Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Report on Torpedoing of U.S.S. Cassin






     Cassin, (Lieut-Cmdr. W. N. VERNOU1) a 6 a.m. was underway from Queenstown. At 8-00 a.m., 10 miles SE of Kinsale Head. At 1-30 p.m. sighted submarined 20 miles south Minehead—submerged immediately. Remainder of War Diary for this date, and until 7-00 p.m. 16 October 1917, is appended hereto.

     Abstract of appendix: Submarine was sighted about two points on port bow, distant about four or five miles; ship on course 65° true, making fifteen knots. The submarine was first sighted by the lookout aloft. The submarine at this time was awash, and was made out by the officer of the watch and the quartermaster of the watch.

     The submarine submerged at about 1-33 p.m.

     When last seen on the surface, the submarine was heading in a south-easterly direction. Wind was south-westerly, force between three and four--sea choppy.

     The ship continued on course until near position where submarine disappeared. At this point, at 1-43 p.m. course was changed to North (true), as it was thought submarine would make a decided change of course after submerging.

     At about 1-57 p.m. the Commanding Officer sighted a torpedo apparently shortly after it had been fired, running near the surface and in a direction that was estimated would make a hit, either in engine or fire-room. When sighted the torpedo was between three and four hundred yards from the ship. The wake could be followed on the other side (submarine side) of the torpedo for about four hundred yards. The torpedo was running at high speed, at least thirty-five knots. The war-head was painted red, and the torpedo appeared to be about an 18 inch t torpedo. When between two and three hundred yards from the ship, the torpedo broached and took a shear to the left; but upon taking the water right itself.

     As soon as the torpedo was sighted, double emergency full speed ahead was signaled engine-room, and rudder was put hard left It looked for the moment as if the torpedo was pass astern; but when about fifteen or twenty feet from the ship, the torpedo porpoised, completely leaving the water and shearing to the left. Before again taking the water, the torpedo hit the ship well aft on the port side, at about frame 163 and above the water-line.

     Almost immediately after the explosion of the torpedo, the depth charges located on the stern and ready for firing exploded; in two distinct explosions in quick succession after the explosion of the torpedo.

     After the ship was hit, the crew was kept at general quarters.

     The Executive Officer and Engineer Officer inspected the parts of the ship that were damaged, and those adjacent to the damage.2 It was found that the engine-and fire-rooms and after-magazine were intact, and that the engines could be worked; but that the ship could not be steered, the rudder having been blown off, and the stern blown to starboard. The ship continued to turn to starboard in a circle. In an effort to put the ship on a course by the use of the engines, something carried away which put the starboard engine out of commission.....The port engine was kept going at slow speed. The ship, being absolutely unmanageable, sometimes turned in a circle and at times held an approximate course for several minutes.

     Immediately after the ship was torpedoed the radio was out of commission. The radio officer and radio electrician (chief)3 managed to improvise a temporary auxiliary set, by which a message was sent to the U.S.S. PORTER over one wire auxiliary antenna. The generators were out of commission for a short time after the explosion the ship being in darkness below.

     When this vessel was torpedoes, there was another U.S. destroyer, name unknown, within signal distance. She had acknowledged our call by searchlight before we were torpedoed. After being torpedoed an attempt was made to signal her by searchlight, flag, and whistle, and the distress signal was hoisted. Apparently through some misunderstanding she steamed away from us, and was lost sight of.

     At about 2-30 p.m., when we were approximately the same position as when torpedoed, a submarine conning tower was sighted on port beam, distant about 1500 yards, ship still circling under port engine. Opened fire with No. 2 gun, firing four rounds. Submarine submerged and was not seen again. Two shots came very close to submarine.

     At 3-50 p.m. U.S.S. PORTER stood by. At 4-25 p.m. wreckage which was hanging to stern dropped off. At dark stopped port engine and drifted. At about 9-00 p.m. H.M.S. JESSAMINE and H.M.S. TAMARISK stood by. H.M.S. JESSAMINE signaled she would stand by until morning and then take us in tow. At this time sea was very rough, wind about six or seven and increasing. H.M.S. TAMARISK prepared to take us in tow, and made one attempt after another to get a line to us. Finally about 2-10 a.m., 16 October, the TAMARISK lowered a boat in rough sea and sent grass line by means of which our 8” hawser was sent over to her. At about 2-30 a.m., TAMARISK started towing us to Queenstown, speed about four knots, this vessel towing well on starboard quarter of TAMARISK, due to condition of stern described above. At 3-25 hawser parted.

