In November 1943, U.S. Forces
were conducting an offensive island-hopping campaign in the Solomon Island
chain of the Southwest Pacific. The campaign objective was to recapture
territories taken by the Japanese in the early years of the war, and to
provide bases for further strikes against Japan. The offensive began in early
1943, with the fierce Battle of Guadalcanal, and had progressed farther
north, around New Georgia, Bougainville, Buka, and New Ireland Islands.
U.S. Naval Forces operating in the area included the ships of Destroyer
Squadron 23, under the command of Captain Arleigh "31-Knot" Burke.
Burke assumed command of the "Little Beavers" in October 1943, and
the destroyers of "23" immediately got busy. Their missions up The
Slot were never ending. They ran the mail, lobbed shells at enemy shore
installations, and their personnel learned to do without sleep. Reflecting
their Commodore's brashness, they did everything at high speed.
In late November 1943, South Pacific Intelligence suspected that the Japanese
intended to evacuate their technical aviation personnel from their air base
in Buka. The base had been knocked out by the bombardments of the THIRD
fleet, and the personnel were needed elsewhere.
Since the 22nd of November, Destroyer Squadron 23 had been operating at night
off Bougainville Island, retiring to Hathorn Sound at maximum speed for fuel
during the day. On the 24th of November, while fueling at Hathorn Sound, the
Squadron received orders from Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey,
Commander THIRD Fleet, to expedite fueling and return to point UNCLE, off
Empress Augusta Bay. Evacuation of aviation personnel from Buka Island was
suspected and DESRON 23 was to "take care of it." En route, Captain
Burke received these orders from Admiral Halsey:
"Thirty-One Knot Burke, get athwart the Buka-Rabaul evacuation line
about 35 miles west of Buka. If no enemy contact by 0300...come south to
refuel same place. If enemy contacted, you know what to do."
At about 1730, the Squadron was steaming at 30 knots towards point UNCLE.
Captain Burke's plan was to place his ships near the St. George Channel, as
far west as possible. He intended to search the Rabaul-Buka line on the
northern side so as to make contact northwest of the enemy, the direction
from which the enemy could least expect interception. "It was,"
Burke wrote afterward, "an ideal night for a nice quiet torpedo
attack." At 0130, the Squadron slowed to 23 knots to reduce their wake,
and at 0140 changed course to the north, DESDIV 46 taking line of bearing 225
degrees from DESDIV 45, distance 5000 yards. Only one minute later, at 0141,
USS DYSON, USS SPENCE, and USS CLAXTON made contact with the Imperial
Japanese Navy, picking up the creening destroyers ONAMI and MAKINAMI on
radar, eleven miles to the east. At 0145, Burke ordered DESDIV 45 to head
directly for the enemy, who was steaming at 25 knots on a westerly course.
According to the battle plan, DESDIV 46 would cover DESDIV 45 in the torpedo
attack, after which the two divisions would change places. At 0156, DYSON, CLAXTON,
and USS CHARLES AUSBURNE reached the desired torpedo firing point on the
enemy's port bow, launched 15 torpedoes, and promptly turned 90 degrees right
to avoid any fish the enemy might offer. The torpedoes struck; ONAMI
disintegrated in a ball of fire 300 feet high, while KINAMI exploded, but
stubbornly remained afloat.
Just before the torpedoes hit, CHARLES AUSBURNE made radar contact on the
transport destroyers AMIGIRI, YUGURI, and UZUKI. Burke headed after them,
ordering USS CONVERSE and SPENCE to finish off the MAKINAMI. Burke prepared
his ships for a torpedo run on the second group of ships, but the attack
never came to pass. The second group of enemy ships apparently caught sight
of the burning hulks of the first group, and turned tail to run. They changed
course towards Rabaul, and backed their throttles wide open, with CHARLES
AUSBURNE, DYSON, and CLAXTON in hot pursuit.
The Japanese had a seven mile head start, but DESDIV 45 gradually closed the
enemy. At 0215, with the chase little more than ten minutes old, Burke
decided to change course on a hunch that the enemy might be firing torpedoes.
Just as the ships of DESDIV 45 completed a zig-zag maneuver, three heavy
explosions rocked the ships. Fortunately, the explosions were merely Japanese
torpedoes exploding in the turbulent wake of DESDIV 45. Apparently, the
course change kept the ships out of torpedo water. This was just one of many
lucky breaks the Squadron experienced that night.
A stern chase is a long chase, but by 0222, Burke's ships had closed the
Japanese destroyers to 8000 yards, and opened fire with guns. Burke described
the battle action as follows: "The enemy from this time on made several
changes of course and also returned our fire... As soon as enemy fire was
observed, the Division started to fishtail, weaving back and forth within 30
degrees of the base course. The enemy salvos were well grouped. Patterns were
small, and they came close, but for some unaccountable reason, there were no
direct hits. The nearness of the enemy projectiles is best demonstrated by
the fact that there were two inches of water on the CLAXTON's bridge caused
by the splashes of the shots..." At 0225, the three enemy targets
separated on diverging courses with YUGURI continuing north, while UZUKI and
AMIGIRI turned westward. As DYSON fired on UZUKI, CHARLES AUSBURNE and
CLAXTON were ordered to concentrate their fire on YUGURI. The ships pounded
shell after shell into their targets, with what seemed like minimal results.
But after continued relentless gunfire, the YUGURI sank at 0328. AMIGIRI and
UZUKI managed to escape, but not without absorbing some savage blows. A night
fighter later reported a ship burning and exploding 60 miles due east of Cape
St. George, which was probably one of the fleeing ships.
Meanwhile, CONVERSE and SPENCE were finishing off MAKINAMI, the remaining
destroyer afloat from the first group. They sank her with torpedoes and
gunfire at 0254, and reported to Burke, "One more rising sun has
set." During the attack, CONVERSE was hit by an enemy torpedo, but the
warhead, fortunately, turned out to be a dud. With MAKINAMI on the bottom,
DESDIV 46 set out, rejoining DESDIV 45 in pursuit of the fleeing Japanese
ships. The Squadron headed towards St. George's Channel in an attempt to
intercept the damaged ships. This action was in itself most daring, for Burke
pursued the enemy to within easy range of Japanese air cover at Rabaul. The
search, however, was in vain, and the Squadron broke off the search at 0405.
Burke expected furious retaliation from enemy aircraft come daybreak;
however, enemy planes never appeared. The first and only planes they saw were
their fighter cover, which arrived over them at 0648. "Never has the
white star on a wing meant so much to tired sailors as the one on those Lightnings,"
Commending the Squadron after the Battle, Captain Burke wrote: "The Navy
stresses devotion to duty, aggressiveness, boldness, determination, courage.
The full realization of exactly what these traits of character mean was
brought out by the officers and crews during this engagement. The universal
desire of all hands to do damage to the enemy regardless of consequences, is
the greatest exhilaration that any Commander can possibly have. The complete
loyalty, understanding and wholehearted desire to mutually support the
operation, coupled with the courage and valiant determination to do it, were
the outstanding characteristics of these ships."
In this long fight, the Japanese were outmaneuvered, outfought, and very
probably taken by surprise. The "Bull dog" tactics of Captain Burke
in the Battle of Cape St. George earned DESRON 23 the pride and admiration of
the Pacific Fleet. The Squadron managed to sink three enemy ships and heavily
damaged a fourth, in a naval action fought for the first time in waters so
close to the enemy's naval and air fortress of abaul. The Naval War College
characterized the engagement as "the almost prefect surface
action," while Admiral Halsey called it the "Trafalgar of the
Pacific." Throughout World War II, no other U.S. Naval Unit eclipsed the
record of the Little Beavers at the Battle of Cape St. George.
USS CAPE ST. GEORGE’s keel was
laid on November 10, 1990, and she was launched on January 10, 1992. CAPE ST.
GEORGE was christened on April 11, 1992 by her sponsor, Mrs. Doris Hekman,
the wife of VADM Peter M. Hekman, Jr., USN (Ret.). After commissioning on
June 12, 1993 at ceremonies in Norfolk, Virginia, CAPE ST. GEORGE joined the
Atlantic Fleet, completed work-ups with the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Battle
Group, and departed on her maiden deployment on October 21, 1994.
During her first deployment, CAPE ST. GEORGE participated in Operations SHARP
GUARD and DENY FLIGHT enforcing United Nations sanctions over Bosnia, as well
as numerous complex exercises. Shortly after returning from deployment, CAPE
ST. GEORGE conducted Counter-Narcotics Operations, during which she
intercepted and seized a vessel carrying over 12.5 tons of cocaine, the
largest such seizure in maritime history.
In August and September 1995, CAPE ST. GEORGE participated in the first
All-Service Combat Identification and Evaluation Team (ASCIET) exercise, a
joint warfighting laboratory focused on improving combat identification among
all branches of the Armed Forces. The perennial cornerstone of the exercise,
CAPE ST. GEORGE again participated in ASCIET in 1996 and 1997. In January
1996, the ship transited the Panama Canal to participate in Exercise MOUNTAIN
TOP, a major developmental test of the Cooperative Engagement Capability
(CEC), conducted at the Pacific Missile Test Range off Hawaii. Following
ASCIET ‘96, the ship participated in a highly successful missile-firing exercise
in support of CEC development and achieved Initial Operational Capability
(IOC) of CEC.
In the summer of 1997, CAPE ST. GEORGE deployed to the Baltic Sea for U.S.
Exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) ‘97. A major annual regional maritime
and defense exercise, BALTOPS ‘97 drew participants from thirteen nations and
over fifty ships, aircraft, and submarines. During BALTOPS, CAPE ST. GEORGE
embarked a British Royal Navy SEA LYNX helicopter detachment, a first for a
U.S. Navy ship.
After work-ups, CAPE ST. GEORGE departed for her second deployment on June
10, 1998. As EISENHOWER Battle Group Air Defense Commander, CAPE ST. GEORGE
was responsible for the theater air and missile defense of the battle group.
CAPE ST. GEORGE spent the first half of the deployment in the Mediterranean
Sea and participated in Operation DELIBERATE FORGE, enforcing the no-fly zone
over Bosnia and serving as Adriatic Sea "Redcrown." While in the
Mediterranean, CAPE ST. GEORGE also participated in several joint and multinational
exercises, including SHAREM 125, MATADOR 98, and EAGLE ARENA. She also
conducted Freedom of Navigation operations.
On 26 June 1998, with the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Carrier Battle Group, USS
CAPE ST. GEORGE conducted a routine, previously scheduled deployment to the
Mediterranean and Black Seas. It was her second deployement. The DWIGHT D.
EISENHOWER Battle Group arrived in the Mediterranean on June 20. As DWIGHT D.
EISENHOWER Battle Group Air Defense Commander, CAPE ST. GEORGE was
responsible for the theater air and missile defense of the battle group.
Units of the DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Battle Group participated in 14 exercises
during their deployment to the European Theater of operations, including
several NATO and multinational exercises throughout the Mediterranean and
While deployed to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1998, the CAPE ST.
GEORGE operated in the Adriatic Sea with the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER (CVN
69) in support of the multinational operation Deliberate Forge and NATO's
Operation Joint Forge. The USS CAPE ST. GEORGE served as Fleet Air Defense
Identification Zone coordinator and established a CEC network with DWIGHT D.
EISENHOWER and USS ANZIO, and served as Adriatic Sea "Redcrown".
CEC enabled the three ships to maintain a flawless single integrated air
picture within the Adriatic Sea. While in the Mediterranean, CAPE ST. GEORGE
also participated in several joint and multinational exercises, including
SHAREM 125, MATADOR 98, and EAGLE ARENA. She also conducted Freedom of Navigation
CAPE ST. GEORGE made her first transit of the Suez Canal on August 31, 1998,
enroute to the Arabian Gulf. While deployed to the Arabian Gulf, CAPE ST.
GEORGE participated in Operation SOUTHERN WATCH.
As part of the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER battle group, USS CAPE ST. GEORGE
participated in a series of increasingly demanding exercises and operations.
The training culminated in Joint Task Force Exercise 00-1 held in December
1999. However, because it was unable to complete live-fire training with
ground spotters, and thus complete training prior to deploying on February
18, 2000, USS CAPE ST. GEORGE had to perform its Naval Surface Fire Support
training at the Cape Wrath, Scotland training range. This came as a result of
the Navy training range at Vieques, Puerto Rico, being closed since April.
The use of the range at Cape Wrath was a unique circumstance demonstrating
cooperation with British allies who operate the range. Working through heavy
seas and high winds, USS CAPE ST. GEORGE, as well as USS ANZIO (CG 68) and
USS MAHAN (DDG 72) were able to complete their training and attain
certification in naval surface fire support. The training at Cape Wrath was
performed with ground spotters for directing fire. However, the training
lacked the coordinated live-fire exercises with Marines ashore, which is a
hallmark of the training received at the Navy's Atlantic Fleet Weapons
Training Facility range on Vieques.
Upon completion, CAPE ST. GEORGE immediately headed for her duties in the
Mediterranean and 6th Fleet Area of Operation. The ship made port calls to
Cartagena, Spain and Limassol, Cyprus. After Limassol, the ship conducted
Exercise Juniper Stallion and Fleet Battle Experiment-Golf in the eastern
Mediterranean with the DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER following which, she transited to
one of Greece’s most remote vacationing spots, the island of Mykonos.
