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Hollywood Afloat

Away All Boats !

Around February of 1955, we left bleak Norfolk for Charlotte Amalie Harbor of St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. The reason was that Universal International Pictures wanted to make a WWII movie and DesDiv 322 was the only division of destroyers of a WWII class on the East coast. One other destroyer from our squadron went too.

The movie was "Away All Boats", starring Jeff Chandler, Tex Barker and Julie Adams. It was the story of an AKA troop assault ship, supposedly called the Belinda, whose part was played by the USS Randall.

The good part, beside the weather, was that Technicolor film can only be shot from 10am to 3pm, so we did not have to get underway until about 0800, and we were tied up again by 1630 or so. All filming took place off Vieques Island, P. R.

The bad part was that we engaged in some maneuvers that are ordinarily forbidden to vessels in peacetime. I recall two examples.

In one case we had a camera on our starboard bridge wing and the Randall was abeam too close - 300 to 400 yards. The scenario was a Kamikaze suicide plane attack. Our sister destroyer trailed us a few hundred yards, anchor at the dip. Upon "action", she was to heave in the anchor, open fire with all guns (5 barrels of 5 inch and 10 barrels of 40 mm) and go between us and the Randall at maximum acceleration. Her bow was nearing our midships when the cameraman yelled "Cut!". He had run out of film. The Unit Director wanted to repeat the maneuver, but cooler heads prevailed, which is to say that the Commodore upheld Captain Zawacki's objections.

So instead the camera moved to the port wing, and at "action" the quad 40 mm mount commenced firing, elevated off the port bow and training aft and depressing to the port quarter. When the Unit Director explained that Hollywood would superimpose a Kamikaze in the target area, our Gun Boss (Edw. P. Wilson, LT USN) offered to give them a splash where the plane hit. Upon "cease fire" we fired a depth charge from a port K-gun, set to go off at 50 feet of depth. When the depth charge hit the water, the 40 mm commenced firing at it until the 800 lbs of Torpex exploded, making a quite satisfactory splash.

The second evolution was as bad as the first. The Robinson was to approach the stern of the Randall at high speed. At the last minute, we would pull hard a-starboard and then shift the rudder to port so as to run up the Randall's starboard side close aboard. Al Yergin (LTjg USNR) was OOD, I was Junior OOD (ENS USNR) and Jim Tomkinson (QM3 USN) was helmsman. I was given a stadimeter, which measures close ranges to any ship whose mast height is known, and I was to call out ranges to Al so he would know when to turn. So the Captain proceeds to put Al inside the wheelhouse "so Tompkinson will hear your rudder commands", and then put me to squinting through a porthole to take the ranges "so Al can hear you". We later learned that the Captain had cleared everybody off the bridge but himself, and we completed the evolution with nobody showing on camera except he himself. And after all that trouble, the whole scene ended up on the cutting room floor!

Recalled by Richard Gruny