Conrad F. Castillo – Part 2 – New Zeeland

Conrad Castillo would have boarded the USS Wakefield (AP-21) sometime between May 17th and 19th at Pier 2, Army Base, Norfolk, Virginia. At 0030 on May 20th the ship moves to anchorage in Hampton Roads having loaded 4 725 Marines of the Fifth Marines and 309 Navy, Marine, and Army personnel for duty with Commander South Pacific Area.

The USS Wakefield was an ocean liner previously known as the SS Manhattan delivered to the WSA (War Shipping Administration). In June 1941 she was assigned to the US Navy and commissioned as the troopship USS Wakefield AP-21. The ship was by then already a seasoned battle-scarred veteran having only just been returned to service after repairs in Philadelphia from damage received when bombed by Japanese warplanes in Keppel Harbor.[1]

USS Wakefield (AP-21) Near the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 11 May 1942.
Photo No. 19-N-29517 | Source: U.S. National Archives, RG-19-LCM

Departing anchorage in Hampton Roads at 0530 on 20 May 1942 as part of Task Force 32, commanded by Rear Admiral L.A. Davidson from his Flagship USS Philadelphia (CL-41), the convoy arrives outside Cristobal on the 25 May. The Wakefield is released from Task Force 32 and moored to Pier 6 at 1935. Having taken on fuel, water, and a small quantity of fresh provisions she passes through the canal on 27 May and then proceeds escorted by destroyer USS Borie (DD-215).[2]USS WAKEFIELD – War Diary, 5/1-31/42

The USS Borie (DD-215) will later go on to fight a most unusual battle with German submarine U-405 on 1 November 1943 in the North Atlantic. In the attempt to ram the surfaced submarine a large wave carried the ships bow up and onto the foredeck of the submarine leaving them interlocked. In a prolonged battle between the two crews exchange small arms fire at close range until separated where the submarine ultimately sinks. The USS Borie has sustained severe underwater damage and must be abandoned and finally sunk at 0955 on 2 November.[3]

The USS Wakefields biggest defensive weapon is her speed providing for her to travel unescorted outrunning or outmanoeuvring enemy submarines. Releasing USS Borie from escort duty on 30 May she proceeds independently to New Zealand where she arrives in Wellington on 14 June, 1942.[4]USS WAKEFIELD – War Diary, 6/1-30/42

Her arrival is actually documented as part of “Diary of a Letherneck”, a film produced by the National Film Unit, whose wartime function was to communicate information about the war effort throughout New Zealand. The footage can be seen below and digesting that Castillo is on the ship at the time is profound.

Disembarking the Wakefield berthed in Kings Wharf Castillo notes Wellington to be cold before departing the following evening by train arriving Auckland 16 June 1942.[5]Journal of Conrad F Castillo, page 1

Admiral Robert L. Ghormley – June/July, 1942

In May 1942 Admiral Robert L. Ghormley assumed command as Commander of the South Pacific Area (COMSOPAC).[6]

In his journal Castillo mentions working for Adm. Ghormley and Chief Staff Rear Adm. Daniel J. Callaghan. He must have arrived to the Auckland Headquarters in close proximity of Adm. Ghormley’s arrival there 19 June, 1942.[7]Journal of Conrad F Castillo, page 1

Although New Zealand was described as very cold ad dark Castillo mentions ‘meeting nice people and having a wonderful time’ while staying in ‘a beautiful house owned by Mrs Davis at Remuera and Victoria Street’ (most likely Remuera Road and Victoria Avenue).[8]Journal of Conrad F Castillo, page 2

The HQ of Admiral Ghormley moves to Noumea at the end of July coinciding with imminent US advance in the Solomon Islands (Guadalcanal). In the report of passengers for USS Perkins (DD377) Castillo is noted as “Received” onboard “For duty with Flag Allowance of ComSoPacFor”.

The term “Flag Allowance” refers to a small group of sailors that that travelled with the Flag Command. In this case “ComSoPacFor”, translating to Commander South Pacific Force, which at the time was the command held by Admiral Ghormley.

At 0900 on 28 July 1942, Castillo is one of the six officers and twenty-three men attached to staff of ComSoPac boarding the USS Perkins (DD-377) moored at Hobson’s Pier in Auckland. Two hours later they are underway enroute to Noumea on a fast journey. At 0746 on 31 July 1942, they are moored in their assigned berth where all passengers disembark.[9]USS PERKINS – War Diary, 7/1-31/42 and is recorded as being “Received” on board the USS Argonne (AG-31) on 31 July 1942 from “Rec.Barracks, Auckland N.Z.”.

