Monday, December 31, 2012

Battle of Murfreesboro at 150

On December 31, 1862, advancing forces under Union general William Rosecrans fought a pitched battle with Confederate general Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Both generals formed plans of attack, but Bragg struck first, pulverizing the Union right flank with two veteran divisions. False reports indicating a Union retreat kept Bragg in place on January 1, but January 2 dawned with Rosecrans stubbornly holding his ground. Bragg ordered Gen. John Breckinridge and his division to charge the Union left late in the afternoon. Breckinridge’s men crossed an open field and nearly achieved a breakthrough, but massed artillery broke up the assault at the climactic moment. Although the battle to that point had been a tactical draw, the arrival of Union reinforcements made Bragg’s position untenable. He retreated on January 3, granting the North a valuable strategic victory in the middle of an otherwise dismal winter.

Source: Civil War Trust


My great grandfather Nathan R. Oakes was one of the combatants in this battle. To view my blog about him and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in which he served, please visit:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Challenging repairs to the Pensacola

On today's date, my dad's ship, the USS Vestal, began emergency repairs to the heavy cruiser, USS Pensacola. The cruiser had received heavy torpedo damage during the Battle of Tassafaronga, off Guadalcanal, on November 30. The aft damage was so extensive that Pensacola's stern was barely attached to the rest of the ship,  and it swayed with the current. A few frames, some hull plating, and one propeller shaft were practically all that still held the aftermost section to the rest of the ship. Much of the damage was underwater. Vestal's commanding officer, W.T. Singer, would later recount, "Never had an AR (repair ship) been presented with such a task; no records on how it should best be done were available."

Only by trial and error, and utilizing previous experience, was the repair crew able to complete its enormous task. The hole was plugged and braced for stability, and compartments were sealed and pumped out. Three 7-ton propellers were pulled off to reduce drag. "One has to be something of an artificer," her commander recounted, "... to realize the problems that came up to do with this job, such as underwater welding and cutting, which was still a fairly new thing." The commander continues his report saying that repair crews even resorted to dynamite to jar one propeller loose and had to cut through the shaft of another. My father, 19-year old Frank Dolan, working as a diver on that shaft, later said: "I cut off one of the propeller shafts on the Pensacola and let it fall to the bottom.” Repairs were completed on January 7.

USS Vestal repairing USS Pensacola, December 1942
Emergency repairs to the Pensacola were completed, and the ship was readied for sailing to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs 1 month later.

Battle damage to USS Pensacola
Close-up of damage area
Vestal's repairmen cutting away wreckage
Hole made by torpedo after wreckage is cleared away

After distinguished service throughout the remainder of the war, the Pensacola's last assignment was to participate in the nuclear bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946. The purpose of the testing was to investigate the effect of nuclear weapons on naval ships. Pensacola's final service was as the target ship. Surviving the tests she was she decommissioned that year. After completing radiological and structural studies on her hulk, she later was sunk off the Washington coast.

The USS Pensacola received 13 Battle Stars for her WWII service.

Sources: Naval History and Heritage Command home page; NavSource Online; USS Vestal War Diary, December 1942 & January 1943; Frank L. Dolan's Service Records and his oral account; Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"Holiday routine"

"Anchored Espiritu Santo Island, New Hebrides. Holiday routine."

From the War Diary of the USS Vestal, December 25, 1942

John Donne's Annunciation & Nativity

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.
John Donne, 1572-1631

Monday, December 17, 2012

A bittersweet mile marker

Today marks my folks' wedding anniversary. Although Dad is no longer with us in this life, we share his hope that we will one day meet again. So happy to have Mom with us to remember Dad's lifeand theirs together for over 60 years. Their marriage is a beacon of hope and happiness that this life can only glimpse of that which to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pat's Students' Recital

Congratulations to my wife, Pat, and her students that performed in their Christmas recital this afternoon!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pearl Harbor 71 Years Ago: A sailor's first-hand account of that infamous day

My dad, Frank L. Dolan, was an 18-year old U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the auxiliary repair ship USS Vestal during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 71 years ago on today's date in 1941. I am reprinting the original post about his experience on that fateful day.


