This html article is produced from an uncorrected text file through optical character recognition. Prior to 1940 articles all text has been corrected, but from 1940 to the present most still remain uncorrected. Artifacts of the scans are misspellings, out-of-context footnotes and sidebars, and other inconsistencies. Adjacent to each text file is a PDF of the article, which accurately and fully conveys the content as it appeared in the issue. The uncorrected text files have been included to enhance the searchability of our content, on our site and in search engines, for our membership, the research community and media organizations. We are working now to provide clean text files for the entire collection.
World War II Britain had another Lord Nelson—a stubborn officer whose prewar career had been stymied. But when Johnny Walker led his men “a- hunting” U-boats, he helped speed victory in the Atlantic.
talker was also honest and blunt, admirable but not aVs endearing traits. “He was not a yes man,” another
ji. eague remarked.3 Moreover, Walker was profession- ia c°Ut °h steP with bis time- In an era when gunnery- bjC s were the elite, Walker eschewed the Royal Navy’s tin Un C'Uk ^or 'nnfashmnable trade of anti-subma- trw°rk,” a calling regarded as the province of near- pern^S'4 Given his warfare specialty and a preference for i,0s°nal leadership, Walker preferred destroyers to dreader ^ts’ aSain not in league with prevalent professional “The glamour of the fleet meant nothing to him.”5 SU]t 6r's stubbom insistence upon going his own way reinted in a 1937 confidential report that Walker was “lack- Pr0 ^0vvers °f leadership.” This indictment canceled his $il rr'°ti°n chances, to Commander Walker’s intense but nt disappointment.
|? a terminal commander. Walker continued his career flj ‘oS Osprey, the Anti-Submarine Warfare School. Cre he developed his theories on what he urged was a
Virtually all accounts of World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic cite the heroics of Royal Navy Captain Frederick John Walker. His contribution to victory 0as threefold—the battles he won, the tactics he devel- ^Ped, and the legacy he bequeathed. Although in 1939 he as a Royal Navy commander of spent promotion pros- u,ctS’ officially “lacking powers of leadership,” Johnny ra her was by the time of his death in July 1944 an inspi- j,l0n to all Allied seamen and the esteemed terror of the r,e8smarine.1
, ‘aging of a Hero: At Dartmouth, Johnny Walker had -j, n cadet captain, the top student, and boxing champion. ^ and prepossessing, he showed well as a junior officer, contemporary described him as “a high-principled, rageous, modest and kindly naval officer, who looked ^ c% what he was—an outstanding leader of men.”2
grave threat. It was not an uncomfortable life. Always a dedicated family man to his wife Eileen and four children— another item competing for his loyalty—Commander Walker was content with his work and the means to provide for his family during the Depression. He seemed agreeable to channeling his energy toward the pleasures of family, church, and gardening.
The Battle of the Atlantic proved unequivocally that Johnny Walker’s leadership was not wanting. But not immediately. Understandably, a superannuated commander was not in the front of the line to receive appointments to command at sea. A small respite from desk work occurred when Walker was posted to the staff of Flag Officer Dover, Vice Admiral (later Admiral Sir) Bertram Home Ramsay, during the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk. There, as Staff Officer ASW, Walker showed well and was mentioned in dispatches. Ramsay, later General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s naval component commander at Normandy, believed strongly that modem naval operations required considerable devolution, in which capable subordinates would be given full authority to act.6 This principle Walker would demand in his ships. After Dunkirk Walker repeatedly applied for sea duty. Less because of favorable endorsements than the sad fact no one was faring well in convoy battles, Walker in the autumn of 1941 was appointed to command HMS Stork. The Stork was a Liverpool sloop assigned to escort duty in Admiral Sir Percy Noble’s Western Approaches command. Because Walker was by now a longtime commander, the Stork became the senior ship of the 36th Escort Group, at full strength consisting of two sloops and seven Flower-class corvettes. Unlike the U. S. one, the British escort system did not assign a separate group commander and staff. Thus Walker was both captain of the Stork and group commander.
