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Pathfinder: Recollections of Those Who Served 1942 - 1971

Compiled by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations

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Recollections of Captain Lorin Woodcock, USC&S
of the Wartime Experiences of the USS Pathfinder


At the beginning of WWII, Lorin Woodcock was a young C&GS officer with not quite a year's service. He joined the PATHFINDER at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands and served on the ship throughout the remainder of its first tour of duty in the South Pacific. Following the war, he returned to the C&GS and retired in 1968.


"When World War II broke out, the PATHFINDER was still in a Lake Washington shipyard, being constructed by the Coast Survey for survey duty in Alaska. It immediately became apparent to the Navy that the war in the Pacific would take place in very sketchily charted waters, and that the PATHFINDER would be a very valuable asset to our Navy. So, the Navy took her over right in the shipyard, fitted her with guns, depth-charges, and a printing press for printing charts on the spot, gave her a number AGS1, and sent her out to the South Pacific. She had a Navy crew aboard, and her officer complement contained a nucleus of men experienced in hydrographic surveying and chart construction, who had been transferred to the Navy from the Coast Survey.

"After a brief training period in San Francisco Bay, the PATHFINDER left the states, bound for the South Pacific. Her first job was at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands. Our occupation forces had sneaked in here under the noses of the Japs, and the PATHFINDER joined them as unobtrusively as possible. Her highly secret mission was to find, chart, buoy, and blast out if necessary, a deep water passage into the lagoon, and lay out sufficient anchorages to repair damaged ships and serve as a staging area for future invasions.

"In spite of bad weather and an inexperienced crew, the job was done in the allotted time of four weeks, and the charts were printed before the Japs had prepared any organized action on our foot-hold there. The PATHFINDER sailed on then to Noumea, New Caledonia, arriving there in January, 1943.

"On the second of February, she sailed again, this time to survey Tulagi and Gavutu harbors in the Solomons. On the way to Guadalcanal she formed a part of the escort for a convoy carrying supplies to our hard-fighting Marines. With the convoy safely delivered, the PATHFINDER sailed the few remaining miles to Tulagi Harbor and started surveying operations. Her assigned task was a complete hydrographic and wire-drag survey of Tulagi and Gavutu Harbors and approaches for the purpose of charting any sunken wrecks and dangers to navigation, and to enlarge the available anchorage area. This job was accomplished very expeditiously under the most trying conditions. The field parties spent as much as 11 hours a day in the field, and spent the nights alternating between working on boat sheets and survey records, and manning battle stations while from one to a half dozen Jap bombers droned about overhead, spattering bombs here and there, sometimes uncomfortably close.

"The next job was an inshore survey along the coast of Guadalcanal, from Point Cruz to Berande Point. The job consisted of building and locating beacons, hydrography and wire-drag. At this period all supplies were landed on Guadalcanal by lighter, and the purpose of the survey was to provide anchorages as close to shore as possible, thereby expediting unloading operations. While engaged on this job, the PATHFINDER participated in a surprise daylight air-raid by about 150 Jap planes. With half her crew out on field parties she accounted for two dive-bombers, and after the action, rendered invaluable medical aid to injured personnel from the AARON WARD, a destroyer which took a bomb in her engine room during the action and later sunk. During this action Captain Thomas was credited by his crew with saving the ship. He turned the right way at the right time and the bomb fell where the ship would have been.

"While this job was in progress the ship's drafting room turned out a chart of Sandfly Passage, using existing hydrographic information and aerial photographs. It's purpose was to provide a rapid escape route for PT boats making their nightly attacks on the 'Tokyo Express.'

