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Convoy

Bosun's Mate Augie Paul Koepke and shipmates with Japanese flag aboard USS MACAW, c. Oct 1943.

Macaw crewmen display a Japanese flag (possibly a fake) in the pilot house of the USS Macaw ca. October 1943. At far right and second from left in this double exposure is QM2/c Herman Harold Ehlers of Beecher, IL. Second from right is S1/c Leroy George Warner of Queens Village, NY. The man in the middle may be QM1/c Warden Wingrove of East Bethlehem, PA. Other men unidentified. (Double click to enlarge photo, back arrow to return to page.)

After a shakedown cruise to Monterey, the Macaw left San Francisco Bay on August 28, 1943, in convoy with a group of eight Liberty ships, two minesweepers, a fleet tug, two yard tugs and five barges. Each Liberty ship towed a section of a floating dry dock, ABSD-1 (ABSD stands for Advanced Base Sectional Dock), which was to be assembled at Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, 1,300 miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia.

ABSD-1-and-USS-West-Virginia

The battleship USS West Virginia rests 13 Nov 1944 at Espiritu Santo aboard ABSD-1 for repair of propellers damaged when she touched bottom October 21 while supporting an amphibious landing in the Philippines.

Eight of ABSD-1’s ten sections were built on the West Coast, at yards in Everett, Wash., and Eureka, Alameda and Stockton, California. The remaining two were built by the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co. at Morgan City, Louisiana.

The two Morgan City sections headed out to sea first, on July 14, 1943, proceeded through the Panama Canal and arrived at Espiritu Santo on September 24. The eight West Coast sections congregated in August with their Liberty ships and escorts off Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. On Saturday morning, August 28, the convoy of 27 vessels proceeded single file under the Golden Gate Bridge. Carpenter’s Mate 3/c Bob Jacobsen of Garibaldi, Oregon, stood on the fantail looking at the hills of San Francisco, wondering whether he would ever see them again and thinking the voyage he was embarking on might be the great adventure of his life.

Near the Farallon Islands, about 27 miles out to sea, the ships assumed the formation they would for the most part maintain halfway across the Pacific. The Macaw, towing two of the barges (temporarily — she would soon hand them off) headed up the convoy, followed by the Liberty ships, dry dock sections in tow, all eight abreast and spaced about a thousand yards apart in a single row about four miles across. The minesweepers, sister ships USS Token (AM-126) and USS Tumult (AM-127), patrolled the convoy’s flanks, and the fleet tug, USS Lipan (AT-85), towing three of the barges, pulled up the rear. The yard tugs dragged along behind a pair of the dry dock sections.

From-left-S1/c-Charles-Eugene-Pierson-S1/c-Claude-Winford-"Toby"-Hannah-RM2/c-Dwight-Calvin-Harvey-MoMM1/c-John-Elmer-Leigh-S1/c-Steven-Miller-USS-MACAW-ca.-Oct-1943.

Aboard the Macaw, ca. Sep-Nov 1943; from left: S1/c Charles Eugene Pierson, S1/c Claude Winford “Toby” Hannah, RM2/c Dwight Calvin Harvey, MoMM1/c John Elmer Leigh and S1/c Stephen Miller. (Double click to enlarge.)

No one knew it at the time, of course, but when the Macaw’s convoy left San Francisco Bay, the war in the Pacific was within about a month and a half of its halfway point. The first six months of the war had gone very much Japan’s way. Within four days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces had occupied Bangkok and Guam, landed in Malaya and the Philippines and sunk the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and cruiser HMS Repulse off the coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea. Hong Kong fell on Christmas Day, Manila on January 2. By the end of February, the Japanese had taken Singapore, Sumatra and parts of Borneo, bombed Darwin on the north coast of Australia and defeated an Allied fleet in the Battle of the Java Sea. By the end of March they had occupied the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, established bases in the Mariana, Marshall, Caroline, Gilbert and Solomon islands in the Central and South Pacific, captured Rangoon in Burma and all but wiped out a Chinese army there under the command of US General Joseph W. Stilwell. By the end of May they controlled most everything from Manchuria, which borders Siberia, to the island of Timor, about 700 miles south of the equator, and from Paletwa in Burma to Wake Island in the Central Pacific, about 5,000 miles to the east.

