January 31, 1943 (Sunday)

“Buttons,” Espiritu Santo

Rest day. Slept most of the morning. Went for a ride in the Jeep in the afternoon. Down along the bay to the river, then onto the second river. Andregg (of VP-44), Cooper and Oliver were along. The 2nd Marine Raider Battalion is camped down along the second river. They are veterans of Midway, Makin, and Guadalcanal, and a rougher, tougher bunch would be hard to find.

On our way back we picked up a kid at PatSU 1-6 who was part of the crew of the first PBY to be forced down at the Stewart Islands. He said he never hopes to see anything like it in all his life again. The plane had an oil leak and they landed in the lagoon to repair it (a one-hour job) and stayed a week. Only bothered to contact the base twice and even then failed to give their position.

The Chief of the islands welcomed them, feasted them, and then let them each pick a girl from one of the tribe’s unmarried ones. The people are Polynesian and extremely good-looking, especially the woman, who have beautiful figures and wear only a loincloth. They are scrupulously clean, wear flowers in their hair, and smell like some sort of perfume they make from the flowers. When it came time to leave the Chief told them they were always welcome back. The pilots left him $30 and a rubber boat, which they told him to push out into the lagoon when a PBY passed, so as to give it an excuse for landing, a fact which many of them have taken advantage of.

Moffett, the skipper, got back from two days at “Cactus” (Guadalcanal) this evening. Yesterday afternoon he flew anti-sub patrol around the damaged cruiser Chicago, which had been attacked the previous evening (29 Jan) by Mitsubishi 02 bombers carrying torpedoes. They attacked just before darkness and caught the heavy cruiser task force by surprise. The Japs operated out of Munda, the field which was “supposedly” blasted out of existence by dive bombers and ships only a week ago! The task force included four or five heavy cruisers, the Enterprise and two AVGs, troopships carrying commandos, and the usual supporting screen of light cruisers and destroyers. The Japs seem to have spotted only the cruisers, which they attacked viciously. The Chicago was hit in the stern and lost all but a foot or so freeboard aft.

This attack threw the force into an unwarranted confusion, the usual nit-wit admiral in charge lost his head and ordered a retreat. The task force had originally been on its way to invade Munda and the Georgia group, but the weeks of preparation were now thrown away. In the meantime the Japs moved south from the Georgia group into the Russell Islands, just NW of Guadalcanal, while we were asleep at the switch.

The whole setup became a complete debacle when, an hour after Moffett’s anti-sub patrol around the Chicago had been relieved by a PBY, the Japs again attacked the Chicago, now under tow, with dive bombers (Aichi) and torpedo planes (Mitsubishi). Only one torpedo plane survived this attack but they did manage to polish off the Chicago, plus a few destroyers, one of which sank in about three minutes from a dive-bomber hit.

The following morning, when Moffett went out to the task force again for another anti-sub patrol, he found it retreating through a heavy front in confusion. The destroyers had lost the cruisers and couldn’t find them, while the carriers were off on their own hook in another quarter. All of which only goes to show that when we do win this war, it will be in spite of ourselves.

One thought on “January 31, 1943 (Sunday)”

  1. “The Battle of Rennell Island” was the last major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal campaign. Land-based naval G3M and G4M bombers sank cruiser Chicago and damaged destroyer La Vallette. The task force was forced to retreat and the Imperial Navy used the opportunity to evacuate their forces from Guadalcanal without U.S. Navy interference.

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