On Board the Gherardi

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Lester’s life changed quickly from study and preparation in Detroit to assignment on a battleship in World War II. His ship, the USS Gherardi, was a Gleaves Class destroyer. It served through WWII and the Korean War, later being pulled from service. Its story ended in June 1973 when it was sunk off Puerto Rico as a target ship. Since the Gherardi no longer exists, I will illustrate many of Lester’s upcoming letters with photos from the USS North Carolina, now a museum in the harbor at Wilmington, North Carolina. Though the North Carolina was a different class ship, one can imagine Lester roaming its decks like he did the Gherardi.

Thursday morn

Aug 20 – 1942

Dear Folks.

I have a few minutes before going to work so I’ll write a few lines.  I’m working in the sail locker now so I won’t have to do any mess cooking.  The sail locker has charge of all hammocks, seabags & ropes.

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I eat chow at six, ten-thirty & three-thirty.  Pretty early isn’t it?  I like it pretty well here now.  By the way, I think that I misspelled the name of my ship.  It is spelled “Gherardi”.  It will be quite a long time before she will be ready to leave.  It is all steam so I won’t have a chance to use my Diesel knowledge.  Maybe I can get transferred later to a Diesel.  I’m studying on steam every night.

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Its time for me to go so I  must close.

Love to all

Lester

 

 

The Gherardi, second from left, waits in harbor with other ships in its class. 1942
The Gherardi, second from left, waits in harbor with other ships in its class. 1942

In a document stored with Lester’s letters is a page of specs on the USS Gherardi. There is no indication who might have written this description, but it was obviously someone very familiar with the ship. The Gherardi was 348′ 3 5/8″ long, with a width of 36′ 1″. The tonnage, fully loaded, would approximate 2600 tons with an expected mean draft of 13’8″.

Additionally:

“The ship will be driven by twin screws, turbine driven. The rudder is of the balanced type on a streamline form, carried entirely on the rudder stock. There are two bower anchors, one port and one starboard–each weighing nearly 3000 pounds and each bent to 109 fathoms of 1 1/8” steel die locked chain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On each side is carried one 26′ Diesel powered motor whaleboat with a capacity of 24 men each. There are also 8 balsa wood floats, capacity 25 men each.

A Whaleboat
A Whaleboat

“There are two firerooms (boiler rooms) and two enginerooms divided from forward aft into fireroom, engineroom, fireroom, and engineroom in that order. The forward engineroom drives the starboard shaft and propellor, and the after engineroom drives the port shaft and propellor. Each fireroom has two high pressure boilers, numbered in order, 1 and 2 forward, 3 and 4 aft. If it is desired, boilers 1 and 2 may be used to drive the after boilers and similarly, boilers 3 and 4 can be used to drive the forward engine. Under wartime conditions we use both engines with one forward and one after boiler.

“The tank capacities are: Fuel oil and reserve–129,373 gallons; fresh water and reserve feed–25,442 gallons; Diesel oil (can be also used to mix with fuel oil for boilers)–11,336 gallons.

 “Contrary to many rumors, the Gherardi will not exceed a maximum speed of forty knots by much. However, that is very fast for a surface ship of this size and type.

“The main battery of the Gherardi will consist of 4, 5″ 38 caliber guns in mounts, two forward and two aft. These guns can be elevated to 85 degrees, almost straight up, for fire at planes and are the main defense against high level bombing attacks as well as surface targets. The maximum effective range of the 5” 38s is about 15,000 yards on the surface and with their director and computor are the last word in naval gunnery.

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“The anti-aircraft battery is also the latest type and consists of four 20 MM Oerlikon anti-aircraft machine guns and two twin mount 40 MM anti-aircraft machine guns. The 20s are located, one on each side of the superstructure deck and one on each side of the admidships deck house. These 20MM guns shoot a maximum of 450 half-pound high explosive shells per minute each, and are very effective against dive bombers and low-level attacks. The 40 MM anti-aircraft machine guns, located on the top of the after deck house, shoot a larger projectile and have a longer range. They fire at a maximum rate of 80 rounds per barrel per minute.

“One quintuple tube torpedo mount is located on the centerline admidships between the stacks and can be trained for attacks on either side of the ship. The latest type 21”, 21 ft. torpedo is fired from this mount on the Gherardi.

“On the fan tail are two depth charge racks holding eight 600 lb. depth charges for rolling off the stern. On each side of the after part of the ship are three “K” guns for projecting the 300 ob. depth charges to each side.

“Also on the fan tail is located a smoke screen generator, for laying down a screen. This device can be rolled off the stern by pulling a lever in case the dangerous chemicals contained are let loose by accident.

