Sunday, August 2, 2009


USS Zeilin AP 9
Air Attack November 11, 1942

Air Battle off Guadalcanal November 11, 1942, USS Atlanta in lead.

I have been closely following the series of posts over at the United States Naval Institute Blog that commemorates the 67th anniversary of the assault on Guadalcanal that began on August 7, 1942. This campaign holds special interest for me, as my father was a participant in this great campaign.

This post examines the background of WATCHTOWER the code word for this campaign in a post by UltimaRatioRegis: The Last Arguement of Kings.

In the aftermath of a desperate and decisive battle, those of us who look back across the years, decades, and centuries at such events, inevitably ask the question; “Why there? What made that place worth the price in sweat, blood, and sacrifice?” Something must have drawn the cross hairs of history to such a place, made its possession worth the titanic struggle for control.
Megiddo, the most fought-over place on earth, is a hillock that dominates the ancient Haifa road in modern-day Israel. Such a symbol is it of man’s propensity for war that its very name is where scripture ascribes the end of the world to occur- Har Megiddo. Armageddon.

Gettysburg’s extensive road and rail junctions were keys to Robert E. Lee’s successful foray into Pennsylvania, once the Federal Army of the Potomac could be dislodged from the dominating high ground east of the town.
The terrain of Gallipoli overlooks the Dardanelles, and access to the Bosporus and the Black Sea, and was envisioned as a way to break the ghastly stalemate on the Western Front that had been consuming Europe’s youth for a year.

The Battle for Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands Campaign is no different. Except that by the Summer of 1942, it was not just what nature had made, but also what man had built, that drew the respective armies and navies into the fiery maelstrom that churned the jungle and the waters around them some sixty-seven years ago. As author Eric Hammel states; “There was no reason inherent in the value of the Bismarcks and the Solomons that made them worth a fight. Only a confluence of events would make them a focal point for a desperate gamble.”(1)Read more:

As I noted above, this campaign was the first of several campaigns that my father participated in as the United States fought back to regain control of the Pacific and defeat Japan. I first wrote about my father in this post, A Thanksgiving Tribute to my Dad and Tribute continued:

The focus of most of what has been written has rightfully been on the great land and sea battles that raged from August 7, 1942 to February 9, 1943. Less known is the actions of the men and ships of the amphibious forces who supported the landing and kept the forces resupplied with men and material. The following is a tribute to those men and ships.

My father shipped out on the USS Zeilin (AP-9) on his first voyage to deliver the men of the 3rd Defense Battalion on several islands adjacent to Guadalcanal.

The "Mighty Z" as she was called was a member of the Harris Class APA's. and earned eith battle stars for her service in World War II.
The early morning of November 11, 1942 found the Zeilin, 1 mile off Lunga Point preparing to discharge troops in support of the Marines at Henderson Field. She was protected by the USS Atlanta (CL-51), a ship with only two more days to live, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. At 9:00 an air raid warning was broadcast of approaching bombers.

Here is the Zeilin's WAR diary and Action report of that day.
This is a summary of the attack.


This vessel in company with U.S.S. BETELGUESE and LIBRA, escorted by ATLANTA and Destroyer Division TWELVE, arrived off the designated unloading area east of Lunga Point, Guadalcanal Island, anchored, and commenced unloading at 0540.

At 0857 a radio message reported that enemy bombers and fighters were headed for Guadalcanal; subsequently a message by radar set the arrival time at 0935.

The ship ordered boats to remain clear and at 0919 proceeded to get underway. At 0936 enemy planes were observed coming in over the western tip of the island and ten were identified as dive bombers, type Aichi 99-N-DB. The fighters were to high to be accurately counted, however a message reported twelve.

At 0940 the hip commenced firing 3"/50 cal. AA batteries using 1.5 second fuse settings. The enemy planes took diving formation and proceeded to peel off. One was hit by shrapnel and the port wing was afire. This plane did not dive. Five planes dived on this vessel, releasing bombs at approximately 1,200 feet. There were three near misses registered on the ship; two on the port side - one about amidships, the other aft; and one on the starboard side at about frame 45 opposite No. 8 hatch, depth about 15-30 feet. The ship suffered severely from this bomb.

