WWII CRUISE OF THE SALT LAKE CITY
(Navy department Historical Site)
On 7 December, when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor, she was returning from Wake Island, as an escort for carrier, Enterprise. Salt Lake City was 200 miles west of Pearl Harbor when she received word of the attack. The group immediately launched scouting planes in hopes of catching possible stragglers from the enemy force, but the search proved fruitless. The ships entered Pearl Harbor toward sundown on the eighth. After a tedious night refueling, they sortied before dawn to hunt submarines north of the islands. Submarines were encountered on the 10th and 11th. The first, 1-70, was sunk by dive bombers from Enterprise ; the second, sighted ahead of the group on the surface, was engaged with gunfire by Salt Lake City as the ships maneuvered to avoid torpedoes. Screening destroyers made numerous depth charge runs, but no kill was confirmed. Operations against a third contact brought similar results. The group returned to Pearl Harbor on the 15th to refuel.
Salt Lake City was with Task Force 8, from 14 to 23 December, as that group covered Oahu and supported the task force strike that was planned to relieve beleaguered Wake. After Wake fell, Salt Lake City's group moved to cover the reinforcement of Midway and then Samoa.
In February, the Enterprise task force carried out air strikes in the eastern Marshalls at Wotje, Maloelap, and Kwajalein to reduce enemy seaplane bases. While conducting shore bombardment during those strikes, Salt Lake City came under air attack and assisted in downing two Japanese bombers. In March, she supported air strikes at Marcus Island. In April, she escorted the Hornet and Enterprise group, TF 16, which launched Lt. Col. Doolittle's raids on Tokyo and other Japanese cities, and returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 April.
Orders awaited the ships to sail as soon as possible to join the Yorktown and Lexington forces in the Coral Sea. Although the task force moved fast, they had only reached a point some 450 miles east of Tulagi by 8 May, the day of the Battle of the Coral Sea. What followed was essentially a retirement, and Salt Lake City operated as cover with her group; on the 11th off the New Hebrides, and from the 12th to the 16th eastward from Efate and Santa Cruz. On 16 May, she was ordered back to Pearl Harbor and arrived there 10 days later.
The carrier groups now began intensive preparations to meet the expected Japanese thrust at Midway. During the battle, early in June, Salt Lake City provided rear guard protection for the islands.
The cruiser was next assigned to screen for Wasp in Group 3, Task Force “Nan” of the air support force, which was preparing to invade the Solomon Islands. The assault landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagi began on 7 August.
Salt Lake City protected Wasp as she shuttled planes for Saratoga and Enterprise, and provided CAP and scouting patrols during the landings. Salt Lake City was with Wasp, on 15 September, when that carrier was torpedoed by Japanese submarines and sunk. She assisted in rescue operations for survivors, and took on board others who had been picked up by destroyer, Lardner.
The campaign in the Solomons developed into a grim struggle which was climaxed on the night of 11 and 12 October in the Battle of Cape Esperance. Task Force 64 was formed around cruisers Salt Lake City, Boise, Helena, and San Francisco to thwart the “Tokyo Express,” a steady flow of Japanese vessels .maintaining reinforcement and resupply to Guadalcanal. The force was not considered large enough to get involved with a major Japanese covering force; they were interested primarily in inflicting maximum damage to the transports. They arrived off Espiritu Santo on 7 October and, for two days, steamed near Guadalcanal and waited. Land-based search-plane reports came in that an enemy force was steaming down the "slot;" and, that night, the Task Force moved to the vicinity of Savo Island to intercept it.
