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Question

I recently was reading up on the Doolittle raid for some reason and when I looked at the Wikipedia page, it mentions that there were 5 sailors captured by the Americans during the raid.  But there is no footnote to look up and I cannot find any reference to this elsewhere thus far.  The only scenario that makes sense to me is if the ships ran into a patrol boat of some kind and had to engage them in order to avoid being discovered.  But again, I haven't been able to find any detailed accounts or even any mention of captured sailors.  Has anyone here ever heard of this? 

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The event in question occurred on Saturday, 18 April 1942. 

From the USS Nashville war diary for April 1942 on that date:

At dawn the NASHVILLE was steaming in company with aircraft carriers ENTERPRISE and HORNET and cruisers NORTHAMPTON, SALT LAKE CITY, and VINCENNES enroute to a point at which the bombers on the HORNET were to be launched.  At 0632 the course was 220 T.  and speed was 23 knots.  At 0741 an enemy ship was sighted bearing 350 relative at a distance of about 10,000 yards.  The following is a chronological record of the engagement:

0744 General Quarters sounded.

0748 Enemy ship bore 201 T. at a range of 9,000 yards.

0752 Received order from Admiral Halsey to attack vessel and sink same.

0753 Opened fire with main battery, firing salvo fire at a range of 9,000 yards

0754 Shifted to rapid fire.

0755 Checked fire, Target could not be seen

0756 Resumed firing.  Bombing planes made attack on enemy vessel.  They returned the fire of the planes with machine guns and a light cannon.

0757 Enemy headed toward the NASHVILLE.

0801 Bombing planes made another attack on enemy ship.  This fire returned by the enemy.

0804 Opened fire.  This fire was returned but enemy shells fell short.

0809 Bombing planes made another attack.  Changed course to the lest in order to close the enemy.

0814 Increased speed to 25 knots.

0819 commenced firing salvo fire.

0821 steadied on course 095 T.  Enemy vessel on fire.

0823 Enemy ship sunk.

0827 Commenced maneuvering to pick up survivors.  Attempts to rescue on man sighted proved unsuccessful.

0846 Went to 25 knots to rejoin formation.

1102 Sighted Task Force bearing 235 T.

1153 Resumed station in formation.

During this engagement 938 rounds of 6” ammunition were expended due to the difficulty in hitting the small target with the heavy swells that were running and the long range at which fire was opened.  This range was used in order to silence the enemy’s radio as soon as possible.  The ship sunk was a Japanese patrol boat and was equipped with radio and anti-aircraft machine guns.  During the encounter with the craft the Army bombers carried on the HORNET were launched to make their attack on Tokyo.  When NASHVILLE rejoined the formation the ships had reversed course and were steaming on course 092 T. at 25 knots.

During the afternoon the following action took place:

1409 Went to General Quarters, OTC having ordered this ship to sink two Japanese sampans reported by aircraft.

1411 Sighted ship bearing 350, range 10,700 yards.

1415 Dive bombers made attack on enemy.

1417 Planes made second attack on enemy; their fire was returned by the enemy.

1422 Opened fire with main battery firing salvo fire at a range of 4,500 yards

1424 Checked fire.

1425 Resumed fire.

1427 Checked fire.

1429 Opened fire with 5” battery.

1435 Checked fire.

1439 Opened fire with main battery.

1440 Ceased fire as vessel was sinking.  Prepared to pick up survivors.

1446 Enemy vessel sank.  Five survivors were seen.  These men were all picked up by this ship.  All but one were uninjured and suffered only from shock and immersion.

1500 Picked up last survivor and began maneuvering to rescue pilot and passenger of ENTERPRISE plane which crashed in water astern of ship.

1517 Rescued two fliers.

1518 Commenced maneuvering to rejoin formation.

The second ship was a patrol craft similar to the first.  65 rounds of 5” ammunition and 102 rounds of main battery ammunition were used in this engagement.

