Tag Archives: 1944

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman, and his .45

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021: The Story of an Unsinkable Carrierman and his .45

With this month marking the Navy’s 246th Birthday, the 79th anniversary of the loss of USS Hornet (CV-8) at the Battle of Santa Cruz (a ship commissioned 80 years ago today), and the 77th anniversary of the loss of USS Princeton (CVL-22) in the Philippine Sea, I’m breaking from our typical Warship Wednesday format to bring you the story of a Colt Government model in the Navy’s archives and the resilient young officer who carried it.

The below pistol itself at first glance would seem to be an otherwise ordinary M1911A1 Colt Military, martial marked “US Army” and “United States Property” along with the correct inspector’s marks. The serial number, No.732591, falls within Colt’s circa 1941 production range.

Accession #: NHHC 1968-141 (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

We often say, “if only a gun could talk,” but in this case, the voyage through history that the above .45ACP took is well-documented.

Also joining the fleet in 1941 was Ensign Victor Antoine Moitoret, a Californian who was admitted to the Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1937 and graduated with the Class of ’41.

Moitoret’s first ship was the brand-new aircraft carrier USS Hornet, which he joined three months prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that ushered America into World War II.

Moitoret served as an assistant navigator on Hornet during the flattop’s secret mission to carry the Doolittle Raiders to bomb Tokyo in 1942— possibly best remembered among today’s youth as the third act of Jerry Bruckheimer’s 2001 film “Pearl Harbor”– and was also aboard the carrier for the massive naval victory at Midway (where Hornet was something of a mystery).

Flanked by torpedo boat escorts, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet arrives at Pearl Harbor after the Doolittle Raid on Japan, 30 April 1942, just five weeks before the Battle of Midway. (Photo: U.S. National Archives 80-G-16865)

When Hornet was irreparably damaged by enemy torpedo and dive bombers during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, Moitoret was armed with the above pistol while serving as the carrier’s Officer of the Deck on the bridge. The young officer still had it buckled around his waist when he was pulled out of the ocean more than two hours after Hornet went to the bottom in 17,500 feet of water off the Solomon Islands, carrying 140 sailors with her.

Moitoret’s pistol belt, consisting of an M1936 Belt, M1918 Magazine Pocket, and russet leather M1916 Holster. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Two years later, Moitoret, with his relic of the lost Hornet still with him, was a lieutenant aboard the new light carrier USS Princeton, fighting to liberate the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

USS Princeton (CVL-23) steaming at 20 knots off Seattle, Washington, 3 January 1944. Moitoret was a plankowner of the new flattop, which had originally been laid down as the Cleveland-class light cruiser Tallahassee (CL-61) (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Historical Center. Catalog #: NH 95651)

In October 1944– almost two years to the day that Hornet was lost– Moitoret was on the bridge of Princeton when the ship was hit by a Japanese bomb and was wounded by shrapnel from the resulting explosion.

According to his Silver Star citation for that day, Moitoret “remained on board for a period of seven hours, fighting fires, maintaining communication with other ships in the area, preserving confidential publications and obtaining all available lengths of fire hose for use where most needed.”

Leaving his second sinking aircraft carrier, Moitoret reportedly kissed the hull of Princeton before boarding a whaleboat, one of the last men off the stricken ship.

After the war, he remained in the Navy through the Korean and Vietnam wars, retiring in 1972 at the rank of Captain. On 30 May 1999, while aged 80, he delivered the Memorial Day Address to the assembled cadets at Annapolis, continuing to serve as a proud link in the long blue line up to the very end.

Moitoret died in 2005 and is buried at Fort Bayard National Cemetery in New Mexico, next to his wife, Rowena, and son, Alan.

His well-traveled sidearm and pistol belt are in the collection of the NHHC, held in the Headquarters Artifact Collection

As noted by the Navy,

“The central theme of this year’s 246th Navy Birthday and Heritage week is ‘Resilient and Ready,’ which speaks to the Navy’s history of being able to shake off disaster, such as the loss of a ship or a global pandemic, and still maintain force lethality and preparedness. It allows the messaging to showcase readiness, capabilities, capacity, and of course the Sailor—all while celebrating our glorious victories at sea and honoring our shipmates who stand and have stood the watch.”

