We spent some time out at Battleship Cove on our off-hockey day. There are eight surviving U.S. battleships that had served in WWII. One member of the Frozen Foursome had been to seven of them. We set out to find the last one on the list: the USS Massachusetts.
There is a lot to see out at the Maritime Museum at Battleship Cove: Cobra and Iroquois helicopters, a pair of PT Boats, a WWII landing craft and a DUKW Boat, just to name a few things. The main draw though is the big ships: the destroyer USS Joseph P. Kennedy JR, the submarine USS Lionfish, and the “Big Mamie”, the battleship USS Massachusetts.
The USS Massachusetts was commissioned in May of 1942, and quickly headed out to take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Afterwards, she was transferred to the Pacific Fleet, taking part in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign, the Philippines Campaign, and the Battle of Okinawa. After WWII, the ship was transferred to the reserve fleet in 1947, and finally stricken from Naval Records in June of 1962.
The USS Massachusetts has been a museum ship at Battleship Cove since August of 1965. She was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and became a National Historic Landmark in January 1986.
For over two decades, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard have been looking for the final resting place of the Revenue Cutter Bear. One of the most storied ships in USCG history, the Bear was launched in 1874, and would see service for the next nine decades.
The historic vessel entered Coast Guard service as a revenue cutter in 1885, spending much of its time working the 20,000 mile Alaska coastline. The Bear was a rescue ship and medical ship; served as transportation for governors, teachers, construction material, mail and reindeer; hunted for poachers, smugglers and illegal traders; and she served as census taker and floating courthouse during her time in Alaskan waters.
She assisted the 1906 relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake, as well as assisting Robert Byrd on his Second and Third Antarctic Expeditions. In 1930, the Bear starred in the film version of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf. In 1939, she joined the US Navy on the United States Antarctic Service Expedition. When the United States entered WWII, the Bear returned to Arctic waters joining the Northeast Atlantic Greenland Patrol.
With her service in WWII, the Bear became the oldest Navy ship to be deployed outside the Continental United States. She was also one of the last ships originally equipped with sails to serve in a theater of war. The Bear was one of a select few Navy ships to have served in the Spanish-American War, as well as both World Wars.
In 1963, while being towed from Nova Scotia to Philadelphia, one of her masts collapsed in a storm, and the venerable Bear went down to the sea bottom.
In 2019, researchers from NOAA caught a break. Two targets were discovered, and one showed major promise. After two years of comparing photos of the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and photos of the Bear in dry dock and at port, researchers have stated that they are “reasonably certain” that the wreckage is the Bear.
The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.
Growing up in Minnesota, and spending a fair amount of time along the shores of Lake Superior, the story of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is one that I had heard from early childhood.
Construction on The Fitz started in August of 1957. The Great Lakes Engineering Works was tasked with building a freighter that would come within one foot of the Saint Lawrence Seaway’s maximum length. The customer was the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The ship was launched in June 1958, bearing the name of the president of Northwestern Mutual Life. The cost for the 729′ long freighter with a 26,000 long ton capacity, was $7 million.
For 17 years, The Fitz hauled iron ore from Duluth and Superior to cities like Detroit and Toledo. It took five days to make the run between Toledo, Ohio and Superior, Wisconsin.
The Fitzgerald set several cargo records during its time on the Great Lakes, often breaking her own previous record. In 1969, the ship hauled 27,402 long tons in a single run.
The Fitz quickly became popular with the public. Captain Peter Pulcer would play music over the ship’s intercom, whenever they went through the St Clair and Detroit Rivers. Near the Soo Locks, Pulcer would often talk to the public over a bullhorn, explaining details of the ship.
A storm was building over Oklahoma’s panhandle on 9 November 1975. Weather forecasters predicted that it would stay south of Lake Superior. At 2:15pm, on the same day, the Edmund Fitzgerald left the port of Superior, WI.
The storm moved fast, and by 1am on the morning of the 10th, The Fitz was reporting waves at ten feet. By 2am, the National Weather Service had upgraded its warnings from gale to storm.
The SS Arthur M. Anderson, which had been traveling with The Fitz, started to fall behind the faster Fitzgerald at 3am. The Anderson recorded winds of 58mph at 1:50pm. It started to snow heavy at 2:45pm, and the crew of the Anderson lost sight of the Fitzgerald at that time. The Fitz was approximately 16 miles ahead at this point.
At 3:30pm, Captain McSorley of the Fitzgerald, radioed the Anderson that they were taking on water and had lost two vent covers. The United States Coast Guard had closed the Soo Locks, and told ships to seek safe anchorage.
By late afternoon, waves had increased to 25 feet and wind gusts hit 67mph. The Anderson recorded gusts of 86mph and waves of 35 feet. The Edmund Fitzgerald tried to make Whitefish Bay, where the Whitefish Point light was working, but not the radio beacon. By now the Fitzgerald was blind, having lost both its radar.
At 7:10pm, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson, that they were “holding their own”. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank within minutes of that final message. There was no distress signal.
