USS Albert T. Harris DE 447


Named for Lieutenant (jg) Albert Thomas Harris, b. 29 August 1915, Madison, GA; KIA 12 November 1942 aboard SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38), Naval Battle of Guadalcanal; posthumous Navy Cross

Type: WGT
Builder: FED
Keel laid 01/13/44
Launched 04/16/44
Commissioned 11/29/44
First CO: Lt Cdr Sidney King
Decommissioned 07/26/46; two battle stars
Recommissioned 04/27/51-09/21/68
Stricken 09/23/68
Target, sunk 04/09/69

Unit of CortDiv 77

From the research of Anne McCarthy,
with contributions by Pat Perrella and Pat Stephens, webmaster. March 2006

The Harris was manned by a outstanding crew, mostly New York reservists and some regular Navy. She was commanded by Cdr Herb Kadison, a gentleman and an excellent skipper. Captain Kadison's exec, was LtCdr Patafio who later reached flag rank. The Gunnery Officer, my boss, was Lt. E. Bellone, a fine officer with a great sense of humor. During that year I served in Harris as an FT (FT3) and ship's sea detail helmsman. My prior service, A-school and boot camp
notwithstanding was 3.5 years aboard the USS Randolph CVA15."

Fred Nyulassy

USS Albert T Harris DE447; Ash Wednesday Storm off Cape Hatteras, March 1962.

In five and a half years at sea I experienced many storms, but for sheer ferocity and mother nature at her most ill tempered, nothing came close to the Ash Wednesday Storm of March 1962. It came out of nowhere, struck with the strength of a Category 4 Hurricane and left behind broken ships, death and destruction from Cape Hatteras to Cape Cod. The closest I can compare it to is the “perfect storm” made famous by Sebastian Junger’s book and movie of the same name.

We were operating off Cape Hatteras on an ASW exercise. It was cold and the March wind was up, moaning through the ship’s rigging.. The sea and sky were the same shade of gun metal grey and if not for the whitecaps on the swell, indistinguishable from each other.. The swell offered no concern. The ship passed through it easily, rising and falling gracefully as a thoroughbred loping through a field of high grass.

The storm announced it’s arrival shortly after midnight with the subtlety of a train wreck. A massive wave that no one saw coming crashed hard into the starboard side. It hit with a deafening roar, punching the ship sideways so violently that it rolled hard over to port. Sleeping sailors were catapulted out of their bunks. Unsecured equipment, lockers, shoes, tools flew across the deck.

That was only the beginning. For the next four days the ship sustained a relentless beating by a sea so huge that the ship was dwarfed in the troughs. Those on bridge watch could only hold on and stare up helplessly as successive mountains of water rose up before them, then crash down on them in tons of icy sea water and spray.

I was on the bridge that first day and what came to mind over and over again were words from the Naval hymn: “ Eternal father grant to save, who’s arms doth bind the restless wave. Oh hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea.” I guess I was praying to myself and didn’t realize it.

The damage kept mounting over the four days leaving it to look like it barely survived a major sea battle. Flooding in the spaces below required pumps to operate at full capacity while sailors with scrub buckets baled out the forward compartments beneath mount 51.. The port and starboard 3” gun tubs were stove in and the depth charges were ripped out of their racks. The mast was cracked and a number of antennas ripped from their mountings. The bulkheads in the main passageway were buckled and had to be shored up with 4X4s. All of the living compartments below the main deck were ankle deep in water. Lockers were torn from bulkheads and bunks scattered on the flooded deck.

Our greatest fear during the storm was losing power. If that happened, we’d lose maneuverability and we’d certainly broach and capsize. The fate of the USS Spence, USS Hull and USS Monaghan, three destroyers that capsized in a typhoon during WW2, was never far from our minds. In fact, those were 2100 ton destroyers, much larger than our 1400 ton DE. If we lost our engines, we didn’t stand a chance..

Most of my time was spent on bridge on the helm steering no ordered course other than to keep the bow into the sea. The problem was, it was hard to tell from which direction the sea was coming at us. White capped walls of water crashed down on us from every quarter pounding and rolling the ship like a cork in a bathtub. At times the inclinometer showed 35 to 40 degree rolls, sometimes higher if the ship slipped sideways down a wave into a trough.. No one was recording inclinometer readings, although the instrument had everyone's attention. The unspoken question in all our minds was how much of a roll the ship could take before she couldn’t right herself.

Each wave that hit us was a giant hammer blow, causing the ship to shudder from stem to stern. After awhile, the beating became almost routine, something we took in stride as a normal rhythm of the storm. Our main worry remained damage control and having enough fuel and ballast to keep underway and into the sea. During this time we started picking up SOS calls from other ships in the area that were in trouble but couldn't help due to our own precarious situation.

Riding out that storm was not a roller coaster ride as some seaman often describe about such experiences. That would have been too tame. Mother Nature was having her way with us and all we could do was hang on and hope for the best. We rose high on one wave, teetered at the top, screws thrashing in the air, then plunged down the back side into a trough, diving deep, the bridge watch praying that the bow would come up again. Thankfully,, like a broaching whale, she’d rise up in a spray of white water and the ship would start clawing her way up the next mountain of water.

Every four hours I was relieved on the helm to go below and for a sandwich. Hot food on destroyer escorts in a storm is not an option. We lived on bologna ("horse cock") sandwiches and cool aid in coffee cups. With one arm wrapped around a stanchion for support we gulped down our soggy sandwiches and cool aid before returning to the bridge, or join a work party to repair damage.

One of the work parties I was on was made up of volunteers tasked to round up a the 300 pound depth charges that were rolling around the fantail after having been torn loose from their racks. Although unarmed, they careened about unchecked colliding into everything in their path causing substantial damage. Because the waves continued to crash down on us from all sides it was difficult to see, or even breath at times, as we worked to locate each depth charge and guide it over the side with the roll of the ship. We worked in two man teams and somehow managed to catch all of them and get them over the side. Miraculously, no one was lost or hurt in the process.

On the fifth day the weather cleared and the sea calmed. We limped back to Norfolk Va. to a welcoming committee of anxious families, my own included, and the Media. Somewhere in the local newspaper archives is a front page photo of myself and two other sailors standing in the crushed gun tub of the USS Albert T Harris DE-447 with the story of our ordeal underneath. From Norfolk, we were towed across the James river to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard where we spent the next three months repairing storm damage.

Fred Nyulassy
November 2007

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