Friday, November 11, 2005

Diary Entry #5.2 8/8 - 8/9 1942 -- Navy Battle at Night -- The Astoria Sinks With My Da on It!

(well, he was rescued before it sank, else you wouldn't be reading this now, would you.)

On the Tulagi side the new A.A. cruiser San Jan had been busy carving out a name for herself. With her many A.A. guns she put up a barrage that blackened out the sky. The transports claimed that she had surely saved the day for them.

About 20:30 on August 8, we received word from Army based planes that a Jap task force of about a dozen ships were headed for Guadacanal. With their present speed and location, they shouldn't reach us unil 0630 of the 9th. Meanwhile our transports and cargo ships must continue unloading their precious supplies, rations, guns, etc., for without those our troops would be literally stranded in enemy held territory.

But we reckoned without the craftiness and treachery of the Jap. Their task force moved in our screening forces as 0130. Never before had there been in all navel history a night sea battle. The Japs slipped around little Savo Island undetected by our radars. Our first warning came as flares were dropped in our midst. Almost immediately three of the jap attackers were spotted, G.Q. sounded. Then our captain took control of the bridge. In the glare of searchlights the battle turned into full swing.

I can lookc back now and see our Captain as he went from side to side of the bridge directing the course of the ship, his white hair flowing over the deep bronze of his face. He was truly magnificent and his courage amazing. Wounded by shrapnel he never faltered, but kept directing our batteries as to the whereabouts of our foe. Only when the ship was powerless and flames threatened every being on that part of the ship did he leave.

The two cruisers ahead of us were hit repeatedly, large fires were started but soon the change of our course blotted them from my view forever: before dawn they had settled to the bottom.

As we were gathering speed a ship moved in our starboard beam with her powerful search light on our bridge. She was so close our machine guns opened up on her searchlight, then our main battery let go a broadside. We saw a terrific explosion, and after that we couldn't see her anymore.

Our own ship was riddled from stem to stern and buring fiercely from the hanger to the bridge. Just how many of our men were trapped no one will ever know.

After the shooting was over, men were everywhere caring for the wounded, forming bucket brigades, emptying ready boxes into the sea before the fire spread causing explosions and further damage to our ship. We were still confidendt in salvaging her.

However after what seemed hours of work with pitiful little success word was passed to stand by to abandon ship.

Wounded had been placed all over the foc'sle. Pharmacist mates were everywhere administering first aid to the wounded now and then crying out for a morphine syrette to ease the pain of somenone's sufferning. Once chief P.O. wounded badly in the stomach by shrapnel refused treatment, telling the corpsment o take care of the boys first, that he was o.k.

When I look back and see the courage and bravery of some of the men displayed that night it makes me feel that the little part I played in that gret battle I may have well been only a spectator.

Before daybreak the tin can, USS Bagely came alongside and picked up the survivors remaining aboard -- many had already abandoned ship. She milled around in that vicinity for hours, picking up a survisor here and there. Once before daylight we passed close by a large life raft, from out of the darkness came the shouts of many voices to "come along side foe an Astoria liberty party!" Even in the face of disaster the American people keep up their courage and humor. Surely no nation can conquer such unconquerable spirit as displayed by my shipmates. I am truly proud to be one of them.

Then when dawn came at long last we could see through the haze two of our cans holding a mighty Jap battle cruiser at bay. She could evidently no longer fire back for they were moving in and circling around her with all guns ablaze.

Even with the loss of three of our heavies: the Astoria, Quincy, Vincennes, and the Australian cruiser, Canaberra, we can look back with some sense of a feeling of "well done" for our transports and troops were not molested.

Our transports and cargo ships continued unloading. Many of the survivors were taken aboard transports.

Our Capt., officers and men in our ships fire and rescue, and repair party went back aboard and with the aid of destroyer tried to beach her. Shortly before noon, however, she began listing badly and for the second time that day word was again passed for "all hands abandon ship". In a few minutes she shipped over on her side, heaved like a great dying animal and in the boiling waters surrounding her, sank from view.

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