“New Life for a Liberty”
(See T. A. Dietz, pp. 54-58, Winter 1990; A. J. Horn, Sr., R. Kuchen, and J. E. Wright, pp. 10-13, Spring 1990 Naval History)
Lieutenant Commander Edgar S. Downs, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)—This article reminded me of an experience 1 had with a Liberty ship during World War II. By all rights it should have sunk—but it didn’t. These were tough ships.
On 12 September 1944, I took command of an escort minesweeper. My orders were to take her to Norfolk, Virginia, from New Orleans, Louisiana, for shakedown. Two-thirds of the crew and half of the officers never had been to sea before. She was named the USS Project (AM-278) for want of a better name.
As I “turned the comer” at Key West, Florida, and headed north up the Atlantic Coast, I received two important radio messages. One said the destroyer leader USS Warrington (DD-383) had just been sunk by a sudden, severe hurricane. The second said that a German U-boat was lurking off Cape Hatteras, directly in our path. I was not too concerned with the submarine, as I thought she was a weather reporter. The Germans were using submarines stationed off our Atlantic Coast to send in weather reports to help predict the weather in Europe.
My calculation showed that, even with our current 12-knot cruising speed, we should reach Norfolk 24 hours before the hurricane.
A message from Commander Eastern Sea Frontier rudely upset my calculations. It reported the SS George Ade torpedoed at a position only 15 miles away from the Project. I sounded general quarters and rang for full speed ahead. When I could not find her at the reported position, I started a “box search.” About then, a blimp came along and signaled “follow me.”
We soon saw the torpedoed ship. She was a brand-new Liberty ship with the deck piled high with tanks, planes, and other war materiel. However, as a result of torpedo damage, she had a freeboard of only two or three feet. We learned that the torpedo had struck in number four hold, just aft of the engine room. Of course, that hold was full of water. The torpedo had also cut the main shaft and the steering cables. Lying crosswise to the wind, the ship rolled first one rail and then the other in the big swells of the approaching hurricane.
I went close to her starboard side and talked to the first mate by megaphone. I learned that they had no wounded from the torpedo explosion and confirmed the damage to the ship, and that they had radioed for a tug.
Suddenly, the armed guard let fly with all the guns on the port side. They had sighted a periscope. Apparently, the German had come back to finish the job.
We made three depth-charge attacks with no positive results. On the other hand, our actions encouraged the crew of the Liberty, who jumped up and down and threw their hats in the air. They had a right to be happy. Another torpedo would have sunk the ship like a brick. After the third depth-charge attack, we lost track of the submarine.
Next, a Navy tug and two 125-foot Coast Guard cutters, the Bedloe (WSC-128) and the Jackson (WSC-142), appeared. After some signaling, we all determined that the captain of the tug outranked me by a month or two. He made fast a towline to the Liberty ship and started to move north, guarded by the cutters and my ship. Apparently, the rudder was jammed hard over because the Liberty towed at almost 90° to her intended course. Radio bearings showed she was making good only about one mile an hour. In the meantime, the hurricane was moving toward us at 20 knots. Only a miracle could save us.
Shortly after dark, we received a message ordering us to proceed along to Norfolk as we had not been through shake- down. I left at full speed and took what I thought would be my last look at the ships I left behind. I certainly never expected to see the George Ade again.
The Bedloe and the Jackson rolled over at the height of the storm and lost about half their crews, the tug rolled 70°, and the George Ade broke her towline and almost went up on Diamond Shoals. She survived, probably because she was so low in the water. I saw her in dry dock later. She had a hole in her side that was large enough to drive a Greyhound bus through. Those Liberty ships were tough.
(See J. M. Elliott, pp. 37-40, Winter 1990; W. R. Broocke, p. 13, Spring 1990 Naval History)
R. M. Seamon—W. R. Broocke’s fond memories of the noisy J2F “Duck” he flew on antisubmarine patrol around Pearl Harbor are similar to mine—with one important difference. There came a time when the pilots of VMS-3 (my first squadron after earning my wings in early 1942) learned to use the racket of the Duck’s takeoff to avoid trouble, not cause it.
