THE NORTHERN GROUP
Our northern cruiser group was patrolling its square at a speed of 10 knots. The Helm was 1,500 yards on the port bow and the Wilson 2,000 yards on the starboard bow of the Vincennes. The Quincy and Astoria followed rather closely in order to enjoy the maximum antisubmarine protection from the destroyers. All three cruisers were in Condition of Readiness II. On the Vincennes all guns of the main battery had remained loaded since the noon air attack, and two guns in each turret were manned. Broadside antiaircraft and heavy machine gun batteries were fully manned, as were plot and most control stations. Steam was available for 30 knots. The Quincy was in Material Condition of Readiness YOKE, with Ammunition Condition of Readiness I in main and antiaircraft batteries. On the Astoria all guns of the main battery were loaded and two guns in each turret were manned. The antiaircraft battery was completely manned. The ship was in Material Condition ZED, with a few exceptions necessary because of the heat, which had caused several cases of prostration during the day.
At about 0120 the group turned onto course 315°.Since course was altered approximately every half hour, another change was due at 0150. But at about 0145 the Vincennes ordered by TBS that the course be held until 0200. The Quincy and Wilson had some difficulty in getting these orders and they were repeated several times. Thus the orders and their acknowledgment occupied the TBS for several minutes–at a most critical time, as it turned out.
Probably the first incident in the rapid succession of events which was to follow came about 0145, when a lookout on the Vincennes’ main deck aft saw a submarine surface and then submerge about 600 yards distant on the port quarter. This was reported to the pilot house, but it is not certain that the report was acknowledged. About the same time one of the sky lookouts called the attention of Lt. Comdr. Robert R. Craighill, assistant gunnery officer, to “a shape he thought he saw about broad on the port bow.” Lt. Comdr. Craighill searched the area with binoculars, but there was a rain squall in the vicinity of Savo and he could make out nothing.
Perhaps about 2 minutes later–about 0147 as nearly as may be deter- mined19 – the Patterson’s message came over the TBS: “Warning, warning, strange ships entering the harbor.” The report was received on the Vincennes, but it did not reach the captain asleep in his emergency cabin adjoining the pilot house, and it is not certain that it was heard by the executive officer on the bridge. The warning was also heard on the Quincy and general quarters was sounded, but the report was not passed on to the gunnery control stations. The Astoria was using her TBS to acknowledge orders regarding the change of course and did not receive the report. The Wilson heard the broadcast, but apparently the Helm did not.
By this time flares or star shells were seen. Actually the first of these seem to have appeared a minute or two before the TBS warning. There were two groups visible from the Vincennes. The first were almost astern. Very shortly afterward, flares or star shells and then gunfire were seen to port, in the direction of our southern force. Those astern were well below the overcast, white and evenly spaced across the sky from about 200° to 180° R. Those to the right appeared first, the others following in quick succession. They were apparently laid about normal to the course of our ships, although to one or two observers they seemed rather to parallel it. The estimates of their distance run from 3,000 to 10,000 yards.
It was not at once clear whether they were star shells or flares. Lt. Comdr. Truesdell, gunnery officer of the Astoria, believed they were flares: “Their interval of appearing was so short that it indicated that they could not have been fired by a single pair of guns. Also, if fired simultaneously from one battery they should appear almost simultaneously.”
It seems probable that these were the flares dropped near the transport area, which otherwise were not seen from our cruisers. The direction is about right, as is the time. If this is true, the estimates were in error and they were at a considerably greater distance than they seemed. If, on the other hand, they were really only 3,000 to 4,000 yards astern, they must have been near the southern corner of the patrol square and designed to illuminate our cruiser group.
At any rate, the flares did give the Vincennes group a very brief warning, and it was by their light that the enemy cruisers were first identified from the Astoria so that fire could be opened promptly.
One or the other of the two groups of flares was seen from all of our cruisers. On the Astoria, R. A. Radke, Quartermaster Second Class, sighted the flares astern and then saw a ship at a considerable distance on the port bow open fire–evidently the Japanese firing on our southern force. He thereupon promptly rang the general alarm on his own initiative. Just as he pulled the switch, he received the order from the bridge to stand by the general alarm.” At the Quincy’s control forward it was at first thought that the flares astern were star shells fired by our destroyers near Tulagi to locate the enemy plane which had been heard shortly before. But very soon afterwards the TBS warning was received; Capt. Samuel N. Moore was called, general quarters was sounded, all boilers were lighted off and Condition ZED was set throughout the ship. This was, however, probably about 2 minutes later than on the other ships.
Lt. Comdr. Craighill of the Vincennes sighted the star shells astern, but it was the flares over the Canberra and Chicago that were seen from the bridge. Comdr. William E. A. Mullan, executive officer, at once ordered general quarters sounded. He described the scene: “Almost at once there was a great display of light, and silhouettes of a group of ships southeast of Savo Island could distinctly be seen and recognized as the southern group of Allied ships. They were, I believe, on approximately the same course as the Vincennes, which was northwest.”
