Monday, June 30, 2014

Repairs to battleship USS California

Two and a half years after she was badly damaged and sunk by Japanese torpedoes and bombs at Pearl Harbor, the rebuilt battleship USS California reentered combat in the Pacific. One of her early tasks was to provide heavy gunfire support for the invasions of Saipan, Guam, and Tinian during June and July 1944.

On June 14, while California was bombarding Saipan, she was hit by a shell from a Japanese shore battery, killing 1 man and wounded 9. On today's date in 1944, the ship finished making her way to Eniwetok where she was received alongside my dad's ship, USS Hector, for repairs to her damaged guns. The barrels were replaced by spares from Hector and all other damage was restored by July 3. Back into action, those same guns helped clear the way for the assaults on Guam and Tinian from July 18 to August 9.

In October and November of that year, California took part in the Leyte Campaign, including the October 25th Battle of Surigao Strait, history's last fight between opposing battleships. In January 1945, California participated in the Invasion of Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. Damaged by a kamikaze attack on January 6, she remained in action for more than 2 weeks before returning to the states for repairs and an overhaul.

California returned to the Western Pacific in June 1945, in time to take part in the final stages of the Okinawa Campaign. She covered occupation activities in the wake of Japan's surrender, then sailed for Philadelphia in December 1945. The USS California was decommissioned in February 1947 and sold for scrap in 1959.

USS California, 1945

Launched in 1919, this venerable flagship of the Pacific earned 7 battle stars for her World War II service.

Sources: Naval Historical Center; USS California War Diary June & July 1944

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain at 150

SourceCivil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston had carefully arranged his Army of Tennessee in a strong position near Marietta, Georgia, on and around Kennesaw Mountain, awaiting a general attack by Gen. William T. Sherman's Federal army. On today's date in 1864, the 2 armies again clashed, this time in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

Sherman, who had been attacking and pushing the Confederates south from Dalton since early May, had at last decided to bring on a large-scale frontal attack on the Confederate line. His overall plan was to break through simultaneously at 2 points where he considered the Rebel line vulnerable, thereby preventing one part of Johnston's line from reinforcing the other.

Sherman ordered Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield to move his army to the right in the hopes that Johnston would be forced to weaken his line by extending it accordingly. Then he was to attack the Confederate left flank near the Powder Springs Road. His plan for Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson was for his army to make a demonstration on his extreme left to the north of Marietta and the northeastern end of Kennesaw Mountain, while making a major attack on the southwestern end of Little Kennesaw Mountain. At the same time, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas was to make the main assault against the Confederate fortifications in the center of their line.

Thomas had the unfortunate task of attacking 2 hardened veteran Confederate divisions of Lt. Gen. William Hardee's Corps—Maj. Gens. Benjamin Cheatham's and Patrick R. Cleburne's. My great grandfather, Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, was in Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey's Brigade in Cleburne's Division, and would be one of the units to receive the force of Thomas's attack.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
These 2 divisions were extended in a single line along a 3-mile rise, now known as Cheatham Hill. Cheatham's Division was posted on the left, with Cleburne's Division assigned to his right, extending to the Dallas Road. Lowery's Brigade was on the left, next to Chatham's Division, Gen. Daniel Govan's in the center, and Gen. Hiram Granbury's on the right. The men had fortified themselves behind a series of strong breastworks. The Federal line was 400 yards away across a small ravine. In front of Lowrey's men were open woods and dense undergrowth, while Govan's troops fronted a field with felled timber scattered on their left.

By 8 AM, Cleburne's men could see the enemy across the Federal line marching and massing behind their breastworks, readying for an attack. At 8:45, the Federals opened with a fierce artillery barrage. At 9:00, Federal soldiers directed their attack against Cheatham's and Cleburne's line. They were arranged in 2 massed columns, 5 lines deep, with a strong line of skirmishers in the front. Throughout the day, 8,000 Federals would attack the center of the Confederate defenses, aiming much of the attack toward the prominent salient on the south end of Cheatham's line.1

