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Commission Day

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New Battleship – A Symbol of Might

Worldwide press

On April 9, 1941, the “world’s fightingest ship” was commissioned at 11:30 a.m., in the New York Navy Yard. The event received tremendous media attention.

Ship's Company on April 9, 1941

“The 35,000-ton battleship NORTH CAROLINA, solid, gleaming symbol of America’s awakening from a sleep naval holiday of 18 years…. 29 minutes of ceremony in dazzling sunshine formally placed in service the $70,000,000 battleship it had taken nearly four years to build.” The commissioning was four months ahead of schedule.

“As bugles blared and white-capped officers and bluejackets saluted, a pennant was run slowly up the flagstaff to show that the ship was in commission. Millions listened over the radio as the mightiest battleship afloat was put into service.”

The Young Catholic Messenger, April 25, 1941

Colors raised April 9 1941

Battleship by artist Henry Billings, April 1941

“May the NORTH CAROLINA be a symbol of progress through strength,” wrote President Roosevelt.

Commision Day Menu Navy Yard

Commission Day Graphic

Following the ceremony a buffet luncheon in the Wardroom included “NORTH CAROLINA APPLE PIE.”

Invitation to Commission

Souvenir program April 1941

April 10, 1941

“Dear Husty: It was with great pride that I sat down to my bacon and eggs this A.M. after seeing your beaming countenance griming at me from the pages of the L.A. Times. There you were aboard the new battle wagon North Carolina. I pray that your ship will never be called upon to hurl her salvos against an enemy. But, if destiny rules otherwise, I know she will more than give an excellent account of herself in upholding the glorious traditions of our Country and the Navy for which all of us who are real Americans are prepared to battle and, if needs be, die for.”

Edward Sedgwick, MGM Pictures, letter to Captain Olaf Hustvedt, commanding officer USS NORTH CAROLINA

On the cover of Newsweek April 1941

 

The New Yorker magazine April 1941

“The commissioning was a great day of excitement. All the dignitaries around and high ranking admirals. Every sailor had to be on his toes and everything was ship shape the best way it could be on board. We were all dressed in blues for photos and the commissioning. It was a great day.”

Paul Charles Wenck, Seaman 1/c

 

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Knox, Hustvedt and Broughton

“I think that the ovation that ended the celebration in New York when the ship was commissioned was a tribute to a bunch of hard working people that our shipyards were. Our sailors and men were ready to go out and do whatever had to be done to win this war. And they did it. They really did it.”

Admiral Alfred Ward, USN (Ret.)

Raising the colors April 9, 1941

Raising the colors April 9, 1941

The Ship’s Birthday over the Years

April 9 1942

 

April 1942 field day

April 1942 jamboree

1942 – Casco Bay, Maine

“The good ship U.S.S. North Carolina celebrated her first birthday anniversary in a most enjoyable manner with a big party. The day dawned bright and fair, with sufficient snap in the air to add zest to the Field Day events. The afternoon jamboree completed the day’s festivities and as the curtain fell the entire ship’s company expressed in words or actions their thanks to all. Thus was another link forged our chain of important events. When our baptismal fire is upon us, we feel certain that by such displayed unity of action our anchor of faith in our purpose will find all tried and true.”

Tarheel, April 11, 1942

1943 – Pearl Harbor

“0700 Following message was addressed to all hands – Happy Birthday NORTH CAROLINA. May we serve you as well during the coming years as you have served us during your first two years of life.”

LT(jg) Ed Gallagher, USN, in the Ship’s Deck Log

1944 – Anchored in Majuro Atoll. Mr. Howard Norton, war correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, reported aboard. In honor of the anniversary the ship’s company dined on mixed olives, sweet pickles, cream of tomato soup, croutons, roast young tom turkey, oyster dressing, baked Virginia [ham], pineapple sauce, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, candied sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, buttered asparagus, French peas, cardinal salad, parker house rolls, bread, butter, apple pie ala mode, coffee, oranges, apples. Cigarettes, cigars.

1945 booklet

1945 – Steaming with Task Group 58.2 operating east of Okinawa

The Ship issued a booklet highlighting bombardments, air attacks and campaigns to date with a list of the commanding and executive officers. “It is our wish that all who have contributed to our cruise be honored by this anniversary publication.”

