The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy
World War II


"This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and headsand hearts of its millions of free men and women; in its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is in our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be "no end save victory".

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
6 January 1941

Robert J. Cressman
Contemporary History Branch
Naval Historical Center

When I first came on board the Naval Historical Center Ships' Histories Branch in May 1976 under a bicentennial summer internship while working toward my master's degree in history from the University of Maryland, I received a copy of the "U.S. Navy Chronology, World War II" that I was enjoined to keep practically under lock and key, since copies of it were so scarce. I have used that well-worn volume often over the past 22 years.

I joined the Contemporary History Branch in June 1992, to write the history of the Navy's in-country operations in the Vietnam War (1965-1968). Little did I realize the detour I would take from the more current conflict. As commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II drew near, those who contemplated a possible revision of the Chronology asked me to look it over. While the original had served its purpose as a reference work, the passage of time had revealed that merely republishing an old work would not suffice in the light of the tremendous strides made in the research and writing of the U.S. Navy's World War II history.

The most obvious difference between this work and the original is size. The original chronology was the smallest of those produced by the major services; the Air Force's was the largest, followed by the Army's. The Navy's, by comparison, was a highly selective listing of ship losses interspersed with cursory narratives of significant events. The period between the onset of hostilities in Europe to the attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor was conspicuous by its brevity.

The inclusion of commissioning dates for all battleships and aircraft carriers in the original provided the user with a misleading yardstick for the growth of the Navy during the war, especially when far more cruisers and destroyers and amphibious ships and craft came down the ways and were commissioned or placed in service.

Additions to the chronology are legion. Importantly, the scholarship of Jürgen Rohwer and Vernon L. Miller provides us with valuable information on German, Japanese, and Italian submarine and antisubmarine operations. The former pinpoints which axis submarines sank which U.S. Navy ships, while the latter identified--as far as can be ascertained--which Japanese ships or aviation units were responsible for sinking which American submarines in the Pacific during World War II. Likewise,John D. Alden's "U.S. Submarine Attacks During World War II" proved invaluable in the effort to encompass the operations of the U.S. Navy's submarines against the Axis powers; gaps in Alden's work have been filled in wherever possible by consulting the ULTRA and JANAC (Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee) studies in the SRH (Special Research Histories) series. Additionally, Dr. Rohwer's excellent two-volume chronology of the war at sea (co-authored with G. Hummelchen) served as an inspiration for this new work.

Readers who compare this new volume with the previous one will find that a fleet of additions have been made in the category of war losses. Purportedly, the original work omitted references to the losses of U.S. naval vessels below the size of tank landing ship, but one found motor torpedo boats (much smaller than LSTs) mentioned throughout, while important amphibious ships--notably tank landing craft, and infantry landing craft--were not. All district craft had likewise been omitted. The addition of the aforementioned material should give readers a more balanced view of the losses suffered by the U.S. Navy during World War II.

The original edition also ignored the "damage" suffered by Japanese, German, or Italian ships in combat with American ships and aircraft; only sinkings were recounted--and even those were predominantly major combatants. That curious omission skewed the picture of the outcome of naval battles such as those that characterized the Solomons campaign, in which comparatively few sinkings occurred but heavy damage was sustained. So wherever it could be ascertained with some degree of certainty what enemy ships were damaged in encounters with American ships or planes, the damaged enemy vessel is mentioned. In addition, the U.S. Navy's operations against German blockade runners, largely omitted from the original, are included in this work. References to Vichy French naval vessels sunk or damaged by American submarines earned mention in the original work, but the losses suffered by the French in battle off Casablanca in November 1942 were not--an oversight rectified in this edition.

Since it was specifically a U.S. "Navy" chronology for World War II, those who compiled the original apparently made a conscious effort to ignore the activities of Allied or Axis merchant ships. As historians have come to understand naval operations within the framework of a broader "maritime" perspective, I have added coverage of wartime merchant operations where they intersect "naval" operations. The continuation of trade when the United States was neutral led to detention of U.S. merchant ships and the seizure of cargoes deemed contraband by the belligerents. Furthermore, the British interference with U.S. commerce during 1939 is important in comprehending the U.S. attitude toward Great Britain at that point in the war. Furthermore, noting incidents where American merchantmen rescued British sailors from their torpedoed ships illustrates the fact that U.S. merchantmen traveled in dangerous waters in the course of their lawful occasions. Some might question broadening the scope to cover merchant ship-related activities, but by widening the definition of a "naval" chronology to include the "maritime" aspects of the war at sea one cannot ignore the activities of the American merchant marine, especially as it impacted the course of the war at sea. Likewise, the massive U.S. submarine campaign against Japanese merchant shipping was not addressed in the original. Its omission in a U.S. Navy chronology is inexplicable when one considers that the submarine war against Japan played a significant part in disrupting logistics to its far-flung empire.

