05 october 2020

Shangri La Tokyo Raid

AUTOBIOGRAPHY. Post Pearl Harbor.

Couple of jiggers of moonlight and add a star

Pour in the blue of a June night and one guitar

You will awake in the morning and start to sing

Moonlight Cocktails are the thing

Number 1 song, December 1941

The first days of the war were haunting and filled with apprehension. We sailed in pursuit of the Japanese Fleet, and I for one hoped we would not find them. We were a cruiser Navy. The battle fleet had been wiped out at Pearl Harbor. The Heavy Cruisers were now the first line of defense and we ran from the South Pacific to the Aleutian Islands, back-and-forth sweeping the sea lanes and looking for action. It came.

On 1 February 1942, at Wotje Island in the Gilberts the Northampton became the first ship to take offensive action against the Japanese. We began our shelling of the island at daybreak, while the island was still out of sight from my vantage point on the flight deck. The 8-inch long-rifles opened fire. Admiral Raymond Spruance was the Flag, and it was here he received his nickname of “Thousand Yard Spruance”. Every run made on the island he would move us in another thousand yards, until we were firing point blank range. And we on the 5-inch batteries could no longer depress our guns low enough to be effective. As one person said that day “If he takes us any closer he will have to grant shore leave.” That Island was a ball of flame.

Following that raid we returned to Pearl Harbor and once again spent just enough time to take on ammunition and provisions, prior to heading out to sea again. This time our target was to be Wake Island. Once again it was to be Naval bombardment. Wake is no more than a sand spit in the ocean with its highest point being 8 or 10 feet above sea level, and again we went in close and shelled with all guns. The Northampton took her first enemy fire there, receiving one hit on the well deck, and another through the then very crude radar screen. After the raid on Wake we steamed to Marcus Island where we lay off and bombarded with our 8-inch guns.

During the next weeks we were in and out of Pearl Harbor on a pretty regular basis. On one occasion we spent a week in dry dock scraping bottom, while the ship was fitted with the new 40 mm guns and our radar screen was repaired. We again went operating with the Enterprise. The Chester and the Salt Lake City were detached and we and the Pensacola were the big guns of Task Force 8. In April of 1942 the Northampton was one of the escort vessels for the USS Hornet when we went within 650 miles of Japan to launch General Doolittle and his 16 B-25 bombers. The famous Shangri La Tokyo Raid.

I had never seen the North Pacific so stormy, and the powers that be were elated at this stroke of luck. We knew we would never be spotted by any patrol planes sent out by the Japanese. What we had not counted on, was being spotted by a Japanese fishing trawler. Why it was never located by radar is a mystery, but there it was and a Destroyer was deployed to sink the trawler, but we knew that word was transmitted to Japan of our location. A decision was made to launch then and there even though the distance made the chances of the B-25s reaching the Chinese mainland a crapshoot. The Hornet faced into the wind and for the first time a twin-engine bomber was launched from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. No one knew exactly what the results of that launch would be, but as she cleared the flight deck and clawed her way into the sky a mighty cheer went up from those of us privileged to witness this historic event. One by one, the remaining fifteen bombers roared down the flight deck and disappeared into the overcast sky. When the last plane was airborne, we turned tail and ran for the Aleutian Islands. “It was a dark and stormy night.” (I had to get that in.) We ran through 30 and 40 foot seas, white water breaking over the foremast. No one was allowed on deck without the use of secured lifelines. Through it all we stood our watches. Condition two. Four hours on, four hours off. Never had I witnessed an ocean so terrible. We waited for some word that the raid had been successful, and finally it came. Tokyo had been bombed, the Japanese Mainland had felt the wrath of War. It was only a bee sting on the hide of an elephant, but the news was electrifying. We had cast a blow for those who had died in the carnage that was Pearl Harbor. We were jubilant, even as the damage-control parties were attempting to shore up the forecastle where the seas were threatening to buckle our bow. Nothing else mattered that happy crazy night.

We returned to Pearl Harbor and again went into dry dock while the shipyard did what they could to reinforce the bow which had taken such a pounding from the sea. Liberty call. To town. To the whorehouses. By this time the influx of personnel had created a logistic problem in Honolulu, and it was not unusual to stand in line for an hour or more to get into a whorehouse, and there wasn't any longer a choice of girls. Next was next, and get it in, and get it done, and get out. By chance I had located a Japanese girl out on the edge of Honolulu, who while she would not engage in intercourse, would for the sum of 25 cents, toss you off with an electric vibrator. It beat the hell out of standing in line, and was far superior to my own handiwork. Lichliter and I would stop in there and afterwards head off for a dinner and an afternoon of Tom Collins drinking at the beach. Sometimes we would stop for a repeat performance on our way back to the ship. My dreams of brown skin maiden's in grass skirts was a thing of the past. Reality had arrived.