THE LAST DAY OF U.S.S. TWIGGS
By Ernest Herr
Shipmate of Commander George Philip shown above
The above photograph shows Commander George Philip, former Gunnery Officer of the USS O'Bannon. After serving as Gunnery Officer during several naval engagements, he was then promoted to Executive Officer. He is the only shipmate from the O'Bannon, that I know of, who was killed during the war. After serving brilliantly through seven major sea battles, he was given command of his own ship, the USS Twiggs. This short account appeared in the USS O'Bannon Shipmates Association newsletter in April, 1993. The writer was not identified but from the tone of the article, this would appear to be the more or less official version of what happened.
By the third week in June the battle for Okinawa was drawing to a bitter end. Implacably the forces of General Buckner were closing in on the remnant regiments of Ushijima's 32nd Army, standing in the craggy hills of southern Okinawa with their backs to the sea.
The Navy, too, closed in. Shore bombardments were called for as the cornered Japs neared land's end. These were dangerous assignments, for the enemy forces were dying hard. And the Kamikaze flyers were setting the pace.
During the evening of June 16, the rabid airmen struck again. One of them struck at a destroyer which was standing offshore for bombardment duty - - the U.S.S. Twiggs, captained by Commander George Philip.
Time: about 2030. The plane, a "Jill" torpedo bomber, dropped down out of the dusk like a thunderbolt. When detected, it was less than 1000 yards from the destroyer, and coming with the velocity of a bullet. An unleashed torpedo knifed into the water and raced at the ship. Before Twiggs could be swung away, the torpedo ripped into the No. 2 magazine. Then the plane crashed into the ship aft.
Torpedo explosion - magazine explosion - aircraft explosion - the triple blasting tore the destroyer's frame and sent sheets of fire throughout her superstructure. Damage controlmen never had a chance. And in a instant, the ship was a furnace, with men fighting their way topside to escape roasting heat and suffocating smoke, only to find the deck a burning griddle.
All able hands rallied to rescue the wounded, battle the fire, and save the ship, but the the Twiggs had become a death-trap. Thirty minutes after the Kamikaze smash, the ship's after magazine blew up with a shattering detonation. The vessel plunged immediately. Down with her she took 18 of her 22 officers. One hundred and sixty-five men were lost with the ship. Down with the destroyer went her captain, Commander Philip.
The survivors drifted in clots on the sea, and waited for help to come. Presently the destroyer Putnam arrived to pick up these latest victims of the "Divine Wind." Many of the 131 who were recovered needed surgery and hospitalization. The three surviving officers were among the wounded: the Twiggs disaster was one of the few in which every officer in the embattled ship was either killed or injured. She was the twelfth destroyer downed off Okinawa, and she was downed in the twelfth week of the campaign. One destroyer a week, and a destroyer-escort in addition. "Operation Iceberg" and the Japanese Kamikaze program would never be forgotten by the US Navy's destroyer men. But the campaign was not over. Okinawa had yet to be secured.
COMMANDER GEORGE PHILIP
NAMESAKE OF USS GEORGE PHILIP (FFG 12)
The USS GEORGE PHILIP, an Oliver Hazard Perry Class guided missile frigate, is named in honor of Commander George Philip, Jr., USN (1912-1945).
Commander Philip, born in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, on 14 April 1912, attended South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City before his appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy. After completion of the course of instruction at the Naval Academy, he was commissioned an Ensign on 6 June 1935. Ensign Philip continued to progress in grade until his promotion to Commander on 4 September 1944. During this period he served under a variety of commands including: USS MISSISSIPPI (1935-37), USS CALIFORNIA (1937-38), USS ELLET (1938-40), USS O'BANNON (1942-43), and Operational Training Command, Pacific Fleet, San Diego, California (1943-44). He then served as Commanding Officer of USS TWIGGS (1944-46).
