Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Truce of 1914

It was an amazing spectacle and must arouse bitter thought concerning those high-born conspirators against the peace of the world, who in their mad ambition had hounded such men on to take each other by the throat rather than by the hand. 
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's quote refers to an event that took place a century ago on this date in 1914. A remarkable "Christmas Truce" was unofficially observed between opposing soldiers of the Great War. It was a profoundly symbolic and poignant moment of peace in what was to become one of the worst conflicts in history.

In the fall of 1914, German armies invaded France through neutral Belgium. Britain was immediately drawn into the war to halt the German invaders. By that winter, both sides reached a stalemate and constructed 450 miles of trenches stretching from the English Channel to Switzerland. At points along the line, the 2 sides were as close as 100 feet or less, separated by a "No Man's Land" in between. At this point, World War I had been underway for less than 5 months, but already it had claimed a million lives. 

Exactly when and where the spontaneous cease-fire started is lost to history. But apparently, German troops started it. British soldiers noticed their German enemies decorating the tops of their trenches with candles and Christmas trees. Then followed the singing of "Stille Nacht." When British soldiers responded with "O Come, All Ye Faithful," the Germans joined in with the Latin words. And then, somewhere on Christmas Eve 1914, it began. A few at first, then 100,000 soldiers along the Western Front laid aside their arms, ignored orders, and met their counterparts in No Man's Land. The soldiers told jokes, exchanged food, and in one area even played a game of soccer. It was, as Doyle wrote, “one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of the war.”

Nowhere was there an officially organized truce that Christmas, but many similar and spontaneous events took place along other fronts. The remarkable truce lasted through Christmas Day and even a few days longer in some sections. Men from both sides were reluctant to return to the business of war and had to be spurred to return to hostilities by firing artillery overhead.

Sadly, this amazing act of peace on Christmas 1914 was not to be repeated for the remainder of the war. In April 1917, America finally was pulled into the war in Europe, and, suffering over 100,000 of her own killed, was able to help tilt the balance in favor of the Allies. By the time the Great War ended in 1918, more than 7 million soldiers died. Overall, 16 million people perished, and another 20 million were injured.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, like countless other parents, lost a son in the "war to end all wars." In a generation before, American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, also had a son who served (was severely wounded) on another battlefield during the American Civil War. Longfellow reflected on war in his well-known poem, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Later set to music as a beloved Christmas carol of the same title, the words describe the narrator's despair at hearing Christmas bells, reminding him that "hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men." But he also sees beyond the despair to hope and comfort. The carol concludes with the bells ringing even more loudly with renewed hope in ultimate peace found in God's righteousness and justice:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Repair work on the San Jacinto

In 1944, during operations against Japanese air bases on Luzon, the Third Fleet's Task Force 38 encountered a devastating typhoon on December 18, resulting in 3 ships lost and many others damaged. On today's date in 1944, those damaged ships, which were sent ahead, began reaching their base at Ulithi for repairs. The remainder of the fleet arrived a few days later. Fleet repair ships and other auxiliaries began work immediately.*

One of those injured ships, the light carrier USS San Jacinto, came alongside the repair ship Hector, on which my dad, Frank Dolan, was stationed. Hector's crews began major repairs immediately for damage received from the typhoon. Much of the damage resulted from planes in the hanger deck breaking loose and destroying air intakes, vent ducts, and the sprinkling system. There also was widespread flooding and water damage to electrical, ventilation and power systems, and 2 doors had to be made watertight. Carriers were essential to the ongoing operation in the Philippines, and Hector labored to complete its work by December 29th.

USS San Jacinto, 1944
Source: NavSource

Launched in September 1943, San Jacinto arrived in the Pacific war zone in June 1944 to take part in the Marianas Campaign and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Throughout that summer, her planes struck targets in the Palaus, Bonins, and the Caroline Islands. During October, she participated in raids on Okinawa, Formosa, and the Philippines, and the famous Battle of Leyte Gulf. She was then part of the task group that continued the Western Pacific offensive against Japanese targets in the Philippines, Formosa, and throughout the South China Sea.

In the early months of 1945, San Jacinto's planes raided the Japanese home islands and assisted with the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Remaining off Okinawa, she battled suicide planes and helped destroy the final Japanese surface warship attack in the Pacific. She again struck targets in Japan during July and operated in the area through the final days of the war.

Lt. (j.g.) George H. W. Bush
One of the more famous men to serve on the San Jacinto was future President George H.W. Bush. Bush's first assignment after finishing flight training was with a torpedo squadron based on the San Jacinto in 1944. San Jacinto was part of Task Force 58 that participated in operations against Marcus and Wake Islands in May, and then in the Marianas during June. On June 19th, the task force triumphed in one of the largest air battles of the war, the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Three months later, Bush piloted one of the aircraft that attacked the Japanese installations on Chichi Jima. His plane was hit, although he was able to complete the attack. The crew was forced to bail out several miles from the island, although, sadly, his other 2 crewmen were killed. After 30 days on his rescue sub, USS Finback, Bush was returned to San Jacinto. He saw action in the Philippines before returning to Guam, where his squadron, which had suffered heavy losses, was replaced. Bush flew 58 combat missions and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for the Chichi Jima raid. He also earned 3 Air Medals.

After Japan's surrender, San Jacinto returned to the U.S. She was decommissioned 1947. In 1959, while still in the Reserve Fleet, she was reclassified as an aircraft transport. Finally in 1971, the ship was sold for scrap. The USS San Jacinto earned a Presidential Unit Citation, 5 battle stars, and other medals for her WWII service.

