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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

Savannah

 

A large city on the east coast of Georgia.

 

IV

 

(CL-42: dp. 9,475; l. 608'; b. 69'; dr. 19'2"; s. 32 k.; cpl. 868; a. 15 6", 8 5", 4 ac.; cl. Brooklyn)

 

Savannah (CL-42) was laid down on 31 May 1934 by the New York Shipbuilding Association, Camden, N.J.; launched on 8 May 1937; sponsored by Miss Jayne Maye Bowden, niece of Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr., of Georgia; and commissioned in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 10 March 1938, Capt. Robert C. Griffin in command.

 

Following a shakedown cruise to Cuba and Haiti in the spring, Savannah returned to Philadelphia on 3 June for alterations followed by final trials off Rockland, Maine. The cruiser, prepared to protect American nationals should war break out in Europe, sailed from Philadelphia for England on 26 September and reached Portsmouth on 4 October. However, the Munich agreement had postponed war, so Savannah returned to Norfolk on 18 October. Following winter maneuvers in the Caribbean, the light cruiser visited her namesake city, Savannah, Ga., from 12 to 20 April 1939. She got underway from Norfolk on 26 May; transited the Panama Canal on 1 June; arrived at San Diego on the 17th; and soon shifted to Long Beach.

 

Savannah arrived at Pearl Harbor on 21 May 1940 and conducted battle readiness and training operations in Hawaiian waters until 8 November. The light cruiser returned to Long Beach on 14 November and soon thereafter was overhauled in the Mare Island Navy Yard. She steamed back into Pearl Harbor on 27 January 1941 and remained on the Hawaiian Sea Frontier until 19 May when she set course for the Panama Canal and reached Boston via Cuba on 17 June.

 

As the flagship of Cruiser Division 8, Savannah conducted Neutrality Patrol in waters ranging south to Cuba and back up the seaboard to the Virginia Capes. On 25 August, she got underway from Norfolk to patrol in the South Atlantic as far as Trinidad and the Martin Vaz Islands in the screen of aircraft carrier, Wasp. The task group then swept north from Bermuda to Argentia, Newfoundland, where Savannah arrived on 23 September. During the next eight weeks, the cruiser helped cover British merchantmen and Allied convoys to within a few hundred miles of the British Isles, replenishing at Casco Bay, Me., or at New York.

 

Savannah was in New York Harbor when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. She sailed that day for Casco Bay, and thence proceeded via Bermuda to Brazil, arriving at Recife on 12 January 1942. She joined the screen of aircraft carrier, Ranger, in patrolling north of Bermuda. That island became the cruiser's base as she watched over Vichy French warships based at Martinique and at Guadaloupe in the French West Indies. She departed Shelly Bay, Bermuda, on 7 June and entered the Boston Navy Yard two days later for an overhaul completed by 15 August. Savannah then sailed for readiness exercises in the Chesapeake Bay that would prepare her for the invasion of North Africa.

 

The cruiser became a unit of Admiral H. Kent Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force which would land some 35,000 Army troops and 250 tanks at three different points on the Atlantic coast of French Morocco. As part of the Northern Attack Group, commanded by Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly, Savannah departed Norfolk on 24 October and rendezvoused with the Western Naval Task Force four days later at a point about 450 miles south southeast of Cape Race. The Task Force, including the outer screen, covered an area approximately 20 by 30 miles, making it the greatest war fleet sent out by the United States up to that time. Shortly before midnight on the night of 7-8 November, three separate task groups closed on three different points on the Moroccan coast to begin Operation “Torch.”

 

Savannah's Northern Attack Group was to land Brigadier General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.'s 9,099 officers and men, including 65 light tanks, on five widely separated beaches on either side of Mehedia. Their objectives were the Port Lyautey city and all-weather airfield, the Wadi Sebou, and the Sale airfield.

 

On the morning of the 8th, Savannah commenced firing against Vichy guns near the Kasba, which had been firing on the landing boats. She also temporarily silenced a battery which had opened up on Roe, enabling the destroyer to avoid disaster. By the next morning, Savannah's six-inch guns had scored a direct hit on one of the two 138mm guns in fortress Kasba and had silenced the other.

