Tag Archives: USS Princeton

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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11 Months Underway

Ships assigned to the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group sail in formation with Indian navy ships during a cooperative deployment in the Indian Ocean, July 20, 2020. Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Donald R. White, Jr. VIRIN: 200720-N-MY642-0207M

From DOD:

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group is returning after operations in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command areas of responsibility. It was the first carrier strike group to deploy under COVID-19 protocols. By the time the carrier strike group reaches home, the sailors and Marines aboard will have been gone for 321 days.

The Nimitz, the cruiser USS Princeton, and the destroyers USS Sterett and USS Ralph Johnson made up the group. 

Overall, the carrier strike group steamed more than 87,300 nautical miles during its deployment. The carrier launched 10,185 sorties totaling 23,410 flight hours logged.

I’m not sure the value of wearing out ships and crew on year-long deployments when there are no major conflicts underway, but you damned sure don’t see other fleets able/willing to pull off this type of crap, which is a statement of deterrence all its own, I suppose. 

Of note, Nimitz is our oldest active warship in fleet service– and the oldest commissioned aircraft carrier in the world–  slated to celebrate the 46th anniversary of her commissioning in May. Princeton is no spring chicken either, as the early Tico left Pascagoula for the fleet in 1989.

Sara & Co stop by Rabaul

Some 77 years ago today:

Aerial of USS Saratoga (CV 3) en-route to Rabaul Island, November 1943. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, TR-8221. 80-G-470815

On 1 November 1943, the 3rd Marine Division landed at Cape Torokina in Empress Augusta Bay, about halfway up the west coast of Bougainville.

That very evening into the next morning, RADM Stanton Merrill’s Task Force 39 took on the IJN’s 5th Cruiser Division in a dramatic surface action that preserved the initial beachhead known as the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay.

Soon after that, ONI discovered that as many as 10 Japanese cruisers were massing at Rabaul– a significant surface action force that could really affect the landings, especially if they sortied under the cover of night.

USS Saratoga (CV 3), in conjunction with the light carrier USS Princeton (CVL-23), supported by a joint raid by 27 B-24s of the USAAF 3rd Bomb Group with P-38s running top cover, was ordered to spoil the Japanese force’s plans.

SBD leaving the deck of USS Saratoga (CV 3) and heading to Rabaul Island, November 1943. Photographed by Lieutenant Wayne Miller, TR-8218 80-G-470814

As noted by DANFS 

As troops stormed ashore on Bougainville on 1 November, Saratoga’s aircraft neutralized nearby Japanese airfields on Buka. Then, on 5 November, in response to reports of Japanese cruisers concentrating at Rabaul to counterattack the Allied landing forces, Saratoga conducted perhaps her most brilliant strike of the war. Her aircraft penetrated the heavily defended port and disabled most of the Japanese cruisers, ending the surface threat to Bougainville. Saratoga, herself, escaped unscathed and returned to raid Rabaul again on 11 November.

Aircraft from Saratoga (CV-3) and Princeton (CVL-23) hit shipping at Rabaul, including several cruisers, 5 November 1943. One cruiser, at the right-center, has been hit. This view is looking west, taken from a Saratoga aircraft. Japanese cruisers and destroyers are standing out of Simpson Harbor into Blanche Bay. Note the antiaircraft fire (80-G-89104).

The ships massed included the cruisers Atago, Takao, Maya, Mogami, Agano, Noshiro, Chikuma, and Haguro.

The huge 15,000-ton Maya was perhaps the most damaged, suffering 70 killed when an SBD-delivered bomb hit the aircraft deck port side above the No. 3 engine room and started a major fire. Takao, Mogami, and Atago also suffered significant, although not crippling, bomb damage.

Noshiro was hit by a dud Mark 13 aerial torpedo dropped by an Avenger. Agano was the target of a better-performing Mark 13 which blew off the very end of her stern and bent her rearmost propeller shafts. Several destroyers also suffered damage.

24 Japanese fighters from Lakunai airfield, rising up to meet the carrier planes and Liberators, were shot down, depriving the Empire of not only their airframes but in most cases, precious experienced pilots that could not be replaced.

All in all, not bad work.

Commander Joseph C. Clifton, USN, commander of Saratoga’s fighter group, passes out cigars in celebration of the successful air attack on Rabaul, 5 November 1943 (80-G-417635).

Griffin Corsair warming up

F4U-4 VF-871 CV-9 1952 essex pukin dogs now vf173


A Vought F4U-4 Corsair fighter of fighter squadron VF-871 Griffins being prepared for a mission in Korea on the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9) in 1952. The Essex was deployed to Korea from 16 Jun 1952 to 6 Feb 1953 with Air Task Group Two (ATG-2) and VF-871 flew both from the Essex‘s deck and that of the USS Princeton (CV-37). VF-871 was a reserve squadron that was called to active duty on 20 Jul 1950. As such it was one of the last US Navy fighter squadrons to fly the WWII-era gull wing Corsair, with most of these craft being rapidly retired after Korea cooled down. VF-871 was redesignated VF-123 The Blue Racers in 1953. On 12 Apr 1958 it was again redesignated VF-53 Black Knights before it was finally redesignated VF-143 Pukin’ Dogs on 20 Jun 1962. Today they fly F-18E’s of CAW7 currently assigned to the Eisenhower— who was likely President when this picture was taken.