The Two Ocean War
by Samuel Eliot Morison

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This is a section of the book, The Two-Ocean War, written by
Samuel Eliot Morison, that mentions the USS Salt Lake City CA25


Written on the inside cover of the book.

Here is a book that at last deserves the adjective "unique" ----a one-volume history of the United States Navy in World War II by the only man competent to write it: Samuel Eliot Morison, author of the monumental and definitive fifteen-volume HISTORY OF UNITED STATES NAVAL OPERATIONS IN WORLD WAR II

While this single volume is of course based on his official history, Admiral Morison has undertaken no mere condensation. This book has been wholly re-written from its longer counterpart; it clears away the underbrush of detail but retains in all their eloquence the great action pieces of the longer work: the preparation for the war, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the long war of attrition between submarines and convoys in the Atlantic, the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the long grind of Guadalcanal, the leapfrogging campaigns among the Pacific islands, the invasion of continental Europe, the penultimate blazes of glory at Leyte and Okinawa, and the final grudging surrender of the Japanese.

In its sweep and grandeur this big volume is a blazing record of American hardihood, resourcefulness and courage. It is ample enough to dramatize all of the strategic arguments which went on between Churchill and King, between MacArthur and Chester W. Nimitz; it is rich enough to reveal the glory of individual feats of arms, particularly in the fierce independence of submarine warfare; it airs the major errors, on our own side as well as on the enemy's. In this volume Admiral Morison has been able to take into account many of the works which have been written about the great war since his multi-volume project was begun; and this book contains certain changes of attitude and modifications of the author's previous views.

This is a superb volume in appearance as well as in the reading; it contains 52 charts and 25 pages of photographs.


About the Author

Samuel Eliot Morison, Professor Emeritus of American History at Harvard, was convinced that too many histories were written from the "outside looking in". He felt that more was to be gained by writing in contact with the events, when most of the participants were alive, than by waiting until the ships were broken up and the sailors had departed.

Just after Pearl Harbor, Professor Morison went to President Roosevelt with his idea. The President was enthusiastic. So was Secretary Knox. Before he knew it, Professor Morison was Lieutenant Commander Morison, USNR, with the active writing assignment that he had suggested.

For the remainder of the war, Morison spent more than half of his time at sea, with active duty on eleven different ships, emerging a Captain with seven battle stars on his service ribbons. He was present at Operation Torch, the North Atlantic invasions; he served on Atlantic convoys, and his journeying took him through most of the combat areas of the Pacific during the height of the conflict. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Rear Admiral and died in 1976 in his 89th year.


Excerpts from the book starting on page 266 to page 271

For over nine months after Midway, events in this sector were a sequence of naval bombardment by us which did no damage, reinforcement missions by the enemy which accomplished nothing, and operations by United States submarines which usefully diminished the Japanese merchant marine. Finally, on 26 March, 1943, a really interesting event broke: the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. A small task group under Rear Admiral Charles H. McMorris fought a retiring action against a Japanese force of twice its size and fire power; the battle lasted without a break for three and a half hours of daylight; the contestants slugged it out with gunfire at ranges of eight to over twelve miles, without intrusion by air power or submarines. It was a miniature version of the sort of fleet action that the Navy, after World War I, expected to fight in the next war, with the important difference that neither side did the other any great damage.

Admiral McMorris's task group had been cruising on a north-south line west of Attu for several days in order to intercept Japanese reinforcement of that island. He flew his flag on twenty year old light cruiser Richmond (Captain T. W. Waldschmidt); with him were heavy cruiser SALT LAKE CITY ball-red-02 Deceased (Captain Bertram J. Rodgers), repaired and freshly overhauled since the Cape Esperance battle, and four destroyers under Captain Ralph S. Riggs.

