Leaving Tulagi

Leaving Tulagi....... target.... stop the Tokyo Express reported sighted at Kolombangara,

Updated 04/26/2015

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Pre-Pearl Harbor
THE "HELENA" CLASS or "ST. LOUIS" CLASS:

     In  nearly all essential characteristics we talk mostly of a two-ship BROOKLYN class. Many naval histories do not separate the HELENAíS and BROOKLYNíS and instead state that the BROOKLYN class had nine units, including HELENA (CL-50) and ST. LOUIS (CL-49).

      Due to the close similarity in dimension, propulsion, armament, protection and overall appearance, this introduction the HELENA class will record only the differences between the HELENAíS and BROOKLYNíS. The most obvious difference distinguishing the HELENA'S from the BROOKLYN'S was the placement of the after superstructure immediately behind the number two stack. Minor differences included the HELENAíS placement of the mainmast just aft of the number two stack and the placement of enclosed twin 5-inch gun mounts.

      The 5-inch gun mounts of the HELENA'S were similar to the design of SAVANNAH and HONOLULU, which were both different from the other five BROOKLYN'S. Authorized in 1935 from the same legislation that authorized the BROOKLYN'S, the HELENA and ST. LOUIS were outstanding fighting ships. ST.LOUIS earned 11 battle stars and HELENA won 7 while becoming the first ship to earn the Navy Unit Commendation.

      Before she was sunk in July 1943, HELENA earned a well-deserved reputation as an effective, courageous fighter. Had she survived the war her fame would have made her a candidate for preservation, but given the disappointing record regarding the preservation of World War IIís most famous ships, HELENA too probably would have been scrapped.

Letter from Joseph W. Grey
1308 Periwinkle Dr. Barefoot Bay, FL 32976

      In reading several letters about activities and shipmates of pre-commissioning and early days of the old "Two Screw Lou" , I feel compelled to tell a couple of tales that perhaps not many of the shipmates who served in her later on, may be aware of.

      I was a member of the pre-commission crew detail berthed in a barrack at the Navy Yard in Portsmouth, VA. We rode a motor launch back and forth to the Newport News ship building and dry dock company (as it was then known) to assist in readying the ship for commissioning.

      A group of five of us including myself (Joe Grey) Claude "Red" Wells, Bob Murray, "Chief Water-Tender" Page and the non-rated fireman was, I believe, named Martin (canít recall his first name ).

      All had just completed diesel school in New London, Conn. in preparation for assignment to the USS St. Louis and her new diesel motor boats and launches. We were assigned to the "A" division reporting aboard. Our job was to provide service and maintenance to the Buda Diesels in the boats ( as well as provide engineers or part of the boat crews).

      Now it seems that the USS Houston had the old gasoline boats and they had been selected to carry FDR to the waters of San Juan for a fishing expedition. I suppose that the powers who controlled events in those days thought it would be nice to show off the newest in Navy boats to the president on this trip south. So........... it was done.

      We removed the STL off the bow of each boat and replaced it with HOU. Our new boats and engineers reported aboard the Houston and the President was piped aboard in Key West with all due honors.. Upon arrival off San Juan I was assigned to one of the whale boats and our VIP passenger was the presidentsí physician, Dr. MacIntyre, President Roosevelt also had a whale boat and we spent the entire day fishing.

      I donít know remember who his crew were, but I suspect Page was the engineer, because he was the senior (MM1/c) of our group. As for the catch that day, Dr. MacIntyre had not luck at all. (But he did hand out candy bars to the crew after being out about six hours, as I recall). I donít know what luck, if any, the president had, but I should know he thoroughly enjoyed his day out and away from the affairs of state.

      Anyhow, after a few more days of fishing we headed back to Norfolk and the boats and engineers were transferred back to the St. Louis. HOU. were removed and StL. were re-installed. I donít know how many shipmates were aware that the St. Louis boats also had a place in the saga of CL49 history. As for the crew members mentioned above Bob Murray and CW Page have passed on, I saw Claude (Red) Wells at the reunion in Virginia Beach just a few years ago. I have no knowledge of Martin.

