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The USS Curtiss in Action

In this well-known photo of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the seaplane tender USS Curtiss is shown circled at lower left. Japanese planes are also circled. The dramatic image, snapped from the cockpit of one of the attacking aircraft, also reveals waterspouts from torpedo strikes along Battleship Row.

The seaplane tender USS Curtiss survived the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor with younger Ensign Gene Verge in command.

by Glenn Barnett

Gene Verge was born in Pasadena, California, in 1918. As a younger man in 1941 he confronted the chance of being drafted. He had already accomplished two years as a scholar at close by Glendale Junior School and could possibly be drafted at any time. He determined that he most popular the Navy to the Military and discovered of a 90-day “marvel” program in Chicago that may graduate him as an officer.

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Earlier than he left for Chicago, a neighbor who had spent his profession within the Service provider Marine taught the younger man the way to navigate by sextant, learn nautical maps and charts, and use a compass. This data impressed his academics in Chicago, and upon completion of the 90-day course he was commissioned an ensign in the USA Navy. He was requested if he most popular to serve within the Atlantic or Pacific. He selected the Pacific, because it was nearer to his Southern California house.

From Chicago, Verge glided by practice to Lengthy Seashore, California, the place he was lodged within the officer’s quarters till he might ship out to Hawaii. As a newly minted officer, Verge arrived at Pearl Harbor in August as a passenger aboard a hospital ship and was instantly assigned to the seaplane tender USS Curtiss as an assistant navigation officer. With this task he can be stationed on the bridge.

“Bombing Follow on Sunday Morning?”

The Curtiss was a part of a process drive commanded by Vice Admiral William Halsey, whose flagship was the plane service Enterprise. The duty pressure sailed for Wake Island to ship meals and provides to the Marine outpost. In addition to the Enterprise and Curtiss, remembers Verge, the convoy included 4 destroyers and 4 cruisers. Halsey ordered the ships to be on full wartime alert due to the very actual menace that the Japanese may assault at any time. All of the shipboard weapons have been manned, and lookouts stored sharp eyes out for unknown vessels and plane.

Young Ensign Gene Verge, right, confers with a fellow officer. During the harrowing attack on Pearl Harbor, Verge took command of the seaplane tender USS Curtiss.

Younger Ensign Gene Verge, proper, confers with a fellow officer. In the course of the harrowing assault on Pearl Harbor, Verge took command of the seaplane tender USS Curtiss.

Having accomplished this mission, the Curtiss arrived safely again at Pearl Harbor simply after midday on Saturday, December 6, 1941. The reside ammunition on the prepared through the cruise was safely locked in magazines. Round 5 pm, the captain and two thirds of the crew went ashore for the rest of the weekend. Solely a skeleton crew remained aboard on Sunday morning when the Japanese did assault.

Verge, having little seniority, was left on board. At four am, the younger ensign arrived on the bridge to face watch as officer of the deck for the subsequent 4 hours. All was quiet. He was relieved simply earlier than eight am and, looking forward to sleep, determined to sack out and skip the breakfast of espresso, toast, eggs, and bacon being served within the mess that morning. He advised his alternative, “I’m going to sleep. It’s Sunday morning.”

Verge walked again to his berth, unbuttoning his uniform on the best way. Simply earlier than reaching his cabin, he heard three explosions on close by Ford Island. His fast ideas have been the identical as each serviceman within the Honolulu space: “Bombing apply on a Sunday morning? Somebody goes to be in hassle.”

He went out on the galley deck to see what was happening. As he appeared over at Ford Island, he noticed fires burning in two hangars. He additionally noticed the offending planes make a sluggish banking flip. He might see the pink circles on the wings and knew directly what they meant. He ran to his room and referred to as the bridge. “Did you see that?” he requested the officer of the watch. “Sure, what ought to we do?” he was requested. “I feel you higher sound the overall alarm,” Verge replied.

