U.S.S. Little Rock Association
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
An interview with Captain Henri H. Smith-Hutton,
regarding his command of the U.S.S. Little Rock.
The following has been extracted from an interview with Captain Henri Smith-Hutton which took place in Palo Alto, CA in November 1974. The interviewer was Captain Paul Ryan, U.S. Navy.
A copy of this portion of the interview was made available to the USS Little Rock Association by Marcia Smith-Hutton, the youngest daughter of Captain Henri Smith-Hutton.
This segment of the interview picks up immediately after Captain Smith-Hutton’s return to the United States from the Pacific, and ends upon his departure from the Little Rock.
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Q: How did you find Washington? Had things changed very much?
Smith-Hutton: Well, on 30 May (1946) when I got there, I rejoined my family. I saw my younger daughter for the first time. She 'd been born in February while I was in Japan, so she was almost four months old. And of course I had a very happy reunion with my wife.
On 31 May I reported to the Bureau of Personnel and learned that I was to be ordered to command the light cruiser Little Rock, (CL-92) then in European waters, and that I would remain on temporary duty in the Bureau until 26 June.
Q: Were you debriefed on your duty in Japan?
Smith-Hutton: Yes. I was given a list of officers in the department who wanted to talk to me in regard to Japan, and I was told by Captain Converse that when I finished this list, my only duty would to telephone Vice Admiral Denfeld 's Aide every morning, he being the Chief of Naval Personnel.
During this debriefing period I saw almost all of my old friends in the department, but few of them showed interest or concern about Japan.
Q: Why do you think they were so indifferent?
Smith-Hutton: I think they felt that General MacArthur had complete control of the situation, that he was handling things very well, and Japan was of little concern to the Navy at that time. They were getting routine reports, but everything was routine. There didn’t seem to be urgent problems in Japan. That was my impression. There were urgent problems in connection with demobilization, and there were other areas especially Europe, which seemed to require more attention than Japan.
Q: I think you’re quite right, Captain.
When did you join your ship?
Smith-Hutton: I left the Bureau on 26 June ‘46, and since I had to proceed to Europe I was allowed to use government air transportation outside the United States. I joined the ship in Copenhagen, Denmark on 8 July. I’d made a brief stop in New York, had flown from Westover Field to Paris to London, and then to Copenhagen.
When I reported on board, I found that the ship was scheduled to get underway the following day for Stockholm, Sweden. I was relieving Captain William E. Miller, and he suggested that the change in command be made in Stockholm, which would give me a chance to observe drills and exercises while underway. I agreed, and when the formalities had been completed, I took command on 11 July 1946.
Q: What kind of operations were scheduled for the Little Rock?
Smith-Hutton: At that time the ship was operating with the Houston, a sister ship, under the direct command of Admiral H.K. Hewitt, Commander U.S. Naval Forces in Europe and Commander 12th Fleet. Normally, Admiral Hewitt was in London, but for this cruise he was flying his flag in the Houston.
He'd been in the Mediterranean in command of our naval forces there from the time the command was organized in November 1942, and he 'd also conducted the amphibious landings in North Africa, Sicily, and southern France. Then when the war ended in Europe, he'd relieved Admiral H.R. Stark in London as commander naval forces Europe. The Admiral was anxious to have Europeans see modern American naval vessels, so diplomatic arrangements were made for two cruisers and four modern destroyers to visit Copenhagen, Stockholm, go through the Kiel Canal to Amsterdam, visit Rotterdam, Antwerp, Plymouth and finally Lisbon, averaging a week's stay in each port.
Q: That's a very ambitious schedule. What kind of reception awaited you in each of these ports?
Smith-Hutton: We were well received and entertained in all of the countries, not only by our diplomatic representatives, but by the local naval and civil authorities. I remember the cruise as being a very tiring one, because there were dinners and receptions almost every day, and in between ports particularly in the Baltic and the North Sea, conditions required careful navigating, since there were still dangers of floating mines from wartime mine fields. Captain Dietrich, I and the captains of the destroyers were exhausted when we finished the cruise.