In this latter role. Walker trained his ships relentlessly.
had Frederick John Walker at the very top, with a spec notation extolling his combat leadership. As one adm>:
pass through the promotion zone, they made honoura'
amends.” Coupled with this past season promotion
with and around convoys, which was where the would gather, but not be tied to them as were the c
Rodger Winn in Whitehall and U. S. Navy Comm3^
movements better than Admiral Doenitz himself- Walker had been an early and ardent advocate ofs port groups (hunter-killer groups to Americans). As tain (D) he put all his considerable prestige and insul ble stubbornness into convincing the Admiralty that1■ ,
He wanted a well-knit team, not only in each ship, but among all the ships. As Captain Stephen Roskill’s official history, The War at Sea, puts it, Walker purposed “carefully thought out tactics applied with unrelenting vigor.’’7 The 36th Escort Group Operations Instructions were but ten sentences long, concluding: “No officer will ever be blamed by me for getting on with the job at hand.”8 Immediate offensive action upon any contact and control by negation was the rule. One particular tactic Walker developed and endlessly drilled his charges in was “Operation Buttercup,” a precursor of various techniques that would later permeate the Western Approaches Convoy Instructions. Based upon the belief, later proved true, that U-boats would attack at night and on the surface, this particular evolution had all escorts turn simultaneously toward a nocturnal contact, and shoot starshells (hated by merchant skippers), turning night into day and forcing the U-boat to dive. While at a greatly reduced underwater speed, the U-boat would be subjected to a sustained depth charge barrage by multiple escorts.
The Victories: In December 1941 Walker saw his first action, a running sea battle. With considerable air support, the 36th Escort Group provided close escort for 32 merchant ships, Convoy HG 76, bound from Gibraltar to Plymouth. The order to slip and proceed was passed on 14 December. On 23 December, 30 of the original 32 ships steamed into the Western Approaches’s “safe area,” having left in their wake five sunken U-boats and several others damaged. Walker’s Stork had individually accounted for two of these sinkings. The first, the U-131, had been sunk not far from a place called Trafalgar after Walker gave daylight chase away from the convoy. The second, the U-574, Walker had forced to surface off Lisbon by Operation Buttercup tactics, chased in circles, and then rammed. This sinking was all the more dramatic since the U-574's captain, Englebert Endrass, was the reigning U-boat ace.
Even before mooring in Plymouth for repairs, Walker received a personal message summoning him to the Admiralty. Just several days later he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, his country’s second-highest action decoration. There had been a number of reasons for the victory—hard training, innovative tactics, adequate air support, and an escort group not depleted by casualties and multiple assignments. But Admiral Sir Percy Noble himself discerned the principal cause upon visiting the Stork during post-repair trials: “They can run and fight their ship blindfold[ed]. And every man adores Walker. If we can get all our ships trained and keyed up to that pitch we will make the U-boat crews wish that they had never been born.”9 The standard was set.
Although his escort strength waned, Walker continued to effect “the safe and timely arrival of the convoy” and an attendant neutralization of U-boat efforts. Wrote an officer assigned to another escort group: “The U-boats seemed to keep out of our path. But there was a Captain Frederick John Walker who was sinking them. Strange how he was always running into them.”10 Some speculate that Walker was personally targeted.11 In June 1942, 44 against Convoy OG 84, guarded by Walker with only f've escorts, Admiral Karl Doenitz, commander of the Germ311 submarine force, launched an all-out attack and inflicted a 22% loss on the convoy. But the Admiralty’s review 0 action held that Walker’s skill of maneuver and tenacity 01 nerve had actually thwarted a planned massacre.
