Along the 60th parallel, on the chilled hell's highway of the north Atlantic, the U.S. last week lost the illusion that it was not engaged in a shooting war.
The illusion faded when the U.S.S. Kearny (rhymes with Blarney), a crack destroyer scarcely a year in service, was torpedoed. But the illusion did not disappear until the nation felt the dull visceral shock of reading its first casualty list of World War II, reading of its own men "The next of kin have been notified."
But if its sensations finally forced the U.S. to acknowledge that it was engaged in a shooting war, the facts that came out last week were even more convincing. They showed that the U.S. Navy's North Atlantic Patrol, which has expected trouble ever since the occupation of Iceland, has been actively looking for trouble since Franklin Roosevelt's "shoot on sight" speech of Sept. u.
History Rewritten. The most striking evidence of that was almost overlooked in last week's excitement over the Kearny. The Navy's Chief of Operations, Admiral Harold Raynsford Stark, told the Senate Naval Affairs Committee in a letter the facts about the brush of the old four-piper U.S.S. Greer with a submarine last month (TIME, Sept. 15).
"Betty" Stark's statement revised one historical point: the Greer, which the U.S. public had believed attacked by a U-boat without provocation, was in fact attacked while she was dogging a submarine. The destroyer was heading for Iceland with mail, passengers and freight, he wrote, when a British patrol plane reported a sub ten miles dead ahead.
The Greer picked up the U-boat on her detecting apparatus, followed it, keeping astern. The British plane dropped four depth charges and pulled out for home, probably short of gas. For more than three hours the Greer hung on, broadcast the sub's position—probably cursing the failure of British destroyers to turn up—but making no attack, for at that time the shoot-on-sight order had not been issued. The Greer was following her instructions of spotting and making known the presence of a sea raider in the Western Hemi sphere.
Finally the submarine showed fight. She changed course, closed with the Greer. With every man on the Greer at battle station, the lookouts sighted an impulse bubble close aboard—the big globule of air which rises when a submarine fires a torpedo. The submarine had fired without raising her periscope, aiming by her sound equipment.
It was a close miss. Within a minute the Greer sighted the bubbling wake of the torpedo about 100 yards astern. By that time the little 1,090-ton destroyer had begun to wheel, was steaming swiftly toward the spot where she had seen the impulse bubble. Over the spot the men on her fantail dumped eight depth charges. They sent up green geysers in the chill air. But the Greer could still hear the sub under way.
Two minutes after the depth charges were dropped a second torpedo was sighted 500 yards off the Greer's starboard bow. The Greer went searching. That afternoon she picked up the submarine again, closed, attacked with depth charges, eleven this time. But the U-boat apparently got away to report: two days later Germany announced its version of the encounter.
The Greer was lucky. Had a torpedo caught her fairly, she would almost certainly have foundered, for her World War I skin is thin.
History Made. Better fitted to take a blow from her natural enemy was the U.S.S. Kearny, a slim, 1,630-ton beauty with a battle speed of around 40 knots. Besides modern armament (including ten torpedo tubes, five 5-inch guns), the Kearny has the maximum in destroyer protection. Highly compartmented so that damage can be localized, she also has a stout double bottom to cut down torpedo damage to her inner skin.
If the Greer was dogging an enemy submarine even before the shoot-on-sight order, there is little doubt that since that order other destroyers have not only been dogging but dropping depth charges on every U-boat their finders locate.
First news of the Kearny's brush came from her gamecock (5 ft. 2% in.) skipper, 42-year-old Lieut. Commander Anthony Leo Danis. It was brief; onetime Airshipman Danis wanted no German raider to spot him through radio messages. Net of his message: the Kearny, torpedoed 350 miles southwest of Iceland, was proceeding to port under her own power.
