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Excerpt from chapter titled:

“To Get in and Get Aboard”

© David Sears, 2008, used by permission of author

Below a brief excerpt from author David Sears' book titled "At War With The Wind", which is to be published September 2008. Mr. Sears has chronicled the epic struggle between the United States Navy and the Empire of Japan's kamikaze forces during World War II. Our special thanks to David Sears for allowing ussbush.com to share this text.

Additional excerpts can be found in quarterly newsletters known as the D. L. Sears Books Log Book

As Claxton, Abner Read, Killen and Ammen fought their morning duels predators Leyte Gulf, ten miles south a second group of Japanese planes swept in from the west. Eluding radar detection by hugging the contours of Panoan Island, they skimmed Surigao Strait’s mirror-calm waters of to set upon Anderson (DD-411) and Bush (DD-529).

It was now about 0920 and Anderson was anchored offshore after escorting landing craft into Cabalian Bay. Bush lookouts spotted one of two Bettys—navy twin-engine bombers—launching a torpedo towards Anderson. Anderson guns soon opened fire.

Bush went to GQ, turned west towards the action and accelerated to 15 and then 25 knots. Bush was soon attacked by a different Betty approaching to starboard. Fortunately for Bush and its crew, the tin can’s 35-year-old skipper Rollin (Westy) Westholm was a skilled and confidant ship handler--a burly former torpedo boat squadron commander in the Solomons and off New Guinea. Ordering full rudder turns, Westholm repeatedly swung the ship, both to keep her guns pointed towards attackers and to dodge strafing fire, bombs and possible torpedoes.

So close to land, the Japanese planes maneuvered like bushwhackers, flying behind the crest of a ridgeline overlooking the strait before dashing across the water. Since radar was no help with these planes, more sets of sharp eyes were needed in a hurry. Lieutenant Tony Lilly, who joined Bush during construction as gunnery officer and had since become Executive Officer, was already on the bridge. Lilly’s GQ assignment was in CIC, but he’d come topside after realizing Bush was too ‘land-locked’ for him to be of much use there. Westholm and Lilly choreographed their moves—Lilly positioning himself on the bridge wing opposite the one where Westholm stood. Robert Aguillar, a storekeeper petty officer who’d grown up as a keen-eyed hunter in Arizona, was one of several sailors called to the bridge on the double, handed a pair of binoculars and told to keep their eyes peeled on the ridgeline.

At 0942 Bush crewmen felt the muffled thump of an underwater explosion and then readied for the approach of a second Betty, this one to port. The strengths of the twin-engine Betty, like so many other IJN-designed planes, were its lightness, speed and long range. But its compromises--insufficient armor and vulnerable fuel tanks—earned it the nickname “flying lighter”.

Now limbered up, Bush main battery gunners were ready for this target. Jim Collinson, a 28-year-old Rhode Islander and mount captain on No.1 gun (named ‘Helen” in tribute to his wife), was perhaps Bush's most seasoned gunner’s mate. His experience with the 5-inch-38 extended to service on cruiser San Juan (CL-54) in Iron Bottom Sound. To the newest sailors on Collinson’s gun crew this might be a frightening, adrenaline-filled moment. To Collinson it seemed almost like a day at the office.

Pivoting “Helen” in local control, Collinson locked the gun on the Betty and squeezed off a steady stream of shots on what to him was the best kind of target—one closing dead on, getting bigger and scarcely maneuvering. With Bush's other guns locked on and firing as well, it was impossible to tell which mount’s projectile finally connected with the Betty, igniting the “flying lighter” and sending its fireball into the water 100 yards away.

The crash earned the Bush gunners a brief chorus of appreciative shouts, but they had less success with the next two attackers, a third Betty coming from astern to drop a poorly-aimed bomb and, ten minutes later, a fourth Betty angling in on the bow. While topside gunners exhaled and readied for new attacks, ship technicians battled the equipment gremlins. A radar system, sonar gear, several radio circuits and power to two of Bush's 40-mm mounts went on the blink; whether the result of mystery explosion or simply the nonstop hammering of ship’s guns, the gremlins had to be chased down.

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