Steichen at War


Edward Steichen, a renowned photographer in his early 60’s when WWII broke out, wanted to enlist in the Navy and contribute to the war effort by photographing it.  To make a long story short, he convinced Admiral Radford, who in turn let Steichen create “the Naval Photographic Unit.”  Steichen attached himself to the heavy carrier Lexington.  His unit included accomplished photographers Wayne Miller, Charles Kerlee, Charles Fenno Jacobs, Horace Bristol. Victor Jorgensen and Alfonso Ianelli.

The book, Steichen at War, by Christopher Phillips, was published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, in 1981.  It is filled with amazing shots by all the above named photographers.  Steichen’s overall theme for his unit: take some shots that will satisfy the brass, but above all else, focus on the men.

One sailor inspects another sailor’s tattoos aboard the USS New Jersey. December 1944. Fenno Jacobs

Aircrewmen of the USS Ticonderoga in the ready room, preparing for the first air strike against Manila. November 5, 1944.   Wayne Miller

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Operation Sho 1 and the Battles for Leyte ( “the Second Battle of the Philippines Sea” )


This complex series of events, combining MacArthur’s infantry and “his Navy” (7th Fleet) and the ships of Halsey’s Task Force 38, began on October 17, 1944.  TF 38 supported the landings, and became involved in a series of naval battles from Oct. 23 through Oct. 26.

Excerpts from “The End of the Japanese Imperial Navy” by Masanori Ito (Ito devoted 72 pages analyzing Sho (Victory) 1 (Philippines Region)  –  the “decisive navy battle to destroy the American Fleet”):    The order to activate Operation Sho 1 was given on the night of 17 October,  following verification of the enemy’s landing an Suluan. With proper reconnaissance Japan might have detected the assembling of enemy forces at Hollandia (MacArthur’s invasion forces) and activated Sho 1 as early as 10 October, or at least by 14 October, when the giant U.S. Naval force sortied . . .

It is a fascinating look at the series of battles from the Japanese perspective.  From the last few pages:  . . .  The Japanese defeat at the battle of Leyte Gulf was indeed miserable.  Losses came to 3 battleships, 4 aircraft carriers, 9 cruisers, 13 destroyers, and 5 submarines, for a total of 34 ships; while the enemy only lost four.  The score was one-sided to an extent rarely seen in warfare.  It was a complete revenge for Pearl Harbor.

A fundamental cause of this debacle must be attributed to the operation objective, which was really an invitation to disaster.  The Sho 1 Operation orders were the death warrant of the Combined Fleet.  It was beyond common sense to think that a surface force could sortie for enemy territory 1,000 miles distant, without air cover, and hope to have a chance of attacking transports which were protected by vastly superior enemy forces.

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October 13, 1944


Over the years I have posted many times about the “Battle Off Formosa”, which resulted in Boston’s sister ship, Canberra, being hit by an aerial torpedo on Friday the 13th, 1944  –  about 80 miles off the coast of Formosa (Taiwan).  Her station in the task group was replaced by the light cruiser Houston in the afternoon of the 14th.  The task group was attacked again by a large group of Japanese fighters and bombers, and the unfortunate Houston was hit by a torpedo.  Boston was ordered to take her in tow, and the “Ordeal of the Crippled Cruisers” began in earnest.  The Wichita and the Boston, towing Canberra and Houston, set a course to Ulithi, 1200 miles away, travelling at less than 4 knots.

The Houston, just after Boston surrendered the tow to a fleet tug on October 16, was hit again as another swarm of enemy bombers attacked the ships.

USS Houston, CL-81, showing damage inflicted during the Formosa Air Battle, 16 October, 1944.

Damage to the ship’s aircraft hangar from a torpedo hit in her starboard quarter received off Formosa on 16 October 1944. View looks through the blown-open hangar hatch in the direction of the torpedo’s impact point, showing men working in the damaged area. Photographed circa 27 October 1944, after Houston had been towed to Ulithi Atoll. Note broken aircraft crane at right, sea free-flooding into the hangar, and greatly distorted structure.   Wikimedia Commons

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HALSEY on 9/2/45


(found online {University of Michigan} ADMIRAL HALSEY’S STORY published in 1947 by the Curtis Publishing Company).

