Navy to Sink Proud Old Cruiser
Sunday, May 16th, 1948
Los Angeles Times

Angry Muzzles That Poured Steel at Japanese
in Marshalls to be Cold when Death Strikes


They'll tow Old Swayback Maru out to blue water sometime next week---and sink her.

Our own guns will train on her battered, lop-eared carcass. But Old Swayback's rifles won't answer. The angry muzzles that poured steel at the enemy in the Marshalls when the US Navy was backed to the wall in 1942 at Jap-held Wake, Guadalcanal, the Aleutians, Leyte, Iwo and Okinawa---those muzzles will be cold and still.

Maybe you know Old Swayback as "the One-Ship Navy.' She got that name at Cape Esperance on Oct. 11, 1942, when she personally promoted a Nipponese heavy cruiser and destroyer to the locker of Master Davy. Jones.

Named Salt Lake City

Or perhaps, if you're the precise type, you prefer to call Old Swayback, the USS Salt Lake City, CA25, oldest heavy cruiser in the US Fleet.

Her demise somewhere off San Diego early next week won't be so ignominious at that. In World War II, Old Swayback, 10,826 tons, 585 feet, 107,000 shaft horsepower, 10 8-inch main battery guns, took everything a skillful enemy could ladle out.

Her labors ended, in the bright summer of 1946 she joined the iron guinea pigs at Bikini. Even here Old Swayback had a place of honor --- within 400 yards of the ancient Arkansas for Test Baker, the underwater atomic blast bull's-eye.

Sure, when the poisonous smoke cleared away, she seemed relatively undamaged, but "contaminated" forever by gamma rays.

Soon to be Sunk

Two weeks ago the mare Island Navy Yard announced that Old Swayback would become a punching bag for the last time. Deep waters were to receive her loyal ones, as they already have received the nautical remains of the Pennsylvania (once the Pacific Fleet flagship), the gallant destroyers Talbot, Wilson & Trippe and the courageous attack transport Fallon, Bracken and Banner.

Naval statisticians figured it cost $100,000 a month to maintain the ghost ships that survived Atomic Tests Able and Baker in July - August, 1946. It also took 260 men to guard them, keep their deadly bilge's pumped out, repair their battered hulls.

Last year, with a grim assortment of sister target ships, Old Swayback returned to the West Coast at the end of a towline. Nobody was aboard her. In the Central Pacific less "lucky" vessels already had found their graves; the mighty Saratoga, Arkansas and the erstwhile foremen ships Prinz Eugen (German cruiser) and Nagato (Jap battleship).

But 25 craft in all were earmarked for scuttling this year by the Navy. They are the last. Most lie uneasily at anchor in Kwajalein Lagoon.

It may take more than mere gunfire to finish off Old Swayback, the Navy said. Maybe torpedoes, rockets and aerial bombs will assist in the coup de grace.

That's only right. Old Swayback was nurtured as a tough baby from the very day they laid her keel at Camden, NJ, on June 9, just 21 years ago. She was a "treaty class" cruiser---our first. Her tonnage hovered exactly at the limits set by the optimistic Washington Arms Conference, where some of the world put its best warships in the ash can while the rest put its tongue in its cheek.

At an early age the Salt Lake City appeared to have nautical lordosis, or curvature of the spine, at least as far as unpracticed observers were concerned. Fondly, even her men called her Old Swayback. When we got into the Asiatic war "Maru" (Jap for ship) was appended.

Was "Tin-Clad"

Later cruisers were much better armored, so Old Swayback also earned the sobriquet "tinclad."

Dec. 7, 1941, found her in Adm. Halsey's task force heading back to Oahu from delivering planes to the doomed marine fighter squadron on little Wake Island. Thus she escaped sitting duck damage that tragic day. Her skipper for those early months was Capt. (now retired Rear Adm.) Ellis M. Zacharias, the Japanese-language expert who "gave the word" to the enemy high command via short-wave radio in the war's eleventh hour.

Old Swayback claimed to have opened fire first at Wotje Atoll in the Marshalls on Feb. 1, 1942 during Halsey's daring shoestring raid. Thus she may have been the first US Ship to lob shells into Jap-held territory.

Faced Great Danger

She got her blood baptism at Cape Esperance --- three major-caliber hits that killed five men, wounded 21 and sent her to Pearl Harbor for some patchwork. But it was the little-sung battle of the Komandorskis, off the Aleutians in the icy Bering Sea, that Old Swayback rose to greatest heights and faced her greatest danger, under Vice-Adm. C. H. "Sock" McMorris and Capt. Bert Rodgers

Part of a small force assigned to halt a powerful enemy reinforcement move, Old Swayback engaged the foe in one of the conflict's few daylight surface duels. Jap shells stopped her dead in the water. But she turned broadside and kept on firing. Her own smoke protected her. And the enemy turned back, baffled.

FLAGBAR 501x15

Operation Crossroads Index

FLAGBAR 501x15

History of the USS SLC during "Operation Crossroads" 1946
Cruiser's Brave Stand
Great Ship, by Dan Valentine, SLC, UT.
Valiant "Swayback" Nears Final Rest
Amazing Pictures of the Atomic Testing at Operation Crossroads
Meeting the Bomb at Close Quarters by Matin Zuberi, JNU
Bikini 'Guinea Pig' Comes to Sound
Boy Spy: Private Photos of the SLC after Bikini NEW 02-24-11
Famed Cruiser's Last Day at Sea...May 25th, 1948
SLC Goes to her Watery Grave
Able-Baker Atomic Bomb Test Log for the USS SLC
SLC Veterans that went to Operation Crossroads
Elegy for "Old Swayback" by Donald C. Trenary, Lt.
Radioactivity Lingers Longer in Water Blast, 1948
Where is the SLC now?
"My Sweetheart Cries in the Night"
"Message in a Barnacle Coated Bottle"



The address of this page is lastday0.htm
Send Questions, Comments or Report Problems to Website Curator, Sandy Eskew
Return to SLC Main Index for Email Address