Epic of the Mighty “A”
Atlanta’s Men Proud to Answer
Question: “Where Is the Navy?”
The Boston Herald this morning begins publishing the story of a 23-year-old naval lieutenant who has just returned from a 75,000 mile voyage during which his ship, the gallant cruiser U.S.S. Atlanta, was lost in the actions of last November off Guadalcanal—actions which took a terrible toll of a superior Jap fleet and put the surviving ships to rout. The story he tells is an epic of the surface ships of the United States navy and of the men who fought the battles. Because he sees the navy as what it
is—a great impersonal team—he tells the story anonymously. And because it is the navy’s story payment for it is being made to the Navy Relief society.
By an Officer of the U.S.S. Atlanta
As Told to Charles Leavelle
From the gallant cruiser U.S.S. Atlanta, which was shelled, torpedoed and sunk, I watched the night battle of Nov. 12-13 in Savo Sound off Guadalcanal—the bloodiest and most destructive surface ship engagement of the war.
It was one of a series of blows that cost Japan 29 ships and probably more; that sent 30,000 to 45,000 Japanese soldiers to watery graves, and shattered Nippon’s last major effort to seize control of the strategic Solomon Islands. There can be no doubt that the rout beginning there led to the recent and complete evacuation of Guadalcanal.
The exploding, sinking, and blazing Jap warships etched upon my memory is an unforgettable scene. In the air actions that preceded the Savo Sound fight I saw Jap dive-bombers and torpedo planes in numbers bursting apart in the air and plummeting into the water, sheeted in flames.
I watched a fanatical Jap pilot, his ship afire, crash-dive the blazing wreckage against the cruiser U.S.S. San Francisco, killing 16 of our men. I saw individual air combats: thrilling and inspiring battles proving the superiority of our fighting American pilots.
Story of Thousands of Young Americans
In eight months’ cruising in the South Pacific I witnessed the opening action at Midway and saw the billowing pall that rose from the pyre of the great old carrier Yorktown. I joined in the cheers as our torpedo planes and dive-bombers returned time after time with racks empty from pounding the fleeing, battered Jap fleet during the red days of June 4, 5, and 6, 1942.
But this is not the story of one man or what he did. It rather is the story of men like Lt. (j.g.) Bowdoin Craighill of Washington, D.C., the late Coxswain G.A. Smith of New York, Ensign Ashley Morris of Atlanta, Turret Capt. R.G. Jackson of Colorado, and are (?) helping to fight our country’s war on the sea fronts of the world.
It is the story of thousands of young Americans who in two years or less have ceased to live and think as civilians; who have become fighting officers and fighting men in the greatest tradition of the United States Navy. It is a closehand view and an effort to understand those swift and subtle changes and the day-by-day experiences that have molded these young fellows into the world’s greatest navy.
The account might also be called The Crusade of The U.S.S. Atlanta since many of us were with her from her shipyard days until that day in the Solomons when she took her towering turrets and deadly guns to the bottom of Savo Sound.
There are two reasons why I do not write under my own name. The first is my personal dislike of being a publicized naval officer. There are thousands of officers and enlisted men who have done the same job, seen the same fights, and have performed their duties better than have I.
Secondly, a personal or subjective description of the Navy would be entirely foreign to the traditions and character of the organization itself. The Navy is objective and impersonal. It has thousands of officers and enlisted men who are doing jobs as magnificently as any ever done. But only their shipmates will realize it.
The faces change, but the characteristics do not as you go from one station to another. Senior officers and experienced enlisted men are constant builders of inspiration and efficiency in newly named officers. For that reason, any story of the Navy must typify its spirit.
In Two Navies
This spirit is objective and result producing; not sensational or personal. The Navy expresses itself in short, conservative communiqués, telling of enemy ships sunk and enemy positions taken.
I have been in two navies. The first was the peace time Navy where I spent most of my time ashore, learning the traditions and ideals of the men with whom I was going to fight. The second has been the sea-going Navy in wartime. I have traveled 75,000 miles with that outfit, dodging submarines in the Atlantic and cruising eventually in the big, blue waste of water that is the Pacific.
I remember the grim picture of Pearl Harbor last spring, where the tragedy of Dec. 7 was seared into our minds by the scorched and oily scum on the beaches and wharves, and by the fire-gutted hulls of the battleships of the Pacific fleet and the destroyers Shaw, Cassin and Downes.
Shortly afterward we joined the hard sailing carrier task forces, which had just finished raiding the Japanese mandated islands from Marcus and Jaluit in the Coral Sea, and from bringing reinforcements to America’s South Pacific bases.
We were proud to join “Halsey’s Horse Marines,” and to sail under an admiral whose nickname is “Fighting Bill.” We were proud to go on answering the question: “Where is the Navy?”
Early in June 1942, we sailed with these same carrier task forces into the thunder and smoke of Midway. And when the battered hulks of the Japanese navy turned back toward Tokio, there no longer was a question: “Where is the Navy?” The battle, which was the turning point in the naval war in the Pacific, had been fought.
Hungry for Japs
Then to the Solomons. For a long time our ships had been practicing coastal bombardments; practicing shooting down dive-bombers, torpedo planes, and high-level bombers. We had thrown shells and flares in mock battles at night. But all hands had had their fill of dummy runs. And the Marines were getting hungry for Japs.
So an American armada steamed out of the southern islands, through the Coral Sea toward Guadalcanal. The Stars and Stripes were raised over an airfield named in honor of Maj. Lofton R. Henderson, a Marine Corps hero who gave his life in the battle of Midway. In the next two months the bloodiest land fighting of the war was to develop on that island.
At the end of these actions in the Solomons there could be no doubt in the mind of Hirohito that American fighting men were on their way to Honshu, the island upon which are situated Tokio and Yokohama.
And if Hirohito has a copy of Fahey’s “Ships and Aircraft of the United States Fleet” he knows this: That 15 battleships, more than a score of aircraft carriers and cruisers like the six Alaskas, eight Baltimores, and 32 Clevelands with hundreds of destroyers and supporting ships, are coming out to assist him in remembering Pearl Harbor. My shipmates who survived will be on those vessels.
And who were my shipmates? Who were the men of the Atlanta? Where were they three years ago? What were they in civilian life?
I will try to tell in the installments that follow how we trained, practiced, and prepared for meeting the enemy and how we felt when first we went into battle. So that you may better understand the transition from civilian life to life in the United States Navy, I will tell something of my own experiences, because they are the experiences of thousands of American boys now at sea—from the Solomons to Casablanca; from the Aleutians to Murmansk.
I have lived in Chicago all my life. The Sisters of Mercy helped me through parochial school and in 1937 I graduated from an academy conducted by the Jesuits. In that year—since funds were scarce and I wanted to get a head start in the advertising business—I started selling advertising while attending a Jesuit university.
I always had thought of education as a means to making a well-rounded man of myself and to appreciation of art, history, philosophy, and the other fields, which make life interesting. My work as an advertising salesman I regarded as preparing me for a worthwhile career.
Entering college in the fall of 1937, I got an evening job. My school hours varied, but the job required 40 hours a week so I was on the go usually from 7 A.M. to about midnight. There wasn’t much time for social life, but beers with classmates at Sieben’s Brewery and “Bavaria,” west of Evanston, and occasional dates were mighty pleasant.
In my first year in college I took a little Spanish, because in the back of my head was the idea I wanted to sell advertising to help build Latin American trade. I was on the swimming team all the way through school and this was my principal recreation. Swimming and working as a lifeguard on Chicago’s beaches between my junior and senior years in high school were about the only forewarnings of a seagoing career to come.
Wanders Into Armory
At the end of my junior college year, in 1940, a wartime military career appeared probable and at this time also the Navy opened its reserve officers training program. After learning of it through a radio announcement, I wandered around to the naval armory at the foot of Randolpe Street on Saturday morning in August to learn if I would be eligible.
In my junior year in high school the late Senator J. Hamilton Lewis had obtained for me an appointment to the Naval Academy. At that time my feet were comfortably, but non-militarily, flat. This was what had caused my doubt as to eligibility in 1940.
On this August day the armory was a typical peacetime naval establishment. Beside the doors were the memorable navy posters; “I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!” (John Paul Jones), “Don’t Give Up the Ship!” (James Lawrence), and from World War I, the drawing by Howard Chandler Christy, with its caption: “Gee I Wish I Were a Man! I’d Join the Navy.”
I took them in at a glance and walked into an office. The yeoman seated there looked up in surprise. Few people called at the armory in those days and it developed I was the fourth man to inquire about the new program.
The yeoman took me to Lt. Comdr. Elmer Carlson, who explained the requirements. He told me that signing up would entail a month’s cruise out of New York to the Caribbean and Panama. At the end of this I either would be selected for further training or be rejected.
If selected, I would go to school three months. After that, if peace still were with us, I would return to civilian life with a commission to await my call, which would come if and where necessary.
I went home and talked it over with my family. The opportunity looked good. I decided to go.
Fire of Battle
The next thing was to get squared away with my boss at the office. He is an old Navy man. His eyes lighted up with the fire of battle. He gave me a letter, stating I might return after the training period without placing either my position or my seniority in jeopardy.
A new world was opening before me, the world of the greatest outfit I ever have imagined—the fighting surface ships of our Navy. But on the day I signed up I had no conception of what a different world it was to be. I took the impressive Navy oath:
“I do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America; that I will serve honestly and faithfully against all their enemies, whomsoever; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the navy.”
I lowered my right hand. I was ready for orders. And they were to come soon.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
80 P.C. of Candidates Make Grade
For Naval Reserve Commissions
This is the second installment of the “Log of the Mighty A,” the story of the gallant cruiser U.S.S. Atlanta, lost in the night battle of Nov. 12-13 in Savo Sound, off Guadalcanal. It is told by a 23-year-old lieutenant in the United States Navy.
BY AN OFFICER OF THE U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
At 11 A.M. of Aug. 17, 1940, I carried my suitcase into Naval armory and left civilian life behind me. The 20 other candidates who were waiting left at noon for New York. My orders had come through late so I entrained at 1:30 P.M. Before we were out of the yards I had made a friend.
He was a lad named Homer Trebilcox from Milwaukee, who had been half way through law school. I saw his short, navy style haircut and guessed he was headed for the cruise.
At 8 o’clock the next morning we piled out of our upper berths and shared a taxicab to the foot of 132d street, where the old U.S.S. Illinois was permanently moored. There we found 1500 other candidates for naval reserve commissions. They were from all over the United States.
At 11 A.M. we filed aboard and were marched up the port side and down the starboard to an accommodation ladder, which led to motor launches moored alongside. At the head of the ladder stood four senior naval officers who made no effort to conceal their merriment, as they looked us over.
Their erect carriage and assured manner impressed us immediately. We began to realize we were shooting at a pretty high goal. The real moment of joining the Navy came when a launch carrying 65 of us headed out into the fog of North river toward three great, grey hulks lying at anchor. These were the battleships Wyoming, Arkansas and Texas. They were our first naval vessels and I will not deny that I was thrilled.
Through Traditional Routine
Our launch went alongside the Wyoming. Aboard her we started through the routine that awaits every “boot” in the Navy. We stood in line drawing our apprentice seamen’s uniforms and gear then we stowed our civilian clothing and suitcases.
Our first meal in the Navy—“noon chow”—was eaten in secondary battery’s No. 3 gunroom, which was to be our eating, sleeping, dressing and recreation quarters for the next month. That first meal brought us pork chops and applesauce, fried potatoes, cole slaw, coffee and ice cream. We spent the afternoon stenciling our names on our gear.
When we broke out our hammocks that night I approached mine somewhat gingerly. I had heard about hammocks. But a petty officer reassured us; “Just keep your heads and tails down, m’lads, and you’ll be all right. Just keep your heads and tails down.”
This is true. There can be no thrashing about or rolling to the edge or you hit the deck. But hammocks are wonderfully comfortable in a rolling sea. They hang like pendulums. The ship rolls, but they don’t.
At 9 P.M. taps sounded and the word was passed: “All hands turn into your bunks; keep silence about the decks; the smoking lamp is out.”
This last grew out of the old custom of keeping a lighted lamp in the forecastle where sailors could light their pipes and cigarettes. When fuel or ammunition was being loaded and at other times when smoking was forbidden, the lamp was put out
At an unearthly hour the next morning a kindly boatswain’s mate roared reveille and paddled us out of our hammocks. After breakfast we were assigned to petty officers who began taking us through the mysteries of swabs, holy stones, squeegees, bright work polish and knots. Starting with the seven loops of a hammock’s lashing.