Capt. Frederick L. Riefkohl of the Vincennes, commanding our northern cruiser group, had been called promptly. As he stepped from his emergency cabin, to which he had retired less than 2 hours earlier, he could see three or four star shells at a distance on the port beam, and a ship firing star shells toward the southeast. Another ship to the left was firing toward the first. “I estimated,” he reports, “that Australia group had made contact with a destroyer. I received no report of the contact or orders to concentrate. I thought this contact probably a destroyer and a ruse to draw off my group while the main attack force passed through my sector to attack the transports. If enemy heavy ships had been sighted I expected Australia group would illuminate and engage them, and the situation would soon be clarified. I considered turning right to course 045° T., but felt I might be called on to support Australia group. I signaled speed 15 knots and decided to hold my course temporarily. Fired no star shell as I did not wish to disclose myself to an enemy approaching my sector from seaward.”
The brief warning given the Vincennes group was inadequate.
In spite of the fact that a large proportion of the men were either on watch or sleeping near their posts, it is doubtful if battle stations were completely manned on any of our cruisers by the time searchlights were turned on them and a rain of shells followed. Lt. Comdr. Chester E. Carroll of the Helm describes the opening of the action: “The Vincennes group continued on course. A few minutes later our force was under fire, the Quincy apparently being hit immediately, with large fires amidships. One cruiser immediately opened fire, followed by the other two. The point of aim of the cruisers was not clear, as some fire was to port and some to starboard.” Lt. Comdr. Walter H. Price of the Wilson remarks, “Our cruisers appeared to be enveloped in a plunging fire as soon as they were illuminated.”
Capt. Riefkohl’s order for an increase in speed had just gone out on the TBS when a searchlight appeared about 7,000 yards on the port quarter (250° R.). This light, which seemed to be directed at the Astoria, was followed at once by a second to the right, which picked out the Quincy, and third light still further to the right, which was turned on the Vincennes. Lt. Comdr. Truesdell suggests that the enemy used destroyers ahead and astern to illuminate and to draw our fire, for the cruiser upon which the Astoria opened fire a moment later was to the right of a searchlight and did not have a searchlight on.
Enemy fire followed the searchlights, and a salvo seems to have landed near each of our cruisers as soon as it was illuminated. Lt. Comdr. Truesdell speculates that the enemy may have concentrated upon each of our cruisers in turn, two ships initially firing upon the leader of our column and the third ship firing upon our second cruiser. A comparison of the reports, however, indicates that our ships were taken under fire almost simultaneously, the Astoria at the rear perhaps slightly before the Vincennes in the van. It seems that for the first few minutes at least, only one cruiser was firing on each of ours.
The Astoria was the first of our cruisers to return the enemy’s fire. This was due to the alertness and initiative of the gunnery officer. At the first appearance of the flares, Lt. Comdr. Truesdell had ordered the main battery trained out on the port quarter. At the same time he requested the bridge to sound general quarters. Very shortly afterwards he and the ship’s spotter, Lt. (jg) Carl A. Sander, saw on the port quarter the silhouette of a Japanese cruiser which Lt. Sander identified as of the Nachi class. Then the first searchlight came on. Almost simultaneously, a salvo landed 500 yards short and 200 yards ahead of the Astoria. Lt. Comdr. Truesdell asked permission to fire. A second enemy salvo landed 500 yards short, 100 yards ahead. The next would probably be on in deflection. Receiving no answer from the Bridge, Lt. Comdr. Truesdell himself gave the order to fire, and the main battery sent off a salvo toward the port quarter. All 3 turrets fired, but it is not certain whether 6 or 9 guns participated. The range was 5,500 yards, bearing 240° R. (about 195° T.).
The general alarm was still ringing and Capt. William G. Greenman, who had just been called, was astonished to hear the main battery fire as he awoke. He was just entering the pilot house when the battery fired again. Capt. Greenman’s first impression on seeing the flares and searchlights inside the bay was that our ships had sighted a submarine on the surface and that we were firing into our own ships. Lt. Comdr. Topper, who was on the bridge, reports him as asking, “Who sounded the general alarm? Who gave the order to commence firing? Topper, I think we are firing on our own ships. Let’s not get excited and act too hasty. Cease firing.”
Upon this order, firing ceased. Someone on the port wing of the bridge reported searchlights illuminating our ships, while word came from main battery control that the ships had been identified as Japanese cruisers. By this time, too, the Vincennes’ order to increase speed to 15 knots had been reported to the captain. Then the JA talker reported, “Mr. Truesdell said for God’s sake give the word to commence firing.” The captain then ordered, “Sound general quarters,”–it was in fact sounded this second time,–and almost immediately, “Commence firing,” with the remark, “Whether our ships or not we will have to stop them.”
