standing a lonely OOD watch while listening wistfully to Joan’s wedding music from the distant Allen Center.

Yes, we confirmed that we were part of the wedding family but then the talk turned to the Navy and what this submarine was all about. I recall that she was the USS Sawfish (SS 276) (I learned later she was a Gato class) credited with sinking 97,848 tons of enemy shipping. Somehow, the discussion turned to something I had heard a lot about: Sonar. What is that?

After a rudimentary discussion of electronic wonders, our host added, “… stuff’s coming out that’s so powerful they can hear ships coming out of Japan.”

“Un huh.” That sounded good, but it went way over my head.

We blubbered excitedly to our parents when we got back to the party. And the next day, phone calls were made. The following day, we had a complete tour of the Sawfish from stem to stern. But I put down that quartermaster’s remark as excessive enthusiasm laced with some Buck Rogers gobble-de-gook.

As a senior midshipman In the NROTC at USC, I put in for destroyers.

The “…Greyhounds of the Sea” were in great demand in those days to oppose the massive (later disclosed as contrived) Soviet submarine threat of over 400 submarines.

I was accepted and received orders to the USS Tingey (DD 539), a venerable Fletcher class tin can.

Early on, during a shipyard availability, they sent me to ASW school, a three week course. Next, they sent me to the gun-fire control officer’s school, another three weeks.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized the Navy had done an excellent job in preparing me for what was to come. Even in NROTC we learned and practiced the fundamentals of navigation, seamanship, and steaming in company. In ASW school, we learned those fundamentals and practiced them in the attack trainer. Later, we went to sea and practiced with a real submarine, ASW students alternating between the bridge, CIC, sonar, and the fantail where we got to throw hand grenades over the side simulating depth charge attacks.

Then the Tingey went on a WestPac deployment and found herself steaming with the USS Rogers (DDR 876) heading to join up with the Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea.

We had just refueled in Okinawa’s Buckner Bay and were ready to turn south when we received a message, I believe originating from CINCPAC, to continue heading east to a certain lat/long and search for a submarine.

“Huh?” Okay. So, we headed about ninety miles east. We were unbelieving. How the hell would some goldbrick, his feet propped on a desk in Hawaii, know about a submarine thousands of miles away?

But two hours later, I was in sonar (on a Fletcher class Can, the sonar space –“sonar shack” - is a space about five by eight just behind the bridge. At general quarters, five or six guys are stuffed in there) trying to do their jobs.

As usual, the speaker on the sonar “stack” was on. I heard, “…ping… …” Then, “Ping …bloop.”

Jeez. That sounds like the real thing.

As I slapped on earphones, our sonarman, he was very good, automatically began calling out sonar bearings, ranges and classification. He called out, “Possible submarine.” Submarine classification is a big deal. If the sonarman or the ASW officer say possible, it means they are fairly certain the target being tracked is really a submarine, but not a positive submarine. But still, not enough evidence is there to say it’s actually a submarine. Even with that, everyone is on their toes. Trash talk and jocularity go to zero. Everybody gets serious.

And with this one there was no argument. The contact sounded legit.

I called Bill, the OOD on the bridge. After a discussion with the captain, we went to GQ-1AS. Then the Rogers called over saying they had the same contact.

So, for the next three days, we sat atop that thing. It was trying to act like a bed of kelp. But the contact was not mushy, unlike a kelp bed or even a whale. It was solid and metallic. We tried to raise it on the UQC but no joy. He just sat there, drifting at three knots as if he really were a bed of kelp.

The afternoon of the third day found me in sonar and standing before the attack director. Dull, boring. Everything, same, same.

But then, zsssst, zsssst.

Target speed jumped to five knots. Then seven, then ten … fourteen…seventeen. The bridge watch, the OOD and the captain, didn’t believe I had a submarine contact that can do seventeen knots. Submarine’s don’t do that. They’re not that fast. They said my equipment must be faulty. The real problem was that the engineers, (the chief engineer) was angry they had to cut in superheaters to keep up with Gobbell’s “phony” contact.

“What?” the OOD screams. “You’re crazy. How fast is that thing going now?”

I checked the attack director. “Twenty-two knots, Bill”

“(unprintable)!” screams Bill.

I know Bill, He’s a neat guy. But a neat guy with a temper. And I know he’s out there on the bridge wing, face red, shouting at the chief engineer who is waving his arms to the captain and complaining about his beloved superheaters.

The captain, now in denial, agrees with the Chief Engineer. They send in ETs to check on my “faulty” equipment.

Meanwhile, the submarine was drawing ahead of us as our stalwart engineers figured out what to do about superheat.

Three ETS muscled their way into the closet size sonar, already crowded with six guys, plunked massive tool chests on the deck and start opening the “stack” cabinet, an ancient SQS 4 sonar. One made to open my attack director.

Tersely, I said, “Not now.” I’m a lieutenant j.g g. He’s a petty officer. I am an officer and in command of the space.

With a grunt, he moved off.