The ship sustained the following damage from this attack:

Number 8 hold was flooded to the third deck; number 7 to the fourth deck. Starboard shaft alley was completely flooded. Port shaft alley is leaking and is kept dry by pumping. Number four 3"/50 cal. AA gun carriage was sprung by shock. A 3/8" pipe of inboard water column line on No 5 boiler in No. 2 fireroom was broken by shock. A 1 ? overboard water cooling line from generators was broken by shock next to overboard valve. Fresh water tank, starboard side of No. 7 hold, c-611, opened to the sea. Feed water bottoms under engineroom are leaking slightly. Starboard propeller shaft was either broken or coupling bolts sheared. This shaft was broken about one-half hour after ship left CACTUS and no examination can be made until after the shaft alley is dewatered. The bulkhead between No. 7 and No. 8 holds, starboard side, is torn for a space of 30 inches. This hole was wedged practically tight before No. 7 hold was flooded. On starboard side aft of No. 7 hold at lower first platform deck rivets are sheared for about 6 feet. This leak could not be stopped because of inaccessibility, the magazine being loaded at the time. The flooding was controlled by closing of non-watertight door, shoring and wedging, then by pumping. Later the trunk leading into the magazine, 10'x10', was closed by welding over the whole trunk. A few rivets were sheared in No. 9 hold at the skin of the ship, starboard side, between No. 8 and No. 9 holds. This leak was controlled by plugging and welding. There is a dent in the starboard side of No. 8 hold about 1 and ? in depth, caused by glancing bomb. There are numerous small leaks in after part of ship, including leaks in after peak tank and small leaks in the feed water tank under the engine room. There is approximately 2,000 tons of water in the ship.

Examination by diver upon arrival at BUTTON disclosed 5 shell plates between frame 45 and 46 are cracked, one stove in about 2 feet. One rupture is across three plates, 16 feet long and varies from nothing to 2 and one-half feet wide. There is another crack 8 feet long across 2 plates. This crack is about one-half in. in width.


At 1055 following the earlier attack by dive bombers, the ship received word that enemy planes were again headed for Guadalcanal.

Although damaged from the attack the ship got underway. At 1127 a flight of enemy planes identified as heavy bombers, possibly Mitsubishi 97M or 96, about 27 in number, were observed on a course towards Henderson Air Field.

Fire was opened by all ships, this ship firing all 3"/50 cal. AA guns as they could be brought to bear. Fuse settings were 21 and 30 seconds. Fire was controlled locally after the initial salvo and was checked once to change fuse settings and again to allow two guns to bear. Bursts were well grouped and appeared to be reaching up to and a little ahead of the planes. No hits were observed. Fighter planes from Henderson Field began engaging the enemy and "cease fire" was ordered on all ships.

Following the conclusion of the attack the ship returned to the unloading area. The enemy's objective appeared to be Henderson Field on Guadalcanal.

3. The officers and crew preformed their duties in a most highly creditable manner. Particular mention may be made of Lieutenant Commander Russell J. Bellerby, U.S. Navy, Lieutenant Einar N. Eriksen, D-M, U.S. Naval Reserve, Carpenter Allan R. Carlson, U.S. Navy, and the repair parties for prompt, efficient, and fearless work in damage control; of Frank Grasso, gunner's mate second class, U.S. Navy, for excellent gunnery on the 20mm battery; and Thomas Ralph Dobbins, boilermaker first class, U.S. Navy, for prompt and efficient action in closing a valve on a ruptured steam line in No. 2 fireroom. The action of Privates XXXXXX, U.S.M.C., and XXXXXXXX, U.S.M.C.R., of the Second Replacement Battalion are subject to censure. From statements obtained these men deliberately remained on board after debarkation of troops. A separate report of the circumstances has been made to the Commanding General, First Marine Division. P. BUCHANAN.

The links to the action report contains hand maps showing the approach of the bombers and the positions of the ships involved.
After this action, the Zeilin retired to Espiritu Santo, in the New Hebrides where she was attended too by another famous ship, Pearl Harbor survivor, USS Vestal (AR-4).

The Zeilin went on to participate in more campaigns and my father served aboard until 1944, when after the invasion of Kwajalein Atoll , he was given 30 days leave and then joined the new carrier, USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31).

There is a little postscript to this story. My brother Vince, whom I wrote about in the tribute post, came to visit me last week. We spent a day visiting San Diego and touring the USS Midway Museum ship. Our fathers love of the Navy rubbed off on Vince, he still proudly wears the cap of his ship the USS Ingersoll and spent three years as a live-aboard caretaker of the museum ship USS Hornet. I learned more about the navy and shipboard life in those few days than a whole week of posts could convey. During our visit to the Midway, Vince began to attract an audience and at times he looked like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, with a train of visitors tagging along to hear his description of life aboard ship. Vince's visit reminded me of our father's role in WATCHTOWER, and it seemed appropriate to honor those who served in the Gator Navy.
For more on the USS Zeilin

And for Guadalcanal

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