0930: Gallantry overcomes disaster on Omaha


6th June 1944: 0930: Gallantry overcomes disaster on Omaha

His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army….courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership…indomitable courage and personal bravery

On “Bloody Omaha” the situation remained highly critical for the US forces. Most men were pinned down on the waters edge, where the wounded were to drown as the rising tide overcame them.

It was virtually suicidal to make a move in this situation. Incredibly some men were prepared to do just that. During the course of the morning three men were to be recognised by the highest United States award, the Medal of Honor:

Carlton William Barrett
Carlton William Barrett

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. On the morning of D-day Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water.

Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat lying offshore.

In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion.

His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Jimmie W. Monteith, Jr
Jimmie W. Monteith, Jr

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 1st Lt. Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire.

Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff.

Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where 2 tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, 1st Lt. Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions.

Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill.

Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain.

When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding 1st Lt. Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, 1st Lt. Monteith was killed by enemy fire.

The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by 1st Lt. Monteith is worthy of emulation.

John J. Pinder, Jr.
John J. Pinder, Jr.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

On D-day, Technician 5th Grade Pinder landed on the coast 100 yards off shore under devastating enemy machinegun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled towards shore in waist-deep water.

Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on 3 occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment.

He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the 3rd trip he was again hit, suffering machinegun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention.

Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach. While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed.

The indomitable courage and personal bravery of Technician 5th Grade Pinder was a magnificent inspiration to the men with whom he served.

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

0700: Utah beach assault sustained


6 June 1944: 0700: Utah beach assault sustained

He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.

Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., seen in Ste. Mere-Eglise on July 12, hours before he died of a coronary thrombosis. Arthritis caused him to walk with a stick. The 4th Infantry Division commander described him as “the most gallant soldier and finest gentleman I have ever known.”
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., seen in Ste. Mere-Eglise on July 12, hours before he died of a coronary thrombosis. Arthritis caused him to walk with a stick. The 4th Infantry Division commander described him as “the most gallant soldier and finest gentleman I have ever known.”

After landing many hundreds of yards south of the intended point of attack on Utah, there was a danger that disorientation would stall the assault. One man was to make a signal contribution to ensuring that that did not happen. Brig. Gen. Roosevelt had made repeated requests to go in with the first wave, writing:

You should have when you get to shore an overall picture in which you can place confidence. I believe I can contribute materially on all of the above by going in with the assault companies. Furthermore I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them.

His request was finally approved, and his contribution on the day was to be recognised by America’s highest award, the Medal of Honour:

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France.

After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches.

He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.

Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties.

He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France

For a full illustrated story of D-Day and the Normandy campaign explore hundreds of contemporary images in the iPad App Overlord. The free iBook US Forces on D-Day provides a sample.

Captain Cromwell goes down with USS Sculpin


19th November 1943: Captain Cromwell chooses to go down with USS Sculpin

Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Captain Cromwell, alone of the entire Task Group, possessed secret intelligence information of our submarine strategy and tactics, scheduled Fleet movements and specific attack plans. Constantly vigilant and precise in carrying out his secret orders, he moved his underseas flotilla inexorably forward despite savage opposition and established a line of submarines to southeastward of the main Japanese stronghold at Truk.

USS Sculpin (SS-191) off San Francisco, California, on 1 May 1943, following an overhaul.
USS Sculpin (SS-191) off San Francisco, California, on 1 May 1943, following an overhaul.
The Japanese destroyer Yamagumo which spent over nine hours hunting for the USS Sculpin.
The Japanese destroyer Yamagumo which spent over nine hours hunting for the USS Sculpin.

Far out in the Pacific the USS Sculpin spotted a Japanese convoy and prepared to attack. Unfortunately she was spotted during her approach and forced to dive. When she surfaced to try again, she came up close to a Japanese destroyer that was trailing behind the convoy. So began a nine hour ordeal by depth charge during which the Sculpin sustained significant damage.

The Diving Officer, Lt. George Brown was sent from his dive control station to assess the damage.

Upon inspection, I found the after engine room had flooded to such an extent I believed it unwise to attempt to place a bubble in No. 4 Main Ballast Tank, which would have aided the trim considerably. The flow of water forward might short the main motor leads. We decided to bail the water forward to another compartment until we could trim the ship without endangering the main motors.

While a bucket brigade was being run by exhausted men in temperatures well over q hundred degrees, the temporary diving officer broached the ship. However, no one could be blamed for this as the depth gauge was stuck at 170 feet and the pressure gauges around the diving station were all flooded out.

When SCULPIN stuck her nose up, the destroyer saw it and came over again, dropping another string of depth charges which tore the radio transmitter from the bulkhead and smashed the receiver, popped light bulbs and severely damaged outboard vents in both torpedo rooms.

Finally Sculpin’s captain, Commander Connaway, decided to surface and fight it out with the deck gun. It would be a one sided battle but it gave them some chance.

Fireman Baker was one of the men who went on deck to man the gun:

The next thing we know, the word is passed through the intercom phones,” Standby to Battle Surface!” Up to the surface we go, the hatch is open and we dash out on deck quickly to man the deck guns and have it out with him once and for all.