In Cleburne's front, his men held their fire until the enemy was within 75 yards of their defenses. Pouring sustained fire into the ranks of the approaching enemy, the Rebels turned back the advancing wave of bluecoats. At one point, under close fire of the enemy, the bold Gen. Mark Lowrey jumped on the breastworks and moved down his line encouraging his men.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Confederate cannon near Lowrey's men, covering
the direction of the Federal approach
The temperature through the day rose to 100 degrees. And the dense woods and thick undergrowth made forward movement toward the Confederate line even more difficult. In some places, exploding shells caused fires to erupt. Flames spread quickly, and many of the Federal wounded were engulfed in the inferno. Unable to watch the horrible scene, one of Cleburne's men, Lt. Col. William Martin, jumped upon the breastworks and waved a white handkerchief as a flag of truce. Immediately, there was a ceasefire while Yankees and Cleburne's men ran forward from their lines to assist the wounded and beat out the flames. The next day, the Union commanders presented the colonel with a matching pair of ivory-handled pistols in gratitude for his action.

After the brief truce, the fighting resumed.2 There was another Federal charge against Cleburne's line, but the Confederates drove it back. Unable to pierce the Rebel line, within a half hour, the last attack was called off. A thousand Federal soldiers were killed on Cheatham Hill. Cleburne's losses were only 2 killed and 9 wounded. Cheatham lost 194.

To the east, as at Cheatham Hill, the battle did not go well for Sherman. Except for some success in Schofield's front, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was a tactical defeat for his army. 6,000 soldiers on both sides lost their lives on this day. Sherman's losses were 3 casualties for every 1 in Johnston's army. In front of Cleburne's men, the Federal loss was more than 9 to 1. The battle would be Sherman's last attempt at a major frontal assault against a fortified position. Going forward, Sherman will return to his flanking strategy. He will move part of his army around Johnston, forcing the Confederates to withdraw. The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain is judged a failure for Sherman, who squandered his numerical superiority and the courage of his soldiers. 

For Johnston and his Confederates, the Battle of Kennesaw was the most clear-cut victories in the Atlanta campaign. However, the victory brought little actual advantage for the Southerners. Sherman continued to be well supplied by his rail line, and his force remained large and able to absorb his loss. Johnston was soon to recognize that while victorious in this battle, his strategic situation remained the same. Indeed, his line was stretched dangerously thin. He soon learned that some of Sherman's force had pushed beyond his left flank and was actually closer to the Chattahoochee River than his own army, thus potentially threatening his connection to Atlanta. So, on the night of July 2nd, he will withdraw his army from the Kennesaw line.

Within 5 days, Sherman will be ready to advance again upon Johnston's army.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Illinois Monument at "Dead Angle" on Cheatham Hill
Desperate Illinois men who made it to within 20 yards of the Rebel line, tried
unsuccessfully to dig a tunnel to blow up the Rebel entrenchments above them.

 Gen. Cheatham's men held the south end of the hill and the salient which extended outwards toward the advancing enemy. Wave after wave of Federals advance towards the salient on Cheatham's line. Relentless gunfire killed hundreds of Federal troops, most from Illinois. Incredibly, their leader, Brig. Gen. Daniel McCook, and some of his men made it up the hill to the Rebel line, only to be killed or captured. McCook was one of those mortally wounded here (397 from his brigade were lost). Later, because of the ferocity and tremendous loss of life, both sides would refer to this salient as “The Dead Angle," by which name it still is known today.
On June 30th, men from both armies joined to remove the dead. Bodies that had lain exposed for 3 days were buried in trenches. Men were forbidden to rifle the dead. When they were finished, men from both sides chatted, exchanged newspapers, and traded for coffee and tobacco. By late afternoon, many of the men shook hands, wishing each other "good luck" before returning to their respective trenches. Along some parts of the battle line opposing pickets reached an agreement not to shoot at each other, although that night musketry and artillery fire erupted along Cheatham's and Cleburne's line.
Sherman barely mentioned the sacrifices of his own men in the battle. However, in Gen. Johnston's postwar memoirs he freely acknowledged the courage of the Federal troops who attacked his line in the battle: "The characteristic fortitude of the northwestern soldiers held them under a close and destructive fire long after reasonable hope of success was gone.” 

Sources: Patrick Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; A Light on a Hill, Robbie Neal Sumrall; War So Terrible, James Lee McDonough & James Pickett Jones; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 1


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

Monday, June 23, 2014

Emergency repairs to USS Saranac

On today's date in 1944, the fleet oiler, USS Saranac, was received alongside my dad's repair ship, USS Hector, at Eniwetok for emergency battle damage work.

