Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Figure 1: USS Hermes (1918-1926) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, circa 1918. Ships in the background are USS Monadnock (BM-3) and probably USS Navajo (1908-1948). This auxiliary schooner, built in 1914, was formerly a German vessel. Taken over at Honolulu under an executive order on 27 September 1917, she was soon put into service and formally commissioned on 1 April 1918 as USS Hermes. She was sold on 21 October 1926. She would eventually become USS Lanikai in World War II. The original print is in National Archives' Record Group 19-LCM. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Hermes (1918-1926) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1918. Ships in the background are USS Monadnock (BM-3) and probably USS Navajo (1908-1948). This auxiliary schooner, built in 1914, was formerly a German vessel. Taken over at Honolulu under an executive order on 27 September 1917, she was soon put into service and formally commissioned on 1 April 1918 as USS Hermes. She was sold on 21 October 1926. She would eventually become USS Lanikai in World War II. The original print is in National Archives' Record Group 19-LCM. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Lanikai during the early days of World War II in the Pacific, exact place and date unknown. She is flying a Dutch flag, which Lanikai could have been flying while in Java after her escape from the Philippines in late December 1941. Courtesy Hyperwar, U.S. Navy in WW II. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Lanikai during World War II, date and place unknown. Courtesy Hyperwar, U.S. Navy in WW II. Click on photograph for larger image.
This amazing ship was originally built as the schooner Hermes by W.R. Stone of Oakland, California, for the Williams-Diamond Company, agents for a firm called Jaluit Gesellschaft of Hamburg, Germany, and launched in 1914. At the time she was built, the 340-ton Hermes was approximately 89 feet long and 25 feet wide, had a draft of 7 feet 6 inches, and had a crew of 26. Hermes was used in the inter-island copra trade in the German-held Pacific Islands prior to World War I. When America entered the war in April 1917, the ship was confiscated by the US government and, after some modifications, was formally commissioned into the US Navy as USS Hermes on 1 April 1918.
Originally intended as a submarine patrol vessel, Hermes performed this duty out of Honolulu, Hawaii, during the summer of 1918. On 31 August, she sailed on a cruise among the islands northwest of Hawaii, including Laysan and Wake, to search for survivors of shipwrecks and signs of enemy activity, and to conduct a survey on wildlife, particularly birds, for the Biological Survey Commission, Washington. After returning to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 2 October, she continued as a patrol craft.
Hermes was decommissioned on 16 January 1919 and placed at the disposal of the Hawaiian territorial government for use as a tender to leper colonies. When the territorial government decided they could not afford her upkeep, Hermes was turned over to the Pacific Air Detachment and served as a store ship and general auxiliary craft. She then was sold on 21 October 1926 to the Lanikai Fish Company and renamed Lanikai, after a village on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. The ship was used in the pearling and fishing industries in Hawaiian waters but was laid up in 1931 due to how poorly the fishing industry was doing at that time.
Lanikai was sold again to Northrup Castle of Honolulu in late 1933. The ship was used as a commercial charter yacht based at Honolulu. Lanikai then was sold to Harry W. Crosby in early 1936 and her homeport moved to Seattle, Washington, where she was used as a salmon fishing boat in Alaska. But Lanikai changed hands again when, of all things, she was sold in early 1937 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios and used in the movie “Hurricane,” which starred Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour. After the film was completed, the ship was used as an MGM yacht.
Lanikai was sold again on 6 April 1939 to George W. Simmie, acting agent for E.M. Grim, an American resident of Manila in the Philippines. Lanikai was assigned to the Luzon Stevedoring Company and was used as Grim’s yacht and inter-island trading ship. On 5 December 1941, Lanikai was chartered by the US Navy for an indefinite period of time for one dollar per year with the ship to be returned in the same condition as when it was chartered. The ship was commissioned USS Lanikai the same day with Lieutenant Kemp Tolley in command. Throughout the years, Lanikai had been transformed into a 150-ton schooner with a diesel engine that gave the ship a top speed of 7 knots. Lanikai was now approximately 87 feet long and 9 feet wide, had a crew of 19 men, and was given one 3-pounder cannon and two .30-caliber machine guns. The crew wasn’t sure what would have happened to the frail ship if it actually had to fire the cannon.