      Oh yes, the reason our ship was called "Two screw Lou", before she became Lucky Lou was that on her sea trials she lost two turbines and , though that didnít stop her, it did slow her down a bit. Now, Iíll have to admit that my memory doesnít always serve me well, but I seem to recall that it was some time before she was able to proceed with all four turbines and screws operating normally. In the back of my mind I seem to recall the shake down cruise was a two screw operation.

      Anyhow, I have most of these experiences documented in a diary that I kept during those years and hopefully one day I will start looking through old foot lockers and cubby holes and see if I can locate it. If I can come up with it, I would gladly donate it to the proposed St. Louis historical museum if they want or need such items.

      Anyhow, my enlistment was up in April "41" (The St. Louis was then getting ready to go the Pacific)..... I was transferred off the ship in Guantanamo to the USS Harry Lee for return to Norfolk and subsequent discharge...... (re-enlisting after Pearl Harbor)....... Although the "Lucky Lou" was not my only ship, I have felt closer to her and the shipmates that I served with more than any of the others. Also, she was the only ship that I could proudly call myself a "Plank Owner".

      Thank you for keeping me advised of events through the Hubble-Bubble. I appreciate that, though I do not always receive it because I move around quite a bit Best Regards.......

Joseph W. Gray MM1/c, A Div 1939-41


San Jose, Ca., 14 Nov. 2000 Hi Jack,

      Being a life member it's about time that I write you a few lines and give you a short description of my life on the "Lucky Lou" and in the Navy.

      I enlisted in the Navy in 1936, went to Newport R.I. for training. an was assigned to the USS Louisville CA-28 Left her in Aug 1940, (was in the USNH, Bremerton for 10 months with a broken back) was ordered to the USS Nevada BB-36 while she was in the Navy Yard in Bremerton I left her where this story begins, Dec 10th 1941

      On the USS Nevada I was in charge of the main deck gear locker and by a stroke of luck "Stinky" gave me the gear locker on the St. Louis. Being one of the ninety men that climbed up the cargo net on the starboard side about the 10th or a little later of Dec.1941, was assigned to the 3rd. Div, "Stinky" Kluseman was the division BM at the time. Our association VP, "Skinny" Walters was also in the 3rd Div. Say hello to him.

      Was S1/c when I came aboard, was working off a deck court martial at the time but made Cox. and BM 2/c while there, perhaps our VP recalls some of the men that was in the 3rd at the time

      To mention a few, Hauter, Bauler, Hubbard who lives in Menlo Park up the road from here, Sorries, Campese, Barnett, Goodhue, Hines, Washburn, Yates, Graf so many more but my memory isnít as good as it used to be. however I know that Skinny will remember a lot more.

      Left the ship in August 43 at Mare Island after our bow was blown off in the S. Pacific. Got married and am still married to the same gal. Put the transport General J. R. Brooke(AP132) in commission in San Francisco, as 1st class and made BMC on her later on, There was only seven regular navy men on her when she was put in commission and I was one of them, turned out to be a very good ship and I left on the East Coast, had about 6 months to go on my enlistment, so I put USS Bobolink and an LSM out of commission, and was discharged at Pleasanton Ca.. Had ten years in then so I went back East, shipped over in Philadelphia. and got on an LST, running cargo and all kind of material to the West Indies,

      Got orders to go to Recruiting Duty, and was in Chattanooga TN, for two years, transferred to the West Coast to what I thought was a fleet tug, but turned out of be an attack squadron of aircraft ATA 195, What a low blow it seemed to be at the time.

      But being a CBM, they had no billet for me so they put me on Shore Patrol in Oakland for Two years, Then to the Beach crew in Alameda, launching and beaching those Gull-winged amphibious planes for two more years and then went to fighter group VF-195 at Moffett Field Ca. Was the leading chief of the Air Group

      Had an eight month cruise on the Yorktown and then back to the states to put in for retirement on twenty, Got paid off on Oct, 1956,  There it is, such as it is , and if anyone that was aboard any of the ships mentioned please give me a call or write.

