USS Phoenix (CL-46)
| USS Phoenix (CL-46)|
ARA General Belgrano (C-4)
|Owner|| United States Navy|
Armada de la República Argentina
|Shipyard|| William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company|
|Type|| Light cruiser|
|Keel laid||15 April 1935|
|Launched||13 March 1938|
|Commissioned|| 3 October 1938 (USN)|
17 October 1951 (ARA)
|Status|| Sunk during the Falklands War |
2 May 1982
|Draft||19 ft 6 in|
|Armament|| Fifteen 6"/47 cal (152 mm) main guns|
Eight 5"/25 cal (127 mm) anti-aircraft guns
|Crew||1,138 officers and men|
The third ship to bear the name, Phoenix was laid down 15 April 1935 by the New York Shipbuilding Co., Camden, New Jersey. She was launched 13 March 1938 and commissioned at Philadelphia Navy Yard 3 October 1938, Captain John W. Rankin in command.
After shakedown took her to Port of Spain, Trinidad; Santos, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; and San Juan, Puerto Rico; the new cruiser returned to Philadelphia in January 1939. Phoenix then operated off the West Coast and was later based at Pearl Harbor where the fateful morning of December 7, 1941 found her anchored southeast of Ford Island, near hospital ship Solace. Observers on board Phoenix sighted the rising sun of Japan on strange planes coming in low over Ford Island and a few seconds later the ship’s guns took them under fire. Phoenix escaped the disaster unharmed and, shortly after noon, was underway to join light cruisers St. Louis (CL–49) and Detroit (CL–8) and several destroyers in an impromptu task force to search for the enemy carriers.
Phoenix next escorted the first convoy to the United States from Pearl Harbor after the attack and returned at once with another convoy. After a month of convoy duty between the United States and Hawaii, she departed San Francisco with a force bound for Melbourne, Australia. For some time the cruiser operated in Australian waters escorting troop ships, once steaming as far north as Java. While Phoenix was steaming toward Ceylon in February 1942, with a convoy which included seaplane tender Langley and British ship Seawitch, these ships were ordered to leave the convoy and proceed at top speed to Java with precious airplanes needed to stem the Japanese invasion of the Netherlands East Indies. Langley was attacked and sunk by Japanese planes 27 February and Seawitch escaped the same fate only by being too slow to keep up with the carrier. During the following months, Phoenix patrolled in the Indian Ocean, escorted a convoy to Bombay, and was present at the evacuation of Java.
Phoenix departed Brisbane, Australia, for overhaul in the Philadelphia Navy Yard in July 1943 before carrying Secretary of State Cordell Hull to Casablanca. She was then assigned to the 7th Fleet and sailed for the South Pacific.
South Pacific service
On 26 December, in company with the light crusier Nashville (CL–43), she bombarded the Cape Gloucester area of New Britain smashing shore installations in a four-hour shelling. Phoenix covered landing forces as they went ashore and furnished support fire against enemy strong points which had not been demolished. On the night of 25–26 January 1944, the ship took part in a night raid on Madang and Alexishafen, New Guinea, shelling shore installations. Phoenix then moved to the Admiralty Islands to support the 1st Cavalry Division in a reconnaissance in force on Los Negros Island 29 February. When the troops went ashore after the prelanding bombardment, enemy resistance was so weak that a withdrawal was not necessary and the island was occupied.
On 4 and 7 March 1944, Phoenix, Nashville, and Australian heavy cruiser Shropshire bombarded Hauwei Island of the Admiralty Group. Enemy guns on this island had threatened Allied positions in the Admiralties, particularly on Manus; and, although return fire from the beach was heavy, enemy batteries ceased firing when shells from the cruisers burst in their vicinity.
Hollandia, New Guinea, was next to fall to the mounting amphibious offensive. This largest assault till then undertaken by our forces was launched by 200 ships. Phoenix shelled the shore in the Humboldt Bay–Hollandia area as the troops went ashore 22 April; and supported them as they consolidated their gains and prepared for further attacks along the northwest coast of the big island. Phoenix shelled airdromes and plane dispersal areas at Wakde and Sawar on the night of 29–30 April to neutralize the danger of air attack on newly-won Allied positions on New Guinea.