Always on or Ahead of Schedule
Here I made a friend who taught me much. He was Lyle Campbell and he was from Minnesota. He had been a petty officer in naval reserve. He was neat, alert, and energetic. He always dressed with great care. His attitude toward our senior officers was one of respectful attentiveness.
Lyle taught me one of the most important of the Navy’s unwritten laws: That the Navy always does things on or ahead of schedule. “Quarters at 9 o’clock” means be there five minutes ahead of time.
Two mornings later we put to sea and entered cruise routine: up at 5:30 A.M., work at cleaning stations, shift into uniform of the day, and go to breakfast at 7. The mornings were devoted to lectures on engineering, deck seamanship, hygiene, and gunnery, including small arms and big guns. We learned the customs and the equipment, which were to become part of our lives.
We candidates were watched closely every hour of the day. A marine, a chief petty officer, and a boatswain’s mate, 2d class, were with us throughout the day’s routine. Chief Torpedo man Allen observed us and reported to the division officer the progress we made, individually and collectively. Never have I been under closer scrutiny. Even the things we said counted for or against us. Officer material for the United States Navy is not selected by guess.
Into Gulf Stream
After a few days we passed into the cobalt Gulf Stream waters; the bluest blue I have ever seen. Eventually we moved into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba—Wyoming first, then Arkansas and Texas.
We were beginning to get the feel of being Navy men. It is a feeling peculiar to the Navy; a state of mind not found in the other branches of the service. The ship is like your own home, where you eat, sleep and think. It is like your hometown, where you go to movies, buy ice cream sodas and associate with your fellow citizens.
The ship is the place where you live. It is not a countryside you slide through in the mud. That is one difference between the Navy and the Army. Two years later when I saw the Wyoming from another ship I had the feeling I was looking at my second home.
Ashore with a working party at Caimanera, Cuba, I had the first glimpse of the strange, foreign sights that await the Navy man, in the ports of the world. In Caimanera babies ran naked in the streets, buzzards wheeled overhead and a Cuban officer offered to trade four bottles of run for my 98-cent watch. I declined on the ground the Wyoming had no sideboard on which I could place the run. Nevertheless, I began to feel definitely more salty.
On Monday morning we steamed out of Guantanamo Bay, bound for Panama. I was standing watch as messenger on the bridge and had opportunity to observe the extreme care exercised by the captain, the navigating officer and the officers of the deck. Life on the cruise was not all work. There were band concerts each afternoon. At night after the colors ceremony we lay on the quarter deck, under the blazing southern stars, watching the movies. We took part in happy hours, made up of skits, boxing, and singing by members of the crew. All these things were typical of the peace time navy. We got to know our shipmates better. The lucky ones comforted those who were seasick.
Appetites were terrific. We all gained weight. There was shore leave at Panama and we visited the old city of Panama Viejo, sacked by Henry Morgan in 1776. Some of us walked, some staggered back to the landing. We set sail for Norfolk, anchoring eventually off Old Point Comfort.
Put Through Tests
On the voyage home we had gotten our sea legs and learned our sea terminology. Then we were observed for qualities of leadership, being placed in charge of drilling and physical exercises in our groups. We were given opportunity to stand watch. And, of course, we were both the watchers and the watched. We soon would know how we had impressed these veteran naval men who had been our teachers, our advisers, and our severest critics curing the weeks on the Wyoming.
At New York about 80 percent of the 1500 candidates received appointments as midshipmen. Of those rejected about half lost out for physical reasons and half for lack of aptitude, as decided by the division and petty officers.
I have gone into considerable detail because my experiences were those also of thousands of young men who now hold commissions in our new Navy. And looking back on our training experiences of 1940 heightens the contrast between our peacetime Navy and the fighting Navy of Midway and Savo Sound.
From New York we scattered to our homes to resume our civilian occupations until called for midshipman training. I went back to school and to selling advertising. It was the last civilian life I was to know for a long time to come. At the end of the fall college quarter I received my call to enter one of the important and vital phases of my life.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Cadet Learns Navy’s First Aim
Is Results Through Ability, Skill
By An Officer of U.S.S. Atlanta
As Told to Charles Leavelle
My civilian clothing had been packed away for a long stay when I reported in my midshipman’s uniform Dec. 15, 1940, at Abbott Hall on the Chicago campus of Northwestern University. I was assigned to a room, monk like in its simplicity. There were one single and one double-decker bed, three chairs, and two desks.
My roommates were Joe Osten, with whom I had gone to school, and Charley Owens, a dyed-in-the-wool rebel from the Deep South; the story of midshipmen’s school might well be the story of Charles, because he learned the regulations by bumping his head on them.
We were given a short time to get settled in our rooms, and then all hands were mustered in Thorne Hall for an address by Capt. B.B. Wygant, U.S. N. (Ret.), who had served with Admirals Sims, Taussig, and Carpender when he was a young officer on
Destroyer duty off Ireland in the World War. Capt. Wygant welcomed us as brother officers and impressed us with the responsibilities we were about to assume.
He impressed us also with the ability and skill of the men with whom we soon would be working. And he related three stories that expressed vividly the navy axiom of “skill through practice, promptness, and decisiveness.” In the first, Capt. Wygant told us of a night in the world war when his ship was intercepting radio messages from another.
Suddenly the radioman stopped listening. The other ship, he asserted, was German. It was. He had recognized the distinctive click of their telefunken equipment.
Navy Interested Only In Results
The second story concerned a young officer who had been ordered to bring a boat alongside the ship for an admiral at 10:00. Mechanical difficulties beyond the junior officer’s control caused a delay. The boat arrived at 10:01. The admiral issued a rebuke. The young officer was not at fault, but he offered no excuse. Senior officers of the navy are interested only in results.
The third story was best of all. A destroyer, bound from Norfolk to Boston, developed condenser trouble. Her commander radioed the admiral ashore, asking whether he should put into Brooklyn for repairs or proceed to Boston. The answer flashed right back: “No.” The commander repeated the question and added he was asking for advice; which should he do? The answer again was almost immediate: “Yes.” Eventually he got the idea. He was to make his own decisions.
In closing, Capt. Wygant stressed the danger of the profession we had chosen and told us that many of our number probably would be called upon to give our lives. Charley sat bolt upright at this. For several days he appeared absent-minded and preoccupied. At last he told us what was bothering him.
Dangers Add Spice To Life
“I was reading the encyclopedia last summer,” he said. “It said right there in the book that it is a very difficult thing to hit a target at sea. So I joined the navy. And here the very first day, the man tells us: “You are in a very dangerous profession.”
But Charley has proved his courage. He shot down Jap planes at Pearl Harbor, he has been on several of the fighting fronts—and he has gotten married. He thought he could foretell his career that first night when he looked over the schedule of navigation, seamanship, and ordnance, then remarked:
“I can see right now that this is one battle we’re going to lose.” But he didn’t. And we didn’t. We worked harder during those three months than any of us ever worked before. Between classes we drilled on gunnery and infantry tactics and heard lectures on all our subjects.
We learned gunnery from the ground up from Lt. Comdr. Paul U. Tevis, U.S.N.R., an old destroyer man from World war. He told us the stories of the great ships of the past and impressed upon us that guns are the most important implements in any navy.
Learned Fire Control
Before leading us into the complicated equipment that enables our ships to sink enemies 20 miles away, beyond the horizon, Tevis told us of the earliest fire control; of the big, bearded British gunners in their red striped jerseys who would hang their whiskers on either side of the gun and bellow 50 yards across the water to the French gunners: “I’m gonna get you, you - - - -!”
In the seclusion of our rooms Tevis was called “Uncle Paul.” And—still with the deepest reverence—“the toothless tiger.” Our company officers, Lt. Trava and Midshipman La Rocque led us and drilled us; their knowledge and counsel had much to do with our transition from civilians to military men. Capt. Wygant kept us ever mindful of the dignity and responsibility of the profession we were entering.
We were up each morning at 6:30 and had just tune for shaving, making our bunks, and getting breakfast before the first class. The class system at Abbott Hall is the same as at the naval academy at Annapolis. There is an hour of study and an hour of class. The recitation, rather than the lecture system, is employed. And you are called on at every class. Our instructors wanted only one thing—results.
Charley soon learned that his flowing southern oratory would get him nowhere here. He brought tears of amusement and rage to the eyes of Ensign Hedrick Rhodes when he called the celestial equator the “equinautical” instead of the “equinoctial”: when he called ships “boats” and boats “ships” (you can put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat), and when he redundantly mentioned “30 nautical knots per hour.”
We were getting acquainted with our new world. We studied and we worked; we absorbed navy tradition. We marched across Michigan Avenue in long lines to drill at Tower Hall. And on Saturday afternoons and Sundays we had leave until 7:30 P.M—if we passed the captain’s inspection of personnel and quarters on Saturday morning.
At these Saturday morning inspections, we found that Capt. Wygant had a personal interest in each boy there. I learned this the morning I stood inspection with one illegally discolored eye covered by a patch. He inquired about it, and then invited me to bring my family down to meet him.
On my present leave in Chicago I visited midshipman’s school and was impressed profoundly by the improvements made in an already magnificent system and by the new equipment. I found practice in progress with the latest type machine guns.
Phonographs with amplifiers were simulating the sound of dive-bombers. These were so much more fearsome than the real thing, which dived on us during the red days off Guadalcanal, that I was jarred and startled. I saw a plotting room there with all the equipment of a real plotting room aboard the ship; range keepers and computers, plotting tables for working on fire control problems, and directors that give the information to the plotting room.
There is a complete bridge, such as those lads will find on shipboard. They drill with a real lifeboat, fully equipped.
In my midshipman days I felt the fascination of navigation; the fascination felt by every one who had not lived at sea. It was inspiring to think of knowing the stars well enough to use them as lighthouses and find your exact position anywhere in the world.
We read the old books; Bowditch’s “The American Practical Navigator” and Dutton’s “Navigation and Nautical Astronomy.” From these books, with the guidance of our instructors, we learned how simply and quickly the navigator can obtain a “fix” pm his position.
Like most other midshipmen, I was lost in a fog at first and had a terrible time trying to get the feel of this subject. But when the fog began to lift, it disappeared quickly.
The fascination was still was so strong on March 14, 1941, when I graduated and got my stripes as an ensign, that I sought and obtained an assignment as instructor in navigation at Abbott Hall. Thus began one of the most interesting six-month periods of my life.
No instructor could ask for a better group of students than the men at midshipmen’s school. They had been selected carefully. They wanted to work and to learn. And, since I wore a stripe, they had to laugh at my jokes, good or bad. It was a satisfying post, but six months shore duty was enough for me. I wanted active duty at sea.
Epic of the Mighty “A”:
Men from Varied Walks of Life
Qualify at Naval Officers School
This is the fourth installment of “The Log of the Mighty A,” the story of the amazing cruiser U.S.S. Atlanta, lost in the night action of Nov. 12-13 in Savo Sound. It is an epic of the navy’s surface ships and the men who fight them and is related by a 23-year-old lieutenant. Yesterday he told of his graduation as an ensign, and today he recounts his thrill upon first seeing the gallant Atlanta where he was to serve as a member of the fitting out crew. Payment for this stirring series of stories is being made at the author’s request to the Navy Relief Society.
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
My six months as instructor of navigation in midshipmen’s school, Abbott Hall, Chicago, provided just the sobering influence I needed before reporting for duty at sea. The grave responsibility of a naval officer’s position was felt strongly by all of us on the teaching staff. We had to judge men and mark them on their ability in studies and their aptitude for the naval service.
We wanted to give every man a break. But the criterion for passing a man or turning him back had to be the good of the service—not the hopes of the individual. No matter how much we liked men personally, we were forced to turn them back if it was indicated they would be unable to shoulder the responsibilities in store.
Except in rare cases, a man who was turned back was out of the service. A few whose studies were interrupted by illness were allowed to try again. One section, illustrative of the ability found in midshipmen’s school, included a practicing lawyer from South Carolina, a sugar broker, law graduates from Harvard and Georgetown, an engineer, a genius who never made a mistake, and two men who had spent much of their lives abroad.
My request for orders to sea duty went in with those of a shipmate from the navigation department, Ensign Bowdoin Craighill, and on Sept. 6, 1941, we learned we were to report Sept. 22 to the Federal Ship Building and Drydock Company, Kearny, N.J., for duty in connection with fitting out the light cruiser U.S.S. Atlanta. We were to serve aboard her after she was commissioned.
