1933

Ned James Wentz: History of His Sword

A Sea Story: Admiral Thomas Moorer '33, USN 

Ned James Wentz: History of His Sword

By Frances Wentz Taber (Daughter), 2 April 2013, Tallahassee, Florida

BACKGROUND: My father, Ned James Wentz, was born 12 January 1910, Haigler, Dundy Co., NE. His youthful years were spent at his family’s homestead, The Wildcat Ranch, Fort Morgan, Morgan Co., CO.

On 01 June 1933, he was graduated from United States Naval Academy. Annapolis, Anne Arundel Co., MD.

On 11 November 1934, he wed my mother, Elizabeth Frances Simms, of Charleston, Kanawha Co., WV, at Goody, Pike Co., KY.

Throughout their marriage, his tours of duty included: USS Colorado (BB-45), battleship, San Diego, Los Angeles Co., CA; Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Philadelphia, PA; on staff of RADM William Frederick “Bull” Halsey, Jr., USS Yorktown (CV-5), aircraft carrier, Carrier Division Two, Norfolk (City), VA; US Submarine Base, Coco Solo, PCZ; USS Erie (PG-50), patrol gunboat, flagship of The US Caribbean Fleet, Balboa, Panama.

I was born, 27 May 1940, at US Submarine Base, Coco Solo, PCZ.

Shortly following 07 December 1941 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, US Navy dependents were ordered to leave The Panama Canal Zone. My father accompanied my mother and me for our return to reside with my maternal grandparents, at Charleston, Kanawha Co., WV, on 18 March 1942.

On 30 March 1942, my father was assigned to USS Erie (PG-50), Balboa, Panama.

My mother, having left me in the care of my grandparents, spent several months as a civilian, commencing 27 July 1942, at Cristobal, Panama, the new home base for USS Erie (PG-50). She was there – to be with my father, when his ship returned to her home port.

In October 1942, my father had been given orders to report to Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Nueces Co., TX. He returned to The United States for leave – which was spent with my mother and me at Charleston, Kanawha Co., WV, with my mother’s family, and at Fort Morgan, Morgan Co., CO, with his family. He had sought and was granted permission to return to USS Erie (PG-50) – in order to train his replacement. My mother and I were to have joined him at Texas.

On 12 November 1942, USS Erie (PG-50), while leading Convoy TAG-20, between Trinidad and Guantanamo, was torpedoed by German submarine (U-163). This occurred off the shore of Curacao. My father and his replacement were two of six officers and a Philippine officer’s mess boy killed – a total of seven lost.

We did not go to Texas.

SEVENTY YEARS LATER

Two weeks ago, a kind gentleman, Kent Eldemire, of George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, contacted me. He told me that he had, in his possession, my father’s US Naval Academy sword!

This news was astounding. It is the most overwhelming lost-and-found story I have ever heard – and, it connects to me!

For years, Kent has searched The Internet – first, for my father. Then, he discovered that my father had a daughter and found her married name. His early clues were through genealogy websites, where I had postings. And, the final clue was contact information for me, through my beloved late husband’s obituary. Just two weeks ago, he found me! Kent has reiterated to me, a number of times, his appreciating that I have forever used my maiden name as a part of my full name on all documents! Without that, he would never have found me!

Kent’s late father, Enos Wellesley Eldemire (1910-1977), was first mate and senior salvage diver on the salvage tug, Killerig, which accompanied The US Caribbean Fleet, during World War II. This was a former Royal Naval vessel, owned by Merritt-Chapman & Scott, headquartered at New London, CT. Killerig was stationed at Kingston, Jamaica, and she was chartered to The US Navy. Kent’s father and other crew members attempted the salvage of USS Erie (PG-50), at Willemstad, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, 12 November 1942 and shortly following. This was impossible – because of massive torpedo damage to the hull and further extensive destruction from fire emanating from the fuel tanks carried for the small airplane on board.

My late father’s sword was discovered. This sword has been in the possession of The Eldemire Family, since that time – for over seventy years! Both his father and Kent have long wanted to return this sword to the rightful owners, the family of Ned James Wentz. This gentleman has had a long mission!

