Two Cultures Collide and Heroes Emerge from the Sea 8

The United States in 1941 was tense and filled with anticipation about the war in Europe. But nothing could prepare the nation for the events that were about to transpire. The nation and the Japanese had long been on a collision course because of the nature of their two cultures. But the population at large had no sense of the grotesque nature of that clash that would occur in the coming days. Or the cost for both nations over the next four years.

 

Washington Evening star. December 06, 1941,

“Silent Prayer Banned At Japanese Shrines

Silent prayers for the dead, which have been said at shrines and temples in Japan ever since the great earthquake of 1924, have been banned.

The Shrine Board in Tokio has ruled that praying silently is a “Christian custom alien to traditions” and requests that, instead, people give two deep bows and two handclaps.”

On the night before December 7, there was only one reference to Japan in the paper which served the nation’s capital.

Negotiations between the American and Japanese governments were coming to a head but most of the country was focused on events in Europe and the coming of Christmas. There had been a sense that something was brewing in the Pacific but it was not something for the general public to be consumed with just yet.

History doesn’t record what Commander Cassin Young, Commanding officer of the USS Vestal was doing the night of December 6th. Commander Young had just recently reported on board the ship after doing an Executive Officer tour at the submarine base at New London CT. His family had moved to the west coast where they had previously been stationed and he was living on board as a geographical bachelor.

The Vestal was an older ship that served as a repair ship for the fleet in Pearl.

She had been launched on May 19, 1908, and was placed in service as a fleet collier. She served in World War I when she was deployed to Queenstown. There, she provided services for ships of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla – and stayed there for the duration of the war.

The USS Vestal returned in 1919, and 22 years later, found herself on the verge of another World War.

Commander Young had had a distinguished career up to that point. Submarine and Destroyer Commander, Squadron Commander, many important posts in Washington and the West Coast including Hawaii and finally the executive officer at the Navy’s premier submarine school. Graduating from the Naval Academy in 1916, he served a progression of duties that was supposed to lead to a promising end. But fate and the Navy that struggled in the years between the wars had an impact on his path.

According to family records, that career hit a rough spot in 1941 when a new base commanding officer arrived at New London. The pre-war years were challenging to the Navy since budgets were slim and money was tight. As the XO, Young had overseen the spending of large sums of money rebuilding the base which had been neglected. Repairs to the lower base where the submarines operated and upgrades to the rapidly growing training facility were put into place. Even the quarters where the officer’s families were housed had received some upgrades.

But the new base CO’s wife was not satisfied that her housing was up to her standards and insisted that money be spent to make their quarters even more acceptable. Young, as the man who controlled the budget, refused to spend another dollar on the quarters. The money that had been allocated would be better spent on things that would prepare the Navy for an as yet undefined conflict.

There are no official transcripts of what happened next, but refusing your boss’s orders and the conflict it must have created resulted in Commander Young receiving a less than expected follow on set of orders. When his tour was completed, he found himself with orders to an old ship (launched before he was even a Midshipman) in a faraway place.

Young had been in the Navy since 1912 and he would not reach his retirement year until 1942. It is only speculation on my part, but he probably saw the handwriting on the wall. That explains why his faithful wife and family were living in California on the morning of December 7th and he was living on a very old ship tied up next to the USS Arizona.

The Arizona was not in her normal berth that morning and the Vestal was tied up in preparation for an overhaul that was going to occur. Normally, another battleship was tied up there but as fate would have it, the previous week’s maneuvers had resulted in a switch in berths.

The night before the morning of December 7th would have been a typical peacetime schedule. Social hours and dancing for many at the numerous clubs, calm weather with a smooth Hawaiian breeze to keep the air from getting stale on the old ships. Taps on board the ships and lights out as men came back to their bunks to enjoy a restful sleep prior to a Sunday in port. The fleet had been very busy for months before then sailing in formation, practicing their gunnery and flexing the powerful engines in broadly sculpted maneuvers around the Hawaiian Islands. The great grey hulks made for a magnificent picture while carving through the seas where Captain Cook once sailed.

Commander Young may have had trouble sleeping. The move from Connecticut to Hawaii was fairly recent and his body clock was more than likely still set to east coast time. He may have even been thinking of his family on the West Coast and the work that lay ahead on the Arizona.

The only facts we know are that at 7:55 when the Japanese attacked without warning, he went into action the only way he knew. As a man who had spent his whole lifetime preparing for this very moment, he went to work defending his ship.

The Vestal was a repair ship and not meant to slug it out with incoming Jap planes. But she did have guns and instinct told him to go to where the action was.

From the Vestal History:

“Sunday quickly took a turn as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The ship sprung into action, manning every gun from the 5-inch (130 mm) broadside battery to the .30-caliber Lewis machine guns on the bridge wings. At about 08:05, her 3-inch (76 mm) gun commenced firing.

What ensued next was a fight for survival. Two bombs intended for more valuable battleships on Battleship Row hit the USS Vestal.

One bomb struck the port side and penetrated through three decks. The bomb passed through a crew’s space and exploded in a stores hold. The explosion started fires that necessitated flooding the forward magazines.

The second bomb struck the starboard side. This bomb passed through the carpenter shop and the shipfitter shop, and left an irregular hole about five feet in diameter in the bottom of the ship.

