CONCISE FACTUAL HISTORY OF THE U.S.S. TRYON

28 Jul
     As the Pacific war finally drew to an end, the Secretary of the Navy sent out a theater-wide memo, ALPAC 202, requesting a concise war history from each of the Navy’s ships. Although I have been unsuccessful in locating the original ALPAC (a dispatch to all commands and personnel in the Pacific Ocean Areas), I have reviewed the concise histories from a number of ships responding to the ALPAC, and the headings found on these all follow a nearly identical form:

 

From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Secretary of the Navy.
Subject: Concise Factual History of the U.S.S. _______.
Reference : (a) ALPAC 202, dated 14 September 1945.
Enclosure : (A) Concise Factual History of the U.S.S. _______.
l. In accordance with Reference (a), Enclosure (A) is
forwarded herewith.

 

     The Tryon report provided a date for the ALPAC of 14 August, 1945, but I believe that to be incorrect. All other reports that I reviewed that included a date for the ALPAC (not all did – several listed the reference simply as ALPAC 202, or ALPAC 202-45) indicated a date of 14-16 September 1945. It makes sense that the collection of war histories would be a post-war endeavor.

 

     After the uniformity of the headings, however, it is remarkable how much the reports themselves vary in format. Some are brief, completed in only a page or two [1], while others are quite lengthy, including nearly every port of call during the course of the war [2]. One interesting history was from a ship completed late in the war on the east coast. USS Iolanda was en route to the Pacific via the Panama Canal for the first time when the war ended. That report made the point that they didn’t celebrate war’s end on the ship, presumably because of their disappointment not having the opportunity to engage the enemy. [3]

 

     Fortunately, Tryon’s concise history is very well written and includes many useful details. The author (who is not identified) starts the report by relating how the hull that would become Tryon was originally laid down as the Alcoa Courier, but was requisitioned by the Navy, initially to become the USS Comfort, a true (by Geneva Convention) hospital ship. This plan was scrapped to allow for the creation of a new class of ship, the evacuation transport, of which Tryon would become the first, and the namesake for the class. This is followed by a brief description of Tryon’s activities, assignments, and ports of call. Tryon’s dry dock and overhaul history is explained, and her war-time captains are listed (Tryon would receive yet another new skipper shortly after this report was written).

 

     The organization of the Medical Department and their function was given considerable attention. Differentiation was made between the early function of the Medical Department and it’s operation later in the war. During her first two years of service Tryon’s Medical Department provided medical care during the evacuation of “thoroughly processed” patients to rear areas – with Tryon serving essentially as a floating ambulance. Later, beginning with the invasion of Tinian Island, Tryon “operated for the first time as a front-line hospital transport entering the combat areas assault loaded with cargo and personnel acting in the capacity of an APA [an attack transport ship, designed to carry troops and cargo to the invasion site], later receiving the wounded directly from the beaches . . . operating as an APH [evacuation transport].”

 

     Ample detail was given to Tryon’s overhaul, which was done in Alameda, CA from March to May, 1945, and had been completed just four months prior to the writing of the report. Air-conditioning of the hospital bays, so badly needed during Tryon’s operation in tropical waters, was at last installed – but would never see use during an evacuation. It also reports the addition of “wiremesh enclosed bunks . . . for the confinement and handling of mental patients,” a rather lurid arrangement by today’s standards.

 

     Unfortunately, these improvements in the ship’s comforts and capabilities came too late for most of the patients transported aboard Tryon. By the time of her return to the war zone in June, 1945 the war was winding down, and she would not be used again in her earlier capacity. But she would see action of a different type before completion of her war duties – Tryon served in the very important role of transporting “Recovered Allied Military Personnel,” i.e., POWs, from Japan back to the United States, in what was called “Operation Magic Carpet,” although at the time of the report she had not returned stateside yet, and had removed them only as far as the Philippines.

 

     The writer concludes this portion of the report by saying, “Deaths during the entire operational period totaled forty-eight.” Given that 10,652 patients were carried aboard Tryon, many being those that required the most rigorous medical attention, that single sentence pays well-deserved tribute to the tireless work of the Medical Department in seeing that our wounded servicemen were given the utmost care possible.

 

     The report proceeds with “the recapitulation of patients, troops and passengers carried,” classifying by nationality, service, gender, and rank, from the time of Tryon’s commissioning to the time of the report: a total of 10,652 patients and 64,456 troops and passengers, for a grand total of 75,108 individuals transported aboard Tryon.

 

     Following the patient and troop recapitulation is a listing of the normal compliment of officers and crew (a total of 449), transportation capacity (1036 troops and patients), and concludes with general characteristics of Tryon that include some interesting operational details.

 

     Near the end the report addresses a topic of interest in light of one of the subjects in my the previous post – the presence of landing craft aboard Tryon. Contrary to what I wrote about landing boats there, this report reveals that Tryon carried four landing boats even prior to overhaul in the spring of 1945 – three LCVP (Landing Craft, vehicle, Personnel, A.K.A. “Higgins Boats”) and one LCPR (Landing Craft, Personnel, Ramped). According to the report, during the invasions that Tryon participated in beginning in 1944, “Unloading of troops and cargo and loading of patients was effected by supplementing our boat supply with borrowed boats from neighboring APA’s and AKA’s. As a result, loading and unloading was hardly conducive to maximum efficiency, however, during the period of availability in March, April and May 1945 the total number of ship’s boats was brought up to eighteen (18) . . .”

 

     Finally, in a concluding bit of “Tryon Trivia,” the author shares these fun facts: “At this writing, the U.S.S. TRYON has steamed a total of 181,938 miles through the Pacific waters having spent 10,910 hours underway. She has used a total of 9,962,925 gallons of fuel, 6,505,848 gallons of which was consumed underway and 3,457,077 gallons during her 14,057 hours not underway.

 

     I’ve transcribed Tryon’s history for easier reading but include the original documents at the end of post.

 

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APH1/A12-1                U.S.S. TRYON (APH-1)

CONFIDENTIAL            30 September 1945

From: The Commanding Officer.

To: The Secretary of the Navy.

Subject: Concise Factual History of the U.S.S. TRYON (APH-1).

Reference : (a) ALPAC 202, dated 14 August 1945.

Enclosure : (A) Concise Factual History of the U.S.S. TRYON (APH-1). l. In accordance with Reference (a), Enclosure (A) is forwarded herewith.

 

 

JOHN H. VAN GELDER

 

 

Copies to:

       SecNav (Orig.)
       CincPac.
       AdComPhibsPac. [4]

 

                                      **********

 

APH1/A12-1         U.S.S. TRYON (APH-1)

CONCISE FACTUAL HISTORY OF THE U.S.S. TRYON  (APH-1)
CONFIDENTIAL               30 September 1945

 

     At the out-break of the recent WAR the present U.S.S. TRYON was being constructed by MOORE DRY DOCK COMPANY, OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA and according to specifications by the ALUMINUM COMPANY OF AMERICA.  She was launched late in 1940 as United Maritime Commission Hull, number 175 and as Moore Hull number 201.  She was to have been the S.S. ALCOA-COURIER, a passenger-cargo vessel of the modified C-2 design, now known as  design  Z-C2-S1-A1.

 

     Early in 1942 the United States Navy purchased her and immediately made plans for conversion to the U.S.S. COMFORT, a Navy Hospital Ship. However, it was only a matter of a few weeks before officials decided that she should wear a coat of war paint instead of the enemy-attracting white with Red Cross markings.  Thus, a new type of Navy ship was born – the APH, a combat-hospital evacuation vessel, a mercy ship with a double job – supporting invasions with fresh troops and saving the lives of those wounded in action by rendering expert and adequate medical attention in well equipped facilities only a matter of minutes from the beachhead. A new name was demanded so the U.S S . TRYON (APH-1) was commissioned 29 September 1942, taking the name of a famous Naval surgeon general.

 

      Two sister ships, the U.S.S. PINKNEY (APH-2) and the U.S.S RIXEY (APH-3) ware commissioned approximately three (3) and six (6) months later and to date the three ships hold the distinction of being the Navy’s only ships of its class. Nevertheless no one can deny that the APH was an experiment that has definitely succeeded.

 

    She was put in commission with Commander A. J. BYRHOLDT, USN, as commanding officer and ordered to duty in the Pacific.  With her numerous twenty millimeter, forty millimeter, three inch and five inch anti-aircraft weapons; eight degrees raked masts; and streamlined superstructure, the eighteen knot ship presented a business like appearance.  She sailed from San Francisco Bay on 9 October 1942 for San Diego, California and from San Diego, 20 October 192,  bound for Noumea New Caledonia.  She was temporarily assigned to ComSerRonSoPac and served continuously under this command until 10 April 1944, evacuating casualties from Combat areas to hospitals in Suva, Fiji Islands, Noumea, New Caledonia, Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand and carrying priority cargo and passengers on return trips to combat areas.

 

     On 10 April 1944, the TRYON was assigned to Commander Task Force 76, for temporary duty, being ordered by this command to report to ComThird Fleet 11 May 1944,  who immediately returned the TRYON to ComSerRonSoPac.  Serving under this command until 16 July 1944, at which time she was ordered to Commander Task Force 51 for the invasion of Saipan and Tinian

 

                                                   – 1 –
                                        ENCLOSURE (A) [5]

 

                                               **********

 

                                    U.S.S. TRYON APH-1
CONFIDENTIAL

 

in the Marianas.  Returning to ComSerRonSoPac 12 August 1944, TRYON was ordered to ComThirdFlt to ComGroupFivePhibsPac to ComTransGroupThree FifthPhib for the invasion of Peleliu Island Palau Group. 11 October 1944,  She reported to ComSeventhFlt for duty taking part in the invasion of Leyte and Langayen Gulf, Philippine Islands under this command.  Since that time the TRYON has served under ComTransRonTwelve ComPhibsGroupFour, ComSerPac, ComPhibTraPac, ComWesSeaFron, CinCPac AdvHdqs, ComThirdPhib, ComTransRonThirteen and ComPhibGroupTwelve.

 

     The TRYON dry docked for the first time 18 March 1943 in Wellington, New Zealand and a second time 12 January 1944, in Wellington, New Zealand. On 11 March 1945, She arrived in San Francisco, California for the first time since 9 October 1942, having spent 29 months in the Pacific and having traveled well over 160,000 miles.  During the ensuing 69 days she underwent general overhaul and conversion at General Engineering and Dry Dock Company, Alameda, California under supervision of the Assistant Industrial manager, San Francisco, California. 21 May 1945, the U.S.S. TRYON sailed again for San Diego, California for ten (10) days refresher training, departing San Diego, 3 June 1945, transporting for the first time in its history United States service women.

 

     On 24 September 1944, Commander C . E. Morck, USNR, relieved Commander A. J. Byrholdt , USN, as  commanding officer . 12 December 1944 Commander W. G. Jones, USN, relieved Commander C . E. Morck, USNR, as commanding officer. 1 June 1945 Commander W. G. Jones USN, was relieved as commanding officer by Lieutenant Commander J. G. Van Gelder, under whose command She now sails.

 

     The Medical Department of this vessel was organized upon commissioning of the ship on 29 September 1942, at which time there were 11Medical Officers, 2 Dental Officers and 48 Hospital Corpsmen attached.  compliment was later reduced to 6 Medical officers, 1 Dental Officer and 2 Warrant Officers of the Hospital Corps.  In the phases of the war the primary duty of the Medical Department was the evacuation of casualties to rear areas during the occupation and consolidation of the Southern and Northern Solomons.  The patients received and handled during this period had been thoroughly processed and the relatively small staff of Medical Officers and Hospital Corpsmen was sufficient.

 

     On 24 July 1944, during the assault and occupation of Tinian Island in the Marianas, the Medical Department of this vessel functioned for the first time as a front-line hospital transport entering the combat areas assault loaded with cargo and personnel acting in the capacity of an APA. later receiving the wounded directly from the beaches and Other vessels and evacuating them as before operating as an APH. No  additional Hospital Corpsmen had been furnished although the staff of Medical  Officers at that time numbered twelve.  In the succeeding amphibious

 

                                                         – 2 –
                                               ENCLOSURE (A)[6]

 

                                                   **********

 

                                         U.S.S. TRYON APH-1
CONFIDENTIAL

 

operations additional Medical Officers and Hospital Corpsmen were temporarily assigned to the vessel prior to sailing for the objective.  This procedure was successful and no shortages of personnel were hereafter encountered.

 

     Acting in the capacity of an assault hospital transport the vessel then participated in the landing of Peleliu, Leyte and Lingayen Gulf.

 

       On 11 March 1945 , the ship returned  to  the  United  States for a major Navy Yard overhaul.   At this time the entire sick bay was rearranged to more expeditiously process the patients carried.  The main Sick bay country was converted into four large wards, each having a separate air conditioning unit and having a total of 106 bunks.  Number 4 Hold, which is also air conditioned, is now considered part of the sick bay and contains 150 bunks.   One area, containing 27 wiremesh [sic] enclosed bunks with separate head facilities has been  provided to facilitate the confinement and handling of mental patients.   At the present, this ship is equipped to transport 1,033 patients of which 260 could occupy air conditioned spaces. The 260 bunks in this air conditioned area plus 47 non-air conditioned spaces are considered satisfactory for stretcher cases, the remainder for ambulatory cases.

 

      The installation of air conditioning units in these spaces, and the operating rooms, has proved invaluable in overcoming the previously grave problem of excessive heat and inadequate ventilation.

 

      The most recent function of the Medical Department has been the caring for and transporting of one thousand Recovered Allied Military Personnel. from Yokohama to Manila.  Although these men were classed as passengers, a great number required medical attention and the facilities of the department were utilized to a great advantage.

 

     Deaths during the entire operational period totaled forty-eight.

