Sunday, 21 February

52nd day, Septuagesima, 313 days to come

The big move came today. Bus and truck to West Loch. Ferry to Ford Island. Loaded with baggage we hiked to dock & boarded the carrier U.S.S. Nassau. Converted job. I was first aboard, knowing proper procedure, planes & gear were loaded with amazing efficiency. Pulled out about 1630. We were turned around on the tide under own power when band arrived (Navy). Played the Marine Hymn. We all stood up. It gives me a funny feeling. Like something in the movies. The marines sailing for the war zone. The effect was ruined when band (could barely hear it) played "Aloha." Everyone laughed. Once clear of land we read GQ. Word passed we are bound for Esperitu Santo, New Hebrides.


NOTE: The USS Nassau, (ACV-16) was laid down 27 November 1941 by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp., Tacoma, Washington, as Maritime Contract Hull No. 234; launched 4 April 1942. She was converted as an auxiliary aircraft carrier. In July 1943 the ACV designation (auxiliary aircraft carrier) was changed to CVE (escort aircraft carrier). Most current references will show CVE-16 as the Nassau.

Most of these pilots had little traditional military training. Lt. Winnia had been an enlisted marine and had proper training in military courtesy. The Officer of the Deck (OD) of the USS Nassau would not have allowed anyone aboard who did not display the proper respect for "his" ship. Upon reaching the top of the gangway (steps, to landlubbers) one must face aft and salute the national ensign (the flag, to landlubbers), then salute the OD, who will give permission to come aboard.

Monday 22 February

53rd day, George Washington - Born 1732,
312 days to come

First day at sea. Slept like a log last night. Eating like the proverbial horse. Our escort DD Sterett, credited with 1BB, 1 CA, 3DD, 5 planes. Escort fired at 30" balloon with 20mm & 40mm. Not bad firing. We heard today that some of us will be catapulted off when we near destination.

Reports are coming in re concentration of forces in our zone. Smells like something big doing.

The weather is very fine. Becoming warmer all the time.


NOTE: The USS Sterett, DD407, was a veteran of the First Battle of Guadalcanal, and was returning to the Pacific battleground after repairs in San Fransisco. The Sterett (1500 tons) had taken on the Japanese Battleship Hiei (31,720 tons) and her screen of destroyers. Sterett was credited with two torpedo hits on the Hiei before being brutalized by the Japanese naval squadron.

The acronym BB is for a battleship, CA is a cruiser, DD a destroyer.

Large balloons, looking like small blimps, were towed from ships and used for target practice by the anti-aircraft (AA) gun crews.

Marine pilots at this time were not required to be carrier rated, i.e., know how to take off and land on a carrier. On the USS Nassau, with a full load of planes, they would have to be catapulted off of the short deck - an experience that few, if any, of the VMF-213 pilots had. This surely added to the "pucker factor" of the pilots as they neared their destination.

Tuesday 23 February

54th day, 311 days to come

Slept on deck last night. Quite comfortable. The night was like a movie. Quiet sea giving gentle roll. The moon came up late - very beautiful with a veritable carpet of stars. No clouds. We would make an easy target on such a night. Ship fired 20 & 40 mm today. Damned good shooting, made DD look sick. Lecture on catapulting procedure. Fighting 213 will be first in air. That will be a day to record. Will head home in groups of 8 (two divisions). Word passed we are heading for hurricane. I bet we don't hit it. (Later) So far no hurricane. Warnings to polywogs are becoming more numerous. Sub sighted but outran it. Should be picked up by Polmyra squadron tomorrow.


NOTE: A "Pollywog" is a person who has not crossed the equator aboard ship. In a tradition passed on from the British navy a person crossing the equator is issued a subpoena from Davy Jones to pay allegience to King Neptunus Rex. Upon "Crossing the Line" the King boards ship to hold court. After paying proper tribute to the King and recieving an often terrible hazing from the ship's "Shellbacks," those who have crossed the equator in the past, a pollywog recieves his certificate and becomes a shellback. This is usually a day of fun and games at the expense of the newest seamen and can sometimes turn violent, as you will read later.

An aircraft in the air was the best insurance against submarines. The USS Nassau could not provide her own air support because the deck was packed with airplanes and though she could launch aircraft with the catapult she could not recover them. Polmyra Island had an airfield and could supply air cover for the vulnerable carrier.

