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Canberra I (CA-70)


Named in honor of the Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra, which sank after receiving heavy damage during the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942. Canberra was also the first U.S. Navy cruiser to bear the name of a foreign capital.


(CA-70: displacement 13,600 tons; length 673'5''; beam 70'10''; draft 20'6''; speed 33 knots; complement 1,142; armament 9 8-inch, 12 5-inch, 48 40-millimeter, 24 20-millimeter; aircraft 4; class Baltimore)

Pittsburgh (CA-70) was laid down on 3 September 1941 at Quincy, Mass., by Bethlehem Steel Corp.; renamed Canberra on 16 October 1942, a little over two months after the Australian warship’s loss off Savo Island; launched on 19 April 1943; and sponsored by Lady Alice C. Dixon, the wife of Sir Owen Dixon, the Australian Minister to the United States.

USS Canberra (CA-70)
Caption: Canberra underway in Boston harbor, 14 October 1943, during her delivery trip from her building yard to where she will be commissioned. A motor minesweeper (YMS) can be seen steaming nearby. Note Canberra’s two catapults aft, and two aircraft recovery cranes, and the single-color (vice a disruptive pattern) camouflage. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 98383)

Canberra was commissioned on 14 October 1943, at the Boston [Mass.] Navy Yard, Capt. Alexander R. Early, USN, in command. The following month, on 25 November, she stood out from Boston and headed to the Caribbean Sea to commence her shakedown training. The heavy cruiser briefly stopped over at Norfolk, Va., from 29 November to 3 December, and then arrived in her primary training area in the Gulf of Paria, Port of Spain, Trinidad, British West Indies, on 8 December. Following several weeks of rigorous training the warship got underway for Norfolk, arriving there on the 27th. A few days later, on 31 December, Canberra pulled into the South Boston Dock Yard for her post-shakedown overhaul.

Ready for sea on 14 January 1944, Canberra, escorted by the destroyer Norman Scott (DD-690), got underway for operations in the Pacific Theater. She transited the Panama Canal on 19 January, and arrived in San Diego, Calif., on the 26th. The following morning the warship embarked 634 enlisted passengers and stood out for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii. Shortly after her arrival on 1 February, Canberra participated in training exercises in Hawaiian waters with Task Force (TF) 15.

On 10 February 1944, Canberra stood out from Pearl Harbor and proceeded singly to join Task Group (TG) 58.4 (a unit of TF 58), off the Namur Islands [Roi-Namur], Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, on 14 February. Steaming with the lead ship in her task group, the aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3), Canberra shaped a course for Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands. The task group arrived north of Eniwetok Atoll on 16 February, and in accordance with Operating Order 4-44, carrier aircraft commenced launching air strikes in the area. Following a week of aerial bombing and amphibious landings by U.S. troops, Eniwetok Atoll fell to Allied forces on 28 February. With operations in the area complete, Canberra shaped a course for Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, arriving there with her task group on 1 March.

Canberra got underway with TG 58.4 on 8 March 1944, bound for Espíritu Santo, New Hebrides. While en route on 9 March, “King Neptune and his Royal Party came on board and all pollywogs were duly initiated.” The heavy cruiser anchored at Espíritu Santo on the 13th, and then commenced an overhaul and replenishment period. On 23 March, Canberra steamed to a point 165 miles north of Tauu [Takuu] Island, New Guinea, arriving there on the 27th, and joining company with TF 50. Shortly after her arrival, the task force split into three carrier groups and headed west to conduct an aerial assault of Palau, Yap [Wa’ab] and Woleai [Oleai]. Operating as part of TG 58.1, Canberra arrived with Lexington (CV-16) in a designated launching area on 30 March, and commenced carrier attacks on the islands of Palau and Yap. The task group steamed west on 1 April, and conducted an air assault against Woleai that lasted through the 3rd, after which, Canberra and the others proceeded to Majuro Atoll, arriving there on 6 April.

Setting out on 13 April 1944, Canberra got underway with TG 58.3, which included the carriers Enterprise (CV-6) and Lexington, and shaped a course for “Hollandia—Wakde to attack and bombard the area,” in an effort to assist TF 77 in its capture. The task group arrived in its designated attack area on 21 April, and immediately commenced air strikes in support of U.S. troop landings at Tanahmerah Bay, New Guinea. On the 25th, Canberra proceeded east with orders to support air strikes against Truk [Chuuk], Caroline Islands, as well as a surface bombardment of Satawan Atoll and the island of Ponape [Pohnpei]. Arriving on 29 April, task force carrier aircraft immediately commenced bombing operations. At 0729 on 30 April, Canberra broke away from the task group and joined Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 4, to bombard Satawan Island. After rejoining TF 58 on 1 May, Canberra steamed to Majuro Atoll, mooring there for repairs on 4 May.

Canberra got underway on 15 May 1944, with TG 58.6, and supported air strikes against Marcus Island [Minami-Tori-Shima] (19—20 May) and Wake Island (23—24 May). She returned to Majuro Atoll on 26 May, but got back underway again the following week to join TF 58, for the “capture, occupation and defense of enemy aircraft and aircraft facilities at Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima.” Joining the task force on 8 June, Canberra steamed eastward of Guam, with Hornet (CV-12) and Yorktown (CV-10), operating as TG 58.1, to launch another series of raids.

On 11 June 1944, the carriers in Canberra’s task group executed several air strikes against Guam and Rota, Mariana Islands. On the 14th, Canberra joined TG 58.4, and in the course of the following week, carrier aircraft from her group successfully attacked Chichi Jima (15 June) and Iwo Jima (16 June). On the 18th, having received word of an approaching Japanese naval force, the task groups of TF 58 rendezvoused at sea and commenced steaming west in force.

Igniting the Battle of the Philippine Sea, on 19 June 1944, a force of Japanese carrier aircraft, searching for the U.S. fleet was intercepted and driven off by U.S. carrier fighters. Often referred to as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot,” the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) lost more than 300 planes in the action. The Japanese fleet re-appeared on 20 June “at extreme range,” and all available planes were dispatched to attack. As the U.S. planes returned to their carriers well after dark, Canberra and many of the other ships used searchlights and star shells to guide them back to the fleet. Canberra also maneuvered independently to rescue some of the several pilots who ran out of fuel and had to make water landings.