Search planes were ordered launched from the cruisers, but in the process of launching, Salt Lake City's plane caught fire as flares ignited in the cockpit. The plane crashed close to the ship and the pilot managed to get free. He later found safety on a nearby island. The brilliant fire was seen in the darkness by the Japanese flag officers, who assumed that it was a signal flare from the landing force which they were sent to protect. The Japanese flagship answered with blinker light, and receiving no reply, continued to signal. The American force formed a battle line at right angles to the Japanese T-formation, and thus were able to enfilade the enemy ships. The American cruisers opened fire and continued scoring hits for a full seven minutes before the confused Japanese realized what was taking place. They had believed that, by error ,their own forces were taking them under fire. When the Japanese warships replied, their fire was too little and too late. The action was over in half an hour. One Japanese cruiser sank; another was reduced to rubble; a third was holed twice; and a destroyer sank. One destroyer of the five-ship force escaped damage. Salt Lake City sustained three major hits during the action. Boise was severely crippled, but managed to rejoin the group under her own power. The destroyer Duncan was left gutted off Savo. The ships formed up and steamed to Espiritu Santo.
Salt Lake City spent the next four months at Pearl Harbor undergoing repairs and replenishing. Late in March 1943, she departed for the Aleutians and operated from Adak to prevent the Japanese from supporting their garrisons on Attu and Kiska. Operating in TF8, Salt Lake City was accompanied by Richmond (CL-9) and four destroyers when they made contact, on 26 March, with some Japanese transports and supporting vessels. Believing that easy pickings were in store, the American warships formed up and closed range. The Japanese force, however, consisted of two light cruisers and two heavy cruisers screened by four destroyers. Two transports departed the enemy force and headed for safety as the Japanese warships turned to engage. The Salt Lake City group was outgunned and outnumbered, but they pressed on and made a course change in hopes of getting a shot at the transports before the warships could act.
There was also a possibility that the Japanese would split their force and the Salt Lake City,, with the old light cruiser Richmond, could tackle a portion of them on more equal terms. Simultaneously, the opposing cruisers opened fire at a range of nearly ten miles. The ensuing battle was a retiring action on the part of the Americans, for the Japanese foiled their attempt to get the auxiliaries. Salt Lake City received most of the attention of the enemy gunners and soon received two hits, but she returned very accurate fire. Her rudder stops were carried away, and she was limited to 10° course changes. Another hit soon flooded forward compartments. Under cover of a thick smoke screen and aggressive torpedo attacks by the destroyers, the United States cruisers were able to make an evasive turn, which for a while allowed the range to open. Salt Lake City began receiving hits again soon and then her boiler fires died, one by one. Salt water had entered the fuel oil feed lines. There was now cause for grave concern; she lay dead in the water, and the Japanese ships were closing fast. Luckily she was hidden in the smoke, and the enemy was not aware of her plight.
The destroyers charged the Japanese cruisers and began to draw the fire away from Salt Lake City. They were taking extreme punishment by the time they launched a spread of torpedoes. In the meantime, Salt Lake City engineers were purging the fuel lines and firing the boilers. With fresh oil supplying the fires, she was now building up steam and gaining headway. Suddenly the Japanese began to withdraw, for they were fast exhausting their ammunition. They never suspected that the Americans were far lower than themselves in both ammunition and fuel.
Despite being outnumbered two to one, the American ships succeeded in their purpose. The Japanese attempt to reinforce their bases in the Aleutians had failed, and they turned tail and headed home. Salt Lake City later covered the American occupation of Attu and Kiska which ended the Aleutian Campaign. She departed Adak on 23 September and sailed, via San Francisco, to Pearl Harbor where she arrived on 14 October.
The Allied offensive strategy in the Pacific now focused on the Marshall Islands. A two-column thrust through Micronesia and the Bismarcks would force the enemy to disperse his forces, deny him the opportunity for a flanking movement, and provide the Allies with the choice of where and when to strike next. To obtain adequate intelligence for planning the Marshalls operation, the Gilberts would have to be secured for use as a staging area and launch point for photographic missions. Salt Lake City was assigned to Task Group 50.3, the Southern Carrier Group for the Gilbert Islands Campaign, Operation “Galvanic.”
