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the coincidences of war

January 22 2012 at 9:21 AM
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Nelson  (no login)


Response to Re: SS President Grant-Circa 1942

 
Clicking on the URL appearing in the previous post, one reads among other things:

> Prior to the start of the war, [SS President Grant] departed San Francisco on November 9, 1941, under the command of Captain W. S. Tyrrell, stopping briefly at Honolulu, Hawaii, and then arrived at Manila on December 6th, the day before the Japanese attack on the Philippines. >

Indeed President Grant was part of the last USN cruiser-escorted convoy to make it safely through to the Philippines before the outbreak of war, and all of the merchant ships--the others being SS John Lykes, SS Cape Fairweather, SS American Leader, and SS Doña Nati--were still at Manila when the war suddenly erupted. The convoy, escorted by the light cruiser Boise (CL 47), left Oahu on November 18, 1941, and unlike the larger Pensacola convoy that followed it, the Boise convoy sailed directly west through the Mandates. On two successive nights, November 27 and 28, 1941, the convoy was shadowed and mildly challenged by one or two (not clear if the same ship on both nights) IJN training cruisers of the Katori class (2 x 2 140mm/50cal main guns), likely either or both Katori and Kashima (but definitely not Kashii, which was then in the south). On the 29th, the convoy passed 20 nm from Guam, but did not stop there; on December 4, Boise at least reached Manila Bay. The above website claims President Grant arrived there two days later, which may or may not be true, but it was common prewar practice for the escort to release the convoy to independent sailing once reaching the safe waters of the Philippines or the northern NEI.

Three of the vessels--American Leader, Cape Fairweather, and John Lykes--were brand new or at least rather recently built U.S. Maritime Commission C1-B merchant ships, powered either by steam geared turbines or diesel engines. In addition to President Grant's loss after running aground in 1944, two other ships that had taken part in the convoy would suffer grievous damage or loss not long in the future. Convoy escort Boise would go aground in the waters of NEI on January 21, 1942, suffering heavy bottom damage, which resulted in the almost immediate relief of her captain, Stephen Boutwell Robinson, and the warship's withdrawal from the campaign in the SW Pacific. SS American Leader would fall prey in the South Atlantic to the German raider Michel on September 10, 1942. After being transferred to the IJA, her crewmen would find themselves prisoners of war in the same camp that held members of 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, captured on Java, and a few crewmen from heavy cruiser Houston (CA 30).

Not a few naval historians whose expertise covers this period of the war consider that the interference--although that is almost certainly exaggerated--by the IJN while the convoy was still east of Guam heavily impacted on the revised route of the immediately following Pensacola convoy, south and west through Torres Strait and then north through the NEI to Manila Bay. IF war had not started on December 7-8, 1941, that round-about and far longer route could not have long been sustained. The American and Philippine armies were still woefully underequipped and time was critical if they were to be brought up to armed strength before war broke out.....and time of course ran out.

One last coincidence and another couple of ifs: IF one or two mischievous Japanese training cruisers had not done such a good job in snooping out the Boise convoy on two successive nights (them excellent IJN night optics, don't ya know) and IF the Pensacola convoy as well had ploughed on through the Mandates, being in the middle of them when war visited Oahu and Luzon, my guess is that would have been seriously bad cess for the Pensacola convoy.

Nelson

 
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  • there was a good luck ship in the convoy, too - Nelson on Jan 22, 2012, 10:29 AM
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