Astoria II (CA-34)
A city and port of entry in northwestern Oregon located on the southern bank at the mouth of the Columbia River. It is the seat of government for Clatsop County.
(CA-34: displacement 9,950; length 588'0"; beam 61'9" (1oad waterline); draft 19'5" (mean); speed 32.7 knots; complement 899; armament 9 8-inch; 8 5-inch, 2 3-pounders, 8 .50-caliber machine guns; class New Orleans)
The second Astoria (CL-34) was laid down on 1 September 1930 at Bremerton, Wash., by the Puget Sound Navy Yard; reclassified as a heavy cruiser, CA-34, on 1 July 1931; launched on 16 December 1933; sponsored by Miss Leila C. McKay, a decendant of one of the partners in the Astor expedition that founded Astoria, Oreg.; and commissioned on 28 April 1934, Capt. Edmund S. Root in command.
During the summer of 1934, Astoria conducted a lengthy shakedown cruise in the course of which she voyaged extensively in the Pacific. In addition to the Hawaiian Islands, the heavy cruiser also visited Samoa, Fiji, Sydney, Australia, and Noumea, New Caledonia. She returned to San Francisco on 25 September 1934. Between the fall of 1934 and February 1937, she operated as a unit of Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 7, Scouting Force, based at San Pedro, Calif. In February 1937, the warship was reassigned to CruDiv 6, as an element of Scouting Force based at San Pedro. In both assignments, she carried out normal peacetime maneuvers the culmination of which came in the annual fleet problem that brought the entire United States Fleet together in a single, vast exercise.
At the beginning of 1939, Fleet Problem XX concentrated the fleet in the West Indies, and, at its conclusion Astoria made a hasty departure from Culebra Island on 3 March 1939 and headed for Chesapeake Bay. After taking on a capacity load of stores and fuel at Norfolk, the heavy cruiser, Capt. Richmond Kelly Turner in command, proceeded north to Annapolis, Md., where she embarked the remains of the former Japanese Ambassador to the United States, the late Saito Hirosi, for the voyage to Japan, a gesture that expressed America's gratitude to the Japanese for returning the body of the late United States Ambassador to Japan, Edgar A. Bancroft, in one of their warships in 1925. Astoria sailed from Annapolis on 18 March 1939, Saito's ashes accompanied by Kitazawa Naokichi, Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington.
Arriving in the Canal Zone soon thereafter, where "various high officials and a delegation from the Japanese colony in Panama paid their respects to Saito's ashes," Astoria got underway for Hawaii on 24 March 1939. She moored at Honolulu on 4 April, the same day that Madame Saito and her two daughters arrived on board the passenger liner Tatsuta Maru. Two days later, the heavy cruiser left Diamond Head in her wake as she proceeded westward across the Pacific.
Accompanied by the destroyers Hibiki, Sagiri, and Akatsuki, Astoria steamed slowly into Yokohama harbor on 17 April 1939, United States ensign at half-staff and the Japanese flag at the fore. The warship fired a 21-gun salute which was returned by the light cruiser Kiso. American Sailors carried the ceremonial urn ashore that afternoon, and funeral ceremonies took place the following morning.
After the solemn state funeral, the Japanese showered lavish hospitality on the visiting cruiser and her men. Capt. Turner, for his part, pleased Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew by his diplomatic role in the proceedings; the naval attache in Tokyo, Capt. Harold M. Bemis, later recorded that the choice of Turner for that delicate mission was "particularly fortunate..."
Astoria sailed for Shanghai, China, on 26 April 1939, and reached her destination on the morning of the 29th. She remained at Shanghai until 1 May. After receiving Adm. Harry E. Yarnell, Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet, on board for a courtesy call that morning, Astoria put to sea for Hong Kong in the afternoon. Following the visit to Hong Kong, Astoria stopped briefly in the Philippines before continuing on to Guam. When she arrived at Guam early on the morning of 21 May, the heavy cruiser was called upon to assist minesweeper Penguin (AM-33) and oiler Robert L. Barnes (AO-14) in their successful effort to refloat the grounded Army transport USAT U. S. Grant. Soon thereafter, Astoria joined the search for the noted author and adventurer, Richard Halliburton, and the companions with whom he had attempted the voyage from San Francisco for Hong Kong in his Chinese junk, Sea Dragon. The cruiser combed more than 152,000 square miles of the Pacific, without success, before she discontinued the search on 29 May.
