The U.S.S. Neosho

Survivors and Casualties

 

This section includes a list of the survivors and casualties resulting from the attacks on the navy tanker U.S.S. Neosho and destroyer U.S.S. Sims by Japanese dive-bombers during the Battle of the Coral Sea on May 7, 1942.  The lists, which I've compiled and which are nearly complete, are here:

In some ways, I consider these to be the most important pages in my website.  I first posted these pages in 2003 when there were no comprehensive sources available on the Internet or in books that included the names of the crewmen who served aboard the Neosho and Sims during the battle.  I've slowly added to these two lists in the many years since then by piecing together information from various sources.  In early 2005, a website reader sent me two mostly-complete lists of casualties she had obtained in the mail from the Navy Bureau of Personnel, one for the U.S.S. Neosho and one for the U.S.S. Sims, which I've incorporated here.  I'm still compiling these lists, nearly 20 years after I first posted these pages, and will continue to add to them as more information becomes available.

 

If you know the names of any survivors or casualties of the U.S.S. Neosho or the U.S.S. Sims during the Battle of the Coral Sea, please contact me and I'll post their name(s) on these pages.  And if you'd care to share any stories or information about them, I'll be happy to post them on my U.S.S. Neosho Veteran's Forum page.

 

To summarize, of the 546 men onboard the tanker U.S.S. Neosho and the destroyer U.S.S. Sims on the morning of the attack, 423 men died as a result of the attack and its aftermath, while 123 survived.  That's a brief summary, but the details are more complicated.

The Details

While researching the U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Sims, I tried to determine the exact number of men stationed on the two ships before the Battle of the Coral Sea (in navy terms, known as the "complement") and the number of confirmed survivors, dead, and missing.  It was frustrating because the U.S. Navy records available on the Internet regarding this matter are sketchy at best, and other sources seemed to conflict each other.  I've relied primarily on the book, "Blue Skies and Blood," written by Edwin Hoyt in 1975.  That book includes the most detailed account of the Neosho and Sims at the Battle of the Coral Sea that I've found, but even this source had some apparent conflicts.  I think I've ironed it out, though.

 

The casualty status of the destroyer U.S.S. Sims is fairly clear.  Before the attack by Japanese dive-bombers on May 7, 1942, there were 252 men onboard the Sims, of whom only 15 survived the attack and its sinking.  These men climbed into a whaleboat, made their way to the ailing Neosho and clambered aboard the tanker shortly after the attack.

 

The casualty status of the Neosho is less clear.  The book "Blue Skies and Blood" claims that there were 21 officers and 267 crewmen onboard the Neosho during the attack on May 7, for a total of 288 men.  According to the book, Captain Phillips did a head count shortly after the attack and determined that there were 110 survivors from the Neosho and 20 Neosho crewmen confirmed dead.  Therefore, Phillips determined that 158 Neosho crewmen were missing, many of whom had taken to the life rafts that were drifting away from the listing ship, none of whom were ever seen again except for four emaciated survivors many days later, who were rescued by the destroyer U.S.S. Helm several miles away.  After adding the 15 survivors from the U.S.S. Sims to the 110 men onboard the Neosho, that brought the total number of men on the Neosho shortly after the attack to 125.

 

Furthermore, the book states that during the next four days, as the crewmen drifted on the disabled Neosho until their rescue, on May 11, seven men on the ship died, including six Neosho crewmen and one from the Sims.  The book even states their names, so I'm fairly certain that seven men indeed died during that time.  This would leave 118 survivors on the Neosho (125 minus 7) who were rescued by the destroyer U.S.S. Henley on May 11.  However, several sources state that the Henley actually rescued 123 men from the Neosho, not 118.  Why was there a discrepancy of five men, I wondered?

 

All of the accounts that I've seen agree that 123 men were rescued by the U.S.S. Henley on May 11.  Therefore, I can only assume that there were 115 Neosho survivors after the Japanese attack on May 7, instead of 110 as Hoyt states in his book.  When added to the 15 survivors of the U.S.S. Sims, this means that there were a total of 130 survivors on the Neosho shortly after the battle instead of 125, with 123 eventually surviving to be rescued by the Henley.

 

The inconsistency might be explained by a group of crewmen who had transferred from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown and cruiser U.S.S. Portland to the Neosho on May 6, just before the Neosho and Sims were detached from the main American fleet.  This group of transfers was described in the book "Blue Skies and Blood" and verified by my uncle, Bill Leu, during the interview I did with him in 2002, six months before he died.  When Admiral Fletcher learned about the Japanese fleet northwest of him on May 6, he ordered the Neosho and Sims to the southwest in a supposed "safe area" while the rest of the fleet sped towards the Japanese.  That left the Yorktown and Portland crewmen stranded onboard the Neosho.  The book doesn't explain why these crewmen transferred to the Neosho, although my uncle, during the 2002 interview, stated that they were heading back to Pearl Harbor.  I'm assuming, therefore, that five men from the Yorktown and Portland were aboard the Neosho during the attack on May 7 and that these men were not included in the 110 survivors that Captain Phillips, commander of the Neosho, reported shortly after the attack.

