Archive for the 'Ships' Category

Aug 7

Remembering ‘Generational Lessons Learned’ — Guadalcanal

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 9:47 AM

(Until recently, The U.S. Pacific Fleet participated in Talisman Saber in and around Australia. Meantime the surface Navy in Hawaii recently finished integrated at-sea certification near the Hawaiian Islands. From his office overlooking historic Pearl Harbor, Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific puts the training in context near the anniversary of the beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II. They’re already planning for more training and support at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (on Oahu) and Pacific Missile Range Facility (at Barking Sands, Kauai) for next summer’s Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Hawaii is center point for rebalancing in the Pacific.)

 As we consider how we translate the CNO’s priority of “Warfighting First” into action, it is important that we reach back to the valuable lessons learned from our rich naval history. For example, consider the significance of WWII surface actions in the Solomon Islands and how they align to the operations we are conducting today.

 Aug. 7 marks the 71st anniversary of the beginning of the Guadalcanal Campaign of August 1942 to February 1943. The strategic and tactical importance of these decisive six months is significant. What the June 1942 Midway battle meant for carrier operations, the battle for the Solomons meant for our Surface Navy.

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USS San Juan at New Caledonia, August 3, 1942

The ultimate victory and lessons learned were written in blood with over 5,000 Sailors killed, 24 U.S. ships sunk and both task force leaders, Rear Adm. Callaghan and Rear Adm. Scott, lost in November during this campaign. The fighting was so intense that during the course of the battles, the channel to the straits was reconfigured with scores of sunk ships on both sides into what is now called the “Iron Bottom Sound.”  

The first encounters with the enemy in early August 1942 would be most telling for the U.S. and our Australian partners as HMAS Canberra and U.S. ships Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes were sunk and USS Chicago was badly damaged by a better prepared adversary. There were lessons learned for both the U.S. and our Australian partners realizing the importance of command and control, integrated tactics and mastery of advanced technologies, for unlike the allied surface forces, the enemy drilled in live-fire tactics, operated extensively in night steaming configurations, developed radar targeting skills and established effective multi-ship maneuvers.

The six month Guadalcanal Campaign saw high losses on both sides in personnel, aircraft and ships, but the United States soon recovered, while our adversary did not. At Guadalcanal the United States took the offensive and continued the advance that started after the Battle of Midway, forcing the enemy into a retreat that eventually led to capitulation and surrender less than three years later.

Admirals

As our MIDPAC team realizes the benefits gained from integrated at-sea certifications as well as participation by some of our ships with our Australian partners in Talisman Saber, these generational lessons learned make our training all the more meaningful and relevant.

By Rear Adm. Rick Williams, Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

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Rear Adm. Richard L. Williams Jr., right, shakes hands with Rear Adm. Frank L. Ponds after a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, July 10, 2013.

For additional information on the Guadalcanal Campaign, visit the NHHC WWII Pacific Battles Showcase: http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20Highlights/WWiiPacific/WWIIPac-index.htm

 
Jul 19

Set Sail With the USS Constitution

Friday, July 19, 2013 7:14 AM

As I stepped across the brow onto the deck of USS Constitution the sense of history was almost overwhelming.

It was on these decks that the Sailors from past ages had fought and died for the colors that were whipping in the warm breeze above my head.

 

Guests of the USS Constitution boarding, 4 July, 2013

Guests of the USS Constitution boarding, 4 July, 2013

 

It’s July 4th, and time for Old Ironsides to get underway once again as she always does on Independence Day. The maneuvering watch is set and they are preparing their charts and instruments to plot the course down the Charlestown River to Castle Island, a familiar course, but still the motions are required as a Sailor assigned to Constitution must be proficient in these skills in order to be called a Constitution Sailor.

I introduce myself to the Sailors on watch and they say “Welcome aboard the Constitution and just let us know if there is anything we can do to help sir!”

Finding a place on deck, aft, near the Quartermaster’s station, , a simple table with a chart of Boston Harbor and a few tools of the Quartermaster rating and I begin to take a few quick photos.

