“The sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster” The Story of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz 2

The sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster.

This was the early childhood lesson taught to the boy who would later become one of the most influential leaders in the United States Navy. He was significantly influenced by his German-born paternal grandfather, Charles Henry Nimitz, a former seaman in the German Merchant Marine, who taught him, “the sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don’t worry – especially about things over which you have no control.”

Few men in modern American Naval history have had as much influence on its success as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. This article comes from the official Navy Records and shows his progression from a Texas boy to one of the most brilliant minds in Naval Warfare in the Twentieth Century.

Nimitz’s work in submarines not only ensured that the Navy had a powerful answer to the attack the left a smoking mess in the Pearl Harbor but helped to deliver a crushing blow to the Japanese.

At the end of his biography, there is a short section about what he predicted in March of 1948 about the future of warfare. There are some critical lessons from the previous war and some stern warnings about what we whould do do be prepared for in the future.

The future is now.

Mister Mac

The boy from Texas

Chester William Nimitz was born on 24 February 1885, near a quaint hotel in Fredericksburg, Texas built by his grandfather, Charles Nimitz, a retired sea captain. Young Chester, however, had his sights set on an Army career and while a student at Tivy High School, Kerrville, Texas, he tried for an appointment to West Point. When none was available, he took a competitive examination for Annapolis and was selected and appointed from the Twelfth Congressional District of Texas in 1901.

He left high school to enter the Naval Academy Class of 1905. It was many years later, after he had become a Fleet Admiral that he actually was awarded his high school diploma. At the Academy Nimitz was an excellent student, especially in mathematics and graduated with distinction — seventh in a class of 114. He was an athlete and stroked the crew in his first class year. The Naval Academy’s yearbook, “Lucky Bag”, described him as a man “of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows.”

After graduation he joined USS Ohio in San Francisco and cruised in her to the Far East.

On 31 January 1907, after the two years’ sea duty then required by law, he was commissioned Ensign, and took command of the gunboat USS Panay. He then commanded USS Decatur and was court martialed for grounding her, an obstacle in his career which he overcame.

He returned to the U. S. in 1907 and was ordered to duty under instruction in submarines, the branch of the service in which he spent a large part of his sea duty. His first submarine was USS Plunger (A- 1). He successively commanded USS Snapper, USS Narwal and USS Skipjack until 1912. On 20 March of that year, Nimitz, then a Lieutenant, and commanding officer of the submarine E-1 (formerly Skipjack), was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal by the Treasury Department for his heroic action in saving W.J. Walsh, Fireman second class, USN, from drowning. A strong tide was running and Walsh, who could not swim, was rapidly being swept away from his ship. Lieutenant Nimitz dove in the water and kept Walsh afloat until both were picked up by a small boat.

He had one year in command of the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla before coming ashore in 1913 for duty in connection with building the diesel engines for the tanker USS Maumee at Groton, Conn. In that same year, he was sent to Germany and Belgium to study engines at their Diesel Plants. With that experience he subsequently served as Executive Officer and Engineering Officer of the Maumee until 1917 when he was assigned as Aide and Chief of Staff to COMSUBLANT. He served in that billet during World War I.

In September 1918 he came ashore to duty in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and was a member of the Board of Submarine Design. His first sea duty in big ships came in 1919 when he had one year’s duty as Executive Officer of the battleship USS South Carolina. In 1920 he went to Pearl Harbor to build the submarine base there. Next assigned to the Naval War College, his studies of a possible Pacific Ocean war’s logistics would become extremely relevant two decades later.

In 1922 he was assigned as a student at the Naval War College, and upon graduation went as Chief of Staff to Commander Battle Forces and later Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet (Admiral S. S. Robinson) .

In 1923, Commander Nimitz became aide to Commander Battle Force and later to Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. Later in the decade, he established the NROTC unit at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1929, now holding the rank of Captain, he began two years as Commander, Submarine Division 20, followed by two more years in charge of reserve destroyers at San Diego, California. He then took the heavy cruiser Augusta (CA-31) to the Orient, where, under his command, she was flagship of the Asiatic Fleet in 1933-35. Three years’ duty at the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, D.C., ended in 1938 with his promotion to Rear Admiral.

His next sea command was in flag rank as Commander Cruiser Division Two and then as Commander Battle Division One until 1939, when he was appointed as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for four years. In December 1941, however, he was designated as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, where he served throughout the war.

Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he was promoted by Roosevelt to commander-in-chief, United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT), with the rank of admiral, effective December 31. He immediately departed Washington for Hawaii and took command in a ceremony on the top deck of the submarine Grayling. The change of command ceremony would normally have taken place aboard a battleship, but every battleship in Pearl Harbor had been either sunk or damaged during the attack.

Assuming command at the most critical period of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz successfully organized his forces to halt the Japanese advance despite the losses from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shortage of ships, planes, and supplies.

On 19 December 1944, he was advanced to the newly created rank of Fleet Admiral, and on 2 September 1945, was the United States signatory to the surrender terms aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

He hauled down his flag at Pearl Harbor on 26 Nov. 1945, and on 15 December relieved Fleet Admiral E.J. King as Chief of Naval Operations for a term of two years. On 01 January 1948, he reported as special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy in the Western Sea Frontier. In March of 1949, he was nominated as Plebiscite Administrator for Kashmir under the United Nations. When that did not materialize he asked to be relieved and accepted an assignment as a roving goodwill ambassador of the United nations, to explain to the public the major issues confronting the U.N. In 1951, President Truman appointed him as Chairman of the nine-man commission on International Security and Industrial Rights. This commission never got underway because Congress never passed appropriate legislation.

Thereafter, he took an active interest in San Francisco community affairs, in addition to his continued active participation in affairs of concern to the Navy and the country. he was an honorary vice president and later honorary president of the Naval Historical Foundation. He served for eight years as a regent of the University of California and did much to restore goodwill with Japan by raising funds to restore the battleship Mikasa, Admiral Togo’s flagship at Tsushima in 1905.

He died on 20 February 1966.

 

PROMOTIONS

Graduated from the Naval Academy – Class of 1905

Ensign – 07 Jan. 1907

Lieutenant (junior grade) – 31 Jan. 1910

Lieutenant – 31 Jan. 1910

Lieutenant Commander – 29 Aug. 1916

Commander – 8 March 1918

Captain – 02 June 1927

Rear Admiral – 23 June 1938

Vice Admiral – Not held – promoted directly to Admiral

Admiral – 31 Dec. 1941

Fleet Admiral – 19 Dec. 1944

 

DECORATIONS and AWARDS

Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars

Army Distinguished Service Medal

Silver Lifesaving Medal

Victory Medal with Escort Clasp

American Defense Service Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

World War II Victory Medal

National Defense Service Medal

 

Excerpt from Nimitz’s Essay on employment of naval forces,” Who Commands Sea – Commands Trade”

 

Employment of Naval Forces

By Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN

“Who Commands Sea – Commands Trade”

 

Former CNO Discusses Use of Navy in Maintaining Security of United States on day of departure from Navy Department as CNO

 

From the Monthly NEWSLETTER – March 1948

 

EMPLOYMENT OF NAVAL FORCES IN THE FUTURE

 

In addition to the weapons of World War II the Navy of the future will be capable of launching missiles from surface vessels and submarines, and of delivering atomic bombs from carrier-based planes. Vigilant naval administration and research is constantly developing and adding to these means. In the event of war within the foreseeable future it is probable that there will be little need to destroy combatant ships other than submarines. Consequently, in the fulfillment of long accepted naval functions and in conformity with the well known principles of warfare, the Navy should be used in the initial stages of such a war to project its weapons against vital enemy targets on land, the reduction of which is the basic objective of warfare.

For any future war to be a sufficient magnitude to affect us seriously, it must be compounded of two primary ingredients: vast manpower and tremendous industrial capacity. These conditions exist today in the great land mass of Central Asia, in East Asia, and in Western Europe. The two latter areas will not be in a position to endanger us for decades to come unless they pass under unified totalitarian control. In the event of war with any of the three we would be relatively deficient in manpower. We should, therefore, direct our thinking toward realistic and highly specialized operations. We should plan to inflict unacceptable damage through maximum use of our technological weapons and our ability to produce them in great quantities.

 

WHAT ABOUT FUTURE AIR ATTACKS?

Initial devastating air attack in the future may come across our bordering oceans from points on the continents of Europe and Asia as well as from across the polar region. Consequently our plans must include the development of specialized forces of fighter and interceptor planes for pure defense, as well as the continued development of long range bombers.

Offensively our initial plans should provide for the coordinated employment of military and naval air power launched from land and carrier bases, and of guided missiles against important enemy targets. For the present, until long range bombers are developed capable of spanning our bordering oceans and returning to our North American bases, naval air power launched from carriers may be the only practicable means of bombing vital enemy centers in the early stages of a war.

In summary it is visualized that our early combat operations in the event of war within the next decade would consist of:

DEFENSIVELY

  • Protection of our vital centers from devastating attacks by air and from missile-launching submarines.
  • Protection of areas of vital strategic importance, such as sources of raw materials, our advanced bases, etc.
  • Protection of our essential lines of communications and those of our allies.
  • Protection of our occupation forces during re-enforcement or evacuation.

OFFENSIVELY

  • Devastating bombing attacks from land and carrier bases on vital enemy installations.
  • Destruction of enemy lines of communication accessible to our naval and air forces.
  • Occupation of selected advanced bases on enemy territory and the denial of advance bases to the enemy through the coordinated employment of naval, air and amphibious forces.

Of the above activities or functions there are certain ones which can be performed best by the Air Force, and certain others which can be performed best by the Navy – it is these two services which will play major roles in the initial stages of a future war. The 80th Congress took cognizance of this fact when, in the National Security Act of 1947, it specifically prescribed certain functions to the Navy, its naval aviation and its Marine Corps. In so doing the Congress gave emphasis to the fact that the organizational framework of the military services should be built around the functions assigned to each service. This is a principle which the Navy has consistently followed and is now organized and trained to implement.