In Lisbon we were joined by one of our most modern aircraft carriers, the Franklin Roosevelt, flying the flag of Rear Admiral John H. Cassady, commander Carrier Division 1. The captain was a classmate of mine, Captain H.E. Regan.
Q: Did Admiral Hewitt lay on any special demonstrations?
Smith-Hutton: During our stay in Lisbon, he arranged with the Ambassador, Mr. Baruch, to invite some two hundred Portuguese government leaders to go aboard the carrier which put to sea, launched the air group, which first simulated attacks on the ship and then flew in formation over Lisbon and returned to be recovered.
The guests were much impressed by the precision with which these exercises were carried out. I went as a guest of Captain Regan, and although I'd seen carrier operations, I too was impressed with the advances which had been made and which had been incorporated in this fine ship. The flight deck, catapults , arresting gear, and planes were all the very latest models, and were expertly handled. The skill of the pilots and the ease with which the landing signal officer controlled them when they were coming in to land, was evident even to the uninitiated.
Q: What was your impression of Admiral Hewitt?
Smith-Hutton: Admiral Hewitt was an outstanding officer who had done magnificent work during the war. He had the confidence of our authorities from the President on down. He was not only efficient in making plans but meticulous in carrying them out. He was a quiet, soft-spoken person, obviously very much a gentleman, and was well liked by civilians. In replying to toasts and making short speeches which are frequently required on official occasions, he was outstanding. He spoke clearly, briefly, humorously, and to the point, and was obviously a great man.
Q: I knew him briefly as an ensign, and I concur with you. After this triumphant tour, I guess we could call it, of the capitals of Europe, did you then go to the Mediterranean?
Smith-Hutton: Yes. Upon completion of our visit to Lisbon on 22 August, Admiral Hewitt in the Houston returned to England. I was ordered to report to Vice Admiral B.H. Bieri, Commander Naval Forces Mediterranean. He ordered me to join Carrier Division 1 as part of Task Group 125.4, commanded by Rear Admiral Cassady. We proceeded to Naples, after a brief stop at Gibraltar. En route to Naples the task group was joined by Vice Admiral Bieri in his flagship, and we conducted training exercises.
Q: This was about the time of the attempted communist take over of Greece. Did this affect your operations?
Smith-Hutton: Yes, it did. Upon our arrival in Naples, Vice Admiral Bieri called a conference on his flagship and read several dispatches from the Chief of Naval Operations and Commander Naval Forces Europe in regard to the political situation in Greece. Our ambassador reported that communist influence was increasing and that the Greek government feared an armed rebellion. President Truman had approved a visit to Greece by our naval vessels and it had been decided to take advantage of the presence of the USS Franklin Roosevelt in the area to make the visit now. The Little Rock and four destroyers would accompany the carrier, and were scheduled to arrive in Piraeus, the port of Athens on 3 September.
Q: Did you make any special arrangements for this visit?
Smith-Hutton: Actually the arrangements were to repeat the exercises carried out in Lisbon. The day after we arrived, our ambassador, Mr. Lincoln MacVeagh, entertained Rear Admiral Cassady and the captains of the ships at a luncheon, and we discussed the program. One of the most important events would be the exercises off the port with some two hundred Greek officials invited to witness them. The Ambassador also said that on 8 September he planned a reception at his home for members of the Greek government.
He was particularly cordial to me. Mr. MacVeagh's father had been ambassador in Japan when I was a language officer, and I remembered him as being an elderly gentleman who took a fatherly interest in young Army and Navy language officers attached to the Embassy. He spoke to us frequently, assured us that if we had problems in this alien, difficult country, he would help us. He was obviously genuinely interested in young people in the Embassy and wanted them to succeed. I told Ambassador Lincoln MacVeagh that, which seemed to please him.