“The Gherardi, as a typical destroyer, will carry no protective armor plate that will stop any projectile larger than a .50 caliber bullet. However, a very extensive damage control system and water tight integrity have proven to be effective on similar ships so that they have been able to sustain direct hits from torpedoes and remain afloat. The well-designed sprinkling and flooding system, if used correctly, should prevent any loss by fire.”

 

The Gherardi under construction in the Philadelphia harbor, 1942. Photo credit LIFE.
The Gherardi under construction in the Philadelphia harbor, 1942. Photo credit LIFE.

 

The Navy Yard in Philadelphia

Philadelphia, Pa

Aug 17  11:30 AM   1942

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Dear Folks.

Well, here I am in Philadelphia, safe and sound.  We had a nice trip back though the Pullman cars we had were terribly dirty.  We had a steamer the first part of the trip and the soot and cinders were terrible.  We were just black all over and couldn’t keep clean.  Somewhere in Pennsylvania they switched to an electric engine and we had a clean ride the rest of the way.  I’ll tell you right now that I don’t know how long I will be here, maybe a week and perhaps two months.  I will go on a destroyer, the Gherardi.  Some of the fellows say that she is still under construction and hasn’t been commissioned yet.  That may be right and maybe it isn’t. I don’t know yet.  One of my buddies is to be on the same ship and I met another boy who is to be aboard with us. He is a very nice fellow.

One of Lester's shipmates.
One of Lester’s shipmates.

 

I’ll let you know as soon as I learn anything definite.  There were six of us Diesel boys in this draft and the other four are leaving right away.  If they put me on KP duty, I’ll be wishing they would ship me out.

We left the Lakes about seven o’clock Thursday evening and got here at five Friday evening.  We didn’t get out of Chicago until dark so I didn’t see any of the country between there and eastern Ohio.  Ate breakfast just west of Alliance, Ohio.  The country around there is very poor and the farm buildings are in bad shape.  I didn’t have a map so don’t know just how we went but I think that Pennsylvania joins Ohio.  Anyway, all the country west of Pittsburg is very poor. You don’t see any very good farms until you reach Harrisburg.  Of course it would be good with a name like that!

I didn’t like Pittsburg very well either, too smoky and dirty because of so many factories.  We saw tugs pushing some barges up and down the river.  We also saw some ships being built along the river.  From Harrisburg on east there was considerable farming, mostly corn with quite a bit of tobacco.  We saw them cutting tobacco in one field.  They were using one mule to pull the box-like cart on which they hung the leaves.  It seemed that all the farms were small with very few fences and not much livestock.  The soil was red but most of the crops were pretty good.  I liked the country east of Harrisburg.

I haven’t seen Philadelphia except as we came thru it last evening but I liked it very well.  Nearly all of it is quite old.  Most of the boys have gone out on liberty to see the town but I wanted to get some letters written. This is the first chance I have had.  Maybe I’ll go out tomorrow.  We can go out any time we rate liberty as we have liberty cards and don’t have to check in and out as we have been doing.  If we don’t rate liberty, we have to muster three times each day so they can put us on work parties.  Today after dinner they sent us to work.  There was a little trash in a pile on the deck so I swept it into a dust pan and emptied it. That was all I did on my work party.

We have been plenty busy though.  We had cards that had to be signed by about a dozen different people before we could go on liberty tonight.  We had a gas drill with tear gas.  We put on our masks, went into the gas chamber, opened the mask a little to sniff the gas then took the mask off and stumbled outside.  Then we all had a good cry.  That stuff isn’t dangerous but it sure does burn for awhile and makes you cry like everything.  We had to scrub our hammocks and turn them in as we sleep in bunks here.  There was a lot of other stuff such as being assigned to our ships, etc.

I’m up in the attic of the main building, on the fourth deck.  We don’t have any tables to use for writing so I’m lying in my bunk to write.  It is sure hot up here but maybe it will cool off enough I can sleep.  There are a couple of fans in the next room but they don’t do much good in here.  We have met some of the boys who were with us three or four months ago.  Some of them have been to sea and are back here.

We have lockers here to keep our clothes in instead of our sea bags. They are sure lots nicer as we won’t always have to be digging clear to the bottom of a bag every time we want something.  We have to scrub our clothes on tables and benches outside and have only cold water for it which makes it rather bad.  I scrubbed my clothes this evening so I won’t have anything to do tomorrow.

I’m going to write to Josephine but it is going to be just the same as this so don’t go comparing notes on me.  My address is at the top of the first page.  There isn’t any barracks or anything as we go to the post office for our mail.

Love to all

Lester