Among my first impressions was the size of Constitution, it is a real surprise to me, not having ever seen her up close I quickly realized that she was as large as a WW II Destroyer Escort and slightly wider.

As I look around I see the details one misses in simple photographs of the ship. The mooring lines dressed out on deck, the smooth bore Cannon surrounding the deck perimeter and the fighting tops almost 100 feet above my head speak to me, knowing that it was at these locations some of the real fighting took place with Marine sharpshooters taking aim at the enemy’s gun crews and the officers as they knew that by taking these targets out of action the chances for victory increased with each and every well placed round.

After a short time I hear the order to cast off all lines and within moments Constitution begins to move slowly out of her berth, then the order is announced “Underway, shift colors” as a Sailor slowly lowers a perfect replica of the first Navy Jack, “Don’t Tread On Me” in brilliant and bold letters that can be easily seen.

As we pull away from the pier I found myself thinking about Constitution’s great engagements with the British warships that she fought and defeated. Ships with names like Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cayne and Levant, it was in the engagement with Guerriere that Constitution earned her nickname “Old Ironsides”.

 I watch as the crew raises a large American Flag with 15 stars and 15 bars and everyone begins to cheer, USS Constitution is underway once again.

Constitution - Shift Colors !

The crew is busily moving around deck, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of eyes watching their every move as they stow mooring lines and equipment, their pride is obvious to all however, as this is a special day for them as well.

I check the chart as the navigation team is busy marking it with the ships position in the channel and hear them discussing their trade, “no, says one Sailor, the measurement must be taken this way”

as he attempts to teach a younger subordinate the correct method of marking the ship’s position every couple of minutes and I find myself thinking that in today’s Navy these tasks are much simpler with advanced digital charts and the benefit of a GPS enhanced moving map display.

The Constitution Sailors of old did not have these tools and would probably view them as magic if they could see them in action today.

Looking out across the channel one can see the “chase boats” of all sizes and bigger harbor cruisers alongside keeping pace with the ship as she slowly makes her way toward Castle Island.

Occasionally a helicopter will fly over or a large commercial airliner as Logan Airport is just a few miles away, I find myself imagining that the sailors of old Constitution would think this technology was magic as well.

As Constitution approaches Castle Island a reminder is announced that the Gun crews will be firing a 21 Gun salute and that hearing protection is advised. Within a few moments the guns are readied and the order to fire is passed, within seconds the ship shakes from the concussion of the guns firing from the bow in sequence, port and starboard, one can hear the order to fire from below on the gun deck and feel the force of the blasts as the ship is slowly rotating in front of the hundreds of onlookers on Castle island.

The cheers from the crowd both on board and ashore can easily be heard between each shot and the feeling of patriotic pride is heavy in the air.

Constitution is showing her stuff once again and there is no denying that she is the focus of thousands of people who have made it a special point to be there to witness this display.

While cruising back to her berth we pass the US Coast Guard Station, Boston, the site of Constitution’s construction and the cannons sound with a 17 Gun salute as we pass by and again the cheers are raised and unmistakable, the “Coasties” ashore and on their vessels waving American Flags and cheering along with Constitution’s riders.

 

Constitution's 17 Gun salute while passing USCG Station Boston.

Constitution’s 17 Gun salute while passing USCG Station Boston.

 

 At approach to the pier and Constitution is turned so that she enters her berth stern first and is slowly backed into position with the precision of a skilled surgeon who has done this operation a hundred times before. After a few moments the announcement is made “Moored, shift colors” and history is recorded once again aboard the USS Constitution, America’s Ship of State!

Rod Doty
Volunteer,
NHHC Communication & Outreach Div.
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View USS Constitution’s 4 July Underway
Photo Album on their Facebook Fan Page:
“Underway, 4 July 2013″
http://goo.gl/TMGxa

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Jun 20

Navy Innovation

Thursday, June 20, 2013 7:01 AM

There’s been plenty of discussion about the Navy’s recent approach to ship building, and the promise of capability and capacity – see Littoral Combat Ship. What can history tell us about nurturing at sea innovation? It is never easy. On June 20, 1815, the Navy’s first steam-driven warship, the Fulton I, underwent initial trials in New York. Fulton, named in honor of her designer, Robert Fulton, was intended to be a heavily-armed and stoutly built mobile fort for local defense. Put into service in 1816, she missed action in the War of 1812 and only performed a single day of active service in 1817 when she carried President James Monroe on a cruise in New York Harbor, before eventually being utilized as a floating barracks at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. You can learn more about this ship by visiting: http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/f5/fulton-i.htm and http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-f/fulton.htm .