But arguably by the end of May 1942 the tide of battle in the Pacific had already begun to turn. On May 5-8, in the first battle in naval history in which the opposing ships never got close enough to see each other — all the fighting was done by or against aircraft — the US and Japan fought to what is generally regarded as a draw in the Coral Sea, about 500 miles east of the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. But it was a draw that checked the previously irresistible tide of Japanese expansion. Each side lost one aircraft carrier and sustained damage to another in the battle, but the US was better able than Japan to replace its losses during the war, both in equipment and personnel, so in what became a war of attrition a draw on paper actually amounted to a victory in the long run for the Americans.

By the time the Battle of Midway ended on June 7, the tide had turned decisively, though that fact is probably more obvious in hindsight than it was at the time. The Japanese lost four carriers and 228 planes at Midway, but perhaps the greatest blow they suffered came in the loss of experienced pilots and maintenance crews. They could replace equipment, but they were not generally able to produce new pilots or mechanics as skillful as the ones who died at Midway. That deficiency would prove critical.

After Midway, Japan went on the defensive and basically stayed there the rest of the war. By August of the following year, US submarines were taking a heavy toll of Japanese shipping and US factories were pouring out vast and ever-increasing quantities of war materiel; but with the notable exceptions of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians, Japan still retained almost all of her conquests. The Americans had the initiative, but the war the Macaw and her convoy headed into that August was far from over.

The trip to Espiritu Santo went smoothly, but not entirely without incident. One night the Macaw’s radar picked up a large surface ship. Attempts to raise her by radio and TBS meeting with no response, the Macaw loaded her main battery, comprising two 3-inch guns, and went off to have a closer look. According to Jacobsen, Lt. Cmdr. Burton took the stranger for a Japanese cruiser, which would have vastly outgunned his ship, so it came as a great relief to Jacobsen that the Macaw, upon getting to within about a mile of the mystery ship and shining a searchlight on her, found her to be a large merchant vessel — seven holds instead of the usual five — flying the Stars and Stripes. “God it was good to see that big American flag,” Jacobsen wrote 67 years later. The Macaw retook her place in the formation, and the convoy proceeded on its way. The whole diversion took two or three hours, Jacobsen recalled.

DAVEWALLINGTON

Dave Wallington

For some of the less experienced sailors on the Macaw, a more immediate enemy than the Japanese was seasickness. The Macaw itself may have compounded the problem. She was not the most stable vessel afloat — Bosun’s Mate Augie Paul Koepke said she would pitch and roll in dry dock — so it made a challenging platform for a young sailor to get his sea legs on. For some of the men seasickness was a fleeting, one-time condition. Seaman Dave Wallington of Flint, Mich., suffered it just once, on the shakedown cruise to Monterey when he saw another victim in its throes. Ship’s Fitter Nord Lester of San Diego had a more persistent case. He got sick at the outset of the convoy voyage and stayed sick. Despite his condition, he still had to stand his watches. Finally, after weeks of torment, he decided, “To hell with it, I’m not gonna do it,” and, by his own account 55 years later, he told the chief warrant officer, “You can keep your damn war. I’m not gonna fight it.”

Steward's-Mate-Robert-Andrew-Vaughn

Robert Andrew Vaughn

News of his rebellion spread up the chain of command. Lieut. Gerald “Bud” Loughman, the executive officer, visited the invalid, Lester recalled, and told him, “Nord, you’re gonna hafta stand your watch or I’ll have to write a report on you” — to which Lester claimed to have replied, “Put me on report. Shoot me.” Loughman spoke to Capt. Burton, who called on Lester in turn and told him to go to the officers’ mess and get something to eat. Steward’s Mate Robert Vaughn was on duty at the time, Lester recalled, and served him “a big hunk of mutton, dripping with grease.” If that does not sound like a dish calculated to whet the appetite of a victim of seasickness, the grease apparently did not bother him. In fact, he said, it cured him. He and Burton were “great friends” after that.

USS MACAW equator festivities - 1

Lt. Bud Loughman kisses the Royal Baby’s belly, 15 Sep 1943.

The Macaw crossed the equator on September 16 at 156º W latitude, 1,311 miles due south of the island of Maui. The  festivities traditionally attendant upon that sort of occasion were held the day before and presided over by Neptunus Rex in the person of Bosun’s Mate 2/c Augie Paul Koepke. His court included a Royal Princess, Baby, Barber, Doctor, Judge and Executioner, all “shellbacks” — they had already crossed the equator, a fact that entitled them to inflict all manner of indignities on the “polliwogs,” who hadn’t. Many of those indignities came in the form of punishment for crimes you will not find listed in Black’s Law Dictionary. Seaman 2/c Jack Vangets of Elwood, Indiana, was charged with threatening to steal the line of the equator for a kite string and with threatening a mighty shellback. Royal Judge John Lightner, the engineering officer, dispensed summary shipboard justice. There was no mollycoddling.