*While the Hector was repairing the San Jacinto, the repair ship Ajax worked on the escort carrier Altamaha and the fleet tug Jicarilla. The destroyer Dewey was tied up to the destroyer tender Prairie for repairs. The destroyer tender Cascade had the destroyer Buchanan alongside, and the destroyer tender Dixie was repairing the destroyer Dyson.

Sources: USS Hector War Diary, December 1944; Short History of the USS San Jacinto, 3 May 1944 15 August 1945; USS Hector AR7- Ship's Log (WWII); Naval History and Heritage: Biographies in Naval History; Military Wiki Encyclopedia

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Halsey's Typhoon Cobra

On today's date in 1944, the Third Fleet, commanded by naval hero Admiral William Halsey, encountered the full force of Typhoon Cobra northeast of Samar in the central Philippines. Disaster soon followed for many of the ships in its path.

A few days earlier on the 11th, Task Force 38 of the Third Fleet had departed the U.S. Navy base at Ulithi Atoll for the Philippines to provide carrier air cover for the army's Mindoro Invasion. The fleet sailed from the harbor in clear weather, little knowing that a typhoon was beginning to form about 175 miles northeast.1 On the 16th, the center of the storm passed north of the atoll, heading west toward the Philippines in the direction of the fleet.

Halsey's Task Force was comprised of 7 fleet carriers, 6 light carriers, 8 battleships, 15 cruisers, and around 50 destroyers. The carrier aircraft had been successful in conducting raids against Japanese airfields on Luzon, and now planes and ships now were trying to refuel about 300 miles east of Luzon. It was there that the worst of the storm hit. In spite of earlier warnings of severe weather, the admiral had led his force into the center of a severe typhoon, the worst of which hit the fleet on this date.

The damage was severe. One hundred mile per hour winds, high seas, and torrential rain battered the fleet. Three destroyers—HullMonaghan, and Spence—capsized and sank with almost all hands.

Twenty-one other ships were damaged. Fires broke out on 3 carriers2 when planes broke loose in their hangars. Some 146 aircraft were lost or damaged by fires, destroyed by impact, or were simply swept overboard. Even more tragically for the fleet, 793 officers and men were lost in the storm, and at least 80 more were injured.

USS Cowpens experiencing the effects of Typhoon Cobra, December 18, 1944.
Some ships experienced even greater rolls, while 3 capsized and sank.

Concerning the typhoon's destructive impact Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz remarked that it "represented a more crippling blow to the 3rd Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action."

Destroyer escort USS Tabberer, December 1944
Tabberer lost her mast and radio antennas in the typhoon. Although damaged and unable to
radio for help, she remained on the scene to rescue 55 of the 93 survivors of the 3 sunken ships.

By Christmas Eve, most of the returning fleet had arrived at Ulithi, the most crippled arriving first. The USS San Jacinto was one of the carriers damaged in the storm. Hangar deck planes broke loose and destroyed air intakes, vent ducts, and sprinkling system, which caused widespread flooding. The injured carrier was taken alongside my dad's repair ship, Hector, whose crews worked until December 27th repairing the ship.

The Navy soon convened an 8-day court of inquiry at Ulithi and found Halsey had committed an error in judgment in heading into the storm, the "preponderance of responsibility" resting on him. However, it stopped short of recommending discipline. It cited "errors of judgment committed under stress of war operations" rather than "offenses." Admiral Nimitz was satisfied that any mistakes Halsey may have committed were done so "under stress of war operations and stemming from a commendable desire to meet military requirements." Therefore, no action was taken against him.

Amazingly, only 6 months later, Halsey again sailed the fleet into the path of a typhoon. While ships again sustained crippling damage from Typhoon Viper, none of them were lost. Six men were killed and 75 planes were lost or destroyed, with almost 70 badly damaged. Another court of inquiry was convened, and it suggested that Halsey be reassigned. However, Admiral Nimitz again chose not to take action against Halsey.

1 The Mighty90 webpage, the Official Website of USS Astoria CL-90, provides a very helpful chart and description of the path of Typhoon Cobra.
LCDR Gerald Ford
38th U.S. President
2 One of the light aircraft carriers to be damaged was the USS Monterey. The carrier suffered a hangar deck fire as aircraft broke loose, crashed into each other and the ship’s structure, and ignited aviation fuel. On board was future President, Lieut. Gerald Ford, who assumed responsibility to go below to assess the conflagration and report back to the captain. Although the fire killed 3 sailors and injured nearly 40, and the ship went dead in the water for more than an hour because of smoke being sucked into the engineering spaces, the crew extinguished the fire and got the damaged ship underway to Ulithi, and then on to the West Coast.

At one point or another during the war in the Pacific, my dad's path crossed with those of 3 future U.S. presidents: Ford, Bush, and Kennedy.

Sources: Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue, Bob Drury & Tom Calvin; Sea Cobra: Admiral Halsey's Task Force and the Great Pacific Typhoon, Buckner F. Melton, Jr.; Naval Historical Foundation: "Lieutenant Gerald Ford and Typhoon Cobra"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Mindoro Campaign, 1944

Having begun his invasion of the Philippines with the landing on Leyte, October 20, 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur now set his sights on the main Philippine island of Luzon. But first he needed a closer base of operations, a stepping stone to a successful land invasion. For that he chose the smaller island of Mindoro, directly south of Luzon.

Task Force 38 of Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet sailed from Ulithi on December 11th. Sailors, like my father, Frank Dolan, on the repair ship Hector, cheered as the 90-ship flotilla steamed out of the harbor, west toward the Philippines. Halsey's fleet will hit enemy air bases on Luzon, thus providing additional protection for Vice Admiral Kinkaid's Seventh Fleet's amphibious invasion on Mindoro.