Survival became the primary focus of the USS Vestal crew, while anti-aircraft fire became secondary. A bomb hit the nearby USS Arizona. Almost as if in a volcanic eruption, the forward part of the battleship exploded, and the concussion from the explosion literally cleared Vestal’s deck – sending Vestal’s gunners and crew overboard.

Among the men blown off Vestal was her commanding officer, Commander Cassin Young. The captain swam back to the ship, however, and countermanded an abandon ship order that someone had given, coolly saying, “Lads, we’re getting this ship underway.”

With fires on board the Vestal and after two bombs had struck the repair ship, the Vestal crew cut the mooring lines with axes, freeing her from the Arizona, and she got underway, steering by engines alone. A tug, the captain of which had served aboard the Vestal just a few months before the attack, pulled Vestal’s bow away from the inferno engulfing Arizona and the repair ship, and the latter began to creep out of danger.”

The Vestal survived the attack and was completely restored. While she was being restored, her repair crews were used to try and save as many men and as many ships as she could from the wreckage in the harbor.

Think about what happened for a moment.

Young was blown from his ship by the force of the explosion. He found himself in the water with many dead and wounded around him just trying to stay afloat and alive. The force of the explosion and the resultant landing in the water must have been disorienting. Yet, this man, Cassin Young, remembered that he was the Captain of the ship that had just been attacked. The attack was still going on. Bombs, torpedoes and bullets were flying and landing all around the harbor. Yet he CHOSE to go back to his ship and climbed back on board. He is soaking wet, probably covered with the oil and dirt form the debris of the water that he just crawled out of. He rallies his me.

The part of the story that is often left out was that once he was blown into the water, the order had been given by his next in command (or some senior officer) to abandon ship. But in the back of his mind, Young remembered that the battleship that was next to him still continued hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel and many bombs. More explosions would doom the Vestal and cost the lives of his remaining crew. Young had served on battleships in his career and he was an engineer so he knew what could happen if they did not escape the death grasp of the dying Arizona. He reversed the order to abandon ship and ordered the engine room to bring the main engines on line. When they were unable to muster enough main steam, he hailed the nearby passing tug and ensured the Vestal could get out of harm’s way.

It was an action of heroic nature conducted by a men who had spent his entire life training for this moment.

For his action, Commander Cassin Young was awarded the Medal of Honor and advanced to Captain by Admiral Chester Nimitz (another submariner). The Vestal, with Captain Young in command would play a key role in many of the coming battles including supporting the coming naval battles of Guadalcanal. Operating in forward areas with threats on all sides, she served as a needed repair ship for the battered and bruised ships that fought in the “Slot”.

In November, Captain Young would receive new orders and finally get to join directly in the fight. Admiral Dan Callaghan needed a new Captain for his flagship, the USS San Francisco (a heavy cruiser) and his friend Cassin Young would be just the man for the task ahead. On one night in November, they would sail together into history in one of the wildest and lopsided surface fights in the history of modern naval warfare. Neither man would make it through the night.

Cassin Young had passed 30 years as a sailor (counting his midshipman years) on the day he joined the angels. He is an American hero and someone who exemplified what courage and service to his country mean.

I am nearly finished writing about his life and am anxious for the world to know just what a great man he was. But today, December 7th, I hope you will think about Cassin Young and all of those men and women who were able to overcome the disaster of Pearl Harbor and eventually lead the country and the world back to freedom.

Mister Mac

 

 

 

By God’s Help and Teamwork – The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal November 1942 Reply

Thanksgiving Weekend 1942 – Washington DC

The headlines on the front page of the Washington Evening Star on November 28th, 1942 were focused on the recent events in the Battle of Tunis in Northern Africa. Thanksgiving was just completed and the Navy football Team was lauded for a surprise win over Army in the annual traditional game. Mrs. Tom Girdler of Cleveland was granted a divorce in Reno Nevada from her husband who was a Cleveland Steel Manufacturer (Republic Steel) and manufacturer of airplanes in San Diego for the war effort. (buried later in the paper on page A-11 was the announcement of his nuptials to his 36 year old secretary on the same day).

But the interesting story was buried on page A11. Eugene Burns (associated Press War Correspondent) was finally able to file his reports on a battle that had happened between the dates of November 12-15.

In recent conflicts, the American people have been treated to nearly instant reports from the press about the actions of our armed forces. Almost as soon as the missile leaves the tubes of a submerged submarine, reports are made available to the public. Live shots from the shock and awe campaign in Iraq were spread all over the globe with the accompanying sirens of the Iraqi air raid system as a backdrop.

But things were different in November of 1942 and throughout most of the Second World War. Restrictions on information were considered necessary so that the enemy could not gain any advantage from having too much information. The full report from Pearl Harbor’s disaster was not even released until the following year. While rumors of the extent of the damage had already been shared by returning servicemen and civilians who fled the island, official confirmation was rare and sketchy.

So it is no surprise that the Navy and the press would be reluctant to share the complete story of what was later known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

The battle that raged from November 12th to the 15th was both heroic and horrific. The stunning losses would not be revealed for quite some time after the battle but the losses in men and ships on both sides had consequences that changed the course of the war. Combined with the sacrifices of Marines and Army troops on the straggled little island of Guadalcanal, the road to Tokyo took a decidedly sharp turn on the final day of the battle.

