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The Strange History of the Phoenix
'Phoenix' sorties from Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack, 7 December 1941 - My thanks to Jim R. Rounding - formerly RT 1/c aboard 'Phoenix' - for assistance with this photograph
The light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL46) - sixth ship of the Brooklyn Class -  was launched on 12 March 1938.

On 7 December 1941 she was lying at anchor in Pearl Harbor,  at a point north-east of Ford Island.  When the Japanese surprise attack took place she got under way and sortied from the base, as did her sister ship St. Louis and the cruiser Detroit.  After the attack these three ships were ordered to join the heavy cruiser Minneapolis, and proceed westwards to meet the USS Enterprise and Task Force 16  -  which were on their way back to Pearl Harbor after ferrying aircraft to Wake Island.

Ironically a search aircraft mistook the group of four cruisers for a Japanese force,  with the result that American efforts to find the carriers which had made the Pearl Harbor attack were then concentrated in the wrong direction - south of Oahu.

Phoenix went on to establish a distinguished combat record in the Pacific,  most of her wartime service being with Seventh Fleet  -  the naval arm of General Douglas Macarthur's South-West Pacific Forces  -  commanded by Admiral Thomas Kinkaid.    She became the flagship of Task Force 75,  a formation built around Phoenix and her sister ships Boise and Nashville and commanded by Rear Admiral Russell S. "Count" Berkey.  In April 1944 she led Task Force 75 in providing fire support for the landings at Hollandia in western New Guinea.

In the Leyte operation Phoenix again served as Admiral Berkey's flagship,  Berkey this time commanding Task Group 77.3  -  the Close Covering Group of Seventh Fleet  -  a group which included Phoenix,  Boise and the Australian heavy cruisers Shropshire and Australia.

On October 24 1944 - during the Battle for Leyte Gulf - Berkey's Task Group was organised as part of Rear Admiral Oldendorf's force,  which was deployed to stop the advancing Japanese Southern Force in Surigao Strait,  south of Leyte Gulf.  The Berkey group was placed on the right flank of the US disposition, close to the shore of Leyte Island.

In the small hours of 25 October  -  during the main gunfire phase of the Battle of Surigao Strait  -  she was in action against the Japanese flagship Yamashiro,  firing her main armament at a rate of four 15-gun salvos per minute (Phoenix, Boise and Shropshire together firing a total of 1,181 rounds from their main batteries in the 17 minutes between 0351 and 0408).

From Leyte she went on to support the landings at Mindoro,  Lingayen Gulf and Borneo.  After World War Two she was decommissioned,  and in 1951 sold to Argentina,  becoming a major unit of the Argentinian Navy,  finally acquiring the name General Belgrano  In the 1970's she was modernised and equipped with British Seacat short-range missiles, and Dutch radar,  although she retained her original battery of fifteen 6-inch guns as her "main" armament.

She was to have been fitted with French Exocet sea-skimming surface-to-surface missiles,  but these were in the event never installed.

On 26 April 1982, in the opening stages of the "South Atlantic War" between Britain and Argentina, she sortied from the port of Ushuahia,  escorted by two guided-missile destroyers.  On 2 May,  in controversial circumstances,  she was attacked without warning by the British nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine Conqueror,  and hit with two torpedoes.   She sank rapidly,  with the loss of 368 of her crew.

Thus a ship which had participated in the opening drama of the war in the Pacific and emerged unscathed,  and which - at the Battle of Surigao Strait -  took part in the last battleship action and the last great surface naval battle in history,  became the first large warship,  and the only cruiser,  to be sunk in action since 1945,  and  - even more notably  -  the first ship in history to be sunk in action by a nuclear submarine.
USS 'Brooklyn'  (CL40) - aerial photograph - reproduced with thanks from 'Jane's War at Sea 1897-1997 Centennial Edition' B. Ireland / E. Grove (Harper Collins 1997)  -  origin US Naval Historical Center
USS Brooklyn  name ship of the class of which Phoenix was the sixth vessel

I am indebted to E.M. Lettieri and Tim Lanzendoerfer for information regarding the Belgrano's armament,
and to Jim R. Rounding for assistance with the photograph showing 'Phoenix' during the Pearl Harbor attack

The Fate of the Phoenix - by R. G. Bluemer

Cleveland Class light cruisers

Allied Warships of the Pacific War - Illustrations

The Battle for Leyte Gulf The Battle of the Philippine Sea

Combat Aircraft of the Pacific War

Dai James' Naval and Maritime Pages

The US Navy in the Pacific 1941-45  - Tim Lanzendoerfer