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Charles Alfred McDowell

Fireman, Second Class, U.S. Navy

06504231

U.S.S. CHICAGO CA-29

Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: January 30, 1943
Missing in Action or Buried at Sea
Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery
Manila, Philippines
Awards: Purple Heart


FIREMAN SECOND CLASS CHARLES ALFRED McDOWELL was the youngest son of Wilmer and Mabel McDowell. Six years old at the time of the April 1930 census, he was the youngest of four brothers. The family had lived at 201 Congress Avenue in Oaklyn NJ since at least 1920. At the time of both the 1920 and 1930 census, Wilmer McDowell worked as an engineer in a coke plant, and oldest brother Harry worked with him.

Charles McDowell was a 1942 graduate of Collingswood (NJ) High School. After joining the Navy in April of 1942, he received training as a machinist at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. He was assigned to the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, working in the engine room. He joined the crew of the USS Chicago in late 1942. He was killed on January 30, 1943 when the USS Chicago was sunk during the Battle of Rennel Island. 

Charles Alfred McDowell was survived by his mother, Mabel McDowell of 201 Congress Avenue, Oaklyn NJ, and brothers Harry, James, and John.  He was awarded the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the Purple Heart.


USS Chicago CL-29 / CA-29
by Robb R. Donaldson

The USS CHICAGO (CA-29) was the second ship of five the US Navy has had named CHICAGO. CA-29 was a heavy cruiser built by Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, California. Her keel was laid on 10 September 1928 just as the first CHICAGO's name was changed to ALTON. She was launched on 10 April 1930 under the sponsorship of Miss Elizabeth Britten, sister of the Congressman from Illinois. The new heavy cruiser had the distinction of being the first ship built of the so-called "Treaty Navy" in which the welding process was used in order to eliminate excess weight and keep the cruiser within the tonnage limits prescribed by the five power Washington Naval Treaty of 1912. CHICAGO number two was commissioned on 9 March 1931 with Captain Manley H. Simons, USN, commanding. The CL designation was changed to CA on 1 Jul 1931.

CHICAGO (CA-29) was designed for a length overall of 600 feet, 3 inches; extreme beam of 66 feet, 1 inch; standard displacement of 9,300 tons; a mean draft of 16 feet, 8 inches; and a complement of 45 officers and 576 men. She was initially armed with nine eight-inch .55 caliber guns; four 5-inch .25 caliber guns; eight .50 caliber machine guns; and six 21-inch surfaced torpedo tubes. She had a designed speed of 32.5 knots. She had armor eight inches thick and was equipped with two catapults amidships.

In April 1931 CHICAGO departed San Francisco Bay on shakedown cruise that took her to Honolulu, Hawaii; Papette, Tahiti; and Pago Pago, American Samoa. She then headed for the U.S. East Coast for duty as flagship for VADM Marvell, Commander Cruisers, Scouting Force, U.S. Fleet.

The following year she headed back into the Pacific to her new base at San Pedro, California for normal training operations. On 25 October 1933 CHICAGO was rammed by the 6,000-ton oil tanker SS SILVER PALM in a dense fog just off the coast of Point Sur, California. CHICAGO had barely maneuvered clear of another merchantman "and then almost immediately there came another ship out of the fog on our port bow, close aboard, and headed directly for the CHICAGO," reported Captain Herbert E. Kays. "I signalled for emergency full astern, tooted the whistle, but the approaching vessel crashed into the port bow, just forward of the Number 1 gun turret which stopped her cutting off our bow. Three ship's officers were killed in their staterooms. The tanker had penetrated to nearly amidships centerline. The cruiser's forward compartments below the waterline were flooded, but she proceeded under her own power into the Mare Island Navy Yard for repairs.

CHICAGO continued to operate off the West Coast of the United States and South America - with an occasional trip to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal - until 1940. During this time she developed fleet tactics and practiced them in exercises called Fleet Problems.

After a short overhaul, CHICAGO led a task force on a cruise to Australia. After calling at Pago Pago, American Samoa, the cruiser visited Sydney and Brisbane in Australia. After returning to the U.S., she conducted fleet readiness training in Hawaiian waters until November 1941. The cruiser became a unit of Task Force 12 which was built around the carrier LEXINGTON (CV-2). On 5 December 1941, she joined cruisers PORTLAND and ASTORIA plus five destroyers in forming a protective screen for LEXINGTON, bound for Midway. When the Japanese carrier task force made the infamous raid on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, CHICAGO's task force was 420 miles southeast of Midway. The task force was ordered to turn around and conduct high-speed offensive sweeps to the southeast of Oahu in a forlorn hope of intercepting the Japanese carriers enroute from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands. But the enemy fleet had taken a northerly course and made good its escape.

