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Anything We Spotted Was a Target

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Accidentally Firing a Torpedo

Every One Firing at One Plane

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James Nerison was born in San Francisco. His mother and father moved down to the city of Alhambra near Los Angeles. His father joined the police department but was shot and killed at the Alhambra movie theatre in what later proved to be a botched robbery. Nerison was nine years old at the time of his father's death. There was no life insurance so through volunteers and a donation of property his family was able to have a home and live comfortably. His mother remarried three years after her husband’s death. Nerison joined the navy on 2 November 1942 because he did not want to be drafted. Nerison would have probably joined the navy even if there was not a war because that was his plan all along. Most people at the time were fairly patriotic. Nerison knew people who were in the navy but for the most part he joined by himself and met new people that way. Nerison was with his family when he found out about Pearl Harbor. Nerison remembers the drive home being very chaotic, with army vehicles flooding the roads and he even saw various antiaircraft guns being stationed and set up. There were a bunch of planes up in the air checking for Japanese submarines. Nerison remembers air raid drills and other scares regarding a potential invasion of the west coast. Nerison went to boot camp in San Diego for about eight to ten weeks. After boot camp he was assigned to torpedo school. Nerison did not choose to go to torpedo school, rather he was placed there after a series of aptitude tests. Nerison did not have a concrete idea of what he wanted to do in the military. He remembers looking out on a table at torpedo school that was full of torpedo parts. Nerison found himself wondering how he was going to learn everything about torpedoes. He finished third in his class of roughly 60 people. After advanced torpedo school they made the 15 highest rated students third class petty officers. After advanced school Nerison spent a month in Boston and then headed to Rhode Island for PT boat school. At torpedo school Nerison learned the torpedoes in and out. A lot of studying and book work was involved in learning about torpedoes. The 15 highest students from advanced torpedo school who made petty officer were given the option of serving on an aircraft carrier, submarine, destroyer, or PT boat. Nerison was talked into taking the PT boat training because it was more fun. Nerison had no desire to be underwater and preferred being outside in the open. Also PT boats operated under a less strict code of discipline when out at sea. The operations were serious and the men knew what they needed to do, but it was done less formally then on other ships. In PT boat school Nerison learned a little bit of everything including how to handle the boat, navigation, and other necessary skills for being on a PT boat.

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James Nerison learned how to handle the boat, fix the engine, and operate the radio equipment. He was also versed in basic seamanship. He learned how to break the guns down and then put them back together. His torpedo school training came in handy as well. From PT boat school Nerison and his crew went to New Orleans. At this point his boats were still being built at the Higgins boat yard. There were a few boats that were already made. These boats were to go to Russia as part of one of the Lend-Lease deals. They were identical to Nerison's boats but they were equipped with Russian torpedo tubes. They eventually got those boats up to New York where they were loaded onto Russian ships and taken away. After New York Nerison and the crew went back to New Orleans and waited for the boats to be made. After they were made they were commissioned on Lake Pontchartrain. Nerison was in New Orleans for about three months. From New Orleans they were sent to Miami where they went on shakedown [Annotator's Note: shakedown cruises are testing periods for both the ship and the crew]. These maneuvers were designed so people would get a taste of firing the weapons on the boat, launching a torpedo, and learning how to live on a ship. Eventually the boats in Miami were put in dry dock. The men got to paint the boat and do last minute checks. From Miami they ended up going to Norfolk, Virginia. In Norfolk they were loaded onto a navy tanker with three other PT boats. Nerison was first deployed in Oran, Algeria. It took about two weeks for his boat to be loaded off the tanker because in the port there was only one crane big enough to lift the boats off of the tanker deck. From Oran they went to Algiers to fuel up, and then to Bizerte, Tunisia. There were several squadrons of PT boat crews based in Bizerte, Tunisia. The base was already set up when Nerison and PT-305 got there. After a short while they took the boats to the island of La Maddalena, between Corsica and Sardinia where there was a base that housed different PT squadrons. They operated out of La Maddalena for two or three months, running patrols up and down the Italian coast which was about 75 to 100 miles away. After dark, they went on patrols with three boats together. These three boat teams would be responsible for watching an area of about 20 miles. These patrols would try to intercept German supply boats that were being brought into Italy to support their troops on the ground there. The United States had complete air supremacy and most of the bridges and railways were knocked out. The only way for the Germans to get supplies in was by shipping. The supply ships only operated at night to sneak in unseen. It was Nerison and his crew's job to patrol those waters off the Italian coast in order to intercept German supplies.

