Thursday, November 24, 2022

BOOKS: Some Brief Exploits of the USS Astoria during World War II

Where the Crew of the “Mighty 90” earned it’s Due!


The third actual USS Astoria was launched at the Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding concern in March, 1943, and commissioned by the U.S. Navy on May 17, 1944, with Captain George C. Dyer in command. Following the Ship’s Fitting Out, it began Sea Trials also during May, 1944, before being commissioned.


During it’s maiden Shakedown Cruise in June, she Quickly encountered the first of Her two Steam Turbine failures due to faulty Bearings. And finished the Shakedown cruise on partial propulsion.


Dyer Had thought it would be a good idea to have any of the remaining, surviving Astoria II Heavy Cruiser (CA-34) “Nasty Asty” crew brought aboard to help boost morale, along with Helping break in the “Green” Sailors, which ultimately Fails. With some five-six former USS Astoria members being ordered to report to Philadelphia.


The book details how Petty Officer Russo Lemon I believe? Who’d survived at Sea after being Sunk Had decided He wasn’t going back to the War. As He’d had enough Hazardous duty to last Him a Lifetime!


As Lemon as the “ring leader,” leads a group of Nine Men to essentially go “AWOL” during the Ship’s repairs to it’s second Turbine failure in San Francisco, during Her several weeks layover. Since the Turbine had to be removed by Cutting it Out of the Ship!


Thus during His 14 Days Liberty, Lemon thinks He’s gotten away with another cushy Shore duty “Spell,” after reporting for Duty  at His former New Orleans base.


Dyer was a Navy “Career Man” through ‘N through. Having graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy’s accelerated class of 1919 a year early in 1918. And was an early submariner, who proudly wore His dolphin insignia upon His uniform and served aboard two Battleships Sunk during the War. Although No mention is made of His serving aboard the USS Arizona, presumably before Pearl Harbor. While He also served as the Executive Officer aboard the USS Indianapolis, which Sadly was the last U.S. Navy Ship sunk during World War II.


Alas, Dyer a strict disciplinarian. Loudly Complains about Russo’s Deceit all the way up the chain of command. Also wanting the New Orleans Base Disciplined for it’s lax Handling of such matters. And implicitly wants Russo returned to the Mighty 90 to make an example of!


As Dyer eventually gets His wish, although it takes several months of transferring Russo from vessel to vessel at Sea. Before Lemon is finally sent across to the Mighty 90 at Sea in the typical Bosun’s Chair transferring maneuver between two Ships at Sea!


As Lemon repeatedly pleads with Captain Dyer to be Punished by Captain’s Mast. But Dyer refuses everytime, saying instead, He’ll let the Crew decide His Punishment!


Yet dyer, who ultimately molds the Mighty 90’s Green Crew into a “lean, mean, fighting Machine, Hooah!” Also knows He needs to do certain things to make His Crew more cohesive and keep it’s morale up.


Hence Dyer allows the creation of a Ship’s Newspaper, the Astoria Morning Press News. Along with allowing the most controversial aspect of the Daily “Fish Wrap”  to proceed. As Artist Joseph Aman prominently makes a popular cartoon character known as Joey Fubar, the latter being the polite acronym for “fouled Up Beyond All recognition!” Makes  Fun over the mockery of Daily life aboard the Mighty 90 with it’s Satirical Whit!


As the latter nickname for the Ship was also Dyer’s idea that was voted upon by the Crew’s choices drawn from a suggestion box…


The Ship finally sees it’s first action at Iwo Jima, before being forced to endure 79 straight days of Nonstop Combat Duty during the Occupation of Okinawa!


Expounding upon it’s “Picket Duty” as Escort protection for the USS Essex (CV-9) Aircraft Carrier and the Horrors of defending Against the Japanese’s newest weapon, the Kamikaze!


Along with detailing how the Japanese pilots were skilled enough and took to flying low above the water between the U.S. Navy’s Battle Group formations causing Ships to rake one another with Deadly Friendly Fire!” And How the Astoria devises having an extra Officer to tap othes when to Quit firing their weapons after Astoria Has Shot at another Navy Ship! As I know the book mentions how the USS Enterprise was Shot Up this way…


And there’s brief excerpts from Herman Blodgett’s Diary, the Ship’s lone Diesel Mechanic, who spent two years working on the Ship’s Steam Turbine engines instead.


