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Baltic Sea Encounter – part 1

I reported aboard the Daly on Sunday 15, May 1955. She was tied up the Destroyer Pier in Newport, RI., I was a 20 year old inexperienced TMSN (Torpedoman Seaman) who had completed 32 weeks of TMA school in Newport, after boot camp training in San Diego. I graduated 3rd in my class and chose the USS Daly as my duty station. I think fate played a big part in the selection I made. I knew little about the Daly except that she was a destroyer and her home port was Newport, RI, only a short walk from the torpedo school barracks.

I did not have a clue as to what a “Tin Can Sailor’s” life aboard a DD at sea would be like, especially in heavy sea conditions which appeared to be most of the time. I learned I was the only TM aboard who had completed the TMA school. I was constantly talking to my shipmates.   It took me awhile, learning the different departments, their duties and the various watch station assignments of the crew. I remember GM1 Mund. His nickname was Mr. Magoo the comic book character with poor eyesight. He was the Master at Arms and was always helpful getting me help when needed. My duties were well known due to the size of the Torpedo Tube and the 3800 lb Mark 15 Steam Fish and it’s location on the 01 level amidships.

To me, a half-breed (Tigua Indian/ Spanish mix) from the American southwest (El Paso, Texas), it was truly an experience I shall never forget. I am proud to answer to name of “Tin Can Sailor”, thanks to my sea duty time aboard the oldest Fletcher Class DD in the Sixth Fleet

( May 1955- June 1957). I remember every moment aboard the Daly as I  really have a special place in my heart for the old Tin Can.

  It was July 1, 1955, when Des Div 302 set out from Newport, RI, our homeport, headed for Portsmouth, England. Two of the destroyers in the division pulled into Portsmouth. The Daly and the Smalley did not make port there but proceeded westward to the Irish Sea. The trip up through the narrow and turbulent passage was my first experience aboard a destroyer in heavy sea conditions. I learned where the name “Tin Can” came from to describe a destroyer. 

Inverness , Scotland was our next port:  however, it was not a liberty port. We were there only long enough to pick up a special photographic team, before we steamed on to the Baltic Sea. 

The two ship formation got underway and crossed a rough North Sea, through the Skagerrak and Kattegat pass between the southern tip of Norway and the northern tip of Denmark. Then south around the tip of Sweden and then north again into the Baltic Sea. 

We soon became aware that the Russian KGB was keeping close tabs on our position. We had only been in the Baltic Sea a short time with the Daly as the lead ship and the Smalley close behind when a Russian 4 engine bomber made a pass directly over both the Daly and Smalley.

I had just come topside, walking forward on the starboard side about midships, when I heard the drone of the plane. I was on my way to the bridge to stand the 1600 – 2000 helm-watch.  I looked up as the large multi-engine bomber flew directly overhead. It was only 200 to 300 feet above me. I could clearly identify the large red star on the wing and briefly could make out the bombardier and co-pilot. They were that close to the ship. The aircraft made two more low passes then climbed to several thousand feet and continued to circle high above us.

 I relieved the helm-watch and was on duty for some time when CIC reported to the bridge that they had two surface contacts. The bridge lookouts also reported visual sightings of the contacts. It was determined they were two motor patrol boats (MPB’s).  Everyone on the bridge was very interested in the approaching MPB’s, and I suddenly realized I was alone in the wheel house. Everyone was on the starboard side of the open bridge peering at the approaching vessels. I don’t know what I was thinking. I saw that the MPB’s were going to pass over 100 yards off our starboard side. I thought about the photography team on board, then slowly proceeded to move the helm ever so slightly to starboard. Everyone’s interest was on the approaching MPB’s and did not notice the slight change in the wake of the ship as we turned. By the time the Russian boats passed our beam we were less than a hundred yards away and the photographic team was getting some great close-up photos. As they passed, I slowly moved the wheel back on our original course as the rest of the pilot house crew came back inside. To my relief, no one had noticed the slight turn I had provided.

The bomber had disappeared as the boats arrived, the MPB’s turned around about 500 yards off our starboard quarter and followed us until nightfall.

The next morning, as I came topside on my way to breakfast, I looked for the MPB’s, but they were nowhere in sight. However, a heavy Russian Cruiser was now about 1000 yards off our starboard quarter. Perhaps they just happened to be on the same course as our ship. The Captain was obviously very curious about their position as he made several unnecessary course changes to check their reaction. As the captain probably expected, the Russian ship matched every change. The skipper even gave the order to “Stop all Engines”. The Russians did so as well as we drifted dead in the water for about 45 minutes in a calm sea.

The next morning the cruiser was gone, but Sonar reported an underwater contact to starboard.  Evidently a Russian sub had now replaced the cruiser. The sub dogged us until we entered the Gulf of Finland, it then disappeared from the Sonar Screen.

All hands who were aware of the encounter with the Russians were relieved when it was over. The date was 31 July 1955. As far as I know the USS Daly and our sister ship USS Smalley were the first American Naval Ships to venture into Russian dominated waters in that part of the world, during the time of the “Cold War”.


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