WWII
Earl Anderson - American POW
December 1941

December 8th, 1941. Olongapo, Philippines.

04:00 Everybody was turned out of their bunks and told that the Japs had bombed Pearl Harbor. Not having been assigned a battle station, I just shrugged my shoulders and rolled over. I figured it was just another drill, not realizing it was the real McCoy.

 06:00 A Manila news broadcast wakes me up and now I realize that it’s not just a dream. For the past three months, I’ve sweated out a transport, and now that I had almost realized my dream, them bastards have to set up my playhouse. Oh well, that’s life for you.

    All of us were shaken out of the sack and issued rifles and ammunition, 100 rounds each. The 4th Marines, 1000 of them, had been with us one week, so the base was crowded now. They had come down from Shanghai, China.

    Now we settled down to wartime routine. No more liberty, no pretty gals, no place to drown one’s sorrows, or just drown. The job I’m working on requires day and night work with only a cat-nap once in a while.

    December 9th, 1941. American PBY seaplanes {seven} had just landed and were anchored out in the bay. At about 10:00am, two TYBF’s {Jap planes} came skimming over the water toward the PBY’s, firing their machine guns. We had been warned and we were waiting for them. Three hundred sailors with rifles and four to five hundred Marines were all firing at these planes. The Jap planes set all seven PBYs on fire and flew off. No loss of life. Years later, I found out both planes crashed in the jungle.

    December 10th, 1941. Caviti Navy yard was destroyed. Two subs hit, one destroyed. The destroyers Sea Lion and Sea Dragon were badly damaged.

    December 11th, 1941. We abandoned the base, leaving the Marines to destroy it. We left Olongapo in school buses and took two days to reach Manila. Everywhere we go, we meet Filipino soldiers who greet us with confident smiles. Way down deep I know we are only stalling for time. We don’t stand a chance unless help arrives.

    The only surviving U.S. ship in Manila Bay is my old ship, the Canopus. Back aboard the good ole Mama-san, and boy am I glad I didn’t get stuck on land to fight. That’s no good.

     The crews aboard the Canopus repaired the destroyer, Sea Dragon, which left on December 14th. The Canopus did three mine sweeps and then gunboat and pigeon sub salvages. We could have made a run for it, but I guess we were too slow. I’ll never know.

    December 15th, 1941. I’m now assigned to the Oil King Gang. I had been one before for a short period of time. I knew all five guys in the group. 

     December 16th, 1941. Big day for the Canopus. We were sitting on the bottom between piers one and three, acting as anti-aircraft protection. Most of our oil was pumped out to hidden tanks ashore. We took on water ballasts. We were equipped with four 3-inch A.A. {Anti-Aircraft} guns shielded with 2 inch boiler plates.

    Here they come. Fifty-four Betty’s {Japanese bombers} flying in formation heading right for us, and the port area of Manila. Noontime. About a mile from us, they hit the Navy Club and many cheers went up. I’ll tell about that later. We took shelter below decks. Why? We were told to do it. The bombs began to hit all around us and some actually hit us. All members of the A.A. battery, 36 men, were hit, but none were killed. We went around plugging up holes in the side of the ship with wood plugs. Later, I went up to see the damage. The thing that I could not believe was the shrapnel holes in the A.A. guns’ 2” boiler plates, as if a welding torch did it.

    The reason the cheers went up when the Navy Club was hit was because the enlisted men of the Asiatic fleet paid for the Club through a forced collection. On opening night, some drunken sailors threw Admiral Hart into the wading pool, not knowing who he was. Apparently, he was interfering with the fun. The next day, the club became Shore Patrol Heights, and enlisted men were restricted, as the previous agreement was no officers and no Shore Patrol. Just being run by four CPOs. All this was gone. Years before, the same thing happened and that became the Army and Navy Club-officers only, enlisted men had to stay away.

    Working in the Oil King Gang, I knew the status of the oil on board- there was very little. But the plan was if we were to move, we could take our oil back and fill up our tanks. Oil and water don’t mix, which we found out later.

    The Skipper, Commander Sackett, decided that as long as our guns were falling short, all hands would seek shelter ashore when the air raid alarm went off. That was all we needed. We found a nice bar and grill two blocks from the ship, right next to the slit trenches we were supposed to use as cover. The bar was a cabaret-type place called the “Black Cat”, where there were five or six cabaret girls and all the booze you wanted. The bar was run by a retired Army Sergeant. Everyday bombs hit close by. They were some hits!

     December 24th, 1941. No sooner had I sat down to dinner, when the air raid siren goes off. There have been so many mistakes made in the Manila signals, so we’re not supposed to pay any attention to them. We’re supposed to wait until the siren is sounded aboard the ship. There it goes and away I go. Only the A.A. crew and some black gang stayed aboard. The rest of us seek shelter ashore, but it gives us a good excuse to go over and have a few cold ones. Well, here I am having a nice cold one in the proper atmosphere {our favorite local bar}, when the front window is shattered, tables are blown over, and everybody is on the deck. Things quiet down and we rush outside to see what the score is. There’s a bomb crater right in front of the joint. The port area is burning in many spots. The retired Army Sergeant, who owned the bar, told us, “I’m heading for the hills. You guys help yourself.” That was the end of the good times.    

    It looks like old Mama-san, the Canopus, had taken it on the chin. So we went back to the ship and found out that they dropped bombs all around her, but there were no direct hits. That night on December 24th, our ship started to take on oil to prepare for departure. When we left, Manila was going to be an open city with no defense.

