Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Young Ship

 On August the 15th 1942 a line of young American men were attempting to enlist. One of the processes involved was being inspected by a dentist. At the time the age of enlistment could be as low as 16 (with a parent’s consent) but 17 or older was preferred. The dentist performing the checks was surprised as he peered into the mouth of the man in front of him, as he had the teeth of a 12-year-old. 

The boy's name was Calvin Graham. He was attempting to enlist, and when the dentist told him his age he began to argue. For one thing he knew the previous two males in the line were both underage, around 14, but had managed to get past the dentist. Eventually, running out of time and frustrated with Graham's insistence he was 17 the dentist let him pass. The dentist was right, Graham was born on the 3rd April 1930. This was would make Graham, in all probability, the youngest US veteran of the Second World War. The official stance of the US was that children under the age of 16 could not enlist. However, there seems to have been a grey area with training camps applying extra harsh conditions to the underage recruits to force them to quit, by admitting their age. Examples include giving the recruits heavier packs or longer distances to cover. 

Calvin Graham

Graham toughed it out in his chosen service, the US Navy, and eventually was posted to the USS South Dakota. He served as a 2nd loader on a quad AA-gun mount. His job was to pass clips to the loaders feeding the ammunition into the loading chutes of the guns. His first action was at the Battle of the Santa Cruz. The USS South Dakota was sailing as close escort to one of the carriers, when they came under massed air attack. One torpedo bomber aimed at the USS South Dakota, but missed by just 20ft, another flew between both the carrier and the battleship, both of which raked the other with their AA fire. Another had its pilot hit, causing the plane to lurch upwards, the torpedo broke loose from one of its two retaining straps and was swinging loose as the plane careened past, only for the torpedo to fall off track and miss the battleship. In this engagement the USS South Dakota claimed 32 enemy planes shot down by the barrage of flak they had laid. In return they suffered one bomb hit, that caused some causalities and damaged two of her forward guns. 

One of USS South Dakota's quad gun mounts being test fired during her shake-down cruise.

Shots of Japanese planes attacking the USS South Dakota.
 The second action Graham was involved in was the Battle of Guadalcanal. The USS South Dakota had been at action stations for six hours before the battle begun. During the battle, an electrical fault knocked out USS South Dakota's radar. This made her gunnery difficult, however, with a group of destroyers she pressed home the attack. However, the destroyer screen was soon disabled and burning, and the USS South Dakota was forced to manoeuvre in front of the burning ships and was promptly silhouetted. Raked by salvo after salvo she turned and headed out, to her surprise she met a second group of Japanese ships, which she had been unable to detect due to the lack of radar. Using her rear turrets, she opened fire. However, the blast from the main battery set her three Kingfisher spotting aircraft on fire. A second salvo solved this problem, with the shockwave blowing the fires out, although the blast also tossed two of the three aircraft overboard. After this the USS South Dakota retired from combat, the Japanese believing her sunk. 
Damage to the battleship taken during the night time battle.
The Surviving Kingfisher onboard the USS South Dakota.

During the battle Graham had been at his post, however he was then sent with a message to his officer. As he was carrying the message, he heard a yell of warning to get down, so he hit the deck, however, the heavy shells that hit the ship still caused him some minor injuries. He was then assigned to rescue duties. For his actions that day he was awarded the Bronze Star.

The USS South Dakota returned to the US to make repairs and refit. Whilst in port Graham heard that his grandmother had died, and so went AWOL returning to his hometown. However, he lacked money so had to hitch-hike. By the time he reached home he was a day after the funeral. He presented himself at the Navy's recruitment office, informed them of the fact he was AWOL and expected to be returned to his ship. However, his mother then revealed his age in an effort to prevent him returning to the war.

Graham was sent to prison due to the AWOL charges and stripped of his Bronze Star. He was then abruptly released when the family threatened to approach the press. Instead of returning to school he went to work as a welder’s apprentice in a shipyard, although his case stirred some interest from the media, that quickly faded.

He married at 14 and had a child the next year. He divorced shortly after and lost his job. However, he was now 17, and so he joined the USMC. He became invalided due to a fall during training and was discharged rated as having a 20% disability. With no honourable discharge or education his only avenue was to sell magazine subscriptions. The lack of honourable discharge meant he was also barred from the support networks the US had for veterans. In 1978, after some campaigning he was awarded his honourable discharge, and his Bronze Star was reinstated. Graham would die in 1992.


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.