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Steam Battery “Fulton”. Lithograph by Ostervald, Paris, France, depicting the ship’s launching, at New York City, 29 October 1814.

 Despite her auspicious service, “Fulton the First” demonstrates the challenge – but also the promise – of developing new ways in accelerating our Navy’s advantage. So we ask: Can ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good enough’ when it comes to achieving and sustaining progress in naval warfare? Or are we relearning the lessons of our shipbuilding history in spiral development? Before you answer that, see: http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=74922 .

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USS Freedom (LCS 1), March 1, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Grandin/Released)

 

 
Jun 7

Midway Operational Lesson

Friday, June 7, 2013 5:08 PM

MIDWAY’S OPERATIONAL LESSON: THE NEED FOR MORE CARRIERS

The Japanese employing six aircraft carriers at one time, as they did in the attack on Oahu on 7 December 1941, proved a radical undertaking. The U.S. Navy’s carriers, by contrast, had never numbered more than two or three during infrequent maneuvers, and the war’s coming in 1941 found only three in the Pacific, Lexington (CV-2), Saratoga (CV-3), and Enterprise (CV-6).

Carriers had been a part of the U.S. Fleet since Langley (CV-1), nicknamed “The Covered Wagon” pioneered such operations in 1922, and forward-thinking naval officers employed them in the annual maneuvers, or Fleet Problems, with varying degrees of success. The war that descended with such suddenness on the Pacific Fleet on 7 December 1941, however, found that arm of the fleet relatively outnumbered by the Japanese. The six carriers whose planes had attacked Oahu outnumbered the U.S. Navy’s flattops two to one. The Japanese carriers were concentrated – the American were scattered: one on the way to Midway (Lexington); another at San Diego, preparing to return to Hawaiian waters (Saratoga); and the third returning from Wake Island (Enterprise).

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USS Enterprise (CV-6), circa 1940. NHHC Photographic Collection #19-N-29688

The three U.S. carriers involved at Midway differed in experience and in how they operated. Yorktown (CV-5), the first Atlantic Fleet carrier to deploy to the Pacific, had been operating under wartime conditions in the Atlantic during much of 1941; her squadrons at Midway, however, came from two different air groups: her own (VB-5), and those from Saratoga. The latter warship had been put out of action by a submarine torpedo in January 1942 and had landed her squadrons on Oahu (VB-3, VT-3, and VF-3). Only VB-5 had served in Yorktown for any length of time, from the operations in the Atlantic in 1941 through the Marshalls-Gilberts Raids, Lae-Salamaua, and the Coral Sea.

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USS Yorktown operating at sea, April 1942. NHHC Photographic Collection #80-G-640553

Enterprise had been involved from 7 December 1941, when elements of her air group encountered Japanese planes over Oahu; she had then participated in the Marshalls-Gilberts Raids, and had attacked Wake and Marcus, and had rode shotgun for Hornet (CV-8), the second Atlantic Fleet CV transferred to the Pacific, when that carrier took Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle’s B-25s to bomb targets in Japan. Of her squadrons, VB-6, VF-6, and VT-6 had served since the beginning; VS-6 had taken heavy losses early in the war, and had been spelled during the Halsey-Doolittle mission by VB-3.

Hornet, only commissioned in October 1941, had come to the Pacific and immediately taken part in the Halsey-Doolittle Raid; she was easily the least experienced carrier of the three.

