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USS Phoenix : A History Compiled

USS Phoenix and her eventful & distinguished WW2 career!
80-G-287101: Battle for Leyte, October-December 1944. USS Phoenix (CL 46) firing her 6” guns at Japanese installations on Leyte Islands, 20 October 1944. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2017/03/21).

USS Phoenix : A History Compiled In 1941 Phoenix operated off the West Coast and was later based at Pearl Harbor. On the 7th of December 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor she was anchored north east of Ford Island near Solace. Observers on board the Phoenix sighted the planes coming in low over Ford Island and a few seconds later the ship’s guns took them under fire.

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) steams down the channel off Ford Island’s “Battleship Row”, past the sunken and burning USS West Virginia (BB-48), at left, and USS Arizona (BB-39), at right, 7 December 1941. Still from the Department of the Navy motion picture “Over-turned & wrecked ships, others afire, Pearl Harbor”, NAIL Control Number: NWDNM(m)-428-NPC-1733.

The Phoenix escaped the disaster unharmed and shortly after noon was underway to join the cruisers USS St. Louis and Detroit and several destroyers in a makeshift task force searching  unsuccessfully for the Japanese aircraft carriers.

The Phoenix next escorted the first convoy to the United States from Pearl Harbor after the attack and returned at once with another convoy.
searching for Japanese aboard the USS Phoenix : Library of Congress

On 12 January 1942 the Phoenix, along with two destroyers, departed San Francisco escorting an Australian convoy composed of the troopships SS Mariposa, SS President Coolidge for Melbourne and President Monroe in the first large convoy to Australia after Pearl Harbor.

Of particular significance, this convoy carried troops, fifty crated P-40 fighter aircraft intended for the Philippines and Java, munitions, supplies, and officers selected by the War Department to form the core of what was to become MacArthur’s headquarters in the Southwest Pacific Area Command. The Command was formed in Australia as United States Army Forces in Australia and known as the “Remember Pearl Harbor” Group. For some time the cruiser operated in Australian waters escorting troop ships, and once steamed as far north as Java.

The cruiser is USS Phoenix (CL-46), identifiable by her unique “sprayed” camouflage Measure 32 Design 5d.
 U.S. Navy – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

The Phoenix escorted the United States Army Transport Willard A. Holbrook and the Australian transports Duntroon and Katoomba, which had been substituted for the withdrawn Mariposa, as convoy MS.5 leaving Melbourne 12 February for Fremantle and ultimately bound for Colombo, Ceylon with troops and supplies destined for India. At Fremantle the aircraft carrier Langley and merchant vessel Sea Witch joined the convoy with a 22 February departure for Colombo. Of particular note in the cargo of the convoy and specifically that of Langley and Sea Witch were P-40 aircraft, originally intended for the Philippines, that had been delivered to Australia earlier by Mariposa and President Coolidge in the convoy escorted by Phoenix from San Francisco.

USS Phoenix (CL-46) firing her 6″/47 guns during the pre-invasion bombardment of Cape Gloucester, New Britain, circa 24-26 December 1943. Photographed from the ship’s fantail, looking forward.

The plan had been that on relief of Phoenix by a British cruiser in the vicinity of Cocos Island she would escort Langley and Sea Witch to Java. Instead Langley and Sea Witch were destined to break with the convoy for Tjilatjap, Java under orders from Admiral Helfrich received the day after departure from Fremantle and proceed independently to deliver their aircraft Langley was attacked and sunk on 27 February.

The Australian heavy cruisers HMAS Shropshire, left, and HMAS Australia (D84), right, with a U.S. Navy heavy cruiser, photographed through a ring gun sight on board the light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46), off Leyte on 21 October 1944. Due to the Camouflage Measure 32, Design 7d, the third heavy cruiser is most probably USS Portland (CA-33).

Sea Witch successfully made delivery on the 28th of February just as the results of the Battle of the Java Sea had sealed the fate of the islands. The crated planes delivered were destroyed before assembly to deny them to the enemy. Phoenix turned over escort of the Colombo bound ships about 300 miles west of Cocos Island to HMS Enterprise on the 28th of February. And returned to Fremantle on 5 March 1942.

During the following months, the Phoenix patrolled in the Indian Ocean, escorted a convoy to Bombay, and helped the evacuation of Java.

80-G-287104: Battle for Leyte, October-December 1944. USS Phoenix (CL 46), empty 6” shell cases on deck after firing on Japanese installations on Leyte Islands, 20 October 1944. U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2017/03/21).

Under the command of Captain Joseph R. Redman, the Phoenix was a part of Task Force 44 in late 1942. With her accompanying destroyers Helm, Mugford and Patterson, she participated in Operation Lilliput, alternating with the Australian light cruiser HMAS Hobart and her accompanying destroyers to cover the convoys south of New Guinea.

The Phoenix departed Brisbane, Queensland, 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.

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) leaving Fremantle, Australia. She had escorted a convoy which brought troops of the Australian Imperial Force from the Middle East to Australia. Note the Curtiss SOC Seagull on the catapult.

On 26 December, in company with the cruiser Nashville, 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 on 29 February. When the troops went ashore after the pre-landing bombardment, enemy resistance was so weak that a withdrawal was not necessary and the island was occupied. General Douglas MacArthur was on board during the course of all of these operations in the Pacific.

Operation Reckless, Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea, 22 April 1944: LVTs head for the invasion beaches at Humboldt Bay, as light cruisers bombard in the background. The ship firing tracer shells in the right center is USS Boise (CL-47). Just ahead of her is USS Phoenix (CL-46).