April 10 1945

Torpedo Strike

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Torpedo damage view

Torpedo damage view

“September 14, 1942: They passed the word last night that we would have early G.Q. than ordinary. So this morning all hands up ravin for action, but so far nothing has happened.

September 15, 1942: If I ever put in another day quite like today I shall put in a chit for the Recruiting Station in Des Moines, Iowa. In the first place I had the mid-watch last night. I couldn’t get any sleep to make up for [it]. I was woke up three times this afternoon then I went below to my bunk determined to get a little sleep somehow.

WASP under attack

WASP under attack

I had just dropped off when Wagner shook me and said the WASP had been bombed or torpedoed. Naturally I got topside in nothing flat just in time to see the WASP at about 290 or 300 degrees relative. I’ll never be able to completely express what I saw.

The WASP was making a port turn as we swung to starboard. A huge billowing black cloud hung above her superstructure punctuated amidships with a flame – a flame that something told me came from a burning airplane. The flame flickered and died as if in prelude to the great tongue of fire that leaped more than 100 feet into the air with the advent of a second cloud of black oily smoke.

By this time I had reached my gun but was totally captivated by the sight of what was evidently the third torpedo striking on her port beam. The water, black with oil, geysered [stet] up high above her flight deck. The flame that gutted her midship third was sickening. My stomach knotted up and I actually felt ill.

Bull Williams stood alongside of me as all of this happened and shouted, ‘Aerial Attack.’ I looked at him and past him as the USS O’BRIEN took a torpedo. I saw the black water spout up. I looked forward and saw another geyser on our port bow. I thought sure he was right after that for they looked like thousand pound bomb explosions.

Then I felt rather than heard a dull, whispered thud as I fell to the deck. I began picking myself up and as I rolled over the blue of the sky was blotted out by brown billowing gas. It was the familiar smell of fuel oil but it terrified me so much that I placed my arm over my eyes and stumbled to the ready box.”

-Diary of Arthur G. Hahn, Storekeeper 1/c

“On a quiet day, I was on a gun deck looking out at the [carrier] WASP which was quite a ways from us when I saw an explosion. Instinct told me to head to my battle station even before the alarm sounded. In a matter of seconds, there was a major explosion on the port side. The explosion was so big, I didn’t realize it was the destroyer O’BRIEN which had been hit by a torpedo. I just knew I had to get to my battle station.

The procedure when General Quarters sounded was to go forward and up on the starboard side, down and aft on the port side. I was on the port side and cheated a little. No one was around and I’d save time. All of a sudden we took our torpedo hit. I didn’t know if we had been bombed or what. There was smoke and cordite all around. I was tempted to go aft because the hit was ahead of me. I shrugged off the thought, but felt my way gingerly forward because the smoke still obscured my path. I subsequently went up the many ladders to my battle station. I could see our oil slick from there. Worse, I could see the WASP ablaze with towering clouds of black smoke. Through my binoculars I could see their crew pushing planes overboard so they wouldn’t explode and make matters worse. She was subsequently sunk during the night.

In a matter of a few weeks, we lost four cruisers off Guadalcanal. Lost one carrier with us, had two carriers damaged, and limped back to Pearl for repairs after burying our dead on an island. I was 19 at the time, and sort of matured.”

- Larry Resen, Fire Controlman 1/c and Asst. to the Air Defense Officer

“We were now operating with the WASP. We were getting very leery of Mondays. When Monday, September 14th came and went, we all had a sigh of relief. On September 15th, I was on my way to my battle station in Sky 2 when I heard an explosion. Off our port side the WASP was hit with one torpedo. When I got to the top of [5-inch] director two more torpedoes had hit the WASP which was fueling planes for their next strike. The gas lines were ruptured and flaming gasoline we flowing over the sides like a waterfall. It was then we got hit….”

