Lt. John G Wallace, USN

The Personal story of Lieutenant JG John George Wallace

The Personal story of Lieutenant JG John George Wallace during the Air Attack on the USS San Francisco November 12, 1942
as provided by his son Jack Wallace

My Father, graduated from the Naval Academy with the class of 1942 early (due to the impending war) in December 1941! He reported aboard USS San Francisco in January 1942 at Pearl Harbor. He saw all the Battleships “sitting in the mud.

He was a gunnery officer in the aft super structure aboard USS San Francisco and it was on the afternoon of 12 November 1942 that the Japanese attacked TG 67.4 with Betty torpedo-bombers. Almost all attacking aircraft were shot down and one decided to crash dive on USS San Francisco. My dad just barely missed getting killed, was burned, then helped the wounded and fight fires. He was awarded the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his heroics. He stayed aboard ship and 12 hours later was witness to the big battle.

He retired as a Captain after switching to Engineering Duty in the 1950’s and was commended by ADM Rickover. We lost my dad in April 2002. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him.

The following is my dad’s account of his Navy Cross actions aboard USS San Francisco.

Lt.John G Wallace

The following is the verbatim account of the heroic actions of then Lieutenant (Junior Grade) John George Wallace, United States Navy, leading to his award of the Navy Cross medal. The action occurred during World War II on the afternoon of 12 November 1942 in the south Pacific aboard his ship, a U. S. Navy heavy cruiser, USS San Francisco (CA-38) just north of Guadalcanal island. The ship was then assigned to Task Group 67.4, Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan, USN, Task Group Commander. USS San Francisco had the Admiral embarked, and therefore served as flagship of the task group. Captain Cassin Young, USN, served as Commanding Officer of USS San Francisco.

This account was written down in 1958 in response to a request from a television producer for information from Navy Cross medal winners in preparation for a proposed television program entitled, “Navy Cross”. The show never aired.

This air attack occurred as a prelude to a huge night naval action, now known as the naval battle for Guadalcanal. The night naval action overshadows this air attack.

Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Wallace was also awarded the Purple Heart Medal for wounds received during this attack.

Only the Congressional Medal of Honor is higher in precedence than the Navy Cross.

“I had been aboard the USS San Francisco (CA-38) since shortly after early graduation from the United States Naval Academy, with the class of 1942 on December 19, 1941. This latter date was just 12 days after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and no time was wasted in getting the new Ensigns to their ships, to which they had been actually assigned before the Pearl Harbor attack Ever since I first reported aboard we had been operating in the South Pacific. When our troops (U.S. Marines) first landed on Guadalcanal island, we had conducted many hours of shore bombardment, had a number of air attacks, and many, many air “alerts” that didn’t produce any enemy airplanes.

Suddenly, in September 1942, a short time after one of our aircraft carriers, USS Wasp (CV-7 ) had been sunk by a Japanese submarine (the USS San Francisco was only 2500 yards on the Wasp’s starboard quarter when the torpedoes struck – I was sunbathing on deck when I heard the explosions), the pattern of our operations changed. We were pulled away from escorting aircraft carriers and integrated in a surface attack group of 5 cruisers and 4 to 6 destroyers. Everyday for a couple of weeks we went out to sea from the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, where we were based for surface gunnery practice. Only we sortied at sunset and did all of our exercising and training at night. We utilized searchlights and star-shells for illumination – and we fired a lot of main battery (the big 8 inch guns) and secondary battery (5 inch guns) ammunition at the various target sleds.

After this exercise period we started to make the midnight patrols from Espiritu Santo to Guadalcanal. Our John Wallace

primary objective was the interruption of any kind of Japanese shipping in their attempt to supply their troops also on Guadalcanal. It didn’t take long for us to make contact – for on the evening of 11-12 October 1942, we intercepted two Japanese task groups who just happened to be joining forces for their approach on Guadalcanal. The resultant naval battle and U. S. victory was called the Battle of Cape Esperance and it was one we needed for the U. S. Forces – land and sea- weren’t doing too good in the Guadalcanal area at that time.

After that night battle in October 1942, we enjoyed a bit of control over Guadalcanal, from the sea at least. The U. S. Marines were slugging it out with Japanese troops on the island. We bombarded the Japs in broad daylight – at targets assigned us by the Marines. And we continued to make our night trips to intercept Japanese shipping.

