Daily Event for January 23, 2008

En route to join Task Force 11, carrying the fuel for the mission, the USS Neches AO-5 was found by the I-72 about 145 miles from Honolulu. She was a foot deeper in the water than normal and sailing at 12 knots when at 03:10 on Jan. 23, 1942 a "thud" was heard amidships on the starboard side. A torpedo fired by the I-72 hit the ship but failed to detonate, the next one would not.

The second torpedo hit the Neches at about 03:19, abaft of the engine room causing it to flood and the ship to take on a list. With the engine room abandoned the Neches was dead in the water but not in immediate danger of sinking as the flooding had been contained by the crew. Lt. Commander Ichiro Togami maneuvered the I-72 around to the port side of the Neches and at 03:30 fired his third torpedo hitting the ship forward, this doomed the Neches.

The captain, Commander William B. Fletcher Jr. and his crew make a valiant attempt to save their ship and even tried to take the I-72 with them firing several rounds at the surfaced submarine, but she continued to settle by the bow and list to starboard. When it was evident she would founder Cdr. Fletcher ordered the ship to be abandoned, this at 04:40, seven minuets later the Neches went under taking with her fifty-seven men. The survivors were picked up by the USS Jarvis DD-393 at 11:00 the next day, several badly wounded men had been recovered earlier by a Catalina PBY and taken to hospital.

She was on a mission to refuel the ships of TF-11 which were going to conduct a raid on Wake Island, which had been captured by the Japanese on Dec. 23. 1941. Due to her loss and the loss of the fuel the attack was called off. She had been ordered to Wake one time before..

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the Neches was en route to Pearl from her homeport of San Diego, she arrived three days after the attack. Her cargo was removed and she was reloaded with fuel and ammunition for the relief of Wake Island, she sailed from Pearl on Dec. 15. Task Force 14 overtook her on Dec. 16 and she followed behind them until TF-14 was recalled on Dec. 23 after the Japanese had occupied the island.

The task force was recalled by Vice-Admiral William S. Pye who had replaced Admiral Husband E. Kimmel as Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Dec. 17. This action remains controversial as some believe that the U.S. had an opportunity to destroy two Japanese carriers, the Soryu and Hiryu, which had just attacked Pearl Harbor (they were diverted to Wake before returning home following the Pearl Harbor raid). Pye had three carrier groups within striking distance, Saratoga CV-3 (TF-14) was about 425 miles northeast of Wake (this was the TF Neches was following), Lexington CV-2, about 750 miles southeast of Wake and Enterprise CV-6, who was about 1,000 miles east of Wake.

However, with the battleship force devastated at Pearl and not wanting to risk the loss of any of the carriers (which were of course the actual target of the Japanese attack) Pye acted, in my view, prudently. Especially if you take into consideration the fact that the aircraft on these carriers were older F4F Wildcats and even F2A Buffalos, the latter being no match for the A6M Zero. At this stage in the war the loss of even one of the carriers would have been a far bigger loss for the U.S. than if the Japanese had lost one of theirs.
© 2008 Michael W. Pocock

USS Neches AO-5


2005 Daily Event