Two days later came a few more details. The Kearny had got to Iceland. The U.S. public had assumed that there were no casualties. Now it learned that eleven of the Kearny's crew were "missing," presumably trapped in a ruptured watertight compartment. Barring a miracle, they were dead. Ten more of the Kearny's crew (13 officers, 177 men) were injured, two of them seriously. Navy men were not surprised. They had waited with forboding. They knew that when a torpedo hits a destroyer, somebody usually dies.
Adolf Hitler tried to make the U.S. be lieve that the Kearny was escorting a convoy. From Berlin came a claim that a convoy had been attacked after it entered Germany's combat zone, that ten freighters and two "enemy destroyers" had been sunk. The location was close to the spot where the Kearny was hit. But the fact was that the Kearny, like the Greer, was out sub-hunting when she was hit.
When the Kearny was struck, to her side steamed a slim, salt-crusted four-piper with signal flags whipping from her bridge. It was the U.S.S. Greer.
The knowledge that it was later than men thought came last week to the U.S. and its President:
In the Atlantic a U.S. destroyer was torpedoed by an enemy submarine.
In Europe one of the two nations which the U.S. is supporting to beat Hitler fought desperately to save its capital.
In the Orient Japan installed a new Cabinet, whose apparent aim would swiftly bring war to the Pacific.
Taking a four-day (Friday to Tuesday) weekend at Hyde Park, Franklin Roosevelt had more than the color of autumn leaves on his mind. He had to con his timetable and Adolf Hitler's. He could guess at Hitler's from the week's events. The U.S. could guess at the President's timetable from three items of news which told what time it is in the U.S.
> To replace the old, merely enormous, daily outmoded scheme of defense and supplies to U.S. Allies, the President readied a Brobdingnagian new program: to turn out by 1944, 125,000 airplanes, tens of thousands of tanks and guns of all kinds (cost: more than $100,000,000,000)—to double not merely present production but plans for future production. The brave new word for the scheme, the Victory Program.
> The President declared that real aid to Hitler's enemies is really on the way: shipments of Lend-Lease supplies in September amounted to $155,000,000—no more than WPA once disposed of, but three times the average Lend-Lease aid for the previous six months. Since World War II began, Britain has received about $5,000,000,000 worth of U.S. arms and food -- most of it paid for in cash on the barrel head. But Lend-Lease materials are gradually replacing cash orders, may supplant them entirely by next year's end.
> U.S. defense expenditures reached a new peak, passed $50,000,000 a day. At this figure, the U.S. is now spending $6,000,000 more a day for defense than Great Britain is spending daily for war.
Also under the President's eye and hand were enormous domestic problems which will inevitably affect the war effort: 1) labor strikes, on which he was readying a statement this week; 2) defense growing pains, which were changing the map of the U.S., creating great cities yet making ghost towns, too; 3) inflation, which still zoomed on.
Little, egg-bald Speaker Sam Rayburn, cello-mellow with satisfaction, last week saw one of his predictions come true.
After the conscription extension had squeaked through the House last August by a vote of 203-10-202, Rayburn had insisted on a month's recess, had predicted that the members, after listening to the, folks back home, would return to Washington with less isolationist notions. Sure enough, the chastened House had then passed the second Lend-Lease appropriation: 328-10-67.
Last week the House voted on the next move of the President's Thousand-and-One-Steps-to-War policy: repeal of the Neutrality Act's Section 6, which forbids U.S. merchant ships to have any armament greater than a captain's pistol or a harpoon gun. On the morning the bill came to a vote, Sam Rayburn got a further break: the U.S.S. Kearny was torpedoed.
After one day and one hour's debate, the House passed the bill: 259-18-138. For: 219 Democrats, 39 Republicans, one American Labor. Against: 21 Democrats, 113 Republicans, three Progressives, one Farmer-Labor.
In about eight weeks Speaker Rayburn had seen the recapture of 44 out of 65 Democrats who had opposed him in the conscription fight; he had gained 23 precious Republican votes. And he knew, as well as Republican Leader Joe Martin, that many a Republican vote against the present bill was a matter of party loyalty, since the G.O.P. in Congress had decided to make the measure an out-&-out partisan fight.