 

During that same day, Savannah's scout planes set a new style in warfare by successfully bombing tank columns with depth charges, whose fuses had been altered to detonate on impact. The scout planes, maintaining eight hours of flying time daily, struck at other shore targets, and also kept up antisubmarine patrol. Savannah's planes located an enemy battery which had been firing on the destroyer, Dallas, and eliminated it with two well-placed depth charges.

 

This action aided Dallas in winning the Presidential Unit Citation for safely landing a U.S. Army Raider Battalion up the obstacle-strewn Wadi Sebou just off the airport near Port Lyautey.

 

Savannah's scout planes again bombed and strafed enemy tanks on the Rabat Road on the morning of 10 November. Throughout the day, her gunfire aided the Army advance. Hostilities fittingly ended on Armistice Day, 11 November. Four days later, the light cruiser headed home and reached Norfolk on the last day of November. After brief voyage repairs at New York, she sailed on 25 December to join the South Atlantic Patrol, arriving at Recife, Brazil, on 7 January 1943.

 

Savannah's primary concern was the destruction of Nazi blockade runners in the South Atlantic. Teaming with escort carrier, Santee, and a destroyer screen, she put to sea on 12 January on an arduous patrol that brought no results. She put back into Recife on 15 February and again steamed out to search for blockade runners on the 21st. On 11 March, she departed the formation with destroyer, Eberle, to investigate a ship which had been sighted by an aircraft from Santee.

The German blockade runner, Kota Tjandi, a former Dutch ship called Karin by her crew, was brought to by shots fired across her bow by the two American warships. As a boarding party from Eberle arrived alongside, powerful time bombs, planted just before the Karin's lifeboats got underway, exploded. Eleven of the boarding party were killed, but a Savannah boat rescued three from the water. Savannah also received 72 German survivors on board, quartering them below decks as prisoners of war. She returned to New York on 28 March and was overhauled to prepare her for a Mediterranean assignment.

 

Savannah departed Norfolk on 10 May 1943 to protect troop transports en route to Oran, Algeria. She arrived there on 23 May and began preparing for Operation “Husky”: landings on the coast of Sicily at Gela. The cliffy coast there was topped by heavy coastal defense batteries, and no landing place could be found short of a 5,000-yard stretch of shore about a mile east of the mouth of the Gela River. Poised on the plateau above was the Hermann Goering Panzer Division, ready to strike with other combat troops.

 

Savannah provided fire support to the 1st Infantry "Rangers" before dawn on 10 July. As soon as the first light appeared, the cruiser launched several scout planes. Swift German Messerschmitts intercepted with tragic results. Senior aviator Lt. C. A. Anderson was killed in flight, although his radioman, Edward J. True, was able to land the riddled plane on the sea and get picked up shortly after the plane went under. Three of her four spotter planes were shot down that day.

 

On the morning of 11 July, the ship was the first to respond to a call for naval gunfire at two points on a road leading into Gela. She knocked out several tanks before shifting her fire to the Butera road to aid advancing American infantry. Soon friend and foe became so enmeshed in the battle, that naval gunfire could no longer intervene. The cruiser destroyed more tanks later in the afternoon, however, and she finished out the remaining hours of daylight by helping the "Rangers" repel an Italian infantry attack.

 

The next morning, Savannah supported them with more than 500 rounds of 6-inch projectiles as they advanced toward Butera. That day, she gave medical attention to 41 wounded infantrymen, hit enemy troop concentrations far inland, and shelled their batteries high in the hills. On 13 July, Savannah had but one call for naval gunfire; she answered by hurling several salvos on the hill town of Butera. Before the 1st Division pressed on into the interior, it thanked Savannah for “crushing three infantry attacks and silencing four artillery batteries,” as well as for demoralizing the Italian troops by the effect of her fire. The next day, Savannah sailed for Algiers.

 

Savannah returned to Sicily on 19 July 1943 to support the 7th Army's advance along the coast. On 30 July, carrying the pennant of Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson, the fighting ship arrived at Palermo Harbor to provide daily fire support. Her guns helped to repel enemy aircraft raiding the harbor on 1 and 4 August. On the 8th, her task force supported the landing of the 30th Regimental Combat Team, including artillery and tanks, on a beach nine miles east of Monte Fratello.