“I believe this remark,” explains Lt. Comdr. Topper, “was caused by the splashes that had just landed ahead and to port of the Astoria.” This was probably the enemy’s third salvo, which was still about 500 yards short.
Our other two cruisers opened fire not long after the Astoria. On the Vincennes the general alarm must have been sounded very nearly as promptly. The 8-inch guns were already loaded, but control had not yet received word that the battery was manned when the first enemy searchlight appeared.Lt. Comdr. Robert L. Adams, the gunnery officer, immediately ordered the main battery trained out to the left to pick up the target, but before the guns could be brought to bear the second and third enemy searchlights came on and an enemy salvo landed 75 to 100 yards short. The Vincennes replied with an 8-inch salvo, using a radar range of 8,250 yards. (This was somewhat greater than the range obtained by our other cruisers.) Simultaneously the 5-inch battery fired a broadside of star shells for illumination. Before the Vincennes could fire again an enemy salvo landed on the well deck and hangar, where intense fires broke out. The bridge, too, was hit, and the communications officer and two men m the pilot house were killed. After this salvo electric power for the guns failed, but within a minute it was restored and the 8-inch battery resumed fire. By this time the ship was being hit heavily, and word came from aft that Battle II had been hit. Sky Forward and Sky Aft were hit about the same time. Only one badly wounded man survived the hit on the latter station.
Of our three cruisers the Quincy was hit most severely. Since it was at first thought that the star shells astern had been fired by our own destroyers, general quarters was not sounded until about 2 minutes later, when the TBS warning came through. Just before the enemy searchlights came on, the silhouettes of three cruisers rounding the southern end of Savo could be discerned from the bridge. These had three turrets forward, the middle being the highest. Apparently none of this information was passed on to the control stations, so that “the first intimation the gunnery control stations had that enemy ships were in the vicinity was when they turned searchlights on the formation, immediately followed by a salvo falling just short of the U.S. S. Vincennes.”
When the enemy searchlights came on, the Bridge ordered, “Fire on the searchlights.” But the batteries were not yet completely manned and plot had not yet reported ready to Control Forward when the ship was hit on the 1.1-inch gun mounts on the main deck aft. Very shortly afterwards the Quincy was able to reply with a full nine-gun salvo. A range of 6,000 yards was used, although just before the guns were fired a radar range of 5,800 yards was obtained. Target angle was estimated to be 60° and speed 15 knots. (Our other cruisers assumed a target angle of 315° and speed of at least 25 knots, which was probably more accurate.) Meanwhile the ship received many hits. A plane in the port catapult caught fire, which illuminated the ship as similar casualties illuminated our other cruisers. From our other ships the Quincy soon appeared a mass of flames.
Thus in the first 2 or 3 minutes of action our cruisers had been hit repeatedly and set ablaze before they could fire more than one or two salvos each.
While it is clear that the main enemy force was on their port quarter, crossing astern of our formation, it is just possible that other enemy ships were to starboard. Lt. Comdr. Ellis K. Wakefield, who was in sky forward on the Astoria, says that when our ships opened fire on the searchlights on their port quarter one of his talkers observed shooting in our direction from ships on the starboard quarter. Lt. Comdr. Wakefield thereupon “ordered sky forward to commence firing at flashes of light, apparently from gunfire, bearing about 150° R.,” but he received no acknowledgment of this order. Comdr. Mullan of the Vincennes, remarks, “At this time [the time of the first enemy hits] there was a great deal of illumination on the starboard hand, but I do not know from what source.”
When our cruisers opened fire, the Helm on the port bow of the Vincennes opened fire also. However, no target was visible and the situation was not clear, so that “cease fire” had to be ordered at once. Although it appeared that our cruisers were being illuminated from the southeast, smoke from the fires already blazing on them so obscured the picture that there could be no certainty.
Soon orders were received on TBS from the Vincennes for the screening destroyers to attack. Since it could not yet be ascertained in which direction the attack should be made, the Helm remained in formation for several minutes before heading south. At about 0200, after she had been moving south for a few minutes, a ship could be seen about 8,000 yards on the port bow, partially illuminated by a searchlight. It was close to the southern shore of Savo Island, apparently headed seaward. The Helm changed course to the southwest and closed at full speed, preparing to make an attack. As she approached, however, the ship was again illuminated and could be identified as one of our own destroyers. Probably it was the Patterson, which had trailed the enemy eastward and had lost contact about this time.
The Wilson, on the starboard bow of the Vincennes, had the advantage of having received the TBS warning and also enjoyed a clearer view of the situation. When the enemy searchlights came on, she immediately opened fire on the right hand light with all four 5-inch guns, using a range of 12,000 yards. After two salvos she had to turn to the left to keep guns No. 1 and 2 bearing. Evidently she did not receive the order to attack, for Lt. Comdr. Price remarks that the order to increase speed to 15 knots was the last he received from the Vincennes. After a few moments of action all three of our cruisers were seen to be on fire. As the Wilson continued firing rapidly, it is possible that it was her gun flashes that Lt. Comdr. Wakefield saw to starboard of the Astoria, although she should have been on the starboard bow, rather than the quarter.
Meanwhile the bearing of the enemy force on the port quarter was drawing rapidly astern. After the first salvo or two the forward directors and turrets of our ships could no longer bear, and gunnery officers began to request that their ships come left.
When the first enemy salvos landed, Capt. Riefkohl on the Vincennes ordered speed increased to 20 knots and started a turn to the left “with a view of closing the enemy and continuing around on a reverse course if he stood in toward the transport area.” He intended to make the turn by simultaneous ship movements, but all communications had failed after the bridge had been hit, and he could send no signal. The Quincy seems to have followed the lead of the Vincennes, while Capt. Greenman of the Astoria, seeing that the ships ahead were 10° to 15° to the left of the base course, ordered left rudder and full speed ahead. The Astoria’s speed, however, increased only slightly.
During this turn to the left our ships were taking a terrific pounding, but they continued to fire. With the Vincennes’ second salvo–she fired only two to port from the main battery–there was an explosion on the target and the enemy searchlight went out. The assistant gunnery officer, Lt. Comdr. Craighill, saw the target make a radical turn to the left as if it had gone out of control, after which it was lost from sight. Inasmuch as the Vincennes 5-inch battery, the Wilson, and perhaps the Quincy may have been firing on the same target, it cannot be determined who made the hit.
The Quincy was badly on fire and had received a hit in her No.1 fireroom. Sometime very early in the engagement the bridge was hit and many of the personnel there were killed. She was firing, but the enemy was drawing astern so rapidly that after one or two salvos from the main battery, director I and the two forward turrets could no longer bear. Control was shifted to director II with orders to fire turret III. This turret, however, had just been hit and was jammed in train, so that for a few minutes not one gun of the main battery could be used.
On board the Astoria the interval between the order to cease fire and commence fire had been only a minute or two. After the first two salvos, turret II had reached the limit of its train (218° R.), but the order to turn left was given at about the same time as the order to recommence fire, so that the turret could soon bear again. Before the Astoria could resume fire, the enemy fourth salvo arrived. It was about 200 yards short, but seems to have been good for one hit on the Astoria’s bow. The fifth Japanese salvo was on the target, making four or more hits amidships. Fires were started in the hangar and at other points. Power for turret III was temporarily interrupted, so that the Astoria’s answering salvo (her third) was fired by only the six guns of turrets I and II. The enemy at this time was about 6,200 yards distant, bearing 235° R.
Having once found the Astoria’s range, the enemy kept it.
Immediately after firing the third salvo, turret I received a direct hit. Flames sprang up, then quickly died down as the turret burned out. At the same time a hit on the barbette of turret II put the shell hoist for the right-hand gun out of commission, so that the fourth salvo was fired by only 2 guns. The range was now 6,000 yards, bearing 225° R.
The 5-inch battery seems to have opened fire about the same time as the main battery, and the 1.1-inch at the time of the captain’s order to resume fire. However, either the guns or their ready service boxes were hit before many of them could fire more than 6 or 7 rounds, while the director in sky forward was hit, forcing the 1.1-inch guns onto local control.
During this time our ships were turning left, but, as Lt. Comdr. Truesdell remarked, “all ships turned too slowly, and the increase of speed was too slow to clear the next astern.” As a result the Astoria found herself coming up into the Quincy’s line of fire and had to turn sharply to the right across her stern to clear her. This shift to the right brought the enemy bearing astern more rapidly, so that after one or two more salvos neither director I nor turret II could bear. Control was shifted to director II, which fired another three-gun salvo from turret III, bearing 170° R., range 5,000 yards. Meanwhile turret II had trained around to starboard, and director I was soon able to fire two more salvos with both turrets. That was all, for shortly both the main battery control and director I ceased to function and turret III lost power. Only turret I was able to fire a little longer on local control.
In these few minutes the ship had been raked heavily from both quarters as the enemy crossed astern. The boat deck had been hit and was flaming after the 5-inch guns had fired about eight salvos. Power for these was lost, and what remained went onto local control until the progress of the fire soon put an end to their activity. Sky Aft reported that they were getting burned and were forced to break off communication. The bridge was hit and the helmsman fell. Another man took his place. The engine rooms were being abandoned, their crews driven out by smoke and flames drawn down their ventilators and intakes. After this the ship began to lose speed.
It could not have been long after the Astoria swung right across the Quincy’s stern that the Vincennes at the head of our group turned to starboard. Her forward turrets had again reached their limit of train to the left, and the ship was being hit severely. The previous turn to the left had brought the ship’s head around to about 275° T. when Capt. Riefkohl, in an attempt to throw off the enemy’s fire and to enable the forward guns to bear, turned hard right and signaled flank speed. The engine room answered the signal, but only about 19.5 knots was reached.
While the ship was turning right two or three torpedoes crashed into the port side under the sick bay and near No.4 fireroom. The ship “shook and shuddered” under the impact of the explosion, which seems to have been remarkably heavy. Since no flash from torpedo tubes had been seen, Capt. Riefkohl thought that the torpedoes might have been fired by a submarine. At about the same time a hit on the main battery control station aft killed most of the men there, while other hits fell on the rangefinder hoods of the forward turrets and fragments penetrated the officers’ booth of turret II, seriously wounding personnel there.
After the torpedoing, power was lost for the main battery. Diesel auxiliaries were cut in for turrets I and III, but there was none available for turret II. During this turn to the right only turret III continued firing.
Until the Vincennes turned right, two destroyers which were thought to be the Helm and the Wilson were ahead on the starboard hand. Our cruisers’ turn to the left would probably have brought them into this relative position. “One destroyer was then observed crossing our bow from port to starboard, while the other was crossing from starboard to port. The one crossing from port to starboard may have been an enemy, but as the two vessels barely missed colliding and did not fire on one another, it is believed that they were both friendly. One DD, on our starboard hand, probably Wilson, was observed firing star shell and what appeared as heavy antiaircraft machine-gun fire.”
The Wilson’s account of the episode explains that when the Vincennes turned right, she, too, turned right, unmasking her starboard battery. She had continued on this course for several minutes when “the gun flashes disclosed a Monssen-type destroyer close aboard the starboard bow on a collision course. In order to avoid collision, speed was increased to 30 knots and the ship swung hard left. Continued this left turn until clear of the destroyer and the battery was unmasked to port. Reopened fire as soon as possible.” By this time the Wilson had lost sight of all our cruisers except the Astoria, which was under heavy fire. She continued fire on the searchlight till it went out. Then she shifted her aim to a light to the left, which was still illuminating the Astoria, and fired till it went out. By that time no more targets were visible, and the location of our own forces was unknown, so the Wilson headed toward Savo Island.
The Helm does not mention the near collision, and, if the times given in her report are correct, she was in fact making her excursion to the south at that moment. This makes it appear quite possible that the second destroyer was Japanese. If it was really the Helm, the incident must have occurred just before she went south, for when she returned and “passed through the cruisers between the Vincennes and Quincy, the latter appeared to be stopped and to have suffered heavy damage.” The Vincennes was by that time firing in an easterly direction and it could be seen that our cruisers were illuminated by a searchlight to the east. The Helm remained near the Vincennes for some time, and orders were given to fire on the searchlight, but almost immediately it went out. The Quincy had indeed suffered heavy damage. She had started swinging to starboard about the same time as the Vincennes. As soon as they could bear on the starboard quarter, turrets I and II reopened fire (turret III had been hit and jammed in train), while the starboard antiaircraft battery started firing star shells. It got off only three salvos, however, before being put out of action. After two salvos turret II exploded and burned out, and turret I was put out of action by a hit in the shell deck and a fire in upper powder. By this time the entire 5-inch battery had been knocked out by direct hits, shrapnel, explosion of ready service boxes, and by fires on board.
It was about this time that control forward received its last communication from the bridge: “We’re going down between them–give them hell!”
But there was little besides fighting spirit left on the Quincy. Not one gun of either the main or 5-inch battery could fire, and the ship must already have been losing headway. No. I fireroom had been hit soon after the beginning of the action. A hit above No.2 fireroom about the time the Quincy started to turn right forced its abandonment. It was believed that while she was turning a torpedo struck between No.3 and 4 firerooms, probably about the same time the Vincennes was torpedoed. The No. I and 2 engine rooms continued to operate as long as there was steam. Then, because of the list which was developing to port, the crew left No.2 engine room. It appears that No.1 engine room was not abandoned before the ship capsized.
Soon after the 5-inch battery had been knocked out, an enemy vessel with mushroom top stacks passed about 2,000 yards to port, blazing at the Quincy with all her guns. Perhaps it was the same ship which Marine Gunner Jack Nelson saw pass very close along the port side of the Vincennes on a parallel course, raking her with fire.
It was probably very shortly after the Quincy’s Control Forward received the last determined message from the Bridge that the latter suffered another hit which killed practically everyone in the pilot house. At about the same time a hit killed almost everyone in Battle II. By this time the boats on the boat deck were burning, the galley was in flames, the fire on the fantail was out of control, and the hangar and well deck were “a blazing inferno.” Steam was escaping from No. I stack with a deafening roar. The forward battle lookout was hit, as was the 1.1-inch clipping room. The resulting flames enveloped the forward control stations and reached up to the forward sky director.
“When the flames which engulfed the forward control station subsided, an officer went to the bridge to see what the orders were regarding firing and maneuvering. He found a quartermaster spinning the wheel, trying to turn the ship to port, who said that the captain had told him to beach the ship. He had no steering control. Just then the captain rose up about half way and collapsed dead without having uttered any sound except a moan. No others were moving in the pilot house, which was thick with bodies.”
Enemy fire had stopped when the control officer received this information and ordered the abandonment of the sky control stations. These had been inoperative for several minutes. By this time “the ship was listing rapidly to port, the forecastle was awash, water coming over the gun deck to port, and fires were blazing intermittently throughout the whole length of the ship. The party aloft found nothing but carnage about the gun decks, and dense smoke and heat coming from below decks.” The ship was almost dead in the water and was going over when the gunnery officer, as the senior officer present, ordered abandon ship. A minute after this group got clear, “the ship capsized to port, the bow went under, the stern raised and the ship slid from view into the depths.” This was about 0235 or soon after.
The Astoria, after swinging right to avoid the Quincy, moved northward for 4 or 5 minutes “under the heaviest concentration of enemy fire.” Her engine rooms were being abandoned because of the fires above them and the ship was losing speed. She next swung left and was on a southwesterly course when the Quincy was seen on the port bow “blazing fiercely from stem to stern.” The Quincy still had considerable way on and was swinging to the right. For a moment it looked as if a collision was inevitable, but the Astoria put her rudder hard left and swung clear. The Quincy could be seen coasting off astern and not long afterwards appeared to blow up.
After clearing the Quincy, the Astoria steadied out on a course of 185°. By this time only turret II was still in commission, and only No. I gun of the secondary battery could still fire. As the Astoria steadied out, an enemy searchlight appeared to the east, just abaft the port beam. Lt. Comdr. Davidson, the communications officer, climbed up to the trainer’s sight of turret II and coached its guns onto the target. The turret fired and the shells could be seen to hit.
This was probably the last salvo fired by any of our cruisers.
Enemy fire had been diminishing and ceased shortly afterwards, at about 0215. It was fortunate, for at about that time the quartermaster reported that steering control was lost, and the engineroom advised that power had failed. Since the bridge had ceased to be useful as a control station, it was abandoned. While the ship drifted on toward the southwest the work of assembling the wounded began.
After the Vincennes had been torpedoed during her turn to the right, power for the main battery failed. Diesel auxiliaries were cut in for turrets I and III, but II had to go onto hand power. About the same time the forward magazines had to be flooded because of the progress of a fire in the vicinity. Steering control in the pilot house was lost and steering had to be shifted aft. Soon it was lost there too. The captain desired to turn left and attempted to do so by stopping the port engine, but communication could not be established with the engine room. At this time the explosion of another torpedo was felt. It was believed to have hit the port side at No. I fireroom.
During the turn to the right, only turret III had been able to fire, but as soon as turret II could bear to starboard it also joined in firing two salvos at a searchlight to the east. All director circuits were dead and fire was locally controlled. A hit was definitely seen, though the searchlight did not go out.
During these few minutes the ship was raked by a heavy fire from starboard. Turret I was prevented from joining in these last salvos by a hit on the starboard side of its barbette, which jammed it in train. One shell hit on top of turret II, while an 8-inch projectile penetrated its face and set fire to exposed powder. Powder in both turrets burned without exploding. Turret III, after one or two salvos, was also put out of action. Lt. Comdr. Adams, making his way along the gun deck about this time “noted many hits in the vicinity of the 5-inch battery and that there were many dead and wounded at each gun.” Only No.1 gun was still firing. After the rest of its crew had been wiped out, Sgt. R. L. Harmon, USMC, was joined by Ens. R. Peters, and it was reported that the gun scored a hit on the conning tower of a submarine which was seen at about 400 yards distance.
About 0210, searchlights, apparently from two destroyers, illuminated the ship from bearing 120° R. Capt. Riefkohl at first felt that these might be friendly and ordered a large set of colors hoisted and illuminated. They were run up on the one remaining halyard on the starboard signal yard, “but were illuminated only by enemy searchlights.” A messenger was sent asking for fire on these lights, but the gunnery officer, Lt. Comdr. Adams, reported that he had no guns left with which to fire. The captain next asked for smoke to protect the ship, but none could be made.
The ship by this time (about 0210) was dead in the water and was listing to port. There was no means of fighting fires or of controlling damage, and she was swept so heavily by enemy fire that the captain was considering her abandonment in order to save his men. Before this was done, however, the fire diminished and then ceased at about 0215.
