Qualified Journeymen at War
December 1st to December 31st, 1942

December 1st, 1942, Tuesday, steaming as before on base course 180° True. I had the midwatch and stayed up for the dawn alert, 05 to 0600. No word has come down on the results of the grand mêlée in the slot last night.

Two of my new books are the two-volume War and Peace—Tolstoy, with a cast-of-characters directory. I referred to the directory very often, for I found the Russian names too much alike.

Today’s radio new press had the news of the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston; lots of casualties. It had been my favorite stomping ground in Boston. It was the subject of much discussion in the ship, because everyone seemed to have been there once.

We exercised at drills all day as the Task Unit proceeded southward.

December 2, 1942, Wednesday, steaming as before on base course 180° True. Made SG radar contact on two surface ships bearing 004° True. Grayson was sent out to investigate and identified two friendlies. I had the midwatch.

More good news from Europe: French Navy scuttled their fleet to prevent capture. The message for the Axis is that force is only temporary.

Slept until 1130, then on watch again from 12 to 1600.

December 3, 1942, Thursday, steaming as before on base course 090° True, in company with Neville, Heywood and Grayson. Exercised at various drills. Dawn general quarters 0430 to 0530. Today is Churchill’s and my mother’s birthdays, both 1874.

On watch 08 to 1200. Landfall on New Caledonia.

Had the watch 20 to 2400 and we cleaned bilges just because we needed sprucing up.

December 4, 1942, Friday, steaming as before in company with Neville, Heywood and Grayson. Sighted Adedee Light at 0400, dawn alert from 04 to 0500. We entered the inner harbor about 0830.

After we fueled ship, I went to work on Forced Draft Blower No. 7.

Commander Destroyers Pacific came aboard. He was Admiral Ainsworth. The COs of Saufley, De Haven and Grayson came aboard for a conference. All the destroyer skippers left the ship for a conference with Commander Task Unit 62.4.8. Another trip to Guadalcanal is in the offing.

I worked on the blower until midnight; then another shift took over. I was awakened at 0300 to come tell them where to find one nut of forty. I thought of a lot of words for that.

Someone at the type commander’s office in Pearl Harbor (DesPac) had been doing some thinking. We had been testing their more rapid method of adding boiler reserve power in an emergency:

Normally we steamed with one boiler on each engine, which would give about 26 knots maximum speed with full superheat of 850 degrees Fahrenheit. To add the 3rd and 4th boilers brings the speed up to over thirty knots, but . . . There is no difficulty in rapidly bringing up the standby boiler to operating steam pressure, however, to dump that “cold” steam at 600 p.s.i. at 490 degrees F. into the piping and turbines which are operating at 600 p.s.i. and 850 degrees F. would have the same effect as cold water in a hot drinking glass. Something would have to give.

Unless there was steam flow in the cold boiler, to light the superheater burner would melt the tubes. Tests proved that minimum flow through the superheater could be induced by opening the superheater header drains to the bilges. We tested the method until we had confidence in it; that meant we could light the superheater without opening the main steam stop. And it also meant that the standby boiler could be cut in as much as 15 minutes earlier in an emergency.

That method saved our collective asses—at least once.

December 5, anchored as before in Dumbea Bay, New Caledonia. 0430 Underway escorting Jackson, Crescent City, President Adams, Mercury with destroyers Saufley, De Haven, Grayson and Nicholas as escorts. Set base course 301° True, speed 15 knots toward Guadalcanal.

One by one the “tiger-mouths,” the tough guys, have fallen silent. Such a relief . . .

December 6, 1942, Sunday, steaming as before in company with Task Unit 64.4.8. USS Hopkins joined the formation in the forenoon. On watch from 04 to 0800; slept in the morning. Drills were held all afternoon until my watch began, 1600 to 2000.

December 7, 1942, Monday, enroute as before with vessels of TU 64.4.8. Just one year against Japan and we’ve hardly begun. But it looks better than six months ago—everywhere, in Russia and in North Africa.

On watch 04 to 0800. Worked all day on the emergency feed pump, repacking and spotting-in water chamber valves.

