November 24th, 1941
USS Saratoga, Bremerton Naval Shipyard
The Saratoga had entered the Bremerton Naval shipyard for an overhaul and to have her 30’ x 36’ aft elevator replaced with a much larger one. Aircraft weight and size increases necessitated that this be done. In its place a much larger 44’ x 48’ one with a greater weight capacity was installed. In addition to the elevator change a more modern radar suite was installed and engines overhauled. She was scheduled to depart on the 27th and all was being readied for her departure. Liberty was cancelled and all personnel were ordered to return to the ship. Working parties were being organized to load stores and provisions now being brought to the docks, fuel tanks were being topped off. Down in North Island Naval Air Station the Saratoga’s air-wing & additional aircraft was being readied for departure to the ship. Everything was in readiness at least that’s what was thought.
After installation of the new elevator the system was tested and worked according to specifications but the shipyard engineers wanted to perform one final series of tests before they wrote off on the replacement. Today they placed weights simulating aircraft on the elevator but unknown to the shipyard and shipboard engineers that the weight limits was accidently exceeded by an estimated 20%. As the testing progressed, the elevator was lowered; as it reached the midpoint smoke could clearly be seen by most everyone present, soon a loud BANG was indicating and explosion somewhere below decks. Immediately alarms began to sound throughout the ship, DC Central already manned ascertained where the smoke and explosion originated from and quickly dispatched firefighters and damage control teams to the scene, before this happened refueling was stopped and the working parties were ordered to end their evolution.
As the DC Central and firefighting teams headed towards the point of the explosion they discovered that it emanated from the elevator motor control room. Smoke could be seen coming through some vents near the room. As they approached the hatch heat could be clearly felt though the door, clearly there was a fire just beyond. Taking up positions just in front of the hatch the fire control team waited until the DC team opened it. No sooner than the hatch was opened the fire flashed forward, quick reaction by the firefighting team averted any further damage or anyone getting hurt, a testament to their training. It took but just 15 minutes to have the fire brought under control before the DC team could enter the room. After a careful investigation by the team and the ships Engineer it was determined that the main elevator control motor was the culprit.
When the all clear was given, two shipyard engineers and the ship’s captain showed up on the scene as well.
“Commander Peterson what happened here?
“Well Captain it appears that the elevator control motor overheated somehow and exploded”
“What could have caused that to happen” inquired Captain Somers.
“Unknown at this point Captain, we will have to investigate it further”
Turning to the shipyard engineers he asked them a few questions.
“Mr. Thomas, what do you think happened?
“It could be a number of things. First the motor lacked proper lubrication, second there could have been a short in the system, third and this is quite plausible that for some reason the motor was overloaded”
“That’s simple Captain, there was too much weight on the elevator at the time of the test”
“Could this be verified”
“Yes, it wouldn’t take myself or Mr. James here just a few minutes to verify, we need simply to get on the elevator itself but right now its stuck between the flight deck and the hanger”
“No problem we’ll either erect some scaffolding so you can access it. Just how long will this take?”
“No more than ten minutes I think. We have to check the equipment ID plates for their weights, add them up and compare them to the new elevators specifications”
“Alright see to it, I’ll order the scaffolding erected immediately”
DC upon the captains order began to clean up the area and the fire fighter teams withdrew, except for two personnel with fire extinguishers.
Before leaving the elevator control room the shipyard engineers looked at the equipment data on the motor’s id plate and wrote this down then they left the room. An hour later they were on the aft elevator checking the weigh information on the weight plates. After looking at the elevators specifications and the weight total that they have collected they then left for their office on the dock to check the work orders. Half an hour later they discovered a problem, first it appeared that the elevator was indeed overweight, whether it was intentional or a careless mistake would have to wait until an investigation was authorized.
Second it appeared that the elevator control motors were never installed in the elevator motor control room, in fact the new motors never arrived at the shipyard, it appears that someone gun decked the job. Another investigation will now have to take place, whether the two acts were or were separate incidents will have to be determined. All they knew was that someone or a number of someone’s neck was now on the block.
