Friday, November 11, 2005

Diary Entry: 8/8 - 8/9, 1942 -- 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.)

August 8 rolled around with the transports and cargo ships still unloading. Then again in the afternoon the Japs, with their previous two attacks on the 7th thwarted, struck back at us with forty or more low-flying torpedo planes. The planes came in over the mountain tops concealed by low hanging clouds that ever seem to be nestling in the hills and mountains of these Southwest Pacific Isles. Our ships again got underway to try to manuever and avoid contact with the deadly torpedos. The planes came into us so low that it seemed as if our own ships were all firing on one another, but the skill and deadly aim of our navy gunners pulled us through again. Everywhere you looked Jap planes were being shot down. The sea was alive with burning planes, smoke was spiraling skyward, and on our starboard quarter two planes were closing in fast, battery officers were barking out commands over the din of our A.A. guns. Every gun became alive with tracers spewing out of their muzzles. The planes were nearly amid-ships now and were so close you could nearly make out the features of the Jap airmen's faces. Finally the lead plane nosed into the water, bobbed up, then disappeared into the deep. A split second later the second plane blown in two in the middle settled down on the survace and five Jap Airmen crawled out of the cock pit and took refuge on the floating wing. We cruised by so close to them several times, and had we known them we could not have failed to identify them. Some of the men wanted to pick them up but our ship was under orders not to take any prisoners. However, later in the evening a tin can was dispatched to pick them up, but when approached some of the Japs opened fire with pistols. For their troubles they were blasted out of the water.

When evening rolled around and the tally added, the Astoria had six planes to her credit. I saw only one plane get through the ships' barrage and into the clear. Not one torpedo had found a target -- some of the ships including ours had been strafed by our machine gunfire but had not one casualty.

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 look 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 boinling waters surrounding her, sank from view.


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