Q: I can well understand.
Smith-Hutton: The FDR carried out the air exercises which I saw from Piraeus, not from the carrier. I must say that the Greeks were as pleased as the Portuguese had been.
At the Ambassador’s reception on 8 September, Rear Admiral Cassady and six other officers were decorated by the Greek Minister of Defense. Admiral Cassady, Captain Regan, Captain Nation, and I were the senior officers and we received the order of the Phoenix, and three other captains received the Order of King George I. It was unexpected, and we were quite unprepared for it. Wartime instructions were still effective, so we were allowed to accept foreign decorations from allies without waiting for permission of Congress.
Ambassador MacVeagh was outspoken in his enthusiasm over the results of the visit, saying that the feeling of people for the United States and the Allies had changed for the better.
Q: Could you elaborate on the Greek public's attitude toward the United States?
Smith-Hutton: As I understood the situation, the Greek people feared Russian attacks and Russian plans to seize control of Turkish-Greek areas in the eastern Mediterranean. They were also afraid that since the Greek communists were getting much stronger, the Russians were going to invade Greece to support them. They also felt isolated since they were far away from the United States especially since the British, who had been their allies and friends for many years, had indicated that due to financial problems they were unable to continue to assist them as in the past. Thus, they were glad to see us take an active interest in their problems and to welcome the powerful squadron which had come to support them. I think that is how the Greeks felt about the visit.
Q: A few months later something happened as I recall that made them even more happy.
Smith-Hutton: Yes. A few months later President Truman announced the Truman Doctrine, which pledged support to Greece and Turkey, in their struggle against communism.
Q: What were your next ports of call after Piraeus?
Smith-Hutton: After the task group left Piraeus, I was ordered to take the Little Rock to Bone in eastern Algeria. This was a small but flourishing French port which had been important during the war, but hadn't been visited by a naval vessel for a long time. Admiral Bieri wanted ships to visit ports at least once a year for brief periods. As he had expected, we were cordially received, and official as well as unofficial exchanges of calls and hospitality were quickly arranged.
Q: How did your visit in Bone proceed?
Smith-Hutton: It proceeded very well. However, I had expected to remain there for two weeks, and on 18 September I received a message from Vice Admiral Bieri to proceed to Malta, embark Admiral Mark A. Mitscher as a passenger, and take him to Norfolk, Virginia. Admiral Mitscher was to be ordered as Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet, and had been on an inspection tour in Europe. He'd been taken to a British naval hospital in Malta for an emergency operation for acute appendicitis and was recuperating there.
The doctors said he could leave the hospital, but they preferred that he return to the United States on board a ship, rather than continue his tour by air. I arrived in Malta on 19 September, went ashore to report to Admiral Mitscher , and sailed that same evening for Norfolk. The Chief of Operations authorized us to proceed at 20 knots to expedite his return. The passage was smooth and we got to Norfolk eight days later without incident.
Q: How would you describe Admiral Mitscher's appearance?
Smith-Hutton: He was rather frail, a small, slender man with a quiet, unassuming, soft-spoken, and kindly manner. He had a humorous twinkle in his eye. I had never met him, and I must say that it was difficult to picture him as one of the outstanding carrier task force commanders in the war against Japan. Although he looked to be completely recovered when we arrived in Norfolk, he died within the year. As a result of this special trip, my cruise to Europe, which was to have lasted approximately six months, was cut to somewhat less than three.
Q: How did Admiral Mitscher spend his time on board?
Smith-Hutton: During much of the trip home he stayed in his cabin reading and resting. Admiral Hewitt had ordered a medical officer from London to Malta to assist the British medical officers, and this officer was also on board the Little Rock with the Admiral. He assisted the ship’s medical officer in taking care of him, and both of them informed me that the patient was recovering normally.
