MIGHTY NINETY

Chapter 7:  Here There Be Dragons



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USS ASTORIA gets underway in Mare Island Strait on the morning of 25 October 1944. Still moored at Mare Island Navy Yard are (left to right) USS BALTIMORE CA-68, INDIANAPOLIS CA-35 and MONTPELIER CL-57.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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ASTORIA passes lighter YF-465 as she steams out of Mare Island Strait. In the background, both BALTIMORE and MONTPELIER are preparing to get underway. The three ships were ordered to move to Pearl Harbor together.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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The ferry from Vallejo arrives shortly before 0800. MONTPELIER and INDIANAPOLIS are still visible in the background.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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Mare Island Navy Yard employees pour from the ferry as USS ASTORIA heads toward San Francisco Bay.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper




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As USS ASTORIA departed Mare Island, elements of the Pacific Fleet were fighting for their lives off Samar in the Philippines. In this photo, the stricken escort carrier GAMBIER BAY CVE-73 is bracketed by Japanese naval gunfire on 25 October 1944. She was sunk shortly after this photo was taken.
-U.S. Navy photo in Brent Jones collection





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Also on 25 October, the Japanese unveiled a new tactic: the planned suicide attack against U.S. Navy ships. In one of the earliest coordinated attacks, escort carrier USS SUWANNEE CVE-27 burns from a plane crashing into her stern flight deck. The plane's bomb detonated below her flight deck, causing significant damage and casualties within the ship. Note at least three sailors in the water at center left.
-U.S. Navy photo in Brent Jones collection





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SUWANNEE CVE-27 is struck again by another suicide attack the next day, 26 October 1944. These coordinated attacks made it clear that Japan had committed to suicide crashes as their resources and offensive options dwindled. A strict gag order was put in place with this information and it was kept out of the American press for more than six months. Only after articles began to appear in April 1945 did the term "Kamikaze" come into common usage in American vernacular.
-U.S. Navy photo in Brent Jones collection




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While the Japanese Special Attack Corps made its debut off Leyte, USS ASTORIA and her consorts conducted training drills en route to Pearl Harbor. In this photo from 27 October 1944, both Kingfishers from ASTORIA pass low behind BALTIMORE during aerial tracking drills. The masts and recovery crane of MONTPELIER are visible behind BALTIMORE. Note the number two turret trained to port.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper




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USS MONTPELIER leads BALTIMORE during surface tracking drills on 27 October 1944. ASTORIA CL-90 will be the target ship as she moves away from the other cruisers in her convoy.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper


25-31 October 1944
For six days USS ASTORIA, MONTPELIER, and BALTIMORE steamed toward Pearl Harbor.  Their experience over this period was recorded in the diary of S1/c James J. Fahey, USS MONTPELIER:

The weather was very cold and the sea was very rough until we were about one day from Pearl Harbor.  Quite a few men got seasick, I did not.  We ate our meals on the deck because the sea was too rough to set the benches and tables; they would have crashed into the bulkheads.  We had to wear plenty of clothing on watch to keep warm.

The other ships with us would almost go out of sight in the heavy big seas because the waters were so rough.  The light cruiser ASTORIA and the heavy cruiser BALTIMORE also had left with us.



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An ASTORIA twin 40mm mount conducts firing practice en route to Pearl Harbor on 27 October 1944. Note the foul weather gear in use by one loader and the ready ammunition covers bunched into brackets on the splinter shield.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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USS ASTORIA shipmates observe main battery firing practice on 27 October 1944. They wear M1926 lifebelts, which were put into prolific use at this point in the war due to the scarcity of kapok.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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USS ASTORIA shipmates observe antiaircraft bursts from timed fuses during firing practice on 27 October 1944. For men not on watch, the firing drills were a great source of entertainment. A 40mm mount and first loader are visible at left.
-photo taken by and courtesy of ship's photographer Herman Schnipper





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Aerographer's Mate 2nd Class Marvin P. Emery in a photo taken on 27 October 1944. Emery was exhausted from monitoring heavy weather for three consecutive days.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





Joey Fubar loses his pants on 28 October 1944, the morning after ASTORIA conducted extensive firing drills en route to Pearl Harbor.
-Joseph Aman drawing courtesy of Jim Peddie





At Leyte, the trend in enemy tactics continues; ships of the Fast Carrier Task Force are struck by the next round of Special Attack Corps planes on 30 October 1944. At left is BELLEAU WOOD CVL-24 and at right USS INTREPID CV-11. While BELLEAU WOOD was knocked out of action for more than three months, INTREPID remained in theater.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA collection



From the diary of S1/c James J. Fahey, USS MONTPELIER:

We fired all guns on the way to Pearl Harbor. Also, the same day we pulled into Pearl Harbor, B-26 bombers towed sleeves for us to shoot at... When we pulled into Pearl Harbor we tied up to a buoy. The weather was warm and it felt good to go around in your shirtsleeves. Our mail went off the ship and movies were held topside the first night we got there.


