USS Astoria (CA-34)

USS Astoria (CA-34)

The second USS "Astoria" (CA-34) was a United States Navy "New Orleans"-class heavy cruiser that participated in both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway, but was then sunk in August 1942 at the Battle of Savo Island. Originally the "Astoria" was the lead ship of her class as she was the first ship of that class to be laid down but received a later hull number than the "New Orleans" (CA-32) because she was launched second. The class was later to be known as the "New Orleans" class after "Astoria" was sunk. Immediately following the Guadalcanal campaign the remaining ships of the class would go through major overhauls in order to lessen top-heaviness of the ships due to new electrical and radar systems as well as more anti-aircraft weaponry which was being added as technology advanced. In doing so the ships took on a new appearance, most notable in the bridge area and then became known as the "New Orleans" class.

Construction, commissioning, shakedown cruise

"Astoria" was laid down on 1 September 1930 at 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 descendant of Alexander McKay, a member of the John Jacob Astor expedition that founded Astoria, Oregon), and commissioned on 28 April 1934, Captain Edmund S. Root in command.

During the summer of 1934, "Astoria" conducted lengthy shake-down 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 Nouméa on the island of New Caledonia. She returned to San Francisco on 26 September 1934.

Early career

Between the fall of 1934 and February 1937, she operated as a unit of Cruiser Division 7 (CruDiv 7), Scouting Force, based at San Pedro, California. In February 1937, the warship was reassigned to CruDiv 6, though she continued to serve 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.

Special duty: Hiroshi Saito's ashes

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, Virginia, the heavy cruiser proceeded north to Annapolis, Maryland, where she embarked the remains of the former Japanese Ambassador to the United States, the late Hiroshi Saito, 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 1926. "Astoria" sailed from Annapolis on 18 March 1939, Saito's ashes accompanied by Naokichi Kitazawa, Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Washington.

Arriving in the Panama 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. 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", "Akatsuki", "Astoria" steamed slowly into Yokohama harbor on 17 April, 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 attaché in Tokyo, Capt. Harold M. Bemis, later recorded that the choice of Turner for that delicate mission was "particularly fortunate...." In grateful appreciation of American sympathy and courtesy a pagoda was later presented by Hirosi Saito's wife and child. [ That pagoda] is located in front of Luce Hall at the United States Naval Academy.

April–May 1939

"Astoria" sailed for Shanghai, China, on 26 April, and reached her destination on the morning of the 29th. She remained at Shanghai until 1 May. After receiving Admiral 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 "Penguin" and "Robert L. Barnes" 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 162,000 square miles of the Pacific, without success, before she discontinued the search on 29 May.

Pearl Harbor

Reassigned to Pearl Harbor

Assigned to the Hawaiian Detachment in October 1939, "Astoria" changed home ports from San Pedro 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, and, 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, California on 8 April and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard on the 13th. During her refit, she received quadruple-mount 1.1 inch antiaircraft 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 16th. Later shifting to San Pedro, "Astoria" sailed for Pearl Harbor on 24 July 1941.

Following her return to Hawaii on 31 July, "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 "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.

December 1941

After rising tensions in the Pacific intensified his concern over the defenses of his outlying bases at the beginning of December 1941, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet/United States Fleet, ordered reinforcements, in the form of Marine Corps planes, to be ferried to Wake Island and Midway. "Astoria" put to sea on 6 December in the screen of Rear Admiral John H. Newton's Task Force 12 built around "Lexington". Once the task force reached open sea, "Lexington"’s air group and the 18 Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators from Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 231 (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, "Astoria" was some 700 miles west of Hawaii steaming toward Midway with TF 12. At 0900 the following day the heavy cruiser "Indianapolis", flagship of Vice Admiral Wilson Brown, Commander, Scouting Force, joined up with TF 12, and Brown assumed command. Its ferry mission canceled, 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, but she returned to sea on the 16th to rendezvous with and screen a convoy, the oiler "Neches" and the seaplane tender "Tangier" — 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. When the Astoria was moored in Pearl Harbor she had about 40 sailors from the battleship USS "California" transferred to her ranks. They were survivors of December 7th when the "California" was sunk at Berth F4 on Battleship Row. One of these sailors was Machinist Mate 1st Class Martin W. Bender.

"Astoria" departed Pearl Harbor again on the morning of 31 December 1941 with TF 11, formed around "Saratoga", 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 with Task Force 11 — the carrier "Lexington" escorted by "Chicago", "Minneapolis" and nine destroyers — to "conduct an offensive patrol northeast of the Kingman Reef-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 23rd, however, revealed that "Neches" had fallen victim to a Japanese submarine, identified later as "I-17". 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.

