29 september 2020


AUTOBIOGRAPHY. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor Dec 1941.

The talk was of nothing but war. On every cruise we were on a constant alert. We were schooled in recognition of Japanese warships and aircraft. It was agreed that it would only be a matter of time until we were involved. The Nora was the flagship of Cruiser Division Five, Rear Admiral Raymond A Spruance, was the flag. Northampton, Chester, Pensacola and Salt Lake City were the ships of the division we usually operated as a task force with the aircraft carrier, Enterprise, with Wild Bull Halsey in overall command. When in port we made the most of every liberty opportunity, and usually were granted liberty every fourth day. The ship was always manned by 75% of her crew and was able of getting underway at all times. One boiler was always fired and steam to run two of the four screws was maintained. On every return to port we worked all hands until the ship was reprovisioned and the ammunition stores restocked. We were on a wartime footing, not knowing when or where it would happen, but we were sure it wasn't far off. I was running with Larry Lichliter in those days and we would go on liberty, have a meal, go to a whorehouse, then out to Waikiki to Ho Sai Guis where we would sit and drink Tom Collins, until it was time to return to the ship. Our routine varied little. There wasn't much more to do. Nights when we didn't have liberty there was always a movie shown on the fantail, and if we were not on watch we would find a place to watch it from. I had anticipated a life of excitement and exotic places, and instead it was boring, and routine, cramped quarters, confined three nights out of four to the ship and even the liberty became routine. So it went for a couple of months. I became a part of the crew and accepted my lot.

On or about the 25th of November CruDivFive sailed with the Enterprise and an escort of six destroyers on what we all figured to be another training exercise. Admiral Halsey was sick and our Task Force sailed under the command of Admiral Spruance. We headed west, stood our watches, had our firing exercises, at which the great percentage of our rounds were faulty. The fuses would not time properly, if at all. The Enterprise would launch aircraft and later they would return and land on the flight deck. One day they launched a squadron of fighters, and they didn't return, and we were informed they had flown to Wake Island to reinforce the Garrison of Marines stationed there. We headed east and word was passed that we would be returning to Pearl Harbor, our estimated time of arrival would be 1500 hours 6 December 1941.

On the 5th of December we took a destroyer alongside to refuel her. Lines were shot across to pass over the hawser which would then bring the fueling hoses. Those hoses were supported by the huge crane mounted amidships of the flight deck of the Nora and the two vessels would proceed at a speed of 15 to 18 knots on a parallel course with no more than 50 feet separating them. While we pumped oil from our holes into the hold of the Destroyer. It was referred to as refueling at sea. All went well until the time came to separate the ships and at that time a steel cable dropped and got tangled in one of the screws on the Nora. Admiral Spruance gave the word that we were to lie to and send divers over the side to clear the damage, and our arrival time at Pearl Harbor was changed to 1000 hours Sunday 7 December. I was pissed, as my section was due liberty Saturday, and now it would be Wednesday before I got ashore.

Sunday morning, at sea, standing a gun watch, when Dale Hansen, our Communications Marine came up on the flight deck and advised us to prepare for the Captain to address us over the PA system. He would say nothing more, but we could see by his face that it was a serious matter. Captain Chandler came on and advised us of the fact that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor and we would proceed in an attempt to intercept the enemy. Someone asked Sergeant Joe Fentress, our Gun Captain what would we do should the Japanese planes attack us. He mentioned that our ammo was faulty and near useless. Fentress replied, “We will throw shit at them.” And where will we get the shit, the questioner asked. “Just reach behind you, it will be there.” Fentress replied. And so started World War II on board the Northampton.

We steamed into Pearl Harbor the morning of 8 December. The smoke and smell of death hung over the air like a pall. It was a cloying sweetish smell. The devastation of what had been a proud fleet lay everywhere. Motor launches piled high with bodies were running from the sunken hulks to the shore. Off in the distance we could hear the sound of rifle fire, as the sentries were firing at any sound. The evidence of the carnage was to be seen everywhere one looked. We moored at our usual birth, and an ammunition lighter came alongside, and we went to the all hands working party, and transferred every round of ammo and every powder bag off the ship and onto the lighter. It was towed off and another lighter took its place and we restocked every magazine and ready box with new ammo and powder. It did not end there, as we then proceeded to reprovision the ship, and make ready for sea. It was a steady all-hands job, and in about 15 hours we were getting ready to sail, at first light on 9 December, we slipped through the torpedo nets at the harbor entrance and went looking for the Japanese Fleet.

History will bear me out, when I say the outcome of the war in the Pacific was largely based on the events at that refueling at sea on December 5th. Had Admiral Spruance not decided to lie to and clear the fouled screw on the Northampton, the Enterprise, four Cruisers, and six Destroyers would have been in port that morning. The Enterprise would have surely been sunk, as would the Cruisers, as we moored in open water and would have been easy targets. In those early days of the war, the fleet was Task Force 8. That was us. The fates play strange games.