We are nearing Lengo Channel, for we have a landfall on San Cristobal.

December 8, 1942, Tuesday, steaming as before in company with TU 64.4.8. On watch 04 to 0800. Arrived off Guadalcanal at sunrise. Patrolled all day in the Sound while the transports unloaded, and returned southward in the afternoon. I had the first dogwatch; we held drill general quarters for an hour after sunset.

Brown (the Old Man) is tireless, but I am not.

December 9, Wednesday, steaming as before in company with Task Unit 64.4.8. Went to general quarters at 0230 and the contact turned out to be Grayson. The transports have been loaded with Marines who were relieved by Army units, taking over the defense of Guadalcanal.

We had a fire in the handling room of the 1.1-inch battery. That puts the electrical power out for that battery, so the gun is useless.

We went to battle stations in the afternoon for an anticipated air raid, then again for a submarine contact. Both were false alarms.

Passed into Lengo Channel at 1630, southward.

December 10, 1942, Thursday, steaming as before with TU 64.4.8. Dawn alert came at 0440 to 0545. The Task Unit was ordered to Brisbane, Australia, but Nicholas was detached to proceed to White Poppy (Nouméa). We left the formation at 1700. I had the 20 to 2400 watch.

December 11, 1942, Friday, steaming as before singly on base course 151° True, speed 17 knots. Dawn alert, then on watch 08 to 1200. We had drills all afternoon.

Word came down that 12 years service for a first class makes him a chief petty officer if otherwise qualified. This includes Old Settler and my competition, Itzin and Duke. With a naval expansion of 1,500% since 1940, I found myself unable to go up just one grade! That being due to suspension of competition and barred by its bureaucratic substitute. It wouldn’t bother me one bit to be outclassed by examination in competition. The gut grinder is that I’m locked in until the rules change.

I’ve often wanted to strangle Chief Freeman, but on a different issue than to create a vacancy.

Worked all day on both fuel pumps, trying to settle out the erratic pressure variations of the Leslie regulators.

To the sack at 2000.

December 12, 1942, Saturday, steaming as before. Passed through the reef entrance to Bulari Passage.

We went alongside SS J.C. Donnel to fuel ship in Dumbea Bay.

I got letters from home and Brack White, shipmate on Omaha. I was roundly pissed by the promotion situation and for the censor’s consumption in the wardroom, I wrote Brack to say, “You guys are filling the vacancies that we are creating!” I hoped that he understood.

We went alongside USS Dixie, outboard of Gridley. We got a 25-man draft for ComSerRon SoPacFor.

Somebody stole a can of peaches from the wardroom stores. A lot of noise was made until Ensign Everett found it.

I guess I really don’t like to gamble, but it occupies the mind larger than it really is. Money is, after all, big to the senses; a good hand feels like success. I won $60 tonight.

December 13, 1942, Sunday, moored to Dixie. Up at 0700 and worked on the boilers. I got assigned to me four men who had survived the sinking of Preston at Guadalcanal. We are indeed so short that these guys were not given stateside leave. Berry, from Preston, was a gem, and he was with me for six months. I gave him the first transfer to new construction that was in my power.

December 14, 1942, Monday, moored to Dixie.

Worked all day with repairmen from Dixie. We dismantled the Leslie fuel pump regulators, changed the diaphragms and adjusted the bleed cocks. The tender specialists are good mechanics. I heard no insinuation about them being non-combatants, or any conversation different than might be heard in San Diego or Norfolk.

Back in the engine room, they are working on the main feed pumps and one hot turbine bearing.

December 15, 1942, Tueday, moored to Dixie. Worked all day in the plant. Underway for trial runs at sea, then back alongside Dixie.

Itzin and Hiadukewitch were frocked as chiefs today on the 12-year provision. Now, if I were bumping-off chiefs to make a vacancy, I’d have to get three of them! Chiefs don’t stand in-port watches, so now mine come up more frequently.

The sea trials showed that the pump and engine problems have been cured.