VMS-3 was stationed on St. Thomas; our mission was to fly antisubmarine patrol around the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. We also sent two Ducks to San Juan, Puerto Rico, every week because Rear Admiral (“Genial John”) Hoover, Commandant of the 10th Naval District, insisted on dawn and dusk patrols outside San Juan harbor, and the Navy patrol boats stationed there were rarely ready for the job.
We Marine pilots were delighted with the Navy’s disabilities. A week’s deployment in San Juan meant a chance to enjoy the city’s nightlife, a diversion that was all but nonexistent in the wartime town of Charlotte Amalie. Trouble was, pilots who had sampled strong waters the night before sometimes turned up late for a dawn takeoff. Unfortunately, Admiral Hoover’s quarters were almost in line with the Isia Grande runway. If Genial John did not hear two Ducks roar overhead at dawn, his demand for an explanation was something less than genial.
The solution to the problem was simple: pilots who found themselves alone at takeoff time made the obligatory pass above the admiral’s quarters, then turned into a quick circle around the seaward side of San Juan and dropped down to make a second, loud, low “takeoff” run. To my knowledge, there were no more complaints from the admiral.
“Submariner in a Carrier”
(See G. Steele, pp. 92-94, Spring 1990 Naval History)
Commander Stephen D. Caviness, U.S. Naval Reserve—Vice Admiral George P. Steele’s oral history rekindled some memories of my own. I served as a junior naval aviator on that cruise on board the USS Intrepid (CVS-11) in 1971, and two things came to mind—other than the outstanding port calls—while reading the article.
First, the stem of the Essex-class carrier tended to perform a “Figure 8,” in heavy seas. That is, she inscribed the arc of an invisible lazy 8 in response to the seas, a factor that made landing approaches in high sea state interesting indeed.
Second, approaches in the North Atlantic/Norwegian Sea were conducted many times in fog so thick that on recoveries, the landing signal officer would see the lights of an approaching aircraft on a carrier-controlled approach before the pilot could see the flight deck. Rather than the pilot “calling the ball,” as normally happens, the landing signal officer would “call the aircraft.”
It was disappointing to learn that the purpose of our cruise in 1971 was to disprove the Hunter-Killer operation. During the winter of 1971 our old S--E Tracker aircraft were updated to the S-2G configuration. (This was a significant improvement in acoustic processing capability.) Building on the experience gained in 1971 and the improved technology of up-to-date signal processors, the Intrepid cruise of 1972 (also to the North Atlantic/Norwegian Sea area) seemed to produce better results against the Soviet submarines, at least from the viewpoint of a junior officer. I believe that, rather than proving that the Hunter-Killer operation does not work, we proved that against a modem threat, one must have state-of-the-art technology, full logistical support, and trained people.
Vice Admiral Jerry Miller, U.S. Navy (Retired)—One comes to the conclusion that Admiral Steele, in collusion with Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, brought about the demise of the CVS-type carrier devoted to antisubmarine warfare (ASW) and associated hunter-killer operations- However, in his book On Watch (Quadrangle Books, 1976), Admiral Zumwalt credits then-Rear Admiral James L. Holloway III with originating the idea of adding ASW to the attack carrier mission.
Vice Admiral Thomas Connolly and I recall a different version.
We were two of the “sachems in the aviators’ union” that Admiral Zumwaltaddresses in his book. Zumwalt gave us a choice shortly after he became the Chief of Naval Operations: we could either accept the demise of the CVS and keep developing the promising ASW aircraft, the S-3A, or we could abandon the S-3A and keep the CVS for some period of time Feeling that the S-3A was most important in furthering improvements in ASW, we reluctantly agreed to the elimination of the CVS. We were not happy with the addition of another mission to the ahead) burdened attack carrier.
Some years later, a discussion of ASW was held with Admiral James Watkins who was then serving as the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Admiral Watkins stated that in his opinion, one of the first actions he would have to take to the event of hostilities in the Pacific would be to place as many S-3 aircraft as possible on his carriers and return to the CVS concept until the submarine threat was under control.