On December 13, the Japanese detected the Seventh Fleet convoy, and their fighters attacked. The light cruiser Nashville was badly damaged by a kamikaze, with 133 killed and over 150 wounded. In another attack wave, a kamikaze hit the destroyer Harden, killing 14 and wounding 24. On the 14th, Japanese aircraft made a full-blown attempt to destroy the invasion force, but suffered heavy casualties instead, losing 46 aircraft.

Crewmen cleaning up the port side gun battery after a kamikaze hit on
December 13, 1944, while en route to the Mindoro invasion


As the amphibious forces sailed toward Mindoro, Task Force 38 arrived in the Philippine Sea, east of Luzon. From its position, carrier aircraft covered enemy air bases in Luzon. By continuously patrolling the air over these airfields the Japanese were prevented from launching any serious sorties toward the invasion force. American carrier planes continued to control the air corridors over Luzon, destroying per 270 enemy aircraft, sinking 18 ships, and damaging 37 more.*

On today's date in 1944, the Allied land invasion of Mindoro began. Completely surprising the Japanese defenders there, the invasion force quickly overcame the weak resistance without the loss of a single Allied soldier. Engineers soon began construction of an airfield, which was operational within a couple of weeks.

By the 16th, Task Force 38 was low on fuel. Halsey ordered it 400 miles east into the Philippine Sea to refuel so it could return to guard the skies over Luzon. However, on the 18th a violent typhoon struck the Task Force while it was attempting to refuel. The fleet experienced devastating damage and loss, and was forced to return to Ulithi.

In the days ahead, the Japanese responded to the invasion with air and sea attacks. While American carrier aircraft flew above, a few kamikaze pilots slipped their planes through and attacked Allied forces en route to the Mindoro beachhead. Many of these suicide pilots tried hitting the escort carriers but were shot down or otherwise missed their targets. Others got through to the invasion force and destroyed 2 LSTs (tank landing ships).

Several days later on the evening of December 26th, a Japanese naval task force attempted an ambitious bombardment of Allied shore installations. However, during its approach to the beachhead, the enemy force lost a destroyer and received damage to other ships by the Allied response. The Japanese also made several attempted torpedo strikes against American ships at anchor, but they were not effective. This was the last time that major units of the Japanese fleet tried to interfere with Allied shore operations in the Philippines.

USS LST-738 burning after she was hit by a kamikaze off the Mindoro landing beaches,
December 15, 1944. Smoke in the left distance may be from LST-472, which was also
hit by the kamikaze attack

Source: Naval Historical Center

The Mindoro Campaign continued through January 1945, when MacArthur's forces invaded the main Philippine island of Luzon, and then began their advance on Manila.

*Tragically, unknown to Halsey's pilots, one of the Japanese ships struck by navy bombers was the cargo ship, Oryoku Maru, in whose hold were crammed 1,620 POWs, survivors of the Bataan Death March, awaiting shipment to Japan as slave laborers. Around 270 men died, either from the appalling conditions, or were killed in the bombing or shot in the water as they tried to escape. Experiencing even greater deprivations and death in the months ahead, only 403 of the original 1,620 POWs survived to be liberated from camps at the war's end 9 months later.

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison; Halsey's Typhoon: The True Story of a Fighting Admiral, an Epic Storm, and an Untold Rescue, Bob Drury & Tom Calvin; The Pacific War Online Encyclopedia; Reports of General MacArthur: The Campaigns of MacArthur in the Pacific

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Pearl Harbor Day

Seventy-three years ago, Americans relied on the assumption that an enemy would announce its intentions before it attacked. On this date in 1941, however, they were to be disabused of that notion.

Frank Dolan, 1941
On that Sunday morning, just as the flag was to be raised on my father's repair ship, USS Vestal, the Japanese attack came without warning. At 7:55 AM, the first wave of enemy aircraft began hitting the U.S. Navy ships anchored in Pearl Harbor and the army air base there. Dad's ship was one of the many that were hit.* Torpedoes also passed under his ship to strike the battleship Arizona, to which Vestal was tied alongsideSeveral other ships were destroyed along with hundreds of lives lost.

Even while Japanese envoys were negotiating in Washington, their high command had directed its fleet to launch the strike. The American people were outraged beyond the comprehension of the policy makers in Tokyo. A generation of Americans brought up on peace was going to war.

The day after the attack, the president delivered his famous speech to Congress and to the American people. About that address, author Walter Lord wrote: "The speech was over in six minutes and war was voted in less than an hour, but the real job was done in the first ten seconds. 'Infamy' was the note that struck home, the word that welded the country together until the war was won."

USS Arizona Burning

*My dad, Frank Dolan, recounted his personal experience of the attack in his narrative, Pearl Harbor: As I Remember.

Sources: Day of Infamy, Walter Lord; Frank L. Dolan's Service Records and oral account

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Battle of Franklin at 150

Some of the grimmest and most vicious fighting of the War Between the States took place on today's date in 1864, in the village of Franklin, Tennessee.

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood had a plan to defeat Union Gen. John Schofield’s army outside of Spring Hill on the 29th. However, the Federals were able to escape under cover of darkness. But now, Hood believed that he was presented another opportunity while the Federal army was waiting to cross the Harpeth River at Franklin. Determined not to let his enemy get away again, Hood unleashed a daring but foolish frontal assault against the entrenched Federal defenders. Although managing to break through a part of the Union's center in vicious hand-to-hand fighting, Hood’s forces were driven back with heavy losses. The Battle of Franklin cost Hood 1,750 killed and 5,800 wounded. Among the Confederate dead were 6 generals, including the commander of my great grandfather's division, Patrick Cleburne.

The battle was the bloodiest 5 hours of the war, and its result hastened the doom of the Confederacy.


