Saturday, March 26, 2005

On March 26th in military 1943

On this day in military history….in 1943. The US fleet stops a Japanese re-supply convoy at the Battle of the Komandorski Islands. In June 1942, to decoy the US from their planned invasion of Midway Islands, the Japanese invaded the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska. Although the Japanese were defeated at Midway, they did not immediately retreat from the Aleutians, continuing to send convoys to re-supply the garrisons. As during the Battle of Guadalcanal, the re-supply convoys usually consisted of a number of fast ships (converted warships or destroyers) which could either fight or run away if confronted by enemy forces. In March 1943, the US knew about an impending convoy and sent a force of four destroyers, one light cruiser (USS Richmond) and one heavy cruiser (USS Salt Lake City AKA “Swayback Maru”) out to intercept and destroy the convoy. However, un-beknownst to the US fleet, the escort for the convoy consisted of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and four destroyers.

On the morning of 26 March, the two forces met each other south of the Komandorski Islands. The Komandorski Islands are located above 53 degrees N. latitude (the Artic Circle is at 66 degrees N. latitude) to the east of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Bering Sea. The outside air temperature was just below freezing and the water temperature was just above freezing. The Japanese fleet started firing when the fleets were 11 miles apart. The Japanese concentrated their fire on the Salt Lake City since its 8-inch main guns were the only US weapons that could reach the Japanese at that distance. The battle went on so long (3 and ½ hours) that the Salt Lake City ran out of armor-piercing ammunition and had to switch to high-explosive ammunition. The she was hit three times by enemy shells before a fourth shell hit which flooded the engine room and cause her to go dead in the water. At this time, the Salt Lake City was low on ammunition and listing to port. The US destroyers started making smoke to hide the ship, but things weren’t looking good and preparations were being made to remove the crew from the ship before she sank or the Japanese arrived to finish her off. It looked like the end for the Salt Lake City when the Japanese, not knowing the extent of damage to the ship, decided to turn away. The reasons given were that they were low on fuel and ammunition and were afraid of being attacked by US bombers (who were at least a five-hour flight away). It also could have also been due to the fact that the Japanese believed that they were already under air attack since the misses from high-explosive ammunition that the Salt Lake City was firing looked like bombs dropped by airplanes. Whatever the reason, the Japanese decided to withdraw from the battle and leave the Salt Lake City to fight another day.

The result of the battle was a tactical draw with both sides receiving damage. However, it was a strategic victory for the United States as it hastened the defeat for the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands as they were no longer able to resupply their forces there by surface ship. It also added to the folklore surrounding the USS Salt Lake City during World War II. She was commissioned in December 1929 and when Pearl Harbor was attacked, she was at sea with the USS Enterprise. She unofficially participated in more enemy engagements than any other ship in the fleet. She earned 11 battle stars during the war and the Navy Unit Commendation for her actions during the Aleutians Campaign. After the war, she was used to evaluate the effects if atomic blasts on surface ships and survived two blasts in 1946. She was eventually sunk as a target hull off the coast of California in 1948.


At 9:12 PM, Blogger Rosemary said...

Simply amazing. How little we, as Americans, know about our history. I am humbled, for sure. Thank you.


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