General Douglas MacArthur’s troops next landed at Arare, 17 May to secure airdromes to support further operations in the Netherlands New Guinea area. This beachhead was later extended to include Wadke Island by a shore to shore movement of troops. Phoenix bombarded the Toem area and escorted the troops to the landing beach. An amphibious assault on Biak Island, Geelvink Bay, followed. There MacArthur planned to establish a forward base for heavy bombers. With Nashville and light cruiser Boise (CL–47), Phoenix sortied from Humboldt Bay 25 May and two days later supported the landing. Resistance was stubborn. While the task force fired on shore installations, two of the escorting destroyers were hit by shells from shore batteries. Phoenix wiped out the gun emplacement with two salvos from her 5-inch batteries.
On 4 June, off the northwest coast of New Guinea, eight Japanese fighter bombers attacked Phoenix’s task force. Two confined their attention to Phoenix. Although the ship’s gunfire did not hit the planes, it diverted their bomb runs. Both planes dropped bombs, one of which burst in the water close aboard Phoenix killing one man and wounding four others with fragments. The ship also suffered some underwater leakage and damage to her propellers. The following night, aircraft again attacked Phoenix. This time low-flying torpedo planes struck as she proceeded through Japen Strait, between Biak Island and New Guinea; but her gunfire and evasive tactics prevented damage.
Phoenix and her task force frustrated an enemy attempt to reinforce their garrisons on the night of 8–9 June. When they contacted the American ships, the Japanese destroyers turned and fled at such high speed that only one U.S. destroyer division was able to get within firing range. After a running fight of three hours at long range, Phoenix and her sisters broke off action.
With Boise and ten destroyers, Phoenix sortied from Seeadler Harbor in the Admiralties and bombarded shore defenses before our forces landed on Noemfoor Island 2 July. After the battle, many dead Japanese and wrecked planes were found in the target area assigned to Phoenix.
Boise, Nashville, Shropshire, Phoenix and heavy cruiser HMAS Australia joined for the occupation of Morotai, in the Molucca Islands, 15 September 1944. The cruisers shelled nearby Halmahera Island to cover the landing and protected the assault forces as they went ashore against continuing light opposition.
The long-awaited reconquest of the Philippines began with the landing on Leyte. Phoenix, attached to the Close Covering Group, heavily bombarded the beaches before the highly successful landing 20 October. Her batteries silenced an enemy strong point holding up the advance of a battalion of the 19th Infantry Regiment and continued to furnish effective callfire.
In the now-famous Battle for Leyte Gulf, Phoenix was a unit of Admiral Oldendorf’s group which annihilated the Japanese Southern Force as it passed through Surigao Strait. Phoenix fired four spotting salvoes, and when the fourth hit opened up with all of her 6-inch batteries. The target later proved to be the Japanese battleship Fuso, which sank after 27 minutes. The enemy also lost another battleship and three destroyers, and American planes sank a damaged cruiser the next day. Phoenix then patrolled the mouth of Leyte Gulf to protect Allied positions ashore. On the morning of 1 November ten enemy torpedo-bombers attacked her and accompanying ships. At 0945 Phoenix opened fire and five minutes later destroyer Claxton was hit by a suicide plane. Almost at the same instant, hits from Phoenix’s 5-inch guns set another plane afire but could not prevent it from diving into destroyer Ammens’ starboard bow. At 0957 a plane making a a torpedo run on Phoenix was splashed by the ship’s machinegun fire, but in a few minutes a bomber hit a third destroyer, Killen.
After a lull of two and a half hours enemy planes returned, and, at 1340, scored a hit on destroyer Abner Read. Japanese aircraft attacked the other destroyers as they stood by the sinking ship, but Phoenix shot down one of the raiders.