 

      The recapitulation of patients, troops and passengers carried during the period since the ship’s commissioning to the present time, listed in appropriate categories are as follows:

 

PATIENTS:

 

     American Civilians                                                                      8
     U.S. Navy – Officers                                                               304
     U. S. Navy – Enlisted                                                           4808
     U.S. Marine – Officers                                                            132
     U.S. Marine – Enlisted                                                         4289
     U.S. Coast Guard – Enlisted                                                    34
     U.S. Coast Guard – Officers                                                       2
     U.S. Army – Officers                                                               253 (continued)

 

                                                  – 3 –
                                        ENCLOSURE (A) [7]

 

                                              **********

 

                                     U.S.S. TRYON APH-1
CONFIDENTIAL

 

     U.S. Army – Enlisted                                                              308
     U.S. Merchant Marine  –  Enlisted                                           7
     U.S. Merchant Marine – Officers                                              1
     Royal Australian Army – Enlisted                                          21
     British Army – Officers                                                             18
     British Army – Enlisted                                                         426
     British Navy – Officers                                                               2
     British Navy – Enlisted                                                            19
     British Marine – Enlisted                                                          6
     British – Civilians                                                                        1
     Dutch Navy – Officers                                                                3
     Dutch Navy – Enlisted                                                               1
     Dutch Army – Enlisted                                                              3
     Norweigian[sic] Army – Office                                                 1
     Norweigian[sic] – Civilians                                                       5
                                                                                                 ________
Grand total of all patients carried aboard                            10,652
this vessel to date.  (30 September 1945)

 

TROOPS AND PASSENGERS:

 

     American Red Cross – Male                                                      8
     American Red Cross – Female                                                14
     U.S. Servicemen’s Wives                                                            8
     U.S. Servicemen’s Babies                                                           4
     U.S. Servicemen’s Children                                                       5
     Civilians – Male                                                                         27
     Civilians – Female                                                                    36
     U.S. Army – Officers                                                            1205
     U.S. Army – Enlisted                                                          15156
     U.S. Army  –  Nurses                                                                 22
     U.S. Navy – Officers                                                             1586
     U.S. Navy – Enlisted                                                         20244
     U.S. Navy – Nurses                                                                  13
     U.S Navy – Women’s Reserve – Officers                               2
     U.S. Navy Women’s  Reserve – Enlisted                             26
     U.S. Marine Corps – Officers                                               599
     U.S. Marine Corps – Enlisted                                          15585
     U.S. Marine Corps Womens[sic] Reserve – Officers          6
     U.S. Marine Corps Womens[sic] Reserve – Enlisted     120
     U.S. Coast Guard – Officers                                                     1
     U.S. Coast Guard – Enlisted                                                    8
     U.S. Coast Guard Womens[sic] Reserve – Officers            1
     U.S. Coast Guard Womens[sic] Reserve – Enlisted          21
     British Army – Officers                                                           14
     British Army – Enlisted                                                        387

 

                                                                  – 4  –
                                                       ENCLOSURE (A) [8]

 

                                                              **********

 

                                                    U.S.S. TRYON APH-1

CONFIDENTIAL

      British Navy – Officers                                                              2
      British Navy – Enlisted                                                            19
      British Civilians – Male                                                             1
      British Marine – Enlisted                                                         6
      Royal Air Force – Officers                                                         4
      Royal Air Force – Enlisted                                                      39
     Dutch Navy – Officers                                                                3
     Dutch Navy – Enlisted                                                               1
     Dutch Army – Enlisted                                                              3
     Norweigian [sic] Army – Officers                                            1
     Norweigian [sic]– Civilians                                                       5
     New Zealand Army – Officers                                              1071
     New Zealand Army – Enlisted                                            6657
     New Zealand Nurses                                                                  23
     Royal New Zealand Navy – Officers                                      15
     Royal New Zealand Navy – Enlisted                                     86
     Royal New Zealand Air Force – Officers                               13
     Royal New Zealand Air Force – Enlisted                            310
     New Zealand War Correspondant [sic]                                   1
     New Zealand Y.M.C.A.                                                               3
     Australian Army – Officer                                                       73
     Australian Army – Enlisted                                                  805
     Royal Australian Air Force – Officers                                    15
     Royal Australina [sic] Air Force – Enlisted                         21
     Free French Navy                                                                        2
     Japanese Prisoners                                                                    70
                                                                                                   ______
Grand total troops and passengers .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   64,456
Grand total patients .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    10,652
Grand total  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .   75,108

The U.S.S. TRYON has a normal complement of:

     Ship’s Officers                                                                            21
     Medical Officers                                                                        10
     Boat Officers                                                                                9
     Crew and Corpsmen                                                              322
     Boat Crew                                                                                   87
     Patients or Troops                                                                   919
     Patients or Troop Officers                                                       90
     Patients or Troop N.C.O.                                                         27

 

                                                             – 5 –
                                                   ENCLOSURE (A) [9]

 

                                                     ***********

 

                                              U.S.S. TRYON APH-1
CONFIDENTIAL

 

and the following general characteristics:

 

     Overall length                                                                   450′ 2”
     Height between perpendiculars                                   420′ 0″
     Molded Breath                                                                   62′ 0″
     Molded depth to main deck                                             41′ 6″
     Molded depth to second deck                                         33′ 3″
     Molded draft.                                                                     25′ 0″
     Displacement at 25′ draft 11,745 tons
     Fuel std. Navy bunker 60/60                           267,897 gallons
     Fuel, diesel                                                             34,482 gallon
     Fresh water storage                                            117,000 gallon
     Feed water storage                                          29,000 gallon
     Maximum  speed                                                        18.5  Knot
     Cruising speed                                                            17.0  Knots
     Steaming radius                                                         6,250 mile
     Total cargo space                                                     40,003 cu.ft
     Booms – 5 ton, capacity 60′ – electrically operated

 

     During the four (4) amphibious assault landings in which this ship took part, She was equipped with only four (4) landing crafts (three (3); LCVP’s and one (1) LCPR).  Unloading of troops and cargo and loading of patients was effected by supplementing our boat supply with borrowed boats from neighboring APA’s and AKA’s.  As a result, loading and unloading was hardly conducive to maximum efficiency, however, during the period of availability in March, April and May 1945 the total number of ship’s boats was brought up to eighteen (18) and even though She has not participated in an assault amphibious landing since, experiance [sic] and constant study of the operations of APA’s indicate that the U.S.S. TRYON is more than ever fitted and capable of carrying on the perform ances of her duties as a combat-evacuation hospital transport.

 

     Since cessation of hostilities, the TRYON has been assigned duty as a transport, carrying occupational troops to Japan and returning recovered Allied Military Personnel to rear areas.

 

     At this writing, the U.S.S. TRYON has steamed a total of 181,938 miles through the Pacific waters having spent 10,910 hours underway. She has used a total of 9,962,925 gallons of fuel, 6,505,848 gallons of which was consumed underway and 3,457,077 gallons during her 14,057 hours not underway.

 

                                                                 – 6 –
                                                    ENCLOSURE (A) [10]

 

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     If you or your family member served aboard Tryon, or if for another reason you’re interested in Tryon I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment so that we can communicate further.

 

     If you have a comment, correction, anecdote or story related to this or any other post, please be sure to leave a comment. I enjoy nothing more than hearing from others that share an interest in this most pivotal time in world history.

 

     And thanks for taking time to check out my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.

 

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USS MENELAUS - ARL-13 Concise History

 

The

The “concise history” for USS Lamar ran 24 pages long for her one year and two months of participation in the war. Compare that to the concise history of the USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier which remained in harm’s way for the entire period of the war, which was only 12 pages in length.

 

The war ended before USS Iolanda could get to the Pacific:

The war ended before USS Iolanda could get to the Pacific: ” News was received at sea of the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945. It was evident then that the IOLANDA would never see
action with the enemy. No celebration was held on board other than the two day holiday declared by President TRUMAN, but there was a general feeling of thanks by all hands that the vessel and her complement had been spared any loss of life by enemy action.”

 

Page 1

 

Page 2

 

Page 3

 

Page 4

 

Page 5

 

Page 6

 

Page 7

Tryon, 19 September 1942

12 Jul

“USS ‘TRYON’ HULL 201 (MC 175) ON OFFICIAL TRIAL ON SAN FRANCISCO BAY (DIMENSIONS 420′ X 62′ D.W.T. 6800) CONSTRUCTED FOR THE U.S. MARITIME COMMISSION, LATER TAKEN OVER BY THE UNITED STATES NAVY. MOORE DRY DOCK COMPANY OAKLAND, CALIF. SEPT 19, 1942”

     I recently came across this wonderful photo of Tryon that was new to me.  Taken on September 19, 1942, it shows brand-spanking new Tryon sailing in San Francisco Bay, her 48-star flag snapping smartly above the waves.  Looking sharp in fresh paint, and sailing in the relative safety of the bay, she appears carefree, if only for that brief moment, her fore and aft guns sheathed by protective covers, her crew scattered on deck, relaxed, enjoying the salt air.

But there is more of Tryon’s story to be read from this photo.  For starters, it reveals the first evidence of a problem that was to follow Tryon throughout the war – a poorly designed funnel that allowed smoke from the engines to be blown onto the after deck.  Note the trail of smoke curling over the superstructure.  Several attempts were made to correct this – when Tryon arrived in Auckland, New Zealand in April, 1943, replacement of the stack was included among the first repairs to be done. [1] Later, wind tunnel tests would be performed to help with the funnel design – but the problem was never fully resolved. The funnel would be altered yet again when Tryon was overhauled in Alameda in May of 1945. [2]

     In full display in the photo are the trademark raked masts of Tryon and her sister ships, Rixey and Pinkney.  As explained in an earlier post, the 8- degree rake of the masts was part of the design of the ship that was originally intended to be built, the Alcoa Courier, her hull laid down on March 21, 1941, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war.  Courier (as well as her sister ships, Corsair and Cruiser, that became Rixey and Pinkney) was to be used as a “passenger freighter,” an interesting concept developed by the Alcoa Steamship Company that added cruise ship accommodations to some of it’s ore freighters, thus allowing them to carry passengers as well as cargo.  The ships were initially designed to appeal to the eye of the passengers, with features that were more esthetic than utilitarian.  In addition to the raked masts, the ships sported gently curved clipper bows, terraced mid-ship deckhouses overhanging the hull and oval solariums surrounding their funnels.[3]  Once the U.S. entered the war, the hulls were requisitioned by the Navy and completed as naval vessels, Courier became Tryon, Corsair became Pinkney, and Cruiser became Rixey, but the characteristic features of the Alcoa design remained.  Tryon’s graceful-looking masts were shortened to the level of the crosstrees when she was overhauled in May, 1945.[4]

     Arrayed along the sides of the ship are Tryon’s lifeboats.  These were of a merchant-ship variety, with the designed purpose of saving lives in the event of calamity.   They gave Tryon a sleek appearance – but apparently not sleek enough for her crew.  In May, 1943, Mac Perry reported the following: “All hands knew now that we were headed for Guadalcanal . . . The Tryon had a new look now. With the addition of the extra 20-mm guns (20 in all now) , we had taken off the merchant-marine type life boats, cut away their davits

This interesting photo of Tryon taken in October, 1943, verifies Mac Perry's statements.  The lifeboats, along with a portion of their mounts, have been removed.  In their place, as revealed by their distinctive twin protective steel plates, are the 20mm Cannon.  Small circles mark the location of at least six of them on the starboard side of the ship.

This interesting photo of Tryon taken in October, 1943, verifies Mac Perry’s comments regarding modifications made to increase her fire power. The lifeboats, along with a portion of their mounts, have been removed.  In their place, as revealed by their distinctive twin protective steel plates, are the Oerlikon 20 mm Cannon. Small circles mark the location of at least six of them on the starboard side of the ship.

An Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, similar to the ones seen on Tryon above.

An Oerlikon 20 mm cannon, similar to the ones seen on Tryon above.

and now she was really stream-lined.  This extra space made the additional guns available.”[5]  Perry does not mention what they planned to do if caught amidships by a Japanese torpedo with a full compliment of passengers, which could mean 1,100 marines, 500 wounded and 400 crew.  Later on, during overhaul in May, 1945, Tryon’s lifeboat mounts were replaced with Welin davits, similar to those placed on Pinkney and Rixey as original equipment.  In place of the less functional lifeboats Tryon could now carry landing boats, capable of delivering troops, medical personnel, or supplies to the beach.  Mac had expressed his disregard for these earlier,

Tryon, 18 May 1945, after Welin davits for use with landing boats had been mounted.

Tryon soon after overhaul, 18 May 1945, with Welin davits for use with landing boats now mounted.  Also not the shortened masts.

Although I have not found a photo of Tryon with a full compliment of landing boats, this aerial photo of USS Hamblin (APA 114) shows how landing boats must have been positioned on Tryon (and her sister ships).

Although I have not found a photo of Tryon, Pinkney or Rixey with a full compliment of landing boats, this aerial photo of USS Hamblin (APA 114) shows how landing boats were  likely were arranged on Tryon (and her sister ships).

though: “On March 5th [1943] the Solace came in with 400 patients and our sister ship, the Pickney [sic] with another 400 patients.  Soon after she docked, a group of us went aboard to see what changes they had made in the yard before she sailed from the states [Pinkney would not leave San Diego for the war zone until 27 January 1943; Rixey departed south on 19 February.  Tryon had departed San Diego for the South Pacific on October 20, 1942].  She had 18 landing boats [three Welin davits on either side of the ship, each with three landing boats], which made her top-heavy, used the covered portion of the weather deck as part of the hospital country, used the upper wardroom for ship’s officers, and was all cluttered up.  Had dinner aboard with Smith, an engineering officer we knew at San Francisco. Their meals nor service could touch that of the Tryon, and despite their warm hospitality all of us were glad to get back to the Tryon and pleased as punch that we had duty aboard the old T instead of her sister.”[6]  Later, he reported: ”Reached Noumea on the afternoon of the 9th [March, 1943] and our sister ship, the Rixey, was in port. She too was top-heavy with landing boats just as was the Pinckney [sic].” [7] Perry was detached from Tryon on 11 July 1944 (and, as he reported, never saw her again), so he was spared the indignity of a “topheavy” Tryon.

     So the Tryon captured in the photograph of 19 September 1942 would change significantly before the war’s end late in 1945.  To put the time of this photo in a little perspective, it was taken ten days before the Navy took possession Tryon, eleven days before Tryon was commissioned, twenty-one days before Tryon left San Francisco for San Diego, and thirty-one before she would leave San Diego for the South Pacific.  Forty-nine days after this photo Tryon glided for the first time into a berth in Great Road, the pristine harbor off Noumea, New Caledonia, beginning the odyssey that would lead her safely through the war.

*********

If you or your family member served aboard Tryon, or if for another reason you’re interested in Tryon, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment so that we can communicate further.

If you have a comment, correction, annecdote or story related to this or any other post, please be sure to leave a comment. I enjoy nothing more than hearing from others that share an interest in this most pivital time in world history.

And thanks for taking time to check out my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.

*********

[1] “The South Pacific Express.” Pg. 31.

[2] http://www.shipscribe.com/usnaux/APH/APH01-p.html

[3] Friedman, Norman. U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis,MD: Naval Institute, 2002. Pp. 64-5.

[4] http://www.shipscribe.com/usnaux/APH/APH01-p.html

[5] “The South Pacific Express.” Pg. 36.

[6] “The South Pacific Express.” Pg. 31.

[7] “The South Pacific Express.” Pg. 32.

Killed By A Match

12 Aug

Have you seen the Centrum Silver commercial that talks about how sensitive to light your eyes can be?  The narrative goes something like this:  “Your eyes – even at a distance of ten miles, the length of 146 football fields, they can see the light of a single candle.  Your eyes are amazing.”  I’ve done some checking, and the claim appears to be true; some sources say you can see a candle at much greater distances – up to thirty miles!  So, ten miles (which happens to be 176 football fields, not 146, unless you include the end zones) appears to be a reasonable claim.

Each time I see that commercial I am reminded of a story from a book I read last winter entitled Japanese Destroyer Captain, by Tameichi Hara. Before relating the story, here’s a brief description of the book and of Hara:

0008994_japanese-destroyer-captain

“This highly regarded war memoir was a best seller in both Japan and the United States during the 1960s and has long been treasured by historians for its insights into the Japanese side of the surface war in the Pacific. The author was a survivor of more than one hundred sorties against the Allies and was known throughout Japan as the “Unsinkable Captain.” A hero to his countrymen, Capt. Hara exemplified the best in Japanese surface commanders: highly skilled (he wrote the manual on torpedo warfare), hard driving, and aggressive. Moreover, he maintained a code of honor worthy of his samurai grandfather, and, as readers of this book have come to appreciate, he was as free with praise for American courage and resourcefulness as he was critical of himself and his senior commanders.” [1]

Tameichi Hara

Tameichi Hara

Hara received his naval training at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima, graduating in 1921.  In the 1930s, while serving as a surface warfare instructor Hara was dissatisfied with the success rate of Japan’s excellent Mark 93 (aka “Long Lance”) torpedoes, so he rewrote the Japanese torpedo doctrine.  In doing so he dramatically improved the success rate – and deadliness – of Japan’s torpedoes.[2]  As captain of three ships over the course of the war – first the destroyer Amatsukaze, then the destroyer Shigure, and late in the war, the light cruiser Yahagi – he was in command of a ship participating in every major naval battle of the Pacific war: Empress Augusta Bay, Coral Sea, the invasion of the Philippines, Guadalcanal, Savo Island, and Midway. In the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal his ship Amatsukaze sank the USS Barton. [3]  On the night of 2 August 1943 Hara’s Amatsukaze was following Japanese destroyer Amagiri when Amagiri cut John F. Kennedy’s PT – 109  in two. Hara ordered his men to fire on the PT boat. [4]

IJN Light Cruiser Yahagi, the last ship commanded by Captain Hara; sunk in Operation Ten-ho

IJN Light Cruiser Yahagi, the last ship commanded by Captain Hara; sunk in Operation Ten-ho

Battleship_Yamato_under_air_attack_April_1945

Battleship Yamato under aerial bombardment, April 1945.