To follow my blog about my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, and the
32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in which he served in the Army of Tennessee,

Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes, cir. 1889 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The American Tradition of Thanksgiving Proclamations

U.S. Presidents have been making proclamations of thanksgiving since our first president, George Washington, in 1789. Many of these proclamations are quite famous and compelling, like Abraham Lincoln's during the Civil War, or Franklin D. Roosevelt's during WWII. Other presidents, in war and in peace, have added their own pronouncements, a tradition that continues through Barack Obama.

But officially the tradition precedes even our first president. In 1777, the Continental Congress, during the War for American Independence, issued its first Thanksgiving Proclamation and continued the custom through 1784.

Recently, I read through all of these Congressional Proclamations. The second one of 1778 was especially memorable:
It having pleased Almighty God, through the course of the present year, to bestow great and manifold mercies on the people of these United States; and it being the indispensable duty of all men gratefully to acknowledge their obligations to Him for benefits received: 
Resolved, That it be, and hereby is recommended to the legislative or executive authority of each of the said states, to appoint Wednesday, the 30th day of December next, to be observed as a day of public thanksgiving and praise, that all the people may, with united hearts, on that day, express a just sense of his unmerited favors; particularly in that it hath pleased him, by his overruling providence, to support us in a just and necessary war, for the defense of our rights and liberties, by affording us seasonable supplies for our armies, by disposing the heart of a powerful monarch [i.e., King Louis XVI of France] to enter into alliance with us, and aid our cause; by defeating the councils and evil designs of our enemies, and giving us victory over their troops; and, by the continuance of that union among these states, which, by his blessing, will be their future strength and glory. 
And it is further recommended, that, together with devout thanksgiving, may be joined a penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior; so that, under the smiles of Heaven, our public councils may be directed, our arms by land and sea prospered, our liberty and independence secured, our schools and seminaries of learning flourish, our trade be revived, our husbandry and manufactures encreased, and the hearts of all impressed with undissembled piety, with benevolence and zeal for the public good. 
And it is also recommended, that recreations unsuitable to the purpose of such a solemnity may be omitted on that day. 
Done in Congress, this 17th day of November, 1778, and in the third year of the independence of the United States of America.
It is instructive to trace the development of Thanksgiving proclamations throughout our history.* From the start until well into the 20th century, American leaders understood that the true object of all our thanksgiving is Almighty God. Praise was offered to him for his providence and blessing in the affairs of the American people. And until recent history, American leadership also acknowledged that God's special blessing was connected to his mercies of salvation from sin and acts of repentance on the part of his people.

In modern presidential proclamations, it is hard to find even an oblique mention of a personal God, let alone that he should be the object of our thanks and deserving of our praise. And don't even hope to find any reference to our dependence upon him for salvation from sin or our need to seek his gracious pardon, which faith so permeated our American forebearers.

It would be prudent for us today to reflect on Congress's second Thanksgiving Proclamation (or any of them), and join with our wise and esteemed forefathers in
penitent confession of our sins, and humble supplication for pardon, through the merits of our Savior; so that, under the smiles of Heaven, our public councils may be directed, our arms by land and sea prospered, our liberty and independence secured, our schools and seminaries of learning flourish, our trade be revived, our husbandry and manufactures encreased, and the hearts of all impressed with undissembled piety, with benevolence and zeal for the public good.

*The Pilgrim Hall Museum website has generously posted all the Thanksgiving Proclamations through 2012. They are worthwhile and enriching readings.

Monday, November 24, 2014

National Thanksgiving Day, 1944

On today's date in 1944, Dad's ship, the USS Hector, spent another holiday far from home. For Hector's crew, work continued on the battle damaged Houston, in addition to the USS Wintle, and probably other ships anchored in the Ulithi lagoon in the Caroline Islands.

But at some point on this date, the crew enjoyed a festive Thanksgiving turkey feast provided by the talented members of the cook's staff. The USS Hector (AR-7) Association has been kind enough to post a copy of the Thanksgiving menu for the ship for this date.

USS Hector Thanksgiving Day menu cover, 1944


Proclamation 2629 - Thanksgiving Day, 1944

By the President of the United States of America

A Proclamation

In this year of liberation, which has seen so many millions freed from tyrannical rule, it is fitting that we give thanks with special fervor to our Heavenly Father for the mercies we have received individually and as a nation and for the blessings He has restored, through the victories of our arms and those of our allies, to His children in other lands.

For the preservation of our way of life from the threat of destruction; for the unity of spirit which has kept our Nation strong; for our abiding faith in freedom; and for the promise of an enduring peace, we should lift up our hearts in thanksgiving.

For the harvest that has sustained us and, in its fullness, brought succor to other peoples; for the bounty of our soil, which has produced the sinews of war for the protection of our liberties; and for a multitude of private blessings, known only in our hearts, we should give united thanks to God.

To the end that we may bear more earnest witness to our gratitude to Almighty God, I suggest a nationwide reading of the Holy Scriptures during the period from Thanksgiving Day to Christmas. Let every man of every creed go to his own version of the Scriptures for a renewed and strengthening contact with those eternal truths and majestic principles which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.

Now, Therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, in consonance with the joint resolution of the Congress approved December 26, 1941, do hereby proclaim Thursday the twenty-third day of November 1944 a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States to observe it by bending every effort to hasten the day of final victory and by offering to God our devout gratitude for His goodness to us and to our fellow men.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States of America to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington this first day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-four and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and sixty-ninth.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Repairs to USS Wintle

In November of 1944, crews from my dad's repair ship, Hector, performed some work on the destroyer escort, USS WintleWintle had developed evaporator and other mechanical problems while performing patrol and escort duties in the Palau Islands, and these issues needed attention.

