Sinking of oiler USS Mississinewa

Most Notable US Navy Losses of World War 2 – Part II

In Part One of Notable US Navy Losses of World War 2 we covered the USS Arizona (BB-39), USS Liscome Bay (CVE-56), USS Tullibee (SS-284), USS Tang (SS-306), USS Mount Hood (AE-11), USS Borie (DD-215), USS Ingraham II (DD-444), USS Indianapolis (CA-35), USS Stewart (DD-224), USS Sturtevant (DD-240), USS R-12 (SS-89) and USS S-28 (SS-133) but these were just a handful of the notable losses. We asked our readers which ships they wanted to have included within the lists, hereby:

USS Houston (CA-30)

Off San Diego, California, in October 1935, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board. She is flying an admiral's four-star flag at her foremast peak, and the Presidential flag at her mainmast peak. (Credits: US Navy)
Off San Diego, California, in October 1935, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board. She is flying an admiral’s four-star flag at her foremast peak, and the Presidential flag at her mainmast peak. (Credits: US Navy)

USS Houston (CA-30), nicknamed the “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast”, was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser. Launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia on 7 September 1929, commissioned as CL-30 on 17 June 1930 and with her final designation change to CA-30 on 1 July 1931. It was February 26, 1942 when the USS Houston sailed with HMAS Perth, HNMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNMS Java and 10 destroyers to destroy the Japanese support force under Admiral Takagi consisting of 4 cruisers and 13 destroyers during the Battle of the Java Sea. The ships met for the first time in the late afternoon, and as Japanese destroyers laid smoke the cruisers of both fleets opened fire. Around 1700 hours, the Kortenaer. Exeter and destroyer Electro were hit by gunfire, Electra fatally. A half hour later, the Jupiter was sunk. At 2300 the same night, the cruisers again encountered the Japanese surface group. On parallel courses the opposing units opened fire, and the Japanese launched a devastating torpedo attack 30 minutes later. De Ruyter and Java, caught in a spread of 12 torpedoes, exploded and sank, carrying their captains and Admiral Doorman down with them.

Two days later on February 28, the remaining ships (Houston and Perth) sailed into Banten Bay, hoping to damage the Japanese invasion forces there. The cruisers were almost torpedoed as they approached the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyed Fubuki. The cruisers then sank one transport and forced three others to beach. A destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of retreat, and on the other hand large cruisers Mogami and Mikutna stood dangerously near. The result was foreordained, but Houston and Perth fought valiantly. Perth came under fire at 2336 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. Houston then fought alone, her guns blazing at the enemy all around her, a champion at bay. Soon after midnight she took a torpedo and began to lose headway. During this time Houston’s gunners scored hits on three different destroyers and sank a minesweeper, but suffered three more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 0030 and as the ship came to a stop Japanese destroyers swarmed over her machine gunning the decks. A few minutes later the gallant Houston, her name written imperishably in the records of heroism, rolled over and sank, her ensign still flying.

Houston’s fate was not known by the world for almost 9 months, and the full story of her courageous fight was not fully told until after the war was over and her survivors were liberated from prison camps.

USS Juneau (CL-52)

USS Juneau (CL-52)
In New York Harbor, 11 February 1942. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

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 7-26. 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, including the five Sullivan brothers, was lost. Only 10 members of the crew survived the tragedy.

USS Reuben James (DD-245)

Reuben James, though not the first US Navy Ship struck during WWII, was the first ship sunk. She was completed in September of 1920 and saw service in the Mediterranean until 1922, when she was moved to New York and patrolled Nicaragua to deter the delivery of weapons. She was decommissioned in 1931, but reactivated in 1932 and sent to patrol the Atlantic and Caribbean during the Cuban revolution. Reuben James moved to San Diego in 1934 as a destroyer following maneuvers that evaluated US aircraft carriers. She rejoined the Atlantic Fleet in 1939 and was sent to join the Neutrality Patrol, once again guarding the Atlantic and the Caribbean. In March of 1941, she had joined a force that escorted convoys on their way to Great Britain. Reuben James was based out of Hvalfjordur, Iceland and routinely escorted convoys to and from Canada. During her last mission, Reuben James was accompanied by the USS Benson, USS Hilary P. Jones, USS Niblack, and the USS Tarbell as well as 43 merchant ships on the 156th numbered convoy. The convoy came together on 24 October 1941 just outside of Halifax and began its journey towards Liverpool. At dawn on 31 October 1941, the convoy was spotted by German submarine U-552.