On the morning of 11 November 1942 we started out again on a trip “up the slot”. (The slot was the name given to that area of water surrounded by Guadalcanal and the other Solomon islands through which United States and Japanese forces transited and battled in their respective attempts to get control of this theater of operations in WWII.) We made a sweep that night with no success, and the next day (12 November 1942) we joined with and escorted a number of U. S. troop transport ships and supply ships which were providing logistics to U. S. Ground forces on Guadalcanal. Sometime during the day we got word to expedite unloading – that an air attack was imminent – and that we could also expect a strong Japanese surface ship force that night. The surface force was to include two Jap battleships.

battle photo

On the afternoon of 12 November 1942 we heard (from an Australian coast watcher) that about 30 Jap Mitsubishi type I G4M bombers – code named “Betty” – each carrying torpedoes were on their way from their air base in Rabaul, New Britain to attack us. We had plenty of time to prepare – about one hour – so we were ready for them when they came in.

At the time of this air attack, my battle station was in main battery control – aft. Our duties were to serve as the backup battle station for firing the ship’s big three guns. (We are the backup for aiming the ship’s big guns). This station contained the after main battery director and suitable instrumentation and personnel to be able to fire all or a portion of the three big gun turrets (three – 8 inch guns per turret) whenever the Gunnery Officer, who was located in the forward part of the ship in main battery control – forward, chose to do so. I was in the ship’s after superstructure and another compartment was just forward of us. This compartment was called secondary conn and was the backup battle station for maneuvering the ship. It was manned by the Executive Officer who was the ship’s number two ranking officer.

Off to the north of Guadalcanal lies Tulagi, an island of low lying hills. Over these hills came the 30 “Bettys” – fanning out to disperse the fire power from our ships. They skimmed down so that they were only a few feet from the water and when they got within range of the ships they dropped their “fish”, (aerial torpedo). By then the ships had opened fire, some, as did San Francisco, used their big 8 inch main battery guns as well as their anti-aircraft guns. Since the big 8 inch guns had contact shells, not shells with fuses in them that would explode in the air near an aircraft, we aimed the guns at a point in the water ahead of an incoming plane. We were hoping that when the shell struck the water, it would explode and disable the plane; or that the turbulence caused by the water splash would tend to make the planes drop into the water. No planes were shot down in this manner, but the Japanese pilots wiggled their planes to avoid the splashes.

As the planes approached I was standing in the door looking out to starboard with communication headphones strapped over my head, ready to take control of the main battery guns should the forward station, containing the Gunnery Officer become disabled. I saw plane after plane drop torpedoes and for a while it didn’t look as if we were going to shoot any of them down. Finally, planes got hit and started to drop in the water or skid on and flop over. One came in from our starboard bow and for the longest time it didn’t get hit. It dropped its torpedo and I was sure the torpedo would hit San Francisco forward on the starboard side. About the time I expected that torpedo to hit, (it missed), our anti-aircraft 20 MM guns behind me, right outside my battle station started to really kick them out. I looked out toward the starboard quarter and what I saw was a Mitsubishi “Betty” bomber coming right at me with its starboard engine smoking. I just had time to duck inside the outer door when a tremendous explosion knocked me all the way up to the forward side of secondary conn and I lost consciousness.

I awoke with the back of my khaki uniform trousers and shirt on fire, my hair and face burned from flaming gasoline. I looked around and found myself all alone. I jumped into a nearby motor launch life boat and rolled out my flames on the tarpaulin covering. Looking back, I saw flames were pouring out of both doors leading into main battery control – aft. Someone in there was screaming “Help, please, I’m burning!” Without even knowing what I was doing, I dived through smoke and flames into the door to main battery control – aft and almost stepped on someone that was moaning. It was Pastrania, one of my Fire Controlmen. I got him over my shoulders with his clothes still smoldering and I half fell, half climbed down the port ladder and left him on the top of the hangar deck. Then I ran back up the ladder into main battery control and saw a man standing there with his clothes on fire and he couldn’t seem to walk. His name was Simpson. I led him into secondary conn, and stripped him of all his smoldering/burning clothing. I asked him if he could walk and then pointed him out the door on the port side to the ladder. I made one more trip into main battery control and picked up a young small kid about 17 years old named Posh. He was burned horribly. His face was blackened. I carried him down to the deck below and got back to secondary conn just in time to get trapped when more fire came pouring out of both doors leading to main battery control. So, I jumped out of the window in the forward part of secondary conn onto the top of the hangar deck. It was a long drop.

