Two Years Before the Mast

2-17-18

My uncle Wil was a coxswain aboard the destroyer USS Erben (DD631) in the Pacific the same time as my dad and his crewmates on the Boston.  The Erben was built in Bath, ME and got to the Pacific a few months before the Boston did.  I have Wilson’s “papers” from his navy career (he also served in Korea) and among those papers are two “anniversary” report newsletters: “One Year Before the Mast” and “Two Years before the Mast.”  They’re tattered, but mostly legible.  Each division or department filed an “annual report”  Fascinating.  I’m going to share some of the data with you. . . think of it in comparison to the much larger Boston.

Two blogs ago I talked about refueling and fuel consumption (noting that in the CruDiv10 reports for October 1944, the totals were redacted.)  I looked closely at the Boston decklogs for July 1945 (for a different reason) and found that during the July 27 refueling, Boston topped off her tanks, taking 210, 314 gallons.

From ERBEN SUPPLY DEPARTMENT (28 May, 1945):  Payroll: disbursements of $341,000 of which $224,000 was cash.  Payroll shows that officers and men have drawn $258,000 off of the books, $198,000 was cash; the largest payday totalling $59,000, being held as we steamed in sight of the Golden Gate. Ship’s Store Sales: 59,000 packages of cigarettes were sold, which averages 153 packages per man and 29,800 bars of candy or 88 bars per man.  These figures were from October of last year (8 months.)  The Galley: during the last year has prepared approximately 114,500 daily rations or 343,500 meals. (This same report from One Year at the Mast:  The Supply Division has prepared and served 328,425 individual meals at a cost of $71,427.03.  339 tons of food have been consumed, one ton per man.)  Also from the year before, the ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT: during it’s first year, the ERBEN travelled 68,964.7 miles at an average speed of 15.8 knots. This is practically three times around the world at the equator . . . the Erben spent most of her time near the equator and she has not been around the world even once.  We consumed 3,082,056 gallons of fuel oil, at an approximate cost of $88,000.

There is much more information here – everything from how much paint was used to how many message blanks the Radiomen and Signalmen used (50,000).  The Erben, a Fletcher-class destroyer, was built to house 329 men.

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Gooney Birds

2-11-18

While the ship was in San Pedro, CA for repairs (March 27 to June 1, 1945) the “Kingfisher” catapult planes were replaced with faster “SC1 Seahawks”.

Seahawk being launched off the Boston

Being “recovered” – pulled onto a long net, drawn near the ship and then lifted by the catapult cranes.

” I remember the time we lost Lieutenant Grutzmacher, one of the gooney bird pilots.  You know what a gooney bird was?  The catapult plane with the big pontoon on it  –  an SC1 Seahawk.  He was spotting for us on one of the operations; I don’t remember if it was Iwo Jima, but it was one of the islands where we were firing our 8 inch guns . . . He came back to get on board  –  they have cranes to pick him out of the water.
Anyway, the ship turns in such a way that it smoothes all the water near the stern.  A big area nice and smooth and he lands in there and he motors it in close to the ship and they put a hook on and the pick him up.  Well,this time he hit a ground swell and it flipped the plane upside down.  He got caught in it; he didn’t have time to get out and he went down.  Gone.  I saw it with my own eyes.”       Pat Fedele

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How many gallons in a ton?

1-27-18

USS Boston refuels from tanker

I’m trying to really bear down on the Baked Beans revisions;  I am not rushing – just staying focused.  I am winding down on Volume 2 (an action-packed 6 months!!!).  The project has caused me to revisit select “official action reports and war diaries” of the ship, the Cruiser Division, and the fleet.  Something caught my eye this time  –  in the CruDiv 10 report for December (TYPHOON COBRA) –  there were the usual refueling reports, but for some reason the gallon totals were redacted.  That got me thinking about fuel.

