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Capt Shermans After Action Report of Wasps Sinking
After Action Report Part 1, Capt Forrest Sherman
The following was written by Captain Forrest Sherman on 24 September 1942.
1. On 15 September 1942, WASP was operating as flagship of Task Force SIXTY ONE, which was moving westward covering the movement of the Seventh Marine Regiment into GUADALCANAL. On (13 Sept), the WASP and HORNET had flown off Marine fighters to reinforce GUADALCANAL. On (14 Sept) the WASP and HORNET had, from a position to the southward of NDENI, launched attack flights at extreme range in an attempt to reach the advanced units of a strong enemy force including battleships, cruisers, and one or more carriers, which had been sighted approaching from the north-westward.
2. The WASP had been at general quarters from one hour before sunrise until the morning search returned about 1000. Thereafter the ship was in Condition TWO, Air Department at Flight Quarters, and Material Condition "Baker Alert" was set. No enemy contacts had been made during the day except one Japanese 4-engined patrol plane which was shot down by WASP fighters at about 1215. The embarked aircraft consisted of 32-F4F-4, 28-SBD-3, 10-TBF-1 and 1-J2F-5. WASP was the duty aircraft carrier and was carrying out all routine flying. HORNET had her attack group alert on deck.
3. From 1420 to about 1442 the ship had been into the wind to launch eight fighters and eighteen scouts and to recover eight fighters and three scouts. The wind was from about 120 degrees, velocity 18 to 20 knots. Upon completion of recovery the ship had commenced to turn right with standard rudder at 16 knots to the base course of 200 degrees. Aircraft was being refueled and respotted. Orders had been given to spot 16 fighters for takeoff and strike all scouts below. Torpedo planes in the hangar were armed with torpedoes but their tanks were full of CO2. Scouts were fully fueled and armed with bombs. Fighters were fueled. All aircraft were complete with machine gun ammunition including incendiary. An exception to the foregoing existed for four fighters in the overhead which were unarmed and had tanks filled with CO2.
4. At about 1444 three torpedoes were sighted close aboard approaching from about 3 points forward of the starboard beam. The rudder was changed from right standard to right full but almost immediately the ship received 3 hits. A fourth torpedo passed ahead and later passed under LANSDOWNE. Two hits were well below the waterline between frame 30 and the bridge. The third torpedo broached and then submerged but was close to the surface when it hit 50 to 75 feet forward of the bridge, as the result of which its above water effect was very great. All of these hits were in the vicinity of the gasoline tanks and magazines. The gasoline system was in use.
5. The estimates of various survivors as to the sequence and times of subsequent events vary widely. Times given in this report are based on consensus of opinion and available data in the records of other ships.
6. The following took place very rapidly:
(a) The ready ammunition at the forward starboard guns commenced exploding throwing fragments over the forward part of the ship.
(b) Almost spontaneous fires broke out below decks and in the hangar.
(c) Aircraft on both the flight deck and hangar decks were lifted and dropped down with sufficient force to break landing gears.
(d) Aircraft in the overhead broke loose and landed on those on the hangar deck.
(e) Water mains in the forward half of the ship were broken and no water was available to fight the fires.
(f) The switchboard in the forward engine room was knocked down, the two forward auxiliary diesel generators were knocked loose from their foundations, and the forward turbo generator failed, leaving the forward part of the ship without light or power.
(g) The ship listed initially between 10 degrees and 15 degrees to starboard.
(h) Oil and gasoline on the water commenced burning.
(i) There commenced a series of explosions in the forward half of the ship believed now to have included gasoline tanks, gasoline from ruptured lines, ammunition in hoists and clipping rooms, bombs, torpedo air flasks and possibly a powder magazine although the last seems questionable.
7. After the third hit I slowed to 10 knots and put the rudder full left to get the wind on the starboard bow, then went astern with right rudder until the wind was on the starboard quarter. My object was to have the wind blow the fire away from the undamaged portion of the ship, keep the low side to windward, and back clear of burning oil. As the ship gathered sternway I slowed to five knots.
8. Communication had been lost on nearly all circuits but existed initially with Battle Two, Central, Main Engine Control, and Steering Aft. The ship was steered by orders to Steering Aft. The stability control organization by prompt and effective action succeeded in reducing the list very quickly to about five degrees. The ship settled until she was quite low in the water forward. There was minor structural damage and she was taking some water aft.
9. The fire and also the explosion of the ammunition forward increased in intensity and worked aft to a degree which covered the pilot house with smoke through which the flying fragments and debris were only occasionally visible. The people in Central reported that they might have to leave on account of the smoke and fumes, and asked permission to do so. I directed that they evacuate only when they had to.
