USS SLC Cruise Book
Pages 07-13


   On December 11, 1929, the Salt Lake City went into commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and became the pride of the fleet.

   Her commissioning was a national event. She was the first major naval vessel to be commissioned in two years. She was a symptom that the nation was rousing from an optimistic dream world in which serious people believed that peace would last forever. Other nations had started intensive cruiser building programs, and the Salt Lake City was the first example of our answer that was to play an important part in the greatest war of history.

   The Salt Lake City was built by the New York Shipbuilding Co. at Camden, NJ. She was ordered July 9, 1926, and her keel was laid June 9, 1927. The launching took place on January 23, 1929, with Miss Helen Budge of Salt Lake City, Utah, acting as sponsor and Miss Gaylie Rich as maid of honor. A sister ship, the Pensacola, had been ordered sixteen months before the Salt Lake City, but she was built at the New York Navy Yard and was not commissioned until two months after the Salt Lake City.

   Commissioning ceremonies were simple. The flag was run up. Admiral Julian T. Latimer, USN, read the commissioning order. The Star Spangled Banner was played by the ship's band. ball-red-02 Deceased Capt. Fredrick L. Oliver, U.S.N., took command and addressed the crew. Mr. A. L. Mackenzie, representing Salt Lake City, Utah, presented a silver service, the city's gift to the ship, and the cruiser became a part of the United States Navy.

   The ship was built under the limitations of the Washington Arms Conference, which sought to end war by limiting the size of weapons. Her 10,000 tons nudged the treaty maximum. Her eight inch guns were the largest allowed. Although later cruisers so outstripped the Salt Lake City in protection that she and the Pensacola were referred to as "tin clads", her light armor and compartmentation were hailed then as outstanding.

   "The ten long range eight inch guns of the Salt Lake City and the Pensacola set them in a class by themselves as modern, high speed cruisers go," wrote one of the reporters who visited the ship shortly after her commissioning. "None of the other powers has in commission any vessels of this class with as powerful a main battery except Japan. Our two cruisers represent, probably, the finest balance of all requisite peace and wartime qualities of any vessels of their type now afloat and ready for sea. Everybody who loves ships can feel the beauty of the Salt Lake City's swift, graceful lines."

   The original armament of the Salt Lake City consisted of her ten eight inch guns, four five inch 25 caliber dual purpose guns, two three-pound saluting guns and six 21-inch torpedo tubes in triple mounts.

   Externally, she differed considerably from her present wartime appearance. The foremost was less cluttered, the mainmast was a tripod form. The forward five inch battery was not installed nor were the six 40 MM quadruple mounts and twenty 20 MM guns. Two torpedo tubes were on the main deck, on each side and just forward of the after stack. The extensive radar equipment, of course, was not to appear until the war years.

   Inside, the ship was far less crowded. Her complement consisted of 538 enlisted men, half the wartime crew, and 30 officers, about a third the number carried during the war.

   After the commissioning, the Salt Lake City made a shakedown and goodwill cruise to Brazil where her crew was royally entertained at Rio de Janeiro and at Bahia. She joined the scouting fleet March 31, 1930, at Guantanamo, Cuba.

   The ship's favored position in the fleet became apparent the next spring, when she was selected to be the presidential reviewing vessel at fleet maneuvers. Thirty-five miles off the Virginia capes on May 20, 1930, President Herbert Hoover, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations and other dignitaries stood on the deck of the Salt Lake City and watched American naval might engaging in mock battle. It was the first time a President had ever reviewed three dimensional maneuvers--surface, air and submarine.

  • See Pictures of Pres. Hoover & others on board the SLC

   The size of the fleet reviewed, contrasted with the hundreds of vessels engaged in the late war, indicates wartime growth of the Navy. The fleet reviewed by President Hoover consisted of ten slow, cage-masted battleships, nine cruisers, thirty destroyers, two aircraft carriers, two submarines and the dirigible Los Angeles.

   During the maneuvers, the Salt Lake City had her first "air attach", a playful zooming by planes from the Saratoga, a far cry from the startling Kamikaze attacks she was to undergo later.

