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The personal experience and account of
Charles G. Heinl
1944 - 45 - & 46

(Air Dept)

On January 4th, 1944, only 4 days before my 18th birthday, I took my oath into the U S Navy.

On January 13, I reported for boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station (Company # 107, 12th Regiment, 13th Battalion) along with a group from Ohio, Georgia and Tennessee. Many of these men were only seventeen years old. I was interested in something in the electronics field, but at this time the fields were very limited and most of the rates were frozen.

I completed boot training on March 9, and then I went home on boot leave and reported back to Great Lakes on March 18. At this time there was a large group of men placed on a troop train and headed for California, arriving there on March 22, at Camp Shoemaker.

After about two weeks of doing nothing, we went on another train to the US Naval Base at San Diego, California. At that time we were assigned to the receiving center at Balboa Park. After several weeks most of this group was assigned to the Jeep Carriers, and I was assigned to the USS Gambier Bay CVE-73. While aboard ship, I was assigned to the V- I division as an Airedale on the flight deck.

On May 1, we pulled out of San Diego for overseas duty. We arrived at Pearl Harbor on May 9 and anchored right next to where the Arizona had been sunk. You could see the oil coming up to the surface. I only had one liberty at Honolulu. It was not a very good one as they had an air raid drill and it took me away from my leisure.

On June 1st, we departed Hawaii for the Marianas Islands. I didn't know this until after the ship departed. We were bound for Saipan with a stopover in the Marshall's. (D-Day was scheduled for the 15th of June.) We were part of task force 58, and had countless General Quarters and were involved in the turkey shoot.

About August 2 we went to Eniwetok in the Marshall's for more supplies and returned to the Marianas Islands. This time it was back to Guam and Tinian.

Next, we went to Espiritos Santos in the New Hebrides crossing the international date line and equator simultaneously.

On August 13, 1944, we were initiated into the Royal Order of the Shellbacks and toured some of the Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal, Tulagi & Florida Islands and a beer party.

Now it was back to the war. We were now part of Task Unit 32 and assisted in striking the Palaus, Yap and Ulithi.

The date was now September 20. We then went to Hollandia New Guinea for more supplies crossing the equator for the second time and then to Manus for an assembly of one of the largest fleets ever assembled. This area had a plateau of about ten to twelve miles long and about six to eight miles wide. We were waiting for the departure for the invasion of the Philippines.

We departed Manus, on about October 7, bound for somewhere in the Philippines. We did not know that we were going to strike Leyte.

On October 23 there had been typhoon warnings. And On October 24, as I did many nights, I would take a blanket from my bunk and sack out on the fantail of the ship as our sleeping quarters were just too warm. At about midnight there was a loud thud. I was told the next day the tossing of the ship had let one of our tractors drop down to the elevator on the hanger deck.

At Leyte, the US S Gambier Bay, was a part of Taffy 3 (Task Group 77.4.3) which was one of the 13 ships 6 CVE'S, 4 DE's and 3 DD's. Two other groups,77.4.2 and 77.4.1 ,were almost identical to this. Taffy I and III were 60 miles apart while 77.4.2 was in the middle.


SECURED 0638 - A call to General Quarters was not unusual occupancy for those on the Gambier Bay as this was a daily duty.

SECOND GENERAL QUARTERS 0647 - As the Gambier Bay cruised on station the morning of Wednesday October 25, 1944, the pilot of one of the scout planes flying ahead of her radioed a startling message, "ENEMY SURFACE OF FOUR BATTLESHIPS, SEVEN CRUISERS, AND ELEVEN DESTROYERS SIGHTED TWENTY MILES NORTHWEST OF YOUR TASK GROUP AND CLOSING IN ON YOU AT THIRTY KNOTS." It was a crack Japanese fleet steaming south at top speed to attack the Allied landing force at Leyte.

Leading that enemy fleet was the world's largest battleship ever built for that time, the monstrous Yamato. She was big! Her main battery was nine 18.1 inch guns, thirteen percent bigger than any US Navy gun. Each gun delivered a shell weighing 3,200 pounds at a range of over seventeen miles. The Yamato's speed was more than 30 knots. Nearly 10 knots faster than the tiny Gambier Bay. The Japanese and the Americans sighted each other's ships at almost the same moment.

At 0659 the mighty Yamato open fired. It was the first and last time she ever fired her giant guns in combat.

At 0807, the final hour of the Gambier Bay arrived. The IJN (Japanese) after firing for one hour and eleven minutes finally scored their first hit, as the ships action reports states. Whenever they would fire at us we would turn toward the salvos and the Japanese would try to correct their error and miss again. While doing this, all the US ships were laying down a smoke screen.