Saranac had been refueling carriers 30 miles east of Saipan when on June 18th, she and 2 other oilers in her group were attacked by Japanese aircraft. Saranac was hit by a bomb in her after superstructure deck, and her sick bay and engine room also were badly damaged. Tragically, 9 men were lost and 21 were wounded. The next day the stricken ship limped under her own power toward Eniwetok, all the while under enemy observation.

Crews from Hector worked in double shifts fully intending to complete Saranac's repairs. However, after the repair work was well underway, the Saranac received orders to return to the states for permanent repairs. Hector's crews then turned their attention to repairing the ship's power plant, enabling her to sail under her own power on July 2nd.

USS Saranac, near Mare Island, June 20, 1944

After her stateside repairs, Saranac rejoined the war in the Pacific. She supported the naval action in the Battle of Leyte starting in October 1944, the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945, and through the end of that year she refueled ships in the South China Sea. At the end of the war, Saranac was converted to a floating power barge for military installations in the Pacific. Finally, she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in 1956, and a year later was sold to a private corporation.

For her distinguished World War II service the USS Saranac received 5 battle stars.

Sources: USS Hector AR7- Ship’s Log (WWII); USS Saranac War Diary, June & July 1944

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Battle of the Philippine Sea, 1944

The Naval Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19–20, 1944, a major carrier engagement with the Japanese Imperial Navy, took place during the U.S. amphibious invasion of Saipan and Mariana Islands. It was the greatest carrier battle in history.

Japan regarded the Marianas, including Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, as part of her homeland in addition to being integral to her inner defense perimeter. Its land-based fighter and bomber aircraft on these islands controlled the sea lanes to Japan and protected the home islands. However, in late 1943 Japan's outer defensive ring was overrun at the costly Battle of Tarawa, and in early 1944, the U.S. fleet had pressed on through the Marshall Islands sweeping across other islands in the Central Pacific. For the Americans, control of the Marianas would put the Japanese homeland within range of American bombers. An attack on  the Marianas, however, inevitably would bring on a naval battle with the Japanese.

From June 13-15, 1944, U.S. carriers began a series of air strikes on the Marianas, convincing the Japanese that the Americans were preparing to invade. This move came as a surprise to the Japanese as they had expected the next U.S. target to be farther to the south, either the Carolines or the Palaus. This belief led to their fortification of these islands with less preparation given to the possibility of a Marianas invasion. Saipan D-day came on June 15 when American Marines invaded in an amphibious landing.

The Japanese immediately ordered a counterattack by sea, committing nearly all of its serviceable ships to the engagement. Their force consisted of 9 carriers and 5 battleships. Their plan was to bring on a decisive battle while their ground forces on Saipan fought off the American invasion.

Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19-20, 1944
Source: Wikimedia Commons

On today's date in 1944, the Japanese began their air attack against the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet. They launched 4 separate raids. In what is remembered by American sailors and airmen as the first day of the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," the Japanese lost more than 240 planes, the Americans only 30. Damage to American ships was also minimal, with damaged battleship, USS South Dakota, able to remain in the fight. Two American submarines, the Albacore and Cavalla, each sunk an enemy carrier.

The next day, with only about 200 aircraft left, the Japanese continued their attacks. By the afternoon, the Americans had verified the Japanese fleet's position and launched an all-out attack of their own. Approaching the enemy's ships, the American pilots encountered intense antiaircraft fire. Nevertheless, they were able to press their attack, sinking another carrier and damaging 2 more, along with a battleship. Japanese naval power had suffered irreparable damage.

The return trip for the American pilots was a harrowing experience. The distance involved required most of the aircraft to run dangerously low on fuel, while nighttime had fallen. Carriers were illuminated to help the returning pilots find their way, despite the risk of enemy submarine and air attacks. Eighty of the returning planes were lost, some crashing on flight decks, while the majority went into the sea. Thankfully, most of their crews were rescued over the next few days.

Overnight, the Japanese fleet withdrew. By the battle's conclusion, the Japanese had lost 3 carriers, 2 oilers, and more than 600 carrier- and land-based aircraft. As much as 90% of the Japanese carrier aviation force was destroyed in 2 days. The Americans lost 123 aircraft and some damage to ships. Amazingly, only 16 pilots and 33 aircrew remained missing by the end of the engagement.

So decisive was the Battle of the Philippine Sea for the Americans that it eliminated the Imperial Japanese Navy's ability to conduct large-scale carrier actions for the remainder of the war. In that battle the Japanese Navy lost the majority of its carrier air strength.  It would never recover.

