One WWII ship drill in particular must have given everyone aboard the attack transports pause, sailors, marines, and soldiers alike: Abandon Ship. Just try to imagine yourself—an 18 year old sailor, fresh out of boot camp and amphibious training—reading the following memo from your XO!
WHAT TO DO IN THE CASE OF ABANDON SHIP
USS Ormsby APA 49
The coming operation is going to be a tough one, and no doubt some ships are going to go down. It is well within the realm of possibility that this ship may be one of those to go down. With this in mind, the following hints are bought to your attention so that you may study them, think them over and profit by them if and when the occasion arises.
Bear one thing in mind, this ship will not be abandoned while there is the slightest chance in the world of keeping her afloat. We expect to fight the “Mighty O” just as long as the guns are above water, there is a man left to load a gun or a shell to shoot out of it. If we do find out that the ship cannot be saved, then we shall try to give all hands time to get over the side and clear of the ship.
“Life Raft Stations” will be given first followed by “Abandon Ship”, if and when that becomes necessary. WE WILL NOT USE THE WORDS ABANDON SHIP UNLESS WE MEAN IT.
All men whose life raft stations are at the rafts are to be sure that they know how to cut them adrift when so ordered. Carry a knife and see that you have something handy with which to slip the pelican hock. As many boats as possible will be launched and all others are to have their lashings cut adrift.
As there is a possibility that the loudspeakers will be out of commission, all bosn’s mates are to take up and pass any word that is given by competent authority.
If you have to go over the side, wear what you have on at the time, but try to be fully clothed. Clothes will protect your body from many things and if you have your life belt or jacket the additional weight means nothing.
Do not jump unless you have to. If time permits, go down a net, ladder or line. If gloves are handy, they will save you some skin if you have to slide down the line. Keep your shoes on until the last minute as they will protect your feet while on the nets or ladders or climbing down the side of a capsized ship. They will also protect your feet if you have to jump, especially if there is debris in the water.
Wear a knife and take it with you when you go. It can come in handy for many things, from cutting a line to opening a can of rations, not to speak of playing games with sharks.
Try and learn the names of your shipmates who aren’t swimmers and keep an eye on them. Be on the lookout for men who have neither life belts nor jackets and assist others to blow up their belts if they haven’t done so. Do not blow up your belt unless you are in the water. If you can swim, get over and put as much distance between the ship and you as possible, then blow up the belt.
If destroyers are dropping depth charges, blow up your belt and shift it to the small of your back, raising your mid section as clear from the water as possible and thereby lessening the shock to your spinal cord and nervous system. If there is debris floating around, grab a piece and raise your mid section clear of the water.
Do not go over the lee side, as the ship will drift down on you.
Don’t jump unless there is no other alternative. If you have to, keep your clothes on, cross your legs, protect your chin, hold your nose and jumped as far out as possible.
Before going over try and locate the nearest boat, raft or anything else liable to support your weight. Do not attempt to climb in at once, hold on to the raft until you recover your breath and then move carefully. If there is a large number of men, put the weakest or those without belts in the raft, all others hold on. By doing so you can handle many more men.
If the nets and ladders are crowded, grab yourself a fire hose, secure the inboard end and go down that. Do not slide unless you are wearing gloves, but go down hand over hand. Whether on a net or ladder or sliding down a line or hose, watch out for the man below you. If you are jumping be careful that you do not jump on anyone.
If you have to jump, get as close to the water as possible, but do not jump from the bridge or boat decks.
On an operation such as this the chances are that you will be picked up within a reasonable length of time. Follow the instructions of the ship’s officers of any ship which might pick you up. And don’t forget that even if this ship is sunk, her organization still continues. While you are subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the ship that picks you up you are still a member of this ship’s company and your regular officers and petty officers have the same status in relation to you as they had aboard the vessel when she was afloat.
Efficient lookouts and snappy gun crews can keep us from being sunk, but if that does occur don’t lose your heads. Other ships have gone down and their crews picked up. Do everything in your power to save the ship and when that fails do everything that you can to save yourself. But look out for the injured, the non-swimmers and the boys who lose their heads.
Know what to do, how to do it and when to do it. When the time comes, make a good job of it.