Thursday, November 17, 2022

BOOKS: The Exploits of the First two USS Astoria’s

As I’ve always been intrigued by the History of Fort Astoria, who’s founder ironically died upon the titanic…


What did ‘Ol George Hannibal’ Peppard of The A-Team Fames say? “I love it when a Plan comes Together!”


Nah, won’t go too Overboard on the unplanned synchronicity of “reading,” Err listening to Days of steel rain: the epic story of a WWII Vengeance Ship in the Year of the Kamikaze, by Brent E. Jones. Which I just so happened to finish 72 Hours prior to attending this year’s Grand Prix of Portland! Wayback’ on September 4th, Remember that Y’all?


Nor will I go too far down another Wabbit’ Hole over the obvious connection between the Ship’s name, the USS Astoria and that Dusted Off Astor Cup, or is it the Astor Challenge Cup? Yuhs know, whatever “Cup” that Good ‘Ol DJ WillyP’, aka Will Power Hoisted at Laguna Seca, His second time in eight years on September 11th, Awesome Job Will!


Having scribbled about it’s Benefactors in Thoust long ago No Fenders two parts Astor

Cup tome.


Funny, the more I Dug into “researching” this wonderful book’s subject matter, naturally the more I learn. Like the fact that originally I was only aware of the two USS Astoria’s Navy Cruiser, before learning of the third, which was apparently the first U.S. Vessel named Astoria.


Although I’ll skip focusing too Heavily upon that first USS Astoria, which was a Coal powered Cargo Ship. Nonetheless, it’s got an interesting History. Beginning life in 1902 as the British SS Burbo Bay. Before being bought by a Hamburg, German Shipping concern just before the outbreak of World War I.


Having been renamed the SS Frieda Leonhardt, the vessel sailed to Jacksonville, Florida to wait out the War, since the United States wasn’t currently involved, and was Neutral. Yet that changed in 1917, when the Ship was seized by U.S. customs and summarily turned over to the U.S. Navy for refitting for Military service, becoming the first USS Astoria (AK-8) in late 1917.


Having been Decommissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1921, the Ship began Commercial service as the Astoria I. Interestingly the Freighter ran aground in Grays Harbor, Washington in 1927, but was re-floated and returned to service. Then in 1943, the Ship met it’s end, when running Aground at Bantam Rock, Sheepscot Bar in Maine where it sank.


In 1929,  the U.S. Navy ordered and awarded the contract for the second USS Astoria to be built. With the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, WA being awarded the building of this New Orleans Class Cruiser. With the Ship being laid down in September, 1930 and being launched on December 16, 1933.


The Ship was named in Honour of Astoria, Oregon. Having been sponsored by Miss Leila McKay, related to Alexander McKay, who was part of the John Jacob Astor expedition that established Astoria.


Later to be reclassified as a Heavy Cruiser, She weighed in at 9,950 Long tons. (10,110 Tons) Her length was 588 feet, wit a Beam of 61 feet and Draft of 19 feet. Her  eight steam Boilers provided power to the four Westinghouse Turbines for a top speed of 32.7 Knots.


Reportedly She carried a compliment of 104 Officers and 785 Enlisted Men, beginning Her Military service upon being Commissioned in April, 1934. With a variety of standard Navy duties during the seven years of Peacetime leading up to that “Day of Infamy” on December 7, 1941.


Yet Astoria also participated in two unique events during 1939. The first being dispatched to transport the Ashes of Japanese Diplomat Hiroshi Sato back to Japan. With the USS Astoria entering the Harbour of Yokohama on April 17th.

Afterwards, Astoria made port in Shanghai, China, and during Her return to Guam, took part in the unsuccessful search for the missing author Richard Halliburton, who’s Chinese Junk had disappeared at sea on His journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco.


Having been redeployed to Pearl Harbor in 1939, on December 5, 1941, Astoria was at Sea with the Task Force supporting the Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington, enroute to Midway Island with a compliment of Marine Aircraft.


After returning to Pearl Harbor, She took part in the Battle of Coral Sea, first serving as Anti-Aircraft support to the Lexington and later, the USS Yorktown.


Astoria next saw duty in the Battle of Midway Island, before being reassigned to Task force 62, (TF 62) providing protection to the U.S. Marines landing craft forces at Guadalcanal.


Having taken up “Picket” Duty as part of a four ship compliment assigned to protect said U.S. forces from attack by the Japanese, Astoria and company were caught Off-guard during the night of August 8-9, in what is known as the Battle of Savo Island.


Unfortunately the Japanese’s superior naval force which had arrived undetected, would sink three U.S. Cruisers and one Australian Cruiser in the early morning hours of August 9th, in a daring Night time Attack.


Having taken direct Hits Amidships with a raging fire, Astoria soon became an easy target for the Japanese Ships due to Her raging Fire illuminating the stricken vessel! Yet the Astoria would become the fourth and final Cruiser sunk that morning.


As the Australian Cruiser Canberra, along with the U.S. Navy’s Quincy and Vincennes were lost initially. Yet following determined efforts to save the Astoria by attempting to put Her Fires out, a Salvage Party went back onto Her early morning in attempt to save the stricken Ship.


And although gallant efforts were made to save Her, a few internal explosions from deep in Her Hull sealed the USS Astoria’s Fate! As the Ship began listing more and more seriously before finally Sinking on August 9, 1942. Ironically exactly three years prior to the day of the United States Dropping of the second Atomic bomb upon Japan at Nagasaki…