To read the story in the Washington Star, however, you would have a sense of the battle but little detail of any use.

From the beginning of the battle to the end, the United States would lose more ships and Navy men than in any battle of its kind to date. It would also be one of the most significant surface actions ever recorded in US Navy history. But at a tremendous cost. 

Washington Evening star. [volume], November 28, 1942, Page A-11, Image 13

Jap Task Force Demolished Off Guadalcanal By ‘God’s Help’ and Teamwork of All Hands
Here are three delayed dispatches from Eugene Burns, Associated Press correspondent, giving an eyewitness account of the naval battle at Guadalcanal November 12 to 15.

By EUGENE BURNS,
Associated Press War Correspondent. WITH THE UNITED STATES PACIFIC FLEET, Nov. 16 (Delayed).

We have been slaying the Japs for the last four days. We left some 20,000 of their best pioneer troops swimming in the ocean. We sent tens of thousands of tons of their irreplaceable forced steel into the Jap sinkhole off Guadalcanal. As we steam away from that wreckage the “well done” from Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, is still ringing over our loudspeaker system.

This we know: The entire Jap transport fleet of 12 vessels was hopelessly destroyed.

A Jap battleship was badly damaged and perhaps sunk by cruiser gunfire, and then seven torpedoes and several heavy bomb hits. Five Jap cruisers were badly damaged and perhaps sunk by shellfire and heavy bomb hits and torpedoes. Many Jap destroyers were hit and sunk. A Jap air group was knocked from the sky. Some of our heavy ships have yet to send in their bag. Indications are that it will be considerable.

(A Navy communique November 16 describing this action listed the Japanese losses as one battleship sunk, three heavy cruisers sunk, two light cruisers sunk, five destroyers sunk, eight transports sunk, one battleship damaged, six destroyers damaged and four cargo transports destroyed.)

The smashing victory, the biggest since Midway, took a Navy pilot to fly beyond the safe distance of his gasoline supply to locate the Jap transport fleet and to send back a more accurate disposition of the enemy than yet achieved in the Pacific war.

San Francisco Waded in.

It took the cruiser San Francisco, already damaged by a flaming crash-diving plane, to wade in and polish off a Jap destroyer, explode a Jap cruiser, and then slug it out with a Jap battleship of the Kongo class—8-inch batteries against 14 or 16 inchers at a range of 2.000 yards.

It took the Army’s B-17s and fighter planes to keep the Jap fleet harassed, to knock down their fighters, to soften the opposition, to demoralize the Jap air force and to give our attacking force much-needed protection. It took an Army transport with 6-inch guns to get into the fight. It took men in compartments deep below the water line to man their battle stations while relief crews stood by hour after long hour, until night came, ready to replace instantly worn out crews.

It took the marines, who had been bombed and shelled and harried for four months and who had talked of home and had cherished pocketbook pictures of loved ones and who had been sick with dysentery and joked about pulling their belts up tighter to stand off the Jap and to hold Henderson Field so that air superiority never was lost.

Battle Took God’s Help.

It took God’s help. The seamen will be the quickest to acknowledge it. Our striking forces moved in on the Jap with everything but numbers in our favor. The weather  was right. The disposition of the Jap was right. The disposition of our forces, gathered from thousands of miles, was right.

To fill out the background of the picture: For four months the Jap had perfected his plans for this knockout blow to keep this Tokio Guadalcanal air express, via Jap mandated and occupied islands, intact. His schedule was upset the dawn of August 7, when the biggest United States naval force ever assembled in the Pacific landed marines who proved a five-to-one match with the jungle-fighting Japs.

He then used Rabaul as a terminal to his hop, skip and jump route from Tokio by making his airpower available to the tips of his conquest. Because his planes from Rabaul could not gain supremacy of the air over Guadalcanal, he projected a terminal to Buin, Faisl, Rekata Bay, Gizo and Buka. The Jap used everything in the book to wipe out American forces from their projected Guadalcanal base. Submarines shelled positions, transports attempted and made landings. Small patrol boats, landing barges, destroyers, cruisers were used to bring in overwhelming numbers of Japs. They hacked at the marines. United States Army forces. Coast Guardsmen, day in and day out, night in and night out.

Camouflaged Invasion Barges.

At one time they had 50 invasion barges camouflaged with trees and brush on their way to Guadalcanal. Two young Navy carrier pilots hit that group and strafed it and sent it back to its base, after which the marine pilots joined with the Navy pilots to wipe it out. The Jap then prepared for a giant frontal assault to overcome any opposition and to take the field at all costs and to drive American forces into the sea.

On October 25 the Japs had what seemed overwhelming power massed to shell the island with battleships, to knock it out with a carrier-based airplanes, and to occupy it with a strong transport force.

On October 26 an American task force sought out the enemy ships in his own submarine filled waters northeast of Santa Cruz and although outclassed 2-to-l engaged him. We lost a carrier and a destroyer. The Japs suffered damage
to one carrier, perhaps the loss of a second and damage to several heavy
warships. More important, perhaps, the Japs had four air groups consisting of 167 to 177 planes chewed up. A carrier attacked by 84 planes knocked down 34.

