The R/V Petrel team monitors the USS Strong survey operation on the floor of the Kula Gulf in the Solomon Sea. (Photo courtesy of Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Inc.)
The USS Strong put in less than a year of service at sea, but the destroyer and its crew nevertheless earned a place of honor in the U.S. Navy’s history of World War II. Now the Strong’s legacy is once again in the spotlight, thanks to the shipwreck’s discovery by the research vessel Petrel.
The R/V Petrel’s expedition team, supported by the late Seattle billionaire philanthropist Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., found the wreckage on Feb. 6, lying 1,000 feet deep on the floor of the Kula Gulf, north of New Georgia in the Solomon Sea. The latest find adds to the Petrel’s long list of World War II shipwreck discoveries, including the USS Indianapolis, the USS Lexington, the USS Juneau, the USS Helena and the USS Hornet.
“With each ship we are find and survey, it is the human stories that make each one personal,” Robert Kraft, expedition lead and director of subsea operations for the Petrel. “We need to remember and honor our history and its heroes, living and dead. We need to bring their spirit to life and be grateful every day for the sacrifices made by so many on our behalf.”
The Strong put out to sea for the first time in 1942, and during the first half of 1943, it conducted anti-submarine patrols and supported naval mining operations around the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides and Guadalcanal in the Pacific.
Its final battle came on July 5, 1943, when the Strong was sent to shell Japanese shore installations to provide cover for the landing of American forces at Rice Anchorage on the coast of New Georgia.
During the engagement, the destroyer was struck on the port side by a Japanese torpedo fired at long range. One of the Strong’s crew members, Donald Regan, recalled that the force of the strike “knocked me off my feet.”
In the minutes that followed the blast, most of the Strong’s crew scrambled over nets to a neighboring destroyer, the USS Chevalier, while the USS O’Bannon provided cover. But the rescue operation had to be suspended due to heavy enemy fire. Forty-six of the 280 crew members were lost, and some of the survivors were marooned for days.
One of the most harrowing tales focuses on Lt. Hugh Miller, who spent 39 days stranded on Arundel Island. While marooned, Miller attacked three Japanese machine-gun emplacements and one enemy patrol. His exploits earned him the Navy Cross and the central role in a book titled “The Castaway’s War.”
“While the loss of Strong and 46 of her sailors was tragic, it’s also an inspirational moment in the history of our Navy,” retired Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, director of Naval History and Heritage Command, said in a statement.
“If you need examples of sailor integrity, accountability, initiative and toughness when great-power competition heats up, you can’t go wrong reading the full story of the gallantry that accompanied the loss of USS Strong.“