My dad, Frank Dolan, was a weldor on the repair ship USS Vestal, tied alongside the battleship USS Arizona, when the surprise Japanese attack came.* He remembered the events that unfolded at Pearl Harbor on this date in 1941 like this...
Sunday was "holiday routine"… a no-work day. The officers and men would ‘sleep-in,’ but not me. I was eager to get my ratings. So, after morning chow, I went to the foc’sle… which was an upper deck in the forward part of the ship, to do my studying… Noise! A loud noise! A loud, booming noise came! Then came the roar of airplanes. I looked over the starboard (right) side of the ship and saw planes—many planes. Some were overhead, but many were just a few feet above the water. They were launching what I thought were “dummy” torpedoes. "Neat, real neat!" I thought. But when the first one exploded against a battleship’s side, I thought some dumb American pilot dropped a real live torpedo by accident.
Japanese aerial photo of the attack 
Even as torpedoes were exploding on impact against the sides of the battleships, I told myself there must be some mistake. The planes were so close we could easily see the pilots. Then the red ball designation of the Japanese on the sides of the planes came into view. Immediately I was off the foc’csle down the port passageway aft on the main deck and onto the starboard side to watch. Again, I was not really believing what I was witnessing. More torpedo planes, and then came the dive bombers. I had no battle station as at this time we were at peace with Japan, and had only one 3-inch anti-aircraft gun, and a couple of Thompson machine guns on board. Our 5-inch broadside guns were for use against surface craft.
My next move was to head for the weld shop. To get there I had to go down a ladder through the carpenter shop and then amidships to the weld shop. No sooner had I got down the ladder when a bomb came through the carpenter shop hitting the ladder I had just come down. There were numerous casualties in the carpenter shop. One shipmate was decapitated. Immediately, I went to the weld shop. Half of the men there had been sleeping or were just awakening and were asking, "What was up?" The other men and I told them the Japs were here. I looked toward the small hatch opening that I had just come through to get to our shop. "Ski," a shipmate, had just come into the shop looking very pale and wobbly. We grabbed him and laid him on a cot, face-down, as we discovered that both cheeks of his backside were torn off and hardly any flesh remained. This was the result of the bomb that had come through the carpenter shop. In the meantime, another bomb hit the forward part of our ship on the starboard side near where I had been studying a few minutes earlier.
USS Arizona
Dad recalled that at about the time the second bomb hit the forward part of the Vestal, on the starboard side near where he had been studying a few minutes earlier, was when the Arizona exploded. While he was below decks at that moment, he did not then know what had happened, although it was a “shaking experience” for him. “When the Arizona blew up and was broken in two, my first thought from below deck was that our acetylene and oxygen cylinders, which were topside and near the great explosion, had blown up. Soon afterward, we learned that it was the Arizona. And, later on, with all of the burned survivors, we knew for sure what had happened.”

Amazingly, of the 400 men on the Vestal, only 6 were lost, although many were seriously injured. Among the many deeds of brave men, the Vestal’s captain, Cassin Young, received the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions that day. On the other hand, the losses to the Arizona were horrific. More than 1,100 Sailors and Marines still lie entombed within its sunken hull. Over 50 Sailors lie within the submerged Utah.

Dad recounted his experience of this “date which will live in infamy” in his narrative, Pearl Harbor: As I Remember.

* A profound experience from my childhood was to personally meet Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese commander who led the first attack wave on Pearl Harbor, and who immortalized the words, Tora, Tora, Tora. When I was about 10, my dad insisted that I go with him to a Youth for Christ meeting in San Diego, where this remarkable man and former enemy of the United States was speaking. Years after the Pearl Harbor attack, Fuchida became a Christian in a remarkable conversion to the Christian faith. I wrote about the experience in the post,  Meeting God's Samurai.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Repairs to the USS Curtiss

When Dad returned to Espiritu Santo from work on the Enterprise, one of the ships under repair was the USS Curtiss. This is at least the second time that crews from the Vestal did battle damage repair work on the Curtiss. Just a week after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, Dad was temporarily transferred to the Curtiss, a seaplane tender, to assist with the emergency repairs so the severely damaged ship could safely return to the states for permanent restoration.

