Men of Poseidon: Life at Sea Aboard the USS Rall
by Richard W. Graves
Willow Valley Press, 2000, 204 pages
USS Rall (DE-304) gunners shot down three attacking kamikaze
aircraft on April 12, 1945, but they could not stop another plane carrying a
500-pound bomb from hitting the destroyer escort. The crash and subsequent bomb
blast killed 21 men and wounded 38 others. Richard W. Graves, who served as an
officer aboard Rall from her commissioning in April 1944 until her
arrival in Charleston in September 1945 for decommissioning, authored this ship
history filled with many fascinating personal anecdotes.
The book's 16 chapters basically tell Rall's history in chronological
order, but the first three chapters cover Graves' life and Navy training prior
to assignment to Rall, under construction at Mare Island just northwest
of San Francisco. Also, several chapters (9 to 11) focus more on life at sea and
crew stories rather than a strict chronological account of the ship's movements.
The end of the book contains 13 pages of the Battle Damage Report of the
kamikaze attack on April 12, 1945. When Graves went to Damage Control School
upon return to the U.S., the head instructor commented that this report by
Rall's Damage Control Officer "was one of the best that he had ever read."
The report provides many details on the attack and its aftermath, including
objective analysis and recommendations related to damage control measures.
The many detailed personal stories told by the author set this book apart
from most other WWII ship histories. Some are humorous, such as the missing
strawberries (won by the Rall's captain in a poker game with an oiler
captain) that turned up in a super strong alcoholic beverage several weeks
later. Other stories are serious, such as the crewman who died in fumigation of
the ship when he had hidden away on top of some lockers after partying too much
the night before.
Graves writes in short paragraphs and non-technical language, so readers will
not get lost in Navy jargon. After first drafting the story about the kamikaze
attack on April 12, 1945, he talked with surviving Rall crewmates who
filled in some fuzzy details. His own memories, crewmate stories, the Ship's
Log, and the Battle Damage Report served as primary sources for this history,
but he gets a few facts wrong. The first mass kamikaze attack occurred on April
6, 1945, not April 8 (p. 134). The destroyer USS Laffey is now a museum
ship in Charleston, South Carolina, not the Naval Museum in Virginia (p. 136)
where the battleship Wisconsin is located. The book incorrectly states
the aircraft carrier Franklin survived an air attack by kamikazes (p.
158), but the carrier actually was hit by two bombs in a conventional air
Rall's first battle action took place in the early morning of November
20, 1944, in Ulithi Lagoon. Graves reports, "The facts are as follows: an
unknown number of submarines had crashed through the harbor entry net and one
had torpedoed an oiler in the anchorage" (p. 70). In actuality, two submarines
launched a total of five kaiten manned torpedoes toward the American fleet
anchored at Ulithi. Rall dropped depth charges when there was a report of a
swirl in the water, and these explosions destroyed one of the kaiten human
evidenced by debris with Japanese writing recovered by a light cruiser. The book
refers to midget submarines that made the attack on Ulithi, even though it has
long been known that kaiten carried out this attack.
Japan's second mass kamikaze attack during the Battle of Okinawa took place
on April 12, 1945. At 1445, a group of seven planes detached from the larger
group and headed toward Rall, the battleship Tennessee, and an
unnamed destroyer. The first kamikaze plane skipped once on the sea and crashed
into Rall's starboard side at the main deck, and its bomb exploded as it
passed through to the other side of the ship. Rall's gunners shot down
three other kamikaze aircraft, while Tennessee's guns brought down one
more. Another plane crashed into the destroyer. The final plane strafed Rall
and flew off. The entire battle took less than a minute. The crew was awarded a
Navy Unit Commendation for "the courage, perseverance, and indomitable fighting
spirit of her officers and men in saving their ship while under concentrated air
Normally a ship history loses steam after the ship gets knocked out of the
war, but Graves has plenty of absorbing stories once the crew returns to the
U.S. For instance, he gets a short assignment as Ships' Service Officer at
Charleston Navy Yard but finds clues of all sorts of corruption before he gets
discharged from the Navy.
Ship's emblem with Poseidon. Trident in right hand has three
kamikaze aircraft shot down by Rall's gunners on April 12, 1945.
Left hand holds a submarine, which represents the kaiten
destroyed by Rall's depth charges on November 20, 1944.