     Between this time and 10-37 a.m., when a towing line was received from H.M.S. SNOWDROP, various attempts were made by the TAMARISK and two trawlers and a tug to tow the Cassin. An II” towing hawser from the TAMARISK parted. All ships except her lost the Cassin during the night. The Cassin was drifting rapidly on a lee shore, and had it not been for the TAMARISK getting out a line in the early morning, the vessel would have undoubtedly grounded on Hook Point, as it is extremely doubtful if her anchors would have held.

    One man, O. K. Ingram, GMIc, was killed, his body being blown to pieces and overboard.4 Ingram was working on No. 4 gun, near the point where torpedo hit. Nine members of the crew received minor injuries--limb fractures, lacerations, contusions, powder burns.

    About 35 feet of the stern is blown off or completely ruptured. The after living-compartments and after store-rooms are completely wrecked or gone, and all stores and clothing from these parts of the ship are gone or ruined. About 45 members of the crew, including the Chief Petty Officers, lost practically everything but the clothes they had on.

    At the time of the explosion there were a number of men in the after compartments. How they managed to escape is beyond explanation.

    The officers and crew behaved splendidly. There was no excitement. The men went to their stations quietly, and remained there all night, except when called away to handle lines.

    The work of the Executive Officer, Lieutenant J. W. McClaren, and of the Engineer Officer, Lieutenant J. A. Saunders, is deserving of especial commendation. These two officers inspected magazines and spaces below decks, and superintended shoring of bulkheads and restaying of masts. Lieutenant (jg) R. M. Parkinson did excellent work in getting an improvised radio set into commission.

    (Twenty-two enlisted men are mentioned by name as conspicuous for their coolness and leadership)

    Oral information from Commanding Officer and other officers of Cassin: Luck favored the Hun that the destroyer was hit at all. She would probably have escaped had not the torpedo broached twice, turning decidedly to the left both times; in other words, she would not have been hit had the torpedo functioned properly. On its first appearance, about 200 yards from the destroyer, the torpedo did not leave the water. After this turn to the left, officers watching thought that the ship had a 50-50 chance of eluding it. On its second appearance, the porpoising twenty feet from the ship, when it leaped completely free of the water, the torpedo turned to the left in a much wider arc. The Cassin was being given hard left rudder.

    The 400-yard wake on the far side of the torpedo ended very clearly and abruptly when first sighted. This point, therefore, is thought to be that from which the torpedo was fired, and while the sub was close to the surface. It places the sub 800 yards distant at the time of the attack, the torpedo first sighted midway in its flight. The latter was short and "fat", seeming to have been one of the close-range, big-charge, high-speed ones which the Huns are lately reported to be using.

     The submarine had "cold feet", at least, in that around the time of her appearance on the surface at 2-30 p.m. she did not put the Cassin out. The destroyer was then quite helpless, steaming under hor port engine only, at 7 to 10 knots, circling uncontrolledly to the right. (Speeding up the starboard engine, to overcome the right-turning tendency of the material blown to starboard, had carried away its weakened propeller shaft.) The submarine could have maneuvered aft of the Cassin into any offensive she desired. This with absolute safety, as the destroyer's No. 4 gun had been carried away. She could have sunk the Cassin by either gunfire or torpedo. But the Huns did not take this imperative chance of warfare. They probably were afraid the Cassin was shamming. The must have seen the damage that they had done; yet lost their nerve at the destroyer's staying at general quarters and firing four shots at the sub's conningtower.

    The range of the first of these shots from the No. 2 gun was 1000 yards. It went over. The second was fired at "down 200", and fell short, but very close to the conningtower. By the time that the third and fourth shots were loosed, the submarine was hardly visible, and the were aimed chiefly to keep her under. Port torpedo tubes also were trained and ready, two torpedoes set for 7 feet and one for 25. The uncertainty of the target at either depth made firing inadvisable.

    The submarine was painted dark greenish. Two squarish elevations, well forward and aft, appeared to conceal her guns, as folding or "roll-top" covers.

    The equivalent of 850 pounds of TNT is estimated to have exploded in and upon the Cassin's fantail; this includes the charges of the torpedo and of both depth mines. No. 4 gun, blown overboard, left the ship to port, although that was the side which the torpedo hit. The gun went over at a point well forward of her mount. The mass of the wreckage, however, went to the starboard. Explosion of the depth charges, rather than that of the torpedo outward or in throw-back, supposedly effected this. About 5 seconds elapsed between the torpedo's detonation and those of the mines. They probably went off close together, for accounts vary as to whether there were in all two or three explosions.

