John J. Kirwin
John Joseph Kirwin
|July 4, 1918
Newport, Rhode Island
|September 11, 1943 (aged 25)
Salerno Bay, off the coast of Italy
|United States of America
|United States Naval Reserve
|Years of service
|USS Savannah (CL-42)
|World War II
Battle of the Atlantic
Operation Torch (Invasion of North Africa)
Operation Husky (Invasion of Sicily)
Operation Avalanche (Invasion of Salerno)
John Joseph Kirwin was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on 4 July 1918. He enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve on 11 December 1935. He was appointed midshipman on 11 August 1937, and commissioned as an ensign on 7 February 1941, reporting for duty aboard light cruiser USS Savannah (CL-42).
During World War II, Kirwin was appointed Lieutenant, junior grade, on 16 June 1942, and saw action aboard Savannah in the Battle of the Atlantic and in Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 1 December 1942, and saw further combat aboard Savannah in Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily.
Savannah then supported Operation Avalanche, the Allied invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno. On 11 September 1943, while bombarding German shore defenses in Salerno Bay, Savannah was among cruisers which came under heavy German aerial attack. The cruisers and British Supermarine Spitfire fighters drove off nearly 60 German bombers before a Dornier Do 217K-2 bomber hit Savannah with a Fritz X radio-controlled, armor-piercing guided bomb. It pierced the armored roof of the No. 3 gun turret immediately in front of the ship's bridge, passed through three decks into the lower shell-handling room, and exploded there, blowing a gaping hole in the ship's bottom, and tearing open a seam in the ship's port side. For 30 minutes, secondary explosions in the gun room hampered fire-fighting efforts.
Kirwin was at his battle station as turret officer in No. 3 turret when the bomb struck. He remained behind in the turret to supervise the evacuation of as many men as possible, was overcome by heat and toxic smoke, and died at his station.
For his part in this action, Lieutenant Kirwin was awarded the Navy Cross with the following citation:
"For extraordinary heroism as a turret officer. . . . When the detonation of an enemy bomb set off numerous fires and filled the turret with dense smoke and toxic gases, Lt. Kirwin promptly ordered the area abandoned and despite the imminent danger, stood by his station in the turret booth. With full knowledge of the serious hazards involved and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, he calmly supervised evacuation and deliberately remained behind to aid in saving the lives of as many of his command as possible ... he eventually succumbed in the stricken booth, gallantly sacrificing his own life in order that his men might live."
The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Kirwin (DE-229) was named for Lieutenant Kirwin. She was converted during construction into the high-speed transport USS Kirwin (APD-90), and was in commission from 1945 to 1946 and from 1965 to 1969.
- Dictionary of American Naval Fighting ships (at http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/k4/kirwin.htm).
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
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