It must be remembered that carrier operations in the U.S. Navy were in a state of flux – the air groups learning as they went along, and in the crucible of combat. On 4 June 1942, Enterprise and Hornet, in Task Force 16 (Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance), launched their respective attack groups employing a “deferred departure” plan, which sent off the fighters first, then the scout-bombers, then the torpedo planes. All loitered about the ship until the entire group was airborne before setting out for the enemy en masse. As the Japanese steamed at the extreme range of their fighter and torpedo planes’ fuel capacities this left no margin for error. Hornet’s fighters launched first and wasted much of their fuel over the ship while the rest of the strike slowly got airborne, one aircraft at a time. None of the fighters ever returned to the ship, or sighted the enemy. Enterprise’s fighters attached themselves to the Hornet’s torpedo planes (the ill-fated VT-8), while Enterprise’s torpedo planes went unescorted. Hornet’s dive bombers did not find the enemy, VS-8 returning to the ship directly and VB-8 returning to the ship via Midway.

Yorktown, however, operated differently. Her attack group, less VB-5 which Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 17, retained on board as a reserve strike and search group, launched according to a “running rendezvous,” the dive bombers taking off first, followed by the torpedo planes, with the higher speed fighter escort launching last. VT-3, VB-3, and VF-3 proceeded directly toward the target immediately after launch, with the torpedo squadron at low altitude, the dive bombers high, and the fighters closing in from behind. The group then merged together well along its base course, with all elements arriving over the enemy fleet simultaneously – Yorktown’s air group was the only one of the three to attack as a group. Their providential arrival simultaneously with that of Enterprise’s VB-6 and VS-6 spelled the doom of Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu.

The separation of Task Forces 16 and 17, meanwhile, proved detrimental when the only Japanese carrier that survived the initial destructive attacks, Hiryu, managed to cobble together the strike that stopped Yorktown and forced Rear Admiral Fletcher to transfer his flag and turn over tactical command to Rear Admiral Spruance. The Japanese carriers tended to separate during battle, each with their own screen, spreading out and lessening the impact of antiaircraft fire and dispersing the combat air patrol (CAP). The American carriers at Midway did likewise to a degree, so that TF-17 had fewer fighters and fewer antiaircraft guns afloat to defend Yorktown than would have been the case if Enterprise and Hornet were operating in company. Yet the need to concentrate the carriers, to put up a formidable combat air patrol and take advantage of the gunfire of the screening cruisers and destroyers with their 5-inch batteries (as well as the 1.1-inch, later 40-millimeter, and 20 millimeter guns in profusion) could not be fully realized until carriers were built in sufficient numbers to group several in one formation. Until the war construction programs of Essex (CV-9) class carriers and Independence (CVL-22) class small carriers would make themselves felt, one or two carriers and their respective screens would have to suffice.

Nevertheless, the employment of aircraft carriers at Midway proved crucial, for without them, ships of either side could find themselves at the mercy of an opponent’s planes. The destruction of the Japanese carriers on 4 June left one group of Japanese warships, detached to bombard Midway, totally unprotected, and when a collision damaged two heavy cruisers and impaired their speed, they could only proceed slowly, with two destroyers for a screen. Consequently, dive bombers from Hornet and Enterprise pounded Mogami and Mikuma, sinking the latter and inflicting further damage on the former.

America’s overwhelming capacity for production, something Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku feared at the outset of hostilities, eventually produced carriers in such numbers that task groups of four carriers (three CV-9 class and a CVL-22 class) would be the norm rather than the exception. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, had promised to “do the best we can with what we have.” Nimitz and his subordinates achieved victory with the weapon that had been forged since the 1920’s, the aircraft carrier and her embarked air group, that possessed the ability to project power over long distances, the power that aircraft carriers possess today of unprecedented utility.

For further information and links to related resources, seeFrequently Asked Questions: Battle of Midway, 4-7 June 1942.

By Robert J. Cressman

May 2009

 
Jun 6

A Reunion in the Water, Part 2

Thursday, June 6, 2013 2:20 PM

A Reunion In the Water, Part 2

E. R. “Bud” Quam on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway

by Ronald Russell

 (The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)

At the age of 15, young Bud Quam was severely injured in a hunting accident, and two years later he was nearly lost in a blizzard that inundated the area near his home town of Willmar, Minnesota. Consequently, when his 18th birthday rolled around in 1940, his parents had no reservations about sending him off to the Navy—they thought he might actually be safer there!

After boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, Quam was sent directly to the deck force of the USS Yorktown (CV-5). After toiling for some months with the usual drudgery experienced by apprentice seamen on the deck force, he requested a transfer to the Engineering Department and became a striker (trainee) in “E” Division, which was the ship’s electricians and interior communications technicians. His battle station was in the magazine for one of the five-inch guns, and it was a terrifying place to be when a Japanese bomb hit the ship during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

In the Battle of Midway, the tensions mounted tenfold as the ship was battered during two enemy air attacks. “You didn’t feel too scared when you only heard the five-inch guns firing,” he says. “That meant the enemy planes were still pretty far out. Things got a little more tense when the 1.1-inch mounts started up, and then when you heard those machine guns chatter, you knew you were about to get hit.”

When the order to abandon ship came, Quam went into the oily water while still wearing his heavy anti-flash coveralls, required for ammo handlers in the magazine. He was struggling to stay afloat with little success, when he was surprised to be pulled aboard a small raft by ARM3/c Harold Wilger and EM3/c Peter Newberg, both former high school friends from Willmar! Chance had gotten the two men and their raft to Quam, one of nearly 2000 Yorktowners then in the water, at precisely the critical moment. The three were rescued by the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397) and eventually returned to Pearl Harbor.

At Pearl, Quam was reassigned to the USS California (BB-44), salvaged after the Pearl Harbor attack and undergoing repairs. He worked aboard the battleship during its passage to Bremerton for major overhaul, then requested and was granted a transfer to the submarine service. He sailed on war patrols aboard USS Pilotfish (SS-386) until 1944 when he became available for assignment to another sub. An Electrician’s Mate Third Class at the time, he was set to go aboard USS Seawolf (SS-197), when an EM2/c abruptly pulled rank on him and took the billet instead. The Seawolf was lost on its next patrol.

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Quam at the 64th BOM anniversary commemoration in San Francisco, 2006

 Quam then finished the war aboard USS Segundo (SS-398), serving as the pointer on the five-inch gun during several battle-surface engagements in the Yellow Sea. He left the service in 1947 to begin a long career with the Sperry-Univac corporation, with whom he helped develop computer systems for the Trident missile submarine.

 

 
Jun 6

A Reunion in the Water, Part 1

Thursday, June 6, 2013 2:19 PM

A Reunion In the Water

Peter L. Newberg on the Yorktown at Coral Sea and Midway

by Ronald Russell

 (The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)

The small town of Willmar, Minnesota is rather unique with regard to the Battle of Midway, for it is the home town of three of its veterans who by chance all wound up on the same ship during the battle One of the three was Pete Newberg, who joined the Navy on his 18th birthday in order to pursue education opportunities—an interest in amateur radio had fueled a desire for training in a related technical field. Training would have to come later, though, as the Navy needed seamen for its big new carriers. Thus upon completing boot camp in December 1940, Newberg was sent directly to the USS Yorktown (CV-5), where he requested and got assignment to “E” Division, the ship’s electricians.

During his first year aboard the Yorktown, the ship was engaged in neutrality patrols and convoy duty in the Atlantic, but transferred to the Pacific Fleet following the Pearl Harbor attack. Its first major taste of combat occurred in May 1942 in the Coral Sea. Newberg’s battle station was with the flight deck repair party, meaning that he had a front-row view of all the action occurring around the carrier. His most vivid recollection of the Coral Sea was a bizarre incident as darkness fell on the first day of the battle. Two Japanese pilots got their aircraft into the landing pattern for the Yorktown and were all set to trap aboard, thinking they had found their own carrier in the fading light! The first enemy pilot realized his error at the last possible second and abruptly banked away, passing directly over the landing signal officer. Newberg and the other topside personnel could plainly see the bright red insignia on the plane’s wingtips.

