Ships of Pearl Harbor: USS Phoenix

January 23, 2019

Named in honor of Arizona’s capital city, the light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) was launched in March of 1938 and commissioned into the US Navy on October 3. Her initial shakedown included calls at Port of Spain, Trinidad and continued to Santos, Brazil, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Montevideo, Uruguay, and San Juan, Puerto Rico. In March of 1939, she transferred to San Pedro, CA.

For nearly a year, USS Phoenix cruised the West Coast of the United States before being ordered to Pearl Harbor in March, 1940. The Oahu naval base would become her home port and, like so many ships of the Pacific Fleet, her first taste of combat.

USS Phoenix and the Attack on Pearl Harbor

USS Phoenix (CL-46) passing the burning USS Arizona (BB-39) and USS West Virginia (BB-48), 7 December 1941

USS Phoenix (CL-46) passing the burning USS Arizona (BB-39) and USS West Virginia (BB-48), 7 December 1941

On the morning of December 7, 1941, USS Phoenix was anchored to the north east of Battleship Row, in a perfect position to see the Japanese aircraft fly in over Pearl Harbor, the Rising Sun insignia clearly visible on the low-flying planes. It didn’t take long for Phoenix’s crew to react and open fire on the attackers.

Despite being in close proximity to the battleships, Phoenix came through the attack on Pearl Harbor unharmed. Mere hours after the attack ended, she was out at sea, joined by fellow cruisers St. Louis (CL-49) and Detroit (CL-8) and a small fleet of destroyers as part of a task force whose mission was to track down the Japanese aircraft carriers responsible for launching the attack.

Soon afterward, Phoenix escorted a convoy to the West Coast, and on January 12, 1942, she departed San Francisco to escort another convoy to Australia. This convoy carried troops, supplies, munitions, and P-40 fighters that would be used to defend the Southwest Pacific as part of the area command. Phoenix operated in Australian waters for a brief period before returning to escort duty.

USS Phoenix at War

Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid (L) and General Douglas MacArthur (C) on board USS Phoenix (CL-46), 28 February 1944

Vice Admiral Thomas Kinkaid (L) and General Douglas MacArthur (C) on board USS Phoenix (CL-46), 28 February 1944

Phoenix patrolled in the Indian Ocean for most of 1942 and into early 1943, when she sailed for Philadelphia for overhaul. In December of 1943, Phoenix participated in offensive measures against Japanese installations. Together with the cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43), Phoenix participated in bombardments of Cape Gloucester and later provided cover to land forces that claimed the region.

In June of 1944, USS Phoenix came under fire by Japanese bombers off the northwest coast of New Guinea. Two fighters focused on the cruiser, but neither scored a direct hit. One bomb did explode in the water nearby, resulting in the death of one and four injuries.The damage she sustained was minimal and she continued her service in the Pacific. One of her major actions was her involvement in the American conquest of the Philippines. Phoenix bombarded the beaches of Leyte to reduce enemy defenses, which helped fuel the Allied victory and liberation of the Philippines. At the tail end of the

Battle of Leyte Gulf, Phoenix came under fire from kamikaze craft, and found herself a target of additional bombers.

At the time of the Japanese surrender, Phoenix was en route to Pearl Harbor for overhaul. After the war, until February of 1946, she served with the US Atlantic Fleet.

Awards and Later Service

Argentine sailors aboard ARA General Belgrano

Argentine sailors aboard ARA General Belgrano

For her service in World War II, USS Phoenix was awarded the American Defense Service Medal with "FLEET" clasp, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with eleven battle stars, World War II Victory Medal, Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and a Philippine Liberation Medal with two stars.

On July 3, 1946, Phoenix was decommissioned and sold to Argentina. Under the name Diecisiete de Octubre and later ARA General Belgrano, the former USS Phoenix served in the Argentine Navy until she was sunk in May, 1982 during the Falklands War.

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