When port activity began increasing at Willemstad harbor, following World War II, the Netherlands Antilles government requested The US Navy to remove USS Erie (PG-50). She was obstructing the harbor. The US Navy contacted my mother, in 1950 at Winter Park, FL, where we were residing, and asked if she wanted to be notified of any findings. Since I was age of ten years, I remember this – and, I have this letter, today! USS Erie (PG-50) was brought up and towed just out from the harbor – to create an artificial reef. This continues to be a popular diving site – especially for tourists and for Venezuelan residents. I have a fifteen-year friend, Venezuelan native and now US citizen, who has utilized that dive site!

My late husband, Robert “Bo” Weiss Taber, my daughter, Elizabeth Winslow McAuliffe, and I spent a day at Willemstad, while on board a cruise ship, holidays 2000. We visited a small museum, there, devoted to the memory of USS Erie (PG-50).

Since 1969, the sword has been located at Kent’s second home at Cairns, Queensland, Australia – the locale where three of Kent’s four children reside. His son, Shane, there, has located the sword, has sent me photographs and has prepared it for caring shipment to Tallahassee, Leon Co., FL. Today, the sword is en route! I am able to track every step – and, it should be safely within my possession, in three days!

Believe me, overwhelming emotion and excitement prevail…

The sword, within a proper case, is designated for my son, Francis Boll Gibbs, and his son, Couper Marshall Gibbs.


A Sea Story: Admiral Thomas Moorer '33, USN

The late Admiral Tom Moorer, USNA '33 has to be numbered as one of the great naval officers of all time. I was privileged to be a close associate for many years and learned much from the experience.

One of Tom Moorer's most interesting relationships was with members of the Japanese military - those with whom so many of us had been in mortal combat during Word War II. At the conclusion of the War, Moorer was assigned to the Strategic

Bombing Survey, headed by statesman Paul Nitze. Under specific direction from President Harry Truman, the Survey visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki soon after the conclusion of the War, to view the devastation rendered by atomic bombs. Later, as the commander of the US Seventh Fleet headquartered in Japan, Moorer expanded his association with the Japanese people, earning respect with his professional and old southern school charm. This association grew as Moorer ascended the promotion ladder and headed the US Pacific Fleet. In his later roles as the Chief of Naval Operations and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Moorer's Japanese associations were most valuable for US interests in the Far East.

One of the many stories emanating from Moorer's Japanese connection concerns why the Japanese lost the War. That story has now been published. The author, Captain Bryon Klng USNR first heard the story from Admiral Moorer when the latter, in a retired status, addressed a group of junior officers in the early 1980s. King always remembered the lesson of the story - how it emphasizes the age old warfare premise that "amateurs are concerned with weapons systems; professionals are concerned with logistics."

Byron King writes about history and energy issues for an online publication called Whiskey & Gunpowder (http://www.whiskeyandgunpowder.com/) that has a circulation of about 60,000, mostly in North America. He has enthusiastically given his permission for posting the story on usna.com Sea Stories. It is most fitting that it be the opening story from the Class of 1933, a Class that provided so many great leaders and lessons for our Navy. Please enjoy the words and the significant lesson they impart. Jerry Miller USNA '42.

The Old Man And The Oil

He was a frail old fellow, dressed in loose-fitting clothes, working in his garden and chopping potatoes. Less than a year before, in 1945, he was in command of one of the largest fleets that had ever been assembled by any nation. His name was Takeo Kurita, vice admiral of the former Imperial Japanese Navy.

A young U.S. naval officer named Thomas Moorer and his translator approached Kurita. They explained to the admiral that they were working for a historical study group, gathering information about the war that had recently ended for Japan on such unfavorable terms. They asked Kurita if he would agree to discuss his experiences. And so began a series of interviews of the former Japanese military commander by representatives of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, Naval Analysis Division.

"We Ran Out of Oil"

Kurita held nothing back. There were no state secrets any more. "What happened?" asked the American officer. "We ran out of oil," replied Kurita, matter-of-factly.

