Posts Tagged ‘Johnston Atoll’

USS Flier: Court continued

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 24 2010

So now we return to the cases of Chester Payne and John Cowie, but first, a map.  Yes, I finally got Google Earth up and running again.  Well, sort of, my wonderful hubby found it and got it up and running for me.  Thanks hun!

Here you can see Flier's approximate route from Pearl to Johnston Island for refueling. They went south for only a short time before turning west. Over the course of the two days it took to get there, she went 733 miles and went through 11,446 gallons of diesel.

That’s not your imagination, Johnston Atoll really is in the middle of no where.  It’s so remote and unvisited that there is no evidence for any native people ever living there, and, following WWII, the military used Johnston Atoll to store and then dismantle a variety of chemical weapons.  Today, it’s a Wildlife Refuge and administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, much like Midway Atoll.

See? Middle of Nowhere.

So that is where Flier is (or was, sixty-six years ago) located.  Back to our story.

There are three types of Court Martials, which is the name for a military court.  If you were a fan of the TV show JAG, what you mostly saw where the two more serious types of court martials, a Special and General Court Martial which was judged by  a panel of officers.  A Summary Court Martial, which is the type on the Flier today, is more informal, judged by one officer (in this case, Lt. Liddell) and the accused is not permitted legal counsel, though they are encouraged to present evidence, interview and cross-examine witnesses and testify or remain silent at their choice.  They also have the right to refuse the Summary Court Martial, though I suspect that would lead to a full-blown Special Court Martial.  But, if you felt the officer judging you would not be impartial, or you wanted legal counsel,  I suppose that was an option.

Depending on the rank of the accused, punishment can range from confinement, hard labor for 45 days, loss of some pay,restrictions, or even demotion in rank.

John Cowie, apparently disobeyed a lawful order while the Flier was on a practice run on 12 May.  What happened is not recorded in the Deck Log, and as they were not yet on patrol there are no War Patrol Reports to draw on.  What happened in the hours leading up to the Captain’s Mast which lead to this Summery Court Martial was a practice radar approach, a battle simulation with the crew firing water slugs out of the Forward Torpedo Tubes, and quick dives and course changes.  As an Electrician’s Mate, I have no idea what legal order Cowie might have defied.

Chester Payne might have been an interesting case.  An African-American from Ohio, Payne was likely stuck in a world that both valued him and disrespected him depending on where he was.

It’s no secret that the navy was fairly well segregated in WWII.  African-American sailors were often assigned to hazardous duty focused on manual labor or, if they were assigned to ships, were often restricted to the “simple” jobs in the Galley as cooks, bakers, mess attendants, and Stewards.   In the submarine service, this presented a rather funny paradox, because these African American sailors were not excused from becoming a qualified submariner.  So while officially limited to supposedly simple job ratings, they were also expected to be able to fire a torpedo, fix an engine, aim and fire a weapon, or any other of the hundreds of complex jobs and understand the hundreds of complex systems aboard a submarine. So in terms of technical aptitude, these sailors were just as able as their white counterparts.  In fact, the officers and COs of Halibut, Trigger, Drum and Haddock specifically sited  several of their African American sailors with serving with distinction during enemy attacks and the two African American sailors on the Puffer, James Pruitt and James Patton were instrumental in helping their boat and crewmates survive the infamous 38 hours depth charge attack.

Secondly, the food aboard a submarine was far more important than on a Navy base or surface ship.  One of the ways the Navy offered perks to the men who might volunteer on a submarine was submariners got the best food available.  Each submarine was given nearly twice the amount of per man/per day money to purchase food stores than a surface ship. My grandfather, who wasn’t on submarines, refused to touch Spam or any other kind of canned meat from the moment he got home, until he died at the age of 89, because he ate it so much during WWII.  Meanwhile, we have records and recipes showing submariners were getting barbecued pork, shrimp creole, teriyaki steak, roast beef and mashed potatoes, pizza, anything they wanted (including an ice cream machine for homemade ice cream.)  The galley staff, in a way, were the heart and soul on a submarine, and their skills highly prized.

So aboard a submarine, African American sailors often found a good measure of equality, and when they went on shore leave with their crew mates, they were billeted in the same hotels or accomdations, often with their white crewmates as roommates.

But step outside the submarine base, or the submariner’s hotel, and they stepped back into a world of strict separations, despite the Naval Uniform.  More than one African American sailor got into trouble displaying–sometimes unwittingly–the freedom and respect he had earned and enjoyed on boat in the wrong quarters of town.

It was a very fine line to walk, but African American sailors acquitted themselves so well, that following WWII and the rapid desegregation of the military by President Truman in 1948, many shot to positions of prominence and authority.

So what did Chester Payne do?  We may never know.  He might have done something innocent or unknowingly that was taken wrongly by the locals in Honolulu.  He might have done something on purpose to make a point, or might have gotten drunk, who knows?  The record does not say.  What it does say is he fought with shore patrol and knocked them overboard (possibly indicating they chased him down to the warf and/or onto the Flier herself), and Captain Crowley decided that the charges were serious enough and the evidence clear enough to warrant a Summery Court Martial.

The two cases took an hour and twenty-five minutes, and the record says this about the conclusion: “…adjourned at 1045 to await action of convening authority.”  Nothing more is said about this case in either the deck log or war patrol reports.