Defensively, the Navy is still the first line the enemy must hurdle either in the air or on the sea in approaching our coasts across any ocean. The earliest warning of enemy air attack against our vital centers should be provided by naval air, surface and submarine radar pickets deployed in the vast ocean spaces which surround the continent. This is part of the radar screen which should surround the continental United States and its possessions. The first attrition enemy air power might be by short range naval fighter planes carried by task forces. Protection of our cities against missile launching submarines can best be effected by naval hunter-killer groups composed of small aircraft carriers and modern destroyers operating as a team with naval land-based aircraft.

The safety of our essential trade routes and ocean lines of communication and those of our allies, the protection of areas of vital strategic importance such as the sources of raw material, advanced base locations, etc., are but matters of course if we control the seas. Only naval air-sea power can ensure this.

Offensively, it is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on United States soil. The Navy can at present best fulfill the vital functions of devastating enemy vital areas by the projection of bombs and missiles. It is improbable that bomber fleets will be capable, for several years to come of making two-way trips between continents, even over the polar routes, with heavy loads of bombs.

It is apparent then that in the event of war within this period, if we are to project our power against the vital areas of any enemy across the ocean before beachheads on enemy territory are captured, it must be by air-sea power; by aircraft launched from carriers; and by heavy surface ships and submarines projecting guided missiles and rockets. If present promise is developed by research, test and production, these three types of air-sea power operating in concert will be able within the next ten years critically to damage enemy vital areas many hundreds of miles inland.

Naval task forces including these types are capable of remaining at sea for months. This capability has raised to a high point the art of concentrating air power within effective range of enemy objectives. It is achieved by refueling and rearming task forces at sea. Not only may the necessary supplies, ammunition and fuel be replenished in this way but the air groups themselves may be changed.

The net result is that naval forces are able, without resorting to diplomatic channels, to establish offshore anywhere in the world, air fields completely equipped with machine shops, ammunition dumps, tank farms, warehouses, together with quarters and all types of accommodations for personnel. Such task forces are virtually as complete as any air base ever established. They constitute the only air bases that can be made available near enemy territory without assault and conquest; and furthermore, they are mobile offensive bases, that can be employed with the unique attributes of secrecy and surprise — which attributes contribute equally to their defensive as well as offensive effectiveness.

Regarding the pure defense of these mobile air bases the same power projected destructively from them against the enemy is being applied to their defense in the form of propulsion, armament, and new aircraft weapons whose development is well abreast the supersonic weapons reputed to threaten their existence.

It is clear, therefore, that the Navy and the Air Force will play the leading roles in the initial stages of a future war. Eventually, reduction and occupation of certain strategic areas will require the utmost from our Army, Navy and Air Force. Each should be assigned broad functions compatible with its capabilities and limitations and should develop the weapons it needs to fulfill these functions, and no potentiality of any of the three services of the Military Establishment should be neglected in our scheme of National Defense. At the same time each service must vigorously develop, in that area where their functions meet, that flexibility and teamwork essential to operational success. It should also be clear that the Navy’s ability to exert from its floating bases its unique pressure against the enemy wherever he can be reached in the air, on sea or land is now, as it has been, compatible with the fundamental principles of warfare. That our naval forces can be equipped defensively as well as offensively to project pressure against enemy objectives in the future is as incontrovertible as the principle that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

In measuring capabilities against a potential enemy, due appreciation must be taken of the factors of relative strength and weakness. We may find ourselves comparatively weak in manpower and in certain elements of aircraft strength. On the other hand we are superior in our naval air-sea strength. It is an axiom that in preparing for any contest, it is wisest to exploit – not neglect – the element of strength. Hence a policy which provides for balanced development and coordinated use of strong naval forces should be vigorously prosecuted in order to meet and successfully counter a sudden war in the foreseeable future.

[END]

In the Waters of Pearl – Building the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base 1918-1945 3

 

I spent a number of years in my youth living and sailing out of Pearl Harbor. The last time we were there was in 2003 and the changes even then were astonishing. Many of the old buildings were still there but a modern bridge attached Ford Island to the mainland. The Chapel at Sub base was closed at that time and the Enlisted Men’s club was on limited hours as well.

But no matter how long you are away, some memories come back and overwhelm you. The smell of the many flowers as you arrive at the airport. The breeze of the trade winds that mask the heat of the bright sun. And the feeling of an unstated collection of long ago spirits that traveled through these islands on their war to long ago wars. As you stand by the finger piers looking across at the shipyards, you can hear the hammering and welding of broken warships being readied for another battle. The sound of the liberty boat fills your imagination of so many trips across the harbor, stopping only for the raising of the flag each morning and the lowering each night.

 

The day you get orders to Pearl Harbor for the first time, your life is changed forever. You are about to become part of a legend. No matter where you travel in life, you will always carry that memory inside of you.

Pearl Harbor was originally an extensive shallow embayment called Wai Momi (meaning, “Waters of Pearl”) or Puʻuloa (meaning, “long hill”) by the Hawaiians. Puʻuloa was regarded as the home of the shark goddess, Kaʻahupahau, and her brother (or son), Kahiʻuka, in Hawaiian legends. According to tradition, Keaunui, the head of the powerful Ewa chiefs, is credited with cutting a navigable channel near the present Puʻuloa saltworks, by which he made the estuary, known as “Pearl River,” accessible to navigation. Making due allowance for legendary amplification, the estuary already had an outlet for its waters where the present gap is; but Keaunui is typically given the credit for widening and deepening it.

Naval Station, Honolulu” was established on 17 November 1899. On 2 February 1900, this title was changed to “Naval Station, Hawaii”. In the years that followed, dredging and building continued and eventually the idea of stationing submarines in Pearl Harbor was broached.

This is the story of the submarine base up until 1945.

 

Pearl Harbor Submarine Base: 1918-1945

From the Official US Navy Records:

 

Shortly after the Armistice of World War I in 1918, the submarines R-15 to R-20 were ordered to the Hawaiian Area, arriving early in 1919 to establish the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor. Previous to this, there had been other submarines operating in the Hawaiian Area, for in 1912 four “F” class submarines operated from the site of the old Naval Station, Pier 5, Honolulu.

Their activities, however, were concluded when the F-4 sank off Honolulu. After this tragedy in 1915, the remaining “F” boats were towed back to the mainland. Shortly after these submarines left, four “K” type submarines and the Alert arrived, staying until after World War I started.

The R-11 to R-20 were ordered to Pearl Harbor in 1920 and the R-1 to R-10 followed in 1923. When the “R” boats, under the Divisional Command of Lieutenant Commander F.X. Gygax, arrived at Pearl Harbor, he found only one finger pier at the present site of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, and to this the R-18 was secured. This was the first submarine to moor at todays most modern and most complete Pacific submarine home activity.

 

The area chosen in 1919 for a submarine base was covered with cactus plants and algaroba trees, which had to be cut down before any buildings could be erected. When the land along the waterfront had been cleared, concrete slabs were poured into the region to support portable structures which had been obtained by Commander Chester W. Nimitz (now Fleet Admiral Nimitz), who was the first Commanding Officer of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base. These structures consisted of old aviation cantonment buildings that had seen service in France. Meanwhile, tents had been pitched, and the base personnel used these meager furnishings for their living and messing needs. Two months after the arrival of the first submarine division, the base had a temporary mess hall; administration building; machine, carpenter, electric, gyro-compass, optical and battery overhaul shops. For general stores, a floating barge was procured from the Navy Yard, housed over and pressed into service.

In 1923, the first permanent building, still in use as a battery overhaul shop, was constructed with approximately 85% of the work being done by submarine base personnel. Living quarters for submarine personnel were improvised by utilizing the cruiser Chicago, later renamed the Alton, which was brought in and moored where the present day base’s largest pier, S1, now stands. A causeway was built out to her, and the cruiser’s topside was housed over to provide bunk rooms for submarine officers, while the lower deck was given to the officers and men attached to the base. Also, in 1920, another finger pier was constructed.

In the years that followed, peace time years, the temporary buildings were gradually torn down and replaced by larger and more commodious structures, some of which provided excellent usage during World War II. In 1925, the base had approximately 25 buildings erected and the Navy had already begun to reclaim marsh and swamp land in order that further expansion could be possible. During the same period, two more finger piers were built. In 1928, the largest building on the present day site, the main “U” shaped barracks building, was spacious enough to accommodate all submarine and base personnel and, as late as 1940, was still utilized for this purpose, other barracks not being necessary until shortly before hostilities began in 1941. By 1933, berths 10 to 14 on a long quay wall had been completed and a thirty ton crane had been constructed on the outboard end of finger pier number four. Also by this year, the submarine rescue and training tank, the enlisted men’s pool, the theater (built entirely by submarine base personnel), and the main repair buildings had been completed.

The Administration Building, housing the base torpedo shop in the main deck of one wing and the Supply Department on both decks of the other wing had been completed. Above the torpedo shop, was located the Base Commanding Officer’s and Executive officer’s offices. Shortly after the completion of this building, an officer’s quarters was built close to the Administration Building. Since there was now housing and messing facilities for both officers and enlisted men, the Alton was no longer needed.

From 1935 until the outbreak of hostilities, many other buildings were added to the base proper, the majority of them small in size and nature. In addition, with the planting of coconut trees, palms and other shrubberies, the Submarine Base became not only a place military in nature, but also pleasant in appearance.

December 7th, 1941

Fortunately for America, and conversely, unfortunately for Japan, the enemy neglected to strike at Pearl Harbor Submarine Base on 7 December 1941. Quite possibly this could have been by design since the Japs conceivably paid little attention to the comparatively small submarine force the United States had operating in the Pacific, the majority of which, incidentally, was operating in the Far East.

For whatever reason, no damage was done to the base and for this oversight the Japs were to pay dearly since it was the submarine force in the Pacific that, almost alone, carried the war into the enemy’s waters in the first two years of the war, a feat that would have been improbable, if not impossible, had it not been for the excellent repair and supply facilities afforded by the Pearl harbor Submarine Base before other advanced bases could be established.