I think that Admiral Mitscher had always been very active and had worked hard with the result that he found it difficult to relax. Fleet Admiral Nimitz , the Chief of Operations knew this, and wanted to be sure that Admiral Mitscher had a quiet, restful trip home with little to do and no responsibilities. Toward the end of the trip he came to the chart house and bridge several times. I saw him sitting in the sun or walking on deck, and when he left in Norfolk, he remarked that the ship was well kept and organized and that he had been very well taken care of while he was on board. I was happy about that.
Q: I think we can say that Admiral Nimitz was forcing some recuperation and rehabilitation on Admiral Mitscher.
What did your ship’s schedule call for next Captain?
Smith-Hutton: Since I was supposed to be in Europe, Vice Admiral Fechteler, Commander battleships and cruisers Atlantic Fleet, wanted to use the ship in the best way possible, and so during the following month I was instructed to carry out training exercises off the mouth of the Chesapeake. Then we got orders to prepare for a cold-weather training cruise. Vice Admiral Fechteler informed me that I was to command the task group consisting of the Little Rock, the battleship Missouri, and four destroyers which would operate for a month in waters between Greenland and Canada, beginning about 15 November 1946.
In preparing for this cruise we were to receive special allowances of winter clothing for deck force personnel.
Q: Can we assume that this operation was in the nature of a cold weather research project?
Smith-Hutton: That is what it was. The Admiral' s staff prepared lists of exercises to be conducted, observations to be made, and questionnaires to be answered. These would become the basis for type instructions for battleships, cruisers, and destroyers to be prepared later. Prior to 15 November, I conferred several times with Captain T.B. Hill, of the Missouri, a classmate, and the captains of the destroyers who were in Norfolk.
We departed from Chesapeake Bay as scheduled on 15 November for Argentia, conducting training exercises. After two days there we sailed. northward again.
Q: Captain, I have here a volume 14 of the Samuel Eliot Morison Naval History of World War II. The volume is titled, "Victory in the Pacific. " On page 367 there is a passage which deals with the surrender for the USS Missouri and the destroyer Lansdowne,. I will now read this. "General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz entertained a feeling of compassion for the fallen foe. Nimitz revoked an order from Halsey to the C.O. of the destroyer Lansdowne not to offer coffee, cigarettes, or other courtesies to the Japanese delegation. The Japanese delegates received the customary honors as they approached the gangway in order to symbolize the fact that they were no longer enemies."
With regard to the passage on the destroyer Lansdowne , do you have any comment on this?
Smith-Hutton: Morison’s account confirms my recollection of the treatment given the Japanese delegation. Colonel Mashbir is mistaken and to my knowledge the Japanese
were received with courtesy and given the usual courtesies of the wardroom. I don’t know why Colonel Mashbir gave such a distorted account.
Q: Thank you. This should put to rest the story of Colonel Mashbir that the CO of the Lansdowne, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, had orders not to offer these Japanese delegates cold water, refreshments, or anything.
Last week we were discussing the cold weather operations in which the cruiser Little Rock under your command was about to be involved. Will you describe what happened?
Smith-Hutton: Our orders allowed great flexibility in conducting exercises and operations, since it was impossible to forecast how far north in the Davis Straits we could go before we met floating ice or icebergs, because conditions vary greatly from year to year. We were to proceed to the Arctic Circle unless heavy ice was encountered to the south, and were to remain north of the Circle for at least a week.
As soon as we cleared Newfoundland and turned north, we ran into a strong north headwind, and even at our cruising speed of 15 knots all of the ships except the Missouri began to pitch considerably. This north wind continued all during the cruise, and by the time we crossed the Arctic Circle, all of the ships were covered with ice forward of the bridge.
Q: In this very bad weather, how did you manage to fuel the destroyers?
Smith-Hutton: Fortunately, there was a relatively calm period about five days out of Argentia, and we were able to fuel the destroyers from the Missouri. We found, however, that we could not fuel them from the Little Rock under the weather conditions existing, because there was too much motion on both ships. And in the first attempts lines and fuel hoses were damaged and broken.
