Tuesday, December 7, 2010

USS Strong (DD-467)

Figure 1: USS Strong (DD-467) delivers mail to USS Honolulu (CL-48) during operations in the Solomon Islands area, circa early July 1943. Note the sign painted on Honolulu's starboard catapult: "No Smoking Abaft This Sign." Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Stern view looking forward of USS Strong's (DD-467) twin screws and rudder. Photo taken on the day she was christened, 17 May 1942, at the Bath Iron Works Yard, Bath, Maine. Courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Heavily retouched copy of a photograph of USS Strong (DD-467) taken circa the latter part of 1942. The retouching, which includes the land in the distance and the ship from the forward smokestack to the top of the pilothouse, was mainly done for censorship purposes, to eliminate radar antennas from the ship's gun director and foremast. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Conyngham (DD-371) at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 15 February 1943. The destroyer in the right background appears to be USS Strong (DD-467). Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: South Pacific Operations, 1943. Ships of Task Force 18 are seen here during gunnery exercises off Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, on 10 April 1943. At right are the destroyers Strong (DD-467) and O'Bannon (DD-450), making a turn. The three large ships in the distance are light cruisers, including St. Louis (CL-49) and Helena (CL-50) at left and either Nashville (CL-43) or Honolulu (CL-48) in the right center. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after James H. Strong, a famous Union ship captain during the Civil War, USS Strong (DD-467) was a 2,050-ton Fletcher class destroyer that was built by the Bath Iron Works at Bath, Maine, and was commissioned on 7 August 1942. The ship was approximately 376 feet long and 39 feet wide, had a top speed of 35.5 knots, and had a crew of 273 officers and men. Strong was armed with five 5-inch guns, four 40-mm anti-aircraft guns, four 20-mm cannons, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges.

After her shakedown cruise, Strong escorted a convoy to Puerto Rico in October 1942 and then another to North Africa in November. She then set sail for the Pacific on 27 December 1942. After transiting the Panama Canal, Strong refueled at Bora Bora in the Society Islands and arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 27 January 1943. Strong began escorting convoys for two days and then was ordered to return to Noumea. On 1 February, Strong and the destroyer USS Cony (DD-508) escorted a convoy that was heading for Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. Strong left Espiritu Santo on 5 February and headed for the Solomon Islands and patrolled off the coast of Guadalcanal until 13 February, when she was attached to Task Force (TF) 67, which was made up of four cruisers and several destroyers.

TF 67 spent the next few weeks patrolling off the coast of the Solomon Islands. On 14 March 1943, Strong and the destroyers USS Nicholas (DD-449), Radford (DD-446), and Taylor (DD-468) were detached from the task force to bombard shore targets on Kolombangara Island. They did so on 16 March, but then resumed their patrol duties around the Solomon Islands. On the morning of 5 April, Strong made a strong surface radar contact at a range of 9,350 yards. Strong illuminated the target with its search light and saw that it was a Japanese submarine steaming on the surface. Strong and the nearby destroyer USS O’Bannon (DD-450) quickly opened fire with all their guns. Strong hit the submarine at least three times with her 5-inch guns and numerous hits were made by O’Bannon as well. The Japanese submarine, which turned out to be RO-34, settled by the stern and sank. The two destroyers, though, dropped some depth charges where the submarine went down just to make sure that it really was sunk and would not come up again. RO-34 was never heard from again.

Strong then was attached to Task Force 18. During the early morning hours of 7 May 1943, Strong escorted three destroyers carrying mines into Blackett Strait, which was located between Kolombangara and Arundel Island. The small force dropped their mines and quickly left the area. The next morning, four Japanese destroyers blundered into the newly-laid minefield. One Japanese destroyer blew up and immediately sank, while two others were damaged and then sunk by prowling American aircraft a few hours later. Although badly damaged, the fourth Japanese destroyer managed to get away.

On the night of 12 and 13 May 1943, Strong and Task Force 18 bombarded Kolombangara. Strong was then assigned to patrol and escort duty off Guadalcanal. On the afternoon of 16 June, Strong was roughly halfway between Guadalcanal and Tulagi when approximately 15 Japanese dive bombers attacked the cargo ships she was escorting. Strong put up heavy anti-aircraft fire as the planes attacked and managed to shoot down three of the Japanese aircraft.

Shortly after midnight on 5 July 1943, Strong and Task Force 18 were ordered to bombard New Georgia Island in the Solomons after American troops had landed there. The ships fired on Rice Anchorage on the west side of New Georgia. As the American ships were leaving after the bombardment, a group of Japanese destroyers just happened to be approaching the area. The Japanese spotted the American task force and immediately fired their torpedoes at it. Strong’s gunnery officer saw one of the torpedoes coming straight for his ship, but did not have enough time to notify the bridge. A torpedo slammed into the port side of the destroyer, setting off a major explosion. One of the American destroyers in the task force, USS Chevalier (DD-451), saw that Strong had sustained a fatal hit and literally rammed Strong’s bow so that her crewmembers could throw nets and lifelines over the side to the men on board Strong, which was by now sinking. Well over 200 of Strong’s crewmembers managed to scramble on board Chevalier in only seven minutes. Meanwhile, Japanese gunners on New Georgia spotted the two American warships and illuminated them with star shells. The Japanese then opened fire on the incapacitated Strong with their artillery pieces, hitting her several times. USS O’Bannon began counter-battery fire against the Japanese position, trying to give some cover to Chevalier as she continued pulling men off Strong. Unfortunately, Chevalier had to cease rescue operations because Japanese artillery shells were now coming uncomfortably close to that ship as well. As Chevalier began leaving the area, Strong sank deeper into the water and was listing heavily. The doomed destroyer then broke in half just before she sank. But as she went down, some of her depth charges went off, killing a few of the survivors that were swimming in the water. A few minutes later, the two parts of the destroyer sank, taking 46 crewmembers with her.

This brief but deadly confrontation proved that whoever sees the enemy first usually gets the first shot. In this instance, one shot (or torpedo) was all that was needed to doom the destroyer Strong. But this incident also showed the incredible bravery and teamwork of the other destroyers in the American task force, with Chevalier trying to assist Strong while O’Bannon provided covering fire against the Japanese guns on shore. USS Strong was less than a year old before she died, but the ship still managed to receive two battle stars for her service in World War II.