Their most distinctive feature, of course, is their strange, new angular, slightly pyramided, boxlike forward tower, topped by their unconventional, uncovered, wheel-less bridge. More like a large submarine conning tower than anything else, the latter is an innovation of WWII attributable to the airplane. About the only other particularly noticeable wartime construction feature is the absence of portholes, except for seven high on the tower in some models, and only five in others.
Except for the officers' quarters, in the base of the forward tower, the entire crew's quarters are below the main deck, which is not far above the water line. When engineroom, fuel and storage space and other deductions are taken into consideration, there is not much room for accommodating approximately 175 men.
Naturally these quarters are crowded, but comfort has been combined with their compactness too. The newest type of insulation covers the inner side of the hull, and the same blower system provides either heat, or cool air, regardless of outside conditions.
Each man has a spring-and-mattress bunk, most of them set up in triple tiers and arranged so they can be sprung upward and inward and thus occupy less space when not in use. In the same manner, mess benches all encompass the folding construction principle which provides more room for everyone between chow times.
Showers, refrigerated drinking water fountains, laundry and library are standard equipment aboard every vessel, and the ship's service store is stocked with many items unavailable at home.
With a seemingly uneventful routine at times, particularly with the crew usually in casual uniforms, an observer might easily be misled into believing everything aboard a DE runs along simply and effortlessly. But it is the unexpected that soon reveals how well both officers and men really know their jobs, and sometimes just how much a Navy job at sea may be akin to a civilian job ashore in some respects.
While I was talking with the Chief Engineer of the "Knockedabout" in his stateroom one afternoon, for instance, he suddenly seemed to become very preoccupied. Reaching for his phone he started to ring for the engineroom, but then swiftly placed the instrument back on its hook without waiting for an answer. In a flash he literally disappeared, dashing out without a word towards the deck and the engineroom.
Almost immediately I noticed the lights begin to flicker, and as they rapidly dimmed until they were entirely out I knew something was popping. But more important than the lighting -- there was a strange stillness.
The two main engines on which we had been running had suddenly stopped. Soon we had lost all headway and were wallowing helplessly at the will of the sea. Without power we were just "Dead in the Water."
Rapidly overtaking us, not many minutes behind, was the entire convoy. For practical purposes we were not more than a derelict in its path, a distinct menace to all other ships, even disregarding our own peril of being run down. What could have happened if it had been night, or if we had not been able to start up and cut in with the two other main engines within a few minutes is not pleasant to contemplate.
When we were under way again, the explanation had to be found, and it was not long in forthcoming. Sea water had gotten into the fuel lines for the first two engines. How? Well there's nothing unusual about having some water in your tanks. Sometimes it is even pumped into the fuel compartments for ballast. Naturally it won't mix with oil, and being heavier it settles in the bottom of each tank. All you need to do is make sure you draw fuel from above the dividing line.
In this case the Chief had allowed for wt might have been considered a normal amount of water in his tanks. But unfortunately, he became the victim of an unusual set of circumstances.
At his last re-fueling at sea, the supply tanker was "rationing" oil, because it no longer had unlimited quantities available for every escort. But, with customarily approved professional acquisitiveness when it comes to obtaining supplies, the Chief was properly reluctant to have the tanker stop pumping fuel over to our DE until he was positive he had received his full "ration". And if there was a little delay in passing back the word to the tanker to stop pumping...well of course the supply ship couldn't very well reverse her pumps and recover any extra fuel that had entered our tanks. But alas -- the tanker was drawing from lower and lower in her storage tanks to supply the "Knockedabout."
The chief knew the water level in his own tanks, but unfortunately wasn't aware of the great amount of sea water that had accumulated in the tanker's chambers. Not until the engines coughed out did he realize just how many excess hundreds of gallons of sea water he had acquired so artlessly with his new fuel, thanks to all his zeal.
When the Chief had disappeared from his stateroom in such a hurry, of course, it was because he had instantly noticed the first, almost imperceptible changes in the lights, and had been conscious of the first variation in the vibration from the main engines. He certainly knew his ship well.
And as for the quick-thinking by the crew of the "Knockedabout," and sacrifices for others, there was an exceptional case during target practice on another recent trip.
On one of the anti-aircraft guns the ammunition jammed, and suddenly the clip of live, unfired shells began to smoke and sputter. Not hesitating a moment, one of the gunners instantly grabbed he magazine from the gun, despite the risk and despite the severe burns it gave him on both hands, and flung it into the sea before it could explode and cause an untold number of casualties.
In a bomb-scarred North African port, one of the other DE commanders with the division enjoined me in no uncertain terms against any "typical magazine-like accounts" of great heroism or grave submarine peril in the DE service -- only his language was decidedly more colorful, and more emphatic.
Nevertheless, after the workout I received, I can assure any doubters that servicing in one of these seaborne broncos requires both stamina and fortitude. It has its own particular anxious moments, and still carries no sure guarantee against a real wolf pack battle one day.
These DE men may declare there is only monotony, and no excitement, but if their conveying appears unspectacular, and their sub-busting opportunities are limited by the infrequent attempts of the mad dogs to come close enough, their service still has more than its share of work and danger. Only a short time ago the Navy reported the loss of the Destroyer Escort Leopold in the Atlantic, with only seven survivors. Everything considered, no Destroyer Escort man will ever need to feel either disappointed or apologize, as if he had drawn a soft assignment or an easy berth.