On the morning of 1 August 1942 Admiral Ghormley brakes flag on the USS Argonne having flown there from Australia [10]

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas confers with south Pacific area officers, possibly aboard USS Argonne (AG-31) at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 28 September 1942. [11]
USS Argonne (AG-31) In San Francisco Bay, California, between late 1945 and mid-1946. The ship may be concluding a voyage bringing servicemen home from the Western Pacific as part of Operation Magic Carpet. The gun tub on the forecastle was added in 1942 for 20mm anti-aircraft guns. [12]Donation of Boatswain’s Mate First Class Robert G. Tippins, USN (Retired), 2003. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Bloody fighting on Guadalcanal – August, 1942

The invasion of Guadalcanal, Operation Watchtower, commences on 7th August 1942, and becomes a pivotal moment in the Pacific War where ultimately the Japanese advance is finally stopped. Castillo mentions it in his journal referring to it as “bloody fighting” and being “the darkest days of America”.

With Admiral Ghormley in command of all south pacific forces surely Castillo, being on Ghormley’s flag, would have picked up regular details of the proceedings. Possibly he took special, perhaps even personal, interest in the situation on Guadalcanal as the USS Wakefield also had carried 4725 Marines of the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Surely there would have been some interactions on the vessel they shared for almost a month.

Admiral William “Bull” Halsey – October, 1942

Awaiting the ships in Task Force 16 to be repaired and readied (then) Vice Admiral Halsey began a familiarisation trip to the south Pacific area on 15 October 1942. At this time the Guadalcanal Campaign was at a critical juncture holding on by a thread and Nimitz had concluded that Admiral Ghormley had become dispirited and exhausted.

Unbeknownst to Vice Admiral Halsey, who was en-route to Noumea on his PB2Y Coronado flying boat, Nimitz made his decision to change the South Pacific Area Commander. As Admiral Halsey’s aircraft came to rest in Noumea 18 October 1942 he was given a sealed envelope containing orders from Nimitz to relieve Admiral Ghormley and take command immediately. One can only assume it was a time of slight turmoil as the change of command progressed. Although Admiral Halsey quickly established himself his own staff only arrived from Pearl Harbour towards the end of October, 1942.

Exactly where and how Castillo fit into the transition is currently unknown. Lacking details, one could perhaps assume that Admiral Halsey simply inherited, all or parts of, the existing ComSoPac Flag Allowance – including Castillo.

Rear. Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan – November 1942

Castillo mentions that Rear Admiral Callaghan left but said he would send for Castillo in a week. The assumption made here could be that he at this point may have been slated for the Flag Allowance of Rear Admiral Callaghan, fate would have it otherwise.

“When Admiral Callaghan left he told me that he would send for me in a week. He was killed aboard USS San Francisco.”

Conrad F Castillo journal

Following Admiral Halsey taking over command Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan was made commander of Task Group 67 which he assumed from his flagship USS San Francisco (CA-38).

On the night of 13 November 1942 TG 67 would engage in fierce night time battle with Japanese naval forces between Savo island and Guadalcanal where USS San Francisco receives heavy damage. Later review shows the ship was hit by numerous high calibre shells[13] Among the 189 casualties Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan and most of his staff is killed on the bridge of the ship early in the battle.

For his actions Rear Admiral Callaghan is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honour by order of President Roosevelt.

The bridge wings of the ship, damaged during the battle, were removed during repairs and are now mounted on a promontory in Golden Gate National Recreation Area. They are set on the great circle course from San Francisco to Guadalcanal. [15]

Had Castillo been on board the USS San Francisco as Rear Admiral Callaghan’s steward this story may have ended here.

As Captain Daniel Judson Callaghan on the bridge of his flagship USS San Francisco (CA-38), circa 1941-1942.[16]
The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA-38) at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California (USA), for battle damage repairs, 14 December 1942. Circles mark the location of some of the shell hits she received on 13 November 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.[17]

For all parts in the series see below:

About Lars McKie 73 Articles
An ordinary Swede with a passion for history and just grateful to be given the chance to participate and contribute to the project.

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