Archive for the 'World War II' Category

Nov 13

Eugene A. Barham: A JO Steps Up to the Plate

Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:01 AM

During combat, situations often arise that cause junior officers to step up to the plate, testing their mettle.

Eugene A. Barham’s critical moment came during the Guadalcanal campaign. “Slim” Barham had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and had become engineer officer of the destroyer Laffey at her commissioning on 31 March 1942. The Laffey spent the next 228 days in the Pacific, escorting aircraft carriers and trying to stop the “Tokyo Express” from delivering reinforcements down “the Slot” to Guadalcanal.

On Friday 13 November 1942, the Laffey and seven other American destroyers and five cruisers fought eleven Japanese destroyers, one cruiser, and two battleships in a naval melee that one U.S. skipper likened to “a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out.” The Laffey nearly got sliced in two by the Japanese battleship Hiei when she crossed the Hiei’s “T,” her stern clearing the battleship’s bow by less than 20 feet. As the Laffey moved off she poured fire from every available gun into the Hiei’s tall, pagoda-like superstructure, which seemed to collapse like a house of cards. A few minutes later, shells from three Japanese destroyers and the battleship Kirishima ripped into the Laffey while a torpedo blew off her stern. In an instant the once taut ship became a blazing, sinking wreck.

Barham was below at his post in the engineering spaces when the torpedo struck. All the lights went out and the temperature suddenly shot up as steam poured in. Barham ordered the spaces evacuated. All the men got out. Barham grabbed a flashlight and tried to return below to inspect the damage, but the engineering spaces were so hot that water pouring in began jumping up and down and boiling as soon as it hit the steel floor plates.

Barham returned topside and made a quick survey. The ship was strewn with dead and injured Sailors, some with their legs severed. One young Sailor, still conscious, lay on the deck, his broken legs pinned under twisted steel. Fires raged in the space below, heating the deck plates and scorching his flesh. Two torpedomen worked frantically to free him before he was cooked, blown away by incoming shells, or drowned by rising water.

Barham went to the bridge. He told the skipper that they had to abandon ship. The captain argued, but then gave Barham permission to get the men organized. The executive officer, who should have been performing this duty, had frozen. The men got the boats and rafts in the water, climbed on board when their turn came, and shoved off. Barham led the “swimming party” of twenty-five men, for whom there was no room on the boats and rafts. The swimming party jumped into the oil-covered water and swam for their lives. They got only about fifty to one hundred feet away when the destroyer exploded. With debris falling around him, Barham dove down under the water. When he could hold his breath no longer, he returned to the surface and watched the Laffey’s bow rear up and plunge beneath the surface.

Barham turned to look for the others in swimming party, but didn’t see anyone. He remained still and listened. Soon, he heard the chugging of a small motor. He pulled his flashlight from his pocket and flashed it in the direction of the sound. A boat appeared and the sailors on board fished him out of the water. As ranking officer, Barham took charge of the boat. He picked up several swimmers, put five life rafts under tow, and began pulling them toward Guadalcanal.

As the raft chain drew near the island, Higgins boats full of U.S. Marines picked up the Sailors and took them ashore. Most of the wounded survived. For his conduct that night Barham received the Bronze Star and command of his own destroyer. In 1958 he retired from the Navy at the rank of rear admiral.

Despite fires raging and enemy fire pouring on the Laffey, Barham managed to assess the situation, quickly determine what needed to be done, and take the steps necessary to save his men. Somehow he remained unafraid and stayed focused on the job throughout the ordeal. It was an innate courage, the kind that can’t be taught, that enabled him to keep his cool under the most intense stress imaginable and to put saving lives above taking a chance at glory.

Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, himself a World War II destroyerman, once said that an officer has only seconds to make decisions in combat. “If he waits too long,” Burke declared, “he’s useless, which is worse than being dead.” Eugene A. Barham had mustered his courage in the nick of time.

 
Nov 13

Sullivan Brothers Lost at Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942

Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:01 AM

On 13 November 1942 the light cruiser Juneau (CL 52) sank off Guadalcanal, with the loss of all but ten of her crew. Among the dead were all five brothers of the Sullivan family from Waterloo, Iowa. Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan had enlisted together on 3 January 1942, with condition that they be allowed to serve on the same ship. News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice, extensive newspaper and radio coverage, and war bond drives and other patriotic campaigns which culminated in the 1944 movie, “The Sullivans.”

