USS The Sullivans DD-537, Will It Go Under?

In recent news, there have been reports that the USS The Sullivans DD-537 has had a hull breach and is taking on water on the waterfront of Buffalo, NY. They have not yet found out what caused the breach in the hull, but they are making efforts to pump the water out of the ship and fix the hull as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the ship is moored in shallow water and when it is completely afloat, it only sits about five feet above the bottom of the lake. One of the major worries is that oil and other chemicals will pollute the waters nearby. The ship was drained of all fuels when it was moored in Buffalo, but it is still left with residuals that could not be removed. City officials are confident that they will be able to solve this problem without causing much damage to the aquatic life around.

 The ship was commissioned in April 1943 and served in World War II and the Korean War, before being decommissioned in 1965. The USS The Sullivans spent its last years in service as a training vessel for the Navy’s 6th Fleet before being donated to the city of Buffalo to be used as a floating museum in 1977.  The ship got its name from the five Sullivan brothers that served with the Navy in WWII. The Sullivans all joined the Navy at once with a wish to serve together in the nation’s fight against Nazi powers. The brothers had several friends that had been killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor and this prompted them to join the service. The Navy granted the brothers their wish, and they were all stationed on the USS Juneau, a light cruiser commissioned in February of 1942. On the day that the Juneau was commissioned, a photo was taken of all five brothers with grins on their faces (Photo Below). Pictured from left to right, you can see Joseph (23), Francis (25), Albert (19), Madison (22), and George (27).

Months later, the brothers found themselves in the Pacific Theater fighting in the Guadalcanal Campaign. In the battles that took place in the late hours of November 12th and early hours of November 13th, the USS Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese vessel, killing several sailors in the engine room and taking out the ships steering. The ship was struggling, but was able to withdraw from the fighting. The damage to the vessel caused nasty fumes to fill the lower holds and forced the majority of the close to 700 sailors to the top of the ship. Among those sailors atop the ship, were the five Sullivan brothers, who had survived the initial torpedo attack, but were now scorching in the sun, and eagerly awaiting their arrival to safety. They would never reach that safety, as later that day, while the Juneau was headed to the Ally base at Espiritu Santo with a group of other American vessels, the ship was hit with another torpedo from a Japanese submarine.

USS Juneau CL-52 Patch Designed by Don McGrogan

The torpedo is thought to have made contact near the ammunition magazines, and it caused major explosions, quickly causing the ship to start sinking. The blast sent debris and sailors flying in all directions, and many of the sailors below deck quickly drowned as water filled the vessel. The damage done to the hull of the ship caused the front half of the boat to sink, and then the other half followed, quickly engulfed by the ocean. Many of the sailors that survived the explosion were sucked down into the water by the effect of the sinking ship. The captain of the remaining force of US ships, thought that it was doubtful that anyone survived the explosion, and he chose to continue on to safety and avoid being attacked by the same submarine that had sunk the Juneau. The fleet did signal to American B-17 bomber pilots to notify headquarters of the incident and send search parties to look for survivors.

The message was not delivered to headquarters until several hours later, as the bomber crew was told to keep the radio clear of communication. Meanwhile, it is thought that somewhere between 100 and 200 sailors survived the explosion, clinging on to any sort of floating debris they could reach. The news of the sunken ship was not immediately acted upon, and the info sat for several days before its importance was recognized. After an astounding 8 days, a plane was sent to check for survivors. In the time they had spent waiting for help, many of the remaining sailors of the Juneau died due to malnutrition, dehydration, and repeated shark attacks. By the time the crews arrived to evacuate them, it is said that there were only 10 surviving sailors.

The crew recalled that three of the Sullivan brothers died immediately in the explosion, Joseph, Francis, and Madison. Albert drowned the day after the ship sunk, and George survived for 4 or 5 days after the explosion before he went mad. One sailor told a story that George had taken all his clothes off in the raft and then dove overboard and was attacked by a shark.

Two years after the death of the Sullivan brothers, the U.S. War Department adopted a policy called the Sole Survivor Policy. The Sole Survivor Policy attempts to prevent family members from being drafted or put into hazardous situations, if they have had family members lost due to military combat. The deaths of the Sullivan brothers were the greatest military loss of one American family during the Second World War. The USS the Sullivans was originally called the USS Sullivan, but was changed by President Franklin Roosevelt to clarify that the ship was commemorative of all five brothers.

The Sullivan Brothers



Mitchel Hightower

I am a recent graduate from the University of Idaho with a bachelor's degree in marketing.

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The USS The Sullivans DD-537 has had a hull breach and is taking on water in the waterfront of Buffalo, NY.

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