Sinking Jap Warship Like
'Stepping on a Cockroach'

By B. J. M'Quaid, Special Correspondence
of the Chicago Daily News Foreign Service.
The Chicago Daily News Inc.
In Pearl Harbor. Feb. 6th, 1943

Note from Sandy Eskew, Historian

This "clipping" states that "This is the second and final installment of the story of the USS SALT LAKE CITY, a heavy cruiser, and the part she played in the battles of Savo Island in the Solomons last October."

I'm typing it "as is"... Not sure how accurate the story is.

Source: SLC Memorabilia Collection

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Our forces began maneuvering to confuse the enemy and close with him. It was 11:47 p.m. when the Americans opened fire, and by that time the leading Jap ship was within 5,000 yards.

Our ships shot, in that opening salvo, at the enemy leader, identified as a light cruiser. The cruiser burst immediately into flames and our ships checked fire while they hunted for individual targets. It was apparent even before the battle was joined that this was no ordinary "Bougainville express." The Jap force was vastly superior. Lookouts and spotters quickly identified four heavy cruisers, two or three light cruisers and "any number of destroyers." In addition, there were auxiliaries - probably troop transports. It was a big offensive force going down to bombard the American positions on Guadalcanal and probably to attempt a landing on the beachheads held by the Americans nearest to Henderson field. The first shells fired by the Japs in the engagement were loaded with bombardment and fragmentation charges, rather than armor-piercing ammunition.

Like Stepping on a Cockroach

For its second target the SALT LAKE CITY chose a heavy cruiser. It let the Japs close the range from 9,000 yards to 5,000 yards before it fired.

"There was no more thrill to it," said ball-red-02 Lt. Lyle Ramsey, Abilene, TX. member of the crew, "than watching a fat cockroach come waddling across the floor toward you. You just keep your eye on him and watch him come in and in your own good time you put your heel down on him. That's the way we felt about that cruiser."

The SALT LAKE CITY fired two 10-gun salvos of eight-inch shells. On the second the Jap ship blew up in a reddish-yellow sheet of flame 300 feet square. It went down in a great hissing of smoke and spray.

The SALT LAKE CITY's third target was an auxiliary, believed to be a troop transport. Seven salvos -- 70 eight-inch shells - were pumped into the Jap ship before it plunged down by the head, the propellers dangling high in the air, dripping in the glare of the searchlights. As the up thrust stern started under, the boys from the SALT LAKE CITY put their seventh salvo into it, for luck.

Destroyer Spotted

Now came a report that three Jap destroyers were running in fast to deliver torpedo attacks. The SALT LAKE CITY took the nearest one. It caught the Jap with a single salvo of its ten guns at only 1,500 yards. The destroyer disappeared instantly from the face of the sea. Other American ships finished off the other two and no torpedoes found a mark.

It was midnight now. There was a brief lull, while the American's hunted fresh targets. None could be found except six or eight blazing hulks of enemy warships and auxiliaries. When firing was resumed the SALT LAKE CITY shot in leisurely fashion at the burning wrecks, "stirring up the fires." It took four of them in rotation. The fourth was thought to be the same light cruiser against which she and the other Americans had directed their first fire at the beginning of the engagement.

Suffers Little Damage

The SALT LAKE CITY had suffered little damage, though four of its personnel had been killed by showers of shrapnel from an enemy spread which had fallen short and exploded as it struck the sea. Among the mortally wounded was ball-red-02 Deceased Lloyd Edgar Acree, ammunition handler for one of the five-inch AA guns. He fell to the deck and died, still clutching in his arms the shell he had been passing.

"He died cradling that shell in his arms like a baby," Brewer said. "True to his training and indoctrination, the last thought of that boy's life was that he must not drop the shell and let it go rolling loose."

ball-red-02 Deceased Vernard Eugene Bivin, S1c, also was fatally hit. He was a gun trainer. He kept his station, kept on t raining his gun during four salvos after he was hit.

Boise Pounded by Jap

Except for the destroyers, one of which was so badly damaged it sand the next day, none of the American ships suffered much damage until after the lull in the firing at midnight. Suddenly, as the SALT LAKE CITY pumped deliberate salvos into the burning light cruiser, it became aware that the USS BOISE, dead ahead of it in the formation, was being heavily hit. Another Jap heavy cruiser, appearing suddenly out of nowhere, had closed with the six-inch gunned BOISE and was slugging it mercilessly, at a range of less than 5,000 yards. To make matters worse, enemy destroyers were reported coming in again, and in turning bow onto them to avoid torpedoes, the BOISE was forced to close still further with the "heavy" which so patently "had her number." As it turned hard to starboard the SALT LAKE CITY, to avoid ramming it, turned hard to port and then, as the blazing BOISE swung back again and away from the Jap "heavy," the SALT LAKE CITY swung in to the position it have vacated, squarely in the path of the punishing Jap fire. The Jap had the range automatically and had nothing to do but keep on shooting.

Jap Fires One Salvo

The Jap ship got to fire one salvo. One shell penetrated one of the SALT LAKE CITY's forward fire rooms, killed a seaman, flooded the fire room with hundreds of gallons of oil and started a bad fire. But before the Jap could shoot again the American ship had fired its own batteries. The Jap fell silent after this opening salvo from the SAL LAKE CITY. After four more salvos the Jap vessel sank.

It was a quarter after midnight and the action was over. All the Jap ships had either been sunk or had retreated and escaped in the darkness or were blazing furiously.

Some days later the SALT LAKE CITY put in here for repairs and an overhaul. No bands blared, no sirens blew, as she slipped up to her pier. Eagerly her people read in mainland papers the account of the BOISE's noisy welcome on the East Coast. This was not resented. The BOISE was a grand ship, they knew, and had put up a gloriously aggressive and effective fight.

SLC Makes' Up Song About Self

"If it's submarines you're haunting,
If an island base you're wanting,
She's the one-ship fleet;
Oh, oh, oh,
Off we're gonna shuffle,
shuffle off to Tokyo."

Talking with the ship's men, you get inklings of the sort of thing that makes a record like this possible. A spirited bunch, these SALT LAKE lads. Good, and they know it. But none of them praises himself. They "build up" each other and the ship. The communicators, the engineers and the damage control men say their gunners are the best in the world. The gunners reciprocate the feeling, with interest. They are all loudly and sincerely aggressive. They have a new song, but, unfortunately, almost all of it is unprintable. One line recurs again and again: "We're gonna lick the whole ____ ____Jap Navy!"

One of the things the ship is proudest of is the youth of her department heads and senior officers. Captain Small is in his 50's and her executive officer at the time of the battle, ball-red-02 Deceased Commander Grayson B. Carter, is in his late 40's. But none of the others is yet out of his 30's.

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