Tuesday, October 16, 2012

USS Vincennes (CA-44)

Figure 1:  USS Vincennes (CA-44) underway at 22.03 knots while on trials off Rockland, Maine, 12 January 1937. The photograph was taken while the ship was running south at 3:47 PM. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2:  USS Vincennes (CA-44) making 10.74 knots during trials off Rockland, Maine, 12 January 1937. Photographed while the ship was running south, at 12:58 PM. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.   

Figure 3:  USS Vincennes (CA-44) steaming at high speed, circa February 1937. Courtesy of the US Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1984. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4:  USS Vincennes (CA-44) passing through the Panama Canal on 6 January 1938, while en route to join the US Fleet in the Pacific. Note crewmen on her deck, watching the airplane from which the photograph was taken. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5:  Convoy to Iceland, September 1941. A signalman aboard USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) uses a "long-glass" telescope to read communications from another ship, as Task Force 15 was en route to Iceland. Note signal lamp mounted next to the telescope and electrical hookup at left. Ships in the distance include USS Vincennes (CA-44) in the center and USS Republic (AP-39) further to the left. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6:  Convoy WS-12. Vought SB2U scout bomber from USS Ranger (CV-4) flies anti-submarine patrol over the convoy, while it was en route to Cape Town, South Africa, 27 November 1941. The convoy appears to be making a formation turn from column to line abreast. Two-stack transports in the first row are USS West Point (AP-23) (left); USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) and USS Wakefield (AP-21). Heavy cruisers, on the right side of the first row and middle of the second, are USS Vincennes (CA-44) and USS Quincy (CA-39). Single-stack transports in the second row are USS Leonard Wood (AP-25) and USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26). Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.  

Figure 7:  Doolittle Raid on Japan, 18 April 1942. View looking aft and to port from the island of USS Hornet (CV-8), while en route to the mission's launching point. USS Vincennes (CA-44) is in the distance. Several of the mission's sixteen B-25B bombers are visible. In the foreground is tail No. 40-2261, which was mission plane No. 7, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson. The next plane is tail No. 40-2242, mission plane No. 8, piloted by Captain Edward J. York. Both aircraft attacked targets in the Tokyo area. Lt. Lawson later wrote the book Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.   

Figure 8:  USS Vincennes (CA-44) at Pearl Harbor, circa 26-28 May 1942, prior to departing to take part in the Battle of Midway. A Curtiss SOC floatplane is in the left foreground. 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. USS Yorktown (CV-5), in the distant left center, being abandoned after suffering torpedo damage on 4 June 1942. A destroyer is standing by off the listing carrier's stern, and USS Vincennes (CA-44) is steaming by in the middle distance. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.   

Figure 10:  USS Vincennes (CA-44) underway during tactical exercises in Hawaiian waters, 8 July 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.  

Figure 11:  Pharmacist's Mate Edward Bykowski, USN receives a visit from Lieutenant Joshua L. Goldberg, USNR, Jewish Chaplain for the Third Naval District, on 10 February 1943. Bykowski is telling Lt. Goldberg of his rescue after he had been blown overboard from USS Vincennes (CA-44) when she was sunk on 9 August 1942, during the Battle of Savo Island. Both of his legs were broken. Looking on is Lieutenant Commander Ferold D. Lovejoy, USNR (Medical Corps). US Marine Corps Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 12:  USS Missouri (BB-63) Gunner's Mate Second Class Charles J. Hansen working on a 40-mm quad machine gun mount, during the battleship's shakedown period, circa August 1944. Note his tattoos, commemorating service on USS Vincennes (CA-44) and shipmates lost with her in the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.  

Named after a city in Indiana, the 9,400-ton USS Vincennes (CA-44) was a New Orleans class heavy cruiser that was built by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company at Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 24 February 1937. The ship was approximately 588 feet long and 61 feet wide, had a top speed of 32 knots, and had a crew of 952 officers and men. Vincennes was armed with nine 8-inch guns, eight 5-inch guns, eight .50-caliber machine guns, and two 3-pounders, and also carried four seaplanes.   
In April of 1937, Vincennes went on her shakedown cruise to northern Europe. In early 1938, the heavy cruiser steamed through the Panama Canal and participated in naval exercises in the Pacific Ocean. Vincennes returned to the Atlantic in June 1939. After the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, Vincennes began patrols to enforce American neutrality and in June 1940 brought a shipment of gold from French Morocco to the United States. In 1941, Vincennes took part in combat readiness exercises in the Caribbean, including a large amphibious practice landing. The ship completed several more neutrality patrols and then was assigned to carry another gold shipment, only this time from South Africa to the United States. Vincennes was also given the task of escorting convoys in the north and south Atlantic.
After America entered the war on 7 December 1941, the United States became engaged in global combat operations. In March 1942, Vincennes transferred back to the Pacific. The next month, she escorted the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) as she launched a deck load of Army B-25 bombers on the famous “Doolittle Raid” against targets on the Japanese home islands. After returning to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in late May, Vincennes was attached to the large carrier task force that participated in the epic Battle of Midway from 4 to 6 June 1942. During that momentous battle, Vincennes escorted the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5). On 4 June, as Japanese aircraft attacked Yorktown, Vincennes put up an anti-aircraft screen of gunfire that did manage to shoot down one of the attacking planes. Unfortunately, some enemy aircraft made it through the curtain of lead that Vincennes was throwing up into the air and hit Yorktown. The carrier was mortally wounded and listing to port, eventually slowing to a halt, with smoke pouring out of the ship. Vincennes altered course around the carrier, screening the stricken warship from further air attacks. But on 6 June, Japanese submarine I-168 slipped by the American escorts in the task force and torpedoed Yorktown and the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412), sinking the destroyer. Yorktown held on for a little longer, eventually sinking early on 7 June.
After the Battle of Midway, Vincennes returned to Pearl Harbor and entered the navy yard for repairs and alterations which lasted until early July 1942. After completing some tactical exercises off the coast of Hawaii, Vincennes was sent to the south Pacific in mid-July to participate in the invasion of Guadalcanal and Tulagi in the southern Solomon Islands. Vincennes was present during the amphibious landings on 7 and 8 August 1942, bombarding targets on land in support of US Marines and providing anti-aircraft protection for transports steaming off shore.
During the early hours after midnight on 9 August 1942, Vincennes was patrolling westward from Tulagi with her sister ships USS Astoria (CA-34) and USS Quincy (CA-39) when a large force of six Japanese cruisers and one destroyer attacked the three American cruisers. A searchlight illuminated Vincennes at approximately 0155 hours, and the American cruiser opened fire with her main battery to hit the ship the searchlight was on. Vincennes managed to hit one of the Japanese cruisers, but in firing her guns the American cruiser made herself a well-lit target for the other Japanese warships. Soon Vincennes was being pounded by numerous enemy shells. Vincennes was hit so many times that her internal communications were silenced and large fires engulfed portions of the ship. Vincennes was being methodically blown to pieces by the Japanese, who possessed a vast amount of experience and training in operating their warships at night. Some of the Japanese shells blew up the seaplanes in Vincennes’ hangar space and the crew was unable to control all the aviation gasoline that was burning as a result of these explosions. Most of the ship’s guns were by now inoperable and at 0200 hours Vincennes heeled to starboard in an attempt to evade the accurate enemy fire. Suddenly, two or three “long lance” torpedoes fired from one of the Japanese cruisers slammed into Vincennes’ Number 4 fireroom on the port side and put it out of action.
Losing steering control five minutes later, Vincennes was dead in the water within minutes. Enemy shells continued slamming into the ship while Vincennes was unable to respond because by now every gun was out of action. Vincennes was hit by at least 57 8-inch and 5-inch shells as the ship assumed an alarming list. Suddenly, at 0210 hours, the Japanese warships ceased fire and left the area, leaving all three American cruisers burning and sinking. At 0230, the order was given on board Vincennes to abandon ship. Life jackets and rafts were distributed to the survivors and the crew began the gut-wrenching task of leaving their stricken warship. At 0240, the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Frederick L. Riefkohl, went down to the main deck and joined the last men to leave the sinking cruiser, jumping into the warm water with what was left of his crew. At approximately 0250, USS Vincennes rolled over and sank roughly two and a half miles east of Savo Island. Of a crew of 952 officers and men, 332 were killed and 258 were wounded. Given the severe pounding sustained by Vincennes before she sank, it’s a wonder more men were not lost. The Battle of Savo Island was a complete disaster for the Allies. On that terrible night, three American and one Australian cruiser were sunk by the Japanese Navy. And this was just the opening round in what eventually would be known as the Naval Battle for Guadalcanal. In many ways, the worst was yet to come.