The Swayback Maru is Dead
by Pete Kennedy
Article contributed by William H. Bean
Found in SLC Association Memorabilia
The “Swayback Maru” is Dead---On May 26th, 1948, the gallant ship met her end off the coast of CA. Two clean torpedoes finished her off after five hours of pounding with bombs, shells and rocket. She went to the bottom during gunnery-bombing exercises of the First Task Fleet. Fifteen ships and scores of planes battered her strong old body before the end came at 1352, Pacific Daylight Time. She rolled over and hid her grotesquely-twisted superstructure beneath the sea she had sailed so well and so long. Her gave is 2,000 fathoms down in the Great Depths, 130 miles off Southern California.
Admiral DeWitt C. Ramsey, USN, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, watched her go down to where nothing can disturb her well-earned rest. He said, “The Salt Lake City, a grand veteran of war and peach, has completed her last service. A final well done.” The early stages of the bombardment were held down in order to prolong the target practice period. Machine gun bursts and rockets drew first blood. Five, six and eight inch shells wounded her further, and 500 and 1,000 pound bombs tore holes in her sides. She had only a slight list to port when the first fish hit at 1:20 p.m. A hole opened up in her port bow as she started to keel over, and fires broke out fore and aft. Main decks almost awash, the “coup-de-grace” was administered by Commander E. P. Madley, USN, skipper of the submarine Blenny. His torpedo hit amidships and sent her plunging, bow first, into the deep waters of the Pacific. Rear Admiral Bertram J. Rodgers, USN, the Salt Lake’s skipper at the Komandorskies, said, “Today the Navy is doing what the Japs could not do. We are sinking our own ship. She has fulfilled her destiny.”
The “Swayback Maru,” truculent, temperamental veteran of peach and war, is dead. As Lieut. Commander Wintersteen, chaplain of the sub tender Nereus, told crewmen of that ship, “A ship is not just a steel hull. The spirits, personalities, effortful lives and suffering deaths of…her crew are all part of a ship. Out of them she develops a soul of her own.”
She wasn’t any more of a lady than a female bartender on Hotel Street, but as a fighting ship she was tops. The old gal was a funny ship. Steaming along in relatively peaceful waters, she was almost uncontrollable. She would get out of position, louse up formations, foul up on plane recovery, get lop-sided. She picked up the nickname “Swayback Maru” from the way she’d groan and quiver in a heavy sea. But once she sensed a fight the bad qualities would disappear, as if she were an old warhorse smelling powder-smoke.
She took part in thirty-one Pacific engagements during forty-five months of wartime steaming. Her closest call in the Komandorskies engagement, when, with the CL Richmond and four cans, she fought the longest surface engagement of the war, and came our with only superficial damage. Opposing them were two heavy and two light cruisers and several enemy destroyers. The “Swayback Maru” engaged the two heavies while the other ships, with guns of shorter range, stayed behind her. Another time, at Cape Esperance, she saved the Boise from destruction by putting herself between that cruiser and the Jap force which was pounding her. The Japs sunk her several times, according to them, but she lived to participate in Bikini tests, which left her radioactive and to join those two other great ships which are now on the bottom as a result of atomic bombardment, the Saratoga and the Pennsylvania.
The tests which were climaxed by her sinking mark the first time since the early twenties that the navy has had a suitable target for peacetime testing of new weapons and tactical operations against a target of her size. The ideal conditions for observation and recording that were present during the late-May sinking were not possible during the war. it was not known when we carried the story in our Mid-July Bulletin Board that the sinking would be part of large-scale maneuvers. During the war, many ships were sent down, but it was not possible to evaluate and record the data tied up with those sinkings under wartime conditions. Admiral Ramsey, commenting on the tests prior to the cruiser’s sinking, said that their value “in terms of lives of our men saved in any future combat would be hard to overestimate.” The exercises were conducted under the immediate supervision of Vice Admiral G. D. Murray, USN, Commander, First Task Fleet, who directed the three cruisers, six DD’s, two subs, four auxiliaries and 100 or more planes which took part in the actual sinking.
But, aside from the results of the experiment, the old “Swayback Maru” is gone from the Fleet. Old-times will remember her peacetime battle efficiency record and fine athletes, and the Navy and the nation will keep her memory for what she did during those years of wartime service. The crewmen of the ships and planes on hand for her funeral, and the men of the Navy everywhere, each had a personal farewell and “Well Done” for the One-ship Fleet, the “Swayback Maru,” the fighting Salt Lake City.
Return to Battle of the Komandorski Island Index
Bikini 'Guinea Pig' Comes to Sound
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"
Atomic Veterans National Association
Meeting the Bomb at Close Quarters by Matin Zuberi, JNU
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