15 october 2020

After Midway. Northampton joins USS Hornet.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. USS Wasp. Noumea, New Caladonia, The Hornet.

After the Battle of Midway, we returned to Pearl Harbor, and did the usual re-provisioning of the ship. We remained in port for a couple of weeks, which for us was a long port call. In retrospect I think we were waiting for Admiral Halsey to return to duty. About the 1st of July we sailed, not knowing that the Northampton was departing Pearl Harbor for the last time. We made for the South Pacific where we supported forces in the Battle of Bonin Fasi Islands. Again it was fought in the air and our ship never fired a shot. It was shortly thereafter that we were detached from the Enterprise and joined the Hornet.

One morning ships were sighted hull down, on the horizon and we were surprised to be joined by the Carrier Wasp, and her escorting force, and wondered what was to be in store for us. We had an armada of two Carriers, five Cruisers, about a dozen Destroyers, and two oilers. Big things had to be brewing. That very same day as I was in the mess hall eating the noon meal, the Nora went into a hard left turn which actually moved the inclinometer to where it was indicating an excess of 45 degrees list. Those of us in the mess hall ended up in a pile of tables, food, crockery and bodies along the port bulkhead. It was if the hand of God had decided to test the limits of ship and crew. What prevented a capsize, I will never know, but she came back to balance, and we untangled and ran topside to see what in the hell was happening to our little world. We could immediately see that the WASP was mortally wounded, she had been hit amidships by a torpedo fired from a submarine and was listing to port while smoke poured from her shattered hull. Our hard port turn was effected by the Captain taking evasive action. By night the crew had abandoned ship and the Wasp was on the bottom.

It seems we were out to sea forever. We took on fuel at sea with the tankers coming alongside, and transferring crude into our tanks, and at the same time we would occasionally be passed bags of mail, which while often late, we received on a pretty regular basis. We had a supply ship to rendezvous with us and received fresh meat and produce. And at each of these transfers would come hot new scuttlebutt, as to where we were going and why. On about the hundredth day out from Pearl Harbor we finally made port at Noumea, New Caledonia. We tied up at the Nickel docks and were granted shore leave. My first leave in a foreign port. A holding of France. Free for a few hours we learned enough French to ask directions to a whorehouse. The Maison Rouge. A grand colonial structure with an 8 ft high wall surrounding it, the top of the wall was festooned with broken bottles set on mortar, and the only entry was through a gate as well guarded as Fort Knox. The fleet was in and the line was at least a quarter mile long. I never in my life could envision a piece of ass so prime, so desirable, so gold-plated, that I would stand in line behind 3000 or more horny Sailors to have a shot at being the man of the hour for five minutes. I passed, and proceeded to get my ass stoney drunk on anisette. I recall dining on steak which was served with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and the garlic flavor was like a touch of Heaven. I then spent the rest of the afternoon on the city square with a bottle of anisette, and got with it. I do not know how I got back to the ship, but I had one of the world-class hangovers of all time, plus getting my ass chewed out for being in the condition I was in. I guess the Shore Patrol had found me and hustled me back aboard.

We steamed out of Noumea, and rejoined the Hornet on patrol. On the 26th of October we were engaged by an enemy fleet, and as usual the action was what is referred to as an air-sea engagement. I do not know how many times that day, the Japanese came at us, but the battle lasted the better part of the day, and the Hornet was bombed and torpedoed repeatedly to the point where she was listing badly, and unable to make steerageway. The Northampton passed cables to the Hornet and took her in tow. No sooner were we underway, when the Japanese hit us again and we had to cut the cable loose and take evasive action. The Hornet was again hit, as she was lying dead in the water. Again we drove the Japanese off, and again passed cables and took the Hornet in tow, and yet again they came and once again the tow was aborted. By this time the Hornet was damaged so badly that orders were given to abandon ship. The Nora went alongside and cast lines across, and by breeches buoy and litter, we transferred the most seriously wounded aboard for treatment. Litters and stretchers filled the well deck. And as the Marine compartment was adjacent to the sickbay, it was turned into a hospital. We turned and ran and watched as one of our destroyers put torpedo after torpedo into the Hornet, until finally she could stand no more punishment and sank beneath the waves.