Those old questions re HOLBROOK / REPUBLIC

Those old questions re HOLBROOK / REPUBLIC

Melmoth the Wanderer
Melmoth the Wanderer

January 31st, 2010, 8:55 pm #1

Hello,

On another forum I noticed that Nelson asked about the re-painting of the American transport HOLBROOK or REPUBLIC (one of the vessels in the so-called "PENSACOLA Convoy"--I don't recall which one) in Dec 1941, so I went back through what few items I have from men in that operation...Three officers with the 2/131 ("Lost Battalion") and one enlisted man. These are three books, by R. Slone, Kyle Thompson, & Clyde Fillmore, and a personal diary kept by Maj. Winthrop Rogers--All mention the brief stop-over at Suva; all recall that they weren't allowed to leave the ship--with the exception of a small number of senior officers, not including any of them--and that time was spent fueling & re-provisioning, IIRC. Not one mentions anything about the ship being painted then...or at any other time during their voyage. It seems to me that painting ship was usually an all-hands evolution & I find it hard to believe they didn't notice this. So, it leads me to suspect--I make no hard argument, however--that the ship was painted in Brisbane.
I may be utterly wrong or perhaps Nelson has unearthed better material, but in the interest of pursuing this subject I thought I'd note my attempts anyway.

FWIW
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Nelson
Nelson

February 1st, 2010, 10:15 am #2

Don,

Keep in mind a number of things:

1. You are concentrating on the postwar survivors' accounts (I have the relevant pages of all of them you cite except Slone) from 2nd Bn, 131st Field Artillery, the only one of the four battalions that went on to Java, sailing on (a) USS REPUBLIC to Brisbane, and (b) MS BLOEMFONTEIN to Surabaya. The important thing to remember is that the formerly unarmed and white-painted USAT REPUBLIC was by the time of the PENSACOLA convoy now the commissioned, armed, and almost certainly repainted USS REPUBLIC. If the indirect proof I offer in subsequent numbers is convincing, REPUBLIC had already been painted in naval camouflage measure and thus the lads in 2/131st didn't have to wield any paint brushes in making their vessel less conspicuous. On the other hand....

2. The members of the three other battalions, 1st Bn and 2nd Bn, 147th Field Artillery and 1st Bn, 148th Field Artillery, were aboard USAT WILLARD A. HOLBROOK, which was still unarmed (save a few MGs) and still painted her peacetime white or off-white, in which livery she had long been in army transpacific service. Thus we must rely on the accounts of guys in those three battalions, NOT the accounts of the Texans aboard REPUBLIC.

3. From ALL accounts, we must conclude that their authors wrote what they remembered most vividly: the wholesale seasickness upon encountering the huge swells outside of S.F. Bay (but from some not even a whisper of that sickness); the "old French 75s" (a canard: they were the newest model, with split trails and significantly greater elevation and traverse--but some accounts do tell of leaving their old guns behind and their introduction to this new and better model); painting HOLBROOK "battleship gray" (the 148th F.A. history chronicles it, the 147th F.A. history does not), etc. To all of these points and omissions or contradictions, go figure.

4. On page 3 of (then Lieut.) Bill Heath's HISTORY OF THE 148th FIELD ARTILLERY (he was at sea with 1st Battalion) one reads, "December 7, the commander of troops announced over the PA system that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor!....But somebody must have anticipated trouble, for out came the paint brushes and paint. The red, white and blue of the once proud PRESIDENT TAFT (now the HOLBROOK) gave way to battleship gray as hundreds of "volunteers" crawled over the ship painting her from stem to stern and from mast to waterline."

Okay, I suspect some of the above is in error from rusty memory or melodramatization. I don't think that what was handed out was battleship gray, which was that almost white color once adorning the ships of the Pacific Fleet, familiar from those photos of treaty tinclads at Mare Island in the late 1930s or 1940. That color wouldn't have been much better than white, so why bother? I don't think that the captain had guys overside on bosuns chairs on the high sea (mebbe at Suva, mebbe not), IF the hull of HOLBROOK needed painting (many of the prewar USATs had black or very dark hulls; some USATs were completely "white", I THINK those with substantial troop accomodations). As far as the painters being volunteers, sure thing, Bill. Whatever, it is clear that both USAT WILLARD A. HOLBROOK and USAT MEIGS sailed from San Francisco and Honolulu in peaceful mode: no deck guns and in peacetime livery.

