Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Figure 1: USS Naiad (1864-65). Photograph was taken on one of America's western rivers during the Civil War and reproduced as a stereograph. Note mine clearance "rake" projecting from her bow. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a nymph in Greek mythology who lived in and gave life to lakes and rivers, the 183-ton USS Naiad was a stern-wheel steamer that was originally built as the civilian riverboat Princess at Freedom, Pennsylvania, and was purchased by the US Navy from F. Martin at Cincinnati, Ohio, on 3 March 1864. The ship was converted into a “tinclad” (or lightly armored) river gunboat and was commissioned on 3 April 1864. Naiad was approximately 156 feet long and 30 feet wide, had a draft of only six feet, and had a top speed of roughly 6 knots. Naiad was armed with eight 24-pounder cannons.
Naiad was used to reinforce Union forces along the Mississippi River and its tributaries against Confederate cavalry and guerilla raids. The gunboat steamed in these shallow and dangerous waters throughout the rest of the Civil War. Naiad usually bombarded Confederate shore batteries along the banks of the Mississippi. On 15 and 16 June 1864, Naiad, along with USS General Bragg and USS Winnebago, attacked the Southern artillery batteries at Ratliff’s Landing, Louisiana, silencing them on both days. On 2 September, Naiad destroyed the Confederate battery near Rowe’s Landing, Louisiana.
These shallow-draft gunboats played a big role in defeating the South during the Civil War. Constant patrolling of the rivers by Naiad and her sister “tinclads” helped the Union maintain open communications and supply lines in the west while preventing the South from using the rivers to send reinforcements against Union Generals Sherman and Grant. They also took a heavy toll of Confederate batteries that were positioned along the banks of the Mississippi, as well as other major and minor rivers.
Naiad was decommissioned at Cairo, Illinois, on 30 June 1865 and sold at auction at Mound City, Illinois, on 17 August 1865. In post-war commercial service, the riverboat was given back her old name, Princess, but, unfortunately, she hit some rocks and sank at Napoleon, Missouri, on 1 June 1868.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Figure 1: USS Hermes (1918-1926) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1918. Ships in the background are USS Monadnock (BM-3) and probably USS Navajo (1908-1948). This auxiliary schooner, built in 1914, was formerly a German vessel. Taken over at Honolulu under an executive order on 27 September 1917, she was soon put into service and formally commissioned on 1 April 1918 as USS Hermes. She was sold on 21 October 1926. She would eventually become USS Lanikai in World War II. The original print is in National Archives' Record Group 19-LCM. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Hermes (1918-1926) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1918. Ships in the background are USS Monadnock (BM-3) and probably USS Navajo (1908-1948). This auxiliary schooner, built in 1914, was formerly a German vessel. Taken over at Honolulu under an executive order on 27 September 1917, she was soon put into service and formally commissioned on 1 April 1918 as USS Hermes. She was sold on 21 October 1926. She would eventually become USS Lanikai in World War II. The original print is in National Archives' Record Group 19-LCM. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Lanikai during the early days of World War II in the Pacific, exact place and date unknown. She is flying a Dutch flag, which Lanikai could have been flying while in Java after her escape from the Philippines in late December 1941. Courtesy Hyperwar, U.S. Navy in WW II. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Lanikai during World War II, date and place unknown. Courtesy Hyperwar, U.S. Navy in WW II. Click on photograph for larger image.
This amazing ship was originally built as the schooner Hermes by W.R. Stone of Oakland, California, for the Williams-Diamond Company, agents for a firm called Jaluit Gesellschaft of Hamburg, Germany, and launched in 1914. At the time she was built, the 340-ton Hermes was approximately 89 feet long and 25 feet wide, had a draft of 7 feet 6 inches, and had a crew of 26. Hermes was used in the inter-island copra trade in the German-held Pacific Islands prior to World War I. When America entered the war in April 1917, the ship was confiscated by the US government and, after some modifications, was formally commissioned into the US Navy as USS Hermes on 1 April 1918.
Originally intended as a submarine patrol vessel, Hermes performed this duty out of Honolulu, Hawaii, during the summer of 1918. On 31 August, she sailed on a cruise among the islands northwest of Hawaii, including Laysan and Wake, to search for survivors of shipwrecks and signs of enemy activity, and to conduct a survey on wildlife, particularly birds, for the Biological Survey Commission, Washington. After returning to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 2 October, she continued as a patrol craft.