Salt Lake City conducted rigorous gunnery training until 8 November when she sailed to join carriers, Essex, Bunker Hill, and Independence which had carried out preliminary strikes on Wake, as a diversion, on 5 and 6 October, and at Rabaul on 11 November. Salt Lake City joined on the 13th off Funafuti, Ellice Islands, following the carriers' fueling rendezvous at Espiritu Santo. She then saw action on the 19th as she bombarded Betio at Tarawa, in the Gilberts. That day and the next, she fought off repeated torpedo plane attacks aimed for the flattops. Tarawa was secured by the 28th. This was the first Pacific amphibious operation to be vigorously opposed at the beach, and many lessons were learned here to be applied in the island campaigns to follow.
Salt Lake City was attached to the Neutralization Group, TG 50.15, for the long awaited Marshalls Campaign. Between 29 January and 17 February 1944, she conducted shore bombardment at Wotje and Taroa islands which were bypassed and cut off from support as the major forces concentrated on Majuro, Eniwetok, and Kwajalein. This leapfrog technique worked well and eliminated the needless casualties that would result in mopping up every Japanese-held island. On 30 March and 1 April, Salt Lake City participated in raids on Palau, Yap, Ulithi, and Woleai in the western Caroline Islands Archipelago. The cruiser anchored at Majuro on 6 April and remained until 25 April when she sailed, unescorted, for Pearl Harbor.
Salt Lake City arrived at Pearl Harbor on 30 April and sailed the next day for Mare Island. She arrived on 7 May and operated in the San Francisco Bay area until 1 July. She then proceeded to Adak, Alaska, arriving on the 8th. In the Aleutians, her operations, including a scheduled bombardment at Paramushiro, were curtailed by severe weather, and she returned to Pearl Harbor on 13 August.
Salt Lake City sortied with Pensacola (CA-24) and Monterey (CVL-26) on 29 August to attack Wake
Island. They shelled that island on 3 September, and then proceeded to Eniwetok to remain until the 24th. The cruisers then moved to Saipan for patrol duty, after which, on 6 October, they proceeded to Marcus Island to create a diversion in connection with raids on Formosa. They shelled Marcus on 9 September and returned to Saipan.
In October, during the second Battle of the Philippine Sea, Salt Lake City returned to screen and support duty with the carrier strike groups against Japanese bases and surface craft. Based at Ulithi, she supported the carriers between 15 and 26 October. From 8 November 1944 through 25 January 1945, she operated with CruDiv 5, TF 54, in bombardment against the Volcano Islands to neutralize airfields through which the Japanese staged bombing raids on the B-29's based at Saipan. These raids were coordinated with B-24 strikes. In February, she operated in the Gunfire and Covering Force, TF 54, during the final phases of securing Iwo Jima and the initial operations in the campaign to capture Okinawa.
Salt Lake City provided call-fire at Iwo Jima until 13 March; and then concentrated her activities at Okinawa until 28 May when she put into Leyte for repairs and upkeep. She returned to Okinawa to cover minesweeping operations and general patrol in the East China Sea on 6 July. A month later, on 8 August, she sailed for the Aleutians via Saipan. While en route to Adak, she received word on 31 August to proceed to northern Honshu, Japan, to cover the occupation of Ominato Naval Base. The long war in the Pacific was now at a close.
Like many warships at the close of the war, Salt Lake City was almost immediately slated for deactiva-tion. She was originally ordered to report to Commander, Third Fleet, upon arrival on the west coast, in October, for deactivation. On 29 October, however, she was diverted to "Magic Carpet" duty to return veterans of the Pacific theatre to the United States.
On 14 November, she was added to the list of warships to be used as test vessels for the Atomic Bomb Experiments and Evaluation Tests at Bikini Atoll, “Operation Crossroads.” She was partially stripped, and her crew reduced, prior to sailing to Pearl Harbor in March 1946.
Salt Lake City was used in evaluating the effects on surface vessels during the initial test with an aerial burst on 1 July, and during the second test with a subsurface burst on the 25th. Surviving two atomic bomb blasts, she was decommissioned on 29 August and laid up to await ultimate disposal. She was sunk as a target hull on 25 May 1948, 130 miles off the coast of southern California and struck from the Navy list on 18 June 1948.
Salt Lake City earned eleven battle stars for World War II service. She was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for her action during the Aleutian Campaign.
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