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40 Minutes of Hell: The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Part One


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the very early morning hours of November 13th 1942, one of the most intense short range battles in modern naval history was fought in the waters between Guadalcanal and Savo Island. Fourteen ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, including the battleships Hiei and Kirishima supported by the light cruiser Nagara and eleven destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Hiraoki Abe were sent on a mission to destroy the Marine air base, Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in order to ensure the safety of a convoy carrying the soldiers of the 38th division of the Imperial Japanese Army, whose mission was to land than recover the island for the Japanese.

Rear  Hiraoki  Abe  (above)  and  Daniel  Callaghan  (below)

The Americans, whose intelligence code-breakers had surmised Japanese intentions and in response Admiral Richmond Turner gathered a force of two heavy and five light cruisers, the USS San Francisco, USS Portland, USS Helena, USS Atlanta, and the USS Juneau and eight destroyers. He placed Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan in command, although Rear Admiral Norman Scott aboard Atlanta was slightly junior but more experienced in fighting the Japanese at Guadalcanal, having led a US task force to victory at the Battle of Cape Esperance just a month earlier.

                                            Rear Admiral Norman Scott

Adding to the US difficulties was that the force, hastily cobbled together had never operated before as a unit, and Callaghan choose San Francisco, which had previously commanded as his flagship, despite her lack of the latest surface search radar. Likewise, he placed the five ships with it at the rear of his formation, and did not issue a battle plan for his task force. In doing so he lost the element of surprise as Abe had no knowledge of a US task force off Guadalcanal.

               San Francisco returns to Pearl Harbor, December 1942 under Golden Gate Bridge

As night gathered on the 12th of November, Abe steamed southeast down the slot and south of Savo Island, in an unwieldy formation, and his battleships piled high with special fragmentation shells designed to maximize destruction of shore targets and airfields but which were of little use against surface ships. Callaghan steamed northeast through Ironbottom Sound to intercept in a column formation with four destroyers in the van, followed by his five cruisers, and then his other four destroyers. According to Naval historian Samuel Elliott Morrison, the formation was chosen because it had worked for Scott at Cape Esperance, but he failed to take advantage of his advantage in radar and left the cruiser Helena, and the four destroyers with the latest radar in the rear of his formation.

Battleship IJN Hiei (above) USS Helena (below)

 


At 0124 hours radarmen aboard Helena picked up the Japanese Force at 27,000 and 32,000 yards and notified Callaghan. Instead of moving into a position to take the Japanese by a surprise gunfire and torpedo attack Callaghan decided to go directly at the Japanese, sacrificing his advantage in surprise and radar in favor of a short range melee.


USS Laffey

Approaching each other at a combined forty knots the range closed rapidly until at 0141 the destroyer USS Cushing had to make a sharp turn to starboard to avoid a collision with the leading Japanese destroyers, the result was a near pile up for which which Callaghan demanded answers. The Captain of Atlanta explained his maneuvers by radioing Callaghan, “avoiding our destroyers.” 
Within seconds the battle began. The lead US destroyers, Cushing, Laffey, Sterrett, and O’Bannon along with Atlanta engaging the lead Japanese destroyers, Nagara and Hiei.


The result was chaos. Laffey engaged Hiei at a range of 20 feet, inflicting damage and killing key members of Abe’s staff and Hiei’s senior officers. Yet it was another four minutes before Callaghan gave the order to open fire. In the mean time Atlanta was illuminated by Japanese searchlights and opened a murderous fire on the Japanese destroyer Akatzuki. However, the Japanese destroyer’s sacrifice was not in vain as other Japanese ships blasted Atlanta with gunfire and torpedoes, and putting her out of action. Cushing and Laffey were mortally wounded during the initial minutes of the action and both forces continued to close one another, the battle developing into a series of individual fights with each ship searching for targets as well as being targeted by the enemy.
San Francisco was smashed by Japanese shells, including those from the battleships.

Illustration of the Battle by Life Magazine

The barrage killed Admiral Callaghan, his staff, as well as the Commanding Officer and Executive officer of the ship. But for the actions of her crew led by her Chief Engineer  LCDR Bruce McCandless, and Gunnery officer LCDR Wilborne the ship might have been lost. Instead she continued in action adding her 8” guns to the maelstrom. Portland delivered devastating fire from her 8” guns into several targets but was hit in the stern by a Japanese torpedo which limited her to steaming in circles, yet still engaging any target she could.
Helena, Juneau and the rear destroyers now entered the fray. Helena, a veteran of Cape Esperance used her superior radar and experience to help deliver San Francisco from other Japanese attacks from Japanese destroyers and Nagara. Juneau was hit by a Japanese torpedo which broke her keel and left her dead in the water. Destroyers Barton and Monssen were devastier by Japanese fire, Barton sinking seven minutes into her combat career. Monssen was mortally wounded.
                                               Damage to USS Portland

At 0200 Admiral Abe broke off the action. Individual fights still continued, Sterrett crippled the Japanese destroyer Yudachi which was finished off of Portland shortly after sunrise. Hiei was crippled and was further damaged by Marine aircraft from Henderson Field before her crew scuttled her, she was the first Japanese battleship to be sunk in combat during the war. Cushing, Monssen, and Atlanta each lost their fight to stay afloat and Portland, assisted by the tug USS Bobolink reached the safety of Tulagi the next day. After temporary repairs she sailed for Australia and then the United States for full repair and modernization.

The Sullivan Brothers
As Captain Hoover, the senior surviving officer of the US task force took his surviving, and still navigable ships out of harm’s way. It was a harrowing task. Only Helena of his cruisers was fully operational, and  of his three destroyers, only Sterrett and Fletcher had operational sonar, but they were not enough to protect the crippled cruisers. At 1101 a torpedo hit Juneau, blasting her to pieces and leaving about one hundred survivors to fend for themselves as Hoover sought to avoid further attacks. For ten days the surviors suffered until an Army Air Force B-17 spotted them. By then only ten sailors remained alive from the crew of the Juneau, over seven hundred others, including the five Sullivan Brothers either went down with the ship or died awaiting rescue.

USS San Francisco Memorial, the outer wall is from the bridge of the ship still pierced by Japanese shell fire

Of the Commanders, Admiral Abe was forced into retirement at the age of 53, Admirals Callaghan and Scott died in the battle, and Captain Hoover was tried, but not convicted at Court Martial for the loss of Juneau and her crew.
But, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal was not yet over…

To be continued,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, US Army Air Corps, US Marine Corps, US Navy, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

A Global Force for Good: Happy 238th Birthday to the US Navy

Navy Heritage WWII Recruitment Poster

http://www.navy.mil/viewVideo.asp?id=17676

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” Theodore Roosevelt 

For me anything to do with the United States Navy is historical as well as decidedly personal. Sunday is the 238th anniversary of the founding of the United States Navy, actually the founding of the Continental Navy but let’s not get too technical.

The fact is that back in 1775 most people and political leaders in the revolting colonies felt that founding a Navy was quite foolish. After all, who in their right mind would ever dare to challenge the might of the British Royal Navy? Even revolting colonies. But like when King George III was told that “the Colonies are revolting” he reportedly said “tell me something I don’t know.” But I digress…

In fact had General George Washington not sent a letter to the Continental Congress say that he had taken some vessels in hand to disrupt the supplies of the the British Army a Navy might not have ever been established. Timing is everything and in this case it was pretty good timing.

Since that fortuitous day in 1775 the United States Navy went from being a piss ant annoyance to the Royal Navy to the premier naval power in the world. Men like John Paul Jones, Edward Preble Stephen Decatur, Thomas Truxtun, William Bainbridge, Oliver Hazard Perry, David Farragut, David Dixon Porter, George Dewey and many more blazed a path of glory which others, great and small would continue to build on the legacy of the iron men who sailed wooden ships into harm’s way. Men like Arleigh Burke, Howard Gilmore, John C. Waldron, Maxwell Leslie, Bull Halsey, Richard O’Kane, Daniel Callahan, Raymond Spruance, Ernest Evans built upon that legacy in the Second World War. Others would do so in the Cold War, Vietnam and the Global War on Terrorism.

Great ships like the USS Constitution, USS Monitor, USS Kerasarge, USS Olympia, USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, USS Yorktown, USS Growler, USS Tang, USS Hoel, USS Johnston, USS Samuel B Roberts, USS Laffey, USS San Francisco, USS Houston and USS Arizona, USS Nevada, USS West Virginia and USS California helped build a legacy of valiant sacrifice and service often at great cost in the defense of freedom.

But over those 238 years it all it came down to the men and now the men and women who served in every clime and place, many times outnumbered and facing certain defeat who through their courage, honor and commitment helped secure the liberty of their countrymen and others around the world. Most of these men and women served in obscurity in war and peace but all had the distinction of serving in the United States Navy.

As President John F Kennedy said: “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

295_26911932058_5614_n-1

Like my father before me I can say that I am proud to have served and continue to serve in the United States Navy, because we are no matter what some may say or think,  a global force for good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Navy Brat Grows Up…Sort of

NJROTC USS Gray 1978Edison NJROTC on USS Gray FF-1054

I grew up in a Navy family. I was born in a Navy hospital, and my brother was baptized in a Navy Chapel. I went to 6 elementary schools in three states in 6 years. As a result I learned to adapt to change, make friends and at an early age, move on when we moved to our next duty station. I have to admit I rather enjoyed the life.  I think that Navy Brats and other military brats either love it or hate it.  I haven’t seen a lot of in-between reactions; those that love it seem to keep coming back for more.  That was me.

