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Raymond H. Kreyer
BM1c

USS Salt Lake City CA25
1940-1942

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USS SLC...Enlisted Navy...Raymond H. Kreyer, BM1c

US FLAG Ray passed away on April 24th, 2005. Info. from his widow, Dorothy
My Life as I see it
by Ray Kreyer

Sept. 17th, 2000

At the age of 16, after riding a bicycle as a message delivery boy for a telegraph company, I joined the Navy on Dec. 28, 1938. I was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station at Waukegan, IL. White I was there I leaned discipline, seamanship, use of firearms, Navy Regulations, and a lot more.

In June of 1939 I was assigned o the USS NEVADA, a battleship at Long Beach, CA. At that time I was in the 1st Division. We manned the 14 inch guns in #1 Turret. I was in the powder room and rolled the bags onto the ram after the shell was pushed into the gun. As I remember, we used three bags of powder about 14 inches in diameter and about 2 feet long. The whole ship would move side ways about 50 feet when a salvo was fired broadside.

Our Division had the anchors to maintain and used when the ship anchored. We also had to clean the ship from just aft (of #1 gun turret which consisted of 3 fourteen inch guns.) I spent two years on the USS NEVADA and was transferred to the USS SALT LAKE CITY, a heavy Cruiser stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It was on the cruiser SALT LAKE CITY I advanced to 1st class Boatswain Mate. I spent much of my time splicing wire cables. I saw most of my combat action in the southwest Pacific. We were the first American ship to dock in Brisbane, Australia in thirty years. Coming out of the harbor we got a big hawser in the propellers and I had to dive down and cut them out. When I came aboard I saw all the Marines manning machine guns or rifles. They were stationed all around the ship. When I asked what was going on I was told ... "Oh, we spotted sharks and didn't want them to get near you." This was in 1940 and at that time who would think we were to be attached to the Australian Navy in a few years at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Back at Pearl Harbor we met up with Admiral Halsey's Task Force. When Pearl Harbor was attacked we had spent a great amount of time looking for the Japanese Fleet, but as fate would have it we looked North and they came in from the South. The evening of Dec. 7, 1941, our planes from the Aircraft Carrier Enterprise were sent in to help out at Pearl Harbor, but because of a change recognition signals (which our pilots had no knowledge), all of the planes were shot down by our own forces stationed at Pearl Harbor. Many odd things like that happened during this war.

Our first action was with Halsey's Task Force 8. It was divided into three groups. The 1st group Halsey's Flag ship, the carrier Enterprise, with three destroyers, would strike Wotje, Maloelap and Kwajalein. The 2nd group, under Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, with the cruisers, Northampton and the USS Salt Lake City, plus one destroyer, would bombard Wotje. The 3rd group was under Captain Thomas M. Shock on the USS Chester with two destroyers would shell Maloelap. The attack was launched at 4:43 a.m. Feb. 1, 1942 under a full moon. Nine torpedo bombers and 37 dive bombers led off the attack. The dive bombers striking Roi air base on the northern end of the atoll and the torpedo bombers hitting Kwajalein Island across the lagoon. At Kwajalein, the hunting was better but in spite of the fact there was no fighters opposition and the reports brought back by pilots were enthusiastic, damage to the Japanese installations and shipping was slight.

Then we became part of Vice Admiral William Halsey's Task Force 16.1 Halsey's flagship was the Carrier Enterprise. The group consisted of two cruisers, Salt Lake City & Northampton, four destroyers and a tanker. They left Hawaii on April 8 to rendezvous on Feb. 13, 1942 with Task Force 16.2. This group was made up with the carrier Hornet (carrying the 16 B-25 bombers commanded by Doolittle) and two cruisers, Nashville & Vincennes. In addition, 2 submarines patrolled the area in advance of and to the flanks of the groups.

The Japanese were aware of some sort of action being conducted by the Americans. The Japanese expected some sort of an attack about April 16th. The Japanese gathered a large fleet of fishing boats equipped with radios to guard the approaches to Japan.

The Task Force surged west at 16 knots for 5 days. To reach the rendezvous on Feb. 13th the US Task Force was on constant alert and hoping to launch General Doolittle's Mitchell B-25 Bombers (this is a medium bomber with twin Wright Cyclones engines and a twin tail) on April 19th.