The day was a pretty one, with white caps coming over the decks. At first when we went out on deck we couldn’t see the destroyer. Then one of the men spotted it on the starboard side … right against the sun. He was about 3,000 yards off. Immediately we went to our stations on the gun and began to fire at him. We got off the first shot, which went over him. The second fell short.

In the meantime, he had begun to fire at us with machine guns and his 5-inch-70. All we had was a 3-inch-50. One of his shots hit us in the main induction, another went directly through the coming tower and came out the portside, killing a number of men inside, and also some men who were out on deck, hiding from the gunfire. Men were being killed from the machine gun fire as they were coming out of the hatches.

We had a fine crew … the guys really showed the guts they had. A. B. Guillot, Fireman first class, from Louisiana, was on the 50-caliber gun. The Japs made a direct hit on his gun and wounded him severely. I still remember how he looked with blood streaming from great rips in his chest, passing ammunition to the 3-inch gun until he fell over the side. J. Q. Harper, Torpedoman third class, stuck at his 20mm gun until the very end.

With Commander Connaway and other officers dead as a result of hits to the conning tower, the command of Sculpin passed to Lt. Brown. There was one more senior officer travelling on the Sculpin. Captain Cromwell’s role had been to organise the US submarines in a wolf pack later in the patrol, he was privy to high level Naval intelligence, including the Enigma traffic:

I informed Commodore Cromwell, who was in the control room, of my intentions. He told me to go ahead and he said he could not go with us because he was afraid that the information he possessed might be injurious to his shipmates at sea if the Japanese made him reveal it by torture.

I then rang up, ‘Emergency speed” and passed the word, “Abandon Ship”, and sent Chief Hemphill forward and Chief Haverland aft to pass the word in case the P. A. system was out. When they returned to the control room we waited one minute by the clock, then ordered the vents opened, knowing that it would spell the doom of the submarine in minutes and thereby rob the, Japanese of a valuable war trophy.

It was the end of the Sculpin but not the end of the agonies of her crew. Several men chose to go down with the submarine, alongside Commodore Cromwell. Those who escaped from the submarine and were saved by the Japanese were kept in a cage on the Naval base at Truk and subjected to days of brutal torture. Eventually they were treated as PoWs and transported in two groups to Japan. Half of them would die on board the Japanese carrier Chuyo when it was torpedoed by the USS Sailfish on 4th December.

Read the whole of survivor George Rocek’s story at Subvetpaul.com.

Captain John P Cromwell
Captain John P Cromwell

The story of Captain Cromwell did not emerge until the survivors returned to the United Staes at the end of the war, when he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commander of a Submarine Coordinated Attack Group with Flag in the U.S.S. Sculpin, during the Ninth War Patrol of that vessel in enemy-controlled waters off Truk Island, November 19, 1943.

Undertaking this patrol prior to the launching of our first large-scale offensive in the Pacific, Captain Cromwell, alone of the entire Task Group, possessed secret intelligence information of our submarine strategy and tactics, scheduled Fleet movements and specific attack plans. Constantly vigilant and precise in carrying out his secret orders, he moved his underseas flotilla inexorably forward despite savage opposition and established a line of submarines to southeastward of the main Japanese stronghold at Truk.

Cool and undaunted as the submarine, rocked and battered by Japanese depth-charges, sustained terrific battle damage and sank to an excessive depth, he authorized the Sculpin to surface and engage the enemy in a gun-fight, thereby providing an opportunity for the crew to abandon ship. Determined to sacrifice himself rather than risk capture and subsequent danger of revealing plans under Japanese torture or use of drugs, he stoically remained aboard the mortally wounded vessel as she plunged to her death.

Preserving the security of his mission at the cost of his own life, he had served his country as he had served the Navy, with deep integrity and an uncompromising devotion to duty. His great moral courage in the face of certain death adds new luster to the traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

The Sculpin pictured during her last refit.
The Sculpin pictured during her last refit.
The USS Sculpin during her refit trials.
The USS Sculpin during her refit trials.

U.S. Marine Henry Gurke’s self sacrifice on Bougainville


9th November 1943: U.S. Marine Henry Gurke’s self sacrifice on Bougainville

When a Japanese grenade dropped squarely into the foxhole, Private First Class Gurke, mindful that his companion manned an automatic weapon of superior fire power and therefore could provide more effective resistance, thrust him roughly aside and flushing his own body over the missile to smother the explosion.

MARINES WADING ASHORE on D-Day at Bougainville, as seen from a beached LCVP.

While the Allied airforce and U.S. carrier planes sought to keep the landings on Bougainville free from interference from the Japanese Navy, the U.S.Marine Corps was establishing itself on yet another inhospitable island. Bougainville was to distinguish itself by being particularly inhospitable, it was so boggy that it was difficult to dig a trench through much of the territory.

The campaign was to be long and costly, lasting to the end of the war. The Japanese were firmly established at either end of the island – and the Marines had landed in the middle in an attempt to establish themselves unhindered. It was not to be, the Japanese were very soon fighting back from the surrounding jungle:

Private First Class Henry Gurke (November 6, 1922 – November 9, 1943)
Private First Class Henry Gurke (November 6, 1922 – November 9, 1943)

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL OF HONOR posthumously to

PRIVATE FIRST CLASS HENRY GURKE

UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For extraordinary heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty while serving with the Third Marine Raider Battalion during action against the enemy Japanese Forces in the Solomon Islands area on November 9, 1943.

