The Strange History of
The light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL46) -
sixth ship of the Brooklyn Class - was launched on 12 March
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
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.
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
Fate of the Phoenix - by R. G. Bluemer
Class light cruisers
Warships of the Pacific War - Illustrations
James' Naval and Maritime Pages