USS SLC Cruise Book
Pages 21-27


May 14, 1943 to August 15, 1945

   When the Salt Lake City emerged from the Mare Island Navy Yard on May 14, 1943, after repair of the damage suffered in the Battle of the Komandorskies, the American offensive, begun on a small scale at Guadalcanal and on New Guinea, was about to expand into an irresistible march across the Pacific.

   Henceforth, the Swayback's primary targets were to be, not surface ships, but land bases. She was attached to the bombardment groups, the almost unsung ships which steamed up to enemy bases and stayed, paralyzing his resistance to conquest by the thunder of their heavy guns.

   The cruiser's first assignment took her back to the Aleutians, where Attu and Kiska remained as unfinished American business. For 123 days, she was at sea practically all the time, returning only at infrequent intervals to her base, bleak Kuluk Bay at Adak for logistics not available at sea. She convoyed, patrolled, bombarded Kiska and covered the Attu Invasion.

   On September 23, 1943, she moved south with the war. She based at Pearl Harbor and made a flying trip to San Francisco from October 1st to 14th, 1943, to carry back as passengers seventy-five officers and one thousand enlisted men for participation in the forthcoming invasion of the Gilbert Islands.

   In November of 1943, the Salt Lake City was in the midst of that operation, helping the marines in their now famous conquest of Tarawa. During the assault, Jap shore batteries fired at the cruiser for one hour and fifty-four minutes, but obtained no hits. The luck of the Salt Lake City was becoming a byword.

   After Tarawa, the Swayback covered the occupation of nearby Abemama. In two days there, she knocked down four Jap planes and helped destroy another. The operation concluded, she based at Funafuti.

   In January of 1944, the Americans moved north into the Marshalls. As part of the neutralizing force, the Salt Lake City conducted eight bombardments of Wotje atoll and two of Maloelap, seeking out coast defenses, ammunition and supply depots.

   On March 30 and April 1, 1944, she covered a force supporting American air raids on Palau, Yap, Ulithi and Woleai. Then she left for San Francisco for a long need overhaul.

   After the Yard work, the Swayback returned to the Aleutians, her old stamping grounds. On August 3, 1944, she joined a task force which left Attu for a raid on Paramushiro but shortly before arrival at their destination the operation was canceled when the fog which was expected to cover the thrust lifted suddenly and the force was spotted by Japanese observation planes.

   The Swayback went south to Pearl Harbor and then headed west. On September 23, 1944, in company with her cruiser division, some destroyers and the carrier Monterey, she bombarded Wake Island, damaging installations and knocking out one Jap battery whose shells were becoming to familiar.

   Then on to Eniwetok and later Saipan. On October 9, 1944, she participated in a bombardment of Marcus Island, 750 miles from Tokyo, the closest any American warships without air coverage had been to the Jap mainland up to that time.

   The raid was a diversionary action, plotted to confuse and distract the Japs while the American carrier force was lashing Formosa as a preliminary to the re-conquest of the Philippines. Elaborate action was taken to simulate a landing force. Smoke was made beyond the horizon from the island, flares were lighted.

   The ruse succeeded, for the next day Tokyo Rose announced that the Nips had driven off a threatened invasion of Marcus which was covered by a large force containing a battleship and several cruisers, two of which were sunk. Actually, no battleship was present and no vessel was even slightly damaged. But it was a near thing. One stubborn Japanese battery got the Salt Lake City's range and straddled her with at least seven salvos until she changed course and moved out.

   The group went back to Saipan, then received a hurry call to join Task Force 38 to replace two cruisers which had been damaged in the Battle of Formosa. It was still with the carrier force October 24 to 26, 1944, when the Jap fleet, attempting to throttle MacArthur's invasion of LEYTE, was driven back with huge loss in the Battle of LEYTE GULF. The morning strike launched by our carriers was instrumental in inflicting crippling damages on the Jap fleet already retreating to the San Bernardino Straits.

   During this period Saipan and Tinian in the Marianas Islands, were our most advanced air bases. Routine bombing missions to Japan were being sent from their fields and the Japs retaliated, as was to be expected, by counter air attacks on those islands in an effort to reduce their value. The principal thorn was the little two-by-four fortress of Iwo Jima, roughly 600 miles from the Jap mainland. It became the duty of the Salt Lake City, with the Chester, Pensacola and various destroyers to help neutralize the threat of Iwo Jima. Six hit and run bombardments were made within a period of three and a half months, all without direct air cover and usually against opposition by shore batteries and Jap planes.

   The first raid took place at midnight, November 11, 1944 and caught the Japs so by surprise that lights were still burning on the island when the bombardment started. Other things than lights were burning at its conclusion.

   A month later, on December 8, 1944 the second attack was conducted, in full daylight this time with a handful of our bombers overhead carrying spotters who helped direct the fire.

   Then a Christmas Eve delivery of more high explosives, followed three days later by another blow designed to catch the Japs completely off guard. It did. A number of landing craft and a destroyer were found in the harbor, presumably carrying reinforcements and supplies. They were promptly dispatched. On the first of these two raids another Jap destroyer had been intercepted and sunk by the task force.

   On January 5, 1945, the same group of cruisers with six destroyers penetrated to within 350 miles of Japan and held reveille on the inhabitants of Chichi Jima, the principal island of the Bonin group. One of the destroyers touched off a mine and had to limp back. Steaming southward from Chichi, after torpedo boats and a midget sub were seen, the task force tossed a few shells at Haha Jima, the next Island in the chain,

and then bent on full power to pay an afternoon visit to Iwo. A few Jap planes put in an appearance and were either shot down or driven off. That night, after the very successful bombardment of Iwo Jima, a more determined air attack was successfully evaded. Altogether it had been an eventful day.

   There was a pause in mid-January when the group acted as a patrol force to cover the northern flank of the invaders going ashore at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. On January 24, 1945 it again bombarded Iwo Jima, this time with the added support of the sixteen inch guns of the battleship Indiana. On this occasion the Salt Lake assisted in the shooting down of an inhospitable Jill.

   When finally the now famous invasion of Iwo was begun on February 16, 1945, it seemed to the crew of the Swayback almost as if there were going back home to stay, so familiar had the island become. For twenty-five days the ship laid off that unlovely volcanic island shooting at the Japs from all angles and at all ranges, sometimes approaching within a stone's throw of the hostile beach.

   Scarcely a day went by that was not spent in bombarding the enemy in support of the marines' bloody advance through the stubborn maze of pill-boxes, gun emplacements and caves. Time out was called only for refueling and rearming at sea.

   Nor was there much rest at night. Illumination had to be furnished over the front lines, and harassing fire to keep the Japs awake. But that kept the crew awake, too, until the men learned from sheer necessity to sleep through the roar and vibration of the firing.

   Two Salt Lake City officers were killed when their observation plane was shot down by Jap AA over the island. The ship herself was un-scratched although many shells missed her by narrow margins. The Pensacola was badly pummeled by Jap fire a few minutes after relieving the Salt Lake City and taking over her firing station. The Chester was damaged in a collision, leaving the Salt Lake the only operative warship in Crudiv Five. Rear Admiral A. E. Smith, division commander, moved aboard her with his staff.

   The Swayback was in the first group of ships to arrive at Iwo. She was one of the last major warships to leave. Her ammunition expenditure totaled 3,322 rounds of eight inch and 3,082 rounds of five inch, the largest expenditure of any ship engaged in the operation.

   But tougher days lay ahead at Okinawa. After a ten day respite, four of which were spent in traveling and six in accomplishing essential repairs at Ulithi, her guns were back in action once more. The task started March 24, 1945, with the bombardment of Ie Shima, a small island off the western coast of Okinawa on which war correspondent Ernie Pyle was to meet his death two weeks later. In a couple of days, fire was shifted to the main island itself.

Website honoring Ernie Pyle http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/tobern.html

   The main landing took place on April 1st and the Swayback was one of the many ships lined up off the beach throwing in shells over the heads of the marines and soldiers. Then followed the historic two month drive to wrest the island from the tenacious Japs. It was unspectacular but grinding work, days and nights of bombardment, long nights of "flycatching" (providing harassing fire and illumination against suicide boat attacks), interminable hours at general quarters and battle stations while Jap planes flew overhead, challenging our ability to move in on their territory.

   The recently developed and most terrifying of Jap weapons, the suicide plane, was used to its utmost by the desperate Japs. The Kamikazes attacked in swarms, crashing ships on all sides.


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