The Sinking of the Liscome Bay

Reposting the story of my Uncle’s death during WWII for Memorial Day…

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The escort carrier, Liscome Bay, arrived at Pearl Harbor in October of 1943. It would take part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands and the liberation of two other islands: Tarawa and Makin. On board were 914 men. One of them was a 19 year old from Oakland, California. He was my Uncle, Charles Lassalle.

The invasion of the Gilbert Islands began on November 20th. It took seven days of air raids to capture the islands. During the invasion, the Liscome Bay was sent on to aid the capture of Tarawa and Makin Islands. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific theatre as 991 men died on the beaches of Tarawa.

The Liscome Bay was one of five escort carriers used for air support at Tarawa. 3 Battleships, 21 Destroyers, and other vessels were also on hand. They were all under the command of Rear Admiral Harry W. Hill. Hill ordered three of the escort carriers, including the Liscome Bay, to Butaritari Island. There they were placed under the command of Rear Admiral Robert M. Griffin.

Unbeknownst to them all, another vessel was sitting off the shores of Butaritari. It was a Japanese submarine commandeered by Lt. Commander, Sunao Tabata.

November 24th started out a calm day. There was barely a breeze and the waters were still. At 4:30 am, the flight crews began their daily prepartions. 5 minutes later, a slight disturbance–a light– was seen on the water’s surface. Griffin ordered the destroyer, The Hull, to investigate.

The absence of the Hull lead to the demise of the Liscome Bay. The Japanese commander saw his chance as the shifting defenses of the American ships were in disarray. Before they could reposition, someone yelled “Christ, here comes a torpedo!” It was too late. At 5:13 am, the Liscome Bay was hit.

The torpedo tore threw the ship into it’s bomb stowage area and exploded. Oranges flames shot into the air. Then the bombs on board exploded. Debris showered the neighboring ships. Flames engulfed the Liscome Bay and 23 minutes later, it began to sink.

Those who were not killed in the explosion found themselves in another horror. The water gushed with burning oil. They also had to avoid being sucked down along with the sinking ship. Some clung to whatever debris floated by, then swam as far away from the ship as they could. Crew members of surrounding ships risks their lives diving into the water to pull out survivors.

On that ill fated day, rescuers pulled 55 officers and 217 enlisted men to safety. Fireman Second Class, Charles Lassalle, was not one of them.

The family found out soon after that Charles was missing. Newspaper headlines blared the sinking of the Liscome Bay. Jean and Anna had lost their oldest son.

His body was never recovered. Charles was presumed dead on November 24, 1943. You can find his name among the many listed on the USS Arizona Memorial in Honolulu, HI.

Wikipedia has a photograph of the Liscome Bay and more information:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Liscome_Bay_%28CVE-56%29

HistoryNet has a detailed history of the Liscome Bay:  http://www.historynet.com/uss-liscome-bay-hit-by-a-torpedo-near-makin-atoll-during-world-war-ii.htm

The Navy website has a clipping from a newspaper article showing some of the survivors when they returned home.  It is hard to believe anyone survived.  http://www.navsource.org/archives/03/0305603.jpg

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Comments

  1. Was there a survivor(s)in the presence of Doris (Dorie) Miller before the USS Liscome Bay was torpeoed? Or anyone who witnessed his downfall?

  2. You might appreciate this op-ed about the USS Liscome Bay and one town’s memory in Alabama.

    http://blog.al.com/press-register-commentary/2010/05/bringing_home_vets_sacrifices_to_alabama.html

    Sincerely,
    Jim Noles
    Author, “Twenty-Three Minutes to Eternity: The Final Voyage of the Escort Carrier USS Liscome Bay (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004).

  3. Lisa Bullock Mings says:

    My Uncle was also killed on the Liscome Bay, and when I married my husband , who was from Iowa and I was from Arkansas, I found out his uncle was also on the Liscome Bay. I have often wondered why this was never mentioned in the history books. It was a terrible tragedy and one that deserves to have it’s story told.

  4. My great grand uncle was also on the USS Liscome Bay and died when it sunk. It was his 21st birthday. Rest in peace, Leroy Joseph Pfeffer.

  5. K.(Mike) Critchett says:

    My uncle Arthur Lee Critchett was one of the survivors from the USS Liscome Bay CVE 56,he also was a survivor USS Dewey DD 349Peral Harbor. He was a navy hospital corpsman and was involved with “Operation Passage Fredom 1954 in French Indo China.He was a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Aloha Chapter no1.He was a Volunteer for the park service. His muster records also have him on several Marine base’s . At one time their was talk about keeping the association alive. Is their any information ?

  6. Melody Lassalle says:

    Thank you for writing about your Uncle. I’ve read several accounts of the Liscome Bay attack and it’s hard to believe their were survivors. A testament to your Uncle’s inner strength! I’m sorry, but I don’t have any information about the association you mentioned.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] The Sinking of the Liscome Bay This is the true story of Charles Lassalle who lost his life when the Liscome Bay was sunk in World War II.  Actors for this film have not yet been determined.  It’s been rumored the Shia LeBeouf has been courted to play Charles Lassalle, while secret negotiations have been taking place to get John Wayne to come back from beyond the grave in one last role as Charles’ commanding officer. [...]

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