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Uniform to BMC Rex Gillihan, USN, WW2 Japanese POW!

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Repost for Dave to keep the info together - From this topic http://www.usmilitariaforum.com/forums/index.php?/topic/228286-lt-david-nash-usn-wwii-pow-navy-cross-group/

 

LAST GUN BOAT FROM HONG KONG Sea Classics, Sep 2006 by Feuer, A B "Bud"

With war in the Pacific imminent, a flat-bottomed river gunboat made a perilous ocean escape from China to Manila Bay

On 31 October 1941, R/Adm. William Glassford, commander of the US Navy's Yangtze Patrol, informed his river-gunboat captains that their vessels would soon be ordered to the Philippines. "In case of war, our major effort will be to preserve our personnel and ships, as much as possible, for subsequent action - and to inflict the greatest possible damage on the enemy. You will engage Japanese forces of equal or inferior strength. You are not expected to engage an enemy of superior power. However, you will defend yourselves if so attacked."

The river patrol craft had a shallow draft and were not built for ocean travel. Their rudders and propellers were practically at the water's surface.

The USS Mindanao (PR-8) was one of eight gunboats built for service on the Yangtze River and Chinese coastal waters. The ship was built in Shanghai, China, by the Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works and placed in commission on 10 July 1928. The Mindanao was 211-ft long with a 31-ft beam and steamed at a respectable 16-kts.

As war in the Pacific became imminent, the Mindanao found herself in an increasingly precarious position. She was the flagship of the South China Patrol and the only American Naval vessel in the vicinity of Hong Kong.

In early September 1941, Cmdr. Alan R. McCracken was placed in command of the Mindanao and Capt. L. J. Hudson came aboard as the new flag officer.

During the months of October and November, the gunboat made two trips up the Pearl River to Canton. On the second voyage, she was followed by a Japanese minelayer. And, while moored off Shameen Island, Japanese planes zoomed low over the river craft. Commander McCracken stated: "Japanese officials were extremely frosty to us. They apologized for their inability to receive a courtesy call from Captain Hudson because, as they put it, 'Make busy with big fight."'

On 2 December, the Mindanao received orders to proceed from Hong Kong to Manila as soon as possible. The gunboat was without life rafts for an ocean trip. However, a Chinese boat yard, working throughout the night, completed four rafts for the ship.

The tug Ranger, of the Luzon Stevedore Company, was directed to accompany the Mindanao to Manila. McCracken described final preparations for the journey: "Heavy spare parts, which had been stowed ashore, were packed on board the Ranger, along with 800-rounds of 3-in shells. Other machinery was lashed to the fantail of the Mindanao to help keep her stern down and her propellers underwater. The gunboat was also loaded with a quarter-million rounds of .30-caliber ammunition.

"We had stored a six-months' supply of food staples in Hong Kong. Half of this amount was brought aboard the ship, while the remainder was left at the disposal of the American Consul Gen., Mr. Southard."

It was the early morning of 4 December, when the Mindanao finally steamed underway. The Ranger was not quite ready to sail, but it was thought that she could easily catch up with the heavily-laden gunboat.

Once outside the shelter of Hong Kong Harbor, the Mindanao encountered heavy seas and strong winds. Commander McCracken wrote: "Our course put us in the trough of the water, and the ship tossed so violently that it appeared the engines might loosen from their mountings. Therefore we turned to an easterly direction, on the assumption that the weather would abate sufficiently in a few days so that we would be able to resume a direct route to Luzon."

Although her pitch was considerable, the Mindanao rode the top of every wave without plunging her bow into the sea. The gunboat's radio operator tried in vain to raise the Ranger and inform the tug of the direction change.

The weather continued to worsen, necessitating many course alterations in order to keep the Mindanao from being swamped by the wind-whipped waves. McCracken remarked: "After three days of bouncing like a rubber duck, I realized that we were almost to Formosa. We changed our heading toward the Chinese mainland - hoping calmer water would enable us to turn about and come back along the shore."

By Sunday morning, 7 December, the Mindanao had tacked to the very entrance of Swatow, 180-mi up the China coast. That afternoon, the gunboat swung around and dashed for Luzon. McCracken continued: "The turn was accomplished with considerable wallowing and full speed on the outboard engine. After the previous several days' experience, we conjectured that the ship could stand the strain of heavy rolls [up to 49 degrees], although one deck house had already worked loose. In fact, the entire ship had been loosened by the beating, and she humped along rather like a camel.

"Our fuel supply had been heavily cut into, but I believed that we still had enough left to make the lee side of Luzon before the vessel became so light that she would behave like a sailboat."

