Thursday, January 9, 2014

USS Savannah Hit By Radio-Controlled Bomb, 1943

By Elijah Palmer
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

The picture above shows the aftermath of an aerial attack on the Norfolk-based USS Savannah (CL-42) off of Salerno, Italy, and an unknown PT-Boat attempting to lay smoke as cover in 1943. On the morning of September 11, 1943, anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes targeted a slow-moving German plane above the US fleet off of Salerno, Italy, but could not stop an object that the plane had fired. Soon, an explosion ripped through the light cruiser USS Savannah, causing serious damage and loss of life. The ship had been hit by an advanced German weapon that the fleet was ill-prepared to meet.
The Norfolk-based Savannah was a series of pre-World War II light cruisers that were used during the war as shore bombardment vessels. 
Commissioned in 1938, Savannah stopped in Norfolk a handful of times before World War II. In late 1942, she was included in the Northern Attack Group (part of Western Naval Task Force), when it sailed from Norfolk in October 1942. As part of Operation Torch, Savannah saw combat action off Morocco in support of the amphibious landings there. By January she had been assigned to help patrol the South Atlantic. Once there, the ship was teamed with the USS Santee (CVE-29) and several destroyers. Returning to the United States after a few months, Savannah sailed out from Norfolk in May 1943, heading for the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout the summer, she supported operations in Sicily and southern Italy, proving very effective in naval gunfire support against German shore targets. On occasion, the ship’s crew also provided medical care for wounded soldiers.

On September 11, disaster struck. The Germans launched a high-tech weapon against the ships offshore. This weapon was the “Fritz X” radio-guided bomb. The Germans used this anti-ship bomb largely in the Mediterranean. The attack on Savannah came shortly after a bomb narrowly missed her sister ship, USS Philadelphia (CL-43). It also came three days after several Fritz X bombs sank the Italian battleship Roma, killing over 1,250 men. The Allies quickly began work on countermeasures for these bombs beginning in August 1943, but effective means were not completed until early 1944, so the fleet at Salerno was vulnerable. 

The Fritz X was an air-dropped, radio-guided missile used by the German air force as an anti-ship weapon. With a 705-lb armor-piercing warhead, it was a weapon to be feared. 
The bomb that hit Savannah went through the top of the No. 3 turret and continued down three decks before exploding in the lower ammunition handling room. The explosion ripped a hole in the keel and part of the port side. The crew fought fires and sealed up the damage, getting the ship underway by the afternoon. After temporary repairs in Malta, the ship sailed for the Philadelphia Naval Yard for eight months of serious repair work. The bravery of these men saved the ship, but the cost of the attack was high. 197 men died, and over a dozen were seriously wounded.

After being repaired, USS Savannah returned to Norfolk and in early 1945 had the honor of sailing as part of the escort for USS Quincy (CA-71), which was carrying President Franklin Roosevelt to the Mediterranean on his way to the famous Yalta conference with Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill. Savannah served as part of the President’s convoy on his return to the United States.

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