The Story of Juneau
My uncle, Russell Parker, served our country during World War II aboard the light cruiser Juneau. This is the story of Juneau.
The U.S.S. JUNEAU (CL-52) was laid down by Federal Shipbuilding Co., Kearny, N.J., 27 May 1940; launched 25 October 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Harry I. Lucas, wife of the Mayor of the city of Juneau, and commissioned 14 February 1942, Captain Lyman K. Swenson in command.
Following a hurried shakedown cruise along the Atlantic coast in the spring of 1942, JUNEAU assumed blockade patrol in early May off Martinique and Guadeloupe Islands to prevent the escape of Vichy French Naval units. She returned to New York to complete alterations and operated in the North Atlantic and Caribbean from 1 June to 12 August on patrol and escort duties. The cruiser departed for the Pacific Theater 22 August 1942.
After stopping briefly at the Tonga Islands and New Caledonia, she rendezvoused 10 September with Task Force 18 under the command of Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes, flying his flag in WASP (CV-7). The following day Task Force 17, which included HORNET (CV-8), combined with Admiral Noyes' unit to form Task Force 61 whose mission was to ferry fighters to Guadalcanal.
On 15 September WASP took three torpedo hits from the Japanese submarine I-l9, and, with fires raging out of control, was sunk at 2100 by LANSDOWNE (DD-486). JUNEAU and screen destroyers rescued 1,910 survivors of WASP and returned them to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 16 September.
The net day the fast cruiser rejoined Task Force 17. Operating with the HORNET group, she supported three actions that repulsed enemy thrusts at Guadalcanal: the Buin-Fasi-Tonolai Raid; the Battle of Santa Cruz Island; and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Third Savo).
The ship's first major action was the Battle of Santa Cruz Island 26 October 1942. On 24 October HORNET's task force had combined with the ENTERPRISE (CV-6) group to reform Task Force 61 under the command of Rear Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid. This force positioned itself north of the Santa Cruz Islands in order to intercept enemy units that might attempt to close Guadalcanal.
Meanwhile, on Guadalcanal, the Japanese achieved a temporary breakthrough along Lunga Ridge on the night of 25 October. That short-lived success evidently was a signal for enemy surface units to approach the island. Early in the morning 26 October, U.S. carrier planes uncovered the enemy force and immediately attacked it, damaging two Japanese carriers, one battleship, and three cruisers.
But while our aircraft were locating and engaging the enemy, American ships were also under fire. Shortly after 1000 some 27 enemy aircraft attacked HORNET. Though JUNEAU and other screen ships threw up an effective AA barrage which splashed about 20 of the attackers, HORNET was badly damaged and sank the net day. Just before noon JUNEAU left HORNET's escort for the beleaguered ENTERPRISE group several miles away. Adding her firepower, JUNEAU assisted in repulsing four enemy attacks on this force and splashing 18 Japanese planes. That evening the American forces retired to the southeast.
Although the battle had been costly, it, combined with the Marine victory on Guadalcanal, turned back the attempted Japanese parry in the Solomons. Furthermore, the damaging of two Japanese carriers sharply curtailed the air cover available to the enemy in the subsequent Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
On 8 November JUNEAU departed Noumea, New Caledonia, as a unit of Task Force 67 under the command of Rear Admiral R. K. Turner to escort reinforcements to Guadalcanal. The force arrived there early morning 12 November, and JUNEAU took up her station in the protective screen around the transports and cargo vessels. Unloading proceeded unmolested until 1405 when 30 Japanese planes attacked the alerted United States group. The AA fire was devastating, and JUNEAU alone accounted for six enemy torpedo planes shot down. The few remaining attackers were pounced on by American fighters; only one bomber escaped.
Later in the day an American attack group of cruisers and destroyers cleared Guadalcanal on reports that a large enemy surface force was headed for the island. At 0148 on 13 November Rear Admiral D. J. Callaghan's relatively small Landing Support Group engaged the enemy. The Japanese force of 18 to 20 ships, including 2 battleships, far outnumbered and outgunned his force, but did not outfight it. American gunnery scored effectively almost immediately sinking an enemy destroyer.
