The following letter was sent to me by Janet Veit, U.S.S. SLC Assoc. Vice President.
It was sent to her by someone that received it by mistake. We're hoping to locate
a family member so the original letter can be given to them.
Sat. Jan. 16th, 1943
Now that the news of the battle off Savo Island has been released to newspapers in the States, I am allowed by the censor to tell you the story you undoubtedly want to hear.
The heavy Cruiser “Salt Lake City”, with several other cruisers, including the light cruiser “Boise” and several destroyers, was designated as a special task force, with orders to break up the night landings made by the Japs on Guadalcanal Island.
On many occasions during late September and early October of 1942, the Japanese would load thousands of their best trained troops aboard fast destroyers, cruisers, and auxiliary transports, and under cover of air protection, race down the “Alley”, which is the waters between the parallel rows of islands which form the Solomons Group. On several occasions these convoys were sighted by American Flying Fortresses, but bombing from great heights was not very effective, due to “Zero” protection and A.A. fire. The Japs would race down at 25-30 knots, reaching the Cape Esperance area around midnight, disembark their troops, equipment, ammunition, etc. then race away. By the time they could be located after dawn they were usually 150-180 miles to the north, and under Japanese aerial protection.
Well, our task force arrived in the area known as “Indian Country” about October 9th. We received a report that an attempt would be made to land troops on the night of October 10th-11th, but the Japs didn’t show up. However, we received reports on the morning of October 11th that Army Planes had spotted a Japanese force moving down from the Shortland area. We kept well out of range of possible Japanese scouting planes, then late that afternoon we raced in toward Savo Island, at 30 knots, arriving in the area about 10:00 at night. About 11:30 we sighted Japanese ships coming in from the north at high speed. Although the night was very dark, we spotted them at 8 ˝ miles. They evidently did not see us, or else thought we were other Jap ships.
Anyway, we let them come on until they were less than two miles away, then we opened up with the most deadly firing I ever expect to see! My battle station is topside, directing the fire of the 5” guns, and I saw the whole show.
I think that every American ship opened fire on one unlucky Jap cruiser and he suddenly caught on fire and blew up. He blew up in a big cloud of steam and smoke, never even fired a shot back. The other Jap ships didn’t know what they had stumbled into --- and were so confused they didn’t know whether to shoot or not. Anyway, for the first 20 minutes of the battle, we sank one ship after another, and the poor devils never even fired back at us. I figure we sank three cruisers, a transport, and at least one destroyer in this phase of the fight.
Finally, a Jap heavy cruiser appeared from somewhere --- hit the “Boise” with eight large and five smaller shells and the “Boise” caught on fire and pulled out of the fight. The Japs had the range on the “Boise”, so we maneuvered in between the Japs and the “Boise” to save her and draw the Japanese shellfire to allow the “Boise” to escape. The range between us and the Japs closed to about a mile, which is just like shooting a man with a pistol at a range of one foot --- you can’t miss!
Before the Japs could shift on us, we hit him with everything we had, again and again and again. All I can remember was our salvos going off with a roar that can’t be described. The decks trembled and I thought the ship would be shaken to pieces by our own concussions.
We then ended the battle by sinking two more destroyers for sure, possible a third one. There didn’t seem to be any more targets to shoot at, so we got the hell out of there.
I figure the Japs lost four cruisers, one transport and four or five destroyers, together with 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers and sailors, these being killed by shellfire or drowned when their ships disappeared.
It turns out that two Jap destroyers escaped and hung around all night to pick up survivors, but Marins T.B. F.’s (the most deadly torpedo plane in the world) arrived at dawn and sank both destroyers, killing their crews and all survivors they had on board.
Well, that’s the story of one of the battles that the old “Salt Lake City” has been in.
The “Boise” being badly damaged had to go to Philadelphia for repairs, where she graciously accepted credit for the entire battle, and became a newspaper here. Some newspapers called the “Boise” a “One Ship Fleet”--- but the Salt Lake did three times as much damage in that battle as the “Boise” and I know it – and most of the Boise’s crew is aware of the fact! In fact, the day after the battle, they said we “saved” them, and we did too! But we are not jealous, let them get the credit, as long as we know we did more than our share toward ending this war.
The Jap fleet is getting very scares. There have been five battles in the Solomon area, in which we lost the first round, and won the last four. The Jap Fleet is very badly crippled, and our fleet is getting bigger every day.
Jimmy Andrews can tell you about the other battles he was in, and I would like to tell you some more details, etc. that are restricted, but that can wait.
I am receiving your letters OK. If you have any questions about the Battle of Savo, let me know and I will answer if possible.
Ensign C. W. Kilpatrick
U.S.S. Salt Lake City
Battle of Cape Esperance Index