 Clyde C. Baldwin 855 Villa Teresa. Way  - San Jose, Ca., 95123

PS. Excuse the mistakes, but whoever said that a Bosun mate could type.


John Tait February 10. 2001

 Dear Jack,

      I sure appreciate the articles that some of the crew have sent in. So here is one from me as I remember it. I do have fond memories of the Lucky Lou.

      I enlisted in the Navy at San Francisco. in Sept. 1940. Went to boot camp at San Diego company 73. Went aboard the St. Louis about 3 Dec. Slung a hammock at night on the mess deck for a month or so .Stowed it and sea bag in a locker during the day. The morning after boarding we were mustered topside and as our names were call we were assigned to divisions. Clarence Orr and I were assigned to the R div. Orr and I chose the ship-fitter gang.

      Chief Boucher then sent me to the chiefs quarters for compartment cleaning where I swept, mopped and waxed for the next 6 months .Then I followed Henry Bullock around for several weeks before relieving Frame as Potable water King or was it Queen.

      While at the Navy yard at Pearl before the attack the manifold valves for the water tanks were in the machine shop, therefore the water tanks were empty. While the attack was going on I was sent to the machine shop to retrieve the valve parts and reassemble the manifolds in the pump room which was at the forward part of the ship and as deep as you can get. After completing that task I reported to Repair and was told to help Orr in hooking up a hose from the pier and across the Honolulu to start filling our water tanks. With a hose in hand I was about half way between the Honolulu and the dock when Orr came charging up the gangway. he was quite shook-up because a bomb had exploded after piercing the pier not to far from where he had been. Shortly there-after I was told to assist in removing the scaffolding from the foremast while we were underway. Several days later when we returned to port we filled the potable water tanks and the enlisted men could take showers again.

      Many months later while in the south Pacific I had adjusted the manifold valves, reported to the evaporators and the Engineering office the capacity of the tanks for the night. The next morning the pump room was flooded as the evaporators sent more water than the tanks would hold, thus shorting out the pump motors. We rigged several submersible pumps in unison to remove the water. One of the first class ship-fitters probably Godard stopped pumping when the water was just below the deck plates so some of us in the R div had a SPA until an officer found out. It took several weeks to overhaul the motors and reinstall them. So once again the crew could take a shower.     For most of the rest of my time aboard I air tested most of the compartments aboard below the main deck.

      Early Dec. of 43 John Q. Edwards came to a repair locker where I was on watch and said Tait " I am transferring you about 11th Dec. Myself and a few others boarded the HMS Samalsdyke a Dutch freighter converted to a transport. Cold salt water showers till Dec. 31 when we arrived in SF Bay and was bused to Camp Shoemaker for further transfer.


Excerpts from.....Thomas A. Harriett

Hi Jack,

      I enjoy the personal stories of our shipmates. I have one in regards to the one Jim Womack wrote about the short range battle practice on 1939 (long time ago).

      I too went aboard the tug that was towing the target as part of the fire control crew that logged the hits and misses ( Jim was a part of the target repair crew, he had to ride back and forth from the tug to the target in the whale boat. I am sure he got as wet as it was a rough sea.

      We used a stop watch to time the time between the muzzle flash and the projectile splash. As the target was directly behind us, we had a pegboard to line up the target and the splash, some how this was supposed to tell how many yards the splash was short or over the target, there was a grid on paper involved. Thatís kind of dim in my memory but I do recall how rough the sea became.   I think Jim made it back to the ship, but the fire control party had to ride the tug back to N.O.B. I spent the night in a whale boat aboard the tug. I also remember trying to eat fried eel for supper............


Letter from Jay P Mackenzie - Provo. Utah

      I came aboard the St. Louis at Mare Island - we left shortly there after for San Diego and on to Pearl Harbor. I can still remember the Pan American Clipper landing and take offs. From there we sailed for the Philippine Islands.

      Some of my memories of those islands were............the huge flying bats called Fox Bats, the children leading water buffalo around by the nose.   Funny how some things stick in a persons' mind, even after so long a time. Keep up the good work, we are proud of you - see you in San Antonio.

