HARD LUCK SHIPS
By Ernest A. Herr
USS LISCOMBE BAY
There seems to be a time when Lady Luck disappears over the horizon and a sailor and his ship are left to face some pretty rough duty. That's the way it was for Seaman A. J. Bohm as he floated on his back looking up at the remains of his ship that had been his home only minutes before. What had been an aircraft carrier was now just a bow section back to the first airplane elevator and from there to the stern there was nothing above the water line. In a matter of minutes, even that disappeared. The ship, now history, had been the USS LISCOMBE BAY. The carrier had been part of a task force heading out before dawn to take part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
A torpedo from a Japanese submarine caused the ship to explode with such force that it knocked sailors off their feet on ships a mile away. All of the officers aboard and 644 of the enlisted crew died in an instant. But there were survivors from the forward part of the ship. Two hundred and eighty crewman were now in the water fighting for their lives.
At first light, Seaman Bohm saw the three destroyers that had been left behind to rescue survivors. Unlike some similar earlier disasters at least these survivors had to spend only a few hours in the water.
Reader Response for the Liscomb Bay
From: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>
Date: Tuesday, June 12, 2001 3:43 PM
cc: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>
Subject: USS LISCOME BAY
For maximum amount of straight dope on USS LISCOME BAY (CVE-56) and Composite Squadron (VC) 39 you should write to our association Secretary-Treasurer at this address: Mr. Leonard Bohm, 625 South Eleventh Street, Salina KS 67401, Tel 785 823 2572. He does not do E-mail.
While there is a designated historian in the L/B association, he is currently putting accumulated memorabilia in order for turnover in 2003 when the L/B assoc will be disbanded. That event will take place in San Diego during April 2003. We hope that L/B memorabilia can be turned over to the USS MIDWAY Museum when she arrives in San Diego and is moored alongside Navy Pier near foot of Broadway.
Those L/B crewmen who wish to meet annually may participate in the Escort Carrier Sailors and Airmen Association (ECSAA) reunions after 2003. ECSAA is preparing to hold next reunion in WashDC during August 2001. I'm planning to attend since I live across the Potomac River in Arlington, VA. Have never participated in any ECSAA festivities previously and L/B crewmen have given ECSAA the cold shoulder thus far. In other words, L/B did not accept ECSAA invitation to conduct joint reunions as many CVE groups did.
L/B does not maintain a website. Some of my personal biography is now on www.navalweather.org. Ken Fairbrother and I swam off USS WASP (CV-7) in September 1942 and there are two other survivors from our Aerology gang in WASP still living -- Bruce and Black. Bruce was with me in L/B later. He lives in southwestern Virginia. Black lives in Puget Sound. Fairbrother in Sacramento.
Why are you interested in the L/B?
All the best, Don Cruse
Just mailed a letter to Leonard Bohm this morning. It contained details on four or five recent inquiries that I've received via email. Provided Len can talk somebody into editing the annual association newsletter
called THE TOTEM he can use that as a vehicle to spread the word among our surviving members. One never knows for sure but somebody could recognize a name and respond.
Cheers, Don Cruse
From: Ken Fairbrother <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wednesday, June 06, 2001 3:09 AM
Subject: CVE's, Liscome Bay & More
Glad to hear from you....Your were right on the WxShack...and Radio Shack. I'd forgotten its location, as we always went down to grab the Fox(?) stuff with reams of gibbered in Weather Code....
LISCOME BAY....Grab onto WxGuesser Don Cruse. CDR Ret USN. We were in the Wx business from square one...he went to Liscome Bay after WASP ...(or have I noted that before ??). Don is at: ... email@example.com. I'll see him last week in San Diego (Weather Guessers reunion). and alerted you ...And have now sent him a copy of URL of your Page. He';s had a sudden rush of Email re Liscome Bay.
Their is a good book; The Allied Escort Carriers of WWII...by Kenneth Poolman (Pg210) has a fairly good few paras on the Liscome Bay demise. The whole book is very good. I've not read too much of it all. Liscome
Bay was one of the "Kaiser Coffins". ...Built cheap...Sink fast. The AvGas piping/distribution was P.Poor on the early days of them.
For A WASPCV7...see attachment for Dave McClellan in AK Web page on WASP CV7. He would like to have your permission to put Your WASP CV7 story onto his Wasp Web.. You two can handle that.
Dave's address is in the attachment, but in case, it is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh .the word Perusal.........that was used quite often by that morning NBC news weather guy before the new one. It was Willard Scott ! ! I never can never quite say it ...I just "write" it out.
Take care...Any more info...please drop me a note...
Ciao... . .Ken
PS..This message was started a week or so before, I and I had it stashed away on Draft, while I cleaned it up a bit....(Horrible spelling and grammar)
USS GAMBIER BAY
Another hard luck ship was the USS GAMBIER BAY. Surprised by a Japanese task force, it was blasted to pieces by a cruiser's eight inch armor piercing shells and was hit so many times that no one made an accurate account of the number of shell holes. It managed to survive for an hour before it settled under the waves of the broad Pacific. The armor piercing shells had gone right through from one side of the ship to the other without hitting any high explosive so there were many survivors. They did have to spend a few days in the water before being rescued, however.