CHICAGO returned to Pearl Harbor on 13 December for hurried replenishment. The following day she sailed with the LEXINGTON carrier task force with orders to attack the Japanese base at Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The intended strike was designed to relieve the pressure on besieged Wake Island. This mission was abandoned a week later because the Japanese had directed heavy aircraft reinforcements to the Marshals and there was little chance of a successful surprise attack. The defenders of Wake Island surrendered and CHICAGO's task force returned to Pearl Harbor.

In the months that followed, CHICAGO patrolled the South Pacific acting as escort for fleet tankers replenishing fast aircraft carrier task forces striking at the enemy in the southwest Pacific. From time to time, she temporarily joined the screen of aircraft carriers LEXINGTON an YORKTOWN in the Coral Sea.

On 23 April 1942 CHICAGO's ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) Squadron was redesignated Task Force 44. By that time, a powerful Japanese task force had been formed in the hope of winning control of the Coral Sea, and thus cut off Australia from the war. An amphibious task group of eleven troop-ladden transports, guarded by a destroyer squadron, hoped to seize Port Moresby. A smaller amphibious task group planned to seize Tulagi Island in the Solomons and set up a seaplane base. A support group built around a seaplane tender was to establish a seaplane base in the Louisiades. These enemy invasion groups were covered by light aircraft carrier SHOHO, for heavy cruisers, a destroyer, plus the heavy aircraft carrier striking force which included powerful Japanese carriers SHOKAKU and ZUIKU, screened by two heavy cruisers and six destroyers.

The morning of 4 May 1942 YORKTOWN aircraft attacked the Japanese invaders at Tulagi, sinking a Japanese destroyer, 3 minesweepers and four landing barges. A number of ships, including a destroyer were damaged and five enemy seaplanes were also destroyed. That same day CHICAGO's Task Force 44 joined the LEXINGTON carrier task force. The morning of may 6 all the task forces merged into Task Force 17 under the tactical command of Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher in carrier YORKTOWN (CV-3). The next day, Rear Admiral Fletcher dispatched CHICAGO's attack group of cruisers and destroyers to the Louisiades to intercept any enemy attempt to move towards Port Moresby. The carriers moved northward into the Coral Sea in search of enemy covering forces.

The next day, while east of Jomard Pass, CHICAGO's squadron was attacked by eleven single engine land-based planes. These were driven off by combined anti-aircraft fire. Immediately after, radar picked up 12 Japanese twin-engine land-based Navy torpedo planes at 75 miles. Every ship bent on radical maneuvers and opened fire as planes came in low. Eight aerial torpedoes were dropped, but all missed and five of the enemy aircraft were shot down. The surviving enemy torpedo planes had scarcely retired when 19 high-altitude bombers dropped bombs from an altitude of 15,000 to 20,000 feet. CHICAGO and her sister ships dodged the bombs as they had the torpedoes, and the planes flew away. Her support group had attracted the enemy's land-based air power, a diversion to the benefit of Rear Admiral Fletcher's aircraft carriers. Two of CHICAGO's men were killed and five were wounded by the strafing of enemy planes.

After the Battle of the Coral Sea, CHICAGO's support group was returned to "MacArthur's Navy" of which it then was the principal strength. She arrived at Sydney, Australia 14 May 1942 for upkeep and repairs. Meantime, five I-class Japanese submarines headed south in the Coral Sea towards Australia. They carried four midget submarines and one plane. The plane made an observed reconnaissance flight over Port Jackson, and the midget submarines were launched off Sydney Harbor 31 May 1942. One of two were detected by fisherman and a magnetic underwater loop as they made their way up the channel after dark.

At 2257 lookouts in CHICAGO sighted a conning tower awash at 300 yards on her starboard quarter. She illuminated the target and opened fire with her 5-inch battery and machine guns. But the guns could not be depressed for so short a range as to be effective. Some shots ricocheted into a residential section of Sydney, where fortunately, they did not damage anything. A humorist invented the story that the only casualty inflicted by CHICAGO's gunfire was a lion in the famous Sydney Zoo. The yarn further exaggerated in stating that Captain Bode of CHICAGO was requested to provide a new one out of lend-lease funds.

