Chronicles of the Pacific
December 8th 1941.
The airplanes wheeled, unmolested over the Manila sky. The meatballs on their wings clearly visible as they leisurely lined up their targets and bore in to drop their torpedoes, or bombs, on the unprotected, unsuspecting, moored ships. Fires raged out of control around the naval yard, the firefighting crews forced to cower, among civilians and sailors, in the inadequate so called shelters. Indeed, every drainage ditch and hole in the base was filled with as many scared bodies as would fit. Those who manned the AA guns, the only men able to vent their rage with anything more effective than clenched fists, fired their guns with abandon, but achieved just as much.
When the first wave of attackers left the Luzon sky streaked by heavy dark smoke, streaming from the harbor installations and burning ships, feelings of shock and anger filled the hearts and minds of American and Filipino alike joined, in the case of one young ensign, with an unexpected feeling of relief.
Ensign Kemp Tolley exhaled. Among the horror and destruction surrounding the harbor, his first feeling was relief. Relief that he would not have to carry out his orders; orders that called him to take his first command, the USS Lanikai, a schooner rigged sailing yacht, hastily fitted out with a gun dating from the Spanish-American war, into Japanese held water, ostensibly to search for a, presumed lost, Catalina PBY, but actually under secret orders from the President, in an almost suicidal mission to provoke the Imperial Japanese Navy into attacking US naval ships and thus bring the US into the war. The crew of the three ships selected, if they survived, would then sit out the war as prisoners of war in a Japanese POW camp. Had he known, then, of the way POWs were to be treated by the sons of the rising sun, he would have resigned his brand new commission on the spot.
Fortunately for him, this destruction spared him that fate.
He thought of his ship and ran over to the dock where the little yacht rode at its moorings, untouched by all the destruction that surrounded her. The submarine fleet had been hit particularly hard: Salmon and Swordfish sunk. Sailfish, known in the service as Squailfish, also sunk by 2 enemy bombs -Good riddance, that was an unlucky ship- Kemp thought. Among the pig boats, S-38 and 41 would also no longer torture the unfortunates that had to put out to sea on those obsolete, leaking crates. Seawolf, Snapper, Perch, Sculpin, Seadragon, Tarpon, Sealion, and S-37 had also been hit. The floating dry dock YFD-1 Dewey was on fire too.
-Better get some orders, Kemp murmured to himself, and set off at a trot towards the HQ building.
The Babel at HQ dwarfed the chaos outside. No one had time for lowly ensign Kemp Tolley, commander of the USS Navy’s most useless and disposable ship. He alternatively paced or sat at the waiting room, waiting for orders. While no orders were forthcoming, there was a lot of information, some of it accurate, flowing through the room. The airfield at Manila had been attacked. 40 Catalina float planes had been destroyed. No, only one Catalina was destroyed, the rest were damaged. All the P-40s were destroyed. No they were not destroyed. Clark had been hit.
Despairing of ever receiving any orders, Kemp returned to his ship where he found that his crew had gathered. A dinghy took him aboard. The Filipino speaking crew looked at him for instructions.
“Load all the guns,” he ordered, “No, you idiot, not the 3 pounder.”
The error was forgivable as the Lanikai carried only one .50 cal machine gun, a .30 cal machine gun and a 47mm quick firing gun that fired three pound shells, the odd caliber due to the fact that the gun itself was war booty from the Spanish American war.
As a result, when the second wave of enemy carrier aircraft arrived, 27 torpedo bombers and 39 Zero fighters, Lanikai’s 2 machine guns fired with as much enthusiasm as ineffectiveness into the air. Snapper and Perch sunk at their moorings and a great explosion promised the same fate for Pike. Sargo and Pickerel also suffered hits.
The second raid over, and all the ammunition expended by the zealous efforts of his eager crew, Kemp made his way to the ammunition depot, accompanied by four men to help carry the replacement ammo back to the ship.
The quartermaster at the arsenal, once ensign Tolley had shouldered his way to him, looked at the requisition and sneered.
“You only used this much ammo? What were your men doing ensign? Sleeping? And what kind of ship is the USS Lanikai? Never heard of it.”
Ensign Tolley retorted, “That’s all the ammo we had; the Lanikai only carries two machine guns.”
The quartermaster gazed at Kemp and his four Filipino sailors with something bordering respect, or as much respect as an old, southern sailor could have for the Filipino.
“Didn’t hit anything, did you?”
“It wasn’t for lack of trying.” Kemp replied.
After obtaining the appropriate signature on his requisition, and sending his men back to the ship pushing as much ammunition as four handcarts could carry, Kemp returned to the HQ for further orders.
Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you.