Wednesday 24 February

55th day, 310 days to come

Watch today 12 to 4. 1155 sub sighted. GQ. Escort dropped several depth charges. 1215 secured after violent maneuvering by ship. 1200 - 1600 watch all secure. Beginning Shellback - Pollywog activity. Will cross the line tomorrow. 2400 - 0400 watch secure - though another sub was picked up surfaced at 2300 RE ealine (sic) bearing to CV 170 3000 yds. 5"51 cal in fantail manned. Sub crash dived. DD dropped ashcans results of both sub counterattack doubtful. They seem to be expecting us and are careless or else this place is lousy with the damned things. Weather warm but thank God tonight cloudy.


NOTE: GQ is General Quarters. Every man goes to his battle position in preparation for action.

"Secured" is the naval term which roughly translates as "it's over," or "it's closed." Securing GQ means you can go back to whatever you were doing before; securing chow means that the mess hall is closed; secure for the day means you're off duty until tomorrow morning.

An ashcan is slang for a depth charge, which is best described as a 55 gallon oil drum filled with high explosives.

The place was lousy with them - submarines, that is. The nickname for the area was Torpedo Junction. On cloudy nights the submarines would not have the benefit of moonlight to find targets by.

Thursday 25 February

56th day, 309 days to come

Slept till 0800. Lecture 0930. No shellback activity until 1300. His Highness Neptune Rex, Supreme Ruler of the Deep came aboard at 1400. Held court. His Secretary David Jones assisting. Also present were Royal wife, Royal Baby, Assorted Kops and couriers. I lost part of my hair. All in all got off lightly considering some of the less fortunate polywogs. Was detailed to chains, did OK. Didn't even lose my mustache. Maj. Weisenburger & some others had to kiss the greased, sweaty & hairy belly of the Royal Baby. All in all a good show. Glad to be a shell back. One sailor was brigged yesterday for having a chain in his hat. Released at 0800 today. Carried to sick bay on stretcher at 0815. The marines got him. He may live !?

NOTE: The Shellback ceremony often involved shaving part of a pollywogs head, or half a moustache. Lt. Winnia probably paid his fine to King Rex by cleaning the anchor chain, perhaps with his toothbrush or shaving brush. The higher grade officers generally have a more public and demeaning fine. The Royal Baby was probably the hairiest Chief Petty Officer with the largest belly, which would have been smeared with axle grease, or something equally distasteful. By tradition all of the Royal Party are enlisted men disguised in outlandish costumes; officers must submit graciously to the ceremony or risk a loss of face and perhaps a silent mutiny from the crew.

At the end of the ceremony two rows of shellbacks form a gauntlet.The pollywogs are forced to run between them to be struck with towels and hats and such. In this instance one of the sailors hid a chain is his hat to do more than symbolic damage to the marine pollywogs.

Friday 26 February

57th day, 308 days to come

Squadron doctrine and tactics lectured. Treff & I should be able to outlast most.

Two good lectures today. One on fighter activity now in Solomons area. We are almost without a doubt the last group to be sent in with F4F4s. There is already an F4U squadron in action out of Henderson Field. News today we will go through Torpedo Junction. 213 will be anti-sub patrol by divisions.


NOTE: The aerial war for Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands, had been a defensive one. Our aircraft were defending Henderson Field and were always fighting over or practically within sight of friendly forces. To continue to prosecute the war after the Japanese evacuation of the island our aircraft had to begin making the long flights to the enemy's bases. Though there would still be many Japanese attacks on the field, we had to begin an offensive war over his bases. No longer could a shot up fighter simply glide back, no longer would there be many friendly ships below to pick up a pilot who had bailed out, no longer were the pilots fresh and the tanks full of fuel when the enemy was engaged. We were now having to fight under the same circumstances which the Japanese had dealt with in trying to retake Guadalcanal. VMF-213 was going into a war which was significantly different from the one which the defenders of Henderson Field had fought in. The lectures they were having now were probably full of advice from the experience of those currently fighting the battles, and about the different missions they would have to fly - cover for heavy bombers (B-24s and B-17s) which would be attacking ground targets such as airfields and fuel and ammo dumps, cover for dive bombers & torpedo bombers against anti-aircraft positions or shipping targets, flying cover for Dumbo (PBYs) on rescue missions, and fighter sweeps in which they would go into an enemy area and "pick a fight" with the Japanese fighters. It was to be a much different war than the one they had been trained for.