On the 4th and 7th of March, Phoenix, Nashville, and HMAS Shropshire bombarded Huawei Island. Enemy guns on this island had threatened Allied positions in the Admiralties, particularly on Manus Island; and, although return fire from the beach was heavy, enemy batteries ceased firing when shells from the cruisers silenced them. 

The cruiser is USS Phoenix (CL-46), identifiable by her unique “sprayed” camouflage Measure 32 Design 5d.
 U.S. Navy – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

In the Battle of Hollandia, the start of the Western New Guinea campaign, Hollandia was next to fall to the mounting amphibious offensive. This largest assault till then undertaken by American forces, was launched by 200 ships. Phoenix shelled the shore in the Humboldt Bay-Hollandia area as the troops went ashore on 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 the Wakde and Sawar Airfields on the night of the 29th –30th of 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 on 17 May to secure airfields to support further operations. Phoenix bombarded the Toem area and escorted the troops to the landing beach.

Admiralties Invasion: U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid (left center) with General Douglas MacArthur (center) on the flag bridge of the light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) during the pre-invasion bombardment of Los Negros Island, at the east end of Manus Island, 28 February 1944. At right is Colonel Lloyd Labrbas, acting aide to General MacArthur. Note the 40 mm quad gun mount in the background.

The amphibious Battle of Biak followed. There, MacArthur planned to establish a forward base for heavy bombers. With Nashville and Boise, Phoenix sortied from Humboldt Bay on 25 May and two days later supported the landing. 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 guns. 

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 to Phoenix, killing one man and wounding four. The ship also suffered some underwater leakage and damage to her propellers. The following night, aircraft again attacked Phoenix. This time, low-flying torpedo bombers struck as she proceeded through Yapen Strait, between Biak and Yapen islands, but her gunfire and evasive tactics prevented extensive damage.

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) at Fremantle, Australia. She escorted a convoy which brought troops of the Australian Imperial Force from the Middle East to Australia. Note the Curtiss SOC Seagull on the catapult.

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 US 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 American forces landed on Noemfoor Island on 2 July. After the battle, many dead Japanese and wrecked planes were found in the target area destroyed by Phoenix.

Boise, Nashville, Shropshire, Phoenix and HMAS Australia joined for the occupation of Morotai in the Molucca Islands on the 15th of September. The cruisers shelled nearby Halmahera Island to cover the landing and protect the assault forces as they went ashore against continuing light opposition.

The long-awaited re-conquest 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 on 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 call fire on Japanese troop and gun positions. 

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) at anchor, circa in 1939.

In the battle of Leyte Gulf, Phoenix was a unit of Rear Admiral Jesse Oldendorf’s group which annihilated the Japanese Southern Force in the battle of 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 Yamashiro, which sank after 27 minutes of concentrated fire from the American ships. The Japanese also lost Fusō and three destroyers in the Battle supported by the USS Phoenix , and American planes sank Mogami the next day.

Phoenix then patrolled the mouth of Leyte Gulf to protect Allied positions on shore. On the morning of the 1st of November 1944, ten enemy torpedo-bombers attacked her and accompanying ships. At 0945, Phoenix opened fire and five minutes later, Claxton was hit by a kamikaze. Almost at the same instant, hits from Phoenix’s 5 in  guns set another plane on fire but could not prevent it from diving into the starboard bow of Ammen. Later a plane making a torpedo run on Phoenix was shot down by the ship’s AA machine-gun fire, but in a few minutes a bomber hit Killen.

After a lull of a few hours, more kamikazes arrived and scored a hit on the destroyer Abner Read. Japanese aircraft attacked the other destroyers as they stood by the sinking ship, but Phoenix shot down one of them. 

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) passing H.M. transport Duntroon as the convoy which has brought troops of the Australian Imperial Force from the Middle East approaches Fremantle, Australia. The Phoenix was one of the escorting vessels.

Phoenix was attacked again by enemy planes on 5 December and was credited with assisting in the destruction of two. Five days later, a kamikaze attempted to crash into the ship but was brought down by 40 mm fire by Phoenix when only 100 yards away.

While proceeding to the assault area off Mindoro on 13 December, the ship was constantly under air attack by single kamikazes. That day, a lone kamikaze hit Nashville. On 15 December, 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 to 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. The submarine submerged and fired two torpedoes which Phoenix dodged. USS Taylor blew the midget sub to the surface and rammed and sank her with all hands.

Phoenix covered minesweeping operations in Borneo from 29 June to 7 July. Resistance from coastal guns was unusually heavy. Mines and shellfire sank or damaged 11 minesweepers. Phoenix gave supporting fire and the assault waves landed. The same with Bataan and Corregidor which were taken from 13–28 February 1945.

Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey, USN speaks to another ship via electric megaphone (or loud hailer) from the bridge of his flagship, the light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46), during the pre-landing bombardment of Corregidor, 15 February 1945. The original caption identifies the ship being spoken to as HMAS Australia (D84), which was not present. It may refer to HMAS Shropshire, whose appearance was similar to that of Australia.
Phoenix was en route to Pearl Harbor for overhaul when Japan capitulated. 

In conclusion, she headed home and, upon reaching the Panama Canal on 6 September, joined the Atlantic Fleet. Lastly, her status was reduced and put in reserve in Philadelphia on 28 February 1946.

USS Phoenix : A History Compiled By Harry Gillespie

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