Tuesday, March 9, 2010
USS Astoria (CA-34)
Figure 1: USS Astoria (CA-34) entering Honolulu harbor during her shakedown cruise, 9 July 1934. Photographed by Tai Sing Loo. Donated by the US Army Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Astoria (CA-34) anchored off Long Beach, California, during the 1930s. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Astoria (CA-34) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 11 July 1941. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Astoria (CA-34) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 11 July 1941. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Astoria (CA-34) arriving at Pearl Harbor with Task Force 17, 27 May 1942, following the Battle of Coral Sea and shortly before the Battle of Midway. Her crew is in whites, paraded at quarters on the forecastle, and a motor launch is being lowered by her port boat crane. Photographed by Photographer 3rd Class T.E. Collins, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Astoria (CA-34) operating in Hawaiian waters during battle practice, 8 July 1942. She appears to be recovering floatplanes from off her starboard side. Note booms rigged below the forward superstructure to tow aircraft recovery mats, and starboard crane swung out. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Astoria (CA-34) firing her after eight-inch guns, during battle practice in Hawaiian waters, circa 8 July 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Astoria (CA-34) (center), and USS Minneapolis (CA-36) (left), moored near Aiea Landing, Pearl Harbor, in late June 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: Battle of Midway, June 1942. An SBD-3 scout bomber from Bombing Squadron Three (VB-3), probably flown by Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Paul A. Holmberg, ditches near USS Astoria (CA-34) at about 1342 hours on 4 June 1942. This was one of two VB-3 planes that ditched near Astoria after they were unable to land on the damaged USS Yorktown (CV-5). A PBY is flying nearby, in right center. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Crew of 5-inch No. 3 gun (2nd gun from forward, starboard side) in action during gunnery practice, circa spring 1942, on board USS Astoria (CA-34). Note anti-flash head-dress and communications gear worn by the man operating the fuze setter, bearing markings on the gun's splinter shield, and old-style battle helmets. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: Guadalcanal-Tulagi Invasion, August 1942. USS Astoria (CA-34) joins Task Force 16 as it approaches Tulagi, about 6 August 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a major port in Oregon, USS Astoria (CA-34) was a 9,950-ton New Orleans class heavy cruiser that was built at the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Washington, and was commissioned on 28 April 1934. The ship was approximately 588 feet long and 61 feet wide, had a top speed of 32.7 knots, and had a crew of 899 officers and men. Astoria was armed with nine 8-inch guns, eight 5-inch guns, and several smaller caliber anti-aircraft guns.
After a shakedown cruise that took her across the Pacific to Australia, Astoria was assigned to the US Navy’s Scouting Force. She spent the rest of the 1930s participating in patrols and naval exercises in the eastern Pacific and in the Caribbean. After concluding a major naval exercise in 1939, Astoria was assigned to carry the remains of former Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Saito from the United States back to Japan. This was a gesture of gratitude to the Japanese after they returned the body of the late US Ambassador to Japan, Edgar A. Bancroft, back to the United States in one of their warships in 1926. After this mission was completed in late April 1939, Astoria visited ports in China, the Philippines, and Guam before resuming her regular patrol duties. As Japan and the United States drifted closer to war in the fall of 1941, Astoria escorted a troop transport to Manila in the Philippines. When war finally did erupt between the United States and Japan on 7 December 1941, Astoria was at sea escorting a task force that was carrying aircraft to the American base at Midway Island. Also in December 1941, Astoria was assigned to the task force that was to relieve the beleaguered American garrison on Wake Island, but that mission was later canceled when it became obvious that the island was going to fall to the Japanese.
During the first half of 1942, Astoria escorted aircraft carrier task forces, working primarily with the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). From February to May 1942, Astoria was assigned to escort duties in the south Pacific. She escorted aircraft carriers during the Battle of the Coral Sea in early May and then returned to Pearl Harbor in time to join the US Task Force that fought in the Battle of Midway one month later. After USS Yorktown was seriously damaged on 4 June during the Battle of Midway, Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher transferred his flag to Astoria.
After the US Navy won the Battle of Midway, Astoria returned to Pearl Harbor for an overhaul. Astoria then participated in the American invasion of the Solomon Islands. On 7 and 8 August 1942, Astoria provided gunfire support for the US Marines landing on Guadalcanal and Tulagi. She also acted as an escort for the amphibious task force and guarded against Japanese aircraft. But on the night of 8-9 August 1942, Astoria was on patrol to the east of Savo Island with the cruisers USS Vincennes (CA-44) and USS Quincy (CA-39). The American ships were attacked by a larger Japanese task force made up of seven cruisers and a destroyer. At around 0150, the Japanese warships began firing at the three American cruisers. The US warships returned fire and after four Japanese salvos, Astoria was undamaged. But the fifth Japanese salvo hit Astoria squarely amidships, causing an enormous fire. Subsequent hits on Astoria destroyed Turret No. 1 and caused a major fire in the ship’s aircraft hanger. Astoria burned brightly in the night, making her a clear and visible target for all of the Japanese warships.
Despite this, she did manage to hit some of the Japanese warships with her guns. But at around 0225, Astoria lost all power and lay dead in the water. The cruiser had been hit by roughly 65 enemy shells and her crew was battling several serious fires throughout the ship. By 0300, approximately 400 men, including 70 wounded, assembled on the forecastle deck and started a bucket brigade to battle the blazes on the gun deck. The more seriously wounded were cared for by doctors in the captain’s cabin, but they eventually had to be moved when the deck beneath them grew too hot. The crew then moved the wounded to the ship’s forecastle. Fortunately, the Japanese warships withdrew, ending the battle.
At approximately 0445, the destroyer USS Bagley (DD-386) came alongside Astoria’s starboard bow and began taking off the cruiser’s wounded crewmembers. But as dawn approached, Astoria still remained afloat, despite the horrific damage she had sustained. Bagley returned to the heavy cruiser and pulled alongside her starboard quarter. A salvage crew of approximately 325 men was placed on board the ship in an effort to save her. Several other American ships also were sent to assist Astoria. But the fires below decks were out of control and the salvage crew on the main deck could hear explosions going off deep within the ship. Astoria began listing badly (first to 10 degrees and then 15) and, as the list increased, water poured into the shell holes that were made by the Japanese guns. Between the fires that were still burning and the increasing list, Captain William Greenman assembled his men on Astoria’s stern and gave the order to abandon ship. After all the men were evacuated from the ship and picked up by nearby American destroyers, Astoria turned over on her port beam and then settled by the stern. She finally slipped beneath the waves at around 1215. USS Astoria lost 216 men killed and 186 wounded. Given the amount of punishment the ship sustained, it’s amazing the number of casualties was not higher.
The US Navy simply was out fought during the Battle of Savo Island and it was a tragic loss for this nation. But ships like Astoria made a valiant stand at Guadalcanal and there would be several more months of vicious fighting before the US Navy finally forced the Japanese Navy to give up the Solomon Islands.
Posted by Remo at 8:41 AM