Three waves of American aircraft hit the Yamato with a total of twelve bombs and seven torpedoes.  Yamato capsized at 1420.   When the roll reached approximately 90°, one of the two bow magazines detonated in a tremendous explosion.  Yamato sank beneath the waves at about 1423.

Three waves of American aircraft hit the Yamato with a total of twelve bombs and seven torpedoes. Yamato capsized at 1420. When the roll reached approximately 120°, one of the two bow magazines detonated in a tremendous explosion. Yamato sank beneath the waves at 1423, taking all but 276 of her 3,332-man crew down with her.[9]

As the war’s end neared Hara commanded the light cruiser Yahagi, and was chosen to participate in Operation Ten-Go.  This last-ditch plan was to send most of Japan’s remaining ships in a naval kamikaze attack on the Allied naval forces supporting the invasion of Okinawa.  At dawn on April 7, 1945 the superbattleship Yamato, accompanied by Yahagi and nine destroyers, departed their home port of Kure, Japan, with enough fuel to reach Okinawa – but not enough to return.  Their movement was detected almost immediately by American submarines; American aircraft from carriers near Okinawa were soon in the air to meet the enemy.  The Japanese force lacked any significant air support, and the resultant battle was completely one-sided; Japan lost between 3,700 and 4,250 sailors, while the U.S. lost just twelve airmen.  Hara’s Yahagi capsized and sank at 1405, hit by twelve bombs and seven torpedoes.  Hara survived, and from the water he watched waves of American aircraft attack Yamato, until she capsized and sank at 1423, signaling the effective end of Japan’s naval involvement in the war. [5]

But years before, in the early days of World War II when Japan was enjoying success after success, Hara was the captain of the destroyer Amatsukaze. In early March, 1942, his assignment was to ply the Java Sea in search of Allied ships, particularly submarines.  The following story occurred on the night of 3 March.

“Around 2030 I saw a dim, flickering, yellowish light Several thousand meters away on Amatsukaze’s starboard bow. It blinked Once and swiftly disappeared, like the flick of a lighted match. I pulled out my pocket binoculars and gazed in the same direction. Yes, someone was on deck smoking a cigarette. I estimated the distance as 4,000 meters almost due north and forward of Amatsukaze’s course.

“The destroyer quickly picked up speed and dashed forward through the dark with all hands ready at battle stations. The target was made out to be a surfaced submarine. It was moving to the east at fairly good speed. We boosted speed to 26 knots and swung left to bring Amatsukaze on a parallel heading with the sub at a distance of 2,300 meters. Our searchlight showed the target to be a medium-sized submarine.

Amatsukaze_II

IJN Destroyer Amatzukaze; Hara commanded this ship at the outbreak of the war, and it was the ship on which this story takes place.

“ The first salvo roared. All the shells were over. The next moment, I saw two sinister lines of foam running a few feet ahead of our bows.  ”Torpedoes!”  someone shouted, and a chill went down my spine. My dread was forgotten a few seconds later when two shells of our second salvo landed on the target.  Amatsukaze was up to 30 knots, and the enemy torpedoes had missed us.

“There was a third salvo, which scored one more hit, as fire broke out on the conning tower of the submarine. The flaming ship vanished quietly into the waves.

“We swung rapidly to port and dashed to the submersion scene. Six depth charges were dropped. The sea billowed and boiled in the dark, and all was still but for the rain. There was no question about the fate of this enemy.

“We cleared out at 2345 after combing the area for possible sonar contacts. There were no signs that the sub was alive.

“Weather cleared the following day, and we returned to the scene of the night’s action, 39 miles, bearing 245 degrees from Bawean Island. This spot too, was marked by a long path of heavy oil. It rose to the surface like smoke belching from an undersea volcano. The crew was again called out to see the results of their teamwork. They were not as exhilarated as on the previous evening, but they looked contented and satisfied. While the crew was thus assembled on deck, I took the opportunity to speak to them: “You have seen the good results of our combined efforts. I am thoroughly satisfied with your fine job. We have been through much together in the months since this war started, without losing a single soul. Let us hope our good fortune may continue. You have done a fine job, but more will be expected of you from now on.

”Look at the stream of oil! That oil comes from an enemy submarine that has been turned into a huge casket for its crew of more than 100 men. They died because of the unpardonable stupidity of one man who smoked on the surfaced deck. I saw the match he lit and that gave us the initiative.

”Enemy seamanship was good. Their torpedo marksmanship was terrific. Despite all our advantage, Amatsukaze survived only by a very close shave. But for one stupid, careless man breaking blackout by smoking, this destroyer might well have been sunk and all 250 of us killed. This is war. I trust that each of you has learned a lesson from this.

“As you may know, I have been an inveterate smoker for 20 years. But last night when we sank this sub, I stopped smoking. I mention this-not to urge such stoicism on you,  but to let you remind me of my pledge whenever I am tempted to do it again.  As your skipper, I am responsible for your lives and thus I cannot afford smoking any longer.

“Now let us offer a humble prayer for our victims. Though enemy, they died for their nation and thus are deserving of our prayers.”

“After the brief prayer, I called up Ikeda, who had spotted the submarine adrift on March 2 and rewarded him with a bonus of ten yen (roughly $4) from my pocket, a package of towel, soap and cigarettes, and a certificate noting that he had earned 10 priority shore leaves. The meeting ended with an ovation for Ikeda. A number of his colleagues thronged about him with congratulations.” [6]

USS Perch under way.

USS Perch under way.

It’s a bit difficult to identify which sub was engaged by Amatsukaze in this story.  It is known that on the night of 1 March  Amatsukaze spotted the submarine USS Perch in the same general area, dropped depth charges, and reported that the sub had been sunk.  However, Perch wasn’t sunk; she was heavily damaged and put on the bottom at 147 ft.  Extensive oil loss and flooded compartments gave the appearance of a sub breaking apart.  Perch surfaced in the early hours of March 2, but again sought refuge on the sea bottom two hours before sunrise, in 200 feet of water, after being spotted on the surface by two Japanese destroyers.  Again depth charges rained around her, and again she managed to evade destruction.  Perch remained on the bottom until after dark on 2 March, when, after an hour of effort, she was able to break loose from the bottom and surface.

The crew of the USS Perch aboard the JIN Destroyer Ushio.  All 59 crew members of Perch were rescued by the Japanese and were sent to Japan; six died of malnutrition but the remainder survived the war and returned home at war's end.

The crew of the USS Perch aboard the IJN destroyer Ushio. All 59 crew members of Perch were rescued by the Japanese and were sent to Japan; six died of malnutrition during their imprisonment but the remainder survived the war and returned home at war’s end.

This time the damage was extensive, and leaking hatches left Perch unable to dive safely.  On the morning of 3 March Perch was again spotted by Japanese destroyers, which fired on her and rapidly closed.  Unable to train her damaged gun, fire torpedoes or dive, it was decided to scuttle the ship.  All crew members were removed, hatches opened, and after she was abandoned the ship sank quickly.  All crew members were picked up by the Japanese destroyers, eventually being sent to Japan to work as slave labor in the mines and factories there.  [7]

On a side note, the wreckage of USS Perch was discovered accidently by an international dive team  on Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2006, off the coast of Java.  The team had been searching for the HMS Exeter when Perch was located. The wreckage of Perch now rests in 190 feet of water. [8]

Plate found on the sail of the sunken USS Perch that led to identification of the wreck.

Plate found on the sail of the sunken USS Perch that led to identification of the wreck.

So, was Perch the submarine sunk in Hara’s story?  Most researchers don’t think so.  The details of the last days of Perch don’t quite coincide with the story told by Hara.  Perch was scuttled in the morning of 3 March; Hara’s story took place that night. Some researchers suggest that it may have been a Dutch sub – but I’ve been unable to find any sunk in that area on that date, or that are unaccounted for.  At this point the target in the story above remains a mystery.

Whatever the case, the light from a single match, seen from four thousand meters (about two and a half miles) away, led to the sinking of a gallant Allied warship.  It was a ship killed by a match.

*********

If you or your family member served aboard Tryon, or if for another reason you’re interested in Tryon, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment so that we can communicate further.

If you have a comment, correction, annecdote or story related to this or any other post, please be sure to leave a comment. I enjoy nothing more than hearing from others that share an interest in this most pivital time in world history.

And thanks for taking time to check out my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.

*********

[1]  United States Naval Institute Bookstore: Japanese Destroyer Captainhttp://www.usni.org/store/books/audio-books/japanese-destroyer-captain

[2]   Hara, Tameichi. Japanese Destroyer Captain: Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Midway – the Great Naval Battles as Seen through Japanese Eyes. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 2007. Print. Pp. 28-30.

[3]  Wikipedia – “Tameichi Hara”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tameichi_Hara

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Japanese Destroyer Captain, pg. 284. 

[6]  Japanese Destroyer Captain, pp. 82-3.

[7]  Wikipedia – “USS Perch (SS-176)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Perch_(SS-176)

[8]  “On Eternal Patrol – The Discovery of USS Perch (SS-176)”  http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/uss-perch-announcement.htm

[9]  “IJN Battleship YAMATO: Tabular Record of Movement”  http://combinedfleet.com/yamato.htm

Amedee Lighthouse

25 Mar
Amedee Lighthoudr

Amedee Lighthouse

 

“Yesterday was the 3rd and the next day the 5th, a bit confusing to landlubbers, but we took it in stride by just forgetting it. We had crossed the International Date Line. Our deck crews were busy getting ready to enter port and to unload our cargo. The Marines packed their gear to be ready to go ashore.

“It was getting cooler now and on the 6th ran into a nice stiff wind. The deep fuel tanks were getting low and the Tryon really rolled. General quarters came fast and furious as planes, ships and unidentified targets were sighted. Jap subs were reported in this section in numbers and the navigator’s chart had many position marks.

“About noon on the 7th, sighted New Caledonia, first a blur on the horizon and then a land mass with low hanging clouds above. Soon we were able to make out Amedee Lighthouse, sticking up like a long, white finger. Almost immediately blinkers from atop Signal Hill Station challenged us and within a few minutes we could see the purple-hued mountains with cotton-soft clouds hanging low.

“Off Amedee Light, a pilot came aboard to take the Tryon through the reefs and into the harbor. We were destined to make this passage many times in the months to come, but this was the only time we ever used a pilot here, a tribute to the shiphandling ability of the Captain and the excellent work of the navigator, Jerry King.” (1)

Amedee Lighthouse – a gleaming white torch suspended between azure sky and crystal sea; a welcoming beacon to weary sailors glad to be returnig to their home port; a silent sentinel, receiving friends, warning enemies; a marker, guiding ships to the safety of Noumea Harbor.

Though the sailors aboard Tryon would no doubt come to view Amedee Lighthouse in these and other ways, the fact was that it had similarly greeted generations of sailors. Even at the outbreak of the war Amedee Lighthouse was a venerable old structure.

The island of New Caledonia was first sighted by the British on September 4, 1774, during the exploration voyages of Captain James Cook. He named the newly located island New Caledonia, because it reminded him of Scotland. (2)

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was the first European to discover New Caledonia.

Captain James Cook (1728-1779) was the first European to discover New Caledonia.

In 1792, a French expedition extensively explored the island. Others visited the island in the following years, but no claims were made. The then-estimated 70,000 natives were aggressive and cannibalistic, Melanesians derived from the Papuans. Languages were often dissimilar between even neighboring tribes. In 1840. British missionaries arrived and the Crown planned to claim New Caledonia. A French survey ship crew was murdered by cannibals in 1850 and the French seized the opportunity to land in numbers. They claimed the island in September 1853. The colony was administered by an admiral until 1885 when a governor and local parliament (conseil-general) were appointed. (3)

When Napoleon III ordered the annexation of New Caledonia, France was looking for a strategic military location in the south Pacific, as well as an alternative location for a penal settlement to French Guyana’s Devil’s Island, where poor sanitation and mosquito infestation caused high rates of malaria and other endemic tropical diseases.

From the time of New Caledonia’s discovery by Europeans it was known that approach to the island was difficult due to the coral reefs that surrounded it. In 1859 the new commander of the colony, Captain Jean-Marie Saisset, requested construction of a lighthouse to help guide ships through the treacherous waters. This was particularly important as by then the colony was indeed being used as an alternative destination for French convicts. (4) In 1861 construction of a lighthouse was approved. Since few laborers skilled in masonry and other specialties needed for constructing a large lighthouse were available in New Caledonia, a relatively new technology would be chosen for it’s construction.

Leonce Reynaud, head of Lights Committee and designer of Amedee Lighthouse

Leonce Reynaud, head of France’s Lighthouses and Beacons Service and designer of Amedee Lighthouse

Design of the lighthouse was assigned to Léonce Reynaud, head of France’s Lighthouses and Beacons Service. In over thirty years of service in this position Reynaud would oversee construction of 131 lighthouses. Recognizing the construction challenges that would be faced in New Caledonia, Reynaud chose to improve upon a method used by the British in construction of lighthouses in Newfoundland, Jamaica, and elsewhere – using wrought iron. The lighthuse would be built using an internal supportive framework protected from weather and corrosion by an outer metal casing. A bulge was placed at the base to serve as housing for the lighthouse-keeper. (5)

The lighthouse was constructed in pieces by Mr. Rigolet, with the size of each piece being determined with consideration to the lack of scafolding and a limited number of workers in New Caledonia. It took four months for the individual components to be fabricated. The contract required that the pieces be assembled prior to shipment to New Caledonia to ensure stability and structural integrety, so Rigolet assembled the lighthouse near his shop in Paris – as the structure rose it became the talk of the town!

Amedee Lighthouse

Amedee Lighthouse

Preliminary construction of the lighthouse was completed in July, 1862 and it was left in place until June, 1864, when it was disassembled and packed into crates. Components of the lighthouse weighed 427 tons, and required 1265 crates for transport. The crates were loaded onto a barge and transported down the Seine River to the port of Le Harve, where they were transferred to the ship Emile Pereire, bound for New Caledonia. The ship and her cargo arrived at Port-de-France (now Noumea) on November 15, 1864. (6)

A young engineer, Louis-Emile Bertin, just 24 years old, was place in charge of construction of the new lighthouse, using both military personnel and local labor. (7)

Amedee Island, which lies about fifteen miles from Noumea, was chosen as the site for the lighthouse because it sits near Boulari Passage, one of just three natural passages through the coral reefs surrounding New Caledonia – Boulari Passage, Dumbea Passage (located to the north of Amedee Island, and most commonly used by large ships today), and Havannah Passage (near the southeastern tip of New Caledonia). (8)

Map showing proximity of Boulari Passage and Dumbea Passage to Noumea.

Map showing proximity of Boulari Passage and Dumbea Passage to Noumea.

With some fanfare the foundation stone was laid on 18 January 1865. Governor Guillain and a group of local dignitaries traveled to the island for a ceremony and placement of a commemorative lead box under that first stone. It took laborers ten months of intense work to complete the structure. Amedee Lighthouse was first illuminated on November 15, 1865, the Saint’s Day of the Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III’s wife. At 180 feet tall it is among the tallest cast iron lighthouses in the world – some argue it is the tallest. (9)

And so it was, on November 7, 1942 and on many later visits, that Amedee Lighthouse greeted the officers and crew of Tryon. Tryon couldn’t claim the landmark as her own, however; many naval ships called Noumea home. Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, after being named Commander, South Pacific Area (COMSOPAC), on 13 April, 1942, arrived at his new headquarters in Auckland, NZ on May 21; however, by July Ghormley moved his headquarters to Noumea to facilitate coordination between Army and Navy commands. (10) Due to the proximity of the harbor to the South Pacific operations, Nouméa provided not only a home port, but a well equipped and supplied repair base for damaged Allied ships. Nouméa declined in importance as a naval base as the Allied offensive moved inexorably northward toward Japan.

Alexander Vandegrift and William Halsey at Noumea, New Caledonia, January,  1943.  Vandegrift would receive a Medal of Honor for leading the Marines against the Japanese on Guadalcanal.

