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USS San Francisco Memorial Foundation
C/O Art Curtis
P.O. Box 318063
San Francisco, CA 94131-8063

415-334-0263
415-350-0531
Art Curtis: awcurtis@comcast.net

LINKS OF INTEREST

"War Years, Boy/to Blooded Veteran"

 By:  CLIFFORD SPENCER

War Years Book

ANSWERING THE PATRIOTIC CALL TO DEFEND HIS COUNTRY SPENCER LIED HIS WAY INTO THE US MARINE CORPS AT AGE SIXTEENON DEC 28, 1941.

THIS IS THE STORY OF A BOY BECOMING A MARINE ABOARD THE  HEAVY CRUISER USS SAN FRANCISCO WITH ITS SEASONED AND GALLANT CREW!

FOLLOW HIM THROUGH HIS VETTING DURING THE SOLOMON ISLANDS CAMPAIGN.

SEVERELY WOUNDED DURING THE “THIRD BATTLE OF SAVO ISLAND!” HE IN ADDITION TO VIVID ACCOUNTS OF NIGHT SURFACE BATTLES  RECOUNTS HIS FEARS AND GUILT FOR SURVIVING OVER A SEVENTEEN MONTH “REPAIR” IN NAVAL HOSPITALS

 

PRICED AT: $30 PLU $5 S&H FOR PRINTED VERSION, READ ONLY, CD AT $15 INCLUDING S&H.

ORDER AT PALISPEN@PRODIGY.NET OR CALL CLIFF AT 760-789-5518

 

Below is a sample of the book "War Years, Boy/to Blooded Veteran". 

15-59

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

BATTLE OF CAPE ESPERANCE

FIRST BLOOD

 

Now that Pvt. Spencer, master battle tactician, his expounded on how he would have organized our surface combat units, let us get on with the actual war!

Task force "Sugar" a unit of Task force 64, consisted of the San Francisco flagship and Salt Lake City, heavy cruisers, Boise and Helena, light cruisers (six inch main battery) and destroyers Buchanan, Farenholt, Laffey, McCalla and the Duncan. Nine ships in all got underway on Oct. 7 for Guadalcanal.

Our mission was to intercept the Tokyo Express and try to derail it! Rear Admiral Scott was now going to put some of his intense training of the previous weeks to the test. Intelligence reported another convoy of Japanese transports loaded with reinforcements heading down the Slot.

We know now that the commander of the Jap forces was Admiral Goto his flagship was Aoba, heavy cruiser. His combatants were, in addition to Aoba, the heavy cruisers Kinugasa and Furutaka, and two screening destroyers. Following close behind were two transports and six destroyers loaded to the gunnels with troops and supplies.

We arrived just south and west of the northern most point of Guadalcanal (Cape Esperance) about 2200 on the evening of Oct 11th. The enemy forces were expected around midnight so we launched one SOC from each cruiser to scout the enemies position. The patrol plane launched by Salt Lake City erupted in flames just before launch and was catapulted as a huge ball of flames which crashed alongside the SLC. The crew escaped and paddled to Guadalcanal but for several minutes the plane burned brightly on the very calm sea.

Everyone held their breathe hoping the crash and fire would not give away our presence. You feel so vulnerable when something like this happens that describing it is difficult.

Being caught nude in your front yard while picking up the morning paper comes to mind but it can be much more serious. Time passed with no evidence of discovery and everyone exhaled a sigh of relief.

The Helena had the most advanced radar in the task force and when a radarman reported moving blips on his scope at about 2330 out about 5,000 yards, the skipper of Helena delayed reporting the contact to Admiral Scott for over fifteen minutes. It must be remembered that radar was a very recent addition to the fleet. The early installations had lots of problems and radarman were new at interpreting what the screen showed.

Our radar shack was on the same small deck with our 1.1 AA gun mount. We could stand in the doorway of the radar room and still be at our battle station. Second loaders, could move around the small area except when actually passing ammo during firing.

15-60

 Just before our captain received word of enemy sighting by our scout plane I heard the radarman talking into his headset and I quote, "Sir, I have several unidentified blips on my scope" after a short pause he said " Well Sir, these islands are traveling at about thirty knots!"

By this time everyone on the mount knew the enemy was out there and strained our eyes to starboard trying to get a visual sighting. At times like these time seems to drag on very slowly. It seemed hours before the Helena begin a furious fusillade with her six inch main battery. Following closely by the Boise, Salt Lake City and then the San Francisco. We had completely surprised the enemy and there were several minutes when the enemy did not return fire. Admiral Goto, on his flag ship Aoba, thought he was being fired on by his transport escort and we thought we were firing on the Duncan and the Laffey. Admiral Scott had reversed course just a few minutes earlier to be able to execute a tactic known as Crossing the "T". The Duncan sealed her doom by attacking a destroyer she had confirmed as an enemy ship, and the Laffey followed her in for the attack.