The most common action reported in the amazing diaries (especially Pitts and Studenski) are: 1. the carriers launched planes today, 2. we refueled from tankers, and 3. the weather is bad / we’re in (or on the edge of) a typhoon.  So I got to thinking . . . how many gallons did it take to fill the Boston?  I looked up “Baltimore Class cruisers” on Wikipedia and found that they “could carry up to 2,250 long tons (2,290 t) of fuel.”  What does that mean?  I remember once when I was around 8 years old or so, my father asked me, ‘what weighs more, a ton of feathers or a ton of bricks?’  C’mon dad, a ton of bricks of course . . .

Naturally there is no direct correlation between tons (measure of weight) and gallons (measure of liquid) – the answer has all the rocket-science stuff that makes my eyes glaze over – density, specific gravity, molecular weight  –  and on and on.  First I tried to find out what a “long ton” is/was.  I got several answers that involved “metric tonnes” and the like. After working through unhelpful answers on answers.com, I stumbled onto www.convertunits.com.  Bingo! A full tank (2,290 tons) of #2 diesel = 606,262 gallons!  (Answers.com says that there are 711,274 gals diesel/metric ton)

Remember that the capital ships (cruisers and battleships) often refueled the smaller destroyers (creating a scenario much like my checking account  –  in one end and out the other faster than the blink of an eye).  So it is impossible to know how much fuel the Boston actually burned through.  (We’ll get to that in a minute).  Let’s round down to 600,000 gallons to fill the tank.  Today’s average retail price for diesel is say, $3.25 per gallon.  You’d have to pony up $1, 950,000 to fill that baby up (from empty) at your local gas station!

Digging in a little further, the wikipedia page tells us “the maximum range at a cruising speed of 15 knots (28 km/h) at about 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km).”  Now we know the Boston did not cruise in calm waters at 15 knots very often.  You had everything from towing the Houston (@4 knots) to navigating through typhoons to full-speed-battle-speed runs at 33 knots.  Throw that “average miles per tankful” right out the window.  When the Boston chugged into the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, WA on March 12, 1946, she had sailed 286,000 nautical miles.  You do the math (I only have 10 fingers).

Peace.

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January 1945

1-20-18

Happy New Year!  I find myself face-deep in redoing the Baked Beans Books.  As it turns out, I am just finishing January (1945) [Vol. 2] so by happy coincidence I’ll talk a bit about what was happening on the ship.

By now, Task Force 38 was winding down its Philippines Operations, with only the landings at Luzon left to support.  The next big targets on the board were invading Iwo Jima, to be followed by invading Okinawa.  Reconnaissance planes had spotted what was left of the Japanese fleet anchored at or near Singapore.  (You’ll remember that Halsey’s TF38 decimated the enemy fleet over the course of four sea battles that comprise “the Battle for Leyte.)  I can’t emphasize enough that there was no modern technology  –  NO INTERNET, NO GPS –  and that all info was passed on through convoluted signals (ships maintained radio silence at all times) from visual reconnaissance.  Old news by the time it got back to the commanders.

When Halsey learned that the Japanese fleet was “in the neighborhood,”  he ordered a battle group (battleships, cruisers and destroyers) be formed and slip into the South China Sea for an old time barroom brawl  –  warship against warship – two fleets lining up against each other and firing everything they had   –   last man standing is the winner.  He was an old school battleship guy.  Even though he commanded a Task Force built around aircraft carriers that prosecuted the war by launching fighter and bomber planes,  all he ever craved was ship-to-ship battles.

So the Boston (flagship of Cruiser Division 10) was part of the Battle Group (Task Group 34.5) that slipped into the South China Sea (via the treacherous Bashi Channel) to sink the Japanese Fleet in the dark of the night of Jan. 10.  Unfortunately for Halsey, the elusive enemy fleet was noweher to be found.

