The Bravest Deed I know
This is the story of
Captain Ernest G. "Shorty" Small and his ship, the USS SALT LAKE CITY. Fletcher Pratt, noted expert on naval history and strategy, offers it as the finest moment he recalls from his years of study of men and battles.
October, 1942, was a black month in the Pacific war. Although the Marines had landed on Guadalcanal, Jap re-enforcements threatened to push them back into the sea. The Navy had only a few cruisers and destroyers, but on the night of October 11, they moved up to deal with the Jap counterattack. Captain Small’s Salt Lake City, one of the oldest cruisers in the fleet, followed astern of the sleek new BOISE.
The cruisers patrolled a line the Japs had to cross to reach Guadalcanal. Ten o’clock….even o’clock….all quiet. Then at 11:40, the HELEN reported unidentified ships on her radar. Searchlights probed the dark. Suddenly light splashed against enemy craft---slim cruisers darting between bulky troop transports. Shorty Small barked his command: “Commence firing!”
Star shells bloomed in the night, and 8-inch shells lashed a Jap cruiser until she exploded in flame. The gunners shifted fire, and another enemy ship split under the attack. Suddenly the BOISE got it. Shorty Small, from his own bridge, could see her turrets hurtling toward the sky as the Jap cruiser FURUTAKA caught the BOISE broadside. Small watched the American vessel stagger out of column, flaming. She seemed doomed. Instantly Small threw the SALT LAKE between the Jap and his crippled sister ship. Silhouetted by the BOISE’S flames, the SALT LAKE was a perfect target. At less than 5,000 yards the FURUTAKA turned her guns on her new victim, raking the SALT LAKE. A second Jap salvo cracked into her armor belt.
Then the SALT LAKE gunners talked back, Yankee style. It took less than a minute---the crack crews were firing a salvo every 12 seconds and the fourth blast split the FURUTAKA wide open.
The SALT LAKE and the BOISE limped home. The Japs were stopped --- but for the SALT LAKE men, the battle had a pay-off. The first SALT LAKERS to visit the BOISE came aboard at chow time. Instead of the usual wait in line, a grateful crew virtually forced them into the No. 1 spots. And below decks in the Navy, that’s a real decoration.