Hermes was decommissioned on 16 January 1919 and placed at the disposal of the Hawaiian territorial government for use as a tender to leper colonies. When the territorial government decided they could not afford her upkeep, Hermes was turned over to the Pacific Air Detachment and served as a store ship and general auxiliary craft. She then was sold on 21 October 1926 to the Lanikai Fish Company and renamed Lanikai, after a village on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The ship was used in the pearling and fishing industries in Hawaiian waters but was laid up in 1931 due to how poorly the fishing industry was doing at that time.
Lanikai was sold again to Northrup Castle of Honolulu in late 1933. The ship was used as a commercial charter yacht based at Honolulu. Lanikai then was sold to Harry W. Crosby in early 1936 and her homeport moved to Seattle, Washington, where she was used as a salmon fishing boat in Alaska. But Lanikai changed hands again when, of all things, she was sold in early 1937 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and used in the movie “Hurricane,” which starred Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour. After the film was completed, the ship was used as an MGM yacht.
Lanikai was sold again on 6 April 1939 to George W. Simmie, acting agent for E.M. Grim, an American resident of Manila in the Philippines. Lanikai was assigned to the Luzon Stevedoring Company and was used as Grim’s yacht and inter-island trading ship. On 5 December 1941, Lanikai was chartered by the US Navy for an indefinite period of time for one dollar per year with the ship to be returned in the same condition as when it was chartered. The ship was commissioned USS Lanikai the same day with Lieutenant Kemp Tolley in command. Throughout the years, Lanikai had been transformed into a 150-ton schooner with a diesel engine that gave the ship a top speed of 7 knots. Lanikai was now approximately 87 feet long and 9 feet wide, had a crew of 19 men, and was given one 3-pounder cannon and two .30-caliber machine guns. The crew wasn’t sure what would have happened to the frail ship if it actually had to fire the cannon.
On 2 December 1941, President Roosevelt had ordered through Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral H. R. Stark, that Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet Admiral Thomas C. Hart, “Charter three small vessels to form a defensive information patrol...to observe and report by radio Japanese movements in the west China Sea and Gulf of Siam.” Lanikai was ordered to be one of those “three small vessels.” Lieutenant Tolley’s orders read, “Patrol off the entrance of Camranh Bay [Vietnam] and report the directions taken by the Japanese Fleet when it emerges.” The orders did not tell Lieutenant Tolley what he should do when the Japanese spotted his ship and heard him transmitting their position back to the American fleet, but orders were orders and Lieutenant Tolley was not about to disobey them. During the early morning hours of 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the International Date Line), Lanikai was stopped at the entrance of Manila Bay waiting for daylight so that she could thread her way through the complicated minefields in the area. But at 0300 hours, word arrived of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and Lanikai was ordered to return to Manila.
During the next few weeks, Lanikai patrolled the approaches to Manila Bay and served as a dispatch vessel within Manila Harbor. On 10 December, the small ship survived the horrific Japanese aerial attack on the Cavite Navy Yard, which destroyed most of the facilities there. On Christmas Day, Lanikai assisted in the evacuation of Manila, carrying Army officers and equipment to the island fortress of Corregidor. Because of a recommendation from Lieutenant Commander Charles Adair, Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Hart, approval was given to Lanikai to attempt to escape to the Netherlands East Indies. Lieutenant Tolley jumped at the chance and quickly took on board extra fuel, water, and food for the trip (including a number of live chickens). The ship was painted green (so that it would blend in with the foliage along the coast) and Lanikai carried a crew of 18 men and six passengers (a combination of Dutch and American officers). On the evening of 26 December 1941, USS Lanikai sailed out of Mariveles Harbor, Luzon, Philippines, and began her long journey south.
Lanikai usually hid in friendly coves during the day and sailed along the coast of the Philippines at night, gradually making her way south to Java. It seemed that Japanese forces were everywhere, either steaming near them or flying above them. Passing storms were very useful in hiding the ship from Japanese aircraft, although it made life extremely difficult for the men on board the small ship. Lanikai eventually made it to Java, but the rapid advancement of Japanese forces on that island made it clear that the ship’s only hope for survival lay in making it all the way to Australia. While at Surabaya, Java, on 3 February 1942, Japanese aircraft attacked the port and dropped three bombs on Lanikai. Although all of them missed, they did straddle the ship, causing large explosions when they hit the water. But Lanikai’s crew, ever resourceful, jumped right into their dinghy and collected the large quantity of stunned fish that were floating next to their ship as a result of the explosions. Supplies were very scarce and the men had to make do with what they could find. Little did they know that the Japanese would actually help them in their search for food!
