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A Story from the Deep - Engine Room
Bill Shure



    My name is Bill Shure and I served on the USS Rich, DE 695, as the Assistant Engineering Officer from the time of the ship's shakedown in November (I believe) of 1943 until its sinking off the Utah Beach of Normandy on the morning of June 8, 1944.

    My General Quarters station was in the after engine room and this was the condition that was in effect on June 8th at the time of the first explosion. The engine room force during General Quarters consisted of about five persons made up of Machinists and Electricians along with an Engineering Officer. The hatches are closed and the only outside contact would be made through sound-powered telephones and a direct line to the bridge through a head set worn by the Electrician Mate on the main engine control lever. Condition of the after boiler room was usually judged by the pressure shown on the steam gauge. This makes for a very much localized "what in the world is going on" story. We knew that the ship was heading somewhere in a hurry to give aid to a destroyer. We also were aware of having slowed down to a crawl and it was during this time when we experienced a very heavy underwater shock from an explosion that seemed to be very close to the starboard side of the ship somewhere in the vicinity of the engine or firerooms. Most of us were thrown to the gratings, the Iighting circuits were opened but, fortunately, the battery powered emergency lights allowed us to check for damage and help get the power back in service. The Rich was turbo-electric powered which meant that if it lost electrics the ship would be dead in the water. This first explosion, which was a near miss causing little if any structural damage, seemed to be felt more violently in the engine room than the following two hits that actually broke up the ship.

    Shortly after power was recovered a second explosion occurred that lifted the stern slightly feeling very much like the ship had received a hit in that area. Predictably the lights went out again but, with the help of the emergency lights, we found water leaking through a bulged-in section of the after bulkhead. It appeared that emergency pumps could take care of the leakage but before any action could be planned the ship was hit again up forward somewhere. The man on the engine control was unable to reach the bridge so I had a crewman to go topsides and find out what was happening. At the time we did not know whether the ship was being shelled or bombed or hit by mines. I can't remember who it was but it wasn't long before our messenger returned and reported that the ship's stern was blown off, the bow was blown up, the ship appeared to be sinking and the crew was being removed. Later, after seeing what had happened, I gave thanks for having experienced men with me because a more timid person might have not come back. There was nothing else to do but to order everyone out of the engine room. It was interesting that the man on the throttle was still trying to reach the bridge and it was necessary to personally tell him to drop the earphones and get the heck out of the engine room. Everyone was battered and bruised but, to my knowledge, none were seriously hurt.

    When I arrived on the main deck there seemed to be a relative quiet. The captain's boat was tied to the starboard side about amidships with two or three of the crew in it giving aid to a mate; the stern section was floating upright about one hundred yards away from the ship (having bunked in the stern section my immediate thought was to say goodbye to all my clothes, some of which I had never used); a couple of PT boats were standing off about twenty five yards away from the starboard side; and, on looking toward the bow, I could see the ho dies of two or three crew members sprawled against the lifelines in the vicinity of the 3-inch gun. I first called down through the open hatches of the other engine room and the two fire rooms and on hearing nothing assumed the men had been able to get out. From what I could see (which wasn't much) there was little structural damage and water leakage in the engine spaces with the possible exception of the forward fire room. I spent some time on the main deck and ii~ the forward crews' quarters searching for anyone who needed assistance but it appeared that all of the injured had been removed. On looking up toward the bridge I noticed Ensign Cunningham beckoning to me that help was needed up there. The bridge was a real disaster area and it was there that several injured were obviously in need of help in a tangle of mast and various pieces of bridge equipment. Most were suffering leg injuries which made it necessary to carry them across the clutter to enable dropping them into the water (the ship was beginning to sink and there was no time to conduct a formal rescue operation). I remember trying to get one or two down through the wheel house to a lower deck but that turned out to be futile. I do not know how many injured were left aboard after the ship turned over on its side. I can only hope that life jackets saved them all. As the ship went over I was able to literally step into the water from the bridge rail. Fortunately, being a fairly good swimmer, I was able to get far enough away to avoid any undertow as it went down.

    After being picked out of the water by a PT boat I was transferred to an LST, which was set up with temporary hospital equipment and lots of beds. In Plymouth, England, I stayed in a hospital for a few days for observation and therapy on a banged up knee. Then it was back to the States for a 30-day leave followed by a new assignment as Engineering Officer on the USS Yokes, APD 69, and headed for the Pacific.

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