When I finally got on the hangar deck the repair parties were bringing up hoses to extinguish the fire. The big worry now was the fact that there was a 20 MM ammunition clipping room, (the room where individual ammunition shells are “clipped” onto belts or clips for use in 20 MM guns), immediately below the secondary conn, and if the gasoline from the plane ever dripped in there and a fire started, the 20 MM shells would take off.

I grabbed the nozzle of the hose from someone and ran for the door, where we got the water in the CA-38 aft

starboard side. Not too many men wanted to negotiate the port side. So, again I took the lead. As we moved with the hose alongside a motor launch boat that sat in its skids on the port side, I heard a weak call for help. I looked into the boat, the gunwale of which was about at a level with my head, and saw Pastranini laying in there with nothing on but shorts. He was the first man I had carried down. How he got into the boat I’ll never know. Large pieces of skin on his back were peeled half off. I yelled for him to climb out which he did into my arms and I half carried, half dragged him to a stretcher out on the forward part of the hangar deck. I gave him a shot of morphine.

Then I ran to the door leading into the 20 MM ammunition clipping room on the starboard side and the man on the fire-fighting hose told me he thought there were a couple of men in the passageway inside the door. I told him to hold up the hose and I went in. There was Posh lying flat on his back, blackened and burned from head to feet. He must have crawled in from the port side when I left him at the foot of the ladder. I asked “How are you doing Posh?” He said, “I’m dying, but I sure don’t want to. I breathed in the flames.” I lied to him, “You’re too young and too healthy. Here let me give you a shot in the arm so you will go to sleep.” At first he wouldn’t let me but with the help of a couple of men we peeled some shirt off his arm. Jabbing the morphine needle in his arm was like jabbing a board. There was no skin – just muscle – and none of the morphine went in. It just oozed back out. I tried three times with the same result. A stretcher finally arrived and we got Posh on with quite a bit of trouble. He was in agony. They carried him off to the mess hall where a temporary sick bay had been set up.

By this time the fire was getting under control. Our anti-aircraft guns were shooting on and off. I walked out on the hangar deck and met the Executive Officer, Commander Mark Crouter, USN. (He was seriously burned from this air attack and elected to remain aboard the ship. He was killed convalescing in his bunk that night during the night surface naval action about twelve hours later.) He said “nice going Wallace. You better go get yourself taken care of now.” I started toward the ladder leading down to the mess hall, but the Captain of the embarked U. S. Marines, Captain Turner, USMC, who had been above me in sky aft when the plane hit, had just come up the ladder and yelled “Lets get back up to sky aft.”

Sky aft is the name for the anti-aircraft director that sits like a crow’s nest high above deck and directly over Capt.Turner

main battery control aft. (It is where the ship’s aft anti-aircraft guns are pointed). When the plane crashed they had managed to abandon sky aft and now that the fire was practically out, Captain Turner, who was in charge up there was trying to get his director crew together. I took off with him, climbed up into sky aft and asked what job I could do for him. Since his regular assistant wasn’t there, he designated me enemy aircraft spotter and sky aft was in business again.

Soon we had no more targets and we kept alert for more planes that might come in over the hills of Tulagi island. As the excitement moment wore off, the burns on my legs began to pain considerably and I passed out. In a minute I was back to consciousness again. Someone mentioned the nearby first aid kit and the fact that it contained tannic acid. ( Tannic acid was used as an astringent or styptic for treatment of burns) Before they got it opened I passed out again. This time when I came too, the pain was terrific. So, Captain Turner told one of the Fire Controlmen to help me down the ladder to the mess hall. There I got a shot of morphine and my burns were dressed.

After this air attack there was a great deal of hurry to get the transport and supply ships out of the area, since the late information intelligence had heavy enemy surface units, including those two Jap battleships coming down the slot toward Guadalcanal.

The United States and Japanese surface forces met after midnight and the resultant battle of 12-13 November 1942, known as the naval battle of Guadalcanal, was one of the decisive battles of the war.”

USS San Francisco Men
1. The names used of the wounded are fictitious. I know only one of the men’ s name, but I knew the other two also because they worked for me, and I would recognize their names if I could check the records. ( USS San Francisco had approximately 1000 crew members aboard at this time.)