While his platoon was engaged in the defense of a vital road block near Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville Island, Private First Class Gurke, in company with another Marine, was delivering a fierce stream of fire against the main vanguard of the Japanese. Concluding from the increasing ferocity of grenade barrages that the enemy was determined to annihilate their shallow, two–man foxhole, he resorted to a bold and desperate measure for holding out despite the torrential hail of shells.

When a Japanese grenade dropped squarely into the foxhole, Private First Class Gurke, mindful that his companion manned an automatic weapon of superior fire power and therefore could provide more effective resistance, thrust him roughly aside and flushing his own body over the missile to smother the explosion.

With unswerving devotion to duty and superb valor, Private First Class Gurke sacrificed himself in order that his comrade might live to carry on the fight. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

/S/ FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Through the Bougainville mud and muck, a Marine artillery unit carries food to the forward gun positions. At times sinking into mud up to their hips, the Marines worked from sunrise to sunset. Because it was almost impossible for vehicles to plow through the mud, most of the work was done by hand.

Heroism of four Chaplains on U.S.A.T. Dorchester

3rd February 1943: Heroism of four Chaplains on U.S. Troop ship Dorchester

They distributed life jackets from a locker; when the supply of life jackets ran out, each of the chaplains gave theirs to other soldiers. When the last lifeboats were away, the chaplains prayed with those unable to escape the sinking ship. 27 minutes after the torpedo struck, the Dorchester disappeared below the waves with 672 men still aboard. The last anyone saw of the four chaplains, they were standing on the deck, arms linked and praying together.

Painting of the rescue of USAT Dorchester survivors by USCGC Escanaba (WPG-77) on 3 February 1943 in the North Atlantic Ocean. Unattributed United States Coast Guard image.

The U boat war was now entering a critical phase. Just as more and more men and munitions were leaving America and Canada to join the fight in Britain and North Africa, the U-boat packs were intensifying their efforts to sink them. Whilst a wide range of new technical measures and tactics were transforming the anti U-boat campaign, and having increasing success, the Battle of the Atlantic was far from won.

The United States Army Transport (USAT) Dorchester was passing through the freezing seas off Newfoundland when her captain learnt of a U-boat nearby, located by land based radio direction finding. There was little they could do about it, apart from keeping especially alert and staying close to the convoy. None of the escorts possessed radar so U-223 was able to surface in the darkness and fire one torpedo at 0055 on the 3rd.

Four men on board so distinguished themselves by their conduct in the following half-hour that there were calls for them to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The rules state that it can only be awarded for acts performed ‘under fire’. So in 1960 by special Act of Congress they were awarded a unique medal in recognition of their sacrifice:

On February 2, 1943 the German submarine U-223 spotted the convoy on the move and closed with the ships, firing a torpedo which struck the Dorchester shortly after midnight. Hundreds of men packed the decks of the rapidly sinking ship and scrambled for the lifeboats. Several of the lifeboats had been damaged and the four chaplains began to organize frightened soldiers.

They distributed life jackets from a locker; when the supply of life jackets ran out, each of the chaplains gave theirs to other soldiers. When the last lifeboats were away, the chaplains prayed with those unable to escape the sinking ship. 27 minutes after the torpedo struck, the Dorchester disappeared below the waves with 672 men still aboard. The last anyone saw of the four chaplains, they were standing on the deck, arms linked and praying together.

Citation for the Four Chaplains’ Medal approved by an Act of Congress on July 14, 1960

Lt. William H. Arpaia, USNR, was the Gunnery officer on board and described the last minutes on the ship after the torpedo hit:

Immediately the engines ceased to function, all of the lights went out on the ship and it listed to starboard to about a 30 degree angle. None of the lookouts reported having seen or heard anything other than a swishing sound almost immediately prior to the explosion. Instantly pandemonium broke loose. The Army troops started to throw life rafts overboard and started to leave the ship.

Both the 4″ and the 3″ guns were loaded. One of the gunners on the 3 20 mm gun on the starboard site had been blown out of the gun circle onto the gunwhale and into the water. By reason of the fact that the ship listed immediately, it was impossible to operate any of the guns.

The bridge was unable to give a fixed red light because of the fact that the electricity was cut off. A fog whistle was sounded 6 times and another series of 6 blasts was started when the steam gave out. No white rockets were fired. The DORCESTER immediately became lit up with red lights and flash lights, The red lights were attached to many of the life preservers. The flashlights were owned and used by the army personnel and some of the civilians aboard.

The Master was on the flying bridge when I last saw him. I asked him if he had disposed of the confidential publications. He said he had not, and that I should do so. I immediately went into his cabin and personally threw all the confidential papers overboard from the starboard side in the perforated sheet metal box.

I asked the Captain if he saw anything and he said that he didn’t. He remained on the flying bridge and to all intents and purposes did not probably realize that the ship was going to sink. After becoming certainly convinced that to open fire would be futile and that the ship was sinking and listing rapidly, I gave orders to the entire gun crew forward and aft to abandon ship.

I abandoned ship from the port side on the beam in a doughnut raft. Eight to ten of the gun crew were with me but most of them fended for themselves. McCoy and McMinn, Seamen First Class, after a doughnut raft had been thrown overboard and after we descended and were standing on the listed vessel, discovered that some soldiers had taken our raft. Both McCoy and McMinn were entirely on their own and with the ship sinking under them, volunteered to climb up to top side end get another raft, which they did, and which they threw down.

I then dove into the water, got into the raft and held it for them and they both got in as well as Taylor, Sl/c. It seemed that McCoy and McMinn displayed a dash of courage which certainly deserves some commendation.

There were 921 people on the ship, of whom 227 were saved.

He was not picked up for over six hours, during which time one man in his raft, Ralph L. Taylor , ‘lost his mind’ and died of the cold.

Read the whole account and more original reports at Armed Guard. The work of the The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation continues to this day.

U.S. and Japanese clash off Guadalcanal

13th November 1942: U.S. and Japanese clash off Guadalcanal

In the midst of a violent night engagement, the fire of a determined and desperate enemy seriously wounded Lt. Comdr. McCandless and rendered him unconscious, killed or wounded the admiral in command, his staff, the captain of the ship, the navigator, and all other personnel on the navigating and signal bridges. Faced with the lack of superior command upon his recovery, and displaying superb initiative, he promptly assumed command of the ship and ordered her course and gunfire against an overwhelmingly powerful force.

Smoke rises from two Japanese planes shot down off Guadalcanal, 12 November 1942. Photographed from USS President Adams (AP-38); ship at right is USS Betelgeuse (AK-28).
“Ironbottom Sound” looking southwest towards Savo Island (center) and Cape Esperance (left) on Guadalcanal. A U.S. destroyer is sillouhetted against Savo Island. Photo taken from USS San Juan on August 7, 1942. The majority of the warship surface battle of 13 November took place in the area between Savo Island (center) and Guadalcanal (left).

On the night of 12th-13th November 1942 an extremely violent and intense naval battle broke out off Guadalcanal. A large Japanese task force was intent on landing troops onto Guadalcanal to continue the attack on the U.S. positions at Henderson Field, while its’ battleships would be used to bombard the same positions. They were met head on by a smaller U.S. Navy force. In a pitch black night in the early hours of Friday 13th November, the two naval forces hammered into each other at almost point blank range.

Some insight into the nature of the battle can be gleaned from the citations of the five men who won the Medal of Honor that night:

Captain Daniel Judson Callaghan on the bridge of his flagship USS San Francisco (CA-38), circa 1941-1942, before his promotion to Rear Admiral.

Rear Admiral Callaghan:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during action against enemy Japanese forces off Savo Island on the night of 12–13 November 1942.

Although out-balanced in strength and numbers by a desperate and determined enemy, Rear Admiral Callaghan, with ingenious tactical skill and superb coordination of the units under his command, led his forces into battle against tremendous odds, thereby contributing decisively to the rout of a powerful invasion fleet and to the consequent frustration of a formidable Japanese offensive.

While faithfully directing close-range operations in the face of furious bombardment by superior enemy fire power, he was killed on the bridge of his Flagship. His courageous initiative, inspiring leadership, and judicious foresight in a crisis of grave responsibility were in keeping with the finest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

Rear Admiral Norman Scott pictured in c.1942, posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his part in Naval actions off Guadalcanal.

Rear Admiral Scott:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during action against enemy Japanese forces off [permalink id=23616 text=”Savo Island on the night of 11–12 October”] and again on the night of 12–13 November 1942.

In the earlier action, intercepting a Japanese Task Force intent upon storming our island positions and landing reinforcements at Guadalcanal, Rear Adm. Scott, with courageous skill and superb coordination of the units under his command, destroyed 8 hostile vessels and put the others to flight.

Again challenged, a month later, by the return of a stubborn and persistent foe, he led his force into a desperate battle against tremendous odds, directing close-range operations against the invading enemy until he himself was killed in the furious bombardment by their superior firepower.

On each of these occasions his dauntless initiative, inspiring leadership and judicious foresight in a crisis of grave responsibility contributed decisively to the rout of a powerful invasion fleet and to the consequent frustration of a formidable Japanese offensive. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.

Medal of Honor recipient Cmdr. Herbert E. Schonland, he died on the 13th November 1984.

Lt. Commander Schonland:

For extreme heroism and courage above and beyond the call of duty as damage control officer of the U.S.S. San Francisco in action against greatly superior enemy forces in the battle off Savo Island, 12–13 November 1942.

In the same violent night engagement in which all of his superior officers were killed or wounded, Lt. Comdr. Schonland was fighting valiantly to free the San Francisco of large quantities of water flooding the second deck compartments through numerous shell holes caused by enemy fire.

Upon being informed that he was commanding officer, he ascertained that the conning of the ship was being efficiently handled, then directed the officer who had taken over that task to continue while he himself resumed the vitally important work of maintaining the stability of the ship.

In water waist deep, he carried on his efforts in darkness illuminated only by hand lanterns until water in flooded compartments had been drained or pumped off and watertight integrity had again been restored to the San Francisco. His great personal valor and gallant devotion to duty at great peril to his own life were instrumental in bringing his ship back to port under her own power, saved to fight again in the service of her country.

Bruce McCandless reading the 30 November 1942 issue of Time magazine, which featured Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. on its cover.
Photographed while McCandless’ ship, USS San Francisco (CA-38), was returning to the United States for repair of damage received during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942.

Lt. Commander McCandless

For conspicuous gallantry and exceptionally distinguished service above and beyond the call of duty as communication officer of the U.S.S. San Francisco in combat with enemy Japanese forces in the battle off Savo Island, 12–13 November 1942.

In the midst of a violent night engagement, the fire of a determined and desperate enemy seriously wounded Lt. Comdr. McCandless and rendered him unconscious, killed or wounded the admiral in command, his staff, the captain of the ship, the navigator, and all other personnel on the navigating and signal bridges.

Faced with the lack of superior command upon his recovery, and displaying superb initiative, he promptly assumed command of the ship and ordered her course and gunfire against an overwhelmingly powerful force.

With his superiors in other vessels unaware of the loss of their admiral, and challenged by his great responsibility, Lt. Comdr. McCandless boldly continued to engage the enemy and to lead our column of following vessels to a great victory. Largely through his brilliant seamanship and great courage, the San Francisco was brought back to port, saved to fight again in the service of her country.

Boatswain’s Mate First Class Reinhardt J. Keppler, USN. Keppler was awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, for heroism while serving in USS San Francisco (CA-38) during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12–13 November 1942.

Boatswain’s Mate First Class Keppler:

For extraordinary heroism and distinguished courage above and beyond the call of duty while serving aboard the U.S.S. San Francisco during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands, 12–13 November, 1942.

When a hostile torpedo plane, during a daylight air raid, crashed on the after machine-gun platform, KEPPLER promptly assisted in the removal of the dead and, by his capable supervision of the wounded, undoubtedly helped save the lives of several shipmates who otherwise might have perished.

That night, when the hangar was set afire during the great battle off Savo Island, he bravely led a hose into the starboard side of the stricken area and there, without assistance and despite frequent hits from terrific enemy bombardment, eventually brought the fire under control.

Later, although mortally wounded, he labored valiantly in the midst of bursting shells, persistently directing fire-fighting operations and administrating to wounded personnel until he finally collapsed from loss of blood, and died, aged 24.

His great personal valor, maintained with utter disregard of personal safety, was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Juneau (CL-52) off New York City (USA), 1 June 1942. A barge is alongside her starboard quarter. Her superstructure retains its original measure 12 “mottled pattern” camouflage scheme, but her hull has been repainted wave-style pattern.

Of all the men who died that night, the loss of one band of brothers would strike hard and come to the attention of all America. The Sullivan brothers were just that – five brothers. They had joined the US Navy on the condition that they all served together. It was US Navy policy not to allow family members to serve together but the policy was not strictly enforced.

They all served on the same ship the USS Juneau. The light cruiser was torpedoed early in the battle and then torpedoed again as she was limping away in company with other ships. There was an enormous explosion when her ammunition magazine was hit and the ship was blown apart. Those watching believed that there could not possibly have been any survivors. No attempt was made to stop and look for them.

In fact around a hundred men had survived and were swimming in the sea, including two, possibly three, of the Sullivan brothers. None of them were to survive. The report from a reconnaissance plane that there were men in the water got lost in the heat of the battle – and a proper search for survivors did not start until much later. Out of a ships company of up to 700 men only 11 were rescued.

Sullivan brothers on USS Juneau (Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan (from left to right)) pictured on the 14 February 1942.
USS Seaman First Class Calvin Graham

Amongst the men wounded on the USS South Dakota during this battle was Seaman First Class Calvin Graham, seen here pictured in May 1942, when he joined the US Navy. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on 12th/13th November 1942.

Graham was born on April 3, 1930 – he was 12 years old at the time of the battle. He was the youngest U.S. serviceman during World War II. When his mother revealed his age he was rewarded with three months in Naval custody and a Dishonourable Discharge – which meant that he was no longer entitled to his military honours. The decision was finally reversed by President Carter in 1978.

Calvin Graham was on the US South Dakota, seen here on 26 October 1942. The U.S. Navy battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57) firing her anti-aircraft guns at attacking Japanese planes during the Battle of Santa Cruz. A Japanese Type 97 Nakajima B5N2 torpedo plane (“Kate”) is visible at right, apparently leaving the area after having dropped its torpedo.
B-17s of the 11th Bombardment Group based at Espiritu Santo bomb the damaged Japanese battleship Hiei north of Savo Island on November 13, 1942. Hiei, which was damaged in the 1st engagement of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal hours earlier, appears to be trailing fuel.