Arriving at Ulithi on the 16th, Wintle was assigned to the destroyer tender USS Cascade,* but quickly learned that other ships rated a higher priority for service and repair. Some jobs that could be carried manually to the Cascade were tended to.

Finally on today's date in 1944—Thanksgiving Day in the Carolines—Wintle was taken into the drydock ARD-15Hector repaired her sonar equipment, while crews from the 3 ships mended the rudders and repainted the hull's bottom.

Wintle's repairs were completed by the 26th, and the next day she was back in service escorting a cargo ship to Guam.

USS Wintle

The USS Wintle was launched in February 1943. She safely escorted numerous oilers, cargo ships, and convoys, supported the Invasion of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, performed search and rescue, and engaged in anti-submarine warfare. The ship served her entire career in war service in the Pacific. She was decommissioned in November 1945, and sold for scrap in 1947. The USS Wintle distinguished herself during the war by earning 3 battle stars.

*Within a month, the USS Cascade, will become the scene of a naval court of inquiry to investigate the loss of 3 ships and almost 800 men in Typhoon Cobra, which struck Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet in the Philippine Sea on December 18, 1944. Among other high ranking admirals, will be the commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Chester A. Nimitz.

Sources: USS Wintle War Diary, November 1944; Destroyer Escort USS Wintle DE-25 Home Page; Wikipedia

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Human torpedo attack at Ulithi

Throughout the month of November in 1944, my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, continued its extensive repair work on USS Houston for combat damage received earlier in October. So far the work had been hampered by bad weather, the most serious of which was a typhoon that hit the area from November 6th to the 8th.

Back on the repair job early on today's date in 1944, Hector's crew heard a huge explosion and saw fire and billowing black smoke from another ship anchored in the lagoon. It was the fleet oiler, USS Mississinewa, just attacked by a human torpedo, a Japanese suicide mini-submarine called a "Kaiten."

Earlier that morning 2 enemy tender submarines near Ulithi, I-36 an I-47, launched 4 mini-subs toward the anchored fleet.* After the attack on the Mississinewa, U.S. destroyers began dropping depth charges throughout the anchorage. The Case rammed 1 in the early morning hours. At 6:25 the cruiser Mobile reported that a torpedo had passed under its bow. The destroyer escorts Rall, Halloran, and Weaver attacked and sank a mini-sub.

Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

The Hector's Log reported that it was in "Condition One" from the time of the attack until after 2 PM. The crew manned its guns, and boats were launched to patrol the water around the vessels. No contact was made, but sailors witnessed 2 underwater explosions in the atoll, which indicated the presence of additional torpedoes.

The sinking Mississinewa, November 20, 1944
She was the first ever victim of a Japanese human torpedo attack.
Source: National Archives

The explosion on the Mississinewa had ignited thousands of gallons of diesel and aviation fuel. Flames spread forward to the magazine, which caused a heavier explosion than the first. Nearby ships sent boats to rescue many of the men who escaped into the flaming waters, but after burning for several hours, the ship rolled over and sank to the bottom of the lagoon, taking 60 crewmen with her to her grave.

Kaiten Type 1
Source: Wikimedia Commons
* The Kaiten Type 1, was essentially a modified, 48-foot long torpedo, loaded with explosives, and controlled by a single man sealed inside. Once ensconced within, the pilot could not unlock the hatches. It was a 1-way mission.

Five of these suicide torpedoes were launched on Ulithi that morning from 2 subs lurking outside the lagoon. The I-47 launched her Kaitens, but none was successful in hitting a target. Three of the manned torpedoes on I-36 were unable to launch due to mechanical problems, but the remaining one successfully struck the Mississinewa with catastrophic results. This won't be the last time that the I-36 will launch a similar attack on Ulithi.

Sources: USS Hector AR7- Ship’s Log (WWII); USS Hector War Diary Nov 1944; Pacific Wrecks

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2 Special Vets

My life is framed by 2 combat vets of whom I am very proud. This Veterans Day I remember my dad, Frank Dolan, and also my youngest son, Josh. I've blogged about each from time to time: My dad, a WWII vet and Pearl Harbor Survivor, and my son, a veteran of the wars of his own generation—one tour in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan. Today is special for Josh and for our family because, after 8 years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, this is his first Veterans Day as a newly minted vet himself.

Josh and his grandparents, 2008

It's an honor to be connected to both of these men, perhaps even more so because I did not serve (I feel more than a twinge of regret for taking a college deferment instead of serving during the Vietnam era). Instead, these volunteers answered the call of duty knowing that combat service lay ahead for them both. Each saw their own wars up close and were profoundly shaped by what they experienced.

My dad is no longer with us having passed away during Josh's first tour in Afghanistan. Although Dad was Navy all the way, nevertheless he was wholly proud of his Marine grandson! Their mutual experience of military service created a special bond between them that others in the family could not in the same way appreciate.

My deepest gratitude to them and everyone else who served. Happy Veterans Day, Dad and Josh, and all who answered the call of service to our country!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Rescuing the USS Houston

By all accounts, the biggest repair job for my dad's ship, USS Hector, at Ulithi—or anywhere throughout the war—came on this date in 1944. The cruiser, USS Houston, twice torpedoed by Japanese bombers, was towed alongside for repairs. 

A couple of weeks earlier on October 14, USS Houston was attacked by Japanese torpedo planes off the coast of Formosa (known today as Taiwan), causing serious damage. Initially, the flooding was so severe that the crew was ordered to abandon ship. However, when further investigation showed that the ship might be saved, the commanding officer ordered all remaining personnel to stay on board. Two hours later the wounded Houston was under tow by the heavy cruiser, USS Boston.

For the next 2 days, the remaining skeleton crew pumped water, shored bulkheads, and fought fires while their ship continued to settle further in the water. They also found some time to burry 2 men who died of fatal burns from the torpedo attack. More burials would follow.

