The first USS Juneau (CL-52) was a United States Navy Atlanta-class light cruiser sunk at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November 1942. The five Sullivan brothers were killed as a result of its sinking.
Following a hurried shakedown cruise along the Atlantic coast in the spring of 1942, Juneau assumed blockade patrol in early May off Martinique and Guadeloupe Islands to prevent the escape of Vichy French Naval units. She returned to New York to complete alterations and operated in the North Atlantic and Caribbean from 1 June to 12 August on patrol and escort duties. The cruiser departed for the Pacific Theater 22 August.
Early in the morning 26 October, U.S. carrier planes uncovered the enemy force and immediately attacked it, damaging two Japanese carriers, one battleship, and three cruisers. But while American aircraft were locating and engaging the enemy, American ships were also under fire. Shortly after 10:00 some 27 enemy aircraft attacked Hornet. Though Juneau and other screen ships threw up an effective AA barrage which splashed about 20 of the attackers, Hornet was badly damaged and sank the next day. Just before noon Juneau left Hornet's escort for the beleaguered Enterprise group several miles away. Adding her firepower, Juneau assisted in repulsing four enemy attacks on this force and splashing 18 Japanese planes.
That evening the American forces retired to the southeast. Although the battle had been costly, it, combined with the Marine victory on Guadalcanal, turned back the attempted Japanese parry in the Solomons. Furthermore, the damaging of two Japanese carriers sharply curtailed the air cover available to the enemy in the subsequent Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Due to bad weather and confused communications, the battle occurred in close to pitch darkness and at almost point-blank range as the ships of the two sides intermingled with each other. During the melee, Juneau was struck on the port side by a torpedo causing a severe list, stopping her dead in the water, and necessitating withdrawal. Before noon 13 November, Juneau, along with two other cruisers damaged in the battle — Helena, and San Francisco — left the Guadalcanal area to return to Espiritu Santo for repairs. Juneau was steaming on one screw, keeping station 800 yards on the starboard quarter of the likewise severely damaged San Francisco (CA-38). She was down 12 feet by the bow, but able to maintain 13 knots. A few minutes after 11:00 three torpedoes were launched from the B1 type submarine I-26. Juneau successfully avoided two, but the third struck her at the same point which had been damaged during the surface action. There was a great explosion; Juneau broke in two and disappeared in 20 seconds. Fearing more attacks from the I-26, the Helena and San Francisco continued-on without attempting to rescue survivors. Although the ship went down with heavy loss of life, more than 100 survivors had survived the sinking. They were left to fend on their own in the open ocean for eight days before rescue aircraft belatedly arrived. While awaiting rescue, all but 10 died from the elements and savage shark attacks, including Captain Swenson and the two remaining Sullivan brothers. (The other three died as a direct result of the 2nd torpedo.) (Kurzman, 1994).
Juneau received four battle stars for World War II service.