USS SLC ..."Enlisted Navy"...Kenneth C. Swedberg, WT1c
Kenneth Swedberg passed away Sun. Jul. 11th, 2010. Info. from his son in law
Feb. 5th, 2001
On February 23, 1943, I left the
USS Ward by transfer and come on board
the Salt Lake City at Pearl Harbor. The Ward had been converted from
DD139 to APD 16. My rank on the Ward was Water Tender 2c. My buddy,
Tom Nadeau, WT1c, a fellow reservist
from St. Paul, Minnesota, transferred
from the USS Ward to the Salt Lake City with me. I was assigned
to #1 fire room. There were 4 fire rooms with 8 boilers on the Salt Lake City. The
Chief Water Tender on #1 fire room was
Chief G. Hardey. Other men in the
fire room were J. D. Henessey, CWT,
Oren T. "Red" Woodford, WT1c
Roy W. Yates, F2c
Tom O'Malley, WT2c.
Tom Nadeau later joined the "oil gang" that kept track of fuel oil usage
and ran the refueling. They also tested boiler water daily for purity.
We used steam distillers to purify water for drinking.
Steaming underway, each man stood 4 hour watchers -- off 8 hours. The off
time included drills, classes and sleep. The "black gang," or engineers
(machinist mates and electricians) were berthed in the after section and
the deck forces were in the bow of the ship. We carried 1200-1300 men.
Mess hall was mid-ship. We had ten 8" diameter guns in turrets, 5 on the
bow and 5 on the stern. Mid-ship we also carried 2 Curtis bi-planes on
catapult launchers. These were used for scouting and carried a pilot and
a radioman. The planes were retrieved by using a 10 x 20 foot canvas
attached to the catapult which was swung out at a 90 degree position. The
canvas served two purposes: it smoothed the waves and it caught the
plane's floats. Then the mid-ship crane was swung over the side and a
hook was lowered so the radioman could attach the hook to the plane and
the plane was then lifted out of the water and back on the catapult which
was now back in its original position.
When we came on board the Salt Lake City at Pearl Harbor, the ship was
undergoing 3 months of repair work. The damage was suffered during the
battle of Cape Esperance at Guadalcanal in October, 1942. Five men died
in that battle with 21 wounded. On March 10, 1943, we left Pearl Harbor
for Adak Island in the Aleutians with our 2 destroyers, Bailey and Coghlan.
Two destroyers always screened us -- one on each side, to protect us
from submarine attack. We refueled at Adak which was the Eastern end of
the Aleutian Islands. We headed west to join the light cruiser Richmond
and her 2 destroyers, Dale and Monaghan. Our mission: to intercept a
Japanese force which was re-supplying and landing more troops on Attu
which was on the westward Aleutian Island chain.
On March 26, 1943, at 8 AM, we engaged the enemy. Our radar sighted 2
Japanese troop ships -- easy targets so we thought. However, behind the
ships 2 heavy and 2 light cruisers plus eight destroyers appeared. We were
outnumbered 2 to 1. Not a very even battle! We were now close to the
Komandorski Islands off Russia. Our ten 8" guns found their mark on the
leading Japanese heavy cruiser. The cruiser started to smoke and pull
back. We were now trying to turn and run -- the Salt Lake City being the
slower of the group and brought up the rear. We were then the target for
the remaining Japanese cruisers.
We were hit with 8" Japanese shells. One shell passed through our bow.
Another shell hit the port side below water line that penetrated the
bulkhead to the after engine room. Sea water temp was 34 F. Shaft alleys
3 and 4 started flooding. Repair parties plugged the leaks with wads of
clothing. They finally stopped the oil from flooding the "After Engine
Room". Now sea water was entering our fuel oil lines to our 8 boilers.
Soon the water reached our oil burners in the boilers and the oil fires
went out. Steam pressure dropped and the steam turbines stopped. We
were "dead in the water."
During battle stations we stood watchers of 4 hours on and 4 hours off.
My regular station was in #1 fire room. My station now was at a repair
station one deck below the well deck or mid-ship under the sea planes and
directly over #1 and #2 fire rooms. One of the seaplanes was hit and
started on fire on the port side. We were ordered to push the seaplane
off the port catapult. We were afraid the gasoline would explode. Then
we were all ordered to go down below deck and to take cover. The deck we
went to was a berthing deck with bunks. I crawled under the bottom bunk.
There were 4 bunks above. When I looked up, I saw holes in the deck above
me and in the mattress above me was a piece of shrapnel the size of my
Rear Admiral McMorris of the Richmond radioed to us, "Do you have one last
request?" Our Captain radioed back, "Send back my two destroyers and put
a smoke screen around us." The Japanese cruisers now backed off as they
saw the two destroyers steaming back to our defense. From the smoke screen
they made a suicide torpedo attack and dropped 24 torpedoes. The Japanese,
now more confused, started to break off the engagement and retreated but
only after inflicting heavy damage on the destroyers Bailey and Coghlan.
One destroyer was hit with an 8" shell mid-ship through her galley --
another 8" shell that flooded the forward engine room.
The destroyer attack gave us the time we needed to purge our oil lines of
sea water and start oil flowing to our boilers and get steam to our
turbines. We were now back in action!
We limped back to Dutch Harbor with an 8 degree list. Our destroyers were
more damaged than we and could only make about 10 to 12 knots. At that
point, I asked myself, "Why didn't I stay on the USS Ward?" If the destroyers had not come to our rescue, I would not be here wirting my story.
Back in Dutch Harbor, Captain Rodgers gave a moving talk on the battle of the Komandorski Islands -- the longest running battle in Naval history.