   In subsequent years, the Salt Lake City proved her leadership in the peacetime fleet competitions. She was first in engineering performance among Pacific Fleet heavy cruisers. She made the highest torpedo score ever made by a cruiser of the United States Navy and in 1933 her aviation unit won the highest merit for aircraft gunnery in the heavy cruiser class.

   In sports, she was outstanding. Her crew contained the all-Navy wrestling champion and the wrestling and boxing champs of the scouting force. She won the general excellence athletic trophy for the year 1933-34, and her whaleboat crews were the best in the fleet. From 1931 to 1933, her whaleboaters scored the highest number of points in the scouting force. Her first enlistment crew was especially good. It lost only one race, and that by only two-fifths of a second.

7 December 1941 to 12 October 1942

   "She is the oldest heavy cruiser in the U. S. Navy. So bare of streamlined beauty is her ungainly silhouette that correspondent Bob Casey (Torpedo Junction) fondly fastened the nickname 'Swayback Maru' on her when the censors would not let him reveal her real name. Because she never got hit hard enough to be sent home for repairs, she never got much publicity. But many a high-ranking Navy man willingly conceded by last week that on performance the Salt Lake City was the No. 1 U. S. cruiser of the war..".. From TIME, March 8, 1943.

  • See TIME Magazine Article

   When war came, the Salt Lake City was 200 miles west of Oahu, steaming back to the Hawaiians with a task group that had just delivered a dozen planes to a remote, sandy American outpost, Historic Wake Island.

   By that quirk, the cruiser escaped the fiery hell of Pearl Harbor and was with the group that made the first independent American reprisal. The Enterprise carrier with that task group, launched planes which cut down some of the straggling Jap sneak attackers.

   The task group refueled at smoldering Pearl Harbor, then patrolled the area near Oahu against a reappearance of the Japanese fleet. The next patrol duty, ten days later, was scheduled originally to provide relief for besieged Wake, but with the fall of that atoll, it was switched to cover reinforcement of Midway and then of far-off Samoa.

   Then the Salt Lake City participated in the first American offensive action of the war. On February 1, 1942, a task group commanded by Rear Admiral Halsey, U.S.N., conducted an air and surface bombardment of Wotje atoll, one of the principal Jap bases in the mandated Marshall Islands. The Salt Lake City opened fire a few seconds before her fellow ships. The fact has never been officially established, but is probable that her missiles were the first American naval shells of the war to fall on Jap-held land.

   Military installations on Wotje were ruined and seven to nine cargo ships were sunk. One twin-engined bomber was shot down and another damaged by the Salt Lake City. Two Jap planes made bombing runs on the ship, but skillful maneuvering caused them to miss by 100 yards.

   On February 24, the task group bombarded Wake Island and on March 4, its planes struck Marcus Island. there was no surface bombardment of Marcus.

   A month later, the Salt Lake City set out as an escort for one of the war's most adventurous strokes, the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. It was a Salt Lake City lookout who, on April 18, discovered the Japanese picket boat which caused the early launching of the B-25 raiders from the carrier Hornet. The Jap was sunk by the U.S.S. Nashville and the task force was not molested.

   Then the tide of war took the cruiser south, where Australia was in peril. Until late July, she operated in that area, part of the time with a joint allied force under command of a British Admiral.

   On August 7 to 9, the Swayback helped cover the landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, the first American land counter-offensive.

   She then went back to patrol. It was a perilous task in a disputed ocean. On September 15, the carrier Wasp was sunk by Japanese submarines only 1,000 yards from the Salt Lake City. The Swayback helped rescue survivors.

   The time was one of doubt. The battle for Guadalcanal had developed into a grim struggle of men, planes and ships. The Salt Lake City was attached to a task group assigned to stop the Japanese "Tokyo Express", which was claiming the sea lanes for its own. It ran into the enemy on the night of October 11, in the action known interchangeably as the Second Battle of Savo Island or Battle of Cape Esperance.

   "The story of the tide-turning battle," wrote Joseph Driscoll, a staff correspondent of the New York Herald-Tribune five months later, when censorship had been lifted, "was revealed to me in the wardroom of the Salt Lake City by several of her younger officers:

ball-red-02 Deceased Lt. Comdr. David D. Hawkins, the navigator, of Berkeley, Calif.; ball-red-02 Deceased Lt. Comdr. James T. 'Uncle Jim' Brewer, the gunnery officer, of New York and Conway, N.H.; Deceased Comdr. Theodore H. Kobey, the engineering officer, of Bisbee, Arizona; ball-red-02 Deceased Lt. George A. 'Georgie Porgie' O'Connell, Jr., assistant gunnery officer, of Norfolk, VA.; and ball-red-02 Deceased Lt. Lyle B. 'Ace' Ramsey, fire control officer, of Abilene, Texas."

   The story of that action-packed night is best told in their own words:

   "The Japs had been running their Express every night until it got monotonous. So this Sunday night, we set out to derail the Express. It was pitch black, except for heat lightning."

   "We searched in several places and failed to find it. We thought we had muffed the ball. We steered dead ahead for Savo and at close range we discovered the enemy. With the luck that rewards the aggressor, we had walked into something more important than the Guadalcanal Express."

   "The enemy had four heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, six destroyers and at least one transport. Apparently, they were out to bombard our Marines on Guadalcanal and to land in force. Japanese battleships were also playing around.

    We didn't see them, but we picked up one of their aviators who had run out of gas."

   "It was thirteen minutes before midnight when the Salt Lake City and the other American cruisers opened fire on the leading Jap destroyer. The Salt Lake City was firing at such close range that it had to depress some of its guns and its hot shells whistled between the masts of an American destroyer caught in between."

   "We think 'Uncle Jim' Brewer, 'Georgie Porgie' O'Connell and 'Ace' Ramsey are the best gunners in the world. They had been training their guns together for two years and on this occasion they were as cool and efficient as if they were at a practice session."

   "The first victim was an enemy light cruiser, illuminated by star shells. The ten guns of the Salt Lake City barked simultaneously and ten big fingers of fire and metal jabbed the enemy in vital parts. The order to cease fire came immediately as the enemy ship was ablaze and there was no sense in wasting ammunition."

   "The second target for the Salt Lake City was a heavy cruiser. We sat there waiting for her to come up. Nobody was excited. It was like waiting for a cockroach to come across the table; we knew we could step on her any time we wanted to. The Salt lake City stepped with two salvos, twenty shots, blowing up the enemy's whole midsection."

   "The third victim was an auxiliary. The Salt Lake City and her companions pounced and she went down by the bow, stern up. The fourth was a destroyer, one of three that had launched a torpedo attack. The Salt Lake City gave her one salvo. When the smoke cleared, nothing was to be seen of the destroyer."

   "At 0005, running out of fresh targets, the Salt Lake City turned again on its first target, the wounded light cruiser and handed her eight salvos. Large fires and explosions were noted."

   "By 0011, part of the American task force had vanished in pursuit of the enemy while the Boise (an American light cruiser), directly ahead of the Salt Lake City, was afire and falling out to avoid torpedoes."

   "The enemy heavy cruiser was pouring incessant, accurate fire on the Boise. We could hear the smacks. There was only one thing to do and we did it. As the Boise fell away, we took her place and closed in, placing ourselves between the Boise and the enemy. The Boise was on fire and silhouetted us, making a perfect setup for the enemy's fire control. We walked into three straddles that hurt us, but not enough to help the Jap. At our first salvo the enemy fell silent and fired no more. Like two immense hands, our ten fingers of fire had gone out and grabbed him by the throat. We gave him four more salvos and he sank."

   On her part, the Salt Lake City had sustained three major caliber hits and lost five men killed and 21 wounded. She went to Pearl Harbor for repairs and overhaul. And the fighting men of the Pacific, talking of the battle, referred to the Salt Lake City as the "One Ship Fleet".


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