Jay P. Mackenzie


To Help Your Memory: by Paul Haire:

      NOB Norfolk: Liberty but no boats, Captain Morrison liked to anchor out in Hampton Roads, where there was less danger of scratching his ship against tugs against dock fenders. "East Main St" Norfolk YMCA, with sailors in pea coats and white hats sleeping on stairways and everywhere else on Sunday morning.

      The wild trolley ride from NOB to the city. A large bar on East Main with green and brass decor ? Maybe the "Brass Rail"

      Long Beach - San Pedro first time some of us "Dammed Yankees" ever saw palm trees.

      The Battleship line anchored way off in the distance.

      A Japanese training ship on visit with pairs of pudgy Japanese sailors visiting Japanese merchants. Perhaps the internment after December 7th produced many injustices, but there may have been a shred of justification for suspicion.

      Lettuce as standard ingredient of a ham on rye sandwich. Another novelty for us "Dammed Yankees "

      The string of booths along the beachfront at Long Beach. I spent a half hour arguing the fine points of graphology with a woman practitioner

      Returning by motor launch in the fog and hitting a jetty (bad compass or ill trained coxswain) The warrant boatswain aboard was concerned lest somebody might have been injured, but didnít have much patience with a seaman who complained of a sore thumb.

      Pearl Harbor - Honolulu: Burning of the sugar cane fields at night on the hills surrounding Pearl.

      The pre-Dec 7th waters of Pearl. Some medical officers (CINCPAC) issued a formula to be used in disinfecting anyone's uniform that was immersed or splashed by Pearl Harbor water. (Note to wives: they didnít have any sewage treatment plants for the ships)

      Looking down on Pearl from the surrounding hills. Nuamanu Pali in the old days before the tunnel. I climbed the knife edge above the lookout parking. At least in the old days (like 1941) it was proper for a swain rejected in love to cast himself over the cliff. Most sustained broken ankles and recovered.

      The "Hotels" of Honolulu: the New Senator, The King and "That other one" I didnít go there, so I donít remember all of the names.

      The restaurant in downtown Honolulu that was open to the street during business hours. The posh and over decorated Chinese restaurant near Waikiki. The Chinese merchants association protested it, not because every decoration was a travesty on Chinese art and tradition, but because a ceramic portrait of a revered Chinese King was placed on the wall of the menís room.

      Steaming between Diamond head and Pearl, with every valley jam packed with rainbows.


Letter from Joe Graham

      Just a little sea story you might get a chuckle out of. We had just taken on some new recruits. This one young fellow wanted to be an old salt right away. On his first liberty he came back with two tattoos.  Shortly after that he stopped in a cafť to eat before coming back to the ship. He met two guys from his division, so he joined them and began talking about getting his ears pierced.

      One of the guys had heard enough of this. He reach down and took his fork, grabbed the fellows ear and shoved the fork tine through it. NO MORE TALK ABOUT EAR PIERCING.


Henry E. Von Genk, Jr. of Atlantic Beach, Fla,

      You earlier guys. Did you see the shark we caught off Hawaii? I donít remember who rigged the fishing line and caught the shark but they were resourceful. They used the same rigging approach as we used for "at sea" plane recovery. They used a 21 thread line run through a snatch block attached to the aft end of the starboard catapult. The aft end of the catapult was then trained outboard about 45ļ. The shark was reeled in by taking turns on the aft starboard deck winch and operating the winch. The shark was about 5' long and the toughest thing to kill. They beat him on the head with an axe and hardly dented him. They tried to cut him with knives and his skin was too tough. Somehow the shark managed to flop bleeding onto the wooden deck near the winch and got blood on that precious wood. The First Lieutenant finally came back, was at first interested and then became mad about the blood stained deck. The shark was thrown over the side and he banned any more shark fishing.

      Did you ever watch one of our catapult launching operations? We carried four planes and the object was to launch all four planes as fast as possible. Sometimes we were with another cruiser and we tried to beat each other getting the planes into the air. We would start with a plane on each catapult (CAT), one on the lowered aircraft elevator, and one in the hangar. Usually we fired to starboard. The wind would be coming from the starboard bow.