Now, in 1942 and into 1943, Curtiss is stationed at Nouméa, New Caledonia, and Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. While at Espiritu Santo she served as a flagship for Commander, Naval Air, South Pacific, then supported aircraft and repaired warships during the Guadalcanal and Central Solomons campaigns. Now, in need of urgent repairs herself, from December 2-9, she is attended to by crewmen from Vestal. Throughout her repairs, Curtiss continued to tend planes for the squadron that were searching for enemy submarines.

USS Curtiss, 1942
Source: NavSource Online

Launched in 1942, the USS Curtiss was one of the newer ships in the fleet. Curtiss will see service, often as a flagship, throughout the war in the Pacific. She was serving in Okinawa in June 1945, when a kamikaze ripped her hull and exploded on the third deck, killing 35 and wounding 21 of her crew. After the war, Curtiss participated in various assignments, including ferrying atom bombs for nuclear tests at Eniwetok in 1948 and again in 1956. She also saw action in the Korea War. The Curtiss was decommissioned in 1957, and sold for scrap in 1972.

The USS Curtiss received 7 Battle Stars for her WWII service.

Sources: Vestal War Diary, December 1942; Wikipedia

Dad rejoins his ship at Espiritu Santo

70 years ago on this date in 1942, having served as part of Vestal's temporary repair crews on the Enterprise during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, then returning via the South DakotaPrometheus, and Tryon, Dad finally rejoins his ship at the naval harbor in Espiritu Santo (Code Name: "Button").

The Vestal will spend the 12 months here completing repairs to battle-damaged ships from naval engagements in the Solomons in late 1942 and early 1943. Some of the ships awaiting urgent repairs included the heavy cruiser Pensacola, light cruiser Helena, submarine Argonaut, carrier Enterprise, escort carrier Nassau, destroyers Southard, MeadeAnderson, and Ellet, seaplane tender Curtis, and subchaser PC-477. A host of other ships received routine repairs. And this was just in the month of December!

But tomorrow, exactly 1 year since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entrance into WWII, Dad will return to the rhythm and routine of repairing damaged ships of the fleet. Business as usual.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's Service Records; USS Vestal War Diary, December 1942

Friday, November 30, 2012

14 days

Coming on December 14th
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Here's to hoping it's faithful to Tolkien's vision.

The Battle of Tassafaronga, 1942

The Battle of Tassafaronga ("Fourth Battle of Savo Island") was a nighttime naval engagement that took place November 30, 1942, between United States Navy and Imperial Japanese Navy warships during the Guadalcanal campaign. The battle took place in Iron Bottom Sound* near Tassafaronga on Guadalcanal.

In the battle, a US warship force of 5 cruisers and 4 destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Carleton H. Wright, attempted to surprise and destroy a Japanese warship force of 8 destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Raizo Tanaka, who was attempting to deliver food supplies to Japanese forces on Guadalcanal.

Guided by radar, the US warships opened fire and sank a Japanese destroyer. The Japanese, however, reacted quickly and launched numerous torpedoes at the US warships. The torpedoes hit and sank 1 US cruiser and heavily damaged 3 others, enabling the rest of Tanaka's force to escape without significant additional damage, but also without completing the mission of delivering the food supplies. Although a severe tactical defeat for the US, the battle had little strategic impact for the Japanese, as they were unable to take advantage of the victory to assist in driving Allied forces from Guadalcanal.

Several ships damaged at the Battle of Tassafaronga were sent to Espiritu Santo, where repair crews, my dad among them, were waiting. Over the next year, his ship, Vestal, will undertake 5,603 jobs on 279 ships and 24 shore facilities.