But the sound is still on. I clearly hear the contact. I hear machinery noises down there. I hear their captain belching. I hear the ship’s cat screeching. I mean that Communist submarine is the noisiest thing I’ve ever heard. It has more pops and scratches than an ancient 78 record.

The OOD and I are still arguing on the command circuit. The ETs have circuit drawings all over the deck. The chief engineer is yelling at the captain who is undecided.

Our saving grace was a P2V Neptune out of Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. He blasted right over the top of us, his R 3350 engines thundering. He then flew out on the vector we provided. Almost right away, I heard the loudspeaker in CIC announce “Madman!”

It was the P2V guy. Wow! That means the P2V’s magnetic anomaly gear (MAD) picked up the submarine. With a MAD contact, the classification is always “positive” submarine.

Without a word, the ETs closed the sonar cabinet, picked up their tool boxes, and marched out. The chief engineer was contrite. So was the captain. We soon went to twenty-seven knots and caught up with Ivan.

The P2V kept it up, dropping sonobuoys and harassing that Commie.

All smiles aboard the Tingey. Everyone thought I was Father Christmas.

We broke contact the next day when the submarine parked under a Soviet trawler that conveniently showed up. As the trawler dumped garbage in his wake, we flipped each other the most gracious and well thought out signs of respect and headed south.

We pulled into Subic Bay a few days later and ONI was all over us. They confiscated our tapes and logs, interviewed our people and then departed. But later, they leaked the word back to us that our contact was a Soviet November class nuclear submarine, the first one discovered in the Pacific.

A nuke. Wow! That was 1962.

I felt pretty smug. We had the upper hand all the way in spite of our stupid arguing. But I later read up on Soviet November class submarines; that they carried two nuclear tipped torpedoes.

Not nice.

I dramatized this incident in my latest novel, Dead Man Launch. Also, while researching that book, I learned of another incident that occurred in 1968 and used it also. Here’s how it went:

During the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo (AGER 2), tensions were high. We had surrounded the Korean Peninsula with three aircraft carriers. Then the Russians dispatched four submarines out of Vladivostok, to harass and possibly sink our carriers, four hundred miles south.

From Hawaii, a secret naval facility named KSOCK1  detected those submarines. In turn, KSOCK advised, among others, CNO, SECDEF, and the State Department of the threat. A recommendation was sent to the White House who immediately sent a démarche to the Russians telling them to turn their submarines around or that we would sink them.

Within two hours, the Russians turned their submarines around and sent them back to Vladivostok.

True story.2

While drafting Dead Man Launch, it occurred to me that I’d seen a very small part of one of our Navy’s great triumphs before, during, and well after my active duty: SOSUS. An acronym for SOund SUrveillance System. Highly classified at first, it was and still is a network of seafloor mounted microphones that detect man-made objects and transmit the raw data to a shore-side collection station. These microphone networks, now very sophisticated, are in all the world’s major oceans and littorals as well. In recent years, the Russians have developed their own network. Secretly, they plow up and destroy our cabling. We plow up theirs. Tit for tat.

Thus, it occurred to me in the last couple of years that this SOSUS stuff had been going on for decades and I realized that an innocent conversation aboard the Sawfish in 1949, true or not true, was a very, very small peek into the future. And without thinking about it until recently, it also occurred to me that that Russian nuke we held down in 1962 off Okinawa, had been noisy enough for our SOSUS people to detect, track, and to ultimately direct us to the contact. Their fear, I believe, was that, with nuclear power, the Russian could steam all the way south and harass our carrier(s) in the South China Sea. And later, in 1968, I’m guessing Admiral Shaefer’s contact, although not revealed in the article, came to him at KSOCK via SOSUS.

I’ve connected the dots to an amazing story. At least I hope it’s right. An astounding technology. Unlike the other services, our Navy did not boast or brag about this wonderful tool. Nor most of the other tools currently in inventory, past or present. And an unwitting LTJG Gobbell was a benefactor of this remarkable technology.

Bravo Zulu, Navy.

1KSOCK -- Kunia Regional Signals Intelligence Center. An enormous 250,000 ft² facility built right after the Pearl Harbor attack. Kunia is an area on Oahu’s north side originally Intended as an aircraft assembly center. But after determining mainland aircraft plants could take care of all that, they soon turned it over to map making and the ever-expanding fleet intelligence center. Since hardened and underground, KSOCK still serves the fleet today as the Pacific Intelligence Center

2“We Will Sink Them,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, October, 2012, pp 60; Edward D Sheafer, ADM, USN (ret.)

* * * * *

ON BROTHERLY LOVE by back to articles

(As printed in the issue of THE SCROLL of Phi Delta Theta.)

Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third ManVice Admiral John S. "Slew" McCain

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had
warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced
Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the
Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly
love; five hundred years of democracy and peace,
and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock,
Orson Welles as Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN

 * * * * *

This passage would have had special irony for a sailor who gallantly served in the Pacific during World War II. He had given his very essence to the meaning of Harry Lime's brotherly love while seeing his country rise to a great apex of military and industrial might.