      The planes were always fired on the up-roll. Both "Cats" would be trained about 45ļ to starboard. On a given signal the starboard catapult would be fired. Then the forward end of the starboard Cat would be trained inboard against the fwd end of the port cat. The port cat was then fired cross deck. The aft ends of the cats were now outboard and the plane on the elevator was brought up, and its wings spread and the wing locks safely wired. The plane was then hoisted up, the starboard cat trained under the plane and the plane lowered on the "Cat". The aft end of the starboard "Cat" with the plane was then trained out and the next plane brought up and put on the port Cat". Then the last two were fired out like the first two.

      Unless something went wrong, like maybe an engine wouldn't start, we usually got the four planes in the air in 5 Ĺ to 6 minutes. I don't think we ever equaled the record of 5 minutes and about 20 seconds. That was sure fun trying to beat the record or beat the other ship. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost. I think the gunnery department was responsible for launch and the First Lt. was responsible for recovery.

      How about that cruise to the Philippines we took at the end of "41" with that "9 knot" HENDERSON. We did have a ball in Manila, at least most of us did. The rum, the night clubs, the beer, the zombies, the crazy taxi cab drivers.  You talk about the Lucky Lou.. I guess we were lucky to have made that trip. The next cruiser to try that trip was trapped out there by the war (What was the name of it, was it the BOISE?)

      A thing happened to me just before the cruise that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had gone to a recreation camp on the ocean a few miles from Pearl. I don't remember the name of it. We lived in two man pup tents on the ocean and ate in a community mess hall. I caught a very bad case of dysentery there and didn't recover and get out of sickbay until we were way past Midway Island. I say a blessing in disguise because the whole darned ship's company caught dysentery while we were in Espiritu Santo in Ď42-Ď43. I suspect from the limes with which we made limeade. (The limes were picked ashore). I think I was the only sailor not to catch the dysentery & credit it to the immunity I built up from my previous case of dysentery.

      We fired our guns for record while we were in Hawaii. I remember how we had to account for all the ammo residue right down to the rotating band covers. Money was sure short then. Lots of paperwork.  Do you remember how smart and snappy we used to convert from underway to "In Port"? I'm still impressed with what happened when the bugle or whistle blew. The flags shifted, gangways were lowered and boat booms went out smartly. Everything seem to happen simultaneously. None of the ships Iíve served in since the St. Louis have been as sharp and clean as the St. Louis

      Do you remember the HMS Warsprite visit to Pearl in the late summer or fall of '41. The British had already been fighting for a couple years and they had learned a lot about damage control. I don't remember if we had repair parties at the time. If we did they were probably rudimentary and ill trained. Personnel from the Warsprite came onboard to lecture us about damage control And it was they that warned us about rivets. It seems that a bulkhead or armor plate that was riveted if struck by a projectile would pop its rivets. The rivets became high speed projectiles.

      Remember I spoke of the welding leads all over the ship during the attack. I visited the Warsprite and climbed around in her turrets. She was pretty rusted and worn.

      The Bugler on duty when we were hit by the Japs on 7 Dec., WILLIAMS, PFC or CPL, was a high school classmate of mine. We went to Junior High & Senior High here in Jacksonville together. In fact we both caught the mumps at the same time while we were in the 8th or 9th grade. He turned me in for having the mumps. and they checked him and he also had the mumps. We walked part way home together not talking.


What ever happened to good old "Abe Dietz?

A PRE-WAR REPORT on the "LADY LOU" by a PLANK OWNER

I should like to give you a brief summary about my own experiences aboard the ST. LOUIS.

      From Newport, R.I. Training Station I went aboard the USS BROOKLYN. She was commissioned Dec. 1937 at N.Y. Navy Yard.

      May 1939 as RM3/c was transferred to USS ST. LOUIS which was being built by Newport News Shipbuilding Co. at Portsmouth, Va. Was aboard during builder's trials where the St. Louis recorded a speed of 34.8 knots, then full reverse at 25 knots. Requested transfer to "V" Div. as aviation radioman and in approximately 30 days was granted the request.