On 30 June 1940, there were 359 enlisted men stationed at the Submarine Base with this number slowly increasing to 700 on 15 August 1941 and to 1,081 in July 1942. Rapid expansion of the base reached its peak in July 1944, when there were 6,633 enlisted men serving on the Submarine Base proper. These were the men for whom there was no glory but who, nevertheless, worked excessive hours no matter what their job in order that our submersibles might roam the Pacific in excellent fighting condition.

As an indication of the tremendous amount of work accomplished by the Pearl Harbor base, four hundred submarines were overhauled, refitted, or repaired during the period from May 1944 until July 1945. (This should not be construed as 400 individual submarines, but rather as a certain number of subs overhauled numerous times). This meant four hundred submarines prowling the seas, destroying Japanese shipping relentlessly through the sole medium of repair and supply furnished by one base. Truly, the enemy missed a military objective by blindly overlooking the Submarine Base on the day of the “blitz”.

It is not a debatable question as to which departmental function was the most important at the Submarine Base, since without one the other would have been negligible. To all go the credit for the tremendous successes achieved as the result of basing submarines at Pearl.

Under the Supply Department during a three month period ending 1 September 1944, the Commissary Department furnished $410,000 worth of provisions aboard roving submarines; and for the entire war, the value of provision stowed aboard operating subs totaled the tremendous sum of $3,680,296, a good reason as to why submarine personnel are the best fed men in the world. The Disbursing officer paid $33,363,305.23 in salaries to submarine personnel in the last two and a half years of the war in 1,144 individual pay days to submarine crews. Clothing and Small Stores, another function of the Supply Department, issued $916,519 worth of clothing to submarine personnel in the last year and a half of the war. Supply was, without a doubt, a major issue of the war.

The Ordnance Department, from the outbreak of war until the cessation of hostilities, overhauled 15,644 torpedoes of which 5,185 were fired by combat submarines with 1,860 torpedoes resulting in successful hits. A remarkable record and one which can well be shared by the shore based personnel of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base.

The Engineering and Repair Department consisting of technicians and specialists of every description commenced their work on submarines days before the boat ever berthed at the Base. For as much as a week prior to each submarine’s arrival, plans were drawn up for the work to be accomplished on the boat. On the day of arrival, the submarine furnished the E&R department a complete list of “ailments” and on the following day an arrival conference between Base officers and Ships’ officers was held. At this time, a detailed plan of repair action was made while, even at that moment, work crews from the various shops were ripping apart faulty equipment for overhaul and repair. In the short two week period that the submarine remained at the Base, every department observed every derangement, large or small, and made corrections and repairs as necessary or else replaced faulty equipment. Engineering was a factor of no small importance in the winning of the war because submarines, returning from patrol, ofttimes had almost unrepairable damage. In the month of September 1944 alone, the Engineering and Repair Department refitted twelve submarines and made voyage repairs to twenty-five others, a feat not only never before performed but not even dreamed of in the past.

The Medical Department achieved miracles in the treatment and prevention of ills and diseases. Upon the completion of a war patrol, each submarine crew was thoroughly examined by especially trained and unusually competent Medical, Dental and Psychiatric Officers. Should it develop that a man had an ailment, no matter how trivial, he was replaced, treated and, in most cases, restored to duty on board operating submarines. Many a story has been told of medical corpsmen on submarines who have performed such feats as appendectomies and the diagnosis of diseases like spinal meningitis while on a combat war patrol. Many of these men were trained and gathered experience at a well-equipped and efficient Dispensary of the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor. In addition, it was the Base Medical Department’s responsibility that all medicinal supplies and drugs were furnished each submarine prior to its departure on war patrol.

And there were other departments, the First Lieutenant’s men worked day and night loading or unloading submarines, maintaining buildings and equipment, patrolling the base during the war’s most security conscious moments, and furnishing transportation for men and equipment.

There was the Rest and Recuperation Annex to the Submarine Base, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with its 425 rooms and housing capacity of 935 guests. When this entire space was not required by the Submarine Force, it was made available to aviation activities, small craft returning from advance bases, forward advance Marine units, and in some isolated cases, to battleships and cruisers.

Then there was the Chaplain and his assistants who offered counsel and guidance to war-weary and nerve-torn veterans of the war patrols. There was the Ship’s Service Department which offered everything necessary to life and comfort from phonograph records to the latest books and novelties.

 

The Pearl Harbor Submarine Base was not a base erected during the heat of battle. Its permanent foundations were laid down in 1919 and through the years of peace it became stronger and healthier. At the outbreak of hostilities, it was incapable of accommodating the ultimate number of submarines that were to operate in the Pacific, but never once did this Base lag in its accomplishments of sundry duties. At times, the output of work far exceeded that expected or thought of, but always the submarines based temporarily at Pearl Harbor between moments of combat had their slightest needs fulfilled.

Upon the establishment of the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor, Commander C.W. Nimitz was the Commanding Officer, a duty he held until 1922. He was succeeded in command by the following officers:

 

Commander L.F. Welch 1922-1925

Commander F.C. Martin 1925-1928

Captain A. Bronson 1928-1929

Captain W.K. Wortman 1929-1930

 

In 1930, Submarine Squadron FOUR commenced operating in the Hawaiian Area, and the two commands were united with the following officers pursuing duties as Commander, Submarine Squadron FOUR and Commanding Officer, U.S. Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T.H.:

 

Captain W.K. Wortman 1930-1932

Captain H.W. Osterhas 1932-1934

Captain R.A. Kock 1934-1936

Captain R.S. Culp 1936-1938

Captain F.W. Scanland 1938-1940

Captain W.R. Carter 1940-1941

Captain F.A. Daubin 1941-1942

Captain R.H. English March 1942-May 1942

Captain J.H. Brown, Jr. May 1942-January 1943

On 13 January 1943, the two commands were separated, due to the tremendous work load required of each command by war time operations. As a result, Captain C.D. Edmunds relieved Captain J.H. Brown, Jr., as Commanding Officer of the Submarine Base, with Captain Brown retaining the command of SubRon FOUR. In turn, Captain Edmunds was relieved by Captain C.E. Aldrich, who served in that capacity from September 1943 until October 1944, when he was relieved by Captain E.R. Swinburne, who remained in command of the base until after the cessation of hostilities. However, the Commanding Officer of the Submarine Base continued to come under the Squadron Commander until, in October 1945, with the reorganization of the submarine force, he was placed directly under ComSubPac.

 

The story of Submarine Base Pearl Harbor will continue in the near future…

Mister Mac

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 8 – The Battle from the Japanese Perspective) Reply

Disaster at Savo Island, 1942

 by

Lieutenant Colonel David E. Quantock
United States Army

USAWC Class of 2002

U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA

These excerpts are from a Report called Disaster at Savo Island, 1942. This unique perspective of the battle is taken primarily from the Japanese point of view.

 

“Mikawa’s approach into the “Slot” of Savo Island was a feat of skillful seamanship augmented by luck. He had been sighted by submarines and different aerial reconnaissance missions on 8 August, all of which combined to give Admiral Turner an untimely and incomplete picture of Mikawa’s intentions. Mikawa was aided by the weather, as overcast skies with occasional rain squalls hid his task force, and he timed his attack to close on the Allied forces in the dark. Through the day of 8 August, he sent numerous organic reconnaissance aircraft (float planes) to compile a picture of the Guadalcanal and Tulagi area. By the time of the attack, he had nearly perfect intelligence on the disposition of the Allied force. Most importantly, he knew that the security forces were split into separate task forces divided by Savo Island. Though Mikawa was inferior in numbers, his plan created an opportunity to engage and destroy the unalerted Allied Force piecemeal.

 

Mikawa’s battle plan was drawn up and signaled to his strike force at 1642, 8 August. The plan called for his task force to sweep to the south side of Savo Island and torpedo the Allied ships off Guadalcanal. They were then to turn east and north to destroy the Tulagi landing force with torpedoes and gunfire. After the attack, the Japanese Force was to proceed around the north side of Savo Island and depart the area as soon as possible. Mikawa planned to order the attack at 0130 on 9 August 1942. The plan allowed enough time to conduct the attack and to get 120 miles away under the cover of darkness before daylight would permit counter-attack by aircraft from the U.S. carrier groups. Mikawa did not know the exact location of the carriers, but assumed they were about 100 miles to the south of Guadalcanal. His battle plan was executed nearly to perfection.

 

The weather was perfect for the attacking force. Cloud cover and intermittent thunderstorms created a screen between the Northern and Southern Forces and thus precluded mutual support.

At 1800 Mikawa received confirmation from his reconnaissance planes that all was well. At 1840 he signaled “Let us attack with certain victory in the traditional night attack of the Imperial Navy. May each one calmly do his utmost!”6

Vice Admiral Fletcher, already suffering the strain of Midway and Coral Sea, had a tough fight on 8 August. While the initial amphibious landings at Guadalcanal and Tulagi went well, his carriers lost twenty-one aircraft defending the Expeditionary Force against three Japanese air raids–air raids which could have distracted him from the sketchy and uncorrelated intelligence reports of Mikawa’s approaching 8th Fleet. These air raids disrupted the off-loading of General Vandegrift’s supplies and support equipment, and left Fletcher focused on attack by Japanese bombers and torpedo planes. At 1807, while Mikawa was approaching, Fletcher signaled Ghormley requesting permission to withdraw his carriers due to aircraft losses and low fuel state. While awaiting Ghormley’s reply, Fletcher repositioned the carriers, opening Savo Island.

