|Delaware, Pennsylvania||Metallurgist for the Alan Wood Steel Company|
|U.S. Naval Reserve||6501641|
|Pacific||U.S.S. Juneau (CL-52)|
|Gun pointer 1st class, Purple Heart||Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, Naval Battle of Guadalcanal|
Early Life & Family
Charles Leonard Caulk, Jr. was born at 622 West 7th Street in Wilmington, Delaware on May 22, 1913. He was the eldest son of Charles Leonard Caulk, Sr. (at the time, a telephone wire inspector, 1886–1948) and Henriette (Hetty) Caulk (née Jacobs, 1891–1981). He had two younger sisters, Rose Marie Caulk (later Van Meter, 1915–1970) and Helen Veronica Caulk (later Abernethy, 1917–1971). He also had a younger brother, Paul Lee Caulk (who was killed in action serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1919–1944). Caulk was Catholic.
The Caulk family was recorded on the census on January 6, 1920 living at 2203 6th Street in Wilmington. Caulk’s father was listed as a switchman at a telephone company. On July 14, 1922, Caulk’s parents purchased a home at 2137 Linden Street in Wilmington’s Union Park Gardens neighborhood, where he lived for the rest of his childhood. The family was recorded living there in April 1930; the elder Caulk was listed as a test board operator at an industrial plant.
Charles L. Caulk, Jr. graduated from Salesianum High School and completed three years at the University of Delaware in Newark. He moved to Pennsylvania sometime between 1938 (when he was listed on a Wilmington city directory as a student) and April 17, 1940, when he was listed on census as a lodger at the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) at 339 East Main Street in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The entry stated that he was working as a metallurgist at a steel mill. Later that year, when he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Caulk had moved to the Norristown Y.M.C.A. At the time, he was working at the Alan Wood Steel Company in nearby Ivy Rock, Pennsylvania.
Caulk enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on January 15, 1942. His enlistment paperwork day described him as standing five feet, 7¾ inches tall and weighing 137 lbs., with brown hair and eyes. After a brief period at the Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island beginning on January 17, 1942, Apprentice Seaman Caulk was assigned to the brand-new light cruiser U.S.S. Juneau (CL-52). Juneau was fast but lightly armed and armored. Caulk arrived aboard the ship at the Brooklyn Naval Yard on February 12, 1942, two days before the ship was commissioned under the command of Captain Lyman K. Swenson (1892–1942). Juneau’s crew included five of the U.S. Navy’s most famous sailors, the Sullivan brothers.
On February 28, 1942, Apprentice Seaman Caulk and 27 other members of the crew departed for the Antiaircraft Training and Test Center in Dam Neck, Virginia. After completing their training, they returned to Juneau on March 6. According to a statement by his sister, Helen, Caulk “Received Navy ‘E’ for excellence in work with his gun crew, in April 1942. Awarded aboard ship. (He was Gun Trainer)[.]” A gun trainer controlled the horizontal aim of a weapon, in this case Juneau’s 1.1-inch guns; the cruiser had four quadruple 1.1-inch gun mounts, totaling 16 guns. Caulk was promoted to seaman 2nd class on May 14 or 15, 1942.
Juneau spent several months operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean, but events were in motion thousands of miles away. On August 7, 1942, U.S. Marines began landing on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, seizing an airfield soon dubbed Henderson Field. The Japanese were caught off guard, but quickly launched a series of fierce counterattacks by both land and sea. The Guadalcanal campaign precipitated some of the most violent naval battles of the Pacific War. Ordered to the Pacific, Juneau transited the Panama Canal on August 19, 1942. The ship first entered combat during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. During the battle, on October 26, 1942, Juneau helped protect the American carriers Hornet (CV-8) and Enterprise (CV-6) from Japanese air attack.
Two weeks later, Juneau was assigned to a task force escorting a convoy to Guadalcanal. After arriving on November 12, 1942, the cruiser defended the vulnerable transports from Japanese air attack.
The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Third Battle of Savo Island)
That same day, the Americans learned that a strong Japanese fleet was on the way to Guadalcanal, intending to both neutralize Henderson Field and land their own transports loaded with reinforcements and supplies. The enemy strike force consisted of two battleships, a light cruiser, and 11 destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Abe Hiroaki.