10. About 1505 a very severe internal explosion took place in the vicinity of the hangar or second deck about below the bridge. The quad 1.1" mount just forward of the bridge was thrown from its base and what appeared to be incandescent gases blew up past the bridge ahead and on both sides. The Task Force Commander who previously had come to the pilot house for a moment was at the top of the vertical starboard ladder and was thrown forward onto the signal bridge, and had his shirt, hair, and ears burned in the flash. One or more men were knocked out and flag bags set on fire. At this time I ordered all personnel to leave the conning tower and bridge and retire to Battle Two. After the bridge was clear I went to the port wing and then aft to Battle Two. About three men had apparently been killed on the port walkway. They had not been stationed on the bridge; they may have come down from the signal bridge or lookout station. The bomb elevator shaft was open and full of heavy smoke, and its armored hatch had been tossed clear by this or an earlier explosion.
11. From subsequent information it appears that by this time the ship was pretty well shattered from number 2 elevator well down and forward at least to the splinter deck. The starboard side was open to the sea; the bulkheads between the officer's country and the elevator well were blown open; gasoline lines had ruptured; and the fire was out of control from the bow back to and including the lower island structure. One explosion had blown 5 inch gun number 4 from its foundation.
12. Upon arrival at Battle Two I continued conning the ship. About this time another unusually severe explosion took place in the hangar which lifted number two elevator up and dropped it askew, while plates and fittings flew high in the air in various directions. An officer observer in the SALT LAKE CITY then 7 to 8 miles distant recorded this as follows: "1510 ½ -Huge explosion forward on CV. Dense white smoke. CV slightly down by the head." After this explosion seeing that a large number of men were in the water forward and that, for the time being, we were clear of the burning oil I stopped the engines.
13. By about 1515 the fire had spread through the forward half of the ship and was burning fiercely. It had become necessary to evacuate the interior of the island. Numerous casualties were being inflicted by exploding ammunition and by the fire. The reports received from below and the results witnessed on deck showed that efforts to combat the fire were futile due to lack of water. Efforts to couple hoses together and get water from aft had not been effective because lack of water pressure. The main engines had been able to meet the initial demands made upon them and the stern was still tenable except for the hazards from flying fragments. The fire was completely out of control and was working steadily aft. After receiving reports from both the Air Officer and the Air Group Commander who had just returned from the hangar deck, and after consultation with the Executive Officer, I reluctantly decided that the ship could not be saved and that men must be gotten off promptly if unnecessarily heavy loss of life were not to be incurred. After consulting with the Task Force Commander, and with his approval, about 1520 I issued orders to abandon ship.


14. All injured men were gotten onto rafts or rubber boats. All the occupants of the sick bay were cared for and all were rescued. Rafts and float nets were used as far as possible, but the fire in the ship and on the water forward required most men to leave from aft with life preservers only, or with mattresses or other substitutes. While operating in exposed areas all hands were required to wear or carry life preservers, but a number of men arrived from below without them, due probably to the difficult conditions they encountered. The departure was orderly and was delayed only by the reluctance of many men to leave until the injured had been lowered overboard.
15. After seeing all flag and ship control personnel clear of the island I proceeded aft on the flight deck and supervised the activities there. When the flight deck and after gun galleries were clear of personnel I climbed down to the fantail where a few officers and men including the Task Force Commander, his Operations Officer and my Chaplain, were still present assisting a badly injured man overboard. At this time the First Lieutenant gave me a report of the conditions in the hangar and reported it clear of injured. After they left I went forward in the hangar and found no one except Chief Carpenter MACHINSKY who was till 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. At this time the list to starboard was increasing steadily.
16. Recovery of men from the water was delayed somewhat by the necessity for destroyers to lie well clear and frequently to shift position because of the submarine hazard. I have since been informed by destroyer captains that torpedo wakes passed through the area during rescue operations. In common with others who left the stern late, and were therefore well to the southwestward of the larger groups, I experienced internal discomfort from depth charges. However, the work of rescue was carried on with persistence and determination in the short time remaining before nightfall with the result that very few men were lost in the water.
17. While swimming away from the ship I observed the fire working aft in the hangar and on deck, the list increasing, and continued explosions. The LANSDOWNE recorded a large explosion at 1627 and one below the after flight deck at 1745. HELENA recorded seeing large volumes of smoke at stern of the WASP at 1747 and further explosions at 1757 and 1758. SALT LAKE CITY also recorded at 1747 "Tremendous explosions, huge column of white smoke (or steam) above carrier and at 1750 "much black smoke, list to starboard about 15-20 degrees, series of small explosions".
18. I was eventually picked up by a boat from the DUNCAN which had already rescued the Task Force Commander and several injured men, and with a heavily loaded life raft in tow we went alongside the FARENHOLT. As night approached, the WASP was listed heavily; her hangar deck forward was awash; the ship was outlined by glowing hot metal and both the ship and the floating oil or gasoline were flaming violently. The WASP sank at about 2100 as the result of being hit by three more torpedoes from the LANSDOWNE. The first hit in the vicinity of the original three; the second hit on the starboard side just abaft of the island; the third, set for ten feet, hit on the port side amidships with much greater effect.
