Seaman Second Class William Kuphaldt was asleep for less than two hours when he suddenly awoke to the sound of the general alarm. “As I jumped to my feet I was told we were being fired upon,” he wrote. He soon noticed that the ship was being brightly illuminated by flares. “It was light enough to read a newspaper,” he remembered. Coinciding with the blast of the Astoria’s main battery, he saw a distant flash followed by a splash some distance away from his ship. The first splash was quickly followed by another, and then the Astoria was hit by what seemed to be a continuous rain of shells. “I observed continuous balls of fire heading towards the Astoria, with many finding their target,” he remembered of the moment. “It appeared they were all aimed directly at me.”
During the rapid sequence of events, Kuphaldt’s gun opened fire on one of the enemy searchlights that was trained on the Astoria. The rattling of the gun sent a steady stream of tracers jumping out towards the light. Kuphaldt had previously only seen the gun fire during daylight at airplanes. “The display at night was spectacular,” he recalled, “as we watched the stream of fire head towards the searchlights. My main thought during this period was to keep the gun I was responsible for properly loaded, and it was only after the lights were extinguished and we stopped firing that I realized we were in serious trouble.”
Looking down from his position, Kuphaldt could see the fires raging on the gun deck below. He noticed members of the five-inch gun crews lying near their guns, many presumably dead or dying. A thought crossed his mind about moving down to the main deck in case the ship had to be abandoned. Just then the battle lookout platform was rocked by an explosion. The source was most likely a five-inch shell that came from the starboard side and exploded in the clipping room. “It was at this point that I was hit and experienced a sensation of floating down to the deck, much like a feather would do,” he recalled. “I realized I had been hit in the head and thought I had reached the end of the line.” Having been hit with shrapnel in the nose and right eye, he was seriously wounded and almost immediately lost consciousness.
Copyright 2017 John J. Domagalski
The dramatic account of two American warships in the South Pacific, this book follows the USS Astoria (CA-34) and USS Chicago (CA-29) during the late summer of 1942, when both participated in the early days of the critical battle for Guadalcanal. Drawing on a variety of firsthand accounts, some previously unpublished, the book tells the story from the perspective of the men aboard each ship, transporting readers inside the gun turrets, behind the lookout binoculars, and below deck as the battle rages. Individual stories of heroism, sacrifice and survival unfold as both vessels meet their fates in the South Pacific.
Sea Battle off Savo Island
August 9, 1942 – 1:55 A.M.
[From his position high atop the Astoria’s superstructure, a young sailor springs into action as the as his ship is surprised by Japanese warships off Guadalcanal.]