The only American warships available to blunt the attack were two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers (including the Juneau), and eight destroyers. That Juneau was included in the fleet (designated Task Group 67.4) was due to the desperate circumstances, as she was totally unsuited for combat between surface warships. In his book Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea, Eric Hammel wrote:
Light antiaircraft cruisers Atlanta and Juneau were nearly identical twins. They had been designed specifically to escort aircraft carriers, but their sixteen-gun batteries of rapid-fire 5-inch guns had been proven effective in a shore-bombardment role […] With the shrinkage in U.S. Navy carrier assets, the two had been relegated to a surface-escort role during the preceding weeks, but, until the evening of November 12, neither had been considered for a surface-battle role. The Atlanta-class cruisers were little more than high-speed ordnance magazines surmounted by a superstructure and eight dual-5-inch antiaircraft mounts. Each also carried a pair of quadruple 21-inch torpedo mounts, one on each side. It is doubtful if either ship carried any armor-piercing rounds, and their radars and associated gun-direction installations were set to locate and track airplanes. Each of the small 6,000-ton cruisers was extremely thin-skinned and therefore particularly vulnerable to both gunfire and torpedo damage. That one, Atlanta, was the flagship of a battle-wise commander like RAdm Norman Scott merely points up the paucity of alternatives to their being anywhere near the potential arena of a serious night surface engagement.
The American fleet’s commander, Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan (1890–1942), who selected the heavy cruiser U.S.S. San Francisco (CA-38) as his flagship, had never faced enemy surface ships in combat before, much less commanded a fleet in battle. He had spent most of the time since his promotion earlier that year as a staff officer. Rear Admiral Norman Scott (1889–1942) aboard the U.S.S. Atlanta (CL-51) had more combat experience and had commanded a fleet during the American victory in the Battle of Cape Esperance one month earlier. Despite that, Admiral Scott was not in overall command of the fleet during the November 13 battle because he had slightly less seniority than Callaghan.
During the Guadalcanal campaign, American aircraft based at Henderson Field prevented Japanese surface ships from getting too close to Guadalcanal during the day. That also prevented the Japanese from regularly sending reinforcements with transports, which were too slow to get to Guadalcanal and back under cover of darkness; instead, they committed destroyers and submarines, which could not carry heavy equipment and which reduced the Imperial Japanese Navy’s offensive potential.
The odds favored the Japanese during night combat. Indeed, prewar Imperial Japanese Navy doctrine had placed a major emphasis on night surface combat, developing training and tactics that meant they were seldom defeated in such battles during the first year of the war. Though U.S. Navy advances, most notably in radar, eventually stripped the Japanese of their advantage at night, as of November 1942, the Americans had not fully capitalized on this advantage. There is little indication that Admiral Callaghan appreciated the significance of radar; he placed the ships with the advanced SG sets in the back of his formation and selected a flagship with an older type. In the critical minutes leading up to the battle, information had to be relayed to the admiral from other ships with more advanced radar.
The Japanese fleet had the advantage in firepower. Their two battleships outmatched the most powerful American ships, a pair of heavy cruisers. In addition, the Japanese Type 93 torpedo was both long-ranged and extremely powerful, while American Mark 15 torpedoes rarely functioned due to several design flaws that were not identified and corrected until 1943.
At 0124 hours on November 13, 1942, the light cruiser U.S.S. Helena (CL-50) detected the Japanese fleet with radar off Cape Esperance. Admiral Callaghan had difficulty in exerting control over his fleet and issued unclear orders. He withheld fire, even after the American fleet was practically on top of the Japanese one. The Japanese did not detect the American ships visually until 0142 hours. Admiral Abe also held fire temporarily; his battleships’ main batteries were loaded with fragmentation shells for bombarding Henderson Field, not armor-piercing shells for ship-to-ship combat.
After Japanese ships turned on searchlights, a frantic close-quarters battle began at 0148 hours (0150 hours in some accounts). In the opening minutes of the battle, San Francisco and Atlanta were devastated and both American admirals were killed. From that point forward, each American ship took independent action against targets of opportunity.