At 0340-hrs on Monday, 8 December, McCracken was awakened with the news that hostilities had begun. The Mindanao was now 337-mi northwest of Cape Bolinau, Luzon. The ship was immediately darkened, the ship's crew assembled, and orders issued.

Each man grabbed handfuls of waste grease - buckets of oil and black paint - even shoe polish. Within 20-min the snow white ship was smeared from one end to the other with the obnoxious mixture. McCracken related: "The camouflage proved most effective. The ship looked as though she had been gutted by fire. Excess paint, black powder, and other inflammables were jettisoned. Awning spreaders were taken down and the stanchions sawed off at the top rail level. We carried 14 Browning .30-caliber machine guns on board which originally had been intended to replace our twelve Lewis guns. However, after we cut off the awning stanchions, we discovered that the studs of the Brownings slipped neatly into the openings. We installed seven Brownings along each side of the vessel.

"We had already developed a special clamp which enabled the Lewis guns to be mounted in pairs the gunner being able to fire one with each hand. This gave us a formidable light battery of 26 automatic weapons plus our 3-in artillery. In the meantime, ammunition was brought up to each gun and confidential papers destroyed."

By daylight, the Mindanao was squared away and stripped for action. No enemy vessels or aircraft were sighted, but, during the night, explosions and fires were visible far to the southeast.

On the morning of 8 December, a motorized 60-ft Japanese fishing vessel was sighted and rapidly overhauled. lieutenant (jg) David Nash and a boarding party inspected the craft. After a careful search they uncovered bundles of military uniforms hidden in one of the holds. The crew of ten Formosan fishermen was taken aboard the Mindanao - the first prisoners of war captured by the US Navy during the conflict.

The enemy boat was taken in tow, as the ship seemed to be suitable for use as a harbor patrol craft. However, the vessel soon became too cumbersome for the gunboat to handle and was reluctantly cut adrift.

It was the beginning of a busy day for Alan McCracken. He received an urgent radio message warning him to be on the lookout for a fleet of enemy warships that were reported near his location.

A single merchant ship was sighted, but a circling PBY aircraft flew over the Mindanao and spelled out by blinker light - "American."

By late afternoon, the gunboat was approaching Cape Bolinau, when suddenly a formation of Japanese planes sped in from the north and buzzed the blackened vessel. The camouflage worked to perfection and the enemy aircraft continued south.

The next morning, 10 December, the Mindanao anchored off the Cavité Navy Yard and the Formosans were transferred ashore. Two other river boats, the Luzon and Oahu, had already arrived.

Moments later the air raid siren sounded. The Mindanao had barely time to get up steam, hoist anchor; and head for open water before Japanese bombers roared overhead. Within a few minutes the Naval base was virtually destroyed.

The following day, Capt. Kenneth M. Hoeffel, of the Inshore Patrol, came on board the Mindanao to assume flag command of the river boats.

After dark, Cmdr. McCracken refueled near Sangley Point, and loaded several hundred 3-in shells from an ammunition depot that had not been destroyed during the air attack.

For the next couple of weeks, the Mindanao was stationed at various points near the island fortress of Corregidor.

On 30 December, Naval Headquarters moved to the stronghold. Captain Hoeffel maintained an office there, but continued to use the Mindanao as his flagship.

For the next two months, the three China River Patrol gunboats took nightly turns scouting the waters east of the Bataan Peninsula. During the day, the ship crews were sent ashore on Corregidor and Caballo Islands to prepare beach defense areas and dig foxholes.

There were frequent opportunities to take pot shots at Japanese planes - particularly the daily photoreconnaissance aircraft which continued to fly at low altitude. One morning, the combined efforts of the patrol boats brought him down.

The dwindling fuel supply became a major problem. However, it was solved by draining oil from damaged and abandoned merchant ships still in the harbor.

In order to conserve fuel, the gunboats ceased their nighttime patrols along the Bataan coast. Instead they alternated anchoring at a point about three-miles east of Corregidor. The ships kept steam up, so that, in case enemy vessels were sighted, there would be no delay in getting underway.

Air raids on Corregidor became a daily occurence. The Japanese bombed the fortress and ships at anchor. Near misses often straddled the gunboats, dumping geysers of water on their decks and drenching the crews. But, despite the danger of a direct hit, the tenacious shipboard gunners kept up a steady torrent of machine gun fire at the enemy planes - even though their shells were 4000ft short of the flying targets.

On the afternoon of 25 March, nine Japanese landing craft and tugboats were spotted heading for Corregidor from the direction of Cavite. The Mindanao was sent out to investigate. However, upon sighting the gunboat, the enemy vessels turned around and dashed for safety. McCracken wrote in his report: "Just when we came within firing range we had to slow down. The humping of the Mindanao's loose frame made it impossible for my men to do any accurate shooting.