31 October 1944
Upon arrival at Pearl Harbor, USS ASTORIA reported for duty with Commander Cruisers Pacific (ComCruPac).  She remained in Hawaiian waters to conduct further gunnery drills.

From the diary of S1/c James J. Fahey, USS MONTPELIER:
Tuesday, November 7, 1944: The war news for the last week of October said that our Navy knocked the Jap Navy out and our troops landed in the Central Philippines on Leyte... They called it the greatest sea battle in history, the Japs lost 64 warships. We will be out there soon. Today is election day, I think Roosevelt will get elected again. Everyone here thinks he will get in by a big margin.

10 November 1944
From the diary of S1/c James J. Fahey, USS MONTPELIER:
On the way out [of Pearl Harbor], a light cruiser and two destroyers came in. They were all banged up from the sea battle Oct 23, 1944 [sic], it will take some time to repair them... the bridge on one of the ships was blown off. They must have had a lot of casualties.



The light cruiser that Fahey described was a sister CLEVELAND-class ship, USS BIRMINGHAM CL-62. Above and below: BIRMINGHAM as she looked when she passed MONTPELIER and ASTORIA.
-U.S. Navy Photo reproduced from
www.navsource.org






On 24 October, BIRMINGHAM had pulled alongside USS PRINCETON CVL-23 after the light carrier was struck by a Japanese bomb off Leyte.
-U.S. Navy Photo reproduced from
www.navsource.org




BIRMINGHAM fought fires for several hours until the PRINCETON's torpedo storage detonated in a savage explosion. BIRMINGHAM's topside crew was decimated; many firefighters, AA crewmen, and other sailors were killed or gravely wounded. Taken from the forecastle of BIRMINGHAM shortly before the explosion, this photo illustrates how exposed her crew was.
-U.S. Navy Photo from Brent Jones collection





USS PRINCETON's torpedo storage detonates, blowing off most of her stern and aft flight deck. Although the light cruiser's damage was primarily superficial, her topside crew took heavy casualties.
-U.S. Navy Photo reproduced from
www.navsource.org




USS PRINCETON's final moments as she is scuttled by American torpedoes.
-U.S. Navy Photo reproduced from
www.navsource.org


This incident had taken place while ASTORIA was still at Mare Island. But when BIRMINGHAM limped into Pearl Harbor on 10 November, the Mighty Ninety had a close-up view of what could become the fate of a CLEVELAND-class cruiser in the Pacific War.

ASTORIA sailor Herbert Blodgett recorded the incident in his diary, and later wrote:

Our introduction to the downside of war came at Pearl Harbor when we watched [the BIRMINGHAM] come in from the Western Pacific. She crossed slowly by us at our dock, we could see her damage which had occurred when she went alongside the light carrier PRINCETON to help put out fires, only to have the carrier blow up, killing many men on each ship... I had never seen anyone get hurt or killed. So wow, we suddenly learned that war could be dangerous to our health.



A sailor performing Shore Patrol duty on Oahu near Pearl Harbor. Note the SP brassard on his left arm, night stick, web belt and gaiters.
-photo courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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USS  ASTORIA shipmates take a local tour on Oahu. E Division junior officer Jack Haasis stands fourth from right in the back row. Herman Schnipper kneels third from right in second row.
-photo courtesy of Herman Schnipper





USS ASTORIA shipmates on liberty in Honolulu on 12 November 1944. C-Division yeoman striker Anthony Migliorisi (right) with an unidentified shipmate at center. The 2nd-class petty officer at left is Migliorisi's brother Vincent, a Seabee stationed on Oahu.
Below: Writing from the reverse of the photo. The location was redacted by a wartime censor when the photograph was mailed home.
-photo courtesy of Robert A. Migliorisi






Air mail sent to the mainland from Hawaii by a USS ASTORIA shipmate on 13 November 1944.
-from Brent Jones collection





ASTORIA sailors John Snyder (left) and Tom Kane get to know the locals on liberty in November 1944.
-photo courtesy of Bill West


USS ASTORIA remained in Hawaii for several more days, having suffered yet another mechanical casualty while performing gunnery drills. This time the problem was the elevating screw in two of her 5"/38 mounts. ASTORIA was becoming the best-trained crew not fighting the war.


17 November 1944
Her 5" mounts repaired, USS ASTORIA departed Hawaii to rendezvous with the Fast Carrier Task Force forward deployed in the Western Pacific.  En route she crossed the 180th meridian, also known as the International Date Line.  Crossing this line headed west meant losing a 24-hour period in time, an event with special significance for sailors. The service records for men aboard ship at this time list a cryptic entry: "Crossed the 180th meridian headed west with permission of the Golden Dragon."