Reorganized Striking Force

Without air protection the Japs retired and quickly reorganized a surface striking force to move into the Solomons in sufficient numbers for a frontal assault supported by heavy night bombardment by battleships. heavy cruisers and destroyers.

It was an A, B, C maneuver. The battleships, cruisers and destroyers would lie out 250 miles out of reach of our aircraft and protected by carriers farther back. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon they would begin steaming in at high speed for their night shelling.

On the afternoon of November 12, 25 Jap torpedo planes and eight fighters struck at our cruisers screening force and transports at Guadalcanal. One of 30 which were shot down crash-dived on the cruiser San Francisco as announced
by a Navy communique.

That night off Guadalcanal the Japs sent in their mighty sweeping force. They were engaged by what seemed a puny screening force of American cruisers and destroyers.

The hopelessly outmatched American force waded in. Typical of that night’s action was the work of the already damaged cruiser San Francisco. While blowing up a Jap cruiser, she engaged a destroyer on the side and sank it. Then she closed in on a Jap battleship of the Kongo class, called the Pagoda by our flyers because of its superstructure, and hit it 18 times at 3,000 yards. Other Jap units also were hit.

Dead in Water.

The Japanese battleship was observed next morning dead in the water. She got under way at seven knots when seven torpedoes were rammed through her hull and some heavy bombs penetrated her deck. The San Francisco received no vital damage.

This determined action of our staunch little cruiser force and destroyers prevented any shelling of Henderson Field that night, thus enabling aircraft to operate from it to maintain local air superiority.

The next morning, Friday, November 13, two hours’ before day break, Lt. (j. g.) Martin D. Carmody, 25, San Jose, Calif., took off on search and found the Japanese transports by flying beyond his assigned area despite the fact that this endangered his return by lowering his fuel supply. After making his report—described by Lt. Hubert B Harden, Iowa Falls, Iowa, air operations officer, as the most accurate of any aerial report of the war in the Pacific—he flew his Douglas Dauntless back to the Japanese convoy and his bomb was a near miss off the stern of one transport. His group attacked other units, causing heavy damage to two heavy cruisers, perhaps sinking one of them. It was a raging furnace when the flyers left.

Led Flyers for Kill

Lt. Carmody returned to his carrier long overdue and later led attacking bombers and strafers in for the kill. Planes raked the transports with a murderous fire from guns capable of driving projectiles through thick steel plate. Discharged from screaming dive bombers the machine gun bullets can sometimes penetrate several decks and even pass out through the hull of a transport.

After the first group finished knocking out the escort opposition a pilot going in inquired of a returning pilot, “Did you leave any opposition?” “A little but nothing to worry about.” “There isn’t any task force there anymore. Just some transports. I’d say about five good ones left,” it was reported by one of the pilots of the second group which participated. A third attack group was told “I’d suggest you attack the good ones and dump ’em all. Just pick out any one and go to it.”

Carrier Strength Expended

Apparently the carrier strength of the Japanese had been expended the day before when 33 planes attacked our cruiser screening force and as they were engaged in protecting transports. The carriers during this last action apparently had pulled out and were streaking for safety.

On the afternoon of the 14th Lt. Macgregor Kilpatrick. 26, of Southampton. N. Y. “found and downed” a second Kawanishi which sighted our attack force. His wingman. Ensign William K. Blair. 26, of Toledo, said that it took about 40 shots apiece to drop the four-motored job flaming into the water.

During the night of the 14th one Japanese transport and three cargo vessels succeeded in getting to Guadalcanal attempting to land about 10 miles from the American Henderson field positions. These four ships were met with gunfire. A heavily damaged American cruiser limped out of port and completed the utter devastation of the Japanese transports. That night to complete the carnage several of our heaviest units moved into Guadalcanal and gave the Japanese a taste of heavy caliber gunfire. Marines who watched the engagement off Guadalcanal said that today’s firing was the heaviest they had heard.

Planes’ Attack on Battleship Left Only Oil Slick


WITH THE UNITED STATES FLEET IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC, Nov. 17 (Delayed) (A5).

Lt. Albert P. Coffin submitted the first report of how one small squadron of torpedo plane pilots torpedoed a Kongo-class Japanese battleship, two cruisers and four transports.

Lt. Coffin, who was graduated from Annapolis in 1934, was leading his flight through some protective clouds when he saw the enemy battleship, accompanied by a cruiser and four destroyers, steaming slowly past Savo Island, off the northwest coast of Guadalcanal. It was the morning of Friday, the 13th. (He was to learn later that the battleship had been hit earlier that morning by a torpedo from a Marine Corps plane.)
Lt. Coffin’s squadron climbed for a torpedoing position. The planes then dived and swooped down from opposite sides for their prize. Columns of water funneled into the air as the Americans’ torpedoes struck the ship’s vitals. The battleship stopped dead in the water.

This action occurred when the battleship was only about 20 minutes from a position to shell Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, where American Marines and Army troops were expecting a Japanese offensive to recapture the island.

May Have Saved Day.

By stopping this battleship short of its objective, Lt. Coffin and his fellow flyers may have saved the day for the Americans in their sea victory over the Japanese fleet during the November 12-15 fight. Navy officers said that if the battleship had succeeded in shelling Henderson Field, it might have been Impossible for our planes to use the field for takeoffs to help the surface ships during the fight.