(See J. J. Hyland, pp. 58-59, Fall 1989; R. C. Peniston, pp. 12, Winter 1990 Naval History)
Albert A. Forman—(Airborne Early Warning Barrier Squadron Pacific (AEWBarRonPac) was a U.S. Navy aircraft squadron formed from two other squadrons; VW-12 and VW-14, early in 1960 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Barbers Point on the island of Oahu. The new squadron was on alert at all times to detect aggression in the Pacific. It was desperate for help to crew, maintain, and manage 34 WV-2 and five R7V Lockheed Super Constellations, electronic reconnaissance, and transport airplanes.
The WV-2 carried a crew of 21—three pilots, a flight engineer, two navigation officers, two radio operators, two electronics technicians, and nine air traffic controllers with two combat information center officers to seek out and report suspicious ships and aircraft in the Pacific during the pre-Vietnam Cold War. NAX5, a Navy radio station, managed the CW net (Morse Code) to control air operations of the squadron. Hickam Air Force Base managed the air operations for transit flights between NAS Barbers Point and Midway Island, where regular operations commenced. The WV-2 aircraft had to be maintained according to Lockheed’s specifications and all personnel had to be trained according to Navy regulations.
The air traffic controllers were busy for at least 24 hours at a time on missions hunting for anything that resembled the enemy. They found none in three years of searching.
As a sailor in the AEW squadron, I accumulated more than 2,200 flight hours in a WV-2. I flew as both radioman and radar maintenance technician. As a radioman, I reported the weather encountered and how much fuel was on board. As a technician, I kept the APS-20 radar system in top shape. The APS-20 radar on board the WV-2 could pick out an aircraft target 200 miles away on a clear day. The sea return extended out for 50 miles on the plan position indicator (PPI) scopes at 10,000 feet. The WV-2 carried enough aviation gasoline to stay aloft for 24 hours, if necessary, and enough food for three days, should the situation arise. The only weapons it carried were our brains and will to carry on. We worked as a team, flying training missions at Barbers Point and pulling maintenance on the “Willy Victors.”
We often landed in Alaska to give our pilots experience with emergency procedures when the Pacific winds challenged our courage. Flying the Pacific Barrier to guard North America between Midway Island and the Aleutians was the mission. Later, many of the AEW airplanes ended up in Southeast Asia fighting battles and helping our guys there.
On 14 April 1969, an EC-121 Connie from VQ-1 was shot down over the waters of the Sea of Japan by the fighters of the Korean People’s Army Air Force. The airplane was from my squadron, I know. This is my only regret in a life- time. Where is Navy Constellation 143213 today? I want to see it again for the last time. I cared for, and flew in its hull, repairing its radar many times, directing my flight crew. Let’s have a reunion, AEWBarRonPac, at NAS Barbers Point on the island of Oahu, with the Connies. We could see the Island of Maui, on a clear day, with radar, of course. It’s time to preflight, Commander Nelson!
“Seamines and the U.S. Navy”
(See J. M. Martin and B. P. Ramsay, pp. 52-54, Fall 1989 Naval History)
Rear Admiral Paul C. Huelsenbeck, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)—The article has a small map showing offensive minelaying against Japan (1942-45). If you use a magnifying glass, you will see Mille Atoll. There are several spellings; Mili is considered the most correct.
In early August 1945, the USS Parks (DE-165), which I commanded, was at Eniwetok when we received orders to proceed to Majuro Atoll and report to ComMarGils Rep there. Upon reporting. I was instructed to sail the Parks to Mili Atoll, with title of ComMarGils Rep Majuro at Mili, and when there to administer the Japanese garrison.
Mili has a large concrete airstrip, antiaircraft batteries, and large coastal defense guns, but had been bypassed by our fleets as they worked up to Kawajelein. Eniwetok, etc. Planes from the USS Yorktown struck Mili during operation “Flintlock” in December 1943.
I was told that some of our planes had been shot down and our native contacts reported “unusual” treatment of our pilots. I was instructed to use every means possible to obtain elaborating information.
The Japanese garrison had indicated that they wanted to surrender. Our job was to provide the platform so that all the preliminary details of the surrender could be worked out by legal officers and others from ComMarGils and to ensure that the garrison was prepared to surrender.