Newberg was topside again as Japanese bombs and torpedoes blasted the Yorktown at Midway. He was firing a .30-cal. machine gun on the port side catwalk when one of the torpedoes struck almost directly below him. He’s not certain exactly what happened for several minutes after that, because his next clear memory is of treading water near the listing carrier’s stern, kept afloat by his life jacket. A few minutes later he was amazed to see Harold Wilger, one his friends from Willmar, Minnesota, nearby in a small raft. Wilger was a radioman-gunner in one of the ship’s squadrons and had pulled the two-man raft out of his aircraft before abandoning ship. Newberg swam toward the raft and climbed aboard. Wondering exactly what to do next, the two looked out over the 2000-plus survivors in the water and miraculously spotted the third sailor from their home town, Bud Qualm, also from “E” division. Mere chance had brought the three Willmar men together in the oily water near the stricken Yorktown. Their raft was soon overwhelmed by other survivors, but the three made it to safety aboard the destroyer USS Benham (DD-397).

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Newberg at the 64th BOM anniversary commemoration in San Francisco, 2006

 Upon return to Pearl Harbor, Newberg was transferred to the USS West Virginia (BB-48), raised from the bottom of Pearl Harbor and undergoing repair. He served aboard the battleship for the remainder of the war. After the expiration of his enlistment in 1946, he earned an engineering degree at the University of California and began a lengthy career in the petroleum industry. 

 
Jun 6

Escaping the Yorktown

Thursday, June 6, 2013 9:18 AM

Escaping the Yorktown

Bryan A. Crisman

by Ronald Russell

(The following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable and originally appeared in Veterans Biographies, distributed during the annual Battle of Midway commemoration in San Francisco, June 2006)

 As an economics student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1940, Bryan Crisman was intrigued by a notice posted at the university’s school of finance. The solicitation from the U.S. Navy’s Supply Corps promised college graduates a commission in the Naval Reserve. That sounded fine to Bryan, so he signed up and found himself called to active duty only a few months after graduation. After training at the Navy’s Supply Corps school, he initially served aboard USS Ranger (CV-4), then in September 1941 became the disbursing officer and “S” division officer on USS Yorktown (CV-5).

The Yorktown’s first major test in combat came in May 1942 in the Coral Sea, in which it suffered bomb damage from a Japanese air attack. But there was no respite upon returning to Pearl Harbor from that battle—the men worked feverishly to repair the damage and reprovision the ship for a another major operation. As the Yorktown left port, the crew was informed that they were going to take on an enormous Japanese invasion fleet headed for Midway.

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Crisman in 1942, as an ensign aboard USS Yorktown

 As disbursing officer, Ensign Crisman’s assignment before leaving port had been to ensure enough cash was on hand to pay the crew upon arrival at Bremerton, Washington after the forthcoming action at Midway. The ship was slated for an overhaul to permanently repair its Coral Sea damage, and after more than three months away from the states, the men would have a lot of money due at Bremerton. Thus, before departure for Midway, Crisman had under his control over $500,000 in cash that was destined for the bottom of the sea. (That would be the equivalent of more than four million dollars in today’s money!)

Ensign Crisman’s battle station was at Flight Control in the island, which shook violently from three bomb hits as the Battle of Midway commenced. One of the bombs hit at the base of the island, sending billowing smoke into Flight Control. The ship came to a halt as the crew furiously worked to repair damage to the flight deck and get the boilers restarted. Crisman left his battle station at that point to retrieve the vital pay records from the disbursing office, deep in the ship. He bagged and secured them with 200 feet of line to prepare for lowering into a boat, then moved them to his stateroom, which was more accessible in an emergency. (Saving the crew’s pay records was deemed more important than saving the cash!)

He returned to Flight Control, but the ship was struck again by aerial torpedoes, prompting the captain to give the “abandon ship” order. Crisman gathered the bagged pay records and proceeded toward his abandon ship station when he noticed three Marines isolated at their gun mount due to damage to the catwalk at the edge of the flight deck. The catwalk had been peeled up by a torpedo blast, leaving the men no way to exit their battle station. Sacrificing the vital pay records, he threw his 200-foot line to the Marines, tying off one end so that they could free themselves.

