RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Today marks the 80th anniversary of the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, way out in the North Pacific Ocean to the west of the Aleutian Islands.
The battle is notable for two reasons. First, it was the only one that the U.S.S. Richmond fought in during the war. And second, it was the only WWI-style naval battle the U.S. Navy fought in during World War II.
Between the two wars, most of the “theory’ of naval battle was that the “scouting ships”—destroyers, light cruisers and aircraft from the carriers would find the enemy fleet. Then the battleships of the two navies would slug it out like a heavyweight fight.
Pearl Harbor in 1941 marked the end of the battleship as king of the seas and made the aircraft carrier the queen of the ocean. And in the Atlantic Ocean, the German U-boat had proven the submarine as a main offensive weapon of the seas—a practice the U.S. submarine fleet would emulate versus Japan.
During WWII, in fact, there were only two times when the battleships of the US and Japanese navies fought directly. The first was in November 1942 off Guadalcanal, and the second was in October 1944 off Leyte Island in the Philippines.
The only reason this battle happened was that during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, the Japanese seized the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. The U.S. wanted them back, and this battle took place when a Japanese supply convoy was intercepted.
What makes the battle unique, is that in a throwback to WWI, it happened in daylight—most of the ship vs ship gun fights in WWII took place at night. In addition, there was no offensive action by airplanes, and torpedoes didn’t play a part.
The two main ships for the United States were the USS Richmond and the USS Salt Lake City.
The USS Richmond, which was constructed early in the 1920s, was designed for the WWI role of a “scout ship.” As you can see in the pictures, the ship was long and narrow. Other than 4 guns in turrets, the rest of its armament was in an outdated style. By the time the war started, this ship was considered outdated. Right after the war ended, it was sold for scrap.
While the Richmond was the flagship of the U.S. task group, it was the Salt Lake City that packed the main punch. One of the first two “heavy” cruisers built by the U.S. — The other was the USS Pensacola — starting in the late 1920s, it helped to make up the “new” surface striking force of the Navy after Pearl Harbor.
Another connection to Richmond in this battle is that one of the officers on the Salt Lake City, Bill Golden, lived in Bexley in Chesterfield County. Golden was an anti-aircraft officer on the ship with a front-row seat to the battle. Golden would be one of the first people after WWII to be involved in what is now known as the “Top Gun” School.
His widow, Connie was an employee of Chesterfield County. She also came from a Navy family and has an amazing story about her father in the Philippines at the start of World War II.
Five years ago, the U.S. Navy declassified many of the records and official reports from WWII. Out of the booklet that covers action in the Aleutians, I have attached the “official” combat narrative of the battle for you