Before departing Majuro, I sought as much navigational data as I could, and specifically requested information about Allied mining activity. I was assured there had been none.
So we sailed trustingly through Tokowa Channel into Mili Lagoon with lookouts alert and degaussing going full blast at fine-tuned adjustments.
We anchored a short distance offshore from the badly damaged Japanese headquarters building. We were still adjusting the anchor scope when an excited radioman rushed onto the bridge screaming for the captain. The message he carried said, very simply and in plain language, “Mines dropped Mili by Allied aircraft.”
We had made it in, but would we make it out? Knowing that other ships, chiefly my commodore’s flagship and those in the surrender party, were due, I immediately requested mine sweeps, and YMS- 166 and YMS-463 arrived in several days. They were joined later by YMS-419.
The first two sweeps went to work shortly after arrival and cut two mines on the first pass. In the next ten days, working Reiher, Acharan, and Bue Passes, Northeast Passage, and Ennalick Channel, the sweeps cut a total of 24 contact mines, all Japanese. All but one were Japanese Mk-93, 300-pound mines; the other was an Mk-140, 600-pound mine. Shore parties checking on the beaches also found four more Mk-93s from which the powder had been removed by the Japanese.
But what of the U.S. mines? On the first pass of Tokowa Channel with magnetic gear, the sweeps activated two U.S. Mk-12, Mod. 1 mines. We had indeed been fortunate, for we had entered the lagoon via Tokowa Channel. We owed much to the technicians who had calibrated our degaussing coils so well. No more U.S. mines were swept, but shore parties found four more casings the Japanese deactivated and from which they had also removed the powder. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that in January 1944, land-based bombers from Tarawa and Makin were credited with knocking out the airstrip on Mili, but I still do not know when the mines were laid. Perhaps Captain Martin or Dr. Ramsay can tell me when, where, and how many U.S. mines were dropped.
The Japanese garrison, which at one lime exceeded 10,000, had not received any supplies for about two years and existed on fish and a few vegetables. All Palm trees had been destroyed by the bombings. The head count was down to 2,100 in August 1945, with deaths daily from sickness and malnutrition. Mili will be recorded in history for two reasons: it was the first Japanese garrison to surrender voluntarily; and, second, Captain Shiga, Japanese Navy, commander of the atoll, was taken to Majuro where he accepted full responsibility for beheading five U.S. airmen who had been shot down at Mili during the 1944 attacks. He later took his own life.
Fortunately, Mili will not be known as the place where Allied mines sank a U.S. Navy vessel.
“Some Thoughts on Naval History”
(See J. Valle, pp. 5-6, Winter 1990; P. V. Hanninen, M. F. Kirk, W. T. O'Neill, and T. G. Martin, pp. 2-4, Spring 1990; C. Landrum, p. 2, Summer 1990 Naval History)
“Don’t Crucify the Boatswain’s Mate”
(See E. B. Strauss, pp. 62-63, Summer 1990 Naval History)
Joseph S. White III—I wish to second the thoughts expressed by Lieutenant Landrum. The magazine should not change its format and become yet another refuge for “publish or perish” academicians. As an archivist and historian, I see enough “scholarly” journals each month. Scholarly does not always equal quality. There are numerous journals on naval history and history for those who want to count footnotes and back-check references.
Naval History provides a forum and outlet for much information about the Navy and naval history that might otherwise be lost. History is Potter’s Admiral Arleigh Burke: A Biography (Annapolis/ New York: Naval Institute Press/Random House, 1990), and “Don’t Crucify the Boatswain’s Mate,” two valuable additions to naval historical knowledge, and both should be recognized as such. A publication that Dr. Valle envisions would probably not have published Admiral Strauss’s account. This would have been a loss, for accounts such as Admiral Strauss’s put the life into the massive tomes that the major presses put out each year.
I want to join Lieutenant Landrum in encouraging Naval History to examine the possibility of changing to a bimonthly and not to change either its content or format.