Luckily this was an issue that could be readily handled. The new motors were available at the for some unknown reason at the Marine Base in Barstow, California and it will take 24 hours to get shipped to the shipyard. In the meantime the old motors have to be removed before the news ones can be installed, this will take 24 hours at least. To install the new motors installed and aligned will take 36 more hours and then another 24 hours to test the elevators before the work order could be signed off and the ship could leave. This had to be relayed tom the Captain. Moments later they were in the Captain’s cabin discussing the matter with him, they wanted this done privately without any other outside ears listening in on the conversation.
Mr. Thomas was the first to speak “Captain Somers we have a major problem here and whether or not it was sabotage or not has to be determined by an investigation and a Board of Inquiry”
“Sabotage what do you mean Mr. Thomas?”
Mr. Thomas began to explain his and Mr. James investigation. “Well Captain Somers we’ve determined that the elevator was overloaded in weight by at least 20%, than we’ve discovered that the elevator control motors were not replaced the new ones that were called for. The overweight conditions on the elevator stressed the old motors causing them to catch fire and explode”
“You think that the two incidents are related Mr. Thomas?”
“I’ll stake my career on it Captain, but again they have to be investigated. One thing that I’m certain of one thing Captain is that the individuals that were involved in both incidents although not under arrest right now are currently under close scrutiny and observation. You see right before I left my office, Mr. James contacted security to inform them of what we had discovered.
“Do you think any of my mine could have been involved?
“Unlikely I think as both evolution's were under the control of the shipyard superintendent and conducted by shipyard personnel”
“Okay so what’s next, will this hinder my ship leaving on schedule?”
“I’m afraid so Captain Somers. You see it’s going to take 24 hours to remove the old motors and 24 hours to receive the new ones, then another 36 hours to install and align the new motors, then another 24 hours to test the elevator. With any luck though Captain we will have you and your ship out of here by the 30th of this month”
“I guess that I will have to alert my escort of this change. Maybe they can anchor of Seattle for a few days and give their crews some liberty. I’ll have to inform Admiral Brooks the CO of this group and Admiral Rearson CO of the battle group assigned as additional escort”
“I have no control or knowledge of that Captain, However I must report this to the Shipyard Superintendent so he can authorize what has to be done to get you out of here”
“ I understand Mr. Thomas and thank you for your report and candor, please inform me when the work can be started”
‘No problem Captain I see no issue in getting the work authorized to get started within the hour. In fact I will suggest to the superintendent that crews work around the clock to see that the work gets done”
“Thanks Mr. Thomas”
“You’re quite welcome Captain”
With that said both engineers left the ship leaving Captain Somers to head for the Radio Shack where he would two messages sent. The first would be to Admiral Brooks aboard the Heavy Cruiser Pensacola and Admiral Rearson aboard the battleship North Carolina.
November 24th, 1941
USS North Carolina, Off the East Coast of Panama
“Admiral we’ve just received a message from Captain Somers CO of theSaratoga, he say that there will a delay getting to San Diego”
“Does he give a reason as to why Captain?”
“Yes he does Admiral, it seems that there was a malfunction of some sort with the aft elevator. Apparently that the elevator control motors were not replaced as they should have been what the elevator was replaced, weight testing of the elevator overloaded the motors and they caught fire and exploded. They will have to be replaced”
“Does the Captain give a time table as to when he will be able to arrive in San Diego?”
“Yes sir, 24 hours to remove the old motors and receive the new ones, 36 to install and align the new motors and at least 24 hours to weight test the elevator. New scheduled departure date is November 30th, which means the earliest we can expect the Saratoga’s group to arrive here in San Diego is December 1st to load her planes which means we won’t be able to leave until December 2nd at the earliest or the 3rd at the latest”
“Very well Captain organize a schedule with the appropriate department heads to have us refueled and provisioned when the Saratoga arrives. Hopefully the Saratoga will load her planes in record time and we will able to leave on December 3rd”
“One more thing Captain contact Pearl and inform them of the delay”
“Yes sir I will see to it”
November 25th, 1941
USS North Carolina, Panama Canal Zone
Just outside the Gatlun locks both battleships received the pilots that would guide them through the canal. As soon as he was ready the pilot onboard the North Carolina began to give instructions to those manning the gate controls and those in turn began giving instructions to the longshoremen and mule operators, within moments the gates began to open. Slowly tugs moved alongside the North Carolina and inched her into the lock. As she entered the lock lines were thrown to her sand the slack taken up o as to secure her to the mules. Soon the North Carolina was completely inside the lock and the gates began to close. The mules were in position to move the ship all that everybody had to do was wait for was the filling of the lock.
