Weekly Gem #245, “I could feel the ship begin to quiver”

Published 11/28/20

Location: This Hidden Gem is located in in the Marines Memorial Club and Hotel, in San Francisco, CA (see the Clue Me! Map).   It is the ship’s bell from the USS San Francisco. The fact that it is in San Francisco rather than at the ocean floor near Guadalcanal is quite extraordinary.

Guadalcanal was where the U.S. first took the offensive against Japan in World War II. The Marines had landed and were hanging on by the skin of their teeth. The Japanese were doing everything possible to remove them.

On November 12, 1942, a large group of Japanese ships, including two battleships, was spotted heading toward Guadalcanal. The San Francisco was the flagship of a small fleet that was sent to stand between the Japanese and the Marines.

The fleets approached each other on a cloudy night with no moon … about as dark as it gets. Harold Ward was in the sky lookout near the bridge, and he recalled “I knew that something was going on because now I could feel the ship begin to quiver” when the ship went to flank speed. Moments later, the San Francisco had steamed right into the midst of the Japanese fleet.

The next forty minutes … how do you describe something that is indescribable? At 1:48 am, the San Francisco commenced firing on an enemy cruiser to starboard. Three minutes later on another cruiser to starboard. One minute later on a battleship nearly dead ahead. Eight minutes later on a second battleship to the front.

In the meantime, the San Francisco was taking fire from battleships, cruisers, and destroyers on three sides. In the first few minutes, the bridge was destroyed, and the Fleet Admiral and his entire staff were killed or incapacitated. Command was switched to ‘Battle II,’ the back up command center, which was immediately knocked out and all the officers killed or seriously wounded.

Only one officer from the bridge, communications officer McCandless, was still active, and he took command of the ship from the conning tower, the last command center on the ship that was functioning. McCandless was running blind, having no lights and no communication with other ships (radio, search lights, blinker guns, and fighting lights were all out). He was able to give orders aboard his ship though, and he kept all his remaining guns firing at the Japanese until the Japanese withdrew.

During this battle, the San Francisco took 45 hits from Japanese ships, more than one hit every minute of the battle.

McCandless was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on that night, his citation reading in part that the “enemy seriously wounded Lt. Comdr. McCandless and rendered him unconscious, killed or wounded the admiral in command, his staff, the captain of the ship, the navigator, and all other personnel on the navigating and signal bridges. Faced with the lack of superior command upon his recovery, and displaying superb initiative, he promptly assumed command of the ship and ordered her course and gunfire against an overwhelmingly powerful force. With his superiors in other vessels unaware of the loss of their admiral, and challenged by his great responsibility, Lt. Comdr. McCandless boldly continued to engage the enemy and to lead our column of following vessels to a great victory. Largely through his brilliant seamanship and great courage, the San Francisco was brought back to port, saved to fight again in the service of her country.”

The San Francisco indeed continued to serve her country, earning 17 battle stars and becoming the third most decorated U.S. Navy ship in World War II.


Here's the hidden gem entry from our Clue Me! map.


Let freedom ring


The USS San Francisco Ship's Bell

Why It's Interesting

The ship carrying this bell was nearly sunk in her first battle of World War II. But she stayed afloat, and went on to become one of the three most decorated ships in World War II.

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