Verge put down the telephone and raced to the bridge whereas rebuttoning his uniform. In the meantime, the ship’s alarm wailed its name to motion and the announcement was made, “Battle stations, that is no drill!” The sound was repeated all through the harbor. The opposite officers nonetheless aboard had duties in different elements of the ship, so the 22-year-old ensign discovered himself the rating officer on the bridge of an undermanned ship underneath assault. The sky appeared to be filled with enemy planes.

The Significance of Sea Planes

The Curtiss was a chief goal that morning. Maps later discovered within the wreckage of Japanese planes confirmed the place every ship was within the harbor. The battleships have been marked with Xs which means they have been precedence targets. The Curtiss too had an X to point its significance. Though the plane carriers weren’t in port that day, a seaplane tender was the subsequent neatest thing. In 1941, seaplanes carried out very important features for the world’s navies, together with reconnaissance, rescue, and typically fight operations.

The USS Curtiss, a veteran of World War II in the Pacific, sails off Mare Island, California, site of an extensive naval facility. The ship earned seven battle stars during World War II and went on to serve in the Korean War.

The united statesCurtiss, a veteran of World Struggle II within the Pacific, sails off Mare Island, California, website of an in depth naval facility. The ship earned seven battle stars throughout World Conflict II and went on to serve within the Korean Conflict.

The flying boat had dominated worldwide airline service within the 1920s and 1930s. The Pan Am Clippers have been the one planes that would fly from the West Coast of america all the best way to Hong Kong and, by implication, Japan. They might land in any sheltered harbor at primitive islands the place no airports existed.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat was function constructed for the Navy as a patrol bomber. On its maiden flight in 1936, it accomplished a nonstop flight of three,443 miles. Future flights improved the Catalina’s vary.

The Curtiss was a brand new ship, launched in 1940 and named after Glenn Curtiss, inventor of the seaplane and father of naval aviation. When the ship was launched it was christened by his widow. The Curtiss was an enormous ship for the time, displacing eight,671 tons, reaching 527 ft in size, and housing a crew of almost 1,200 officers and males. Facilities included a soda fountain, movie show, and library. The Curtiss was armed with 4 single-mount five-inch weapons and 4 quad 40mm gun mounts for protection towards enemy plane.

The Curtiss was designed to look after the Catalinas. She carried them in her hangar, fueled and armed them, launched and retrieved them, repaired and provided them, housed and fed their pilots and crew, and served all of the features that an plane service would for Navy seaplanes.

Preventing the First Wave at Pearl Harbor

With their ship underneath assault, the diminished crew of the Curtiss rushed to her weapons, however the ammunition was saved within the magazines, and these have been locked with no keys available as a result of the lads entrusted with opening the locks have been ashore. The magazines needed to be damaged open. As soon as the ammunition was introduced up, the weapons of the Curtiss swung into motion, firing their preliminary shot inside 15 minutes of the primary bomb blast. The weapons remained in motion all through the battle regardless of the absence of a lot of the crew. The few males who remained aboard accounted for no less than one and maybe two enemy planes. One gunner later famous that there have been solely three males out there from his gun crew of seven sailors.

In the meantime, the engineers within the boiler room under have been ordered to work up steam for an emergency transfer if essential. Quantity three boiler was already in use because it was wanted to energy the ship’s electrical system in port, and two extra boilers have been quickly kindled and made prepared for emergency motion.

The primary wave of the assault targeting the battleships and airfields. The second wave seemed for different targets, particularly the Curtiss. A Japanese torpedo aircraft within the first wave, flying simply above the water, launched its weapon towards one other ship however was shot at by any variety of weapons then firing. Smoke poured from its engines, and it stayed degree lengthy sufficient to smash right into a crane on the strict of the Curtiss, beginning fires within the hangar. The pilot, who couldn’t escape, might have determined to intentionally crash into the American ship. In 1945, the Curtiss can be hit by a Japanese Kamikaze at Okinawa.