Equator-crossing-festivities-aboard-the-USS-MACAW,-16-Sep-1943

StM1/c Robert Andrew Vaughn (left) awaits his turn at the Royal Barbershop, 15 Sep 1943.

Offenders were bound, pilloried at the gunwale, forced to kiss the Royal Baby’s ointment-smeared belly, shorn crudely by the Royal Barber (Ship’s Cook 3/c Anthony Tomkovicz), pantsed and made, in Bob Jacobsen’s words, to “crawl bare arsed through the canvas tub full of rotten garbage” — i.e., the Royal Bathtub, a tarp fitted over a wooden frame and filled with brine and galley slop — “while the executioner (Seaman 1/c William Hale Wantz) was executing havoc on your butt with his club” and compelled to undergo treatment at the hands of the Royal Doctor (Warrant Bosun M.C. Cottrell), who instructed his patients to say “Aahhh” and gave each of them a shot in the mouth from an oil can filled with a mixture of diesel oil, alcohol, vinegar, chili powder, pepper and Tabasco sauce.[1]

Equator-festivities-aboard-the-USS-MACAW-16-Sep-1943

After his haircut, things only got worse for Vaughn. The Royal Executioner stands behind him.

Seaman 1/c Stephen Miller of Norman, Oklahoma, made the mistake of crying during his ordeal in the Royal Bathtub, according to Jacobsen, and Wantz just hit him that much harder.

Some of the polliwogs conspired to evade the Royal Barber’s shears by getting their heads shaved the night before the crossing by Seaman 1/c Albert Muti, a San Francisco resident who had worked in his brother’s barber shop before the war and who served in an unofficial capacity as the ship’s barber, giving haircuts on the fantail for 25 cents — no shaves, no razor cuts. Jacobsen and Muti were buddies. “The nite before we went over the equator — all us seamen and firemen had Al Muti shave off all our hair so the shellbacks couldn’t butcher it,” he recalled.

Equator-festivities-aboard-the-USS-MACAW-16-Sep-1943

A ghostly polliwog undergoes his fate at the hands of the Royal Barber, Ship’s Cook 3/c Anthony Tomkovicz of Charleroi, Pennsylvania, in this double exposure.

Bud Loughman was the only polliwog officer to participate in the ceremony. Paul Burton had already crossed the equator, so he was exempt. Loughman underwent a stay in the pillory, kissed the Royal Baby’s belly and ran a gantlet of enlisted men, who, he said later, took full advantage of the rare opportunity to strike an officer with impunity. “The trip across the equator would have done your heart good to see me were you a spectator,” he wrote his Sea Bee friend Jack McCarthy about six weeks later. “The boys really lit in on me and beat the arse off me.”

Equator-festivities-aboard-the-USS-MACAW-16-Sep-1943

Bud Loughman pilloried at the gunwale, 15 Sep 1943. The Royal Princess seems untroubled by his plight. She later presented him with her brassiere.

Afterward, the Royal Princess presented him with her brassiere and a delegation of his tormenters gave him a Jolly Roger, the traditional pirate flag — white skull and crossbones on a field of black — for his pains.

By several accounts, a barge in tow behind one of the drydock sections became unseaworthy en route to Espiritu Santo, and the Macaw shelled it in an attempt to sink it, until, according to one sailor, it dawned on someone that, being basically a wooden raft, it wouldn’t sink; whereupon they simply abandoned it.

The convoy arrived safely at Espritu Santo on October 2 and 3.


[1] Jacobsen, Jan-March 2010

2 Responses to Convoy

  • Brendan Duffy says:

    Hi Tim:

    I’m your cousin B.J…..I really don’t know exactly how I stumbled upon this website, but i assure you it was not intentional….this is fascinating….I remember hearing stories from my Mom about how Uncle Bud survived in shark-infested waters in the Pacific, but I never knew these details nor his role in the crew nor his personal letters and comments about his experiences….one of these days, I’d love to learn more about how and why you put this website together….kudos to you…..what a great tribute to the Loughman’s family’s finest!

    Hope all is well with you and all the West Coast crew.

    Warm regards,

    BJ

    • budovich says:

      BJ, great to hear from you. Please accept, along with all my other correspondents, my apologies for being so-o-o-o slow in responding, but as should be obvious to anyone else who may have been paying attention, I haven’t been. But that’s all ancient history now. All is well enough out here. We’re all still ambulatory. I think I’ll switch over to a more family-gossip-friendly line and elaborate. Thanks for the kind words. Tim

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