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[Annotators Note: James Nerison served in the navy as a torpedo man aboard PT-305 in Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 22 (MTBRon 22).] Most of the time they would patrol up and down the coast trying to pick up ships on radar. The German supply ships at the time were not equipped with radar. The German radar was land based. Anything they spotted was a target. They would track the target and eventually close in with a torpedo ready to fire. More than half the time the supply ships spotted the PT boats first. If this occurred the supply ship would usually throw up some star shells, parachute flares, to illuminate the night. If they were discovered the three PT boats would disperse as quickly as possible so that it would make it harder for anyone to shoot at them. There were a few nights when they got fired on. There was only one time when their boat got hit. They had moved bases and were on the northern part of Corsica in Bastia. PT-305 was patrolling and coming in on a target. The Germans had two Italian destroyers, which were almost as fast as the PT boats, 45 knots or better. When they came around a corner they lit up Nerison and his crew, but PT-305 ended up getting away without a scratch. It took a while for them to get up speed after idling all night. The two destroyers were in pursuit for quite awhile. During the pursuit, Nerison had to secure the torpedo rack. His second general quarters station was a 20 millimeter gun, amidships next to the torpedo rack. Nerison ran and asked the skipper if they should throw over a smoke pot [Annotator's Note: smoke pots were used to create a smoke screen]. The destroyers started firing at the smoke as Nerison's PT-305 did a 90 degree turn and escaped. That was the hairiest night they had. After dropping off the smoke pot, he went back to the gun mount and one of the tripod legs had been sheared off and the gun was toppled over. If he had been standing there, he would have been in trouble. On PT-305 they kept track of ships sunk by painting a swastika on a wooden board, which had to be verified. PT-305 was credited with two ships sunk. The whole squadron sank 24. In order to fire a torpedo correctly a lot of things had to happen. A PT boat idles at six knots, but a torpedo goes 33 knots, so they had to turn to a torpedo firing course, in a direct line towards the target. They had to lead the torpedo to the target. When they were lined up, the skipper would give the order to fire and drop a white handkerchief, easy to see in the dark. When the handkerchief was dropped, Nerison had to yank the lanyard on the torpedo which started the engine of the torpedo. After he yanked the lanyard he had to pull a three foot long lever that would release the torpedo from the rack into firing position. It was a pretty antiquated way of doing it.