“The Fifth Armed Force”
(See R. Johnson, pp. 29-36, Spring 1990 Naval History)
John R. Byrnes—Robert Erwin Johnson’s fine article says that the major naval battles of World War II—Coral Sea, Midway, Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf— were fought without Coast Guard assistance. While the Coast Guard did not participate directly in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, several of its ships were active in the area at that time. They also served in the invasion of Leyte. In fact, my ship, the frigate Bisbee (PF-46), landed rangers on Homonhon Island at the entrance to the gulf on 18 October 1944. The Bisbee was then assigned to harbor control and other duties in the gulf until relieved on 22 November.
“Last Cruise of the SS Central America”
(See R.J. Duhse, pp. 50-53, Winter 1990; H.L. Mathis, p. 9. Summer 1990 Naval History)
Edward Von der Porten—Publication of the Central America articles has thrust Naval History into the middle of one of today’s most heated controversies: who owns the past, or, more specifically, who should excavate the well-preserved historic ships that modern scuba gear and mini-submersibles are revealing? Who should own the objects found therein? There is little question that treasure hunters loot the wrecks they find, destroying the context of the artifacts they remove, and then scatter the remains so no comprehensive picture of the ships, their cargoes, and the lives of their crews can ever be reconstructed. How much of our nautical heritage is being destroyed is unknown, but it is significant, and the financial result for the treasure hunters is almost always bankruptcy. Unfortunately a tiny fraction of the looters, who defy the odds by finding the big treasures, inspire hundreds of others to blast and smash their way through countless sunken ships in what the late pioneer nautical archaeologist Peter Throckmorton called “the world’s worst investment.”
On the other hand, there are not enough nautical archaeologists and archaeological institutes to investigate all the sites that are turning up, nor will there be enough in the foreseeable future. So do we give up in despair, or is there the possibility of some workable compromise?
So far the history of combined salvage efforts between archaeologist-looter is dismal, with financial pressure and the desire for loot defeating efforts of archaeological recording and preservation. But there may be hope. Sports divers in some regions of the United States and Europe are working well with archaeologists in increasing numbers. That leaves the heavily capitalized salvage divers.
The recognition is growing that even the few major treasure discoveries usually do not produce wealth because of the costs of search and salvage, and because the usual treasures consist of coins in such quantities that they destroy their own markets. Only one practical solution remains—combining archaeologists and salvagers’ efforts. One way would be to create museums of nautical archaeology, where artifacts and information would be kept together and investors could derive their income over many years from paying visitors. Such a program requires careful archaeology to extract maximum information from each wreck so it can be colorfully interpreted.
Will the Central America salvagers use archaeologists to record and excavate effectively, or will they disperse their artifacts or keep them together to create a museum?
All serious publishers should recognize the evils of the treasure hunters’ behavior and should take a firm stand for the preservation of our limited and fragile nautical heritage for the benefit and the enjoyment of all our citizens, now and in the generations yet to come.
(See B. Harral, pp. 10-13, Summer 1990 Naval History)
Andy McKane—Rear Admiral Brooks Harral states in his article that “Whiles small force of U.S. Marines was storming Makin Island, a Japanese submarine [I-175] torpedoed the escort carrier USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56). ’ ’ This appears to be an oversight on Admiral Harrai’s part. Two landing operations were conducted against Makin Atoll’s Butaritari Island- In the initial raid on Butaritari Island on 17 August 1942, two companies from the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion went ashore from submarines USS Nautilus (SS-168) and USS Argonaut (SS-166) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Evans F- Carlson. The assault force, which captured Makin Atoll in November 1943, was the 165th Regimental Combat Team (Reinforced) from the Army’s 27th Infantry Division under the command of Major General Ralph Corbett Smith. The Liscome Bay was torpedoed on 24 November 1943, approximately 15 miles from Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner’s flagship, USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) off Butaritari Island. Of 959 personnel aboard Liscome Bay, 644 men loss their lives.
“Naval Historians and the War of 1812”
(See J. Valle, pp. 5-6, Winter 1990; M. Peattie P. Hannincn, M. Kirk, W. O’Neil, T. Martin, pp. 2-4; W. Dudley, pp. 52-57, Spring 1990 Naval History)
Commander Tyrone G. Martin, U.S. Navy (Retired)—I began my study of the USS Constitution when I assumed command of her in 1974. I discovered that each of the major historians, James Fernmore Cooper, Theodore Roosevelt, and Alfred Thayer Mahan, apparently limited his research largely to the Amen- can commanders, their official reportsand what existed in print. What was written reflected that bias.