Their sister Genevieve enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and, with her parents, visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary, Navy Department. According to a 9 February 1943 Navy Department Press Release, the Sullivans “visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so that the war may come to an end sooner.” By January 1944 the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio.

On 10 February 1943 the Navy officially canceled the name Putnam (DD 537) and assigned the name The Sullivans to a destroyer under construction. Sponsored by Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, mother of the five Sullivan brothers, and commissioned 30 September 1943, The Sullivans served the Navy until decommissioning on 7 January 1965. In 1977 the destroyer was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. The second The Sullivans (DDG 68) was laid down on 14 June 1993 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Co. and launched on 12 August 1995 sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan. Commissioned on 19 April 1997 at Staten Island, New York, under the command of Commander Gerard D. Roncolato, the ship’s motto, “We Stick Together,” echoes the determination and dedication of the brothers for which the ship was named.

 
Nov 6

Neutrality Patrol Seizes German Prize, 6 November 1941

Sunday, November 6, 2011 12:01 AM

While on neutrality patrol in the Atlantic Ocean near the Equator on 6 November 1941, the light cruiser OMAHA (CL 4) and the destroyer SOMERS (DD 381) sighted a suspicious vessel.

Although flying the American flag and carrying the name WILLMOTO of Philadelphia on her stern, the freighter refused to satisfactorily identify herself and took evasive actions. The Americans ordered the stranger to heave to. As OMAHA’s crew dispatched a boarding party, the freighter’s crew took to life boats and hoisted a signal which indicated that the ship was sinking.

When the OMAHA party pulled alongside they could hear explosions from within the hull, further arousing their suspicions. Upon boarding they soon discovered that their quarry was the German blockade runner ODENWALD. Only one of the ship’s generators was operating and selected watertight doors were open, clearly indicating that the crew was attempting to scuttle her. In spite of the dangerous conditions, in short order the men from OMAHA salvaged the vessel, rendered her safe, and had her underway for Puerto Rico.

In 1947 the crews of SOMERS and OMAHA were awarded salvage money by the United States District Court for Puerto Rico for their prize.

 
Oct 31

First U.S. Ship Lost in WWII, 31 October 1941

Monday, October 31, 2011 12:01 AM

Commissioned on 24 September 1920, the destroyer REUBEN JAMES (DD 245) served in the Atlantic Fleet, operating in the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and off Nicaragua, before decommissioning at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 20 January 1931.

She recommissioned on 9 March 1932, and upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 she joined the Neutrality Patrol, guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941 REUBEN JAMES joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of war materials to Britain. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, where they became the responsibility of British escorts.

Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, she sailed from Argentia, Newfoundland, on 23 October 1941, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX-156.

At about 0525 on 31 October 1941, REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed by German submarine U-562. Her magazine exploded, and she sank quickly. Forty-four of the crew survived, and 115 died. REUBEN JAMES was the first U.S. Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II.

 
Oct 26

Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, 26 October 1942

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 12:01 AM

The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands occurred when Task Forces 16 and 17, under Rear Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid and Rear Adm. George D. Murray, respectively, fought numerically superior Japanese forces under Vice Adm. Nagumo Chuichi that supported an overland thrust by Japanese troops at Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.

SBD-3 Dauntlesses of VB-8 and VS-8 from HORNET (CV 8) damaged the carrier SHOKAKU and the destroyer TERUTSUKI, and TBF-1 Avengers of VT-6 from HORNET damaged the heavy cruiser CHIKUMA. In addition, Dauntlesses of VS-10 from ENTERPRISE (CV 6) damaged the light carrier ZUIHO. Japanese planes from SHOKAKU and the light carrier JUNYO twice damaged ENTERPRISE, however, killing 44 men and wounding 75 more. Aircraft from SHOKAKU, ZUIKAKU, and JUNYO tore into HORNET in a coordinated attack, during which in barely 10 minutes two torpedoes, four bombs, and a crashing Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bomber struck HORNET, setting her ablaze.

