Diary of Commander Joseph K. Taussig, Commander, U. S. Destroyer Little
Friday morning (July 12) went to operation office to see Captain Stirling of the Von Steuben and make arrangements about escorting him through the danger zone. This took only a few minutes. Saw Ernest King who has come to Europe to observe for a while. He and Fremont were to have taken lunch with me, but something interfered. Jordan, as caterer, having provided an unusually good lunch, I invited Howe and Puleston (their ships were on each side of us) to come over – which they did.
When we went to sea at five o’clock it was blowing hard from the westward – the barometer was low and still falling. The Little, Wadsworth[,] Conner, Ericsson and Winslow formed the escort for the Von Steuben which ship was making 18 knots while we had to make between 19 and 20 to keep up. We all took large quantities of water over our forecastles and I held on as long as I thought prudent. At six o’clock sent a message to the bridge to signal the Von Steuben it was necessary to slow down. Before the signal was sent we shipped a huge sea which [walked?] along the forecastle carrying away life lines, gun depression rail, ammunition Case from anti aircraft Gun, [cover?] matting, Ammunition rack and fifteen rounds of 4" ammunition; buckled one frame in the deck; starboard side of chart house, bridge railings, and smashed all the glass wind shields – deluging everybody on the bridge and fortunately only one man getting cut by the flying glass. Got my signal to the Von Steuben recommending we slow to 15 knots which was immediately done, and at which speed we continued during the rest of the night. At daylight it had moderated enough for us to go ahead again at 18 knots. The Von Steuben had a number of passengers – among them Captain JS Robinson, Nimitz, Dawes, Lassing, Broadbent, and several other destroyer officers going home for new destroyers – also some women and children (I do not know who) and Mr. Raymond Fosdick and Rev. Dr. Fosdick. We must have made a fine sight plunging through the head seas, and I know the destroyer people on board the Von Steuben sympathized with us, and at the same time thanked their lucky stars that they were on the big ship.
Saturday was uneventful but a Little too rough to be comfortable. We left the Von Steuben a Little after 8 pm., formed line of sections, speed 12 knots and proceeded to the south westward to intercept the Leviathan. At daylight Sunday, found escorting line, and at 8:30 sighted the big ship coming along at 21½ knots. We have had to make revolutions for 23 knots to keep pace with her, and I am very glad the sea and wind have been from astern. The Leviathan is so large (907 feet long) that one gets the impression that she is much closer than is really the case. As a result, this morning 3 am. We lost her in a rain squall and it was nearly two hours before we found her again. If when the rain started we had been as close to her as we should have been, this would not have happened. The Conner just stopped and picked up a boat load of survivors from the Westover, which, I think, was torpedoed four days ago. I am very glad for them as I know they have been having a miserable time, and right now it is windy with fog and rain at frequent intervals. In about an hour we should be off the entrance to Brest. I hope it will be clear enough for us to see. It will be a relief when the Leviathan with her 15000 people on board comes safely to anchor.
Later – at Brest. We have come into port all right, but I think Captain Bryan of the Leviathan took big chances in the way he kept up speed to the last minute. It was very thick at the time to make landfall and the first thing seen was the small destroyer placed to mark a position seven miles from Ar-men. We then saw the destroyer off Pierres Noires, and it looked to me as if the Leviathan came very near running on the rocks as we could not have been more than half a mile away when the light house was sighted. It was not until after this that she slowed down. I had a difficult time making a mooring inside the breakwater. It was blowing very bad and just at a critical time, the starboard backing throttle got jammed wide open. We cavorted around considerably and almost ran down a destroyer or two, a couple of tugs, and the President Grant, but succeeded in getting to a buoy to which we did not belong. . . .