Toledo Blade & Chicago Daily News

February 6th & 19th, 1943

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Correspondent tells how USS Boise was Saved from Japanese
by Old Cruiser Considered Outmodeled,
Salt Lake City Proved Mettle in Solomons
by B. J. McQuaid

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She's the oldest of our heavy cruisers. Before she underwent a recent overhaul, much of her fighting equipment was considered antiquated and outmoded. Yet in 28 minutes of bloodcurdling night action she helped bag a Japanese heavy cruiser, a light cruiser, an auxiliary and several destroyers.

At the height of this melee she interposed herself between the enemy and another American cruiser which was being badly hit and sank the Jap assaulter. She herself came out of the fray with comparatively minor damage.

She is the US SALT LAKE CITY.... first of our "Treaty Cruisers", one of two ships of the Pensacola class of 1924 and in commission since 1929. It is now possible to emphasize the role she played in the second battle of Savo Island... generally recognized as a vital early turning point in the still developing struggle for the Solomons


Commander Decorated

Other American ships in that action gave excellent accounts of themselves. One...the light cruiser Boise, was identified shortly after the battle. She went back to the states for repairs. When she put in at Philadelphia she got a tremendous and well deserved ovation. But, for security reasons, nothing could be said then about the Salt Lake City and how she shielded the Boise from possible annihilation.

The Salt Lake City was first mentioned publicly in connection with the battle when Adm. Chester W. Nimitz recently decorated ball-red-02 Deceased Capt. Ernest G. Small. Small, now a member of Nimitz staff, was commander of the heavy cruiser during the battle. His citation gave the Salt Lake City some of the credit due least by implication.

Insert from "Epic of the Salt Lake City"
It reads:

"For extraordinary heroism and distinguished service as commanding officer of the USS Salt Lake City in the night action of Savo Island, British Solomon Islands, on the Night of October 11-12, 1942. Due to his aggressiveness and determined superior Japanese force heading for Guadalcanal was destroyed or turned back. In one phase of the engagement his excellent seamanship was a deciding factor in protecting the heavily hit Boise from further damage. The success of this action prevented a planned Japanese attack on our positions at Guadalcanal and prevented the enemy from landing reinforcements..."

But the import of this strong language still was not recognized to the extent of any widespread public understanding of the Salt Lake City's accomplishments. Only among Navy men (here at Pearl Harbor) has there been recognition that the Salt Lake City, through its astonishing proficiency in night gunnery, and its flaming offensive spirit, turned in one of the finest performances credited to any naval vessel in the history of modern war.
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Navy men, however, have been unstinted in their tributes, and it was the enthusiastic character of their praise which caused this correspondent to get a firsthand account of the battle from her own people.


Japanese Land Reinforcements

In the first battle of Savo, Aug. 8-9, the Japanese had caught four allied cruisers flatfooted, and sank them with their opening salvos. The Japanese paid for this with heavy losses. Strategically, even this first Savo engagement is considered an American victory by the experts on the ground that the Japanese did not succeed in the main purpose of disrupting our landing operations on Guadalcanal. But it was a severe tactical defeat, and did not have a good effect on American morale.

Insert from "Epic of the Salt Lake City"

"All of our hearts were broken", said Lieut. Comdr. James T. Brewer ball-red-02 Deceased of New York, the Salt Lake City's chief gunnery officer. We just couldn't understand what had happened, or why it had happened. We had known the Japs were plenty tough, but none of us had had doubt that we were better. That business of the Quincy, Vincenos and Astoria---well; we still felt we could take 'em, but all of us began to wonder just how tough it was going to be".

For many of our Pacific fighting men, it was the Second Battle of Savo, and particularly the aggressiveness and efficiency of the Salt Lake City, which provided the first answer to that rankling question.
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After this battle the Japanese had taken to running reinforcements into the northwest corner of Guadalcanal by night. Fast destroyers transports covered by cruisers..."The Bougainville Express"...came down to put big deck loads of troops on the beach near Cape Esperance, retiring again before daylight. Our plane defenses, not yet very well organized, were powerless to prevent this. It was obvious the job would have to be done by surface forces.

The task force of which the Boise and Salt Lake City were a part, the night of the second battle of Savo, had been organized as our first major effort to hurl the Bougainville Express off the rails. The force was led by Rear Admiral Norman Scott, since killed in the sinking of the cruiser Atlanta. The force planned its approach so as to catch the transports and their covering cruisers en-route, or while unloading their human cargo on the Guadalcanal beaches.