Eight minutes later the lock was filled with water and the inner gate began to open, as it opened the North Carolina moved forward under her own power guided by the mules keeping the ship in the middle of the lock. No sooner an she entered the second set of the locks they close and the process was repeated in this lock as well as the third. When the North Carolina entered Gatlun Lake the Virginia repeated what her sister ship had done. With permission from the Panama Canal Zone Command the North Carolina left the shipping lanes and anchored in an isolated part of the lake, she would later be joined by her sister ship. With the two battleships safely within the confines of the Canal Zone the 5 destroyers that made up their escort were free to return to Norfolk as soon as they refueled. The two battleships would receive a similar escort once they left the Canal Zone.
“Captain Strikes I bet your wondering why I had the two ships anchor in this isolated area?”
“Well Admiral now that you mention it yes. Wouldn’t this action jeopardize our rendezvous with the Saratoga and her group not to mention our own escort on the Pacific side”.
“About that escort Captain I had been informed that there would be a delay in getting them here”
“How Come Admiral?”
“There have been reports both unconfirmed and confirmed of German U-Boats in the Indian Ocean, I’m not quite sure how they’re supported and it’s a mystery to the British as well, but I’m sure we will soon find out how one of these days. What the report stated that I received just a few minutes ago is that there seems to be some unidentified submarine activity on the West Coast and with our conflict with the Germans some suspect that it might be some German U-Boats that somehow made it into the Pacific. It further states that the Germans performed this miracle because it is something we would least expect and the West Coast wouldn’t be prepared for such activities and our ships would be easy pickings for these subs. Since our escort was already at sea it was decided to use them to investigate the alleged reports.”
“I see Admiral, do you think that it’s German U-Boats?”
“Personally I do not mainly because they don’t have the range to traverse that far without some sort of refueling point. They no longer have any bases or territory in the Pacific to go to and unless they have some form of tankers that we don’t know about I find it highly improbable that they are German U-Boats.”
“You never mentioned what you suspect Admiral?”
“That’s easy Captain. I suspect that they are Japanese subs and their mission is simple to scout out our defenses. How long they’ve been doing this I can’t say, but I’m sure that it has been awhile. And I’m sure that I’m not the only one.”
“Do you think Naval Headquarters suspects Admiral?”
“Not only Naval Headquarters but San Diego, San Francisco and Pearl Harbor Naval Bases as well. But this is something we have no control over at least at the moment, all we can do is wait for our escort to finish their investigation, refuel and head towards the Miraflores Locks to wait for us.”
“Do you want to sound liberty call for the crew Admiral?”
“No we won’t be here long enough for that, but I do have an idea though Captain. How about a cookout on the fantail of both ships? We can have the machinist mates put together about 8-10 BBQ grills using some old 55 gallon grills and could cook some steaks, chicken, hamburgers and hotdogs on them. Each ship’s galley could cook up some side dishes, such as corn, beans, potatoes of some sort maybe even some sort of salad. What do you think?”
“I think it’s an excellent idea I will contact the appropriate department heads to get things started. It’s now 1430 I’m sure we can everything in place by 1630. I’ll also contact Captain Franklin on the Virginia and inform him of the idea, I’m pretty sure he’ll go along with it. By the way what of the men on watch?”
“I’ve been thinking about that. There’s two ways we can handle it. First is that we can have the men on watch relieved for a short period of time or second, we can food sent to them. Either way I think that this is a decision the Department Heads should handle so long as the integrity of the ships are not compromised”
“I agree Admiral” and with that said Admiral Rearson idea was put into play. Captain Franklin on the Virginia agreed it was a great idea and immediately contacted the appropriate Department Heads to get things started. Even though there was beer on board both ships it was decided to not to use it rather non-alcoholic liquid refreshments would be served.
