Ships of Pearl Harbor: USS San Francisco

August 15, 2018

USS San Francisco (CA-38), a New Orleans-class cruiser, was laid down in September of 1931 and commissioned into the US Navy on February 10, 1934. Captain Royal E. Ingersoll served as the first commander of the new vessel, and saw her through multiple military exercises and Fleet Problems.

On September 14th, 1939, soon after the outbreak of war in Europe, San Francisco sailed to Naval Station Norfolk and joined the Neutrality Patrol. After a few months in the West Indies, she returned to the Pacific in February of 1940.

Newly homeported at Pearl Harbor, San Francisco spent the rest of 1940 most of 1941 shuttling between there and the US West Coast. On October 11th, 1941, she entered the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard for an overhaul scheduled to last until Christmas Day, but the events of December 7th, 1941 altered that plan.

San Francisco at Pearl Harbor

Launch of USS San Francisco (CA-38), 9 March 1933

Launch of USS San Francisco (CA-38), 9 March 1933

On that quiet Sunday morning, San Francisco’s ammunition supply had been placed in storage and her .50” guns were in the process of being overhauled. That made it difficult for her crew to efficiently fight back when, the Japanese fighter and bomber planes launched their attack.

Though she was moored south of Battleship Row, the dock she was nearest wasn’t spared from the ruthless attack. As bombs dropped and machine gun fire pelted the water and the other vessels around San Francisco, her crew kicked into gear and worked to secure her for watertightness. Sailors with a free hand turned their attention to the skies in hopes of fighting back against the incoming bombers.

Using what munitions they could get their hands on, they fired at the incoming warplanes. The rifles and standard machine guns they used were mostly ineffective, but some men took it upon themselves to cross over to the nearby USS New Orleans (CA-32) to assist with anti-aircraft batteries.

Miraculously, USS San Francisco survived the attack without any damage sustained from bombs or torpedoes.

When the attack ended and the smoke cleared, work on San Francisco resumed, moving the Christmas Day completion date up by more than ten days. On December 14th, a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, USS San Francisco returned to service and two days later joined Task Force 14 en route to Wake Island. With the attack on Pearl Harbor still fresh on her crew’s minds, San Francisco headed west. On December 23rd, her orders were changed when Wake Island fell to Japan.

USS San Francisco and the Pacific Theater

USS San Francisco after being hit, 12 November 1942

USS San Francisco (CA-38) after being hit, 12 November 1942

After surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor and the first year of war in the Pacific, USS San Francisco took part in multiple operations as part of Task Force 11, Task Force 18, and later Task Force 64. As part of TF 64, San Francisco took part in the Battle of Cape Esperance—part of the Guadalcanal campaign—in October of 1942.

During the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, USS San Francisco suffered a total of 45 hits before sailing with USS Helena (CL-50) and USS Juneau (CL-52) en route to Espiritu Santo for repairs. Along the way, Juneau was struck by a torpedo fired from the submarine I-26 submarine and sank. San Francisco suffered additional damage, but remained afloat and continued sailing toward Espiritu Santo. For her service in the naval battle, she was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

Toward the end of the war, USS San Francisco sailed toward the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of the Japanese home islands that never materialized.

USS San Francisco After the War

With the war over, USS San Francisco returned to the United States in December of 1945 and was decommissioned on February 10, 1946. In March of 1959, she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register and was sold for scrap later that year.

For her service, USS San Francisco earned 17 battle stars, and four of her crew members were awarded the Medal of Honor, one posthumously. She’s remembered as one of the most decorated ships in the US Navy during the Second World War.

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