He was Vice Admiral John S. McCain, a heavily decorated sailor who commanded Task Force 38, up to that time, the world's most powerful carrier force. With Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey in overall command, McCain and the massive armada steamed into Sagami Bay on August 27, 1945, and dropped anchor. That was that. The shooting had stopped and they swung quietly for six days with negotiators
planning the ceremony.

It was overcast on September 2, 1945, when “Slew” McCain, as he was called, climbed into his Admiral's gig and went to the battleship U.S.S. Missouri (BB 63) to 2 watch the Japanese surrender. Hundreds of Generals, Admirals and lesser rankings from all the allied nations, lined the “Big Mo’s” rails or climbed on her massive sixteen inch gun turret and even into her tops to watch. All the stars were there: MacArthur,
Nimitz, Halsey, everyone. They even flew in the emaciated General Jonathan Wainwright, a POW who surrendered Corregidor in 1942, along with the equally emaciated Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Percival, and a POW who surrendered Singapore the same year.

First they met for coffee in the Missouri’s flag cabin where Halsey cracked jokes and MacArthur reminisced in his stentorian basso, “It's grand having so many of my sidekicks meeting here at the end of the road.”

Soon the Japanese representatives were summoned, and they gathered on the battleship’s 01 deck where the Star Spangled Banner was played. McCain's chest drew to a familiar tightness he'd had recently, but this time it felt good, thank God. MacArthur ran the ceremony like a well-oiled five inch mount and just before ordering the signatures, said: “It is my earnest hope, indeed the hope of all mankind; that from this
solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice.”

The Instrument of Surrender was signed; hundreds of U.S. Navy and Army planes flew over signaling a fervent exodus of millions from the armed services into a troubled peace. Not the kind of peace, as it turned out, that MacArthur hoped for. The next day, Slew McCain was sent home by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. He arrived in Coronado, California on September 5, 1945. The day after that, Vice Admiral John S. McCain died of a heart attack. His weight had fallen to 100 pounds and he’d given his
all along with millions of Americans and untold millions of Allies who threw everything into the fight. Together, they curtailed civilization's most hideous lunge toward world hegemony with fifty-four million casualties along the way. When it was done, a worn out Slew McCain was unable to enjoy the spoils like watching a movie produced four years later, reflecting on Harry Lime’s cuckoo clock.

* * * * *

What if McCain had turned to his aide and said on September 5, 1945, "Look. There it is. Safe and sound." They peer out the window as their four-engined PB2Y flies over California's coast where beneath, San Diego Bay glistens in the clear morning sun. McCain=s eyes grow moist and he prattles on with a lopsided grin. "By God we did it! I'd sure like to see this place fifty years from now."

So what happens if Slew McCain gets his wish? How does he feel when he suddenly finds himself walking down Coronado's Orange Avenue on September 5, 1995? Coronado is still a quaint village; but to McCain, only a few buildings are 3 recognizable and everything is weird, including those oval-shaped cars that whoosh about. He’s disoriented but is reluctant to ask questions of people who brush past quickly, sometime rudely.

Where’s the fire?

McCain decides to save time and lifts a copy of the San Diego Union off a park bench. His eyes sweep the front page and his brow furrows when he reads headlines about a place called Bosnia. Bosnia? Isn't that some damn Balkan state Tito was supposed to lasso in?

Next to the Bosnia article is one about the arrest (what’s a bust?) of a Mexican drug lord now living in La Jolla and that the U.S. will seize his assets valued at over $200 million. A Mexican drug what? Slew McCain used to be able to see into Mexico, from the Coronado Hotel. He looks up now. The hills behind Tijuana are obscured by something called smog.

In frustration, Slew McCain dabs at his eyes with a handkerchief trying to figure out how many Grumman F6F Hellcats the drug lord’s $200 million would buy. McCain decides to go over his paper systematically by reading left to right just like he was taught in school back in at the University of Mississippi and later, the U.S. Naval Academy. Therefore, he first concentrates on the left hand column and reads the entire
article. With the first paragraph McCain's eyes bulge; the second paragraph sends his jaw toward the pavement and by the third, he feels tightness in his chest, just like when he died fifty years ago.

The article describes a recent poll showing nearly half of American citizens believe the United States won't exist in a hundred years. Can you believe this? Half of these people! McCain looks around for someone to throttle. But for the moment, the sidewalk is empty and Slew's teeth grate and he mutters under his breath. Have they given up? Doesn't anyone remember what we fought for?

McCain jerks his head to the sky as a pair of F-14D Tomcats screech overhead, their wings pinned back making them seem like parched, grey diamonds. The lead Tomcat peels left into a tight bank, drops flaps and gear, bleeds speed and runs its wings forward to head into his downwind for the approach to North Island Naval Air Station. The wingman is good and sticks to the lead as if on a fifty-foot tether. McCain
looks at the newspaper again, then watches the Tomcats jink onto final.

Show offs. McCain became a naval aviator at the age of fifty-two, and many times barnstormed over this very town with his buddies. He smiles to himself remembering his fellow aviators were in their early twenties but accepted “the old man” and made him feel like a kid. Saturday nights at the Coronado hotel were lovely this time of year.

