Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Repairs to the USS Tappahannock

On today's date in 1943, Dad's repair ship, Vestal, began repairs to the fleet oiler Tappahannock for damage it received in a Japanese air attack on April 7. Vestal also repaired damage from an earlier accident on April 1, when a seaplane from the Enterprise crashed into the oiler's mainmast, damaging its radar tower and antenna. Vestal will work on this ship into June.

Tappahannock was one of many ships supporting operations in the Guadalcanal area as the American forces fought to consolidate their hold on the bitterly contested Solomon Islands. On April 6, Tappahannock was transferring fuel and oil off Guadalcanal, when Japanese aircraft attacked, dropping a few bombs astern of the ship, but causing no damage. The actual damage to the ship would come the next day.

On April 7, Allied ships in the harbor received an order to get underway immediately. The Japanese were making a final thrust against the U.S. Navy in the Solomons, and an attack was imminent. Tappahannock sailed into a portion of this enemy attack force, becoming the main target of Japanese dive bombers. The first enemy bomb hit near the bridge. Tappahannock's gunners concentrated their fire on the attacking plane, sending it into the water. As the ship fought to get underway again, a second plane concentrated its fire on the ship but was driven off.

As the Tappahannock's engineers were getting the ship underway for a third time, she faced a third attacker, which came in directly astern. The Japanese pilot misjudged his target's speed and ended up dropping his bomb very near the ship without damaging it. A fourth enemy plane followed and was hit from the ship's fire, tearing pieces from the plane and sending it into the water, its bomb exploding off the oiler's starboard side. The fifth and final enemy plane crossed the ship, dropping its bomb alongside, causing some denting to the ship's hull plating. As suddenly as it had begun, the attack was over.

The stricken oiler then sailed to Espiritu Santo so that repair crews from Vestal could repair her topside damage and patch her hull below the waterline. After repairs had been completed, Tappahannock resumed active service supporting American forces to strengthen their hold on the Solomon Islands.

For the remainder of the war, Tappahannock conducted vital fueling duties for the Fleet as it fought westward and northward against the Japanese empire. She supported operations from the Gilbert Islands to Okinawa. Later, she supported the actions to take other Japanese Islands, and aided the fast carriers in their raids on the Bonins, Philippines, and Formosa. For the remainder of the war, Tappahannock supported the fast carrier task forces in the Pacific, including action against the Japanese homeland.

In 1950, Tappahannock was decommissioned, but she was brought back into action in the face of the Korean threat from 1950-1955. She was decommissioned again in 1955, but almost immediately returned to service from 1956-1957. She would see service once more, from 1966-1970, this time to support the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Tappahannock was decommissioned for the last time in 1970 and was disposed of in 1987.

USS Tappahannock refueling USS Bonhomme Richard & USS Missouri, July 1945
Source: NavSource Online

Launched in 1942, Tappahannock was one of just a few WWII ships that saw a long lifetime of active and distinguished service. She received 9 Battle Stars for World War II service and 9 for service in the Vietnam War.

Source: Vestal War Diary, April 1943; Wikipedia

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