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The course of USS ASTORIA CL-90 from Hawaii to Eniwetok, crossing the 180th meridian en route
.
-manipulated from Google Earth imagery.


23 November 1944
ASTORIA put into Eniwetok Atoll, a fueling station and anchorage for the U.S. Navy. After fueling from an oiler, the crew of the Mighty Ninety had a fine Thanksgiving dinner aboard ship.



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ASTORIA steams past Parry Island in her transit of the mile-wide Deep Passage into Eniwetok Atoll on Thanksgiving Day, 23 November 1944. The anchorage opens up to the right with the airfield island of Eniwetok visible in the distance.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper




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Captain George C. Dyer takes his Thanksgiving turkey in the enlisted men's mess in the mid-afternoon of 23 November. Behind him in the chow line is the ship's Exec, Commander Erasmus Armentrout.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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ASTORIA sailors eating turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day, 23 November 1944.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper



ASTORIA spent fewer than five hours in the anchorage, just enough time for fueling and a mid-afternoon turkey dinner. She headed west with a further 1,400 nautical miles in front of her. Accompanying ASTORIA for anti-submarine screen was the destroyer USS KALK DD-611.



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The course of USS ASTORIA CL-90 from Eniwetok to her destination at Ulithi Atoll.
-manipulated from Google Earth imagery



25 November 1944
While ASTORIA made the last leg of her journey across the Pacific, the carnage continued for the Fast Carrier Task Force in the final stages of Leyte operations.  On 25 November, Japanese suicide planes struck the Fast Carrier Task Force with a fury.



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A Japanese suicide plane in its final moments before crashing into ESSEX CV-9 on 25 November 1944.  The trailing smoke is the result of hits scored on the plane as it performs its dive.  Smoke trails from tracer fire is visible at the top of the photo.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA collection





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The plane crashes into ESSEX on the port side of her forward flight deck. The damage was not severe, but 15 crewmen were killed. The CLEVELAND-class cruiser behind ESSEX is SANTA FE CL-60.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA collection



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A damage control party brings a firehose into action against fires on the flight deck of USS ESSEX following the suicide attack of 25 November 1944.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA collection





The first of two hits on INTREPID CV-11 as seen from YORKTOWN CV-10, 25 November 1944.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA collection





The second of two hits on INTREPID CV-11, 25 November 1944. The plane released a bomb which exploded in the hangar deck as the aircraft broke apart and rained flaming debris across the flight deck. Damage to INTREPID's flight deck and arresting gear made recovery impossible for the 75 planes she had airborne; they were forced to land on other carriers. INTREPID suffered heavy casualties this day--69 dead and missing, 35 wounded.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA collection



Four carriers were damaged to various degrees: HANCOCK CV-19, CABOT CVL-28, INTREPID CV-11, and ESSEX CV-9. As a result, the strikes planned for the next day were called off and the fast carriers retired for Ulithi, ending their support of Leyte.

From Retaking the Philippines:
American brass in the Philippines came to grips with the fact that they were being confronted by a revolutionary method of warfare, one that presented a serious threat to the future conduct of the war: swarms of Kamikazes were wreaking havoc with American vessels in Philippine waters.  No longer could the suicide attacks be shrugged off as isolated acts of desperation.

So serious was the menace that General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz had ordered a news blackout to prevent the Japanese high command from learning of the enormous damage and casualties its suicide pilots were inflicting, and to keep the American homefront from panicking.

Admiral William Halsey wrote that "further casual strikes did not appear profitable; only strikes in great force for valuable stakes or at vital times would justify exposure of the fast carriers to suicidal attacks--at least until better defensive techniques were perfected."  The Japanese Special Attack Corps was forcing the U.S. Navy to change their tactics.  At Leyte, one carrier had been lost and five others left the area requiring extensive repairs.

Such was the state of war in the Pacific Theater.  The next time the fast carriers sortied against Imperial Japan, ASTORIA would be charged with protecting them.




                                       Continue to CHAPTER 8: REPORTING FOR DUTY

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Sources:

Blodgett, Herbert.  "Remembering Typhoon Cobra."  U.S. Navy Cruiser Sailors Association Quarterly, Summer 2006, pp. 29-30.

Breuer, William B.  Retaking the Philippines.  New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Cote, Larry.  Private photo collection.

Fahey, James J.  Pacific War Diary 1942-1945.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1963.

Jones, Brent.  Private document collection.

Migliorisi, Robert A.  Private photo collection.

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  History of United States Naval Operations in WWII Vol. XII: Leyte.   Boston: Little, Brown and Company Inc., 1958.

Schnipper, Herman.  Private photo collection.

Unk. editor.  MIGHTY NINETY: USS ASTORIA CL-90 cruise book.  Unk. publisher, 1946.

West, Bill. Private photo collection.

www.archives.gov National Archives and Records Administration WWII photo archive.

www.navsource.org cruiser photo archive.

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