SOCs Missing in Coral Sea, March 1942
"Since I was a Naval Aviator aboard PORTLAND 1940 to 1943, my friend and
former shipmate, Ted Waller, has asked me to respond to your letter.
John Greaves Art, plus text and link to "Kaiser's" experiences at Midway.
You mention 8 May 1942, but, that was the date of the Coral Sea Battle,
and, the event you mention occurred 2 months before that!
In reviewing my daily log, which I maintained during WW 2, I find the
On Mon. 16 March, became aware that 6 SOC floatplanes had been lost
about 4 days ago (about 12 Mar.) My friend, Gus Graves, from LOUISVILLE
was one; two other friends, McGowan and Brandt, from ASTORIA were 2 and
3; and three other pilots from ASTORIA and PENSACOLA were 4, 5 and 6.
On Thur. 19 Mar. we were advised that they had been found on Rossel Island.
Fri, 27 Mar., ASTORIA departed the force to pick up the planes and crew.
On Sun. 29 Mar., ASTORIA rejoined our force with planes and crew. One of
the LOUISVILLE planes, with Gus Graves as pilot, was transferred to
PORTLAND temporarily. Gus had swollen feet, no shoes, was barefoot with
coral cuts on his feet and mosquito bites on his body.
On Mon., 30 Mar., Gus and his plane were transferred to the cruiser PENSACOLA.
That is as much as my log will reveal to me!"
Now, I'll attempt to answer the questions you posed in your letter to
As you can see, I did copy Jim with whom you had communicated in the US.
- No, none of these floatplanes were from my ship, PORTLAND
- We carried 4 planes and 6 pilots.
- They were SOC aircraft (Scout-Observation built by Curtiss).
- I do not know if any members of the crews are still alive today!
- I do not know where you can obtain further information.
Best regards, matey!
Ralph "Kaiser" Wilhelm
Picture of Astoria picking up an SOC
My thanks for your help so far, and some corrections
first inquiry: the aircraft were six Curtiss SOC; the date was
circa March 10, 1942; the cruisers involved were USS Astoria,
USS Louisville, USS Pensacola.
Also, where was USS Lexington during March, 1942?
My interest in this event stems from my father's involvement as
one of the maintenance crew despatched by the RAAF (on a PBY-5),
to assist in repairing the float planes.
If I could have your postal address, I will send you the full story,
when I finish my research, including other documents and photographs.
Hope you can help,
You got the message from Ralph "Kaiser" Wilhelm.
Here is a brief outline of the Lexington's tour in the Coral Sea.
Feb 16. Lexington TF 11 (VAdm Brown) heads for an attack on Rabaul, New Britain
Feb 19. Lexington discovered and fights off an air raid and cancels his air attack on Rabaul.
Feb . Lexington patrols Coral Sea.
Feb 24. Yorktown to New Hebrides to meet Lexington for another Rabaul raid.
Mar 6 . Lexington (RAdm Fitch) and Yorktown (RAdm Fletcher) join up intending raid on Rabaul
Mar 8 . Japanese invade New Guinea at Lae and Salamaua.
Mar 10. Lexington and Yorktown attack Japanese invasion force at New Guinea, sinking four ships, damaging 13 out of 18.
Mar 15. Yorktown in Coral Sea; Saratoga on W Coast for repairs;
Lexington to Pearl; Enterprise for overhaul. Hornet in transit.
Mar 26. Lexington arrives Pearl to dry dock for overhaul.
The biography of the Lexington is told in
"Queen of the Flatops" by Stanley Johnston, E.P. Dutton & Co., Sept 1942.
up the ships that accompanied her, we found Chap 7. Cataways Among
Cannibals, pg 117 to 134 about the missing SOC planes. This appears
to be the same story I had read in a periodical last year that I
could not find. There were two Australian PBY teams. Here is the
one that worked on the author's plane.
"... [they] came back on the 21st with a crew of half a dozen
Australian mechanics and one officer, having left the four radiomen
in Tulagi for minor medical treatment.
The book does not mention other ships by name - wartime security.
The companion Yorktown is mentioned as "another carrier".
"During the next week the work of examining
all the planes,
checking engines, and making repairs to Brandt's elevators was
carried out. The Aussies came out with tools but virtually no
materials. When they needed rivets they took a piece of copper
tubing and sliced strips out of it. From these strips they cut
rivets that served their purposes very well. They also showed
ingenuity in handling two of the engines which were dismantled,
and in finding ways and means of rerigging the biplane wings.
All in all the Aussies impressed the pilots with their ability to
find makeshift means of doing any job required."
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