Alexander Vandegrift and William Halsey at Noumea, New Caledonia, January, 1943. By this time Halsey had replaced Ghormley as COMSOPAC. Vandegrift would receive a Medal of Honor for heroism in leading the Marines against the Japanese on Guadalcanal.

World War II would eventually end, but the need for Amedee Lighthouse to warn ships of the nearby hazardous coral reef and to guide the way to Noumea Harbor continued. Originally lighted using lamp oil made from rape seed (equivalent to our modern day canola oil), in 1952 a mantle system using vaporized kerosene was put in place. The lighthouse was electrified in 1985 using a wind turbine; in 1994 the wind turbine was replaced by solar panels. Amedee Lighthouse produces a light beam of 30,000 candlepower, and can be seen 24.5 miles out to sea. (11)

Today, GPS has largely eliminated the need for lighthouses to guide ships through treacherous waters and foul weather, but they continue to be popular with visitors due to their striking beauty, interesting architecture and historic significance. Amedee Lighthouse remains a favorite stop for those visiting New Caledonia. In fact, among visitors to Noumea the day trip to Amedee Island is one of the most popular. The island sits in the protected Amedee Island Marine Reserve, which is part of the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. The crystalline waters and white sandy beaches make for a perfect place to spend a day. Snorkeling and a glass bottom boat provide opportunity to get up close and personal with the incredible variety of marine life that inhabits the reef. A buffet lunch gives visitors a chance to relax while watching traditional island music and dancing.

Amedee Island.

Amedee Island.

Amedee Island has a large population of striped sea snakes. There are two varieties – the banded, or yellow-lipped, sea krait (Laticauda colubrine) and the blue-lipped sea krait (Laticauda laticaudata) – and they are found everywhere – including, some say, on the steps leading to the top of the lighthouse! The snakes are quite timid and slow on land, and they are easily assumed to be harmless. Not so! Their venom is said to be more potent than a cobra’s! There is no known antidote, and death, if bitten, occurs within minutes. Thankfully, their mouths are extremely small, making it nearly impossible for them to close on human body parts, and their docile nature means that they rarely strike at humans anyway. Be that as it may, surely a misunderstanding about the potential danger of these creatures has led visitors to sometimes handle them with a perceived immunity to danger and to treat them in a more carefree manner than the snakes deserve! (12)

Playing on the beach with a striped sea snake.

Playing on the beach with a striped sea snake.

Handling a highly poisonous blue lipped krait.

Handling a highly poisonous blue lipped krait.

A climb up 247 steps, which narrow appreciably near the top, will lead an adventurous visitor to the upper platform of the lighthouse, 170 feet above the sea. Corbels support the cast iron deck, which is used for maintenance of the light and as a promenade for visitors. The deck is surrounded by a decorative railing adorned with ten-point stars. The panoramic view beyond the rail is nothing short of spectacular. It is a sight that makes the arduous climb to the promenade well worth while. (13)

Star-studded railing of Amedee Lighthouse's promenade.

Star-studded railing of Amedee Lighthouse’s promenade.

Amedee Lighthouse – friendly greeter of war-weary sailors looking forward to the safe confines of their home port; vacation destination for those seeking the pristine beauty of an unspoiled tropical isle. To the men of Tryon it surely must have been a welcome sight. Given it’s history and tradition, Amedee Lighthouse will likely be both welcomed and welcoming for generations of future sailors and visitors – but hopefully never again for the reasons it was on November 7, 1942.

                                                               *********

If you or your family member served aboard Tryon, or if for another reason you’re interested in Tryon, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment so that we can communicate further.

If you have a comment, correction, annecdote or story related to this or any other post, please be sure to leave a comment. I enjoy nothing more than hearing from others that share an interest in this most pivital time in world history.

And thanks for taking time to check out my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.

                                                               *********

Looking up the spiraling stairway of Amedee Lighthouse.

Looking up the spiraling stairway of Amedee Lighthouse.

Entrance to Amedee Lighthouse.  Note bulging base that lends stability and in the early days provided a home for the lighthouse tender.

Entrance to Amedee Lighthouse. Note bulging base that lends stability and in the early days provided a home for the lighthouse keeper.

this plaque, hung in the entrance to the lighthouse says, "This building was constructed by S.E.M Le Cte PROSPER DE CHASSELOUP-LAUBAT, Minister of the Navy and Colonies, based on the plans drawn up by Mr LEONCE REYNAUD, Director of Lighthouses, under the direction of Mr V. CHEVALLIER and Mr E. ALLARD, Chief Engineers for the Department of Civil Works by Mr RIGOLET, Paris builder 1862"

This plaque hangs in the entrance to Amedee Lighthouse, and says, “This building was constructed by S.E.M Le Cte PROSPER DE CHASSELOUP-LAUBAT, Minister of the Navy and Colonies, based on the plans drawn up by Mr LEONCE REYNAUD, Director of Lighthouses, under the direction of Mr V. CHEVALLIER and Mr E. ALLARD, Chief Engineers for the Department of Civil Works by Mr RIGOLET, Paris builder 1862”

Amedee Lighthouse has been featured on a number of New Caledonian postage stamps.  This stamp, on a first day cover, features fifty years of flight from France to New Caledonia.

Amedee Lighthouse has been featured on a number of New Caledonian postage stamps. This stamp, on a first day cover, features fifty years of flight from France to New Caledonia.

This stamp and first day cover celebrate 100 years in service.

This stamp and first day cover celebrate 100 years in service.

This stamp and first day cover announce the electrification of Amedee Lighthouse in 1985.

This stamp and first day cover announce the electrification of Amedee Lighthouse in 1985.

Another stamp recognizing Amedee Lighthouse, March, 2000.

Another stamp recognizing Amedee Lighthouse, March, 2000.


 
                                                               *********

These 360 degree sphere panoramas are a fun way to “visit” Amedee Lighthouse and Island. Clicking on the links below will take you to the panoramas, which were produced and and are provided by Rocket Guides New Caledonia:

One of the beautiful sandy beaches that ring Amedee Island.

One of the beautiful sandy beaches that ring Amedee Island.

Ground view of Amedee Island.

Ground view of Amedee Island.

View from the promenade deck of Amedee Lighthouse

View from the promenade deck of Amedee Lighthouse

 

                                                               *********

Here are two videos demonstrating the beauty of the Noumea area and Amedee Island. In the second video, which starts off showing the arrival at Noumea, with the coastal hills visible beyond the the pristine waters, I can imagine Tryon arriving back in her home port, sailors not otherwise occupied by their daily duties lining the rails to get a look at the first solid ground they’d seen in days – or weeks! The war ships once filling Great Roads have been replaced by pleasure yachts, and the hills are dotted with more houses than there were in 1942 – but the beautiful coastline remains largely unchanged over the past seventy years.

Amedee Excursion

Amedee Excursion

 

                                                               *********

 

(1) “The South Pacific Express.” Pg. 10.

(2) Wikipedia – “New Caledonia” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Caledonia

(3) Gor”World War 2 Pacific Island Guide,” pg. 69. http://books.google.com/books?id=ChyilRml0hcC&pg=PA71&lpg=PA71&dq=noumea+new+caledonia+chosen+for+south+pacific+command+ww+II&source=bl&ots=bKnaCTss0c&sig=EGjImhB0OOKpddNCH_wmN-GeCbA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=O3VIUf6bOsiz2gW-9oGoBQ&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=noumea%20new%20caledonia%20chosen%20for%20south%20pacific%20command%20ww%20II&f=false

(4) Wikipedia – “Amedee Lighthouse” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Am%C3%A9d%C3%A9e_lighthouse

(5) “30,000 candles for the 140th anniversary of the Amedee lighthouse” http://envlit.ifremer.fr/infos/actualite/2005/30_000_bougies_pour_les_140_ans_du_phare_amedee (in French)

(6) http://www.amedeeisland.com/default.asp?action=article&ID=21560

(7) “30,000 candles for the 140th anniversary of the Amedee lighthouse” http://envlit.ifremer.fr/infos/actualite/2005/30_000_bougies_pour_les_140_ans_du_phare_amedee (in French)

(8) “Typhoon Havens Handbook for the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans” http://www.nrlmry.navy.mil/port_studies/thh-nc/ncaledon/noumea/text/sect1.htm

(9) “THE AMEDEE LIGHTHOUSE” http://www.docstoc.com/docs/14291196/Nouvelle-Cal%C3%A9donie-Tourisme-Point-Sud-THE-AMEDEE-LIGHTHOUSE-Known-locally-as

(10) “HyperWar: US Army in WWII: Strategy and Command: The First Two Years” Pg. 261. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-P-Strategy/Strategy-11.html

(11) “THE AMEDEE LIGHTHOUSE” http://www.docstoc.com/docs/14291196/Nouvelle-Cal%C3%A9donie-Tourisme-Point-Sud-THE-AMEDEE-LIGHTHOUSE-Known-locally-as

(12) http://en.visitnewcaledonia.com/zoom/knit-striped-snake

(13) “THE AMEDEE LIGHTHOUSE” http://www.docstoc.com/docs/14291196/Nouvelle-Cal%C3%A9donie-Tourisme-Point-Sud-THE-AMEDEE-LIGHTHOUSE-Known-locally-as

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Tryon Departs for White Poppy (Part 4) – USS Monssen

8 Feb
USS Monssen

USS Monssen

 

“After the battle I forget the heat
While contemplating
The sixteen-day moon.

Contemplating the moon,
I mourn
The enemy’s sacrifice.

Beneath the moon
Stretches a sea at whose bottom
Lie many ships.”

-Admiral Matome Ugaki, aboard battleship Yamoto

 

Of the ships that convoyed with Tryon on it’s way to the south Pacific, none has a story more poignant than that of the USS Monssen. As the old four-stacker destroyer Raleigh departed the convoy near Pago Pago, Monssen took her place as escort:

“The Captain reported that Jap subs were active south of us and from reports and rumors picked up the situation in the Solomons was grave. Not much information was given out to the watch officers, so we remained in the dark most of the time. The Raleigh kept one of her scouting planes in the air much of the time.

“On November 1st, passed almost due east of Pago Pago and early on the morning of the 2nd, before daylight, the Destroyer Monssen joined up as our escort, with the Raleigh taking her departure. The Monssen was one of the new class DDs, trim and sleek. She came along side to bring us guard mail and we got a good look at her.”(1)

New class indeed. Monssen was a Gleaves-class destroyer, laid down 12 July 1939, launched 16 May 1940, and commissioned 14 March 1941. The design of the Gleaves-class was so similar to the design of the Benson-class destroyers, which were being built concurrently, that they are often referred to collectively as the Benson/Gleaves-class. Even as Gleaves-class destroyers were still being built, the navy began production of the newer-design Fletcher-class, which were produced in large numbers and played a very important role in the Pacific war. But at the time that Tryon encountered Monssen east of Pago Pago, Monssen was the latest destroyer design in the south seas. (2)

USS Monssen passing uard gmail to USS Enterprise.  This view of Monssen is no doubt very similar to the one the Tryon crew got as Tryon and Monssen exchanged guard mail on November 1, 1942.

USS Monssen passing guard mail to USS Enterprise, May, 1942. This view of Monssen is no doubt very similar to the one the Tryon crew got as Tryon and Monssen exchanged guard mail on November 1, 1942.

Even at that early point in the war Monssen’s record was noteworthy. After being built in Bremerton, WA, Monssen reported to the Atlantic Fleet on June 27, 1941, and was on “neutrality patrol” in the northwestern Atlantic for five months. She continued to patrol the Atlantic after December 7, 1941, on war duty in search of German U-boats. (3)

On February 9, 1942 Monssen entered Boston Navy Yard for overhaul in preparation for transfer to the Pacific. Sailors, being a superstitious lot, took note of the fact that her bow number was “436,” the sum of which is 13. The number thirteen was to take on a special significance to Monssen; on Friday morning, March 13 (i.e. Friday the Thirteeth), 1942, before daylight, she ran aground in thirteen feet of water in the Cape Cod channel near Bouy 13, which should have been lighted, but was burned out. Monssen returned to Boston Navy Yard for a new bow and a few extra weeks of leave for her crew in Boston. But the number thirteen will surface in the story of this great ship again before it is over. (4)

Monssen arrived in San Francisco on March 31 as part of Destroyer Division 22 (Desdiv 22) made up of destroyers Gwin, Meredith, Grayson and Monssen, and almost immediately joined aircraft carrier Hornet (CV-8) as part of Task Force 18 (alas, during the war, among warships only destroyers were considered expendable; of the four proud ships of Desdiv 22 only Grayson would survive the Guadalcanal campaign). Monssen and Desdiv 22 served as antisubmarine screen for Hornet as she steamed toward Japan carrying Lt. Col. James Doolittle, his raiders, and sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers, which successfully bombed targets in Japan. En route they would meet up with USS Enterprise and became part of her storied Task Force 16. Once launched, and after dropping their bomb loads over Japan, the B-25s would be unable to return to Hornet due to low fuel; instead, most crews flew their aircraft across the East China Sea to China. While this raid did limited damage to Japan, it provided a great morale boost in the US, and placed concern in the minds of the Japanese military planners regarding protection of the home islands, and for the protection of the Emperor in particular. This led to the transfer of Japanese aircraft carriers from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and set the stage for the Battle of Midway. (5)

Doolittle raider B-25s on the deck of Hornet.  USS Gwin (DD-433), one of Monssen's sister ships in Desdiv 22, trails a short distance behind to starboard.

Doolittle raider B-25s on the deck of Hornet. USS Gwin (DD-433), one of Monssen’s sister ships in Desdiv 22, trails a short distance astern to starboard. Cruiser USS Nashville is seen behind Gwin.

B-25 bomber awaits takeoff from the deck of Hornet in heavy seas.

B-25 bomber awaits takeoff from the deck of Hornet in heavy seas.

B-25B bomber launches from the deck of Hornet, destination Japan.

B-25B bomber launches from the deck of Hornet, destination Japan.

Monssen returned to Hawaii with TF-16, which sortied on April 30 to aid Yorktown and Lexington in the Battle of Coral Sea. Arriving after the battle was over, the task force returned to Pearl Harbor on May 26. They Departed again two days later – this time headed for Midway. On June 4 the battle commenced, and when it was over the Japanese had lost four carriers and one cruiser, along with hundreds of aircraft. These losses were catastrophic to Japan, losses that they were never able to replace. The US had lost Yorktown, and destroyer Hammann.

After Midway the task force returned to Pearl Harbor and remained there for a month before Monssen sailed with TF-16 on July 15 for the south Pacific to support amphibious landings on Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida Islands in the Solomon Islands. Japan had landed construction forces on Guadalcanal in May, 1942, and they had begun construction of a runway. The Allies viewed an air base on Guadalcanal as a threat to their lines of communication and supply to the south Pacific and Australia. Feeling a sense of urgency regarding the situation, and despite inadequate time for preparation, the amphibious assault on Guadalcanal was planned. On the morning of 7 August, operating as part of Fire Support Group “Mike” (FSG “Mike” was made up of anti-aircraft cruiser San Juan, destroyer Buchanan and Monssen) of Task Group 62.2, Monssen was the first ship to open fire—on a hill on Florida Island overlooking the landing beach—in preparation for the landing on Beach Blue, Tulagi, half an hour before the Second Marines went ashore. (6) This landing was part of the initiation of Operation Watchtower – the battle for Guadalcanal. The fighting for the island would go on until February 9, 1943, but the skies and sea around Guadalcanal would remain treacherous for much longer. With the Allied victory on Guadalcanal Japan suffered it’s first major defeat – and the island-hopping strategy that would lead to the shores of the island nation itself, and, ultimately, the defeat of Japan, had begun. But Monssen, firing the opening salvos in the invasion, would pay the ultimate price for her part in it.

Map showing Tulagi Island, Florida Island, Savo Island, and Guadalcanal Island; also, Nagella Channel, Sealark Channel, and Lego Channel, as well as Indispensable Strait.

