Ships of Pearl Harbor: USS Detroit

By: Bruce Danforth

USS Detroit (CL-8), an Omaha-class light cruiser, was first laid down on November 10, 1920 and commissioned into the US Navy on July 31, 1923.

Detroit’s early years were mainly spent in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Later, she took part in maneuvers and fleet problems in the Caribbean and along the US East Coast.

In 1931, USS Detroit joined the Battle Force, based in San Diego, and for the next several years participated in exercises in Alaskan and Hawaiian seas.

USS Detroit and Pearl Harbor

USS Detroit (CL-8), USS Raleigh (CL-7), USS Utah (AG-16), USS Tangier (AV-8); 7 December, 1941

L-R: USS Detroit (CL-8), USS Raleigh (CL-7), USS Utah (AG-16), USS Tangier (AV-8); 7 December, 1941

As the Navy’s focus started to shift to the growing tensions in the Pacific, USS Detroit—along with the rest of the US Pacific Fleet—was transferred to Pearl Harbor. On the morning of December 7, 1941, she was moored forward of USS Raleigh (CL-7) and USS Utah (AG-16). When the bombs and torpedoes started to fall, both Raleigh and Utah were heavily damaged, especially the target ship Utah, which the Japanese pilots confused for a battleship. Detroit, however, was able to get underway and avoid the worst of the incoming fire. Japanese planes strafed the cruiser, which fired back with her anti-aircraft guns. Miraculously, only one crewman aboard USS Detroit was injured.

Detroit was able to get clear of the harbor and immediately joined the light cruisers USS Phoenix (CL-46) and St. Louis (CL-49) and two destroyers to determine whether Japanese ground forces had landed anywhere on Oahu. Not finding any sign of an invasion, they were ordered to patrol the waters and search for the Japanese attack force. For three days, they searched the Pacific before returning back to Pearl Harbor on December 10.

USS Detroit During World War II

After returning to Pearl Harbor, Detroit was assigned as a convoy escort between Pearl Harbor and the west coast of the United States. One of her first tasks was transporting eight tons of gold and 12 tons of silver that had been removed from Corregidor.

In September of 1942, Detroit escorted two convoys to Naval Station Tutuila in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and took part in the rescue of the crew of a downed American seaplane.

USS Detroit (CL-8) camouflage paint scheme, 1944

USS Detroit (CL-8) camouflage paint scheme, 1944

In November of that year, USS Detroit sailed to Alaska and became flagship for Commander, Task Group 8.6, taking part in patrols between Adak and the Attu Islands.

Until 1944, USS Detroit served in Alaskan waters and provided protection to the Aleutian bases. Before sailing to take up patrol along the west coast of South America, she took part in the bombardments and landings at Kiska. In February of 1945, she was ordered to Ulithi and served as flagship with the 5th Fleet.

On September 1, 1945, Detroit sailed into Tokyo Bay and became one of only two ships—along with USS West Virginia (BB-48)—to be present for both the Pearl Harbor attack and the Japanese surrender four years later.

For her service, USS Detroit was awarded the American Defense Service Medal with “FLEET” clasp, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with six battle stars,World War II Victory Medal, and a Navy Occupation Medal.

After taking part in Operation Magic Carpet, returning US troops to the United States mainland, USS Detroit was decommissioned on January 11, 1946 and sold for scrap the following month.

2 thoughts on “Ships of Pearl Harbor: USS Detroit

  1. Bob Hill says:

    Mr. Milton Mapou, age 97, recently passed away (January, 2019) in Columbus, Ohio. He served on the USS Detroit during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He earned 9 battle stars throughout the war and was severely wounded at Okinawa when his ship, USS Pringle, was sunk by kamikaze suicide planes. Mr. Mapou spent his final years helping twice a week at Motts Military Museum in Groveport, Ohio. It was my honor to have met this wonderful man and hero.

    1. says:

      Aloha Bob,
      Thanks for sharing. Mr. Mapou certainly left a mark on all with whom he came into contact. We published an obituary for him at the time of his passing.

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