Shedding Light on Panay Incident
Commander David H. Grover, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
Lieutenant Colonel Frank Roberts Jr. (“Climax of Isolationism, Countdown to World War,” December, pp. 32–38) has done us all a favor, in two respects. First, he has provided a well-written article on the 75th anniversary of the loss of the USS Panay. Second, in doing so he has created new insights into what happened from the perspective of his father, Captain Frank Roberts Sr., the Army officer who played a prominent and yet little-known role on board the ship during the Japanese attack as well as afterward.
Such new perspectives supply an opportunity to test the conclusions of historians who have examined the event. As the last historian of the Yangtze River Patrol Association before its dissolution as a distinct entity in 1998, I had the opportunity to propose another dimension to the Panay findings, one relating to the dozen or so tankers in the tag-along “convoy” with the gunboat, and which may actually have been the target of the attack.
The intent of the Japanese in mounting the attack has always been somewhat controversial, but there is a widespread belief that it was directed toward the Panay. One theory also holds that interservice feuds among the Japanese may have led to an improvised attack. As the younger Roberts observes, “Perhaps the army deceived the navy into making the air attack on the pretext that the neutral ships were Chinese or contained Chinese soldiers; however, Masatake Okumiya, who commanded six dive bombers in the attack, denied that possibility.”
Did he, though? In his 1953 Proceedings article, Okumiya said: “We were informed that an advance Army unit had reported seven large merchant ships and three smaller ones fleeing the capital, loaded to capacity with Chinese troops. . . . It was rumored that a successful attack might earn a unit citation.”
The convoy that the aviators located did indeed include four ships of about 200 feet in length (all of which, including the Panay, looked remarkably alike) and three of perhaps 80 feet, certainly large by Yangtze River standards. All had American flags prominently displayed, and the civilian vessels collectively had hundreds of Chinese evacuees on board.
The Yangtze Patrollers, as far as we know, are all gone; thus, little chance exists for getting new insights from their recollections. But the Panay convoy incident was so thoroughly documented in newspaper stories, newsreels, official reports, memoirs, etc., that additional accounts might yet be out there. Rumors persist that the Panay files remain sealed, presumably at the National Archives. Let’s find out. Meanwhile, thanks go to the Robertses, Sr. and Jr., for their roles in preserving the memory of the gallant gunboat and her convoy.
Cuban Crisis Recollections
Captain A. G. Hennessey Jr., U.S. Navy (Retired)
As a member of the Fleet Training Group that augmented Commander Naval Base (ComNavBase), Guantanamo Bay, staff during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I should be somewhere in the painting on page 4 of the October issue. My late retired Navy-nurse wife and I were the only married couple at GTMO during the crisis. Thomas Allen’s article (“‘Mr. President, The Navy Will Not Let You Down,’” pp. 16–23) brought back many remembrances of that time.
The only ship to have a Russian speaker was, by coincidence, the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD-850), whose CO had taught Russian at the U.S. Naval Academy. The only Russian speaker on the base, after the evacuation, was a Navy nurse, whom ComNavBase decided could not be used in that capacity because of her medical noncombatant status.
The first Marines arrived at the base in full battle dress by air from the West Coast just after dawn on 21 October during a regularly scheduled Base Defense Exercise. Ferried across the bay from the Leeward Point side, they marched in single file up both sides of Sherman Avenue to already prepared trenches and strongpoints. It was a scene reminiscent of World War II.
One of the RF-8A aircraft was lost on the mission described in the article. On the low-level, high-speed pass the plane’s canopy blew off. The pilot was able to eject over water and was rescued. Sadly the entire seven-man crew of an Air Force C-135 carrying ammunition was lost when it crashed while attempting to land at the Leeward runway. During the ensuing fire and ammunition cook-off, nearly all firefighting assets on Leeward were lost.
Ownership of Liberty Ships
Commander Thomas F. McCaffery, U.S. Naval Reserve (Retired)
Although “Appointment with Destiny in the North Atlantic” (December, pp. 60–64) was well written, it does contain some factual errors that should be corrected.