Juneau engaged in a brief dual with the Japanese destroyer Yudachi. Around 0203 hours, a torpedo fired by either Yudachi or the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze detonated against Juneau’s port side, wiping out the cruiser’s forward fire room, killing between 17 and 19 men, knocking out her port screw, and breaking her keel. Captain Swenson ordered the ship to retreat away from the battle zone.
The Japanese lost two destroyers and the battleship Hiei sustained severe damage, leading the Japanese to scuttle her the following day. The Japanese withdrew without attacking Henderson Field. The strategic victory came at a terrible cost to the Americans. According to Hammel, between 700 and 900 Americans were killed during approximately 45 minutes of ferocious fighting that night. Of the five cruisers, all had been crippled except U.S.S. Helena. Four destroyers were sunk or sinking and three others badly damaged. Helena’s commanding officer, Captain Gilbert C. Hoover (1894–1980), took command of what was left of the American fleet and ordered a withdrawal.
Juneau came across Helena and joined the remnants of the fleet early that morning. Several hours later, San Francisco requested additional medical personnel to treat her wounded. Juneau transferred a doctor along with three pharmacist’s mates. As it turned out, they were the luckiest four members of her crew.
The Sinking of U.S.S. Juneau
On the morning of November 13, 1942, as the remnants of the American fleet—now located to the west of Makira (San Cristobal)—limped toward the safety of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, the Japanese submarine I-26, commanded by Yokota Minoru, fired two torpedoes at the San Francisco. There was no time for any ship to initiate evasive maneuvers. Both torpedoes missed the heavy cruiser, but one hit Juneau’s port side at 1101 hours. The torpedo detonated a magazine, blowing the ship apart with such force that one of the ship’s 5-inch gun mounts was launched into the air. In a matter of seconds, over 500 members of Juneau’s crew were dead. Various accounts estimate that between 100 and 140 men managed to abandon ship. Their ordeal was just beginning.
The sole undamaged destroyer in the fleet, U.S.S. Fletcher (DD-445), immediately turned back to look for survivors. Captain Hoover had a difficult decision. Hoover and his staff doubted anyone could have survived Juneau’s violent destruction. Fletcher would be vulnerable to the enemy submarine while picking up survivors and the rest of the fleet rendered vulnerable to other enemy submarines reported to be in the area. His only other destroyer—the heavily damaged U.S.S. Sterett (DD-407)—had failed to detect I-26 and could not protect the fleet alone. Captain Hoover reluctantly recalled the Fletcher and resumed his withdrawal. He was unaware that I-26 had immediately dove deep after firing torpedoes and begun exiting the area. As it turned out, the fleet did not encounter any more submarines that day.
Hoover was reluctant to break radio silence because of Japanese radio-direction-finding capabilities; he had already detached one destroyer from his tiny fleet to make a radio report about the battle. Helena signaled a passing B-17 a request to pass along news of Juneau’s sinking to Vice Admiral William Halsey, Jr., commander, South Pacific. The B-17 did not radio the information and the crew later reported to an intelligence officer who did not act on the information.
Debate continues about the wisdom of Hoover’s decision not to attempt to check for survivors. What is not in doubt, however, is that a series of failures of leadership, judgment, and communications resulted in immense suffering and eventual death to almost all of Juneau’s survivors. All but 10 died from a combination of wounds, dehydration, exposure, drowning, and shark attacks during the days that followed.
Captain Hoover notified Rear Admiral Kelly Turner and Rear Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch of the sinking on the evening of November 13. Though several aircraft passed the survivors and sometimes attempted to drop supplies, no rescue ships or aircraft were dispatched. Incredibly, no rescue operation was ordered until November 15, when Admiral Halsey intervened after inquiring about Juneau’s fate. Even then, there was no coordination between rescue ships and the aircraft that were still regularly spotting the survivors.