At 0800 March 26, 1943, a clear calm day with temperature just above freezing, this task group ran slap into Vice Admiral Hosogaya's Northern Area Force of two heavy cruisers (Nachi, flag), two light cruisers and four destroyers, about halfway between Attu and Kamchatka. The ensuing action, fought south of the Komandorski Islands, resembled the Battle of the Java Sea a year earlier. Hosogaya here, like Takagi there, was escorting and covering a reinforcement group of transports and freighters; and McMorris here, like Doorman there, first tried to get at the transports, but soon had to fight for his life. The outcome was very different.

At 0840, before the Americans ships had had time to change from scouting line to battle order, the enemy opened fire on RICHMOND at 20,000 yards, made a close straddle on the second salvo, then shifted gunfire to SALT LAKE CITY. Throughout the action this heavy cruiser received almost all the enemy's attention. She commenced return fire with her forward turrets at 0842, and at a range of over ten miles made hits on Nachi with her third and forth salvos, starting fires that were quickly brought under control.

Nachi now launched a salvo of eight torpedoes which failed to score because of the extreme range; and the same thing happened to all other Japanese torpedoes launched in this fight. SALT LAKE was now doing some fancy shooting at long range, and all that time nimbly darting and pirouetting like a ballet dancer to throw off the enemy aim. Captain Rodgers "chased salvos" with notable success. Flagship RICHMOND and the destroyers conformed their movements to hers; old "Swayback Maru", as the sailors called SALT LAKE CITY, was Queen of the North Pacific that day.

The second Japanese heavy cruiser, Maya, at 0910 made her first hit on SALT LAKE. It failed to stop or even slow her down. Ten minutes later, she and Nachi were swapping punches at a range of almost twelve miles. McMorris now turned his force north, hoping to make an end run around the Japanese warships and get at the transports; but Hosogaya was too fast for him. At 1002 SALT LAKE briefly had steering trouble, and a few minutes later she took another hit. There was a big laugh on RICHMOND'S bridge when the OTC received a message from Admiral Thomas Cassin Kinkaid at Adak, promising to get Army bombers out to help him "within five hours," and "suggesting that a retiring action be considered."

Retirement, indeed, was now the only thing to do. McMorris first steered west under good smoke cover which the Japanese range finders, having no radar, were unable to penetrate. But this course carried the Americans nearer and nearer to the Japanese base at Paramushiro. So at 1100 McMorris turned his force south to disengage. No sooner done than SALT LAKE suffered a serious 8 inch hit which flooded the after engine room. She continued firing at declining speed, for twenty miles and almost one hour longer, then she went dead in the water. (NOTE:...See My Speed Zero for "the rest of the story") McMorris reacted by closing in RICHMOND to make smoke and help defend Old Swayback, and (in a magnificent but desperate gesture), ordering three of his four destroyers to deliver a torpedo attack on the fast-approaching enemy. Everyone who could help damage control on board SALT LAKE did, and everyone else prayed. Before the destroyers had been gone five minutes, what looked like a miracle occurred. Admiral Hosogaya broke off action and turned his entire force west, hotly pursued by BAILEY, COGHLAN & MONAGHAN

Hosogaya really flunked out. He was anxious to get home; smoke concealed from him SALT LAKE'S desperate plight, and he feared that American air bombers from Dutch Harbor would arrive shortly. Destroyer BAILEY gave NACHI'S superstructure a good dusting with close in 5 inch fire to firm up his decision to depart. It is no wonder that this Japanese admiral was shortly put on the beach.

SALT LAKE recovered propulsion as eight bells struck, then shaped a course for Dutch Harbor, and a repair base. NACHI, too, needed several jobs done on her; and as the Japanese transports also returned to Paramushiro, there was no doubt as to who won this battle. During the action SALT LAKE fired 832 rounds, NACHI 707 and MAYA 904 rounds of 8-inch shell. BAILEY, the only American destroyer to get close enough to the retiring enemy to use torpedoes, fired five, which missed; the Japanese ships fired 43, and all missed. So this battle deserves a place in the history of naval warfare as the last heavy gunfire daylight action, with no interference by air power, submarines or torpedoes. The demonstration of superior gunnery was tremendously heartening to the United States Navy.

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Battle of the Komandorski Island Index

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