He had seen two especially remarkable, though perhaps temporary, conversions—of New York's gangling, muscle-bound Ham Fish, and excitable pinko Vito Marcantonio. Fish took the floor to condemn the bill unsparingly until his colleague, New Jersey's white-haired, red-faced Charles Aubrey Eaton, quietly asked him how he was going to vote. Representative Fish gulped heavily, admitted that he would vote for the bill, faded out of the debate. Same evening little pinko Marcantonio, who had firmly voted against all national-defense appropriations and foreign-policy moves, jumped up, shrieked:
"Up to the 22nd day of June*[I had regarded the war as] an imperialistic war . . . between two axes, the Wall Street-Downing Street Axis versus the Rome-Tokyo-Berlin Axis. The invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler transformed that war, and the military defeat of Hitler is today America's only defense. . . . The United States [should] do everything possible to bring about the opening of a western front and thereby prevent the triumph of Hitler."
"I would like to ask the gentleman from New York whether he would favor sending an A.E.F.?" slyly asked isolationist South Dakota Republican Karl Mundt.
"I think it is necessary. . . ." said pinko Vito Marcantonio.
The bill ripped over to the Senate like the torpedo that smashed into the U.S.S. Kearny, in a wave of excited decision. After counseling with Wendell Willkie, Republican Senators Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, Warren Austin of Vermont and Chan Gurney of South Dakota introduced an amendment to repeal the Neutrality Act in its entirety. This clove the Senate G.O.P. down to its muddled brisket, completely took the play away from such Democratic fire-eaters as Carter Glass of Virginia, Claude Pepper of Florida, Josh Lee of Oklahoma, who were preparing to do the same thing.
Although this move meant a possible delay in the repeal of Section 6, and a probable knockdown, drag-out fight, it was also a stride toward honesty in facing the real issue: How much more is the U.S. going to do against Hitler?
From The U.S.S. Kearny, torpedoed Oct. 17, 1941.
George Alexander Calvert, fireman, first class, Gillespie, Ill.
Floyd Andrew Camp, ship's cook, first class, National City, Calif.
Luther Asle Curtis, water tender, first class, Wilmington, N.C.
Louis Dobnikar, water tender, second class, Cleveland, Ohio.
Herman August Gajeway, water tender, first class, Troy, N.Y.
Lloyd Dalton Lafleur, pharmacist's mate, second class, Beaumont, Tex.
Sidney Gerald Larriviere, fireman, first class, Lafayette, La.
Dwight Floyd Pyle, seaman, second class, Bainbridge, Ga.
Iral William Stoltz, fireman, first class, Spangler, Pa.
Russell Burdick Wade, fireman, third class, Houston, Ala.
Harry Tull Young, machinist's mate, second class, Reader, Ark.
Samuel R. Kurtz, torpedo man, third class, Erie, Pa.
Leonard Frontakowski, chief boatswain's mate, Norfolk, Va.
The U.S. is at war with Germany.
Franklin Roosevelt this week did not declare war -- only Congress can do that.
But he said plainly in a fighting speech, at a Navy League dinner in Washington:
"We have wished to avoid shooting. But the shooting has started. And history has recorded who fired the first shot."
It was the President's first major statement of U.S. policy in five months --since that night last May when he proclaimed a state of unlimited emergency.
Much had happened since that night in the spring. U.S. forces had occupied Iceland. U.S. bombers had begun to shuttle like suburban trains across the Atlantic.
A U.S. mission had flown to Moscow.
U.S. freighters stretched a lengthening line of supplies to all the enemies of Adolf Hitler. U.S. destroyers ranged the Atlantic, hunting down Nazi submarines.
Two of those destroyers had been attacked.
Eleven U.S. sailors had died in action.