Map showing Tulagi Island, Florida Island, Savo Island, and Guadalcanal Island; also, Nggella Channel, Sealark Channel, and Lego Channel, as well as Indispensable Strait.

Aerial map showing Beach Blue, Tulagi,  marked.  Marines landed on Beach Blue after Monssen shelling softened the enemy, August 7, 1942.

Aerial map showing Beach Blue, Tulagi, marked. Marines landed on Beach Blue after Monssen shelling softened the enemy, August 7, 1942.

A day following the initial assault Monssen was assigned to screening forces guarding the eastern approaches to Sealark, Lengo and Nggela Channels. It was in this capacity that Monssen was present at, but not a participant in, the Battle of Savo Island. In this first major sea engagement supporting troops on Guadalcanal the US Navy suffered a humiliating defeat, losing three heavy cruisers and 1,077 men. Monssen, as part of the picket line guarding the eastern accesses to Sealark Sound, did not see action. (7)

Monssen remained in that area through the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 24- 25, 1942), preventing Japanese reinforcements from reaching Guadalcanal. She then took up duties patrolling the sea routes to Guadalcanal. On Augus 31, aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3) was hit by a torpedo, and Monssen was one of the ships designated to escort her to the Tonga Islands for repairs. (8)

Chester C. Thomason wrote an interesting account of the activities of Monssen during this pivotal period of August and September, 1942, part of which was drawn from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships:

“Destroyers have long been the most versatile ships of the U.S. Navy. Few have been called upon to perform such a variety of duties as did the Monssen during the week of September 23–30, 1942, the most crucial phase of the Guadalcanal campaign. Anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, shore bombardment, Marine combat post, rescue, hospital ship and tow ship; the Monssen performed them all.

“The Monssen left Espiritu Santo on September 23 as the sole escort for the 10,000-ton supply ship USS Alhena, which was bound for Guadalcanal beachhead with vital supplies. The Japanese still controlled the air by day and the sea by night. For weeks, the only supplies to reach the hard-pressed marines were those that could be flown in by air when Henderson Field was operational. It was the thinking of the south Pacific high command that this small convoy might succeed where a larger would surely attract Japanese resistance. The Monssen was a 1,630-ton destroyer of the Benson class commanded by Commander Roland N. Smoot (Annapolis 1923). She was already a veteran of the north Atlantic convoys, Jimmy Doolittle’s Tokyo raids, the battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, the invasion of Guadalcanal and Tulagi and the carrier battles around Guadalcanal. Perhaps that was why she was selected for this hazardous mission.

USS Alhena prior to conversion to AK-26.  Later in the war Alhena was converted to an attack transport, AKA-9.

USS Alhena prior to conversion to AK-26. Later in the war Alhena was converted to an attack transport, AKA-9.

“The Monssen and Alhena arrived off Lunga Point beachhead in the early morning of September 25. While Alhena anchored as close to the beach as possible, the Monssen set up an anti-submarine screen seaward. There were no dock facilities, so unloading went slowly, as supplies had to be unloaded by hand on the beach from small boats. Monssen’s patrol took her within 3,000 yards of the shore west of Lunga Point. The bridge watch spent hours scanning the jungle and the hills and studying the charts, trying to appraise the military situation ashore. At dusk, the Monssen escorted the Alhena eastward through Sealark Channel and out so sea, then turned around and arrived back of Lunga Point after daybreak.”

For the next several days Monssen continued this pattern of escort, screen and patrol. On September 26, “Monssen was ordered to cruise along the western shoreline and bombard any enemy targets observed. For several hours, Monssen took under fire small landing craft on the beach, native huts, and anything resembling enemy fuel or ammunition dumps.” (9)

“The two ships departed the area again at dusk, returning to the unloading beach at dawn on September 27 . . . The Alhena resumed unloading and the Monssen took up her patrol. When her patrol again took her close to the Matanikau River, it was obvious that fighting was in progress. Bodies of several marines were observed on the sand bar in the mouth of the river. Sounds of battle echoed through the coconut groves during the morning. About 11:00 a.m. the Monssen was ordered to close the beach and pick up passengers from a small craft. Aboard the Monssen came Lt. Col. “Chesty” Puller, his first lieutenant aide and two signalmen. Puller was then a battalion commander.”

Colonel Lewis Berwell "Chesty" Puller.  "With his bulldog face, barrel chest, gruff voice and common touch, Puller became - and has remained - the epitome of the Marine combat officer.  His record of five Navy Crosses for valor remain unmatched in the corps."

Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. “With his bulldog face, barrel chest, gruff voice and common touch, Puller became – and has remained – the epitome of the Marine combat officer. His record of five Navy Crosses for valor remain unmatched in the corps.” “Chesty” by Jon T. Hoffman.

Before his career was over Lewis Berwell “Chesty” Puller would hold the rank of Lieutenant (three star) General, and would become the most highly decorated combat Marine in the US Marine Corps. He is still considered the greatest Marine Corps hero among the many the Corps has produced. On this day, “. . . he went up to the bridge and informed Capt. Smoot that Marines were to be landed behind the Japanese lines in an effort to encircle them and force a crossing of the Matanikau River. Four boats carrying Marines (about 200) came out and followed the Monssen to Point Cruz, a projection of beach about a mile west of the Matanikau. The Monssen shelled the jungle behind the beach with 5-inch gunfire, and the Marines landed without opposition and disappeared into the jungle.”

Multiple air raids by Japanese planes interupted effort to establish contact with the landing force, and when contact was finally made, the Marines were in a tough spot. On a grassy hill and surrounded by Japanese, mortar-fire was seen to be falling among them. Using Monssen’s blinker light, Puller ordered the Marines to fight their way out for pickup on the beach. After Monssen laid down a barrage of shellfire from the beach to the base of the hill, the Marines made it to the beach and were rescued under heavy Japanese fire. The coxswain of the last boat to leave the beach, Douglas Munro, became the only Coastguardsman to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, when he was killed while fighting off the Japanese with a machine gun until the last Marines could get aboard. In all, forty Marines died in the failed mission. (10)

Photo showing damage to USS Alhena after torpedo/explosion on November 13, 1942, as she and Monssen steamed toward Espiritu Santo.  Thanks to John Benson for use of photo.

Photo showing damage to USS Alhena after torpedo/explosion on November 13, 1942, as she and Monssen steamed toward Espiritu Santo. Many thanks to John Benson for providing use of this photo.

On September 28 Monssen and Alhena returned to Lunga Point for the fourth and final day of unloading, and this day was uneventful. After unloading was completed, the two ships departed for safer waters and the friendly port of Espiritu Santo. About midnight, fifty miles off the eastern tip of Guadalcanal. “. . . A heavy explosion occurred in the after storage hold of the Alhena. Her propellers were wrecked, and her after hull was open to the sea. It was first thought that she had been torpedoed by a Jap submarine. Later it was learned that an internal explosion had occurred from gasoline fumes in empty drums stored in her hold. The Monssen began circling the crippled ship, expecting a submarine attack momentarily.” (11) Wounded aboard Alhena were transferred to Monssen, and at daylight on the following day the extent of the damage became known. “She was down at the stern about 10 degrees, engines obviously beyond repair at sea. Sharks could be seen swimming in and out of a gaping 30-foot hole in her hull.” A tow line was rigged to Alhena from the Monssen, initially using a ten-inch manila line, and on the second day, a 1 1/2” steel cable. After two days’ tow, fleet tug USS Navajo appeared on the horizon, escorted by the Monssen’s sister ship USS Meredith (DD-434) and a PT boat. The Monssen happily turned over the tow to the Navajo and joined the screen where she belonged. The group arrived safely at Espiritu Santo on October 7. (12)

I’ve been unable to determine the actions of Monssen from that date until she assumed escort duty on November 1, 1942, but its possible to piece together Monssen’s likely movements based on known actions of the ships sailing with her into Espiritu Santo on that first Monday in October, 1942. Meredith steamed from port on October 12 escorting a convoy of ships pulling barges loaded with aviation fuel and bombs bound for Guadalcanal. On the 15th she was caught by a wave of 38 Japanese aircraft that sank her in fifteen minutes, with heavy loss of life. Ironically, tragically, the crew of the fleet tug Vireo had been taken aboard Meredith for safety – most were lost. Vireo remained untouched. Later Vireo would be towed back to Espiritu Santo and, with a new crew, resume towing barges carrying aviation fuel and bombs to Guadalcanal. (13) From these events it appears that Meredith’s association with Monssen and Alhena ended when she left Espiritu Santo on October 12.

Navajo remained with Alhena at Espiritu Santo while temporary repairs were being completed and Alhena was again made seaworthy. On October 16, Navajo once more took Alhena in tow and headed for New Caledonia. They reached Noumea on the 20th, and the repair work continued on Alhena until November 8 when she got underway under her own power for Australia for further repairs. Reports indicate that Navajo arrived in Sydney in late November, 1942, and remained there till December. While I have no proof of this at this point, I suspect that Navajo accompanied Alhena from Noumea to Sydney.

Based on this information it seems likely that Monssen remained with Alhena at Espiritu Santo until October 16, then escorted Navajo and Alhena to New Caledonia. Once arriving there on October 20, Monssen sailed east to rendezvous with Tryon and her convoy on November 1, escorting them back to Noumea, arriving on November 7. While these movements are conjectural at this point, based on dates and ship associations it would seem a plausible explanation of Monssen’s unaccounted-for days between the explosion aboard Alhena in the early morning hours of October 1 when Monssen was her escort, and where Monssen’s story again picks up with her escorting Tryon’s convoy to Noumea on November 1, 1942. Perhaps one day I will order the Ships Log for those dates from the National Archives and determine what Monssen was up to during that period of time once and for all.

Monssen spent the relatively tranquil days of November 1 to November 7 escorting Tryon and her convoy. The little convoy steamed into Great Roads harbor at Noumea on November 7, happy to have at last reached their south Pacific destination. Noumea, code name “White Poppy,” would be the home port for Tryon for the next three years. The following day, November 8, Monssen departed Nouméa as part of Task Group 67. TG 67 was made up of four transports, McCawley, President Jackson, President Adams, and Crescent City (TG 67.1), and their cover, initially Portland, Juneau, O’bannon, Barton and Monssen (part of TG 67.4). Shaw left Noumea on the November 9 and joined the group on the eleventh. (14) Another group of vessels identified as Task Group 62.4, San Francisco, Helena, Pensacola, Laffey, Buchanan, Gwin, Sterett, Preston, and Cushing, along with the cargo vessels Betelgeuse, Libra and Zeilin, departed Espiritu Santo on November tenth (under command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott), and rendezvoused with the Transport Group near the eastern end of San Christobal Island on the morning of the eleventh. Task Group 67.4 was under the command of Rear Admiral D.J. Callaghan, aboard USS San Francisco. Overall command of Task Group 67 was by Rear Admiral R.K. Turner on McCawley. The transports carried troops to replace and reinforce the beleaguered men on Guadalcanal. (15)

Rear Admiral Norman Scott.  Though on the night of Nov 12-13, 1942 Scott was the only commander that had won a night engagement with the Japanese - at the Battle of Cape Esperance - Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan was a few days his senior, and although he had no battle experience was placed in overall command.   Scott's flagship, the light  cruiser Atlanta, was hit by a shell from the USS San Francisco, Callaghan's flagship, and Scott and nearly all of the officers on the bridge of Atlanta were killed.  Scott was buried at sea; he received the Medal of Honor "For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty." Two naval vessels have been named in his honor.

Rear Admiral Norman Scott. Though on the night of Nov 12-13, 1942 Scott was the only commander that had won a night engagement with the Japanese – at the Battle of Cape Esperance – Callaghan, with regard to rank, was a few days his senior. Although he had no battle experience Callaghan was placed in overall command. Scott’s flagship, the light cruiser Atlanta, was hit by a shell from the USS San Francisco, Callaghan’s flagship, and Scott and nearly all of the officers on the bridge of Atlanta were killed. Scott was buried at sea; he received the Medal of Honor “For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.” Two naval vessels have been named in his honor.

After a relatively uneventful journey from Noumea (16), Monssen and Task Group 67 arrived off Lunga Point at 0531 on November 12. The transports in TG 67 started unloading immediately. They were soon joined by transports from TG 62.4, which had arrived and begun unloading the day before – they had spent the night in safer waters east of Sealark Sound. Around 2:15 in the afternoon the ships were attacked by a flight of twenty-one to twenty-five Japanese “Betty” bombers and eight to twelve Zero fighters. They were met by fighter aircraft from the Cactus Air Force on Guadalcanal as well as heavy anti-aircraft fire from ships in the task force. By the time the Japanese planes headed north for their home bases, only a single Betty and a few of the Zeros were left. Damage to the Americans was relatively light – a number of sailors were killed during the action, and a damaged torpedo bomber crashed into San Francisco’s after control, spraying burning aircraft fuel onto the deck. Fifteen men were killed outright (another seven died later of their wounds), 29 were wounded, and one missing. Control aft was demolished, the after anti-aircraft director and radar were put out of commission, and three 20 mm mounts were destroyed. (17) During the attack Monssen lost her fire control radar: an oil-filled transformer in the radar burnt out and then ruptured. Loss of fire control radar would diminish her combat effectiveness during the battle to come that night. Without it she would rely on radio communication with other ships and visual fire control to do battle. (18)

Admiral William Halsey.  One of the most colorful and beloved commanders in the Pacific theatre, Halsey was placed in command of the Pacific Fleet when his predecessor, Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley was judged to be too tentative.  Crews in the Pacific knew change had arrived when Halsey gave his now famous command, "ATTACK-REPEAT-ATTACK" prior to the Battle of Santa Cruz.  An artist's rendering of this photo would be used in a war-time recruiting poster.

Admiral William “Bull” Halsey. One of the most colorful and beloved commanders in the Pacific theater, Halsey was placed in command of the South Pacific Fleet when his predecessor, Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley was judged to be too tentative. Crews in the Pacific knew change had arrived when Halsey gave his now famous command, “ATTACK-REPEAT-ATTACK” prior to the Battle of Santa Cruz. An artists rendering of this photo was used in a war-time recruiting poster.

By nightfall all troops and ninety percent of supplies had been unloaded from the transports, and, knowing from spotter reports that Japanese warships were headed down “the Slot” (an American nickname for New Georgia Sound, running through the middle of the Solomon Islands) for Guadalcanal, Admiral Turner felt it best to retire with the transports and cargo ships, taking three destroyers – the damaged Buchanan and two others low on fuel – as escort for his group (they arrived safely at Espiritu Santo on November 15) and leaving the remaining warships under the command of Admiral Callaghan to take on the coming “Tokyo Express.” (19) The battle that occurred on the night of November 12-13, 1942 would be known as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, and though both sides would suffer heavy losses, it was a strategic victory for the U.S. The failure to deliver to Guadalcanal most of the troops and supplies in the convoy prevented the Japanese from launching another offensive to retake Henderson Field. Additionally, Japanese ships were unable to wreak havoc by shelling Henderson Field, which was so critical for air protection to American Marines on Guadalcanal. Thereafter, the Imperial Navy was only able to deliver subsistence supplies and a few replacement troops to Japanese Army forces on Guadalcanal.

Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan.  Though lacking battle experience Callaghan was placed in command during first night of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. His failure to provide a battle plan to the ships under his command has been called into question by some. During the battle San Francisco engaged the Japanese battleship Hiei.   At point blank range the 14” shells of Hiei devastated the San Francisco’s bridge, instantly killing Callaghan and his staff.   As with Scott, Callaghan would be buried at sea; would receive a posthumous Medal of Honor; and would have two naval vessels named in his honor.

Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan. Though lacking battle experience Callaghan was placed in command during first night of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. His failure to provide a battle plan to the ships under his command has been called into question by some. During the battle San Francisco engaged the Japanese battleship Hiei. At point blank range the 14” shells of Hiei devastated the San Francisco’s bridge, instantly killing Callaghan and his staff. As with Scott, Callaghan would be buried at sea; would receive a posthumous Medal of Honor; and would have two naval vessels named in his honor.