What did Lt. Liddell decide?  Both men were aboard for the second patrol, so he obviously did not decide to remove the men from the boat.   Cowie, during the second patrol, is still an EM2c, though Payne is listed as aCk3c (Cook Third Class rather than Seaman First Class,) and I’m afraid I’m not knowlegable enough in military rankings to know if that’s a lateral move, a demotion, promotion or a job description rather than ranking.  The results are probably in the men’s naval records.

Two and a half hours after the Summery Court Martial, Flier approached Johnston Island to refuel, guided in by one of Johnston’s pilots, Lt. LAMB, USN, who, in the balmy weather, was transferred aboard with no problem, unlike Midway.  They left after only three hours with a full tank of fuel, and set a course for 293 degrees True, a little west-northwest.  She was on her way to the Philippines.

An article about African American sailors in the submarine service in WWII, and a book based about those experiences.

Flier’s refueling and on-board court (and not King Neptune’s!) pt. 1

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 23 2010

The Deck Log for Flier is rather interesting today.  They are still underway en route to Johnston Atoll (and as soon as I can get Google Earth back up and running, I’ll make up something that shows where these places all are, I promise), but two crewmen on Flier are about to have an uncomfortable morning.

From the Deck Log of USS Flier dated Tuesday 23 May, 1944

“0800-1200 [hours]:  Underway as before.  0920 A summary court-martial, Lieut. J.W. Liddell, Jr.USNR, senior member, met to try the case of PAYNE, Chester <personal identification redacted by me> S1c, USN, and COWIE, John William, <personal identification redacted by me> MM3c USNR, and adjourned at 1045 to await action of the convening authority…”

My guess is this is not one case, but actually two different ones, now tried at the same time, both of which originated during the crew’s two weeks in Pearl Harbor.

Those must have been some two weeks.  They arrived on May 8, and over 12 days, took on eight new hands (POURCIAU, Kit Joesph, S1c on 5/9; HELLER, Eugene Wilson S2c on 5/9; MOENCH, Vernon Leo S1c on 5/9; Ensign LEIGHTLEY, Albert L and Ens. MINER, Herbert A, both of whom their orders arrived on 5/9 but neither man reported until the next morning; CHRISTENSEN, Christian John, S1c on 5/14; BOHN, Thomas LeRoy MM3c on 5/14; and finally VOGHT, James Frank RT2c on 5/14) , transferred one man off (MURRAY, Bruce Franklin S1c for disqualification and reassignment) went on three practice patrols, and held THREE Captain’s Masts for three crewmen of three different offenses: PAYNE, Chester, for fighting short patrol and knocking them overboard; COWIE, John William for disobeying a lawful order; DONOVAN, Thomas Armstrong, for being Absent Without Leave for 2 days, 20 hours and 30 minutes.

A Captain’s Mast is a non-judicial affair where the commanding officer can investigate minor offenses allegedly committed by those under his command.  It is not a trial, though the commanding officer in question can dismiss the charges, refer the case to a court martial, or impose a punishment according to the rules of military law.

Despite happening the  last, Donovan’s offense was dealt with while still at Pearl.  The Captain’s Mast on Friday 19 May 1944 fined him $50 for the absence, to be docked from his pay at the rate of $25/month for 2 months.  Considering the fact that he was likely making less than $100/month at the time, that was a fairly severe punishment.  To be fair however, Donovan’s absence was probably longer than he wanted.  According to the records, his absence was first noticed at the 5:55 am muster of the crew on 5/11.  They went for a day patrol, then came back.  The next morning, they left early again, then didn’t come back until the evening of 5/13.  The records specifically state that Flier moored at the Submarine Base at 1537 hours (for non-military, that’s 3:37 pm) but Donovan reported aboard at 1500 hours.  Not sure if this is an indication of slightly shoddy record keeping or Donovan’s desperate swim to the Flier as she crossed Pearl!  (kidding).  For the 2 days, 20 hours and 30 minutes Donovan was gone, Flier was in port for only about 12 hours of that.

Payne’s and Cowie’s Captain’s Masts however (PAYNE’S held on 5/10 for charges occurring at some unmentioned time, but likely during the 48 hours they had been at Pearl, and COWIE’S held on 5/12 for charges likely occurring while on a practice patrol around Hawaii) had more serious consequences:  they were referred to Summary Court Martial, or SCM.  More on what that is and what it entailed tomorrow.

Flier at Sea:

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 22 2010

Today, Flier is still heading south-southwest, heading for her re-fueling point on Johnston Atoll.

Submarines didn’t go X miles per gallon.  They burned X gallons of fuel per mile.  Keep in mind that these boats are running the equivalent of four locomotive engines, sometimes at the same time, but they still chewed through their diesel.  Approximately 9.7 gallons per nautical mile, as a matter of fact.

So most submarines had a refueling point where they had relatively safe waters to fuel up and give them  that much more reach into their patrol areas.  They were not supposed to re-fuel on their way back to their home port, but if necessary, the option was there.  A submarine leaving Pearl had Midway and Johnston Atolls, depending if they were patrolling more northern or southern routes.  From Fremantle, there was Darwin Australia.

So sixty six years ago today, that’s where Flier was.  There’s a rather interesting note in tomorrow’s deck log.  A tantalizing clue, I just wish I could find out more.  Maybe the families of those involved might though.