The Atlanta was launched and christened Sept. 12, with Margaret Mitchell, author of “Gone with the Wind,” as her sponsor. We saw a picture of the ship, but not until we reported in the east did we realize our good fortune. The Atlanta was the finest new ship in the navy. Craighill and I presented ourselves before Comm. C.D. Emory, the executive officer. The ship’s office then was in a two-story building amid the bustling din of the expanding navy yard.
Half a dozen destroyers loomed up on the ways alongside the river next to a dozen merchantmen in various stages of completion. Our sister ship, the U.S.S. Juneau, stood high above the destroyers. Moored to the side of the finishing basin stood the Atlanta, which was to be our home until one blazing night 14 months later in Savo Sound, off Guadalcanal, with the Juneau and several of these same destroyers.
Her decks were covered by a tangled mass of electrical cables, acetylene hoses, and pneumatic gear. Welders and riveters were swarming all through her.
The sunlight striking the mighty turrets was a stirring sight. There were more of them than any cruiser ever had carried; three forward, three aft, and two amidships. It was inspiring to know that the ship bearing those turrets was to be the fastest and most graceful cruiser in the navy.
A technical note is needed here. Atlanta’s main battery was enclosed in mounts, not turrets, according to strict terminology. Light armor is the difference and was used so the guns could be slewed around quickly in pouring out the heaviest anti-aircraft broadside of any ship afloat. But the term turret is accurate for clarity and will be used in this story.
Officers Inspire Pride in Work
Craig and I were the first reserve officers to report. A dozen regular officers of the nucleus fitting out crew had arrived and Commander Emory introduced us to them. It was his job to organize and direct them, outlining the duties for which each department head and division officer would be responsible.
The gunnery officer, Lt. Comdr. W.R. Nickelson, U.S.N., was glad to see us. With his warm handshake we caught a glint of the eye, which made us feel he expected from us the same hard, careful work that characterized his own handling of the job. New gunnery officers learned soon that they could expect their boss to appear at any time in the turrets, magazines, and fire control stations.
Lt. Comdr. Norman W. Sears, U.S.N., the damage control officer, greeted us briefly and cordially, and then characteristically turned back to his work. He had just come back from duty in Samoa.
Lt. Comdr. Sears’ present job was to inspect and test electrical installations, doors, and lockers—everything that was to make the ship seaworthy and livable.
Lt. Comdr. Arthur E. Loeser, U.S.N., engineering officer, was not there. As usual, he was in his engine room aboard ship, getting her ready to go. He seemed almost to live at the shipyards during the weeks the engineering plant was coming to life.
We were introduced to our new boss, Lt. P.T. Smith, communications officer, a wise man with an Irish twinkle in his eye and a way of making us feel at home—if we worked. He and Ensign Morgan Wesson, who became his assistant, early earned the interest and respect of us all. They handled and decoded secret orders and information without ever a leak of vital news. Ensign Ashley Morris of Atlanta, Ga., joined them after we had reached the Solomons.
The senior officers mentioned here were the heads of the departments and responsible under Commander Emory for readying the ship.
We met Lt. John T. Wulff, U.S.N., assistant engineer officer, who had just returned from a post-graduate course in engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A day or so later he took Craig and me into New York and at the offices of Gibbs & Cox we inspected a large scale model of the Atlanta’s revolutionary and high pressure, superheated engineering plant.
Craig and I got a warm handshake and a friendly grin from Lt. Lloyd M. Mustin, U.S.N., assistant gunnery officer. He took us aboard and showed us our guns and fire control equipment with the same pride a mother would introduce her children. Three other officers of the gunnery department were Lt. (j.g.) Pat McEntee, U.S.N., Lt. (j.g.) Jim Shaw, U.S.N., and Lt. (j.g.) Van Perkins, U.S.N., who had just returned from three years’ service in the China station.
Knowing these men made Craig and me realize the high standards the Navy expects from its younger officers. Lt. McEntee was to take over and run the 1st division in the manner his juniors hoped some day to run their own divisions. Lt. Shaw of the F division was to have a sound answer for every fire control problem. Lt. Perkins was a wizard at solving knotty ones on ship upkeep and seamanship.
The last officer we met that day was Lt. D.C.T. Grubbs, U.S.N., the supply officer, who was busy—to put it mildly—making sure that every detail of equipment the Atlanta needed would be on board for the commissioning. He was assisted by Ensign Jim Koiner, a real shipmate and a terrific worker, in the colossal task of getting supplies and stores aboard for 700 men. This often called for 24-hour days.
To the Atlanta’s reserves the senior officers were to bring a partial realization of the great heritage the regular peace time navy is passing on to the new war time navy. Preservation of this heritage should be considered by those who would scrap our fighting ships and disperse the naval organization when this war is ended.
For two weeks we worked in the shipyards, studying plans and statistics of the ship and going aboard daily for inspection tours that took us through every department. On these tours we began to appreciate the pride the ship workers of the Federal yards felt in this magnificent vessel. It was plain they were jealous of us who would take her to sea.
After this Craig and I were assigned to the subway strap navy, reporting each morning to the naval communications office at 90 Church Street, where it was our duty to assemble and correct all confidential and secret publications the Atlanta was to receive. At the end of a month I was ordered to fire control school at Washington for 30 days, and Craighill was left to finish the communications.
My roommate was Ensign Means Johnston, Jr., who had had a couple of years’ experience on battleships and destroyers. He took me through gunnery school and was like a father to me. Here again my respect for naval officers deepened. I returned to New York on Dec. 3.
Capt. Samuel P. Jenkins, U.S.N., our prospective commanding officer, had arrived. The Atlanta was to be Capt. Jenkins’ eighth command. Whether aboard ship or at a shore station, the captain is the head and the heart of the unit. Cruising from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific, our skipper never was to be farther away from the bridge than his sea cabin, eight feet below the pilothouse.
Knowledge that “the old man” always was on the job was to keep all hands on their mettle. This was true of senior and junior officers and the petty officers, right down the line. And it was that way through to the end.
We all were glad to sail with Capt. Jenkins. And sailing date was neared than we had imagined. The next Sunday was Dec. 7, 1941.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Fortnight After Pearl Harbor Saw
Atlanta Made Ready as Yule Gift
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
While the bombs were falling on Pearl Harbor I was in Radio City Music Hall. There was no announcement inside the hall of the Japanese attack. When we emerged we saw unusually large crowds watching the moving news bulletin on The New York Times building. Then we saw the headlines on the papers people were snatching from newsboys. That was the last day I wore civilian clothes.
The following morning the entire nucleus crew of the Atlanta gathered in the ship’s office. There were about a dozen officers and 25 petty officers, all in uniform. Capt. Jenkins was the center of the group.
Trained Years to Meet Just Such Emergency
These were men of the old Navy. The thing that had happened simply was the sort of emergency they had trained for years to meet. There was nothing in their manner to mark this as anything other than a routine assembly. We stood silently, listening to the President’s war message, which came to us by radio, and to the subsequent vote for declaration of war.
In the next fortnight preparations for commissioning the Atlanta were speeded in every way possible and on the morning of Christmas Eve the new cruiser lay in the Brooklyn navy yard with the full crew assembled on the fantail. (Dad was transferred to the Atlanta 12-24-41. He must have been there. That would explain why he has a copy of the Commissioning Program in his scrapbook.)
The ship’s officers, a third of them reserves, stood in three lines in the center. Behind them, in ranks, were the petty officers. The 700 men of the crew were lined up in ranks on either side. Rear Adm. Adolphus Andrews addressed us briefly, presenting the Atlanta as the nation’s Christmas present to the Navy and wishing our guns many successful broadsides against the enemy.
Sudden Scene of Splendor
Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta, Ga., author of “Gone with the Wind”, spoke even more briefly, ending her talk with “…and may God bless you all.” It had been a misty, rainy morning, but at 11 A.M. the moment of the commissioning, the sun broke through. It glinted on the officers’ swords and flashed on those mighty turrets. A rather dull tableau suddenly was a scene of splendor.
Adm. Andrews read to Capt. Jenkins
his orders to take command of the beautiful new cruiser. After Capt.
Jenkins had accepted, the two officers shook hands, the Stars and Stripe
were raised, the executive officer posted the watch, and the U.S.S.
I stepped into the job of a division officer and the responsibility of getting the three after turrets ready to shoot. I had to get the 118 men of the division squared away in their living quarters, into their battle stations in the after turrets and magazines, and into their duties of deck seamanship.
Most of the men were new and green. Not being very old and salty myself, I relied heavily on the ability and experience of competent petty officers, who had learned their jobs in six or a dozen of years of cruising in the peacetime navy. Cook, the boatswain’s mate, 1st class, had to be the father and mother and counselor to the new men. Warf, Jackson, and Hawkins, turret captains, 1st class, explained the complicated mechanisms and made efficient crews of the men under them in gratifyingly short time.
Novel New Year’s
A few days after the Atlanta was commissioned, two young ensigns of the Naval Academy class of ’42 reported to the ship. Their quiet competence in analyzing their jobs and getting them under way created a hood impression in the wardroom. Ensign Don Spangler became radio officer and Dick Straub ran the E (electrical) division. In these posts they were assisted materially by the skilled draftsmanship of Ensign Dave Nicholson, who had graduated No. (can’t read) in a group of 400 reserve engineering officers at Annapolis.
Our New Year’s Eve was novel. It is naval tradition that the mid-watch—the first watch of the New Year—shall write the ship’s log in poetry. Lt. McEntee and Ensign Henry Jenks did a corny, but well meaning bit of doggerel, excusing themselves on the ground that they were naval officers, not poets. One stanza, I recall, went like this:
“To comfort our ship, ere she goes forth,
Be it tropical clime or the frozen north,
To blast our foes from their evil thrones,
We receive from the dock steam, (?) juice, water, and telephones.”
The next few weeks found us working at high speed, early and late. We loaded ammunition for our 16 big guns and took on depth charges while finishing touches were put to our ship. Then we put to sea for a shakedown cruise and gunnery practice. Into two weeks we condensed what ordinarily would have been two years’ gunnery. About half the crew was seasick in the wintry weather. Because the submarine menace was becoming real, we cruised at high speed.
Gunfire at Sea
It was during this period that we began to see merchant ships, laboring toward New York, their side plates blown in by torpedoes. Then I had my first glimpse of gunfire at sea and it was a thrilling sight. My watch at the time was in the main battery director. We were cruising north, shortly after dawn, when we spotted a merchant ship and a destroyer on the horizon.
We saw the orange-white flashes and heard the booming of gunfire. Because of the hour we felt sure they were not at target practice. We trained our battery and started in their direction. Before we could reach them, however, the firing ceased. As they apparently had the situation in hand, we did not remain in the area.
Shortly after this we received our orders—the first section of them that is. We had put into a port and reloaded our magazines with service ammunition. Two hours after returning to sea, Capt. Jenkins addressed the crew over the loudspeaker system. He said we were bound for Panama.
During this cruise the uncanny precision of our navigator, Lt. Comdr. J.S. Smith, Jr., came to be accepted by officers and crew with satisfaction and pride. Landfalls were made with pinpoint accuracy.
We passed through the Caribbean and the blue waters of the gulf, which now were submarine infested. But the U-boats gave us a wide berth and threw no tin fish. We were an anti-submarine ship. They wanted no part of us.
As we approached the canal we were thankful not to be an enemy craft, trying to slip in. For days before we arrived aircraft were almost constantly on the horizon. Our surface ships were out in force. On Panama itself there were many changes since I had seen it last; barrage balloons and vast defense installations.
W.E. Hutchinson, the chief fire control man, and I had a field day under the approving eye of the gunnery officer, training the main battery on the aircraft and getting fire control solutions. It increased our confidence in the Atlanta’s anti-aircraft powers, which were to cost the Japs heavily in the days soon to come. Right hand man of the gunnery officer now was Cleveland, chief turret captain. He was promoted to warrant officer before our battles in Savo Sound. Ensign Jenks was the conscientious custodian of torpedoes, having finished torpedo officers’ school just before the commissioning.
Joined by Albatross
We passed through the locks and into the Pacific and were gratified by the contrast. It really was pacific. The men who had been seasick recovered their health and were not indisposed again. Soon after we emerged into the western ocean Capt. Jenkins informed the crew we were bound for Pearl Harbor.
We had daily gunnery practice with the big guns and small arms. We released balloons and when we were a mile or so away turned the main battery on them, knocking them down. We shot flying fish with our 45s.
It was at this time that the albatross joined us. It was a long, dark winged flying bird with a graceful body, a long beak and keenly watchful eyes. One young officer said he thought he’d take a shot at it. This earned him such a baleful glare from Neely, the chief gunner’s mate, that he said hastily he had been in jest.
