Letters Home – Back to the Pacific in 1943

There still are no letters to transcribe since the Battle of Casablanca (Operation Torch). But while I continue to pull some strings on Kucks and Grandma’s mtDNA, I will give you scuttle butt from the U.S.S. Massachusetts.

Big Mamie came home to Casco Bay in November after the Vichy French surrendered at Casablanca. The crew returned to training, drilling, and dancing. Whaleboats and other motor steamers made the tender between Big Mamie and the liberty island (Little Chebeague Island) or Portland. By now winter was probably making the island a little too cold for much fun. Liberty taken in nearby Portland, Maine was filled with more winter friendly activity. Dances were held, and Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland were featured in the movie, The Major and The Minor. At Lafayette Hotel on Congress Street sailors were entertained by accordion playing, Squeeze Box Bev.

When the whaleboat or motor launch had to make the run,
the coxswain and the crew often came back caked with ice.

Edward Palmer and Richard Bowerman, “U.S.S. Massachusetts, BB-59

In February, Big Mamie was issued new orders; return to the Pacific to protect supply ships traversing the wide ocean. She set out with three companions, USS Phillip, USS Eaton, and USS Renshaw, On their way south they encountered a heavy Atlantic storm that kept the crew scrambling while they resolved one flooding issue after another. This storm followed them all the way to the Panama Canal Zone.

Having finally arrived in one piece, and none the worse for wear, the foursome crossed the Panama Canal on February 12 and 13. They moored on the Pacific side of the Canal at Balboa where their Officer’s learned a very valuable lesson on balancing honors to others ships and war-time operations. Capt. Glover, after meeting with the Skipper of the British carrier HMS Victorious, issued orders to cease honors until further notice.

Mamie’s officer on the deck anxious to accord the proper, and then required, honors called out the Marines and the band. When the first hawser from the Victorious hit the dock, the band struck up “God Save the King.” To the consternation of the skipper of the Victorious, all British seamen dropped everything they were doing and stood at attention, so that the ship started to drift out with the tide. At the conclusion of the British anthem, the band struck up our national anthem, and every US sailor on dock stood at attention, dropping everything he had been doing.

Palmer and Bowerman
HMS VICTORIOUS WAS LENT TO THE USN. 13 FEBRUARY TO 19 AUGUST 1943, WHILE THE BRITISH AIRCRAFT CARRIER WAS CO-OPERATING WITH THE UNITED STATES NAVY IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN. SHE WAS LENT TO THE US PACIFIC FLEET AT A TIME WHEN IT WAS TEMPORARILY SHORT. (A 19681) The first British aircraft carrier to go through the Panama Canal. HMS VICTORIOUS manoeuvring through one of the lock gates of the canal with not more than a foot to spare on each side. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152272, permission for personal use.

Upon departing Balboa, the USS Massachusetts was subjected to another training exercise(s); repelling simulated torpedo attacks and dive bombs by US forces. She arrived at her new “home” at New Caledonia on March 4, 1943, joining the carriers USS Saratoga and HMS Victorious, battleships USS Washington and USS Indian, and various other smaller warships. Her crew dutifully observed lights-out (externally) while they longingly watched the other ships enjoying moving pictures on their decks.

From USS Boston CA-69 In WWII blog “It took at least an entire afternoon to cross the Canal, maybe even more. It took quite a while before we hit Balboa and parked for the night.” Image of a battleship approaching a lock at the Panama Canal.