Perhaps the most egregious case of historical misrepresentation perpetuated by all three of Dr. Dudley’s subjects was the sequence of events in the fight between the Constitution, under the command of Captain Isaac Hull, and HMS Guerriere on 19 August 1812, based on Hull’s brief, unclear report and the four paintings he had commissioned from Michel Felice Come. These tell of a fight whose principal action encompassed just 30-35 minutes. In studying this battle, I initially used three sources, as well as a copy of the Constitution's log and a copy of an ammunition expenditure report appended to an eyewitness account of the fight published in the 1840s. The combination raised questions for which there were no immediate answers:
►If, according to historians, the Constitution was on the Guerriere’s port side and the British frigate slewed to starboard when her mizzenmast fell, how could the Constitution have luffed across the bows of a ship turning away from her, collide, and separate, bringing down the remaining British masts in just ten minutes? The Constitution’s log showed she was doing no more than four knots and stated specifically that the attempt to luff failed because of rigging damage.
►If the cannonade largely was confined to this 30-35 minute period, as stated by the historians, how could the Constitution, with fewer than 30 guns per side (served by inexperienced gun crews), fire almost 950 rounds of 24- and 32-pounder shot? This results in a rate of fire of about a round a minute.
►Was the severed rigging that prevented Hull’s luffing really the only damage suffered by his ship?
I have gathered eyewitness material that includes the British court-martial records and letters and journals from U.S. participants. It became apparent the Constitution had been on the starboard side of the Guerriere and the British frigate had turned into her when the mizzenmast fell. This was the first of two collisions, the second being the one that resulted in the falling of the remaining British masts. While both sides agreed precisely on the starting and ending times of the battle, Hull had compressed the close-in phase in his published report. This made for greater drama and excitement in the media at home and accounts for the rate of fire problem. As to the damage question, which at least one of the subject authors covered by saying the Constitution was almost instantly ready for further action, the ship’s log for the days following the battle makes it clear that she had been hurt: two boats smashed, crossjack broken, spanker gaff and boom destroyed, and both fore and main masts sufficiently wounded to require splinting for the voyage home. Having found these materials, it became apparent to me that Captain Dacres was not quite so arrogant as he seemed in his court-martial statement that he would like to be given another frigate of the Guerriere’s rate and try Hull again. Hull, in fact, had not been expert in his conduct of the battle and was a lucky man.
In the recent discussion of what kind of magazine Naval History ought to be, Dr James E. Valle suggested that it should become a journal of professional naval historians, wherein “big issues” in naval history could be evaluated. All three of Dr. Dudley’s subjects were “professional naval historians” (in the standards of the times) bent upon the study of issues larger than the events they recorded. All three could not afford to do the kind of detailed research that I did working in a narrower field. It demonstrates that both types are needed, and that the sum is only as good as its parts.
Lieutenant Commander E. M. McCann. U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)—You are to be commended for your article on the forgotten war of 1812.
I wish to recommend The Age of Fighting Sail by C. S. Forester of Hornblower fame. This recounts 1812, largely from the American side. Additionally— most importantly—he has depicted the actual ship movements and wind significance in the great frigate actions so clearly that the most earthbound of us can understand them.
Thank you for a great publication; do not change it.
“The Cabot Comes Home”
(See K. Harrison, pp. 26-28, Spring 1990 Naval History)
Richard A. Gale, Acting Executive Director, USS Cabot/Dedalo Museum Foundation—I would like to clarify a few of the statements concerning the USS Cabot (CVL-28) and this foundation.
The American Legion did not contribute a half million dollars to the foundation, nor did Denver Mulligan single handedly obtain the Cabot for New Orleans.
Denver Mulligan is not associated with the USS Cabot/Dedalo Museum Foundation, nor is he a spokesman for this foundation.
There are always groups that like t0 wave the flag and take credit for a lot of things. This is one of those times.