This is a continuation of the Mid-Watch in Verse series. A Deck Log from a US Navy vessel chronicles exacting administrative detail regarding the status of the ship, it’s location, speed, etc. However, for a four hour period at the beginning of each year, the Officer of the Deck (OOD) is allowed to be creative by writing the Mid-Watch report (0000 – 0400) in verse if they choose to do so. This series highlights examples of this tradition and the officers who posted them. I focus on WWII era deck logs. For a more thorough history of the practice check out this article from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
The USS Murphy (DD-603) was a Benson class destroyer that was commissioned on 27 July 1942. One of the notable distinctions of the Murphy was a large shamrock that had been welded to her aft stack. The Murphy participated in some of the landmark battles in the European, African, MIddle Eastern Campaign (EAME) during WWII.
After her shakedown cruise, Murphy joined the ranks of ships and troops who participated in Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. While providing fire support off Port Blondin, Murphy was hit in her after engine room by a barrage of shore battery fire killing three and wounding 25 of her crew. The crew effected temporary repairs and was soon underway enroute to Boston for full repair.
For a while, Murphy escorted convoys to Panama and across the Atlantic to Casablanca. In July of 1943, she supported the landings of Patton’s U.S. Seventh Army and General Bernard L. Montgomery’s British Eighth Army in Sicily. The destroyer fought off many German bombers and dodged the bombs they dropped. At least one came within 100 yards of a direct hit on the ship. Murphy managed to down several aircraft in the skirmishes.
On 20 October 1943, Murphy was one of the escorts for Convoy UT-4, which included one troop transport, two tankers, two cargo ships, and 13 freighters carrying 46,455 troops to Europe. On the night of 21 October 1943, Lt. Thaddeus R. Beal was the Officer of the Deck (OOD) and was on the bridge with Lt. William R. Gordon, a signalman, a quartermaster, the helmsman, and two lookouts. Radar reported a strange blip, and Beal was ordered to try and divert what they thought might be a submarine away from the convoy. Murphy‘s commander, Leonard W. Bailey, entered the bridge and countermanded Beal’s order after receiving new orders from the commander of the USS Texas.
What the Murphy saw on radar was a tanker, the SS Bulkoil, which had lost one of its boilers and was heading back to New York for repair. For her part, she had on board a system for detecting torpedoes. Her officers were convinced that the Murphy was a torpedo from a German U-boat. What ensued in the blackness of the night was a collision in which the Bulkoil sliced off the bow of the Murphy just aft of the Murphy‘s bridge. Within minutes, the severed forward section capsized and sank, taking 35 officers and men to their deaths. Amazingly, Murphy‘s crew saved the aft section from sinking.
According to the account of Fredric E. Sheller, Yeo2c, USNR, when the Murphy was struck by the Bulkoil, sea water began pouring into the Combat Information Center (CIC) where he was stationed. He and several other crewmen climbed toward the deck of the sinking bow through a galley whose overhead was now a bulkhead due to capsizing. Sheller ended up sitting on the side of gun mount #2 while he took off his socks, shoes, and shirt. He jumped and grabbed a lifeline on the side of the bow and then spotted a light near the bow of the ship. It was the captain and several others standing near the port anchor. Sheller approached the group, and the skipper said, “Well, boys. Looks like we’re going to have to get out of here.” (from USS Murphy website).
They went into the water and were eventually picked up by the USS Glennon (DD-620) [Editor’s Note: Sadly, during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, the Glennon hit a mine and then was sunk by shore battery fire]. A small number of survivors (three total) was picked up by USS Jeffers (DD-621). The rescued survivors were transferred to USCGC Cartigan and USS Mentor (PYc-37). Approximately 100 Murphy crewmen remained on the damaged ship. Deck logs from the Glennon indicated that the those rescued included Captain Bailey, 12 officers (including the author of the deck log verse below, T. R. Beal), and 95 men. The actual Glennon deck logs, which include lists of the men rescued, can be seen at these links: Thursday, 21 October 1943 Log 1 and Log 2; Friday, 22 October 1943 Log 1 and Log 2. A Jeffers log with survivor names can be seen here.
Murphy was towed back to New York, stern-first, and was fitted with a new bow so that she could fight another day. Here are pictures of the Murphy after the collision. Compare with the photo at the end of this entry. Starboard side of Murphy after collision. Photo of fore section of Murphy post-collision.
In June of 1944, Murphy patrolled off the coast of France during the D-Day Invasion (specifically, she was posted off of Omaha Beach to screen the area from German subs and torpedo boats). She then went on to participate in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France at Provence, before sailing back to the US for overhaul.
In late 1944, Murphy joined a convoy in Norfolk, VA, to escort the USS Quincy (CL-71), carrying President Roosevelt to the Middle East for the Malta Conference with Prime Minister Churchill, and a subsequent meeting (referred to as the Yalta Conference) with both Churchill and Marshall Stalin. After these conferences, Roosevelt dispatched Murphy to pick up Saudi King Ibn Saud and bring him to Great Bitter Lake, Egypt, for a meeting. Murphy was the first US warship to enter the harbor at Jeddah after being the first American warship to transit the Suez Canal since WWI.