Underway at 1530 to proceed to sea ahead of Task Force 64. The heavy vessels were delayed, so we had to return to anchorage.

December 16, 1942, Wednesday, moored as before. I had the midwatch, and then continued working in the plant until 1100.

At 1300, we got underway and proceeded out of harbor followed by Farragut and Clark, the Task Force consists of Washington (OTC) North Carolina and Indiana, escorted by Nicholas, Farragut and Clark.

1450 passed the reef entrance and began sound searches ahead of the heavy vessels.

December 17, 1942, Thursday, steaming as before in company with vessels of Task Force 64, base course 230° True (west-southwest). Had the midwatch and dawn alert was at 0530 to 0630. I slept the forenoon. It is raining and overcast, but nevertheless we are proceeding at 25 knots. Ain’t no merchant vessels around to run into!

There is no scuttlebutt as to our destination, so it must be a drill. Battle problem exercises all afternoon.

USS joined the formation at 1600. I had the 20 to 2400 watch.

December 18, 1942, Friday, steaming as before in company with Task Force 64. Dawn alert was from 0545 to 0645, on watch again 08 to 1200.

At 1030, we got a sound contact and depth charged it, Fanning joined in the sound search. joined the screen during the afternoon. Brown, though, is still screen commander so he seems very senior. I’ll remember to ask Chief Yeoman Moore the particulars. Scuttlebutt now has us trying another ambush in Sealark Sound.

December 19, 1942, Saturday, steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 64. Dawn alert was from 06 to 0645.

After dawn alert, fueled the destroyers from the battleships; we fueled from North Carolina.

On watch 20 to 2400. We had general quarters at 2210. The contact was a flight of enemy bombers headed in our direction. We waited, keeping them on radar and with puckering strings taut. No attack, secured from general quarters after 2340.

December 20, 1942, steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 64. Scuttlebutt from the communicators that Saratoga got a big-ship kill with her aircraft. We made a rendezvous with tanker USS Guadeloupe and her escort, destroyer ; we fueled from Guadeloupe. I had the second dogwatch.

December 21, 1942, on the midwatch. Steaming as before with Task Force 64.

We brought on the standby boilers (using the DesPac technique but slowly and carefully) and went to full power with Condition II, four hours-on-four-off, without an announcement as to why. Secrecy at sea is more than an irritation; it feels like a vote of no confidence or worse. But I don’t think it is deliberate, for deliberate implies thinking it through. It is neglect and a habit-of-thinking that the troops need only a vigorous application of the law.

At 0300 radar had 40 planes on the scope. Secured from battle stations only after the precautionary dawn period of alert. There was an hour to nap, then on watch 08 to 1200. After my watch, we fueled ship for three hours. I slept under No. 1 gun at 1500 and was called to relieve Jab Bauer at 1530, so I had the watch until 2000. Having had but catnaps since this time yesterday tired needs a new definition.

This December evening the tropical heat was relieved by the breeze across the foc’sle, and the battleships and destroyers rolled westward in the Solomons arena. Happier times and distant and foreign stations were what the chiefs talked about, and about winning and losing. Old Settler submitted one on how to win at cockfights.

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“When I was on the Stewart I went ashore in Cavite with some of my Chefoo poker winnings. I’d never even seen a chicken fight, so I went to one with a Black Hawk sailor I’d met in a bar.

Goddamned noisiest game I ever saw. The Filipino guys’d holler every time a rooster made a connection. There was some mean little bantys in there! The sailor told me that you bet by the reputation of each chicken like in horse races . . . So I bet the mean ones—ones that looked mean. I guess the secret is to know which had a mouse for a papa . . .

“Then I got acquainted with a fat Filipino who raised fightin’ chickens. I’m full of beer one day, and I told him: ‘I bet an American chicken can beat a Filipino chicken!’

“Man, he acted like it’s the best news he’s ever heard! He said he’d pay the advertising, and he’d split the gate . . . Besides, he’d cover all my bets . . ..

That makes me start thinkin’, maybe there’s something here I don’t know . . . He’s so goddamned sure . . .