Halsey describes the events of September 2, 1945, aboard the battleship Missouri for the Signing of the  Documents of Surrender.  (excerpts)

. . . A table with the two sets of surrender documents stood on the starboard veranda deck. almost in the shadow of No. 2 turret, MacArthur and Nimitz took their places behind it, and I joined the line of Navy officers.  The ceremony opened with a short address by MacArthur, beautifully phrased and forcefully read.  His voice was clear and firm, but his hands shook with emotion.  When he had finished, he pointed to a chair at the opposite side of the table and almost spat out, “The representatives of the Imperial Japanese Staff will now come forward and sign!”   (My flag log records it thus: “0903.  Jap envoys were asked to sign.  They did.”)

The Foreign Minister, Mamoru Shigemitsu, who was to sign for the Emperor, limped toward the table, leaning on a cane. He had lost his leg to a grenade thrown by a Korean in Shanghai; Nomura, later Ambassador to Washington, lost an eye at the same time . . . He took off his gloves and silk hat, sat down, dropped his cane, picked it up, fiddled with his hat and gloves, and shuffled the papers.  He pretended to be looking for a pen  –  an underling finally brought him one  –  but I felt certain that he was stalling for time, though God knows what he was trying to accomplish.  His performance made me so mad that when we returned to my cabin after the ceremony, I told MacArthur, “General, you nearly had a contretemps the morning.”
     “How’s that?” he asked.
     “When Shigemitsu was stalling out there, I wanted to slap him and tell him, ‘Sign, damn you! Sign!'”
     MacArthur said, “Why didn’t you?”

The second Jap, Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, who was to sign for the Imperial General Staff, he did his job briskly; he didn’t even sit down for it.
     MacArthur was next, as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, then came their various representatives, led by Chester [Nimitz].  His war plans officer, Rear Adm. Forrest P. Sherman and I were invited to stand behind his chair while he signed.  Newsreels show MacArthur putting his arm around my shoulder at this moment and whispering to me, and many of my friends have asked what he was saying. Again we fell short of the solemn occasion.  MacArthur said, “Start ’em now.”
     I said, “Aye, aye, sir!”
     He was referring to a mass flight of 450 planes from TF 38, which we had ordered to orbit at a distance until we gave the word.  We passed it to them now, and they roared over the Missouri mast-high.

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There Was a Time . . .


Aviator George H. Bush, flying in a squadron of Torpedo Bombers (Avengers) from the light carrier San Jacinto, flew into a blanket of anti-aircraft fire as they attacked a radar installation on ChiChi Jima on September 2, 1944.  After bombing his target, he flamed down, crashing into the sea.  He was the only survivor.  He was rescued by a submarine, and one month later he was returned to his ship.

During Typhoon Cobra (December 18-20, 1944), young Lieutenant Gerald Ford (who replaced Nixon upon his impending impeachment) led a brigade of fire-control sailors into the hangar deck of the light carrier Monterey where partially gassed planes, slammed about by the treacherous seas, caught fire.  President Ford’s actions helped saved the ship from complete disaster.

Young Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s PT Boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in the Solomons during the night of Aug. 1, 1943.  The torpedo boat sank.  Two crewmembers died, but 11 survived.  Kennedy’s heroics, swimming for miles while belt-towing an injured crewman and their subsequent six day cat and mouse escape from Japanese patrols, is the stuff of legends.

His predecessor, President Dwight Eisenhower, well . . . we all know his story.

None of the Presidents who served after H W Bush served in the active-duty or combat military.  Arizona Senator and presidential candidate John McCain, whose grandfather, Admiral John S. McCain Sr. was Task Force Commander during WWII, and whose father, Admiral John S. McCain Jr. served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, passed away yesterday.  He, like his predecessors, was a naval aviator.  In October 1967 his plane was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi.  The seriously injured pilot was captured and remained a prisoner until 1973.  He suffered from broken limbs, barbaric torture, illnesses, deprivations of all sorts, and attempts by the North Vietnamese to betray his country.  He never did.

There was a time when the passing of a man of great tenacity and courage in battle, a hero by (just about) everyone’s definition, a man who devoted his life to serving his country, would have brought unequivocal praise, honor and respect by the President.


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