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Jack Scovil’s Lakatoi diary



Jack Scovil

The following is a typed transcript of the journal Bosun’s Mate 3/c Jack Scovil of Peoria, Illinois, wrote about the sinking of the USS Lakatoi on August 22, 1942, and the ordeal her crew underwent over the ensuing eleven days. (Journal courtesy of Dick Scovil. Click on any page to enlarge it.)











The land they reached on September 2 was the northeast coast of New Caledonia, a French possession about 750 miles east of Australia, the other side of the same island they had sailed from two weeks before. By the time they got there, they were down to two cans of peaches in syrup.

Map courtesy of

Map courtesy of

The Lakatoi, built by a Chinese firm in Hong Kong in 1938 for Burns Philp and Co., an Australian conglomerate active in shipping, tourism, snack foods and breakfast cereals, was acquired early in the war by the US Army as a supply vessel, then transferred to the Navy on August 15, 1942, and promptly fumigated, painted and commissioned. She was en route one week later from Noumea, New Caledonia, to Efate in the New Hebrides with a cargo of flour, sugar, canned goods and ammunition for the Marines in the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area when she foundered amid heavy seas and sank.

One of the ship’s two lifeboats having been carried off about forty minutes before, the crew took refuge in the other lifeboat and a pair of rubber rafts fortuitously taken aboard in Noumea.

As bad as it was for them getting there, the Lakatoi survivors fared much better once they got to New Caledonia, or got back to it, than had the crew of another American ship, the Cutter, in 1849. The Cutter’s crew was massacred and devoured there by cannibals. Within hours of beaching their battered little fleet, the Lakatoi men established contact with a US Army patrol and were soon receiving care in an Army hospital back in Noumea, the port they had sailed from.

Of the 29 men in the crew, all but one—Radioman 3rd class Hugh A. Middaugh, buried at sea on August 31—survived the ordeal. That October, Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr. cited their “fortitude and heroism.” Lt. Cmdr. James I. McPherson, USNR, the Lackatoi’s commander, went on to command the attack transport USS Saratoga (APA-204) in the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. He was awarded the Legion of Merit.

After the war, Jack Scovil worked for the Peoria Police Department and in security for Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. He died at age 67 in 1987.