 

Through deduction, Captain Phillips determined shortly after the attack on May 7 that 158 of his men were missing.  It's likely that at least some of these men, sadly, drowned that afternoon near the Neosho, just as my Uncle Bill nearly did.  However, the Captain saw several life rafts with men aboard them drift away from the Neosho and ordered a Neosho crewman in a motorized whaleboat to tow these rafts back to the Neosho.  For various reasons, however, the crewman failed to do so.  Neither Captain Phillips nor, presumably, the men onboard these rafts considered their lives to be at risk because it was thought the U.S. fleet would rescue them, either that day or the next.  Of course, the men drifting away from the Neosho didn't realize that the Neosho had transmitted incorrect coordinates via radio to the U.S. Navy fleet, which greatly hampered the search effort.  Captain Phillips himself didn't realize this terrible error until May 8, the day after the attack.

 

Regarding the life rafts, it's not known and most likely never will be known how many of the 158 missing men from the Neosho made their way onto rafts and drifted ever farther away from the mother ship, most never to be seen again.  Presumably, many of the men on the open rafts drifted across the Coral Sea and finally, after many days, perished from exposure and dehydration.

 

The only information about any raft survivors came from the four men who were rescued from a life raft by the destroyer U.S.S. Helm on May 16, a full nine days after the Japanese attack on the Neosho.  According to these men, they were the only survivors of a group of 68 men who had drifted away from the tanker in four rafts they had lashed together, truly an amazing story itself.  Unfortunately, two of these four men died shortly after being rescued.

 

Obviously then, the number of casualties from the attack depends on the timeframe.  Nevertheless, the most pertinent numbers are these:

  • Nearly every man on the U.S.S. Sims died.  Only 15 of the 252 survived the attack on May 7.

  • There were 293 men on the U.S.S. Neosho before the attack.  Of these, 184 men died while 109 survived.

  • There were 158 men on the Neosho reported missing after the attack (most of these presumably scrambled into life rafts).  Of the 158 men reported missing, only 4 were eventually rescued.

  • Combined, of the 545 men initially on the U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Sims before the attack, only 124 survived and arrived in Australia, while 423 men died. 

A detailed summary is listed below:

Summary of Survivors and Casualties

 

Before The Attack

Complement of destroyer U.S.S. Sims (morning of May 7, 1942):

252

 

Complement of tanker U.S.S. Neosho (morning of May 7):

293 (includes 5 transfers from U.S.S. Yorktown and U.S.S. Portland)

 

 

After The Attack

Survivors from U.S.S. Sims transferred to U.S.S. Neosho (on afternoon of attack, May 7, 1942):

15

 

Survivors from U.S.S. Neosho (afternoon of May 7): 

115 (includes 5 transfers from U.S.S. Yorktown and U.S.S. Portland)

 

Total men on U.S.S. Neosho (afternoon of May 7):  

130 (115 from Neosho, 15 from Sims)

 

Total confirmed dead from U.S.S. Neosho (afternoon of May 7):

20 

 

Total missing from U.S.S. Neosho (afternoon of May 7): 

158 

 

Buried at sea from U.S.S. Neosho on May 8:

2 (1 from Neosho, 1 from Sims)

 

Buried at sea from U.S.S. Neosho on May 9:

3 (all from Neosho)

 

Buried at sea from U.S.S. Neosho on May 10:

2 (both from Neosho)

 

Total men rescued from U.S.S. Neosho by destroyer U.S.S. Henley on May 11:  

123 (includes 104 Neosho crewmen, 14 Sims crewmen, and 5 Yorktown and Portland crewmen)

 

Died on U.S.S. Henley on May 13 and buried at sea:  

2 (one from U.S.S. Neosho, one from U.S.S. Sims)

 

Total survivors from U.S.S. Neosho and U.S.S. Sims returned to Australia on U.S.S. Henley:

121

 

The Life Rafts

Total Neosho crewmen missing after attack on May 7:

158

 

Of these, the number known to initially occupy the raft(s) seen by the U.S.S. Helm on May 16:

68

 

Of these, the number of survivors rescued by U.S.S. Helm on May 16:

4

 

Of these, the number who returned to Australia on the U.S.S. Helm:

3

 

Of these, the number who survived and returned to America:

2

Further Information on Casualties

As I noted above, I pieced this list of casualties together from various sources, including published books (see my page on Sources and Further Information), information on the Internet, as well as e-mails I've received over the years.  If you'd like more information about a person who died on the U.S.S. Neosho or U.S.S. Sims during the Battle of the Coral Sea, you can purchase a microfilm or microfiche list of casualties for any campaign in the war from the Naval History and Heritage Command website.  The information for each casualty includes the man's name, service number, rank/rate, casualty code (wounded or killed) and date of casualty.

 

As the naval history website states, instead of purchasing the microfilm or microfiche, you can find this same information in the following book: 

  • Combat Connected Naval Casualties, World War II, by States. Two volumes.  U.S. Navy.  Washington:  Office of Information, 1946.  OCLC 03829654

Volume 1 of this book covers navy personnel from the states of Alabama through Missouri, while Volume 2 covers Montana through Wyoming and other areas.   According to the U.S. Navy, you can find this book in the libraries of large universities or in depositories.  I haven't seen this book so I know nothing about it, but it apparently lists every U.S. naval casualty during World War II.  For more information about this book, see the U.S. Navy's FAQ page at the naval website posted above.

 

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)

Introduction

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)

Introduction

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

Introduction

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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