Frank Studenski   January 12, 1945
This morning we are probably on our largest operation so far. We have been heading north through the China Seas for a raid on a base the Jap fleet uses in French Indo China. We may bomb Saigon Bay. We will probably be in sight of land, and get a glimpse of the Asiatic continent, completing the trip across the Pacific. It is still dark and we may not have been discovered.
At 0900 hours we were within range of eight inch gunfire. We formed a surface task force of battleships and cruisers, the carriers stayed out of range. The carriers launched a big strike. We were disappointed, because the planes reported the Jap fleet was not in Camrahn Bay. They continued to launch strikes all day. Later on in the day we left 38.2 and returned to our own task force. We also have with us two war correspondents, we picked up two days ago. Tomorrow we expect to fuel, one hundred and fifty miles closer than the day before. During the night we had several sub contacts and destroyers were dropping depth charges.

George Pitts:  Jan 12
We formed the Surface Attacking Force this morning and closed in to about 40 miles of French Indo China or CamRahn Bay. When our planes went in to start the attack they reported the situation back to us as our prey had flown the coop. A few AK’s and AO’s* were sunk. Nothing for us to do a job on. We disbanded and joined our carrier group 38.2 and later went to 38.1.
Our planes did a swell job searching all of the Indo China’s coast. They sank 8 AK’s 4 AO’s 4 AE’s* 6 DE’s 5 DD’s and 1 light cruiser. Tomorrow we fuel 50 miles off the coast, then we start looking for more trouble. I hope we find it.

January 1945 was a very exciting month of almost non-stop action for the guys aboard the Boston.

 

 

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Another year flying out the window

12-16-17

We have recently had several folks reach out with pictures of their Boston family member.  I will post those up when I can.  We also heard from Judith Armstrong.  She sent this picture of her dad and pals at the “Moana Surfrider.”  Anybody recognize any of these sailors?

(left) Arthur Armstrong, EM1c (electrician’s mate)

Task Force 58 website up and running, mostly done, will be tweaked from time to time.  Take a few minutes to check it out.  The Boston was a unit of Task Force 58 and 38, so her stories are always in the context of the Task Groups and Task Forces. www.taskforce58.org.

Baked Beans: After I finished the Baked Beans books, I started working on a “Boston in the broader context of Task Force 58” book  –  which has been sitting half-baked on the back burner ever since.  I am pushing to get it going again, which is why we went to work on the TF58 site.  However, because I am never satisfied and don’t always stay on task with laser-focus, all that activity kept reminding me of how, in retrospect, I needed/wanted to improve the Baked Beans trilogy.  When I wrote them, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  (I still don’t know anything.  Just ask my kids.)

I can tell you that I am restructuring the books, adding some things, and re-arranging some things.  The basic reason for my dissatisfaction is simple:  I met some of the guys after Vol 1 was published.  And, I met Frank Studenski as I was just about done with Vol. 2.   I had access to his incredible diary all along, but I did not feel comfortable using his material until I looked him in the eye and asked for his blessing.  The revised books, when they are finished, will contain all of Frank’s diary entries across all three volumes.  This will flesh out the Boston story in remarkable detail and enhance any reader’s understanding of what life aboard the ship was like.

Having said that, I am reminded of how much I miss Frank.  And John Farkas.  And Norm Bayley.  And George Pitts.  All of this Boston activity in my life, by the way, because a copy of Frank’s diary came into my possession a few years before my father died.  I gave a copy to my dad, and after reading it, he still wouldn’t talk about the war with me.  After he died, I read Frank’s War Diary and filled with regret, I began my quest to find out what I could about his ship and his War.

The Posts of Christmas Past:  whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you might enjoy scrolling backwards (click through the “older posts” arrow at the bottom of each post  –  organized in in reverse order) and checking out the Holiday Feast menus  –  everything from turkey to cigarettes on the menu!  The guys didn’t have much to celebrate over their tenure in the Pacific . . .

Many of us celebrating our traditional holidays at this time of year.  To our old friends and new readers, Happy Holidays!

 

 

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