* So named for the number of ships and planes sunk there during the earlier Battle of Guadalcanal. Prior to the war, it was called Sealark Channel. Every year on the battle's anniversary, a U.S. ship cruises into the waters and drops a wreath to commemorate those who lost their lives. For many Navy sailors, and those that served in the area during that time, these waters are considered sacred, and strict silence is observed as ships cruise through.

Source: Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Emergency repairs to the Zeilin

One of many ships requiring emergency repairs by my dad's ship, Vestal, at Espiritu Santo on this date in 1942, was the USS Zeilin, a Harris-class attack transport vessel. Zeilin was designed to transport troops and their equipment for amphibious invasions. The ship was well armed with antiaircraft weapons to protect itself and the vulnerable  troops it carried from air attack in a battle zone.

On November 11, off Guadalcanal, Zeilin and the light cruiser, Atlanta, with destroyers and other auxiliaries, engaged 9 Japanese dive bombers. Zeilin's gunners set one plane on fire. However, 1 enemy bomb scored a damaging hit, cracking and rupturing the ship's hull plating. A second attack an hour later by 27 bombers was repulsed with anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes from Henderson Field.

Though damaged and listing, Zeilin carried casualties to Espiritu Santo, where the ship received emergency repairs by the Vestal. The repair ship's crew was able to repair the Zeilin by November 26, and it sailed to the states for permanent repair work.

Source: Naval Historical Center

Zeilin continued to see a lot of important and dangerous service throughout the war. She earned 8 battle stars before her decommissioning in 1946. Sadly, like so many WWII ships that helped to win the war, Zeilin was consigned to scrap in 1948.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Repairs to the USS San Francisco

On this date in 1942, Dad's repair ship, Vestal, while at Espiritu Santo, began emergency repairs to the USS San Francisco, which had received serious damage in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. At the time, Dad was still serving on the carrier Enterprise, completing emergency repairs, even while that naval battle raged.

In that famous sea battle, San Francisco engaged and hit 3 enemy ships, sinking 1 of them. At  one point, she battled at point-blank range with an enemy battleship, Hiei, which was heavily her superior in size and firepower. She silenced the battleship’s guns, and so disabled her that she could be sunk by torpedoes from US destroyers and aircraft. Unfortunately, San Francisco was seriously damaged in the fight, taking 45 hits. 77 sailors, including Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young were killed, along with almost all of the other officers on the navigation bridge. 105 other sailors were wounded, and 7 were reported missing. Structural damage to the ship was extensive.

USS President Jackson maneuvering under Japanese air attack in the Naval Battle
of Guadalcanal. In the center background is smoke from an enemy plane
having just crashed into the after superstructure of
San Francisco.

Vestal was called upon to complete temporary repairs, and the San Francisco was able to sail to the states for overhaul on the 23rd. What made this repair job particularly poignant for Vestal's crew was the death of Captain Young. Young had commanded the Vestal during the surprise Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor 11 months earlier. Having received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Pearl Harbor attack, Young was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in this battle.

Source: NavSource Online

Launched in 1933, the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco became one of the most decorated ships of WWII, earning 17 Battle Stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. Fighting back in the Pearl Harbor attack, she continued to see extensive action, later during the Guadalcanal Campaign, including the Battle of Cape Esperance and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, during which she was heavily damaged and her captain and admiral killed. She served admirably in the Pacific Theater all the way through Okinawa and the preparation for the invasion of the Japanese home islands. The USS San Francisco was decommissioned in 1946 and suffered the ignominious demise of being rendered into scrap in 1961.