The albatross remained with us all day, swinging gracefully along above our bows, frequently turning his head to look at us searchingly. Just before sundown he bade us farewell with his eyes and swerved away to the south. We could see him a long time.
Just as when we were approaching the Canal Zone, watchful planes and surface vessels picked us up as we neared the Hawaiian group. We were guided through the minefields to Pearl Harbor’s channel entrance. At last we were to see for ourselves what the Japs had done in their sneak attack of Dec. 7.
Pearl Harbor Scene Sears Dec. 7
Memory Into the Minds of All
BT AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
As the U.S.S. Atlanta steamed into Pearl Harbor that April day in 1942, all hands strained their eyes for a sight of what the Japs had done to us in their sneak raid of Dec. 7. As we headed north toward Ford Island the first thing to catch our attention was a blackened hangar on Hickam Air Field. Then came a litter of masts and turrets on the beach to our port side.
We passed the hulks of the destroyers Cassin and Downes. Their steel sides, ripped by the infernos that had gutted them, seemed to cry to us for vengeance. Then we reached “battleship row.”
The U.S.S. Oklahoma lay on her side. At her stern was the West Virginia, still sitting on the bottom, but ready for raising. (She was up in a few more weeks.) At the West Virginia’s stern lay the twisted and blackened wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona, which had taken a bomb down a smokestack during the Jap raid.
And covering the beaches and wharfs and the sides of the craft plying the harbor was the scorched, oil scum deposited during the holocaust that had raged there four months before. We saw two of our carriers intact and they were a welcome sight.
There were several cruisers, too, which obviously had been to war. They were just back from our raids on the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
Harbor Far from Shambles
On that swing up Pearl Harbor we saw enough to sear into our minds forever the memory of Dec. 7, 1941. But the harbor was by no means the shambles we had expected. Everywhere there was activity. Sailors by the thousands in dungarees were working, working, working. The navy yard was alive with crews, building and repairing. All signs of damage had been removed from Ford Island, where amphibious planes were going into the water and taking off. The air literally was filled with planes.
Despite Jap claims, the United States Navy was very much a going concern. If our crew had been impatient for action before, the men were wild for it now. It was about this time that we began calling our ship the “Mighty A.”
As we steamed past the ruined hulks of the battleships that had been caught by surprise air attack, the full knowledge of our anti-air-craft power seemed to come to all of us.
The consensus among those in Pearl Harbor was that the Mighty A was the most beautiful ship of the Navy. And every one was jealous, because they knew we soon would be out there with one of the task forces, helping the Japs remember Pearl Harbor.
Crew in Fine Fettle
Our crew was in fine fettle by now. The nucleus crew had absorbed and trained the new men, all of whom now were tanned and had their sea legs.
At Pearl Harbor we started two weeks of intensive work. We bore-sighted our guns. This brings absolutely to bear the cross in the telescopic sights and crosses that are inserted into the bores of the guns. Thus, when the sights are on, the guns are on. We made frequent trips to sea to fire at sleeve targets towed by plane and at rafts, far out on the horizon.
At night we lay in the harbor. I’ll never forget these nights. So brilliant was the Hawaiian moon that we could distinguish colors. As it shone down upon the Koolau and Waianae mountains—over which the Japs had come—the golden light flashed in rainbows on the dews and mists that rolled along the fields.
On a night early in May we learned we were to sail the next day. And that night in violation of all naval regulations, a package was brought aboard, mysteriously eluding inspection. The next morning, far out at sea, we were amazed to see men running about being chased by a little black and white mongrel. He seemed to have a family resemblance to both the terrier and the dachshund—but he was just a dog.
We named him Lucky A and inducted him immediately with the rank of coxswain. He was assigned a number and a metal identification tag. The men made him a little life jacket. His battle station was designated as Repair II, under Lt. Comdr. Norman W. Sears, U.S.N. His actual working station, it developed, was to be just outside the galley, looking in.
“Chose to Die Incog”
Lucky’s autobiography appeared in the Chock-A-Block. It was ghosted for him by a kindly member of the crew and proclaimed his father had been a marine cops mascot named Stoop, but that his mother never would reveal her name in fear that relatives still living in Germany might be eaten. When she finally was caught in a tractor, “she chose to die incog.”
The appearance of Lucky was the last circumstance necessary to weld the Atlanta’s company—officers and men—into a solidly united fighting family. In this respect alone, Lucky was worth his weight in gold.
As our ship left Hawaii behind Capt. Jenkins addressed us on the loudspeaker system. We were bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, he said, adding that he foresaw no definite action, but that we would pass within bombing range of the Gilberts and Marshalls. Planes followed us out the first day, towing sleeve targets. The destroyer, ammunition ship and tanker of our convoy blazed away at their targets. The Mighty A blasted hers with the first salvo.
We were keyed up now and on the alert. We were aware this was our first wartime responsibility and we were fully prepared for it. On one occasion an overzealous lookout identified a sea gull as a hostile plane. We all went to battle stations in honor of the bird.
After that we gave our lookouts some intensive training in distinguishing between sea gulls and airplanes.
The trip was beautiful. The flying fish were with us constantly. There always were rainbows on our bow spray. We were passing through squalls continually, and once I walked aft a few feet behind a curtain of rain that was drenching the decks. It moved along ahead of me and passed off the fantail.
Made Life Pleasant
As we cruised among the islands of the South Pacific, the good fellowship of four officers made life much more pleasant for our company. Lt. (j.g.) Ira Wilson, from Cornell University, and Lt. (j.g.) Jack Pierce, from Georgetown U., delighted every one with their quick humor. They taught the crew to box, take sun baths, and sing songs such as “Sam, You Made the Pants too Long.”
Their comrade in fun, Lt. (j.g.) Dusty Rhodes could always joke his way through a 48-hour day and never failed to make the seasick club when we had heavy weather. Just before the Solomon campaign, Ensign Bob Graff organized community sings for off watch sailors and helped start the ship’s newspaper, “The Chock-A-Block.”
Crossing the equator we welcomed aboard his Royal Highness, Neptunus Rex and royal party. The ceremonies began at 8:45 A.M. and lasted until 2 P.M. At the end of them I had been elevated from a lowly pollywog to a shellback, as had most of our crew and reserve officers. During the ceremonies we were ordered to general quarters (battle stations) three times, but all were false alarms.
We saw only one enemy aircraft. This was identified as a Mitsubishi 97 bomber. It hung above the horizon more that 20 miles off, however, and gave us no chance at it. When we had reached a point not far from the Fiji Islands we released our convoy and turned off for a rendezvous with Adm. William F. (Fighting Bill) Halsey’s celebrated “Horse Marines.”
It was the greatest thrill of my naval career, up to then. We knew we were drawing near, but we were running in and out of rainsqualls and could see little. Just after dawn a lad in the crow’s nest—Walter Hollingsworth, Seaman 2d class—reported a carrier bearing 025 off the bow.
It turned out to be bearing 021, phenomenally close, when it is considered Hollingsworth was judging visually. When I asked him how he had accomplished this, he apologized for being four degrees off! This is an example of the skill of the men under Lt. (j.g.) Jack Broughton, the lookout officer. He never let his mind stray from the business of keeping his organization at top efficiency.
We in the director now could see the carrier, looming up big and black. Then the masts of the cruisers came up, along with another carrier, and finally the thicket of destroyer masts. Now the hulls began to show, with the great carriers dominating the scene. It was the grimmest, blackest armada I ever had seen. There were ships all the way across our bows. This, then, was what had been scaring hell out of the Japs in the mandated islands. And no wonder.
We went to meet them, full of our own little pride. Up to that grim bunch of battle bulldogs waltzed the Atlanta, as beautiful and graceful as a deer. Two destroyers came alongside and we broke out about 80 sacks of mail. (Dad?) We couldn’t understand then why there should be such a rush for the mail; why it was so important. But we soon were to learn that mail is the very life of the men out there. It is the next best thing to a trip home.
While we were transferring the sacks, men on one destroyer told us about getting four Jap planes in the battle of the Coral Sea. The carriers had not been in the battle, but at least two of the cruisers and several destroyers had been in the thick of it. We were new to Halsey’s Horse Marines but we got a rousing welcome. And we thrilled with something more than pride. Action could not be far ahead. We felt it in our bones.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Atlanta’s Role in Midway Battle;
U.S. Won Glory at Heavy Price
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
With the U.S.S. Atlanta—the Mighty A—in the lead, the great task force under Adm. William F. (Fighting Bill) Halsey began steaming back toward Pearl Harbor. On the way we engaged in split second target practice that kept every gun crew tensely alert.
The task force was strung out in a long line, reminiscent of peacetime. Cruisers were first, then destroyers. The carriers were in the center of the line with cruisers following them and destroyers following the cruisers. Without warning the carrier guns would throw bursts to unpredictable places and our ships would be designated to fire in turn at the bursts.
Action Near; Show Starts Rolling
Some of the gun crews showed up well, excellently in fact. Others were not so good. But by the time we needed them, all were good.
We spent only one night in Pearl Harbor, and then we started out cruising back and forth toward Midway. There was a different feeling now. We had had the great victory of the Coral Sea and had chased the Japs. We knew action was near. The show was rolling.
On June 2 there were unmistakable signs that we were getting close. On the morning of June 4 we were up unusually early and immediately after breakfast were ordered to battle stations.
Our Planes Begin to Knock Down Japs
At a little after 8 A.M. our Douglas dive-bombers and the torpedo planes began taking off from the carriers and disappearing into the west. Our scout planes had preceded them and were flying high spread out over a great area. Soon they began encountering and knocking down Jap planes, reporting their victories by radio. We could see none of this. The inaction chafed us.
The carrier Yorktown was just visible on the horizon to the south. And, as it turned out, she was between us and the Jap fleet. We were guarding another carrier.
The good news burst on us just after 10 A.M. Our aft arm had found the Jap fleet. The news was so wonderfully heartening we could hardly contain ourselves: Four Jap carriers hit, two sunk and two burning: a destroyer burning, and all the rest of the Nip fleet taking a terrific pounding.
And in the midst of this came a sequence of comic relief that still makes Atlanta men roar with laughter when they think of it. Our radio picked up the wavelength on which the Japs were directing their air arm and we heard a Jap commentator over the scene of action trying to give a running account of the battle.
Doesn’t Like It
At intervals of increasing frequency, his rapid flow of gibberish would be interrupted by an agonized “Yeeee-ouch!” We turned this into the loud speakers so that all those in the gun turrets and the rest of the ship could hear.
After a particularly horrible yowl from the Jap, Lt. Lloyd M. Mustin, U.S.N., drawled into the microphone: “That Jap seems to be telling Tokio he’s getting something and whatever he’s getting he doesn’t like it a damn bit.”
We could hear confused noises as a background to our commentator’s gibberish and we guessed this might be the bursting of anti-aircraft shells. Presently, after one last screech, his voice ceased abruptly and we heard him no more.
We knew the Japs would return the visit our air arm had paid their fleet. They were not long in coming. Our first intimation of their arrival was the concentrated curtain of terrific anti-aircraft fire that appeared over the spot where we knew the Yorktown to be. Then we could see Jap dive-bombers and torpedo planes coming in. They would start in, turn back, and then head in again.
There were gigantic bursts in the sky as direct hits were made on dive-bombers. The attacking planes flew apart in thunderclaps of fire and black smoke. Streamers of smoke hung between the sky and the sea as flaming planes plunged beneath the waves. There would be a flurry of bursts along the water, followed by thunderous explosions and mushrooming black pillars as direct hit were scored on torpedo planes.
Yorktown Gets It
But we were spectators only. The Japs were not attacking the carrier under our protection and they came nowhere near us.
Suddenly, at the horizon’s southern rim a column of black smoke shot up and hung like a pall against the blue sky. A ship—a big one—had been hit. We prayed to God it wasn’t the carrier. But soon we were to learn it was the great old Yorktown, which already had taken a pounding in the Coral Sea. The furiously mounting smoke cloud told us she was a goner.
The pall was in sight a long time, finally dropping behind the rim of the sea, as we steamed westward at full speed in pursuit of the battered Jap fleet. Only our inability to join the fight hampered the elation we felt at the news we were receiving moment by moment.
We remained at battle stations detailing one man to bring up food to us from the galley at mealtime. Our noon meal, eaten at battle stations June 4, was like a picnic. We had pea soup, ham sandwiches, apples, coffee and blueberry pie, which we ate without benefit of forks or spoons. If we had met the enemy at close quarters just then he would have thought himself up against African savages in war paint.