Commander Philip established a skilled fighting reputation while simultaneously serving as the Executive Officer, Navigator and Combat Intelligence Officer of the famed O'BANNON. For his conspicuous gallantry during the crucial stages of the Solomon Island Campaign, Philip was awarded the Silver Star Medal and O'BANNON received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Commander Philip was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism while commanding TWIGGS during an 84-day period of combat near Okinawa. He died following a dusk attack by a Japanese kamikaze aircraft on 16 June 1945.
On 12 March 1946, Secretary of the Navy James Forestall stated, during the presentation of the Navy Cross to his widow:
"His courage, fortitude and initiative in the performance of a difficult and hazardous duty characterized Commander Philip as a brilliant leader and seaman, reflecting the highest credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service, he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country."
In addition to the Navy Cross, Silver Star Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation, Commander Philip received the American Defense Service Medal, and the Purple Heart.
The USS TWIGGS
This sketch of the USS TWIGGS was found in a recent O'Bannon Newsletter.
Cdr. George Philip served as Gunnery Officer and Executive Office on that ship.
From: Snow Philip <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, September 05, 2001 3:33 PM
Subject: George Philiip
By all means add to your website whatever I've written that you think would mean something to someone -- none of it is too personal to share, especially when I know that many of the people whom it will reach are in the same situation as mine.
I had dinner here night before last with an older couple whose son is interested in Naval history, so I e-mailed them my account of the Okinawa trip that George and I made two years ago. They returned home to Illinois yesterday, and when I got home just a minute ago, there were two messages from Stan -- the first saying that he'd found your TWIGGS story (I hadn't mentioned it to him) and had I seen it? Then a second phone call a while later saying that he'd continued reading and realized that I did indeed know about the site. So thanks again for being such a loyal admirer of the father I don't remember.
To: Snow Philip <email@example.com>
From: Ernie Herr
Date: Wednesday, September 05, 2001 11:44 AM
Glad you liked the picture and hope that you run into the lady that took it, wouldn't that be a coincidence. Yes, sounds like you were a little early in your visit to the Circle. We were in Fairbanks last year but didn't make it up to the Circle -- did go panning for gold however in a working mine. Your quest for a better understanding of your father will probably grow stronger over the years so I think it is wise to find out as much as possible about his life and experiences. As I mentioned, I get quite a bit of correspondence very similar to yours as many children and grandchildren develop quite an interest along those lines.
If you don't mind, I would like to put your e-mail at the end of the Twiggs story as it puts a continuance to the story and I think people who like that kind of story would read your input with great interest. And, it is history. I can remove any part that you might think as too personal.
(From an earlier e-mail)
In case you might feel that you are alone in your emotional search for more information about your father, I am answering three other e-mails that just arrived this day. The digital signature (below) that was at the end of the e-mail surely tells a story:
Patricia "Pat" Fabri/Phoenix
dau. of Edgar B. Tiemann "Boots"
1st Army Division, 3rd Battalion
16th Infantry, CO L, The Big Red One
Wounded Battle of Hurtgen Forest 11/23/44
KIA, Tanne, Germany 4/17/45
From: Snow Philip <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date" Tuesday, September 04, 2001 12:43 PM
The photo of your daughter (and her husband?) transmitted beautifully! I'm so curious to know who the photographer was.... This is such a small town that it's entirely possible that some day I'll find out. I must say,
the Arctic Circle looks pretty balmy in this picture. When I was up there in April, 1975 in Finland, it was still very snowy and cold, although the days were already getting long.
Thanks again for your continuing correspondence. I will continue in my efforts to learn more about my father and to reconcile myself to his loss. What else can I do??
My best to you and your wife,
From: Snow Philip
Date: Sept. 1, 2001
Subject: George Philip
Thanks so much for your quick reply to my e-mail request for things you remember about my father. I love that you say you might not be around today if it hadn't been for him -- makes me realize that his sacrifice was worthwhile if other men owe their lives to him. I must say that this yearning to know him has taken me quite by surprise as I leave middle-age and head toward my sixties! Very strange, but I guess it's happening to a lot of us who were left fatherless in WW II.