In this epic naval battle, in the impenetrable darkness of mid-night, warships of the United States and the Imperial Navy of Japan became intermingled; knowing friend from foe was nearly impossible. Because of the confined boundaries of Sealark Sound there was little room for maneuvering, making this action as near as ships would come to hand-to-hand combat. Naval guns, intended for firing at targets over distances measured in thousands of yards and tens of thousands of yards were being aimed point blank, nearly parallel to the water, at ships only hundreds of yards away. When the shooting stopped, and the horrific sounds of battle were silent, the hulks of once proud ships of both navies burned upon the waters off Guadalcanal. Monssen was among them.

From the time of her commissioning the skipper of Monssen had been Commander Roland N. Smoot; but he was hospitalized in Noumea due to illness before Task Group 67 sailed. His replacement was en route to take over command of Monssen, but he was killed when the plane he was traveling on crashed. Monssen’s executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles E. McCombs, was moved the position of acting captain. He was the youngest of the destroyer captains, and, the events of the night unfolded, he had to be wondering what elements of fate had put him in the impossible position he found himself in.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942. USS President Jackson (AP-37) maneuvering under Japanese air attack off Guadalcanal, 12 November 1942. In the center background is smoke from an enemy plane that had just crashed into the after superstructure of USS San Francisco (CA-38), which is steaming away in the right center. Photographed from USS President Adams (AP-38). Note the anti-aircraft shell bursts. (12-15 November 1942)

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12-15 November 1942. USS President Jackson (AP-37) maneuvering under Japanese air attack off Guadalcanal, 12 November 1942. In the center background is smoke from an enemy plane that had just crashed into the after superstructure of USS San Francisco (CA-38), which is steaming away in the right center. Photographed from USS President Adams (AP-38). Note the anti-aircraft shell bursts. (12-15 November 1942)

Smoke rises from two Japanese planes shot down during the air raid on transports being unloaded at Guadalcanal on the afternoon of November 12, 1942. Photographed from USS President Adams (AP-38); ship at right is USS Betelgeuse (AK-28).

Smoke rises from two Japanese planes shot down during the air raid on transports being unloaded at Guadalcanal on the afternoon of November 12, 1942. Photographed from USS President Adams (AP-38); ship at right is USS Betelgeuse (AK-28).

After Admiral Turner departed for Espiritu Santo with the transports, the cargomen and their cover, Admiral Callaghan ordered the remaining warships into battle formation – a single column of thirteen ships – with four destroyers in the van, five cruisers in the center, and four more destroyers in the rear. Monssen was second to last in the column. Contact was first made with the Japanese force by radar on Helena at 0124; at 0130 Callaghan ordered the column to turn starboard toward the oncoming enemy, but still did not give the order to fire. at 0142 the American column was spotted by the lead destroyers of the Japanese group, and at this point any element of surprise for the Americans was lost. Finally, at 0148, the order was given to fire. (20) The stillness of the night was shattered by noise and light of the roaring gunfire. In her place near the end of the column Monssen was late to the action. By 0215 Monssen was in the midst of the battle, firing torpedoes and five inch shells at passing targets. Suddenly a star shell illuminated Monssen, and Lt. Cmdr. McCombs, thinking that the shell had been fired by a friendly ship, flashed his fighting lights for identification. Flipping on those lights was the end for Monssen; Japanese searchlights, like sabers through the darkness, were immediately turned on her, and shells came raining down. She was hit by at least 37 shells, at least three of battleship caliber, and by 0240 was Monssen reduced to a burning hulk. Captain McCombs ordered abandon ship. (21)

USS Monssen, shortly after commissioning and prior to move to the Atlantic.  Note crew members gathered on fantail,  similar what crewmembers did as the ship burned, on the fateful night of November 13, 1942.

USS Monssen, shortly after commissioning and prior to her move to the Atlantic. Note crew members gathered on the fantail, similar to what crew members did as the ship burned in the fateful early morning hours of November 13, 1942.

Monssen didn’t sink right away. As the light of dawn spread across “Ironbottom Sound,” the colorful name sailors gave to Sealark Sound because so many ships of both navies littered the sea floor there, the extent of the carnage that took place in the darkness of night became all too evident. The calm waters were littered with debris, with bodies – some living, but most not – and, everywhere, fuel oil. Everything was covered in the thick, black, barely refined oil that was used by ships of that day for firing their massive boilers. In the midst of the flotsam, the Monssen still burned. As morning came, three sailors from Monssen, having already spent hours in the water, decided that they’d rather risk their lives aboard the foundering ship than clinging to a powder cannister amongst circling sharks. They re-boarded Monssen, and, once aboard, decided to search for wounded left behind in the chaos of the previous night. In the time that they remained on Monssen they found eight sailors still alive. Eventually they were able to flag down a passing boat, and soon rescuers and wounded were on Guadalcanal. Some time after noon, Monssen disappeared beneath the glassy surface of the sound. Monssen had a total of 286 officers and crew; 145 were killed, 37 were wounded. Only 64 escaped unscathed.

Again, the number thirteen enters the lore of Monssen. One of thirteen ships to join the battle, her death-knell tolled on Friday, the Thirteenth of November, 1942.

This, the first stage of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (a second night of action took place on November 13-14), was costly for the U. S. Navy. Six ships were lost – two light cruisers, Atlanta and Juneau; and four destroyers – Cushing, Laffey, Barton and Monssen. Even more tragic, 1,439 American seamen died. Counted among the dead were both admirals involve in the action, Rear Admiral Daniel P. Callaghan and Rear Admiral Norman Scott. Based on evidence collected from Scott’s flagship, Atlanta, it is thought that Scott and the other officers on the bridge of Atlanta were killed by shells fired from San Francisco in the confusion of night action. Reconstruction of the battle suggests that Atlanta may have inadvertently drifted into San Francisco’s path of fire, with guns aimed nearly parallel to the water, and Atlanta’s presence there was noticed only after the fatal shots were fired. (22)

The five Sullivan brothers:  (r to l) Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George - all lost when the USS Juneau sank on Novmber 13, 1942.

The five Sullivan brothers: (r to l) Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George – all lost when the USS Juneau sank on Novmber 13, 1942.

Also among those that died as a result of the battle were the five Fighting Sullivan Brothers, who served together aboard the Juneau. Damaged during the night battle, Juneau was retiring with the other ships of the task group toward Noumea, New Caledonia, when a Japanese torpedo hit the ship. The torpedo struck near the powder magazine, causing such an explosion that the Juneau simply disappeared. The other ships of the convoy, crews dumbstruck, felt that no one could survive such a horrific blast; with enemy subs in the area, the commander of the convoy, Captain Gilbert Hoover, ordered the other ships to proceed without searching for survivors – though he did signal location coordinates to a passing B-17, in hopes that an organized search could be mounted. As it turned out, there were survivors – over a hundred. Most were injured; left to the elements and the `sharks, only ten survived the eight days at sea before being rescued. Those rescued reported that the oldest of the Sullivan brothers, George, had survived the explosion. He lasted for four or five days, but succumbed to the elements, sharks, and possible injuries before he could be rescued. (23) In all, of the Juneau’s crew of 698 officers and enlisted men, 684 were killed or lost in action. Though Hoover’s decision was supported by other officers in the limping convoy, when Admiral Bill Halsey, Commander, South Pacific Fleet (COMSOPAC), found out, he was furious – even more so when he learned there had been many survivors. Though the action was discouraged by Chester Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific fleet, Halsey called for the removal of Hoover from sea command; he was beached. Later Halsey would regret his decision, saying he had made it in haste, without full consideration of the situation. He would eventually apologize to Hoover, and, according to Halsey, they remained close friends. (24)

Captain Gilbert Hoover.  Realizing he was the senior officer after the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal and the deaths of Admirals Daniel J. Gallaghan and Norman Scott, Hoover took command of the retiring ships From aboard Helena.  Though the recipient of three Navy Crosses due to conspicuous bravery in battle, he caught the ire of Admiral Halsey when he failed to search for survivors after the sinking of the Juneau.  This snafu did not prevent career advancement, however - he retired as a rear admiral in 1947.

Captain Gilbert Hoover. Realizing he was the senior officer after the battle, and the deaths of Admirals Daniel Gallaghan and Norman Scott, Hoover took command of the retiring ships. Though the recipient of three Navy Crosses due to conspicuous bravery in battle, he caught the ire of Admiral Halsey when he failed to search for survivors after the sinking of the Juneau, relieving him of sea command. This snafu did not prevent career advancement, however – Hoover retired as a rear admiral in 1947.

Though in the early going of the fight for Guadalcanal many Marines felt that they’d been left high and dry by the Navy, in the end the Navy’s sacrifice would be recognized by them. While perhaps not suffering the prolonged degradations that Marines on land did, for every man that died in the fighting on Guadalcanal, three would die at sea. General Vandergrift, who had been commander of the ground action from the initial landing, represented the Marines under his command when he expressed his appreciation for the naval forces, including Monssen, that took part in the great sea battle of November 12-13:

“WE BELIEVE THE ENEMY HAS SUFFERED A CRUSHING DEFEAT. WE THANK LEE* FOR HIS STURDY EFFORT LAST NIGHT. WE THANK KINCAID [SIC]** FOR HIS INTERVENTION YESTERDAY. OUR OWN AIRCRAFT HAVE BEEN GRAND IN ITS RELENTLESS POUNDING OF THE FOE. THOSE EFFORTS WE APPRECIATE BUT OUR GREATEST HOMAGE GOES TO SCOTT, CALLAGHAN AND THEIR MEN WHO WITH MAGNIFICENT COURAGE AGAINST SEEMINGLY HOPELESS ODDS DROVE BACK THE FIRST HOSTILE STROKE AND MADE SUCCESS POSSIBLE. TO THEM THE MEN OF CACTUS LIFT THEIR BATTERED HELMETS IN DEEPEST ADMIRATION.”

* Admiral Willis Lee, who, in the second phase of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on November 14-15, led the battleships Washington and South Dakota to a decisive victory.
** Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid, in command of Carrier Task Force 61

***************

The brave acts of the three Monssen sailors, who saved the lives of eight of their wounded shipmates, deserves greater attention, for their story, and that of one of the men they saved, brings this tale of tragedy and triumph full circle, I believe, back to the Tryon. Here’s how.

The three sailors were Bosun’s Mate Second Class Clyde Storey, Gunner’s Mate Second Class Leo Spurgeon and Fireman First Class Joe Hughes. Some of the last men off the Monssen, they spent the night hanging onto an empty powder can (According to Hughes they spent the night smoking a stash of cigarettes Spurgeon had thoughtfully stored in the empty powder canister. Storey adamantly denies this, pointing out that a powder can would be a strange place to put matches). At sunrise two PT boats raced by them, but try as they might they were unable to catch the attention of their crews. Shortly after that sharks began to circle them. The sharks left, but the first words out of everyone’s mouth amounted to a unanimous vote to swim back to the burning, drifting ship; each preferred blowing up to being eaten up. They swam furiously toward the Monssen, a quarter-mile away. (25)

As they neared Monssen they heard the screams of Monssen’s mess attendant, uninjured but begging for help. After coaxing him to the fantail and calming him down, they began to search for others that might still be alive. Those that they could help were administered morphine and were carried to the fantail on matresses taken from bunks. Near a life raft they found what appeared to be a pile of corpses, at least until one of the bodies moved. They removed the bodies until they found the one still breathing. The man’s head and face wounds were so bad they couldn’t recognize him. But his dog tag revealed him to be their buddy, Seaman First Class Bert Doughty. When they spoke to him, Doughty briefly opened his eyes, but whether he knew who they were, they couldn’t tell. (26)

After gathering the wounded, Storey, Spurgeon and Hughes began seeking a way off the Monssen. They used a white mattress cover to flag down one of several small seaplanes flying around the area, and informed the pilot that they were in immediate need of a boat to transport wounded off of Monssen. The pilot waved to signal his understanding, then flew off toward Guadalcanal. As they waited, they toyed with the idea of salvaging the ship’s safe, which they thought might hold a half-million dollars in back pay intended for the ship’s crew; but no one wanted to leave the open deck of the ship at that point. (27)

At last, a small landing boat appeared off Monssen’s beam. Storey, Spurgeon and Hughes waved their arms and yelled to attract attention, but the coxswain did his best to ignore them. Finally, the coxswain admitted that he was afraid the destroyer would roll over on his landing craft if he came too close. There was ample cause for concern. Monssen was burning and listing far to port. If the landing craft came alongside, it would have to do so to port because the starboard side was too high out of the water. If the ship capsized with the landing craft alongside, the landing craft would probably be captured by some topside equipment. The men aboard Monssen sympathized with the coxswain’s feelings, but they had strong views of their own. BM2 Storey yanked out the .45-caliber pistol he had salvaged from the body of a dead officer and calmly aimed it at the coxswain. “You s-o-b,” he yelled. “You get that g** d***ed boat over here right now or I’ll kill you.” Storey denies that he threatened anyone. In any event, the boat immediately closed on the destroyer. The men aboard Monssen, eleven in all, were quickly helped aboard the landing boat, which pulled away with alacrity and headed for Kukum. About thirty minutes later, Monssen blew up and sank. (28)

In recognition of their heroism in saving the lives of shipmates that most certainly would have been lost when Monssen sank, her acting commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles E. McCombs, gave special commendation to the trio in the Action Report for the night battle of November 13:

17. After daylight MONSSEN though burning from forward
bulkhead of CPO Quarters to Torpedo Workshop was still afloat. At
this time Storey, C.C., BM2c, Spurgeon, L.F., GM2c and Hughes J.G.
F1c, returned to the ship and found eight more men alive. These
they put on their raft. Five of these eight lived after reaching
shore. The presence of the mind of these men, the utter disregard
for own safety in the possibility of rescuing additional shipmates
is most commendable. The actions of Storey, C.C., BM2c are reported to
have been calm, determined and in many cases far beyond the call of
duty but in accordance with the highest traditions of the Naval service.
(29)

The Navy would further recognize their efforts by awarding Clyde Storey the Silver Star; Leo Spurgeon received the Bronze Star and Joe Hughes a promotion in rate. (30)

*************

With regard to Bert Doughty, he, like so many young men of the day, responded to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor by enlisting in the Navy. He signed up at the San Francisco recruiting station on February 24, 1942, and headed to San Diego for Basic training, leaving his wife, Leona, and young daughter to await his return. On April 8 Doughty boarded USS Henderson, headed for Hawaii and ship assignment. After arriving at Pearl Harbor on April 16, Doughty shipped out again on the destroyer tender Dixie. He reported for duty on USS Monssen on April 27, with the rating of Apprentice Seaman. For a young man that had been a civilian just two months before, Doughty was rapidly thrown into the fray; he had barely joined the crew of Monssen when she headed out for Coral Sea, and shortly after, for Midway.
(31)

Bert Doughty

Doughty soon sought to improve his rating, advancing from Apprentice Seaman to Seaman Second Class on June 24, and to Seaman First Class on October 1. (32) At general quarters S1c Doughty was a port-side 20 mm gunner, and as the battle was joined in the early morning hours of November 13 he manned his station, undoubtedly eager to put hot lead on the cold steel of enemy ships. His chance would come soon enough. By 0215 the Monssen was in the thick of the battle; star shells soon illuminated her, silhouetting the ship against the blackness of night. Immediately she was hit by a barrage of shells, thirty seven in all. By 0240 Monssen had ceased to maintain the ability to fight – all torpedoes had been fired, all 5″ guns and directors were out of commission, and all 20 mm guns had been knocked out. (33) Doughty was fortunate to have escaped from his station with his life – at least one of the 20 mm guns had been hit directly by shell-fire, killing its crew instantly.

