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Sweet Pea at War

Sweet Pea at War: A History of USS Portland

William Thomas Generous
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Sweet Pea at War
    Book Description:

    "Few ships in American history have had as illustrious a history as the heavy cruiser USS Portland (CA-33), affectionately known by her crew as 'Sweet Pea.' With the destructionof most of the U.S. battleship fleet at Pearl Harbor, cruisers such as Sweet Pea carried the biggest guns the Navy possessed for nearly a year after the start of World War II. Sweet Pea at War describes in harrowing detail how Portland and her sisters protected the precious carriers and held the line against overwhelming Japanese naval strength. Portland was instrumental in the dramatic American victories at the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, and the naval battle of Guadalcanal--conflicts that historians regard as turning points in the Pacific war. She rescued nearly three thousand sailors from sunken ships, some of them while she herself was badly damaged. Only a colossal hurricane ended her career, but she sailed home from that, too. Based on extensive research in official documents and interviews with members of the ship's crew, Sweet Pea at War recounts from launching to scrapping the history of USS Portland, demonstrating that she deserves to be remembered as one of the most important ships in U.S. naval history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2823-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Tom Generous
  4. 1 The Ship
    (pp. 1-11)

    USSPortlandwas a “heavy cruiser.” Battleships are bigger than cruisers, and destroyers are smaller. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 defined all armored ships with gun bores of at least eight inches but less than fourteen inches as heavy cruisers, and those with gun bores of less than eight inches as light cruisers. The size of the ships—their displacement-did not matter.¹

    To saytypemeans “all battleships,” “all cruisers,” or “all destroyers,” and so on. To sayclassmeans, within a type, a series in which all the ships are essentially the same. That is, there were four...

  5. 2 Before the War
    (pp. 12-23)

    Before World War II the U.S. Navy was a single fleet that was supposed to steam from one ocean to the other, depending upon where it was needed. Ships were organized by types, so that the battleships were in the Battle Force, the cruisers in the Scouting Force, and so on. When different types of ships operated together, they became a task force led by its commander. But when the mission was ended, operational control returned to the type commanders, who had stayed with the ships during the task force’s mission.

    The decade of the 1930s featured endless training and...

  6. 3 Pearl Harbor
    (pp. 24-34)

    Nagumo’sKido Butai,a powerful fleet of six carriers, two battleships, fleet oilers, screening cruisers, and destroyers, was headed for Hawaii to carry out Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s great gamble.

    In the 1930s, the Japanese Army acted independently of the Imperial government to bury itself in an endless war in China. There it won nearly all the battles and captured nearly all the populous cities. But the Japanese got no closer to final victory because the Chinese regime of Chiang Kai-Shek simply refused to surrender, and the extent of the invaded territory was too great for Japan’s limited resources to gobble...

  7. 4 Early Days
    (pp. 35-43)

    The highest commanders in Hawaii were fired after the calamity of December 7, some say as scapegoats for failures that should have been placed much higher on the chain of command. The shock of the attack and the losses it caused left American commanders in the Pacific struggling to calculate what to do next. There did not seem to be much left to fight with. By New Year’s Day, General Douglas MacArthur was holed up in Malinta Tunnel on Corregidor as his army in Bataan and Corregidor began the fighting that would lead ultimately to surrender. In Hawaii, although Admiral...

  8. 5 Turning Points
    (pp. 44-57)

    In its three main theaters, WorId War II had turning points, moments when the tide of the war shifted. Until each theater’s turning point, the Axis Powers were clearly winning, but after it the Allies were. The turning point of the Russo-German war, for example, was Stalingrad. Until that 1942-1943 battle the Nazis won most of the time, but afterward the Soviets did. In the Anglo-American war against Germany, Al Alamein in late 1942 was the turning point.

    For the Allied naval war against the Japanese, however, three possible turning points are arguable. One is when the Japanese were first...

  9. 6 Guadalcanal
    (pp. 58-71)

    No one in the prewar U.S. Navy thought that a war against Japan would include fighting south of the equator. The strategy for fighting against the Empire was called War Plan Orange, and it imagined that the conflict would begin with an attack on the Philippines, then an American possession. The U.S. garrison there was supposed to hold out long enough for the Pacific Fleet to steam to the rescue. Somewhere in the western Pacific there would be a major naval battle along the lines of the 1916 Battle of Jutland. The United States would win, of course, and then...

  10. 7 Night Cruiser Action, November 13, 1942
    (pp. 72-94)

    As a result of the damage suffered by the carriers of both sides at Santa Cruz in October 1942, the decisive battle for Guadalcanal a month later would pit gunships against each other.Portlandwould stand out in this fight. Although she had earlier garnered suspicion as a bad omen for carriers, her good work in the early months around the Solomons had helped recover some of her reputation. In the Night Cruiser Action, a part of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942,Portlandwon the respect and admiration of all. It was certainly the event that all...

