Archives For Pacific Ocean

Royal Navy

HMS Exeter Sinking

In the months following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Japanese juggernaut swept through the Pacific in an all out quest to secure natural resources and eliminate its opponents. A prime target in the Japanese crosshairs was the Dutch East Indies – modern-day Indonesia. In February 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy dispatched a task force consisting of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and 14 destroyers to escort an invasion force of ten transports. Opposing the IJN task force was a motley assortment of Dutch, US, British and Australian naval assets including two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and nine destroyers.

The Allied force was outmatched in numbers and firepower as the Japanese heavy cruisers possessed more heavy caliber guns than their Allied equivalents. Additionally, they were also hampered by communication and coordination issues stemming from trying to integrate ships from four navies into a single task force. In a desperate attempt to destroy the Japanese invasion force before it offloaded its troops, the Allied force sailed into the teeth of the Japanese task force late in the afternoon on February 27, 1942.

The Allied force tried vainly to close within gunfire range of the Japanese transports, but each time they were rebuffed by a hellish rain of gunfire from the Japanese escorts. As the afternoon progressed the Japanese advantages began to tell with Allied ships succumbing to torpedo attacks, gunfire and even mines. By midnight, three destroyers and two cruisers, HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java, had been lost along with the Dutch admiral in charge of the Allied task force.

Later the next day, two of the surviving three cruisers were annihilated in a follow-on battle in Sunda Strait. Only a day later, on March 1, in the Second Battle of the Java Sea, the remaining Allied cruiser, HMS Exeter, and her two destroyer escorts were sunk. In just three days, the Allies had lost five cruisers and another six destroyers while the IJN had suffered the loss of only a few escort vessels and transports sunk or damaged.

With Allied naval power in the region either destroyed or driven off to Australia, the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies was virtually assured. Not only did the battles of the Java Sea and Sunda Strait represent a stinging defeat for the Allies, but it also signaled the beginning of the end of Dutch colonial power in Indonesia.

The UK Telegraph is reporting that a fisherman from El Salvador, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, has landed in the Marshall Islands, ~8,000 miles from his starting point in Mexico. Supposedly, Mr. Alvarenga and a 15 year old, Ezekiel, departed for a day long fishing trip 13 months ago and only just now reached land. Alvarenga survived by eating birds, sharks, turtles, fish and other wildlife while Ezekiel perished only four months into the trip as he refused to eat. While tales such as this exist, it is still yet to be proved whether Alvarenga’s account is true. It is also still unconfirmed whether Gilligan or the Skipper were aboard at any point during his epic voyage.

japanese submarines

Operation Storm by John J. Geoghegan relates the obscure story of Japan’s last ditch effort to launch an attack on American soil in the closing days of World War II. Geoghegan, the executive director of The SILOE Research Institute’s Archival Division, devotes much of his writing to white elephant technology and thus his choice of subject matter is quite apropos. Over the course of ~400 pages, Geoghegan introduces the reader to the Japanese naval officers and designers who helped craft a Hail Mary strategy of launching an airstrike on the Panama Canal from the largest submarines of the war. Each submarine was designed as an underwater aircraft carrier to carry two or three specially developed strike aircraft and the path of their development makes for incredible reading.

Geoghegan also tells the backstory of the USS Segundo (a sub that often operated in conjunction with USS Razorback) which captured one of the subs in the uneasy days following the capitulation of Japan. Relying on extensive archival research as well as interviews with survivors of the Japanese program, Geoghegan provides readers with a highly readable account of this overlooked aspect of World War II history. In addition to the strength of his research, Geoghegan integrates the story into the continued development of America’s submarine program in the years following World War II. Finally, readers are brought full circle to the present day via two modern points of reference. First, one of the subs (I-401) was re-discovered in 2005 off the coast of Hawaii where it had been used for torpedo practice by the US Navy after the war. Second, the Smithsonian Institution displays the only surviving example of the subs’ Seiran attack planes at its spectacular Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia near Dulles Airport. Operation Storm is highly recommended for anyone interested in obscure technology, warfare or a non-traditional history of World War II.