Still, it was clearly time to give Walker both a necessaO rest and an overdue promotion—though he did not wan the former and had long forgotten the latter. The July 194' semiannual promotion list for captain in the Royal Nav) put it, “When their Lordships realised that they had a' lowed an officer with the fighting qualities of Nelson 10
assignment as captain (D) (responsible for training, nizing, and equipping convoy escorts out of Liverpo1 Walker’s reaction was typical of him: “The Admit3 • have only themselves to blame if I make a damned aW Captain (D), which I shall.”13
Johnny Walker was not, however, a poor captain W ' At the Western Approaches command at Liverp0^ Walker replaced indecisive skippers and effectively taug and encouraged those willing to act. Nevertheless, post of captain (D) was not Walker’s first calling- March 1943 he returned to sea in a capacity seernin§ - designed for his genius. .,
Admiral Sir Percy Noble’s successor, the gruff and br1^ liant Admiral Sir Max Horton, a submarine hero of W°r War I, built upon Sir Percy’s foundation and became executor of sustained success in the Atlantic Battle. E3 j in the Horton tenure the Allied cause achieved suff>cl numbers of escort ships so that special support gr° ^ could be found, ships assigned to seek out the e°e ^ rather than protect the trade. Up until this time, the 0 , mission of Western Approaches had been “the safe 3 ^ timely arrival of the convoy.” Now there would be means of counteroffensive. Support groups would sV° escorts. A welcome aid in positioning support gfl ^ would be the superb work of the U-boat tracking room5 ^ the Admiralty’s Operational Intelligence Center an S. Tenth Fleet Headquarters. Royal Navy Comm3^
Kenneth Knowles in Washington often knew U must be formed. The first five such units were homep' in Liverpool, designated Escort Groups One through These would later be joined by U. S. escort carriers t j ing additional groups. Captain Walker assumed corni>-2)' of the frigate HMS Starling and Escort Group Two (E ^ which further consisted of the Black Swan-class friS? y the Woodpecker, Wren, Wild Goose, Cygnet, and S1 j Walker’s “chicks.” As in 1941 on board the Stork"'
I^y from the Stork volunteered for the Starling—Walker 11 endless drills to forge each sailor and all ships into a ani. Although the workup training a la Walker initially ew fatigue and frustration, this was soon replaced by a |’r^e of serving with “the Boss” (and a zeal to let the Often of Liverpool know just who sailed with Walker).
°nly three officers in British naval history to ever have ^sted the “General Chase,” a situation in which the e % is in such disarray that the signal can be given for tL h man to go after the opponent on his own. But the feat a assured his status both in the hearts of his countrymen ln naval annals was the sinking of six U-boats during a .day patroi ending on 21 February 1944. In coming w rt'e to Liverpool’s Gladstone Dock, while two military cl)nds Played “A Hunting We Will Go,” EG2 was ^e®red into port. With the First Lord of the Admiralty, C ■ Alexander, and Admiral Sir Max Horton at the forests \ dle 9uays were lined with seamen, shipyard work- Pe ^Ns (Women’s Royal Naval Service), and towns-
wildly cheering the quiet, courageous, and
|jkhandedly sinking four, including the first two ever en- =a§ed by the group. The first sinking, the U-202, involved ^Prosecution of 14 hours and was considered by Sir Max ^ Orton to be the single most brilliant tactical engagement t the war. The Group’s theme song, blared loudly over Pside speakers upon entering or departing port, was “A nting We Will Go.” They were every bit as good as cy thought they were.
Twice in the summer of 1943 EG2 sank two U-boats nin 24 hours, and upon another occasion three in the jnnie amount of time. In disrupting a U-boat staging area : . the Bay of Biscay, Captain Frederick John Walker 0j!ned Lord Horatio Nelson and Sir Francis Drake as one
rj0^Dorn sailor who had come to personify Britain’s victo- 0s defiance of the U-boats. Signal flags pierside spelled 1<, a welcome: “CAPTAIN JOHNNY WALKER (1939— STILL GOING STRONG.” tUrnUt even as the Starling moored, Johnny Walker, rj0ed out smartly in tailored blues and looking the victo- t\y Seaman if ever one did, espied his wife Eileen and t|je children. Thereupon, Walker promptly departed r’dge for the main deck. Temporarily ignoring the •he 111 ,ed dignitaries, he assisted his family aboard and to Co„ijUlet °f the wardroom. Neither failure nor success 3ld change him.