At 0810, after firing at the Gambier Bay for one hour and eleven minutes, the Yamato finally scored her first hits on the aft end of the flight deck and hanger deck on the starboard side. Fires broke out. Damage control did what they could. The shelling increased and casualties mounted rapidly. A large Japanese cruiser (Chikuma) closed to point-blank, a mere 2,000 yards away, and pumped 8-inch shells into the Gambier Bay's thin hull.

At 0820, her battle report notes, "A hit in the forward (port) engine room below the water line." The crew struggled against the seas, but within five minutes the engine room was flooded up to its burners and they had to be secured. Speed dropped to deadly seven knots. Damage mounted.

At 0837, the forward main steering control was lost as the carriers island, the tower of central control, took hit after hit. At this time we had two fatalities on our catwalk, Henry Stanley Klotkowski of Detroit, Michigan and Junior Williams from West Virginia. Junior's father had lost two sons in the European War and he was going to be sent home by request of the American Red Cross after this operation.

0840 Radar Dead.

0845 Gambier Bay Dead in the Water. One of the aircrewman that left the ship in a TBM talked to his pilot and said they are shooting at us in Technicolor, (Coral, Lemon & Lime) which produced dye color splashes. They used this method since they did not have radar control weapons at this time.

0850 'Order to Abandon Ship' was given. As we had lost our power, some never heard it. I walked from Port side uphill ( The ship was listing to the Starboard side.) so that I could leave the ship from the high side. Joe Kimball from Kentucky and I cut down a life raft on the Starboard side right by the forward stack which was still smoking from the smoke screen. We exited the ship going down the rope.

When I got to the water, I shed my battle helmet and my flight deck shoes. Some of those who jumped off from a high position with their helmet on, could have killed themselves. The survivors swam away from the ship. Away from the concussions caused by explosions within the hull as it settled into the sea. The raft we cut free was full and gone so I went with the next group as they went by. I did not have a life jacket for the first day.

As we watched back we saw the ship roll over on its hull and begin to sink bow first exposing the screws. It then sank. Time was now 0907 according to the records. (The ship was sunk close to the Philippine trench, one of the deepest parts of the Pacific Ocean. It's approximately 35,000 feet deep.)

The next two days I would spend with Commander Buzz (Fred) Borries the Air Officer, Chaplain Verner Carlsen, Chief Joseph Russell, Lt. Wm. McClendon LSO officer, Virgil Fitch, Ronnie Odum, and Loren Flood, only to name a few that I can remember. Those were the people that I spent two days and two nights with while I adrift at sea in shark infested waters. Earl Fetkenhier was using a one man rubber liferaft. He had a bad injury to his foot. He was also a boot camp buddy of mine from the V- 1 division. Someone placed him in this lifecraft as we didn't want any unwelcome guests (Sharks drawn by blood). Daniel Martindale hallucinated and was going to take Earl Fetkenhier to a hospital. While adrift, one of the Japanese ships went by us taking movies, I thought they were going to strafe us.

Chaplain Verner Carlsen at some time early after abandon ship prayed the Lord's prayer in unison.

Buzz (Fred) Borries took charge of our rations distributing the small pieces of spam, and malted milk tablets. The water was contaminated with salt water when the raft hit the water.

The swells were about six to eight feet, you would think the waves would go right over the top of you, because you are very buoyant in salt water. We would take turns hanging on to the life raft. I took my knife and cut off about six or eight inches of my trousers and slipped it on my forehead as it was very hot. The Philippines is at a latitude about the same as Central America., hot during the day and cold during the night.

The men began seeing sharks and I thought I saw them too. The sharks did get somebody right next to me and I never did get his name, this can yet be verified by Chaplain Verner Carlsen. As time went by the sharks became a real menace. You could see the dorsal fins in the water.

The first night, we saw a ship and we were real quiet as we thought that it was an enemy ship (Japanese).

Six hours, forty-one minutes after the Gambier Bay had been left in a sinking condition the first order was issued to conduct a search and rescue mission. The destroyer escorts were ordered to the scene. The spot they were directed to 11- 1 5 north 126-30 east. The second incorrect position. The delay of nearly seven hours between the time the crew abandoned ship and the time of the first order to send rescue ships is attributed by Navy Historian Morrison and other writers to three problems.

PBY's were busy picking up downed pilots, Kamikaze attacks, and the ships were too busy defending themselves. If we would see a plane we would put dye markers in the water and at night we would fire very pistols.

After you are in the water for a while the water would taste cool and fresh, but some of the men died from the salt water.

On the second day, Harry L. Perry gave me a kapok as he had two life jackets. I fell asleep in this kapok.