While HUGHES (DD 410), which had been damaged by friendly fire earlier in the action, aided the battle against Hornet’s fires and took off survivors, the destroyer collided with the carrier. The destroyers ANDERSON (DD 411) and MUSTIN (DD 413) attempted to scuttle the irreparably damaged HORNET with gunfire and torpedoes, but she defiantly remained afloat. The Japanese destroyers AKIGUMO and MAKIGUMO sank HORNET the following day.

Meanwhile, Japanese aircraft from JUNYO damaged the battleship SOUTH DAKOTA (BB 57) and the light cruiser SAN JUAN (CL 54); a crashing carrier attack plane struck the destroyer SMITH (DD 378); and a battle-damaged TBF-1 from VT-10 accidentally torpedoed the destroyer PORTER (DD 356) as the Avenger ditched. PORTER was deemed beyond salvage and scuttled by the destroyer SHAW (DD 373). The Japanese lost almost 100 planes and the Americans 74.

While this battle was a tactical naval victory for the Japanese, U.S. Marines and soldiers repulsed the enemy’s simultaneous land offensive on Guadalcanal, thwarting the Japanese from fully exploiting their triumph and thus conferring a strategic victory to the Americans. The dwindling number of Japanese carrier planes failed to destroy Henderson Field, and fuel shortages compelled the Combined Fleet to retire on Truk Lagoon in the Caroline Islands and to eventually surrender control of the skies above the sea routes to Guadalcanal.

 
Oct 24

USS PRINCETON (CVL 23) Sunk, 24 October 1944

Monday, October 24, 2011 12:01 AM

 At daybreak on 24 October 1944, as Japanese navy forces approached the Philippines from the north and west, Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman’s Task Group 38.3 was operating more than a hundred miles east of central Luzon. With other elements of Admiral William F. Halsey’s Third Fleet, TG38.3 had spent the last several days pounding enemy targets ashore in support of the Leyte invasion operation. This morning Sherman’s four carriers, ESSEX (CV 9), LEXINGTON (CV 16), PRINCETON (CVL 23), and LANGLEY (CVL 27), had sent off fighters for self-protection and other planes on search missions. Still more aircraft were on deck, ready for attack missions.

Though the Japanese had sent out many aircraft to strike the Third Fleet, most were shot down or driven away. However one “Judy” dive bomber made it through and at 0938 planted a 250-kilogram bomb on PRINCETON’s flight deck, somewhat aft of amidships. It exploded in the crew’s galley after passing through the hangar, in which were parked six TBM bombers, each with full gasoline tanks and a torpedo. In its passage the bomb struck one of these planes, which was almost immediately ablaze. The carrier’s firefighting sprinklers did not activate and the entire hangar space was quickly engulfed, while smoke penetrated compartments below. PRINCETON was still underway, but at 1002 a heavy explosion rocked the after part of the hangar. This blast was followed by three more, which heaved up the flight deck, blew out both aircraft elevators, and quickly made much of the ship uninhabitable.

With all but emergency generator power gone, and much of her crew abandoning ship, PRINCETON now depended on the light cruisers BIRMINGHAM (CL 62) and RENO (CL 96), plus the destroyers IRWIN (DD 794) and MORRISON (DD 560), to help fight her fires. While alongside, MORRISON’s superstructure was seriously damaged when she became entangled in PRINCETON’s projecting structures. After more than three hours’ work, with the remaining fires almost under control, a report of approaching enemy forces forced the other ships to pull away. By the time they returned, PRINCETON was again burning vigorously, heating a bomb storage space near her after hangar. At 1523, as BIRMINGHAM came alongside, these bombs detonated violently, blowing off the carrier’s stern, showering the cruiser’s topsides with fragments, and killing hundreds of men. There was now no hope that PRINCETON could be saved. Her remaining crewmen were taken off and IRWIN attempted to scuttle her with torpedoes and gunfire, but with no success. Finally, RENO was called in to finish the job. One of her torpedoes hit near the burning ship’s forward bomb magazine and PRINCETON disappeared in a tremendous explosion. She was the first U.S. fleet carrier sunk in more than two years, and the last lost during the Pacific War.

