Every June, Bill reflects on his first wartime sea voyage to the South Pacific and the disastrous events of 16 and 23 June 1943…
27 March 1943 – I was fresh out of U.S. Navy Boot Camp and Gunnery School, and sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge aboard the Liberty ship SS Nathaniel Currier. This would be my first wartime sea voyage and all I knew was we were bound for the South Pacific on a logistical supply run in preparation for the invasion of the Central Solomons.
9 June, Noumea, New Caledonia – Just outside the range of Japanese land-based aircraft, the Currier joined six other ships – three Liberties (U.S. Navy AKs) and three escort vessels – and together they formed U.S. Navy Task Unit 32.4.4. Now we knew our destination: Guadalcanal.
16 June – One week later 1350 hours, the Currier received a Condition “Very” Red signal with orders to get underway immediately. Out of the sky appeared a formation of Japanese dive bombers. Within minutes, the Task Unit was under heavy enemy fire and the sky was filled with dogfights and flak from ship and ground guns. The battle raged on for hours. The first enemy plane gunned down from the Nathaniel Currier was by Gunner Duane Curtis. When the air attack was over, the Liberty USS Celeno (AK-76) was bombed, beached and burning. (Photo: Gunner Duane Curtis, SS Nathaniel Currier, downed the first enemy plane during the 16 June 1943 air attack. Photo courtesy Duane Curtis.)
23 June – But there would be no rest for T.U. 32.4.4. Seven days later on 23 June in the darkness of 0450 hours, the Task Unit was transiting “Torpedo Alley” in the Southern Solomons when the convoy was attacked again; this time torpedoed by a Japanese sub. The Liberties USS Deimos (AK-78) and USS Aludra (AK-72) were sunk. Of the four Liberties in Task Unit 32.4.4, three were gone. The lone survivor was the SS Nathaniel Currier, the Liberty ship I was on.
My first wartime battle and I was one of the lucky ones.
Enlisted men weren’t always privy to the details of battles with the enemy and the aftermaths to ships and their crews. It would be decades later when I was doing archival research for my first World War II memoir mixed with history, Bluejacket Odyssey, 1942-1946: Guadalcanal to Bikini, that I would find out what happened to the three Liberties that didn’t make it and their crews.