The men were beginning to hallucinate, I thought I was on the ships bridge a couple of times. Dan Martindale was going to take Earl Fetkenhier to a hospital for medical attention. Some of the men were going to one of the islands and some just disappeared. Staying awake at this point was very difficult. I don't know how long I slept in the water. It could have been between 1 and 3 hours.

October 27, 1944, after about 45 hours, we were finally picked up by PC 623. The men of the rescue group said that they couldn't get us out of the water fast enough as there were a lot of sharks in the area. Some of the men with serious injuries floated for a day or so, then drifted off into death. Sharks found some men, attacked and killed them. Limited medical supplies on the rafts helped some survive for a while.

No one knows how many men and officers of the Gambier Bay died at their battle stations, or how many were lost awaiting rescue. The final count: 23 known dead, 99 missing 160 wounded. Of 849, 727 or 85% lived through what was probably the most unequal battle of two ships ever. The tiny thin hulled baby carrier shot down by the world's largest battleship.

I was given a bowl of tomato soup and a bunk on PC 623 and later that day we were under attack and with all the Ack Ack I never woke up. We were taken to Admiral Kinkaid's AGC ship a communication ship at San Pedro Bay inside Leyte Gulf, the USS Wasatch AGC 9.

The USS GAMBIER BAY (CVE-73), a small escort carrier of WWII, was sunk in a dramatic battle by a tremendously powerful Japanese force intent on attacking the under protected landing craft at Leyte Gulf, in the Philippines. Those who lived through that deadly hour joke about their tragedy today.

On the USS Wasatch (AGC9), an Amphibious Force Flagship, we were informed that the USS St Lo (CVE63) was hit by a Kamikaze around 11OO hours and sank. Sometime after this I was informed that two of the killed were from Coldwater, Ohio. They were F2/c William Bettinger, son of Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Bettinger and S2/c Paul A Buschur, son of Mr. and Mrs. Steven Buschur. Both were only 18 years old in April of that year. A Total 1,150 survivors were picked up from the largest Naval Battle ever fought.

Our group was placed on LST-617 bound for Hollandia, New Guinea and arrived there on November 10. We were placed on the SS Lurline for return to the United States via Brisbane, Australia.

Somewhere between October 28 and November 12, I had surgery under my left armpit and my chest for removal of saltwater sores on the Red Cross hospital ship Comfort. We were around Leyte or around New Guinea.

Passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on December 1, 1944 and arriving at San Francisco Pier 1, the Waves were playing "California Here I Come." I was given a thirty day survivors leave and spent Christmas at home. I later returned to Watsonville, California for duty with Carrier Aircraft Service Unit called CASU 64 and spent 9 months there.

On August 15 (VJ-Day) they asked the personnel who would like to be transferred. Although I liked Watsonville, California, I held up my hand, and I was then asked to report for a physical at the personnel office. They told me that I had no medical records. I said that they were lost on the Gambier Bay which would have been 10 months earlier.

Sunk in that battle were the following ships:

USS Gambier Bay CVE-73 Sunk by surface craft
USS St. Lo. CVE-63 Sunk by Kamikaze
USS Hoel DD-533 Sunk by Surface craft
USS Johnson DD-557 Sunk by Surface craft
USS Samuel B Roberts DE-413 Sunk by Surface craft

In the years to follow, I was active as a co-founder in organizing the USS Gambier Bay & VC 1O Association, Incorporated in the State of Minnesota in the late sixties or early seventies, and transferred to Ohio around 1986-87.

Some facts about the Gambier Bay:

THE KEEL WAS LAID 7 - 10 - 43
LAUNCHED 11 - 22 - 43
COMMISSIONED 12 - 28 - 43
SUNK 1O- 25 - 44

Gambier Bay VC10 Reunions:

St. Louis, Missouri - 25' Anniversary 1969 - (first reunion)
Denver, Colorado 1972
Annapolis, Maryland 1974
Palo Alto, California 1976
Minneapolis, Minnesota Mini Reunion 1977
Biloxi, Mississippi 1979
Iowa City, Iowa Mini Reunion 1980
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 1981
St. Louis, Missouri 1983
Nashville Tennessee 1985
Long Beach, California 1987
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 1989
Charleston, South Carolina- Taffy II Reunion 1990
Kissimmee, Florida 1991
Las Vegas, Nevada 1993
Virginia Beach, VA. 50th Anniversary 1994
Lisle, Illinois 1995
San Diego, California Monument Dedication 1996
San Antonio, Texas 1997
Newport, Rhode Island 1998
Florence, Kentucky 1999
Portland, Oregon 2000
Virginia Beach, VA . 2001





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