Bloody fight for Guadalcanal continues

1st November 1942: Bloody fight for Guadalcanal continues…

During the course of this engagement, all members of his section were either killed or severely wounded and he himself suffered multiple, grievous wounds. Nonetheless, Corporal Casamento continued to provide critical supporting fire for the attack and in defense of his position. Following the loss of all effective personnel, he set up, loaded, and manned his unit’s machine gun, tenaciously holding the enemy forces at bay.

Fresh troops from the 2d Marine Division during a halt on Guadalcanal, circa November, 1942. Most of these Marines are armed with M1903 bolt-action rifles and carry M1905 bayonets and USMC 1941 type packs. Two men high on the hill at right wear mortar vests and one in center has a World War I type grenade vest. The Marine seated at far right has a Browning Automatic Rifle.
A U.S. Marine patrol crosses the Matanikau River on Guadalcanal in September, 1942. It was near this location that Anthony Casamento’s machine gun team made their stand – every single one of them was killed or seriously wounded.

On Guadalcanal [permalink id=24062 text=”the Marines continued”] to hold out in the defence of the base at Henderson Field. The Japanese strategy was to throw men into the fight to seek to overwhelm the Marines positions, resulting in wholesale carnage. The Marines clung on but not without sustaining many casualties, it took extraordinary tenacity to hold up against the onslaught. One man was to distinguish himself on 1st November, although it was to take a long time before he was recognised for what he did:

CORPORAL ANTHONY CASAMENTO
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Company “D”, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division on Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands, in action against the enemy Japanese forces on November 1, 1942.

Serving as a leader of a machine gun section, Corporal Casamento directed his unit to advance along a ridge near the Matanikau River where they engaged the enemy. He positioned his section to provide covering fire for two flanking units and to provide direct support for the main force of his company which was behind him.

During the course of this engagement, all members of his section were either killed or severely wounded and he himself suffered multiple, grievous wounds. Nonetheless, Corporal Casamento continued to provide critical supporting fire for the attack and in defense of his position.

Following the loss of all effective personnel, he set up, loaded, and manned his unit’s machine gun, tenaciously holding the enemy forces at bay. Corporal Casamento single-handedly engaged and destroyed one machine gun emplacement to his front and took under fire the other emplacement on the flank.

Despite the heat and ferocity of the engagement, he continued to man his own weapon and repeatedly repulsed multiple assaults by the enemy forces, thereby protecting the flanks of the adjoining companies and holding his position until the arrival of his main attacking force.

Corporal Casamento’s courageous fighting spirit, heroic conduct, and unwavering dedication to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Anthony Casamento’s actions were not officially recognised until 1980, which must be unique amongst Medal of Honor recipients. The process of making the award only began in 1964 when two eyewitnesses to his actions were found.

In a White House ceremony, former Cpl Anthony Casamento, a machine gun squad leader in the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, was decorated by President Jimmy Carter on 22 August 1980, 38 years after the battle for Guadalcanal. Looking on are Casamento’s wife and daughters and Gen Robert H. Barrow, Marine Commandant.

John Basilone beats off Japanese on Guadalcanal

25th October 1942: John Basilone beats off Japanese regiment on Guadalcanal…

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Some idea of conditions on Guadalcanal – a USMC image of one of their supply routes on the island.
FIELD TELEPHONE, still in working order after being hit by a shell fragment when a Japanese “knee-mortar” shell landed six feet away. In the absence of reliable radio communications, wire communications were heavily relied upon. The EE–8 field telephone and the sound-powered telephone were used for long and short distances, respectively.

There were pivotal battles in several places this week. On the 23rd, just as the British attacked at El Alamein, the Germans launched another ‘final assault’ at Stalingrad. On the other side of the world at Guadalcanal the Japanese were determined to evict the the US Marines from their positions around Henderson Field.

After yet another tropical downpour Sergeant John Basilone was sitting in the mud of the defensive perimeter. He was given a whispered warning over the radio that a Japanese assault force had been spotted approaching his position. His fifteen man squad found themselves at the brunt of an attack by around three thousand Japanese infantry. They were trying to overcome the U.S. Marines position by sheer weight of numbers. They almost succeeded.

Sergeant John Basilone, awarded the Medal of Honor for his determined stand on Guadalcanal.

John Basilone was to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that night:

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action against enemy Japanese forces, above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division in the Lunga Area, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 24 and 25 October 1942.

While the enemy was hammering at the Marines’ defensive positions, Sgt. Basilone, in charge of 2 sections of heavy machine guns, fought valiantly to check the savage and determined assault. In a fierce frontal attack with the Japanese blasting his guns with grenades and mortar fire, one of Sgt. Basilone’s sections, with its gun crews, was put out of action, leaving only 2 men able to carry on.

Moving an extra gun into position, he placed it in action, then, under continual fire, repaired another and personally manned it, gallantly holding his line until replacements arrived.

A little later, with ammunition critically low and the supply lines cut off, Sgt. Basilone, at great risk of his life and in the face of continued enemy attack, battled his way through hostile lines with urgently needed shells for his gunners, thereby contributing in large measure to the virtual annihilation of a Japanese regiment. His great personal valor and courageous initiative were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

John Basilone was to become a feted American hero when he returned to the USA for a publicity tour to promote war bonds. It was not a role he welcomed and he returned to the Marines to take part in the invasion of Iwo Jima in 1945. He was killed in the early hours of that action. Uniquely he was awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism at Iwo Jima in addition to the Medal of Honor won at Guadalcanal.