Sources: Naval Historical Center; USS Vestal War Diary, November 1942

Friday, November 16, 2012

Aristotle on “Elderly Men”

I reached a milestone of sorts today, my birthday, and it's a big one. I decided to reread Aristotle's famous description of the characteristics of those he categorized as "elderly men," in his day—those 50 and above. In some ways, after 24 centuries, his portrayal is still on the mark.
Let us now consider the various types of human character, in relation to the emotions and moral qualities, showing how they correspond to our various ages and fortunes…
The character of the Elderly Men—men who are past their prime—may be said to be formed for the most part of elements that are the contrary of all these. They have lived many years; they have often been taken in, and often made mistakes; and life on the whole is a bad business. The result is that they are sure about nothing and under-do everything. They ‘think’, but they never ‘know’; and because of their hesitation they always add a ‘possibly’ or a ‘perhaps’, putting everything this way and nothing positively. They are cynical; that is, they tend to put the worse construction on everything. Further, their experience makes them distrustful and therefore suspicious of evil. Consequently they neither love warmly nor hate bitterly, but following the hint of Bias they love as though they will some day hate and hate as though they will some day love. They are small-minded, because they have been humbled by life:  their desires are set upon nothing more exalted or unusual than what will help them to keep alive. They are not generous, because money is one of the things they must have, and at the same time their experience has taught them how hard it is to get and how easy to lose. They are cowardly, and are always anticipating danger; unlike that of the young, who are warm-blooded, their temperament is chilly; old age has paved the way for cowardice; fear is, in fact, a form of chill. They love life; and all the more when their last day has come, because the object of all desire is something we have not got, and also because we desire most strongly that which we need most urgently. They are too fond of themselves; this is one form that small-mindedness takes. Because of this, they guide their lives too much by considerations of what is useful and too little by what is noble—for the useful is what is good for oneself, and the noble what is good absolutely. They are not shy, but shameless rather; caring less for what is noble than for what is useful, they feel contempt for what people may think of them. They lack confidence in the future; partly through experience—for most things go wrong, or anyhow turn out worse than one expects; and partly because of their cowardice. They live by memory rather than by hope; for what is left to them of life is but little as compared with the long past; and hope is of the future, memory of the past. This, again, is the cause of their loquacity; they are continually talking of the past, because they enjoy remembering it. Their fits of anger are sudden but feeble. Their sensual passions have either altogether gone or have lost their vigor:  consequently they do not feel their passions much, and their actions are inspired less by what they do feel than by the love of gain. Hence men at this time of life are often supposed to have a self-controlled character; the fact is that their passions have slackened, and they are slaves to the love of gain. They guide their lives by reasoning more than by moral feeling; reasoning being directed to utility and moral feeling to moral goodness. If they wrong others, they mean to injure them, not to insult them.  Old men feel pity, as well as young men, but not for the same reason. Young men feel it out of kindness; old men out of weakness, imagining that anything that befalls anyone else might easily happen to them, which, as we saw, is a thought that excites pity. Hence they are querulous, and not disposed to jesting or laughter—the love of laughter being the very opposite of querulousness.

From The Rhetoric and the Poetics of Aristotle, 2:13

USS Vestal arrives at Espiritu Santo

On this date in 1942, my dad's repair ship, the USS Vestal, having sailed from Nouméa, arrives at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.

Espiritu Santo is the largest island in the tiny modern nation of Vanuatu. At the time of the war, however, France and the UK jointly administered the New Hebrides island group. But after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Espiritu Santo became vital as a military supply and support base. In May 1942, Americans arrived on Espiritu Santo and began building a Quonset hut city, which in the months ahead, would be complete with telephones, radio station, movie houses, paved roads, bridges, airfields and, importantly, a naval harbor. Many buildings and facilities built during the war are still in use.

When the Americans arrived, most of the island population lived in small villages with little access to the outside world. But after the military base was established, the course of history for this sleepy Pacific island was changed forever. During the war, there were over 100 ships at a time anchored in the harbor. Up to 47,000 men were stationed permanently on the island and over half a million, including military from New Zealand and Australia, passed through on their way to other destinations.

The writer, James Michener, was just one of thousands of U.S. Navy personnel to be stationed at Espiritu Santo. So taken was he by the people, the sights, and life on the island, that he memorialized it all in his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific.* He wrote much of the book while stationed on the island, apparently after hours by the light of a kerosene lamp.