    One or two nights later, I had to work guard duty. We were told there was the possibility that Japanese skin divers would come in and place explosives on the ship. We were supposed to patrol back and forth on the deck. Another guard patrolled one section of deck and I patrolled the other. I said to him, “I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I’m not going to stomp up and down all night. I’m going to find a cubby-hole somewhere where I can sit there and get some rest. If someone comes by and doesn’t respond, I’ll just shoot them.” We carried rifles with fixed bayonets and kept the safety’s off. I was resting in my cubby-hole when I heard someone approaching in the dark. I didn’t say anything at first. I cornered him with my bayonet. Then, I said, “Who the hell are you?” He answered, “I’m Captain Sackett.” I looked at him and said, “Okay, you can pass.” He saved a lot of us by getting us off the ship during the air attacks. He was all right.

    Captain Sackett was a good guy, but the guy before him was even better. His name was Captain Bannerman and he was an old drunk. Every time we went to the Navy Club in Tsingtao, if he was there, he always sent over a round of drinks to us. That was very unusual at the time. Usually, Officers had nothing to do with enlisted men.

     I got sent back to the ship once for slapping a girl, while I was in a bar in Tsingtao. It was early Sunday morning. We had got into an argument, so I slapped her in the face. It was the only time in my life I did something like that. This guy came walking by wearing a “pit helmet”, which we used to call a “Frank Buck helmet”, which meant he was an MP {Military Police}. He had a whacking stick in his hand and he wore Bermuda shorts with high socks. He said to me, “Son, you shouldn’t treat a woman like that.” I said, “Who the hell are you?” He said, “I’m Captain Carroll, Chief of Staff, Asiatic Fleet.” So I said, “Why don’t you take the four stripes out of your ass and put them on your shoulder where they belong?” Then I ran out of the bar, jumped into a rickshaw, and took off.

    He blew a whistle and suddenly I had the Shore Patrol all around me. They picked me up and sent me back to the ship. I was under Shore Patrol arrest. I had to go to mast, but I missed Exec Mast, so they held me over for Captain’s Mast. Captain Bannerman was presiding. He looked at the Shore Patrol report and asked, “Did you really say that to Captain Carroll? I want you to repeat what you said to him.” I repeated it. He broke out laughing so hard, he almost fell down. He said, “Two days deprivation of liberty.” This meant nothing to me because we went ashore whenever we wanted to.

     Captain Bannerman’s tour was eventually up, and he was replaced by Captain Sackett. Commander Sackett had a lot to do with submarine engineering. He was instrumental in salvaging the Squalis, which sank off of Portsmouth NH in 1939.

    We are getting the ship ready for getting underway. Boy, I hope we join the rest of the fleet down south, but I doubt it because I’ve already been told the inside dope on how much fuel we have and how far it will take us.

    It is dark and we are underway in Manila Bay. I take a trip up topside for air and now I realize something disastrous is taking place in Manila. The sky is red and heavy. Explosions are going off continuously in that direction.

      We took on as much oil as we could and got underway. We had to go through Navy mine fields, which contain contact mines. That night, we lost the fire in the boilers twice because of water in the oil. If the ship remained dead in the water, we could have drifted into one of the mines. We had to hand feed the boilers. We formed a “bucket brigade”, which handed off buckets of diesel oil from man-to-man, so we could keep the boilers firing. Luckily, we avoided the mines and arrived at Mariveles Bay, which is on the southern tip of the Bataan peninsula. We covered the ship with fishnets and tree branches to hide it from air attack. This would be the last place the Canopus would stay before we sunk her.

    We were still fully operational. All shops were at 100%. We had time to fix anything mechanical, which we proceeded to do. We were able to service jobs until February, 1942. We serviced PI boats and all kinds of small crafts that patrolled the defense area.

    December 25th, 1941. Yeah, today is Christmas, and here we are in Mariveles Bay, tying up to a makeshift dock. Why? Because we are too big and slow to make a run for it, so we have to stay here and let the Japs use us for bombing practice. Oh well, that’s the breaks.

     December 29th, 1941. We thought we were pretty well camouflaged. That is, up until today. A group of high altitude bombers came over and dropped the mail around old Mama-San. We were pattern bombed. We were hit once by a 500 bomb. It went through the three decks aft and exploded on the propeller shaft in the shaft alley. The force of the explosion traveled upwards and killed one man, a friend named Rex. The shaft alley sent the main force to the engine room. This is where the engine room crew and fire room crew took shelter. Five out of ten men were killed and four were wounded. Only the Chief Officer was uninjured. A sailor named “Bull Shantz” had carried away nearly everybody who was injured in the engine room.

    My boss, Squire Boon Zane, who took the place where I was usually assigned, was killed. I had taken shelter ashore. There were four of us under an overhang of rock on the beach about a half-mile from the ship. The bombs were exploding all around us. The one that hit close was ten feet directly above us. I thought we had it, but when the smoke cleared, we were shaken but okay. We ran back to the ship to help put out the fires and buried the dead that night at sea. I was in the burial party, as I knew all the men who were killed. As we were committing one at a time to the deep and after counting six splashes, we heard a seventh splash.

    I remember it was pitch black and talk about being scared. We fished out one of the party from the water; his name was Earl LaFrance. He was alive. It was like a scene in a movie, as I think back.   

     The ship was patched up and back in business that day. A few days later, she was seaworthy again. I had many duties besides pumping oil, water, and different fluids off the ship. As time went on, our supply got low and in order to replenish it, we would patrol Manila Bay during daylight hours all the way to Manila thirty miles away. There would be five in the crew of a forty-foot motor launch equipped with empty 50 gallon barrels, a couple of pumps, and shallow water diving equipment. We had a 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the stern. Our Skipper, Commander Sackett, wanted the gun mounted on the bow. He relented when we told him we weren’t going in to attack, but the gun was there so we could get out of any situation. We salvaged quite a bit of oil from barges and small ships that were abandoned all over Manila Bay.

NEXT: January - March 1942 >

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