"With the completion of this job, the PATHFINDER returned south to Espiritu Santo Island in the New Hebrides Islands, where survey operations were carried on without the interference of enemy action. An area off Bogaeio Island at the entrance to Segond Channel was surveyed and charted, for the installation of a degaussing station. An area in Segond Channel was wire-dragged for the location of a floating cruiser drydock. An extensive inshore survey of Segond Channel was made for the location of piers and docks. Turtle and Pallikulo Bays were surveyed and charted to provide anchorage and staging areas. A portion of Pallikulo Bay was dragged to 90 feet for a floating battleship drydock. A portion of Undine Bay on the north shore of Efate Island was surveyed to provide a closer approach to the airfields by tankers. Fila Harbor on Efate was surveyed and wire-dragged, to enlarge the safe anchorage area for units of the fleet engaged in training activities.

"The next job was a two week's tour of duty in Sydney, Australia for the purpose of rest, rehabilitation and recreation. Civilization proved much too alluring for the accomplishment of the first purpose, but the other two were accomplished with sufficient vigor and enthusiasm to more than atone for the omission.

"The PATHFINDER then returned to the job, reported to the Commander of Advanced Naval Bases, Solomons, and was assigned the task of surveying the Russell Islands. This base was to become a tremendous staging point for army equipment and troops, and was the biggest single job undertaken by the PATHFINDER.

"In the middle of the Russell Islands job, the PATHFINDER was called upon by Commander Third Amphibious Force for several emergency rush jobs. The first of these was a survey of Manning Straits. It was thought that Manning Straits would provide a good route for task forces, and a detached party was sent to conduct the survey. Hathorn Sound on Northern New Georgia was surveyed to provide anchorages to serve the growing base and airfields. Vovobe Cove on Kolombangara was completely charted. Rendova Harbor was charted to meet the needs of the new base on Rendova Island. While engaged on this job, the PATHFINDER was called upon to send a party immediately to Cape Torokina, Bougainville. During the invasion there at least one transport had run aground on an uncharted reef, and two others had very narrowly escaped hitting reefs. The assigned mission was to locate, buoy and chart all off-shore reefs. Operations were carried on amidst falling bombs and shells, but eventually were concluded with no serious misfortunes.

"Another detached party was sent on the invasion of Treasury Islands, and made a complete survey of Blanche Harbor.

"Then finally back to the Russell Islands. That job was finally completed and then the PATHFINDER made another trip to Sydney. However, part of the crew and officers had to stay behind to participate in the invasion of Green Islands. This party landed with the first wave of troops and had started surveying before the shooting had gotten well started. A complete chart of the lagoon and entrances was made, and the rapid development of the base was thereby greatly aided. This party also participated in a reconnaissance raid on Green Islands, and determined minimum depths in the two entrance channels prior to the actual invasion.

"The next job was in the form of another detached party to Emirau Island in the St. Matthias Group. This party landed with the invasion forces and gathered data for charts necessary for the development of the base.

"Before the return of this party, the PATHFINDER had started a survey of Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralty Islands. The entrances and anchorage areas were wire-dragged, and a section of the harbor was dragged to 90 feet for a floating battleship drydock. This base eventually became the main staging area and supply point for the Philippine invasion, and its development was materially speeded when satisfactory charts became available. In the same area, Ponam Island and approaches were surveyed, to make possible the servicing of an air-strip to be built on Ponam Island.

"The PATHFINDER then returned to New Caledonia and commenced surveys improving the existing charts of Havannah Passage leading to Noumea. The wire-dragged channel was widened near it's beginning, and a channel through Woodin Passage was wire-dragged, thus shortening the route appreciably. A survey was made of Burai Bay, New Caledonia, to determine it's feasibility as a staging area. Lifu-Uvea Passage in the Loyalty Islands was surveyed to definitely determine its safety for navigation, and Patteson Passage in the New Hebrides was surveyed for the same reason. Finally, in October, 1944 the PATHFINDER sailed for Pearl Harbor, and then on to San Francisco for a much needed and well earned repair and overhaul period. During this time all but one of the remaining Coast Survey officers were detached, and he left after seeing her safely out to her working grounds again."

"Author's note:

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Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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