Image Credits:


There is a huge collection of images, about the USS South Dakota, some of which I used above, on the following website. It also contains a lot of other material, so may well be worth a visit.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Unlucky Plane

 Early in the morning, around 0800, on the 24th of August 1938 a lone DC-2, named Kweilin, lifted off from the main runway of Hong Kong's Kai Tak airport. At its controls was an American pilot called Hugh Woods. He turned his plane on its course for China and continued to climb. The DC-2 belonged to the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), which was a Chinese air transport company. The reason why it was flown by an American was that CNAC had a contract with Pan American to fly their planes. This particular routine scheduled flight was between Hong Kong and Chungking. 


As the Kweilin passed through 6,000 feet, and passed over the border, Woods spotted a flight of eight Japanese float-planes (highly likely to be Nakajima E8N "Dave's") loitering above him. Woods was not too worried, he had seen such flights beforehand. Equally, his DC-2 was clearly marked as a CNAC aircraft, and the DC-2 had a unique silhouette that did not match any combat aircraft flown by the Chinese. Even so, erring on the side of caution, he swung back towards the border. After a while he could no longer see any sign of the Japanese aircraft, and so he turned back to his course for Chungking. 

As the Kweilin crossed the Zhujiang river estuary, it was about to enter Chinese airspace when five Japanese planes reappeared and dived to attack the DC-2. Woods reacted immediately, throwing his lumbering aircraft into a dive and turning as he went. He had spotted a clump of clouds at 5,000ft. As he closed, Woods realised these clouds were actually wrapped around the tops of mountains, so he had to skirt round the edges of the clouds. He emerged briefly from the clouds and saw that the area was clear but turned back into the safety of the cloud cover. At that point the first bursts of machine gun fire struck the plane. Woods threw it into a tight spiral, on the side of the mountain he could see his shadow, and that of one of his pursuers, with more bullets thudding into the plane. On board there were fourteen passengers, who were likely screaming.

Woods began to look for a place to land, however, the land around him was nothing but rice paddies, criss-crossed by dykes. Then Woods spotted a river, and deciding it was his only chance, dove for it. As he got closer, Woods powered down his aircraft and disconnected the batteries, and glided in to land. All the time the Japanese planes were making passes at his craft slamming bursts of machine gun fire into it. The Kweilin came to a rest near the bank of the river in a spray of mud and water. However, as Woods recovered his wits the water dripped from the windscreen, and the current took hold of the plane and dragged it out into the main channel. 

Woods checked on his passengers and crew, remarkably no-one had been hit. In another bonus the DC-2's basic design meant it was prone to floating. As Woods looked outside the Japanese planes returned and began to strafe the Kweilin. Woods then found his next problem, he was the only one able to swim. At this point Woods spotted a small boat on the shore. So, he leapt out of the DC-2 and struck out for it. However, he quickly realised he had misjudged matters. First the Japanese fighters started to attempt to gun him down, to add to his troubles he estimated the current was moving at around 5 knots. By the time he reached the boat he was exhausted, and to make matters worse the Kweilin had been swept much further down river and was unreachable, and had been strafed so much she had sunk, with only the tail plane visible above the water. Woods collapsed in exhaustion and was only able to walk again after about an hour. Of the seventeen persons on board only four survived. One of the passengers, who was wounded, Woods and the two other crew.

This was the first time in history that a passenger liner had been shot down, which created a huge amount of negative press and outrage aimed at Japan. It could even be seen as one of the major steppingstones towards the US reaction towards Japan that would culminate in events at Pearl Harbour. The Japanese were highly unapologetic. It is highly likely that they were attempting to assassinate the son of the then President of China. However, the son had been on an earlier flight. Over the next few years several more passenger planes were shot down over China, although none belonged to CNAC. There were other incidents such as when a CNAC DC-2, once again flown by Woods, was hit by a Japanese bomb on the ground, and had a wing destroyed. The answer was to fit it with a DC-3 wing and fly the whole aircraft out. The story of that can be found here

The Kweilin being salvaged.

The Kweilin ready for transport back to base.
One of the Kweilin's engines being inspected for damage.
The Kweilin was salvaged from the river and started flying under a new identity as the Chungking (her destination when she was shot down). However, in August 1940 she landed at Changyi airfield. Unknown to her pilot the Japanese had just finished the first wave of an attack on that location. The second wave appeared and attacked, catching the plane in the open. She was destroyed by fire during the air raid.

Woods would continue flying for CNAC until Japan entered the Second World War, he then escaped from Hong Kong and was put in charge of logistic flights over the Hump from India to China. After the war he returned to the US, where he ran a small shopping centre which he eventually sold before moving into real estate. He died in 1979 aged 73. 


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.


Image Credits:

lanna-ww2.com, www.cnac.org and industrialhistoryhk.org