Q: Did you try to launch the float aircraft ?
Smith-Hutton: Yes. The Missouri catapulted both of her planes on one of the first relatively calm days, and in recovering them, damaged one considerably. While the planes were in the air, I simulated making a slick for planes to land and asked the aviators in the Missouri planes to look at this slick. Both pilots recommended against attempting flight and recovery operations from the Little Rock until weather conditions improved. They didn’t improve during the cruise with the result that we concluded that neither battleship nor cruiser aircraft could be utilized extensively in the Arctic during autumn and winter months under normal conditions.
Q: When you talk about making a slick. For the benefit of future readers, will you describe how you make a slick?
Smith-Hutton: The ship is steered 45 degrees from the wind , either to the right or to the left of the wind, then makes a 90-degree turn through the wind to have it 45 degrees on the other bow. The turn creates a smooth area or slick astern of the ship, and the planes have comparatively smooth water to land in.
Q: What was the temperature range, and how did the lookouts fare?
Smith-Hutton: The temperatures were below freezing both day and night, and as might be expected, personnel on exposed deck areas required frequent reliefs. We concluded every twenty minutes was a reasonable period for searchlight operators, lookouts, and antiaircraft gun crews. The worst, of course, is the wind. So personnel in protected areas, such as the bridge and enclosed gun mounts, did not need to be relieved more frequently than normally.
Q: In this cold weather, how did the guns and the fire-control gear operate?
Smith-Hutton: They operated sluggishly unless we used special lubricants to prevent jamming. We designated some guns to use the special lubricants and some not to use them so that we could make comparisons. There weren’t any unusual problems with the engineering plants.
Q: Bearing in mind that you were operating in the same broad area as the Titanic when she went down in 1912 striking an iceberg, did you see any icebergs?
Smith-Hutton: No, we remained in the area, in the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait area, and were well into the Arctic region, until all of the exercises and tests were completed, but we didn't encounter icebergs even near the Canadian or Greenland coasts. So we never did learn whether they could be detected by the sonar gear of destroyers. We fired a number of gunnery practices and fired star shells, but we found that with the low overcast encountered during the entire cruise, these were of minimal value. The ceiling was low - between 250 feet and a thousand feet - with the result that the star shells illuminated the clouds rather than the target.
Q: When did you terminate this cold weather exercise?
Smith-Hutton: We returned to Argentia on 10 December as scheduled, and. we stayed there a week, effecting voyage repairs and routine upkeep. This period was utilized also to prepare the reports and assemble the data that we’d collected during the numerous tests. These were to be submitted to the type commander. All of the captains agreed that the Arctic presents special problems and is not a pleasant area to operate in during the winter months. Prior to leaving Argentia, I received orders to part company with the others in the group and to proceed to New York. The other ships returned to Chesapeake Bay.
Q: What came up next in your employment schedule for the ship?
Smith-Hutton: During the holidays the Commandant of the 3rd Naval District asked us to act as host for three Christmas parties for underprivileged children. The public relations staff of the District attended to all of the details, providing food, presents and entertainment, but they asked us to furnish guides and men to keep an eye on the small visitors, so that they wouldn’t get hurt.
These parties were a great success, and it seemed to me that the men detailed to help with them had as much fun as the children did.
Q: Did you have an opportunity to see any other east coast ports ?
Smith-Hutton: In January '47 we were ordered out of Newport, acting independently, conducting drills and exercises getting ready for the first six weeks of the year, preparing for a two-week training cruise for naval reserve personnel out of Charleston, South Carolina.
While I was in Newport, I called upon classmates and friends who were going to the Naval War College, and I also saw several retired officers who had come to Newport to live. I spent
several pleasant hours at the homes of Admiral and Mrs. Yarnell and Captain and Mrs. F.F. Rogers, reminiscing about the pre-war period in the Far East.
Q: Do you recall the physical appearance and state of health of Admiral Yarnell and your old predecessor in Tokyo, Captain Rogers ?