Lt. Coffin’s torpedo squadron scored more hits on the battleship and, when last seen that evening, the ship’s stern was afire and men were abandoning the vessel. The next morning, the scene was marked only by an oil slick 2 miles in

diameter.
That was November 14. That day more Japs ships were intercepted by the squadron which torpedoed two cruisers, leaving one of the Mogami class, burning fiercely. The planes also set upon transports, making life most unpleasant for perhaps a division of 15,000 amphibious troops bound for an attack on Guadalcanal.

Turned to Landed Troops.

The flyers then turned their attention to troops and equipment that had been landed on Guadalcanal from four transports which had managed to escape the fire of American planes and surface ships.

Many bombs were dropped on these troops, Lt. Coffin said. During the entire action, every plane in Lt. Coffin’s squadron received at least one anti-aircraft hit, but not one man was injured. Lt. Coffin gave credit for his squadron’s performance to Marine Corps fighter pilots who “gave my planes splendid fighter protection which was beautifully coordinated.”

Log of Action.

“Those marines don’t know fear,” Lt. Coffin declared. “If one of them sees something he’ll go up and take a poke at it regardless.” The log of the attacks gives a picture of what Lt. Coffin’s pilot, with marine fighter protection, did during the battle:

November 13 – first attack. Fish (torpedo) on port side forward and on starboard side amidships. About 13 Zeros overhead. Moderate antiaircraft fire. Second attack. Hits on starboard side of the battleship and on her port bow. At this time the Kongo vessel was about 10 miles north of Savo Island and heading north at about two knots.

November 14—Third attack consisted of intercepting Japs’ ships 170 miles away. Found five cruisers and four destroyers. Lead cruiser of Mogami class. Hits on right flank starboard side. Hit and one near miss and direct bomb hits on second cruiser. Leading Mogami – class cruiser observed burning fiercely and second cruiser observed smoking. Fourth attack against Jap transports some 125 miles distant. Two undamaged transports hit with torpedo amidships. Six Zero fighters gave opposition. Thousands of Japs seen jumping overboard. Fifth attack diving on two transports dead in the water. Hit and near miss scored on each. The hit broke one transport in half.

November 15.—Raids made on four transports which had been aground west of Point Cruz. Direct bomb hits scored and ships burning fiercely. Remnants of Japs estimated at three divisions amphibious troops bombed and received Molotov baskets (bomb clusters) with our compliments

Opening Battleship Salvos Made Direct Hits on Japs

ABOARD A UNITED STATES BATTLESHIP IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC, Nov. 18 (Delayed).

Opening salvos of two United States battleships scored direct hits on the surprised Japanese fleet from a distance of about 8 miles in the historic naval battle off Savo Island the night of November 14-15.

The action was related today by the communications officer on “unidentified ship” which participates in the mighty blow which, sank one Jap battleship or heavy cruiser, three heavy cruisers and at least two Jap destroyers in addition to several ships damaged. Here is his story:

“On the morning of the 14th we received reports of heavy Jap bombardment of Guadalcanal. Our first job was to get there. We were too late. That day we milled out of sight of the Japs. We received news that two large groups of Jap transports with escorts were on the way to Guadalcanal. One group consisted of two battleships, one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers and about six destroyers.

‘‘Engage and Destroy.”

‘‘Orders were given to us “engage and destroy Jap transports which were crippled by air attacks during the day.’ “About 6 p.m. we made our first definite change of course to Savo Island. At sunset, about 7:46 p.m., we went into battle stations. An announcement of our task and known disposition if the enemy was made to the men in keeping with our normal policy of keeping our men intelligently informed.

When that news was delivered the men were asked ‘Men, what is your answer?’ Every man responded ‘Yea!’
A captain or Marines said over the speaker system, ‘the Marines are ready to give them hell any time.’
“Our best record of going into general quarters, was bettered by one and one-half minutes. The men were out to break records. This was the chance we wanted.

“Shortly after 9 o’clock we saw fires which appeared to be explosions to the northwest, about 30 to 40 miles west of the Russell Islands. It is my belief that the Japs were either firing upon their own units or that they were dispatching their own damaged ships to the ocean floor.

Tension on Ships Increased.

“As we approached Savo Island the tension of our ships increased. Our men began seeing things that were not there. Innumerable false reports were received. Rocks looked like ships and shadows like submarines. The men were straining to get a Jap target. “As we came around at 11:15 p.m. we passed over the spot where the cruisers Astoria, Vincennes and Quincy had been sunk August 9.

This word was passed to all hands. Our men were even more determined to get the “There was a quarter moon, the sky was overcast about 60 to 70 per cent. The water was nice and smooth, perfectly calm. “At 12:50 a.m. I sighted what first suspected to be the enemy. My eyesight is unusually good at night. “Right after that others saw three ships. “We received orders, ‘Commence firing when ready.”

Direct Hit on First Salvo

“Our first ship’s first salvo set her target on fire. It was a direct hit. “Within 15 to 20 seconds our target was lined up. We also got a hit on our first salvo. I could see fires start. “The Jap fire started after we got off three salvos. I counted at least six and possibly eight Jap ships returning the fire.