19. The survivors were taken to Espiritu Santo New Hebrides, where 83 cases were sent ashore for hospitalization. The others were distributed between 2 cruisers and 2 destroyers and taken to Noumea. Men who died on board the LANSDOWNE and FARENHOLT were buried at sea on 16 September with prescribed ceremonies, the services being conducted by the Chaplain and myself respectively.


20. The casualties sustained were as follows:
Killed or missing- 193 (167 men, 26 officers)
Hospitalized- 85 (81 men, 4 officers)
Other Survivors- 1969 (1798 men, 171 officers)
TOTAL INVOLVED- 2247 (2046 men, 201 officers)
21. Not included in these figures was Mr Jack Singer of the International News Service who was last seen in the wardroom lounge of the WASP. Approximately 400 of the survivors not hospitalized have been under treatment for minor injuries.
22. I can not speak too highly of the conduct of officers and men, particularly while we were in the water. The standard of conduct was so exceedingly high that it is with the utmost humility that I venture to single out the following from the great number of instances of commendable conduct which took place:
(a) Lieutenant Commander John J. Shea, U.S. Navy is recommended for the award (posthumous) of a Navy Cross. He left his normal station in Primary Fly Control, personally took charge of fighting the fire on the flight deck and displayed extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty in his disregard of the danger from exploding ammunition, the debris which filled the air and the raging fire which was spreading rapidly. He met his death while valiantly combating the effects of enemy action and attempting to save his ship.
(b) Lieutenant Commander Laurice A. Tatum, Dental Corps, U.S. Naval Reserve, is recommended for the award (posthumous) of a Navy Cross. Arriving on the forecastle of his ship after it had been torpedoed and in a position where he was exposed to fragments from exploding ammunition he displayed extraordinary heroism as he calmly and effectively administered first aid to the wounded and devoted all his energies to caring for his shipmates, to an extent which undoubtedly contributed to his own death before being rescued.
(c) The manner in which Commander Bartholomew W. Hogan, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy and the officers and men of the Medical Department gave aid and administered relief to the injured while still on board their ship, during the period that men were in the water, and later continued their unselfish efforts during the subsequent passage to port was most commendable.
(d) Particular credit is due the following named officers and men for their efforts in actively leading the fire fighting parties:
Lieutenant Commander John J. Shea, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander Charles R. Millett, D-V(G), U.S.N.R.
Lieutenant Raleigh Crittenden Kirkpatrick, Jr., U.S.N.
Lieutenant William Henry Staples, A-V(N), U.S.N.R.
Lieutenant (jg) John Joseph Bedell, Jr., D-V(G), U.S.N.R.
Chief Boatswain Henry Olin Warren, U.S. Navy
Chief Machinist Elmo Dickson Runyan, U.S. Navy
(e)Particular credit is due the following named officers and men for the efficient manner in which they
handled the engineering plant and the damage control problem caused by the initial effect of the
three torpedoes:
Lieutenant Commander Theodore Frederick Ascherfeld, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Augustine John Tucker, E-V(G), U.S.N.R.
Chief Machinist Chester Marcus Sterns, U.S. Navy
COFFEE, James Taylor, 341 41 01, C.W.T. (PA), U.S.N.
WORLEY, Sylvanus Franklin, 287 00 56, C.W.T. (AA), U.S.N.
WOLFRAN, Rodger Bennett, E.M.1c, U.S.N.
(f) Particular credit is due the following named officers and men for their unselfish efforts in assisting
the injured and helpless to escape from the dangers which threatened them:
Commander Michael Holt Kernodle, U.S. Navy
Commander Wallace Morris Beakley, U.S. Navy
Commander Bradford E. Grow, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander John Francis Greenslade, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander George Knuepfer, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander Courtney Shands, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Benedict Joseph Semmes, Jr., U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Morritt Francis Williams, ChC-V(S), U.S.N.R.
Lieutenant Halsted Bellings Vander Poel, D-V(S), U.S.N.R.
Lieutenant Elmer S. Waring, U.S. Navy
Carpenter Joseph Edward Machinsky, U.S. Navy
McELROY, Raymond Francis, 272 46 29, Phm.3c
McKINNEY, Robert Chester, 291 79 27, F.1c
KORTE, John David, Sea.2c
(g) Great credit is due the Commanding Officers of the U.S.S. LANSDOWNE, DUNCAN, FARENHOLT, LARDNER, and LAFFEY for their successful rescue of so many officers and men in the area where enemy submarines were actively present. Their task required the nicest judgment in seamanship and required that their ships be stopped for considerable periods while many seriously wounded casualties were laboriously taken aboard. The limited facilities of the DUNCAN and LANSDOWNE in particular were stretched almost to the breaking point in an attempt to support life in the gravely wounded and to make all others as comfortable as possible during the passage to port.
FORREST SHERMAN