Insert from "Epic of the Salt Lake City"
With this in mind, they ran so close to the big island the men could smell the scent of jungle vegetation. "I can still smell that heavy lush, tropical perfume", Lieut. Lyle B. Ramsey ball-red-02 Deceased, of Abilene, TX. told me. His post was the Salt Lake City's main battery forward control. "The night was tense--still and clammy and foreboding. You could almost hear the beating of tom-toms in the jungle and you damn well knew that something tremendous was going to happen". But it was quite a while before anything did.

The Salt Lake City had a bad accident running past the big island. One of it reconnaissance planes caught fire as it was catapulted, blazing up so as to illuminate the area for miles around. Had the Japanese forces been in the area the element of surprise, which counted heavily in the American's favor, would have been lost.
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See Jap Ships in Darkness

But there was no signs of activity on the beaches. Another plane came back to its ship with a report of three small Jap ships lying a mile or so east of Savo Island.

"We were looking for bigger game than that," said Lieut. George A. O'Connell, Jr. ball-red-02 Deceased, assistant gunner officer, whose home is at Norfolk, VA.
Insert from "Epic of the Salt Lake City"

"It wouldn't have been smart to give away our plan by attacking those small ships. We ran so close by Savo, on a more northerly heading. We could see the little blurb of land sticking up out of the water like an ashheap. We began to feel we were on a wild goose chase and that we'd have to retire and try again another time. Everyone felt a letdown".
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But there wasn't much time for disappointment. The task force was only a few thousand yards northwest of Savo when the Americans suddenly saw in the darkness a force of Jap warships.


HEADLINES from the TOLEDO BLADE: Friday, February 19, 1943

5 Jap Ships Sunk by Salt Lake City in Heavy Night Fighting Off Solomons

This is the last part of B. J. McQuaid's Pearl Harbor feature about the USS SALT LAKE CITY in the Battle of Savo Island.

Our forces began maneuvering to confuse the enemy and close with him. It was at 11:47 p.m. that the Americans opened fire, and by that time the leading Jap ship was within 5,000 yards.

Our ships shot, in that opening salvo, at the enemy leader, identified as a light cruiser. The cruiser burst immediately into flames and our ships checked fire while they hunted for individual targets. It was apparent even before the battle was joined that this was no ordinary "Bougainville Express."

The Jap force was vastly superior. Lookouts and spotters quickly identified four heavy cruisers, two or three lights, and "any number of destroyers." In addition, there were auxiliaries...probably troop transports. It was a big offensive force going down to bombard the American positions on Guadalcanal, and probably to attempt a landing on the beach heads held by the Americans nearest to Henderson Field. The first shells fired by the Japanese in the engagement were loaded with bombardment and fragmentation charges, rather that armor piercing ammunition.


Two More Japanese Sunk

For her second target the Salt Lake City chose a heavy cruiser. She let the Jap close the range from 9,000 yards to 5,000 yards before she fired.

Insert from "Epic of the Salt Lake City"
"There was no more thrill to it than watching a fat cockroach come waddling across the floor toward you"., said Lieut. Ramsey. "You just keep your eye on him and watch him come in and in your own good time you put your heel down on him. That's the way we felt about that cruiser".
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The Salt Lake City fired two 10-gun salvos of eight-inch. On the second the Jap blew up in a great reddish yellow sheet of flame 300 feet square. He went down in a great hissing of smoke and spray.

The Salt Lake City's third target was an auxiliary, believed to be a troop transport. Seven salvos...70 eight-inch shells were pumped into the Jap before he went down by the head, his props dangling high in the air, dripping in the glare of searchlights. As the up-thrust stern started under, the boys from the Salt Lake City put their seventh salvo into it, for luck.

Now came a report that three Jap destroyers were running in fast to deliver torpedo attacks. The Salt Lake City took the one nearest her. She caught him with a single salvo of her 10 guns at only 1,500 yards. The destroyer disappeared instantaneously from the face of the sea. Other American ships finished off the other two and no torpedoes found a mark.


Brief Lull at Midnight

It was midnight now. There was a brief lull, while the Americans hunted for fresh targets. None could be found, except six or eight blazing hulks or mortally wounded enemy warships and auxiliaries. When firing was resumed the Salt Lake City shot in leisurely fashion at the burning wrecks, "stirring up the fires." She took four of them in rotation. The fourth, she thought, was the same light cruiser against which she and the other Americans had directed their first fire at the beginning of the engagement.