      Shakedown cruise soon followed - the highlight was a visit to Ponta Del Gada, Island of Sao Miguel in the Azores; arriving 9-1-39, the day Great Britain declared war on Germany. The Navy Dept. told us to stay put, however we flew a great deal over the area. U Boats were already on station. Left the Azores in 30 days -speed run along the coast of Africa - Searchlights on all night focused on flag flying on mainmast.

      Back to the States & neutrality patrol followed (more a case of partiality). The St. Louis made the run from Norfolk to So. America to Bermuda & back to Norfolk - Lots of flying - checked the nationality of merchant ships in the area, & I radioed the info back to the ship.

      After that Lend-Lease. St. Louis was tagged by OpNav to make the runs from So. America, many islands in the West Indies & Bermuda in order to select Naval & Air bases. Finally, St. John's, Newfoundland. I felt honored to be selected Radioman (I was ARM2/c) to fly in the rear seat with one pilot & second aircraft had a pilot with V. ADM. Greenslade, who at the time was Commandant of San Diego District. He was obviously selected, since he was most knowledgeable Naval Officer on International Law.

      The Navy flew him to East Coast where we took him aboard with usual honors - the Admiral's slag hoisted to the yardarm and off we went. During these runs I became acquainted with British stuffiness - at Jamaica, we were not permitted to set a naval base at Kingston so finally shad to return and decided on Portland Light. Also we had to return to Bermuda to make a new selection.

      At Newfoundland, a Naval & Air Base were selected at Argentia, which during the war became an assembly & take off point for convoys and flights to England. We also flew to a small harbor where we set down alongside a group of our WWI destroyers with British flags flying and realized these had just been given to Britain for use in their convoys. The British sailors were amazed to see showers aboard the ships.

      Finally back to Norfolk - provisioned up & headed for Panama - thru the canal - to West Coast and Pearl. A major alert in early 1941. Japanese appeared to be heading for Pearl. Numerous ships at Pearl including St L. Lunched aircraft before dawn to search for the potential enemy. We often flew approximately. 16 hrs. per day (& night) for several months - dive bombing & aerial gunnery runs.

      Sometime in '41 the St. Louis left Pearl for a brief stay at Mare Island Navy Yard - the aircraft flew to Alameda Naval Air Station. I believe it was during this period that Capt. Rood became our skipper - the ship left after a short period & headed back to Pearl - the aircraft were picked up at sea. It appeared that Capt. Rood immediately impressed the crew with his ship handling.

I recall on one occasion during maneuvers with other ships, aircraft & subs, I was told to report to the bridge since I had experience in aircraft & radio shack procedure. I copied the coded communications from aircraft do subs and ships & handed it to the Communication (Intelligence) Officer for decoding. At one point on a of our subs surfaced at prox. 450 angle to starboard several hundred yards ahead of us. Capt. Rood ordered the helmsman "port 200" and thus may have avoided an ugly situation.

      At one of the particularly hazardous recoveries at sea with seas running heavy, all aircraft were finally taken aboard safely & suddenly we were surprised to see Capt. Rood walking aft, came to each of the men who flew, called each of us by name, saying "Well Done". He was a great and very human person.

      It was approximately the early part of Sept. (1941) that I was injured at sea & ended up in the P.H. Naval Hosp. The St. Louis returned to Pearl about one week later and I was surprised to get a visit by Capt. Rood & Dr. Bosworth. The Capt. told me that the dispatch had finally come in for me to "report" to Pensacola, Fla. for flight training;" Though my naval career ended abruptly & prematurely, I have always had fond memories of the Navy and the USS ST. LOUIS. I had taken a number of photographs of the St. Louis in various ports & also aboard ship itself. I am presently going through all my old stuff, looking for whatever may be of interest in the event we get the "Lady Lou" (as we originally called her) back to the states do hopefully set up a museum aboard.

      Ed. Note! As Abe explained in a letter dated 9-8-77 "I put in a great deal of flying time from our base at Pearl" until I had an almost fatal accident - had to be surveyed out with partial paraplegia on right side