At 1 P.M. the planes began returning to our carrier. The gunners leaned from the turrets to look at them through binoculars. Elation mounted as plane after plane circled in to land, its torpedo or bomb rack empty. The ships stayed only long enough to load up again. Then they took off to drop more destruction on the fleeing and burning Japs.
Best News of Day
The best news of the day arrived that evening. There was no further air opposition from the Japanese. Two of their carriers were still up, but were burning so fiercely they could no longer base their aircraft. Some of the desperate Jap fliers tried to land on Midway Island, providing much target practice and great sport for our marines there. We remained at battle stations all night, the men taking two or three hours off in relays for sleep and rest. All were back before dawn. We had breakfast at stations.
On the nights of June 4, 5, and 6 the sunsets grew increasingly beautiful. Nautical men know the stars and are at home under the sky. And any familiar thing is beautiful after a day of battle. I will never forget the onset of those nights; darkness creeping up from the east and gradually blotting out the sky and clouds while in the west the sunset flamed in a riot of color. As the darkness deepened, the constellations appeared: the Argonauts, the Southern Cross and many others.
The night of the sixth was the most beautiful of all, because on that night it was all over. The Japs had scattered to the southwest, west and northwest and were getting back to their protected bases. It was a magnificent victory in which the enemy lost four carriers, two heavy cruisers, three destroyers, a supply ship, and 275 (?) aircraft. We lost the Yorktown, the destroyer Hammann, and a number of aircraft.
Jap ships severely damaged included three battleships, three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, three auxiliary cruisers, and several destroyers.
Our heaviest losses were among the torpedo planes and dive-bombers, which won the battle. Of the 15 planes and 30 men of torpedo squadron 5, only one plane returned with but one man alive. It was a bloody but glorious day in the history of American aviation.
At Fighting Edge
We headed back briefly to a base for rechecking guns, refurnishing the engineering department, and more target practice. There was day and night firing at rafts. We bombarded a shore of Hawaii. At night cruisers stood off 10 miles from targets to throw their projectiles and score hits under a sky aflame with star shells and flares. We shot down obsolete radio controlled planes that were simulating dive-bombers and torpedo attacks.
The practice in which our own planes simulated attacks almost scared us into worrying. They were much more terrific than the Japs ever had been. It’s an exciting feeling to stand there in the director throwing a battery around and trying to get it set on a torpedo plane that is maple leafing it at dizzying speed. Your enemy is 1000 yards off. Then he’s 75. Then he flips up, missing you by about 10 yards and grins down as he goes over.
Inter-divisional rivalries were a source not only of serious discussion but also of much chest beating both by officers and men. Lt. Al Newhall’s division of the main battery regularly lorded their hard working, hard fighting record over the machine gun division men, who readily retorted that they were “On the ball with Ensign Hall.” When Lt. Newhall was ordered to Pensacola for flight training he turned the division over to Lt. (j.g.) E.D. Corboy with instructions to “keep Dave Hall envious of our boys.”
After our intensive practice period every one on the Mighty “A” was at fighting edge. Every gun and every bit of mechanism was ready for instant action. Then we steamed south. All our boats except one or two for service duty were left behind. We were in the real action now.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Japs on Tulagi Got Surprised
On the Morning of August 7
In today’s, the eighth installment of “The Log of the Mighty A,” the U.S.S. Atlanta begins to taste the action her officers and men had been praying for. She is in at the landing of marines on Tulagi, helps blast two attacking Jap armadas, and has a part in saving one of our carriers. The author, who at 23 is a full lieutenant in the Navy, describes two of the most amazing aerial combats of the war.
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
During the latter days of July, the Mighty A and her task force cruised towards a rendezvous with one of the greatest armadas assembled in this war.
There were carriers, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, destroyers, destroyer minesweepers, and converted four stackers being used as fast transports after having had two boilers removed. There were a large number of transports loaded to the guards with men of the United States Marine Corps. Battleships, too, added great anti-aircraft power and the terrible threat of their turrets. The armada included Australians as well as Americans.
While we were working the convoy and getting under way, the Associated Press news bulletins we had been receiving began mentioning an airfield the Japs were building on an island whose name we had never heard. It was one we didn’t even know how to pronounce. The name was Guadalcanal.
During the next several days we continued to steam toward the Coral Sea and somewhere along the line we were informed our objectives were Tulagi, a tiny islet just south of Florida Island, and Guadalcanal.
Jap Command Is Taken by Surprise
On the morning of Aug. 7 we were up early, had breakfast and were at battle stations an hour before dawn. There we were treated to a magnificent sight as our planes began taking off in the luminous darkness of half dawn. All our ships switched on their red mast lights, and the planes turned on their flying lights as they left the carriers.
Plane after plane, then squadron after squadron shot into the sky like outbound meteors. Above us they circled and circled until the heavens were a medley of whirling planets.
When the last squadron was in the air the great striking force swung northward and all ships extinguished their lights. The planes were due at Tulagi shortly before dawn.
Our armada had divided, the Atlanta and other surface ships remaining with the carriers, while a number of hard hitting cruisers and destroyers escorted the transports in and began blasting the beaches, preparatory to landing operations.
Our planes began returning about an hour and a half later and we learned they had taken the Tulagi Japs completely by surprise, destroying 18 seaplanes on the water. Now the old familiar shuttle service began, with dive-bombers taking off with full racks and returning empty to load up again and go back with a new load of death and destruction for the Japs. Our operations were driving the Jap command wild.
Enemy Torpedo Planes Meet Disaster
Shortly after noon they gambled a force of 25 heavy torpedo planes from Rabaul in the hope of eliminating the landing operations. This resulted in the greatest American anti-aircraft victory of the war up to that time. The torpedo planes bored in with motors wide open, striking for the cruiser and destroyer screened transports in Savo Sound.
But the Japs in deadly earnest are not half so unnerving as our own flyers making practice runs. When they were close in our ships opened up. The concussion from hundreds of bursts threw the Jap planes out of line so that they were shooting in head on and could get no broadside whack at our force.
In a matter of seconds the Jap line was in wild confusion. As the attackers roared past, some of them within 150 feet of our ships, our smaller caliber guns and multiple pompoms opened up. The havoc that followed is indescribable.
Jap planes were exploding with ear shattering blasts amid the curtain of bursts; others were plummeting into the sea aflame. It lasted about a minute and only three of the 25 torpedo planes got through. And the instant they were clear of us our fighter planes, which had been racing to intercept them, dived on the three survivors and that was that. Torpedoes were slicking along among our ships, but the Japs’ aim had been thrown off by concentrated fire.
1100 Marines Land
Only one torpedo found a mark. One of our ships was damaged so severely it had to be beached, but without loss. When the propulsion mechanisms ran down on the torpedoes that had gone wild, they sank to the bottom of the sound and were no further menace.
We heard that 1100 Marines had been landed successfully on Tulagi and that the most serious trouble encountered had been from forces on Gavutu and Tanambogo Isles, nearby. This had been quickly overcome and it now was simply a matter of patrolling the supply lines and seeing reinforcements safely landed. The patrolling, however, proved to be a hot job.
Torpedo Junction began acquiring its sinister reputation as Jap submarines concentrated there. It grew difficult to get supplies through. It was then that one of the catch phrases of the Solomon campaign developed. The sound of heavy firing or of depth charge explosions out in Savo Sound would always prompt some one to remark: “Sounds like there’s a function at the junction.” For more than two weeks sporadic skirmishing and regular patrol continued. On Aug. 24 the Mighty A had the first chance to really distinguish herself.
Japs Lose Carrier
The Japs, smarting doubly under our successful landing operations and the losses of planes and submarines, sent a carrier force in from the north. Our air arm went out to meet it, and knocked off one of their carriers, the Ryujo. Meanwhile, the Japs had launched an 80-plane attack on us.
The air armada was made up of dive-bombers, a large number of torpedo bombers, and an escort of Zero fighters. Our fighter force tore into them and in an incredibly brief engagement knocked down 44 Jap planes, including all the torpedo carriers. The dive-bombers came on alone, with our fighters in hot pursuit.
Several miles from the carriers, our planes veered off, leaving the attackers to us, and skirted around to catch any who might come through what we were about to throw at them. As the first of the dive-bombers came plummeting down through the mist, the Mighty A opened with every gun she had.
Men on other ships said the Atlanta seemed to burst into flame from bow to fantail and from mast tip to waterline. A tossing umbrella of smoke, flame, and screeching steel opened above our carriers. The carriers’ guns threw up even more hell.
The Aichi 99 dive-bombers were exploding in mid-air from direct hits on their racks. Others were skidding out of that deadly curtain into the sea, leaving trails of flame and smoke behind.
Those planes that got through after dropping their bombs would bank away from the target, turning toward us their big wings with orange balls painted near the tips. Lt. (j.g.) Bowdoin Craighilll, my shipmate from Chicago, was in charge of the forward starboard multiple machine guns. He simply designated the target and his pointer and trainer put their sights on.
After that it was like one of the old dummy runs we knew so well. They just sat there, grinding it out. Down would come an Aichi through the curtain of fire. He would back away, turning up his wings, then waver, shudder, and splash into the water, leaving a patch of burning gasoline on the surface. It was beautiful.
Some of the Aichis banked away on the opposite side of the carriers, depriving us of a shot at them. But other ships were waiting out there to polish them off. Of the 80 (?) planes, less than 10 got away. We considered it a great anti-aircraft victory, even though the fighters got far more Japs than we.
U.S. Carrier Hit
The attack had lasted about 10 minutes. It ended as suddenly as it had begun and we saw a heart stopping sight. One of our carriers was burning. It was infuriating to us to watch that big, beautiful ship go lunging about the sea with flames and smoke pouring out of her.
There was nothing we could do. They were doing plenty on the carrier, however. In a short time the flames had disappeared. There still was some smoke. But the carrier was taking on and discharging planes. She still was in the scrap. It was a great moment for all of us.
There were two individual combats in the air during the action that never have been chronicled, so far as I know. They certainly are worthy of mention in any account of the battle for the Solomons. As a prelude to the dive-bomber attack, a huge multi-motored Jap bomber tried to creep up on us, slipping from cloud to cloud.
Battle of Monsters
At length he entered a long cloudbank within striking distance of our carriers. We swung our batteries and waited for him to come out. Suddenly a section of the cloud tossed about wildly. There was a heavy explosion and a mushroom of black smoke burst through the fleecy white.
From the bottom of the cloud plunged a mass of flaming wreckage and out of the top popped one of our fighters. He waggled his wings at us and streaked away to help intercept the approaching dive-bomber armada.
The other encounter took place out of our sight. I would have given a lot to see it. In a sky empty of all other planes a B-17 Flying Fortress encountered a giant, four motored Kawanishi flying boat. It was a battle of monsters and they went at it like little fighter planes, diving and banking with so many machine guns going it sounded like a dogfight. The pilot who later told me about it said they took up a whole corner of the sky.
Mascot Spots Planes
It ended when the Fortress slid under the Kawanishi and sewed it up the belly with tracers from the turret and tail guns. The big Jap fell into the Pacific, burning. Then the Fortress waggled those enormous wings, just as a little fighter might have, and went on about its mission.
During the attack on the carriers, Lucky had a great time. He was all over the place, yapping at the top of his voice. Lucky soon assumed the duty of spotting Jap planes for us.
Actually he couldn’t distinguish between Jap planes and ours, and though he could detect them a long way off, any ship that appeared got a great yapping from Lucky. He seemed adverse to scenes of violence and noise. When our guns would start firing he would seek out Lt.-Comdr. C.C. Garver of Atlanta, Ga., the assistant medical officer. Dr. Garver would cover Lucky’s ears until the action was over, but the pup would yap furiously all the way through it.
Atlanta Task Force Gave Japs
On Guadalcanal Terrific Lacing
The U.S.S. Atlanta wades in with all her mighty guns going in todays, the ninth installment of “The Log of the Mighty A.” Accompanied by four destroyers she blasts Jap positions on Guadalcanal until the paint burns off her guns and American Marines advance two miles without opposition through the smoking havoc created by her shells. A few days later she helps smash two heavy Jap air attacks, described vividly here by the author, who at 23 is a full lieutenant in the Navy.
BY AT OFFICER OF THE U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
After helping put the Indian sign on the Jap air forces Aug. 24, 1942, the Mighty A had two months’ patrolling and waiting before being sent on Oct. 30 to give the Jap ground forces of Guadalcanal something to remember her by.
That month’s cruise was one of the most beautiful of the Mighty A’s brief career. We saw millions of fish—I mean God’s fish. Not tin ones. There were whales, porpoises, sharks, thousands of flying fish, and a hundred varieties I never had known before. Our lookouts were continuously reporting them—particularly the whales—as submarines.