Take a squint at these two photos of vessels long in transpacific service, in both cases during most of the 1930s: USS HENDERSON (AP 1) and USS (ex-USAT) REPUBLIC (AP 33). Early photos of both vessels are readily found in the usual places and both were once painted white or near-white (for the naval transport, the so-called battleship gray). Just before the outbreak of war, the navy began repainting its transports in two-tone Measure 2 (or the later variant, Measure 12): a dark colored hull (either dark gray or sea blue) up to the lowest point of the main deck, then light gray on the upperworks and masts, such that the color demarcations were horizontal across the length of the ship in the so-called horizon blend. These colors were changed somewhat in the later Measure 22, but with the same guidelines in place.

Here is HENDERSON (AP 1) transiting the Panama Canal sometime in 1941, not long before war erupted.




Below is REPUBLIC (AP 33) in August 1942, about 3/4's of a year after she took part in the PENSACOLA convoy. Again note the horizon blend of either Measure 12 or Measure 22 (I don't have date specifics when these measures changed). My argument is that once the navy got their hands on this former USAT, they armed her (we know that for certain) and repainted her in two-tone naval measure.



USS REPUBLIC (AP 33); ex-USAT REPUBLIC; ex-SS PRESIDENT GRANT; in transpacific army service from ca. 1932 to 1941; commissioned USS REPUBLIC 22 July 1941; took part in the famous PENSACOLA convoy in November-December 1941; shown at P.H. 15 August 1942.

Several USATs are shown only a little later in two-tone wartime measure for all appearances identical to that of the naval transports, very likely because the army sensibly acquiesced to the navy's recommendations.

Nelson
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Nelson
Nelson

February 1st, 2010, 6:53 pm #3

Melmoth,

I found several more photos of the two vessels displayed in my previous posting, then shown in their 1930s liveries. The first is USS HENDERSON (AP 1) at Coco Solo, CZ, in January 1933.



Note that she is painted a very light gray, in contradistinction to the white canvas railings and other white objects aboard her. This is most likely the much touted battleship gray that adorned virtually the entire Pacific Fleet until 1939 or 1940. Note also the two guns (3-inch? 6-pounders?) straddling the anchor windlass on the fo'c's'le, the point being that naval transports were commissioned fleet units and were armed for transpacific service.

The other photo is of USAT REPUBLIC, to become USS REPUBLIC (AP 33) in July 1941, shown in army transpacific service during the 1930s (no closer date is apparently possible, sorry).



Obviously she is painted entirely white or near-white, I THINK because she is a troop carrier, not a cargo vessel (which had dark-color-painted hulls--those distinctions NEED corroboration). We know that by the summer of 1942, USS REPUBLIC bore the two-tone "horizon blend" naval camo, I suspect Measure 12, but that is entirely a guess. On the basis of HENDERSON showing Measure 2 or 12 in prewar 1941, I strongly suggest REPUBLIC did as well at year's end, as she and other transports and cargo carriers set out for PLUM, under the wing of USS PENSACOLA.

Could not find any photos of USAT WILLARD A. HOLBROOK, but USAT MEIGS (not carrying troops in the PENSACOLA convoy) had a darkly painted hull (appears black) and white or near-white upperworks. See photos after page 170, Charles Dana Gibson & E. Kay Gibson, OVER SEAS (Camden, ME: Ensign Press, 2002).

One final bit of proof that the artillery units were distributed as I chronicled in my last. This is from the first page of the DIARY, Headquarters, United States Army Forces in Australia (or USAFIA), entry dated December 12, 1941. "In General Order No. 1 dated 12 December, Brigadier General Julian F. Barnes designates and assumes command of 'Task Force, South Pacific'. Troops in TFSP consisted of the following:

USAT HOLBROOK

147the Field Artillery, Col. Jensen, Commanding
2nd Battalion, 148th Field Artillery, Lt. Col. Patterson, Commanding [error: should be 1st Battalion]
Seventy casual officers, Col. John A. Robenson, Cav., Commanding

USNT REPUBLIC [error: 'USNT' was the old WWI designation of naval transports; she was actually USS REPUBLIC (AP 33)]

26th Field Artrillery Brigade, HQ & HQ Battery, Lt. Col. Albert C. Searle, Commanding [n.b., Searle did not command a brigade, merely its headquarters]
2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, Lt. Col. Blucher H. Tharp, Commanding
7th Bombardment Group, Capt. Roscoe Nichols, in charge"
[And many more USAAF, Signals, Chemical, Ordnance, and QM (transportation) units aboard REPUBLIC]

My point in all this being that the perspective of 2nd Bn, 131st Field Artillery, aboard a naval transport, likely already camo painted, differed from the artillerymen on USAT HOLBROOK, probably still that dazzling white in a now unfriendly ocean.