As the list was increasing rapidly, the captain soon afterwards gave the order to prepare to abandon ship. The few serviceable life rafts were put over and the wounded put on them. The life jackets which had escaped the fire were distributed, but too few remained, and it is probable that some men were lost by drowning. At 0230 the captain gave the order to abandon ship. Ten minutes later he left the bridge. Water was already coming over the upper deck. Lt. Comdr. Craighill, who left just before the captain, describes the end: “The ship was then listed to about 45° and was going over at an increasing rate. The top decks, particularly amidships, were brightly lighted by the numerous fires and as we kicked away I could see no signs of life about them, except one man on the well deck, who eventually made his way to the starboard bulwark, just forward of the catapult tower and climbed over the side. When we were about 200 yards off the ship she finally reached her beam ends, seemed to hesitate before the stacks went under and, with burning planes and cranes crashing to port and into the water, she turned slowly over and went down bow first.”
The last of our ships to have contact with the enemy was the Ralph Talbot , on patrol northeast of Savo. After sighting and reporting the enemy plane before the battle, this destroyer had seen no further evidence of the enemy until about 0150, when gunfire was seen in what was thought to be the direction of XRAY. She then reported by TBS that nothing was in sight north of Savo, and stood in toward the island at 25 knots. She was at about the center of her patrol course at 0215 when she was illuminated by a searchlight about 10,000 yards on her port bow. The light swung off, but 2 minutes later she was again illuminated by a searchlight, now about 7,000 yards on her port beam, and the illuminating ship started firing. She fired about six salvos, all but two too short. Lt. Comdr. Joseph W. Callahan was convinced that the other ship was a friendly destroyer from Tulagi, and so did not return the fire, but headed west at maximum speed, zigzagging to throw off the fire. One shell, however, struck a torpedo tube, killing two men and putting the tube out of commission. Meanwhile the Talbot was flashing her fighting lights and broadcasting on the TBS that she was being fired upon by a friendly ship. Apparently in response to this, fire ceased.
The Ralph Talbot was still illuminated by the destroyer’s searchlight when she saw indistinctly an enemy cruiser thought to be of the Tone class on a northwesterly course on her port quarter, crossing from port to starboard. Within a minute the cruiser had crossed to the starboard quarter, turned two searchlights on our destroyer and opened fire with its secondary battery and after turret. The Ralph Talbot opened fire on a range finder range of 9,000 yards, but after the first salvo obtained a radar range of 3,300 yards, which was used for subsequent salvos. The Talbot’s own searchlight could not be used, as a near-hit had severed the cables leading to it.
The Talbot then turned hard right to fire her starboard torpedoes, but one tube failed to fire. Immediately afterwards, a shell landed in the after part of the chart house, destroying the radars and the automatic gun train and elevator orders. The destroyer next swung left to fire her port torpedo battery, but it was discovered that fire-control circuits had been cut by the hit. Only one torpedo was fired by local control.
The enemy now had the range, and three 5-inch hits landed in rapid succession, one in the wardroom, one on the starboard torpedo battery, and one on No. 4 gun. This last killed 21 men. The Talbot had the satisfaction of seeing a shell from her No. 3 gun land directly on one of the searchlights, which flared up and went out. This ended the action, for the cruiser turned off its other light and could no longer be seen.
The Talbot was listing 20° to port and had a bad fire in the chart house and pyrotechnics locker. In an attempt to correct the list she jettisoned all removable gear from the port side as she limped slowly to the westward of Savo Island. It was not until almost noon that she was able to proceed and rejoin the transport forces.
Although the Talbot’s report speaks with apparent certainty of her being illuminated and fired upon by a friendly destroyer “from Tulagi” just before her contact with the cruiser, it seems very probable that this identification was a mistake and that it was no accident that the searchlight remained on her until the cruiser could pick her out. Neither the Ellet nor the Henley , our two destroyers from the Tulagi area, recounts any such incident, and neither was near the Talbot at the time.28 The only one of our destroyers in the area was the Helm. She reports observing a ship illuminated and firing at 0220. She headed for the scene of action at 30 knots, but in about 5 minutes a flash of lightning revealed the destroyer as one of our own. The firing, according to the Helm, lasted for only a few salvos. It seems clear that the Helm was merely an observer of the action and neither illuminated nor fired upon the Talbot.
How the enemy had passed the Blue without being detected is unexplained. Except for the planes seen before midnight, her first intimation of the presence of the enemy was the opening of gunfire to the southeast. She then observed one or more aircraft operating over the battle area “showing intermittent flashing red and white lights as though using them for signaling.” At about 0215, when she was some 9 miles west of Savo, she sighted to the southeast a “harmless, small, two-masted schooner with slow speed auxiliary engine, on easterly course.” It was perhaps the same schooner which the Hull sank with her main battery west of Kukum on the 9th. It was then thought that she was directing Japanese troop movements.