Guns Open Up
When orders came we steamed for Guadalcanal, accompanied by four destroyers. We picked up a marine major just off Henderson Field. In the half-dawn we could see our planes landing and taking off with their lights on. Flashing shell bursts lighted the scene at intervals as the marines and the Japs traded early morning punches.
With the major, who was well acquainted with the Jap-held coast, we started out to silence a Jap battery known as “Pistol Pete.” Pete had been plowing up Henderson Field periodically. We also were to wipe out Jap supply and ammunition dumps, troop concentrations, and anything else we could.
When we reached the edge of enemy territory, the Mighty A and the destroyers opened up with everything we had, including machine guns. The raking we gave that coast made history in the Solomons. An army flier in a Bell Airacobra hovered over the area, diving to indicate targets. Then he would radio the results to us.
We started firing at Point Cruz, just north of the Matanikau river mouth, and proceeded up past Kokumbona to Tassafaronga. Within 20 minutes the paint was burning off the guns, the fantail was covered with shell cases and empty powder cans, and we had had to break out the hoses to cool down the guns.
Great Fires Rage
Ammunition dumps went up with tremendous roars. Great fires blazed in the woods. Beach installations flew apart. Japs fled wildly from the woods into the devastating fire of our machine guns. The army flier radioed monotonously: “Area cleared … area cleared.” Then he would dive on a new one. The explosions were earth shaking and the towering flames within the woods reddened the dawn sky. We encountered almost no opposition.
At Tassafaronga we found the beach lined with landing barges that now were being used to take ashore supplies from “the Tokio Express” which voyaged down each night from a base farther north. We started at the southern end of the line and followed it right up the beach.
When we left Tassafaronga behind, the beach and surf were covered with splinters. Clouds of smoke and dust hung in the air. There were no barges.
We began passing troop centers. At these points the Atlanta and the destroyers turned loose all their machine guns. Palm fronds flew. And so did Japs.
We had intended knocking off at 7:30 A.M. to stand farther out during the regular morning air raid. But the marine major was in such a state of ecstasy, beaming and rubbing his hands, that we continued until almost 9 o’clock. Capt. S.P. Jenkins of the Atlanta was beaming also and Rear Admiral Norman Scott was giving every one a pat on the back.
Smoke still was boiling up over many square miles of Jap-held territory when the marine boats came out to escort the major ashore. That big, tough marine had tears in his eyes. He couldn’t thank us enough.
Our fantail and decks now were feet deep in shell cases and empty powder cans. They were running with water that had been kept streaming on our hot guns. Our gun crews were dog-tired and drenched with sweat—and grinning from ear to ear.
We shared candy, cigarettes and ice cream with the Guadalcanal marines manning the boats. The next day marine forces advanced more than two miles without opposition into the territory we had shelled.
Our mission accomplished, we streaked off to a base to fill our depleted magazines. The Atlanta in two hours had shot up more ammunition that many ships are able to carry.
St. Elmo’s Fire
The next night we had a Halloween experience so startling that some of the fellows thought at first we were having a brush with the supernatural. We were cruising along, engaged in sight setting and fuse setting practice, when the ship suddenly was lighted up by a blue glare. A pillar of blue fire seemed to extend from the surface of the water to the top of the mast on the port side. A ball of glaring blue hovered at the end of the yardarm.
It was St. Elmo’s fire, an electrical phenomenon, the senior officers explained. It sometimes occurs on land during storms, but I never had seen it before.
During the Solomon campaign four new officers caught up with the Atlanta after a long chase. They were Lt. (j.g.) Hereford and Ensigns Gratten, Colleran and Underwood. The latter two had been in two major surface and air engagements on the way. They were fresh from their graduation at the Naval Academy, class of ’43, and the academy’s first three-year group.
Leaving our base fully reloaded, we steamed north in company with a number of heavy cruisers and transports, the latter carrying machinery, heavy guns, food and other supplies and equipment for Guadalcanal. Our next assignment was to stand by while it was unloaded.
We were so engaged on Armistice morning. The Japs, however, apparently didn’t know what day it was. A little after 10:30 A.M. a force of 22 planes appeared on the horizon. There were a dozen Zeros escorting 10 dive-bombers. Squadrons of our fighters intercepted. The Zeros pulled away to meet them and the bombers came on alone.
I had a glimpse of Zeros falling all over the seascape when the dive-bombers began peeling off and hurtling down toward us. The Mighty A and the other ships turned loose everything we had. Our bursts met them quite high up and most of them completed their dives in fragments. A lone Jap zigzagged his way to safety. The Zero escort suffered heavy losses.
We felt mighty good. This had been the most appropriate celebration of Armistice Day that any of us ever had been a part of. We continued in high spirits until early afternoon. Then we saw something that had a profoundly sobering effect upon us.
Twenty-five miles to the west, a great air armada was heading toward us. We could see the planes perfectly in the clear air, streaming in through a gap in the mountains. There were 27 heavy, two-engine navy type 1 bombers, with an escort of 25 Zeros. The Japs really were throwing their weight around this time. All batteries were swung to the ready and our fighters streaked off to meet the armada.
As had happened in the morning, the Zeros tangled with our fighters and in a few seconds an all-out dogfight was whirling and swinging across the sea. The bombers came steadily on, deviating not one point from their course. It was almost as though they were passing in review. They were five miles up and coming fast. While they still appeared to be out of range the Mighty A turned loose.
They were four miles off as well as five miles up. But in a few seconds our bursts were right up there among them. One big bomber heeled over and fell out of formation, plunging into Savo sound. I’d never known of anti-aircraft fire bringing down a plane at that height and distance.
The others came right on and passed over Henderson airfield. Such a hell of smoke and dirt shot up that it obscured the field and I feared that no one had lived through it over there. As it turned out, however, there were practically no casualties.
A few seconds more our fighters, having disposed of the Zeros, were taking the bombers. The Japs’ progress from then on was marked by spiraling smoke plumes and heavy splashes in the blue water. There were three or four splashes while we could still see them. Only 17 of the 27 were able to fight again after this working over by guns and planes.
We were to see those 17 again the next day, however. We had wanted action and we were getting it. And the Mighty A was entering her last hours.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Jap Air Armada Destroyed
In Attack of Guadalcanal Supply
(In a last ditch effort to block the unloading of supplies for marines on Guadalcanal, the Japs send an armada of heavy torpedo planes into the concentrated fire of the U.S.S. Atlanta, San Francisco, and other cruisers and destroyers in Savo Sound. The ensuing disaster to the Japs is described stirringly here by the author, who at 23 is a full lieutenant in the Navy. As this installment ends, the gallant Atlanta is in her last moments as a fighting ship.)
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. Atlanta
As told to Charles Leavelle
In two days—Nov. 11 and 12—in Savo sound off Guadalcanal, the Jap air force took one of its worst drubbings of the war. The assaults of Nov. 11 have already been described and they were American victories overwhelmingly. Not that we escaped unscathed. A number of marine fliers from Henderson field were shot down in the concentrated fire of Zeros and bombers.
But in comparison, the enemy’s losses were staggering. And we knew we would see them again on the 12th—those 17 bombers that escaped our anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes on the afternoon of Armistice Day. They were all that remained of a force of 27.
When we sighted the 17 survivors the next day they were coming in low, carrying torpedoes. They were strung out in a long line, coming fast, with their twin engines wide open. We depressed our guns and opened with 5-inch shells, which burst all along their ranks, driving them out of line and dropping four or five. Bursts of heavy caliber machine gun fire finished off another several.
Could See Pilots
Some came on, dropping their tin fish, and flashing across our fleet, some of them less than 150 yards away. We could see the pilots plainly. The Jap fliers were huddled in their cockpits staring straight ahead. The big orange balls, painted on the wing tips were so close we could have hit them with a slingshot. And it was then that the Japs really got it.
Every ship in the fleet had opened with heavy caliber multiple machine guns. All who could do so without endangering our cluster of transports blasted the Jap planes with 5-inch shells at point blank range. The din was terrific and the action so fast it was difficult to follow.
The air was filled with debris and sheets of flame as the big two-engine invaders flew apart in the air. Those that weren’t exploded outright hit the water aflame from nose to tail. There were patches of burning gasoline everywhere. Motors, wings, and entire planes were crashing all along our formation. Sometimes five and six streams of tracers could be seen hitting a single bomber.
Our only casualties were aboard the heavy cruiser San Francisco. A fanatical Jap pilot, finding his plane afire, crash-dived it at the cruiser, striking her on the after director. The explosion and fire that followed killed 16 of our sailors and gravely injured a number of others. The flaming wreckage hung there a moment, then slithered into the waters of the sound.
Planes Fall Into Sea
Only five Jap bombers got through that hell of anti-aircraft fire and I am certain all of them had been hit. They winged out to the west, still low, trying desperately to escape through the gap between Savo and Florida Islands. For an instant the Atlanta battery had a clear shot at them between the transports and we let go with five-inch shells. Two of the fleeing bombers plunged into the bay.
A fighter group swooped and a third enemy ship splashed into the water, burning. And now came one of the most amazing performances of the entire fight. Lt. Pat McEntee saw it from his vantage point in the Atlanta’s director 1. The two surviving Japs were pursued closely by a fighter plane. He was right on the tail of one of them.
But the fighter didn’t open fire. We learned later he was out of ammunition. Instead, he lowered his landing gear, increased his speed and appeared to be trying to set his ship down on the bomber’s broad back. And he did—again and again and again, with sledgehammer impact.
He literally was pounding the enemy into the sea with his wheels. The frantic Jap pilot was trying every trick he knew to get away. But when he tried to nose up it only increased the shock his plane received from the wheels of the fighter. Zigzagging did him no good. The fighter out-maneuvered him, following his every turn and twist, still dealing crush wallops from above.
One Bomber Escapes
The only course open led down. But before the Jap could make a decision, something snapped under the pounding and the bomber plunged beneath the waves of Savo Sound. One bomber of the 17 escaped, and not with a whole skin.
The entire action was over in a little more than a minute. The water among our ships was a litter of floating wings with their orange balls, wheels, tail assemblies, and dead Jap airmen in scorched life jackets. Across the scene drifted blackish brown smoke from the guns and the bursts, and white smoke from the screen generators. Acrid powder fumes and the smell of burned gasoline filled the air. Faced with real anti-aircraft fire from maneuvering ships, the big Jap torpedo carriers had not gotten a single hit.
We now had time to observe that one of the Jap bombers which had crashed just off the Atlanta’s fantail was still burning in the water, its wings awash and the engines and fuselage up. We had seen him coming down and had turned the battery on him, but it had been obvious he was out of it so we had not fired.
A destroyer ranged alongside now to examine the wreckage for possible salvage. As it drew close, the staccato chatter of a light machine burst from the plane’s turret, in which a Jap airman was still alive. In an instant multiple machine guns from the destroyer had shattered both wreckage and Jap.
The enemy bothered us no more that day. Unloading of the transports continued swiftly during the afternoon. Food, heavy guns, machinery, tools, and other equipment and supplies went ashore for the hard-pressed forces on Guadalcanal. As dusk approached, operations ceased. It would have been madness, of course, to work during the night under artificial light.
We manned battle stations, for the third successive night, and escorted the transports out to a place of safety until the next morning. We had scouted around for several hours and were returning to the sound when we detected the Japanese fleet.
We knew at once we were out-numbered. We did not learn until later that they were more than two to our one. Several of their ships were heavier than anything we had.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Huge Jap Fleet in Dark of Night
Steams at Yanks for Epic Battle
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
This was it at last. Steaming toward us through the opaque night was a Japanese fleet more than twice our size. Their weight and armament, ship for ship, were vastly greater than ours.
Admiral Nimitz was to say of the Japanese fleet several days later: “I think they brought down everything they had. There was nothing like it in World War I or the Spanish-American war—the Japanese, however, brought no airplane carriers. Either they didn’t have any left—or they didn’t care to risk them.”
This fleet had been assembled from Jap bases everywhere. But there will be more about that later.
At Battle Stations
Something now about the physical setup of the ship, so that you can follow what was to happen in the next few minutes.
The only men exposed on the deck were those at machine gun platforms. We all were at battle stations and had been for four nights and three days. It was a hot and luminous night. You could sense Guadalcanal and Florida Island, but not see them actually.
A phone hung around my neck. Through it, from time to time, I could hear the voice of Lt. Lloyd Mustin, U.S.N., who was control.