That night, after sighting a red Very Star 4,000 yards off her port bow at 2103, Canberra steered in that direction, picking them up in her searchlight beam and then coming alongside their rubber boat, stopping all engines and backing full, with the uninjured Lt. (j.g.) Richard P. Regester and ARM2c Robert E. Liquin, from Bombing Squadron (VB) 1, who had flown off Yorktown earlier that day in their Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver, climbing unaided up the side soon thereafter. Almost immediately afterward, Canberra’s men topside sighted another Very Star about 5,000 yards away. The cruiser began to alter course, but soon spotted a plane landing ahead of the ship and on the starboard bow. Since the cruiser noted two destroyers heading in the direction of the Very star just previously seen, she steered toward the sinking Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat from Fighting Squadron (VF) 2, whose tail was still visible. Soon, after again backing down and drifting in the Pacific swells, she welcomed the uninjured Lt. (j.g.) Merriwell W. Vineyard, USNR, from Hornet.

The following day [21 June 1944], Canberra launched her Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N-1 Kingfishers (planes no.33 and no.22) less than a quarter of an hour into the afternoon watch [1213], Lt. (j.g.) John D. Gordon at the controls of one, with ARM1c William W. Danielson in his back seat, and Ens. William F. Allen flying solo in the other, and with two fighters flying cover for them, set course for latitude 15°55'N, longitude 133°25'E, to proceed to an area 10 miles to the northeast of that point to rescue two groups of survivors, at the scene of the air actions of the previous day.

Canberra’s aircrews found three men in good condition and brought them back: Lt. (j.g.) Warren E. McClellan, USNR (who had lost his life raft when it sank with his soaked parachute after he had bailed out of his damaged Avenger), and ARM2c Selbie Greenhalgh from Lexington’s Torpedo Squadron (VT) 16 (McClellan’s radioman) and ARM3c Ellis C. Babcock from the small carrier Belleau Wood (CVL-24)’s VT-24, who had had to bail out during the attack on the Japanese carrier Hiyo when the Avenger in which he was riding as radioman was set afire during its run-in to the target and his pilot severely wounded. One of Boston’s Kingfishers rescued Lt. (j.g.) McClellan’s gunner, AMM2c John S. Hutchinson.

At sundown on 21 June 1944, the task force ended its pursuit of the Japanese fleet and proceeded to conduct multiple air raids. On the 22nd, the task group to which Canberra was attached “steamed through the area in which recovery of our own aircraft was made on the evening of June 20th. On that night,” her war diarist reflected, “many of our planes were forced to make water landings when they ran out of gasoline or failed to find a carrier to land on. Many rubber boats were found in the water during the morning. All were investigated, but no survivors were found afloat.” At 1050, the cruiser catapulted her Kingfishers, survivors having been reported only 53 miles distant, bearing 335°.

Canberra’s OS2Ns returned a little less than a half hour into the afternoon watch [1226], one carrying Lt. Cmdr. John D. Blitch, commanding officer of Wasp’s VB-14 who had taken part in the attack on the Japanese fleet on the afternoon of the 20th but had had to crash-land his Curtiss SB2C-1 Helldiver 25 miles from TF 58 when he had passed out. Although Canberra’s aviators found Blitch weak and having suffered “several lacerations” from his forced landing they pronounced his condition “good.”

On 23 June 1944, carrier aircraft attacked Rota, and then on 24 June, attempted a major air assault on Iwo Jima. During the latter attack, a furious air battle ensued and although it prevented U.S. planes from inflicting any significant damage to military facilities on Iwo Jima, the Japanese lost nearly 100 planes; while U.S. casualties remained relatively minor.

Canberra steamed to Eniwetok Atoll for replenishment (25—27 June 1944) and then returned to the Chichi Jima and Iwo Jima area (30 June—3 July) with TG 58.2, supporting the carriers Wasp (CV-18) and Franklin (CV-13). Air strikes resumed on 4 July, Independence Day, and that same day, Canberra bombarded the west side of Iwo Jima with CruDiv 10. Subsequent carrier strikes on Rota and Guam occurred between 6 and 21 July, and contributed directly to the softening of Japanese defenses and the support of amphibious landings by U.S. troops at Guam on the 21st.

On 22 July 1944, TF 58 shifted its focus to the Caroline Islands. Arriving in their striking area on 25 July, Canberra supported task force carriers as their planes pounded Palau (25—27 July). On the 30th, Canberra shaped a course for Eniwetok Atoll, and later anchored there on 2 August. While Canberra underwent an overhaul at Eniwetok Atoll, TF 58’s designation was changed to TF 38.

Returning to the fight on 29 August 1944, Canberra stood out with TU 38.1.2 (steaming with Hornet and Wasp) to conduct air strikes in the Palau Islands and the Philippine Islands. Arriving within 100 miles of Palau on 7 September, carrier aircraft initiated their first of several attacks. On 9 September, the task force arrived 50 miles east of Mindanao, Philippines, and launched several air attacks against the island. Beginning on 12 September, the task force executed subsequent attacks on Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros and Bohol Islands, Philippines. Steaming north of Morotai Island and Maluku Islands on 15 September, Canberra’s task force provided invaluable air support for landing operations.

On 19 September 1944, in accordance with Commander Fast Carrier Task Force Pacific Operation Order 10-44, Canberra steamed with her task force to a designated attack zone located 110 miles east of Luzon, Philippines. Arriving during the early morning hours of 22 September, at 0600, TF 38 carrier aircraft commenced launching air strikes against Manila, Philippines. That same day, Canberra’s task group repulsed a Japanese air attack and then, due to reports of an incoming typhoon retired to the southeast. On the 24th, Canberra steamed with her task group to Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, arriving there on 28 September.

Canberra spent less than a week re-provisioning at Manus, before standing out again with TG 38.1. Steaming from 2—7 October 1944, her task group rendezvoused with the rest of TF 38, 150 miles northeast of Palau and shaped a course for Okinawa Shima.