Source: The Two-Ocean War, Samuel Eliot Morrison

Sunday, June 15, 2014

D-Day in the Pacific | The Invasion of Saipan, 1944

Having successfully pushed through the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, the Allies now set their sights on the Marianas: Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Rota, and Pagan. From this strategic point in the Pacific, they would be able to bomb the Japanese mainland. This massive operation involved thousands of troops from all branches of the military and an overwhelming number of ships, vehicles, and weapons. 

The plan called for bypassing a full assault on Rota and Pagan, instead aiming at Saipan as its primary goal. Guam and Tinian were secondary targets. To invade Saipan would be a significant challenge for the Pacific Fleet since Japan regarded it as part of her homeland as well as integral to her inner defense perimeter.

Beginning June 11, 1944, American aircraft carriers carried out heaving bombing of airfields in the Marianas. Battleships also bombarded the islands.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Today's date marks the anniversary of Saipan D-day in 1944. Sixty-four Land Ship Tanks (LSTs), some of my dad, Frank Dolan, had worked on earlier at Pearl Harbor, landed U.S. Marines on 8 different beaches on a 4-mile wide front. Twenty-four gunboats offered some close protection for the landing force while battleships, cruisers, and destroyers pounded beach defenses. Eight thousand Marines got ashore within the first 20 minutes, with 12,000 more to follow throughout the day along with 1,400 amphibious tanks.

U.S. Marines in the first wave on the Saipan beaches
Source: National Archives
Awaiting the Marines were over 32,000 Japanese troops, more than twice the number anticipated. More than 2,000 Marines were killed on the beaches before the beachhead was secured 2 days later. It would be a long and hard-fought battle to take the island.

As the Marines fought off counter-attacks, the Japanese decided that the best way to support the island’s defenders was to attack the Americans at sea. This resulted in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, June 19, 1944. The attack proved to be a disaster for the Japanese as they lost 3 aircraft carriers along with many planes. The loss of their carriers meant that the Japanese force on Saipan could not be resupplied or reinforced, and they were effectively cut off.

Troops make their way to the beach from LSTs, some of which
were readied and repaired by Dad's ship, USS Hector
Source: National Archives
By the 22nd, Marines had pushed across the island, cutting the defending force in two. Realizing that he would not be reinforced, Japanese Gen. Yoshitsugu Saito ordered his troops to fight the last man. The Japanese held a final defensive line around Mount Tapotchau, a series of caves in the mountainous center of Saipan. In their assault, the Americans were forced to use flamethrowers to kill or drive the enemy from their underground hiding places.

In a climatic enemy attack on July 7, over 3,000 Japanese, including wounded and some civilians, struck the U.S. Army's position in a desperate charge. Nearly overwhelming their lines in an attack which lasted over 15 hours, the American soldiers bravely fought back. With reinforcements, the army succeeded in turning back the assault with very few Japanese survivors.

Throughout the invasion, Japanese defenders were tenacious, completely willing to fight to the death. Indeed, more than 30,000 had to be killed before Saipan was taken by July 7th.2 For the Americans, over 3,400 of the 67,451 troops who participated were killed or reported missing.

The American victory at Saipan was quickly followed by successful landings on Guam on July 21st, and Tinian on July 24th, although there was heavy fighting in the battles for both islands. With the Marianas secured, the Americans quickly developed air bases for long range B-29 bombers that could reach the Japanese mainland, helping to hasten the end of the war.3

The battleship, USS Tennessee, was damaged by artillery fire from Tinian. Eight men were killed and 26 wounded. Despite the damage and loss of personnel, Tennessee delivered fire on a Japanese counterattack near Agingan Point on Saipan before leaving for emergency repairs. The next day, the ship returned to Saipan channel to provide supporting fire to assist U.S. Marines in consolidating their beachhead. On the 22nd, Tennessee sailed for Eniwetok where Dad's repair ship, Hector, repaired her battle damage. On June 14, another battleship, the USS California, was hit by a shell from a Japanese shore battery on Saipan, killing 1 man and wounding 9. Dad's ship repaired her damage at Eniwetok as well.
Tragically, more than 20,000 civilians also were killed, many of these jumping from cliffs to their deaths. Despite efforts by U.S. troops to persuade them to surrender they were convinced that untold horrors awaited them if they fell into the hands of the Americans.
3On November 24, 1944, U.S. B-29 bombers attacked the Nakajima aircraft factory northwest of Tokyo. The high-altitude mission marked the first bombing raid of Japan from the Mariana Islands.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Underway for Eniwetok | Service Squadron Ten