Most Japanese aircraft simply ignored Lanikai, thinking that attacking her wasn’t really worth the effort. In late February 1942, Lanikai left Tjilatjap, Java, under full sail and continued heading south. She was moving very slowly because of heavy seas, making the crew sick and wet. Lanikai headed for Darwin, Australia, and was trying her best to avoid any Japanese ships in the area. But on 1 March, approximately 200 miles east of Christmas Island, Lanikai sighted a large Japanese task force on her port bow. Fortunately, Lanikai was able to steer away from the task force before she was spotted.
Finally on 18 March 1942, 82 days and roughly 4,000 miles after leaving Mariveles in the Philippines, USS Lanikai arrived at Fremantle, Australia. The Australians didn’t quite know what to make of the ship, but she still received a hearty welcome. After being given food, fuel, and other supplies, Lanikai left Fremantle on 4 April and cruised along the northwest coast of Australia to search for possible Japanese coast watchers or commandos. Lieutenant Commander Adair relieved Lieutenant Tolley of command of the ship on 27 April and continued her patrol duties until mid-May. Lanikai was decommissioned at Fremantle on 22 August and was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy. She served as a harbor defense ship for the rest of the war.
Once the war ended, Lanikai was brought back to the Philippines and was to be returned to her original owner. But, while anchored in Leyte Gulf off the island of Samar, Philippines, the ship sank during a typhoon. Thus ended one of the most unique stories in US Naval history. Although she never fought in a battle and never attacked a single enemy warship, USS Lanikai served in two World Wars and successfully completed one of the most dramatic escapes in all of World War II. A handful of grateful sailors also owed their lives to this tough little ship. Lieutenant Kemp Tolley went on to become a rear admiral in the US Navy and died in 2000, at the age of 92. USS Lanikai also received one battle star for her service during World War II.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Figure 1: USS Pasadena (CL-65) underway off Boston, Massachusetts, 21 July 1944. Photographed from a Squadron ZP-11 blimp, position is 42 45'N, 70 50'W. Pasadena is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 24d. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Pasadena (CL-65) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 2 May 1946. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Pasadena (CL-65) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 2 May 1946. Among the attack transports alongside the seawall at left are USS Shelburne (APA-205) and USS Sarasota (APA-204). Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Pasadena (CL-65) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 2 May 1946. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Pasadena (CL-65) entering Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, during a NROTC midshipmen's cruise in the summer of 1948. The photograph was released for publication on 9 August 1948. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: View in the Combat Information Center (CIC) of USS Pasadena (CL-65), 21 November 1944. Note aircraft status board in the center background. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Forward view taken of USS Pasadena (CL-65) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 May 1946. Note crewmen working on the ship, and the many visible details of her structure, among them the two forward 6-inch triple gun turrets and two of her six 5-inch twin gun mounts. White outlines mark recent alterations to the ship. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: View amidships of USS Pasadena (CL-65) taken at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 May 1946. Note details of her structure, among them two 5-inch twin gun mounts, twin and quadruple 40-mm gun mounts, whaleboat and davits, and life rafts.The truck on shore is an international type, with Navy serial number 45742. White outlines mark recent alterations to the ship. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: View aft of USS Pasadena (CL-65) taken at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 8 May 1946. Note details of her structure, among them 6-inch triple gun turrets, 5-inch twin gun mounts, and Curtiss SC floatplanes on the catapults. White outlines mark recent alterations to the ship. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Port bow view of USS Pasadena (CL-65) at anchor while assigned to the Pacific Reserve Fleet in Bremerton, Washington, 1972. Photograph courtesy of Richard Leonhardt. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a city in California, the 10,000-ton Cleveland class light cruiser USS Pasadena (CL-65) was built by the Bethlehem Steel Company at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 8 June 1944. The ship was approximately 610 feet long and 66 feet wide, had a top speed of 32 knots, and had a crew of 1,319 officers and men. Pasadena was armed with 12 6-inch guns, 12 5-inch guns, 28 40-mm guns, and 10 20-mm guns, and carried four aircraft.