Five survivors were finally rescued by a PBY flying boat on the evening of November 19, 1942, six days after the sinking. The seaplane tender U.S.S. Ballard (AVD-10) rescued two sailors the following day. Three other survivors managed to paddle to an island; they were assisted by residents until a PBY arrived. Just 10 men were rescued in total. Combined with the four medical providers who had moved to another ship, there were just 14 survivors; approximately 683 men were killed in the sinking or during the days that followed. The dead included Seaman 2nd Class Caulk and all five Sullivan brothers. Furious about the fate of the survivors, Admiral Halsey relieved Captain Hoover of his command on November 21, 1942.
A telegram dated January 10, 1943 informed the Caulk family that Seaman 2nd Class Caulk was missing in action. A subsequent letter from Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs dated January 26, 1943 disclosed that the Juneau had been sunk. After months of waiting, a July 19, 1943 letter attributed to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox stated:
Eight months have now elapsed since the loss of the U.S.S. JUNEAU, during the battle of Guadalcanal, on 13 November 1942. This lapse of time, in view of the circumstances surrounding the disaster as officially reported by close witnesses, forces me reluctantly to the conclusion that the personnel missing, as a result of the loss of the JUNEAU, were in fact killed by enemy action.
Seaman 2nd Class Caulk was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. He is honored on the Tablets of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, at a memorial for the ship in Juneau, Alaska, on a memorial plaque in his old neighborhood (Union Park Gardens in Wilmington), a memorial at the University of Delaware in Newark, and at Veteran’s Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware.
Click to any document to view a larger copy.
According to Seaman 2nd Class Caulk’s sister, Helen, he was a gun trainer. That means he controlled the horizontal movement of a naval gun. In a family photograph, Caulk is wearing a gun pointer, 1st class distinguishing mark on his uniform. A gun pointer controlled the vertical movement of a naval gun. The jobs are similar, and men were cross trained to be able to do both. I was unable to find any reference to a distinguishing mark for gun trainer, and the contemporary definition for the mark was for “Men who have qualified as gun director pointers or gun pointers[.]”
Given that gun pointer does not seem to have been any more difficult or prestigious than gun trainer, it seems curious that one had a distinguishing mark but not the other. Potentially, the mark could have been awarded to both, but I cannot find any proof of that.
Caulk’s personnel file potentially could have clarified the discrepancy. Unfortunately, there are no documents in the file between when he was promoted to seaman 2nd class and his death; it would appear that any more recent paperwork went down with the ship.
Japanese names in this article are listed with family name first, followed by given name.
Name of the Battle
The waters north of Guadalcanal saw so much naval combat that it came to be called Ironbottom Sound. The series of engagements during November 12–15, 1942 is commonly referred to in American sources as the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. This name is imperfect, since although it was the most decisive, there were many naval battles in the vicinity of Guadalcanal. Alternatively, the night battle in which the Juneau was torpedoed is sometimes referred to as the Third Battle of Savo Island (as seen in Helena’s tracer plot above), with the engagement two nights later considered to be the Fourth Battle of Savo Island. Adding to the confusion, the Battle of Tassafaronga was also sometimes referred to as the Fourth Battle of Savo Island!
Which Japanese Ship Torpedoed Juneau During the Night Battle?
Different historians have reconstructed the confused action of the November 13, 1942 battle with slight differences, including the identity of the Japanese destroyer that crippled the Juneau. Dan Kurzman credited the Amatsukaze—which had already torpedoed and sunk the destroyer U.S.S. Barton (DD-599)—with firing the torpedo that hit Juneau. Indeed, Amatsukaze’s commanding officer, Hara Tameichi wrote in his book Teikoku Kaigun No Saigo (帝國海軍の最後, literally Last of the Imperial Navy, published in English under the title Japanese Destroyer Captain):
In hushed silence, four deadly fish left at 2359 [Tokyo Standard Time, 0159 local time]. Three minutes and 40 seconds later, a large, reddish flame rose from out target. It was American cruiser Juneau, that had been exchanging gunfire with Yudachi.