Assigned to the Hawaiian Detachment in October 1939, Astoria changed home ports from San Pedro, Calif., to Pearl Harbor. The following spring, she participated in Fleet Problem XXI, the last of those major annual exercises that brought the entire United States Fleet together to be conducted before World War II engulfed the United States. The maneuvers took place in Hawaiian waters, but, instead of returning to the west coast at their conclusion, the bulk of the fleet joined Astoria and the Hawaiian Detachment in making Pearl Harbor its base of operations.
On 2 April 1941, Astoria departed Pearl Harbor for the west coast of the United States. She reached Long Beach on 8 April and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., on the 13th. During her refit, she received quadruple-mount 1.1-inch antiaircraft machine guns and a pedestal fitted at her foremast in anticipation of the imminent installation of the new air-search radar. Emerging from the yard on 11 July 1941, the heavy cruiser sailed for Long Beach on the 15th. Later shifting to San Pedro, Astoria sailed for Pearl Harbor on 24 July 1941.
Following her return to Hawaii on 31 July 1941, Astoria operated between Oahu and Midway through early September. That autumn, the specter of German raiders on the prowl in the Pacific prompted the Navy to convoy its ships bound for Guam and the Philippines. Astoria escorted the transport Henderson (AP-1) to Manila and thence to Guam, before returning to Pearl Harbor on 29 October. Local patrols and training, alternated with upkeep in port, occupied Astoria during the final five weeks of peace.
After rising tensions in the Pacific intensified his concern over the defenses of his outlying bases at the beginning of December 1941, Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, ordered reinforcements, in the form of Marine Corps planes, to be ferried to Wake Island and Midway. Astoria put to sea on 5 December 1941 in the screen of Rear Adm. John H. Newton's Task Force (TF) 12 built around the carrier Lexington (CV-2). Once the task force reached open sea, Lexington's air group and the 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators from Marine Scout Bombing Squadron (VMSB) 231 bound for Midway landed on the carrier's flight deck.
When the Japanese attacked the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on the morning of 7 December 1941, Astoria was some 700 miles west of Hawaii steaming toward Midway with TF 12. At 0900 the following day, the heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35), flagship of Vice Adm. Wilson Brown, Commander Scouting Force, joined up with TF 12, and Brown assumed command. Its ferry mission cancelled, TF 12 spent the next few days searching an area to the southwest of Oahu, "with instructions to intercept and destroy any enemy ship in the vicinity of Pearl Harbor. ..."
The cruiser reentered Pearl Harbor with the Lexington force on 13 December 1941, but she returned to sea on the 16th to rendezvous with and screen a convoy, the oiler Neches (AO-5) and the seaplane tender Tangier (AV-8), the abortive Wake Island relief expedition. When that island fell to the Japanese on 23 December, however, the force was recalled. Astoria remained at sea until the afternoon of 29 December when she arrived back at Oahu.
Astoria departed Pearl Harbor again on the morning of 31 December 1941 with TF 11, formed around Saratoga (CV-3), and remained at sea into the second week of January 1942. On 11 January, the Japanese submarine I-6 torpedoed the carrier, forcing her retirement to Pearl Harbor. Astoria and her colleagues in the task force saw the crippled carrier safely into port on the morning of 13 January 1942.
After a brief respite at Pearl Harbor, Astoria returned to sea on 19 January 1942 with TF 11, the carrier Lexington, escorted by heavy cruisers Chicago (CA-29), Minneapolis and nine destroyers, to "conduct an offensive patrol northeast of the Kingman-Christmas Island line." On the afternoon of the 21st, however, TF 11 received orders to rendezvous with Neches, and then to conduct an air raid on Wake Island, followed by a surface bombardment "if practicable." Dispatches intercepted on the 23d, however, revealed that Neches had fallen victim to Japanese submarine I-172. Without the oiler's precious cargo of fuel, TF 11 could not execute the planned strike. Ordered back to Oahu, the task force reentered Pearl Harbor on the morning of 24 January.
On 16 February 1942, Astoria put back to sea for what proved to be an extended cruise in the southwestern Pacific with TF 17, built around Yorktown (CV-5) and comprising Louisville (CA-28), Sims (DD-409), Anderson (DD-41l), Hammann (DD-412), Walke (DD-416), and the oiler Guadalupe (AO-32), all under the command of Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher. Initially, TF 17's orders called for operations in the vicinity of Canton Island. However, after the Japanese discovered TF 11 on its way to attack their important new base at Rabaul and sent a determined raid which hit the Lexington task force off Bougainville on 20 February 1942, Vice Adm. Brown asked for a second carrier to strengthen his force for another crack at Rabaul. Accordingly, TF 17 received orders to aid Brown in that attempt, and Astoria steamed with Yorktown to a rendezvous with TF 11 that took place southwest of the New Hebrides on 6 March.