Pasadena completed her shakedown cruise in the summer of 1944 and on 25 September began her journey to the Pacific theater of operations during World War II. She joined Task Force 38 at Ulithi atoll in the middle of November and for the rest of the year participated in operations against Luzon and Formosa in support of the Philippine campaign. In mid-January 1945, as the battle for Luzon continued, Task Force 38 steamed into the South China Sea and attacked Japanese installations and shipping along the coasts of Indo-China and Formosa. In February, Pasadena’s task force (now called TF 58) attacked the Japanese home islands, and then moved southeast to provide cover for the amphibious assault on Iwo Jima. Pasadena joined other major warships in bombarding Japanese targets on the island. During this time, Pasadena was assigned patrol duties as well.
After returning to Ulithi for ammunition and provisions, Pasadena’s task force began the process of “softening up” the Japanese home islands and the Ryukyu Islands for the major assault that was about to take place on the principal target of Okinawa. Pasadena remained at sea for 80 days as flagship of Cruiser Division 17 and participated in the night bombardments of Minami Daito (28 March and 10 May) and in the continuous bombardment against Japanese positions on Okinawa and Kyushu (1 April to 30 May 1945).
After again returning to Ulithi for more provisions in June 1945, Pasadena’s task force made its last attacks against the Japanese home islands in July and August, pounding coastal targets in northern Honshu and Hokkaido in anticipation of heavy resistance for what appeared inevitable, the amphibious assault on Japan. The US Navy expected tough resistance to the American landings on the Japanese home islands and, considering the terrible US casualties sustained during the assault on Okinawa (approximately 50,000 Americans killed or wounded), their expectations were probably right. But after America dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945.
After hostilities ended in the Pacific, Pasadena began occupation duties. On 23 August 1945, she became the flagship of Task Group 35.1 and on 27 August dropped anchor in Sagami Wan, Honshu, Japan. But on 2 September, Pasadena was at Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s formal surrender to the Allies on board the battleship USS Missouri. From then until mid January 1946, Pasadena remained in Tokyo Bay supporting American occupation forces. On 19 January, the ship returned to the United States and eventually arrived at San Pedro, California, for a badly needed overhaul.
By September 1946, Pasadena was ready to return to duty and once again headed west. From November 1946 to February 1947, Pasadena participated in naval exercises in Micronesia and then fleet maneuvers in Hawaiian waters. After that, she returned to California. During the summer of 1948, the ship conducted an NROTC training cruise and then on 1 October she got underway for the Far East. Pasadena arrived at Tsingtao, China, at the end of October and continued patrolling off the coast of that troubled nation until May 1949, as Communist forces successfully completed their long fight to win control of China.
On 1 June 1949, Pasadena returned to the United States and began inactivation preparations in September 1949. She was decommissioned at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Washington, in January 1950 and remained in the Pacific Reserve Fleet for twenty years. USS Pasadena was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in December 1970 and was sold for scrapping in July 1972. Pasadena received five battle stars for her service during World War II.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Figure 1: USS Vestal (Collier # 1) photographed circa 1909-1912, while serving as a fleet collier prior to her conversion to a repair ship. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Vestal (AR-4) anchored off New York City, circa 17-20 December 1918, while still painted in World War I disruptive camouflage. Ship in the distance, beyond Vestal's stern, is USS Iowa (BB-4). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Vestal (AR-4) photographed circa the early 1920s. Collection of the New York Naval Shipyard. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Vestal (AR-4) at anchor, circa the mid-1920s. An Omaha class light cruiser is in the left background. The original image is printed on postcard stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Vestal (AR-4) with six destroyers alongside, during the later 1920s. Outboard destroyer is USS Sands (DD-231). Next inboard is USS Hatfield (DD-231). Two of the other destroyers present are also of the group (DD-231-235) armed with 5-inch guns, which can be seen on the ships' fantails. Collection of Vice Admiral Dixwell Ketcham. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Vestal (AR-4) view taken from USS Houston (CA-30) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on 20 February 1939, with her crew manning the rail in honor of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was then embarked in Houston. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. USS Vestal (AR-4) beached on Aiea shoal, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after the Japanese raid. She is listing from damage caused by two bombs that hit her during the attack. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941. USS Vestal (AR-4) after she was beached in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. She had been damaged by Japanese bomb hits during the raid. An officers' motor boat is alongside her starboard quarter. Official US Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Vestal (AR-4) moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa early 1942, following repair of damage she received in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Commander Cassin Young, USN, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism and distinguished conduct in action while serving as Commanding Officer of USS Vestal (AR-4) during the 7 December 1941 Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. Halftone reproduction, copied from the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1948, The Navy," page 285. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: Battle of Kolombangara, 13 July 1943. USS Saint Louis (CL-49) comes alongside USS Vestal (AR-4) for initial repair of torpedo damage received in the action. Photographed at Tulagi, Solomon Islands, about 20 July 1943. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the Roman goddess of hearth and fire, the 12,585-ton collier USS Vestal was built by the New York Navy Yard at Brooklyn, New York, and was placed in service with a civilian crew on October 1909. The ship was approximately 465 feet long and 60 feet wide, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had a crew of 90 officers and men. As built, Vestal did not have any armament, but later on was equipped with several anti-aircraft guns.