After the tankers and destroyers left, the Task Force with two carriers, Enterprise, Hornet and four cruisers, Salt Lake City, Northampton, Nashville and Vincennes, as escorts, increased the speed to 20 knots.

On the Hornet, the 16 B-25s had 467 feet of runway. It had two white lines painted on it. One was for their left wheel, the other for the nose wheel. This would give the pilot about 6 feet clearance of the Hornet's island.

At 3 a.m. on April 18th the Enterprise reported a radar sighting of two enemy surface crafts. At dawn the Enterprise launch search and fighter planes, Douglas SBD & GRUMMAN F4F. One boat was spotted and about this time lookouts on the Hornet spotted a Japanese Patrol boat, #23, the NITTO MARU. The Japanese radioed a report to Japan. Halsey ordered the Nashville to deal with the boat. At 8 a.m. Halsey flashed a message to the Hornet to launch the B-25s. The Task Force was 600 miles offshore of Japan, 200 miles short of the planned point of take-off.

On board the Salt Lake City, I could still see the bombers taking off the Hornet. Those planes looked as if everyone would fall in the sea on take-off. As the ships bow was rising, a signal was given to the pilot and the plane would rush forward and take off the deck, but by not having quite enough speed as yet, the wheels almost hit the water. I believe every one of them had a little help from God.

Doolittle was in the first B-25, so he had the shortest runway. Each plane gained a few more feet vacated by the other B-25. All 16 planes were off by 9:20 a.m......one leaving every 5 minutes.

Three minutes after Doolittle's plane was off, the Nashville sand the Japanese boat Mitto Maru. Although a search was made, no survivors were found. It took 938 rounds of 5 inch ammunition.

It would be a year before the Japanese learned the source of this raid. Morale in Japan sank. The people felt they had been lied to. They had been told that the Island was invulnerable. To cover this, the Japanese leaders told more lies.

Temporarily able to roam at will throughout the Pacific, the Japanese turned to Australian waters. Early in May, 1942, a US observation plane sighted a great Japanese armada in the Coral Sea, which separates Australia from the Solomon Islands. The Japanese ships were stationed there to secure Japan's hold on New Guinea and the Solomons and thus assure the cutting of US supply lanes to Australia.

The first of Japan's planned expansion moves in the Spring of 1942 for control of the Coral Sea through seizure of the Southern Solomon Islands and Port Moresby on New Guinea from which to knock out growing allied air power in northeastern Australia. Seizure of New Caledonia, planned as part of the third step in the second major series of offensives, would complete encirclement of the Coral Sea. This would leave the US communications route to the Anzac area dangling useless at the Samoan Islands, and later Japanese advances would push the US Pacific Fleet back to Pearl Harbor and perhaps even to the west coast.


The Japanese anticipated resistance from a US carrier task force known to be lurking somewhere to the south or southeast, but they expected to corner this force in the eastern Coral Sea with a pincers movement of carrier task force of their own. Vice Admiral Takeo Takagi would skirt to the east of the Solomons with is Striking Force of heavy carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, and move in on the US ships from that direction while Read Admiral Aritomo Goto's covering force built around the light carrier Shoho and would close in from the northwest. Destruction of the northeast Australian airfields would follow this fatal pinch of the US fleet, and then the Port Moresby Invasion group could ply the southeastern coast of New Guinea with impunity.

But Japanese over-confidence enabled US intelligence to diagnose this operation in advance of the battle that would take place from May 3- 9, 1942. Fletcher's Task Force 17 had streamed into the Coral Sea May 3 where he all but completed refueling before the first Japanese elements sorted from Rabaul. On May 4th, Fletcher's Lexington, Yorktown screening ships and support vessels were joined by the combined Australian-American surface force under Read Admiral J. C. Crace of the Royal Navy.

On the previous day the Japanese had started their operation (which they called MO) like any other land grab. A suitable invasion force, adequately supported, moved into the Southern Solomons, seized Tulagi without opposition and promptly began setting up a seaplane base. There Fletcher's planes startled them the next day with several powerful air strikes on the new garrison and on the Japanese ships still in the area. The US carrier planes struck virtually unopposed but they caused little damage in proportion to the energy and ammunition they expended. This startling deviation from the MO script caused the Japanese to initiate the remaining steps of the operation without further delay.