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One night when they were after a target, the skipper dropped this white handkerchief and James Nerison heard him give the order to fire. Nerison started the fish [Annotator's note: torpedoes are sometimes referred to as fish], pulled the lever and dropped it. He ran up the side of the boat and screamed excitedly. The fellow in the gun turret then told him that the skipper said not to fire. The skipper just wanted him to secure the rack, but did not use the right terminology. The torpedo exploded but it was more comical than dangerous. PT-305's squadron was one of the first to be radar equipped and they had torpedo racks instead of tubes. PT boats were relatively small boats that did not provide a steady platform for torpedoes firing from tubes. It takes a little while for a torpedo to launch through a tube and if the boat is pitching and jerks to one side, the torpedo could get jammed in the tube. Torpedoes need water to cool them, otherwise they would disintegrate. They were made to be in the water. Torpedo tubes on the first PT-boats led to negative experiences, so they went to the racks instead. With the rack they would halfway roll off and slip. They were on an incline track with chocks and cables. When one pulled a lever the chocks dropped and cables released. The torpedo would have already been manually started. The racks were at a six degree angle from the boat so that the torpedo would take a path that led it away from the boat. The torpedo had a gyroscopic steering mechanism that would eventually make the torpedo come back six degrees in order for it to run straight. Before launch they had to manually set the depth for the torpedo. They were never attacked by aircraft, but a German reconnaissance plane came over the whole fleet. For 20 minutes almost 100 ships fired on that one plane, but never knocked it down. Our air force had already knocked out the German air force. Also since PT-305 operated at night, they rarely saw planes. PT-305 was first based at Maddalena. As the army pushed the Germans north, they had to leave earlier to get to the patrol area. So they moved up north to Bastia, on the northern tip of Corsica, cutting their travel time in half. While based at Bastia they were involved in the invasion of the island of Elba. They hauled barrage balloons and escorted the other ships in the small invasion that was met with little resistance. Later on during the invasion of Southern France, they were involved in a diversionary attack. They took in ten French Army personnel, dropped them into rubber dinghies, but they did not fire any guns or anything. The first few days after the invasion they served as more or less a taxi for generals and admirals, running them from ship to ship.

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James Nerison had an upper bunk in the PT boat [Annotators Note: PT-305] and he was not able to see out of the boat. He built his own porthole into the side of the boat after he got permission from his skipper. PT-305 was eventually used as an oyster boat in the Chesapeake Bay and because he had that extra porthole, Nerison was able to identify that boat as PT -305. His skipper was an officer. He was a fair man who wanted to be treated with respect. Nerison noted that he was intelligent. He was also in his mid 30s. Some of Nerison's duties included keeping the deck clean and things of that nature. They had two good officers, but there was not much regulation. They could wear whatever kind of clothes they wanted to and they also had a choice in how they wore their headgear. Obviously when they had inspections they would have to dress militarily. Nerison got along with most of the crew. He was the youngest member of the crew. One time on a patrol in between Corsica and Sardinia, Nerison faced a pretty tough spot. That area between the two islands was extremely windy and known for tough seas. The torpedoes they had on the racks started to shake loose because of the rough seas. It became a hazard so they had to jettison the torpedoes. Nerison's crew remained the same for most of the war. Nerison was actually one of the first people to get off of his boat because once France was invaded there was not much for them and their crews to do. Nerison actually volunteered his spot to go home to one of his crewmates who had a wife back home.

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James Nerison was sent home because it was his turn. After a year men in his outfit were sent home for a 30 day furlough, after which they were to be reassigned. After his leave he went back to Melville [Annotators Note: to the Motor Torpedo Boat school in Melville, Rhode Island]. From there, a former teacher of his from Torpedo School recognized his name and had him assigned as a teacher. Nerison got there in the middle of the winter and realized he did not want to be there. Nerison asked for a different mission. Eventually Nerison ended up in the Philippines with Squadron 33. Those were Elco boats. By the time Nerison got to the Philippines the war there was pretty much over. Some of the islands were still inhabited by the Japanese, but their numbers were insignificant so they were bypassed. The Filipinos were being paid off by the Japanese so that they could smuggle food and supplies to the Japanese. Nerison's job in the Philippines was to combat these resupplies. Nerison was in the Philippines until the end of the war. He was eventually sent home on points and was discharged at San Pedro near Los Angeles. That was the end of Nerison's navy experience. He was discharged as a Torpedoman 1st Class. He was offered chief but he declined. Nerison was more concerned with getting out of the military so that he could start his career and start a family. Nerison worked for a building contractor for about six to nine months after the war. Through a friend he eventually got a job working for the Edison Power Company in California. He spent ten years as a lineman, six years as a foreman, and then eventually got into the engineering side of the business. He ended up as a district manager for Edison Electric. In his retirement, Nerison enjoys fishing.

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