What's wrong with these damned people? With something as marvelous as those flying whatchamacallits up there to protect them why can’t they buck up? Do they 4 just want to lay down and die? They call themselves Americans?

McCain drops his paper in the trash barrel and shuffles toward San Diego Bay. Passersby seem normal enough, more facial hair on the men maybe, but everyone appears well-fed and well-dressed. Except maybe for those two kids over there wearing baggy pants cut-off below the knees. Too bad their folks make them do that. McCain smiles, remembering that when he was five his parents made him wear knickers. But he looks again at the people bustling about. In spite of a few frowns, McCain sees many
smiles and decides these people are basically alright.

The United States gone? In a hundred years? Would I have done what I did knowing that the United States of America wouldn't exist as we know it? And what about the others who fought in World War II? In Europe and the Pacific? What about those who didn't come back. What would they think of the way Americans are throwing away their marvelous legacy? All the hundreds of thousands of unselfish acts of bravery for naught?

In particular, one young fellow comes to mind. He was a beanpole ensign named Jack Ingold who graduated from the University of Oregon, went into flight training and quickly found himself in the South Pacific flying an F4F Wildcat with Fighting Squadron VF-28. On July 13, 1943, eighteen Japanese dive bombers and ten escorting Zeros were getting ready to jump three damaged U.S. destroyers limping to safety from a battle the night before. At 13,000 feet, Ingold and three other Wildcats tore into those twenty-eight enemy planes. In panic, the dive-bombers jettisoned their bombs and bolted, letting the American destroyers run for safety. But the Zeros stuck around. Ingold bagged one Zero then saw his skipper, Lieutenant Tavernetti, jumped by another. Ingold deliberately flew in to divert this Zero's fire. He suffered the consequences as other Zeros pummeled his Wildcat with cannon and machine gun fire. It wasn't long before Ingold's controls were shot away and his Wildcat engulfed in flames and on its way down. Tavernetti and the other two didn't see a parachute; Ingold's Wildcat smacked the water and sank. The Zeros broke and ran after the dive bombers and the fight was over.

Tavernetti led the other two back to base where they reported Ingold's death. Then came the worst part: Inventory of Ingold's personal gear. They opened Ingold's locker, tallied everything, packaged it and sent it on its way. Tavernetti wrote the letter. He'd done it before and it wasn't easy. Each word, each paragraph tore him apart as sure as the twenty-millimeter cannon shells that ripped into Jack Ingold's body. Nobody
ever got used to those things. Especially this time, since it was Ingold who saved Tavernetti's life.

But Ingold's buddies didn't realize he was unscathed by the Zero's cannon fire. The controls were shot away, he rode the plane down and just in time pulled back on the stick and more or less pancaked in. The Wildcat sank within ten seconds. It all 5 happened fast. Ingold was underwater when, with a mighty effort, he forced the canopy open, kicked away his parachute and popped to the surface.

The Wildcat was gone, but the water still roiled as Ingold gulped air thinking he’d made it. In amazement he looked around, seeing Japanese sailors in every direction. These men were off a cruiser sunk by the American task force last night. As if on cue, they started to swim toward him.

Just then, one of the American destroyers nosed its way in. For fear of enemy submarines, the tin can didn't stop but steamed by at slow speed as sailors threw lines, her fo’c’sle crew yelling, “grab it, damnit.”

Ensign Ernest "Jack" Ingold, Jr. barely out of flight training caught that line on July 13, 1943 and was pulled to safety. Except for minor bruises, he was unscathed. Later the destroyer handed Jack over to a PT boat and he was returned to duty and an emotional reunion with his squadron.

McCain remembered what Ingold's buddies said about Jack after his return. You say God's arm was around him, we say it sure squeezed him tight.

McCain shakes his head and suddenly realizes what bothers him. He had enjoyed brotherly love in his college days, so much so that he almost took it for granted. But later, in the navy, the essentials of those bonds and the sacrifices one made to preserve them became dearer as his career moved from challenge to challenge. And as he looked back over his life, he knew those bonds were the most important things to him. After all, wasn't that what World War II was all about? Love and respect for one another? Isn't that what they fought and died for? Isn't that what MacArthur was talking about?

He sniffs the air and looks around. Coronado, after fifty years, is a more beautiful place he decides. And as bad as that damned bridge looks over San Diego Bay, it's far better than the cantankerous ferry service that used to trudge back and forth. They've done a nice job here. And they’re basically good people.

Slew McCain, a man whose navy career spanned forty years, who once commanded thousands of officers and men, making life and death decisions through hundreds of crisis, realizes he has a new task. As ludicrous as it sounds, someone has to rekindle the spirit of brotherly love in those who have lost faith in America.

First, he wonders if Americans today know about cuckoo clocks. He finds an antique store and decides to go inside and ask.