Hara wrote in his book that Kikkawa Kiyoshi, commander of the Yudachi later told him:
After running for a few minutes, I saw cruiser Juneau to starboard, on a parallel course. Yudachi fired eight torpedoes at her, but all missed. The cruiser answered with a powerful salvo, to which I could respond only with guns. That was bad. I felt I was pinned at last. A destroyer cannot outgun a cruiser. Then all of a sudden, a burst of flames rose from the cruiser. It stopped firing, spread smoke screens and quit the fight. It was your Amatsukaze that saved me.
It is hard to tell how much to trust Hara’s account, which includes some false statements about the battle. Hara claimed that only one American cruiser and three destroyers survived the battle, when in fact three cruisers and four destroyers survived. He also wrote that during the battle, U.S.S. Helena was ambushed by three Japanese destroyers, torpedoed, and sunk! This, of course, was pure fiction. Helena sustained the lightest damage of any of the American cruisers: five shell hits and no torpedo hits. Casualties were only one sailor killed and 22 wounded. Hara was forthright about his own mistakes (including the fact that Helena snuck up on and crippled his Amatsukaze while Hara was focused on trying to finish off San Francisco), so a charitable reading would be to trust Hara’s testimony about his own actions, while ignoring his narrative pertaining to the rest of the battle.
Eric Hammel wrote in Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea that although Amatsukaze fired a spread of torpedoes at Juneau, it was actually Yudachi that torpedoed her. Yudachi was hit by several American ships later in the battle and sank later that day.
Special thanks to Seaman 2nd Class Caulk’s niece, Patti Abernethy, for providing valuable documents and photographs which accompany this article. Thanks also go out to Peter Dem of the USS Juneau CL-52 website, who provided documents about Caulk’s antiaircraft training.
“2 From State Listed as Dead.” Journal-Every Evening, July 27, 1943. Pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/79938941/charles-caulk-kia/
“Battle Experience: Solomon Islands Actions December 1942 – January 1943.” United States Fleet Headquarters of the Commander in Chief, April 15, 1943. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/268930640
Caulk, Helen V. Charles Leonard Caulk, Jr. Individual Military Service Record, circa 1945. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18042/rec/22
Charles Leonard Caulk, Jr. Official Military Personnel File. National Personnel Records Center, courtesy of Patti Abernethy.
“Crew List.” USS Juneau CL-52 website. https://ussjuneau.weebly.com/crew-list.html
Coward, J. G. “Sinking of the U.S.S. JUNEAU, report on.” November 22, 1942. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/267963242
Delaware Birth Records, 1800–1932. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1672/images/31297_212274-00056
Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-267-12436-50003-70
Delaware Land Records, 1677–1947. Record Group 2555-000-011, Recorder of Deeds, New Castle County. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61025/images/31303_256974-00376
Hammel, Eric. Guadalcanal: Decision at Sea. Pacifica Press, 1988.
Hara, Tameichi. Japanese Destroyer Captain. Naval Institute Press, 1967.
Hoover, Gilbert C. “Action off North Coast Guadalcanal, Early Morning of November 13, 1942, report of. (3rd Savo Island Night Action).” November 15, 1942. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/268402094
Kurzman, Dan. Left to Die: The Tragedy of the USS Juneau. Pocket Books, 1994.
“Muster Roll of the Crew of the U.S.S. Juneau (CL52).” Muster Rolls of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Other Naval Activities, 01/01/1939-01/01/1949. Record Group Number 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/303139818, https://www.fold3.com/image/309617992
“News of the Day at New Castle.” Every Evening, June 25, 1912. Pg. 9. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/79662924/caulk-wedding/
Pedersen, R. A. “War Diary (U.S.S. Ballard).” World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/267847129
Polk’s Wilmington (New Castle County, Del.) City Directory 1938. R. L. Polk & Company Publishers, 1938. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2469/images/16149933
Swenson, L. K. “U.S.S. Juneau War Diary for October 1942.” November 3, 1942. World War II War Diaries, 1941–1945. Record Group 38, Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://www.fold3.com/image/268134613
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295769-00970
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531894_01136
United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/M-T0627-03464-00412
U.S.S. Juneau command logs for February 28, 1942 and March 6, 1942. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. Courtesy of Peter Dem.
WWII Draft Registration Cards for Pennsylvania, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44033_10_00060-00057
Last updated on November 17, 2022
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