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Remembering World War II
Alexander Hugh Gillis
Name: Alexander Hugh Gillis Rank: Machinist’s Mate, 2nd Class Service Number: 2017652 Service: USS Northhampton, US Navy Awards: Purple Heart Date of Birth: 1921 Place of Birth: Glendale, Inverness Co., Cape Breton, NS Date of Enlistment: 1940 Place of Enlistment: Boston, Massachusetts Marital Status: Single Date of Death: December 1, 1943 Age: 22 Cemetery: Manila National Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines Grave: Walls of the Missing Alexander Hugh Gillis was the son of John Alexander Gillis (1896-1963) and Jesse Margaret (McLennan) Gillis (1901-1995). His father was born in Glendale, Inverness Co., Cape Breton, NS; his mother – in River Denys, also in Inverness. Alexander had nine siblings. Alexander’s sister Florence Anne Gillis (1928-2011) married William Harrison White (1925-1961) who also served in the US Navy in WWII as a Torpedoman’s Mate, 2nd Class in the US Naval Reserve (Service No. 8022927). Alex immigrated with his family to the United States at the age of five or six. He was received for service aboard the USS Northhampton from USNTS Newport, Rhode Island (United States Naval Training Station), for duty on December 7, 1940. The USS Northampton was laid down April 12, 1928, at the Bethlehem Steel Fore River Shipyard at Quincy, Massachusetts. The Northampton-class ships were initially classified as light cruisers because of their light armor, according to the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922. Northampton was named for the Massachusetts home town of then President Calvin Coolidge and by the time of the ship's launching on September 5, 1929, the now former-first lady Grace Coolidge acted as sponsor. Northampton was commissioned May 17, 1930, Captain Walter N. Vernou commanding. On December 7, 1941, Northampton was at sea as part of the USS Enterprise task group, returning to Pearl Harbor the day after the Japanese attack. When Enterprise sailed 2 days later in search of the Japanese fleet, Northampton went with her. Northampton's first combat was February 1, 1942 when she and Salt Lake City shelled Japanese installations on Wotje in the Marshall Islands. 3 weeks later, they made a similar bombardment against Wake Island and then again at Marcus Island. Early in April 1942, Northampton sailed again as one of Enterprise's escorts and their group joined up with USS Hornet (Yorktown-class) north of Midway. They all then continued sailing west where Hornet launched the Doolittle Raiders. The ships replenished quickly at Pearl Harbor and then sailed for the Southwest Pacific, arriving just after the Battle of the Coral Sea. Returning to Pearl Harbor, Northampton again sailed with the Enterprise task group as they intercepted the Japanese fleet at Midway. The Battle of Midway was primarily one of naval aviation so Northampton's role, like all the escorting ships, was completely defensive; providing anti-aircraft fire to protect the carriers. In mid-August 1942, Northampton sailed again for the Southwest Pacific to join in the Guadalcanal operation. When Enterprise was bombed on August 24, 1942 and had to withdraw, Northampton shifted to the task group of the recently arrived USS Wasp (Wasp-class). On September 15, 1942, the task groups of Hornet and Wasp were operating together southeast of the Solomon Islands escorting a convoy of US Marine reinforcements when the force was attacked by Japanese submarine I-19 commanded by Lieutenant Commander Kinashi Takakazu. I-19 fired a single spread of six torpedoes that hit three different ships. Wasp was mortally wounded by two torpedoes while battleship North Carolina and destroyer O'Brien were also damaged (O'Brien was only 800 yards off Northampton's port beam when that torpedo struck). Fires raged on Wasp fuelled by aviation gasoline and could not be controlled. The carrier was later abandoned then scuttled with five torpedoes from the destroyer USS Lansdowne. Shifting to the USS Hornet task group, Northampton screened the carrier on an attack against Bougainville in the Solomons on October 5, 1942. 3 weeks later, it was Hornet that was mortally wounded. In the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, where enemy ships never came within sight of each other, Northampton and other ships provided intense anti-aircraft fire to protect the USS Hornet from attacking planes, but the carrier was bombed heavily and was badly damaged. Northampton attempted to take Hornet in tow but the ship was obviously doomed. Hornet had to be abandoned and was later sunk by a combination of American efforts to scuttle the ship and, finally, Japanese torpedo fire. Then through November 1942, Northampton operated to prevent the Japanese from provisioning their troops on Guadalcanal. This meant night patrols in "The Slot." In the dead of night on November 30, 1942, Northampton, along with four other cruisers and six destroyers, engaged a Japanese destroyer transport force in the Battle of Tassafaronga north of Guadalcanal (also called the Fourth Battle of Savo). Cruisers Minneapolis and New Orleans took torpedo hits within a minute of each other and then 10 minutes later, Pensacola was hit. All three had to withdraw, taking two destroyers as escorts. Cruisers Northampton and Honolulu, with the 4 remaining destroyers, continued the fierce action and scored many hits on the Japanese ships. Close to the end of the engagement, Northampton was struck by two torpedoes which tore a huge hole in her port side aft and ripped away decks and bulkheads. Taking on water rapidly, she began to list and settle by the stern but remained afloat. After three hours, however, it was clear Northampton could not be saved and she had to be abandoned. With great discipline and order, Northampton was abandoned with destroyers Drayton and Fletcher taking on 870 of her survivors in less than an hour. Northampton then gently rolled over and sank - becoming the last capital ship to litter the floor of Iron Bottom Sound.” Source: Machinist’s Mate, 2nd Class Alexander Hugh Gillis was a casualty of the sinking of the USS Northhampton. His date of death is recorded as December 1, 1943, but the USS Northhampton was sunk on December 1, 1942. He is remembered on the Wall of the Missing at the Manila National Cemetery and Memorial, Manila, Philippines.
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Enterprise and Northampton underway during Battle of Midway, June 4, 1942. Photo taken from USS Pensacola. United States National Archives. 80-G-32225