“After firing several minutes, our ships saw two large explosions near Savo Island and silhouetted against them were two large ships, either heavy cruisers or battleships, about 12.000 to 14,000 yards away.

“This engagement lasted about 10 minutes, I would Judge. It was furious. Then we had about a 5 minute lull. During the lull three Jap ships were reported on our starboard beam and suddenly the Japs illuminated us with searchlights. They were right on us. Their range was about 5.500 yards.

One of our ships started firing almost as soon as the Jap searchlights showed up.

Jap Searchlights Went Out.

“Our salvo was still in the air en route to the Jap ship when the Jap searchlight on the leading ship went out.

“The Japs did not begin firing until 20 seconds after their illumination. This is slow.

“The leading Jap ship was enveloped in smoke. It billowed up in great volumes. I am of the opinion that it was a battleship because it had four searchlights on it.

“Our battery concentrated on the second Jap vessel, and her search lights were knocked out. Smoke issued from her also. I believe she was a light cruiser.

“The enemy ceased firing. We fired several more salvos at her in the general direction of the smoke, but the engagement was finished. We ceased firing at 1:02 a.m., the engagement including a five-minute comparative lull lasting 44 minutes.

Jap Fire Opened Safe.

“During the illumination of the second engagement, they hit us. The hits sounded like big chunks of hail dropping on a tin roof. “We had a useless safe aboard which we could not open because the combination was lost. The Japs opened it for us with an 8-incher.

“The supposition that we caught the enemy by surprise I believe is correct.

“Our losses were about 2 per cent of our crew killed and 3 per cent Injured.

“Our bag was one possible battleship or heavy cruiser; three heavy cruisers; at least two destroyers.

“The enemy knows we hit him well.”

 

The actual battle was much more remarkable in its dramatic fury and devastation on both sides

The Task Force that was employed by the American on the morning of Friday the 13th was badly mauled. Admiral and seaman both shared the crushing blows from the Japanese guns and torpedoes.

In the 34-minute Cruiser Night Action of 12-13 November, one of the most furious sea battles ever fought, our ship losses admittedly were large. The enemy, however, suffered more severely, and his bombardment of Guadalcanal was frustrated with results which became impressively apparent during the next two days. United States losses were as follows:

Sunk                                                 Damaged

CA      0                                                          2 (Portland, San Francisco)

CL      0                                                         1 (Helena)

CLAA 2 (Atlanta, Juneau)                                     0

DD 4 (Barton, Cushing, Laffey, Monssen) 3 (Aaron Ward, O’Bannon, Sterett)

Casualties on both sides were heavy, with the American force having the serious misfortune to lose both its commander, Admiral Callaghan, and its second in command, Admiral Scott.

In the opening salvos, Both Admiral Scott and Callaghan were killed along with MOH awardee Cassin Young and many others on the bridge of the USS San Francisco. The Atlanta was sunk in a blaze of gunfire and the Juneau infamously was sent to the deeps by a Japanese submarine’s torpedo taking along with her the five Sullivan Brothers.

Tenacity is such a mild word compared to what they showed.

It is probably just as well that the country did not have a better idea of how significant the victory in the waters off of Guadalcanal were or how costly. In the end, it was the sheer tenacity of the American Naval fighters that carried the day. It was the spirit of never giving up that the Marines and Army troops on the little island displayed that proved that the Japs could be stopped and their fortunes reversed. These men were giants.

“The fight for this small corner of the south Pacific had cost the Allied navies 24 destroyers and larger warships totaling 126,240 tons, which included two fleet carriers and six heavy cruisers. The Japanese lost two battleships among a total of 24, totaling 134,839 tons. While naval losses were relatively even in terms of tonnage, on the ground Japan lost a great deal more men compared to their American opponents. Japanese lost 25,000 men in action or to starvation and disease out of 60,000 deployed; meanwhile, the Americans had only lost 1,600. Far greater numbers were lost on the seas, but neither side ever counted how many sailors and naval officers were lost during the campaign. Before this campaign, Guadalcanal was an out-of-way tropical jungle island that hardly any had heard of. After, the battles on and near Guadalcanal would come to be known as among the bloodiest in the war across Pacific. “For us who were there,” said Morison, “… Guadalcanal is not a name but an emotion, recalling desperate fights in the air, furious night naval battles, frantic work at supply or construction, savage fighting in the sodden jungle, nights broken by screaming bombs and deafening explosions of naval shells.”

General Alexander Vandegrift, the commander of the troops on Guadalcanal, paid tribute to the sailors who fought the battle:

We believe the enemy has undoubtedly suffered a crushing defeat. We thank Admiral Kinkaid for his intervention yesterday. We thank Lee for his sturdy effort last night. Our own aircraft has been grand in its relentless hammering of the foe. All those efforts are appreciated but our greatest homage goes to Callaghan, Scott and their men who with magnificent courage against seemingly hopeless odds drove back the first hostile attack and paved the way for the success to follow. To them the men of Cactus lift their battered helmets in deepest admiration.

Mister Mac

 

The unluckiest day Reply

Sailors by and large are a very superstitious lot.

The things that set a sailing man or woman on edge are as ancient as the sea itself. I am not sure if it is the dangers they know they will face once they are divorced from the shore or just a strong feeling that fate will reach out and touch them in return for all they did on their last liberty.