Early that morning an over-enthusiastic Japanese search plane brought Takagi's entire striking air power down on the US fleet tanker Neosho and her lone convoying destroyer, the USS Sims, by reporting them as a carrier and heavy cruiser respectively. The overwhelming attack sank the Sims and damaged the Neosho that she had to be destroyed four days later.

Not to be undone, the Americans reacted similarly a short time later to a scout plane's report of two Japanese carriers and four cruisers north of the Louisiades. Actually these crafts were subordinate enemy task groups consisting of two old light cruisers and three converted gunboats. But more by good luck than good management, the attacking planes investigating the report sighted the Japanese covering force. The protecting the left flank of the Port Moresby invasion group and concentrated on the Shoho to the virtual exclusion of her consorts. Against 93 aircraft of all types, the one lone light carrier had no more chance than task force Neosho or Sims had against the Japanese and her demise prompted the morale boosting phase "Scratch one flattop"!

As a result of these alarms and excursions, both commanding admirals had missed each other again. By mid-afternoon, however Takagi had a pretty good idea of the US carriers location and shortly before nightfall they dispatched a bomber-torpedo strike against Fletcher. Thanks to a heavy weather front, these planes failed to find their target and American combat air patrol intercepted them on their attempted return. In the confusion of dogfights, several Japanese lost direction in the gathering darkness and made the error of attempting to land on the Yorktown.

Early the following morning, US search planes finally located the Japanese carriers at about the time the Japanese rediscovered the US flattops. At last the stage was set for the big show.

Loss of the Shoho had cut the Japanese down to size. The opponents who slugged it out on May 8, 1942 were evenly matched, physically and morally, to a degree rarely found in warfare, afloat or ashore. However at the time the battle developed, the Japanese enjoyed the great tactical advantage of having their position shrouded by the same heavy weather front that had covered the US carriers the previous afternoon, while Fletcher's force lay in clear tropical sunlight where it could be seen for many miles from aloft.

The attacking aircraft of both parties struck their enemy at nearly the same time (approx. 11 a.m.), passing each other en-route. The two Japanese carriers and their respective escorts lay about ten miles apart. As the Yorktown's planes orbited over the target preparatory to the attack, the Zuikuku and her screening force disappeared into a rain squall and were seen no more during the brief action that followed, thereby escaping damage. So all US planes that reached the scene concentrated on the Skokuku, with disappointing results.

The Yorktown's torpedo bombers went in first, low and covered by fighters. But faulty technique and the wretched quality of US torpedoes at that stage of the war, combined to make this attack wholly ineffective. Hits (if any) proved to be duds. The pilots launched at excessive ranges and the torpedoes traveled so slowly that vessels unable to dodge had only to outrun them. The dive bombers following closely scored only two direct hits.

But one of these so damaged the Skikaku's flight deck that she could no longer launch planes, although she still was capable of recovering them. Many of the Lexington's planes, taking off ten minutes after those from the Yorktown, got lost in the overcast and never found their targets. Those that did attack made the same mistakes the Yorktown fliers committed. The torpedoes proved wholly ineffective, and the damaging bomb hit on the Skokaku was something less than lethal despite the pilot's enthusiastic report that she was settling fast.

The Japanese did considerably better, thanks to vastly superior torpedoes and launching techniques. Two of the power fish ripped great holes in the Lexington's port side and she sustained two direct bomb hits plus numerous near misses that sprang plates. The more maneuverable Yorktown dodged all of the torpedoes aimed at her and escaped all but one of the bombs. But this was an 800 pounder and it exploded with such a spectacular display of flame and smoke that the Japanese pilots may be excused their claim that they had sunk her.

These events made up the Battle of the Coral Sea. It was all over by 11:40 a.m.

Preoccupation of both forces with the flattops left opposing escort vessels. Although the Japanese claimed to have left burning one battleship or cruiser, the Americans had sustained far the heavier damage and casualties, but had inflicted the greater tactical blow in knocking the Shokaku out of further offensive action while both US carriers still were operational.... even the crippled Lexington had put out fires, shored up torpedo damage and was capable of sustaining 25 knot speed and conducting nearly normal flight operations an hour after the battle ended.

