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

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bridges's True Community for free

Best selling Christian writer, Jerry Bridges, is making his new book, True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia, available for free on Kindle, or you can pay Amazon's price of $10.19 plus shipping. Who knows how long this deal will last!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Situation critical in the Guadalcanal Campaign

The Tokyo Express was the name given by the Allies to Japan's use of its navy at night to deliver personnel, supplies, and equipment to Japanese forces operating in and around New Guinea and the Solomon Islands during the Pacific campaign. The enemy's tactic involved loading personnel or supplies onto submarines and destroyers for quick and stealthy delivery, then return to base the same night. The ploy was so successful that Allied aircraft could not intercept them.

By mid-September, the Japanese were strong enough to make another attempt to capture the Marine's Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal. On September 12, General Kawaguchi Kiyotake led his men against Marine positions on a low grassy ridge south of Henderson Field, soon known as "Bloody Ridge." For 2 days and nights, the Japanese repeatedly assaulted the Marine line, pressing it back to the strategic airfield. The Marines held, losing 40 of their own men to 600 Japanese, and by dawn September 14, the Japanese were in retreat.

By this time, a fundamental shift in Japanese strategy had taken place. They now believed the key to success on Guadalcanal was to take back Henderson Field from the Marines and use it to fly there in planes. That would enable them to sweep the seas of the American fleet. As long as the Americans could operate the airfield, the Japanese couldn't build up a sufficient force to push the Americans out of the area.

The fighting around Guadalcanal steadily intensified. Nearly every night, the Tokyo Express landed more soldiers on Guadalcanal, while their daily air raids and nighttime bombardments continued. The Americans fought back, though. Between October 16th and 25th alone, Marine and Navy pilots downed 103 enemy planes and sank a cruiser, losing only 14 planes of their own. On the night of October 11-12, Rear Admiral Norman Scott's naval force, blasted a Japanese cruiser and destroyer force off Cape Esperance, west of Savo Island, in the Second Battle of Savo Island (Battle of Cape Esperance).

The situation was still critical for the Americans. In a bleak assessment of the American position, on today's date in 1942, Admiral Nimitz wrote:
It now appears that we are unable to control the sea in the Guadalcanal area. Thus our supply of the positions will only be done at great expense to us. The situation is not hopeless, but it is certainly critical.
That same day, Admiral Nimitz reached an important decision. Vice Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, Commander South Pacific Force, and his exhausted staff must be relieved. Nimitz chose Vice Admiral William F. Halsey to replace him. Ghormley, while understandably disappointed to be relieved, greeted Halsey graciously, later conceding to Nimitz that Halsey was the best man for the job ahead.

Halsey's arrival in Nouméa in New Caledonia boosted American morale throughout the region, as did his assurances to General Alexander A. Vandegrift, the Marine commander on Guadalcanal, that the Navy would give the Marines all possible support within its means. Halsey will be a man of his word.

On October 16th, the aircraft carrier, Enterprise, sailed to join the battleship, South Dakota, and together raced southwest for the Solomon Islands to meet the anticipated new Japanese offensive. On October 20th, the Japanese attacked the American position on Guadalcanal.

On October 23rd, as the American Marines and soldiers repelled a second violent Japanese assault, the "Big E" and her task force rendezvoused with the carrier, Hornet, east of Espiritu Santo, forming Task Force 61, under Rear Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. Halsey, anticipating a Japanese move near Guadalcanal, ordered Kinkaid to sweep north of the Santa Cruz Islands to engage the enemy's fleet.

On the 24th, in heavy rain, the Marines and soldiers fought off still another Japanese assault. At dawn  the next day, the US Navy force was steaming aggressively towards confrontation with the enemy in what would be called the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on October 26.

As the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal neared, my dad's repair ship, Vestal, was sailing for Nouméa. It arrived on October 31, almost simultaneously with South Dakota and Enterprise, which were both damaged in the battle and awaiting repairs.

Source: USS Enterprise CV-6: The Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Battle of Perryville at 150

150 years ago on today's date, the armies of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell finally meet, but not on a field of their choosing. Both armies were plagued by a lack of water. In fact, the first shots were fired over a meager water source. Soon, 16,000 men of Bragg's army were fiercely engaged with Buell's 60,000 men in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. When the battle is over the next day, Federal forces will suffer 845 dead, 2,851 wounded and 515 missing. The Confederate toll will be 3,396.

In 1899, my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Confederate Veteran, that the Battle of Perryville was “the first battle of consequence” in which his regiment participated. His regiment, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, suffered heavy losses in the battle, although the official reports are sparse. Most of the brigade commanders were wounded. Great Grandfather's colonel, Mark Lowrey, had to take command of the brigade after Gen. S.A.M. Wood was seriously wounded in the head. Lowrey was also painfully wounded in the left elbow.

The Battle of Perryville, October 8, 1842
Source: Civil War Trust
Wood's Brigade (of Buckner's Division) was in line of battle at the left of Cheatham's Division, and joined in a successful charge on the enemy, capturing the battery of Jackson's Division, after repeated charges in which they sustained many casualties (some of these from "friendly fire" from a Florida regiment and a Confederate battery)According to Gen. Hardee's report, "Cheatham and Wood captured the enemy's battery in front of Wood and among the pieces and among the dead and dying was found the body of Gen. James S. Jackson, who commanded a division of the enemy at that point."

Jessee Cheeves, whose company fought alongside my great grandfather's Company D, described how his friend, W.H. Rees, “lost his left arm… by a cannon ball. The man in the rear rank behind Rees was struck by the same ball and knocked ten or twelve feet and instantly killed… We were exposed to a terrible fire of solid shot and shell.”

As a result of its action, the 32nd Mississippi Regiment of Wood's Brigade earned an honorable mention in the official reports. General orders, December 21, 1862 states:
The regiments of the brigade of Brigadier-General Wood, which, on the memorable field of Perryville, participated in the gallant and desperate charge resulting in the capture of the enemy's batteries, will, in addition to the name of the field on their colors, place the cross-cannon inverted
The regiment was entitled to carry this distinguished insignia throughout the remainder of the war. It won't be the last time that this unit will distinguish itself on the battlefield.

Bragg won the battle tactically for the Confederates, but he wisely decided to pull out of Perryville and link up with Gen. Kirby Smith. Once Smith and Bragg join forces, Bragg will decide to leave Kentucky and head back to Tennessee, taking a defensive position at Murfreesboro. The Confederate army will never return, and the Union will continue to control Kentucky for the balance of the war.

Although Buell will check the Confederate advance at Perryville, unfortunately for him, he does not pursue the retreating Confederates quickly enough following that battle on October 8. As a consequence shortly thereafter, Buell will be relieved of his command and will be replaced by Gen. William Rosecrans.


To view my blog about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, visit:

Sources: The Confederate Veteran; Mississippi Military History, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe; Official Records, Vol. 16, Parts 1 & 2