The Little Tug that Could

And Did! Of the pre-war US Asiatic Fleet, few vessels stayed in Philippine waters after Imperial Japanese forces destroyed much of the Far East Air Force’s fighter planes in the first days of the war. The lack of suitable anti-aircraft gun capabilities could neither prevent Japanese air attacks from altitude. So the major units had to find safer waters.

By the beginning of the Bataan Campaign in January, 1942, the much reduced naval forces were confined to the greater Manila Bay environs. Vessels such as USS Canopus and the PT Boats of Motor Torpedo Squadron Three are fairly well known in the campaign, but there were other ships that contributed to the Fil-Am defensive effort.

One of these little known vessels was the USS Napa, a Bagaduce-class fleet tug. The tug was 157 feet long, 30 feet wide and displaced 998 tons at full load. As built her armament consisted of two3-inch guns.

USS Napa

USS Napa (AT-32) at anchor, date and location unknown.  (Courtesy Mr. Wayne Osborne, via NavSource)

She was built in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton in Washington State in 1919.  Napa served at Guam for ten years, until she was decommissioned in 1929, and placed in reserve at Olongapo Naval Station, Philippines.

NH 93253

Picture taken circa 1926 shows the ship’s company of USS Napa (AT-32), possibly at Guam.  The insignia on the smokestack suggests an aviation affiliation.  Note the sailor in the center front holding the life ring and what appears to be a mascot in the ring, perhaps a monkey.  (Courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command)

Some ten years later, as the clouds of war thickened, USS Napa was recommissioned on 15 August 1939, and resumed service as part of the Asiatic Fleet in the Philippines. In the period immediately before the war, from 8 October 1941 until 14 December she was busy emplacing anti-torpedo nets around Mariveles Bay at the south end of the Bataan Peninsula. Though untrained in netlayer duties, the crew of 40 which included eight Filipinos, less than the complement of 60, under the command of Lieutenant (LT) Minter Dial (USNA 1932), completed 95% of the designed placement of these nets, only held back from completing the project by the destruction by Japanese air attack of materials at Cavite.

LT Minter in cabin USS Napa

LT Minter Dial, USN, in the captain’s cabin of USS Napa (AT-32) composing a letter in the fall of 1941 (Courtesy Dial Family via Smithsonian.com)

On 19 December, Napa reported for duty as part of the Inshore Patrol, 16th Naval District. Based at Mariveles, Napa performed a variety of missions that included net tending, various duties around Bataan and Manila Bay which included coastal patrol, towing, salvage and net tending. One source indicates she laid 13,000 mines in her Philippine service, though it is not clear over what time period this was accomplished. Her armament was augmented by at least one .30-caliber Lewis machine gun.

During her Bataan Campaign operations, Napa had ample opportunity to engage enemy aircraft, and according to Chief Petty Office William “Gunner” Wells (who retired as a Commander), she had ten confirmed aircraft destroyed and four probably destroyed to her credit.

On 18 March 1942 Ensign Perroneau B. Wingo assumed command of Napa, as LT Dial was appointed Secretary to Captain Kenneth Hoeffel, the senior naval officer present on Corregidor. Each officer subsequently was awarded the Navy Cross for their actions while in command of AT-32. The citation for LT. Dial’s Navy Cross reads as follows for his actions between 7 December 1941 and 18 March 1942:

“The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander Nathaniel Minter Dial (NSN: 0-27906), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Fleet Tug U.S.S. NAPA (AT-32), in combat with the enemy during the period 7 December 1941 to 18 March 1942. While exposed to frequent horizontal and dive bombing attacks by enemy Japanese air forces, Lieutenant Commander Dial directed the anti-aircraft batteries of his ship and conducted operations of strategic importance involving hazardous missions such as to bring great credit to his command and the United States Naval Service.”

Unfortunately, neither man survived subsequent captivity under the Imperial Japanese. There is a fascinating if sad story of the fate of LT Dial and the discovery years later of his Annapolis class ring which the reader can view in “Minter’s Ring:  The Story of One World War II POW,” on the Smithsonian website at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/minters-ring-the-story-of-one-world-war-ii-pow-40301808/?no-ist

As Bataan was about to fall on 9 April 1942, Napa’s position was deemed untenable. With all enemy forces about to concentrate on Corregidor, there was literally nowhere to run, nowhere to hide for Napa, and she was ordered to be scuttled. Her crew did so after transferring provisions, small arms and belongings to Corregidor, there to become part of the US 4th Marine Regiment and the defense of that island. The brave vessel and crew received one battle star for their participation in the Philippine defense of 1941-1942.

Of note, the US Navy commissioned a second Napa in World War II, APA-157, a Haskell-class attack transport built in Portland, Oregon and commissioned 1 October 1944. This Napa was 455 feet in length, 62 feet in width and displaced just over 15,000 tones at full load, much larger and greater than the tug Napa. She received one battle star for her service during the Iwo Jima campaign of 1945.

USS Napa in China

USS Napa (APA-157) moored to a buoy in the Whangpoo River, Shanghai, China, 24 January 1946.  (Courtesy Mr. J.M. Casanova and Mr. S.C. Hopkins, via NavSource)

Like her predecessor, Napa also reached the Philippines in her service, arriving in mid-September 1945, from which she transported troops for occupation duty in Japan, as well as other former Japanese-occupied territories in the Far East. It was perhaps a rather fitting end to the USS Napa saga in the Pacific War.
References

USS Napa (AT-32), Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Napa_%28AT-32%29

USS Napa (AT-32), NavSource entry at: http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/47/47032.htm

1926 picture of USS Napa (AT-32) crew, at: http://www.history.navy.mil/our-collections/photography/numerical-list-of-images/nhhc-series/nh-series/NH-93000/NH-93253.html

Navy Cross citation for LCDR Minter Dial: http://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=19073

The Last Ring Home, at: http://www.us-japandialogueonpows.org/Dial.htm

Minter Dial Dialogue web log, at: http://minterdial.com/tag/lt-cdr-minter-dial/

USS Napa (AP-157), Wikipedia entry, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Napa_%28APA-157%29

USS Napa (AP-157), NavSource entry, at: http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/03/03157.htm