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During the Battle of the Coral Sea, The Oiler USS NEOSHO (AO-23) and her escort, destroyer USS SIMS (DD-409), were attacked by Japanese aircraft, which had initially mistaken them for a carrier and a cruiser. USS NEOSHO was damaged by a number of bombs and a crashing suicidal dive bomber at position 15 35' S, 155 36' E, and USS SIMS was sunk at position 15 10' S, 158 05' E. USS NEOSHO stayed afloat and listed and drifted from 7 May 1942.

USS TANGIER War Diary of 11 May 1942, reported that at 1245 hours on 11 May 1942, a patrol plane sighted USS NEOSHO and survivors. USS HENLEY (DD-391) was 50 miles south west of USS NEOSHO at that stage. The patrol plane directed USS HENLEY to the position of USS NEOSHO and the survivors. USS HENLEY later reported it was returning with 123 survivors from USS SIMS and USS NEOSHO. USS NEOSHO was assessed to be beyond salvage, and was sunk by 2 torpedoes and gunfire (146 x 5" shells) from USS HENLEY.

USS TANGIER was participating in the search for survivors from USS NEOSHO and USS SIMS. The War Diary for USS TANGIER reported on 12 May 1942 that USS HENLEY was proceeding to Brisbane with urgent hospital cases.

War Plans Daily Summary for CINCPAC had the following entry for 0930 GCT, 16 May 1942:-

(COMTASKFOR 42) Survivors from NEOSHO and SIMS arrived BRISBANE in HENLEY. From NEOSHO: known dead, 1 officer; missing 5 officers including one passenger, 154 men including 7 passengers; survivors 14 officers plus 2 from YORKTOWN, 83 men plus 9 from YORKTOWN and PORTLAND. From SIMS: dead, 2 men; survivors, 13 men; all others missing.

USS HENLEY moored at New Farm wharf in Brisbane at 1353 hours on 14 May 1942 and disembarked USS NEOSHO and USS SIMS survivors, who were taken to a US Army Hospital in Brisbane. It is believed they were taken to the US Army Hospital at St. Joseph's College, Nudgee Junior, at Indooroopilly in Brisbane.

Destroyer USS HELM (DD-388) later rescued another 4 survivors from USS NEOSHO on 16 May 1942. One of them died shortly after being taken on board.


The Fate of 68 other men adrift in four Life Rafts

Amongst the sailors who abandoned ship from USS NEOSHO were sixty eight men who boarded four life rafts at 1155 hours on 7 May 1942. They drifted away, and after two days their fresh water supply was exhausted. Unfortunately the Chief Petty Officer in charge of the group of rafts had made no attempt to ration the water. Shortly after this their food supplies were soaked with salt water.

On the third day, approximately fifteen men became irrational and took off their life jackets and jumped overboard. After this incident men on board the rafts started to die gradually, some slid off the life rafts and drowned and others died onboard the life rafts. Their bodies were dropped over the side of the life rafts once their death had been confirmed.

The remaining men were able to collect a small amount of fresh water on the fifth evening during a very light shower of rain. It only amounted to one mouthful for each of the remaining six survivors. They started to drink their own urine on the sixth day. This practice continued for another 3 days. Another sailor died on the seventh day and another on the eighth day leaving just four men.

Sea.2c William Arthur Smith (660 00 09) V-6 U.S.N.R.
Sea.2c Thaddeus Ocela Tunnel U.S.N.
Sea.2c Jackson (n) Rolston Jr. U.S.N.
Sea.2c Kenneth T. Bright

The four survivors placed one raft on top of another and then set the other two rafts adrift. The four survivors were finally spotted by Destroyer USS HELM (DD-388) on the ninth day (17 May 1942) at Latitude 15 16' S and Longitude 155 07' 30" E. They were all in a critical condition. They all had multiple severe salt water ulcers over their legs and buttocks. They were badly dehydrated and showed significant weight loss. Two of the men were irrational at times and one of them had moderate anemia and was bleeding from the bowel.

Three of the men responded well to treatment on board USS HELM, however Sea.2c Kenneth T. Bright died six hours after being rescued. He had apparently drunk large quantities of salt water in the previous 12 hours. He was buried at sea at 1805 hours (local time) on 17 May 1942.

USS HELM set course for Brisbane, Australia arriving there on 19 May 1942. They moored alongside USS HENLEY at New Farm dock at about 1543 hours (local time). The three survivors were then transferred to a US Army Hospital at approximately 1615 hours.  It is believed they may have been taken to the US Army Hospital at St. Joseph's College, Nudgee Junior, at Indooroopilly in Brisbane.



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This page first produced 21 January 2017

This page last updated 11 March 2017