The German wolfpack was aiming for one of the merchant ships the destroyer was escorting when U-552 torpedoed Reuben James. She just turning to investigate a direction indicated on the HF/DF when she was torpedoed. She was struck forward, on the port side, causing a massive explosion in her magazine, sinking the entire bow section of the destroyer. The stern took about 5 minutes to fully sink, as charges exploded as it sank, killing dozens of soldiers in the water. USS Niblack and USS Hilary P. Jones were able to rescue 44 men, but the other 155 men, including all of the officers were lost. Though she was the first US Naval loss of WWII, she did not spur the United States to join the war- they did not engage until Pearl Harbor, two months later.

The previous listed photograph for USS Reuben James was incorrect as the photograph depicted the SS Dixie Arrow afire and sinking after being torpedoed by U-71 off the coast of Cape Hattera.

USS Harder (SS-257)

USS Harder (SS-257)
Plan view forward of the USS Harder (SS-257) at Mare Island, CA. Feb. 19, 1944 following a refit & overhaul. Public domain

One of the most famous and most successful submarines of WWII, Harder had a total of six patrols, and all of them were designated successful. With Commander Samuel D. Dealey as her skipper,  she conducted patrols from 7 June 1943 until her sinking on 24 August 1944. Harder was known for her aggressive attacks, sinking several destroyers and merchant ships over her life. With Dealey at the helm, she didn’t back down from the fight, always acting as the aggressive adversary. Her most successful and brilliant patrol was her fifth, where she sank four destroyers and heavily damaged another within four days. Her aggressive tactics led the Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda to believe his fleet was surrounded by enemy submarines, leading him to depart their Mobile Fleet a day ahead of schedule, possibly contributing to their defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

Harder departed for her sixth and final patrol on 5 August 1944, with USS Hake, USS Haddo, USS Ray, USS Guitarro, and USS Raton. They attacked a convoy outside of Palawan Bay on 21 August, sinking four cargo ships. Harder, Hake, and Haddo continued their patrol in Bataan and Dasol Bay, sinking defense vessels, frigates, and severely damaging a destroyer. Haddo left the wolfpack for resupply, leaving only Harder and Hake to patrol Dasol Bay. At dawn on 24 August 1944, they spotted two Japanese ships and went in for the attack. The two ships were later identified as Kaibokan CD-22 and PB-102, which was formerly the USS Stewart that was captured by the Japanese from a sunken dry dock in Indonesia in 1942. Harder was ahead of Hake by 600-700 yards when CD-22 began to swing their way, pinging for submarines. Hake began to rig for silent running and started to dive when she heard 15 depth charges explode in rapid succession, but they were not nearby to Hake. Unfortunately, those explosions were close to Harder, and the ship was sunk with the entire crew of 79 men. She was awarded six battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for WWI service, which was presented to the crew of the second USS Harder in August 1952.

USS Panay

USS Panay sinking after Japanese air attack
USS Panay sinking after Japanese air attack on Nanking, China, on December 12, 1937, in what became known as the Panay incident.

The USS Panay was a protective vessel built with one mission: “For the protection of American life and property in the Yangtze River Valley and its tributaries, and the furtherance of American goodwill in China.” It was built in Shanghai and commissioned in September of 1928, commanded by Lieutenant Commander James Mackey Lewis. China was struggling to enact a strong central government and its major trade channel, the Yangtze River, was plagued with river pirates and warlords. As the United States asserted itself in the early 1900s as a trading nation and a military power, it signed treaties to gain the right to patrol the Yangtze to protect their merchant ships. Panay was one of one of six shallow gunboats built specifically for river defense. Her sister ships were the USS Luzon, USS Mindanao, USS Oahu, USS Guam, and the USS Tutuila. They fought against river pirates and stayed on guard while Chinese Nationalist and Communist armies waged war against each other on the river banks.

In the summer of 1937 Japan invaded china and raced towards Nanking, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Panay evacuated all of the Americans from Nanking on 11 December 1937 and brought them aboard, taking their aboard total from 59 to 73, with 10 civilians and four embassy staff. She anchored upstream from Nanking with three oil tankers, nearby to fleeing Chinese forces. Though the officers of Panay had told the Japanese army just the day before who they were, the ship was still hit with two of the eighteen 60 kg bombs that were dropped by the Japanese air strike on 12 December. Panay also had at least three American flags in plain sight on the ships, that would have been visible to the planes overhead. Nevertheless, she sunk and four were killed in the attack. 48 were wounded. The three oil tankers Panay was protecting were also bombed and sunk, with many civilians killed.

After the brazen attack, the Japanese government took responsibility but maintained that it was an unintentional attack on the US ship. They sent a formal apology that arrived at Washington D.C on Christmas Eve. Though they kept insisting that the sinking had been unintentional, they paid $2,214,007.36 to the US government on 22 April 1938, effectively settling the incident. Many of today’s historians after decrypting intercepted communications, believe the attack was intentional, that the planes were under specific orders. It is a theory that the Japanese army wanted to force the US into a conflict to drive them out of China so Japan could more thoroughly invade.

USS Mississinewa (AO-59)

USS Mississinewa (AO-59)
USS Mississinewa (AO-59) underway, circa May 1944 This image has been cropped from US Navy photo NH 97280 from the collections of the US Naval Historical Center.

Mississinewa was commissioned for duty on 18 May 1944, for a brief but impactful service. She started her service in Aruba, taking on cargo and continuing on to Pearl Harbor in July. She then fueled ships in Eniwetok and moved on to Manus, again fueling ships in the Philippines before sailing to the Caroline Islands on 19 October. She returned from her final fueling mission on 15 November 1944. She replenished her tanks the next day with over 400,000 gallons of aviation gas, 9000 barrels of diesel fuel, and 90,000 barrels of oil. On 20 November she was still anchored when she was hit with a Kaiten, a Japanese manned torpedo. Mississinewa was the first ship to be hit with such a torpedo, and since it was full to the brim with fuel, the initial explosion started a chain reaction of massive flames and explosions throughout the ship. As flames reached a towering 100 feet, the ship was abandoned and fleet tugs tried to extinguish the fire. The ship sank just a few hours after the initial impact, taking with it 63 lives and the pilot of the kaiten torpedo.

Sinking of oiler USS Mississinewa - us navy
Sinking of oiler USS Mississinewa after being struck by a Kaiten in Ulithi anchorage, Caroline Islands, 20 Nov 1944; photograph taken from fleet ocean tug USS Munsee

What other losses would you like to hear about?

4 thoughts on “Most Notable US Navy Losses of World War 2 – Part II”

  1. I would like to know if there is any Navy losses in or nearby the Panama Canal, and if there was a risk to navigate from a to the Canal during the WWII

    1. japanese project various times to strike Panama Canal, If canal was broken oceans would remain closed (as was almost for Suez canal), but in the case of Panama canal circumnavigatione would be very difficult and would be a great tragedy for americans, putting at risk the whole war.

  2. no one remembered the cargo full of chemical and biological weapons which sunk in Italy at Bari in 1944.
    All people which was hit dead with atrocious sufferences and american navy, amry and commands never inform what was inside the cargo. Luftwaffe good informed, knowing what was inside make a striking bombing very carefully and hit completely this cargo.
    Americans, english and allied forces was criminal almost how was Germans. Perrhaps worst.

    I will be very pleased if you give us information of this great american crime, americans has this weapons only because wanted to use versus germans, which in that period was invincible , in fact the battlefield remained stopped in Montecassino and all the entire battlefield for many months.

    If you want to tell us history the true history you must inform american and english people how were their commandants (mr churchill and mr roosevelt), but I don’t remember in Nuremberg they was condemned!

    they were culprit as were Stalin and Hitler, they spin all the world to enter in war, first spin Hitler, but after they spin also Japaneses. They deserve same retaliation of other war criminals.
    my english is little but I know you can understand very well, and can’t tell this sin’t the truth.

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