* * * * *

Mix and Matchback to articles

How a Fletcher Class Destroyer Became a DDG Overnight

By John J. Gobbell
(Reprinted with permission from the fall, 2007 issue of Tin Can Sailor)

February, 1962
U.S.S. Tingey (DD 539)
Somewhere near the coast of Honshu, Japan

Tingey, a 2,100 ton Fletcher class destroyer rolled easily in the calm Pacific under a moonless night. Yesterday, she had emerged from a series of bone-jarring storms that had left us sleepless and walking like zombies. But tonight, the sky was clear and sparkled with stars which gleamed with the blue-white brilliance only seen at sea. We were in station six of a circular formation with the destroyers of DESRON FIFTEEN. At the formation’s center was the carrier USS Bennington (CVS 20) steaming in regal splendor at twenty knots. Without EMCON, our formation’s lights looked rather festive as we closed Japan’s coast. 
Mix and Match 

It was 2000 and we stood for officer’s call on the 01 level before the mast. This gave us the superstructure’s protection, and yet little zephyrs still curled around bulkheads, ruffling our khakis as we swayed with the ship’s motion. Twelve of us stood in two ranks: Department heads in front, junior officers in back. Four other officers were on watch; the captain was in his sea cabin immersed in paper work.

“What is going on?” the Exec demanded.

We looked back dumbly.

“Come on,” the Exec’s Zippo clanked as he lit a Pall Mall. “Anybody? The skipper is worried. And quite frankly, I am too.”

We exchanged glances and shrugs. We’d felt it, too. The crew had been too quiet. For the past few days, they’d silently gone about their jobs with lips pressed, eyes avoiding us as we neared Japan’s coast. Since leaving Pearl Harbor, we’d been at sea for ten storm-tossed days. One would have thought the ship would be rife with channel fever in anticipation of reaching Yokosuka. But even the redoubtable chiefs were unapproachable as they strut about our decks or sat in the goat locker, their arms folded in regal silence.

What is going on? we wondered.

The exec’s eyes narrowed. “Come on. Better to find out now then after we tie up.”

More shrugs.

The exec took a drag off his Pall Mall then looked up, “Let’s try again tomorrow. Now. There’s been a change tomorrow for entering port. Sagami Wan entrance 0800. Yokosuka 0930. Special sea detail, 0845. Any questions?”


With another drag, the exec turned to the engineering officer. “No smoke going into Tokyo Bay.” He puffed his chest, the unspoken command that he didn’t want our beloved Tingey, a seventeen year old veteran of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, to embarrass us before our squadron flag, the U.S.S. Mahan (DLG 11). For sure, there was animosity between the DLG/DDG crowd and the DDs. Maybe they were jealous of the campaign ribbons on our bridge from World War II and Korea. The Mahan sure didn’t have any.

It began the previous summer when we’d been fleeted up from a reserve destroyer to become a once-again full-time greyhound of the sea. An international crisis was on in Berlin. Something about the East Germans building a wall through the center of the City. Another crisis was brewing in the Gulf of Siam, so we’d been ordered to re-join the big boys in WESPAC to screen our carriers from the bad guys. They stuffed us into Destroyer Squadron Fifteen that sported twelve destroyers: four were of the fleet’s newest guided missile frigates (DLG); another four were new guided missile destroyers (DDG). The final four was taken up by us and three other Fletcher class destroyers. Compared to the DLGs and DDGs, we were sort of “out there” and treated accordingly. Mix and match.

For sure, juxtaposing a Fletcher class alongside a Coontz class guided missile frigate was like parking a model T Ford alongside a Ferrari. The champions of the U.S. Navy were festooned with the latest mods of Tartar and Terrier guided missiles. Also, they had high-tech things like NTDS, ASROC and super-sensitive mark 44 tube-launched homing torpedoes all designed to handle Ivan’s growing submarine threat. This was capped off with new modular CICs, where on-watch sailors defended the fleet in air-conditioned comfort. Even their wardrooms were air conditioned. And we were enroute to the humidity soaked South China Sea. But on a calm day and with a good tail wind, the mighty Tingey did have a thirty knot capability and could maintain fleet speed with the carriers and other brand new destroyers sporting air-conditioned modular CICs.

The corners of the engineering officer’s mouth turned up. “We enter Tokyo Bay in a column, sir?”

The exec raised a clipboard and thumbed aside flimsies. He found a message. “Affirmative. We enter Tokyo Bay in a column.” He smiled back. “We’ll be in last place, again.”

Groans. This meant we’d be the last to tie up and be outboard ship again in a nest of Godzilla-sized guided missile frigates ranging up to 5,800 tons. And we knew they derived a sadistic pleasure out of sticking us outboard in the nest. Getting to the pier meant navigating brass-festooned quarterdecks of these brand-new goliaths, their dress khaki-clad OODs strutting about in officious silence. Worse, it meant that our working parties bringing food and other consumables from the pier had to lug their boxes and crates across three, four, and sometimes five incompatible and oftentimes hostile quarterdecks.