After gathering with other survivors on the fantail, Doughty was cutting away a balsa raft when there was a terrific explosion, and the lights went out. A hit on the adjacent after depth-charge projector spread shrapnel through the midst of the group around him. Doughty was not only knocked out but also suffered sixteen shrapnel wounds in the jaw and nose, and sustained a ruptured ear drum and fractured skull. Many of the sailors around him were killed, and nearly all the rest were wounded. So it was, in this condition and in this location, that Storey, Spurgeon and Hughes recovered Doughty from among the dead. (34)

As his rescuers lifted Doughty from the bodies and pulled him to safety, the lights slowly went on in his head, and he looked into the eyes of another sailor. The other man was speaking, but Doughty could not hear the words. After a moment or two, the darkness once again enfolded him. Doughty had no recollection of his rescue; he woke up in a hospital plane on the way to the American base on Efate. Totally disoriented, the first words he remembers saying were, “Where’s my ship?”(35)

Though his wounds were extremely serious, Bert Doughty would survive them. After being air lifted to Efate, he was sent to Auckland, New Zealand for medical treatment and convalescence. Due to the “fog” of war and poor communication capabilities at that time, Bert’s young wife, Leona, was informed that he was missing in action; one can only imagine the joy and relief she must have felt when she received a phone call from Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 1943, saying Bert was there. (36)

After spending eleven months in Oak Knoll, Doughty was discharged and returned to civilian life. He never fully recovered from his wounds, suffering from their effects for the remainder of his life. Burt’s story would be recorded in several books; in addition, Burt was featured in the National Geographic video special “Lost Ships of Guadalcanal.” This program detailed the 1992 research expedition to “Ironbottom Sound” by Dr. Robert Ballard. The expedition was partially sponsored by the Navy, in honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the struggle over Guadalcanal. Ballard succeeded in locating Monssen, as well as numerous other warships – silent, ghosts from another time, lying on the sea floor just as the had settled on that terrible night in November, still paying homage to the brave dead that served upon them. Monssen, it was reported, sat on the ocean floor much as she had on the surface, with her five inch guns still aimed to starboard, at targets that disappeared into the night over seventy years ago. (37)

 

The reason why the waters north of Guadalcanal, east of Savo Island, and southwest of Florida Island became known as "Ironbottom Sound."

The reason the why waters north of Guadalcanal, east of Savo Island, and southwest of Florida Island became known as “Ironbottom Sound.”

 

"Ironbottom Sound" looking southwest towards Savo Island (center) and Cape Esperance (left) on Guadalcanal. A U.S. destroyer is sillouhetted against Savo Island. Photo taken from USS San Juan on August 7, 1942. Official U.S. Navy photo #80-G-13539, now in the National Archives.

“Ironbottom Sound” looking southwest towards Savo Island (center) and Cape Esperance (left) on Guadalcanal. A U.S. destroyer is sillouhetted against Savo Island. Photo taken from USS San Juan on August 7, 1942. Official U.S. Navy photo #80-G-13539, now in the National Archives.

                                                            *********

Mac Perry wrote the following about about Tryon’s first assignment:

At 0530 on the 15th [Novermber, 1942], departed without escort. There was none available and this would be routine procedure for months to come . . . Arrived at Vila, Efate in the New Hebrides Islands just at 1300 of the 16th. It was a bright day and the water outside the harbor was calm as we maneuvered through the mine fields. Steamed into the harbor through the submarine nets and found an attractive anchorage, deep but small, with two islets inside it. On one the Union Jack of the British Residency was hanging limp in the morning calm. The town, what there was of it, was built around the harbor. A hospital on the green hill running down to water dominated the view. The corrugated iron roofs of the business houses gleamed in the hot sun . . .

The cargo was quickly transferred to these ships [destroyers that were already waiting in the harbor] while the medical department made necessary arrangements to take aboard our first patients.

Soon they were coming out to the ship and after being checked aboard were sent down to the various wards. The stretcher patients were suffering from all type wounds and burns. These first patients presented a scene that none of us would ever forget.

Two hundred and sixty-eight patients were taken aboard, over one hundred being stretcher patients. The stretcher patients were brought out to the ship in a 40-foot motor whale boat, six at a time.

One of the first patients brought aboard was a kid from the Destroyer Monssen, our escort into Noumea. His ship had been blown out of the water in the great sea battle of Nov. 12-13-14 and he was one of the few survivors. Nearly all our patients had been wounded at Guadalcanal or in the sea-battle. There were burns, concussions, chest, abdominal, leg, arm and back wounds. Many of these had been flown into Efate that morning. (38)

As I read the passage above, and those telling Bert Doughty’s story in other sources, I wondered – could Bert have been the “kid from the destroyer Monssen,” whose ship was blown out from under him? The parallels between Bert’s story and that of the patients described by Perry are certainly striking. Based on that thought I began searching for proof that Bert was among the wounded taken aboard Tryon on her first evacuation voyage. So far, I’ve have been unsuccessful in finding it. I’ve been in contact with Bert’s daughter, Patti, and although we’ve developed a warm friendship and she has provided me with some very interesting information about Bert, as yet we’ve been unable to prove he sailed aboard Tryon.

Patti sent me an article from the Fresno Bee dated December 20,1993, about “holiday homecomings” that related Bert’s story. Bert was interviewed for the article. According to the story, “Doughty was airlifted to a naval hospital in the South Pacific [at Vila, Efate], then was taken to New Zealand by ship and then flown to Oakland.” This sounds remarkably similar to the account given in “The South Pacific Express” regarding some of the wounded that were brought aboard tryon on November 16, 1942. The article also relates Bert’s feelings about sharks: “‘People talk about how they hate sharks,’ said Doughty. ‘I love sharks. They saved my life.'” (39)

I’ve also contacted the National Archives, which holds older naval records. I was told that all passenger records for the war period had been ordered destroyed in the 1950s, and none still exist. A thorough search was done, but no record of Bert Doughty’s transport to Auckland could be found.

I’ll continue to search. I may never know for sure whether Bert was among the 268 patients under the tender care of the Tryon medical staff sailing south from Efate that evening in late November, 1942, but I like to think he was, and that it was Tryon’s way of saying thanks to Monssen – the brave ship whose crew never backed down from a fight – for the safe-keeping she provided Tryon and the rest of her little convoy through the sub-infested waters of the south Pacific on it’s way to Noumea.

                                                           *********

If you or your family member served aboard Tryon, or if for another reason you’re interested in Tryon, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment so that we can communicate further.

If you have a comment, correction, annecdote or story related to this or any other post, please be sure to leave a comment. I enjoy nothing more than hearing from others that share an interest in this most pivital time in world history.

And thanks for taking time to check out my blog. I sincerely appreciate it.

                                                           *********

Putting a face on the loss of life in the Battle of Guadalcanal - after appearing in the documentary "Lost Ships of Guadalcanal," Bert Doughty received numerous letters from family members of those that had served with hime on Monssen. One of them was from the step-brother of Henry Merrit, who included this article telling of Henry's death aboard the Monssen.

Putting a face on the loss of life in the Battle of Guadalcanal – after appearing in the documentary “Lost Ships of Guadalcanal,” Bert Doughty received numerous letters from family members of those that had served with hime on Monssen. One of them was from the step-brother of Henry Merrit, who included this article telling of Henry’s death aboard the Monssen.

The telegraph received by Leona Doughty telling her that Bert was "missing following action."

The telegraph received by Leona Doughty telling her that Bert was “missing following action.” Printed in the Fresno Bee December 20, 1993.

Report of Changes, USS Henderson, 8 Apr. 1942.  Doughty boards the transport Henderson for travel to the south Pacific.

Report of Changes, USS Henderson, 8 Apr. 1942. Doughty boards the transport Henderson for travel to the south Pacific.

Report of Changes, USS Monssen, 30 Apr. 1942.  This report shows Doughty's arrival for duty aboard Monssen from Dixie.

Report of Changes, USS Monssen, 30 Apr. 1942. This report shows Doughty’s arrival for duty aboard Monssen from Dixie.

 

(1) The South Pacific Express, pg. 10.
(2) Destroyer History Foundation, “USS Monssen (DD-436)” http://destroyerhistory.org/benson-gleavesclass/desdiv22/index.asp?r=430&pid=435
http://destroyerhistory.org/benson-gleavesclass/
(3) Wikipedia, “USS Monssen (DD-436),” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Monssen_(DD-436)
(4) Destroyer History Foundation, “USS Monssen (DD-436),” http://destroyerhistory.org/benson-gleavesclass/ussmonssen/
(5) Wikipedia, “Doolittle Raid,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doolittle_Raid
(6) Zimmerman, John L. The Guadalcanal Campaign. [Washington]: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1949. Print. Page 26.
http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/USMC-M-Guadalcanal/USMC-M-Guadalcanal-2.html
(7) Morison, Samuel Eliot. Struggle for Guadalcanal. Boston, MA: Little, 1949. Print. Page 29.
(8) Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, “Monssen,” http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/m13/monssen-i.htm
(9) Destroyer History Foundation, “USS Monssen DD-436,” http://destroyerhistory.org/benson-gleavesclass/index.asp?r=43604&pid=43608
(10) Ibid.
(11) Ibid.
(12) Ibid.
(13) Wikipedia, “USS Vireo (AM-52),” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Vireo_(AM-52)
(14) “Report of Operations of Task Force SIXTYSEVEN and Task Group 62.4 – Reinforcement of GUADALCANAL November 8-15, 1942, and Summary of Third Battle of SAVO.”
http://taskforce67.tripod.com/tf67.htm
(15) Ibid.
(16) Hammel, Eric M. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea : The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942. New York: Crown, 1988. Print. Page 66.
(17) Wikipedia, “USS San Francisco (CA-38),” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_San_Francisco_(CA-38)
(18) Zimmerman, John L. The Guadalcanal Campaign. [Washington]: Historical Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1949. Print. Page 67.
(19) Hammel, Eric M. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea : The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942. New York: Crown, 1988. Print. Page 92.
(20) Grace, James W. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal: Night Action, 13 November 1942. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 1999. Print. Pp. 50-58.
(21) “USS MONSSEN, Report of battle of November 13, 1942 Report of loss in cruiser night action Phase of battle of Guadalcanal.(C.O. Charles E. McCombs)”
http://taskforce67.tripod.com/dd436.htm
(21) Wikipedia, “Naval Battle of Guadalcanal,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Battle_of_Guadalcanal
(22) “The San Francisco” By Rear Admiral BRUCE McCANDLESS, U.S.N. (Ret.) http://www.usssanfrancisco.org/The%20San%20Francisco%20Story.htm
(23) Hornfischer, James D. Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal. New York: Bantam, 2011. Print. Pp. 370-71.
(24) Hornfischer, James D. Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal. New York: Bantam, 2011. Print. Pp. 380-81.
(25) Hammel, Eric M. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea : The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942. New York: Crown, 1988. Print. Pp. 285-86.
(26) Ballard, Robert D., and Rick Archbold. The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal. New York: Warner, 1993. Print. Pp. 143-44.
(27) Hammel, Eric M. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea : The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942. New York: Crown, 1988. Print. Page 286.
http://taskforce67.tripod.com/dd436.htm
(28) Ibid. Page 286.
(29) “Report of Changes – U.S.S. Monssen DD-436 30 June 1942″; “Report of Changes – U.S.S. Monssen DD-436 13 October 1942″
(30) Destroyer History Foundation, “USS Monssen (DD-436),” http://destroyerhistory.org/benson-gleavesclass/index.asp?r=43604&pid=43611
(31) “Report of Changes – U.S.S. Monssen DD-436 30 June 1942”
(32) “Report of Changes – U.S.S. Monssen DD-436 13 October 1942”
(33) “USS MONSSEN, Report of battle of November 13, 1942 Report of loss in cruiser night action Phase of battle of Guadalcanal.(C.O. Charles E. McCombs)”
http://taskforce67.tripod.com/dd436.htm
(34) Hammel, Eric M. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea : The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942. New York: Crown, 1988. Print. Page 223 .
(35) Ballard, Robert D., and Rick Archbold. The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal. New York: Warner, 1993. Print. Page 144.
(36) Personal correspondence with family member of Bert Doughty; Fresno, CA Bee, 12/20/1993, “Holiday Homecomings.”
(37) Ballard, Robert D., and Rick Archbold. The Lost Ships of Guadalcanal. New York: Warner, 1993. Print.
(38) The South Pacific Express, pp. 13,14.
(39) Fresno, CA Bee, 12/20/1993, “Holiday Homecomings.”

Seventy years ago today . . .

30 Oct

Last night while thinking about this first voyage of Tryon, it occurred to me that it was seventy years ago THIS WEEK she was steaming toward her south Pacific destination. Mac Perry provided perspective on what was happening seventy years ago aboard Tryon:

“Crossed the equator at about 1400 on October 29th and shortly afterwards had our first breakdown as the blowers went out and we were soon dead in the water. Watched the rest of the convoy steam away and out of sight as the engine room gang worked frantically to effect repairs. When this was accomplished, the Tryon made its first of many “runs” and we overtook the convoy before dark.

“The Captain came out on the bridge during my watch and asked what watch I would have the next afternoon. I had the first dog-watch, so he told me to have my relief report early as he wanted to see me in his cabin at 1800. I must admit that it frightened the devil out of me. I wondered what I had done, and thought of everything and decided that he might beach some of us when we arrived at our destination.

“The next day, October 30th, was a busy one and I didn’t have much time to think about my appointment or the date. We were nearing “torpedo junction” and at 1000 had General Quarters drill. Fired all guns and our pattern of fire was the best yet. Other drills and work occupied the rest of the day. Our noon position was 5° S latitude, 156° west longitude.

“At 1800 I reported to the Captain’s cabin and of all the surprises! This was my birthday and the Captain was beginning a custom of entertaining each officer for dinner on his birthday. I had forgotten all about it. There was a fine dinner, topped off by a gaily decorated cake. The Filipino steward was beaming when he brought it in.”

Although Perry didn’t mention it, which is surprising, as they crossed the equator the crew of Tryon almost certainly took part in the customary “Crossing the Line” ceremony, a mariner tradition that had played a role in initiating new sailors into the ranks for over a hundred years. Organized around “Neptune’s Court,” sailors are organized as Shellbacks, those that have crossed the equator before, and Pollywogs, those that have not. Pollywogs are put through a series of physical tasks, outrageous taunts and disgusting indignities (all intended for fun), and after completion of the initiation are given a certificate declaring their new status as shellback. When it comes to performing the initiation, rating and rank are irrelevant. One of these ceremonies was briefly mentioned by nurse Lena Gelott, aboard Rochambeau, in the convoy with Tryon (mentioned in an earlier post). I hope to look at these celebrations more closely later.

Perry reports that shortly after crossing the equator Tryon broke down, dead in the water, with the rest of the convoy steaming on without them. Once repaired, Tryon was able to go full steam and catch the rest of the convoy before dark. This was possible at least in part becuase Tryon was faster than any of the other transports in the convoy, having a flank speed of 19 knots – only the two destroyer escorts were faster. Catching up with the other ships wasn’t a problem for Tryon – but being a solitary ship in submarine-infested waters was. I’m sure that they felt like sitting ducks until they caught up to the relative safety that numbers – and a destroyer screen – provided.

By the way, if you’re like me you are wondering what the “first dog-watch” was. It turns out the “dog watch” (origins of the term are obscure) is the watch from 1600 to 2000 (4:00-8:00 pm). The watch is divided into two parts, the first dog watch and the last dog watch (to call it the “second” dog watch is incorrect). This creates an odd number of watches in a ship’s day, ensuring that when sailors are divided into two teams or divisions, the teams will alternate in standing the mid-watch (midnight to 4:00 am). It also allows all sailors to take the evening meal at a close-to-normal time.

Today would have been Mac Perry’s birthday – his one hundred and first. So, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Lieutenant Perry, and thanks for taking time to record the events of those early days aboard Tryon. I’m really grateful you did.

Tryon Departs for White Poppy (Part 3)

26 Oct

USS Rochameau

The story of USS Rochambeau is among the great tales of the war. Though details are a bit sketchy and conflict slightly from one account to the next, this appears to be her story.

