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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Columbia

 

The personification of the United States of America. The capital of South Carolina and a river in the northwestern United States between Oregon and Washington.

 

VI

 

(CL-56: dp. 10,000; l. 610'1"; b. 66'6"; dr. 20'; s. 33 k.; cpl. 992; a. 12 6", 12 5"; cl. Cleveland)

 

The sixth Columbia (CL-56) was launched 17 December 1941 by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J.; sponsored by Miss J. A. Paschal; and commissioned 29 July 1942, Captain W. A. Heard in command.

 

Sailing from Norfolk 9 November 1942, Columbia arrived at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, 10 December, and joined in the patrols west of the New Hebrides in support of the continuing struggle for Guadalcanal. On 29 January 1943, while cruising off Rennel Island to cover the movement of transports to Guadalcanal, Columbia's group came under heavy air attack, and the 2-day Battle of Rennel Island followed, with land and carrier-based aircraft joining in to protect the American ships. Columbia aided in splashing three enemy planes in this battle. Based on Efate from 1 February, Columbia continued her patrols in the Solomons, and in June carried out a bombardment and mining mission on the 29th and 30th, coordinated with the New Georgia landings. On 11 and 12 July, she bombarded Munda, and until 5 September, when she sailed for a brief overhaul at Sydney, patrolled southeast of the Solomons.

 

Columbia, rejoined her division on 24 September 1943 off Vella LaVella, as patrols to intercept Japanese shipping continued. As Marines stormed ashore on Bougainville 1 November, Columbia's guns pounded targets on Buka and Bonis and in the Shortlands. On the night of 2 November, her force intercepted a Japanese group sailing to attack transports lying off Bougainville. In the furious fighting of the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay which resulted, Columbia joined in sinking a Japanese cruiser and a destroyer, and turning the attackers back from their goal. She continued to support the Bougainville landings and bombard targets in the Solomons through December.

 

After training exercises in the New Hebrides in January 1944, Columbia helped spearhead the attack and occupation of Nissan, one of the Green Islands, from 13 to 18 February. Early in March her group swept along the line between Truk and Kavieng in search of enemy shipping, then covered the assault and occupation of Emirau Island from 17 to 23 March. On 4 April Columbia sailed from Port Purvis for an overhaul at San Francisco, returning to the Solomons 24 August.

 

Columbia sortied from Port Purvis 6 September 1944 with the covering force for the landings in the Palaus, and remained off Peleliu to provide gunfire support to forces ashore and protection to assault shipping until her return to Manus 28 September. She sailed on 6 October, guarding the force which was to seize Dinagat and other islands at the entrance of Leyte Gulf which must be neutralized before the vast Leyte invasion fleet could enter the Gulf. These islands were taken on 17 October, and Columbia sailed on to give gunfire cover to the main landings 3 days later. But as the landings proceeded, the Japanese fleet sailed south to give battle, and on the night of 24 October, its southern force entered Leyte Gulf through Surigao Strait. Gallant attacks by motor torpedo boats and destroyers on the Japanese force opened this phase of the decisive Battle for Leyte Gulf. Columbia with other cruisers had joined the old BBs and lay in wait. In a classical maneuver, the American ships capped the T of the Japanese column, and opened heavy gunfire which sank the battleship Yamashiro, and forced the heavily damaged cruiser Mogami and other units to retire. Toward dawn, Columbia sped to deliver the final blows which sank destroyer Asagumo, crippled in earlier attacks.

 

After replenishing at Manus early in November, Columbia returned to Leyte Gulf to protect reinforcement convoys from air attack. In December, operating from Kossol Roads in the Palaus, she covered Army landings on Mindoro, and on 14 December, lost four of her men when a gun misfired during an air attack.

 

On 1 January 1945 Columbia sailed for the landings in Lingayen Gulf and on 6 January, as preinvasion bombardments were getting underway, desperate Japanese suicide attacks began. Columbia was first crashed close aboard by one of the kamikaze planes, then was struck on her port quarter by a second. The plane and its bomb penetrated two decks before exploding with tremendously damaging effect; killing 13 and wounding 44 of the crew, putting her after turrets out of action, and setting the ship afire. Prompt flooding of two magazines prevented further explosions, and impressive damage control measures enabled Columbia to complete her bombardment with her two operative turrets, and remain in action to give close support to underwater demolition teams. On the morning of the landings, 9 January, as Columbia lay close inshore and so surrounded by landing craft that she was handicapped in maneuver, she was again crashed by a kamikaze, knocking out six gun directors and gun mount. Twenty-four men were killed and 97 wounded, but drastically short-handed as she was, Columbia again put out fires, repaired damage, and continued her bombardment and fire support. Columbia sailed that night, guarding a group of unloaded transports. Her crew's accomplishments in saving their ship and carrying out their mission without interruption were recognized with the Navy Unit Commendation for this operation.

 

Columbia received emergency repairs at San Pedro Bay, Leyte, and sailed on to an overhaul on the west coast, returning to Leyte 16 June 1945. Three days later she sailed for Balikpapan, Borneo, off which she lay from 28 June, guarding minesweeping which preceded the invasion of the island on 1 July. She covered the landing of Australian troops, and gave them gunfire support through the next day, sailing then to join TF 95 in its repeated sweeps against Japanese shipping in the East China Sea. At the close of the war, she carried inspection parties to Truk, the important Japanese base bypassed during the war, and carried Army passengers between Guam, Saipan, and Iwo Jima until sailing for home 31 October.

 

After calling on the west coast, Columbia arrived at Philadelphia 5 December 1945 for overhaul and service training Naval Reserve men until 1 July 1946. She was decommissioned and placed in reserve at Philadelphia 30 November 1946, and sold 18 February 1959.

 

In addition to the Navy Unit Commendation, Columbia received 10 battle stars for World War II service.