Target Ship Story
Following is an account of the USS SLATER's duty as a target ship off Key West by crewmember Cliff Woltz.
Regarding target duty in Key West, we WERE the target. That is, carrier based TBF Avenger planes from Norfolk came to Boca Chica Naval Base and flew daily runs on us, dropping air-driven torpedoes from four directions, set to seek 30 foot depth - safely under us - to be recovered by crash boats and tugs for reuse. Above it all, a Navy photographer recorded and graded the pilots. Their goal was to perfect a release accuracy but with the TBF staying out of Japanese anti-aircraft range. We didn't intend our pilots to be Kamikaze sacrifices.
The problem with this was that the reuse of the torpedoes had so abused their internal controls that up to 50% of them did NOT dive to the 30 foot depth, but came across the surface like a skipping stone. Our hull was struck about six times in those three months, at least twice we went into dry-dock, once our refrigerated food space was punctured (what a mess), once the hull in B-4 got bashed in front of my eyes,( no hull rupture), but it then struck our port propeller - another dry-dock. We were always at General Quarters, at least for the first month.
The enclosed oft-seen photo was taken by that naval photo guy. I should mention that we ran back and forth on a 3 mile prescribed course, allowed only 3 degree course changes to simulate the maneuverability of a Japanese Carrier - until the torpedoes were in the water - then we were allowed to take evasive action. I suppose you know that the "action" was to turn toward the torpedo using rudder and engines - to present the smallest target - and hope it swooshed by, however close. There were only several seconds to do this -- less time than it takes to type this.
These facts are in our log. We would let the offending pilot stand drinks, they'd be waiting at the dock in Key West. I got a great ride to Norfolk as "Tail Gunner" in a TBF from the CV LAKE CHAMPLAIN, I recall.
**Additional note from Marvin Cash, SoM, concerning the SLATER's role as a target ship** Mr. Woltz inadvertently omitted what I understand was one of the most important "hits" the SLATER suffered from the TBF Avengers. Our sonar dome was struck and dented to the extent that we could not "ping". We left the area and "limped" up the coast for repairs. Somewhere off North Carolina a German torpedo was sent our way. It missed our fantail. If we had been a "tanker" or "merchant" it would have been a "hit". We were trailing foxer gear to attract sonic torpedoes. Since we could not "ping" we did not look like a warship to that sub. I suppose that standing sonar watches, and not, made this more significant to us than most. I have not checked ship's log to confirm, but this is my memory of occurrences. Cordially.... and personal regards to you Marvin.