One of the oldest traditions that causes sailors to be concerned is setting sail on a Friday. In a few old books (including Lovette’s Naval Customs and Traditions) this is alluded to a number of times. It’s just bad luck to sail on a Friday. As someone who spent more than a few weeks at sea, I can assure you that being underway on any Friday had its down side but on a rare occasion, you would add weight to the day when it happened to fall on the 13th day of the month.

From Legends and superstitions of the sea and of sailors. Bassett, Fletcher (1885):

Ancient Irish chronicles record that a certain king was not allowed to sail on a marauding expedition on Tuesday, or to go in a ship the Monday after Bealtaine (May-day).

Wednesday was consecrated to Odin, who, as Hnickar, was the Northern mariner’s chief deity. Hence it was a lucky day to undertake a voyage. And so with Thursday, which was also dedicated to a favorite deity (Thor) with the Northern warlike mariner.

Saturday seems also to have generally borne a good character. But we are told in an old English work,* ” Certayne craftsmen will nocht begin their worke on Satterday; certain schipmen or mariniers will not begin to sail on the Satterday — quhilk is plane superstition.”

But Friday is of all days the one proverbially unlucky for sailors. Its bad character on shore is well known, and we should not wonder that it also obtained such at sea.

As Marryat says of one of his heroes: “His thoughts naturally reverted to the other point, in which seafaring men are equally bigoted, the disastrous consequences of sailing on a Friday; the origin of which superstition can easily be traced to early Catholicism, when, out of respect for the day of universal redemption, they were directed by their pastors to await the ‘morrow’s sun.’ ”

Southey says, “Many a ship has lost the tide which might have led to fortune, because the captain and crew thought it unlucky to sail on Friday.”

The earliest account of this superstition that I find is in the “Itinerary” of Fynes Moryson (1553), who, speaking of the king of Poland at Dantzig, says: “The next day the king had a good wind, but before this, the king and the queen, whilst sometimes they thought Monday, sometimes Friday, to be unlucky days, had lost many fair winds.”

Cooper says of a certain hero: “As for sailing on Friday, that was out of the question. No one did that in 1798, who could help it.” Brand tells that a London merchant said, in 1790, that no one would begin any business or voyage on Friday.

Thatcher writes, in 1821: “Seldom would a seaman then sail on Friday.” And Cheever, in 1827: “He (the sailor) will never go to sea on Friday, if he can help it.”

0lmstead also writes, in 1841: “There has been a singular superstition prevalent among seamen about sailing on Friday; and in former times, to sail on this day would have been regarded as a violation of the mysterious character of the day, which would be visited with disaster upon the offender. Even now, it is not entirely abandoned; so if a voyage, commenced on Friday, happens to be unfortunate, all the ill luck of the voyage is ascribed to having sailed on that day. An intelligent shipmaster told me that, although he had no faith in this superstition, yet so firmly were sailors formerly impressed with superstitious notions respecting the day, that, until within a few years, he should never have ventured to sail on a Friday, for the men would be appalled by dangers which they would think light of on common occasions.”

For the United States Navy, one of the worst Friday the 13th’s occurred on November 13th, 1942.

Pearl Harbor’s horrendous attack was less than a year before that fateful day. The battleships that were meant to repel any Japanese incursion into the Pacific were either laying on the floor of the harbor or in various stages of repair. The Battle for Guadalcanal had been raging since August and a superior Japanese surface fleet was wreaking havoc on the Marines trying to defend a tenuous position on this little island in the Solomons.

The US Navy could muster some cruisers and destroyers but the new battleships were still being held in reserve for a later attack. On November 12th, a battle group under Admiral “Fighting Dan” Callaghan on the USS San Francisco came to the defense of the battle weary Marines. They had accompanied supply ships and reports reached them of a superior Japanese fleet coming down the slot that would try and pound the airfield into the Stone Age.

Callaghan hastily prepared his forces to try and counter attack the incoming force of surface ships. What he was unaware of at the tie was the size and scope of the opposing forces. The Japanese Commander was bringing the Battleships Hiei and Kirishima along with her escort of a cruiser and destroyers to bombard the island in a night attack.

A bad way to begin

The day before the main battle did not start out well for the San Francisco. The Japanese air forces were still within range and they saw an opportunity to sink the American supply ships and weaken the garrison. The cruisers and destroyers put up a brave fight but one of the Japanese planes was able to hit the San Francisco causing damage and many deaths. Her new Captain, Cassin Young had only been on board for a few days and was already receiving his baptism of fire. Young had been awarded the Medal of Honor after the Pearl Harbor attack but had to feel the weight of a thousand anchors as he helped his ship battle the fires and get back into line for a night action that was still to come.

As nightfall on the 12th arrives, there are storms north of the island in which the approaching Japanese fleet is hidden. Callaghan initially has no idea of the size and makeup of the forces he will oppose. It probably didn’t matter. He was a fighting Admiral and he was going to use his forces in whatever way he could to help the Marines.

After midnight on the 13th, the two forces converge. Utter chaos ensues. As one officer would later record, it was like a ballroom brawl with the lights turned off.

Before the battle is over, the American force is bloodied but not completely beaten.