When Vestal arrived on today's date, however, Dad was still on the carrier Enterprise. After repairs were completed, he and the temporary repair crews from Vestal had to sail with their welding gear on the South Dakota, Prometheus, and other ships to join the Vestal at Espiritu Santo on December 6.

At Espiritu Santo, Vestal will began a year’s schedule of repair service. During the next 12 months, this repair ship will undertake 5,603 jobs on 279 ships and 24 shore facilities. Some of the outstanding repair jobs were on combatant ships that were damaged during the bitter naval engagements in the Solomons in late 1942 and early 1943.


* Tales of the South Pacific was published in 1947. The book earned Michener the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948. Rodgers and Hammerstein created a 1949 Broadway hit out of the book, shortening the title to simply South Pacific. The musical was adapted to film in 1958.

Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V; Vestal War Diary, November 1942; Frank L. Dolan's Service Records

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Death of Capt. Cassin Young

Cmdr. Cassin Young commanded my father's ship, the USS Vestal, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. For his actions that day he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He also was promoted to Captain in February 1942, and soon was given command of the heavy cruiser, USS San Francisco. Young commanded San Francisco in the Battle of Cape Esperance and the subsequent Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on this date in 1942, with great distinction. During the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Young guided his ship into action against a superior Japanese force. Sadly, while closely engaging the enemy battleship Hiei, a direct hit to the San Francisco's navigation bridge killed Young, Rear Adm. Daniel Judson Callaghan, and almost all of the officers there on today's date in 1942. Captain Young was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the campaign, and San Francisco received the Presidential Unit Citation.

Dad remembered Commander Young as a personable man who earned his respect and that of the entire crew. He always spoke highly of Young over the years after the war. Since his personal gear onboard the Vestal was stowed near the captain’s deck, Dad said that he saw and saluted Cmdr. Young often.

Capt. Cassin Young receives his Medal of Honor from
Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, while commanding the USS Vestal
April 1942
Source: NavSource

Captain Young's name is inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial (Fort William McKinley Cemetery) in Manila, Philippines. The cemetery contains a total of 17, 201 graves, the largest number of graves of our military dead of World War II.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's personal account; NavSource; Find A Grave

USS Vestal sails to Espiritu Santo

Having spent 12 days at Nouméa, New Caledonia, completing repairs to 21 ships damaged in the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, my dad's ship, USS Vestal, left Nouméa on today's date, 1942, accompanied by the destroyer Ellet, and sailed to Espiritu Santo where it will begin a year’s schedule of repair service.

My dad, Frank Dolan, however, is not on board. He has been temporarily transferred with a repair crew of 56 from Vestal to the carrier, Enterprise, which is participating in a great naval battle in the Solomon Islands from November 12 to 15. Dad will be at work on Enterprise, even as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal rages.

The Pacific Theater in 1942
Source: Wikipedia

Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V, p. 496; Vestal War Diary, November 1942; Frank L. Dolan's Service Records

Monday, November 12, 2012

Serving on the Enterprise in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Battle of the Solomons) was fought on November 12-15 in 1942. It was a sequence of combined air and sea battles spread over 4 days around Guadalcanal. In extremely destructive naval and aerial combat, the US Navy sank or damaged a number of Japanese warships and transport ships, successfully thwarting Japan's last major attempt to dislodge Allied forces from Guadalcanal and nearby Tulagi. Like thousands of other sailors and airmen, my dad was a participant in this battle.

While still undergoing repairs at Nouméa, the carrier Enterprise, one of the most decorated ships of WWII, sailed on this date in 1942, from Nouméa for the Solomons to confront the Japanese in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. On board were crews from the repair ship Vestal, among which was my father, Frank Dolan, who continued repairing the carrier even as she engaged the enemy.

The battle had already started when the Enterprise arrived on the 13th. The "Big E" launched torpedo planes and fighter escorts that morning, scoring many hits on the enemy. On the morning of the 14th, aircraft from Enterprise, with bombers from Henderson Field on Guadalcanal, began their attack on the Japanese supply convoy, continuing throughout the day. They sank 7 enemy transport ships, shot down several Zeroes, and participated in sinking the Japanese battleship Hiei.