“Maybe, just maybe, I can pull a ringer. So I sends away to a friend in Fort Smith, and I told him to send me a baby eagle. They’d expect American chickens to be just a little bit different like American sailors are different.

“The baby eagle came and he was kinda naked without feathers. I knew this married machinist’s mate that lived by the Old Walled City up in Manila, so he kept the bird for me. The fight was set for May so’s the eagle could feather out a bit and not too much.

One day the monkey-mate comes down to the ship to complain: ‘Goddamned bird wants to perch, he’s tore up all the chair backs. One day I gives him a ride on my arm, and he teetered just a little bit but he squeezed my arm a lot. I lets out a yell that scares my wife so’s she ran all the way to the church and wouldn’t come back without the priest.’

“I told him the fight’s just a week away. I’ll pay to fix the chairs . . . ‘How about my arm?’ he asks. You want to sell it?’ That made him unfriendly, but what the hell . . .

“Well, the destroyers was going back to China, so I went to the Flag Yeoman who was a friend, and I got a transfer to the Black Hawk to stay in Cavite.

“We’re in the arena for the fight and we’re supposed to make the birds pissed-off by puttin’ ’em bill-to-bill. The banty rooster’s pecking like a chippin’ hammer but the eagle just dodges. The audience cheers, so I starts to worry some more. Down in the dirt, same thing, the eagle just dodges. The banty charges in and the eagle jumps out of the way like he’s saying, ‘I got nothin’ against you!’ When the banty draws some blood the barfull of Filipinos goes nuts. The blood makes the rooster strut and get ready for the kill—and he was ready for the kill when he flies straight in, four inches above the deck, his steel spurs out front.

“The eagle’s watchin’ with them big yellow orbs, and when the rooster gets close he hopped aside . . . And like a big-league shortstop, he reached out and made the catch.

“The rooster flaps and squawks, maybe he thinks there’s a referee or a recount. The eagle got tired of the complainin’ and he squeezed.

“Well, the fat guy offered me two thousand for the eagle, so I took it. Then I goes back to the Flag Yeoman and tells him I need a transfer like tonight ’cause I’d sold the eagle. That pissed him off . . .

“‘Goddammit, Settler, I just got you a transfer so’s you could bet on the eagle. You sold him, but you can still bet on him!’

“Well, not exactly . . . The fat guy’s gonna put the eagle in with his other chickens tonight, and maybe sprinkle some corn in there . . .


“The eagle, he don’t eat no corn. About tomorrow morning he’s gonna get hungry, and he’s gonna start eatin’ the other chickens!”

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December 22, 1942, steaming as before with Task Force 64. On watch 04 to 0800, feeling better after six hours in the pad.

We are between Bougainville and New Guinea looking for trouble.

Dawn alert at 0545 to 0645. Slept from breakfast to 1130.

There were drills and battle problems in the afternoon. After the drills, I had to go to work on a misbehaving fuel pump.

Since five days the distilling plant has been out of service, no bathing and no shaving. Sharkshit Scott is in charge of the auxiliary machinery; that includes the distilling plant. I don’t know anyone bold enough to make caustic comments on the lack of water to him. I slept in my clothes until midnight.

December 23, 1942, steaming as before with Task Force 64. We have reversed course several times, but on this course they say we are headed for back-base White Poppy, Nouméa.

On watch 04 to 0800, dawn alert was 0515 to 0615.

During the forenoon, Saratoga joined up. She gave us some realistic simulated air attack tracking drills with first-line aircraft. One was a coordinated attack with both dive- and torpedo bombers. We’ve had the real thing with first-line aircraft, but not both at once, coordinated.

In the afternoon, we entered Nouméa inner harbor and fueled ship; then we moved to our assigned anchorage. I wrote letters until after midnight. Bathed a half-bath by bucket, the four-piper technique.

December 24, at anchor Nouméa.

Up at 0700, worked all day on boiler safety valves. We took aboard provisions and fresh water from shore brought out by a fresh water barge. I came topside to look at the town, we had always been so far out that the town was colored roofs only. Nouméa is small enough to make Bath, Maine look like a metropolis.

