View From The Bobolink
(This article reflects the memories of ChMM Jack Simpson & WT2/c Walter Conner, crew members of the USS BOBOLINK (ATO-131) together with various official navy logs & documents.)
The date was November 1, 1943. The place was approximately 60-miles up the “Slot” north of Guadalcanal where the USS BOBOLINK (ATO-131) was anchored in a small cove at Russell Island. Orders were received instructing the BOBOLINK to get underway and proceed up the “Slot” on a designated course and specific speed until receiving further orders. We passed Munda then Rendova and on north past Vella Lavella, where a few days earlier, we had pulled two bombed-out LSTs off the beach. The next main island, is held by the Japanese. As we made way toward Bouganville, we were suddenly being passed by destroyers on both sides.
One of the destroyers, using their directional loud speaker system (because of radio silence in effect) instructed us to lay-to and stand-by. To those of us on the BOBOLINK, sweeter words were never heard, because we were heading into Jap country.
The time now is approximately three hours past midnight November 2, 1943 and the destroyers that passed us had made contact with an enemy force and a melee ensued. The crew of the BOBOLINK were on their battle stations and those topside had a grandstand view of the battle. We had never witnessed such display of fire power, amplified by the darkness. While we could not tell how the battle was going, we continued to stand ready to respond to a call for assistance.
A Japanese Long Lance torpedo had exploded under the stern of the USS FOOTE (DD-511), taking the lives of 19 men and leaving 17 wounded.
At dawn our task force came back over the horizon and the USS THATCHER (DD-514) passed a tow line to the FOOTE and began to move south at about 5-knots. About this time approximately 60 enemy planes appeared and two or three made a token pass at the FOOTE and THATCHER who opened up with a combined total of eight 5-inch and 6-40 MM guns. Their attack was half- hearted and they pulled up to join the other aircraft who went for the cruisers. The cruisers and screening destroyers drove off the attack without damage and after the Bogies cleared the area, a fleet tug, the USS SIOUX (AT-75) moved in alongside the FOOTE and took the tow from the THATCHER. This would free the THATCHER to maneuver and fire in the event of additional air attacks.
Since there were no other damaged American ships, the BOBOLINK was ordered to go ahead to Purvis Bay in the Florida Islands and stand-by to assist in handling the FOOTE when the tow entered port.
The SIOUX arrived at Purvis Bay with the FOOTE in tow mid-afternoon on November 4th. Together, the SIOUX and BOBOLINK moored the crippled FOOTE alongside the destroyer tender USS WHITNEY (AD-4). The FOOTE had no screws, no rudder and all the fantail 20-MM Guns and depth charge racks were gone. The five inch gun No. 5 was jammed in train.
Everything up to the base of the No. 5 gun mount was missing (Approx. 55-ft. of the stern) and the remainder of the ship was buckled like a “tin can”.
The destroyers USS O’BANNON (DD-450) and the USS SELFRIDGE (DD-357) were also in port along with two or three other destroyers with battle damage. The BOBOLINK would soon have a further relationship with the FOOTE and SELFRIDGE.
Twenty four days later, (November 28, 1943) after temporary repairs, the FOOTE got underway for Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides towed by the BOBOLINK and escorted by the SELFRIDGE. The SELFRIDGE had everything blown off forward of the bridge in a running battle with some Japanese destroyers. It must have been an odd sight with a old WW-II auxiliary tug towing the FOOTE with no stern and a crippled destroyer with no bow for an escort. But, it made sense to the navy, because the FOOTE had working sonar with her bow undamaged and the SELFREDGE had her depth charge racks and K-guns in case of a submarine contact. At least, that was the logic.
This pitiful convoy arrived in Espiritu Santos on November 31th for dry dock availability and FOOTE wasn’t sufficiently patch up for the trip to the States until January 20, 1944. The BOBOLINK was in port undergoing general maintenance and we were told if we could complete repairs in 48-hours we could accompany the FOOTE back to the States. We had spent almost a week taking things apart in the fire-room, sometimes deliberately misplacing some items. Most of our crew had been out there for about a year prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor and they were about as Asiatic as a crew could be and those that were not Asiatic were trying to recover from malaria. All hands turned to and helped make the BOBOLINK ready for sea. Even the Yoeman and Pharmacist Mate helped reline the boilers with fire-brick and 48-hours later we received clearance to get underway, with one boiler on line and all hands still feverishly working to make the old tug sea worthy. We did not want to be relieved and returned to port.
Before noon on January 21st the FOOTE cleared the harbor at Espiritu Santos assisted by yard tugs and by 1:40 P.M. was under tow by the old merchant tanker SS GULF STAR built in 1919 with the BOBOLINK
When new cable arrived we continued our journey on February 4, 1944 and after 43-days and approximately 8,000-miles the saga of the FOOTE ended at Terminal Island, San Pedro, California.
After giving docking assistance to the FOOTE, the BOBOLINK went to Long Beach for overhaul and refitting. Three months later we were on our way to Pearl Harbor where we would spend the remainder of the war towing target rafts and running anti-submarine patrol. Our toughest assignment during the war was the trip home with the FOOTE.
(Written by: Wilbur V. Rogers; cartoons by Gene Schnaubelt)