Saturday, August 3, 2013

Repairs to battle-damaged Celeno

On today's date in 1943, Dad's ship, Vestal, began repairs to the main shaft and steering gear of the Navy cargo ship, USS Celeno, caused by damage received during an attack at Guadalcanal. Vestal's crews will work on the Celeno for the next 8 days.

Launched in December 1942, the USS Celeno saw distinguished service throughout WWII. Commissioned in January 1943, the freighter was assigned to the Pacific Fleet, with cargo bound for Nouméa, New Caledonia. Celeno arrived in early February to support the operations on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands.

On June 16, while offloading its cargo on Lunga Point on Guadalcanal, the ship was attacked by Japanese bombers. Equipped with antiaircraft guns, Celeno fought back, scoring 3 downed enemy planes. But its success came at a cost. One bomb hit her stern, knocking out her rear gun and jamming her rudder. A second direct hit set 2 of her holds on fire, while another bomb set her deck cargo ablaze, which was loaded with fuel oil. With her rudder jammed, the stricken ship was only able to circle while the men fought to save her. Her crew somehow managed to beach the ship, saving her from sinking. Sadly, 15 of her crewmen were killed and 19 others wounded in the attack. Over the next week under constant threat of attack and unable to defend herself, the crew had to abandon ship several times. Finally on the 24th, Celeno was towed to Port Purvis on Florida Island for temporary repairs and offloading of its remaining cargo so that it could be towed in late August to Espiritu Santo for major work.

At Espiritu Santo, Vestal's crew attempted to repair the damage, particularly that to Celeno's ruined steering. Most of the work was done while in the floating drydock, YFD-21, which itself was undergoing repairs by the Vestal. Completing temporary repairs to Celeno by August 11, the damaged ship was readied for towing to San Francisco in September.

Following refitting, Celeno was returned to the South Pacific in January 1944, to continue supporting the Allies in the Solomons Campaign. As the seizure of bases in the Admiralty Islands began in the spring of 1944, Celeno carried troops and cargo. She continued to operate throughout the Solomons, Bismarks, and Marianas. Celeno next sailed to Australia and New Zealand, then made a cargo run to newly secured Iwo Jima. Returning to Nouméa, Celeno provided support for the Okinawa Campaign in June 1944, before resuming cargo operations throughout the South Pacific.

After Japan's surrender, Celeno carried troops to Iwo Jima for transportation to Saipan, where she picked up victorious servicemen returning to the West Coast.

Celeno was decommissioned in March 1946, and transferred to the Maritime Commission. For her WWII service the USS Celeno earned 3 Battle Stars.

USS Celeno while being overhauled at Mare Island, November 1943
Source: NavSource Online

Sources: USS Vestal and USS Celeno War Diaries for June 1943; Wikipedia

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