Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Arrival at Tongatabu

On today's date, in 1942, my dad's repair ship, USS Vestal, after spending a day at Suva in Fiji, arrived at Nukualofa on the island of Tongatabu. Twice on the voyage the Task Unit encountered an underwater object and had to take evasive action while a search was conducted.

Vestal arrives at Nukualofa on Tongatabu less than a month after the start of the invasion of the Solomon Islands and GuadalcanalNukualofa was Tonga's capital city and its principal port. There was deep anchorage off the north coast at Nukualofa, making it one of the best ports in Polynesia. Its location made it  an important base along the sea lanes from Australia and the U.S. West Coast. The island had a good road system, and the land was heavily cultivated, producing coconut, bananas, oranges, vanilla, and squash.

Sailors lived on board the Vestal in cramped conditions, and as Dad recalled, the food was terrible. Local natives came alongside to trade coconuts and bananas for clothing, sheets, and pillowcases. While some of the additions to the diet were welcome, apparently not all the local delicacies were agreeable. “I ate so many coconuts," Dad remembered decades later, "that I got sick and threw up later that night. It was the first and only time in my life I can remember.”

The Naval base on Tongatabu would have been extremely important if the Allies had lost the Battle of the Coral Sea (May 4-8), and the Japanese had moved against Fiji and Samoa. The Coral Sea victory ensured the safety of the Tongan nation, so the based was closed in November 1943.

Vestal will spend 60 days at Tongatabu, completing 963 repair jobs for 58 ships.

Sources: Frank L. Dolan's oral account; The Map Database

No comments:

Post a Comment