Now without his pay records or his line, he encountered an unconscious sailor in a squadron ready room, still alive. With the aid of another officer, the two carried the sailor to the fantail and lowered him into the sea where a third rescuer got him aboard a raft and eventually to safety on a destroyer. Crisman finally lowered himself into the oily water, and after four hours of swimming in a life jacket that was gradually losing its buoyancy, he was taken aboard the USS Anderson (DD-411), along with about 200 other Yorktown survivors. He eventually returned to Pearl Harbor aboard USS Fulton (AS-11). And as for his all-important pay records? The salvage crew aboard the Yorktown wisely rescued them two days later, transferring them for safekeeping to the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412), tied up alongside. A short while later the Hammann and the Yorktown’s pay records slipped beneath the waves, the result of a Japanese submarine attack!

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Crisman in 2006

Crisman continued to serve in Supply Corps billets for the rest of the war and at its end was the supply officer for the U.S. embassy in London. Eventually promoted to lieutenant commander, he left the Navy in 1956 to commence a long career in real estate.

 
Jun 5

Remembrance of a Rear-Seater

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 6:41 PM

Remembrance of a Rear-Seater

by CAPT N. J.”Dusty” Kleiss, USN-Ret

27 April 2007

Note: the following post is from the Battle of Midway Roundtable andwas a letter from VS-6 pilot “Dusty” Kleiss in response to a Roundtable member seeking information on her uncle. The subject is Aviation Ordnanceman First Class Thurman Swindell, who was killed in his SBD as it dove on the Kaga at Midway.

* * *

Tracy Lewis asked the Roundtable if it could give her more information about her great uncle Thurman Randolf Swindell, AOM1/c, who was KIA in the Battle of Midway. Tracy is interested in knowing this man not only as a relative, but because she is taking a history class in college and must have a paper about a famous person of WWII. The Roundtable passed Tracy’s request to me to determine if I could give any additional information other than that given to her by the Roundtable.

I first met Thurman Swindell in the fall of 1941, when I was given a collateral duty as Education Officer of Scouting Six. One of my first assignments was scoring the official (closely secured) tests for enlisted personnel to meet qualifications to a higher rating. One of the first official tests I examined was for determining the necessary qualifications of moving from 2/c to 1/c status. There were only two enlisted men of Scouting Six who met possible advancement to that difficult promotion. Meeting official tests was not enough. The contenders also had to score on petty officer ratings, approval from their division officer, their executive officer…and they had to obtain approval of Chief Myers. Gaining approval from Chief Myers was about as difficult in reaching Mount Everest without stopping for breath.

Chief Myers, with a small crew, could repair a shot-up plane brought in on an afternoon and have it ready for flying at 0400 next morning; that was after replacing a wing or a tail and checking all items including the compass. If the plane was beyond repair, he would hoist it onto the overhead and bring down a new one and make certain that everything worked. Then he would repaint the plane and put in all markings and insignia. He would do everything except replacing an engine. That chore was left to Chief Dodge. Before the Pearl Harbor attack, Chief Myers’ hair was black. A few months later it was totally gray.

My little black book shows that Swindell made 3.54 on the official exam, 3.8 on petty officer ability, good ratings from all commissioned officers, and an OK from Chief Myers. That was the highest rating ever given by Myers. In contrast, the other applicant for possible advancement to first class made 3.1 on the official exam, a 3.2 rating for petty officer ability, and was not recommended for advancement by the division officer, the executive officer or by Chief Myers.

Douglas SBD Dauntless bombers

SBDs over the burning Japanese cruiser Mikuma, 6 June 1942

Now let me give some indication of what an AOM1/c [Aviation Ordnanceman First Class] was expected to do, and how he must train those under him. On the night of 7 December 1941, our Torpedo Squadron Six and five of us in SBDs (carrying hydrofluoric acid for TBD smoke screen), and some F4F fighters searched late into the night to hit Japanese carriers. We couldn’t find any. Those F4F fighters were shot down by our people on Pearl Harbor. We SBDs landed on our ship ahead of the TBDs. One new TBD pilot, who had never landed on a carrier at night, made a rough landing. The torpedo broke loose, its propeller started twirling, meaning that it was armed and needed only a little bump on the nose to explode. “Slim” Townsend, the flight deck officer, saw it coming towards him at high speed. Slim jumped on it like a bucking bronco, steered it away from the island, and stopped it. Two ordnance men ran to it, disarmed it in two or three seconds, and helped place it on a cart, out of the way, allowing the next plane to land without circling.

