The USS New Orleans (CA-32) carried the fight to the Japanese during the critical campaign year of 1942. A so-called “treaty cruiser,” it was the first of seven New Orleans-class heavy cruisers built during the 1930s. This class of cruiser was the last built by the US Navy to the treaty limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, which limited the number, size, and firepower of the world’s major navies.
The New Orleans saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Pacific war, beginning on December 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor and continuing with action at Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, and later in the Gilbert, Marshall, Marianas, Philippine, and Okinawa campaigns. It was during the Battle of Tassafaronga on November 20, 1942, off Guadalcanal that the New Orleans sustained its heaviest damage. A Japanese Type 93 “Long Lance” torpedo detonated the forward magazines and destroyed 150 feet of hull. The impact of the explosion killed 182 men. A further 50-yard length of the ship’s bow and forecastle tore away from the ship as she struggled to stay afloat.
The Damage Control Officer on the New Orleans, Lieutenant Commander Hubert M. Hayter, and two of his men, Lieutenant Richard A. Haines and Ensign Andrew L. Forman, remained at their damage control posts despite the fact that it was filling up with toxic fumes. These three brave men were eventually asphyxiated by the fumes and perished. The ship’s chaplain, Howell M. Forgy, later wrote about Hayter, “I wondered what he thought about in those final minutes, but I knew one thing: he was not afraid.”
Following the end of the battle, the New Orleans limped back to Tulagi harbor across from Guadalcanal where temporary repairs were made to try to save the ship. After working furiously for 11 days, the crew of the New Orleans managed to get the ship in a good enough condition to sail for Australia for more permanent repairs. However, due to the temporary coconut log bow, the ship had to sail backward to prevent flooding from sinking the ship.
A piece of the coconut log is included in the Museum’s new special exhibit The Pelican State Goes to War: Louisiana in World War II. The log was brought back to the United States by John Richey, who served as an electrician on the New Orleans throughout the war. Richey’s bunk was destroyed by the explosion caused by the Japanese torpedo’s impact. The New Orleans was awarded 17 battle stars for its service in the Pacific, tying it for third most in the theater.