The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Hill (Chester W.) World War II Memoirs
Collection Number: M281
Volume: .12 cubic feet
Chester W. Hill was born in 1921, and grew up in Ahoskie, North Carolina. He attended Wake Forest University, and after completing his degree, he enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve. He was then sent to Midshipman School in New York City, where he was instructed in naval communications. Approaching completion of the naval school in late fall 1942, he requested three choices for duty assignment: destroyers, North Atlantic; destroyers, South Atlantic; or destroyers, Pacific. Hill received his first choice and was assigned to the USS Swanson in January of 1943 as a communication officer, with the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTJG). His duties entailed coding and decoding messages ship-to-ship and ship-to-headquarters.
On January 6, 1943, the Swanson embarked on an assignment to escort a convoy of troop ships from New York to Casablanca. The vessel's primary mission from January to July 1943 was to serve as an escort in Task Group 65.5 of the convoy UGF9A patrolling the Straits of Gibraltar and the coast of northern Africa. A number of the missions included transporting captives of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's famed Afrika Korps Casablanca to New York.
Between July and December 1943, the Allies invaded Sicily, in "Operation Husky," and the USS Swanson was part of a naval armada off the coast of Bizerte, Tunisia during that invasion. The vessel assisted in shooting dive bombers, as U.S. troops marched on the beach. Hill and other communication officers determined from which direction the enemy planes originated, and assisted in providing coordinates to attack enemy aircraft. Also during the campaign, the Swanson participated in sinking the German submarine U-173, which had sunk the transport, USS Hewes; damaged the fleet oiler USS Winooski; and torpedoed the destroyer USS Hambleton amidships, which almost gutted her, but she made port.
In December of 1943, the battle in the Atlantic was turning in favor of the allies, and in January of 1944, the USS Swanson received orders to depart to Milne Bay, New Guinea. In the Atlantic and Mediterranean the threat had been the efficient German U-boats. Now, in the Pacific, the Japanese air force and surface naval units were the danger. Also, the Japanese forces used different military tactics than the Germans. For instance, if captured, a Japanese soldier vowed never to surrender to the enemy. Instead, he would commit hari kari (suicide).
Between May and June 1944, the Swanson assisted in the invasion of Hollandia, New Guinea, islands off the Bunis, and Siapan, which is located to the northwest of New Guinea. In August of the same year, the vessel assisted troops to the East of three volcanic islands (a part of the Bonis Islands) and aided aircraft striking targets ashore.
During Hill's military service, in August of 1943, he had a "blind date" with Mary Becker from Brookhaven, Mississippi. After the date, they wrote regularly, and then were married on March 3, 1945. Once discharged from the military, the couple moved to Mobile, Alabama, and Hill began working for Merrill Lynch as a stockbroker. At this writing, Hill has retired and continues to live in Mobile, where he enjoys his six children and eight grandchildren.
The Chester W. Hill Papers consist of a copy of the book, Destroyer at War! and photocopies of twelve World War II recollections written by Chester Hill, which appear in the book. Destroyer at War! traces the activities of the navy destroyer, USS Swanson from 1939-1946. Included are historical accounts of the Swanson's activities; reminiscences of men who served aboard the vessel during World War II; a time line documenting the Swanson's travels between 1941 and 1946; a listing of projectiles fired; and a roster of those who served on the ship. The book was published by the Swanson Historical Committee, Jack D. Sloan, chairman. Chester Hill was a member of the committee and a major contributor of reminiscences, submitting twenty-two personal recollections. In addition, Hill wrote the last five chapters of the book.
Hill's recollections pertain to occurrences in the Atlantic (primarily at Casablanca and New York) and in the Pacific (Buna, Milne Bay, and Tanamerah Bay, New Guinea). They span the period from January 1943 to April 1944. Materials in Folder one begin with the USS Swanson arriving in Casablanca Harbor escorting troopships from New York. In the port, Hill and other communication officers toured the French destroyers, Le Terrible, which in 1935 set a record for obtaining the speed of 45.25 knots (51.84 mph) in the Guinness Book of World Records, and a sister ship La Fantasque. Then, Hill discusses transportation of troops from New york to Casablanca, or visa versa. Of particular interest, in January of 1943, while en route to New York, Hill picked up on the radar monitor a convoy of incoming ships rapidly closing in on the Swanson. The vessel then blasted its stern depth charge rollers, which deterred the enemy ships from attacking. The Swanson assisted in the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and was then ordered to Ponta Delgado, Portugal, where the ship escorted Norwegian and Swedish nonbelligerent tankers desiring protection from wolf packs of U-boats in the area. At one point, Hill boarded a Swedish vessel and directed it through the hunted waters. Also included in Folder one are recollections of Hill's first night duty, transportation of German prisoners to the States, and his first date with his future wife.
Folder two contains recollections of Hill's service in the Pacific. In January of 1944, the Swanson, with eight other destroyers departed to Cape Sodest, a part of the Admiralty Islands in New Guinea. The ship was carrying troops and supplies for the reinforcement of U.S. forces in the Pacific arena. Upon arriving at the islands, the Swanson and three other ships were to provide naval gunfire to support forces ashore. On March 8, 1944, the vessel was ordered to cover two transport ships as they entered the Seeadler Harbor sweeping for mines. The recollections also discuss combat retaliations in New Guinea and the surrounding islands, and recount the Swanson's participation in the invasion of Hollandia, New Guinea, in April 1944. In addition, there are anecdotal memoirs concerning General Douglas MacArthur and General Robert E. Lee Eichelberger.
In the Summer of 1944, the ship assisted troops to the East of three volcanic islands (Chichi Jima, Haha Jima, and Iwo Jima) where the U.S. was conducting aerial strikes on enemy military installations. Then, in October 1944, the vessel assumed command of a new task group entitled Patrol and Escort group, Mariana Island, Siapan. The Swanson's purpose was to aid the U.S. Marines invasion of the Island and to direct other destroyers to surrounding areas to assist in rescuing aviators and bombarding pockets of resistance.
Although the Swanson also aided in the Noemfoor Island and Cape Sansapor, New Guinea Invasion, in August of 1944, Hill did not write any memoirs of this attack. Ship log information pertaining to the battle exists in Destroyer At War!, pages 249-257.
Chester W. Hill's World War II recollections provide insight into daily events aboard the naval destroyer, USS Swanson, and offer glimpses of the war as perceived by a junior grade naval officer. For those interested in naval activities in the Atlantic and Pacific, particularly naval support vessels, this collection will be useful.