“By the way did you notice the construction on the new locks as we came in. Impressive, very impressive. I heard a rumor that they’re ahead of schedule and should be completed sometime early next year”
“That’s not a rumor Captain, barring anything drastic happening they will be open for business sometime in April”
“Never suspected that they would be so large though, guess this confirms the other rumor that I heard, their size. They’re way too big for anything that we have now though, more than likely being built for the Montana’s that are under construction”
“More than likely Captain”
“Admiral is it necessary for us to maintain the ships at Condition III?”
“I hate to say it Captain but it completely slipped my mind, no secure from Condition III set Condition IV from here on in. Relay that order to the Virginia.
“Aye Sir. OOD secure from Condition III, set Condition IV, and have that message relayed to the Virginia”
“Yes Sir” Getting on the 1MC Lieutenant Jensen announced to the ship “Attention, all Hands this is the OOD speaking secure from Condition III, set Condition IV throughout the ship. Communications Officer relay that order to the Virginia”
Buoyed by the thought of a cookout it didn’t take long for the machinist mates to construct the grills and the cooks to start preparing the meal. In fact the machinist mates had the grills ready and on the fantail by 1545. Since there was no charcoal on board several supply officers and men took a ships boat to shore and purchased some in town. Everything was in place at the time thought of by Admiral Rearson.
Both ship’s crew’s began lining up for the food on both the port and starboard sides as two lines were formed. For these cookouts rank had no privileges as both officers and enlisted line up together, the only exception to this was the captain of each ships as they could easily jump the line. At 1700 the food was ready and the men were beginning to get served, the lines moved slowly but they moved and eventually everyone was served including those on watch. By the time the last men was served there was still plenty of food left and so many of the men had seconds and in cases thirds. By 2000 the cook outs were over and everything was broken down. The grills though were left in place for the coals to die down. The next morning the grills from both ships would be brought to shore and given to the galleys on shore.
During this cook out evolution Admiral Rearson stood on the aft superstructure near one of the AA gun tubs watching what was happening below. Somehow it reminded him of the cookouts his family used to have when he was young, with his father often away on deployments it was something him and his younger brother used to look forward to when his father returned. His father also an Annapolis, class of 1893 had once served under Commodore Dewey on the Olympia during the Battle of Manila Bay. Later his father served on the USS South Carolina the first American Dreadnaught as Weapons Officer.
There were two deployments that Admiral Rearson’s father was most proud and that was being XO on the battleship Kansas during the around the world cruise of the Great White Fleet and serving as Commanding Officer on the battleship New York of the Sixth Battleship Squadron that was deployed as part of the British Home Fleet in 1917. Tragically Admiral Rearson’s father’s life was cut short in 1918, his Captain’s Gig was accidently rammed by the destroyer Ammen during a foggy evening while reporting to the Texas flagship of the Sixth Battleship Squadron in Scapa Flow, his body was never recovered.
His brother, Joseph Rearson like him decided to father in his father’s footsteps and graduated from the Academy in 1923, and like his brother excelled in both academics and sports. Joseph Rearson was recently promoted to Captain and given the command of the Heavy Cruiser Minneapolis.
As far as Admiral Rearson is concerned he was born Robert Scott Rearson in the year 1894 one year after his father graduated from the Academy. In 1911 the year he turned 17 he enrolled as a midshipman in the Naval Academy where his favorite subject was military history and starred as the football team’s running back. Upon graduation he was assigned to the armored cruiserMontana, later he served on the battleships Arizona & Colorado, then the carrier Lexington.
In 1934 after being promoted to Captain, Admiral Rearsons next posting was as Naval Attache to the American Embassy in Tokyo. On several occasions he had the opportunity to meet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto future commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet in poker games. Admiral Rearson learned the hard way just how good Admiral Yamamoto was at poker. Little did the Admiral know was that they would meet again in another form of competition, combat as opposing Admirals in a great naval war.