October 25, 2012

When The Cherry Blossoms First Fell

Ensign Jimmy Green stared at the horizon... nothing.  There'd been nothing there for nearly ninety minutes, and he finally began to feel like he could relax, just a bit.  Below him, in one of the gun tubs, he could hear shell humpers joking about how the Jap fleet had gotten away, but Green knew in his bones that he and his ship were alive only by the Providence of fortune, a confusing decision by the Japanese to break off, and the White Plains' position towards the front of Taffy 3's formation.  At least, he thought ruefully, it became the front when the collection of Kaiser Coffins turned away from the Japs.  Yet that was the difference between him being there on the tiny island of an Escort Carrier... and being in the Pacific with his ship sitting on the bottom.  Like the Gambier Bay, he thought glumly.  He was pretty sure he'd seen her roll over and go down, with a Jap cruiser standing a few miles off throwing shells at her the whole time.  Now, though?  Nothing at all.  It was like the Japs had never been there, except for the smoke coming from Kalinin Bay, that is.  He'd overheard one of the pilots saying that her flight deck looked like swiss cheese from all the holes in it.  Green didn't like the sound of that very much at all.  Why in the world had the Japs turned around, anyway?  It didn't make sense.  When I saw that big bastard come over the horizon, I was sure I was dead, he thought to himself, and it sure ain't that they were scared off by a handful of destroyers and some Wildcats.  Then those big battleship shells started to splash around him, and Cap'n Weller kept the White Plains dancing between the salvos.  Well, lumbering at least; nobody ever accused a CVE of being nimble.  Well, some coffee might be nice.  It was only after he got the cup that he realized his hands were shaking.


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October 13, 2012

Why MilHist Weeps

Today was laundry day, and I took my dual bags of dirty stuff to the laundromat near Pond Central instead of doing them here in the provided laundry room.  See, there's currently only one working dryer, and I had a week's worth of clothes and about a dozen towels and various assorted things to wash.  When I go to this particular laundromat, I always take a dense book with me.  Today's selection was the newly acquired US Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History by Norman Friedman. 
If Japanese Cruisers of the Pacific War is the ultimate book on that particular topic, Friedman's work  is arguably the ultimate on the planning, design, use and upgrading of American carriers.  I've learned a lot from it, and I've only read a couple of chapters disjointedly.  So this was my entertainment whilst the laundry spun and tossed. 

Even better, when I got there there was only one other person in the place, and they were carrying their laundry out the other door!  I had a peaceful hour-and-some-minutes ahead of me!

The laundry was in the rinse cycle when a guy, probably in his fifties, came in.  He got his laundry going, then started jabbering at the attendant.  Seemed to be a nice enough guy, just refused to shut up.  Still, he wasn't bothering me so I continued to read, and you probably know where this is going by now.

Yep, after a few minutes, he walked up to me and said "I'm going to be nosy, what are you reading?"  I've had this happen once or twice before at the laundromat, and the usual result when I've showed them whatever book I'm reading has been a bemused "oh," followed by quickly finding some other place to be.  To be fair, it's hard to blame them; mine is an esoteric hobby these days, and it's not like there's much interest in the British Pacific Fleet in WWII anymore.

Not this guy, though.  He immediately began talking about how he visited the USS Lexington a few years ago.  This was interesting, until he said it was originally built as a battleship in 1924.  Ah, they must tell the visitors about the history of the name, because that's really the first carrier named Lexington (CV-2) he's talking about.  I pointed this out to him, and he disagreed; he visited the first one.  I quickly flipped through Friedman's book and found a picture of a  post-war upgraded Essex-class carrier and asked him if that's what his ship looked like?  He replied in the affirmative, angled deck and everything.  I told him he was looking at a picture of CV-16 taken in 1962.  Still he refused to believe it; he went so far as to say it was the book that was wrong.

I smiled at that.  I did a bit of flipping through the book, found a picture of CV-2, and pointed out that that was the ship he was saying he'd visited, and that it was totally impossible that he had walked upon its decks.  He was actually beginning to get angry when he asked why that was.  "Because the first Lexington was sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea.  It's under about 10000 feet of water to the northeast of Australia."

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty darn."

"Oh."  He then kind of walked away and began talking to the attendant again.

Military History: Yeah, it kinda rocks.

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