JUNEAU teamed with ATLANTA (CL-51) to destroy another as the two forces slugged it out at close range. During the exchange JUNEAU was struck on the port side by a torpedo causing a severe list and necessitating withdrawal. Before noon 13 November, the battered American force began retirement. JUNEAU was steaming on one screw, keeping station 800 yards on the starboard quarter of the likewise severely damaged SAN FRANCISCO (CA-38). She was down 12 feet by the bow, but able to maintain 13 knots. A few minutes after 1100 three torpedoes were launched from the Japanese submarine I-26. JUNEAU successfully avoided two, but the third struck her at the same point which had been damaged during the surface action. There was a terrific explosion; JUNEAU broke in two and disappeared in 20 seconds.
The gallant ship with Captain Swanson and most of her crew was lost. The 685 heroic men who were lost that day included the five Sullivan brothers, as well as William Russell Parker of Seneca, South Carolina. Only 10 members of the crew survived the tragedy. JUNEAU received four battle stars for World War II service. A proclamation, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and presented to my grandparents in honor of their son, stated the following:
"In grateful memory of William Russell Parker, who died in the service of his country at sea, Pacific area, U.S.S. Juneau, 13 November 1942. He stands in the unbroken line of patriots who have dared to die that freedom might live, and grow, and increase its blessings. Freedom lives, and through it, he lives- in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men."
length: 541' 6"
breadth: 53' 2"
draw: 16' 4"
speed: 32 knots
armament: 16 5", 16 1.1", 8 20-mm., 6 dcp., 2 dct.
November 17, 1942
From: Senior Known Survivor, U.S.S. JUNEAU (Lieutenant Roger W. O'Neil, MC-V(G), U.S. Naval Reserve)
To: Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet
Via: Commanding Officer, U.S.S. HELENA
Subject: Report of U.S.S. JUNEAU activity from November 11 to 13, 1942, inclusive.
References: (a.) U.S. Navy Regulations, 1940, Arts. 712 and 874 (6). (b.) Pac Flt Conf. Ltr. 24CL-42.
1. In accordance with references (a) and (b) the following report covering the activity of the U.S.S. JUNEAU from November 11 to 13, 1942, inclusive is submitted:
Occupied our positions in formation of Task Force. Nothing of unusual note occurred aboard ship.
Captain and Gunnery Officer were very much satisfied with anti-aircraft performance during afternoon air attack of Japanese planes. They felt that we had accounted for a good percentage of the planes destroyed. Planes were described as twin engined bombers of Mitsubishi type, and very large. There were no known casualties aboard the JUNEAU during this attack. At nightfall we were on our way out the channel, and to the best of my knowledge we were outside the channel about 2230. We re-entered with the Task Force sometime later, approximately between 2300 and 2400. We had radar contact about 2400 which was at first thought to have been enemy contact but later found to be land.
We were advised on station at approximately 1030 of November 13 to expect enemy contact momentarily. Scene of action illuminated by star shells, searchlights, and some of JUNEAU personnel thought also by enemy planes dropping flares. We commenced firing somewhere in the viscinity of 0140 to 0150, at which time we were on the port side of the SAN FRANCISCO. I understand that she ordered us to get out of the way in order that she might get a broadside on a heavier Japanese warship on the port side, and we proceeded to pick up speed, cross the SAN FRANCISCO's bow, and came back on her starboard side where we were hit by an enemy torpedo which I feel was originally intended for the SAN FRANCISCO. We had fired a very small amount of ammunition. I would say approximately 25 rounds of 5 inch plus some 20mm and 1.1 inch ammunition.
The torpedo hit was of sufficient concussion to buckle the deck just aft of turret 8 plus throwing three depth charges overboard. The port motor whaleboat was also torn to pieces and lost by the impact of that hit. I should say that the torpedo hit somewhere between frames 42 and 45 on the port side and entered the forward fireroom. The hit was below armor belt and above rolling chalks. All hands, approximately 17 inside, were lost immediately.