USS Samuel B. RobertsIn his latest book, For Crew and Country, historian John Wukovits recounts the incredible story of the destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts and her rendezvous with destiny in the Philippines at the Battle of Samar. Building off James Hornfischer’s excellent The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors which recounted the larger tale of the Battle of Samar, Wukovits focuses exclusively on the Roberts, her crew, construction, shake-down and foray into the Pacific theater. Divided into four parts, the book deals first with the molding of both the vessel and her crew, then moves on to early cruises in the Atlantic and Pacific, segues into the Battle of Samar and concludes with the aftermath of the battle.

While the back story is intriguing and important to subsequent events, For Crew and Country shines brightest in Wukovits narration of the Battle of Samar. Wukovits expended hours conducting interviews and poring over first-hand accounts and correspondence between crew and family members to piece together a gripping minute by minute account of the battle. Wukovits’ narrative technique is so effective that as readers burn through the book’s pages, they can smell the sulfur of battle, hear the ringing echo of the Roberts’ five inch guns pounding away at Japanese warships and taste the sea spray that douses the crew with each near-miss from Japanese salvos.

Although some readers may find Wukovits usage of vernacular history a bit tedious and slow, especially in the telling of the backstory prior to the battle, the technique is fascinating when applied to the battle itself. Unlike some texts which focus on big events and big actors, For Crew and Country eschews this approach to present readers with a moving narration of what a World War II naval battle was like for the common sailor. In sum, For Crew and Country is an excellent read and Wukovits has done much to honor the memory of the brave and intrepid crew of the Roberts.

SMS Adler

SMS Adler
Photo: wrecksite.eu

During the last three decades of the 19th century, various Western nations carved up not just Africa, and the Near and Far East, but also various Pacific islands. In many cases, the smaller European powers sought to do empire on the cheap by not governing the islands but encouraging the installation of puppet governments. Thus, the nation could merely secure resources and coaling stations for its naval fleet. In the case of the Samoan Islands in the late 1880s, the German Empire encouraged a civil war between several tribes in order to weaken the tribes’ hold on the island and secure German concessions. Recognizing the strategic importance of the islands, the British and Americans shipped military assistance to opponents of the tribes aligned with Germany.

us gunboat samoa

USS Vandalia
Photo: wrecksite.eu

As the conflict escalated, each Western nation dispatched naval vessels to Samoa and the three nations confronted one another in Apia Harbor during 1889. Britain sought to remain a peaceful arbitrator while America and Germany faced each other with the threat of belligerent action. The need for negotiations or military action between the American and German vessels, though, was swept away by the March 15/16th Apia Cyclone. Unbeknownst to either side, a cyclone had been bearing down on Samoa as each side scowled at one another across the harbor. Samoans awoke on the morning of the 16th to discover both the American and the German squadrons beached, sunk or wrecked in the harbor. The loss of the naval squadrons effectively defused the situation and the dispute was resolved by the Tripartite Convention of 1889 by which Samoa was divided between America and Germany.

wrecked german ships

SMS Eber’s Bow
Photo: Wrecksite.eu

clipper ship

Clipper Blue Jacket Aflame
Photo: Wrecksite

In 1869 the clipper ship Blue Jacket embarked 71 passengers and crew and departed Lyttelton, New Zealand bound for Liverpool. On March 9, off the coast of the Falkland Islands, the ship caught fire and was abandoned. A total of 39 survivors were picked up with 36 having spent a week adrift and 3 spending 3 weeks subject to the vagaries of the South Atlantic. While March 9th may have signaled the end of the Blue Jacket’s voyage, it marked the beginning of a voyage of a different sort for her figurehead. For nearly 20 months the Blue Jacket’s figurehead floated with the currents and on December 8, 1871 washed ashore on Rottnest Island near Perth, Australia – 6,000 miles from where the Blue Jacket was abandoned.

Negligence (n.)

February 22, 2013 — Leave a comment
Speke

S/V Speke Aground

Negligence (n.) – the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty by failing to conform to the required standard of conduct, the defendant’s negligent conduct was the cause of the harm to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff was, in fact, harmed or damaged.

On February 22, 1906, the S/V Speke ran aground off Phillip Island south of Melbourne, Australia due to the negligence of her captain in properly navigating the ship. Speke was the second-largest ship-rigged vessel in existence at the time of her destruction and was bested in size only by her sister ship Bragdo. The vessels were built in Southampton in 1891 and Speke plied the South America-Australia trade route. Thankfully only one crew member perished as a result of the catastrophe.