USS Enterprise at Nouméa, New Caledonia, 11/10/42, while undergoing repairs after the Battle of
Santa Cruz. The next day, she departed Nouméa to take part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
Source: NavSource Online: Aircraft Carrier Photo Archive

Dad recounted to me that as the battle neared on Friday the 13th, he was finishing repairs to Enterprise's forward elevator, which had been stuck in the down position. Although his crew completed repairs 2 hours before Enterprise engaged in the battle, due to fear of its sticking again and thereby blocking operations, the elevator was not used at all during the battle. While the fighting took place in the air on the 14th, my dad along a fellow crewman were assigned another urgent task: to weld the ship's leaking seams (damage from an earlier encounter with the enemy on Oct. 26) well below the waterline. Dad vividly remembered an armed Marine with an axe posted on a deck above him, at the ready in the event of an attack to cut the lines and seal the hatch. Of course, his action would also trap the men in the flooded compartment. Thankfully, the ship was never attacked, so the Marine's services were not required.

When the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal ended on November 15, Enterprise had helped sink 16 Japanese ships, including the battleship Hiei, and damaged 8 others. For its outstanding performance in this battle and in 6 previous engagements since February, Enterprise and its crew were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first ever awarded to a carrier. As a member of this crew at the time, Dad was entitled to wear the Presidential Unit Citation, although he chose not to do so. His service record indicates that later, back on board the Vestal, Dad was commended by his commanding officer at Meritorious Mast for "Excellent performance of duty... on board the  U.S.S. [Enterprisein action with the enemy; much of this work being accomplished while at sea."

From Frank L. Dolan's service Records
It was standard procedure during the war to omit a ship’s name, in this case, Enterprise,
so the enemy would not learn the name or location of a ship, or the extent of its damage.

Dad returned with Enterprise to Nouméa on November 16, to complete her repairs, then rejoined Vestal at Espiritu Santo in early December. Vestal crews will repair and refit Enterprise several more times throughout the war.

Sources: USS Enterprise's Action Report 13-15 November 1942; Frank L. Dolan's Service Records and his oral account

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Repairs to the "Big E"

While the aircraft carrier Enterprise was at Nouméa for repairs in early November, a new Japanese offensive against the Solomons required her presence. With the situation urgent, "Big E" sailed on today's date in 1942, with a repair crew of 56 sailors from the Vestal, including my dad, Frank Dolan, still at work on board at the start of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. An earlier bomb hit on Enterprise had buckled a 30- by 60-foot section of the aft flight deck, bulging it about 4 feet above deck level. The forward elevator was also out of commission, and there was no watertight integrity in some areas of the ship. Dad will have a role in each of these repair jobs over the next few days.

In the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Enterprise was damaged by 2 bomb hits and 2 near misses
Source: USS Enterprise CV-6

 The "Big E" was launched in 1936, and 1 of only 3 carriers to survive WWII. She participated in more major actions of the war against Japan than did any other U.S. ship. She earned 20 battle starsmore than any other ship during the warin addition to the Presidential Unit Citation. These actions included the Battles of Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf. On 3 separate occasions during the Pacific War, the Japanese announced that she had been sunk in battle, earning her the title "The Grey Ghost." The USS Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947, and sold for scrap in 1958. She is one of 6 U.S. Navy ships to bear that distinguished name. The 7th is scheduled for construction and due to be in service by 2025.

Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V; USS Vestal War Diary, November 1942; Frank L. Dolan's oral account; Wikipedia

Thursday, November 1, 2012

12 hectic days at Nouméa

My dad's ship, USS Vestal, had only arrived in Nouméa, New Caledonia yesterday in 1942. But today finds it already at work planning and estimating emergency repairs to 2 critical ships: the carrier USS Enterprise and the battleship USS South Dakota. Also lined up for repairs and service over the next 12 days are myriad other vessels, including the carrier Monterey, battleship Washington, heavy cruisers Northampton and Portland, light cruiser San Diego, destroyers Hughes, Maury, and Trevor, transport ships President Jackson, Crescent CityArgonne and Tryon, oiler Sabine, cargo ships Antares and Bellatrix, survey ship Sumner, and minesweeper Vireo. It was a busy few days for the men of the USS Vestal!