Mr. McHale indicates that the SS William Pierce Frye was owned by the Mystic Steamship Company. However, all Liberty ships, and for that matter all ships built by the U.S. Maritime Commission during World War II, were owned by the War Shipping Administration. The “ownership” by private companies comes from the fact that the ships owned by the WSA were operated under General Agency Agreements by shipping companies, which provided the crews and managed the ships for the account of the U.S. government on a “cost plus” basis.
Unfortunately, the identification of Liberty and other U.S. government–built and –owned ships as being owned by private entities is perpetuated on some websites providing summaries of World War II ship losses.
Also, the article states that “Engineering problems with shaft alignment, reductions gears, and propellers also caused problems while under way.” Because the Liberty ship’s triple-expansion steam-reciprocating engine was directly connected to the propeller shaft, reduction gears were not necessary.
Marine Who Was There
Lieutenant Colonel John Stevens, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
In his review of Kenneth Estes’ book Into the Breach at Pusan, Colonel Dick Camp was correct to advise Mr. Estes to wear a “flak jacket and helmet” as protection against the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade’s defenders. As a member of the brigade in 1950 (commander of Able Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines throughout the Pusan Perimeter campaign), I have some additional comments about the book.
Its tone appears to be directed at downgrading the efforts of the brigade in Korea in 1950. I am not sure what purpose this serves. One of the first noticeable items is the use of lowercase for proper names—for example, marines, marine brigade, marine corps. This left me with a generally negative feeling about the book.
There are also some errors, such as calling Lieutenant Colonel Victor Krulak a colonel at the time he was commanding the 5th Marine Regiment (he was promoted after leaving the regiment); referring to General Walker as General Walton; naming 1/5 as the Wolmi-do assault force rather than 3/5; calling a wounded Marine a soldier.
I am curious if the author interviewed any of the brigade survivors. The book comes across as something an Army person might have written.
Captain John Hood, U.S. Navy
Regarding Norman Polmar’s article on the S-3 Viking in the August issue (“Historic Aircraft,” pp. 12–13), he states that the Navy procured a total of 203 Viking aircraft, including 16 ES-3A Shadow electronic reconnaissance variants. This is incorrect; only 187 were produced, including the original YS-3A prototypes. Lockheed converted the ES-3As from existing S-3A airframes at Naval Air Station Cecil Field, Florida, in 1992–93.
I was a naval flight officer in Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 6 (VQ-6) at the time and recall all 16 S-3A aircraft arriving over a period of about a year to be converted in the hangar of Antisubmarine Warfare Squadron 27, next door to VQ-6. In fact we in VQ-6 flew all 16 aircraft as S-3As before turning them over to Lockheed for conversion. Each airframe was handpicked from a number of Vikings that had never been converted to S-3Bs and were in storage at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Airframes with the most life remaining were chosen for conversion.
According to the fall 1993 issue of Airborne LOG, a Lockheed in-house publication, the conversion of the S-3As to ES-3As was “the most complicated field modification project ever undertaken outside a production plant.” Other than this minor error, Mr. Polmar’s article was excellent; although I’m feeling old now that the mighty Viking and Shadow are considered historic aircraft!
Kondo’s Maltese Cross
Hugh Ramsay Straub
While looking at the thumbnail photos of admirals in John Prados’ fine article (“Japan’s Sea Lords in the South Pacific,” October, pp. 52–58), I was startled to see a Maltese-cross neck device on Admiral Nobutake Kondo. A quick Internet search located a higher-resolution version of the Kondo photograph you published. It revealed the embellishments between each of the cross’ arms to be an eagle perched on a roundel. I couldn’t determine from the photo if a symbol was in each roundel.
I then turned to Peter Bander van Duren’s Orders of Kighthood and Merit to see if any order’s decoration matched Admiral Kondo’s cross. None did.
Digging further, I found Kondo’s distinction. In 1937 Adolf Hitler created the Order of the German Eagle, appropriating a white Maltese cross and adding four eagles on swastika-centered roundels. His decoration was intended for foreign diplomats and persons of particular note. Reportedly, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto received the order’s Grand Cross. Admiral Kondo’s award appears to be of a slightly less presigious rank.
Recipients of the Order of the German Eagle were not limited to Axis partners. Prewar American honorees included IBM Chairman Thomas Watson, Henry Ford, and Charles Lindbergh.