Except for the swishing of the water around the ship there was no sound. In the director—which I would like to describe in greater detail—except that such a description might give information to the enemy—there was tense silence.
I go into detail now. News stories and Navy communiqués cannot tell what happens in the director, in the turrets or on the decks. I will not be able to go into detail in the next installment.
That night—morning, rather—we steamed into Savo Sound, every man was at his post. The hoists had brought the big green shells up into the turrets. They had brought up the brass cartridge cases, which contained the powder propulsion charges.
The shells and the cases were laid into the gun and rammed automatically. The breach was closed. The trigger was pulled in the after director. From then on, the operation was automatic. So long as the trigger was held down, the two guns in each turret would close and fire; close and fire. The men serving those guns were as automatic as the guns themselves. Up to the moment when the men were killed and the guns were knocked out, it was a precision operation; load, close, and fire; load, close, and fire.
The slewing switch on which I had my hand turned the turrets. With me in the after director were my trainer and my pointer. I had perfect confidence in them. I knew they would not fail.
The one person on the Atlanta who might fail, I thought, was myself. I had stood all my watches in the forward director. I now was backward.
I was afraid that should the order come: “Action port!” I might swing our turrets not to the left, but to the right. And the action was to be to the port.
We were keyed up. We had eaten regularly. Food had been brought up from below. I had slept an hour or two at a time, down on the deck. That steel deck got softer and softer as the nights went on. I hated to leave it.
But leave it I did on the early morning of Nov. 13, 1942. I was dressed in work khaki pants and shirt. I could hear Lt. Mustin.
I can’t go into detail on how we detected the Japanese fleet. I can say this, however. The range was closing swiftly.
We were swinging in through the east end of Savo Sound. We were between Florida Island and Guadalcanal, in a single column. The Japs were entering the other end of the sound in three columns.
Two of the columns were between the southwest tip of Florida Island and Savo Island. The third column was coming in through the gap separating the northwest tip of Guadalcanal and Savo Island. Savo is small and circular. Its chief characteristic is the towering extinct volcano.
The Real Thing
We were off Kokumbona Point, Guadalcanal, when I could begin to see their silhouettes. We continued on our course for a time. Then we turned north. The first, or northerly, Japanese line, continued on its easterly course. The second Japanese line turned northward, paralleling us. The voice of Lt. Mustin came through the phones. He said: “This is the real thing; get ready to shoot!” This was heard by the turret captains.
The Japanese had, of course, detected us. As we were to see soon, the leading cruiser of the Jap fleet’s middle line had her searchlights on behind light tight screens. They could be flicked open at the touch of a lever.
This obviously was to be a slugging match. We waited.
It was a battle of nerves. Thus far neither side had cracked. I remember those moments. In the director was the smell of new and oiled machinery. Listening, all I could hear was the gurgle of water around our sides.
I have noted that silhouettes of the Japanese ships were showing up. They were big. Heavy cruisers at least.
The Jap cracked. The screens flicked from the cruiser’s searchlight battery. A blue-white glare bathed the Mighty Atlanta from bow to fantail.
For an instant she lay there in tableau, her towering turrets gleaming in the light. Before the Jap could act, our orders came from control:
“Action port! Illuminating ship is target; open fire!”
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Savo Thrashing Cost Japs 29 Ships,
38,000 Men and Their Beloved Face
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
The battle that began at 1:45 A.M. on Friday, Nov. 13, in Savo Sound off Guadalcanal was the most humiliating and devastating naval blow dealt the Japanese in this war. It started as a slugging match at close quarters and ended more than 48 hours later with the surviving enemy ships in wild flight far at sea or burning on the beach at Tassafaronga.
Their desperate effort to take Guadalcanal cost the Japanese at least 29—and probably more—ships and at least 30,000 soldiers. And the blow was dealt by an American task force less that half the size of the Jap fleet, and vastly inferior in weight and armament, but supported magnificently by the air striking forces from our carriers and from Henderson Field.
Our task force, returning from escorting transports to a place of safety, detected the Japs shortly after 1 A.M., while entering Savo Sound from the east. The sound is a peaceful body of water that lies between Florida Island on the north and Guadalcanal on the south. In the western entrance to the sound, Savo Island lies about midway between the southwest tip of Florida Island and the northwest tip of Guadalcanal.
It was through there that the Jap fleet was entering in two columns between Florida and Savo, and a third between Savo and Guadalcanal.
In these three columns there were two or more battleships, a large number of heavy and light cruisers, and many destroyers. Their fighting ships more than doubled in number our two heavy and three light cruisers and a few destroyers. Behind the Jap warships steamed eight large transports carrying from 30,000 to 45,000 soldiers, and four cargo vessels loaded with supplies and equipment. It was a formidable armada, intent upon crushing all resistance and retaking Guadalcanal.
The leading Jap cruiser flicked open her searchlight screens and flooded our ship with a blue-white flare. Lt.-Comdr. Mustin’s orders snapped from the phone:
“Action port! Illuminating ship is target. Open fire!”
Before the Japs could open fire we swung our fore and aft batteries to bear and turned them loose.
The transition was instantaneous from dead silence and darkness to the full eerie brilliance and thunder of a night battle at sea. As we opened fire, Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan issued his orders from aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. San Francisco: “Open fire!”
Star shells burst above the Japanese forces, lighting the entire seascape. Big guns of both sides set up a steady, rolling roar. Our 5-inch projectiles streamed the sides of the cruiser that had illuminated us. Flames and smoke poured from her forward, amidships and aft—the points of impact.
Our forward battery swung away momentarily to lay a couple of dozen projectiles into a Jap destroyer that was crossing our bows. When she heeled over and sank, the battery returned to blasting the cruiser.
Smoke was rolling over our decks now as a hail of shells struck us and exploded. The Japs were shooting high. The first salvos that struck our superstructure and
bridge—though we didn’t know it then—killed Rear Adm. Norman Scott, mortally wounded our navigator, Lt. Comdr. J.S. Smith, Jr., and wounded Capt. S.P. Jenkins in the legs.
Jap Ships Blow Up
Torpedoes thrown by our destroyers now had reached and were taking effect in the enemy lines. Jap ships were blowing up as their magazines exploded. But the Japs weren’t catching all the hell. Some of our destroyers were falling out of line.
Flames were billowing up into the night from our forward superstructure, illuminating us from bow to fantail. The enemy had heard of us and our towering turrets identified us. Several Jap cruisers concentrated their fire on the Atlanta. But the cruiser that had illuminated us now was plunging beneath the waves, taking her searchlights and heavy guns to the bottom of Savo Sound.
I was standing up out of the director, looking for new targets, when I felt myself thrown forward against the edge of the hatch. I was deluged by what seemed to be tons of water. Two torpedoes had hit our port side, sending up gigantic geysers.
Instantly all power in the ship went off. We had direct hits on the engineering plant, killing the engineering officer, Lt.-Comdr. Arthur E. Loeser and a number of his crew. The turrets no longer could be slewed around. The Atlanta glided off to the right out of the battle line, which swept past as we slowed down and lay dead in the water.
Ordinarily, loss of power would not have put the turrets out of commission. They were built to be manipulated by hand in the absence of electricity. But in the terrific shelling we had taken and continued to take, practically all the turrets had been knocked out.
Three minutes now had passed since the Jap cruiser illuminated the Atlanta and our guns had opened the battle.
The lead ship was out of action, but the remainder of the line, now headed by the U.S.S. San Francisco, moved majestically past, throwing everything they had at the enemy. The unceasing roar of the 6-inch batteries was punctuated by the deeper thunder of the 8-inch guns.
The stately line was illuminated by star and flare shells. And except for the flashing and bellowing of their guns, those ships might have been passing in ordinary review. The havoc they were creating among the Jap ships is unforgettable.
Our lead destroyers now were threading among the lead ships of the enemy battle lines, throwing their torpedoes right and left at murderously close range. The destroyer Laffey, for example, passed within 10 yards of a Jap battleship’s bow, raked her bridge and fire control tower with 5-inch shells, and then threw a broadside of torpedoes at her.
So near to each other were these two ships that some of the Laffey’s officers were shooting at the Jap’s decks with pistols. The Laffey went on, raking a cruiser from bow to stern with 5-inch shells and torpedoes. Then she was caught by the battleship’s salvos and blew up.
We now had been in action five minutes.
The free-for-all slugging resolved itself into scattered battles between individual ships and groups of ships. The entire sound echoed with the thunder of the fight and the water was lighted from Florida Island to the Guadalcanal coast by the bursting shells and torpedoes. Blue-white parachute flares, which hung high in the sky, cast an eerie glare over-all. On the Guadalcanal beaches our marines by the hundreds had front row seats at one of the most spectacular sea battles in history.
A few last salvos fell on and about the Atlanta, and then the great Jap withdrawal began. It soon was a rout.
The odd shaped, three stacks of a Jap cruiser of the Kuma class loomed up as she wheeled about to head for Savo Island and the open sea. A heavy battleship of the Konga class churned heavily about. A cruiser turned, limping, her shattered superstructure silhouetted by a burning ship beyond her. Tojo’s fleet was on the run! They were cheering wildly on the beaches of Guadalcanal, but we couldn’t hear them.
Twenty-five minutes after the action started, it had moved out of Savo Sound and its thunder and glare were receding across the horizon. As the fight moved away, three unidentified ships were left burning in our area.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta, reeling under heavy blows, was the scene of heroic acts, hairbreadth escapes, and sudden death—all in a space of a few minutes. Capt. Jenkins’ survival was a miracle.
As the attack opened he had been moving from one side of the bridge to the other, exhorting a torpedo officer who was trying to get his tin fish into the water. As Capt. Jenkins left the port wing, there was a hit and a terrific explosion there. He no sooner had left the starboard than a salvo struck that side, killing every one stationed there.
Just before the explosion Adm. Scott had been near the starboard side of the bridge, looking at the battle through his glasses. When the captain stepped that way again he saw the admiral’s body. Shortly afterward a blast behind the bridge blew a bulkhead door from its hinges, striking Capt. Jenkins in the back and sending him staggering.
Of the 20 who had been on duty on the bridge, only four were now alive and a raging fire in the bridge structure had roared up from behind, cutting off the captain’s escape. At this moment a Jap shell tore a hole in the bridge deck and the captain descended through it to a machine gun platform. There he assisted two wounded officers, then continued to the secondary control station, as he had been urged to do by the dying navigator. Lt. Comdr. Smith who asked permission to remain in case any control might be possible from the bridge.
Lt. Pat McEntee was hurrying along the deck when he heard his name called. He leaned over a dying seaman who was trying to unstrap his life jacket.
Chances of War
“You take this jacket, Mr. McEntee,” the man muttered. “I won’t be needing it now.”
Lt. John T. Wulff, assistant engineering officer, directed repair parties in closing off compartments and jettisoning everything that could be thrown overboard to lighten the ship. Lt.-Com.W.R.D. Nickelson, the gunnery officer, led groups in extinguishing fires in the compartments and magazines.
Poor Lucky Gets His
Several officers working under his orders distinguished themselves. These included Lt. Bill Mack, Lt.(j.g.) Bowdoin Craighill, Ensigns Gerry Colleran—and their crews. About 200 members of our 700 crewmen were able to join the bucket brigades. After two hours work, the most dangerous of the fires were out. The ship had stopped settling.
Meanwhile, Com. T.F. Cooper senior surgeon, and his assistant, Lt.-Com. C.C. Garver, worked at the task of saving the lives of the wounded. Gallons of blood plasma were injected. Scores of emergency surgical operations were performed. Morphine eased the agony of other scores, awaiting these administrations in the after mess hall, which had become an emergency hospital.
Adm. Scott and Lt. Comdr. Smith lay dead on the bridge. Others were amid the wreckage of the engine room. Throughout the ship were the bodies of my brother officers and shipmates. Adm. Callaghan had been killed by salvos that raked the San Francisco early in the battle.
Poor Lucky—our boisterous little mascot—had gotten his also. I was told that Lucky had been at his battle station in Repair II throughout the action. A high explosive shell finished him.
Every one on the ship had been without sleep for three nights, but the task before us demanded everything we had. We were fighting to save our ship.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Dawn Finds Battle Smoke, Debris
Surrounding Crippled Atlanta
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
As the dawn of Nov. 13 came up over Savo Sound there were unmistakable signs of the thundering battle that had raged there a few hours before. Near our battered cruiser, the U.S.S. Atlanta, lay three other ships, two of them still smoking.
In the oily waters of the sound floated the dead, the wounded and the life-jacked survivors of the American and Japanese ships that had gone down during the fight. I was amazed by the absence of sharks. It was said the gunfire had frightened them away.