 

Savannah returned to Algiers on 10 August to train with Army units for the invasion landings to be made at Salerno. Leaving Mers-el-Kebir Harbor on 5 September, her Southern Attack Force entered Salerno Bay a few hours before midnight of the 8th.

 

Savannah was the first United States ship to open fire against the German shore defenses in Salerno Bay. She silenced a railway battery with 57 rounds, forced the retirement of enemy tanks, and completed eight more fire support missions that day. She continued her valuable support until the morning of 11 September, when she was put out of action.

 

A radio-controlled glide-bomb had been released at a safe distance by a high flying German plane and exploded on sister cruiser, Philadelphia. Savannah increased her speed to 20 knots as a twin-engined Dornier (D-217) bomber came in out of the sun. United States P-38 fighter aircraft and Savannah's gunners, tracking the plane at 18,700 feet, failed to stop the smoke-trailed bomb. It pierced through the armored turret roof of the Number 3 Gun Turret, passed through three decks into the lower handling room where it exploded a gaping hole in the bottom, and tore open a seam in the ship's port side. For a half hour, secondary explosions in the gun room hampered fire-fighting efforts.

 

Working quickly, the crew sealed off flooded and burned compartments, and corrected her list. With some assistance from salvage tugs Hopi and Moreno, she got underway on her own power by 1757, bound for Malta.

 

Savannah lost 197 men in this action. Fifteen others were seriously wounded, while four were sealed in a watertight compartment for 60 hours. These four were not rescued until Savannah had already arrived at Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta, on 12 September.

 

After completing emergency repairs, Savannah departed on 7 December for Philadelphia by way of Tunisia, Algiers, and Bermuda. She arrived on 23 December and remained there for the next eight months. While her battle damage was being repaired, an additional secondary battery and a new antiaircraft battery were installed.

 

Savannah's navy yard overhaul was completed on 4 September 1944; she was underway the next day, and reported to the Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command on 10 September for shakedown and refresher training. She returned to Norfolk on 12 October for readiness training with Cruiser Division 8 and sailed on 21 January 1945 to rendezvous with cruiser, Quincy, carrying President Roosevelt to the Mediterranean, en route to the Crimea, for a conference with Churchill and Stalin.

 

Savannah entered Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta, on 2 February. There, the President and his party debarked and continued on to Yalta by air. A memorial service was held at the graves of Savannah's men killed in action off Salerno, before she departed Valleta on 9 February and steamed to Alexandria, Egypt, to await the President who returned to Quincy on the 12th. The Presidential convoy departed the Nile delta on the 15th and returned to Hampton Roads on 27 February. Savannah got underway the next day and reached her new base, Newport, R.I., on 8 March. Until 24 May, she operated as a schoolship for nucleus crews of ships not yet commissioned.

After a visit to New York and installation of radar-guided fire control equipment for her 40 millimeter antiaircraft guns, Savannah became flagship of a midshipman training squadron under Rear Admiral Frank E. Beatty. She departed Annapolis on 7 June for training at sea with over 400 midshipmen embarked. After two such cruises to Cuba, Savannah debarked the midshipmen at Annapolis on 30 September, took on others, and sailed on 1 October for Pensacola, Fla. She spent the Navy Day celebrations from 25 to 30 October 1945 in her namesake city. She returned to Norfolk on 1 November to prepare for service in the “Magic Carpet” fleet returning veterans home from overseas.

 

Savannah departed Norfolk on 13 November and reached Le Havre on the 20th. The following day, she put to sea with 1,370 men and 67 officer passengers, bringing them to New York Harbor on 28 November. She returned from a similar voyage on 17 December.

 

The light cruiser was shifted to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 19 December 1945 for inactivation overhaul. She was placed in commission in reserve on 22 April 1946 and finally decommissioned on 3 February 1947. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1959, and she was sold for scrapping on 25 January 1966 to the Bethlehem Steel Co.

 

Savannah received three battle stars for World War II service.