Source: USS Vestal War Diary, November 1942

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

USS Vestal arrives at Nouméa

On today's date in 1942, my dad's ship, the USS Vestal, arrived in Nouméa, Codenamed "White Poppy," on the island of the French colony, New Caledonia. Nouméa provided the only port on the island that could shelter navy ships of any size, which made it the main U.S. fleet base in the South Pacific. Vestal's timely arrival nearly coincided with the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on the 26th. The battleship South Dakota and the carrier Enterprise, two of the most heavily damaged ships, were waiting for repairs, which will begin tomorrow.

Both ships had suffered major damage. South Dakota had taken a bomb hit on one of her 16-inch gun turrets, had been torn by shrapnel, and had collided with the destroyer Mahan during the battle. The destroyer had not only holed the battleship’s starboard side but had left an anchor in the wardroom. Even though a Vestal's 76-man repair crew, working 3 shifts, were busy with Enterprise, they also went to work on the South Dakota, patching the hole at the waterline.* My dad worked with the crew that repaired the South Dakota's wardroom, removing Mahan’s anchor in the process.  The also patched shrapnel holes and put sprung hatches and damaged fire mains in order. The ship was back in action in only 5 days. This was the second time Dad worked on the South Dakota (the first was in early September).

During her time at Nouméa, Vestal will complete 158 jobs on 21 ships. She'll leave Nouméa on November 13, for Espiritu Santo, where she'll began a year’s schedule of repair service.

The Pacific Theater in 1942
Source: Wikipedia
* In fact, during this period Vestal crews were working in as many at 12 ships at once, in 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week.

Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V; USS Vestal War Diary, November 1942; Frank. L. Dolan's oral account

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Underway for Nouméa

On this date in 1942, my dad's ship, Vestal, received orders to sail to Nouméa, New Caledonia. His repair ship will arrive on the 31st, in time to begin repairs to ships damaged in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on the 26th. The battleship South Dakota and the carrier Enterprise, 2 of the most heavily damaged ships, will be waiting for repairs.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, 1942

The Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26, 1942, was the fourth carrier battle of the Pacific Campaign and the fourth major engagement fought between the US Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy, during the lengthy and strategically important Guadalcanal Campaign. The ships of the two adversaries were rarely in direct visual sight of each other. Instead, almost all attacks by both sides were mounted by carrier or land-based aircraft.

The Americans lost one carrier, the Hornet (CV-8), along with the destroyer Porter. The Enterprise was heavily damaged, as was the battleship South Dakota, in addition to the light cruiser San Juan and the destroyers Smith and Mahan. 81 aircraft were lost.

On the enemy's side, 3 Japanese warships were badly damaged and 99 planes were lost. Though technically a victory for Japan in terms of ships sunk, it came at a high cost for Japanese naval forces. Two damaged carriers were forced to return to Japan for extensive repairs and refitting. And the loss of pilots was a serious blow for Japan going forward. Admiral Nagumo will report: "This battle was a tactical win, but a shattering strategic loss for Japan. Considering the great superiority of our enemy's industrial capacity, we must win every battle overwhelmingly in order to win this war. This last one, although a victory, unfortunately, was not an overwhelming victory."

USS Enterprise at Battle of Santa Cruz
Source: Wikipedia

On today's date, my dad's ship, the USS Vestal, sailed to New Hebrides, but a change of orders brought her to New Caledonian waters instead, arriving in Nouméa on October 31. Her timely arrival nearly coincided with the Battle of Santa Cruz. The battleship South Dakota and the carrier Enterprise, 2 of the most heavily damaged ships at Santa Cruz, were waiting at Nouméa for repairs.

Sources: Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, V. 7: T-V; Wikipedia