Eternal Father, Strong to save,
The first Pecos (AO-6) was laid down as Fuel Ship No. 18 on 2 June 1920 by the Navy Yard, Boston, Mass.; reclassified AO-6 on 17 JULY 1920; launched 23 April 1921; sponsored by Miss Anna S. Hubbard; and commissioned 25 August1921. During the two decades before the United States entered World War II, Pecos carried fuel to ships of the fleet wherever needed, operating in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Pecos was in the Philippines supporting the ships of the Asiatic Fleet. She departed Cavite Navy Yard 8 December 1941 for Borneo and reached Balikpapan on the 14th. After filling up with oil and gasoline, the tanker pushed on to Makassar in the Celebes Netherlands East Indies where she refueled American warships fighting to slow the explosive advance of Japanese forces in the southwest Pacific. She departed Makassar for Darwin, Australia, 22 December. She headed for Surabaja, Java early in 1942 where she fueled Allied ships until departing 3 February after a Japanese air raid there had made that base untenable. Tjilatjap then became the oiler's base until her cargo fuel tanks were empty. She then got underway late in February toward India to refill. On the 27th, off Christmas Island, when the oiler was about to take survivors of Langley from destroyers Whipple and Edsall, land based planes attacked the three ships. After fighting off the raiders, the American ships steamed south out of range and completed the transfer 1 March. At noon that day, planes from Japanese carrier Soryu attacked Pecos and struck again an hour later. Finally at midafternoon, a third strike sent the veteran oiler to the bottom. Whipple raced to the scene and rescued 232 survivors.
The second Neosho (AO-23) was laid down under Maritime Commission contract by Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Kearny, N.J., 22 June 1938, launched 29 April 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Emory S. Land, wife of Rear Adm. Emory S. Land (Ret.), Chairman of the Maritime Commission, and commissioned 7 August 1939, Comdr. W. E..A. Mullan in command. Conversion at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard completed 7 July 1941, Neosho immediately began the vital task of ferrying aviation fuel from west coast ports to Pearl Harbor. On such a mission she arrived in Pearl Harbor 6 December, discharged a full cargo to the Naval Air Station on Ford Island, and prepared for the return passage. Next morning, the Japanese surprise attack found Neosho alert to danger, her captain, Comdr. John S. Phillips, got her underway and maneuvered safely through the Japanese fire, concentrated on the battleships moored at Ford Island, to a safer area of the harbor. Her guns fired throughout the attack, splashing one enemy plane and driving off others. Three of her men were wounded by a strafing attacker. For the next five months, Neosho sailed with the carriers or independently, since hard-pressed escort ships could not always be spared to guard even so precious a ship and cargo. Late in April, as the Japanese threatened a southward move against Australia and New Zealand by attempting to advance their bases in the southwest Pacific, Neosho joined TF 17. At all costs the sealanes to the dominions must be kept open, and they must be protected against attack and possible invasion. Neosho was to be part of the cost. As the American and Japanese fleets sought each other out in the opening maneuvers of the climactic Battle of the Coral Sea on 6 May, Neosho fueled Yorktown (CV-5) and Astoria (CA-34), then retired from the carrier force with a lone escort, Sims (DD-409). Next day at 1000, Japanese aircraft spotted the two ships, and believing them to be a carrier and her escort, launched the first of two attacks which sank Sims and left Neosho, victim of 7 direct hits and a suicide dive by one of the bombers, ablaze aft and in danger of breaking in two. She had shot down at least 3 of the attackers. Superb seamanship and skilled damage control work kept Neosho afloat for the next four days. The sorely stricken ship was first located by an RAAF aircraft, then an American PBY. At 1300, 11 May, Henley (DD-391) arrived to rescue the 123 survivors and to sink by gunfire, the ship they had so valiantly kept alive against impossible odds. With Henley came word that the American fleet had succeeded in turning the Japanese back, marking the end of their southward expansion in World War II. Neosho received 2 battle stars for World War II service.
Photos taken by Sid Harris
The WWII US Navy fleet oiler USS Mississinewa AO-59 blew up and sank at Ulithi Atoll on November 20, 1944. The US Navy oiler was fully loaded including 440,000 gallons of highly volitile avation gasoline. The horrific explosion and mushrooming clouds of thick black smoke was captured on color 8mm film by a USS Ticonderoga crew member. Joseph Rosenthal, the famous AP photographer, also captured the death throes of the AO-59 in a photo widely circulated in US newspapers on Dec. 19, 1944.
The USS Mississinewa was the only known US Navy ship warship sunk by the secret Japanese suicide manned torpedo called a "Kaiten". (The USS Underhill was scuttled after having her bow blown off by a kaiten in July 1945. A merchant ship, USS Canada Victory, was sunk by a kaiten in 1945 as well.)
The 48' long manned torpedo,carrying a 3300 lb. warhead,displaced 8.3 tons and could travel under water with it's 550 hp kerosene/oxygen Type 93 motors at speeds up to 30 knots. The Japanese "Kikusui" mission, left their base at Otsujima, near the Kure Naval Base, on Nov. 8 bound for Ulithi and Kossel Passage. The large fleet submarines I-36 and I-47 carried four Kaiten each, (including Kaiten co-inventor Lt.(jg) Sekio Nishina) to the entrance of Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet anchorage at Ulithi Atoll. Five Kaiten were released from the decks of I-47 and I-36 into the Ulithi anchorage early on November 20, 1944. The USS Mississinewa AO-59 blew up at 5:45am as a Kaiten struck her bow on the starboard side, marking the first, and only documented sinking of a US Navy ship, to this little known WWII Japanese "tokko" (special attack) weapon!