USS Pensacola (CA-24)

USS Pensacola (CA-24) was the name ship of the Pensacola class of heavy cruisers and served in the Pacific during the Second World War, fighting at Midway, off Guadalcanal (where she was very badly damaged), at Tarawa, the Marshal Islands, the Aleutians, the battle of Leyte Gulf and the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She was awarded 13 battle stars for her performance.

The Pensacola was laid down on 27 October 1926, launched on 25 April 1929 and commissioned on 6 February 1930. Her shakedown cruise lasted from March to early June 1930 and took her to Peru and Chile. She then joined CruDiv 4, and served off the east coast and in the Caribbean until the start of 1935.

In January 1935 the Pensacola and CruDiv 4 moved to the Pacific Fleet, with a new home port of San Diego. She was based on the west coast until October 1939 when she transferred to Pearl Harbor. In January 1941 she moved to CruDiv 5, and in December 1941 she was flagship of the division.

On 29 November 1941 the Pensacola left Pearl Harbor to escort a convoy to Manila. The Japanese attack meant that the convoy was diverted to Australia, and the Pensacola reached Brisbane on 7 January 1942. She then returned to Pearl Harbor. 

On 5 February she was sent to guard the approaches to the Samoan Islands against any possible Japanese attack. On 17 December she joined Task Force 11, built around the carrier USS Lexington (CV-2). Her first job with the new TF was a raid on Rabaul, which was to take place on 21 February. On the previous day the fleet was attacked by eighteen Japanese bombers in two waves, but managed to fight the Japanese off (17 of the 18 attackers were shot down by Lexington's aircraft and Lt. Edward H. O'Hare claimed five victories, making him an 'ace in a day', the first US Navy ace of the Second World War and winning him the Medal of Honor.

The task force patrolled the Coral Sea until it was joined the TF 17 (USS Yorktown). On 10 March the combined fleet launched an air strike against Japanese shipping at Salamaua and Lae, on the north coast of New Guinea. The attack, which was launched from the south of the island, was a total surprise and was very effective. The combined fleet then withdrew to Noumea to replenish. Lexington returned to Pearl Harbor in March, while Pensacola joined the Yorktown's TF 17 and continued the patrols. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 21 April.

On 28 May she left Pearl Harbor as part of TF 17, with the carrier Enterprise, heading towards Midway Island. During the Battle of Midway the Pensacola helped defend the carrier Yorktown after she had been critically damaged by Japanese aircraft. She shared claims to four Japanese torpedo bombers. After the Yorktown was abandoned Pensacola rejoined the Enterprise and took part in the pursuit of the retreating Japanese.

In late June the Pensacola helped move the 1,157 men of Marine Aircraft Group 22 from Pearl Harbor to Midway. She then joined the screen around the carriers Saratoga, Hornet and Wasp at the start of the Guadalcanal campaign. Despite the efforts of the screening forces Japanese submarines were still able to reach some of the carriers, damaging the Saratoga (31 August) and sinking the Wasp (15 September).

The Pensacola was present at the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (26 October 1942), a carrier battle in which Japanese air attacks sank the carrier Hornet. The Enterprise was also damaged but survived. Pensacola carried 188 survivors of the Hornet back to Noumea at the end of October.

She soon returned to Guadalcanal. She fought in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (13-15 November 1942) as part of the Enterprise's task force.  She was also present at the last of the major naval battles off Guadalcanal, the battle of Tassafaronga (30 November 1942). Unlike her previous battles this was a clash between surface ships. The American force included five cruisers, the Japanese only had eight destroyers, but they still won a notable victory. Both the New Orleans and the Minneapolis were hit by torpedoes that ripped apart the front of the ship, although both survived. The Northampton was also hit by torpedoes, and quickly sank. The Pensacola managed to avoid the New Orleans and Minneapolis, but was then hit by a torpedo that struck mellow the mainmast on the port side. Her engine room was flooded, three gun turrets were knocked out and an oil leak led to a fire on the mainmast and the main aft deck, where torpedoes and anti-aircraft ammo exploded. Number 3 turret was also on fire, and the damage control efforts were interrupted by exploding shells. Despite all of this damage and the loss of 125 dead and 68 wounded, her crew managed to keep the Pensacola afloat and she reached relative safety at Tulagi.

After basic repairs at Tulagi the Pensacola moved to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides Island, where she spent a month undergoing more work. By 7 January 1943 she able to sail for Pearl Harbor, arriving on 27 January. Full repairs took most of the rest of 1943, and she didn't return to action until November 1943.

On 8 November the Pensacola left Pearl Harbor with the Southern Attack Force for the invasion of Tarawa. On 19 November she took part bombardments of Betio and Tarawa, firing 600 rounds. On 20 November, during the invasion, she provided part of the screen around the carrier force, but despite the efforts of the screen the carrier Independence(CVL-22) was hit. Pensacola escorted her back to Funafuti in the Ellice Islands. She spent the next two months supporting the carriers fighting in the Gilbert Islands.