USS Canberra (CA-70)
Caption: Canberra underway at sea, 10 October 1944, in Measure 32, Design 18D camouflage, light gray (5-L), ocean gray (5-O) and dull black (82); a Fletcher (DD-445)-class destroyer is in the background (left) in what appears to be a darker pattern camouflage. Capt. Early later hypothesized that the Japanese had been attracted to his ship vice the carriers a few days later when she was attacked in low visibility conditions right after sunset because of the light (5-L)-painted areas. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-284472, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Arriving at a designated launching point 110 miles off Okinawa, on 10 October 1944, task force aircraft then commenced launching air attacks on the island. The next day, Canberra’s task group launched a fighter sweep against targets in norther Luzon and then steamed to a point approximately 75 miles east of Formosa, arriving there on the 12th.

Following a pre-dawn attack by Japanese aircraft on Friday, 13 October 1944, TG 38.1’s carriers commenced launching planes at 0600. Operations progressed throughout the day without any significant developments until approximately 1833 that evening, when eight Japanese torpedo planes executed a surprise attack on the task group. Three of the planes were splashed upon approach but four others managed to make a run on Canberra, coming in low off her starboard quarter. Anti-aircraft fire from Canberra’s gunners brought down three of the planes before they could reach her. The remaining plane also went down in flames, about 1,500 yards astern, but not before the pilot managed to fire an aerial torpedo which punched into Canberra’s starboard side and exploded just below her armor belt, between the no. 3 and no. 4 firerooms. At that time, Canberra was operating only 85 miles from Formosa.

The blast, which created “a large ball of flame that shot up about mast high and jolted the ship with a whipping sensation fore and aft,” resulted in the deaths of Ens. Howard E. Goodman, USNR, and 22 enlisted men. Additionally, nearly 4,500 tons of water flooded into the two firerooms and adjacent engine room, leaving the cruiser dead in the water. Despite 90% of the crew having “never been to sea before,” their training guided them as they jumped immediately into action, rushing to quench flames and even forming a bucket brigade to bail water from the third deck.

Commanded by Rear Adm. Laurance T. DuBose (ComCruDiv 13) in light cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60), TG 30.3 was assembled at the close of the second dog watch (2000) to protect Canberra, consisting of light cruisers Birmingham (CL-62) and Mobile (CL-63) and heavy cruiser Wichita (CA-45), and six destroyers (four from TG 38.3 and two from TG 38.1). While TG 38.1 stood by “to render assistance and protection,” Wichita completed connecting a towing cable and moved slowly ahead, and, after receiving a dispatch from Commander Third Fleet (ComThirdFleet) (Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr.) to proceed to 17°N latitude and 130°E longitude, altered course accordingly. The next afternoon [14 October] the small carrier Cabot (CVL-28) joined the task group to furnish air cover. Later that day, eight different bogies approached, but none attacked.

The fleet tug Munsee (ATF-107) joined the task group a little over an hour into the mid watch on 15 October 1944, and relieved Wichita of towing the powerless Canberra at 0700, moving ahead a half hour later. Soon thereafter [0745], TG 30.3 altered course to join another task group formed around the torpedoed light cruiser Houston (CL-81), being towed by Boston, which eventually reached the area a little after noon. Meanwhile, during the morning watch (0400-0800), the force’s radar detected bogies in the vicinity, but none neared the U.S. ships. That afternoon, Cowpens (CVL-25) joined, as did four more destroyers; TG 30.3 proceeded at its best towing speed, 4.5 knots, to rendezvous with TG 30.2.

The attacks on TF 38, taken with Japanese propaganda broadcasts that reflected a greatly inflated overestimation of damage inflicted on the U.S. ships, prompted Adm. Halsey to deploy TG 38.2 (Rear Adm. Gerald F. Bogan) and TG 38.3 (Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman) to the eastward to set upon Japanese forces if they ventured forth to finish off what enemy propagandists referred to as the “crippled remnants” of the U.S. carrier forces. The men in TG 30.3 began referring to themselves as a wag on board Cabot did, as “Streamlined Bait.”

A bogie appeared roughly to the northwest a little over an hour into the mid watch on 16 October 1944, and remained in proximity until 0500, when it disappeared from the radar. Contingency plans began to take shape to address three scenarios. At 0945, Boston cast Houston loose, and the fleet tug Pawnee (ATF-74) took up the task of towing, the transfer having been delayed two hours by a switchboard fire on board Houston, and moved slowly ahead. Less than four hours later, however, at 1320, radar picked up two large bogies closing from the northwest and west, each consisting of an estimated 25 to 30 planes. Cabot and Cowpens each launched fighters to intercept.

At 1341, Canberra went to air defense stations, and four minutes later what observers identified as a Yokosuka P1Y Navy bomber, Ginga [Milky Way] “came in low from astern and launched a torpedo” which hit the already hobbled Houston on her starboard quarter. Machine gun fire from Canberra, however, reached out at the Frances as it roared low down the heavy cruiser’s starboard side, and crashed into the unyielding ocean 1,500 yards off her starboard bow.

At 1354, a second torpedo plane—identified as a Nakajima B6N carrier attack bomber Tenzan [Heavenly Mountain] came in from astern, heading for Santa Fe, on her port quarter. Again Canberra’s antiaircraft guns spoke, setting the Jill on fire. The Japanese attempted to crash TG 30.3’s flagship but, trailing a spray of flaming gasoline on the 20-millimeter gunners in the eyes of the ship (who included rescued marines from Houston who had volunteered to man guns on board Santa Fe), fell into the water close to her bow. As an observer on board Cabot later recalled: “a relatively small group of Cabot planes, ably aided by the Cowpens, stood off and broke up a well-coordinated Jap attack of 60-75 planes that tried to get at the cripples…” Before the day was over, Houston transferred “about 300 of her crew to accompanying destroyers.” More transfers ensued.

