The Sinking of USS Wasp
posted in History Up Close on September 15, 2017 in History Up Close on 9/15/2017
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The aircraft carrier Wasp (CV 7) pictured burning after being struck by torpedoes launched from the Japanese submarine I-19.

In January 1942, Chaplain M.M. Witherspoon on board the aircraft carrier Wasp (CV 7) wrote a letter to the parents of a sailor who had just reported aboard. “This is one of the finest airplane carriers in the world and you should be proud to know that your boy has a chance to serve on such a great ship. It is an opportunity for him to be of real value to himself and to his country—and I feel certain he will make the most of it.”

Nine months after the writing of these words, those serving on board the carrier as she operated in the waters off Guadalcanal were put to the test as two torpedoes from the Japanese submarine I-19 slammed into Wasp’s hull. It took less than an hour for Captain Forrest P. Sherman, realizing that there was no hope of saving her, to issue the order to abandon ship. Following are recollections of some of those on board that day.

“Missiles of all sorts, but of small size were flying about. Many were small balls of fire…It was impossible to see anything but a very dim lights coming down an open scuttle to the hangar deck from the S-1 living space…When I reached the hangar deck I was surprised to find everything forward of No. 2 elevator on fire and the smoke so thick and black that I though the roller curtains had been dropped.”

Lieutenant (junior grade) Joseph J. Bodell

“About two minutes after the first torpedo hit, there was a terrific internal explosion and a sheet of flame rose past the starboard side of the lookout platform and signal bridge…I raised my left hand to shield my face, and in so doing received a slight burn on the back of my hand…I immediately left the lookout platform and went aft of the island’s structure…From the No. 3 gun group I did a hand over hand down to the water and shoved off…Two men [in the water] distinguished themselves…They put the injured on the boat and saw to it that those who could help themselves kept off; they towed men to the boat; tey held men up; and they encouraged men to hang on by encouraging and humorous conversation.”

Lieutenant David McCampbell pictured waving airplanes aboard while serving as an LSO on board Wasp (CV 7).

Ensign C.G. Durr

“Instead of doing a lay-out “one & a half,” I held my nose in one hand…and jumped from the Landing Signal Officer’s platform—a distinct insult to my former expertise as a fancy diver! When I abandoned the ship it was without a life-jacket, but I had retrieved a one-man life raft from one of the fighter planes and had tossed that in the water ahead of me. Now, once in the water, I tried to inflate the raft but quickly discovered that it had no CO2 bottle—the fighter pilots , unbeknownst to me, had removed them all because they were too hard on their butts…So, I flushed it! All this time, the ship is pushing down on me and in trying to swim away from it, I got caught in the fire on the water, which had worked its way around from the starboard side. Ultimately, I swam back to the ship and worked my way around the stern by swinging on the man-ropes that had been put over the side.”

Captain Forrest P. Sherman being interviewed following the sinking of Wasp (CV 7).

Lieutenant David McCampbell
Navy’s leading fighter ace with 34 kills and former competition diver at the U.S. Naval Academy

“After consulting with the Task Force Commander, and with his approval, about 1520 I issued orders to abandon ship…I went forward in the hangar and found no one except Chief Carpenter Machinsky, who was still engaged in collecting lumber and mattresses to throw over to assist men in the water. I ordered him over the stern and about 1600 lowered myself into the water….While swimming away from the ship, I observed the fire working aft in the hangar and on deck…As night approached, the Wasp was listing heavily; her hangar deck forward was awash; the ship was outlined by glowing hot metal and the ship and the floating oil or gasoline were flaming violently.”

Captain Forrest P. Sherman
Commanding Officer

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