The Japanese had lost the greater number of planes: 43 from all causes against 33 for the Americans. Their command accepting at face value the ecstatic reports of their pilots that they had sunk both US carriers, started the beat-up Skokaku for home and in the afternoon commenced withdrawal from the area on orders from Rabaul. Admiral Takagi concurred with higher authority that it would be unwise to risk the vulnerable transport convoy in the narrowing waters of the western Coral Sea in face if the Allies' Australian airfields under cover of the whittled-down air complement of the single operational carrier. So the Port Mosesby Invasion Group was ordered back to Rabual.

But the final tragic act of the drama remained. The gallant old Lexington, her wounds patched up, apparently fit to return to Pearl Harbor for permanent repairs, was suddenly racked by a terrible explosion. This resulted only indirectly from enemy action. Released gasoline fumes were ignited by sparks from a generator someone had carelessly left running. This set off what amounted to a chain reaction. The best efforts of her crew availed nothing and at 1707 hour, her skipper gave the order to abandon ship. This movement was carried our in the best order without the loss of a man. At about 2000 hour, nearly nine hours after the Japanese had withdrawn from the battle, torpedoes of her own escort put her under the waves forever.

Loss of the Lexington gave tactical victory to the Japanese but by thwarting the invasion of Port Moresby, principal objective of the entire operation, the United States won strategic victory at the time the enemy regarded this merely a postponement of their invasion plan, but events would prove that no Japanese sea born invasion ever would go near Port Moresby again.

Our ship was in the battle of the Coral Sea. We took a Japanese 7" shell in our #1 boiler room, which of course put us out of action. I might add that hit might not have happened but our Captain saw another Cruiser burning and maneuvered our ship so we drew the Japanese fire power away from them as we were silhouetted when we pulled between them and the Japanese. I forgot to mention this was in a night sea battle at Salvo Island.

We then went to the Coral Sea and on down to Aukland, New Zealand. We picked up the ships that were to invade the Japanese strong hold of Guadalcanal. We escorted them to that Island and shelled the beach before the troops landed. The island became the site of the first important Allied offensive in the Pacific. After several months of fierce fighting (Aug. 42-Feb. 43), the Japanese were forced to evacuate and the Allies made Guadalcanal a major base.

When we pulled into the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for repairs, I was transferred to the Washington DC Naval Base. I spent six months there at the Deep Sea Diving School. At that time I was a 1st Class Boatswain Mate, so I was in charge of the 150 man class.

In Dec. of that year, Dorothy came from St. Paul and on Dec. 27, 1942 on a Sunday afternoon in Saint Matthew's Catholic Cathedral, we were married. My mother always found it hard to believe that we could be married on a Sunday, but the service people had a special disposition at that time. You may have noticed that we were married two days after Christmas. This coming Dec. 27th, we hope to celebrate 55 years of marriage. During my training I was put on temporary duty at Pier 88 to help raise the Normandy, which was sunk in that harbor by the New York City fire department.

After Diving School, Dorothy returned to St. Paul and I had a chance to either make a movie about Deep Sea Diving or go to San Diego, CA. at the Submarine Base. I selected the later because it may last longer, but didn't. After 20 days I was on a train headed for Norfolk, VA., with a ship salvage unit. We stayed there training for several months. Then we went to Lidio Beach, NY where the unit boarded the Queen Mary, a passenger ship converted to carry troops. We disembarked in Roseneath, Scotland. Later we were sent to Plymouth, England and I was made Chief Boatswain Mate there.

After a few months I was assigned to be the diver of the Utah beach in Normandy, France and later joined up with a salvage unit at Cherbourg, France. Our unit cleaned up the ports (of ships the Germans sunk upon leaving those area) of Cherbourg, Rouen, and LaHarve France. The unit worked hard at this time and I took my turn diving with the rest of the crew.

On one of my turns to dive, the crew told me to go right then make a ninety degree turn upon which brought me face to face with a man waving his arms at me. The guy didn't have a diving suit on. I was so startled I let out a yell. That is what my crew wanted, as the diver before me found this dead German and tied him up to the anchor chain and the current did the rest.

I flew back to LaHarve and was soon sent back to New York Pier 88 where in due time I was to be discharged. I could have been sent to the Deep Sea Diving School as an instructor, and become a Warrant Officer or be discharged. I chose to be discharged in Sept. of 1946 after eight years of service.

I started working for the Northern States Power Co. in Oct. of 1946 and retired in June of 1979.


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SLC Deck Log, Nov. 1942
Memorandums from 1941-1942
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