SURVIVORS OF THE SS PRESIDENT COOLIDGE. This transport struck an Allied mine in Pallikula Bay. Espiritu Santo Island, 26 October 1942. Of the 4,000 troops aboard, only two men were lost; however, vitally needed equipment and stores went to the bottom with the ship.
FLYING FORTRESS ON A SORTIE over Japanese installations on Gizo Island in October 1942. Smoke from bomb strikes can be seen in the background. This raid was part of a series of air attacks on the enemy during the fight for Guadalcanal. Most of the B–17’s came from Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. (Boeing Flying Fortress heavy bomber B–17.)

Japanese surprised at Battle of Cape Esperance

11th October 1942: Japanese surprised at Battle of Cape Esperance

We sent out rescue craft the next morning to pick up survivors. Many of both sides were found, but few japanese were brought in. Some of the Naval personnel had gaping shrapnel wounds, severed limbs, or they were burned, with oil covering their bodies. They were all in various stages of shock. I counted over fifty American bodies lying on the beach in neat rows. These were the guys who had been recovered by our rescue teams and were either dead when found or died on the way to the beach.

USS Duncan underway in the south Pacific on 7 October 1942, five days before she was sunk in the Battle of Cape Esperance. Photographed from USS Copahee (ACV-12), which was then engaged in delivering aircraft to Guadalcanal. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

The battles on and around Guadalcanal continued. The Marines had fought several intense engagements to defend their base at Henderson Field since the battle at [permalink id=22272 text=”Hell’s Point”] and the [permalink id=22691 text=”air battles”] over the island were equally furious. Both the Japanese and the Americans were intent on landing more troops on the island and the two Naval forces ‘stumbled’ into each other on the night of the 11th/12th.

Shortly before midnight on 11 October, a U.S force of four cruisers and five destroyers—under the command of Rear Admiral Norman Scott intercepted the Japanese force as it approached Savo Island near Guadalcanal. Taking the Japanese by surprise, Scott’s warships sank one cruisers, one destroyer, heavily damaged another cruiser, and mortally wounded the Japanese commander, Aritomo Gotō. It was a tactical victory to the USN but the Japanese still managed to land their reinforcements.

The USN did not come away completely unscathed. Being on the winning side might be of little consequence to some men, as this account by a sailor from USS Duncan makes clear:

The plunge overboard drove me into dark, warm waters. I fought to hold on to my senses. If I passed out, I would just keep sinking. I was 18, and I had shrapnel in both legs and my skull. I struggled to the surface and saw my destroyer, the USS Duncan, burning and adrift, struck 56 times by Japanese shells during the Battle of Cape Esperance near Guadalcanal.

It was Oct. 12, 1942. I saw a wooden spar and grabbed it. To my surprise, a Japanese sailor was hanging on to the other end. I reached for my knife as we eyed each other. We remained frozen with indecision for a long moment. I eased off my end of the spar. He eased off his end. We swam away as fast as we could in opposite directions. Both of us had had all of the fight we wanted.

As luck would have it, I splashed into someone else floating face up. It was [my shipmate] Stanley Dubiel, raving, out of his mind with pain. His legs were badly burned; I had thrown him overboard before I jumped into the ocean.

Looking back over my shoulder as I swam, I saw the Duncan chasing me. The ship was like a giant flamethrower. Still steaming wildly in a tight circle, blazing like a Viking’s funeral pyre, she bore straight down on me, growing larger as she approached, spewing fire and smoke from every opening. The ship rushed by so near I thought I could reach out and grab her.

I held on to Dubiel and his life jacket with a drowning man’s grip as the wake caught us and drove us tumbling underwater. When we surfaced, after what seemed like hours, the world had grown quiet and warm and peaceful. I thought I must have died. Then I spotted the Duncan, flaming away across the sea in the distance. I must have passed out for a minute.

We had gone into the drink about midnight. Now it was daylight. I had been swimming for hours, towing Dubiel. “Keep going” played itself over and over in my brain.

Somehow I became aware that Dubiel and I were no longer alone. I saw fins cutting the surface like blades of knives. The sharks closed in. One of the fish, larger and bolder than the others, darted in for a bite. My foot was bleeding. The shark’s fin disappeared beneath the surface. I spun in the water, my eyes searching frantically. I screamed, Dubiel screamed. His body exploded out of the water. He twisted violently, then he was gone, wrenched from my grip.

I swam like a madman. I figured by all rights I should have been dead. I heard Dubiel’s screams for years afterward.

See the Daily Beast at Newsweek.

The USS Duncan had only just entered service. En route from her builder’s yard at Kearny, New Jersey, to be delivered to the Navy, 15 April 1942. Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

From the perspective of those on Guadalcanal it was difficult to understand who was prevailing. Robert Mahood was one of the Marines on the beach:

I can say I have never witnessed a more awesome sight. We could see salvos of hot shells in threes moving across the night sky in big arcs to hit or miss unseen targets. The battle seemed to last for hours, and all of us beach defense guys sat on the front edge of the gun emplacements and watched the spectacle.

