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The Sullivan Brothers

By rareAdmin, Friday, 13th November 2015 | 0 comments
Filed under: Today in Irish History.
















On this day 1942: Five Sullivan brothers killed.

The Sullivan brothers were five siblings who were all killed in action when their ship the light cruiser SS Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on November 13th 1942 during World War 2.

The five brothers were - George Thomas Sullivan aged 27, Francis "Frank" Henry Sullivan aged 26, Joseph "Joe" Eugene Sullivan aged 24, Madison "Matt" Abel Sullivan 23 and Albert "Al" Leo Sullivan aged 20. Raised by parents Thomas and Alleta Sullivan in a close Irish Catholic immigrant family. The five Sullivan brothers enlisted in the US Navy on January 3rd 1942 with the stipulation that they serve together. All five were assigned to the light cruiser USS Juneau.

The Juneau participated in a number of naval engagements during the months long Guadalcanal Campaign beginning in August 1942. Early in the morning of November 13th 1942, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal the Juneau was struck by a Japanese torpedo and forced to withdraw. Later that day as it was leaving the Solomon Islands area for the Allied rear area base at Espiritu Santo with other surviving US warships from battle, the Juneau was struck again, this time by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine. The torpedo likely hit the thinly armored cruiser at or near the ammunition magazines and the ship exploded and quickly sank.

Captain Gilbert C. Hoover, commanding officer of the USS Helena and senior officer present in the battle damaged US task force was skeptical that anyone had survived the sinking of the Juneau and believed it would be reckless to look for survivors, thereby exposing his wounded ships to a still lurking Japanese submarine. Therefore, he ordered his ships to continue on towards Espiritu Santo. Helena signaled a nearby US B-17 bomber on patrol to notify Allied headquarters to send aircraft or ships to search for survivors.

Approximately 100 of Juneau's crew had survived and were left in the water. The B-17 bomber crew, under orders not to break radio silence, did not pass the message about searching for survivors to their headquarters until they had landed several hours later. The crews report of the location of possible survivors was mixed in with other pending paperwork actions and went unnoticed for several days. It was not until days later that headquarters staff realised that a search had never been mounted and belatedly ordered aircraft to begin searching the area. In the meantime, Juneau's survivors, many of whom were seriously wounded, were exposed to the elements, hunger, thirst, and repeated shark attacks.

Eight days after the sinking, ten survivors were found by a PBY Catalina search aircraft and retrieved from the water. The survivors reported that Frank, Joe, and Matt died instantly, Al drowned the next day, and George the eldest survived for four or five days before suffering from delirium as a result of hypernatremia (though some sources describe him being "driven insane with grief" at the loss of his brothers), he went over the side of the raft he occupied and not to be seen again.

Security required that the Navy not reveal the loss of the Juneau or the other ships so as not to provide information to the enemy. Letters from the Sullivan sons stopped arriving at the home and the parents grew worried.

The brothers parents were notified of their deaths on January 12, 1943. That morning, the boys father, Thomas, was preparing to go to work when three men in uniform - a lieutenant commander, a doctor and a chief petty officer approached his front door. "I have some news for you about your boys," the naval officer said. "Which one?" asked Thomas. "I'm sorry," the officer replied. "All five." R.I.P.