Happy Birthday, Navy, and a slow hand salute to Capt. Moitoret.

Back to our regular Warship Wednesday format next week.

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Don’t hold your breath for more great wreck finds from R/V Petrel

In the past few years, the research vessel R/V Petrel has been combing the Pacific to find and document the most famous lost warships of WWII. This included the carriers USS Hornet, Wasp, and Lexington as well as the mighty USS Indianapolis and the first destroyer to fire a shot at Pearl Harbor, USS Ward. Added to this were the Japanese Asagumo, Fuso, Michishio, Yamagumo, and Yamashiro along with the doomed carriers Kaga and Akagi.

Well, that long series of discoveries is hitting the pause button, if not the full-stop.

From the vessel’s social media:

The impact of the COVID-19 crisis has changed the world for the long term in ways that we never could have imagined.

As a result of operational challenges from the pandemic, R/V Petrel will be placed into long-term moorage and she will not be deployed for the foreseeable future.

We were tasked with a monumental mission – discover, educate, and honor – and we’re hopeful we will eventually be back in service.

The R/V Petrel is finding the secrets of Surigao Strait and Ormoc Bay

If you aren’t following Paul Allen’s page for the RV Petrel and are a fan of Pacific War shipwrecks, you are missing out.

The Seattle-based ship has been combing the location of some of the greatest battles that occurred in late 1944– those that saw the last stand of the Imperial Japanese Fleet in a last-ditch effort to slow down the U.S. reoccupation of the Philippines. This has included finding all five of the Japanese ships lost in the Surigao Strait: Yamashiro, Fuso, Yamagumo, Michishio & Asagumo.

Destroyers Michishio and Yamagumo:

One half the rangefinder from the very top of the Pagoda used for the 356mm main artillery of IJN battleship Fuso:

“Asashio Class destroyer was the southernmost wreck we found in Surigao Strait leading us to believe it was the IJN Asagumo”:

From the National Museum of the Philippines:

Paul Allen and Navigea Ltd. partner with the National Museum to continue locating and documenting WWII shipwrecks in Philippine waters.

Pursuant to its legal mandate in the areas of underwater exploration, survey and archaeology, the National Museum through its director, Jeremy Barns, recently issued permits on behalf of the Philippine Government to facilitate the location and documentation of World War II-era shipwrecks in Philippine territorial waters, focusing particularly on the areas of the Surigao Strait and Ormoc Bay where key battles took place in October, and November-December, 1944, respectively, as part of the massive Allied undertaking to liberate the country from Japanese occupation.

The permits were issued to Navigea Ltd., which owns the research vessels M/Y Octopus and R/V Petrel on behalf of American businessman, philanthropist, and Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, who has in recent years been undertaking undersea explorations locating lost shipwrecks around the world with a multidisciplinary team led by Robert Kraft.

This same team, working with the National Museum and the Philippine Coast Guard, discovered the wreck of the famous Japanese battleship IJN Musashi at a depth of one kilometer in the waters of the Sibuyan Sea, Romblon, in 2015. Earlier this year in August, the wreck of the USS Indianapolis was identified and filmed at the astonishing depth of 5,500 meters in the Philippine Sea about halfway between Guam and the Philippines. In the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Solomon Islands, Mr. Allen’s team explored and surveyed the wrecks of other famous ships, such as the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, cruiser HMS Hood and battleship Roma and discovered the destroyer Artigliere and 29 wrecks from the Battle of Guadalcanal.

In all instances, the discoveries of the exact locations of these warships of various nations, the filming of their remains and, in the case of the HMS Hood, the delicate retrieval of its ship’s bell to serve as a memorial at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, have allowed for a greater sense of closure for the descendants of the thousands of servicemen who perished at sea aboard these vessels over seven decades ago.

Navigea Ltd. will be collaborating with the National Museum, through its Cultural Properties Regulation Division and Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Division, together with other national agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard as well as concerned local governments, in this latest initiative, which hopes to provide valuable new data and actual discoveries for the benefit of naval and war historians, underwater archaeologists, stakeholder nations in addition to the Philippines and, most importantly, the families of those who were lost.