During the mid watch on 17 October 1944, a bogie (“believed to be a Japanese search plane,”) appeared, detected at 0209, it faded at 0314. No enemy air attacks, however, followed. That afternoon, as the slow voyage toward Ulithi continued, Canberra received 14,624 gallons of potable water from the destroyer Cogswell (DD-651). A half hour past the mid-point of the first watch (2230), when Rear Adm. DuBose’s cruisers (and Destroyer Division 100) “departed on duty assigned,” Rear Adm. Lloyd J. Wiltse assumed command of TG 30.3.

Rear Adm. DuBose had had Santa Fe’s print shop produce a special scroll: “Greeting to all who should see these presents; know ye: that reposing special trust and confidence in the superficial qualities of [name]; he has been appointed Fall Guy in the Streamlined Bait Group of the Battered Remnants of the Blue Fleet.” Signatures of the admiral and the respective commanding officers of each ship in the “bait group” authenticated the document, printed for distribution to every man in the ships’ companies. “Appropriately,” one observer noted, “illustrations of a half-dozen types of bait, including sitting ducks,” adorned the certificate.

“Upon leaving I would like to compliment all hands on a difficult job well done,” Rear Adm. DuBose told TG 30.3, “It had unlimited possibilities. Our injured friends are well on the way to safety thanks to our gunners and unexcelled and tireless pilots. Thanks also to Munsee and Pawnee. Our only regret is that Com3rdFlt fishing was so poor considering the quality of the bait. Good luck.”

The next morning [18 October 1944], a single bogie showed up to the northwest during the mid watch at 0226, dropped some “window,” then “disappeared from the radar screen at 0414; again, no Japanese strikes materialized. At daylight, oilers joined the formation to fuel the ships screening the retirement of the two damaged cruisers; Pecos (AO-65) topped off Boston, Cabot, and three destroyers before demonstrating superb seamanship going alongside Pawnee and fueling her as she towed Houston.  

At 0655 on 19 October 1944, the salvage vessel Current (ARS-22) sighted TG 30.3 as it steamed roughly to the north, 13 miles distant, and along with the rescue tug ATR-50, reported for duty with that group about an hour and a half later. Soon thereafter, Current transferred a salvage party of one officer and three enlisted men to Houston. Subsequently, at 0920, Ens. Philip S. Criblet, E-V(G), USNR, Current’s assistant salvage officer, along with MoMM2c(T) John J. Wohlfit, USNR, and SF2c John R. Barfuss boarded Canberra. Current also sent additional gear.

At 0630 on 20 October 1944, Cabot, as directed by ComThirdFleet, along with the destroyers The Sullivans (DD-537), Stephen Potter (DD-538) and Miller (DD-535) departed “on duty assigned,” while the escort carrier Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75) and the escort vessels Steele (DE-8), Seid (DE-256), Samuel S. Miles (DE-183) and Bebas (DE-10), operating as a hunter-killer group, joined. Soon thereafter, the high speed minesweeper Trever (DMS-16) and the War Shipping Administration [Moran Towing & Transportation Co., Inc.] chartered tug Watch Hill joined the company.

Boston came alongside Canberra a little less than three hours later (0932), and delivered 24,765gallons of potable water. The watch changed for the tugs. Soon thereafter (1000), at the mid-point of the forenoon watch, Watch Hill took a wire from Munsee and both ships towed the wounded heavy cruiser in tandem. A little over an hour later, the fleet tug Zuni (ATF-95) joined the task group and, after taking a wire from her stalwart sister Pawnee, began towing Houston in tandem.

Amidst those positive signs, however, tragedy visited Canberra a little more than a half-hour before the end of the afternoon watch (1525), when Ens. Criblet drowned in the forward engine room as he dove to inspect repairs made to the leaks in preparation for pumping out that compartment. A little over an hour later, with problems continuing on board concerning the salvage work, the report of a Japanese submarine lurking in the vicinity prompted a change of course to avoid that external threat. Later that afternoon, ComThirdFleet orders detached Wichita, Cowpens, and the destroyer Nicholson (DD-424). In the meantime, Current had come alongside Canberra, initially transferring shoring timber obtained from Boston, then transferred Bos’n Peter Kowalchyk, the salvage vessel’s diving officer, by breeches buoy to take charge of his ship’s salvage and diving party on board the cruiser in the wake of Ens. Criblet’s tragic death.

Salvage continued slowly, dogged with difficulty. A tow line from Zuni parted during the night and she received orders to put out another wire to Pawnee after daylight rather than attempt the evolution in the dark. On board Canberra, securing a patch to the hole in the bulkhead around the shaft in the forward engine room enabled pumping to begin, but clogged strainers allowed no progress to be made in dewatering the compartment. The next morning [21 October 1944] Current delivered gear to Houston, then sent over gear, and CM1c Charles Cockrell, another diver from her ship’s company, to the heavy cruiser.

Those whose duties permitted that morning attended services for their departed shipmates. Lt. Francis J. Dohman, ChC-V(S), USNR, the cruiser’s Roman Catholic chaplain, conducted the funeral for Ens. Criblet at 0945 on 21 October 1944. Concurrent services honored Ens. Goodman (who, like Ens. Criblet, hailed from New Jersey) and the 22 enlisted men. Sailors committed Criblet’s body to the deep at 1008. Current mustered her crew at quarters, and lowered her colors to half mast, in memory of Ens. Criblet, who had conducted “heroic” work on board Canberra.

Less than a half hour after those solemnities had been observed, Watch Hill relieved Munsee, and ATR-50 took a wire from the WSA tug to tow Canberra in tandem. A similar evolution occurred during the afternoon watch, when Zuni relieved Pawnee towing Houston, and Current took a wire from Zuni, and the tug and the versatile salvage vessel began towing the light cruiser in tandem. A half hour into the first dog watch (1630), ComThirdFleet orders detached Pawnee and Munsee, their difficult duties well done, to proceed to Peleliu.

Pumping operations in Canberra’s forward engine room began an hour into the mid watch (0100) on 22 October 1944. Those efforts, like the ones previous, likewise proved unsuccessful, the pumps unable to lower the water level any more than one foot. Later that same day, the arrival in the vicinity of PBM Mariners based at Ulithi to provide air cover proved comforting as the ships plodded toward the Western Carolines. During the second dog watch the next day (23 October), Burns (DD-588), one of the screening destroyers, prosecuted a submarine contact, dropping a pattern of depth charges, with no discernable result. Meanwhile, efforts to pump out Canberra’s forward engine room, even using siphons to assist the process, again proved unsuccessful.

As the ships neared the Carolines on the 24th, elements of the screen changed again; in accordance with ComThirdFleet orders, destroyers Farenholt (DD-491), Grayson (DD-435), McCalla (DD-488) and Woodworth (DD-460) joined, while Rear Adm. Wiltsie, in Boston, took Boyd (DD-544) and Charette (DD-581) to other assignments, Bell (DD-587), Burns and Cowell (DD-547) received orders reassigning them, too. Capt. Early assumed command of TG 30.3 and set course for Ulithi with a time of arrival at daybreak on 27 October.

Concerned over possessing no information as to “the capacity of the repair facilities at Ulithi” Capt. Early wrote to Commander Service Squadron (ComServRon) 10 expressing his [Early’s] doubt as to “the wisdom of [Canberra] entering there unless one or both of the following steps could be accomplished.” First, “stop the leaks in both engine rooms and pump both spaces out. Effect repairs the forward port engine and to the evaporating plant, and second, to “patch the hole in the skin of the ship made by the torpedo.” Alternately, Early proposed proceeding to the Admiralties, and listed the ships in TG 30.3 that could make Manus without obtaining additional supplies.

Shortly before the end of the morning watch on 26 October 1944, Canberra lowered one of her Kingfishers into the water at 0744 to make the mail flight to Ulithi to deliver Capt. Early’s communication to ComServRon 10. Unfortunately, the plane, still hooked on, encountered a swell that tossed its crew into the sea. Canberra retrieved the plane while Woodworth retrieved the crew at 0750, turning the men over to their parent ship at the start of the forenoon watch (0800).

Canberra tried a second time to send off a mail flight, hoisting out a Kingfisher at 0920. The plane began to take off but hit a swell and turned turtle, hurling Lt. Norman E. Westphal and Lt. John D. Gordon (who had figured in the rescue flights in the wake of the Philippine Sea battle) into the water. Grayson went alongside the wrecked aircraft and brought Westphal and Gordon on board “none the worse for wear” but the plane had to be scuttled with 40- and 20-millimeter fire. Canberra’s commanding officer apparently felt at that point that taking his official mail to Ulithi would have to be accomplished by ship, not by plane. Consequently, Samuel S. Miles came alongside the cruiser at 1055 to receive the mail, shoving off to effect the delivery run at 1058.

Canberra and her consorts made arrival off the Mugai Channel at Ulithi at sunrise [0530] on 27 October 1944, and soon thereafter “various tugs stood out” to assist TG 30.3’s entry into the waters of the atoll. Houston stood in first, in tow, with Canberra being swung left to clear her path. ATR-50 cast off from the heavy cruiser at 0655. Inside of 10 minutes, the large infantry landing craft LCI(L)-79 came alongside the heavy cruiser and delivered harbor charts. Watch Hill then towed Canberra toward the channel entrance, as other tugs stood by to help in the entry process. As Mississinewa (AO-59)’s war diarist wrote later of the entrance of the two battered cruisers: “The Houston and Canberra arrived today. It would have been encouraging to those still on board [those ships], is SOPA [Senior Officer Present Afloat] had ordered all ships present to blow their whistles for one minute, as a tribute to those gallant seamen.”

Lt. (j.g.) David E. Burke, D-V(S), USNR, ATR-34’s executive officer and navigator came on board to advise Capt. Early of the peculiarities of local navigation at 1007, and a little over a half hour later, Canberra passed through the entrance buoys (1040), then the torpedo nets (1058), and swung right toward the anchorage. His advisory task completed, Lt. (j.g.) Burke departed the ship at 1129. Capt. Early then sent a message to the ships of TG 30.3 over the TBS (low-frequency voice radio) dissolving the task group, its sometimes perilous passage finally over. A trio of tugs secured alongside Canberra a little over a half hour into the afternoon watch (1232), and the cruiser dropped anchor in 23 fathoms of water in Berth 122, at which point the tugs cast off.

Capt. Early praised Watch Hill’s rendering “excellent service during the entry and in making the anchorage,” and lauded Capt. J. DePuey, her master, who “displayed excellent seamanship and ability” in bringing Canberra to anchor in her assigned berth “without difficulty.”

The repair ship Ajax (AR-6) came alongside during the afternoon watch to provide salvage and effect repairs. Soon, the auxiliary was furnishing power and steam, and supplying potable water to Canberra, enabling the cruiser to increase her water allowance. Her crew had not bathed with fresh water since 15 October 1944, when the water had been turned off, and the ship had kept fresh water use to a bare minimum, for cooking and drinking purposes only.

On 10 November 1944, sailing of the convoy having been postponed by typhoon conditions (6-9 November), Canberra made all preparations to get underway 20 minutes into the afternoon watch (1220), then got underway for Manus a little less than an hour later (1319) in company with escort vessels Harold C. Thomas (DE-21) (screen commander), La Prade (DE-409), the minesweepers Change (AM-159), Control (AM-164), and Counsel (AM-165) and the cruiser’s old consort Watch Hill, which connected up Canberra’s anchor cable with the tug’s tow wire at 1352 and stood out.

Shortly less than two hours later, TU 30.9.6 passed through the entrance buoys and the screening vessels took their stations. The following morning, a Martin PBM-3D Mariner (17-P-2) Lt. (j.g.) Gordon H. Gile, A-V(N), USNR, patrol plane commander, based at Ulithi, reported for anti-submarine patrol (ASP) duty an hour before the end of the morning watch [0700], to provide air cover for TU 30.9.6 for the passage to Manus.

All proceeded uneventfully until Canberra received a report a little less than an hour before the end of the first watch [2050] on 12 November 1944, that 17-P-2 had landed on the water. At 2130, Capt. Early, as Commander TU 30.9.6, detached La Prade to proceed to the PBM’s position to carry out a rescue mission.