Admiral Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young, among many others on the bridge of the San Francisco are killed by the blasts from Hiei’s fourteen inch guns.

The battle proper only lasted around twenty minutes with sporadic fighting occurring well into the daylight hours.

At 1101, Commander Yokota Minoru’s submarine I-26 fires three torpedoes at retiring San Francisco. They miss, but one continues on and narrowly misses Helena. Another continues on and hits JUNEAU port side amidships near where she was hit the previous night. A minute later, a magazine explosion blows Juneau in half. She sinks in about 20 seconds.

On board the Juneau are the Five Fighting Sullivan Brothers. None would survive the sinking.

The Japanese retired that night and the Marines got a precious reprieve. For them, Friday the 13th ended up being one of the luckiest days they would ever know. The Naval Battle continued on for a few more days and the Japanese would end up losing their two battleships. That battle marked the turning point in the overall campaign and even though the Japs fought on tenaciously, they were never again able to mount a serious attack that could topple the forward progress of the allies through the Pacific.

What happened to the Sullivan’s?

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors were found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors reported that Frank, Joe and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George survived for four or five days, before suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia (though some sources describe him being “driven insane with grief” at the loss of his brothers); he went over the side of the raft he occupied. He was never seen or heard from again.

Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at the home and the parents grew worried, which prompted Alleta Sullivan to write to the Bureau of Naval Personnel in January 1943, citing rumors that survivors of the task force claimed that all five brothers were killed in action.

This letter was answered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 13, 1943, who acknowledged that the Sullivan’s were missing in action, but by then the parents were already informed of their fate, having learned of their deaths on January 12. That morning, the boys’ father, Tom, was preparing for work when three men in uniform – a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer – approached his door. “I have some news for you about your boys,” the naval officer said. “Which one?” asked Tom. “I’m sorry,” the officer replied. “All five.”

After this unlucky day, the Navy adapted a policy where brothers were no longer able to sail together. It remained in effect for many years.

USS San Francisco SSN 711

When I reported on board the USS San Francisco (a nuclear fast attack submarine) she was in the Newport News Shipyard being constructed. My brother Tom was a Machinist Mate on board a destroyer that was stationed in nearby Norfolk Virginia. The 711 boat was my third submarine and I had learned to love the submarine life. After a number of conversations, Tom finally volunteered for sub duty and upon completion he was assigned to the boat with me.

My Mom, who was old enough to remember the Sullivan Brothers incident, was a bit concerned. But we convinced her that being together on the same boat we would be able to keep an eye on each other. I have had many men who were qualified that I still call Brother, but this one was both a submariner and a Brother. We had a lot of great adventures together and at one point the 711 boat had four sets of brothers on board.

We are all either retired or closing out our working lives but I can assure you that the bond will never be broken.

It was an honor to serve on board a submarine named after the famous USS San Francisco that was the centerpiece of that fateful action. While it was the unluckiest day for them, it helped to shape the fortunes of the country on its way to Tokyo Harbor in 1945. Their sacrifices must never be forgotten. I think of them every time I hear the Navy Hymn.

Eternal Father, strong to save…

Special Note: I am putting the finishing touches on my book this week that tries to capture the Amazing Life of Captain Cassin Young. I will be telling you more about that in the coming weeks.

Mister Mac

Adversity is a refining fire. 9

I achieved a minor but important breakthrough this morning at around 4:50 AM when Angus the dog decided he needed to get up and go outside.

I have been struggling for months to properly title the book project I have been working on now for about five years. The last three chapters have been the hardest since these chapters cover the most well known parts of my subject, Captain Cassin Young, US Navy Medal of Honor awardee (deceased).

The breakthrough is that I believe I have the name that fits the work I have done and best describes what I want people to see when they pick up the book.

I will reveal that in the weeks to come.

Debbie and I have tried to get into a habit each day of studying God’s word through the Bible and some study guides we purchased for individual chapters. The study has been a lot like going back to school and we have both gained much from reading and looking at the many resources. This morning’s lesson for me came from Ecclesiastes Chapter 7 verses 1-2.  These verses focus on adversity and how we are defined in its shadow.

We include a prayer each day for the country, the President and Vice President and their families and for all of those who love and protect this country.

While there are some who see nothing but hatred in this country because of the past, we see the goodness and the mercy that happens here every day. Without freedom, there is little chance for people to rise up from the ashes of adversity, no chance for charity that overcomes greed and absolutely no hope for a world that is broken in so many ways.

My ancestors came to America under very adverse circumstances and because of the land of their birth were faced with tremendous adversity. Yet they managed to use the freedoms and opportunities that were available to rise above those humble beginnings. We have doctors, lawyers, Navy, Army, and Coast Guard Officers, teachers, millworkers and business men and women of every kind in our family. Nearly all have contributed to the song we call “America the Beautiful” and every single one that is alive stands for the pledge of allegiance.

We rise or fail when we remember that adversity is the refining fire that either prepares us all for our destiny or gives us the excuse to never achieve what we should.

I am hoping to have the book completed by the end of July. Then will start the process of editing and hopefully finding the right publisher. But I am absolutely passionate about the story the book will tell and the life of Captain Cassin Young. I hope passion equals success.

Mister Mac