In a fighting speech, Franklin Roosevelt explained what all this meant. "The purpose of Hitler's attack," said he, "was to frighten the American people off the high seas. . . . This is not the first time he has misjudged the American spirit. That spirit is now aroused. . . . Our ships have been sunk and our sailors have been killed. I say that we do not propose to take this lying down." He chose a significant night to tell his story. Navy Day is the birthday of another fighting Roosevelt, who worked hard to build up U.S. power on the sea. It was this day that Franklin Roosevelt picked. In the vast Gold Ballroom of Washington's Mayflower Hotel, flanked by Generals and by Admirals in gold braid, the President told how it came about that the U.S. is now fighting a war at sea.
Secret Documents. Hitler attacked first, said President Roosevelt,.reciting the bloody tale of the U.S.S. Kearny.* He added grimly that it will not matter who fired the first shot: "All that will matter is who fired the last shot." The attack on the Kearny was no chance encounter, said the President. It was part of a long-range Nazi plan -- first to drive U.S. shipping off the seas, then to dominate the Americas. For proof, he men tioned a secret map which, he said, "I have in my possession . . . made in Ger many by Hitler's Government — by the planners of the New World Order. It is a map of South America and a part of Central America, as Hitler proposes to reorganize it. ... The geographical experts of Berlin . . . have divided South America into five vassal States, bringing the whole continent under their domination.
And they have also so arranged it that the territory of one of these new puppet States includes the Republic of Panama and our great lifeline—the Panama Canal."
The President went on to describe another secret Nazi document. "It is a plan to abolish all existing religions—Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish alike. The property of all churches will be seized by the Reich. ... In the place of the churches of our civilization, there is to be set up an international Nazi church. ... In the place of the Bible, the words of Mein Kampf will be imposed and enforced as Holy Writ. And in place of the Cross of Christ will be put two symbols—the swastika and the naked sword. . . ."
Decks Cleared. All this, said President Roosevelt, explains why the U.S. has been forced against its will into a war to defeat Hitler. That Hitler can be stopped, the President did not doubt. "The facts of 1918 are proof that a mighty German Army and a tired German people can crumble rapidly and go to pieces when they are faced with successful resistance." To the U.S. people, on Navy Day, Commander in Chief Roosevelt reported his order of the day. "In the face of this newest and greatest challenge, we Americans have cleared our decks and taken our battle stations. We stand ready in the defense of our nation. . . ."
* At another Navy Day celebration in Philadelphia, Under Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal for the first time reported details of the terrific blast that damaged the Kearny, worse than any other destroyer ever was damaged without sinking. Said he: "The Kearny suffered a direct hit from a torpedo abreast of the boiler room on the starboard side, and the resulting explosion not only opened up that side of the ship but blew out the deck overhead and part of the superstructure. Yet, in spite of this very substantial damage, the ship not merely remained afloat but proceeded under its own power to port."
S.S. Lehigh, Captain Vincent P. Arkins, 4,983 gross tons, owned by U.S. Maritime Commission, flying U.S. flag, lat 8° N, long. 14° W, bearing south along the African coast for Takoradi to pick up manganese ore consigned to U.S. . . . 8:55 a.m. . . . All well. . . .
An ordinary seaman was sitting on deck reading a book when it happened. The explosion shook a hatch beam loose; the beam cut off four of his toes. The third assistant engineer, below, was brained by falling deck plates.
The torpedo had struck fair on the starboard side. No. 5 Hold filled at once. The Lehigh began to settle fast. The main topmast came down, carrying away the main radio antenna, so that Sparks thought his SOS was not transmitted. All hands manned the boats and pulled away while she sank. All four of the lifeboats were picked up by British vessels within 50 hours.
S.S. Bold Venture, 3,222 gross tons, owned by U.S. Maritime Commission, flying Panamanian flag, lat. 57° N, long. 24° W, bearing north for Reykjavik with general cargo bound for Britain. . . . 11:40 p.m. . . . All well. . . .