I'll be sure to check out the web site. And I LOVE your story about the Key Wester at the Arctic Circle! I wonder who it was -- probably someone Iknow. This is a very small town.
Where in North Carolina do you live? Forgive me if you've already told me -- my memory, along with the rest of me, isn't what it was! But I've got your phone number now and will perhaps telephone you some day.
Thanks again, so much, for your help and interest.
From: Snow Philip <email@example.com>
Date: Saturday, August 25, 2001 12:17 AM
Subject: George Philip
This month I had the amazing experience of reading some of the letters that my father wrote to my mother before and during the war. Reading the letters made me feel for the first time in my life that I was getting to know him as a real person through his own thoughts and words rather than through other people's recollections of him. It has been an intensely emotional time, and I am now consumed with curiosity to know more. If you have the time and inclination, I would love it if you would write to me with some of your own memories of him, specific things he said and did
that impressed you and made you think so highly of him. I'd like to try to write something about him for myself and my brother and my children.
From: Snow Philip <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thursday, March 15, 2001 12:18 AM
Subject: greetings from Snow Philip
Let me introduce myself -- I am Commander George Philip's daughter, Snow. Recently a high school friend of mine sent me the letters for your web site, and I immediately checked it out. Now, I have been accused more than once of having more than one person's share of the gift of gab, but when I watched a picture of my father materialize on my little computer screen, I was, for once in my life, speechless. You are wonderful to have put together such a wonderful site, and I've made sure that my children, who are my father's only grandchildren, have seen it too. And I've passed it along to a number of friends as well. So I am writing to you with a profound thank you for remembering this wonderful man whom I never knew, but whose memory I revere.
The USS George Philip is coming to Key West day after tomorrow! It's been a dream of mine during the seven years that I've lived here that someday the Philip would make a port-of-call in Key West; and that dream is
actually coming true. I've spoken with the PAO at the base here and referred them to your web site. I'll be quayside when she ties up on Wednesday morning, and have been invited for lunch aboard later that day. I AM SO EXCITED!!! It won't be the first time I've been aboard, but as her sponsor, every visit to "my" beloved ship is an intense and emotional event.
I gathered from your site that you served aboard O'Bannon with my father, and it humbles me to think that all these years later he continues to live so vividly in your memory. I've felt very cheated over the years for never having known him myself, but it is thrilling to know that he impressed so many people so favorably in his short life.
Immediately after lunch on Wednesday, I am going to California to help my half-brother juggle his kids while his wife recuperates from surgery, but I'll be back here in a couple of weeks, and I'd love to hear from you.
Did you by any chance see the article I wrote about my brother's and my trip to Okinawa two years ago? I think it has been posted on the Hammond High School web site, but I've never seen it. Also, a somewhat watered-down version appeared in December 2000's issue of Naval History magazine.
Looking forward to hearing from you -- and thanks again. Snow
Subject: USS Twiggs
Date: Thu, 09 Mar 2000 09:00:46 -0500
From: Kassy Benson <email@example.com>
I came across your site - specifically the USS Twiggs - and have forwarded it to my close friend, George Philip, son and namesake of Commander George Philip. I was very moved by the story, and even more so by the photograph of the father he never knew.
If it is o.k. with you, I will forward your message on to George Philip. We were high school classmates, both graduating from Francis C. Hammond High School in 1962 (you might want to look at http://members.tripod.com/TDWil/U_S_S_FRANCIS_HAMMOND.html) and have remained close friends all of these years. He visits us often (Virginia) and will be here in May.
I know he will want to be in contact with you. In our last email, he told me he would be away for a few days so it may be early next week before you hear from him.
Subject: Twiggs website
Date: Tue, 28 Mar 2000 09:57:30 -0500
From: "George Philip" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "ernieh" <email@example.com>
My good friend Kassy Benson forwarded your TWIGGS website to me which also included a photo of my father. I was both gratified and pleasantly surprised to know that these fighting men and their ship had not been forgotten even after these many years. I of course am extremely moved that someone thinks enough of my father to single him out for praise.
