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Twenty-Three Minutes to Eternity

The Final Voyage of the Escort Carrier USS Liscome Bay

Written by James L. Noles

Publication Year: 2004

A long-overdue history of America's "forgotten flattop."
On November 24, 1943, a Japanese torpedo plunged into the starboard side of the American escort carrier USS Liscome Bay. The torpedo struck the thin-skinned carrier in the worst possible place the bomb storage area. The resulting explosion could be seen 16 miles away, literally ripping the Liscome Bay in half and killing 644 of her crew. In terms of lives lost, it was the costliest carrier sinking in United States naval history.
Liscome Bay's loss came on her first combat operation: the American invasion of the Gilbert Islands. Despite her short career, she touched a number of remarkable and famous lives. Doris Miller, the first black American sailor to win the Navy Cross, lost his life, as did Rear Admiral Henry Mullinax, one of the Navy's first "air admirals." John Crommelin was the senior officer to survive the sinking. Later in his career, Crommelin, a decorated naval aviator himself, sparked the famous Revolt of the Admirals, which helped save the role of naval aviation in America's Cold War military.
James Noles's account of the Liscome Bay and those who served aboard her is based on interviews with the ship's survivors and an unpublished memoir that the ship's pay officer made available to the author. This readable, compelling book pays homage to the crew by telling their story of experience and sacrifice.
To follow Jim Noles on Twitter, access his stream here: http://www.twitter.com/mightyby

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viiii-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. xv-xvii

This story of the sinking of the escort carrier Liscome Bay (CVE-56) in November 1943 is lifted from the history of the U.S. Navy’s epic convict with the Japanese during World War II. In recounting the short history of this almost-forgotten carrier, I have aspired to breathe life into a sixty year-old tale...

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Prologue: Unbehagen’s Dream

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pp. xviiii-xxi

The hands on Seaman First Class James C. Beasley’s wristwatch showed midnight. It was time for the midwatch on the quiet American escort carrier Liscome Bay (CVE-56)—midnight to 4 a.m. in civilian time, 0000 to 0400 in military time. Leaving the darkened crew quarters, Beasley joined shipmate Signalman’s Mate Third Class Peter E. Unbehagen and headed above decks...

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1. The Baby Flattops

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pp. 1-11

When dawn came on Monday, April 19, 1943, Americans awoke to their 497th day at war. The morning papers, whether purchased on a New York sidewalk or tossed onto a suburban lawn by a San Diego paperboy, brought reports of the widening and strengthening crusade against the Axis by the United States and its allies. That particular day...

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2. A Crew for the “Listing Lizzie”

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pp. 12-36

On June 15, 1943, Ensign Francis X. “Frank” Daily Jr., SC-V(G), USNR, arrived at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington. In his hands were orders assigning him to the precommissioning detail for the Bogue-class escort carrier Glacier (ACV-33). The navy had a somewhat schizophrenic protocol regarding escort carrier names, christening...

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3. Wildcats, Avengers, and a Rear Admiral

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pp. 37-53

Liscome Bay stood into San Francisco Bay on September 18, 1943. Captain Wiltsie mustered the ship’s company, resplendent in t heir dress uniforms, on the flight deck to mark their arrival. For most of the crew, it was their first sight of the Golden Gate and the city of San Francisco. When the carrier slipped past the rocky island of Alcatraz to port, her...

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4. Into the Breach

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pp. 54-69

With Rear Admiral Mullinnix and the staff of Carrier Division 24 aboard, Liscome Bay slipped out of San Diego and set a course for Pearl Harbor. Running without an escort, the carrier zigzagged westward at top speed in a n effort t o foil enemy submarine attacks. Her lookouts sighted no enemy periscopes or torpedoes—just limitless vistas of blue...

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5. Galvanic and Kourbash

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pp. 70-88

The appearance of Turner’s invasion flotilla came as a surprise to the Japanese commanders, whose limited intelligence on the movement had led them to believe the ships were bound for the Solomons or New Guinea. Capitalizing on that surprise, American aviators began striking at the Japanese forces. On November 13, heavy bombers from the army’s...

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6. Three Task Forces, Three Brothers

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pp. 89-98

On board Liscome Bay, Captain Crommelin, Mullinnix’s chief of staff for Carrier Division 24, remained unaware of Blair’s patrol’s landings on Yorktown and Lexington. Like Beebe, he feared the worst. The prospect saddened him. Crommelin was well aware of the fears and anxieties that wracked families back home. His own family was bearing a remarkable...

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7. “The God of Death Has Come”

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pp. 99-126

Caught by surprise in the Gilberts, Japanese Admiral Mineichi Koga scoured his forces desperately for anything to hurl at the massive U.S. fleet menacing Makin and Tarawa. His first gambit, the aerial attack that had damaged Independence, proved ineffective. The frantic maneuvers of the Imperial Navy’s surface ships, which amounted to little more than scurrying sorties between...

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8. Twenty-Three Minutes and Counting

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pp. 127-143

The blast from the secondary explosions had rolled through Liscome Bay’s lower decks with devastating effect, blowing out hatches, collapsing bulkheads, uprooting boilers, and wrenching pipes loose from the bulkheads. It punched into Buzz Carroll’s office, tearing off Charters’s life jacket, dungarees, headset, and shoes. Dazed and bewildered in the sudden darkness...

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9. Abandon Ship!

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pp. 144-167

Climbing off the high walkway and onto the flight deck, Chaplain Carley stepped into a scene as nightmarish as any description of hell he had ever read during his seminary days. A roaring conflagration blocked his view of the after part of the ship. Forward, blackened and mangled aircraft lay crumpled and burning on the flight deck...

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10. Pacific Dawn

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pp. 168-189

Ensign Frank Daily turned from the carrier and began kicking with all his might, clawing at the ocean with his arms in deep, sure strokes. After a few moments, he turned back to check his progress. He had covered over a hundred yards. He realized that a soft wind was pushing the carrier away from him. It was a lucky break for him—but less lucky for those unfortunate souls who had elected to enter the water off the carrier’s...

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11. Surviving

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pp. 190-209

Once he reached Hughes, Beasley clambered up the cargo net draping her sides. Despite his wounds, he was determined to make it aboard on his own. By the time he pulled himself onto the deck, he realized that he must have presented a strange sight. Clad only in a pair of torn and oil-stained undershorts, he was almost bald where his hair had been burned off. Looking down, he saw that the little toe on his left foot had...

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12. Aftermath

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pp. 210-224

Japan eventually lost six of the nine submarines it sortied against the U.S. forces operating in the Gilberts. Despite I-175’s success against Liscome Bay, this devastating loss ratio rattled the nerves of the Japanese admirals. They aborted the Imperial Navy’s submarine operations in the Gilberts on December 4, and the three surviving subs headed...


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pp. 225-235


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pp. 237-242


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pp. 243-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780817382148
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817313692

Publication Year: 2004