Again and again during the interviews with Moorer and others, Kurita referred to a lack of fuel as the key reason that the Japanese forces were ground down to memories and ghosts. Kurita reflected on why his fleet was all but annihilated at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. Kurita explained that he brought his ships into that action without knowing whether there was sufficient fuel to bring them out of the zone of combat. Thus, Kurita's ships sailed slowly to their fate, conceding the element of surprise to the vigilant Americans, because the Japanese commanders were attempting to conserve enough fuel to return home. And so, lacking surprise, many of Kurita's ships never had the opportunity even to turn around before being sent to the bottom by U.S. submarines and air power, along a track of sorrow that covered several seas.

Kurita explained that during the Leyte Gulf battle, he deployed his ships on a dangerous night passage through the San Bernardino Strait. "I was low on fuel," he said. Kurita's fleet tankers had been sunk or dispersed. The only fuel available to the Japanese ships was whatever was in their own tanks. "Fuel was an important consideration, the basic one," said Kurita. There was not enough fuel for his ships to sail around the adjacent land masses, so they were forced by necessity to transit the relatively narrow straits.

Several months after the Japanese disaster at Leyte Gulf, in February 1945, forces of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps met with no naval resistance whatsoever during the invasion of Iwo Jima. The Japanese had simply conceded the sea and airspace around the island to the American attackers. The reason was that the Imperial Navy had elected to conserve fuel for the final defense of Japan.

By early 1945, almost all ships of the Japanese fleet had been deactivated. Powerful battleships, and even aircraft carriers, that had cost immense sums to construct before the war with the U.S. and during the early years of the conflict, were mere cold iron tied up to the pier for lack of fuel. Japan's basic military decision-making process was not how to defend against American attacks on many fronts. Japan's main effort was simply to struggle to preserve its dwindling levels of oil reserves.

Flying on Pine Needles

By mid-1944, Japan's economy and its military were being starved of energy supplies, the consequence of an ever-tightening noose applied by U.S. and Allied air and naval forces. U.S. submarines sank hundreds of Japanese ships in this time frame, including critically needed tankers full of oil. The American submarine campaign against Japanese sea power all but cut off the sea lines of communication between Japan and its so-called "southern resource area."

In desperation, Japanese war planners utilized every possible means to convert available resources into fuel substitutes. The Japanese manufactured alcohol from confiscated food supplies such as potatoes, sugar, and rice, thus forcing a direct competition between human stomachs and mechanical gas tanks. But alcohol has an energy content of about 65,000 Btu per gallon, whereas aviation gasoline delivers about 130,000 Btu per gallon. So on the best of days, Japanese aircraft took off with half the energy equivalent of their American counterparts in their fuel tanks. And aerial combat proved the disparity, with American aircraft utterly dominating the skies.

People in Japan were forced to tighten their belts even more when large amounts of garden vegetables began to be used for manufacturing lubricating oils. And even old rubber products such as tires and rain slickers were "distilled" to recover whatever oil could be had. But it was not enough.

By late 1944, the Japanese navy commenced a project to manufacture aviation fuel from pine tree roots. "Two hundred pine roots will keep an airplane in the sky for one hour," said a Navy spokesman. The Japanese navy distributed over 36,000 kettles and stills, in which countless pine tree roots met their fate. Many a hillside of Japan was utterly denuded of trees. But each kettle or still could produce only about 4 gallons of raw product, and even that required significant treatment to upgrade to anything approaching usable fuel. Compounding the problem, each still required its own fuel supply, and this exacerbated an already severe fuel shortage in Japan. By one estimate, 400,000 Japanese worked full-time in order to support a dispersed, inefficient industrial base that could produce all of about 2,500 barrels of pine oil per day. In the end, a mere 3,000 barrels of "pine root" aviation fuel were ultimately delivered to the Japanese navy. And the pine derivative gummed up aviation engines after just a few hours of use. The entire project was a massive waste.

The Way to Lose a War

Many years later, the American naval officer Thomas Moorer had retired as a four-star admiral and chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. In an interview, the retired American Adm. Moorer reflected on the retired Japanese Adm. Kurita that he had met long before. "He had been in command of the entire fleet," recalled Moorer, "and now here he was digging potatoes."

"The lesson I learned," said Moorer, "was never lose a war." And the American admiral added, "The way to lose a war is to run out of oil"

Until we meet again...

July 24, 2006 by Byron W. King. Pittsburgh, PA, U.S.A.

 

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