You mentioned to Kassy that you and George had been shipmates. Would that have been on the O'Bannon? I, along with my sister, are honorary members of both the Twiggs and O'Bannon shipmates associations and as a result have met a number of George's former shipmates.
There is much I would like to share with you including my experience this past summer when my sister and I joined a group of Twiggs survivors on Okinawa for a memorial service. Where do you live? My wife and I are in Maine. Please email or call if you like.
Sincerely, George Philip
Subject: USS TWIGGS
Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2000 12:44:44 EST
CC: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
I recently stumbled across the TWIGGS website , the article about your father, and the e-mails from you and Kassy to "Ernie". I am Bob Stanton and TWIGGS was my first ship after graduation from the Naval Academy. I joined the ship in August, 1944 in Pearl Harbor when she returned from the landings in Guam.. I was assigned to the gunnery dept as an assistant to LT Jim Black, the Gunnery Officer.
Without going into a lot of detail, we participated in the landings at Leyte, Mindoro and Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines and then Iwo Jima and Okinawa. We were in fire support during the initial landings at Okinawa and then wound up on radar picket station on the nothernmost end of the island. On April 28, 1945 we were taken under attack by 15-16 kamikazes. "We" being another destroyer and two USMC fighter aircraft. Among us (mostly the Marines) we shot down all but the last one. He hit us on the starboard side killing about 10-15 men and wounding another 15-20, including Ned Burke our Executive Officer. The plane actually hit our starboard lifeboat which was swung out and his bomb came loose and opened up a large hole on the side.
We limped into Kerama Retto which is a small island group off Okinawa that we used as an anchorage for supply ships, oilers, repair ships , etc. When we had moored alongside a repair ship, your father called Jim Black and myself into his cabin. He told Jim that he would be taking ned's place as XO and that I would be assiming Jim's job as Gunnery Officer. He went on to say that the repair ship estimated five weeks for repairs and that he was sending me on temporary duty to Control Officers school in Pearl Harbor. The school was six weeks long and so he figured I would only be gone for a net of one week.
That week was the one in which the ship was sunk. This accounts for the discrepancy you may have noted in the website article in which one paragraph states that 18 of 20 officers assigned were lost and the next paragraph notes
that the three surviving officers were wounded. I was the fourth officer assigned, but I was not actually on board at the time.
Since all three were seriously wounded, I was sent to Wash, DC as senior surviving officer to reconstruct service records, pay records and health records and to write letters to next-of-kin. Part way through this effort I
was relieved by one of the three wounded officers (LT Oscar Pederson). During this period I was fortunate enough to meet and come to know your mother Margaret. I also met you and your sister Snow as well as your
grandfather, VADM Taussig and your uncle Joe Taussig. You and your sister were very young and I'm sure you don't remember me. I also had the honor and the privelege of being with your mother when she was presented with the posthumous Navy Cross by James Forestall. Meeting him and Admiral Nimitz (who was also there) was quite an event in my life. I saw your mother a few times over the years - the last time was in Coronado a long time ago with Willy Helmer.
Some time later I received three photos from your mother. It seems that your father's wallet washed up on the beach at Okinawa. Someone found it and sent it to your mother. In it were three photos of the TWIGGS showing the hole in the side we received up on picket station. The photos are partly oil-stained from the sinking. I would be happy to send them to you if you would give me your address. I also have a snapshot of your father taken on board after he made Commander which I will also send.
I had no idea that there was a TWIGGS shipmates association and would appreciate it if you could tell me how to contact the group. I saw Jim Black a few times many years ago when I was stationed in San Francisco but have had no other contact with TWIGGS survivors. Consequently, I was delighted to find the website and your e-mail address.
I hope I have not bored you by passing on information which you may already know. Please give my best to your mother and Snow and I hope you have a very merry Christmas.
Aloha -- Bob
CAPT Robert F. Stanton USN (Ret)
311 Portlock Rd
Honolulu, HI 96825