The midget submarines dived as American destroyer PERKINS and two Australian corvettes took up the search. When danger seemed past, PERKINS picked up her old bouy inshore of CHICAGO, who thought she had holed the only midget submarine present.

Near an hour past midnight of 31 May - 01 June 1942, the wake of a torpedo, evidently aimed at CHICAGO, was observed to pass close aboard the cruiser. It went under a Dutch submarine and barracks boat and detonated with a great roar against the dock. The force of the explosion blew the bottom out of a barracks boat, killing a number of sailors and left it a total loss. Destroyer PERKINS resumed patrol and sent her boats to fight fires and rescue the wounded.

At 0215, 1 June 1942, CHICAGO and PERKINS stood for sea. The cruiser was close to South Head gas bouy, when a submarine periscope was sighted close aboard to starboard going in the opposite direction. The periscope was so close that one almost looked down vertically from CHICAGO's bridge. Whether this midget submarine had already been in and out, or was entering the harbor for the first time, is not known. During the day, two damaged and scuttled midgets, complete with the bodies of their crewmembers, were discovered on the bottom of Sydney Harbor.

CHICAGO and PERKINS again entered Sydney Harbor the afternoon of 1 June 1942 to recover their boats, then sailed for Brisbane, She rejoined Task force 44 for patrol sweeps in the Coral Sea, and protected convoys moving between Australia, New Zealand, New Herbrides Islands and New Caledonia. The cruiser arrived at Wellington, New Zealand, 19 July 1942. There, her Task Force 44, under command of Rear Admiral V.A.C. Crutchley, Royal Navy, in HMAS AUSTRALIA, joined the expeditionary amphibious Task Force 62 organized under the command of RADM Richmond K. Turner.

The expeditionary force sailed 22 July 1942 for rendezvous and landing rehearsals in the Fiji Island waters, then set course to capture and occupy enemy-held bases in the Tulagi-Guadalcanal area of the Solomon Islands, Nineteen large transports and cargo ships carried the major load of the landing forces. They were augmented by four small converted destroyer-transports. Five cruisers and six destroyers were available to blast the landing beaches, while five converted destroyer-minesweepers would be prepared to cut mines from narrow approaches. The mission of CHICAGO and her task unit was to protect the transports from air, submarine and sea attack. It was under command of Rear Admiral V.A.C. Crutchley, Royal Navy, and comprised his flagship, HMAS AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA, and HOBART, plus CHICAGO and nine American destroyers.

CHICAGO helped protect the transports as Marines stormed ashore on Guadalcanal 7 August 1942. She fought off enemy aerial raiders that afternoon and scored hits on at least three enemy planes. On 8 August 1942, the Japanese renewed their air attacks. Before noon, CHICAGO opened fire on a large formation of enemy planes swinging over the eastern cape of Florida Island and had the satisfaction of seeing three crash in flames.

As CHICAGO fought off aerial raiders, seven enemy cruisers and a destroyer were racing down the slot of water formed by the Soloman Islands Chain and stretching southward from the Japanese base at Rabaul. By midnight of 8 August 1942, the Japanese task force was only 35 miles from Savo Island, having been undetected since early morning.

Positioned between Savo Island and Florida Island were three American cruisers and two destroyers. Below Florida Island were the light cruisers SAN JUAN, HMAS HOBART and two destroyers. A driving rain splashed the waters between the ships of the northern force and ships of CHICAGO's southern force - which included Australian cruisers AUSTRALIA and CANBERRA , herself, and American destroyer BAGLEY and PATTERSON. With fantastic luck, the Japanese slipped past two picket destroyers, and entered Savo Sound without advance detection. It ran head-on into destroyer PATTERSON who radioed the alarm: "Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering the harbor!" This warning came at 0143, 9 August 1942. But the Japanese had already launched torpedoes and bursting flares illuminated the anchorage off Lunga Point, to silhouette cruisers CANBERRA and CHICAGO.