During the invasion of the Marshall Islands the Pensacola formed part of the bombardment forces. On the night of 29 January 1944 she bombarded Tarao in the Eastern Marshalls. On 31 January she bombarded Japanese targets while the Marines landings on Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls and on 1 February she supported the invasions of Roi and Namur. She continued to support the fighting in the Marshalls until 18 February. On 30 March-1 April she formed part of the carrier screen during a raid on the Caroline Islands, hitting Palau, Yap, Ulithi and Woleai.

On 25 April 1944 the Pensacola headed north to the Aleutians, arriving on 27 May. In June she took part in a raid on the Kurile Islands, bombarding Matsuwa on 13 June and Kurabu Zaki on Paramushiru To on 26 June. In this second bombardment she fired 300 8in shells. She spent July patrolling around Alaska, before returning to Hawaii in August.

On 29 September she departed from Pearl Harbor. She took part in a bombardment of Wake Island on 3 September, then bombarded Marcus Island on 9 October. She was part of a task force given the job of bombarding the Bonin Islands in an attempt to attack Japanese attention to those islands and away from the Philippines. At the same time the main Fast Carrier force raided Okinawa and Formosa. The Pensacola joined the main fleet as it withdrew from Formosa, and helped protect the 'Cripple Division' (the cruisers Canberra (CA-70) and Houston (CL-81) as they moved to safely.  

On 16 October the Pensacola joined the Wasp's task group. She screened the carriers during the invasion of Leyte (20 October). She too part on the battle of Cape Engano (25 October), part of the wider battle of Leyte Gulf, forming part of the force that rushed north to intercept the decoy Japanese carrier forces.
 
On 11-12 November the Pensacola bombarded Iwo Jima. She then returned to Ulithi, where on 20 November she spotted a Japanese midget submarine just before it successfully destroyed the fleet oiler Mississinewa (AO-59).  

The Pensacola took part in the pre-invasion bombardments of Iwo Jima. On 8 December she fired 500 8in shells at Japanese targets on the island, and carried out repeat bombardments on 24 December, 27 December, 5 January 1945 and 24 January 1945.  She then formed part of the bombardment force (Rear Admiral B. J. Rodgers) for the invasion itself. She took part in a bombardment of the north-east of the island on 16 February. On 17 February Japanese shore batteries scored six hits on the Pensacola, killing 17 and injuring 119. She remained off Iwo Jima and took part in repeated bombardments between then and 3 March when she left for Ulithi.

On 20 March 1945 the Pensacolaput to sea as part of the fleet to support the invasion of Okinawa. On 27 March she was the target of two Japanese torpedoes, but managed to evade both (in one case by only 20 feet). From 1-15 April she bombarded targets on Okinawa, supporting the invasion force. She then returned to Mare Island, on the US West Coast, for an overhaul.

On 3 August the Pensacola sailed for Alaska, and she was there at the end of the war. At the end of August she joined CruDiv 5, and on 8 September she anchored at Ominato, on Northern Honshu.

The Pensacola had a short post-war career. In November 1945 she carried 200 troops from Iwo Jima back to California, arriving on 3 December. She made a second 'Magic Carpet' trip between 8 December and 9 January 1946, carrying 700 men from Guam to San Diego. She was then chosen as a target ship for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. She was a target for the tests of 1 July and 25 July 1946. She survived both tests and was taken to Kwajalein, where she was decommissioned on 26 August 1946. After research into the aftermath of the explosions she was sunk on 10 November 1948.

Displacement (standard)

9,097t

Displacement (loaded)

11,512t

Top Speed

32.5kts

Range

10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – deck

1in

 - over machinery

2.5in

 - side of magazines

4in

 - over magazines

1.75in

 - barbettes

0.75in

 - gun houses face

2.5in

 - gun houses top

2in

 - gun houses other

0.75in

Length

586ft 8in oa

Armaments

Ten 8in/55 guns (two 3-gun and two 2-gun turrets)
Four 5in/25 guns (four single positions)
6 21in torpedo tubes
4 aircraft

Crew complement

631

Laid down

27 October 1926

Launched

25 April 1929

Completed

6 February 1930

Scuttled

10 November 1948

US Heavy Cruisers 1941-45: Pre War Classes, Mark Stille. Looks at the 'treaty cruisers' built in the US between the wars, limited by treaty to 10,000 tons and 8in guns. Five classes of treaty cruisers were produced and they played a major role in the fighting during the Second World War, despite the limits imposed on them by the treaty restrictions. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (31 January 2014), USS Pensacola (CA-24), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Pensacola_CA24.html

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