MIGHTY NINETY

Chapter 11: "Home" for the Holidays



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Task Group 38.2 returns to Ulithi Anchorage on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1944. This photograph, taken from HANCOCK CV-19, shows the head of the column turning west into Mugai Channel. Ships (right to left) are VINCENNES CL-64, MIAMI CL-89 and WISCONSIN BB-64. The island of Falalop lies behind VINCENNES.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA Record Group 80-G-259037





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USS WISCONSIN BB-64 turns into Mugai Channel ahead of HANCOCK CV-19.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA Record Group 80-G-259039





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Ships of the Task Group 38.2 column behind HANCOCK just after she makes the turn. Front to back are CABOT CVL-28, SAN JUAN CL-54 (partially visible), HORNET CV-12, LEXINGTON CV-16, PASADENA CL-65 and ASTORIA CL-90.
-U.S. Navy photo in NARA Record Group 80-G-259040





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USS ASTORIA CL-90, last ship in the column, prepares to make the turn into Mugai Channel. This photograph was taken from ASTORIA a few seconds after the previous image from HANCOCK. Left to right are PASADENA, LEXINGTON, HORNET, SAN JUAN and CABOT.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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A final view of the column as USS HANCOCK completes the turn into Ulithi north anchorage. Right to left are CABOT, SAN JUAN, HORNET, LEXINGTON, PASADENA and ASTORIA.
-Jerome Zerbe photo in Brent Jones collection



24 December 1944

The Fast Carrier Task Force returned to Anchorage at Ulithi.  Many ships had some degree of damage from the typhoon, including some with serious structural damage such as USS MIAMI.

USS ASTORIA had weathered the storm comparatively well, but she still suffered its effects.  Both of her Kingfisher floatplanes were damaged beyond repair.  F Division shipmate Jim Thomson recorded in his diary that the two 20mm mounts on the forecastle were wrecked, and the 40mm and 5" mounts were also temporarily out of commission due to "water in the cables" connecting the guns to their fire directors.  The ship officially reported one significant injury, although there were others.

USS ASTORIA F Division shipmate J. Fred Lind wrote in his diary:
The awful fate of those who didn't make it hung over us. How the survivors ever made it in those waters, I'll never know.

Turning his thoughts to his shipmates at Ulithi, Lind wrote:
The best Christmas present that could be had was mail from home, and we received lots of that. Several hundred bags of mail and packages arrived for distribution on Christmas Day. Condition Three Easy was set, and it was a real treat to relax while on watch. Everyone is exhausted from the strenuous operations. The temperatures made Christmas seem more like the Fourth of July. It is really too hot to eat and too hot to sleep.



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Above and below: C Division sailors sorting mail aboard USS ASTORIA upon return to anchorage on 24 December 1944. Note the Christmas tree aboard ship in the lower photo.
-photos taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper



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A 1944 card with a wartime holiday theme sent to a USS WILKES-BARRE sailor by his parents.
The card depicts the flags of allied nations.

-from Brent Jones collection





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Not all mail and presents made it to USS ASTORIA sailors. Several bags were soaked in transit and were emptied to discover their contents unreadable or destroyed.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper





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Above and below: Entertainment on the ship's fantail featuring an accordion solo backed by the ship's band on Christmas Eve night. Blackout conditions were not strictly observed in Ulithi Anchorage.
-photos taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper



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Above and below: Entertainment on the ship's fantail provided by Santa Claus on Christmas Eve night.
-photos taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper


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25 December 1944: Christmas Day
J. Fred Lind wrote in his diary:
Christmas in port! I attended church in the morning, but my thoughts left this world and returned to Rochester, New York, where I could picture everyone as we always were on Christmas day. Even though there are about 15 hours difference in time, I skipped that detail and thought of them as though it was the same time back home. No time to try to figure out that kind of nonsense on Christmas day.

We enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner. More mail and packages were distributed. The crew seems in relatively good spirits, considering the heartache everyone is feeling way down deep. No one will admit how they feel--we are tough guys, right? Yeah, right. Pictures received were really the key to a lot of smiles and much enjoyment for me--almost got transported 10,000 miles via mail. Four of us formed a makeshift quartet and made the crew suffer through our renditions of carols. We even made the officers suffer
.



Christmas turkeys cooking in USS ASTORIA's galley on 25 December 1944.
-photo taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper



26 December 1944
Unknown to most men of the fleet, an official Court of Inquiry was convened the day after Christmas in the wardroom aboard the destroyer tender USS CASCADE AD-16.  Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Pacific Fleet, had personally flown to Ulithi to find out what had happened in the typhoon.

The losses in war matériel were staggering:  Three destroyers sunk, three light carriers headed out of theater for repairs, many other ships damaged, 146 aircraft destroyed.  The losses in personnel were even more devastating: 790 U.S. service personnel were lost at sea, and 80 more were seriously injured.

The Court of Inquiry recorded testimony for the days that followed, and did not reach its conclusions until after Third Fleet had returned to sea for the next stage of Philippine operations.  Its findings were that the preponderance of responsibility lay with Admiral Halsey, and that greater care should have been taken in light of available information and deteriorating conditions.  Halsey's saving grace had been his commitment to stay on station in support of Mindoro operations.



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Above and below: V Division sailors cannibalize ASTORIA's remaining damaged Kingfisher for parts on 28 December 1944. The only way to get the plane into the ship's hangar was to remove the wings.
-photos taken by and courtesy of Herman Schnipper



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28 December 1944
Following a short holiday rest, the task force began preparations to return to sea. Repairs were made and ships were shifted between task groups to adjust for losses and new arrivals. Third Fleet may have spend Christmas Day at anchor, but they would be underway for the next phase of Philippine operations for New Year's Day 1945.





                                       Continue to CHAPTER 12: OPERATION MIKE I

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Sources:

Drury, Bob and Clavin, Tom.  Halsey’s Typhoon.  New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007.

http://commons.Wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page  Wikimedia Commons image database.

Jones, Brent. Private photo and document collection.

Lind, J. Fred. Sea Attitudes: A Collection of WWII Memories. Privately published.

Melton, Jr., Buckner F. Sea Cobra. Guillford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2007

MIGHTY NINETY: USS ASTORIA CL-90 cruise book.  1946.

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  History of United States Naval Operations in WWII Vol. XIII: The Liberation of the Philippines.   Boston: Little, Brown and Company Inc., 1959.

Schnipper, Herman.  Private photo and document collection.

Stafford, Edward P.  The Big E.  New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 1962.

Steichen, Edward (ed.).  U.S. Navy War Photographs, 2nd Edition.  New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.  1984.

Theaker, Carl.  Private photo and document collection.

Thomson, James.  Diary kept aboard USS ASTORIA CL-90, 1944-45.

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

www.navsource.org  U.S. Navy photo archive.

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