Valiant "Swayback" Nears Final Rest
by Robert C. Blair
May 23, 1948 Newspaper Article-Unidentified

Found in SLC Association Memorabilia

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This is the obituary of a ship---the Cruiser Salt Lake City, a stout craft that died hard.

On Tuesday, the Navy will bury her listing, bomb-tortured hulk in the Pacific waters she often battled to defend.

But men who sailed and loved her, and Utahns who thrilled to her wartime exploits, will not easily forget the 19 year old cruiser. They know she will go down proudly.

Swayback Profile

They called her Swayback Maru, a friendly jest at her ungainly profile. Wherever she went, men of the fleet, and the squat sailors of Japan, easily recognized the central sag in her silhouette. Both had a healthy respect for the once sleek old lady.

Her war record was the finest, her honors many. The Swayback's crew claimed their ship was the "fightinest in the fleet", and the claim was well founded.

Believed to have fired the first naval shells to fall on a Jap-held island, the SLC traveled 243,500 wartime miles. Her log is a virtual history of naval war in the Pacific.

Swayback's Prowess

Among other feats, she boasted these: In one battle she took care of two Jap heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, a destroyer and an auxiliary. The destroyer she dispatched with one salvo.

The Swayback participated in the longest naval duel ever staged by United States ships and holding off twice her own weight contributed greatly to saving the invasion of Attu.

More enemy destined shells left her guns than left any ship in the same category in naval history, the old dame engaged in 91 days of bombardment in a period of 101 days for what is believed to be a world's record.

To add a touch of irony, the Swayback claimed the dubious distinction of being the only modern ship whose steering wheel fell off twice in a battle.

Defied Atom Bomb

Compared to cruisers of later vintage, the 10,000 ton Salt Lake City was a thin clad. Her protective plates were like tinfoil, but plain luck and a good crew brought her through every scrape.

It took an atom bomb to do the Swayback in -- but even the bomb couldn't sink her. It left her creaking old hull so full of radioactivity that the navy is going to have to put her to sleep.

The Swayback was born Jan. 23, 1929 in Camden, N.J. She was commissioned 12 months later at Philadelphia on Dec. 11, 1929. "The 10 long range guns of the SLC set it in a class by itself as high speed cruisers go," wrote a reporter who covered the commissioning. "None of the other powers has in commission any vessels of this class with as powerful main battery except Japan," he noted prophetically.

First Offensive Action

When those Japs attacked Pearl Harbor the Swayback was splashing 200 miles west of Oahu, steaming back to the Hawaiians with a task group that had delivered a dozen planes to Wake Island.

After several weeks of patrol duty near Midway and Samoa, the Swayback got her first real offensive action. On Feb. 1, 1942, a task group under Admiral Halsey blasted the Wotje Atoll. The SLC opened fire a few seconds before her fellow ships. While the fact has never been established, it is probable that her missiles were the first American naval shells to fall on a Jap held island.

A month later the old girl escorted Jimmy Doolittle's Tokyo bombers and it was a Salt Lake City lookout who spotted the Japanese picket boat which caused the early launching of the B-25 raiders from the carrier HORNET.

Covered Marine Landings

On Aug. 7 to 9 she covered landings of Marines on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, the first American land counteroffensive. Shortly thereafter, while on patrol in those troubled waters, came her first big slugfest. It was here she accounted for the three cruisers, an auxiliary and destroyer and she was credited with saving the American light cruiser BOISE to boot. After that, men of the Pacific called her "the one ship fleet."

The battle of the Komandorskis Islands often referred to as "one of the strangest sea engagements ever fought" was next on the card and it was a dandy.

Prowling the frigid waters of the Bering Sea at dawn the small force ran head-on into a Jap force twice its size. The Swayback chose two heavies and for the next three hours and 42 minutes, the longest ship duel in American history, she shoveled lead.

Hit, Badly Damaged

She was hit and badly damaged three minutes after drawing black smoke from one of her adversaries. An 8-inch shell hit below the waterline on the port side, rupturing bulkheads and oil tanks, shaft alleys were flooded and oil from punctured fuel tanks sprayed into the after engine room. A near miss minutes later aggravated the damage but the battle went on.

Two enemy heavies bore down on the injured Swayback, straddling her with shells. The Salt Lake City's own gun blasts carried away her rudder stops. Steering control was lost until it was shifted to steering aft.

Shells continued to fall, one going completely through the Swayback without exploding. The cruiser and destroyers BAILEY and COGHLAN made smoke and precipitated a game of hide and seek. The respite was short-lived.

Another direct hit and a few minutes before a flood of torpedoes from destroyers dispersed the Japs, the Swayback was motionless.

Emerging from Mare Island Navy Yard May 14, 1943, the SLC entered a new phase of her career; land bombardment of enemy bases. She helped at Attu, Tarawa, Eniwetok, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Luxon, Okinawa and finally the occupation of Japan.

The Swayback was with the first groups of ships to arrive at Iwo and was one of the last major warships to leave. She spent 66 days at Okinawa, a period equaled only by one other major war vessel. Her spell of 91 days of bombardment duty in the 101 days from Feb. 16 to May 28 may be a wartime record.

During the last two months of 1945 she served as part of the navy's magic carpet returning men from the Pacific Islands.

Her last appearance in the headlines came during the Bikini bomb tests when the sturdy old Swayback road out the atomic waves like a piece of balsa wood.

But she has logged her final cruise and they are taking her out to the bone yard.

The Swayback Maru soon will lie at the bottom of the sea.

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Another Article
SALT LAKE Residents still recall Birth of Ship

Memories of three Salt Lakers turned back almost 20 years Saturday following announcement the Navy will shell the cruiser Salt Lake City to the bottom of the Pacific.

Mrs. Harold F. Folland, the former Helen budge, christened the SLC at Camden, N. J., Jan. 23, 1929.

Mrs. Alan E. Brockbank, the former Gaylie Rich, was maid of honor at the launching. Twelve months later A. G. Mackenzie represented the city at commissioning in Philadelphia Dec. 11, 1929.

Mrs. Folland and Mrs. Brockbank recalled "the perfectly wonderful time we had that weekend in Philadelphia. They treated us like queens."

The absence of Utahns at commissioning ceremonies stuck in Mr. Mackenzie's mind. "I remember asking the large crowd present that cold, windy December day if any of them were from Salt Lake City. I wanted them to take part in the ceremony, but I couldn't rouse a single resident of the Beehive state."

Mr. Mackenzie represented Mayor John F. Bowman and presented the ship a silver service given by citizens and businesses of SLC.

Each of the trio expressed regret that the SLC was being destroyed.

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Operation Crossroads Index

Bikini 'Guinea Pig' Comes to Sound
Boy Spy: Private Photos of the SLC after Bikini NEW 02-24-11
Cruiser's Brave Stand
Great Ship, by Dan Valentine, SLC, UT.
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"
Meeting the Bomb at Close Quarters by Matin Zuberi, JNU

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