Although Fletcher’s message was not meant for Admiral Turner, he received a copy of it and was immediately furious. The departure of the carrier group would deprive him of air cover and force the withdrawal of his amphibious force ships. Although land based aircraft were available from Admiral McCain’s task force, their distant bases and the obsolete, inadequate types of aircraft virtually mooted their role in defending against Japanese air raids. Turner’s forced departure placed the Marines in a precarious position; they lost both their transport ships and the warships that were providing them fire support. At 2042, Turner called a meeting with Admiral Crutchley and Major General Vandegrift. The meeting took place at 2315. The items of discussion at that meeting were of far less importance than the meeting’s very effect on the defending force. The meeting pulled Crutchley away from command of the defense force and, more importantly, took HMAS Australia from the Southern Force. This reduced the Southern Group’s combat power by a third. On departure from his force, Crutchley put Captain Bode in charge of the entire Southern Group but somehow neglected to inform the force. Bode assumed that Crutchley would return shortly and did not reposition USS Chicago to reoptimize the screening disposition, did not assert his new authority, and went to bed without issuing night orders. Crutchley, having finished the late meeting with Turner, decided to keep HMAS Australia close to shore with the transport ships because of the danger of rejoining the screening force at night, under poor weather conditions and without radio communications, which would risk a friendly fire situation or possible collision.

Meanwhile, Mikawa was heading towards Savo Island at 26 knots. At 2313, he launched two of his scout planes for a final look at the disposition of the Allied force. These scout planes were also responsible for dropping parachute flares at the proper time to illuminate the transports at Guadalcanal and Tulagi. These planes were spotted on radar and visually by a number of the Allied ships, but were assumed to be friendly because they were flying with running lights. Not a single ship took action against the planes beyond a single message from Ralph Talbot to Admiral Turner’s ship warning of the aircraft. The report, in any case, never got to Turner.

Mikawa headed toward his objective with his force in column formation. His flagship, Chokai, was in the lead. Because few of the other ships had ever worked together before, they were spread approximately 1300 yards apart. At 2230, the “Battle Warning” was sounded and the Allied Southern Force was sighted moving along the southern side of Savo Island.

 

The command “Prepare to Fire Torpedoes” was given at 0025 followed by “Battle Stations Alerted” at 0045.

Torpedoes

In the early stages of the war, no weapons system was more effective than the Japanese torpedo. It was dropped from airplanes, launched from just about every type of Japanese surface warship, and used by submarines. The Japanese torpedo caused more trepidation among naval commanders than any other type of munition. It would consume Admiral Crutchley’s defense of Guadalcanal. It would drive Fletcher’s focus to the security of his carrier group. The very threat of its presence would force Fletcher and Turner into an early exit from the landing areas.

There was good reason to respect the huge Japanese advantage in torpedoes. Their Long Lance torpedo dwarfed any U.S. torpedoes. The biggest advantage of the Japanese torpedo was that, unlike its American counterpart, it worked. The Long Lance exploded when it hit its target. The Long Lance weighed 1,090 pounds, could hit targets out to 22,000 yards (40,000 yards when traveling at 35 knots), and traveled at 49 knots. Powered by oxygen instead of air, unlike standard torpedoes the Japanese torpedo left a nearly wakeless trail. In comparison, the U.S. Torpedo Mark XV had a much smaller warhead and could only reach 6,000 yards at 45 knots or 15,000 yards at 26.5 knots. More discouragingly, U.S. torpedoes seldom detonated, even when scoring direct hits. A Long Lance torpedo sank one of Admiral Fletcher’s carriers during the Battle of the Coral Sea.

At the outbreak of the war, the Japanese Navy possessed some of the world’s finest torpedoes, including the fabled Long Lance. The quality of these weapons was no accident, but rather the result of Japan’s intensive efforts during the 1920’s and 30’s to make good the shortcomings of her battle fleet. Laboring as she did under the unfavorable 5:5:3 ratio of capital ships imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty, Japan would most likely be at a disadvantage in any Pacific conflict with the United States. She also knew well enough that the U.S. modeled its fighting doctrine on the famous ‘Plan Orange’, which called for an advance of the American battle fleet across the Pacific to relieve the Philippines. It was anticipated that at some location in the Western Pacific a decisive battle would be fought. In Japan’s view, some means must be found to offset its disadvantage in capital ships before this battle occurred, or its inferior battle line would be destroyed by the American force. Torpedo tactics and night combat were seized upon as one way to whittle down the American battle line as it made its way across the Pacific. Accordingly, Japan worked diligently to develop the tactics needed to implement this new doctrine, and also to create the weapons with which to carry it out. The result was that Japanese torpedoes showed a steady progression of improvements throughout the 1930’s, culminating in the development of the famous ‘Long Lance’ in 1935.

Designing and perfecting the Long Lance required solving some extremely difficult technical problems, most of which centered around the usage of pure oxygen as a fuel (rather than compressed air). Compressed air is nearly 77% nitrogen, which is useless for combustion, and also contributes to the visibility of the torpedo by leaving a bubble track on the surface. The usage of pure oxygen promised far greater power and propulsive efficiency, but it came with certain costs. The most glaring of these was how to use pure oxygen safely aboard a ship or submarine, given its inherently inflammable nature. Premature detonation of the torpedo upon firing was also a problem. However, the Japanese overcame these hurdles. Further, through meticulous live-testing of their weapons against ship targets, they perfected a warhead detonator that was rugged and reliable (The U.S. Navy’s BuOrd could certainly have taken a lesson or two here). The resulting weapon, the Type 93 torpedo, was fantastically advanced in comparison with its Western counterparts, possessing an unequaled combination of speed, range, and hitting power. This weapon, coupled with the flexible battle tactics practiced by Japan’s cruisers and destroyers, led to victory after victory in the early stages of the war. Only as American radar and gunfire control became increasingly sophisticated would the Japanese advantage in night battles begin to disappear, and even then a Long Lance-armed Japanese destroyer was still a thing to be feared.

 

At 0054, the lookouts on Mikawa’s ship spotted the picket ship USS Blue heading directly at them approximately 5 miles away. Just as Mikawa prepared to engage her, Blue made a 180 degree turn and headed away from the Japanese task force. With Ralph Talbot, the other screening ship, approximately 10 miles to his north, Mikawa had slipped between the pickets undetected. Neither of the picket ships detected Mikawa’s task force.

At 0133, as his force moved around the southern side of Savo Island, Mikawa gave the order “All Ships Attack!” Three minutes later his scouts picked up the destroyers Bagley and Patterson leading the Southern Force, followed shortly by the cruisers Canberra and Chicago. At 0136, Mikawa ordered “Independent Firing.” The Southern Force was then brought under torpedo attack. USS Patterson was the first to sight the attacking force and announced “WARNING–WARNING: STRANGE SHIPS ENTERING HARBOR!” Shortly after Patterson’s warning, Mikawa’s scout planes dropped their flares, illuminating not only the transports at Guadalcanal, but Chicago and Canberra as well. Canberra was the first ship hit and ultimately received two torpedo hits and a total of 24 gun hits. Captain Getting of the Canberra was killed. Canberra sank at 0800, 9 August. Both Bagley and Patterson escaped with minor damage while Mikawa’s force focused on Chicago. Chicago took a torpedo and a gun hit with little damage, and was saved further hits when she saw the trail ship of Mikawa’s force and went after it, sailing in the opposite direction of the attacking force. Chicago then lost sight of the enemy ship and was left without an enemy to pursue. Significantly, Captain Bode never warned the Northern Group that an attack was in progress. In 6 minutes, Mikawa had severely damaged the Allied Southern Group and was turning around Savo Island headed toward the unalerted Northern Group.

Mikawa’s luck only got better. At 0144, he made a rapid course change with his leading three cruisers, Aoba, Kako, and Kinugasa. The maneuver was missed by the last three, Yubari, Tenryu, and Furutaka, but this inadvertent split created two separate attacking divisions. Although this created a command and control problem for Mikawa, it put the Northern Force between two attacking forces.

For the Japanese, it was like shooting ducks in a pond.

The Northern Force was caught completely by surprise and pounded by Mikawa’s force. The devastating fire brought to bear on the task force sank Astoria, Vincennes, and Quincy.

Extremely successful at his first pass around Savo Island, Mikawa contemplated another. Fortunately for the Allied Forces, Mikawa had a number of concerns. His force was divided, it would take him almost three hours to bring it back together, and daylight was not far away. Daylight meant that he was very susceptible to air attack and he still had no idea where the carrier group was located. Finally, his ships were out of torpedoes, and a second attack using only guns would be much riskier. At 0220, Mikawa gave the order to retire up the Slot.

Mikawa left 1,023 sailors killed and over 700 wounded in his wake. In addition, he sank four Allied heavy cruisers and severely damaged a number of destroyers. This defeat expedited the departure of Turner’s Amphibious Task Force, leaving the under-supplied Marines to fend for themselves on Guadalcanal.”

End of part 8

 

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 7 – The Marines on Shore and the Consequences) Reply

The operation at Guadalcanal was named “Watchtower” but to the Marines involved, it would forever be known as Operation Shoestring. As history records, the entire operation was put together in a hurry with limited resources and even less intelligence. One misstep after another compounded their misery and the disastrous events of the First Battle of Savo Island would mean the Marines on shore would have to fight twice as hard with meager supplies.

This Story comes from the book

Marines in World War II,  Historical Monograph, The Guadalcanal Campaign

by Major John L. Zimmerman, USMCR Historical Section, Division of Public Information Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps 1949

The Naval Withdrawal

The burning of the Elliott had two adverse consequences, entirely apart from the loss of the ships herself. Included in the supplies aboard her had been a good shore of the material of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, and that was lost. The second, and more serious, consequence was the fact that the glare caused by her burning allowed enemy observers in the neighborhood of Tassafaronga to see the cruisers and destroyers which were shortly to be attacked on that night of 8-9 August, and to report their presence to the advancing enemy task force.

In the evening of 8 August, General Vandegrift was called to a conference aboard the USS McCawley, flagship of Task Force 62. While there he was told that Admiral Turner had decided to remove all transports and cargo vessels from the area at 0600 next morning, 9 August. The reason given for this decision was the fact that advice had come from Admiral Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 61, telling of a shortage of fuel and of the loss of 21 of his 99 planes, and of his consequent decision to withdraw.

This posed a new and most alarming problem for General Vandegrift and his staff. Plans made by the division had been formulated on the assumption that the ships would remain for four days in the target area so that all supplies could be put ashore. However, even with the removal of all supplies to the beach, the division would have been in a somewhat precarious position, for the shortage of shipping and the unforeseen demand for haste had made necessary a cut below the basic allowances ordinarily prescribed. The unloading process, as we have seen, had been complicated by a condition approaching chaos on the beach, and the movement from ship to shore had been stopped as a result. The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.