On 2 December 1941, President Roosevelt had ordered through Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral H. R. Stark, that Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet Admiral Thomas C. Hart, “Charter three small vessels to form a defensive information patrol...to observe and report by radio Japanese movements in the west China Sea and Gulf of Siam.” Lanikai was ordered to be one of those “three small vessels.” Lieutenant Tolley’s orders read, “Patrol off the entrance of Camranh Bay [Vietnam] and report the directions taken by the Japanese Fleet when it emerges.” The orders did not tell Lieutenant Tolley what he should do when the Japanese spotted his ship and heard him transmitting their position back to the American fleet, but orders were orders and Lieutenant Tolley was not about to disobey them. During the early morning hours of 8 December 1941 (7 December east of the International Date Line), Lanikai was stopped at the entrance of Manila Bay waiting for daylight so that she could thread her way through the complicated minefields in the area. But at 0300 hours, word arrived of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and Lanikai was ordered to return to Manila.
During the next few weeks, Lanikai patrolled the approaches to Manila Bay and served as a dispatch vessel within Manila Harbor. On 10 December, the small ship survived the horrific Japanese aerial attack on the Cavite Navy Yard, which destroyed most of the facilities there. On Christmas Day, Lanikai assisted in the evacuation of Manila, carrying Army officers and equipment to the island fortress of Corregidor. Because of a recommendation from Lieutenant Commander Charles Adair, Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Hart, approval was given to Lanikai to attempt to escape to the Netherlands East Indies. Lieutenant Tolley jumped at the chance and quickly took on board extra fuel, water, and food for the trip (including a number of live chickens). The ship was painted green (so that it would blend in with the foliage along the coast) and Lanikai carried a crew of 18 men and six passengers (a combination of Dutch and American officers). On the evening of 26 December 1941, USS Lanikai sailed out of Mariveles Harbor, Luzon, Philippines, and began her long journey south.
Lanikai usually hid in friendly coves during the day and sailed along the coast of the Philippines at night, gradually making her way south to Java. It seemed that Japanese forces were everywhere, either steaming near them or flying above them. Passing storms were very useful in hiding the ship from Japanese aircraft, although it made life extremely difficult for the men on board the small ship. Lanikai eventually made it to Java, but the rapid advancement of Japanese forces on that island made it clear that the ship’s only hope for survival lay in making it all the way to Australia. While at Surabaya, Java, on 3 February 1942, Japanese aircraft attacked the port and dropped three bombs on Lanikai. Although all of them missed, they did straddle the ship, causing large explosions when they hit the water. But Lanikai’s crew, ever resourceful, jumped right into their dinghy and collected the large quantity of stunned fish that were floating next to their ship as a result of the explosions. Supplies were very scarce and the men had to make do with what they could find. Little did they know that the Japanese would actually help them in their search for food!
Most Japanese aircraft simply ignored Lanikai, thinking that attacking her wasn’t really worth the effort. In late February 1942, Lanikai left Tjilatjap, Java, under full sail and continued heading south. She was moving very slowly because of heavy seas, making the crew sick and wet. Lanikai headed for Darwin, Australia, and was trying her best to avoid any Japanese ships in the area. But on 1 March, approximately 200 miles east of Christmas Island, Lanikai sighted a large Japanese task force on her port bow. Fortunately, Lanikai was able to steer away from the task force before she was spotted.
Finally on 18 March 1942, 82 days and roughly 4,000 miles after leaving Mariveles in the Philippines, USS Lanikai arrived at Fremantle, Australia. The Australians didn’t quite know what to make of the ship, but she still received a hearty welcome. After being given food, fuel, and other supplies, Lanikai left Fremantle on 4 April and cruised along the northwest coast of Australia to search for possible Japanese coast watchers or commandos. Lieutenant Commander Adair relieved Lieutenant Tolley of command of the ship on 27 April and continued her patrol duties until mid-May. Lanikai was decommissioned at Fremantle on 22 August and was transferred to the Royal Australian Navy. She served as a harbor defense ship for the rest of the war.
Once the war ended, Lanikai was brought back to the Philippines and was to be returned to her original owner. But, while anchored in Leyte Gulf off the island of Samar, Philippines, the ship sank during a typhoon. Thus ended one of the most unique stories in US Naval history. Although she never fought in a battle and never attacked a single enemy warship, USS Lanikai served in two World Wars and successfully completed one of the most dramatic escapes in all of World War II. A handful of grateful sailors also owed their lives to this tough little ship. Lieutenant Kemp Tolley went on to become a rear admiral in the US Navy and died in 2000, at the age of 92. USS Lanikai also received one battle star for her service during World War II.