After entering service as a collier in 1909, Vestal spent the next three years in the Atlantic providing coal to the ships of the US fleet. She made one trip to Europe as well. But the ship was taken out of service in October 1912 and converted at the Boston Navy Yard at Boston, Massachusetts, into a repair ship (later receiving the hull number AR-4). Vestal was re-commissioned as a repair ship in September 1913 and served mainly in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico area until 1917. Shortly after America entered World War I on 6 April 1917, Vestal was sent to Queenstown Ireland, where she assisted US warships engaged in anti-submarine and escort duties. Vestal returned to the United States after the war and continued repairing American warships for the next 20 years. During that time, the ship was modernized (1925), supported the salvage efforts of the sunken submarine S-51 (1925-1926), and moved her base of operations from the Atlantic to the Pacific (1927).
After Vestal joined the US Pacific Fleet in 1927, she participated in yearly fleet exercises and maneuvers as part of her training. When the Pacific Fleet was moved permanently to Hawaiian waters upon the conclusion of fleet exercises in the spring of 1940, Vestal was based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. After returning to the west coast for an overhaul at the Mare Island Navy Yard at Vallejo, California, Vestal steamed back to Pearl Harbor and resumed her important, though largely unnoticed, duties. On 6 December 1941, Vestal was moored alongside USS Arizona (BB-39) at berth F 7, just off Ford Island. She was going to provide Arizona with a scheduled period of maintenance from December 6 to December 12.
Then, shortly after 0800 on the morning of 7 December 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft attacked Pearl Harbor. The Japanese planes swooped down and dropped bombs and torpedoes on the American fleet. Explosions started erupting all over the harbor. Vestal’s skipper, Commander Cassin Young, USN, immediately ordered the crew to “general quarters” and men ran to the few anti-aircraft guns that were on board the ship. At approximately 0805, Vestal’s 5-inch guns, 3-inch gun, and .30-caliber Lewis machine guns located on the bridge wings all opened fire on the attacking planes.
As the crew manned their guns, two bombs (probably intended for the nearby Arizona) hit Vestal. One bomb crashed into the port side of the ship, went down three decks, passed through a crew’s space, and exploded in a stores hold, starting a fire that necessitated flooding the forward magazines. The second bomb hit the starboard side, went through the carpenter’s shop, the shipfitter’s shop, and ended up leaving a hole roughly five feet in diameter in the bottom of the ship. Vestal was in trouble but the worst was yet to come.
At approximately 0820, Arizona, still moored inboard of Vestal, took a torpedo hit in the stern of the ship. Almost simultaneously, a bomb went through Arizona’s deck after bouncing off the faceplate of her Number 2 turret and exploded in the black powder magazine below. The explosion that followed touched off yet another massive explosion in the ship’s main battery magazines. The gigantic blast that followed tore apart the forward part of the battleship. The concussion from that blast literally cleared Vestal’s bridge and deck, blowing anybody standing in the open into the water.
Blown off Vestal’s bridge was her skipper, Commander Cassin Young. Young was tossed into the water by the huge explosion, yet despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, as well as his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Commander Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, swam back to his ship. Once back on board Vestal, he countermanded an abandon ship order that someone had given and ordered what was left of the crew to get Vestal underway. Fortunately, the engineer officer and the engine room’s “black gang” were still on board the ship and were able to get steam up.