This put the two destroyers directly between the heavier units of both the Japanese and American combatants. Duncan fired torpedoes at one of the heavy cruisers but missed. However, when she turned to rejoin our task force she was fired upon by both sides. Heavily holed and her bridge wiped out she did not respond when the order was given by Admiral Scott to turn on battle recognition lights. Most of our ships quickly responded with the proper red, red and green, or whatever coded combination of lights agreed upon, Duncan did not respond... The San Francisco's main battery fired a broadside at the hapless Duncan and she was destroyed and soon sank, with heavy losses!!

When observing the battle lights a sharp eyed lookout on the Frisco noted some confused lighting on one of the destroyers and a star shelled was fired over that ship. It revealed one of the Japanese well deck type of destroyers attacking at full speed. The eight inch and five inch batteries, along with several other of our ships poured round after round into the onrushing ship and literally smothered her with exploding shells. She sank from sight immediately.

Meanwhile, the Japanese finally woke up when the cruiser Kinugasa fired a full salvo at the San Francisco. Since our gun had been ordered not to fire because we lit up the ship when firing, we had a ringside seat for the battle! When Kinugasa fired at us we watched in horror as more than a ton of high explosive shells hurdled at us! The broadside fell just astern of us and didn't cause any damage, but it finally brought home to our leaders that we had better start firing in earnest and for effect. Even before the salvo fell in our wake our main battery sent a nine gun broadside back to the Kinugasa.

By now all of our ships were firing at any enemy target they chose. The idea that all ships fire in unison and at one target might work in long range daylight battles but night surface action is more like a barroom brawl! Individual duels and skirmishes all over the battle arena. The Japanese shells glowed a deep red and ours glowed almost white while traversing the night sky.

15-61

It would have been beautiful with star shells, burning ships, searchlights slicing the night sky, and the blazing arcs of shells on their way to targets, if you didn't know that many men were dying under that blazing panoply.

During the next few minutes the Boise struck arcs and illuminated a ship with her searchlight and immediately was taken under fire by the Aoba and Kinugasa. She took a hit on one of her turrets which exploded downward into her powder magazines. She was badly hit and might have been finished except that seeing her plight the Salt Lake City very courageously, put herself between the Boise and the enemy, to allow her to fall out of the battle line and limp away. The SLC immediately took two eight inch hits in her handling rooms and another shell exploded in one of her powder rooms while trading salvos with Kinugasa. The Kinugasa was hit numerous times but survived.

The battle had been going on for about forty five minutes when the enemy broke off and scurried back up the Slot to safety. The battle of Cape Esperance was over!! We were sure we had sunk or damaged all the Jap ships. We were elated and relieved, but you don't cheer at the end of a fierce firefight, you count fingers and toes to see if you are all there. Metaphorically one of our fingers was missing, the brave ship, the destroyer U.S.S.Duncan was gone forever, along with 38 of her valiant crew!! The Salt Lake City had lost several crew members and the Boise lost over 100 dead. The " Frisco Maru" was still casualty free, the luck of this fine cruiser was holding fast!

Our reports of ships sunk however were greatly exaggerated. Later and after the war accounts showed that we sank the heavy cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubuki. We had killed Admiral Goto and heavily damaged his flagship the Aoba, also damaged the Kinugasa and destroyer Murakuma.

Revenge for the embarrassing defeat on August 9th at Savo was not complete but we had met the enemy and won a major action against a very skillful adversary!

This was the first of many victories we would win in coming months and victory was sweet! The vaunted Japanese night vision and tactics were not foolproof and we had proved it!

Medical personnel were transferred to the badly damaged cruisers, to assist in caring for the many wounded, and we buried our dead at sea, on our triumphant way south to the New Hebrides. Alas, death was an ever present companion in those brutal and deadly days.....

Note: I want to pay tribute here to Rear Admiral Scott, he would leave us and transfer his flag to the Atlanta soon, but he left behind a much better trained and capable crew on the San Francisco. Our ship would hereafter be made a greater part of history than his new flagship, the Atlanta, but we never speak of our subsequent loss of Admiral Callaghan in the singular! All survivors of the Frisco's crew, when speaking of the losses incurred in the "Battle of Guadalcanal," state "we lost admirals Callaghan and Scott, and 106 other shipmates!" Such was his impact!! 

             USS Helena

 

I have 4 copyrighted books, "War Years, Boy/to Blooded Veteran", "Bruce Hale in the Orient", ( a semi true novel about my escapades in Japan/Korea during the police action), "Bare Foot Dreamer", the very true bio of my childhood during the Depression in the hills of Kentucky, and for the grand and great grandchildren, a delightful little, read to, childrens book, "Nakao the Oak Tree Spirit."

Also Available in CD's

 

To order books or CD's contact:

Clifford Spencer          Phone:  760-789-5518        Email:palispen@prodigy.net

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