Interview with Raymond Kester
United States of America
Name & Surname: Raymond Kester
City of Birth & Country: United States of America
Rank in US Navy in 1942: Passed examinations for RM2c.
Transferred from USS Houston (CA-30) as Radioman 3 Class (RM3c).
Promoted to RM2c shortly after coming aboard Marblehead. Later, after
the Flores Sea bombing, promoted to RM1c. Later Warrant Officer and LT
before retirement and a whole new career in telecommunications.
This interview with Mr. Raymond Kester was done via e-mail in January 2001 and is posted here by his kind permission.]
• Mr. Kester, can you tell us when and why did you join the US Navy ? Was this perhaps from economical reasons ?
I joined the US Navy in 1938. Partly economic. You must consider
that we were in midst of a world-wide "great depression." My first
intention was to join for four years fulfill my obligation to my
country and save enough money to pay my first two years of college
(chemical engineering). Duty in the Asiatic Fleet, where the monetary
exchange rate was two-for-one or better, would be an assist.
• Was USS Marblehead your first ship you served on ?
No. After graduating from Navy Training I was assigned for further
training as a radio operator (Radio was my hobby; licensed radio
Amateur W7HFY). I was assigned to Cruiser Divison 3 Flag Allowance.
(Admirals Kimmel, Fletcher, Theobald) I served in USS Concord, USS
Milwaukee and USS Cincinnati - Omaha Class Cruisers and sister ships to
USS Marblehead. Then to USS Houston (CA-30) for duty in the Asiatic
Fleet. I transferred to USS Marblehead (CL-12), November 25, 1940.
• USS Marblehead was stationed bofre the start of the war in Pacific in the
Philippines acting as a part of Admiral Hart's Asiatic Fleet. Veterans
from USS Houston often says that they spent much of their time in those
last weeks at the open sea drilling and training from a war which they
knew that it would come. How was the situation with USS Marblehead ?
All naval ships conduct training and drills so that real operations
are met as a routine. We were aboard outdated, outclassed fighting"
ships; but with spirit and good morale. Most of us felt that when the
"real thing" came along, we would, at best, fight a delaying action and
be rescued by the main fleet. A Task Force consisting of Marblehead
(Task force Commander), Destroyer Tender Black Hawk, and Destroyer
Squadron 29 departed Manila, PI November 25, 1941: Arrived Tarakan,
Boreno in the NEI. November 29, 1941. On November 28, 1941 all hands
were informed: "No more drills! The next actions would be the real
thing; act accordingly."
• Do you recall the first day of war on USS Marblehead ? What was the morale among the crew
? Was anyone concerned about not beating the Japanese due knowing that
USS Marblehead is already an obsolete ship, not ready for any big
Yes. We received the fateful radio message from Admiral Hart at 0300
December 08, 1941: "Japan started hostilities. Govern yourselves
accordingly". General Quarters was sounded at 0315 and Marblehead went
to war. The morale was high.
Marby departed Tarakan December 09 for Balik Papan (December 11-16)
where all hands continued preparing the ship for war and making battle
preparations: Rechecking all war fighting equipment, doing "strip ship"
operations. (getting rid of surplus and not needed equipment and such
as removing tile from washrooms and other loose items that could become
"missiles" if the ship was hit by explosive devices. As a note; I
repaired radio equipment aboard SS President Madison. Most of us felt,
but did not dwell on the possibility, that we would not survive.
We knew the ship was old. We did not realize how bad off we were until we actually fought the ship.
• When were you attacked for the first time by the Japanese ? Was this still in the Philippine waters ?
We were attacked February 04, 1942 in the Flores Sea while member of
a Combined Dutch American Strike Force (Cruisers; US Houston and
Marblehead and Dutch Tromp with Dutch and American Destroyers) going to
attack a Japanese Task Force of transports, cruisers and destroyers.
off Balik Papan. Marblehead sustained one near miss bomb hit which made
a 3 x 9 feet hole in the port side forward and damaged the keel, one
direct hit mid-ships starboard and one direct hit center-line (Aft)
forward of the number two 6-inch twin gun mount; disabling it, the
emergency steering station, and steering engine room which locked the
rudder at 30-degree - a tight turn. Houston received one direct hit
just forward of the number three 8-inch main battery gun turret (Aft)
which disabled it and caused many casualities.
• Was USS Marblehead attacked by any Japanese bombers of submarines during her voyage to Dutch East Indies ?
• What was your first impression when you
came to the Dutch colonial possesion East Indies ? What kind of
impression did the people make on you ?
No real impression. We were sailor's having experienced many ports
and surrounding cities. I, as I still do, looked, enjoyed, and accepted
the people as they were and learned about their lives and culture. Each
NEI city, as other cities of the world, had it's own charm and bad
points. Macassar was a port facility and supporting township. The
Netherland East Indies port of Tarakan, Borneo was an oil port and
Dutch outpost. Not many amenities. Lots of beer and the dutchmen were
good company. Even a "movie house" that was showing a "Hop Along Cassidy" Western Movie.
The streets were dirt - mud when it rained -
Planked walkways served as sidewalks. This similar to the early western
towns in the US. We saw only the dock side of Balik Papan and Tjilatjap
because we were working. I have fond memories of Surabaya, Java where I
worked with a Dutch foreman and his work crew in the Navy Yard
Electrical Shop I learned how to hand-wind armature coils for electric
motors. This particular knowledge was put to good use later aboard
• The USS Marblehead conducted,
while being in the East Indies, a lot of convoy duties if I am not
mistaken. Do you know what kind of cargo did those convoys carry ?