"A message was received from Capt. Hoeffel ordering us to return. This directive brought a chorus of protests from the crew and I decided to continue the chase. It became obvious that we were being led close to Japanese shore batteries. Three dive bombers made passes at us, but were discouraged by the impressive series of tracers that 26 machine guns can put up - although the bullets themselves could have done little or no damage.

"Moments later, enemy coastal artillery picked us up. It had now been ten minutes since our 'return to base' orders. The Japanese amphibious force had been driven almost back to Manila, and I considered that it was time to pull out. We zigzagged back to Corregidor - enemy shells splashing around us all the way home."

During the daylight hours of 30 March, Army anti-aircraft gunners on Corregidor shot down two large Japanese bombers. One of the planes tumbled into the sea a few hundred yards in front of the Mindanao. Alan McCracken recalled: "One curious feature of this aircraft's fall from the sky was that its starboard wing had been shot off and burned when the plane was hit. The motor, then running by itself in the air, plummeted separately - the propeller acting like an autogyro. The engine did not hit the water until 30-sec after the aircraft itself- and it nearly landed on the deck of the Oahu."

The jubilant gunboat crews hastened to send congratulatory presents to the Army gunners who had given such a spectacular performance.

The galley cooks of the Mindanao had been saving a little tinned mincemeat for a special occasion but it proved enough to make twelve pies. The next day, the freshly cooked pastries were sent to the Corregidor anti-aircraft battery with a request that, if possible, the pie containers be returned. When the metal carrier was sent back to the gunboat, it was graciously addressed to the "United States Battleship MINDANAO!"

On the evening of 5 April, the Mindanao and Oahu received orders to patrol a north-south line about 18,000-yds east of the Bataan coast.

At 0200 hours on the following morning, the two gunboats were steaming silently in column when they suddenly spotted eleven enemy landing craft silhouetted against the bright moonlight. The Japanese were unaware of the American vessels.

In order not to engage the amphibious boats close to their supporting shore artillery, the Mindanao and Oahu kept the enemy craft in sight and paralleled their course for about an hour.

At 0300, the American ships closed to attack. However, moments later, clouds quickly obscured the moon. The gunboats plunged into darkness. McCracken stated: "We fired starshells, but, although the bursts did not provide the gunners with effective lighting, they afforded excellent illumination for the Oahu - about a mile behind us."

The flash from the guns of the Mindanao revealed her position to the enemy, and machine guns aboard the landing craft opened with a furious barrage. The Mindanao was immediately hit in the pyrotechnic locker. McCracken wrote: "The ship rapidly filled with fumes. I rushed to the flying bridge, but the smoke was so thick that I was unable to see. We had made one run past the Japanese boats, and I decided to withdraw to extinguish the fire."

Meanwhile, the Oahu was busy battling the amphibious force. At least two of the enemy craft were destroyed.

Commander McCracken continued: "By the time our fire was out, the Japanese vessels had turned around and were heading back north. We fired starshells at the retreating ships to illuminate them for our shore batteries on the peninsula. However, no shots were forthcoming.

"I decided to try and force the enemy boats toward the Bataan coast. The Japanese could not reach their landing area before daylight, and that would put them within sight and range of our artillery."

The Mindanao and Oahu dashed southeast in an effort to cut off the enemy retreat. Once again the gunboats closed in for an attack. This time, the Japanese appeared to be shooting in all directions - sometimes at each other. Four more amphibious craft were soon pounded to the bottom of Manila Bay.

Alan McCracken, in his report of the action, stated: "We had orders to be back at the anchorage by dawn, but were an hour behind schedule. As morning arrived, we could see shell bursts from the Bataan shore splashing among the remaining landing boats.

"During our return to Corregidor, dive bombers attacked the Oahu but were driven off."

On the afternoon of 9 April, the scattered American forces, retreating down Bataan, reached the southern end of the peninsula at Mariveles Bay.

The exhausted, bedraggled soldiers began swimming or grabbing anything that would float in their efforts to reach Corregidor Island.

Three Army officers paddled out to the Mindanao in a native canoe. They asked McCracken if he could send a boat to rescue their men on the shore. They were the remnants of the 31st Infantry, and had been without food for a couple of days. The soldiers were too tired and weak to swim to the ships.

A volunteer whaleboat crew of five sailors quickly assembled and headed for shore. As they approached the beach, a few of the Mindanao's crew jumped overboard to help the weary men who were floundering in the water. Bullets from Japanese snipers peppered the bay while a full load of 30 soldiers managed to be hauled aboard the rescue craft. The whaleboat returned to the Mindanao without any fatalities.