Phoenix was attacked again by enemy planes on 5 December and was credited with assisting in the destruction of two attackers. Five days later a suicide plane attempted to crash the ship but was brought down by 40-millimeter fire when only 100 yards away. While proceeding to the assault area off Mindoro 13 December, the ship was constantly under air attack by single suicide planes. That day a lone kamikaze hit nearby cruiser Nashville. On the 15th a 5-inch shell from Phoenix brought down a circling plane at 8,500 yards. The ship then furnished her usual fire support and covered the landing forces. This gave the Allies a base from which to strike at Japan’s shipping lanes through the South China Sea and to soften up Luzon for forthcoming landings.
En route Lingayen Gulf for the invasion of Luzon, lookouts on board Phoenix sighted the conning tower of a diving submarine in the Mindanao Sea off Siquijor Island. The submarine submerged and fired two torpedoes which Phoenix dodged. Destroyer Taylor (DD–468) blew the midget sub to the surface and rammed her.
Next came Bataan and Corregidor, taken 13 to 28 February 1945. Phoenix covered minesweeping operations at Balikpapan, Borneo, from 29 June until 7 July 1945. Resistance from coastal guns was unusually heavy. Mines and shellfire sank or damaged 11 minesweepers. Phoenix furnished supporting fire and the assault waves landed.
End of service
Phoenix was en route to Pearl Harbor for overhaul when Japan capitulated. She headed home and, upon reaching the Panama Canal 6 September, joined the Atlantic Fleet. Her status was reduced to in commission in reserve at Philadelphia 28 February 1946. She decommissioned there 3 July 1946, and remained at Philadelphia until transferred to Argentina on 9 April 1951. Phoenix earned nine battle stars for World War II service.
She was commissioned in the Argentine Navy as 17 de Octubre (CL–4) on 17 October 1951. Renamed General Belgrano in 1956 after independence hero General Manuel Belgrano, she served as the flagship of the Argentina navy for many years. A showpiece much like HMS Hood had been to the British a generation before, General Belgrano represented Argentina as a naval ambassador worldwide, her crew taking pride in presenting the ship in the best possible shape and appearance at all times.
For years Argentina had claimed the British-held Falkland Islands as part of its territory, and had continued negotiations for transferring the islands to Argentine control, to no avail. On April 2, 1982, the military junta who controlled Argentina invaded the islands, effectively taking possession in a matter of days and sparking the undeclared Falklands War. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher ordered a 200-mile exclusion zone around the islands, mainly for the benefit of neutral shipping. The Argentinian government was made aware of Britain's rules of engagement on April 23 by a message sent through the Swiss embassy in Buenos Aires, which read:
In announcing the establishment of a Maritime Exclusion Zone around the Falkland Islands, Her Majesty's Government made it clear that this measure was without prejudice to the right of the United Kingdom to take whatever additional measures may be needed in the exercise of its right of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. In this connection Her Majesty's Government now wishes to make clear that any approach on the part of Argentine warships, including submarines, naval auxiliaries or military aircraft, which could amount to a threat to interfere with the mission of British Forces in the South Atlantic will encounter the appropriate response. All Argentine aircraft, including civil aircraft engaged in surveillance of these British forces, will be regarded as hostile and are liable to be dealt with accordingly.
On April 26, General Belgrano and her escorts were ordered to the area to patrol the sea to the south of the islands; on April 30 they were sighted and tracked by HMS Conqueror, a British nuclear-powered attack submarine. Although outside the exclusion zone and sailing away, Conqueror determined General Belgrano to be a threat in accordance with the rules of engagement and fired three torpedoes; one blew off the bow of the ship, a second hit amidships. The third torpedo missed. General Belgrano sank in less than thirty minutes. 321 crew members and two civilians died, while 770 were rescued during the next two days.
Despite some public controversy following the sinking, the official position of the Argentinian Navy is that it was a legitimate act of war as the ship was engaged in an operation directed against the British task force.
Text taken in part from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, a work in the public domain.
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