 Swindell was not on any SBD of those 7 December 1941 flights. He and his crew were too busy putting depth charges, bombs and ammunition on aircraft. On 20 February 1942, AOM2/c Swindell flew with ENS M. A. Merrill in 6-S-19 on our attack against Wake Island, which had been captured by the Japanese. We sunk one ship in the harbor and damaged another ship as we made a “dog leg” heading back to our Enterprise. (We never went directly back to our ship because that would show the enemy our position.) We were tearing that ship apart, using left over ammunition, when a U.S. cruiser several miles away saw what was happening. She fired one salvo, sinking that ship. Only four Japanese survived. We captured them, interrogated them, and made them the first Japanese prisoners of war. Lots of damage was done to Wake Island from our dive bombers and from shells from our cruisers.

On 4 March 1942 Swindell flew with ENS Merrill in 6-S-3, making an attack on Marcus Island. Based on heavy cloud cover and many AA batteries aiming at us, it was hard to tell how much damage was inflicted on their hangars, storehouses, and oil and gasoline tanks. One thing we knew for certain: we clobbered their radio station. We heard Tokyo repeatedly calling Marcus to answer. They continued for the next 24 hours. Marcus never replied.

A photograph of 13 May 1942 has a caption showing that Swindell was now AOM1/c. Apparently a vacancy had opened for that petty officer slot. Almost always a slot opened only when the previous recipient was lost in battle.

On the morning of 4 June1942, Swindell flew with ENS J. Q. Roberts. I watched them dive on the Kaga, two planes ahead of me. They were in the fifth plane to dive. I never saw them again. I was too busy aiming my bombs on the Kaga. The official battle report states, “forced landing near Kaga.” Neither Roberts nor Swindell were ever found. All available evidence indicates that their plane was shot down by AA gunfire.

It took only four hits, only seconds apart, to demolish the Kaga. Each of us carried a 500-pound bomb and two 100-pound incendiaries. Additional hits were made, but many SBDs had to select other targets because flames and smoke obscured the carrier. The Battle of Midway was won in less than five minutes. That’s all the time it took to make three of the best Japanese carriers into balls of flame.

It might be noted that only the very best people occupied the rear seat of our SBDs in battle. Don Hoff, of Fresno, California, who was a Radioman 3/c at that time, assures me that AOM1/c Swindell had flown numerous previous flights. He was an expert in gunnery, and was capable of operating all the numerous radio equipment in our SBDs. That included knowing how to operate the new YE-ZB homing equipment. Not all SBD plane crews from other carriers were able to operate the new YE-ZB homing system. They landed on the ocean. Fortunately, most of those crews were picked up at the end of the battle.

Statistics show that our dive bombers were the best in the world and they sunk more Japanese military ships than any other method, including attacks by submarines and surface ships. That great method paid a high price. More than half of our original Scouting Six crews were lost in the first six months of WW II. Just imagine sitting on the back seat of an SBD during combat. You would face to the rear, holding twin .30 caliber machine guns, scanning the sky for Zeros, ready to shoot them down before they shoot you. Then, suddenly, you are plunged downward vertically at 250 miles per hour, pushing downward on your seat with a force of one ton at eight “G’s” after the pilot has dropped his bomb. Then you must be ready to aim at more Zeros. Then the pilot tells you to go on the air, or switch to the homing frequency, or give hand signals to nearby crews in Morse code. All of this requires securing the guns, reaching forward, changing radio coils, and moving dials accurately and quickly.

We pilots always received medals when our airplane and crew did something important. The enlisted man in the back seat was rarely mentioned. I would have been killed long ago had it not been for the skills of my RM3/c, John Snowden. As Educational Officer, I had selected him before other pilots noticed his abilities. He scored number one in all categories for promotion, the highest ever recorded in my little black book.

 
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