McCracken recalled: "About an hour later, Japanese artillery reached the coast and commenced bombarding the Corregidor ship anchorages. We immediately got underway and steamed out into Manila Bay. Within minutes, a sea-going tug and an inter-island boat were set ablaze by the barrage.

"We were directed not to fire on Japanese gun emplacements, as the area was swarming with American prisoners. Our only option was to keep moving and play tag with enemy artillery on the Bataan and Cavite shores. Any spare time we had was occupied by driving off dive bombers."

Even though the Mindanao was more than busy dodging shells and bombs, she still had time to rescue another 30 soldiers from a sinking barge.

At dusk, the gunboats anchored in the south harbor at Corregidor. During the night, the Mindanao sent a whale-boat back to Mariveles Bay to save 60 refugees. The ragged Filipinos were given sailor dress whites and their first meal in several days.

With the loss of the Bataan Peninsula, the defense of the fortified islands now became the prime concern of the American High Command. It was apparent that the Japanese were determined to sink anything that floated. Due to this danger, the gunboat crews were ordered to report to Fort Hughes, on Caballo Island, for further assipnment.

At 0200, on 10 April, the directive was carried out. Food, machine guns, rifles, and ammunition were brought ashore. And the breech blocks of the 3-in guns were removed. The men of the Mindanao were assigned to Battery Craighill - four ancient 12-in mortars - vintage 1912. After firing only 26 practice rounds, the Army instructors qualified the sailors as veteran artillery-men - and they were on their own.

The Luzon contingent took over Battery Gillespie - two 14-in Naval guns that lifted above a parapet to fire, then sank out of sight for reloading.

The sailors from the Oahu manned the Fort Hughes anti-aircraft guns at the lower end of Caballo Island.

The galley of the Mindanao was kept operational to feed the Army and Navy personnel, while three officers from the gunboat took turns atop the fort's observation post as spotters for the Naval artillery.

The Mindanao was struck by an enemy shell about noon on 10 April, and began to settle slowly by the stern. McCracken stated: "That night I joined Cmdr. W. W. Hastings in a careful inspection of the ship to see if the damage could be repaired. The engine room and one boiler room were flooded, and saving the vessel appeared to be a hopeless task.

"Each day, additional shells and bombs continued to strike the Mindanao, and she settled lower and lower into the water. Although, as the crew proudly put it, 'She seemed determined not to give up.'"

For the next three weeks, the Navy gunners fought off Japanese air attacks during the day, while at night they stripped the gunboats of anything that could be used at the fort.

The sailors of the Mindanao brought ashore a large water tank which had been secured to the vessel's main deck. The island's only reservoir had been blasted by enemy dive bombers. The ships ran their evaporators after dark to provide fresh water - storing most of it in empty shell cases.

By the end of April, Alan McCracken's men had fired more than 500 shells from their mortars at designated targets on the Bataan and Cavite shores. Although the Japanese consistently dropped bombs in and around the mortar pits, the gunners suffered only one casualty.

The captain of the Mindanao described the last moments of his valiant vessel: "On the evening of 1 May, I was directed to turn over command of the Mindanao to David Nash and report to Corregidor. I was to relieve certain officers who were scheduled to depart on the next submarine.

"When the nightly bombardment slackened, about 0500, I took a boat to the island. A few hours later, I received word that the Mindanao had been destroyed by a demolition party in anticipation of the fall of Corregidor."

The Oahu was sunk on 4 May by enemy gunfire, and the Luzon was scuttled the next day. (The Luzon was eventually salvaged by the Japanese and renamed the Karatsu.)

Despite the fact that their ship was gone, the crew of the Mindanao still had plenty of fight left in them. Battery Craighill was able to fire in any direction, and even laid down a mortar barrage on Corregidor itself as the Japanese waded ashore on the island.

In his final report, Cmdr. McCracken summed up his feelings for the little river-gunboat: "A frail and awkward craft - obviously inadequate for any real value in modern war, she was nevertheless loved by her crew. She had done her best. Her bell lies buried somewhere on Fort Hughes."

Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Sep 2006

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

Bibliography for: "LAST GUN BOAT FROM HONG KONG"

Feuer, A B "Bud" "LAST GUN BOAT FROM HONG KONG". Sea Classics. FindArticles.com. 18 May, 2010. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa4442/is_200609/ai_n17193846/

 

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Back to the top to commemorate the bravery of BMC Gillihan and the men of the USS Mindanao.


Only a weak society needs government protection or intervention before it pursues its resolve to preserve the truth. Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication. -Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

Peace is not the absence of war, but the defense of hard-won freedom. -Anton LaGuardia


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