The F4F-4 Wildcat was a wonderful little fighter, but had some severe limitations in a theater with long distances between targets: lack of power to be able to carry heavier payloads and fuel loads, and lack of range, the ability to fly long distances with an acceptable probability of return. It was designed as a carrier fighter, not a ground based fighter/attack aircraft.

VMF-124 was the first Marine squadron to get the F4U Corsair. They flew into Henderson Field on Guadalcanal on February 12th and were flying missions within an hour of their arrival. The pilots had less than 30 hours flight time in the new aircraft. It was a very busy war.

Anti-sub patrol by divisions meant that a division (4 planes) would be launched from the Nassau and fly around the carrier looking for submarines until their fuel state made it necessary to fly on to the field in the New Hebrides. Another division would be launched to replace them and so on until all had been launched. Nasty weather made difficult work for a submarine.

Saturday 27 February

58th day, 307 days to come

Lecture this A.M. Civil ship identification. 1030 GQ sub seen. Only a whale, but before bugle ended the Major, Treff and I were ready to go. Quickest scramble I ever saw. Might go off anytime now. Within distance of various bases now as I feel a lot better. Fiji is now about 700 mi S.E. 1900 Set clocks back 30 min makes it Sunday.


NOTE: At this point the Nassau was close enough to Fiji that aircraft could be launched if necessary and be able to make land after the mission - air cover, submarine hunt, whatever. Some of the pilots would be in the ready room, ready to go, and the planes would be fueled, armed and ready to go. I can imagine Major Weissenberger, Treffer and Winnia and a few others in the ready room playing Acey-Duecy (a type of backgammon played with "jungle rules"), cribbage, dominoes or just sleeping when the call to GQ and "Pilots to your planes" was sounded.

Sunday 28 February

59th day, 306 days to come

Same day as Saturday, crossed 180. The straight dope came about the "whale." The "whale" looked about 130' long & had a periscope. If we had zigged instead of zagged we would have been one dead duck.

Monday 1 March

60th day, 305 days to come

Today is Monday though is considered Sunday so the chaplain can earn his salt. 0900 bull session & nav problem. 1130 GQ. That damned sub. General opinion is that he is following us, however may be radioing ahead. We will probably run into a nest before long. 1530 it went again. I was caught right out of the shower. I really moved. Down deck, shirt, pants, shoes, pistol and up from decks. My mech is really getting good. Old #14 ready to go at same time I was, which was damned quick. 1900 lect. on landing, fire tactics. Col. Hopper. I'll bet we have GQ in the middle of the night.


NOTE: Caught in the shower by GQ, what a situation! The shower was probably a salt water hose on deck since he says he had to go below decks and then back up to get to his plane, #14, which the mech or Plane Captain would have started and had moved into position to catapult behind Treffer. This plane number would be the logical one for the wingman of the 4th division leader:Treffer, #13, Winnia #14, Boag #15, Johnson #16. 1st division would be #1 - #4, 2nd #5 - #8, 3rd #9 - #12, etc. - no guarantee, but a high probability. The lecture on landing was likely about the conditions of the fields, winds, where to park, which field to use (there were several at Espirito Santu) etc. since they had been landing F4Fs for quite a while. Fire tactics would be about use of guns, not inflammables. I don't know who Col. Hopper was (yet).

No Marine on duty is ever confident of a full night's sleep.

Tuesday 2 March

61st day, 304 days to come

Preparations today for reaching port tomorrow. Another GQ for that damned sub. Lect. On catapulting. Packed tonight. Taking sleeping bag, haversack and handbag in plane with me. Haversack with gasmask, steel helmet & field hat stored in parachute bag in baggage compartment. Details given for inner air patrol and anti-sub patrol.


NOTE: The thing that Winnia packed to take in the plane with him would be all he would have for a while. In a few months we will read where the rest of his stuff finally catches up with him (including his records).

Inner air patrol is watching and defending against other aircraft; sub patrol is watching the water for subs, periscopes or, worst case, torpedoes.


Return to
Diary of a
Corsair Pilot in
the Solomons

menu page