Smith-Hutton: Both of them were in remarkably good health, and I thought that they had changed very little. Admiral and Mrs. Yarnell were quite content and said that they loved the life in Newport, although I have an idea that the Admiral missed the hustle and bustle of Washington. After he had left the fleet, he went to Washington, acted as an advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations and was on the General Board.
Captain Rogers had also been extremely busy during the war. He had command of a large training base near Newport, where they trained Seabees, and at times had as many as five thousand Seabees under his command. Captain Rogers regretted in some ways that he didn't have more to do with the Far East and with Japan, which he knew so well, but the Navy Department and the Bureau of Personnel reminded him that he was doing a very important job. He was still rather weak and needed rest, because he was retired for a heart condition. He was told that he should be very happy with his assignment which was really a very important one.
Q: Yes. I understand that this base you describe is probably Davisville, which was the primary training camp for the Seabees, and the record of the Seabees in the Mediterranean and the South Pacific speaks well for the performance of Captain Rogers.
Smith-Hutton: He deserves a great deal of credit. He was a very fine officer.
Q: Going back to the Little Rock. Did you expect to be on board long, or was it the usual tour for a year?
Smith-Hutton: The detail officer told me that I should be on board about a year, but that nine months could be considered a normal cruise, since so many captains were waiting for commands, and many ships had been decommissioned. So I expected to be relieved any time after March. At this time I put in an official request to be assigned as a student at the Naval War College. Incidentally, this was the second request for duty that I’d made during my naval career, the first having been a request for assignment as a language officer in Japan.
Q: While you were waiting for the decision of the Bureau of Personnel on your Naval War College request, did the Little Rock make any more cruises?
Smith-Hutton: Yes. We made a training cruise with naval reserves from Charleston. This presented no problems. We visited only one port, San Juan in Puerto Rico. At sea we conducted daily drills and exercises. The officers in command of the reserve units reported that the refresher training had benefited them and they hoped to be assigned to the Little Rock for the next cruise. Both the training and the cruise itself were considered to be satisfactory.
On leaving Charleston to return to New York where the ship was scheduled to have a three-months overhaul in the Navy Yard, I received a dispatch from the Bureau of Personnel indicating that I would soon be relieved, would report to the Chief of Naval Operations for temporary duty and then go to the Embassy in Paris as Naval Attaché.
Q: Captain, usually a senior officer such as yourself is asked by the Bureau if he wishes duty which they have under consideration. So did you consider your orders rather unusual ?
Smith-Hutton: I thought so. They were certainly unexpected. I really wanted to go to the Naval War College, and was looking forward to it. However, on 1 March, we began overhaul at the Navy Yard, and on the 12th I was relieved by Captain F.J. Mee, a classmate.
Q: At this point, on leaving the ship, can you comment. upon the operational efficiency of the fleet in this immediate post-war period? I’m talking about demobilization and its deleterious effect on operations.
Smith-Hutton: Certainly as far as cruisers and the battleships were concerned, I know that there was a great shortage of trained personnel. The classmate who commanded the Missouri, Captain T.B. Hill, who was an ordnance post-graduate and a very experienced officer and Captain Dietrich of the Houston with whom I’d operated in Europe both complained of personnel problems as they had exactly the same problem as I had. The young enlisted men and the young officers were good raw material, but they hadn’t been in service long enough to be properly trained. They were willing and effective within limits, but there was a great strain on the few officers who were experienced. Training requires times, but it took hours each day and increased the difficulties of the captains and the senior officers of the ships.
Q: I quite agree with you. I recall there was a reduction in safety precautions in general, I think, because of inexperienced people and not enough people manning the engine room and that sort of thing.
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This ends the portion of Captain Smith-Hutton interview pertaining to his command of the U.S.S. Little Rock.
USS Little Rock Chronology for 1946
USS Little Rock Chronology for 1947
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