There were from two to six vessels burning at different times all through the night. We sent out rescue craft the next morning to pick up survivors. Many of both sides were found, but few japanese were brought in. Some of the Naval personnel had gaping shrapnel wounds, severed limbs, or they were burned, with oil covering their bodies.

They were all in various stages of shock. I counted over fifty American bodies lying on the beach in neat rows. These were the guys who had been recovered by our rescue teams and were either dead when found or died on the way to the beach.

We could see two or three ships out there that morning, still burning or lying dead in the water. One of these was one of our six-turret cruisers.

This account appears in Pacific War Stories: In the Words of Those Who Survived.

Rear Admiral Norman Scott was awarded the Medal of Honor partly for the “courageous skill and superb coordination of the units under his command” at the Battle of Cape Esperance
A subsequent publicity photograph. Sailor W.R. Martin points out details of the Japanese trophy flags painted on the cruiser’s pilothouse as a scoreboard of enemy ships claimed sunk in the Battle of Cape Esperance, 11-12 October 1942. The six Japanese ships (two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser and three destroyers) represented in this scoreboard greatly overstates the actual enemy losses, which were one heavy cruiser (Furutaka) and one destroyer (Fubuki) sunk and one heavy cruiser (Aoba) badly damaged. This overclaiming was typical of contemporary night surface actions.

As may be expected the U.S. Naval Institute has an excellent account of the whole battle and analysis of its significance.

Japanese cruiser Mikuma sunk, USS Yorktown torpedoed

6th June 1942: Japanese cruiser Mikuma sunk, USS Yorktown torpedoed

He led the second division of his squadron in a coordinated glide-bombing and dive-bombing assault upon a Japanese battleship. Undeterred by a fateful approach glide, during which his ship was struck and set afire, he grimly pressed home his attack to an altitude of five hundred feet, released his bomb to score a near-miss on the stern of his target, then crashed to the sea in flames.

His dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

SBD "Dauntless" dive bombers from USS Hornet (CV-8) approaching the burning Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma to make the third set of attacks on her, during the early afternoon of 6 June 1942. Mikuma had been hit earlier by strikes from Hornet and USS Enterprise (CV-6), leaving her dead in the water and fatally damaged. Photo was enlarged from a 16mm color motion picture film. Note bombs hung beneath these planes.

The Battle of Midway had yet to be fully played out. The toll on the pilots and airmen of the bombers and torpedo planes had been heavy, only a minority would live to see the victory they had won.

The Japanese cruiser Mikuma had been attacked the previous day, during that fearless assault Captain Richard E. Fleming had won the Medal of Honor :

Captain Richard E. Fleming, Medal of Honor recipient

For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as Flight Officer, Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO FORTY-ONE during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Battle of Midway on June 4 and 5, 1942.

When his squadron Commander was shot down during the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Captain Fleming led the remainder of the division with such fearless determination that he dived his own plane to the perilously low altitude of four hundred feet before releasing his bomb. Although his craft was riddled by 179 hits in the blistering hail of fire that burst upon him from Japanese fighter guns and antiaircraft batteries, he pulled out with only two minor wounds inflicted upon himself.

On the night of June 4, when the Squadron Commander lost his way and became separated from the others, Captain Fleming brought his own plane in for a safe landing at its base despite hazardous weather conditions and total darkness.

The following day, after less than four hours’ sleep, he led the second division of his squadron in a coordinated glide-bombing and dive-bombing assault upon a Japanese battleship. Undeterred by a fateful approach glide, during which his ship was struck and set afire, he grimly pressed home his attack to an altitude of five hundred feet, released his bomb to score a near-miss on the stern of his target, then crashed to the sea in flames.

His dauntless perseverance and unyielding devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Japanese heavy cruiser Mikuma, photographed from a USS Enterprise (CV-6) SBD aircraft during the afternoon of 6 June 1942, after she had been bombed by planes from Enterprise and USS Hornet (CV-8). Note her shattered midships structure, torpedo dangling from the after port side tubes and wreckage atop her number four eight-inch gun turret.
A diagrammatic representation of the damage sustained by USS Yorktown on the 4th June.

The USS Yorktown had been abandoned on the 4th June. When it became apparent that she was not going to sink she was re-boarded and attempts made to bring her under control. The destroyer the USS Hammann came alongside to assist in these operations. It was at this point, with the carrier lying dead in the water that Japanese submarine I-168 struck. One torpedo was to hit the Hammann causing catastrophic damage that quickly sunk her. Two others passed under the Hamman and proved to be the fatal blow for the Yorktown.

USS Hammann (DD-412) sinking with stern high, after being torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-168 in the afternoon of 6 June 1942. Photographed from the starboard forecastle deck of USS Yorktown (CV-5) by Photographer 2nd Class William G. Roy. Angular structure in right foreground is the front of Yorktown's forward starboard 5-inch gun gallery. Note knotted lines hanging down from the carrier's flight deck, remaining from her initial abandonment on 4 June.
A diagrammatic representation of the damage sustained by USS Yorktown on 6th June 1942 when the destroyer USS Hamman was alongside her