Troops or material or both ? What kind of threat did represent the
Japanese submarines at that time ? Did you conduct perhaps any
anti-submarine measures on your ship ?
Most NEI convoy duties were with Oilers: Trinity and Pecos; Supply
Ship Goldstar, Aircraft Tender: Langley, and in company with destroyers
and other naval ships. Marblehead was part of a convoy from Surabaya to
Port Darwin, Australia which included merchant ships of mixed cargo and
military supplys. Japanese submarines were alway a threat. Our
anti-submarine measures were our speed and the accompanying destroyers
equipped with old, barely effective passive sonar.
ship was intended, together with USS Boise and some destroyers, for
conducting the famous night attack at Balik Papan, where at the end the
USN destroyers managed to sink several Japanese ships ? How come that
both light cruisers didn't took part in that operation ? Do you think
you could do more damage to the Japanese invasion fleet, maybe even
stop the Japanese invasion at Balikpapan, if both cruisers would took
part in that night attack ?
The original plan was for Marblehead to provide exit cover for the
DesDiv 59 destroyers after the Balik Papan harbour attack on ships of
the Japanese Landing force. Boise was to have provided screen and
back-up in the event a near by Japanese Task Force should intervene.
Marblehead experienced a problem in a low-pressure turbine which
limited her speed to 28-knots using three of four engines. Boise was
then to replace Marblehead. Boise, while enroute to Postiljon Island
staging area, struck a shoal and suffered hull damage. Marblehead then
went alongside Boise at Wawordo bay to embark the Task Force commander
and proceeded to Surabaya. Boise was ordered to proceed to Tjilajap.
The four destroyers of DesDiv 59 went into Balik Papen harbour without
escort. This was the first, and sucessful, offensive action in the War
against Japan. There was only one casuality, a flesh wound, experienced
by the strike force. We will never know what additional damage may have
been done if the orginal plan had been met. If the ships had met with
the near by Japanese ships --- there have been more casualities. These
ships could well have caused more damage; but; could not, at that time,
prevented the invasion.
• We know that USS
Marblehead had a lot of problems with their enginees and it also didn't
had a modern fire control equipment ? How come that you didn't receive
any new equipment before December 1941 ?
Marblehead did not experience excessive engine troubles. The
significant, ships force repairable problem, at a crucial time was
unfortunate. It may, however, have been another "very fortunate
happening" that gave us life. Houston was equipped with the then
"Modern" fire control equipment -- Still 1930 technology. Marblehead
was just plain old and had not been updated since a 1933
"modernization. Also, she was assigned to Asiatic Fleet in 1937.
Maintenance only was done at Cavite Ship Repair. Another fact of life
must be kept in mind - These were "Treaty" ships maintained in
depression years with were obscenely small budgets. We ate well; but,
did not have the luxury of anything new or NOT essential.
of the last stop of USS Marblehead in the East Indies was in a small
port of Tjilitjap, which was marked in Allied plans as a major supply
port of the troops on Java. However, some historians says that the port
was much to small and as that it was unsuitable for supplying the
trapped troops on Java. What exactly was the main deficiency of the
Tjilitjap harbour ?
Historians were correct. But you must consider - it was the best
available south Java port. You make the best of what you have.
Tjilatjap had a narrow access channel to a small, shallow and narrow
• When exactly left USS
Marblehead the East Indies ? Were you attacked while being stationed in
Tjilitjap or later during your sail to Australia ?
We had Japanese observation aircraft over Tjilatjap. The Japs were
too busy with Surabaya and other north side places, preparing for
invasion landings. Marblehead arrived Tjilatjap February 13 and
departed February 21 for Trincomalee, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Onward to
Durban, SA; Port Elizabeth, SA; Simons Town, Cape Town, SA; Recife,
Brazil; and arrived New York, NY May 04, 1942. The situation in
Tjilatjap was very tense. Every means of transport was used to evacuate
people from the island. Marblehead went due South from Java before
turning West to the Indian Ocean, and North to Ceylon. This is probably
the only thing kept us being sunk along with other ships that stayed
close to Java and within range of Jap aircraft.
• Could you briefly describe your following assignments in the World War II ?
After Marblehead arrived in New York Naval Shipyard, I was a Radio
Operator at the Ship Yard while waiting to go on leave to my home in
Oregon (West Coast US). When I returned from leave, I was ordered to
Electronics Materiel School (Radio Engineering). Upon completion of the
RMS I was assigned to USS Leedstown (APA-56) (Amphious Personnel
Attack). A troop transport ship as a Radio Technician -- (1943-1945).
Leedstown participated in six major assualt landings (Kwajalein, Guam,
Peleliu, Leyte, Luzon and Iwo Jima) and many troop training and
resupply activities. After Iwo Jima we transported cargo to Leyte.
Then, returned independently to Honlulu where we embarked hospital
patients for transport to San Diego CA. The ship's voyage ended in the
Naval Shipyard Long Beach CA for refit prepartory to the landing on
Japan. This was followed by assignments to Heavy Cruiser, USS Oregon
City (CA-122), and Air Craft Carrier USS Midway (CVB-41) as Assistant
Electronics Officer; Instructor/Division Officer in Electronic Materiel
School, Also attended Washington University (Part time); USS CAMBRIA
(APA-36) as Electronics Officer. These shipboard assignments were
followed by several years in special communictions operations. I
retired from the U.S. Navy in 1962. I have worked in the
Telecommunications Industry (Applications engineeringg, product line
and project management, and Analyst and consulting positions). Two
years ago, I stopped working for income. I now engage in several
activities which travel and general enjoyment.