After almost a year in the East, Jack Crane was aboard an American transport, steaming towards Hawaii.
Homeward bound, he found himself filled with mixed feelings. There was the natural desire to be on American soil again. There was an eagerness to get to other fronts and see what Americans were doing in Britain and in North Africa.
Mingled with this, Jack Crane felt sorry to be leaving the East just when our men were getting ready for large-scale offensives against the Japs.
He had watched our forces through the bad, days at the start of the war. He wanted to wait and see the good days the days when we would do to the Japs what they had done to us at Pearl Harbor, Singapore and Bataan.
* * *
Driving the Japs out of Guadalcanal had been the first step on the long march to Tokyo. It had been a great victory. So Crane was thinking.
Yet sometimes, in war, the difference between defeat and victory hangs on such a thin thread. It was so in the Solomons. Crane remembered one night on Guadalcanal when a small force of torpedo boats was all we had to turn the tide against the Japs ...
The torpedo boats had belonged to Lieut. Chet Stewart's squadron. Crane had seen them in action, and to his mind Chet Stewart and his men were among the bravest fighters on earth.
With a handful of unarmored, 80foot motorboats they had routed a Jap task force led by a battleship with 14-inch guns. Our tiny boats ("planes without wings," Chet Stewart called them) had looked no larger than gnats. A fight between gnats and elephants that's how the unequal battle had seemed to Jack Crane.
THE JAP WARSHIPS COME
The Jap force had arrived off Guadalcanal at two o'clock in the morning. They began to shell Henderson Field. Methodically, the Japs dropped salvo after salvo of heavy shells on our runways, supply dumps and repair sheds.
Their object was simple. They wanted to put the airfield out of action if only for a day. Then they could safely bring in supplies and reinforcements for the Jap troops at the western end of the island.
When the naval bombardment began, Crane decided he would be safer at a distance from the field. He climbed up a small height, from which he could look northward to where the Jap task force lay.
All along the horizon, the darkness was broken by stabs of light from the Jap guns. They were firing with everything they had. Crane wondered what we could send to stop them.
Then, from the right, he heard a noise that he hadn't heard since he left the Philippines. It was the roar of the PT boats, their 4,000 horsepower motors throttled wide open. They were charging towards the enemy at 60 miles an hour.
Crane couldn't see the action. It was too far out from shore. But he saw the crimson flash as one of our torpedoes blew a hole in the side of a Jap cruiser. He noticed how the Jap firing became confused and then stopped.
He timed the length of the fighting. It took less than ten minutes for our tiny torpedo boats to rout the whole Jap battleship force less than ten minutes to turn the enemy attack from possible victory to certain defeat.
Just how close the Japs came to victory, Crane didn't know until the next morning. In less than 45 minutes of shelling they had wrecked some of our planes completely, and had damaged many more. If they had kept on until morning most of our air force on Henderson Field might well have been grounded.
THE PT's SAVED THE DAY
But, thanks to Chet Stewart's PT boats, our air force wasn't grounded. In fact, on that day (November 14, 1942), it gave the Japs the biggest defeat they had taken since the Battle of Midway (June 4-6, 1942).
What happened was this. While the enemy task force was bombarding Henderson Field, a great Jap convoy began moving up. The Japs hoped our air force was destroyed. Then a Flying Fortress spotted them, and they knew it was not.
The Japs had eight transports bringing troops to Guadalcanal. All eight were sunk by our planes. The Japs had uncounted numbers of supply ships. Only four got through, and all four were damaged.
So ended the Jap's biggest attempt to reinforce their men on Guadalcanal. After that, their last hope of recapturing Henderson Field and driving our men out of the Solomons was gone.
* * *
It must have made Chet Stewart and his men proud (Crane was thinking) to have known how their handful of PT boats kept our planes from being shelled out of action on that fateful night.
Crane was glad Chet Stewart was going back to Pearl Harbor, to be decorated for bravery. He was on board now, and Crane had talked with him.
"Heck, Crane," was all Chet Stewart said. "It, was all in our day's work."
|Editor's Note: Howard Fast Is now engaged on government work, the nature of which does not permit him to write for publication at the present time.
These stories are based on facts originally supplied to the editors by Mr. Fast.
NEXT WEEK: JACK CRANE LEARNS HOW WE FIGHT THE JAPS ON KISKA.