The Salt Lake City had suffered little damage, though four of her crew had been killed and a number wounded by showers of shrapnel from an enemy spread which had fallen short and exploded as it struck the sea.

Among the mortally wounded was Aviation Ordanceman Lloyd Edgar Acree ball-red-02 Deceased, ammunition handler for one of the five-inch AA Guns. As he fell to the deck and died his arm still clutched the shell he had been passing.

Vernard Eugene Bivin ball-red-02 Deceased, seaman, first class, was also fatally hit. He was a gun trainer. Shrapnel tore open his belly, cut off part of his hand and part of the grip on the trainer. But he kept his station, kept on training his gun during four salvos after he was hit.


Boise Heavily Attacked

Except for the destroyers, one of which was so badly damaged she sank the next day, none of the American ships suffered much damage until after the lull in the firing at midnight. Suddenly, as the Salt Lake City pumped her deliberate salvos into the burning light cruiser, she became aware that the Boise, dead ahead of her in the formation, was being heavily hit. Another Jap heavy cruiser, appearing suddenly out of nowhere, had closed with the six-inch gunned Boise and slugging her mercilessly at a range of less than 5,000 yards.

To make matters worse, enemy destroyers were reported coming in again and in turning bow onto them to avoid torpedoes the Boise was forced to close still further with the heavy enemy cruiser. As the Boise turned hard to starboard the Salt Lake City, to avoid ramming her, turned hard to port and then, as the blazing Boise swung back again, and away from the Jap heavy, the Salt Lake City swung in to the position to the Boise had vacated, squarely in the path of the punishing Jap fire. The Jap had her rage automatically and had nothing to do but keep on shooting.

The Japanese cruiser got to fire one salvo. One shell penetrated one of the Salt Lake City's forward fire rooms, killed a seaman, flooded the fire room with hundreds of gallons of oil, and started a bad fire. But before the Jap could fire again the American had fired her own batteries. The Jap fell silent after this opening salvo from the Salt Lake City. She pumped four more into him before he sank.


No Noisy Welcome

It was a quarter after midnight and the action was over. All the Jap ships had either been sunk, or had retreated and escaped in the darkness, or were blazing furiously.

Some days later the Salt Lake City put in to Pearl Harbor for repairs and an overhaul. No bands blared, no sirens blew as she slipped up to her pier. Eagerly her people read in mainland papers the account of the Boise's noisy welcome on the east coast. This was not resented. The Boise was a grand ship, they knew, and had put up a gloriously aggressive and effective fight. The Salt Lake City had made up a little song about herself, to the tune of "Shuffle Off to Buffalo."

"If it's submarines you're haunting
If an island base you're wanting,
She's the one ship fleet;
Oh, Oh, Oh,
Off we're gonna shuffle, shuffle off to Tokyo."

But, at least throughout the fleet itself, the Salt Lake City gets the credit due her. Her gunnery performance that black night is a legend.

Insert from "Epic of the Salt Lake City"
Talking with its men, you get inklings of the sort of thing that makes such a record possible. A spirited bunch, these Salt Lake City lads. Good, and they know it. But none of them praises himself. They build up each other and the ship. The communicators, the engineers and the damage control people say their gunners are the best in the world. The gunners reciprocate the feelings, with interest. They are all loudly and sincerely aggressive.

One of the things the ship is proudest of is the youth of its department heads and senior officers. Capt. Ernest Small ball-red-02 Deceased is in his fifties and his executive officer at the time of battle, Capt. Grayson B. Carter ball-red-02 Deceased, in his late forties. But none of the others is yet out of his thirties. Comdr. James T. Brewer ball-red-02 Deceased, the chief gunnery officer, is 36, and his assistant Lieut. George A. O'Connell, Jr. ball-red-02 Deceased , 29. Other department heads include: Comdr. T. H. Kobey Deceased, Bisbee Ariz., 38, the engineer officer; Lieut. Comdr. D. D. Hawkins ball-red-02 Deceased, Berkeley, CA., 36, the navigator; Lt. Comdr. W. C. Gale ball-red-02 Deceased, Portland, OR., 36, the First Lieutenant. Officer of the deck during the battle was Lieut. Roger N. Currier Deceased , 25, who was later detached and was killed with Admiral Scott on the Atlanta.
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