    The miracle by which the 20-odd men in the three wrecked after living compartments escaped with only minor injuries is most striking in the case of F. W. Kruse, FIc.5 He was asleep in his bunk on the port side, only a few feet forward of the torpedo's point of impact into the store-room. Four frames--84 inches of side-were disrupted immediately alongside his body. He made his way through each of the three compartments, climbed the ladder to the main deck, in a state of unconsciousness; and did not regain his mind until he had gone forward as far as No. 4 stack. His duty was in No. 2 fire-room, which it is believed that his subconsciousness was urging him toward. Others caught below in the crew spaces probably did their duty of dogging the water-tight doors from a like cause and in a similar state. The two doors leading into the after compartment, and the door between the C.P.O's [Chief Petty Officer] quarters and the engine-room P.O.'s [Petty Officer] quarters, were all found firmly and perfectly dogged. Yet all the men escaping up the ladder from this deck declared that from the first instant of the explosion they had been absolutely blinded. Seven men were in the after space, and about the same number in each of the two others.

    Of the two after doors, that to port threatened to carry away soon after the seas began to pound in. The main mass of the wreckage which dropped off did so upwards of an hour after the explosions. It was at this time that the bulkhead began to buckle and the port door  and dogging weaken. It was shored with mattresses under the personal direction of the Executive [Officer]. Up to this time, and until the seas began to crumple the bulkhead completely, there was only a few inches of water in the two P.O. compartments; and even when the Cassin reached Queenstown, hardly more than three feet. None of the compartments directly under these three on the deck below--handling room, magazine, and oil-tanks--were injured at all. The tanks were furthest aft, and were pumped out after docking. Much of the damage at present (Oct. 20) apparent is due to the seas.

    Gunner's mate Ingram was cleaning the muzzle of the No. 4 gun, target practice just being over. A red blur seen by the Captain to stain the wreckage into which the gun disappeared doubtless marked his shattered remains. It is thought that on realizing the approach of the torpedo Ingram started aft to trop the depth charges, although there seems to be some doubt among the men cleaning the gun at the time as to how many of them saw or were aware of the torpedo.

    One piece of metal entered the washroom, and before coming to rest completely circled it without touching a man who was standing in the center of the compartment. Another stray piece tore a six-inch hole in one of the stacks.

    The destroyer within signal distance at the time of the attack was the U.S.S. PORTER. It is believed that she saw the explosion, at least of the two depth charges, and thinking that the Cassin was attacking a submarine, started off scouting before a signal could be sent and after the radio was out of commission.

    The Commanding Officer in two separate reports commends (1) W.J. Murphy CE (r), and (2) Lieutenants J.W. McClaren, J.A. Saunders, and CMM F.R. Fisher.6 In re (2), he says: After the explosion it was not known how seriously the ship was damaged. On inspecting the ship, Lieutenant J.W. McClaren, Lieutenant J.A. Saunders, and Frank R. Fisher, CMM, discovered smoke pouring out of the after handling-room, immediately forward of the after magazine. As the extent of damage to the under-water body was not known, it was imperative not to flood any compartments aft unnecessarily. Lieutenant McClaren, Lieutenant Saunders, and CMM Fisher went down into this compartment, opened and inspected the after magazine. Upon inspection it was found that the magazine was intact and free from smoke. It was discovered that the port inboard stern tube bearing was heated to such an extent as to burn the lignum vitae in the bushing, thus causing the smoke from the handling-room. It was found also that the entire port stern tube was heated up from this cause; and after finding it was safe to send men into the magazine, these two Officers and Fisher put men to work shifting all ammunition to starboard side of the magazine, which was free from heat and (thus) prevented the necessity of partly flooding magazine.....I consider this a cool and courageous piece of work, worthy of special commendation, as no one could foretell what might be found in a compartment filled with smoke, adjacent to a magazine, after an explosion such as the ship had experienced. (Note: The two officers and C.P.O. entered the handling-room with wet flannel about their noses, and the door was closed and dogged after them.

    In re (I) --abstract--: Murphy, relieving the operator on watch in the shack where much of the gear was broken, rigged an Edison type 4B battery, a small induction coil free from the motor dory, and a telegraph key with a practise buzzer. These were hooked up and connected to open circuit transmitter, and using a one-wire antenna constructed by him for receiving long wave continuous oscillation signals, Murphy sent the first message in code which was received and acknowledged by the PORTER....Ship carried no standard auxiliary set. In one hour after the motor generator was in commission, he had the main transmitter in operation and could exchange calls with Corkbeg. "Murphy was cool and efficient and cannot be too highly commended for his invaluable work in the above emergency."


Source Note: D, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ships Files: Cassin.

Footnote 1: Walter N. Vernou.

Footnote 2: Lts. (j.g.) John W. McClaren and James A. Saunders, respectively.

Footnote 3: Lt. (j.g.) Robert M. Parkinson and MidshipmanWilliam J. Murphy, respectively.

Footnote 4: Gunners' Mate First Class Osmond K. Ingram.

Footnote 5: Fireman First Class Frank W. Kruse.

Footnote 6: Chief Machinist's Mate Frank R. Fisher.

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