USS Phoenix (CL-46)

USS Phoenix (CL-46) was a Brooklyn class light cruiser that took part in the fighting in the southern Pacific, during the advance along New Guinea and the invasion of the Philippines, but that is better known as the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, sunk during the 1982 Falklands War.

The Phoenix was laid down in April 1935, launched in March 1938 and commissioned on 3 October 1938. Her shakedown cruiser took her to South American waters. She then joined the Pacific Fleet, and was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. She wasn't damaged during the attack, and was at sea by noon, forming part of a task force with the cruisers St Louis (CL-49) and Detroit (CL-8) that made an brief attempt to find the Japanese fleet.

Anti-aircraft guns on USS Phoenix (CL-46), Mindoro, 1944
Anti-aircraft guns
on USS Phoenix (CL-46),
Mindoro, 1944

The Phoenix formed part of the escort for the first convoy from Pearl Harbor to the United States, the start of a month of convoy duty on that route. She then escorted a convoy from San Francisco to Melbourne, and remained in Australian waters, mainly operating to the west of the continent. In February she escorted a convoy to Ceylon. She also escorted a convoy to Bombay, and took part in the Allied evacuation of Java. She then joined Task Force 44, operating alongside ANZAC forces in the south-west Pacific, where she remained until she left for a refit in July 1943.

She briefly left the Pacific theatre in the summer of 1943 when she carried Secretary of State Cordell Hull to Casablanca. After that she was allocated to the Seventh Fleet, which was operating in support of General MacArthur in the South Pacific.

She was part of TG74.2 for the landings at Cape Gloucester on New Britain on 26 December 1943. She carried out a pre-invasion bombardment then provided fire support for the troops.

Side view of USS Phoenix (CL-46), 1939
Side view of USS Phoenix (CL-46), 1939

In January 1944 she took part in a bombardment of the Japanese bases at Madang and Alexishafen on New Guinea. In February she supported the 1st Cavalry Division as they carried out a reconnaissance in force on Los Negros. Japanese resistance was less effective than feared and so the raid became a permanent occupation.

At the start of March Phoenix (along with Nashville and HMAS Shropshire) bombarded Hauwei Island in the Admiralty Group.  In April she supported the landings at Hollandia on New Guinea. Later in the month she bombarded Wakde and Sawar. In May she supported the landings at Arare and the invasion of Wakde. She then took part in the invasion of Biak Island, destroying dangerous Japanese gun batteries.

On 4 June the Phoenix was attacked by two Japanese fighter bombers. One man was killed and four wounded by near misses during this attack. A similar attack on the following night was less successful. On 8-9 June the task force intercepted a Japanese destroyer force attempting to run reinforcements into New Guinea and forced them to flee.

At the start of July she carried out a pre-invasion bombardment of Noemfoor Island.

In September she formed part of the cruiser force that supported the invasion of Morotai (Boise, Nashville, Shropshire, Phoenix and HMAS Australia). On 15 September they bombarded Halmahera, and supporting the invasion force.

In October the Phoenix was part of the Close Covering Group during the invasion of Leyte. She carried out a pre-invasion bombardment, then supporting the advancing troops. During the battle of Leyte Gulf the Phoenix was part of Admiral Oldendorf's fleet during the Battle of the Surigao Strait, the last gun battle between battleships. The Phoenix herself fired on the Japanese battleship Fuso.

After the battle the Phoenix returned to the force protecting the beachhead. On 1 November her force was attacked by ten Japanese torpedo bombers. During the attack three destroyers were hit by crashing aircraft. A fourth destroyer was hit later in the same day.

In December the Phoenix took part in the invasion of Mindoro. Once again she came under kamikaze attack, but avoided being hit herself. The Nashville was less fortunate and was hit by one aircraft.

In January 1945 the Phoenix took part in the invasion of Luzon. She was the target of a midget submarine before the invasion, but avoided two torpedoes. In February she supported the attack on Bataan and Corregidor and in March the invasion of Mindanao.

Her final wartime service came during the invasion of Balikpapan on Borneo. Between 29 June and 7 July she supported minesweepers operating within range of Japanese coastal guns. During this period eleven minesweepers were damaged or sunk by gunfire and mines, despite the counter-battery fire provided by the Phoenix.

At the end of the war the Phoenix was on her way to Pearl Harbor for a planned overhaul. She continued east, and in early September joined the Atlantic Fleet. In February 1946 she was placed in commission in the reserve, and on 3 July 1946 she was decommissioned.

In April 1951 the Phoenix was sold to Argentina. After a refit she was commissioned as the 17 de Octubre on 17 October 1951. She was renamed as the General Belgrano in 1956, the name by which she is now best known.

The General Belgrano was sunk in one of the most politically controversial moments of the Falklands War of 1982. On 29 April a large part of the Argentine fleet put to sea. The General Belgrano headed around the south of the islands, while a task force built around the carrier Veinticinco de Mayo sailed to the north. Somewhat ironically this was the former British Colossus class carrier Venerable. She had been sold to the Dutch in 1938, where she became the Karel Doorman. In 1969 she was sold to Argentina, and in 1982 she still carried much British equipment.

There was now the potential for a three-pronged assault on the British Task Force, east of the Falklands, with carrier aircraft coming from the north-west, land based aircraft from the Falklands and the Argentine mainland and the General Belgrano coming from the south-west. Despite her age the Argentine cruiser posed a real threat to the British ships - her twelve 6in guns were the most powerful in either fleet at the time and she carried Exocet missiles.   

On the morning of 2 May the Argentine carrier prepared to launch an attack, arming its eight A-4 Skyhawk aircraft. Only light winds prevented them from launching the attack. To the south the Belgrano and its escorts (two Allen M Sumner class destroyers, also armed with Exocets) were zigzagging south of the Falklands, closely followed by the British nuclear submarine Conqueror. Admiral Woodward, commander of the Task Force, ordered the Conqueror to sink the Belgrano before she could enter waters too shallow for the submarine to follow. The order was confirmed by the War Cabinet, and just before 19.00 on 2 May the Conqueror fired three torpedoes at the Belgrano. Two hit, and she sank in 45 minutes. 368 Argentine sailors were lost with the Belgrano, and 880 were rescued. Most of the causalities were caused by the two torpedo hits. The two escorting destroyers (Hipolto Bouchard and Piedra Buena carried out an unsuccessful depth charge attack on the British submarine.

The rest of the Argentine fleet quickly returned to port, eliminating the surface threat to the British Task Force.  Much of the controversy came from the Belgrano's exact location at the time of the attack - she was then 220 miles from the islands and sailing west at 10kts - placing her 20 miles outside the Total Exclusion Zone. The arguments largely ignored the military reality, which was that enemy warships were a valid target whether they were inside or outside the exclusion zone, and that the Belgrano was clearly only keeping station at the time, not returning home.

Phoenix (CL–46) earned nine battle stars for World War II service.

Displacement (standard)

9,767t

Displacement (loaded)

12,207t

Top Speed

32.5kts

Range

10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

5in on 0.625in STS

 - deck

2in

 - barbettes

6in

 - turrets

6.5in face
2in roof
1.25in side and rear

 - conning tower

5in
2.25in roof

Length

608ft 4in

Armaments

Fifteen 6in/47 guns (five triple turrets)
Eight 5in/25 guns (/38 on St Louis, Helena) (eight single positions)
Eight 0.5in guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement

868

Laid down

15 April 1935

Launched

13 March 1938

Completed

3 October 1938

Sold to Argentina

17 October 1951

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 May 2015), USS Phoenix (CL-46) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Phoenix_CL46.html

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