Started to write to sister Eva. Too tired. In her last letter she quipped that, after the war weld write my memoirs leaving out the unprintables and loves . . . What loves?

December 25, 1942, at anchor Nouméa Inner Harbor. On the midwatch, in-port auxiliary watch. Couldn’t get a better watch for Midnight Christmas Eve, you can check out the comings-and-goings if there are any.

I found a can of pears (size 2 ½) where another thief had hid them, and we had a festive after-midnight Xmas dinner with the help of Laymance, Walter Raul, Stromwall and Douba. Douba, the Kentucky lad, had the watch with me; the others were loafer-visitors. The torpedo alcohol got around this night. Overton, mellowed by it, called from his watch in the engine room and wanted to talk about our mutual friends in Bath, Maine.

I made it to bed at 0430 and was up at 0700. I worked all day in No. 2 boiler firesides lancing tubes with a homemade sawtooth lance of sheet metal. It worked very well.

There was a topside film in the cool air, and some Christmas music. I read a book until midnight.

December 26, 1942, anchored as before in assigned berth, Great Roads, Nouméa. Up at 0600. The alcohol had made me sick.

Worked through the day until 2100 at night.

We sortied from harbor in the early evening for anti-sub patrol before the entrance to the anchorage.

I had a dream that was so vivid that it ought to have some basis in fact. A bomb hits and I find myself about thirty feet in the air. Below me, I could see the after deck plates slowly expand and break away from the hull plates, turning cherry red as they bulged upward. It had never consciously crossed my mind that, or if, a bomb heats the metal that high.

Received a letter from Miss Beatty, one of my former teachers, which read like a tract: all the sterile, dutiful phrases so impersonal as to be chilling. I felt like I’d just been divorced with a heartfelt thank you!

To bed at midnight.

December 27, 1942, steaming singly on anti-sub patrol of the White Poppy entrance. I was called at 0400 to check out a problem boiler leak. I secured it; then worked on the boiler leak until 0700, slept two hours then back on watch.

The ship came back to harbor to form up with Task Force 65, which sortied at 1145.

Screen is composed of Nicholas, McCalla, and Craven; the heavy units are Nassau, Altamaha, St. Louis and HMS Achilles. The last two are cruisers; the first two are converted auxiliary vessels with a flight deck, i.e., small carriers.

I relieved the watch for chow and back to work. 20 to 2400 watch. It feels like a full day. Took the 20 to 2400 watch. It feels like a full day.

December 28, 1942, steaming as before in company with vessels of Task Force 65. Dawn alert 05 to 0600.

Both carriers launched aircraft. We exercised machine gun batteries on towed sleeves.

I slept the afternoon, and then went on watch 20 to 2400.

December 29, 1942, steaming as before with vessels of Task Force 65. Dawn alert at 0515 to 0615.

Planes were launched and made simulated attacks on the Task Force.

We got a Sail George radar contact at 2200, all hands to battle stations . . . but the bogey moved out of range.

December 30, 1942, steaming as before with vessels of TF 65. I had the 04 to 0800 watch. Slept a bit in the a.m. The heavy vessels commenced to enter Segond Channel, Base Button (Espiritu Santo).

We went alongside SS Esso Annapolis and fueled ship.

There were a lot of ships in the harbor, which presages something. Must be a move northward.

At 1730 O’Bannon moored alongside to port; Craven moored outboard of O’Bannon; McCalla moored alongside our starboard side. I had to go over to bullshit with the O’B sailors while we had the chance. As I crossed the brow, there was line of sailors coming over to our side.

December 31, 1942, anchored as before in a nest of three destroyers in Segond Channel, Base Button. I worked all day on leaking safety valves. The film this night was Disputed Passage, with Akim Tamaroff. It was held in the cool air topside and a rainsquall didn’t interrupt it.

There was not much to reflect upon for this annual occasion. I wished that I knew more about just where we stood in relation to the enemy. So it was New Year’s Eve . . . sufficient there was no watch to stand.

To the sack at 2130.