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.
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 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 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.