Verge rushed from the bridge to assist shorthanded hearth management events and help the wounded. He attended one man with extreme burns however couldn’t save him. Because the crewmen extinguished the flames of the crashed Japanese aircraft, they pulled the lifeless pilot from the wreck and pushed the aircraft over the aspect. Verge appeared on the lifeless Japanese pilot and observed that he was sporting what appeared like American-style swim trunks, however not simply any trunks. They have been the type bought in a well-liked native Honolulu division retailer referred to as McInerny’s. Verge remembers considering, “He’s been right here earlier than.”

Taking in Water

Extra Japanese planes turned their consideration to the Curtiss. There have been a number of close to misses from dive bombers and successful that did minor injury to the superstructure. One dive bomber made a profitable drop on the ship with a 500-pound bomb that pierced the boat deck and three decrease decks, bouncing off a roll of cable earlier than exploding within the journal of the No. four five-inch gun.

Eighteen males have been killed immediately, and a few have been incinerated past recognition. The explosion induced fires within the hangar and on the primary deck aft. The No. four gun was put out of motion. Fortuitously, the 300,000-gallon capability gasoline tanks, now empty after the cruise to Wake Island, weren’t punctured.

The Curtiss sustained extensive damage to its hangar when a Japanese bomb penetrated the boat deck and three lower decks and exploded in the magazine of the No. 4 gun. Eighteen men were killed, and the 5-inch weapon was put out of action.

The Curtiss sustained in depth injury to its hangar when a Japanese bomb penetrated the boat deck and three decrease decks and exploded within the journal of the No. four gun. Eighteen males have been killed, and the 5-inch weapon was put out of motion.

Nevertheless, the ensuing blast within the journal punched a gap within the aspect of the ship on the water line on the port aspect. Seawater started to pour in. This information was rushed to the bridge, the place Ensign Verge ordered counterflooding. The ensuing listing to starboard had the impact of elevating the port aspect gap above the waterline, which prevented additional flooding.

Sinking a Midget Submarine

No less than three different close to misses have been noticed by the ship’s gunners as they stored firing at incoming Japanese planes. Crewmen then observed a periscope and conning tower within the water a brief distance away. An alert sailor on the bridge knew that the massive American submarines of that day couldn’t sail submerged within the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor. The submarine have to be Japanese. In truth, it was one among a number of two-man midget subs that had tried to enter Pearl Harbor that morning. Both the sub was having technical difficulties or needed to floor to visually purchase a goal. The floor of the water by that point was coated with oil and different particles which will have obscured the view from its periscope.

Verge ordered his gunners to fireside on the sub. 5-inch shells made their means within the sub’s course, however by now it was so shut (maybe 50 yards) to the Curtiss that the gunners couldn’t depress their weapons sufficient to hit it. The submarine reportedly fired a torpedo on the Curtiss. The torpedo supposedly missed, operating aground in a channel at Pearl Metropolis.

Smoke boils up from the USS Curtiss after the ship was struck by a crippled Japanese dive bomber during the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Smoke boils up from the united statesCurtiss after the ship was struck by a crippled Japanese dive bomber through the assault on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.

Because the submarine turned parallel with the Curtiss and moved farther away, a gunner managed to place a five-inch shell by means of the conning tower. On the similar time, Ensign Verge ordered his signalmen to alert a passing destroyer, the Monaghan, to the hazard. The destroyer rammed the two-man submarine from behind, shearing off its propellers and crushing the aft part of the hull. Then she dropped two depth fees on the sub, which exploded 50 to 100 years behind the destroyer. The sub lurched ahead about 50 ft after which sank.

Because the second wave of Japanese planes departed, extra ammunition was made prepared, injury assessed, and the lifeless and wounded attended to. Twenty-one males of the Curtiss died that morning, and a few 60 others have been wounded. The exhausted males remained at their battle stations till 6 pm, when the captain and the remainder of the crew lastly trickled again aboard once they have been capable of hitch rides on small boats. The lengthy day was over.