On Vestal’s main deck, things looked bad. Arizona’s huge explosion set off oil fires from the battleship’s ruptured fuel tanks and those, in turn, caused fires to start on board Vestal, both aft and amidships. But Commander Young was not about to give up on his ship. At 0845, crewmen on board Vestal cut the mooring lines that had kept her tied to the flaming Arizona. As Vestal started her engines, a tugboat managed to pull the repair ship’s bow away from Arizona. The tugboat and Vestal slowly crept away from the doomed battleship, but Vestal was now listing to starboard from her previous bomb hits and was taking water in aft. At 0910, Vestal anchored in 35 feet of water off nearby McGrew’s Point. But with fires burning in several places and with water still flooding into his ship, along with an ever increasing list, Commander Young decided to ground Vestal on Aiea Shoal to prevent her from sinking and possibly even blocking a vital part of the harbor.
Commander Young and his crew could now concentrate on putting out the fires and stopping the flooding. But even though badly damaged herself, some of Vestal’s crewmembers lent a hand to more badly damaged ships at Pearl Harbor. Right after the attack, some of Vestal’s welders were used to cut away part of the hull of the battleship Oklahoma (BB-37), which had capsized during the attack. The welders were feverishly trying to cut holes into the overturned battleship to rescue men that were still trapped inside the hull. Some of the attempts to rescue the sailors were successful, some, unfortunately, were not.
For his distinguished conduct in action and outstanding heroism on 7 December 1941, Commander Cassin Young was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was promoted to Captain in February 1942 and was later given command of the heavy cruiser San Francisco. On 13 November 1942, during a major naval battle off Guadalcanal, he guided his ship in action against a superior Japanese force and was killed by enemy shells while closely engaging the Japanese battleship Hiei. Captain Young posthumously was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the Guadalcanal Campaign, and San Francisco received the Presidential Unit Citation.
Meanwhile over the next few days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Vestal’s crew turned to the task of repairing its own ship because the yard facilities at Pearl Harbor were severely damaged from the attack. A week after the attack, Vestal’s crew had pumped out the oil and water that had flooded the compartments below the waterline and cleared out the damaged and gutted holds. This was work that had to be completed before the ship could be permanently rebuilt.
After repairs and alterations were completed at Pearl Harbor, Vestal received orders on 12 August 1942 to steam to the South Pacific. Roughly two weeks later, Vestal arrived at Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands. By now the American invasion of the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal was in full swing and American warships were being battered at a fast pace. During the next 60 days that Vestal was at Tongatabu, she completed 963 repair jobs for roughly 58 ships. Included were repairs to such notable warships as USS Saratoga (CV-3), which was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-26 on 31 August; USS South Dakota (BB-60), which was seriously damaged from a grounding at Lahai Passage, Tonga Islands, on 6 September; and USS North Carolina (BB-55), which was damaged by a torpedo on 15 September.
Vestal was moved to Noumea, New Caledonia, on 31 October 1942. Her arrival could not have been more timely because the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands had just taken place a few days earlier. USS South Dakota and USS Enterprise (CV-6), two large warships that suffered major damage during the battle, were at Noumea. Both of these ships required extensive repairs from Vestal and her crewmembers. While at Noumea, Vestal completed 158 repair jobs on 21 ships. Vestal left Noumea on 13 November and reached Espiritu Santo three days later to set up shop there. During the next twelve months, Vestal tackled roughly 5,603 repair jobs on 279 ships. Some of the most outstanding repairs were made on warships damaged during the bitter fighting off Guadalcanal from late 1942 to early 1943. Some of these ships included USS San Francisco (CA-38), torn by heavy caliber hits during the night battle off Savo Island on 13 November 1942; USS New Orleans (CA-32) and USS Pensacola (CA-24), the latter with a torpedo hole measuring 24 by 40 feet, a flooded after engine room, and two propeller shafts broken; the Australian light cruiser HMAS Achilles, which besides shrapnel and collision damage, had taken a direct hit on her after turret; and the torpedoed and fire-damaged cargo ship Alchiba (AK-23). Only once during that time, from 27 May to 2 June 1943, did Vestal herself undergo any repairs.