The combined force, under Brown, stood toward Rabaul until the Japanese landings at Lae and Salamaua, New Guinea, prompted a change of plans. Late on 8 March 1942, Brown and his staff decided to shift objectives and attack the two new enemy beachheads by launching planes from the Gulf of Papua in the south and sending them across the width of New Guinea to the targets on the northern coast. Astoria, meanwhile, joined a surface force made up of heavy cruisers Chicago, Louisville, and HMAS Australia, and four destroyers, Anderson, Hammann, Hughes (DD-410), and Sims under the command of Rear Adm. John G. Crace, RN, that Brown detached to operate in the waters off Rossel Island in the Louisiade Archipelago. The heavy cruiser and the other warships of that force carried out a threefold mission. They secured the carriers' right flank during their operations in the Gulf of Papua; they shielded Port Moresby from any new enemy thrust; and they covered the arrival of Army troops at Noumea.
The raids on Lae and Salamaua, conducted by 104 planes from Yorktown and Lexington on 10 March 1942 proved devastating to the Japanese, causing heavy damage to their already depleted amphibious forces by sinking three transports and a minesweeper, as well as damaging a light cruiser, a large minelayer, three destroyers and a seaplane carrier. More importantly, the attack delayed the Japanese timetable for conquest in the Solomons and prompted them to send aircraft carriers to cover the operation. The delay, which also allowed the United States Navy time to marshal its forces, coupled with the dispatch of Japanese carriers led to the confrontation in the Coral Sea.
Astoria rejoined TF 17 on 14 March 1942 and patrolled the Coral Sea for the rest of March. At sea continuously since 16 February, Astoria began to run low on provisions, so Rear Adm. Fletcher detached her to replenish from the storeship Bridge (AF-1) at Noumea along with heavy cruiser Portland (CA-33), and destroyers Hughes and Walke. Arriving on 1 April, the cruiser remained there only briefly, returning to sea the following day. The warship marched and countermarched across the Coral Sea for two weeks before TF 17 headed for Tongatabu, where she and the Yorktown force spent the week 20 to 27 April.
About this time, intelligence reports convinced Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, that the enemy sought to take Port Moresby, on the southeastern coast of New Guinea, and he resolved to thwart those designs. He sent TF 11, built around a refurbished Lexington and led by a new commander, Rear Adm. Aubrey W. Fitch, to join Fletcher's TF 17 in the Coral Sea. Astoria returned to sea with TF 17 on 27 April 1942 to rendezvous with TF 11. The two carrier task forces met in the eastern Coral Sea early on the morning of 1 May.
Late in the afternoon of 3 May 1942, Rear Adm.Fletcher received word of the Japanese occupation of Tulagi in the Solomons. Astoria screened Yorktown the following day as the carrier launched three raids on the enemy ships off Tulagi. Admiral Fletcher first considered sending heavy cruisers Astoria and Chester (CA-27) to finish off the crippled ships at Tulagi with surface gunnery, but demurred and kept his force concentrated in anticipation of further action.
Next came a two-day lull on 5 and 6 May 1942, during which TF 17 fueled in preparation for the impending battle. Astoria screened Yorktown on the 7th as her planes joined those from Lexington in searches and strikes that located and sank the Japanese small carrier Shoho. Japanese planes, however, located and bombed the oiler Neosho (AO-23), leaving her in a sinking condition, and sank her escort, Sims.
Fletcher's carriers launched aircraft again early on the morning of 8 May 1942, while Astoria and the other units of the screen prepared their antiaircraft batteries to meet the retaliation expected from Japanese carriers Zuikaku and Shokaku. Enemy planes found TF 17 just before 1100 that morning and quickly charged to the attack. Almost simultaneously, planes from Yorktown and Lexington deployed to attack the enemy task force.
The Japanese aviators concentrated almost exclusively on the American carriers as the two drew apart with their respective screening ships, ultimately putting some six to eight miles of ocean between them by the end of the battle. Torpedo planes opened the first phase of the attack, while torpedo planes and dive bombers coordinated attacks in the second phase.
The battle action on 8 May 1942, as Astoria's executive officer, Cmdr. Chauncey R. Crutcher, recounted, "was short and was accompanied by intense anti-aircraft fire against a determined enemy. . . ." Astoria assisted in putting up a protective barrage over Lexington at the outset, and then, after the task forces separated, shifted to the antiaircraft umbrella over Yorktown. Her gunners claimed to have splashed at least four enemy planes in the attack that "seemed to end as suddenly as it had started."