The story of what had befallen the Mariner would soon emerge. While on the back leg of a sector search, 17-P-2 had begun to vibrate violently, so much so that those on board thought the plane would shake itself apart. Lt. (j.g.) Gile and Ens. Sherman V. Wilson, A-V(N), USNR, the second pilot, checked their instruments and found nothing amiss. Ultimately, however, Gile traced the violent vibration to its source, the port engine. Shutting it down, he feathered the propeller, which had shed 14 inches of the tip of its number one blade. BuNo 45346 lost airspeed and began descending.

Despite Gile and his crew lightening the plane by jettisoning all guns, depth charges, and 700 gallons of fuel, the PBM-3D continued to drop inexorably toward the ocean. At 50-feet altitude, Gile had Ens. Wilson drop the flaps, then he set the plane down in moderate seas in complete darkness. Soon, however, one of the 20-30 foot swells wrested off the port wing float, and the port wing began to submerge. Immediately after landing, Gile ordered his crew to the starboard wing to balance the plane. The patrol plane commander, first out of the cockpit, scrambled to the starboard wingtip with Ens. Wilson on his heels; by the time the former reached the end of the span, he found it submerged 15 feet. His quick action, however, prevented the plane from turning turtle and it came back to an even keel.

In the meantime, La Prade steamed toward the damaged PBM-3D, as did the small seaplane tender Onslow (AVP-48), which had been sent from Ulithi.  The escort vessel fired a flare at 2313 on 12 November 1944, then spotted an answering flare to the northeast. Changing course, La Prade proceeded in that direction, then went to general quarters at the start of the mid watch on the 13th and changed speed to 15 knots. Lowering her motor whaleboat at 0030, the ship sent over a salvage party, which returned on board with 17-P-2’s radar and some communication equipment, and word that Lt. (j.g.) Gile had informed Lt. Henry V. Mueller, D-M, USNR, who had led La Prade’s salvage party, that the crew would remain with the plane until the salvage vessel (Onslow) would arrive.  La Prade, meanwhile, began steaming in a clockwise direction, 2,000 yards from the plane, at 15 knots.

Relieved on station by Onslow almost exactly 24 hours later, during the mid watch on 14 November 1944, La Prade transferred the salvaged equipment to the tender and set course to rejoin TU 30.9.6, steaming at 20 knots. The escort vessel began a retiring search late in the mid watch on the 15th. Capt. Early ordered Control at 0915 on the 14th to take station roughly south-southwest of the task unit 15 miles away to intercept La Prade, but Control returned early in the first dog watch that same day.

A Consolidated PBY Catalina from Manus arrived over the task unit to provide ASP at 0933 on 15 November 1944, and La Prade rejoined a little over an hour later and took a screening station. At 1310, minesweeper Counsel passed a line to Watch Hill and the two being towing in tandem, increasing the speed of TU 30.9.6 to 5.8 knots. The PBY departed at 1355; another plane from Manus flew an ASP overhead the following day (1048-1645), and during the morning watch on the 17th. A division of land-based Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers arrived from Manus at 0910 that day, TU 30.9.6 making landfall at their destination over three quarters of an hour later.

Counsel cast off at 1548 from her position ahead of Watch Hill, and took her station in the screen as the task unit approached Seeadler Harbor, Canberra and her consorts standing by while a 15-ship convoy sortied. Standing toward the harbor entrance, the cruiser passed through the anti-torpedo net, as various tugs stood by to assist. Watch Hill cast off at 1737, and soon her charge dropped anchor in Berth 1 at 1740. As he had done when the task unit had reached Ulithi, Capt. Early dissolved TU 30.9.6, directing the ships to proceed in accordance with their orders. Now, the next act in the story of Canberra’s progress toward returning to active service would take place as she awaited an availability in dry dock, receiving additional repairs in advance base sectional dock ABSD-2, which she entered on the morning of 1 December.

USS Canberra
Caption: Tugs assist Canberra into ABSD-2 at 0820, 1 December 1944, to undergo repairs; she will be joined later that morning by the destroyers Claxton (DD-571) and Killen (DD-593). Canberra appears to be painted in Measure 32, Design 18D camouflage, light gray (5-L), ocean gray (5-O) and dull black (82). (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-304071, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Able to proceed under her own power due to the work of ABSD-2’s able artificers, and others, Canberra stood out on 13 January 1945, and steamed with the heavily damaged destroyer Hughes (DD-410) and voyaged first to Pearl Harbor (23 January), and thence back to her homeport in Boston (27 January—16 February) where she entered the South Boston Annex for permanent repairs that kept her there through end of the war in both the Atlantic/European and Pacific Theaters.

On 16 October 1945, Canberra got underway for local training operations at Casco Bay, Maine. The heavy cruiser then steamed from Boston to Baltimore, Md., (23—25 October) to participate in Navy Day celebrations. Standing out on 29 October, Canberra steamed to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where she arrived on 3 November, and commenced a month of intensive refresher training exercises that culminated in a major inspection and a 24-hour shore bombardment exercise off Culebra, Puerto Rico.

With orders to report to the Pacific Fleet, Canberra got underway from Caribbean waters on 1 December 1945, and steamed to San Pedro, Calif., later arriving there on the 14th. She steamed to San Francisco on 9 January 1946, and remained moored there until 29 March, at which time she got underway for the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., arriving on 1 April, where she remained into the following spring. Canberra was placed out of commission and in reserve on 7 March 1947.

Just five years after her decommissioning, Canberra was selected to become the U.S. Navy’s second guided missile cruiser. On 4 January 1952, her hull classification and number were changed from heavy cruiser (CA-70) to guided missile heavy cruiser (CAG-2), and she was subsequently towed from Bremerton to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard by the fleet tugs Tawasa (ATF-92) and Sarsi (ATF-111) (22 January--13 March 1952), with the yard assuming temporary custody soon after arrival (14 March), then full custody a little over a month later (15 April), with the ship being moved from the Reserve Basin to Pier 6 East. Transferred thence to the New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J., and arriving there on 30 June 1952, the warship soon began undergoing conversion and modernization. Of particular note, the warship’s after 8-inch turret (Turret III) was replaced with two Convair RIM-2 Terrier anti-aircraft missile launchers.