On the 16th, the tugboat Pawnee took over towing Houston to Ulithi for repairs. That afternoon a second aerial torpedo hit the ship, killing 55 crewmen and wounding many more. However, despite the terrible human loss and further damage to the ship, Houston's heroic crew fought to keep the ship afloat.2 The brave men of the Pawnee also never wavered in their task. Amazingly, both ships managed to make it to Ulithi on this date where the Hector was waiting.

The skeleton crew left aboard Houston managed to keep the stricken ship afloat
throughout its 14-day, 1250-mile tow to Ulithi. The first torpedo hit Houston amid-
ships on October 14th. The second struck the cruiser's starboard quarter while she
was under tow on October 16th.

Initially, Hector's crews spent a great deal of time and effort in clearing away wreckage, welding up holes, pumping out water, washing up oil and fuel, and otherwise readying the ship for extensive repairs. During this stage, there also was the grim task of removing bodies. The remains of 30 victims had to be recovered from the lower, flooded parts of the ship.

Dad was among welding crews completed myriad repair jobs, including the installation of more than 2,000 feet of T-bar to stiffen and reinforce the main, second, and upper decks. Houston's girders and plating were strengthened, and equipment was salvaged and repaired. Steering control to the bridge was also restored.

Hector's repair crews tended Houston from October 27 to December 14, 1944

Although interrupted by enemy sub attacks3 on ships in the harbor and hampered by a severe typhoon season,4 Hector managed to repair Houston by December 14, in addition to work on many other smaller vessels.

Houston next was towed to Manus Island for further repairs, and then headed back to New York Navy Yard in March 1945. Her permanent repairs were completed as the war drew to a close. Houston  remained in service until 1947, when she was decommissioned. In 1959, she was sold for scrap. 

The valiant USS Houston received 3 battle stars for her World War II service.

The resurrected Houston in January 1945, following emergency repairs by Hector

The cruiser, USS Birmingham, was another ship that came to Houston's aid after the attack. She acted as escort for the damaged ship and took on almost 200 crew members evacuated from Houston. Birmingham will again come to the aid of another critically damaged ship in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. However, tragically, on October 24th, Birmingham suffered extensive damage in the rescue attempt, and received 200 casualties among her crew.
Houston's War Diary for October 1944 is fascinating for its detail and description of the 14-day ordeal on the stricken ship.
On November 20, 1944, the Ulithi harbor was attacked by Japanese human torpedoes (kaitens) launched from 2 nearby submarines. The fleet oiler, Mississinewa, was struck and sunk. Guns were manned, and boats from Houston and Hector patrolled the water around these vessels. No contact was made, but sailors witnessed 2 underwater explosions in the atoll.
On November 5, Hector towed Houston to the southern part of the harbor near Pig Island for shallow water anchorage during the typhoon that hit from the 6th to the 8th. Wind and rough water caused additional damage to the ship. Houston remained there through the end of the month.

Sources: USS Houston War Diary, October-December 1944; USS Hector War Diary, October-December, 1944; USS Hector AR7- Ship’s Log (WWII)Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships; Naval Historical Center

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944

The naval Battle of Leyte Gulf, was fought from October 23-26 in 1944.1 Four major engagements took place in waters near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar, and Luzon between combined American and Australian forces of the Third and Seventh Fleets, and the Imperial Japanese Navy. It was the largest and most complex naval battle in history, and it ended as a massive American victory that effectively destroyed the fighting capability of the Japanese navy.

In late 1944, the Allies began a campaign to recapture the Philippines, lost to the Japanese in 1942. On October 20, ground forces commanded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur made a successful amphibious assault on the island of Leyte.

Expecting an invasion, Japan ordered its force naval force of 4 fleets to sea at the very first sign of Allied landings. One of these fleets, whose carriers' planes had almost entirely been destroyed in the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, would serve as bait to lure the Third Fleet away from Leyte. The rest would approach from the west and destroy the U.S. landings at Leyte. Part of that force would move through the Sibuyan Sea and the San Bernardino Strait for its attack. The 2 other smaller fleets would move up from the south through the Surigao Strait.

In committing to this action the Japanese command was throwing into combat just about everything it had left of its navy and air force. It hoped to be victorious in a decisive battle against the United States Pacific Fleet as well as stopping MacArthur's army's advance at Leyte.

Two American fleets were stationed in the Pacific at that time: Admiral William Halsey's Third Fleet and the Seventh Fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid. Both shared significant roles in defeating the Japanese in the Naval Battle of Leyte Gulf. Kinkaid's 7th Fleet was assisting Gen. Douglas MacArthur's amphibious assault at Leyte by providing close support, while Halsey's Third Fleet provided cover further out to sea.

Battle of Leyte Gulf
Source: Wikimedia Commons
As the Japanese forces were converging into position southwest of Leyte, submarines of the U.S. Seventh Fleet discovered the first enemy attack force and sank 2 of its heavy cruisers in the Palawan Passage on October 23rd. A series of almost continuous surface and air clashes followed, especially in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea on the 24th. In those American air attacks, a Japanese battleship was sunk along with a cruiser. The light carrier USS Princeton was sunk and other American ships were damaged.

Meanwhile, Admiral Halsey had allowed his Third Fleet to be drawn away by the Japanese decoy force, leaving the San Bernardino Strait completely unguarded. This part of the Japanese plan seemed to be working.

