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Battle of the Komandorski Islands


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#1 mikebatzel

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 04:50 PM

In June 1942 while the Battle of Midway was being fought, far to the north the Japanese where invading the Aleutian islands of Kiska and Attu. The islands where not particularly important but the US could not tolerate an invasion of North American territory. The Japanese found that the islands were difficult to keep supplied. On 18 February 1943 the USS Indianapolis sank the Akagane Maru unescorted, bound for Attu. Japan determined to make sure the next reinforcments would get through, and attached a large number of escorts.

The escort for the convoy included the heavy cruisers Nachi and Maya light cruisers Tama and Abukuma the destroyers Wakaba, Hatsushimo, Ikazuchi, and Inazuma led by VADM Boshiro Hosogaya, commander of the 5th fleet. The fleet was scheduled to rendezvous with another transport and destroyer so when a sharp eyed Japanese sailor sighted a mast, Hosogaya assumed it was the rest of his convoy. In Fact it was an American force, dispatched to intercept the convoy.
The Americans where commanded by RADM Charles Memories and consisted of the heavy cruiser Salt Lake City light cruiser Richmond and destroyers Bailey, Dale, and Monaghan.

American Radar detected the Japanese at 0730 and McMorris ordered his fleet in battle formation. The Americans still didn’t know what they were up against and word quickly spread that there where easy pickings on the horizon. As the light grew the situation became clear. The Japanese outnumbered the Americans, and the Japanese cruisers where faster than there American counterparts. Afraid that if he turned to run, that the Japanese would pick off the entire fleet one by one, McMorris decided to attempt to keep the fight at long range while maneuvering towards the transports.

At 0840 Maya fired first followed shortly by Nachi from 20000 yards. Maya’s second salvo straddled Richmond, but then turned fire on the Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City finally began to return fire. At 0844 Nachi fired torpedoes. Finally the US drew first blood with hits on Nachi, damaging the Bridge and the Gunnery control circuit. Japanese Fire Control would make the first big mistake of the battle. Attempting to switch generators the Japanese diverted power to the wrong boiler and the ship lost power to her guns. It would take a half hour to correct the error.

At around 0900 lookouts on the Richmond sighted torpedoes coming right for them, but luckily they passed underneath the ship without harm. The Japanese where now chasing from the aft port quarter, but had to turn to bring there guns to bear. The Americans where opening the range. Finally at 0910 Maya scored a hit a hit on Salt Lake City, then another at 0920.

Finally at 0952 Salt Lake Citybegan to have some difficulties. Repeated near misses damaged steering control. The problem was corrected quickly but ten minutes later it failed again for good. With flooding in the engine room and only the ability to make 10 degree course changes, McMorris ordered his destroyers to conceal the ship with smoke.

The Japanese where now in position to finish off the American force. With position and speed, along with the strongest US warship crippled, the Japanese should have closed in to finish off the Americans. Hosogaya elected to stay at a distance using full broadsides when the smoke gave him opportunity. For 45 minutes the Japanese failed to hit anything but water. At 1100 the American column turned due south. Because of the smoke the Japanese continued west for another half hour. Salt Lake CityWas hit for the last time at 1103 and took on a 5 degree list, but was nowhere near the end of her plight.

Running low on ammo for the aft guns Salt Lake City began to use High-Capacity shells. The near misses on the Japanese heavy cruisers had an interesting affect. The large towers of water created by the shells convinced the Japanese that they where now under air attack, and they began bracketing the sky with anti-aircraft fire.

At 1150 the Americans achieved there ultimate crisis. Attempting to correct her list, engineers couterflooded Salt Lake City, and accidentally extinguished her burners. The ship was dead in the water, and there was little hope of saving her now. McMorris ordered the destroyers to make a torpedo attack. While the destroyers made their run the Richmond closed to evacuate the Salt Lake City’s crew. The crew was still determined to save their ship and got the burners lit again. By 1200 she was making 8 knots.

The US destroyers gallantly charged at the Japanese cruisers and Bailey took the brunt of the fire, but was able to launch the fish from 10000 yards. The heavy fire from the Japanese prevented any other ship to fire their torpedoes. Seeing the torpedo attack and afraid that American planes were already overhead, Hosogaya turned west and broke off the action. His destroyers where low on fuel and the entire force was below minimum ammunition levels. The smoke screen had prevented his knowledge of the crippled US cruiser.

The battle ended tactically in a draw, but the Japanese would never again attempt to re-supply the Aleutians with surface transports. Hosogaya was relieved after the battle. His men thought he had robbed them of a great victory, and indeed he had.
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Salt Lake City in action.
Please give the Combined Fleet the chance to bloom as flowers of death. This is the navy’s earnest request. RADM Tasuku Nakazawa prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf
It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

#2 Slipdigit

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 06:10 PM

Anyone remember why the Salt Lake City was called "Old Swayback Maru"?

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#3 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 06:17 PM

I had forgotten that nickname LOL.
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#4 mikebatzel

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 10:37 AM

Anyone remember why the Salt Lake City was called "Old Swayback Maru"?

I found this:

So bare of streamlined beauty is her ungainly silhouette that Correspondent Bob Casey (Torpedo Junction) fondly fastened the nickname "Swayback Maru" on her when the censors would not let him reveal her real name.

"Swayback Maru" - TIME
Please give the Combined Fleet the chance to bloom as flowers of death. This is the navy’s earnest request. RADM Tasuku Nakazawa prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf
It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

#5 mikebatzel

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 10:58 AM

Another good account of the battle

Battle of the Komandorski Islands: Close Call in the Aleutians During World War II » HistoryNet
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Please give the Combined Fleet the chance to bloom as flowers of death. This is the navy’s earnest request. RADM Tasuku Nakazawa prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf
It is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on U.S. soil. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

#6 Slipdigit

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 01:40 PM

Thanks Mike. Check your User CP.

Best Regards,  
JW :slipdigit:

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#7 KMDjr

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Posted 25 June 2009 - 03:14 PM

Hello,

I have a friend, now well into his eighties, who was a fire control man in the MB of USS SALT LAKE CITY. He wrote--immeditely after the battle--his own account of it, which is (aptly) entitled, "Retreat To Victory." The engagement was neither pleasant nor heroic, but a 'near-run thing' and he has always recognized how close their escape was... Among other details of note was the fact that SALT LAKE CITY was just out of the yard & a major overhaul, not fully worked up by any means (or "shaken down" as my friend put it), and once the engagement began, things started to fly loose all over the place throughout the ship, which led to many of their problems...apart from the Japanese gunnery.

But, the old cruiser had a great career. My friend was on her for the Doolittle Raid, Battle of Cape Esperance, and the Komandorskis, all after having been nearly killed aboard WEST VIRGINIA at Pearl Harbor. A very rich wartime service, in other words.

Thought this might be of some interest.




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