Tag Archives: USN

SS Edmund Fitzgerald

The great freighter sank 45 years ago today, taking all 29 crew members to the bottom of Lake Superior with her.

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald

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.

The Fitzgerald’s final run

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 Edmund Fitzgerald on the bottom of Lake Superior

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.

Positioning of the Fitzgerald wreck

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.

https://www.mnhs.org/event/7795?fbclid=IwAR1uhHGt09pDrvk7IyAuJ7SZ7hsizkzvaye4Rlcr3sRujpi_6A7dBsSP4i0

The Split Rock Lighthouse; Photo credit: Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Edmund Fitzgerald Photos Credit: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum

Sources: Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum; Split Rock Lighthouse State Park; Minnesota Historical Society


Apollo 13: April 17, 1970

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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.

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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.

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Apollo 13 Command Module; Photo credit: National Air & Space Museum

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Apollo 11: Splashdown


Navy Seals from the USS Hornet (in background) approach the Apollo 11 capsule after splashdown; Photo credit: NASA

After a successful moonwalk EVA, the crew of Apollo 11 returned to Earth on 24 July 1969, eight days after launching from Cape Kennedy.

Splashdown occurred 812 miles from Hawaii, and only 12 miles from where the USS Hornet was stationed, waiting to recover the crew.

The mission duration was officially 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds from launch.

The three man Apollo 11 crew was scrubbed, disinfected and remained in quarantine for 21 days after their return.

Commander Neil Armstrong passed away on 25 August 2012. Fellow Apollo 11 astronauts, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin were front & center for many of the 50th Anniversary celebrations.

Michael Collins’ book: Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journeys, is one of the very best written by an astronaut.


Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park


USS Croaker and USS Little Rock

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.


USS Juneau

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.


Battle of the Komandorski Islands

26 March 1943
75 Years Ago

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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


Kiska Island

6 June 1942

Japanese Tank Crew Kiska '42
Japanese tank crew on Kiska Island, 1942

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.

12 man Kiska crew
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.

Photos courtesy of the National Archives


USS Bennington 1958

The USS Bennington passes the USS Arizona on Memorial Day, 1958.

Photo courtesy of the USN


23 February 1945

Raising the Flag on Mt Suribachi
AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal

On this day, 70 years ago, Joe Rosenthal took his iconic photo of the U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division raising the American flag atop the 546 foot Mt Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. There were 6 flag raisers on Suribachi, five Marines and one Navy corpsman: Mike Strank, Harlon Block, Franklin Sousley, Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and John Bradley. Strank, Block and Sousley would later die on Iwo Jima.

There would be many more weeks of fighting on Iwo Jima; the island would not be deemed secure until March 26.

Joe Rosenthal on Iwo Jima
Joe Rosenthal on the island of Iwo Jima. 7 March 1945 AP Photo/US Marine Corps

Rosenthal’s iconic photo would win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1945.

US Marines on Suribachi
US Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division atop Mt Suribachi AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal

Also on Suribachi at the flag raising were US Marine photographers Sgt Bill Genaust and Pfc. Bob Campbell. Genaust captured the event using his 16mm motion picture camera. Sgt. Genaust would be killed by small arms fire on March 4, 1945, along with another Marine. Their bodies were never recovered.