Daily Archives: 26 March 2018

Battle of the Komandorski Islands

26 March 1943
75 Years Ago

usn-cn-aleutians-2-1
Note: The battle took place west of the international date line. Official Navy times are Hawaii/Aleutian time zone.

The Americans had been bombing the Japanese garrisons on Attu and Kiska endlessly, in spite of the brutal Aleutian weather, since the Japanese landings in June of ’42. Invasion of these islands were imminent. The Japanese were finding it more difficult every passing month to resupply their garrisons. They were desperate to get supplies and equipment in. The Americans were just as desperate to keep those supply lines cut.

Enter Admiral “Soc” McMorris on the ancient (1918) light cruiser Richmond. Out on patrol, 200 miles west of Attu, and 100 miles south of the Russian Komandorski Islands, McMorris had four destroyers with him: the Bailey, Dale, Coghlan, and Monaghan. Also in the task group, was the recent arrival, the heavy cruiser Salt Lake City. Known throughout the USN as the “Swayback Maru”, the Salt Lake City had been launched in 1929.

At 0730, radar showed 3-5 targets at approximately 21,000 yards. It appeared to be a group of lightly screened transports. “… a Roman holiday was in prospect”, McMorris would write later.
At 0824, the radar brought the number of total targets to ten. Within minutes, the tops of heavy cruisers appeared over the horizon. It was Japan’s entire Northern fleet. Along with at least two transport ships looking to resupply the island of Attu, were two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and four destroyers. The odds had flipped. The Americans had fewer ships, and what they had was slower and outgunned.

What happened next, was an oddity of naval engagements in WWII. There were no aircraft carriers. The battle took place without any air or submarine support. It was a daylight battle, with the enemy in sight, guns blazing. Lasting 3-1/2 hours, the Battle of the Komandorskis was the longest continuous gunnery duel in modern naval history.*

USS Salt Lake City
USS Salt Lake City with destroyer smoke screen during the battle

Since the Salt Lake City had the most fire power, it drew the most attention. By “chasing salvos”, and accurate fire, the American task force more than held its own. Rudder damage suddenly limited the heavy cruiser to ten degree course changes. The Salt Lake City took two hits: one midship; one hitting the seaplane in its catapult. Another hit flooded the forward compartments. Water in the fuel oil lines killed the boilers. The Salt Lake City was dead in the water. The smoke screen put up by the destroyers had concealed the severity of the damage to the Japanese, but now, it was just a matter of time.

At this point, three of the destroyers charged the Japanese ships for a torpedo run, the fourth destroyer stayed with the wounded heavy cruiser. The charge, led by the Bailey, drew fire away from the Salt Lake City. The Bailey was hit three times by 8″ shells, before launching five torpedoes. Engineers on the Salt Lake City managed to get the boilers fired, and the Swayback Maru was moving again.
Suddenly, the Japanese started to withdraw. They were low on fuel and ammunition, and Admiral Hosogaya assumed that American bombers would be overhead soon. Hosogaya had no way of knowing that the Americans were in even more dire straits as far as ammo and fuel went, and there were no American bombers rushing to the battle.

USS Bailey
The USS Bailey in for repairs after the battle

The Salt Lake City had fired 806 armor-piercing projectiles, and 26 high-capacity shells during the battle. The heavy cruiser was hit by six 8″ shells. The Coghlan was hit once. The Americans suffered 7 dead and 20 wounded.
The Japanese had one heavy cruiser moderately damaged and one heavy cruiser with light damage. 14 Japanese were killed and 26 wounded.

The battle, in many ways, was considered a draw. Although, the Americans kept the Japanese from resupplying their garrisons, and the Japanese would not attempt again to resupply by surface ship. For the remainder of their Aleutian occupation, the Japanese would resupply by submarine only.

USS Bailey crew
Crew members of the USS Bailey during their Aleutian campaign

* “The Battle of the Komandorski Islands” by John Lorelli
Photos courtesy of the National Archives


PPL Center

Allentown, Pennsylvania

The curiously named, “Midwest Regional” for NCAA D-1 hockey was held in Allentown over the weekend. Both the Curator and I thought that the city put on a decent regional. The interest was here, and the community seemed to know why we were here, which is always a good sign.


Opening face-off between OSU and Princeton

The Princeton Tigers would face the Ohio State Buckeyes in game one. It looked like the Princeton magic from the ECAC tournament was running dry, and not even the Hobey Baker video could drum up some extra life for the Tigers.
OSU scored twice within 20 seconds in the first period. There was no score from either team in the second period, then OSU scored two more goals in the third.
Princeton finally showed some life, when OSU took a penalty with less than a minute left in the game. Princeton would score twice in the final minute, but that was not enough to avoid a season ending loss. OSU gets the W, 4-2.


DU vs PSU

We went into game two thinking we’d see some great hockey. Unfortunately, only one team provided that. The game was never as close as the opening puck drop; Denver just beat Penn State in every facet of the game. The crowd was decidedly pro-PSU, but that only made for a lot of very disappointed fans. Final score: 5-1 Denver.

Ticket to Saint Paul:


Puck drop in OSU v DU

We finally had a game. Ohio State and Denver were evenly matched, and the up-tempo style of play was fun to watch. A lot was on the line: Denver was the defending national champion, and Ohio State had never made a Frozen Four field before.

The first period was scoreless, and both goalies had been looking good. OSU finally got a puck past DU net minder Tanner Jaillet on a nice backhander by Dakota Joshua. Then, 3/4 of the way through the second period, OSU doubled their lead on another beautiful backhand shot by Kevin Miller. Things were looking up for the Buckeyes.
OSU would take a 3-0 lead before Denver scored their first goal. OSU gets their first trip to the Frozen Four with a hard fought 5-1 win over Denver.

Sean Romeo, the OSU net minder finished with 30 saves, and was the Regional MVP.


Ohio State celebrates their first trip to the Frozen Four

The field is now set for Saint Paul. Three B1G Teams will advance: Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. Minnesota-Duluth also advances for their second trip in two years.