■Hrf summer °f 1944 and the battle of Normandy, Servny talker had three bars added to his Distinguished 1Ce Order. He had been made a Companion of the
Bath, an honor usually reserved for flag officers. Plans were in the works for flag rank and rumors of knighthood were rife. Yet perhaps the most telling recognition was full restoration of Walker’s original seniority, obliterating forever the official record that Johnny Walker “was lacking powers of leadership.”
The Tactics: Sinking so many U-boats certainly altered the course of the war. Yet even more than the damage Walker inflicted, the tactics he developed proved decisive. Royal Navy Commander Gilbert Roberts of the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, the anti-U-boat school, first discerned Walker’s tactical genius in HG 76. Roberts’s initial attempts to query escort commanders on workable methods of convoy protection had been disappointing. Although answers were couched in terms of “going to action stations” and “increasing speed,” actual countermeasures did not exist.14 Walker, however, described to Roberts his Operation Buttercup procedures. Analyzing battle reports and talking to submariners, Roberts found Walker to be mostly right. The U-boats were attacking on the surface at night, but from within the escort perimeter rather than from without, having entered the convoy from astern. At least one of Walker’s Buttercup sinkings had been against a U-boat that was waiting for convoy passage so as to approach from aft. Accordingly, Roberts proposed a tactic Raspberry, which was a modification of Buttercup. This evolution called for an immediate turn aft by all
escorts upon a merchantman’s alarm. Once mustered aft of the convoy, the escorts would form a trawl line proceeding forward toward the intruder. Upon initial display of the tactic, Sir Percy Noble immediately made Raspberry a general tactic for the Western Approaches and promoted Roberts, another prewar castoff, to acting captain. Raspberry and other situational tactics derived from Walker’s methods employed the same principals—immediate action, unity of effort, concentration of all available force, starshells, and sustained depth charge barrage. Buttercup was the basis of a series of tactics that became doctrine and led to victory.
No one—at least not in Britain, the United States, or Canada—expected submarines to be a problem in World War II. The secret invention of Anti-Submarine Detection Investigating Committee (ASDIC), in 1918, now known by the American acronym “Sonar,” was to have prevented any recurrence of World War I’s near-successful guerre de course. The Allies paid dearly for this wishful strategy. Yet even when the U-boat threat became bitterly real, convoy duty was regarded as a backwater. Captain Gilbert Roberts explained that establishment officers “did not realise that the escort of half a million tons of shipping on a 3,000-mile trip through nearly every known hazard, to be repeated every five or six weeks, is a task very wor- 3
thy of a Commander in the Royal Navy, and he must , very good one, too.”15 Walker was one of the few Navy officers mentally prepared for the wolfpacks slaught. As Vice Admiral Sir Peter Gretton wrote, waf “had forgotten more about pinging than any of us had e learnt.”16v
In addition to Operation Buttercup, Walker honeo depth charge attack into a fine art. In Operation Plasterjir would station his ships line abreast, so close to one other that he flirted with structural damage, and pound the surrounding sea with a simultaneous and ‘’ tained depth charge attack of as many as 80 expl°sl separated by seconds.17 A variation of this was the Cr } ing Attack, where one escort would maintain contact distance while directing others, running with ASDlCs ^ nars) off, to the location of the U-boat. Upon arriva j scene the quiet escorts would subject the unsuspeC^,( U-boat to a sudden bombardment—an early-day> P man’s Navy tactical data system. -f,
According to German Kapitan Lieutenant Peter Cre' ^ one of the few surviving U-boat aces, Walker’s ta(j j. “almost without exception produced results.”1 ^^ ralty records reveal that EG2 may have crossed p * Kaleun Cremer’s U-333 path on 21 March 1944. T'10/..; the Admiralty’s U-boat Assessment Committee dasSl^ the U-333 only a ‘ ‘possible contact, ’ ’ to Cremer there nothing indefinite about it. EG2 came at him in two abreast from opposite sides, “their explosions mergir r^ that it was impossible to count them ... the cot1 tower began to shudder and we were all thrown aboat ,1- all hell was let loose.”19 The U-333 survived her P ble contact” status by playing dead.
y ayed water passage to the hydrostatic pistol until the the °-at S Sa^e deP[h became ground zero. Then there was
bine Walker secured an active prosecution to let his ^ Cw get a good night’s sleep, while scheduling an attack "'een reveille and breakfast. The U-boat was duly sunk no one was late for coffee laced with rum. l ^et these flourishes, and there were many others, were Ijj Soir>e finishing touches of a master tactician who made j,. entire command an extension of his art. In the words of lr Max Horton:
He trained and welded his own group into a splendidly efficient Band of Brothers who finally became so •nibued with his methods that they could, and did, carry out his wishes with the barest minimum of signals and telegraphy. The spirit of emulation is a wonderful "icentive and all my groups benefited from his example a°d methods.”22
talker also knew enough not to fix things that were not
The support groups that Walker had so ardently camPaigned for had actually been tried and found wanting ^arlier in the war. In 1944, however, their use would not e’ as they had previously been, in blind ocean sweeps their crews would not be amateurs. The groups of 44 knew, as U. S. Coast Guard Captain John Waters 'Vr°te in his minor classic Bloody Winter, that “hunting submarines is most productive where large numbers of ern are concentrated . . . around the convoys.”20 More- °Ver, the officers of the new support groups were hand- P'cked professionals, spearheaded by Walker who “car- his ideas into deadly execution.”21 Certainly some of Walker’s success came from an intui- ■Ve genius. It was said that he could smell a U-boat ,e.agues away. Something more than study had enabled lrri to save the Starling, as he did once by ordering an Mediate release of depth charges set at zero depth. He, d he alone, had sensed that two torpedoes were en route 0 his hull—and although he drenched his topside person- 1 and broke every wardroom bottle, he saved his ship, •flilarly, no prewar experiments in HMS Osprey inspired : .her to reach a submarine gone deep by placing soap side his depth charges. This seemingly crazy directive
^°ken. Offered innovative combat systems for his ships, r®fused them, believing that what has been proved to rrk >s best. He had both the temperament and stature to Cq0rt that amid night explosions,.high seas, and multiple bad 3CtS ^ not always know what the bloody blazes ve keen going on. Not surprisingly, Walker also had a orcj Occasional tendency to turn a blind eye to ill-advised sl ers- One notable instance was his refusal to carry out a adel~or|-sight order against Spanish trawlers in a block- ^l|.area. Walker had killed more Germans than any other sj0leH sailor. On occasion he had made the hellish deci- \vatto drop depth charges while survivors were still in the fi„,er- But he never forgot the difference between war- lng and bloody mindedness.
riod?e ^e8acy: On 7 July 1944 during a brief inport petal ’ J°hnny Walker checked into Seaforth Naval Hospi- ’ c°mplaining of a severe headache and dizziness. At
about midnight 9 July he died, officially of cerebral thrombosis. In truth he died of war weariness, “worn out by his unremitting service.”23 The Battle of the Atlantic was a tremendous strain on all contestants, especially escort commanders. For Walker there had been countless days with only limited and interrupted rest. During one engagement he remained awake and issuing battle orders for 36 hours. He well knew that his men welcomed his presence on the bridge and drew strength from his resilience. In his order of things the time for one’s self was inversely proportional to the number of stripes on the sleeve. And although Walker delegated authority and encouraged initiative, he knew that command responsibility and example were always his own inescapable burdens. An additional burden had been the fate of his son Timothy, a former seminarian who intended to take holy orders after the war. A sub-lieutenant in submarines, Timothy was for long months missing in action and later confirmed dead.
Immediately upon hearing of Walker’s passing, Admiral Sir Max Horton penned some words between 0100 and 0200 on 10 July. These heartfelt sentiments became the eulogy Sir Max delivered in Liverpool Cathedral:
“In our hour of need Captain Walker was a doughty protector of all who sailed the seas on our behalf. His heart and his mind extended and expanded to the utmost tiring of the body, even unto death, that he might discover and operate means of saving our ships. Very great is the number of human lives that were saved by his diligent and vigilant perseverance. Many more lives have been saved and will be saved by his example. Victory has been won and should be won by such as he . . . ”24
Walker’s memorial service was perhaps the most moving for a serving naval officer since Nelson’s. Afterward the destroyer HMS Hesperus bore Walker to his final resting place at 55-32 north, 003-28 west. Unplanned, two convoys, one inbound and one outbound, passed the Hesperus near the Liverpool sea buoy. The multinational sailors, who had once cursed Walker for his starshells, lowered their flags to half mast and manned the rails bareheaded in silent tribute. The casket about to plunge seaward was going in their place—and they knew it.
Walker’s successor in command of EG2, Donald Wemyss, believed that Walker “was one of the very few men whom one can call irreplaceable.”25 But Walker was too good a commander to have made himself indispensable, so he had made Wemyss his protege. Accordingly, Wemyss ordered the men of EG2 to be what Captain Frederick John Walker had trained them to be. Proceeding to sea EG2 promptly sank three U-boats in 12 days’ time. One of the victims was the formerly engaged U-333, this time actually blown out of the water and onto the fantail of the newly assigned HMS Loch Killin. As the astonished U-boat crew leapt from deck to deck in hurried surrender, a young rating on the Starling's bridge surmised that “the Boss” must be looking down from skyward rubbing his hands in satisfaction.
Until the battle surrounding HG 76, one might very well have asked the whereabouts of the vaunted Royal Navy. After this battle the name Walker meant that the convoy battles could be and would be won. The first lieutenant (executive officer in American parlance) in EG2’s HMS Wren was an American named Alex Cherry, who had in 1940 taken President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s foreign policy to heart and joined the Royal Navy. In his postwar memoir, Yankee, RN, Cherry dedicated an entire chapter to his beloved Captain Walker. In it he wrote:
“I hold the opinion that he was not England’s hero alone. His feats purchased valuable time for the free peoples of the earth. It was his determination and inspired leadership which first lit the light in the Atlantic’s darkest hour.26”
In the final analysis, the great democracies fought the longest and most crucial naval battle in history with a number of latter-day sea hawks: Britain’s Peter Gretton and Donald MacIntyre, Canada’s Chummy Prentice, America’s Daniel Gallery, and many others both famous and obscure. Yet all these sought after a standard set by Captain Frederick John Walker. Victory had been won by such as he.
‘Walter Lord, The Miracle of Dunkirk (New York: Penguin, 1982). p. 43. "Stephen W. Roskill, The War at Sea, Vol I (London: HMSO, 1954), P "Robertson, Walker, RN, p. 38.
9lbid., p. 66.
'"Alex Cherry, Yankee, RN (Essex: Anchor Press, 1952), pp. 199-200. "Brock, The Dark Broad Seas, p. 58; and Cherry, Yankee, RN, p. 448. '"Chalmers, Max Horton and the Western Approaches, p. 168.
'"Robertson, Walker, RN, p. 83.
"Mark Williams, Captain Gilbert Roberts RN and the Anti-U-Boat School 4° don: Cassell, 1979), p. 87.
