(11 Battle Stars, Naval Unit Commendation)
Named for the capital of Utah, this ship was laid down at the New York Shipbuilding Co., of Camden, NJ, on 9 June 1927. She was sponsored at her launch on 23 January 1929 by Miss Helen Budge and was commissioned on 11 December 1929 with Capt. F. L. Oliver commanding.
After completing shakedown trials in the winter of 1930 SALT LAKE CITY spent her first two years operating in the North and South Atlantic. However, from 1932 to the beginning of the war she spent the cast majority of her time in the Pacific, particularly San Pedro, Calif. Had not a storm and a fueling mishap aboard NORTHAMPTON occurred during the first week of December 1941, SALT LAKE CITY would have been in Pearl Harbor during the Sunday morning attack. As it was, SALT LAKE CITY was one of three cruisers and several destroyers with the carrier ENTERPRISE 200 miles west of Pearl Harbor on that fateful Sunday morning. The storm that covered the track of the approaching Japanese raiding force also beat upon the American ships that were returning from a delivery of planes to Wake Island. The storm was sufficiently rough to cause damage to two American destroyers and consequently word was passed from Admiral Halsey to reduce speed. While the drop in speed brought relief to sailors on the destroyers it brought consternation to the men on the ENTERPRISE and cruisers as it meant the loss of liberty on Saturday evening in Hawaii.
For the dark early months of the war SALT LAKE CITY remained in the force built around ENTERPRISE. Consequently, she was in the screen when the first raids against enemy territory were recorded in the Marshalls, at Marcus Island, and in the Halsey-Doolittle Tokyo raid. During the February 1942 Marshall Islands raid SALT LAKE CITY joined NORTHAMPTON and CHESTER in shore bombardment and then helped fight off the retaliatory air strikes. Still with ENTERPRISE in May, she was one day too late for the Battle of the Coral Sea. When the three YORKTOWN class carriers---YORKTOWN, ENTERPRISE and HORNET---steamed to Midway in early June 1942, SALT LAKE CITY was left behind to serve as part of the last line of defense if the carriers failed to stop the Japanese in the pivotal battle of the war.
Arrival in Solomons in August 1942 put SALT LAKE CITY back in the thick of the fighting. Assigned to the protective screen for the carrier WASP CV-7, SALT LAKE CITY was with the carrier when the carrier was sunk by submarine torpedoes on 15 September and she took on board many survivors. On the evening of 11-12 October 1942 SALT LAKE CITY, with SAN FRANCISCO CA-38 and light cruisers HELENA and BOISE, engaged in the Battle of Cape Esperance. Of all the surface battles around Guadalcanal only this battle was a clear American tactical victory, although the action was confused from beginning to end. Strategically the battle was a draw as both sides were able to reinforce their garrisons on the embattled island.
The Japanese plan was to send a supply and re-enforcement convoy, mostly destroyers, to northwestern Guadalcanal. On the 11th this high-speed convoy was spotted by an American plane. This set in motion Rear Adm. Norman Scott's four cruisers and five destroyers toward interception. Unknown to Scott, a second Japanese force consisting of three cruisers and 22 destroyers commanded by Rear Adm. Aritomo Goto was approximately 50 miles behind the convoy. Its purpose was to cover the transports.
Japanese intelligence reports promised no American units would be in the area; therefore, when a flare set fire to a SALT LAKE CITY plane, Admiral Goto's staff believed it was a signal from the convoy and began signaling via blinker light. Radar on HELENA picked up Goto's covering force and soon thereafter asked permission of the flagship (San Francisco) to fire. A misunderstood reply ("Roger," meaning "message received" was misinterpreted to mean "commence firing.") caused HELENA to start the shooting. The Japanese ships held return fire because it was believed the shelling was coming from Japanese destroyers in the transport column. Even though both sides eventually realized they had some of their own ships in the line of fire, both turned full fury toward each other. After 30 minutes Goto's column was retreating to the northwest minus the sinking cruiser Furutaka and destroyer Fubuki. Flagship Aoba, carrying the mortally wounded Admiral Goto, was badly damaged. On the American side destroyer Duncan was sinking, probably hit by gunfire from American cruisers, BOISE was severely damaged by Japanese salvos, SALT LAKE CITY had taken three major-caliber shells, and destroyer Farenholt, also probably hit by American shells, was damaged.
Along with BOISE, SALT LAKE CITY left the Solomons for repairs after the Battle of Cape Esperance. In March 1943 SALT LAKE CITY left Pearl and headed for the Aleutians. Her new paint, covering the scars of the previous October, was barely dry before the cruiser was in another tough fight. On 26 March 1943 a Japanese force of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and five destroyers was escorting several heavily laden transports to bases on Attu & Kiska when the ships encountered an American force consisting of one heavy cruiser (SALT LAKE CITY), on light cruiser (RICHMOND) and four destroyers. Despite being heavily out-gunned, the American force, under Rear Adm. Charles McMorris on the RICHMOND, attacked. For three hours the Battle of the Komandorski Islands raged, and, despite being fought in daylight, only a very small percentage of the several thousand major-caliber shells fired by both sides scored hits. But those that did damaged SALT LAKE CITY more than any other. Understandable, the only heavy cruiser in the American formation would be the center of attention. Near the end of the battle the several hits on SALT LAKE CITY took their toll and the cruiser came to a stop. Salvation occurred when accompanying destroyers charged the enemy formation after first laying smoke to protect the lifeless heavy cruiser. This destroyer torpedo attack disrupted the Japanese concentration of gunfire against SALT LAKE CITY and provided time to start the cruiser moving again. At this point the Japanese commander, Vice Adm. Moshiro Hosogaya, broke off the attack and joined his transports in retreat.
Strategically, the American force was victorious because the Japanese were unable to deliver their supplies to garrisons greatly in need, in addition to the fact that the small American force survived. The battle was more a Japanese loss than American victory considering the premature departure of Hosogaya's ships. Low on fuel and ammunition and fearing an air attack, Admiral Hosogaya retreated just as victory was within his grasp. For her role in the Aleutians SALT LAKE CITY was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation.
After the Battle of Cape Esperance and the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, life was somewhat quieter for the SALT LAKE CITY. Often in company with sister ship PENSACOLA, SALT LAKE CITY supported the invasions of the Marshalls, Gilberts, Carolines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. And, like her sister ship, she withstood the two atomic blasts at Bikini in July 1946. Decommissioned on 29 August 1946, SALT LAKE CITY was sunk as a target 130 miles off the coast of Southern California on 25 May, 1948.
Clair S. Tritt
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