Following Greece, CAPE ST. GEORGE returned to the Eastern Mediterranean where
she continued Fleet Battle Experiment-Golf and later visited Haifa, Israel along
with the USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER. After Haifa, CAPE ST. GEORGE transited to
La Maddalena, Sardinia where she underwent her first ever deployment Fleet
Maintenance Availability. During her seven days in La Maddalena, CAPE ST.
GEORGE got a lot of much needed repairs completed. Leaving La Maddalena, CAPE
ST. GEORGE headed for Rijeka, Croatia where she was the first cruiser to ever
visit Croatia and the first U.S. warship to visit the city since its
independence from Yugoslavia. The city had been anxiously waiting to host a
United States Navy ship since her independence in 1991 and, as a result,
daily stories were run in the local and national press, including radio and
Departing Croatia, CAPE ST. GEORGE again joined with USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
as she got underway from her Croatian port visit in Dubrovnik. Transiting
together, CAPE ST. GEORGE split from the carrier and headed to her second
port visit to Limassol, as the final port visit before heading to the Arabian
Gulf. On May 20, CAPE ST. GEORGE transited the Suez Canal and joined Fifth
Fleet in the Arabian Gulf. In the Gulf, the ship participated in Operation
SOUTHERN WATCH and Maritime Interception Operations (MIO). CAPE ST. GEORGE
also conducted MIO in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution
986 as part of a multi-national force enforcing economic sanctions against
While in the Arabian Gulf, CAPE ST. GEORGE made several port visits to Mina
Salman, Bahrain; and Dubai, U.A.E, twice. After her second port visit in
Dubai, CAPE ST. GEORGE left the Gulf on 19 July, and transited the Suez Canal
northbound on 28 July. Returning to the Mediterranean after two months of
Arabian Gulf operations, CAPE ST. GEORGE made a final port visit in Benidorm,
Spain. On August 8, she left the Mediterranean and met up with the rest of
the DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Battle Group to transit the Atlantic to Newport,
Rhode Island. USS CAPE ST. GEORGE returned home from her six-month deployment
on 18 August 2000.
USS CAPE ST. GEORGE took part in late September 2000 in Underway No.
10", one in a series of tests leading to the Cooperative Engagement
Capability (CEC) Operation Evaluation (OPEVAL) scheduled for Spring 2001. The
CEC system provides the capability to cooperatively engage targets by a warship
using data from other CEC-equipped ships, aircraft, and land-based sensors,
even in an electronic-jamming environment. It also provides a common,
consistent and highly accurate air picture, allowing battle group defenses to
act as one seamless system. The test, off Wallops Island, VA, simulated
missile firings from some of the Navy's most technically advanced ships
against unmanned drones.
USS CAPE ST. GEORGE left its homeport of Norfolk, VA, on May 21, and took
part, in the Baltic Sea, in the 29th annual maritime exercise Baltic
Operations (BALTOPS) 2001. With naval vessels and over 40 aircraft of 14
nations taking part, the exercise is intended to improve interoperability
with Baltic Sea nations and Partnership for Peace countries by conducting a peace
support operation at sea. The operation involved exercises in gunnery,
replenishment-at-sea, undersea warfare, radar tracking, mine countermeasures,
seamanship, search and rescue, and maritime interdiction operations.
Additionally, the nations conducted personnel exchanges amongst the ships so
that officers and sailors could see how their contemporaries from other
navies live and operate.
In the summer of 2002, CAPE ST. GEORGE again returned to the Baltic Sea for
In late January 2003, CAPE ST. GEORGE participated in the Composite Training
Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) of the USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT (CVN 71) Battle Group
in the Puerto Rican Operating Area. On February 4, 2003, the Battle Group,
including CAPE ST. GEORGE, left the Caribbean and deployed to the
Mediterranean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. From March 20 on, the
Battle Group participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war against the
regime of Saddam Hussein. CAPE ST. GEORGE acted as platform for Tomahawk
strikes against targets in Iraq.
In May 2005, Cape St. George became the first surface warship certified to
use only digital nautical charts (DNC), instead of paper charts using the
Voyage Management System. About 12,000 paper charts have been replaced by 29
computer discs. VMS is part of the Smart Ship Integrated Bridge System, which
has been under development since 1990.
On 18 March 2006, she was involved in a firefight with suspected pirates,
along with the USS Gonzalez. The two U.S. warships exchanged fire with the suspected
pirates about 25 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. Initial reports
indicated that one suspected pirate was killed and five others wounded while
Cape St. George took superficial damage from small arms fire during the