Nelson
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Melmoth the Wanderer
Melmoth the Wanderer

February 1st, 2010, 7:42 pm #4

Nelson,

Hey, sounds good to me! I only wanted to point out the rather remote probability they painted the ship(s) at Suva. From all accounts they just didn't have the time--(Would they have had the paint, for that matter?)

Interesting that Maj. Rogers' diary indeed mentions the 26th & Col. Searle being along with them, etc.

Since transports and their paint schemes
are FAR from my area of expertise, I'll leave with the following observation that has some tangential relevance. I own a couple of pics of USS HOUSTON (CA-30) AFTER her King Board improvements, in mid-repainting...the older very light gray areas standing out against the new, upgraded and darker areas...When these were taken is a mystery to me. They could have been on the West Coast, or Hawaii, or in the Philippines, I guess. But, whether or not CA-30 was ever actually painted in Measure 1, as I had suspected for years, is still an elusive matter in terms of hard documentation or photos. She was not, AFAIK, when she left Mare Island in OCT/NOV 1940, nor when she arrived in Manila. I have two pics of her in the Philippines, however, in 1941 that look as if she had indeed been painted in that camo scheme.

FWIW.

Thanks for the good work & useful data,

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Nelson
Nelson

February 2nd, 2010, 4:05 am #5

J.M.

< I only wanted to point out the rather remote probability they painted the ship(s) at Suva. From all accounts they just didn't have the time--(Would they have had the paint, for that matter?) >

I've been thinking about all that. Quite uncharacteristically, the army could have had the foresight to provide gallons of dark gray paint "against that day". Or the navy could have provided it, but there is no evidence of the latter being transferred. Rather, the paint and brushes seem to have been broken out aboard HOLBROOK soon after the attack news arrived on 7 December 1941.

As far as the color, one assumes lots of battleship gray would have been available, either ashore or aboard ship, and from what I undersatand, that color was a deal less reflective than pure white. As the man said, it was better than nothing a-tall....and it kept the troops from biting their nails and their eyes off the horizon. If the guys started painting at sea, and they were kept aboard while at Suva, I don't see why painting couldn't have continued. And the skipper could have got some crew members overside while anchored in quiet water to paint the hull.

< Interesting that Maj. Rogers' diary indeed mentions the 26th & Col. Searle being along with them, etc. >

The brigade set-up is more complicated than at first glance. The brigade commander was BGen Julian Barnes, Artillery, with Lt. Col. Searle his second-in-command. When Barnes reached the P.I., he was to build an entire field artillery brigade, the 26th, with its constituent units armed with different sized guns. Some, not all, of the 75mm gun battalions on the way to PLUM were to be incorporated into the new 26th F.A. Brigade, along with some F.A. units long on Luzon. The Pearl Harbor raid changed all of that: Barnes thereupon took command of the new USAFIA organization until Brett could reach Australia, with Searle assuming command of the brigade headquarters. The provisional F.A. brigade created as part of Task Force South Pacific was only temporary and in force while the four battalions were aboard the PENSACOLA convoy. This structure existed for chain of command, unit discipline, supply, etc., and ended not long after the convoy reached Australia. Remember that even when both 2nd Bn, 131st Field Artillery, and HQ/HQ Battery of the 26th F.A. Brigade were sent on to Java, the original and short-lived intention was to get them to Luzon. Clearly the 26th F.A. Brigade Headquarters no longer concerned itself with the three battalions left in northern Australia. What function it had vis-a-vis 2nd Bn, 131st Field Artillery, is not clear, particularly after two of the battalion's firing batteries were assigned to Blackforce.

Not too much is known about Searle after his beau geste return from Tjilatjap to the battalion, to become the senior American P.W. on the island. He served for a short time as Brigadier Arthur Blackburn's 2-i-c of Allied prisoners at Bicycle Camp, and well after everyone else had been taken away, he was sent to Japan. He retired in 1950, and I think he died during the 1960s. I can understand his discomfort at leaving the former national guardsmen in the lurch while the regulars departed, but it was war, the 131st artillerymen were soldiers, and he would have been better off going back to Australia to use his experience to assist the U.S. Army's field artillery to fight another day.

Nelson
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Melmoth the Wanderer
Melmoth the Wanderer

February 2nd, 2010, 5:32 am #6

Nelson,

Per Rogers' Diary:

Friday, December 12 ('41)
'Received orders we are now "SOUTH PACIFIC TASK FORCE" with Gen. Barnes CO. he is OK. Looks like we can't get to P.I.
We are supposed to be in Samoa, Fiji Islands @ 130P[M]. Rumored we will stay there. Our course is really full of zigs & zags. Crooked as a dogs leg.'