15Lees-Knowles Lectures 1951—Captain Gilbert H. Roberts, CBE, RN. j “Peter Gretton, Convoy Escort Commander (London: Cassell, 1964), P 17D. A. Rayner, Escort (London: William Kimber, 1955), p. 167. sS
'"Peter Cremer, U-Boat Commander (Annapolis: U. S. Naval Institute Pre 1984), p. 171.
19Ibid., p. 172.
""John M. Waters, Bloody Winter (New York: Berkeley, 1986), pp. 8, 9. "'Ladislas Farago, The Tenth Fleet (New York: Drum, 1986), p. i57. ,. r.
""Donald Wemyss, Walker’s Groups in the Western Approaches (Liverpool- cury Press, 1948), pp. 6, 7. 0f
"’Naval Historical Branch, Ministry of Defense; HMS STARLING Suntm&i Service, S6682, revised October 1964.
24Chalmers, Max Horton and the Western Approaches, p. 260.
""Wemyss, Walker’s Groups in the Western Approaches, p. 138.
"‘Cherry, Yankee, RN, p. 447.
Lieutenant Commander Brown is currently chief of the analysis divlS at the U. S. Coast Guard Intelligence Center. He served afloat as ** ons officer and boarding officer in the USCGC Gallatin (WHEC■ and as operations officer and navigator in the USCGC (WMEC-627). He also qualified as a surface warfare officer while & ing as first lieutenant and navigator on board the USS Forrest S'ier (DD-931) as a part of the Navy/Coast Guard officer exchange Pr0jir Ashore, Commander Brown has had assignments at Coast Guard rl quarters in the Operational Law Enforcement Division and in the R ^ ness Plans Division. He has contributed to Division Officers Gu‘de j Naval Terms Dictionary (both published by the Naval Institute Press) to Proceedings.
__________________________ Stranger Things Happen At Sea__
Elgin Staples stands his mother at her inspe
tion station, Firestone
The USS Astoria (CA-34) was the first U. S. cruiser to engage the Japanese during the Battle of Savo Island, a night action fought 8-9 August 1942. Although she scored two hits on the Imperial flagship Chokai, the Astoria was badly damaged and sank shortly after noon, 9 August.
About 0200 hours a young midwestemer, Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples, was swept overboard by the blast when the Astoria’s number one eight-inch gun turret exploded. Wounded in both legs by shrapnel and in semi-shock, he was kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt that he managed to activate with a simple trigger mechanism.
At around 0600 hours, Staples was rescued by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria, whose captain was attempting to save the cruiser by beaching her. The effort failed, and Staples, still wearing the same lifebelt, found himself back in the water. It was lunchtime. Picked up again, this time by the USS President Jackson (AP-37), he was one of 500 survivors of the battle who were evacuated to Noumea.
On board the transport Staples, for the first time, closely examined the lifebelt that had served him so well. It had been manufactured by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and bore a registration number.
Given home leave Staples told his story and asked his mother, who worked for Firestone, about the purpose of the number on the belt. She replied that the company insisted on personal responsibility for the war effort, and that the number was unique and assigned to only one inspector. Staples remembered everything about the lifebelt, and quoted the number. It was his mother’s personal code and affixed to every item she was responsible for approving.
Commander Eric J. Berryman, U. S. Naval Reserve
(The Naval Institute will pay $25.00 for each anecdote published in the Proceedings.)
'Jeffry V. Brock, The Dark Broad Seas (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981), p. 59.
"Terence Robertson, Walker, RN (London: Evans Bros., 1956), p. 13.
’Bob Whinney, The U-Boat Peril (Dorset: Blanford Press, 1986), p. 126.
Martin Middlebrook, Convoy (London: Allen Lane, 1976), p. 37.
W. s. Chalmers, Max Horton and the Western Approaches (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1954), p. 167.