USS Pecos (AO-6)
USS Pecos (AO-6)
|Laid down:||2 June 1920|
|Launched:||23 April 1921|
|Commissioned:||25 August 1921|
|Fate:||Sunk by Japanese air attack from Sōryū, 1 March 1942|
|Class and type:||Kanawha-class fleet replenishment oiler|
USS Pecos (AO–6) was laid down as Fuel Ship No. 18 on 2 June 1920 by the Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts; reclassified AO–6 on 17 July 1920; launched 23 April 1921; sponsored by Miss Anna S. Hubbard; and commissioned 25 August 1921. During the two decades before the United States entered World War II, Pecos carried fuel to ships of the fleet wherever needed, operating in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Pecos was in the Philippines supporting the ships of the Asiatic Fleet. She departed Cavite Navy Yard 8 December 1941 for Borneo and reached Balikpapan on the 14th. After filling up with oil and gasoline, the tanker pushed on to Makassar in Celebes, Netherlands East Indies where she refueled American warships fighting to slow the explosive advance of Japanese forces in the southwest Pacific. She departed Makassar for Darwin, Australia, 22 December.
She headed for Soerabaja, Java early in 1942 where she fueled Allied ships until departing 3 February after a Japanese air raid there had made that base untenable. Tjilatjap then became the oiler’s base until her cargo fuel tanks were empty. She then got underway late in February toward India to refill. On 27 February, off Christmas Island, when the oiler was about to take survivors of the aircraft carrier Langley from destroyers Whipple and Edsall, land based planes attacked the three ships. After fighting off the raiders, the U.S. ships steamed south out of range and completed the transfer 1 March.
At noon that day, planes from Japanese carrier Sōryū attacked Pecos and struck again an hour later. Finally at midafternoon, a third strike sent the veteran oiler to the bottom. Executive Officer Lt. Commander Lawrence J. McPeake (Annapolis Class of 1924-Posthumously promoted to Commander after the war) was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor for his actions aboard Pecos. After the order to abandon ship was given by the ship's Captain (Commander Abernethy-was awarded the Navy Cross for his skillful maneuvering, defense of the ship, damage control operations, cool leadership, and command of the stricken vessel during the engagement), Lt. Commander McPeake was seen engaging Japanese warplanes (Aichi D3A1 "Val" dive bombers) which were machine-gunning and strafing survivors in the sea, using a primitive deck-mounted .50 caliber machine gun. At least one of the Vals was confirmed as being shot down and destroyed, with another aircraft listed as a probable kill. By some crewmembers' accounts, he was reported to have made it off of the ship after it went down. Others reported him last being seen manning the machine gun. In fact, he did swim away from the vessel as it was going down with one other officer from the crew. However, his body was never recovered and he was eventually listed as Killed In Action after the War. A bridge in Milton, Massachusetts was named in honor of him, and a plaque on a building at the U.S. Naval Academy is inscribed with his name. Several members of her surviving crewmen thought that the Navy Cross should have been awarded to the Executive Officer, who by some accounts, went down fighting with his ship. Although quite heroic, McPeake's actions were by no means solitary. Several officers and men are also to be commended for their heroism in fighting the dive bombers, tending to their critically wounded shipmates while under intense enemy fire, and performing superhuman feats fighting the fires and trying to save their doomed ship. After Pecos was sunk, Whipple raced to the scene and rescued 232 survivors. Many of the survivors, although visible by crew members of Whipple, were unable to be picked up and were abandoned at sea, due to the detection of what was thought to be two enemy submarines in the area at extremely close range.
- Messimer, Dwight R. (1983). Pawns of War: the Loss of the USS Langley and the USS Pecos. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.