On October 25th, 3 major engagements of the Battle of Leyte Gulf were fought almost simultaneously. At the Battle of Surigao Strait, battleships and cruisers from the Seventh Fleet destroyed one of the Japanese forces and compelled a second to withdraw. In the meantime, another attack force passed through the unguarded San Bernardino Strait and inflicted heavy damage on the Seventh Fleet escort carriers in the Battle off Samar. But, unexpectedly the enemy force withdrew just as it seemed ready to attack. In the Battle of Cape Engaño in the north, the Third Fleet sank 4 Japanese carriers, which had been acting as bait to lure the fleet away from Leyte Gulf. Except for some final air strikes on the retreating enemy on the 26th, the Battle of Leyte Gulf was over.

In the fighting the Japanese lost 4 aircraft carriers, 3 battleships, 8 cruisers, and 12 destroyers, as well as more than 10,000 killed. Allied losses were much lighter, about 1,500 killed in addition to the loss of 1 light aircraft carrier, 2 escort carriers, and 3 destroyers. Crippled by its losses, this was the last time the Imperial Japanese Navy would conduct large-scale operations.

The naval victory in the Battle of Leyte Gulf didn't immediately change the situation for the Allied ground forces. However, it did secure the beachhead on Leyte won by the invasion force on October 20th. It also contributed to the eventual liberation of the Philippines. And, Japan was soon cut off from its conquered territories in Southeast Asia, which greatly reduced the flow of supplies and resources it required to win the war.

During this action my dad, Frank Dolan, was at Ulithi with his repair ship USS Hector, tending to USS Houston, seriously damaged on October 14. During this part of the war, Hector supported Carrier Task Force 38, which was confronting the Japanese navy at Leyte on this date. Four months later, Hector will be stationed in San Pedro Bay in Leyte Gulf, repairing ships, while battles continue nearby.
When the Princeton was hit by a single 550-pound bomb the explosion quickly turned into a raging fire. Fire-fighting crews were not able to control the flames fast enough, and massive explosions ripped apart the flight deck. Other ships moved alongside to take on nonessential sailors from Princeton and to help pump water onto the ship. The light cruiser Birmingham was assisting alongside when Princeton's magazine exploded, sweeping Birmingham's deck. Hundreds of men were killed instantly or horribly wounded—over half of her crew. Because of its condition, Princeton had to be sunk. But, amazingly, the damaged Birmingham was still seaworthy. It carried the wounded to Ulithi where they and the ship were cared for.
The Battle of Leyte Gulf was Japan's first use of its Kamikaze Special Attack Force. During the battle, several modern day samurais piloted suicidal missions into American and Australian ships. The American escort carrier, USS St. Lo, was one of the ships sunk as a result of a kamikaze attack. To compensate for its losses, Japan will continue to use k
amikaze tactics, and by war's end the desperate empire will send over 2,500 suicide aircraft against American and Allied ships.

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morison; The Battle of Leyte Gulf, Thomas J. Cutter; Battles Lost and Won, Hanson W. Baldwin; USS Birmingham War Diary, October 1944; Encyclopedia Britannica

Monday, October 20, 2014

Gen. MacArthur keeps his vow | Battle of Leyte

After taking island by island across the Pacific Ocean in his inexorable campaign toward Japan, on this date in 1944, Gen. Douglas MacArthur stepped into the water and waded onto Red Beach at Leyte, fulfilling his 1942 vow, “I shall return.”

70 years ago today, Gen. MacArthur was finally able to keep his promise to return to liberate the Philippine people from whom he was forced to flee when his forces were defeated in May 1942. The landing on this date inaugurated the Philippines Campaign of 1944-1945. Of course, it was with a force of over 100,000 troops and 700 ships that made the invasion possible, the beginning of the end of Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

A famous photo was taken of Gen. MacArthur, members of his staff, and key Philippine figures upon his arrival on this date.* On the beach just won the general made a dramatic radio broadcast:
This is the voice of freedom, General MacArthur speaking. People of the Philippines: I have returned.
By the grace of the Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil—consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people. 
At my side is your President, Sergio Osmeña worthy successor of that great patriot Manuel Quezon, with members of his cabinet. The seat of your government is now therefore firmly re-established on Philippine soil. 
The hour of your redemption is here. Your patriots have demonstrated an unswerving and resolute devotion to the principles of freedom that challenges the best that is written on the pages of human history. I now call upon your supreme effort that the enemy may know from the temper of an aroused and outraged people within that he has a force there to contend with no less violent than is the force committed from without. 
Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike. Strike at every favorable opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory.

The October 20, 1944 landing on Red Beach and Gen. MacArthur's
famously fulfilled vow,  is immortalized in this iconic photo.

Apparently, there is a little more history to this photo than it at first reveals. The original plan called for MacArthur to land at a dock, but none could be found that had survived the landing assault earlier that day. While still 50 yards off shore, the general's landing craft ran aground. The impatient MacArthur ordered the ramp to be lowered anyway. Then he stepped knee deep into the water and strode confidently toward the beach. His entourage was obliged to follow.

American troops battled for 67 days to subdue Leyte. The Japanese lost more than 55,000 soldiers during the 2 months of fighting and another 25,000 as the Americans completed their operations on the island in early 1945. By contrast the U.S. lost about 3,500 men.

On January 9, 1945, MacArthur's forces invaded the main Philippine island of Luzon. In February, his army cut off Japanese forces at Bataan, and captured Corregidor. In March, the Philippine capital of Manila was taken, and in June MacArthur announced his offensive operations on Luzon to be at an end. After entering Manila and being hailed by the surviving soldiers he left behind in March 1942, the general responded, "I'm a little late, but we finally came."

In 1981, a memorial was constructed to commemorate MacArthur's famous landing
on this spot and the liberation of the Philippines to follow. In November 2013, it was
seriously damaged in the devastating Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) but restored in time
for the 70th anniversary of the invasion.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

*Gen. MacArthur was transported by landing craft from his flagship, the USS Nashville, a cruiser that my dad, Frank Dolan, repaired during the first half of 1943, while stationed at Espiritu Santo on the repair ship USS Vestal.