End of 18 April 1942 war diary entry

So, yes, there were 5 prisoners rescued for the Japanese patrol boat sunk on the afternoon of 18 April 1942.  There was an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a single survivor of the patrol boat sunk that morning.  USS Nashville was the sole US ship involve, though apparently aircraft from Enterprise were involved in both cases, and one, apparently a little too assiduously and ending up in the water.

The Commanding Officer’s (Capt Francis S Craven, USN) action report provides snippets of additional information.

With regard to survivors of the morning action:

From paragraph 2:  “. . . Two survivors were reported in the water but neither could be recovered.  The Commanding Officer personally saw only one who apparently was wounded and sank before he could be reached.”

And regarding the second patrol boat: 

From paragraph 3:  “. . . At about 1446, just as she sank, we recovered 5 survivors and proceeded to rejoin.  From the survivors it was ascertained by the sign language that the original crew had totaled eleven.  Presumably the names of the prisoners and also of those lost can be obtained from the survivors by a Japanese interpreter.  The other enemy patrol Bessel was not seen but the ENTERPRISE pilot, whom we rescued soon afterward said he had set it on fire and believed he had sunk it.  Search for it therefore was abandoned.”

Paragraph 12 addressed air attacks during shelling:

“12.  Diving by planes against a target under gun fire.  ENTERPRISE planes were attacking the first vessel and planes from one of the carriers were attacking the second vessel, during the time were firing.  This was rendered hazardous by the erratic performance of projectiles which had lost their wind shields, and by very low dives of the planes.  Pulling out at greater heights is recommended.  Many dives were to within 100 feet of the water or less.”

 One might note that most of the air attacks were strafing runs made by F4F fighters, hence the rather close quarters.  Not that SBDs were not involved, they were, but most of them attacked other Japanese patrol vessels in the area.

Paragraphs 13, 14, 15, and 16 specifically address the actual recovery of survivors:

“13.  Recovery of survivors.  The five prisoners taken from the second ship were brought aboard over the forecastle, and this same method was soon afterward used effectively and expeditiously (13 minutes from crash to rescue) in getting aboard two aviators from a crashed plane.  For these reasons, and in view of the sea conditions, the following description is considered to be of probable interest.

“14.  In rescuing the survivors of the patrol vessel, approach was made from up wind.  The men were well clustered, and on reaching them the heading was changed slightly to the left, to bring them under the starboard bow which became the lee bow.  They were thrown lines, and were brought aboard with these lines and also over a sea ladder comprised of a cargo net one of which is permanently stopped to our lifelines on each side of the forecastle.  The ship drifted downwind faster than the men, and so brought them all gradually within reach.  One was wounded and another virtually exhausted, yet all were recovered without great difficulty although the ship was rolling heavily.  She soon fell off into the trough of the sea, and the actual rescues were effected while lying in the trough.

“15.  Realizing from this that she usually would fall off into the trough, we did not wait to approach the aviators from up wind but simply brought them under the lee bow while heading along the troughs.  Both aviators came aboard over the cargo net.

“16.  There was some confusion on the forecastle, together with difficulty in locating quickly the proper gear for effecting rescue.  While the confusion resulted partly from curiosity to see the survivors, it was a consequence also of the ship’s being still at general quarters, so that normal administrative arrangements on the forecastle were lacking, as were good communications.  For these reasons, and since future war-time rescues over the forecastle appear not improbable, a special Rescue Bill is being developed to meet such occurrences.  This will be a General Quarters bill, with the Gunnery Officer detailing personnel from the forward turrets or a 5-inch battery and providing battle-telephone communications from a turret.  Necessary gear will be made up and stowed in convenient location on the main deck in the vicinity of the 5-inch guns.”

Searching about in various files and records at hand, the aircraft which crashed during the firing on the second patrol boat was from VB-6 (6-B-4, b/n # 4603) and was believed to have suffered engine damage from return fire from the second patrol boat.  The pilot was LT Lloyd Addison Smith (75066), USN; Smith’s back seat radio/gunner was AMM2c Herman H. Caruthers (223 70 23), USN.

 

Edited by R Leonard

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