Rochambeau was initially a merchant ship built in France in 1931 as MS Maréchal Joffre. She was in Manila harbor when the the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. (1)

M.S Maréchal Joffre – Probably shown between her entry into service in 1933 and an overhaul in 1937 during which her diesel engines were supercharged and she was repainted white.

After news of the attack reached Manila, merchant vessels in the area were requested to depart for U.S. ports, for it was known that the Philippines were likely the next target for Japan. Japan had demonstrated expansionist intentions with their move into Vichy-controlled French Indochina, and that, along with their control of the Mandate Islands, left the Philippines nearly surrounded by Japanese-controlled territory. Fears of Japanese attack were warranted; Japanese troops began landing on Luzon, at points both north and south of Manila, on December 8, 1941. American military bases were also hit by Japanese carrier-based aircraft.

Japanese invasion of the Philippines, beginning December 8, 1941

Maréchal Joffre had been operating under Vichy control, and the crew was split between those that were sympathetic to the Vichy government and those that sided with the free French under de Gaulle:

“The Vichy French ship, Maréchal Joffre, posed its own problem. Its skipper had reported that, although fully fueled and manned, the ship could not sail. Dissension between crewmen supporting the Vichy government sympathetic to Nazi Germany and crewmen supporting the Free French forces led by General Charles de Gaulle had immobilized the ship. The Americans decided to send an armed boarding party to seize the ship and sail it to Australia. The Americans were uncertain as to how the French might react. Would they need cutlasses and pikes to board the ship? Would the French resist? A Navy lieutenant, armed with a sword, a pistol, and a carbine, led his men aboard. The French were calm and offered no fight. The ship’s captain strode up, smiled, and welcomed the Americans with an accented “Allo.”

”The Americans had each man choose either Vichy or de Gaulle. Vichy men stepped to the port side and went ashore into internment. The 63 de Gaulle supporters assembled starboard. A Navy lieutenant gathered 100 American naval air ground crewmen and aviators and raised anchor late on 18 December. They sailed the ship through Japanese waters to Australia, where the Maréchal Joffre was renamed the USS Rochambeau.” (2)

The boarding party was made up of members of US Patrol Wing 10, led by Lieut. Edward N. Little. Patrol Wing 10 was made up of the pilots and crews of 28 PBY-4 flying boats as well as a number of auxiliary aircraft. Many of these planes were destroyed on the ground by the Japanese carrier-based aircraft mentioned before. The Navy flyers commandeered a local yacht, called the Gem, and used it in the boarding of Maréchal Joffre. The boarding occurred on December 14, 1941. By December 18 Maréchal Joffre was headed for the U.S. by way of Australia and New Zealand, arriving at San Francisco in April, 1942 with a cargo of wool and zircon sand. The following, from the obituary of Donald Dixon, is illustrative of what happened to members of Patrol Wing 10:

“By the time WWII started on December 7, Don’s squadron had been re-designated PATRON102 part of Patrol Wing 10. During the early months of the war, Don was listed as missing in action three times and after all of his squadron’s planes were destroyed he was able to get out of the Philippines on a captured Vichy French ocean liner the Maréchal Joffre which he and 25 other Navy pilots and airmen sailed her to Java, Australia and New Zealand.” (3)

There is an unfortunate side note on Lieut. Little, who led the boarding party: he was taken prisoner with the fall of Corregidor, and ended up in a prison camp in Japan – Fukuoka Camp #17. He was the ranking U.S. officer at the camp, and served as mess officer, in charge of distribution of food to POWs. Other prisoners said he was meticulous about this, making sure that prisoners did not receive “an extra grain of rice” more than their allotted amount.(4) After the war reports circulated that he had attempted to curry favor with the Japanese by reporting minor infractions of camp policy to the commandant. As a result of these reports Little was court-martialed for cooperating with the mistreatment of prisoners by the Japanese. The official charges were: “Maltreatment of a person subject to his orders; conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.” (5) Witnesses alleged that as a result of Little’s snitching one American was beaten to death and another was starved to death. The one starved to death was Private William H. Knight, who Little turned in to the Japanese for stealing a dozen “buns.” His punishment for this was to be repeatedly beaten and placed in solitary confinement without food or water until death ended his suffering after twelve days of abuse. I’ve been unable to determine the outcome of the court martial, but Little served in Korea and was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery in 1967, so he probably was not found guilty of the charges.(6)

The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania) Wednesday 21 May 1947

Once Maréchal Joffre arrived in San Francisco she was turned over to the Navy for conversion to a casualty evacuation transport. Maréchal Joffre was re-commissioned as USS Rochambeau on April 27, 1942 (although the name was not formally approved until two days later), and conversion was begun that same day at the Moore Dry Dock facility in Oakland, lasting until September 28, 1942. This means that Rochambeau was being converted at Moore Dry Dock at the same time that Tryon was being completed (Shipscribe.com indicates on one page that the conversion was done at MDD, but on another at Mare Island, so there is a bit of confusion on this). The ship was named after the the French general Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, who assisted the colonies in the war against the British and is considered to be one of our nation’s founding fathers.

Issued on October 19, 1931, this 2-cent stamp marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown (1781). The battle followed the victory at Yorktown at which General Washington received the sword of surrender from British General Cornwallis. Black within a red frame, the stamp pictures Washington flanked by Count de Rochambeau and Count de Grasse, leaders of the French forces that aided in the American victory

By Oct. 20, her conversion was complete, and Rochambeau joined Tryon and the other ships bound for the south Pacific – exactly where, few crew members or passengers knew. Aboard Rochambeau that day was a twenty-five year old nurse from Massachusetts named Lena R. Gelott, attached to the 48th Station Hospital. Lena’s story reveals what life was like aboard a transport bound for the war zone:

“On 20 October 1942, the 48th Station Hospital boarded the USS Rochambeau(AP-63) for overseas. Our destination was not known, but we were the second contingent of US Army Nurses to head out across the Pacific packed in a convoy of 7 ships with 5 hospital units on board . . .

2d Lt Lena R. Gelott pins the Purple Heart on one of her patients. Short ceremony held while the 48th Sta Hosp was still at Guadalcanal. The hospital opened on February 1, 1943.

“The ship (ex-French Maréchal Joffre) converted for use as a troop transport and casualty evacuation, left Oakland with troops, supplies and replacements for the Guadalcanal campaign. She made Nouméa, disembarked her medical cargo and passengers, picked up casualties, stopped at Suva and Bora-Bora, and returned to San Francisco by 3 December.

“For the first week I was always seasick; we had 2 meals a day, regular salt-water showers, and were quartered 4 to a small stateroom. When crossing the equator, we had to undergo the official ritual when King “Neptune” ruled supreme. Life on board was not dull: calisthenics and abandon-ship-drills were almost routine, and sometimes a sailor with a guitar would entertain, and men would start singing.”(7)

Eight of the twelve crew members, including John F. Kennedy, are in the PT-109 photo above which was taken in July 1943, one month before PT-109 was hit.

On a later voyage of Rochambeau was another Massachusetts native – a young navy lieutenant (jg) eager to see combat duty named John F. Kennedy. In April, 1943 Kennedy boarded Rochambeau and sailed to Espiritu Santos Bay in the New Hebrides. From there he was transferred to the motor torpedo boat base at Tulagi where he was made skipper of the famed PT-109.(8)

Throughout 1943 and 1944 Rochambeau transported troops to the war zone and returned to the States with the seriously wounded. In February, 1945

Troops Return to the USA on Oct. 1, 1945
aboard the SS Maréchal Joffre, New York Harbor

Rochambeau was sent to New York, where she was decommisioned and returned to French custody. Once in French hands the name of Rochambeau was changed back to Maréchal Joffre. She was used to transport American and British troops home after the war, under French flag.

A final anecdote regarding Rochambeau – in an apparent effort to bolster the defensive appearance of Maréchal Joffre during the initial trip to San Francisco, the captain had crewmen build two wooden 5” gun replicas, one fore and one aft. They were manned as though real guns whenever submarine attacks were expected. Not surprisingly, they were removed during the conversion at Moore Dry Dock.(9)

Near the Mare Island Navy Yard on 5 October 1942 after completing conversion.

Another, near the Mare Island Navy Yard on 5 October 1942 after completing conversion.

Another, near the Mare Island Navy Yard on 5 October 1942 after completing conversion.

 
***********
 
SS Perida

The Maersk Shipping Company, started in Denmark in 1904 by ship captain Peter Mærsk-Møller and his son Arnold Peter Møller, is today the largest shipping company in the world. They have in operation over 550 ships world-wide. Among them is Marchen Maersk. Launched in April of 2008, Marchen Maersk is among the world’s largest container ships, capable of carrying up to 10,150 twenty-foot-equivalent container units.

ShipSpotting.com © Julian

But seventy years ago, in the days leading up to the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, it was another ship that bore the name Marchen Maersk. This ship was a cargo freighter, built by the German company Bremer Vulkan. During World War II Bremer Vulkan became an important manufacturer of German U-boats and was the target of heavy Allied bombing throughout much of World War II. But between wars Bremer Vulkan built cargo ships, and they delivered Marchen Maersk to Maersk Shipping Company in 1937.(10)

Maersk Lines Marchen Maersk in 1937.


By the outbreak of war in 1939 Maersk was operating a world-wide fleet of forty six ships. As the cold winter days of 1939-40 gave way to spring, it became increasingly apparent that German forces would occupy Denmark. On 8 April 1940, A.P. Møller issued Permanent Special Instruction One to the 36 Maersk ships on the high seas: should Denmark become involved in war, all ships were to report directly to the New York office and follow its instructions. No orders from Copenhagen were to be followed if not approved by the New York office.(11) The following day German troops crossed the Danish frontier.

Previously, Denmark had declared itself a neutral nation, signing a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939. Germany’s preparations to occupy Denmark hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Danish government, but in fear of provoking Germany, and relying on the non-aggression treaty, no preparations at all had been made. No troops were mobilized, and no fortifications were prepared. The Germans crossed the border into Denmark on the morning of April 9, 1940.(12)

German Ju 52 transport planes over Denmark on the morning of April 9th. At 4:00 am the German ambassador to Denmark, Renthe-Fink phoned the Danish foreign minister Munch and requested a meeting with him at once. When they met 20 minutes later Munch was told that German troops at that moment, were moving into Denmark to occupy the country.
The motivation was to protect Denmark from a French/English attack on Denmark. He demanded that all resistance was to cease immediately and that the Danish authorities were to contact the German forces. If these demands weren’t fulfilled the German Airforce would bomb Copenhagen.


Faced with the threat of the Luftwaffe’s bombing of civilians in Copenhagen, the Danish government capitulated within hours in exchange for retaining political independence in domestic matters. The occupation of Denmark by the Germans would continue until Germany surrendered on May 5, 1945.(13)

On June 5, 1941 the United States authorized acquisition of idle foreign merchant ships under the Ship Requisition Act . As a result, Marchen Maersk and several of her Maersk sister ships in US ports were placed under American control. Operation of Marchen Maersk was assigned to the American President Line, who was the operator of many troop transports during the war.(14) My dad first made his way to the south Pacific aboard the SS President Monroe, one of APL’s ships.

After the US assumed control of Marchen Maersk in late 1941 she was placed under Panamanian flag and her name was changed to SS Caldera. By 1942 the ship had apparently been switched to US flag, and renamed again to SS Perida (Perry mistakenly called the ship “Perita.”).(15) I’ve been unable to determine the specifics regarding these changes, but they appear to be related to the Neutrality Act of 1939.

Neutrality act 1939. Cartoon by Herb Block.


Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, Congress passed the Neutrality Act of 1939 to avoid involving American flag vessels in incidents which might entangle us in the conflict. Since the Neutrality Act kept American flag shipping away from most north European ports during that period, it soon became expedient to transfer American vessels to foreign flags.(16) Virtually all of the foreign ships that were seized under the Ship Requisition Act were thus placed under foreign flags.(17) With the outbreak of war against Japan on December 7, 1941, and the declaration of war against the US by Germany and Italy on December 11, the need for foreign registration of ships no longer existed, and apparently that was the reason Perida shifted back to US flag. Because I’m not entirely clear on the details behind these changes I will continue to research this topic.

At some point, the cargo ship Perida must have undergone troop-ship conversion – most likely, the change in flag, change in name, and conversion all occurred at about the same time, though I’ve found no direct evidence to confirm this.

It’s not clear how many trips Perida made to the south Pacific. After sailing with Tryon in October, 1942, Perida moved troops and cargo around the south Pacific before returning to San Francisco by December, 1942.(18)

In January, 1943 planning began for an amphibious landing in the Aleutian Islands to remove Japanese forces from the island of Attu. On April 7, the task force, which included three battleships (Pennsylvania, damaged while in Drydock #1 in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and freshly overhauled in San Francisco, was one of them) , six cruisers, an escort carrier, nineteen destroyers, and a variety of auxiliary ships, including Perida, sailed from San Francisco. An interesting side note is that prior to sailing, every effort was made to hide the

Soldiers unload landing craft on the beach at Massacre Bay, Attu, on 13 May 1943. LCVPs in the foreground are from USS Zeilin (APA-3) and USS Heywood (APA-6).

objective of the task force. “Sundry ‘cloak and dagger’ measures were taken to keep the destination secret. A false training order was given wide circulation; medical officers lectured on tropical diseases; stacks of winter clothing were hidden; commanding officers allowed themselves to be seen studying sailing directions for the North Atlantic and charts of the Argentine Republic.” These efforts were unsuccessful; Tokyo had already alerted forces on Attu that the Americans were coming prior to their arrival.(19)

After arrival in the Aleutians on May 4 conditions were so poor that the landing had to be postponed twice, but finally was able to proceed on the morning of May 11. On May 12, with the battle raging on the island, the hapless Perida ran

Fleet Tug USS Ute (AT-76)

aground, still fully loaded with cargo and troops, damaging two compartments and placing the ship at risk of foundering. Fortunately for Perida the tug USS Ute was able to pull her to safety, and allowed her to unload. It took twelve days for Perida to patch the damage and to make her sea-worthy enough to return to the west coast for repairs.(20)

Perida’s movements during the war are difficult to trace; however, she was back in the south Pacific by 1944.

After the war Perida was returned to the Maersk Shipping Company, who changed her name back to Marchen Maersk. She was used by Maersk until 1951, when Marchen Maersk was sold to Poland. She remained a part of the fleet of the Polish Ocean Lines until 1972, when she was sold for scrap.


ShipSpotting.com © Hans-Wilhelm Delfs

(1) Wikipedia – USS Rochambeau (AP-63)

(2) Army Logistician, Volume 38, Issue 4, page 36 : Manila as a Logistics Center by Leut. Col. John W. Whitman

(3) Obituary for Donald Dickson – The San Diego Union-Tribune

(4) JAPANESE WWII POW Camp Fukuoka #17 – Omuta: Description of Camp 17

(5) Oswego Palladium-Times, Oswego, NY, May 20, 1947

(6 ) Fukuoka 17 POW Camp Roster, “L”

(7) Veteran’s Testimony – Lena R. Gelott, 48th Station Hospital

(8) Naval History and Heritage Command – Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USN

(9) All Hands, May, 1947, pg. 29.

**********

(10) Wikipedia – History of Maersk

(11) Wikipedia – History of Maersk

(12) Danish Military History – The German Occupation of Denmark

(13) Wikipedia – Occupation of Denmark

(14) American Merchant Marine At War – Foreign Passenger and Cargo Ships Taken Over by U.S Maritime Commission during World War II

(15) American Merchant Marine At War – Foreign Passenger and Cargo Ships Taken Over by U.S Maritime Commission during World War II

(16) Fordham Law Review, Volume 28, Issue 2, 1959. Some Legal Problems Arising out of Foreign Flag Operations

(17) American Merchant Marine At War – Foreign Passenger and Cargo Ships Taken Over by U.S Maritime Commission during World War II

(18) Re: Missing voyage MS Boschfontein

(19) History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 7: Aleutians, Gilberts and Marshalls By Samuel Eliot Morison, pp. 38-40.

(20) Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V, edited by James L. Mooney, pp. 424-25.

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