We grew up in the anti-military maelstrom of the 1960s and 1970s. A Sunday school teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer when he was in Vietnam.  It was a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain that helped me keep some faith in God, and it is to him I owe my vocation as a priest and chaplain.

constitution-poster-lgThis Recruiting Poster was My Favorite

When Dad retired from the Navy I was not happy because I wasn’t ready for the adventure to end. I liked the new places, people and travel. Dad was really good about making sure that we got to experience something unique everywhere we went, from Corregidor in the Philippines, the outdoor life of the Puget Sound, Major League Baseball in California, and Hockey. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were regular attractions in Southern California. From Dad, presents from the Far East including a 10 speed bike and a pachinko machine for me.  When we visited dad at work in the squadrons or ships that he served on I was in awe.  The summer of 2008 I made a trip to Charleston South Carolina and went aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10, CVS-11), a sister ship of dad’s last ship the USS Hancock (CV-19, CVA-19).  The trip came a few months after my return from Iraq and as I went aboard my mind was taken back to visits to the Hancock and the wonder I had waling up the brow and through the hangar deck as 11 to 14 year old.  After Yorktown I went to the USS Laffey a Allen M Sumner class destroyer.  On the Laffey there was a display of a DASH helicopter.  The DASH program was way ahead of its time; it was a drone anti-submarine helicopter that could be flown off of smaller ships with small flight decks such as the modernized WWII era destroyers.  My dad worked a number of years in that program.  It was a primitive rotary wing UAV.  It is amazing how memories come back when you see, touch and smell old ships.

hancockUSS Hancock CVA-19, my dad’s last ship

They were good times. We took trips across country by train to visit family in the days before Amtrak, riding every major route from the West Coast to Chicago, the Great Northern-Burlington Northern “Empire Builder,” the Western Pacific “Zephyr” Southern Pacific “Daylight”, Santa Fe “Super Chief” and “El Capitan.” As we were coming home from the Philippines on a Military Transport ship, the USS John C Breckenridge, we were allowed to explore the ship and for the first time I got a sense of the sea.  Something about that voyage caused me to love the sea and ships. Growing up we were allowed to take risks, we had the chance to succeed, but also to learn about life by occasionally failing.  When dad was deployed mom took on the burden of caring for us.  That was difficult for her, but she did well.  The Navy wife and mother actually is a harder job than the deployed sailor.

NAS ChapelChapel at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station where My Brother was Baptized

There is something about being a Navy “brat.” I have been blessed to see our best friends’ boys, Jack and Alex grow up. We’ve known them since they were 4 and 8, respectively and now they are 17 and 13, or something like that. They have great senses of humor and are great to be around. Like me, the life of being a Navy brat is all they know. My first memories of being a Navy brat begin with living in the Philippines. Their dad’s first Navy assignment was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jack may remember life before the Navy, but Alex is too young to remember anything but the Navy.

Deception Pass BridgeDecption Pass Bridge

My life has remained closely tied to the military. After dad retired I did three years of Navy Junior ROTC in High School getting to travel up and down the West Coast and to Hawaii aboard 6 different ships for about 70 days at sea. My parents hoped beyond hope that I would settle down, but I was not deterred. I joined the Army National Guard just prior to entering the UCLA Army ROTC program. I didn’t do the Navy because my fiancée, now my wife Judy, said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy. Her oldest sister’s husband was on a ship during Viet Nam and was never home. Judy witnessed the pain and hardship her sister went through, and then a couple of decades later, her other sister married navy men while she herself was in the Navy.

Our Old House 186 Queets StOur Old House in Oak Harbor 37 years later

So I spent 17 and a half years in the active Army, National Guard and Reserves before finally getting the chance to come in the Navy in February 1999, as I turned in my gold Army Major’s oak leaf for the twin bars of a Navy Lieutenant. Judy wasn’t happy at first, because she had been looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve so we would no longer have so many separations. Judy was also less than thrilled because remembering her words about the Navy when we were dating, I didn’t consult her. I just signed on the dotted line. It took her a while to come to terms with this decision. I’ve also learned not to make major decisions without consulting her.  Oh well…It has all been good, she is the love of my life, and somehow she has survived 26 years of marriage with me.  Since I can be a bit of a pain in the ass this has been no easy feat for her.

My brother Jeff was born in 1966 too late for so of the adventurous tours, but not too late to see dad deployed or away from home a pretty good amount of his life.  I’m pretty sure that Jeff was pretty happy that dad retired.  As a little kid from the time he could remember anything dad was gone close to half of his life.  At the same time with dad away I grew to be pretty independent.  So when dad came back I was doing my own thing and my brother was growing into the time when he and dad would become close as I moved away.  Strange how that happens… he needed a place to be home and he has found it in the town that my dad retired from the Navy back in 1974.  I needed to explore and haven’t stopped exploring.  In a sense I love what I do so much that I am like a little kid about it.

FWU Crete 2002Underway on USS HUE CITY: The Navy Brat all Grown up but not

I now serve at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Often in the ICU I have patients who are about my parents’ age facing major health crises and sometimes end of life issues. Their kids are often my contemporaries. We have shared a similar life and cultural experience as Navy “Brats” of our era. It is interesting to compare what we have been through, the places we have been, what we have seen and done and how life was a Navy brat.  There is a kinship that I have with these families that transcends the here and now, something almost mystical that binds Navy families together. I have no idea when this grand adventure will end, but one thing is for sure, and for this I will always be grateful, to be a Navy Brat.

Peace, Steve+

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