A little later the Blue witnessed the action of the Ralph Talbot northeast of Savo. Then about 0250, while on a southerly course, she sighted an unidentified ship rounding Cape Esperance. Comdr. Harold Williams closed until about 0325, when the ship was identified as the Jarvis. Badly damaged by a torpedo in the air raid of the 8th, she had been ordered by Admiral Turner at 1800 to sail for Fila Harbor, Efate. The Hovey was to escort her, but failed to make contact, as she was expected to leave via Lengo Channel. This was the last seen of the Jarvis.
NORTHERN CRUISER FORCE
[Times are very approximate and the relation of events largely conjectural]
|0145||SS surfaces on port quarter|
|Flares astern (sighted by gunnery officer).||Flares thought to be star shells fired by own DD’s near Tulagi.||Flares sighted. Main battery ordered to train out to port.|
|Star shells and firing to port-seen from bridge.||Firing seen to port.General alarm sounded.|
|TBS warning heard by operator. Not clear that it reached any officer on bridge. Captain called. General alarm.||Warning received.||TBS in use–warning not received. Japanese cruiser seen by gunnery officer.|
|Speed 15 knots signaled to group.||Silhouettes of 3 cruisers seen rounding Savo.|
|0155||Searchlights on port quarter. Main battery ordered to train out.||Bridge orders fire on searchlight. Batteries not yet ready.||Two enemy salvos near Astoria.|
|Astoria fires first salvo (all turrets).|
|Enemy (5-inch?) salvo lands close. Port 5-inch battery firing star shells.||Astoria 2nd salvo. Capt. orders cease fire.|
|Quincy hit on 1.1-inch gun mounts.|
|Vincennes hit on bridge hangar, Battle II.|
|Vincennes fires first main battery salvo.||Quincy fires 9-gun salvo.|
|Power lost for main and 5-inch batteries for 1 minute.||Bearing drawing rapidly aft on port side.||Turret II at limit of train.|
|Intership communication lost.||Plane on catapult hit and afire.|
|Speed 20 knots ordered. Course changed left to 275°.||Quincy follows in turn to left.||Enemy 3rd salvo short. Capt. orders resume fire.|
|Astoria follows in turn to left. Enemy 4th salvo hit on Astoria’s bow.|
|Enemy’s 5th salvo lands amidships.|
|Several fires on Vincennes||Turret III jammed in train by hit on barbette||Boat deck and hangar on fire.|
|Direct hits on Sky Forward and Sky Aft.||No.1 fireroom hit.||Turret III temporarily loses power. Astoria’s 3rd salvo. (Turrets I and II.)|
|Second Vincennes salvo (9 guns). Explosion on target and searchlight goes out.||Ship hit heavily.||Turret I hit and burns out. Turret II fires 2 guns.|
|Turret II and III–6 guns.|
|Vincennes hit continuously. Forward turrets reach limit of train.||Quincy badly on fire.||Turret II at limit of train.|
|0200||Vincennes starts turn to right. Captain orders 25 knots.||Quincy follows in turn to right.||Astoria turns hard right to clear Quincy’s line of fire.|
|Vincennes hit on port side by 2 or 3 torpedoes.||Turrets I and II trained to starboard.||Turret III–3 guns.|
|Power for main battery lost. Main Battery Control Aft is hit. Hits on rangefinder hoods, turrets I and II.||Quincy torpedoed. Starboard AA battery fires 3 salvos before being put out of action.||Turret II trained to starboard.|
|0205||Steering control lost. Diesel auxiliaries cut in for turrets I and III. Turret II goes onto hand power.||Is it at this time that enemy destroyer passed along port side on parallel course?||Turrets II and III-6 guns.|
|Forward magazine flooded.||Bridge is hit.|
|Turret III fires during turn to right.||Battle II hit.||Ship turns to port.|
|Destroyers nearly collide ahead.|
|Power lost in after engine room. Vincennes hit heavily from starboard. Captain desires to turn left but has no steering control. Communication with engine room lost.||Turrets I and II fire salvo to starboard.||Turrets II-3 guns to port quarter.|
|Another torpedo hits Vincennes.||Turret II explodes and burns out.|
|Turret I jammed in train by hit on barbette; powder burns. Turrets II and III fire 2 salvos to starboard. A hit observed.||Turret I out of action. Enemy ship rakes Quincy from 2,000 yards on port side.|
|Main battery control station hit–turrets go onto local control.|
|Turret II hit in face and burns.;|
|Ship illuminated by DD’s to starboard.|
|0210||No gun able to fire.||Bridge is hit again. Forward control station in flames.||Near collision with Quincy|
|Ship stopping and listing to port.||Ship on fire throughout her entire length and listing to port.||Turret II fires and hits searchlight.|
|Heavily raked by enemy fire.||Steering control lost.|
|Enemy fire diminishes.||Power lost.|
|Enemy searchlight goes off.||Bridge abandoned.|
|0215||Enemy fire ceases.|
End of Part Three