 
Oct 17

Innovative Scientific Analysis Tool at Underwater Archaeology Conservation Lab

Monday, October 17, 2011 1:54 PM

Dr. Raymond Hayes (left) and Head Conservator George Schwarz examine p-XRF data taken from a Civil War-era Aston pistol recovered from USS HOUSATONIC at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory.

NHHC volunteer, Dr. Raymond Hayes, Professor Emeritus at Howard University, Washington DC, and Woods Hole Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, has partnered with the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory (UACL) to analyze archaeological materials from historic naval shipwrecks.

Dr. Hayes has been awarded a Research & Discovery Grant from Olympus INNOV-X to examine archaeological components from shipwrecks using an innovative Delta portable X-Ray Fluorescence (pXRF) unit. This state-of-the-art technology uses an x-ray beam to identify the specific elements present within archaeological material. Dr. Hayes’ research endeavors to use this data to trace the elemental composition of a wood sample back to original construction materials, marine sediments, and sealing or fastening materials applied to wooden ships. Included in the study are data from USS Housatonic, USS Tulip, and CSS Alabama, as well as recently recovered artifacts from the 2011 USS Scorpion field project, the archaeological investigation of a Patuxent River shipwreck believed to be the flagship of the Chesapeake Bay Flotilla, which fought to defend Washington D.C. from the British during the War of 1812. As part of the Navy’s commemoration of the Flotilla’s important role in the War of 1812, a full excavation of the USS Scorpion site is anticipated.

Scientific technologies like pXRF provide archaeologists and conservators valuable chemical information that can be used to better conserve and interpret submerged cultural heritage. An innovative feature of pXRF devices is that they can be used in both the laboratory and the field to analyze artifacts recovered from wet environments. Artifacts from underwater sites can be difficult to initially identify as they may be encased within thick concretions or obscured by unidentifiable corrosion products, however, pXRF data can give archaeologists data which can signal the presence of an artifact. 

Detail of portable X-Ray Fluorescence machine collecting data from Civil War-era pistol.

Following recovery from underwater archaeological sites, artifacts are particularly susceptible to damage caused by soluble salts (e.g., chlorides) accumulated from the water or sediment that surrounded them for decades or even centuries. If allowed to crystallize, the salts expand and cause catastrophic damage which may result in complete destruction of the artifact. Data from pXRF can determine the concentration of chlorine within an artifact to help conservators understand the degree of salt contamination and mitigate it properly. During conservation, pXRF can help conservators develop the most optimal treatment plan for artifacts and reveal the presence of toxic components, such as lead, cadmium or arsenic. Comparative data may also reveal similarities or differences in artifact composition that could suggest age and geographic origins.

This is only one part of the extensive research that goes on at the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Lab, where over 2300 artifacts recovered from US Navy shipwrecks and aircraft wrecks are curated, 140 of which are currently undergoing active conservation treatment. The Laboratory, located in BL 46 of WNYD, also hosts public tours showcasing important artifacts that span from the American Revolution to World War II and make the Navy’s history come alive! Please feel free to contact us anytime (202.433.9731) if you’d like to visit!

 For more information about the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch and the Underwater Archaeology & Conservation Laboratory, please visit http://www.history.navy.mil/underwater.

 
Sep 15

Landings on Peleliu, 15 September 1944

Thursday, September 15, 2011 12:01 AM

Operation Stalemate II—the landing of the 1st Marine Division on Peleliu—began on 15 September 1944. Aircraft of Task Group 38.4 and four escort carriers of Carrier Unit One, Rear Admiral William D. Sample commanding, supported the Marines with bombing and strafing runs. The Japanese had prepared the main line of resistance inland from the beaches to escape naval bombardment, however, and three preceding days of carrier air attacks and intense naval gunfire had failed to suppress the well dug-in and tenacious defenders, who fiercely contested the island.

The fleet carriers supported the landing until 18 September, and a total of 10 escort carriers operating in Task Group 32.7, Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie commanding, continued the battle until the end of the month. Soldiers of the Army’s 81st Division reinforced the Marines, and the final Japanese survivors surrendered on 1 February 1945.

 
« Older Entries Newer Entries »