By war correspondent James F. Lowery, at sea with Destroyer Squadron 23 on board USS Converse somewhere in the South Pacific.
FEB. 23 [1944] (UNITED PRESS) — Probing within 400 miles of Truk on Jap shipping lanes heretofore unharassed by American surface craft, this force within the last 24 hours has sunk an enemy destroyer, two cargo ships, four barges besides bombarding Duke of York Island and Kavieng, Japan’s last formidable fortress in the South Pacific. That is not all. We also rescued 73 survivors of one of the Jap ships and four members of the crew of an American bomber, which crash landed in the entrance to St. George’s Channel last night.

But these weary “Little Beavers” and their dogtired crews are heading back to base now. Enemy shells and bombs have been close, but not close enough to cause any damage or a single casualty. Our guns have fired over 6000 shells and crews have spent 40 consecutive hours at battle stations, but not a single shell or minute has been spent in vain.

The first 15 hours in these waters, believed suicidal for US ships to enter a few weeks ago, passed without incident, but so much has happened in the last 24 hours that I would believe it impossible if I hadn’t been along.

The action began a few minutes after 10am, Washington’s birthday, almost on the equator north of New Ireland. A lookout spotted an enemy merchantman on the horizon. It took us seven minutes to sink the 4000-ton cargo-transport ship, but an hour to rescue the survivors.

Capt. Arleigh A. “31-Knot” Burke, Boulder, Colo., squadron commander, fast becoming a legendary figure in the South Pacific for the destruction of Jap property, refused to leave the scene until the “last man was picked up that wanted to come aboard.” There were remarks the “Japs wouldn’t do that for us,” as the survivors were lifted from the water. The process was dangerous, as well.

Comdr. Robert W. Cavanaugh, commodore of the division I am with, explained, “We were like sitting ducks in a mill pond stopping dead in the water with the possibility of enemy subs being around and being so close to enemy airfields on New Ireland.”
   The rescue job was completed without event, but when we resumed our search for additional shipping, all were relieved. It was the 12th ship these battering destroyers have sunk since Nov. 1, 1943.

It was almost pathetic to watch the force send salvo after salvo of five-inch shells into the lone, unescorted ship apparently headed for Truk with evacuees from Kavieng. The vessel fired back feebly, but in seven short minutes heeled over on its side and sank.

An estimated 100 men, many seriously wounded, were left swimming in the water. Approximately 300 others are believed to have gone down with the ship.

The survivors were discovered to be valuable naval aviation personnel, the first to leave when the future of a Jap stronghold appears hopeless. Four of them slashed their throats while in the water, but others came aboard willingly. They waved their arms and yelled frantically, in fact, so they would not be missed.

However, after he had taken several aboard, Burke warned his skippers: “Keep a close eye on them—mine look as if they are ready to mutiny.”

None did. A group on one of the ships later offered to handle ammunition during the shelling of a Jap craft, apparently in an effort to show their appreciation, but were denied the privilege for fear there was a method in their madness. Despite immediate medical attention, five of the wounded died—one, an officer, voluntarily by jumping over the side. His four comrades were given full funerals according to navy traditions.

The hunt for additional shipping continued the rest of the afternoon but without luck. Our unpredictable squadron commander, noted for his daring, decided on a plan to force some into the open.

The plan was the same hunters of a different type might use to flush quail. We would bombard Kavieng intent on catching any ships leaving the harbor in an attempt to escape our guns. The plan worked so well the “Little Beavers” added their 13th and 14th ships, plus four barges, to their list of victims.

The 13th ship proved to be an old type enemy destroyer sighted off the northern tip of New Ireland. A running half-hour battle ended with the battered Jap warship on a coral reef off a small island with only its mast visible above the water.

The crew of the USS Converse will always believe their captain, Cmdr. John S. Colwell, Pawnee, Neb., is psychic. Noticing we were “too close to the beach,” the skipper ordered our speed increased to 30 knots. The ship lurched ahead just as a shell landed off the stern in the middle of our wake.

Seconds later, he ordered a sharp turn. The next shell landed where our bow would have been had we not turned. By now it was apparent to everybody that the shore batteries were heavier, twice as accurate as those experienced during the initial visit Feb. 18.

As darkness settled, the force caught an estimated 7500-ton cargo ship and several large barges leaving Kavieng Harbor. The freighter exploded. There were a few survivors, but we were unable to pick them up because, as Burke explained, “We already had a full complement of Japanese.”

At least four of the barges and probably more were destroyed. Climaxing the night’s work, the squadron commander ordered the bombardment of the Jap airfield on Duke of York Island as we proceeded down past Rabaul through the narrow St. George’s Channel. We failed to receive any return fire from the shore. A rain squall prevented accurate observation of the damage done.

When we reached the last two of these frantic 24 hours, they began with bombs dropping off our port bow. We had just started the search for the navy bomber crew when a lone enemy fighter carrying what we believed were two 200-pound bombs dropped its cargo close enough to cause this ship to shake under the concussions.

When we found Lt.(jg) James M. Elens, Joliet, Ill., co-pilot; Aviation Machinists Mate 2/c George W. Dearing, Fort Worth, Tex., AMM2/c Frank E. Fisher, Ridway, Pa., and ARM2/c J. C. Cameron, McKennty, Tex., bobbing in the water in their rubber boat, there were never four happier men.

With that job completed, Cmdr. Colwell admitted that, “Not even the ‘Little Beavers’ had been on a mission with so many operations before.”

              James F. Lowery
              United Press

Editor’s note: War correspondent Lowery autographed the above dispatch for Capt. Colwell, who in turn sent us a copy for publication. We recall Lowery being aboard our ship and when his mission was completed he couldn’t get off the Converse fast enough. He saw all he wanted and more.