Shortly after midnight of 8-9 August, moreover, friendly surface forces operating in the Solomons area suffered a sudden and overwhelming defeat. The events leading up to the disastrous Battle of Savo Island are interesting.

There can be no doubt at this time that the American attack on Tulagi and on Guadalcanal came as a surprise to the enemy at Rabaul as well as to the smaller forces in the target area.

The American convoy had been sighted as it approached the area by an enemy lookout in the vicinity of Cape Esperance. There appears to have been a breakdown in communications between his post and Tulagi, for his warning did not alert the people on the latter island. The attack, moreover, cut the area off from communication with the enemy rear areas (the radio installations on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo had been destroyed by the prelanding bombardment by the San Juan and the two destroyers which accompanied her). Captain Miyazaki, of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who was on duty at Rabaul at the time, was questioned on November, 1945, as a prisoner of war. He said, in speaking of the events of 7 August 1942, “Early in the day we lost communication with Gavutu, so did not know what happened.”

Communication must have been reestablished quickly, however, or else the enemy must have been able to deduce, from the silence that had fallen over its forces in the Tulagi area, that an attack had been mounted. By afternoon of 7 August a naval task force was being assembled from units in Kavieng and Rabaul. It was formed from elements of the 8th Fleet, and consisted of five heavy cruisers–Chokai (flying the flag of Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, CinC, 8th Fleet), Kako, Furutaka, Aoba (Rear Admiral Goto), Kinugasa, the light cruiser Tenryu (Rear Admiral Matsuyama), and Yubari–with one old destroyer Yunagi from the 4th Destroyer Division. Rendezvous was effected northwest of Bougainville, and the force came down the stretch of water which lies between the parallel chains of islands of the group and which was later to become known as the “Slot”.

This force was sighted at 1130 on the morning of 8 August by a U.S. observation plane which maintained contact with it for about an hour.39 The results of the observation were reported at once, but through some mix-up in the communication chain which has never been satisfactorily explained, the screening force of United States and Australian ships apparently was not apprised of the potential danger which the enemy task force presented.

The screening force, divided in two groups, was patrolling the approaches to the transport area on each side of Savo Island when, at about 0130 of the morning of 9 August, it was attacked and overwhelmingly defeated by an enemy force which immediately retired from the area. No attempt was made by the Japanese to pursue the advantage which had been gained, and the transport area was left unmolested. The attack had been preceded by the dropping of flares from Japanese cruiser-based planes, and information subsequently got from prisoners indicates that the attacking force was aided by observation from Cape Esperance made possible by the illumination from the flares and from the burning transport, Elliott.

The results of the attack were little short of catastrophic for the Allied forces. Of the five cruisers on station at the time, four were sunk and the other badly damaged. Chicago sustained damage, while Astoria, Vincennes, Canberra, and Quincy sank during the night and the early morning.

Post-war interrogation of Japanese prisoners answered a question which arose immediately after the Japanese withdrawal–why had the attacking force refrained from annihilating the then defenseless transports? It appears that one 8-inch round fired from the second group to be attacked–the Northern Group–penetrated the operations room of Chokai, destroying all equipment and charts. This together with the fact that there was some delay in resuming proper formation, impelled Vice Admiral Mikawa to withdraw rather than run the risk of being overtaken by planes during a later withdrawal.

A belated vengeance overtook another ship of the force when Kako, about to enter the harbor of Kavieng the next morning, was sunk off Simberi Island by an American submarine, the old S-44.

End of Part 7

 

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 6 – The Day of 9 August and Observations ) Reply

THE DAY OF 9 AUGUST

During the battle our aircraft carriers were south of San Cristobal Island, roughly 150 miles from Savo. Although they had on the evening of the 8th requested permission to retire, it was not received from COMSOPAC until 0330 on the 9th. This was, of course, more than an hour after the battle, but our carriers withdrew without having received any real information of what had taken place. At 1000 on the 9th Admiral Kinkaid on the Enterprise noted in his diary that planes returning from Tulagi saw “no evidence of surface action there or enemy ships,” and that night, “still only meager reports of surface action today, whereas prompt reports of situation might have permitted aircraft units from task group to participate and engage enemy forces present.”

It proved impractical for our Task Force to leave at 0630 as planned. The task of transferring and caring for the wounded from our cruisers necessitated some delay. Furthermore, Tanambogo did not fall completely into our possession until the afternoon of the 9th. More Marines had to be landed there and in the Tulagi area, and it was absolutely necessary to land further supplies. At 0630 orders were issued that departure be delayed until 0700, and that transports continue unloading until that time. “About 0700,” the Zeilin reports, “after several hatches had been closed up and boats hoisted in, word was received that the ship would not get underway at 0700 and to continue with the unloading.”

At 0840 there was an air raid warning, and our ships again had to cease unloading and stand out in formation to repel the attack which did not materialize. About 1120, when our ships were returning to the anchorage, they received orders to hoist all boats as quickly as possible and to prepare to leave the Guadalcanal area. Those in the Tulagi area were told to have their boats hoisted by 1830.

All these delays had seriously retarded the unloading of supplies, which was particularly urgent in the Tulagi area. The case of the Betelgeuse was probably typical: “Although the Betelgeuse was in the unloading area from 0650 August 7th until 1440 August 9th (a period of 55 hours and 50 minutes), the major part of this time was used up in awaiting orders to land after a beachhead had been secured, ceasing unloading due to orders from the beach, getting underway and coming to anchor, underway at sea to avoid the enemy, manning general quarters stations, scattering and recalling boats, diversion of ship’s boats to assist in unloading of other ships.” As a consequence, our ships departed without having unloaded all supplies.

(The Betelgeuse estimated that 50 percent remained on board.)

The transports from the XRAY area left by Lengo Channel for Noumea at 1530. Those in the YOKE area continued unloading a few hours more and did not depart till 1900, but these extra hours were not enough and the Marines in the Tulagi area were left with meager supplies. The 6,100 Marines in the Tulagi area were left with 39,000 rations, 3,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition, 30,000 rounds of .45-caliber. The 10,900 Marines in the Guadalcanal area were left 567,000 rations, 6,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber and 6,000,000 rounds of .45-caliber ammunition.

OBSERVATIONS

 

“The fact must be faced that we had an adequate force placed with the very purpose of repelling surface attack and when that surface attack was made, it destroyed our force,” said Admiral Crutchley. After full allowance for the element of surprise and for the fact that the attacker at night enjoys an immense advantage, there remain many questions about the action which cannot be answered.

It is unexplained how the enemy managed to pass the two destroyers stationed to give warning of just such an attack. Visibility of course was very low. The enemy might have escaped radar detection for a while by approaching close to the shore of the islands, but to reach Savo Island he had to cross open water, and at this point our radars should have picked him up easily. The nature of the radar search conducted by the two destroyers was not reported. It was suggested, without any evidence, that their search may have been intermittent, and not continuous. If this is true, the enemy could have crossed the open water at a time when the radar was not in actual operation. Admiral Crutchley suggested that our failure could be explained by the enemy’s having detected our patrolling destroyers from the air and having made a wide circuit to the westward, approaching close along the shore of Guadalcanal.

Of less importance but of considerable interest is the problem of the “something” seen close aboard the Patterson at the beginning of the engagement, and the “dark objects” seen between our ships by the Chicago. They may explain the fact that both the Chicago and the Canberra were struck by torpedoes which could scarcely have been fired from the enemy cruiser line.

Because the enemy cruisers came in very close to Savo Island, their destroyers may well have been on their starboard bow, perhaps at some distance. If they failed to turn eastward quickly as did the cruisers, they might have passed through our formation. It seems probable, however, that in spite of the poor visibility, enemy destroyers would have been recognized at the close range at which they passed.

Secondly, it is possible that the “seaplane tenders or gunboats” reported in the Melbourne dispatch were in fact tenders for motor torpedo boats, and that some of these were present. The restricted waters, smooth sea, and poor visibility were well suited to their operation.

The most likely conjecture is that enemy submarines were operating on the surface in coordination with the attacking cruisers. A lookout on the Vincennes saw a submarine surface just as the action began. Capt. Riefkohl believed his ship might have been torpedoed by a submarine, and, at the close of the action, the last 5-inch gun on his ship was reported to have hit the conning tower of a submarine. The following morning several of our destroyers made sound contacts, and the Mugford believed that she sank a submarine.

The attacking ships were never seen with sufficient clarity to make identification certain. Admiral Crutchley reported, “The consensus of opinion assesses the enemy force as comprising one 8-inch cruiser (which I think might have been the Chokai) and two light cruisers of the 5.5-inch type. Probably there were three destroyers. This would correspond to the force reported in the Melbourne warning.

There is some question as to whether the enemy operated in one or two groups. The latter suggestion came from some officers of the Vincennes group who believed that they had been caught in a cross fire.

This could be explained by the fact that the enemy crossed astern of this group at such speed that the leading vessels of the enemy column might have been firing on our ships from their starboard quarter while the last ships of the column were still firing from the port quarter. Admiral Crutchley remarked, “The Vincennes suggests that the other enemy force consisted of destroyers. As the enemy had two separate transport groups to attack, there seems to be good reason for dividing his force into two sections, but if this were so, the enemy destroyer force apparently destined to be the one sent against Squadron Y at Tulagi was not intercepted by any of our patrols and it becomes difficult to explain why they did not go on to attack their real objective.” The fact that the enemy planes dropped flares over Tulagi considerably later than over Guadalcanal indicates that the enemy plan was probably for a single force to attack first one and then the other.

It seems certain that our ships scored several hits on the Japanese, but there was no evidence that we inflicted any considerable damage. None of the enemy ships was seen to be seriously on fire, and apparently all cleared the area at high speed.