On today's date in 1944, the day before the Allied invasion of Normandy, my Dad, Frank Dolan, was sailing from Pearl Harbor. Resupplied and with a fresh coat of camouflage paint, Dad's ship, USS Hector, sailed with a task unit of 4 other ships* for Eniwetok, codenamed "Babacoote." It was on its way to join its mobile service squadron, transferring there from Majuro. Crossing the International Dateline on the 9th, Hector arrived safely at Eniwetok Harbor on the 13th, reporting to the recently commissioned Service Squadron 10 of Task Force 38.

Navy service squadrons—composed of repair ships, floating drydocks, and other floating equipment—supported fleet combat units in the Pacific. During the war they allowed the Navy to operate across the ocean for extended periods of time. Service Squadron 10 (ServRon 10) provided for major naval bases relatively near the Navy's ongoing operations against the Japanese. The Squadron's vital work allowed ships to remain on duty for a year or more without the need to return to a major repair base stateside.

Eniwetok had been in Allied hands since their victorious invasion in February. The atoll now offered the Americans a strategic airfield and harbor from which to launch attacks on Japanese strongholds in the Mariana Islands further north. As a major forward operating base for the Navy and the Marines, there was a lot of work for a repair ship like Hector. Already, hundreds of Allied ships were anchored in the lagoon when Hector arrived. Many of these would be participating in the invasion of Saipan within a couple of days. At its peak in July, more than 520 ships were present in the lagoon.

Marianas Invasion Force assembled in the lagoon at Eniwetok Atoll, June 1944

For 3 1/2 months, Hector supported Task Force 38, the main striking force of the United States Navy through the latter half of the Pacific War. During that time, she repaired numerous ships alongside and in the harbor. Then, September 30th, Hector sailed for Ulithi.

Service Squadron 10 was commissioned at Pearl Harbor on January 15, 1944. It was based first at Majuro (February-May 1944), then Eniwetok (June-September 1944), Ulithi (October 1944-April 1945), and Leyte-Samar, P.I. (May-August 1945). At the height of its activities, the squadron controlled 609 vessels at 5 fleet anchorages.

Service Squadron 10 was designed to be a mobile base, furnishing logistic support, including general stores, provisions, fuel, ammunition, maintenance, repair, salvage, and such other services as required in the support of an advanced major fleet anchorage in the Central Pacific Area. It was directed to furnish similar logistic support to Navy and Marine shore-based units not otherwise provided for in the area. And, wherever possible, it provided services and supplies vital to any of our allied armed forces.

In addition to the Hector, an arresting array of additional repair ships and tenders also were present at Eniwetok. These included the repair ship Ajax; destroyer tenders Piedmont, Cascade, and Markab; repair ship landing craft Egeria; floating drydocks ARD-13 and ARD-15; mobile floating drydock AFD-15; and floating workshop YR-30.

At Eniwetok, before leaving for Ulithi, Hector's welding shop crew posed
for this photograph. Metalsmith, 1st Class Frank Dolan is center, second row.

*Task Unit 17.7.12, was comprised of USS Hector, escort aircraft carriers USS Natoma Bay and Manila Bay, and the destroyers USS Halligan and Haraden.

Sources: USS Hector War Diary, June 1944; Beans, Bullets and Black Oil, Chapter 10: "Service Squadron Ten Organizing at Pearl," Worrall Reed Carter

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Meeting MacArthur

It was either while he was stationed in Hawaii from April to June 1944, or earlier in 1941-1942, that my dad, Frank Dolan, and some of his buddies from his ship, Hector, decided to play some golf. It is the only time that I know of that he ever played, or as he recalled it, "pretended to hit a few balls around the golf course."

As he told the story, while the sailors were playing, a U.S. Army general caught up with them. It was an awkward moment, but the general made some small talk and offered a few observations with the sailors, then played on through their group. At the time, Dad had no idea who the general was. However, a few months later on October 20th, he and the rest of the world would recognize General Douglas MacArthur famously wading onto the beach at Leyte in the Philippines declaring, "I have returned."