At about 1245, Lexington suffered severe internal explosions. Fires raged out of control and, by 1630, her engines stopped. Ninety minutes later, Capt. Frederick C. Sherman ordered the ship abandoned. Once rescue operations were completed, and Lexington's end was hastened by torpedoes from Phelps (DD-361), TF 17 began a slow retirement from the Coral Sea, having suffered heavy losses but also having inflicted a decisive strategic defeat on the Japanese by barring the Port Moresby invasion.
Astoria set course for Noumea along with Minneapolis (CA-36), New Orleans (CA-32), Anderson, Hammann, Morris, and Russell. That force reached its destination on 12 May 1942 but remained only overnight. On the 13th, she and the other warships got underway for Pearl Harbor, via Tongatabu, and arrived at Oahu on 27 May.
The heavy cruiser remained in Pearl Harbor only until 30 May 1942. On that day, she returned to sea with the hastily repaired Yorktown to prepare to meet yet another major thrust by the Japanese fleet, this one aimed at Midway. Air searches from that island spotted the enemy's Midway Occupation Force, made up of transports, minesweepers, and two seaplane carriers, early on 3 June, but the enemy carrier force eluded detection until early in the morning of the 4th. The heavy cruiser screened Yorktown as the carrier began launching strike aircraft at about 0840. While the planes droned off to make their contribution to the destruction of the Japanese carrier force, Astoria and her colleagues prepared for the inevitable Japanese reply.
The counterstroke, however, did not come until a few minutes before noon as Yorktown's victorious aviators began to return to their ship. Eighteen Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier [dive] bombers came in to attack the carrier. Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat pilots from Fighting Squadron (VF) 3 accounted for 10 of the intruders, but eight others managed to penetrate the combat air patrol (CAP). Astoria teamed up with Portland and the screening destroyers to splash another two of the attackers. The remaining six, however, succeeded in attacking Yorktown, and three of those scored hits. One of the three hit the carrier's stack, causing fires in her uptakes that literally smoked Rear Admiral Fletcher and his staff out of flag plot. At about 1310, he shifted his flag to Astoria.
Yorktown's damage control parties worked feverishly; and, by 1340, she was again underway under her own power but turning only 18 to 20 knots. At about 1430, the second attack, composed of 10 Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes escorted by six Type 0 fighters, came in and eluded the CAP. Astoria and the other ships of the screen attempted to discourage attacks from four different directions by bringing every gun to bear and firing the main battery ordnance into the sea to throw curtains of water into the path of the attackers. Nevertheless, four of the Type 97s made good their attack and released their torpedoes within 500 yards range. Yorktown dodged two, but the other two scored hits which stopped the ship again. By 1500, the order to abandon ship went out. Astoria called away her boats to assist in the rescue of Yorktown's survivors. That night, the heavy cruiser retired eastward with the rest of the task force to await dawn, while a single destroyer, Hughes, stood by the stricken carrier.
The following day broke with Yorktown still afloat, and efforts began to salvage the battered warship. Though the Japanese had abandoned the Midway attack and had begun retiring toward Japan, submarine I-168 had orders to sink Yorktown . After a 24-hour search, the enemy submarine found her quarry on the 6th and attacked with a spread of four torpedoes. One missed completely, two passed under destroyer Hammann alongside the carrier and detonated in Yorktown's hull, while the fourth broke Hammann's back. The destroyer sank in less than four minutes. The carrier remained afloat until early on the morning of the 7th. At about dawn, she finally rolled over and sank.
Astoria remained as flagship for TF 17, as it operated north of Midway, until shortly after midday on 8 June 1942 when TF 11 arrived on the scene, and Rear Admiral Fletcher transferred his flag to Saratoga. On 11 June, Admiral Nimitz, satisfied that the major Japanese thrust had been thwarted, ordered his carrier task forces back to Hawaii, and Astoria reentered Pearl Harbor with them on 13 June. During the early summer of 1942, she completed repairs and alterations at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and carried out training in the Hawaiian operating area.
By the beginning of August 1942, Astoria had been reassigned to Task Group (TG) 62.3, Fire Support Group L, to cover the Guadalcanal-Tulagi landings. Early on the morning of 7 August, the heavy cruiser entered the waters between Guadalcanal and Florida Islands in the southern Solomons. Throughout the day, she supported the Marines as they landed on Guadalcanal and several smaller islands nearby. The Japanese launched air counterattacks on both the 7th and 8th, and Astoria helped to defend the transports from those attacks.
