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

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