The fully loaded Edmund Fitzgerald went down 15 nautical miles from Whitefish Bay. All 29 crew members perished; no bodies were recovered. The Fitz now lies 530 feet below the surface of Lake Superior.
A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion, equipped with technology usually associated with finding submarines, found the wreck on 14 November 1975. The ship was in two pieces on the lake floor.
Every year on November 10, the Minnesota Historical Society hosts the Edmund Fitzgerald Memorial Beacon Lighting Ceremony at the Split Rock Lighthouse in Two Harbors, MN. This year’s ceremony will be virtual, hosted on the Historical Society’s facebook page. The ceremony starts at 4:30 CST, with the beacon lighting at approximately 7:30pm.
The recovery of the Apollo 13 crew, near Samoa in the Pacific Ocean; Photo credit: US Navy
The command module, Odyssey, was the only module capable of reentering the earth’s atmosphere. Apollo 13’s crew moved back into Odyssey, then jettisoned Aquarius. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 142 hours, 54 minutes, 41 seconds from the time of liftoff.
Fred Haise, Jack Swigert and Jim Lovell aboard the recovery ship USS Iwo Jima
Fred Haise remained in the astronaut rotation after Apollo 13, and was the backup mission commander for Apollo 16. Following Apollo 16, Haise transferred over to the Space Shuttle program. He retired from NASA in 1979.
Jack Swigert was selected as the command module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz test project, the first joint U.S. – Soviet mission. Swigert left NASA in 1977, and was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 1982. Swigert died in December of that same year.
Jim Lovell is one of three men to have flown to the moon twice, but he never walked on its surface. Lovell accumulated 715 hours in space, and watched 269 sunrises from space. Lovell, along with Haise and Swigert hold the record for the farthest distance humans have traveled from earth. He retired from the U.S. Navy and Space Program in 1973.
Apollo 13 Command Module; Photo credit: National Air & Space Museum
It’s time for the Frozen Foursome+ to meet up, and take in some championship hockey. This year’s title game is in Buffalo, New York. I arrived a bit early, to take in the western New York sites.
One of my first stops, was at The Naval and Military Park in Buffalo, which opened in June 1979. At their dock, they have the USS Croaker, USS The Sullivans, and the USS Little Rock.
USS Little Rock and USS The Sullivans
USS The Sullivans was launched out of San Francisco in April 1943.
The five Sullivan brothers enlisted in the Navy and served together on the light cruiser, USS Juneau. While fighting off the coast of Guadalcanal, the five brothers died, along with 700 of their shipmates, when a Japanese submarine sank the Juneau.
The shamrock on The Sullivans forward stack
President Roosevelt ordered that one of the new destroyers under construction be named after the Sullivan brothers. It was the first Navy destroyer to be named after more than one person.
USS The Sullivans sailed into WWII with 14 crewmembers named Sullivan. The Sullivans fought in the Marshalls, Carolines, Marianas, and the Philippines. She never lost a man in battle, and went on to serve in the Korean War and the Cuban Blockade.
The Sullivans arrived in Buffalo in 1977, and was designated a national historic landmark in 1986. In 1997, the name The Sullivans was passed onto a new class of destroyer carrying the heritage forward.
USS Little Rock
The USS Little Rock, a Cleveland class, light cruiser, was launched in August 1944. She was decommissioned in 1949. In January 1957, the Little Rock entered the Philadelphia Naval Yard for a conversion to a guided missile cruiser. In June 1960, she was recommissioned and re-entered service.
Missile track on board the Little Rock
The Little Rock saw service throughout the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. She was decommissioned for a final time in November 1976. The Little Rock name was passed onto a new class of ship, the littoral combat ship.
Control room on board the USS Croaker
The submarine, the USS Croaker, was launched in December of 1943. The Croaker made six WWII patrols, sinking 11 Japanese vessels, including the light cruiser, Nagara. She received three battle stars for her service.
Torpedo and tube on board USS Croaker
The Croaker was recommissioned under the Hunter/Killer program in 1953. Deployments were made to the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean until 1968. From 1968 to 1971, the Croaker served as a Naval Reserve trainer. In 1988, the USS Croaker arrived in Buffalo. It has been placed on the National & New York State registers of historic places.
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 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.
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.
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
After bombing Dutch Harbor on the 3-4 June, a Japanese landing force with 500 marines, stormed Kiska Island, Alaska. Stationed on the island was a U.S.N. Weather Station, with ten of the usual twelve man crew present.
The 12 man crew of the weather station on Kiska Island, 1942. Front & center, is their dog “Explosion”.
Two of the men were injured by machine gun fire on their shack, and were immediately captured. The other eight men, and the dog Explosion, escaped into the night. Seven were captured later, when they tried to visit their food caches for provisions. Senior Petty Officer William C. House managed to evade the Japanese for fifty days, eating plants and earthworms, and hiding in caves. Weighing 80 pounds, House would eventually turn himself in to the Japanese. All were now prisoners of war.
Twenty Japanese ships moved into Kiska Harbor, and by September, an additional 2000 troops had reinforced the island’s garrison.