SAT (Dec 13)
Sailed into SUVA FIJI Islands @5P[M]for water and fuel. Small town loks like summer resort. beautiful hills and harbor. Our convoy really fills it up. No shore leave, every one disappointed, no mail or cablegrams...Ship darkened, hot inside. Taking on water, fuel & gw [?] no one allowed ashore. Couldn't see SUVA from docks.

SUN (Dec 14)
Sailed from SUVA @ 6P[M] Long watch, 10 hrs, rained...Put 4 -75's & 4-37's on deck. This old tub is really bristling with guns...We are now heading for Australia. Should be there before Xmas. Sure did miss our P.I. trip...'

Thought this might be of some interest. I have yet to completely transcribe Rogers' diary, but have all of the Nov.1941-March 1942 period done.
Tedious work, however.
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Nelson
Nelson

February 2nd, 2010, 9:32 pm #7

Melmoth,

Is there anything in Rogers's diary you can (or care to) share with me about the Leuwiliang bridge crossing fight? I'm trying to compile everything I can on the combat at that river crossing, in which D Battery, 2nd Bn, 131st F.A., apparently carried out accurate firing on the Japanese. I made an attempt to find the original or a copy of the postwar report done by Col. Albert Searle, after he had returned from his lengthy period as a P.W., but no one can now find it. Archives II, College Park; Center of Military History, Fort McNair; Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks; Field Artillery School Library, Fort Sill; Texas Military Forces Museum, Camp Mabry: none have the original or a copy or were even hitherto aware of it. Your fellow Texan, Don Kehn...I understand you know him quite well...contacted Reuben Slone, still alive at the time, on my behalf, but he did not remember the report. [FYI, Slone's book is the ONLY secondary work that cites the Searle report, and otherwise it would be unknown.] My fear, I think a logical one, is that Searle's report was no longer very relevant upon submittance--describing a small artillery action in which obsolescent weapons (75mm field guns) saw use--and was by 1945 or 1946 not terribly instructive, even to the army of 1943. Searle himself left the army in 1950.

Thanx,

Nelson
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Nelson
Nelson

February 2nd, 2010, 10:45 pm #8

J.M.

< I only wanted to point out the rather remote probability they painted the ship(s) at Suva. From all accounts they just didn't have the time--(Would they have had the paint, for that matter?) >

I've been thinking about all that. Quite uncharacteristically, the army could have had the foresight to provide gallons of dark gray paint "against that day". Or the navy could have provided it, but there is no evidence of the latter being transferred. Rather, the paint and brushes seem to have been broken out aboard HOLBROOK soon after the attack news arrived on 7 December 1941.

As far as the color, one assumes lots of battleship gray would have been available, either ashore or aboard ship, and from what I undersatand, that color was a deal less reflective than pure white. As the man said, it was better than nothing a-tall....and it kept the troops from biting their nails and their eyes off the horizon. If the guys started painting at sea, and they were kept aboard while at Suva, I don't see why painting couldn't have continued. And the skipper could have got some crew members overside while anchored in quiet water to paint the hull.

< Interesting that Maj. Rogers' diary indeed mentions the 26th & Col. Searle being along with them, etc. >

The brigade set-up is more complicated than at first glance. The brigade commander was BGen Julian Barnes, Artillery, with Lt. Col. Searle his second-in-command. When Barnes reached the P.I., he was to build an entire field artillery brigade, the 26th, with its constituent units armed with different sized guns. Some, not all, of the 75mm gun battalions on the way to PLUM were to be incorporated into the new 26th F.A. Brigade, along with some F.A. units long on Luzon. The Pearl Harbor raid changed all of that: Barnes thereupon took command of the new USAFIA organization until Brett could reach Australia, with Searle assuming command of the brigade headquarters. The provisional F.A. brigade created as part of Task Force South Pacific was only temporary and in force while the four battalions were aboard the PENSACOLA convoy. This structure existed for chain of command, unit discipline, supply, etc., and ended not long after the convoy reached Australia. Remember that even when both 2nd Bn, 131st Field Artillery, and HQ/HQ Battery of the 26th F.A. Brigade were sent on to Java, the original and short-lived intention was to get them to Luzon. Clearly the 26th F.A. Brigade Headquarters no longer concerned itself with the three battalions left in northern Australia. What function it had vis-a-vis 2nd Bn, 131st Field Artillery, is not clear, particularly after two of the battalion's firing batteries were assigned to Blackforce.

Not too much is known about Searle after his beau geste return from Tjilatjap to the battalion, to become the senior American P.W. on the island. He served for a short time as Brigadier Arthur Blackburn's 2-i-c of Allied prisoners at Bicycle Camp, and well after everyone else had been taken away, he was sent to Japan. He retired in 1950, and I think he died during the 1960s. I can understand his discomfort at leaving the former national guardsmen in the lurch while the regulars departed, but it was war, the 131st artillerymen were soldiers, and he would have been better off going back to Australia to use his experience to assist the U.S. Army's field artillery to fight another day.

Nelson
Melmoth,

I've focused on USS REPUBLIC (AP 33), arguing that her takeover, arming, and commissioning by the U.S. Navy on 22 July 1941 strongly implies a paint job of some naval camo measure, and thus she would NOT have required a repainting while at sea, as Bill Heath claims in his history of the 148th Field Artillery, was necessary for USAT WILLARD A. HOLBROOK. Methinks that things are a bit more complicated than I originally laid out for HOLBROOK (ex-PRESIDENT TAFT). See

http://www.shipscribe.com/usnaux/AP/AP42.html

which declares,

"WILLARD A. HOLBROOK, although designated AP-44, was never taken over by the Navy. She began her Army service in June 1941 as USAT PRESIDENT TAFT. In September 1941 she was renamed and hastily converted to carry more troops. Her Navy manning was officially cancelled on 30 Mar 42."

Assuming everything in that thumbnail profile is correct or nearly so, then USAT HOLBROOK was not at the time of the PENSACOLA convoy a veteran army transport long plying the Pacific, but a recent draftee. One does assume that between her draft date in June 1941, conversion to a trooper in September, and departure for PLUM in November, that there had been time to repaint her in more suitable army transport livery. But in late 1941, what would that have been? We know she was NOT then armed, but that does not mean the typical white or near-white paint had been applied, what with trouble in the wind. Whatever the color was at that time, it appears from Heath's account that she was conspicuous and needed to be "toned down". With a paucity of wartime photos of HOLBROOK, what's a guy to conclude?

Nelson
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Melmoth the Wanderer
Melmoth the Wanderer

February 3rd, 2010, 4:17 am #9

Nelson,

1.) Re the Diary of Major Winthrop Rogers--
Yes, I found the part you asked about. Here it is:

"Wed March 4
Went nite position S.W. of LEUWILIANG. Our line on river. Lt Smith and myself sniped at, missed about a foot. Japs within 800 yds. Moved twice, mortar fire, 81mm ran us out. Went in @ 2:32P fired about 200, got 2 tanks, mortars, MG, Trucks loaded, personnel, really was a swell day of fire. The Japs now know we can shoot."

{I'll send you a bill...-: }

2.) Re the transport's new coat of paint, I haven't the foggiest, but will bet my collection of SAHB memorabilia that it wasn't a light grey hue...


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Nelson
Nelson

February 3rd, 2010, 7:16 pm #10

Melmoth,

< Re the Diary of Major Winthrop Rogers--Yes, I found the part you asked about. >

Thanks. If distant memory serves, Rogers was 2nd Battalion XO, yes? There was another major with the battalion, one H. G. Elkin. What was his function (assuming he was not XO and Rogers something else)? The problem is that Hollis Allen, in his appendix to THE LOST BATTALION , alphabetizes the surviving officers' surnames in each rank, and of course Elkin comes before Rogers, so from that listing I cannot ascertain seniority in the chain of command. But as I wrote, I believe Rogers was the XO, so Elkin may have been the adjutant, senior medical officer, whatever (yes, I know that Capt./Dr. S.H. Lumpkin, Medical Corps, died as a P.W.).

< Re the transport's new coat of paint, I haven't the foggiest, but will bet my collection of SAHB memorabilia that it wasn't a light grey hue... >

Well, the onliest thing we do know is she was not repainted pink....THAT would be USS SEA TIGER (commanded by Cary Grant, with Tony Curtis and some army nurses along for the ride--see OPERATION PETTICOAT....or better yet, DON'T see OPERATION PETTICOAT!). Of course, I have a couple of questions:

1. Why would you wager that USAT HOLBROOK was not repainted a light grey? My assumption is that she was repainted, at least in part, and the logical choice would have been a grey of some shade. Of course, in her transfer from a commercial vessel (PRESIDENT TAFT) to an army transport, HOLBROOK may have kept her original livery, and from contemporary photos, most of such vessels of any nation had at least white upperworks. I think the red, white and blue that Lt. Heath remembers is the color of her funnel (standard for USATs), and one would want to paint over those particular colors, pronto.

2. What in the world are SAHB memorabilia? At first I thought Indian Army, but those of course would be SAHIB memorabilia....

Nelson
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