USMC

Marine Raiders embarked aboard US Navy submarine

Today marks the 69th anniversary of the disbandment of the US Marine Corps’ four Marine Raider Battalions. The Battalions were initially formed to conduct operations behind enemy lines in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The Raiders are perhaps most famous for their operation in August 1942 against Japanese forces on tiny Makin Atoll in the Gilbert Islands.

In order to gather intelligence on enemy forces in the area and to sow confusion in the Japanese command as to where the main Allied thrusts would occur, Admiral Chester Nimitz ordered the 2nd Marine Raiders Battalion, better known as Carlson’s Raiders, to assault Makin Atoll on August 17, shortly after the initial invasion of the Lower Solomons by US forces. On August 8, companies A and B of Carlson’s Raiders were embarked aboard two submarines, USS Nautilus and USS Argonaut, and stealthily made their way to Makin Atoll.

Going ashore in small combat rubber raiding craft, the two companies quickly became intermingled in heavy surf and lost the element of surprise shortly after landing. Over two days of fighting, though, the Raiders annihilated the Japanese ground force and fended off multiple air attacks – all while losing only eighteen dead and twelve missing. Additionally, their supporting submarines sank several small craft with fire from their deck guns. Carlson’s Raiders then re-embarked and made their way to Pearl Harbor to a hero’s welcome. Unfortunately, in the chaos of combat, nine Raiders were left behind and later beheaded after they surrendered on August 30th.

During their brief existence, the men of the Marine Raider Battalions earned seven Medals of Honor and several dozen Navy Crosses and one member went on to earn the Medal of Honor in the Korean War. Today, the spirit of the Marine Raiders live on through their sister WWII unit, the Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion, which has since become Force Recon; as well as through the MARSOC units stood up as part of the US Marine Corps contribution to SOCCOM. The Marine Raiders accomplisments are also remembered through the US Navy’s amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island. The units have also found their place in popular culture with Makin Atoll missions being featured in the wildly popular Call of Duty and Medal of Honor video game franchises.

amphibious assault ship

USS Makin Island
Photo: US Navy

Sandy Island

R/V Southern Surveyor

Australian scientists aboard the R/V Southern Surveyor have made a surprising (un)discovery in the South Pacific. Earlier this year, the Southern Surveyor had sailed to the eastern coast of Australia to conduct scientific research on tectonic activity in the region. While there, the team decided to investigate a discrepancy between one of their navigational maps and the remainder of their scientific and weather maps. While the ship’s scientific and weather maps displayed the existence of Sandy Island (referred to as Sable Island on some charts), an island approximately the size of Manhattan, between Australia and New Caledonia, one of their navigational maps had no such island.

Deciding to further investigate the island’s existence, the ship sailed to Sandy Island’s coordinates. Upon the Southern Surveyor’s arrival, though, the island was found to simply not exist. The ship arrived under cover of darkness and there were initial concerns that Sandy Island was merely submerged and could ground the Southern Surveyor. This theory was quickly dispelled as depth soundings found that the ocean was 1,400 meters deep at Sandy Island’s coordinates. Some have theorized that the island simply never existed and was merely a protection against unauthorized copying of a cartographer’s map while others have asserted that the island actually exists but was misplaced on the charts.

tall ship hawaii

Falls of Clyde
CC Image Courtesy of Wally Gobetz on Flickr

Falls of Clyde is today the only surviving four masted iron-hulled sailing ship. Built in Scotland in 1878 when the clipper ship reigned supreme, the Falls of Clyde operated as a tramp merchantman between the US and locations in the British Empire. Falls of Clyde later was converted to use as an oil tanker and even served as a floating fuel depot in Alaska.

Perhaps the most intriguing fact about the Falls of Clyde is her backdoor entry into US passenger and cargo service at the turn of the 20th century. The Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886 prohibited foreign flagged/built ships from ferrying passengers between US ports. Today, the Jones Act (passed in 1920) maintains a similar prohibition. A US company purchased the Falls of Clyde in 1899 and registered the ship under the Republic of Hawaii’s flag. Thus, in 1900 when the US annexed Hawaii the Falls of Clyde, despite her foreign origins, was allowed to fly the US flag and operate between US ports.

Falls of Clyde was restored in the late 1960s and served as a museum ship in Honolulu, Hawaii however the ship fell into disrepair after neglect by her parent museum. In 2008, the Friends of the Falls of Clyde purchased the ship and are working to restore her.