- Harold Smith, Fire Controlman 1/c

Torpedo damage

Torpedo damage

Summary:

On September 15, 1942, Japanese submarine I-19 quickly fired six long-range torpedoes at the U.S. carrier WASP. Three torpedoes struck their target causing such damage that the task force commander ordered WASP to be sunk that night. The remaining three torpedoes raced on across several miles into a second carrier force. One torpedo slammed into the U.S. destroyer O’BRIEN that would break up several weeks later due to severe hull damage.

Another torpedo blasted NORTH CAROLINA on her port (left) side just forward of the thick armor belt designed to protect her from torpedoes. The enormous blast shook the Ship and crew and sent tons of oil and water skyward. Tons more water quickly flooded into the resulting 32 by 18 foot hole causing the Ship to lean, a situation the crew quickly corrected by purposefully flooding compartments on the opposite side. Five men were killed and 23 were wounded.

Killed in Action:
Albert Geary, Seaman 1/c
Ingwald Nelson, Ship Fitter 2/c
Leonard Pone, Gunner’s Mate 3/c
William Skelton, Seaman 2/c
Oscar Stone, Ship Fitter 3/c

Thanksgiving

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November 1943, Recovery of the Gilbert Islands

Night attacks November 1943

“For the first time we were conscious of a formidable enemy.”

“Tomorrow this task force will be well within air range of the Marshall Islands and air attack can be expected at any time until the operation is completed. Everyone must be extremely careful not to shoot at our own planes. Never fire at night unless you are certain that you see your target. There may be Japanese torpedo boats in the area. This will be a long operation so make yourselves at home.”

Charles Gilbert, PFC, USMC, November 16, 1943

“On the evening of November 25th we had our first real action. The day was Thanksgiving. We had a swell turkey dinner that afternoon. Air defense was sounded that evening and we went to our stations. After about 20 minutes our anti-aircraft battery cut loose and for the first time we were conscious of a formidable enemy.”

Lloyd Glick, Musician 1/c

“On the night of November 25, 1943, we had an air attack. These night attacks were scarier than day attacks because at night it was difficult to see the planes. The planes would drop flares and they would light up our task force like daytime and the flares would hang in the air like forever before burning out. We would be well lit for the enemy and it was really scary.

During one night air attack while on a 40MM director a ‘Betty’ twin engine [Japanese] bomber flew just aft of the ship or across the fantail from starboard to port with all tracers all around him and they lit him up so I could even see the gun blister on it. I didn’t get a chance to fire at the plane…. Our view was blocked to starboard with the superstructure behind us and he was gone in the darkness.”

C.J. Baker, Firecontrolman 3/c

“November 25. At about 1900 we picked up several bogeys. They kept circling, going out and coming back in until about 1945 when they started their run in. The attack came from starboard side which was my side. There were about a dozen. We opened fire with 20mm on the forecastle and we got the plane. In the meantime others were circling and dropping flares so we opened up several times with our 5-inch [guns] trying to drive them off. At about 2030 they all disappeared.”

“November 26. We have been passing through debris and oil all day. In the evening about 1830 air defense was sounded and about 1900 we had bogeys everywhere and coming in. At 1930 they started dropping flares and we opened fire. We fired off and on for half an hour. Our task force launched three night fighters commanded by LCDR Butch O’Hara. They vectored him out to a bogey which he promptly shot down. He said he was going to start a run on another. One of our pilots said he saw Butch hit the water near two burning Bettys. BB55 got one sure and one probable.”

Charles Paty, Radioman 2/c

Thanksgiving menu 1943

“Holiday chow aboard one of these ships was unbelievable. There is nothing nearer and dearer to a sailor’s heart than plenty to eat: pumpkin pie, roast turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy. Here comes our big Thanksgiving chow. About 5PM they started serving. At 5:15 we got contact on the radar, ‘hostile planes approaching.’ Sounded air defense. Everybody jumped up and left their beautiful chow sitting in front of them to go to battle stations. The cooks have to secure their area. All the food went in the garbage. A half hour later we secured from GQ (general quarters/battle stations). They got ready to serve chow again. More enemy planes coming in. They threw it out a second time. We stayed at general quarters until just short of 10PM that night. Finally, we opened enough doors so that the mess cooks could get through the galley and prepare battle rations.”

Donald Wickham, Musician 2/c