Perhaps one aspect of the original work that prompted the most questions was the vague or simplistic terminology used throughout. The word "collision" prompts one to envision one ship cutting another in two, or a ship running into an iceberg (like the ill-fated Titanic). The word "collision" seemed ambiguous when one checked war diaries and action reports of the ships involved, and often what was termed a "collision" was in effect a nautical "fender-bender." Refueling at sea has always required seamanship of a high order, especially where conditions of wind and wave make it particularly hazardous, and ships occasionally come together during those evolutions, as they would do during reammunitioning or revictualling. Many of the collisions noted in this new text occur during amphibious operations, and reflect congested waters off busy beachheads.

Research into the instances of "accidental explosion" turned up incidents that ranged from a ship's firing into herself accidentally to bombs exploding on board an aircraft that had just landed on a carrier flight deck to a turret explosion; in this new work the reason for the damage is clarified wherever possible. The vague references in the original to "United States forces" when it came to scuttlings led to research to verify the agent(s) of destruction wherever possible, while the cumbersome phrase "coastal defense guns" became simply "shore batteries" and "United States naval gunfire" became "friendly fire" where appropriate, the latter a term understood by a generation conversant with the words of more recent conflicts in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

As much as possible, the nomenclature of enemy vessels (such as the replacement of "raider" with the correct "auxiliary cruiser" or "armed merchant cruiser" and "armored ship" for "pocket battleship" for example) has been rendered more accurately. Unless otherwise specified, Japanese naval vessels are designated with the nationality (Japanese destroyer, JapaneseΠcargo ship, etc.); where a army-chartered or civilian ship is referred to, the nationality plus either "army" or "merchant" will be used to differentiate (as well as can be determined) those types of ships from naval vessels. Additionally, in keeping with current scholarship, the names of Japanese individuals are rendered in their proper order, with the surname preceding the given name.

Any opinions and errors of fact or interpretation in the pages that follow are mine alone, and neither reflect nor represent the views of the Department of the Navy or the Naval Historical Center.


As is the case with any enterprise of this magnitude, there are many people whose contributions I appreciate. I particularly thank Dr. William S. Dudley, Director of Naval History, and Dr. Edward J. Marolda, Senior Historian, for asking me to undertake this project; Sandra J. Doyle and Wendy Karppi for their editorial assistance; and to my friends and colleagues in Contemporary History, Dr. Jeffrey G. Barlow, Richard A. Russell, Dr. John S. Sherwood, Dr. Robert J. Schneller, Dr. Gary E. Weir, and Curtis A. Utz for their insightful comments and unfailing good humor; in addition, the convening of a peer review board allowed me to benefit from the insights of not only the aforementioned scholars but Timothy Francis of the Naval Historical Center's Ships' Histories Branch, Lt.Col. Roger Cirillo, USA, Dr. Robert G. Browning Jr., Scott T. Price, Sarandis Papadapoulis, and Roger Havern. Scholars who I am privileged to call my friends, too, have been helpful in various ways: Richard B. Frank, John B. Lundstrom, James T. Rindt, and James C. Sawruk read portions of the manuscript and offered helpful suggestions.

No laborer can perform his work without good material and good tools. I would like to thank Bernard F. Cavalcante, head of the Operational Archives Branch, and his magnificent staff, Kathleen M. Lloyd, Richard M. Walker, Regina T. Akers, John L. Hodges, and Ariana T. Jacob, who were never too busy to facilitate my research in the virtually hundreds of pertinent action reports, war diaries, command and biography files; I particularly appreciate their very patient assistance when I came to them in the midst of their often hectic workday with yet another request. Other groups of people who took my frequent visits in stride: the staff of the Navy Department Library, consisting of Jean Hort, Glenn Helm, Tonya Montgomery, David Brown, Davis Elliott and Barbara Auman; Captain Mike Roberts, USNR (particularly for his help concerning Axis submarine sinkings); likewise, my old friends and colleagues in the Ships' Histories Branch, John C. Reilly Jr., James L. Mooney, Raymond A. Mann, and Cherie Watson also cooperated cheerfully in allowing me to check the pertinent files in the office that had been my professional "home" for more than a decade. Barry Zerby of the National Archives also provided timely research assistance. The Center's naval reservists, led by Captain William Galvani, USNR, contributed to the project by putting the contents of the original chronology on diskette, a very necessary first step.

This chronology is dedicated to those men and women who served in the United States Navy during World War II, who continued to build upon the traditions of those who had served in the past, and who forged new traditions for the current generation to follow. I also dedicate this work to my wife Linda, and my children Christine and Bobby, who often put up with my bringing my work home, and my father, Lieutenant Commander Wilmer H. Cressman, USN (Retired), who served in the transport Susan B. Anthony (AP-73) in the Mediterranean (1943) and in the attack cargo ship Almaack (AKA-10) in the Pacific (1944-1945). He and my mother (who died in 1988) provided me with a stable and loving and nurturing home in my formative years as I grew to love the profession of naval history.

Robert J. Cressman

 1939   1940   1941   1942   1943   1944   1945 

Return to The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II--Contents

Return to HyperWar: US Navy in World War II 

Return to HyperWar Home Page 

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey