As Strong completed its turn to course 000 in the wake of Nicholas, the operator on the starboard sound stack (probably Jack Haley Som 2c) reported an extremely loud underwater noise from the sonar. He then turned on the sonar speakers in the chart house so everyone in the space could hear. The noise was a very steady, high-pitched roar that could have been generated from multiple sources. It was stated: “That could be a spread of big torpedoes going like Hell! They sure don’t sound like a sound school training record! — Where is the loudest noise coming from?” The operator spun the sonar. The noise seemed to be coming from all directions but was loudest from three directions—from the direction of Rice Anchorage, from just forward of the port beam, and from the starboard quarter. LCDR. Purdy, the executive officer, who was in the chart room at the time, decided that the noise was coming from some underwater equipment that was being used in the landing at Rice Anchorage. He then went out on the bridge.
Track chart

Above: track chart included in the original report of the sinking of Strong, prepared at Nouméa, New Caledonia. Times are approximate. Click on either image to view it in more detail.

Loss of Strong

Immediately, everyone in the chart house (CIC) was told to get away from the bulkheads and machinery, to get up on the balls of the feet with knees bent slightly and to brace lightly by fingertips . . . just in case! In less than half a minute, the torpedo exploded. No one in the space was hurt—even though some of the heavy equipment shifted violently in the explosion.

The gunnery officer had seen the torpedo wake headed for the ship from a direction just forward of the port beam. The torpedo exploded before he could report. The wake had also been seen by the machine gun control officer and the port after lookout.

The torpedo exploded about 0043.

The torpedo blew out both sides of the forward engine room and fire room. It broke the keel of the ship.

The ship took an immediate 12 degree starboard list and sagged amidships. This increased progressively until reaching 70 to 90 degrees as the ship sank and exploded at 0123.

Power was lost briefly throughout the ship, but the emergency generator came on provided power as long as the ship was afloat.

The 5-inch guns were shifted to local control with orders not to fire without direction from the gunnery officer.

The surface search radar continued to operate but on relative bearing since the main ship’s gyro was inoperative. The “picture” provided by the surface search radar was of very limited use, however, because of the starboard list of the ship. (When the antenna searched to starboard, it looked down into the water; when it searched to port, it looked up into the air.) During this period, we must rely on the records of other ships in the task force for events external to Strong.

(Events internal to Strong have been written up using the inputs of some of our survivors. This document on internal events has been distributed to all of the survivors of Strong that we have located. We will not repeat the internal events here.)

At 0056 Rear Admiral Ainsworth directed Chevalier to determine the difficulty on Strong. An 0100 Chevalier started maneuvering to come alongside Strong. At 0101 Chevalier reported that Strong was sinking and a few minutes later reported that Strong had been torpedoed. At 0107 Chevalier backed all engines 2/3 to ease alongside Strong, but four minutes later, it was noticed that O’Bannon was coming up fast under the stern of Chevalier. The executive officer of Chevalier rushed to the annunciators and rang up emergency full ahead. The sternway on Chevalier was stopped by O’Bannon hitting the starboard depth charge rack and smoke screen generator of Chevalier. At 0113 this short burst of power on Chevalier, however, caused her to ram Strong on the port side about frame 70 and slide forward to frame 50. This opened a hole in Chevalier about 10 feet long and 2 feet wide. The hole was about 6 feet above the waterline. Main engines were used to hold the ships together while lines were being passed to secure Chevalier alongside forward. Chevalier personnel were making every effort to transfer Strong personnel as rapidly as possible since Strong was settling fast.

During this period, Chevalier and Strong were under fire. A shore battery from Kolombangara got the range and hit the after part of Strong with something like a 4.7-inch shell. Several batteries at Enogai Inlet, estimated to be 155 mm caliber, were firing steadily at the ships. Both were illuminated by star shells and by at least two aircraft flares. When the shells began to straddle the ships, Chevalier returned fire with guns 4 and 5. O’Bannon also returned fire.

While still alongside and engaged in taking off Strong personnel, at least two bombs were dropped just off the port quarter of Chevalier. These near misses shook the ship violently and caused a number of seams on the after part of the ship to open up.

At 0121 Strong was listing 20–30 degrees to starboard and was sinking rapidly. At 0122 Chevalier started to back away. At 0123 Strong rolled more to starboard and sank. About the time Strong disappeared, there was at least one explosion from Strong. (Some witnesses reported more than one explosion.) The explosion lifted Chevalier in the water and it settled back with a shudder.

At 0124 the number 3 5-inch gun on Chevalier exploded and the handling room caught fire. A projectile had jammed when being loaded in the gun. It could not be removed and “cooked off” due to the heat of the gun generated by the bombardment. (This type of casualty was fairly commonplace. Strong sank with a projectile stuck in the number 4 5-inch gun. This had occurred before the bombardment was completed by the projectile had not “cooked off.” The same type of casualty had also “cooked off” in Nicholas on one of our previous bombardments.)

As a result of the various events, on Chevalier, all radars, sound gear and radio transmitters were inoperable. Space A-1-W was flooded, A-4-W and A-5-W were flooding but under control. Fuel tank C-1-F and others were leaking into the shaft alleys.

At 0126 the fire was extinguished in the number 3 mount area.

At 0127 Chevalier came to course 020 at speed 10 knots. (That was all the speed available at that time.) Chevalier was under fire by shore batteries from both Kolombangara and Enogai Inlet. She was being illuminated by starshells. By that time, seven officers and 232 men had been taken off Strong. With the additional threat of a possible submarine, and with the job of picking up survivors mostly accomplished, Captain McLean of Chevalier asked the Rice Anchorage landing group to look out for any additional survivors in the water, and he set course with as much speed as available to rejoin the cruiser task force. He and his crew had done a superb job. From about 0125 until Chevalier exited the Gulf, I was on the bridge of Chevalier and witnessed the manner in which all these events were handled. The performance of Captain McLean was far more impressive than this chronology can portray—it truly was an inspiration in naval leadership under fire.

At 0135 Nicholas was ordered to return to Kula Gulf to assist Chevalier and O’Bannon, but this insurance proved to be unnecessary.