Sources: Battles Lost and Won, Hanson W. Baldwin; The American ExperienceOlive-Drab

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Liberty on Mog Mog

Within a few days after the Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands was taken on September 20, 1944, advanced portions of the Navy's mobile service force, Service Squadron 10, began arriving to create an expansive anchorage for the fleet. My father's repair ship Hector, was one of the first ships of the squadron to arrive and begin initial work in the lagoon.

A few days later, a naval construction battalion of "Seabees" arrived to construct an airstrip on Falalop Island. The Seabees also went to work completing a number of uniquely designed pontoon piers, instantly increasing the harbor's function and capacity.

Within days, 6,000 ship fitters, artificers, weldors, carpenters, electricians, and other servicemen of Service Squadron 10 arrived aboard repair ships, destroyer tenders, and floating dry docks. Together they transformed Ulithi into the largest naval base in the world. It was an incredible feat.

Sailors arrive at Mog Mog Landing
In additional to other engineering and construction projects, crews also built a much-needed fleet recreation facility for Sailors and Marines who had been fighting and working nearly non-stop for months.

The tiny 60-acre island of Mog Mog was selected for the facility. It was at first an unsuitable area, swampy and mosquito- and insect-infested. But the swamp soon was cleared and filled in with coral, creating a spacious recreation area.

Construction began on this date in 1944. Several venues for sports, a bandstand, and beverage storage were provided. When completed in January 1945, the center could accommodate 8,000 men and 1,000 officers daily. A 1,200-seat theater, including a 25-by-40-foot stage with a Quonset hut roof was also created, along with a 500-seat chapel.

The intersection of "Hollywood and Vine,"
near the landing area at Mog Mog
Refreshment Stand on Mog Mog Island 
Beach Liberty

For several months in 1944-1945, Mog Mog would have been the only land that most sailors of the Pacific Fleet would have set foot on. As ships returned to Ulithi for replenishment, crewman were allowed a few hours ashore. Landing craft picked up the men from their ships anchored in the harbor, dropped them off for an afternoon ashore, then returned them to their vessels by early evening.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Battle off Formosa, 1944

The Battle off Formosa was a naval air battle that took place between October 10th and 20th, 1944, off the eastern coasts of Formosa, the Ryukyu Islands, and Luzon. Task Force 38 of the U.S. Third Fleet carried out the attacks to prevent Japanese aerial forces there from interfering in the planned landings at Leyte in the Philippines on October 20th.

The U.S. fleet launched carrier-based air attacks against Formosa (present-day Taiwan) on this date in 1944. The Japanese responded by sending waves of fighters and bombers against the attacking carrier fleet. On the 13th, the cruiser USS Canberra was seriously damaged by an aerial torpedo. For the first time in the war, the Japanese ordered suicide pilots into battle. One of these "kamikaze" strikes lightly damaged the carrier USS Franklin. The next day, the light cruiser USS Houston also was seriously damaged by an enemy torpedo.

Source: United States Army In World War II: The War In The Pacific
Overall, the battle was one-sided in favor of the Americans. The U.S. force dominated the air, and by the 14th, the aerial forces based on the island were all but neutralized. However, the Japanese initially misinter-preted the outcome. They mistook the American force attempting to withdraw dam-aged Canberra and Houston to safety as the fleeing remnants of the entire Third Fleet. So, with additional aircraft transferred from Japan to Formosa, the Japanese launched a new attack on the 15th. But the Americans successfully repelled it, inflicting heavy losses.

A final Japanese attack came on October 16th, but only 3 aircraft managed to get past the fighter screen. One of the enemy planes was able to launch a second torpedo into the Houston, but remarkably, the badly damaged cruiser remained afloat and, along with the Canberra, made a harrowing trip to reach safety at Ulithi.*

Other U.S. ships were damaged in the fighting. The carrier USS Hancock, the light cruiser USS Reno, and 2 destroyers also received damage. Eighty-nine aircraft also were lost. On the enemy's side, they lost around 500 aircraft and many ships, almost their entire air strength in the area.

Perhaps more importantly, Japan's ability now was seriously weakened for defending the Okinawa Islands in the upcoming campaign to take them. And, the Battle off Formosa also had a major impact on the course of the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944). The loss of enemy aircraft meant that the Japanese carriers had no air groups and could only be used as decoys. Therefore, the rest of the Japanese fleet lacked air cover, making it much easier for the Americans to find and attack it.

USS Langley leads a very impressive force returning to Ulithi in
December 1944, from strikes on targets in the Philippines.

Historian Samuel Eliot Morison waxed prosaic in his description of the mighty and majestic fleet in 1944:
The modern age has afforded no marine spectacle comparable to a meeting of these big warships, which have become as beautiful to the modern seaman's eye as a ship of the line to his bell-bottomed forbears. The great flattops, constantly launching and recovering aircraft; the new battleships with their graceful sheer, tossing spray and leaving a boiling wake; the cruisers bristling with antiaircraft guns; the destroyers darting, thrusting and questing for lurking submarines, all riding crested seas of deepest ultramarine; the massy tradewind clouds casting purpleall together composed a picture of mighty naval power. It corresponded to a fleet of ships of the line with their attendant frigates and sloops majestically sailing cross the Caribbean in the eighteenth century.

*Houston's War Diary for October 1944 provides a fascinating account of the 14-day ordeal on the stricken ship. At Ulithi on October 27th, my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, received the damaged Houston alongside for repairs. Crews completed the work by December 14ththis in spite of a typhoon and suicide submarine attacks.

Sources: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliiot Morison