We’d left San Diego about four weeks before making Pearl Harbor in ten days. Fights had broken out the first night ashore in Pearl. Brightwork and canvaswork was stolen off our fo’s’cle. During the next week’s exercises around Oahu, the captain and exec both looked the other way when, relegated as outboard ship, our boatswain’s mates rigged rat-guards after we tied up. This, of course, was the ultimate insult a ship could deliver to another. And it captured the immediate attention of the squadron commodore who ordered our rat-guards stricken. Strangely, it was after that that our brightwork and canvaswork was mysteriously returned. But still, things were tense.

“Yes, sir. Last place in the column. No smoke, Sir,” replied the engineering officer. His tone implied, “what does it matter? If we do make smoke, we’ll be so far back in the column that people on the Mahan’s bridge will never see us anyway.” But he didn’t have to worry. The Tingey, for all her seventeen years and thousands of miles of steaming, still had a tight, well-maintained plant.

With a slight shake of his head, the exec said, “Just make sure, okay?” He flipped more flimsies. “Right. All initialed.” The exec made sure we read and initialed all the messages. With an uncanny expertise, he flicked his cigarette butt over the side -- a shot of about seventeen feet. “Dismissed. Movie tonight is Guns of Navaronne.”

Now this is more like it. With an alacrity not often seen, we scampered from the 01 level down to our non-air conditioned wardroom on the main-deck. We were anxious for another showing of Alistair McLean’s best-selling adaptation. It had a great cast: Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, and Irene Pappas who plays Maria Pappadimos. We’d traded it among the ships of DESRON FIFTEEN on our way from San Diego and had seen this action-packed thriller five times.

We stood as our Captain entered. He seated us with a smile and small talk. Coffee cups rattled in their saucers. The overhead lights were snapped off; the space darkened as Zippo lighters clicked. Immediately, the Bell & Howell sixteen millimeter projector ground into life. Once again, our disbelief was suspended as credits rolled and blue cigar and cigarette smoke swirled before the screen.

We knew most of the lines and after two hours of action-packed nail-biting drama, we are ready for the pay off. At last, thunderous explosion after ear-splitting explosion rack Navarrone as Peck and Niven get the guns blown up. The mountain spews fiery, black detritus for miles around that collapses into the Aegean, the twin German cannons tumbling right behind.

Now for the best part. Gregory Peck and Irene Pappas commandeer a gleaming mahogany Riva speedboat and race offshore to rescue a drowning Anthony Quinn, a victim of a Nazi stab wound. The irony is that Quinn has vowed to kill Gregory Peck after their mission is completed. Now, this is plainly evident as Navaorrone’s massive crater spews fire and smoke. 

Pappas skillfully maneuvers the Riva alongside a bleeding, sputtering Quinn. He’s going down for the third time.

Here comes the best part: Irene Pappas jazzes the Riva’s throttle making it sound like a well-oiled, V-16 supercharged engine. With a throaty roar, it goes, “Vroom vroom.” The Riva reminds us of our high school days when we chased girls and did our utmost to buy Smitty glass-pak 26 inch mufflers for whatever cars we could afford.

Peck thrusts out a boat hook to a blubbering Quinn and commands in his signature deep timbre, “Come on, Man. Grab it!”

“… I…I can’t,” Quinn sputters.

“… Vroooom, vroom,” goes Pappas.

“Vroom, vroom, ” we shout back in unison.

“Grab, it!” Demands Peck.

“Grab it,” we shout.

“Vroom, vroom,” goes Pappas.

“Vroom, vroom,” we yell.

An exhausted Quinn barely snags the boathook with a forefinger. Peck drags Quinn aboard. Quinn tumbles into Irene Pappas’ eager arms. British destroyers joyfully hoot their whistles while a choir sings “Maria’s Song” in the background.

We give a last, “Vroom, vroom.”


The projector stops, then is threaded for a re-wind. Eyes blink as bright stygian lights flash on in a smoky wardroom, snapping us back to reality. Time for the sack; some of us are up at 2330 for the midwatch.

We stand respectfully, letting the captain exit. He heads down the passage way and ducks into our un-air conditioned non-modular CIC where he’ll study the radars and take in the picture. From there, he’ll climb to the bridge for a last look around before he retires to his sea-cabin.

The exec blocks the exit, lights up another Pall Mall and delivers a withering glance, “Figure out what they’re up to, Okay? And no foul-ups tomorrow. We have to look good for our grand entrance.” He turns and heads for his stateroom below.

* * * * *

The next morning found us under clear blue skies and a calm rolling sea. The wind wasn’t up yet leaving the surface glassy with the consistency of thirty-weight oil. We’d already formed into the dreaded column and once again, Tingey took up the rear as tail-end Charlie. Even so, one could see Mount Fujiyama’s snow capped peak from the bridge. It stood in white misty splendor beckoning right off our bow. Amazing, we’d really made it.

Everyone shook hands with the Exec at officer’s call on the quarterdeck. He doubled as our navigator and guffawed with, ‘Aw shucks,’ tongue in cheek, knowing that he didn’t have any choice but to follow eleven destroyers and a great big fat carrier. But we knew he’d been out there taking his morning stars and sun lines, verifying our position.

