The Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese Empire just prior to the Battle of Midway in 1942. The modern, major warships of the United States Navy were deployed in the Central & Southern Pacific to face off against the aggressive and very successful Imperial Fleet. Therefore a scratch team of older, and in many cases, obsolete ships of the U.S. Navy was assembled and thrown into the fight in Alaskan waters. Included in this fleet were Great War era submarines, the “S” Boats, 4 piper destroyers and Omaha Class light cruisers. Fortunately for the United States, these old ships were fought by the bravest of sailors.
The Omaha class light cruisers were fast and capable, but considered too old and infirm to fight the IJN with the main fleet. Even so, they fought stoutly through the war. The Detroit, CL-8, was the most decorated of the class. It survived Pearl Harbor and eventually earned six battle stars. The Detroit was the flagship for the Commander, Task Group 8.6, patrolling between Adak & Attu. She remained in Alaskan waters from November 1942 until June 25, 1944.
The S-44, launched in October 1923, had a storied career in WWII. Fighting breakdowns almost continuously, as most S Boats did, she nevertheless fought a hard and successful war in the south west Pacific including grueling duty in the Guadalcanal Campaign where she sent several Japanese merchantmen to the bottom.
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On August 10, 1942 the S-44 sank the Japanese heavy cruiser Kako, the first capital ship sunk by the American Navy in the war. The S-44 arrived in the Aleutians on September 16, 1943 after an overhaul in Philadelphia. She went on patrol ten days later and was lost to a Japanese escort ship while attacking a freighter. Of the 8 sailors who were thought to have escaped the sinking submarine, 2 were repatriated at the end of the war from a Japanese prison camp.
The fight for the Aleutians was ultimately successful for the United States Navy. The victory was due to the underdog battle fought by Iron Men in Steel Ships, and this painting honors two of the valiant old ships, the S-44 and the Detroit.