The redeeming feature of the battle was the splendid performance of our officers and men. They had been on the alert for days and had had about 48 hours of continuous, active operations immediately before the battle. In spite of this, their conduct under the most trying circumstances was beyond praise, and they made it, in the happy phrase of one of our officers, “a night in which heroism was commonplace.”

End of Part 6 and End of the series on the First Battle of Savo Island

Please visit the other five parts of this series for the big picture

https://theleansubmariner.com/2017/08/08/diamond-anniversary-the-first-battle-of-savo-island-part-1/

https://theleansubmariner.com/2017/08/08/diamond-anniversary-the-first-battle-of-savo-island-part-2-attack-on-the-southern-group/

https://theleansubmariner.com/2017/08/08/diamond-anniversary-the-first-battle-of-savo-island-part-3-attack-on-the-northern-group/

https://theleansubmariner.com/2017/08/08/diamond-anniversary-the-first-battle-of-savo-island-part-4-the-xray-transports-and-the-destroyers/

https://theleansubmariner.com/2017/08/08/diamond-anniversary-the-first-battle-of-savo-island-part-5-end-of-the-canberra-and-astoria/

 

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 5 – End of the Canberra and Astoria) 1

Part 5

END OF THE CANBERRA

When the enemy left the Canberra she was lying helpless and afire approximately 5 miles southeast of Savo Island. Capt. Getting was fatally wounded, and the executive officer, Comdr. J. A. Walsh, R. A. N., took command. He at once initiated measures to save the ship. Gasoline tanks were jettisoned and torpedoes fired. Bucket brigades were formed and enough progress was made in fighting the fire to permit some ammunition to be reached and dumped overboard. All magazines had been flooded. All rafts and cutters were lowered, and as many wounded as possible were placed in the cutters.

About 0300 the Patterson, which had been directed by the Chicago to stand by the Canberra, approached and was asked to come along the windward side amidships to supply hose for fighting the fire. As the Patterson drew up, however, the remaining ready service ammunition on the Canberra began to explode and the cruiser signaled, “You had better wait.” It was not until an hour later that the destroyer could finally secure along her port side to pass over four hoses and a pump. By this time the fires had gained considerable headway, and the ship was listing about 17° to starboard. Heavy rain squalls with thunder and lightning passed over from time to time. They made the sea choppy, but not enough water fell to aid appreciably in controlling the fires.

The Patterson about 0500 received Admiral Crutchley’s message stating that it was urgent that the Task Force leave the area by 0630, and that if the Canberra could not be put in condition to depart by that time, she should be abandoned and destroyed. When this order was communicated to Comdr. Walsh he “realized that the situation was hopeless” and decided to abandon ship. Some of the wounded had already been transferred to the destroyer, but abandonment of the ship was delayed because none of the Canberra’s crew would leave until all wounded had been removed.

This process was presently interrupted by a radar contact made by the Patterson about 8,000 yards on the port quarter. The contact slowly approached to 3,000 yards. The Patterson challenged three times without receiving any reply. Then she ordered all lights out on the Canberra and hastily got underway, cutting or parting all lines.

The Patterson then illuminated the strange ship, and was at once fired upon. The Patterson fired three salvos in reply before it was realized that the ship resembled the Chicago, and an emergency identification signal was fired. Thereupon both ships ceased fire. Fortunately no damage resulted from this exchange.

When this incident occurred, the Chicago was en route from the XRAY area to investigate gunfire seen in the direction of Savo. At 0525 a vessel which she had been tracking by radar illuminated her. Although orders had been given not to fire, two guns of the starboard 5-inch battery at once fired on the searchlight. The officer in charge of the starboard battery immediately ordered cease fire, but when the destroyer returned the fire, the starboard 5-inch and 1.1-inch control officers ordered fire. The captain then ordered cease fire. The destroyer made what the Chicago considered the wrong identification signal, but both ships ceased fire.

Meanwhile on board the Canberra preparations continued for removing the rest of the wounded and abandoning ship. Dawn was breaking when about 0550 a cruiser and a destroyer were seen on the port beam, and soon afterward the Chicago, the Patterson and the Blue could be identified. The two destroyers completed taking off personnel. The Patterson had on board 400 survivors and the Blue about 250, who were subsequently transferred to the transports at XRAY. When the Canberra was abandoned she was listing about 20° and was burning furiously amidships.

This task was scarcely completed when (0640) the Selfridge arrived in the vicinity of the Canberra. She was returning from the destroyer rendezvous with the Mugford when at 0540 she received orders that all ships were to retire at 0630. The Mugford on the way toward the transport area stopped to pick up survivors from the cruisers, chiefly from the Vincennes, while the Selfridge received orders to stand by the Canberra. On the way she again passed the Astoria, still burning. The sun was just rising when she approached the Australian cruiser, the last of the personnel of which were being removed by the Patterson. The Selfridge was then ordered to sink the Canberra. She fired at her 263 rounds of 5-inch shells and 4 torpedoes. Only one of the torpedoes exploded under the cruiser. One passed the Canberra and exploded in the wake of the Ellet, which was coming up at full speed. While the Selfridge was firing these shells into the Canberra, the Ellet, which had spent the last few hours picking up survivors of the Quincy, came up about 0730. The Ellet from a distance observed the Selfridge firing on the burning cruiser. Being unable to contact the Selfridge by TBS, the Ellet concluded that she was engaged with a disabled Japanese cruiser. She therefore closed at full speed, setting course to cross the bow of the cruiser. At 5,000 yards she fired her first salvo, which was on for several hits. She then ceased fire on information from CornDesRon FOUR that the cruiser was the Canberra. The Selfridge’s large expenditure of ammunition having failed to send the Canberra down, the Ellet was a little later ordered to complete the job. Choosing a favorable angle she fired a torpedo into the cruiser, which turned over to starboard and sank by the bow at 0800.

END OF THE ASTORIA CA 34

When the enemy ceased fire at 0215, the Astoria had lost power and steering control. The captain abandoned the now useless bridge and took a station on the communication deck forward of turret II. About 400 men, 70 of whom were wounded, were assembled on the forecastle deck. The ship had a 3ƒ list to port, but the first lieutenant, Lt. Comdr. Topper, after an investigation reported that the ship was tight forward of the engineering spaces and that there were no serious fires below the second deck. The fires amidships prevented access aft, and conditions there were unknown, but the ship appeared to be on fire all the way from the navigation bridge aft.

There was, however, a group of about 150 men, headed by the executive officer, Comdr. Frank E. Shoup, Jr., on the fantail of the vessel, similarly unaware that there were any other survivors on the ship. Comdr. Shoup and others had abandoned Battle II about the time of the near-collision with the Quincy. Because all regular access was cut off, they came down by means of a rope, after lowering the wounded. All mainmast stations were abandoned about the same time. As it was feared that the enemy was closing in to finish off the ship, turret III was kept manned, although it had no power, and the 1.1-inch guns were kept manned until the ship was abandoned. The 8-inch magazine remained cool and so was not flooded until sometime later when smoke began to enter it. The blowing up of the Quincy astern, however, caused considerable apprehension about a magazine explosion.

Life rafts were lowered over the side and secured, and the wounded were put on them with enough able-bodied men to care for them. Those who were too badly injured to be moved were lashed to buoyant mattresses.

Meanwhile an effort to salvage the ship was underway. The engineer officer, Lt. Comdr. John D. Hayes, had appeared on deck, almost overcome by smoke, but soon recovered and assisted in directing this work. He thought that the engine rooms were intact and most of the firerooms. Upon reception of this encouraging report, bucket brigades were formed and were soon making sufficient headway to be able to penetrate a little into the hangar. The work was greatly assisted by rain, which began about 0330.

Meanwhile the captain had organized a similar effort forward and made some progress in driving the fire aft along the starboard side. During this work it was discovered that No.1 fireroom was completely in flames, and the fire in this area appeared so extensive that the captain ordered the flooding of the magazines. The 8-inch rooms were flooded, but it seemed doubtful that the flooding of the 5-inch magazines was successful. A particularly intense and persistent fire in the wardroom area defied all attempts to subdue it, and ultimately balked the effort to save the ship. A gasoline-powered handy billy had been rigged up, but the small stream of water it could pump into this fire had very little effect. The sound of this pump about 0400 was the first indication to those on the fantail that there was other life on the ship. In spite of these efforts, the fire continued to spread until it reached the ammunition in the hoists, causing frequent explosions.

The Bagley was finally attracted by blinker and was asked to come alongside and place her starboard bow against that of the Astoria. The wounded were transferred, followed by the able bodied. While the Bagley was pulling away a flashing light could be seen on the stern of the Astoria, welcome evidence that there were men alive in that part of the ship.

Since there seemed to be no dangerous fire aft on the Astoria, the Bagley signaled to those on the stern that they had been seen and then turned to the more urgent task of rescuing survivors from the Vincennes on rafts or in the water and those who had been forced by fire to jump overboard from the Astoria. At daylight the Bagley put her bow alongside the Astoria’s stern and took off the men.

Inasmuch as a survey of the situation indicated that the cruiser might yet be saved, a salvage crew of about 325, headed by the captain and all able bodied officers, was put back aboard. The list had not increased, and the engineer officer reported that he thought he could get up steam if he could get power. The fires seemed to have moderated and the prospects seemed good.

Bucket brigades were again formed, and the engineer officer and his men went to work. About 0700 the minesweeper Hopkins came up and attempted to take the Astoria in tow. The first line parted, but a cable from the Astoria held and the Hopkins was making progress, in spite of the cruiser’s tendency to swing sideways, when the minesweeper was called away.

A report to the Task Force Commander that there was a possibility of salvaging the Astoria if power and water were made available brought up the Wilson about 0900. She began to pump water into the fire forward, but an hour later she too was called away. Word was sent that the Buchanan was coming to help fight the fire and the Alchiba to take the ship in tow. Before they arrived, the fire gained new headway and the list increased to 10ƒ. There were frequent explosions, and after a particularly heavy one at 1100, yellow gas could be seen coming to the surface abreast the forward magazine. When the list increased to 15ƒ the holes in the port side began to take water. Attempts had been made to plug them, but these were ineffective. When the Buchanan came up at 1130 it was already evident that the ship would not remain afloat much longer. By 1200 the main deck was awash to port, and the order was given to abandon ship. The crew left with the two life rafts and with powder cans which had been lashed together.