Thus, with a smattering of pride, he raised the plan of the day and began to read. “Now lissen up. We’ll man the rail at 0900 and I want everyone-“

A palm went to his forehead. “What the--?” He looked from side to side and then called to the Operations officer. “Get the yeoman up here on the double.”

“Sir, anything wrong?” The yeomen were in the operations department.

“You better believe it.” He shoved the plan of the day under the Ops officer’s nose.”

“…, Sir, I don’t… holy smokes!”

“What’s going on?” The Exec jabbed a finger at the top of the page.

We yanked copies from our pockets and discovered what we hadn’t noticed during a hurried breakfast. The masthead clearly read: U.S.S. Tingey (DDG 539).

“Whose joke is this? I’ll have that yeoman busted to seaman deuce,” roared the Exec.

The chief engineer, wearing signature oil spattered overalls and garrison cap, popped up from the aft fireroom hatch, about thirty feet aft from where we stood. Deliberately ignoring officer’s call, he turned aft and sauntered toward the fantail, flashlight in hand. The Exec was still muttering about the DDG flap when our chief engineer quickly walked forward and joined our ranks, an enormous grin glowing like the fires in his Babcock and Wilcox boilers.

The Exec demanded, “What’s so funny?”

“Sir, I just discovered why we’re a DDG.” He nodded aft.

“If you’d be so nice as to let me in on your little secret,” The Exec said with evident sarcasm.

“I think you should take a look, Sir.” The Chief Engineer again nodded aft.

“Stand fast.” With doubled fists, the Exec walked aft. Sixty seconds later, he was back, his grin as big as the Chief Engineer’s. “You had all better take a look.”

So we did.

The shipfitters had made a guided missile from plain sheet metal and fitted it over the entire length of mount 55, our after five-inch gun mount. It was replete with fins and nose cone. Like the fleet’s Terrier and Tartar missiles, the body was painted a deep blue, the fins white. A black toilet plunger was fixed to the tip.

“For sure this beats rat-guards,” the Exec growled. “We’ll enter port just as she is and watch ‘em get apoplexy.”


* * * * *

We entered port and our guided missile lasted just two days. The squadron commodore ordered it stricken, saying something about an affront to Japanese sensitivity. Like a first class boatswain’s mate busted to seaman second, we were stripped of our hard-earned DDG status and relegated back to being a common DD. 

But there’s a happy ending. Two weeks after that, we were transferred into the welcoming arms of DESRON ONE. We thought this was pretty cool since DESRON ONE’s stack insignia was the first-place rosette logo of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and our skipper was Commander J. R. Pabst.

We were sent to the South China Sea where we endured the humidity in our un-air conditioned CIC and wardroom to say nothing of the mess decks and sonar shack. We really didn’t have time to think about it, as we were at twenty-five to thirty knots day and night plane-guarding for the U.S.S. Hancock (CVA 19) around Yankee station. And we looked for Communist submarines We actually found a live one and held him down for three days -- all with out the benefit of a modular air conditioned CIC, to say nothing of our stuffy, oftentimes claustrophobic sonar shack.

We came of age while chasing Hancock around Yankee Station. Even without air-conditioning, our World War II battle-hardened Tingey took care of us and brought us home to our families. We pulled it off. Amazing.

That was forty-five years ago. The Tingey is gone now; long ago expended as a target off San Clemente Island. But I think fondly of her and my shipmates as Turner Classic Movies once again rolls The Guns of Navaronne It still takes two hours but finally, the end is near and I get to go, “vroom, vroom,” while my wife sits there with folded arms, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

SURRENDER AT TOKYO BAY back to articles

John Gobbell | September 01, 2006

At a little after two o'clock, General Douglas A. MacArthur's four-engine C-54, aptly named Bataan, landed and bounced to a stop in a cloud of dust. The General descended the ramp, smiling and waving, his corn-cob pipe clamped between his teeth. Only weeks before, Imperial Japanese Army and Navy forces had dedicated their lives to kill this man. But now, he and his entourage deplaned virtually unarmed. Winston Churchill said of MacArthur's landing, “Of all the amazing deeds in the war, I regard General MacArthur's personal landing at Atsugi as the bravest of the lot.”

The General was there to preside at the surrender ceremony three days hence as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces. For many, it was anticipated to be a time of retribution and revenge -- pay-back time when tempers could take their fill, the deserving enemy crushed under a vengeful boot.

But the Americans did something unpredictable. With only a token force, MacArthur went into Tokyo taking quarters at the New Grand Hotel. That night he issued orders that surprised the Japanese -- orders that countermanded centuries of Asian tradition. MacArthur stated that occupying troops were not to consume local food and were to eat only their own rations, and that there was to be no curfew and that martial law was not to be imposed.

From fleet headquarters in Guam, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet issued a similar order:

“ is incumbent on all officers to conduct themselves with dignity and decorum in their treatment of the Japanese...the use of insulting epithets in connection with the Japanese as a race or as individuals does not now become the officers of the United States Navy. Officers in the Pacific Fleet will take steps to require of all personnel under their command a high standard of conduct in this matter...”