There were 19 men in the fo'c'sle drinking coffee when the torpedo struck up forward. They all must have been killed.
The other 17 officers and men got overside into two lowered boats. The men watched the Bold Venture go down. Until almost the last moment, her electric lights continued to blaze. After a wait of only two hours a Canadian corvette had picked them up.
S.S. W. C. Teagle, 9,552 gross tons, owned by the Standard Oil Co., flying the British flag, manned by a British crew, bearing north for Iceland with a cargo of bulk oil. . . .
The Teagle was sunk without warning by a torpedo.
Half-Way Mark? Thus were lost the ninth, the tenth, the eleventh U.S.-owned ships sunk in World War II. Intrinsically these losses—in cargoes, in bottoms—did not mean much. But they added to the toll, not only of lost tonnages and lives, but of lost tempers. They brought U.S. ship losses half way to the total of 22 which were lost in World War I before the U.S. temper carried the nation into war.
U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who has a terrible temper, was asked last week if he would make a protest to Germany over the torpedoing of the U.S.S. Kearny (TIME, Oct. 27).
He replied acidly that one did not very often send diplomatic notes to an international highwayman.
These three sinkings came at a crucial time in Congress' soul-searchings about Neutrality. Some Congressmen must have heard a kind of eloquence in the statement of an American boy, whose life had been saved after his ship, the Lehigh, was sunk: "Say, Roosevelt calls the Jerries pirates —well, we got a name for them, too. . . .
When we have guns, it will be better for us and not so good for Jerry."
The true story of the U.S.S. Kearny, which was torpedoed but not sunk three weeks ago, was told from a hospital cot after she arrived at Reykjavik, Iceland, by Ensign Henry Lyman, of Ponkapog, Mass.:
The Kearny was on escort duty, westbound. She received a signal to leave her convoy and go to the assistance of another convoy, which was being attacked by U-boats. They reached the convoy late in the afternoon. The attack had apparently ceased.
The scattered convoy reformed and sailed into what Ensign Lyman called "as black a night as I've ever seen." Out of the blackness came a second submarine assault.
"They started to fire torpedoes and we dropped depth charges to drive them off. The submarines were probably on the surface with their decks awash and their engines cut, so we couldn't hear them. One tanker was afire and sinking. A corvette was trying to pick up survivors. Somehow a U-boat had maneuvered between the Kearny and the convoy. She went after us.
"The U-boat fired three torpedoes at us. One went off the bow, one went off stern and the third hit us on the starboard side at the forward engine room."
The destroyer was swinging hard to port at the time of the hit. Ensign Lyman heard a terrible roar as the warhead bit through the Kearny's armor. The explosion killed seven men stationed in the forward boiler room on the steaming watch. Its force ripped up through the deck, wrecked the starboard wing of the bridge, knocked the forward stack back and broke the siren cord so that its shrill yowl could not be shut off. Four others disappeared, probably blown overboard.
"We couldn't hear a damned thing on the bridge because of the siren. We looked over the side to see whether the engines were still turning over or whether she was settling. It was a matter of minutes before she started to move forward." The explosion broke the bridge's control of the engine room and steering apparatus, "but pretty soon we were able to steer from the second conning station. . . . We had no compass working and the helmsman steered by the flag - that is, he watched the flag to see which way the wind was blowing." Ensign Lyman and enlisted men tried to fire rockets, but two missed fire and they finally resorted to a Very pistol. Star shells burst to the south and flames from three burning tankers lit the seascape.
The chief engineer and what was left of his crew at once began "repairing flooded fuel lines and working down there in the dark and danger." They put out an electrical fire, bolstered a buckling bulkhead.
Thanks to her construction and the tenacity of her men, the Kearny limped safely to port. "Everyone," said Ensign Lyman, "just did his job - and two or three more. If I am torpedoed again I hope I have this crew with me."