2. Of the three men that I pulled out of the fire, all three of them died within a day or so from burns.

3. The cruiser USS San Francisco is currently in moth balls (these are comments from 1958) in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. It may be possible through the Naval Chief of Information to get me temporary orders to Philly, where I could take you through the ship and give you a verbal description on the spot. ( USS San Francisco had been formally decommissioned on 10 February 1947. She remained a part of the moth ball fleet at Philadelphia for the next several years. There, on 1 March 1959, she was stricken from the U. S. Navy List of Ships. She was sold for scrap and towed to Panama City, Florida, where she met her final demise at the end of a cutting torch.)

4. USS San Francisco was the first ship to receive the Presidential Unit Citation. (The Presidential Unit Citation is a ribbon, NOT medal, awarded to an entire military unit in the name of the President that distinguishes itself in combat. All members in the unit at the time of the action are eligible to wear the ribbon on their uniform. Of note, The Navy Cross and Purple Heart are personal awards, eligible to be worn only by the recipient for heroic action in combat.)

5. In this air attack, all the Betty aircraft were shot down. There were no ships hit by aerial torpedoes. As a matter of fact, USS San Francisco was the only ship damaged. There were a total of 33 casualties caused by the plane crash. (Of note, 19 Betty bomber aircraft from three squadrons attacked 24 ships. The Japs lost 18 out of these 19 aircraft: 10 of the 19 Betty’s were shot down outright, 6 made emergency landings on island airstrips and were unsalvageable, two ditched into the water and only one (1) aircraft successfully returned to base. USS San Francisco casualties were actually: 22 killed in action and 22 wounded for a total of 44 men. Only USS San Francisco was damaged in this attack. The aircraft that crashed upon USS San Francisco was from the same squadron that five months later would fly Japanese Navy Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and be shot down and killed by American fighter planes in the South Pacific.)

6. The plane that crashed into the ship was NOT a Kamikaze which attacks started much later in the war. The aircraft was already damaged. It is not known whether the Japanese pilot, knowing he was going down anyway decided to crash the ship; or whether he got killed and the crash was accidental. Its probably the former.

7. A Japanese aviator’s boot, with the severed foot still in it, was found on the main deck of USS San Francisco, after the crash.

8. An officer friend of mine who was on a destroyer during the air attack told me later that his ship saw one of the ditched Japanese Betty planes still floating on the water, not yet sunk with a crew member standing on a wing. The destroyer went over to rescue/capture him but as the ship drew near, the Jap aviator pulled his pistol and aimed to shoot at the approaching ship. The Jap was cut down when every machine gun on the destroyer that could bear on him, cut loose.

The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, by James W. Grace
Written in 1999, this book provides a chapter about the air attack to the story of the big night naval engagement that occurred that night, 13 November 1942. Published by the Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-327-3

Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea – The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, November 13-15, 1942, By Eric Hammel. This book is the third in a series by Hammel and was written in 1988. It makes for easy and interesting reading of the battle with a good deal of info on the plane crash on USS San Francisco. Published by Pacifica Press, originally by Crown Publishers. ISBN 0-517-56952-3.

USS San Francisco – A Technical History, by Chuck Hansen
A brief, illustrated history of the ship. Written in 1978, it has lots ship photos and battle damage shots. Also has two pull-out diagrams of the ship. Published by Chuck Hansen.

The History of the U. S. S. San Francisco in World War II, by Heber A. Holbrook
Written by a crewman who served aboard her during the battles of WWII.
Published by the author.

Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko ‘Betty” units of World War 2, by Osamu Tagaya
This book is about the Japanese twin engined torpedo bomber known as the “Betty” to the Americans during WWII. Published by Osprey Publishing Limited. ISBN 1 84176 082 X

Warships Pictorial USS San Francisco CA-38 by Steve Wiper
Published by Classic Warships

This account was provided by Commander Jack Wallace, a former Naval Aviator/Commander who has just completed 20 years of active/reserve duty. He flew P-3C Orions in multiple VP squadrons on the West and East coasts. He also served as a Navy Instructor pilot and finished up active duty at 14 years flying Navy C-130T Hercules aircraft. He was a TAR for his last 6 years on active duty. He has 6 years as a Reservist and served at the Pentagon and as CO of a Navy Central Command detachment. With over 3600 Navy flight hours he will retire with 22 years in summer 2004! He now serves as an airline pilot for a major commercial airline. He is actively involved in the USS San Francisco association. In February, on a layover in San Diego, he plans to visit with 85 year old Capt. Jack Bennett, USN, who served aboard with his dad and was also awarded a Navy Cross and Purple Heart. Capt. Bennett was instrumental in having the USS San Francisco memorial at Land’s End in San Francisco constructed.