USS Canberra (CAG-2)
Caption: Canberra, having just completed conversion to carry a battery of Terrier guided missiles, stands down the Delaware River after leaving the New York Shipbuilding Company yard to conduct builder’s trials, 14 May 1956. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 98388)

Canberra was re-commissioned on 15 June 1956, at the Philadelphia [Pa.] Naval Shipyard, Capt. Charles T. Mauro in command.

Commencing her shakedown training, Canberra stood out on 24 August 1956, and steamed south to the Virginia capes. On 30 August, she arrived at the Navy Mine Depot, Yorktown, Va., and loaded her Terrier guided missiles for the first time. Following structural firing tests in the Norfolk area (7—13 September), and a brief port visit to Charleston, S.C. (14—17 September), Canberra arrived off Guantánamo Bay, Cuba on 20 September, to continue her shakedown training. While operating in Caribbean waters over the course of the next month, Canberra made port visits at Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Kingston, Jamaica; Culebra; and Havana, Cuba, before returning to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Va., for her post-shakedown overhaul lasting from 13 December—28 January 1957.

Returning to sea on 2 February 1957, Canberra conducted final trials in the Virginia area and then steamed south for fleet exercises off Cuba. On 24 February, the warship arrived back at Norfolk in advance of her upcoming President’s Cruise.

On 14 March 1957, Canberra embarked President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and got underway to transport him to a conference with, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Harold Macmillan, at Bermuda, BWI. Canberra delivered the Chief Executive safely, amid much fanfare on 20 March, and then later returned to Norfolk on the 27th. Following that high-profile cruise, on 12 June, Canberra served as the reviewing ship for the International Naval Review in Hampton Roads, Va., for which she embarked the U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson.

Canberra spent the rest of the summer of 1957, facilitating a midshipman training cruise in the Caribbean Sea. During the cruise she voyaged to Santos, Brazil (12 June—2 July), San Juan, P.R. (10—22 July), Culebra (25—27 July), Guantánamo Bay (27—30 July) and then finally arrived back at Norfolk on 5 August.

On 3 September 1957, Canberra stood out for her first cruise to European and Mediterranean waters. After arriving at Largs, Scotland, on 14 September, she got underway on the 17th, for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise Operation Strikeback, during which, she steamed in the North Atlantic and North Sea. On 28 September, Canberra headed south to the Mediterranean for duty with the Sixth Fleet, arriving off Malta on 5 October.

Shortly after her arrival, Canberra commenced a flurry of port visits, voyaging to Souda Bay, Crete (6—7 October 1957); Izmir, Turkey (9—18 October); Istanbul, Turkey (28 October—8 November); Phaleron Bay, Greece (19—26 November); Naples, Italy (7—16 December); Pollensa [Pollença], Mallorca [Majorca] (3—5 January 1958); Barcelona, Spain (7—11 January); Palma, Majorca (21—29 January); Pollença Bay, Majorca (8—13 February); Naples (15—17 February) and then finally returned to Norfolk (22 February—9 March).   

Following an availability and local exercises off the Virginia capes, Canberra steamed to Guantanamo Bay from 11—14 April 1958, and conducted refresher training. After stopping at Mayport, Fla., for an exercise with the attack aircraft carrier Forrestal (CVA-59), Canberra returned to Norfolk on 10 May.

Unknown Servicemen of World War II and the Korean War
Caption: A ceremonial guard and a U.S. Navy choral group flank the caskets containing the Unknown Soldiers of World War II and the Korean War after the selection of the World War II Unknown (right with wreath) by Medal of Honor recipient Hospitalman William R. Charette, 26 May 1958 on board Canberra. The Unknown from the Korean War is at the center. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 54118)

Later that month, Canberra served as the ceremonial flagship for the selection of the Unknown Serviceman of World War II and Korea. On 26 May 1958, the cruiser steamed to the Virginia capes and rendezvoused with the destroyer Blandy (DD-943), carrying the Unknown Serviceman of the European Theater, and her sister ship Boston (CAG-1), carrying the Unknown Servicemen of the Pacific Theater and the Korean War (1950—1953). All three caskets were transported by high-line to Canberra and the selection of the Unknown Serviceman of WWII was made. The selected WWII casket, along with the Korean Unknown Serviceman were then returned to Blandy for transportation to the Washington [D.C.] Navy Yard, and their subsequent interment in the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., on 30 May. Canberra’s crew buried the unselected Unknown Serviceman at sea with full military honors.

From 9 June to 7 August 1958, Canberra got underway for a midshipmen’s training cruise to Europe, during which, she made port calls at Virgo, Spain; Gothenburg, Sweden; and Amsterdam, Netherlands, before returning to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a lengthy overhaul.

The following spring, in May 1959, the cruiser deployed to the Mediterranean Sea as the flagship for Rear Adm. John McN. Taylor, Commander of the Atlantic Fleet Cruiser Force. During the voyage, Canberra visited Souda Bay; Rhodes, Greece; Naples and Leghorn, Italy; Cannes and Toulon, France; Palma de Majorca, Majorca; Barcelona; and Gibraltar, British Overseas Territory. She returned to Norfolk in August, and following a short upkeep and leave period re-commenced operations with the Second Fleet.

On 5 January 1960, Adm. Jerauld Wright, USN, Commander in Chief Atlantic, used Canberra as his flagship for hosting a luncheon for the Armed Forces Policy Council and Unified Specified Commanders. The event was attended by the Honorable Thomas S. Gates Jr., the U.S. Secretary of Defense, all of the service secretaries, the Joint Chiefs and the Chief of Naval Operations.

Once again flying the flag of Rear Adm. Taylor, Canberra stood out from Norfolk on 3 March 1960, to commence an around the globe good-will cruise. The cruiser voyaged first to San Diego, via the Panama Canal, and then conducted some brief operations with the First Fleet. On 14 April, Canberra steamed via Pearl Harbor to Sydney, Australia, arriving there on 2 May. While at Sydney, Canberra participated in an annual commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea (4—8 May 1942). During the course of the ceremonies Lady Dixon, the ship’s 1943 sponsor, stepped on board the heavy cruiser for the first time.

