The Juneau Disaster
It was 0900 when we finished with Red Spaulding—the last man who needed an emergency operation. I went up on the main deck and sat down to get a little frosh air and rest for a, minute. One of the Negro Steward’s Mates came by and gave me a piece of sausage and an orange that he had. I had forgotten that I was hungry.

At 0600, the Sterett had joined up with the other surviving ships of Task Group 67.4. There were the San Francisco—heavily damaged, the Helena—light damage, the Juneau—heavily damaged, Fletcher—undamaged, O’Bannon—very slight damage, and the Sterett.

The Officer in Tactical Command was now Captain Hoover of the Helena since Admiral Callaghan and staff and Captain Cassin Young had been killed on the San Francisco. The second in command, Admiral Scott, had been killed on the Atlanta.

This, however, was a larger group of surviving ships than I had dared expect to see get out of the fracas, and the tally clearly showed that instead of being annihilated as expected, we had won a resounding victory over a strong battleship and cruiser task force!

The Atlanta was still afloat but had to be scuttled by her own crew. The Portland remained in Iron Bottom Bay, with heavy underwater damage and no steering control. She could be saved to fight again. The Aaron Ward had some damage and her engineering plant disabled; she could be fixed up quickly. Our only ships sunk were the Atlanta, Barton, Laffey, Cushing and Monssen. Our Japanese battleship was dead in the water off Savo Island at daybreak and she was quickly finished off by Marine torpedo planes. With the light of day, a Japanese destroyer, assisting the doomed battleship, showed the misjudgment of coming too close to the Portland as she circled, out of control. The Portland made short work of the destroyer and sank it with a bare minimum of salvoes. We assessed the Japanese damage as one battleship, four or five cruisers and four destroyers sunk; the remainder of the original Japanese force, which consisted of two battleships, four or five heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and 10 destroyers were considered to be damaged or probably damaged. Our estimate was optimistic but a clear-cut victory was certain—the biggest surface engagement since the Battle of Jutland, and much more decisive than Jutland!

The Japanese radio paid us a very nice compliment and was much more optimistic than we were. They claimed to have sunk two American battleships, 12 cruisers sunk or damaged and several destroyers sunk! If the fools had known how small a group it was that fought them to a standstill, they would have all committed hara-kiri.

The surviving ships, though damaged, were making good speed and it was a nice sight to see the islands on both sides of the “Slot” slip away past our beam.

Sometime during the morning, the group had left Guadalcanal behind and was off of the southwest coast of San Cristobal Island, heading south. The O’Bannon, whose sound gear was disabled, was sent out at a distance to send a message to Santo requesting maximum air coverage for the damaged ships. We had received word that two Jap carriers wore sighted to the north of Guadalcanal, and we had no desire to try to fight them off with only the guns of a group of crippled ships.

At about noon I went up on the bridge for a “Condition Red” air alert; the Fletcher and Sterett moved in closer to the cruisers to our air attack stations. However, the air attack failed to materialize and the destroyers put on speed to return to our former stations.

I was watching our signalman send a flashing-light message over to the Juneau when suddenly there was a terrific explosion on the Juneau; one gigantic sphere of flame obliterated the entire ship. The signalman who was sending the signal to us was thrown high into the air with great quantities of debris. After the original flame, the Juneau was seen no more; a pall of smoke hung on the water where the ship had been; a thick column of white smoke mushroomed several thousand feet into the air. When the smoke lifted there was nothing to be seen; no ship, no floating debris . . . nothing. The cruiser had disappeared completely, carrying with it some 500 brave men who had survived one of the fiercest surface battles in history, only to fall victim to a submarine.

Beyond being stunned and beyond being excited or surprised at anything, I went over and sat down on the flag, shaking my head as I went. Anyone who saw the explosion would not have given a plugged nickel for the lives of any man aboard the Juneau; the risk of another ship under those circumstances was not considered to be warranted by the O.T.C., and the remaining ships steamed off at full speed, zigzagging radically.

Here was the most terrible event I had ever witnessed; it is indescribable, futile, hopeless. One minute a ship was steaming along at 18 knots; the next minute the only evidence that the Juneau had ever existed was in the tall column of smoke, rising ominously above the scattered cumulous clouds. The Japanese submarine had struck a magazine; he had done his job well.

By some miracle, about 50 survivors were still alive when a plane sighted them the next morning. When a rescue ship finally got to them, only four remained. Four survivors out of a crew of 500. (continued)