  11. 8 Repairs
    (pp. 95-118)

    After the torpedo hit, it took Sweet Pea twenty-four hours to reach safety, but she made it thanks to the marvelous skill of her crew and others who helped. At early light on that Friday the thirteenth, American authorities at Guadalcanal and Tulagi sent assistance for the many stricken ships still afloat in the sound. Captain DuBose declined the first offer of a tow from an ocean-going tug that approachedPortland.DuBose was now the senior officer present afloat since the two admirals and the CO ofSan Franciscowere all dead. His first command was to direct the tug...

  12. 9 Central Pacific
    (pp. 119-138)

    The campaign across the Central Pacific in 1943, 1944, and 1945 followed almost exactly what War Plan Orange had called for. Warfare in the Solomons, south of the equator and not anticipated in the war plan, had become the first step in the Allied counteroffensive against Japan. But the going there was so slow and the waters so constricted that Admiral Nimitz and his colleagues in the Pacific Fleet wanted to get the Navy out on the open seas of the great Pacific basin. All senior American commanders had played war games at the Naval War College involving the expected...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. 10 Mid-1944
    (pp. 139-152)

    On her way to California in May 1944,Portlandagain carried fighting men, this time a group being transferred back to the United States, adding to the number of strangers who were always uncomfortable riding in what they might have recognized as the “Rolling P.”¹ During that voyage Stateside, the ship’s company was repeatedly warned about the dangers that awaited them at Mare Island, such as the evils in bars and brothels ashore, the temptation to stay away over leave, the need to maintain security about the ship’s past and future combat activities, and other matters that today seem less...

  15. 11 Life on Board
    (pp. 153-168)

    The long days and nights of the Pacific War only rarely included the excitement of battle and the horror of death and injury. Most of the time was spent in everyday events, not unlike what the men would have been doing at home.Portlandwas its own living community, and almost everything that might happen in a town of about twelve hundred people happened on board this heavy cruiser. There were no women, of course, but that this many people slept all their nights on the ship, ate all their meals on the ship, worked all their days on the...

  16. 12 Leyte Gulf
    (pp. 169-183)

    WhenPortlandleft Peleliu in late September 1944, she was detached from the fast carrier task force and assigned to the bombardment force of General MacArthur’s navy, the Seventh Fleet, at its base in the Admiralties.¹ Her new mission was to support the seaborne infantry as it made its way ashore at Leyte, the island in the central Philippines where MacArthur would finally make good on his pledge to return.

    Both Admiral Nimitz’s Central Pacific theater and General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific campaign had been highly successful. The creation of these two Allied forces that had been driving against the Japanese...

  17. 13 1945
    (pp. 184-197)

    The Navy’s success in keeping its combat fleets supplied was one of the great engineering and logistical feats of all time. As the war progressed westward toward Japan, the distance from the major base at Pearl Harbor became too great for the warships themselves to return for replenishment. Consequently, two systems were developed.

    The first part of the Navy’s logistics system was the underway replenishment, or unrep. Even during the fighting in far-off places, large ships called AOs, AFs, and AEs—oilers, refrigerator vessels, and ammunition ships, respectively—would bring their much-needed cargoes to the warships on the fighting line....

  18. 14 War’s End
    (pp. 198-207)

    The Pacific War came to a surprisingly abrupt end. Like nearly everyone else in the world, the crew ofPortlandhad been kept in the dark about all aspects of the atomic bomb. Some of the men heard rumors that their sister shipIndianapoliswas on a secret mission when she left the shipyard in the States in July 1945. She had been there for repairs after a kamikaze attack, but no one aboard Sweet Pea knew that on her return she had carried parts of the nuclear weapon to the airbase at Tinian.¹ “Indy” then went to her death...

  19. 15 The Final Mission
    (pp. 208-225)

    After the visit to Portland, the end-of-war celebrations wound down, but Sweet Pea was yet again pressed into serious work. Several million GIs in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) had to be brought home. A heavy cruiser likePortlandwith her own crew reduced by discharges had a lot of space for these soldiers. Not surprisingly,Portlandand several other veterans of the Pacific War were sent across the Atlantic for the first time, to collect America’s boys and bring them home.

    On October 31, 1945,Portlandwent to the Boston Navy Yard, where she was outfitted for the...

  20. 16 Legacies
    (pp. 226-236)

    There may be only two things now left of the physical ship. First is a display in Portland, Maine.¹ A retired Navy Captain named Arthur Forrestall, whose hometown was South Portland, led a team of civic-minded people, none of whom had served onPortland,to acquire the after mast and the bridge shielding during the scrapping in Florida. They mounted these remains in a park overlooking the bay as a memorial to the crew, especially those who gave their lives when serving inPortlandduring the war.²

    The second artifact that survives is Sweet Pea’s wardroom silver service set. It...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 237-272)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-278)
  23. Index
    (pp. 279-291)