On the Atlanta the officers and men who had come through the battle uninjured were fighting to save the ship. Of our 45 officers, 19 had been killed and seven wounded. Of the 700 enlisted men, 139 were dead, 76 wounded and 14 were missing.
Island Sends Boats
In addition to two water line hits by torpedoes, we had been hammered from bow to stern by half a dozen heavy ships of the Jap fleet. The Atlanta was without power. We had thrown overboard practically everything movable to lighten her. All auxiliary pumps were going, but the water was gushing in.
Capt. Jenkins assisted by Commander Emory was directing our efforts despite his leg wounds. The fires that had raged in the super-structure, compartments, and magazines had been extinguished by bucket brigades under Lt.-Commander W.R.D. Nickelson, the gunnery officer. Lt.-Commander Wulff, assistant engineer officer, and his crews had closed off the watertight compartments.
We got our auxiliary radio set into operation and asked the sailors on Guadalcanal to send out boats for our wounded. They started immediately afterward and the transfer continued all morning.
Shortly after daylight, the mists lifted sufficiently to permit identification of the three ships that lay crippled near by. One of them was a Japanese destroyer. There was great activity on her decks and she apparently was trying to get under way.
Ship Blown Up
We semaphored this intelligence to the nearest ship, an American heavy cruiser, which still had not identified its neighbor. On receiving our message, the cruiser slewed her great turrets around. When they were on the target, the cruiser threw two salvos into the Jap ship, which blew up and sank immediately. We felt a little better.
But it was obvious we were fighting a losing battle for the Atlanta. At 2 P.M. Capt. Jenkins decided she could not be saved.
Lt.-Comdr.Wulff and the gun boss went through ship opening up all the watertight compartments. Demolition charges were set near the stern and the wires were led up to a detonating box on the forecastle.
The wounded were all off and the crew followed them. At length only six of us were left, standing up in the eyes of the ship, with Capt. Jenkins. Boats waited for us alongside.
Capt. Jenkins gave the order. Lt.-Comdr. Wulff shoved down the plunger of the detonator. There was a dull shock and a heavy rumble astern. We went down a cargo net hanging over the side and entered the launches. The captain came down last. He would not leave his ship. He stayed near her in his boat until she had gone down. This was at 8 P.M.
Japs Move In
It was a beautiful day, but we had eyes only for the Mighty A. She still was a striking figure, despite the pounding she had taken. During the afternoon she began to list, settling by the stern.
After four days and three nights without rest we were practically out on our feet. Several of us were assigned quarters in the chaplain’s tent. A staff officer assured us we were in for a quiet night.
“Get a good sleep,” he told us. “Get a good sleep and forget all about it.”
We were asleep almost before we hit our cots. And in two hours we were up, galloping for foxholes. Heavy shells were jarring the beach from end to end. The Japs had attempted a move that to them seemed pretty clever. And it might have worked had they not been still shell-shocked from the battle of 18 hours before.
Led by a spearhead of fighting ships, the transports with their thousands of soldiers had headed in again. The warships now were executing the strategy planned for the first attack; they were softening up our defenses with a heavy cannonade. They apparently were firing, however, with one eye on the target, and the other on their corridor of escape.
Sink Crippled Ship
And they had reckoned without our fleet of PT boats. These now roared out into the sound, throwing torpedoes. When a PT scored a damaging torpedo hit on a Jap cruiser, the hour’s bombardment ended abruptly. The transports ran for it. A second cruiser and three or four destroyers lagged behind to escort the damaged warship.
At dawn our planes went out again and gave the Japs their bloodiest Saturday of the war. On Friday, these planes had pounded a crippled enemy warship until its crew was forced to open its seacocks. Now they quickly found the crippled cruiser and sank it, together with the cruiser left to escort it. The destroyers ran for it.
A few hours later our planes found the eight Japanese transports and the four cargo ships, again heading for Guadalcanal with an escort of fighting ships. The slaughter began at once and continued all day. From morning until dark our planes were taking off and roaring out to sea, returning in a couple of hours to reload their empty bomb racks and take off again.
Sleep Broken Again
All day long, our heaviest bombs rained down on those Jap transports, which early in the attack had been deserted and left defenseless by their armored escort. Before sunset, all eight had been literally blown apart and had plunged beneath the waters of the Coral Sea. Most of the 30,000 to 45,000 Jap troops had been blown to bits, burned to death, or drowned.
Two of the cargo ships were in flames and all had been hit repeatedly. Less than half a dozen of our aircraft were missing. As darkness settled, we again were assured that the Jap invasion forces had been shattered; that this night we would sleep undisturbed.
And we did, until just after 11 P.M. Then all hell broke loose again. It was a naval battle in the sound, rivaling in fury the action of early Nov. 13. It was not until later in the day that we learned what had happened.
The Japanese warship force, carrying such surviving troops as had been picked up after the transports had gone down, had tried a third desperate assault upon Guadalcanal. But a United States battleship task force was behind them this time, stalking the prey. When the enemy line started moving into the sound, between the southwest tip of Florida Island and north of Savo Island, our ships sped around Savo and came in between it and Guadalcanal. It was in effect an ambush; a new and staggering blow to Tokio
The fight raged more than 20 minutes. We watched it all from the shore. Jap ships were blowing up everywhere. We saw two of our destroyers go down.
Then, as on that other night, the attackers began churning around amid a hail of shells and heading out to open sea. And again our ships steamed right after them, keeping up a steady pounding. For hours there was heavy cannonading out beyond Savo. The low hanging clouds were lighted up like pillars of fire by the flares and lurid flashes.
Dawn revealed that four Jap transports had slipped through and rammed themselves on the beach at Tassafaronga in a suicide attempt to get supplies to their troops. Our shore dive-bombers, and destroyers reduced them to four funeral pyres.
Good Feeling General
The little men worked furiously to unload the supplies that remained undamaged, but as fast as the goods were set ashore our diving bombers blew them to bits and set fire to the debris. Four black pillars of smoke rose to the skies.
Meanwhile, the survivors of our ships reached shore and were taken to Lunga River to wash off their coatings of oil. The Marines supplied us with uniforms and a change of linen. There were no more alligators in the Lunga, which once had been alive with them. The story was that the ‘gators discreetly moved to safer waters when the marines started bathing there.
We found that there were no snakes on the island and no tarantulas. Only the wild pigs remained. They were wild because of the Marine’s habit of chasing them down and barbecuing them, it was explained.
The Atlanta’s gunners were assigned to the marine shore batteries during the week we remained at Henderson Field. On Guadalcanal all three services work together like a team. The Army has nothing but praise for the Navy and Marines. The sailors can’t speak too highly of the Marines and the soldiers. And the Marines have kind works for the soldiers and sailors.
Within a few days all the wounded had been flown out to less advanced bases. The air transports had started their ambulance shuttle service on the morning of Nov. 14.
My two least warlike memories of Guadalcanal concern the hot showers and iced drinks we had there. The fleeing Japs had abandoned a diesel-operated dynamo. The hot water from the engine’s cooling system spilled out through a pipe into the Lunga River and we stood under it and bathed.
The Japs also left intact a small ice plant, which now bears a sign: “The Tojo Ice Company—Under New Management.” One morning as we were on our way to the hot showers a Marine popped out of a foxhole, offering us a sip of “O Be Joyful.” We invited him over to the dugout and there we had iced saki rickeys—thanks to Tojo. Guadalcanal had its discomforts, but there were compensations, if one was lucky
A week after we went ashore we were boarding transports for home. We passed through the Golden Gate on Jan. 1, 1943.
Epic of the Mighty “A”
Shipmates Now on Leave Wait
New Call to Fight Again at Sea
BY AN OFFICER OF U.S.S. ATLANTA
As told to Charles Leavelle
And so ended the cruise of the U.S.S. Atlanta. Upon our arrival in San Francisco most of her company scattered to homes throughout the country on leave. As this is written those leaves are expiring and new assignments are awaiting us on other ships.
In a short while each of us will have become a part of a new fighting unit on one of the navy’s fighting ships. Those of us who have returned now know, even better than before, the meaning of a word as strong as friend or brother—shipmate.
There are many influences that go into making a hard hitting fighting team of several hundred men on a ship at sea. And when it has been done the company of a warship is a unit knit together with amazing closeness.
Spirit, character, and quality of results stem directly from the senior officers. Enlisted personnel on a ship very quickly begin to reflect the characteristics of their officers, as does their esprit de corps.
The Atlanta’s crew was obviously and admittedly green when it clumped aboard in New York. But the men were willing and eager to learn.
Quick To Learn
They were quick to realize the grave responsibilities which were theirs, now that the nation had been plunged into war. I never expect to see a body of men who whipped into shape quicker than did the men of the mighty A. And now for a look at the responsibilities they had to—and did—shoulder.
Let’s select at random one man of each enlisted rating, chief petty officer to apprentice seaman, and try to understand what each contributed toward making the Atlanta the great fighting ship she was.
With a main battery of heavy dual purpose (surface and anti-aircraft) guns, the Atlanta’s fire-control system was incredibly intricate. The guiding genius of this installation was Chief Fire Controlman Hutchinson, a man of 20 years’ experience.
The way the soft-spoken chief traced and eliminated bugs in the directors, computers and follow-up mechanisms was a matter of awe to the seamen and won him the solid respect of the officers. An incident illustrating the skill and zeal of petty officers 1st class concerns a new type powder hoist that went out of order after failure of a valve deep in its vitals.
Better Than New
A red-haired Coloradoan named Jackson, turret captain, first class, was responsible for the hoist’s performance. After he had addressed the offending mechanism in language suitably reproachful, he worked 20 hours without a letup, took the hoist completely apart, and restored it to better working condition than when it came from the factory.
Jackson’s assistant was Allen, a gunner’s mate second class, whose honest love for his work and his guns dominated his life. After the fatal battle of Savo Sound he was promoted to turret captain, first class, for outstanding coolness and initiative in action.
I will never forget G.A. Smith of New York, coxswain (a petty officer 3d class). When we were crossing the equator and the shellbacks were looking for pollywogs, plough deserters and landlubbers, some one asked Smith if he ever had crossed the line. “Oh, 18 or 19 times,” he replied. He had been 14 years in the merchant marine. On Dec. 7, 1941, he quit a $500 a month job in New York to enlist as an apprentice seaman in the Navy. Smith rose swiftly to petty officer’s rating. And he never was too busy to help his mates learn marlinspike seamanship. He died at his battle station the morning of Nov.13.
Killed In Action
One of the men Smith helped to rise from apprentice to seaman first class was a husky, freckled lad named Talbot who was quick to learn and who loved splicing, painting, line handling, serving the guns—anything that was to be done aboard a ship. His buddy, John Patrick Shea, also learned to love the life aboard the Atlanta and this was largely because of Talbot’s example and help. He had found transition from civilian to naval life extremely difficult at first, but his lively curiosity and eagerness to learn constantly made him a more valuable man at sea. Shea was a seaman second class when he was killed in the action against the Japanese fleet.
Hollingsworth, apprentice seaman who joined us at Pearl Harbor, already has been mentioned for his uncanny accuracy in spotting a carrier in a task force with which we rendezvoused. It was his strong point and he loved his watch in the crow’s nest. He earned a “well done” from the captain once for spotting a tanker during a rain in the Coral Sea. On his word, the entire task force turned hard left and we steamed 25 minutes before any one else saw anything, then the tanker loomed up dead ahead. Hollingsworth also gave his life.
All these men, except Hollingsworth and Hutchinson, stood watches in turret 6. There are thousands of men like those of turret 6 in the navy, and hundreds of smooth-running teams like our groups in the engineering department and in the construction and repair gang. I’ll never forget Wolf, chief machinist’s mate, who weighed 275 pounds and took the role of King Neptune’s royal baby when we crossed the equator.
Wolf could extend his arm and stand unconcernedly while another man chinned himself. And there was Arrigoni, another chief machinist’s mate, who was 6 feet 4 inches tall and had been champion wrestler of the fleet. One valve in the engine room would budge only under the exertions of two men. If there were some reason for hurry, Arrigoni would spin the valve as though it were the steering wheel of a jeep.
These are a few of the men who helped make the Mighty A the great ship that she was. And in a broader sense they and the thousands like them make the United States navy the great fighting team that it is.
The Atlanta was one ship. She did a good job. The nameless carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, subs and auxiliaries in or out in the firing line are doing the same. Fleets of new ships are coming to help finish the task. And the cruise all hands have signed up for is the one that’s going to drop anchor in Tokio Harbor.