By the time the executive officer and captain left, the list was close to 45° and water on the main deck had reached the barbette of turret III. Soon afterward “the Astoria turned over on her port beam and then rolled slowly and settled slightly by the stern. The bottom at the bow raised a few feet above the water as she disappeared below the surface at 1215.”

Before the Buchanan had finished picking up the survivors from the water, she made a submarine contact and left to track it, but returned later and, with the Alchiba, picked up the entire salvage crew.

End of Part 5

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 4 – The XRAY Transports and the Destroyers) 1

Part 4

“XRAY” TRANSPORTS

 The enemy had ceased fire on the Vincennes group about 0215, and headed out to sea, briefly engaging the Ralph Talbot about 0320-23. Within half an hour both the Quincy and the Vincennes had gone down. The Canberra remained afloat until morning, when she was sunk by our own destroyers, and the Astoria finally succumbed to her wounds about noon.

No one in our forces, however, could know that the Japanese had completely withdrawn and that their entire effort had been thrown into the half-hour between 0145 and 0215. When at about 0235, while the Quincy was going down, flares were dropped over Florida Island, evidently to silhouette our transports off Tulagi and Gavutu, it seemed likely that more action was yet to come. Consequently “alarms and excursions continued until dawn, and it was only with daylight that the enemy’s retirement and our own situation became clear.

 

Back at XRAY, as soon as the first flares appeared, unloading ceased, boats cast off and headed for the beach, and all ships were darkened and got underway promptly. Under cover of darkness and rain, they moved out Lengo Channel to the eastward at about 10 knots. Some reports indicate that this was done without orders, but the truth seems to be that some of the ships failed to receive the orders issued and merely followed the others. There was great tenseness as our ships laid to, expecting attack momentarily and knowing that it would be difficult to distinguish friend from enemy. The Betelgeuse diary records that “all ships were covered at all times with our guns in case they turned out to be enemy. It is most remarkable that none of our ships in the transport group fired on any other ship during the entire period, although all ships must have had each other covered and the slightest mis-move on anyone’s part would have caused much indiscriminate firing.”

The minesweeper Hopkins, on which was the Commander of the Minesweeper Division, offers an example of the confusion which prevailed that night. After receiving from the Task Force Commander a dispatch which could not be broken down, the Hopkins could not again contact the Commander. She then failed to find the transports near XRAY. She next stood out around the northwest corner of Guadalcanal, the Task Group Commander having “received no information as to existing situation, the intentions of TFC, the disposition of own or enemy forces. He was unable to make contact with any transports and was doubtful as to the Hopkins’ position . . .” A request for a verification of the dispatch resulted in another cypher to which the Hopkins had no key.

Admiral Crutchley on the Australia had very little more success in obtaining a picture of the situation. After his midnight conference he had decided not to return to his southern cruiser group. The Australia had just begun a patrol of her own within the destroyer circle at XRAY when the flares were dropped over the beach and gunfire was seen near Savo. Admiral Crutchley at once ordered the Australia to a position about 7 miles west of XRAY to patrol on courses 060°-240°, in order to be in a position to intercept any of the enemy who might break through our cruisers. At the same time he ordered those of our destroyers not engaged to concentrate on the Australia in this position. This order, however, was sent out in a cypher not generally understood, and most of our destroyers proceeded to concentrate at the previously assigned rendezvous 5 miles northwest of Savo.

Meanwhile Admiral Crutchley was able to obtain only the most fragmentary news of the action. The Chicago reported her damage and that the Canberra was burning near Savo, but nothing could be learned of the Vincennes group. At about 0500 Admiral Crutchley, acting upon orders from Admiral Turner, instructed the Commander of Destroyer Squadron FOUR to investigate the condition of the Canberra and Patterson (it was believed the latter might have been damaged) and to abandon and destroy them if they could not join in the withdrawal planned for 0630. At 0545 the situation remained obscure, and Admiral Crutchley sent a message to the escort forces ordering them to be prepared to give battle at dawn near the transports.

 

OUR DESTROYERS

Two of our destroyers, the Ellet and the Henley , were stationed off Tulagi. The Henley received Admiral Crutchley’s order to concentrate at 0206, deciphered it correctly, and attempted to join the Australia. She failed to find the cruiser, however, nearly collided with the Mugford, wandered about in the heavy rain and fog for several hours and finally turned to the XRAY area about dawn. On the way toward the beach she made sound contact with a submarine and dropped depth charges without positive results.

 

The Ellet had received Patterson’s warning of strange ships entering the harbor and saw the gunfire which followed. As the transports seemed safe within Tulagi inner harbor, the Ellet closed the scene of action at once. “Ceiling was low, visibility was reduced by moderate rain. Identification of own and enemy force was difficult.” The action was over before she arrived. Upon approaching a burning ship, she found it was the Astoria and began to pick up survivors who had been forced overboard, shortly moving along to rescue survivors from the Quincy. Before 0700 she had picked up nearly 500 officers and men. Of the destroyers stationed at XRAY, Dewey and Hull appear to have remained in the vicinity through the action. The Mugford, however, upon seeing gunfire to seaward, lighted off two more boilers and headed for the destroyer rendezvous at 25 knots. This was about 0210. After steaming a few minutes she encountered (and nearly collided with) the Henley. After some time near the latter and after some conversation with ComDesDiv SEVEN, Comdr. Robert Hall Smith, the Mugford moved on toward Savo. She passed men in the water before reaching the rendezvous, where she found the Selfridge.

 

That destroyer, with ComDesRon FOUR (Capt. Cornelius W. Flynn) aboard, had received Admiral Crutchley’s message shortly after 0200, misunderstood it as an order to concentrate northwest of Savo, and headed northwest at 20 knots. On the way she passed the burning Astoria and men in the water. After waiting at the rendezvous for a while, she saw the Mugford come up and fall in astern. The Helm and Wilson were also present. The Selfridge was returning to the transport area when she was ordered to stand by the Canberra. Upon arriving in the vicinity of the cruiser at 0640 she found the Patterson already removing personnel.

End of Part 4

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 3 Attack on The Northern Group ) 1

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

Chronological Table

[Times are very approximate and the relation of events largely conjectural]

 

 

Vincennes

 

Quincy

 

Astoria

 

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.
General alarm.
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.

 

 

 

Vincennes

 

Quincy

 

Astoria

 

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

 

Diamond Anniversary – The First Battle of Savo Island (Part 1) 1

The following information comes from the Official US Navy Records:

“The Battle of Savo Island and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons comprise one of a series of twenty-one published and thirteen unpublished Combat Narratives of specific naval campaigns produced by the Publications Branch of the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War II. Selected volumes in this series are being republished by the Naval Historical Center as part of the Navy’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II.

The Combat Narratives were superseded long ago by accounts such as Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II that could be more comprehensive and accurate because of the abundance of American, Allied, and enemy source materials that became available after 1945. But the Combat Narratives continue to be of interest and value since they demonstrate the perceptions of naval operations during the war itself. Because of the contemporary, immediate view offered by these studies, they are well suited for republication in the 1990s as veterans, historians, and the American public turn their attention once again to a war that engulfed much of the world a half century ago.

The Combat Narrative program originated in a directive issued in February 1942 by Admiral Ernest J. King, Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, that instructed the Office of Naval Intelligence to prepare and disseminate these studies. A small team composed of professionally trained writers and historians produced the narratives. The authors based their accounts on research and analysis of the available primary source material, including action reports and war diaries, augmented by interviews with individual participants. Since the narratives were classified Confidential during the war, only a few thousand copies were published at the time, and their distribution was primarily restricted to commissioned officers in the Navy.

The Guadalcanal Campaign was one of the most arduous campaigns of World War II. While it began auspiciously for American forces with little initial opposition from the Japanese, the battle quickly degenerated into a contest of wills that lasted for six months during which the tide of battle ebbed and flowed as both sides injected more and more forces into the struggle. The key to the entire campaign was the control of the sea approaches to Guadalcanal. The first of many Japanese challenges to American sea power was the Battle of Savo Island, one of the worst defeats ever suffered by the U.S. Navy. That engagement provided American naval forces with a bitter lesson in the superiority of Japanese nighttime naval tactics.

The U.S. Navy redeemed itself in another action that is described in this narrative. Two weeks after Savo Island, during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, American planes sank an enemy light carrier and a damaged seaplane carrier; and the Japanese lost 75 planes. American losses were 25 planes and damage to the carrier Enterprise. The significance of this battle was that it turned back the first major Japanese effort to retake Guadalcanal.

The Office of Naval Intelligence first published this narrative in 1943 without attribution. Administrative records from the period indicate that Ensign Winston B. Lewis wrote the account of the Battle of Savo Island, while Lieutenant (jg) Henry A. Mustin authored the description of the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. Both were Naval Reserve officers. Lewis was a professional historian who taught at Boston’s Simmons College prior to the war; after the war, he taught history and political science at Amherst College and later joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy. Before World War II, Mustin was a journalist with the Washington Evening Star. After the war, he returned to that newspaper and later was associated with the Columbia Broadcasting System, Mutual Broadcasting, and the Voice of America.

I wish to acknowledge the invaluable editorial and publication assistance offered in undertaking this project by Mrs. Sandra K. Russell, Managing Editor, Naval Aviation News magazine; Commander Roger Zeimet, USNR, Naval Historical Center Reserve Detachment 206; and Dr. William S. Dudley, Senior Historian, Naval Historical Center. We also are grateful to Rear Admiral Kendell M. Pease, Jr., Chief of Information, and Captain Jack Gallant, USNR, Executive Director, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps WW II 50th Anniversary Commemorative Committee, who generously allocated the funds from the Department of the Navy’s World War II commemoration program that made this publication possible.”