It lasted 3 hours and 42 minutes. I forgot to mention -- our planes from
Dutch Harbor were to be with us overhead. Our Chaplain in his rounds that
morning kept sayings, "Our planes will soon be here." However, back at
Dutch Harbor we learned that the morning fog had kept our planes on the
ground. If the planes had been above us, it would have changed the battle.
As it turned out, the Japanese admiral, on returning to Japan, was
relieved of duty. Our forces, which were outnumbered 2 to 1, had turned
back the Japanese fleet that had orders to provide troops and supplies to
Attu and Kiska.
Captain Rodgers continued with these words, "We of the Salt Lake City owe
our lives to the men of the destroyers Bailey and Coghlan. They put their
lives on the line with their heroic torpedo runs. They also suffered more
casualties than we. They did this to protect us from further enemy damage
and ultimate sinking. Anything they want, we will give them and anything
we don't have, we will get them. If we can't get it, we will make it for
He then gave the crew all messages between Admiral Charles McMorris and us.
The last message from Admiral McMorris on the flagship Richmond was, "God
be with you. It was great to fight with men like you. Do you have on last
request?" It was then Captain Rodgers asked for the return of our
destroyers who were running for their lives with the flagship Richmond and the other destroyers, leaving the Salt Lake City dead in the water, waiting to be sunk in 34 degree F. water.
Finally, he ended with these words, "You men deserve all the credit for
bringing us through. Though I am the Captain, I am only one man." He was
a very humbel man, not seen in most ship captains. He had only been aboard
the Salt Lake City a few months.
When we arrived back in Dutch harbor, we buried our dead and liberty was
first given only to the Salt Lake City, the Bailey and the Coghlan. We
finally got to thank our destroyer buddies for saving our lives, a tearful
reunion. Emotions ran high as we got to know each other on our day in
Dutch Harbor. The other ships had to wait until the following day for
The following Sunday, the Chaplain held church services and I believe
every off-duty sailor was at that service, giving thanks to God for their
From Dutch Harbor, with temporary patches we headed for Hunter's Shipyard
in San Francisco for major repairs. Then back for our invasion of Attu and
Kiska. The Japanese decided to give up Attu before we invaded and had
abandoned the island and taken off their troops by submarine at night.
After we secured the island of Kiska, we returned to Pearl Harbor.
January 7, 1944, on to Tarawa. We bombarded the island before landing our
Marines. From there we took part in the Marshall and Gilbert Island
invasions by bombarding them before our troops landed. We then moved to
Saipan in the Mariana Islands and bombarded Iwo Jima in December 1944.
Our heavy 8" guns were made from bombarding the islands.
I recall one afternoon during Iwo Jima engagement, I was topside talking to
an officer when we saw a splash in the water 50 feet from our ship. We
hit the deck and ran for cover. The Captain then ordered all hands below
deck without lifejackets and helmets. We realized it was shore battery.
The next day the cruiser Pensacola took our place in bombarding the island and was hit by shore battery.
The Salt Lake City was nicknamed the "Swayback Maru" by Bob Casey, the author of "Torpedo Junction." He wrote the book while he was on board the Salt Lake City as a war correspondent. The censors would not allow him to divulge the real name of ship. The Salt Lake City earned 10 operation and engagement stars.
I received credit for seven battle engagement stars for my 2 1/2 years on
the Salt Lake City. These were: Battle of Komandorski Island and
Occupation of Attu; Gilbert Islands Operation; Marshall Islands; Kwajalein;
Asiatic Pacific Raids 1944; Palau; Yap; Ulithe; Leyte Operations;
Philippines; Luzon and Battle of Leyte Gulf; Iwo Jima Operations and
I left the Salt Lake City August 25, 1945, at Adak Islands in the
Aleutians. I then returned to Seattle and then my train to Minneapolis,
Minnesota where I was honorably discharged October 4th, 1945, with rate of
Water Tender 1c. I turned down my promotion to Chief Water Tender and
instead decided to return to civilian life and continue my education.
After returning to St. Paul, Minnesota, I enrolled at Dunwoody Industrial
Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota and studied power plant engineering.
After graduation, I became Asst. Chief Engineer of the St. Paul Water
Utility and then advanced to Chief Engineer and Supervisor of Pumping for
the City of St. Paul and suburbs. I retired in 1984.
My wife Donna and I reside in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas for the
winter months, but also own a condo in St. Paul, MN for the summer months.
I am a Life Member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association and currently
serve as Secretary/Treasurer of Chapter #11, Rio Grande Valley, Texas PHSA.
I also serve as Vice President of the First Shot Naval Vets of St. Paul,
Minnesota, a group of Naval reservist who were on board the USS Ward. The
USS Ward was the ship that sank the Japanese midget submarine at Pearl Harbor
on December 7, 1941, an hour before the planes came.
Note: "My Speed Zero" is the title of a story about the Salt Lake City
and the Battle of the Komandorski Islands written by war correspondent
John Bishop of the Saturday Evening Post. He wrote the story while on
board the Light Cruiser USS Richmond. Another book with stories about the
Salt Lake City is, "The Thousand Mile War" by Brian Garfield. It covers
Alaska and the Aleutian Islands during World War II. War correspondent
Bob Casey wrote the book, "Torpedo Junction" while he was on board the
Salt Lake City during the battle of Savo Island in Oct., 1942.
Return to Battle of the Komandorski Island Index
Ken and Donna Swedberg
SLC Deck Log Mar. 1943
Ken & Donna have attended the following SLC Reunions: