NAVY DESTROYERS CLOSE ENCOUNTER IN THE BERING SEA
March 1943 – Bering Sea, Near Alaska
I was aboard the USS Williamson (Destroyer) in early 1943 during WWII. The weather was clear with calm seas. The night was very black. At the time of the sighting, we were patrolling the Bering Sea north of the Alaskan Peninsula, bearing north at about 20 knots. I was on watch at the starboard 20mm gun, second deck (galley deck). It was around 2300. My gun turret was above the deck house and there were no obstructions hindering my field of vision, allowing me to have a clear 360 degree view of the sea around the ship. There were four of us together at the starboard gun (I can get crew names and captain’s name). The attention of both port and starboard gun crews was drawn to a row of red lights off the port side, traveling parallel to and slightly forward of the bow. I did not see the lights when they first approached so do not know the direction from which they came, or if they came out of the sea. There were at least eight lights in a row, evenly spaced, canted at about 15 degrees to horizontal. I would estimate the lights were no more than 100 yards from the ship. The lights held their relative position to one another throughout the sighting, and appeared to be about 10 feet apart. I would say that the light closest to the water (the lights were canted diagonal to horizontal at approximately 15 degrees) appeared to be about 30 feet above the water. I estimate that it would require a cantaloupe held at arms length to cover a single light. I could not see a structure associated with the lights as there was nothing but blackness between the lights. The lights were a very deep red and did not cast a beam. The lights moved parallel to our ship, holding their position relative to the ship throughout the entire sighting. The lights continued to pace the ship as I watched. This continued for at least one hour. I was relieved from watch at 2400. When I went below the lights were still visible. I was too tired to stay on deck and went below to sleep. The next day, the midnight gun crew said that the captain turned the ship and “tried” to chase the lights. I don’t know the outcome of this maneuver. I don’t know what the circumstances were when the lights disappeared. But I do know that I have not seen anything like this before or since.
World War II
7 December 1941, found Williamson under overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. After temporary duty with Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 82, she helped to escort Maryland into the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 30 December. The tender completed her repairs and took on stores in January 1942 and then shifted to the Aleutians to resume her duties as a tender for the PBY’s of Pat Wing 4. During the early wartime period, the ship performed local escort missions and delivered war materials to Army and Navy bases at Cold Bay, Seattle, Dutch Harbor, and Kodiak. Williamson and her sister tenders also stocked emergency seaplane bases with vital necessities: buoys, gasoline, lubricating oil, ammunition, and bombs. Those temporary sites provided shelter for PBY’s forced down by weather and proved valuable as alternate bases dispersed well enough to prevent a complete disaster if the Japanese attacked the established base sites. In addition, Williamson rescued and salvaged PBY’s closed out of their havens by the “notorious Alaskan fog.” On 20 May, prior to the Japanese invasion of the Aleutians, Williamson rescued Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner from Kiska, when the general and his party were stranded there by 60-knot winds that prevented seaplanes from taking off after completing an inspection tour of the Near and Rat Island groups. Early in June 1942, when the Japanese occupied Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians, as a diversion from the major Japanese thrust directed at the key atoll of Midway in the Central Pacific, Williamson lay at Umnak Pass, near the newly established Army airstrip there – the westernmost field in the Aleutian chain. Two Japanese planes from one of the carriers supporting the operation (either Ryūjō or Junyō) strafed the ship and wounded six men. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. NOTE: The above image is real but from a different sighting.
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