Dean C. Allard Director of Naval History

 

Introduction

THE MARINES landed in the Solomons in the early morning of 7 August 1942.1 On Guadalcanal the Japanese, apparently believing that only a naval raid was in prospect, retired to the hills, so that our landing was made almost without opposition. On the smaller islands, however, they could not withdraw. On Tulagi and Gavutu they offered the most desperate resistance, and on Tanambogo even succeeded in repulsing our first landing. Consequently on the evening of the 8th the Marines were still engaged in mopping up snipers or in securing their positions on these islands.

This stubborn resistance prevented the completion of our initial operation in one day as planned. Furthermore, the unloading of our transports and cargo vessels was considerably delayed by two air attacks on the 7th and another on the 8th. This protraction of the action had serious consequences, for late in the evening of the 8th our three aircraft carriers, the Wasp, Saratoga, and Enterprise, which had been providing air support from stations south of Guadalcanal, asked permission to retire. Not only was their fuel running low but they had lost 20 of their 99 fighters. Although they had not been sighted by the enemy, it was felt that they ought not to remain within a limited area where the enemy had shown considerable air strength.

In view of the Japanese air raids of the preceding 2 days, the prospective loss of our air protection would leave our ships in a precarious position. The danger was emphasized by information which was received from Melbourne sometime during the afternoon or evening of the 8th.2 This placed three Japanese cruisers, three destroyers and two gunboats or seaplane tenders at latitude 05°49′ S., longitude 156°07′ E., course 120° T., speed 15 knots at about 1130.3 This position is off the east coast of Bougainville, about 300 miles from Guadalcanal. Shortly before midnight Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Commander of the Amphibious Force, sent a message to Rear Admiral John S. McCain, Commander Aircraft, South Pacific Force, suggesting that this enemy force might operate torpedo planes from Rekata Bay, Santa Isabel Island, and recommending that strong air detachments strike there on the morning of the 9th.

Because of these developments a conference was held about midnight on board the McCawley, Admiral Turner’s flagship. In view of the danger of air attack it was decided to withdraw our ships as early as possible the following morning. Meanwhile the transports continued to unload and land supplies throughout the night both at Guadalcanal and at Tulagi-Gavutu. Supplies were particularly needed in the latter area because it had been necessary to land the Second Marines to reinforce our depleted forces there.

DISPOSITION OF OUR FORCES, NIGHT OF 8 AUGUST

Of the 19 transports in the Task Force, 14 were anchored or underway near Guadalcanal and 5 were in the Tulagi area on the night of 8-9 August. The latter were screened by an arc of vessels composed of the transport destroyers Colhoun, Little, and McKean, reinforced by the destroyers Henley and Ellet. The Monssen had been giving fire support to our troops on Makambo Island that evening, but with the fall of darkness had taken her assigned position screening the San Juan on patrol.

The larger group of transports off Guadalcanal was screened by several ships on the arc of a circle of 6,000 yards radius with the Tenaru River as its center. On this arc were the minesweepers Trever, Hopkins, Zane, Southard and Hovey, and the destroyers Selfridge, Mugford and Dewey. The transport George F. Elliott, which had been hit during the day’s bombing attack, had drifted eastward along the shallow water. As the fire on board could not be controlled, it was decided to sink her. In the evening the Dewey expended three torpedoes without sending her down. She was still burning brightly when the destroyer Hull, having taken off her crew for transfer to the Hunter Liggett, fired four more into her an hour before midnight. Even then she did not sink, but was still afloat and burning when our ships departed on the evening of the 9th.

The disposition of our cruisers and the remaining destroyers was governed by “Special Instructions to the Screening Group,” issued by Rear Admiral V. A. C. Crutchley, R. N., commander of the escort groups and second in command of the Amphibious Forces. To protect the disembarkation area from attack from the eastward, the American San Juan and the Australian Hobart, both light cruisers, were assigned to the area east of longitude 160° 04′ E., guarding Lengo and Sealark Channels. They were screened by the destroyers Monssen and Buchanan. At 1850 these ships began their patrol at 15 knots on courses 000° and 180° between Guadalcanal and the Tulagi area.

As a precaution against surprise from the northwest, two destroyers were assigned to radar guard and antisubmarine patrol beyond Savo Island. The Ralph Talbot was north of the island, patrolling between positions 08° 59′ S., 159° 55′ E. and 09° 01′ S., 159° 49′ E. The Blue was stationed west of the island between positions 09° 05′ S., 159° 42′ E.4 and 09° 09′ S., 159° 37′ E., patrolling on courses 051° and 231° at 12 knots.

The area inside Savo Island, between Guadalcanal and Florida, was divided into two patrol districts by a line drawn 125° T. from the center of Savo. It was upon the vessels patrolling these sectors that the Japanese raid was to fall. The area to the north of this line was assigned to the heavy cruisers Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy, screened by the Helm and Wilson. The last-named replaced the Jarvis, which had been damaged by a torpedo during the day’s air attack. This group was patrolling at a speed of 10 knots on a square, the center of which lay approximately midway between Savo and the western end of Florida Island. At midnight it turned onto course 045° T. and was to make a change of 90° to the right approximately every half hour.

The area to the south of the line was covered by the Chicago and H. M. A. S. Canberra, screened by the Patterson and Bagley. H. M. A. S. Australia was the flag and lead ship of this group, but at the time of the action she was absent, having taken Admiral Crutchley to the conference aboard the McCawley. Capt. Howard D. Bode of the Chicago was left in command of the group, although the Canberra ahead of his ship acted as guide. The group was steering various courses in a general northwest-southeast line–the base patrol course was 305°-125° T.–reversing course approximately every hour.

Admiral Crutchley’s instructions were that in case of a night attack each cruiser group was to act independently, but was to support the other as required.

In addition to the Melbourne warning, a dispatch had been received indicating that enemy submarines were in the area, and night orders placed emphasis on alertness and the necessity for keeping a sharp all-around lookout. The destroyers were to shadow unknown vessels, disseminate information and illuminate targets as needed. It was provided that if they should be ordered to form a striking force, all destroyers of Squadron FOUR except the Blue and Talbot were to concentrate 5 miles northwest of Savo Island.

This arrangement was to cause some confusion during the battle.

WARNINGS

There was no moon on the night of 8-9 August, and low-hanging clouds, moved by a 4-knot breeze from the northeast, drifted across the sky and added to the darkness. Occasional thundershowers swept the otherwise calm sea. Mist and rain hung heavily about Savo Island and visibility in that direction was particularly bad.

An hour before midnight the Astoria appears to have made a radar contact, but it is not clear whether it was on a ship or a plane.5 Most likely it was the latter, for about the same time the San Juan reported to the Vincennes by TBS6 that she had sighted an aircraft flying eastward from Savo Island, and this word was given the captain. At 2345 theRalph Talbot on patrol north of Savo sighted an unidentified, cruiser-type plane low over the island. She at once reported on both the TBO7 and TBS: “Warning, warning, plane over Savo headed east.” This was repeated for several minutes on both transmitters. Neither the Task Force Commander nor Commander Destroyer Squadron FOUR responded to his code call, and Commander Destroyer Division EIGHT undertook to get the warning through to Admiral Turner.

The Blue to the west of Savo received the Ralph Talbot’s warning and a moment later picked up the plane on her radar. Subsequently the plane could be heard as it apparently circled the island and moved off to the south. Some observers believed they saw its running lights. The Vincennes also heard the warning, but Admiral Crutchley did not hear of it until just before the battle started. The Quincy’s radar also picked up the plane, and the bridge reported it to Control Forward, but five or ten minutes later sent word to disregard the contact.

W. W. Johns, Fire Controlman, First Class, who was on watch in Spot I from 2000 to 2400, says that he turned over the following information to his relief: “A report had been received over the JS circuit that at about 2300 a radar contact on the Astoria SC radar had been made bearing north, distance 34 miles, no other data available.” Ens. William F. Cramer, who was on watch in Astoria’s radar plot during the same period, says that the radar antenna was operating through a 360° sweep, but that because of the surrounding land there was serious interference on all sides, except for a small arc varying from the west to the northwest, depending on the position of the ship. They were operating on a 30,000-yard scale and “nothing unusual was noticed on the screen.”

Planes continued to fly over at intervals during the next hour and a half. At about 0100 the Quincy (apparently then on a course of 225°) heard a plane pass to starboard going forward. At about the same time the watch in Astoria’s sky control reported to the bridge that a plane was overhead, and aircraft engines were heard and reported on the Canberra. Half an hour later the plane was heard, seemingly going in the opposite direction. Shortly after this, a plane crossed the Quincy’s port quarter. These contacts were reported to the bridge, but apparently were not passed on to the gunnery control stations, nor was any further warning broadcast to other ships, so far as can be determined.

The night was about to change

End of Part 1

The Galloping Ghost 2

I’M THE GALLOPING GHOST OF THE JAPANESE COAST

By Constantine Guiness, MOMM 1/C, USN

I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast.
You don’t hear of me and my crew
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan.
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.

I look sleek and slender alongside my tender.
With others like me at my side,
But we’ll tell you a story of battle and glory,
As enemy waters we ride.

I’ve been stuck on a rock, felt the depth charge’s shock,
Been north to a place called Attu,
and I’ve sunk me two freighters atop the equator
Hot work, but the sea was cold blue.

I’ve cruised close inshore and carried the war
to the Empire Island Honshu,
While they wire Yokahama I could see Fujiyama,
So I stayed, to admire the view.

When we rigged to run silently, deeply I dived,
And within me the heat was terrific.
My men pouring sweat, silent and yet
Cursed me and the whole damned Pacific.

Then destroyers came sounding and depth charges pounding
My submarine crew took the test.
Far in that far off land there are no friends on hand,
To answer a call of distress.

I was blasted and shaken (some damage I be taken),
my hull bleeds and pipe lines do, too
I’ve come in from out there for machinery repair,
And a rest for me and my crew.

I got by on cool nerve and in silence I served,
Though I took some hard knocks in return,
One propeller shaft sprung and my battery’s done,
But the enemy ships I saw burn.

I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast,
You don’t hear of me and my crew.
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan,
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.