And so, the tone was set.

September 2, 1945 broke gray and somber over Tokyo Bay. Over 200 ships of the U.S. Navy were anchored there. Sailors stood at their long glasses, eyes riveted to the USS Missouri (BB 63), proudly flying the flag that had flown over the nation's capital on December 7, 1941.

Starting at 0800 that morning, destroyer after destroyer pulled alongside the Missouri, her topside spaces already brimming with sailors and correspondents -- in particular the Japanese press. Allied generals, admirals, and ranking diplomats were delivered. Admiral Nimitz, appointed as representative of all American forces, was piped aboard at 0805. General MacArthur arrived via the destroyer USS Buchanan (DD 484) at about 0830. A naval precedent was set when Admiral Nimitz' blue flag and General MacArthur's red flag flew side by side from the Missouri’s mainmast.

For a bit of irony, MacArthur invited General Jonathan M. Wainwright, Commander of the U.S. Forces which surrendered at Corregidor in 1942, and Lieutenant General Arthur E. Percival, Commander of the British forces that surrendered at Singapore in the same year. Both were terribly emaciated, having been quickly spirited from captivity in a Japanese prison camp in Manchuria.

A large number of well-known military leaders were also in place including Admirals Halsey (The Missouri was his flag ship), McCain, Turner, Sherman, and Clark and Generals Spaatz, Kenny, Stillwell, and Eichelberger.

At 0855, the destroyer USS Lansdowne (DD 486) was summoned to the Missouri’s starboard side. Ushered up the gangway were eleven members of the Japanese delegation. Amongst them were Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Army Chief of Staff Yoshijiro Umezu. Admiral Sadaoshi Tomioka represented navy commander in Chief Admiral Soemu Toyoda and the Imperial Japanese Navy. (An embarrassed Toyoda refused to attend, saying to Tomioka, his operations officer, “You lost the war, so you go.” It mattered not to Tomioka who, like many other officers, committed harakiri after the ceremonies.

With everyone in place, the Missouri’s chaplain delivered an invocation and the Star Spangled Banner was played. As it should have been, the ceremony was somber but without rancor. General MacArthur began with:

“We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored...It is my earnest hope, indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage from the past, a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance and justice.”

He then ordered the representatives of the Imperial Japanese Government and the Imperial Japanese Staff to sign the agreement. Shigemitsu was the first to step forward and sign for Emperor Hirohito. Umezu then signed for the Japanese General Headquarters.

The Japanese then stepped back and, with Wainwright and Percival at his side, MacArthur signed on behalf of all the Allied powers. Admiral Nimitz, with Admirals Halsey and Sherman at his side, signed in behalf of the United States. Signing next were: General Hsu Young-chang of China, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser for the United Kingdom, Lieutenant General K. Derevyanko for the Soviet Union, General Sir Thomas Blamey for Australia, Colonel L. Moore Cosgrave for Canada, General Jacques LeClerc for France, Admiral Conrad E. L Helfrich for the Netherlands, and Air Vice Marshal Sir Leonard M. Isitt for New Zealand.

With that done, General MacArthur again took the microphone and gave his famous, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are now closed.”

The darkness of the moment was brightened when two things happened. First, as if staged by Cecil B. DeMille, the sun burst through the clouds, its light shimmering on Tokyo Bay, the snow-capped Mount Fujiyama gleaming in the distance. Next, a formation of 1,000 U.S. planes began flying over. Necks craned as admirals, generals, diplomats, correspondents, photographers, and former adversaries watched them all, from nimble F4U Corsairs to long, silver, USAAF B-29s fly over, bringing peace with the thunder of their engines. Symbolically, the eleven Japanese, now at peace with the Allies, were piped over the side with full military honors.

* * * * *

It is said that over 280 Allied warships swung at anchor that day, their guns silent, finally at peace with the world, their crews eager to return home. But there were no aircraft carriers among their number. They were still at sea, ready to strike, should the Japanese surrender be a ruse, or in the worst case, the leaders aboard the Missouri be killed or incapacitated in a fanatic's kamikaze raid.

But Admiral Raymond A. Spruance was poised aboard the battle ship USS New Jersey (BB 62) in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. Spruance, the hero of the Battle of Midway, and later, the Marianas campaign that signaled the end of the Imperial Japanese Navy was on duty and ready. As deserving as the others to be aboard the Missouri that day, Spruance had been held back to take over, should something terrible happen.

Fortunately, it did not.

MacArthur, Nimitz, and the Allied leaders took a chance: they walked softly. And it paid off. The Japanese seized the opportunity to rebuild themselves to the mighty industrial and cultural power they are today, taking a respected place in the free world.

MacArthur, Nimitz, Halsey, Spruance, Eisenhower, Patton. As James A. Michener asked in his novel, “The Bridges of Toko-Ri,”“Where do we get such men?”

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Copyright 2006 John Gobbell. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of