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|
* 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