The Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho


Above:  The U.S.S. Neosho in Norfolk, Virginia on August 7, 1939, a few months after it was launched.

May 1 - 6, 1942:  Preliminary Engagements

During the spring of 1942, in the months after the Japanese attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the U.S.S. Neosho, one of the few tankers in the Pacific Fleet, operated with the Admiral Jack Fletcher's Yorktown carrier group throughout the south Pacific.  When Fletcher learned about a Japanese build-up at the port of Rabaul, east of New Guinea, he sailed north to repulse what appeared to be a planned Japanese invasion of the key city of Port Moresby, New Guinea, thus setting the stage for the Battle of the Coral Sea.


Above:  My uncle, 18-year old Bill Leu in 1940, shortly after he joined the U.S. Navy.

On the morning of May 1, Fletcher's group, including the Neosho with my Uncle Bill Leu aboard, rendezvoused with Admiral Aubrey Fitch's Lexington carrier group, which had sped down from Pearl Harbor to help thwart the Japanese invasion.  A cautious commander, Fletcher spent the next two days refueling.  The Yorktown group refueled from the tanker Neosho while the Lexington group refueled from the tanker Tippecanoe.  Some of Fletcher's superiors would later criticize him for "dinking around" and refueling when he should have been looking for the Japanese fleet during these two critical days, but Fletcher believed in being prepared before going into battle.  Besides, the exact location and strength of the Japanese fleet was still unknown.


On the evening of May 3, Admiral Fletcher received word that the Japanese had invaded the island of Tulagi earlier that day.  Fletcher and the Yorktown group was 200 miles from Admiral Fitch and the Lexington group and needed to maintain radio silence, so they couldn't convey the message to Fitch.  Therefore Fletcher decided to speed north to try to repulse the Tulagi invasion force on his own while leaving the U.S.S. Neosho behind, along with an escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Russell.  While Fletcher sped north to attack Tulagi, the Neosho and Russell headed to the pre-appointed rendezvous site with Fitch.  The next morning, the two ships met Fitch at the rendezvous point and informed Admiral Fitch of the Yorktown group's change in plans.  They also conveyed to Fitch a new rendezvous point set for May 5.


The next day, the tanker Neosho, now with Fitch and the Lexington group, rendezvoused with the Yorktown group and learned about Fletcher's attack on Tulagi island.  Although the attack wasn't as successful as initially hoped, the Yorktown's fighters and bombers had hindered the Japanese operations on Tulagi.  The entire American fleet then combined into Task Force 17, with Fletcher in overall command, and sailed slowly west while refueling.


The next evening, May 6, Admiral Fletcher received a report saying that a Japanese fleet was preparing to enter Jomard Pass, several hundred miles to the northwest, presumably on their way to invading Port Moresby, New Guinea.  Fletcher ordered the vulnerable Neosho along with an escort, the destroyer U.S.S. Sims, to remain behind in a supposed safe area, while the rest of the task force sped northwest towards the Japanese fleet. 


As the men on the Neosho and Sims watched the fleet sail off into the sunset that evening, they had no idea what lay in store for them.  Among the crew of the Neosho was my uncle, Fireman Third Class, Bill Leu, who would never forget the events of the next week.



Above left:  The U.S.S. Neosho (right) refueling the aircraft carrier Yorktown in the Coral Sea, about May 2, 1942.  Less than a week later the Neosho was attacked by a swarm of Japanese dive bombers.

Above right:  The U.S.S. Yorktown (right) and U.S.S. Neosho (center) from the rear of a U.S. torpedo bomber that had just taken off.  This was shortly before the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The small ship on the horizon to the right of the plane's tail fin is the destroyer U.S.S. Sims.  This may be the only photo ever taken that shows the U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Sims together.


The Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho

(May 7 - May 11, 1942)


In this section, I've posted excerpts from Edwin Hoyt's fine book about the Battle of the Coral Sea called, "Blue Skies and Blood."  I've edited and condensed certain sections as needed to describe the ordeal of the navy tanker, U.S.S. Neosho, during and after the battle. 


This section includes the follow pages:


Table of Contents:

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23)

U.S.S. Neosho (AO-23) Home Page


SECTION 1:  Background

Specifications of the U.S.S. Neosho

Photo Gallery of the U.S.S. Neosho

The Four U.S.S. Neoshos


SECTION 2:  Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)


Prelude to War:  Conflict in the Far East

Bill Leu's Early Years

The U.S.S. Neosho at Pearl Harbor

Interview of Bill Leu:  The Attack on Pearl Harbor

U.S. Navy Action Report:  U.S.S. Neosho


SECTION 3:  Battle of the Coral Sea (May 1942)


The Battle of the Coral Sea:  Summary

Battle Action:  April 30 - May 4, 1942

Battle Action:  May 5 - May 7, 1942

Battle Action:  May 8, 1942

>  The Ordeal of the U.S.S. Neosho

May 7, 1942:  The Japanese Attack

May 8, 1942:  Waiting for Rescue

May 9, 1942:  Fading Hope

May 10, 1942:  Neosho Sighted

May 11, 1942:  Rescue

The Battle of the Coral Sea (continued)

List of Survivors and Casualties

U.S.S. Neosho:  Survivors and Casualties

U.S.S. Sims:  Survivors and Casualties

Interview of Bill Leu:  The Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy Action Reports:  Battle of the Coral Sea

Action Report of U.S.S. Neosho

Action Report of U.S.S. Sims

Action Report of U.S.S. Helm

Other Ships at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The U.S.S. Sims (Neosho's Escort)

The U.S.S. Henley (Neosho's Rescuer)

The U.S.S. Helm (Rescued Life Raft)

Battle of the Coral Sea Scrapbook

Honolulu Newspaper:  May 8, 1942

S.F. Examiner Article:  July 10, 1942


SECTION 4:  Aftermath


President Bush's 1991 Speech at Pearl Harbor

Seattle Times Article:  Bill Leu at Pearl Harbor

John S. Phillips, Captain of the U.S.S. Neosho

U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum

Fireman Third Class, Bill Leu

Jack Rolston and the Tragic "Raft of 68"

Links, Sources and Further Information

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