Southwestern Pacific cruise: TF 17 (USS "Yorktown")

On 16 February, "Astoria" put back to sea for what proved to be an extended cruise in the southwestern Pacific with TF 17, built around "Yorktown" and comprising "Louisville", "Sims", "Anderson", "Hammann", "Walke", and the oiler "Guadalupe", all under the command of Rear Admiral 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 Admiral 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, 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 "Chicago", "Louisville", HMAS "Australia", and four destroyers, "Anderson", "Hammann", "Hughes", and "Sims" under the command of Rear Admiral John G. Crace, 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 Nouméa.

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.

The Coral Sea

"Astoria" rejoined TF 17 on 14 March 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 Admiral Fletcher detached her to replenish from "Bridge" (AF-1) at Nouméa along with "Portland" (CA-33), "Hughes" and "Walke". Arriving on 1 April, the cruiser remained there only briefly, returning to sea the following day. The warship marched and counter-marched across the Coral Sea for two weeks before TF 17 headed for Tongatapu, where she and the "Yorktown" force spent the week 20 April to 27 April.

About this time, intelligence reports convinced Admiral Nimitz 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 Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, to join Fletcher's TF 17 in the Coral Sea. "Astoria" returned to sea with TF 17 on 27 April 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, Rear Admiral 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 "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 May and 6 May, 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 light carrier " Shōhō". Japanese planes, however, located and sank the oiler "Neosho" and her escort, "Sims".

Fletcher's carriers launched aircraft again early on the morning of 8 May, while "Astoria" and the other units of the screen prepared their antiaircraft batteries to meet the retaliation expected from Japanese carriers "Zuikaku" and "Shōkaku". 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, as "Astoria"’s executive officer, Comdr. 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 12:45, "Lexington" — heavily damaged though apparently in satisfactory condition afloat and underway — suffered severe internal explosions that rang her death knell. Fires raged out of control and, by 16:30, 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", 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 Nouméa along with "Minneapolis", "New Orleans", "Anderson", "Hammann", "Morris", and "Russell". That force reached its destination on 12 May but remained only overnight. On the 13th, she and the other warships got underway for Pearl Harbor, via Tongatapu, and arrived at Oahu on 27 May.


The heavy cruiser remained in Pearl Harbor only until the 30th. 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 08:40. 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 dive bombers ("Vals") came in to attack the carrier. Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat pilots from Fighting Squadron 3 (VF-3) accounted for ten 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 13:10, he shifted his flag to "Astoria".

"Yorktown"’s damage control parties worked feverishly; and, by 13:40, she was again underway under her own power but turning only 18 to 20 knots (33 to 37 km/h). At about 14:30, the second attack-composed of ten Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 torpedo bombers escorted by six Zero fighters — came in and eluded the weak 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 them into the sea to throw curtains of water into the path of the attackers. Nevertheless, four of the "Kates" 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 15:00, the order to abandon ship went out. "Astoria" called away lifeboats to assist in the rescue of "Yorktown"’s survivors. That night, the heavy cruiser retired east ward 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 been given 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 torpedo 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 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.

The Solomons (Battle of Savo Island)

By the beginning of August, "Astoria" had been reassigned to Task Group 62.3 (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 August and 9 August, a Japanese force of seven cruisers and a destroyer under Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa 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" and "Quincy". The Japanese came through the channel to the west of Savo Island and opened fire on the "Chicago" – HMAS "Canberra" force first at about 01:40 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 01:50, 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 her number 1 turret out of action and started a serious fire in the plane hangar that burned brightly and provided the enemy with a self-illuminated 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 02:01, "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 to number 2 turret 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 "Chōkai".

"Astoria" lost steering control on the bridge at about 02:25, 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 03:00, 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.

"Bagley" came alongside "Astoria"’s starboard bow and, by 04:45, 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. Signaling 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" came up to assist in the salvage effort at about 07:00. 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" soon arrived on the scene, coming alongside the cruiser at about 09:00 to pump water into the fire forward. Called away at 10:00, "Hopkins" and "Wilson" departed, but the heavy cruiser received word that "Buchanan" was on the way to assist in battling the fires and that "Alchiba" was coming to tow the ship.

The end

Nevertheless, the fire below decks increased steadily in intensity, and those topside could hear explosions. Her 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 11:30, 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, Captain 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 12:16. "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" earned three battle stars during World War II.

See also

* See List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II for other Navy ships lost in WWII.

External links

* [ Navy photographs of "Astoria" (CA-34)]




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