Click here to see the Gambier Bay
A real front runner for the hard luck award, would have be the light cruiser the USS ATLANTA. For those who believe in luck, being on one of the thirteen American ships that steamed into battle on Friday the thirteenth as part of a hopelessly outgunned and newly formed task force, this was not the place to be. The ATLANTA was the leading cruiser of this force and could be expected to attract most of the early fire of the Japanese ships (including two battleships) less than a few thousand yards ahead.
Three of the four American destroyers leading the pack were quickly disposed of by the Japanese, leaving the ATLANTA in the lead with only one ship ahead of her, the destroyer USS O'BANNON. Behind the ATLANTA was the heavy cruiser the USS SAN FRANCISCO with the admiral in command of this force on board. Following the San Francisco were the seven additional ships that made up the rest of the group. The ATLANTA also had an admiral aboard (Admiral Scott) who had two naval battles under his belt, both victories, but his experience was not to be called on in this battle.
Early in the fray, the ATLANTA was center stage in the brilliant spotlights of the Japanese battleship HIEI. The ATLANTA managed to put heavy fire into the battleship and scored damaging hits on the nearby Japanese destroyer AKATSUKI , but not before the Akatsuki managed to put a torpedo into the ATLANTA's forward engine room. At this time, five and six inch shells from Japanese destroyers and from the Hiei set fires along the upper decks of the ATLANTA. The ship now lost power and slowly lost speed.
Bad enough to be taking shell hits from the enemy but the ATLANTA drifted into the line of fire of the SAN FRANCISCO and the gunnery officer there fired two rounds of eight inch armor piercing shells before realizing that he was hitting a friendly ship. The admiral aboard the SAN FRANCISCO (Admiral Callaghan) gave the order to cease firing. Too late, the ATLANTA was ablaze throughout her length as nineteen eight inch shells smashed her topside killing Admiral Scott and all of his staff except one.
Everywhere topside the glow of flames outlined bodies and fragments of bodies among blackened turrets, buckled decks, and crumpled bulkheads. From the bridge of the SAN FRANCISCO, Admiral Callaghan undoubtedly was aware of this terrible mistake but, only minutes later, 14 inch shells from the HIEI smashed into the San Francisco killing Admiral Callaghan as well. The admiral on the HIEI was wounded also making this a very unlucky day to be an admiral.
If shelling from friend and foe alike wasn't enough (a total of fifty hits including the torpedo), the ship now drifted helplessly toward shore. An anchor was dropped to keep the ship from drifting into the hands of waiting Japanese troops. The ship continued drifting toward shore. With the remaining American ships now evacuating the area, charges were set on the doomed ship to sink it to avoid possible capture. This put the finishing touches to the ATLANTA and she sank to the bottom of Sealark Channel joining a rather large group of fine ships that would eventually number some fifty ships: a whole fleet of Hard Luck Ships. Of of the 735 crewman aboard the Atlanta, 165 perished in this battle.
Along side the ATLANTA in the battle was the cruiser the USS JUNEAU with luck holding a little better (temporarily) even though it also had taken on water from a torpedo launched by a Japanese destroyer. The Juneau was able to make it out of the battle area and proceed along with other survivors when it became time to head for home.
But, in route, the Japanese submarine I-26 was waiting. As the remains of what had been a formidable task force passed, the captain of the sub fired a spread of torpedoes at the largest ship in the group, the SAN FRANCISCO, but missed. The SAN FRANCISCO'S good luck was the JUNEAU'S bad luck as one of the torpedoes of the spread managed to find the JUNEAU and it struck close to where the other torpedo had hit.
In the words of an observer, the JUNEAU didn't sink, she blew up with all the fury of an erupting volcano. There was a terrific thunderclap and a plum of white water that was blotted out by a huge brown hemisphere a thousand yards across, from within which came the sounds of more explosions. When the dark cloud lifted from the the water a minute or so later, we could see nothing of this fine 6,000 ton cruiser or the 700 men she carried.
Unseen by the those who watched were some 100 to 120 men now in the water, many with severe injuries. Some however were unhurt and weren't even aware of the explosion but wondered how they managed to be swimming in the ocean. Unfortunately, the unusual circumstances of this battle dictated that the remaining ships of this task force vacate the area and leave it to other ships return to look for possible survivors. The captain of the cruiser the USS HELENA (now the senior officer) believed that stopping to search presented too great a hazard and that the remaining ships of the force were desperately needed to insure the survival of the 20,000 troops who faced the possibility of being isolated on Guadalcanal.
In the group of over a hundred survivors now in the water was one of the five Sullivan brothers assigned to this ship, George Sullivan. This young man, making use of the some of the toilet paper, out of the hundreds of rolls of toilet paper that rose to the surface, wiped the oil from faces of bodies in the water as he tried desperately to find and identify his brothers. He found none and even he would not survive the ordeal.
After ten days of agony and when rescue finally came, the number of survivors had been reduced to fourteen.
The terrible ordeal that these men had to endure will not included here except to tell the story of one of the shipmates who, in swimming between the life nets, was attack by a shark and his shoulder ripped open down to the collar bone. He managed somehow to pull himself back on a net only to realize that his bloody wound was so terrible that it was making the others sick and his blood in the waters around him was attracting more sharks.
In what might be considered to be the ultimate of magnificent self sacrifices, he swam away from the raft and gave himself to the sharks to save the lives of his shipmates. Oil covered and bloody, he had not been recognized by his shipmates so that his name was not recorded. Some comfort could be taken from this in that anyone back home that had lost a relative on the JUNEAU could take pride that perhaps it was their loved one that had made this grandest of sacrifices.