HMAS CANBERRA, immediately ahead of CHICAGO, took two torpedo hits, endured a rain of shells, and became a flaming wreck. The enemy flung torpedoes which sliced into the bow of CHICAGO, split formation, then raced in a pincer movement on the northern force of three cruisers. In a hellish scramble, American cruisers VINCENNES, ASTORIA and QUINCY were lost. The Japanese, experts in night torpedo attacks, then sped north for return to Rabaul, New Britain Island. Squarely in their path was destroyer RALPH TALBOT. She also was caught up in blinding searchlights and combined gunnery. But she fought off the attackers and controlled damage until a rain squall gave her welcome cover. With 12 of her crew dead, 2 missing, and 23 wounded, she made it into the port of Tulagi, Florida Island, off Guadalcanal. The Japanese suffered only minor damage to four warships in this Battle of Savo Island that cost the allies four cruisers sunk, heavy damage to CHICAGO, and heavy damage to RALPH TALBOT. Battle casualties onboard CHICAGO were 1 dead and eleven wounded.

CHICAGO made temporary repairs at Noumea, New Caledonia and Sydney, Australia. She departed the latter port on 21 September 1942, bound by way of Fiji Islands and Samoa to San Francisco, California, arriving on 13 October 1942. She returned to the southwest Pacific on 25 January 1943. On that day she arrived at Efate, New Herbrides Islands. She joined the cruiser-destroyer task force under Rear Admiral R.C. Giffen in flagship WICHITA (CA-45).

CHICAGO's task force got underway on 27 January 1943 to escort troop transports bound for Noumea, New Caledonia, with reinforcements for Guadalcanal. When about 50 miles north of Rennell Island, shortly after sunset on 29 January 1943, the task force came under attack by 31 Japanese land-based twin-engined torpedo bombers.

The leading enemy plane dropped a torpedo at destroyer WALLER, strafed her and cruiser WICHITA too. A second plane passed between CHICAGO and WICHITA, launching a torpedo which cruiser LOUISVILLE avoided by a swift hard left rudder. At least one enemy plane was shot down in flames astern of CHICAGO. The enemy planes disappeared and gunfire died away. There was no damage to any ship in this twilight fight. But when twilight faded into dark night, white flares suddenly fell on both sides of the formation and yellow-white flares lit up the decks of the American warships as they hung overhead on slowly descending parachutes. Red and green float lights were also dropped by enemy aircraft. Now torpedo planes appeared from the east. a torpedo passed slightly ahead of CHICAGO. Another hit cruiser LOUISVILLE. but failed to detonate.

CHICAGO and her sister ships proved the accuracy of their anti-aircraft gunners by littering the surface of the water with the fuselages of enemy attackers. One aircraft exploded in the water astern destroyer WALLER, it's flames illuminating CHICAGO. Another enemy plane came off CHICAGO's port bow, illuminating CHICAGO even more brightly and searing the fighting cruiser's deck with intense flame from burning aviation gasoline. This made CHICAGO an obvious target and other planes winged in for the kill. At 1945, one deadly torpedo tore into CHICAGO's starboard side. Two large compartments immediately flooded, her aftermost fireroom filled, three propeller shafts stopped revolutions, bridge and rudder control was lost.

Two escorts carriers and the ENTERPRISE aircraft task group closed in to cover CHICAGO. On the afternoon of 30 January 1943, fleet tug NAVAJO took the tow at six knots, and six destroyers formed a moving circle around the disabled cruiser. A snooping bomber was shot down by the carrier combat air patrol planes. But a dozen other enemy torpedo planes, headed for ENTERPRISE, changed target to CHICAGO and went into a long power glide toward the crippled cruiser. Three were shot down. But nine tore out of the cloud cluster and fanned out to launch torpedoes in a broad daylight attack. Every gun of the escorting ships opened fire and seven of the remaining nine enemy planes were shot down. But at 1624, four torpedoes slammed into CHICAGO's tender starboard side.

One torpedo hit well forward, showering the bridge and forecastle with debris. Three others exploded in the already damaged engineering spaces. Captain Davis passed the word to abandon ship. He had about 20 minutes to clear CHICAGO of all hands, including her wounded. Fleet tug NAVAJO and destroyers EDWARDS, WALLER and SANDS collected the 1049 survivors. Six officers and 56 enlisted men were killed in the action.

CHICAGO went down stern first with her colors flying. The Battle of Rennel Island was over. CHICAGO and a destroyer were lost. But the diversion of the Japanese air forces allowed the American transports to land troops and material at Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, without incident.

The above history is courtesy of Robb R. Donaldson
who served on the USS Chicago CG-11
Home Page:
http://www.primenet.com/~robbd/

Tom Pirtle has what has to be the definitive USS Chicago web-site. Click the link to visit it.


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