Monday, February 27, 2012

TFH 2/27: Captain Albert H. Rooks, USN

The USS Houston (CA-30) was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. When war came in December, 1941 she was docked in the Philippines. Houston sailed for Australia and there became part of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command. Her commanding officer was Captain Albert H. Rooks.

Albert Harold Rooks was born in Colton, WA on December 29, 1891. He became a naval officer through his education at the United States Naval Academy, graduating and receiving his commission in 1914. He served across the fleet, and was the commander of several submarines and a destroyer before taking charge of the Houston.

Needless to say, the ABDA forces were greatly outnumbered by the Japanese agressors. On Feburary 4, 1942, the Houston took a bomb hit disabling her No. 3 gun turret, but also shot down four Japanese planes. Captain Rooks' leadership saw that the Houston was repaired and back in action in just 72 hours.

Then on February 27, 1942 the Houston found herself facing a much stronger Japanese force at the Battle of the Java Sea. Even though her most critical battle damage had been repaired, her aft main battery turret was still out of action. Nevertheless, outnumbered and outgunned, Houston and her Dutch and Australian comrades sailed force in an attempt to stop the Japanese. They were not ultimately successful, but the courage of the Houston's captain did not go unrecognized.


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Navy. Born: 29 December 1891, Colton, Wash. Appointed from: Washington. Citation: for extraordinary heroism, outstanding courage, gallantry in action and distinguished service in the line of his profession, as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Houston during the period 4 to 27 February 1942, while in action with superior Japanese enemy aerial and surface forces. While proceeding to attack an enemy amphibious expedition, as a unit in a mixed force, Houston was heavily attacked by bombers; after evading 4 attacks, she was heavily hit in a fifth attack, lost 60 killed and had 1 turret wholly disabled. Capt. Rooks made his ship again seaworthy and sailed within 3 days to escort an important reinforcing convoy from Darwin to Koepang, Timor, Netherlands East Indies. While so engaged, another powerful air attack developed which by Houston's marked efficiency was fought off without much damage to the convoy. The commanding general of all forces in the area thereupon canceled the movement and Capt. Rooks escorted the convoy back to Darwin. Later, while in a considerable American-British-Dutch force engaged with an overwhelming force of Japanese surface ships, Houston with H.M.S. Exeter carried the brunt of the battle, and her fire alone heavily damaged 1 and possibly 2 heavy cruisers. Although heavily damaged in the actions, Capt. Rooks succeeded in disengaging his ship when the flag officer commanding broke off the action and got her safely away from the vicinity, whereas one-half of the cruisers were lost.

The Houston's fortune in combat ran out during the Battle of Sunda Strait just a few days later. Although she was struck by multiple torpedoes, she fought to the last. Her heroic captain was killed by a shell blast just minutes before Houston succumbed to her damage and sank, taking with her 693 Sailors and Marines of her crew of 1,061.

The fighting spirit of Captain Rooks and his valiant ship and crew was not lost to the enemy though. On Memorial Day, May 30, 1942, 1,000 volunteers were simultaneously sworn into the United States Navy in Houston, TX; men who volunteered to avenge the loss of their city's namesake. While only one of the 1,000 ultimately served on the next USS Houston, the group as a whole were known as the Houston Volunteers.

A message from President Roosevelt, who had sailed on the Houston on many occasions, was read to the estimated 150,000-200,000 assembled for the swearing in and rally by the city's mayor. The President had written:
Not one of us doubts that the thousand naval recruits sworn in today will carry on with the same spirit shown by the gallant men who have gone before them. Not one of us doubts that every true Texan and every true American will back up these new fighting men, with all our hearts and all our efforts.
Captain Rooks rests today with his ship and shipmates. He is memorialized at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines.

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