On the night of 8-9 August 1942, a Japanese force of seven cruisers and a destroyer under Rear Admiral Mikawa Gunichi sneaked by Savo Island and attacked the American ships. At the time, Astoria had been patrolling to the east of Savo Island in column behind Vincennes (CA-44) and Quincy (CA-39). The Japanese came through the channel to the west of Savo Island and opened fire on the Chicago-HMAS Canberra force first at about 0140 on the morning of the 9th, hitting both cruisers with torpedoes and shells. They then divided, inadvertently, into two separate groups and turned generally northeast passing on either side of Astoria and her two consorts. The enemy cruisers began firing on that force at about 0150, and the heavy cruiser began return fire immediately. She ceased fire briefly because her commanding officer temporarily mistook the Japanese force for friendly ships but soon resumed shooting. Astoria took no hits in the first four Japanese salvoes, but the fifth ripped into her superstructure turning her into an inferno amidships. In quick succession, enemy shells put Turret I out of action and started a serious fire in the plane hangar that burned brightly and provided the enemy with a self-illuminating target.
From that moment on, deadly accurate Japanese gunfire pounded her unmercifully, and she began to lose speed. Turning to the right to avoid Quincy's fire at about 0201, Astoria reeled as a succession of enemy shells struck her aft of the foremast. Soon thereafter, Quincy veered across Astoria's bow, blazing fiercely from bow to stern. Astoria put her rudder over hard left and avoided a collision while her battered sister ship passed aft, to starboard. As the warship turned, Kinugasa's searchlight illuminated her, and men on deck passed the order for Turret II to shoot out the offending light. When the turret responded with Astoria's 12th and final salvo, the shells missed Kinugasa but struck the number 1 turret of Chokai.
Astoria lost steering control on the bridge at about 0225, shifted control to central station, and began steering a zig-zag course south. Before she made much progress, though, the heavy cruiser lost all power. Fortunately, the Japanese chose that exact instant to withdraw. By 0300, nearly 400 men, including about 70 wounded and many dead, were assembled on the forecastle deck.
Suffering from the effects of at least 65 hits, Astoria fought for her life. A bucket brigade battled the blaze on the gun deck and the starboard passage forward from that deck, and the wounded were moved to the captain's cabin, where doctors and corpsmen proceeded with their care. Eventually, however, the deck beneath grew hot and forced the wounded back to the forecastle. The bucket brigade made steady headway, driving the fire aft on the starboard side of the gun deck, while a gasoline handy-billy rigged over the side pumped a small stream into the wardroom passage below.
Destroyer Bagley (DD-386) came alongside Astoria 's starboard bow and, by 0445, took all of the wounded off the heavy cruiser's forecastle. At that point, a small light flashed from Astoria's stern, indicating survivors on that part of the ship. Signalling the men on the heavy cruiser's stern that they had been seen, Bagley got underway and rescued men on rafts, some Vincennes survivors, and men who had been driven overboard by the fires blazing on board Astoria.
With daylight, Bagley returned to the heavy cruiser and came alongside her starboard quarter. Since it appeared that the ship could be saved, a salvage crew of about 325 able-bodied men went back on board Astoria. Another bucket brigade attacked the fires while the ship's first lieutenant investigated all accessible lower decks. A party of men collected the dead and prepared them for burial. Hopkins (DMS-13) came up to assist in the salvage effort at about 0700. After securing a towline, Hopkins proceeded ahead, swinging Astoria around in an effort to tow her to the shallow water off Guadalcanal. A second gasoline-powered handy-billy, transferred from Hopkins, promptly joined the struggle against the fires. Wilson (DD-408) soon arrived on the scene, coming alongside the cruiser at about 0900 to pump water into the fire forward. Called away at 1000, Hopkins and Wilson departed, but the heavy cruiser received word that Buchanan (DD-484) was on the way to assist in battling the fires and that cargo ship Alchiba (AK-23) was coming to tow the ship.
Nevertheless, the fire below decks increased steadily in intensity, and those topside could hear explosions. Astoria's list increased, first to 10 degrees and then 15. All attempts to shore the shell holes, by then below the waterline due to the increasing list, proved ineffective, and the list increased still more. Buchanan arrived at 1130, but could not approach due to the heavy list. Directed to stand off the starboard quarter, she stood by while all hands assembled on the stern. With the port waterway awash at noon, Capt. William Greenman gave the order to abandon ship.
Astoria turned over on her port beam, rolled slowly, and settled by the stern, disappearing completely by 1215. Buchanan lowered two motor whaleboats and, although interrupted by a fruitless hunt for a submarine, came back and assisted the men in the water. Alchiba, which arrived on the scene just before Astoria sank, rescued 32 men. Not a man from the salvage crew lost his life.
Astoria (CA-34) earned three battle stars during World War II.
Robert J. Cressman
18 September 2007