As many Sailors kept “Secret” Diary’s during the War, even though they were supposedly Forbidden, in Fear of there falling into Enemy Hands and giving away Ship’s movements, Formation numbers, etc. Since after all, “Loose Lips Sink ships!”


As Petty Officer Fred Lynn, who was one of the Ship’s Gun Fire Controllers also kept a Diary with extensive notes. With Lynn recounting the sleeping Quarters being racks of four bunks stacked. And His top Bunk Sucked because you could Never escape the Ships incessant



As Lynn notes How “rank” the smells became, along with the Men being so exhausted they just slept with their clothes on for the constant beckoning to General Quarters! And How Lynn managed to get His time of getting to Station Down to 45 seconds from originally two minutes…


And there’s the Harrowing recounting of Captain Armitage being swept Overboard during a Typhoon! With Die markers being thrown into the rough Seas to mark His location and fortunately being plucked out of the Heavy Seas! And the Destroyer returning Him taking to the time honoured tradition of asking for Ransom for His return. For which the Mighty 90 sends over copious amounts of chocolate Ice Cream!


As I believe this was the very same Typhoon that Captain Dyer had pleaded with Admiral Halsey’s Staff to change course which they refused to do, until much later when it was too late to evade the Typhoon which cost the lives of some 800 men!


In December, many months after Dyer had been made Admiral and transferred command of the Mighty 90 in June, 1945. (After His year’s command of the Astoria) Presumably that same year? Newly “minted” Admiral Dyer ran into Fleet Admiral William “bull” Halsey, Jr. after Halsey’s return from Tokyo.


As a Steely Eyed Halsey gruffly shook His Hand said menacingly: Wouldn’t you just be the son of A Bitch with the right course, 180 Degrees True! And then Stomped off


And I marvel over how at just over two Football Fields long, i.e.; 610 Feet, with a Beam over Six Stories wide (66 Feet) and Draft of 25 Feet. ! How in 1946, the USS Astoria (CL-90) spent time cruising the Pacific as a “victory Ship.” And even carried that year’s Portland, Oregon’s Rose Festival Queen down the Willamette River! Along with also cruising the “Mighty Columbia” and was the first U.S. Navy Ship to visit it’s Namesake, Astoria upon the Columbia River…


Initially the two separate USS Astoria Crews begin holding yearly reunions in 1973 on the West and East coasts respectively, since they’re Not getting any Younger! Before I believe the final two years were Held between 1995-96 at Gearhart, Oregon, nearby Astoria.


Lastly, there’s much written about the Mighty 90’s Official Photographer Herman Schnipper, who being Jewish, is forced to Deal with tons of Antisemitism during His entire service aboard the Mighty 90. Having to endure endless Anti-Semitic “taunts” from other Sailors while asking to Have their pictures taken. And How Schnipper who apparently “Cracks” during their 79 Days of Nonstop combat duty, says something wrong to an Officer and ultimately loses His Photographer’s Mate ranking and is Demoted back to Seaman First class.


Which seems to be an overly Harsh reaction, for which the Navy never reinstated Schnipper, even with Dyer’s pleading.


As Schnipper who remained in the Navy Reserve, would serve as Photographer aboard one last cruise upon the Battleship USS Wisconsin in 1947. While the USS Astoria would serve the Navy until being Decommissioned on July 1, 1949. Then spending two Decades “Mothballed” before being Stricken from the U.S. Navy records in 1969.


As Schnipper would be the only former Sailor on Hand to take one last photograph of His former ship sitting proudly behind razor wire Chain link Fencing, when being towed off for Scrapping in early January, 1971.


As Schnipper kept a negative of every print He made during His Mighty 90 service, which provides a rich pictorial History of the Mighty 90. Since the U.S. Naval Archives only decided to keep a scant 26-27 images from His vast collection!


As much of Schnipper’s Photography can be viewed upon the Ship’s Mighty 90’s excellent website at the link below.