Seven Battle Stars within the Pacific Theater

The subsequent morning, the captain requested Ensign Verge to steer a celebration to recuperate the sunken submarine. Verge picked a small social gathering and used a ship’s boat to tug the underside with grappling hooks. When the sunken vessel was discovered, divers hooked up chains to it and a close-by tractor was enlisted to tug the sub to the seashore at Pearl Metropolis. There was a gap within the conning tower the place a shell had handed by way of. The hull was crunched the place the Monaghan had rammed it and from the detonations of the depth costs. Each crewmen have been lifeless.

Studies had unfold that this submarine had launched a torpedo on the Curtiss and that it missed, however Verge disagrees. Because the officer in control of bringing the sub ashore, he noticed that each of the sub’s torpedoes have been nonetheless aboard and neither had been fired. It’s true that totally different individuals keep in mind the battle in several methods, however Verge’s bodily statement indicated that the midget sub had not launched any torpedoes that day.

The Curtiss continued to lie at anchor for some weeks earlier than area could possibly be made in a dry dock to restore the injury to her hull. Different ships had precedence for restore, however ultimately her injury was patched up and she or he once more stood out to sea.

Ensign Verge stayed with the Curtiss for a short while as a part of the crew that secretly delivered provides to Halfway Atoll prematurely of the battle there. Then the 2 parted firm. The Curtiss went on to earn seven battle stars in the course of the Pacific Warfare. She would later serve within the Korean Warfare. Her profession ended in the course of the testing of nuclear bombs at Bikini Atoll.

Gene Verge on the united statesWabash

Gene Verge transferred to Seattle, Washington, the place he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (j.g.) and assigned as government officer of the Patapsco-class gasoline tanker USS Wabash. He sailed aboard Wabash 5 occasions to ship gasoline to Alaskan ports. In October 1943, the Wabash was despatched to Hawaii to help operations within the western Pacific. Verge ultimately rose to command the ship.

About that point a convoy of tankers was being assembled at Pearl Harbor to hold aviation gasoline and lubricants to outposts within the western Pacific. Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, personally picked Verge to command the convoy and ordered the younger officer to satisfy with him in his workplace to debate it.

Nimitz had no concept how younger Verge was and requested bluntly, “How previous are you, son?” “Twenty-three, sir,” he replied whereas standing stiffly at consideration. It was a white lie. He wouldn’t be 23 for an additional month.

Nimitz was shocked. “I’ve obtained 5 ships sitting outdoors the harbor, and the skippers of all these ships have been to sea for 20 years or extra.” Nimitz mused. Then he ordered, “You’re going to take that fleet to Saipan tomorrow however don’t ever allow them to see you.”

Gene Verge photographed with South Pacific islanders employed by the Navy, loading and unloading ships.

Gene Verge photographed with South Pacific islanders employed by the Navy, loading and unloading ships.

Verge commanded the Wabash for the subsequent three years. Late within the conflict, he was ordered to take a load of aviation gasoline to Tinian, an island within the Marianas chain. Gasoline was pumped from the ship to tanks ashore to help the bombing marketing campaign towards the Japanese homeland. At warfare’s finish, Verge visited Japan as a part of the occupation drive and noticed the horrific outcomes of that bombing.

Returning After the Struggle

After the struggle, Verge was despatched again house and assigned to a coaching facility on the East Coast. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander and positioned answerable for the power. He was then requested to stay within the Navy for 4 or 5 years to get the power up and operating.

Verge was used to obligation aboard ship and didn’t take nicely to the land task. He determined to return to California to proceed his research on the College of Southern California. In the present day, greater than 90 years of age, he nonetheless vividly remembers the Sunday morning aboard the Curtiss that may by no means be forgotten.