What awaited the crew of the Murphy must have been mesmerizing. The King’s advance party arrived to survey the guest accommodations. Finding the accommodations below the King’s standards, the Foreign Minister told the US emissary, Marine Colonel William Eddy, that the King could not possibly live in such quarters. Negotiations led to the pitching of royal tents on the deck of the Murphy. But, according to an article published at HistoryNet.com there were further complications:
The king customarily traveled with an entourage of 200, including wives, slaves, cooks, aides, a ceremonial coffee server and the royal astrologer. Eddy informed the minister that the ship couldn’t possibly accommodate so many guests, and they somehow managed to whittle the entourage down to a mere 42.
The next day, when the King arrived, he brought with him tents, carpets, the royal throne, and several dozen sheep. The latter were intended to be slaughtered and fed to the entire crew. The King was graciously thanked but assured that the rules required the crew to eat the chow provided on board. He was allowed to bring just enough sheep for his entourage. Several pictures show sheep “grazing” on the deck of the Murphy awaiting their fate. While sailing for two days to the rendezvous with the Quincy:
The sailors entertained their royal guest by firing cannons and machine guns and detonating depth charges. The king loved it. “First I am a warrior,” he said, “then I am a king.
The king also ate his first slice of apple pie a la mode, which he loved, and watched his first movie, a documentary about aircraft carriers. He enjoyed the film but told Eddy that he wouldn’t permit his subjects to watch movies because they would “distract them from their religious duties. (From HistoryNet article by Peter Carlson)
After dropping off her royal passengers, Murphy returned to the US and engaged in anti-submarine duty in the Atlantic until July 1945, when she headed to the Pacific. She arrived in September about the time Japan formally surrendered and remained in the Pacific on occupation duty until November, when she headed home to be placed in the Reserve Force. She was decommissioned 9 March 1946 and was struck from Navy rolls in 1970. She received 4 battle stars for her participation in WWII.
Usually, this is the end of my story about the ship on which a mid-watch poem is written. That is not the case for the Murphy. In 2002, diver Dan Crowell and his team, verified that a large piece of ship they had found 75 miles off the coast of New Jersey in 260 feet of water was the bow of the Murphy. The discovery of the Murphy‘s bow was a subject of a Military Channel documentary series Question for Sunken Warships. Here is a link to a NJ diving site with pictures and a link to a video that includes interviews with Murphy crewmen.
Below is the log posted by Lt.(jg) Thaddeus R. Beal, 1 January 1943, on the USS Murphy. The original log can be seen here.
Steaming with Task Group 39.
Through the Caribbean’s brine,
Under Op-Plan one-forty two,
Tomorrow Panama in view,
Murphy screening at Dog Four,
And with six destroyers more.
Transports eight in columns two,
Pixies many, Germans few.
Course is South plus twenty-five,
Zig Zag plan not yet alive,
High speed convoy knots fifteen,
Two knots more for A/S screen.
Jamaica left in clouds astern,
A straight run without a turn,
Moonrise due within the hour,
Squalls may make “Mint Jelly” sour.
Task group Boss is Coman, “Plug”,
Convoy call is “Waterbug”.
“Big Boy” runs the mad “Bull Pen”,
J.L. Holloway tells us when,
German subs have gone away,
Leaving flying fish to play.
Back at home near fireside glow,
Outside whirls of flaky snow,
They greet another wartorn year,
Shed for us a longing tear,
We perspiring push along,
Accordion squeezing out a song,
Shamrock on our after stack
May produce some extra “flak”
In her hammock sleeping sound,
Fedala Murphy bull dog hound,
One day more the Stranger’s Club,
The escort back some freighter tub.
Thus we part from ’42,
Sailing through the Sapphire blue,
Hoping that in ‘43
Broadway’s bright lights we may see.
T. R. Beal Lt.(jg). USNR
Thaddeus Reynolds Beal Jr. was born in NY on 22 March 1917 to parents Thaddeus Reynolds Beal Sr. and Alice Louise Dresel. Thaddeus Sr. was well-known as the president and general manager of the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, a company that continues to operate in 2020.
Thaddeus Jr. attended the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, and graduated in 1935. His entry in the yearbook indicated that he was active in a wide variety of school activities including several sports, drama club, and glee club.
After high school graduation, Beal attended and graduated from Yale College, then began the study of law at Harvard University before receiving a commission in the US Naval Reserve (A copy of his draft card can be seen here and here.) He spent 5 years in the USNR, eventually attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He was OOD on the fateful night when the USS Murphy collided with the SS Bulkoil, as described above. He also spent time as Operations Officer for Destroyer Squadron 61(DESRON 61) aboard the flagship USS DeHaven (DD-727).
During 1944, Beal’s engagement to Navy Officer Lt(jg). Katharine Putnam was announced in the New York Times. The two were married later that year.
After his service in the Navy, Beal was associated with the law firm of Herrick, Smith, Donald, Farley and Ketchum of Boston, MA, as associate and later as partner. He was president and chief executive officer, Harvard Trust Company of Cambridge, MA, and was active in business and community organizations in the greater Boston area as trustee, Cambridge Savings Bank and Boston Personal Property Trust, director of Middlesex Mutual Insurance Company, member of Cambridge Redevelopment Authority, and trustee of Radcliffe College (from obituary posted here.) One of Beal’s most visible positions was as Undersecretary of the Army during the Nixon Administration under Secretary Melvin R. Laird.
According to a New York Times obituary, Thaddeus R Beal died while riding his bicycle in Lyme, NH, on 2 May 1981 at the age of 64. He is buried in the Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA.
I was privileged to be able to provide the mid-watch verse written by Mr. Beal to his surviving children.