Immediately forward to the forward fireroom was the plotting room, and later on I learned from Ensign Kloter, who had been there, that they were thrown to the floor but were protected from the forward fireroom by a double bulkhead. The first one had given away and the second had buckled somewhat and was leaking at spots in the seams. The deck had also buckled and oil fumes were coming through. They attempted to carry on but had to secure a short time following this. The Chief Engineer was quoted as having said that in his opinion the keel had been broken by the torpedo hit.
Immediately following the hit the ship seemed to rise and then settle deeper and listed somewhat to port. All lighting forward of after mess was lost. I understood that immediately following the hit we shifted to the after engine room generators for power but that they could not carry the load, so we shifted immediately back to emergency diesel for our power. We had lost all fire control of our turrets. We immediately left the scene of the action; to the best of my knowledge proceeded through Sealark channel, and headed northeast for Malaita Island. I had occasion to do some minor surgery on the Navigator and the Chief Engineer about dawn and had occasion to overhear their discussion, from which I was given to understand that we were running on our after fire and engine rooms and doing approximately 20 knots, and were headed towards Malaita where Captain Swenson had hopes of finding a cove which might offer sufficient shelter to allow us to accomplish temporary repairs before making a dash for Button.
By dawn we had accomplished sufficient repairs so that we had local fire control in one turret at a time. This was previous to sighting the remainder of the Task Force - HELENA, SAN FRANCISCO, etc. We sighted them about dawn on our starboard side until which time we thought we were alone. We were not sure at this time whether they were friendly or enemy ships. Also at dawn there was evidence the JUNEAU was 10 to 12 feet down by the bow, with approximately 2 degrees list. I understood this remark was attributed to the First Lieutenant. We had also lost suction in the main feed pump causing reduced pressure and the ship to go dead in the water several times about dawn. We were making turns for 27 knots and doing approximately 20, according to Dennis, who was a throttleman in the after engine room.
Due to the excessive casualties on the SAN FRANCISCO, the senior medical officer of the latter asked assistance, and my senior medical officer Lieutenant Commander James G. Neff, (MC), USN, who had struck his head at the time of the first torpedo hit, asked me if I would care to go over. The destroyer O'BANNON a short time later sent over a boat, and I took three of my corpsmen, namely, Theodore D. Merchant, Orrel G. Cecil, and William T. Sims, plus some medical supplies, and proceeded to the SAN FRANCISCO. I was in the Admiral's cabin just donning a mask prior to assisting Lieutenant Commander Lowe to operate on Captain Young of the SAN FRANCISCO, when the JUNEAU was torpedoed the second time at approximately 1101, November 13th. In view of the fact that the Admiral's cabin is located on the port side, and the JUNEAU was on our starboard side when hit, I did not see the actual hit. However the SAN FRANCISCO swung to the starboard side and within 30 seconds of the hit I saw the spot where the JUNEAU had been. The only thing visible was tremendous clouds of grey and black smoke. I could not see any debris in the water but I was at least two to three thousand yards distant.
Later on I questioned men on the SAN FRANCISCO who had been on watch on the starboard side and had witnessed the incident, from the gist of which I gathered that three torpedoes had been fired. The first crossed the SAN FRANCISCO's bow and just missed astern of the JUNEAU. The second appeared to come from beneath the SAN FRANCISCO and its wake was not visible immediately. The third came aft of both ships. It was the second torpedo which struck the JUNEAU on the port side very close to the location of the first torpedo hit in the early morning. It was impossible for the SAN FRANCISCO to inform the JUNEAU of its imminent attack, and if the JUNEAU actually saw the torpedo wake I am of the belief that it was impossible to heel hard starboard because of its broken keel and the possibility of breaking the ship in two.
The men told me that the JUNEAU appeared to explode instantaneously and appeared to break in two, both segments of which sunk within 20 seconds. The debris from the explosion flew many feet in the air, one portion of which struck #1 gun of the SAN FRANCISCO, putting it out of commission. The signalman on the bridge of the HELENA was in the process of taking a message from the JUNEAU and had his glasses trained on the signalman on that ship and reports that the signalman was blown at least 30 feet into the air.
2. I wish to state emphatically, that during the operations described above, my shipmates conducted themselves magnificently.
ROGER W. O'NEILL
Dictionary of American Fighting Ships, Vol. III, 1968, Navy Department, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, D.C.