One of the most outstanding pieces of salvage work performed by Vestal was on USS Pensacola, which was heavily damaged during the Battle of Tassafaronga. A torpedo caused such extensive damage aft that Pensacola’s stern was barely attached to the rest of the ship. A few frames, some hull plating, and one propeller shaft were practically all that still held the aft section to the rest of the ship. As Vestal’s commanding officer at the time later stated, “Never had an AR (repair ship) been presented with such a task; no records on how it should best be done were available. But with a lot of ingenuity, a lot of hard work, and a lot of luck, Vestal’s crew repaired Pensacola well enough so that the heavy cruiser could make it back to the United States for permanent repairs. Another major repair job was on the cruiser USS Minneapolis (CA-36), which was torpedoed amidships and had 75 feet of her bow missing. Vestal also repaired her well enough to make it back home for permanent repairs.
On 18 November 1943, Vestal departed Espiritu Santo and headed for the Ellice Islands, reaching the port of Funafuti on 22 November. While in Funafuti, Vestal completed approximately 604 major repair tasks for 77 ships. Her biggest job there was on the light carrier USS Independence (CVL-22). Vestal left Funafuti on 30 January 1944 and reached Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands on 3 February. The big repair job waiting for her there was on the battleship USS Washington (BB-56), which had suffered heavy damage forward after a collision. Although estimates called for it to be a 30-day job, Vestal, often working 24-hour shifts, completed the task in only 10 days. After that, Washington was able to sail to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs.
At this point, Vestal needed a substantial overhaul of her own. She steamed back to Pearl Harbor and then on to the Mare Island Navy Yard in California. After a major overhaul was completed, giving the ship new equipment and alterations (not to mention a new paint job), Vestal left Mare Island on 8 September, and headed towards yet another war zone. After reaching Ulithi atoll in the Caroline Islands, Vestal went straight to work. While at Ulithi, Vestal completed 2,195 jobs for 149 ships, including 14 battleships, nine aircraft carriers, five cruisers, five destroyers, 35 tankers, as well as other miscellaneous naval and merchant ships. Vestal left on 25 February 1945 to repair ships at Saipan in the Marianas Islands for more than two months and then participated in the invasion of Okinawa, arriving on 1 May at Kerama Retto, which is a chain of islands off the southwestern tip of Okinawa.
During the month of May, Vestal had to go to general quarters 59 times as Japanese planes made suicide attacks on ships that were part of the invasion force. The best defense against these kamikaze aircraft was a smoke screen produced by all the ships that blended into one gigantic mass of low-hanging clouds. For that purpose, Vestal had two small boats equipped with fog generators and several barrels of oil. Besides the fog generators, smoke pots would be thrown over the bow of the ship to emit a dense, white, sickly smelling smoke for about 15 minutes. In addition to the danger posed by kamikaze aircraft, deck sentries kept a sharp lookout for any Japanese commandoes that attempted to swim out to the ships with mines or explosive charges.
Most of the ships Vestal repaired at Kerama Retto were destroyers hit and severely damaged by kamikaze aircraft. Vestal left Kerama Retto in mid-June 1945 but remained in the area until the end of the war. Once the war with Japan formally ended on 2 September 1945, Vestal assisted in the occupation of Japan and China. Vestal then returned to the United States. Once back home, Vestal assisted in the decommissioning work of other ships sent to the Thirteenth Naval District for disposal. USS Vestal herself was ultimately decommissioned at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Washington, on 14 August 1946. Although struck from the Navy list on 25 September of that same year, Vestal remained inactive for the next two and one-half years before she was totally stripped of all useful equipment on 20 May 1949. Her hulk was sold on 28 July 1950 for scrapping.
USS Vestal not only survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, but went on to provide extremely valuable service to the US Navy throughout the rest of the war. Few people noticed ships like Vestal, but few naval wars can be won without them. Like many ships during the war, they did their work quietly and with no fanfare, but got the job done, enabling hundreds of damaged (and in some cases, extremely damaged) ships to eventually make their way back home to the United States.
Please remember that 7 December 2011 will be the seventieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. If possible, mention the anniversary to a friend or a relative. It is up to this generation of Americans to keep the memories of that horrible day alive for future generations, so that the sacrifices made by thousands of servicemen on that day will never be forgotten.