Canberra departed Australian waters on 14 May 1960, and steamed north to Yokosuka, Japan, arriving there on the 30th. Following a two-week availability, the cruiser got underway for operations with the Seventh Fleet. In June, she visited her sister city Moji, Japan, and delivered a number of gifts to the local population. The cruiser made a port call at Beppu, Japan, on 4 July, and then, ending her duties with the Seventh Fleet, visited Hong Kong, British Crown Colony, before putting in to Subic Bay, Philippines, for replenishment prior to the next phase of her world tour.

From Subic Bay, Canberra made her way to the Indian Ocean, making goodwill stops at Cochin [Kochi], India; Karachi, Pakistan; and Aden, British Protectorate, and then proceeded through the Red Sea to transit the Suez Canal on 15 August 1960. Shortly after entering the Mediterranean Sea, Canberra commenced operations with the Sixth Fleet, making port calls at Cannes; Leghorn, Fiumicino and Naples, Italy; Athens, Greece; and Istanbul. During her visit to Fiumicino from 7—8 September, Canberra’s officers and crew were able to attend the XVII Olympic Games in Rome, Italy. Also, during her time in Grecian waters, she took part in a NATO exercise that utilized her detachment of U.S. Marines for an amphibious landing.

Relieved by Boston on 14 October 1960, Canberra steamed independently back to Norfolk, arriving there on the 24th, and recommencing operations with the Second Fleet.

On 6 January 1961, Canberra got underway for fleet exercise LantFlEx 1-61. Following the conclusion of the exercise, she steamed south to the Caribbean to participate in Operation Springboard, during which, she conducted a Fleet Evaluation Test (FET) of her Terrier missile systems.

USS Canberra (CAG-2)
Caption: Canberra at sea on 9 January 1961. (U.S. Navy Photograph KN-1526, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)

Entering the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 17 May 1961, Canberra began a four-month overhaul. During her overhaul, Canberra received an engineering excellence award (a red ‘E’) for the 1961-1962 Fiscal Year. In September, the cruiser got underway for refresher training and steamed to the Guantánamo Bay operating area. On 2 November, she underwent an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) and then proceeded to San Juan, for several FETs before returning to Norfolk later that same month.

On 15 December 1961, Canberra embarked the Commander of CruDiv 4, and got underway for two weeks of Individual Ship Exercises, which concluded with a four-day port visit to Bermuda. Following the exercise period, she returned to Norfolk and had new electronics gear installed.

Canberra got underway on 7 February 1962, for another extended deployment in the Mediterranean. While still en route to join the Sixth Fleet for operations, she diverted course to provide medical assistance to the crew of the Turkish merchantman Mehmet Ipar. She then continued on to the Sixth Fleet and after making her usual port calls in the Mediterranean, Canberra returned to Norfolk in August. Just two months later on 22 October, she stood out to assist in President John F. Kennedy’s “quarantine” of Cuba. As the Missile Crisis escalated, Canberra served as the flagship for Rear Adm. John W. Ailes, the Commander TG 136.1, charged with maintaining the blockade.

USS Canberra (CAG-2)
Caption: Canberra underway during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 28 October 1962, in this image taken by PhoM1c C.C. Fulps. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 98391)

As the Cuban Missile Crisis fizzled out, Canberra returned to her regular fleet operations and on 27 November 1962, she entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a seven-week overhaul in preparation for her next deployment. From 4 February to 4 September 1963, Canberra completed another deployment with the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. Of particular note during the deployment a special celebration was held in La Spezia, Italy, to mark the 20th Anniversary of Canberra’s commissioning. President Kennedy and Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies exchanged messages on the occasion to “reaffirm the longstanding friendship between Australia and the United States of America.”

Only one month after returning from her deployment, Canberra stood out on 5 October 1963, to report to her new homeport in San Diego. Steaming by way of the Panama Canal, the cruiser arrived there on 22 October. She then conducted local operations and participated in a major fleet exercise before entering the Naval Shipyard in Long Beach, Calif., for an overhaul in July 1964. That fall, in October, Canberra completed refresher training and joined the “Ready Force” of the First Fleet.

On 5 January 1965, Canberra stood out for her first Western Pacific (WestPac) deployment, bound for the embattled shores of Vietnam. Steaming by way of Pearl Harbor (5—11 January) and then Yokosuka (13—24 January) for upkeep, Canberra arrived off the coast of North Vietnam in the South China Sea on 29 January. For 27 continuous days the cruiser provided anti-aircraft screening protection for carriers of TF 77, conducting flight operations in the area. On 24 February, she steamed to Subic Bay, for upkeep, and then on 10 March, got underway for the waters of Thailand to serve as the flagship for the joint exercise Jungle Drum III, operating with Royal Thai Navy and other U.S. naval units.

Returning to the South China Sea on 25 March 1965, Canberra commenced operations with TF 71 off the coast of South Vietnam. During this time, she participated in Operation Market Time, an anti-infiltration junk patrol, and then assisted in directing U.S. Air Force planes as they launched hundreds of sorties out of Đà Nẵng Air Base, targeting North Vietnam. On 12 May, Canberra steamed to Hong Kong, and remained there through the 18th. Shortly after her return to TF 71 on 19 May, Canberra continued her anti-infiltration patrol and “rode shotgun,” for a truck convoy of U.S. Marines traveling along the coast. While supporting these operations Canberra carried out six fire support missions making her the first U.S. Navy cruiser to use her guns in warfare since the Korean War.

Breaking away from the action, Canberra made her way to Subic Bay on 11 June 1965, for upkeep and repairs. On 24 June, the cruiser began her voyage home, steaming by way of Yokosuka and arrived back in San Diego on 7 July. As a result of her high operational tempo and exceptional performance while supporting combat operations in Vietnam during the deployment, Canberra received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and/or Vietnam Service Medal.

On leave and upkeep status until 8 August 1965, Canberra then spent the remainder of the month participating in local exercises. From 8—11 September, she conducted firing exercises at the Pacific Missile Range, followed by some bombardment drills and then returned to San Diego on the 30th. The following month on 19 October, she participated in a brief Navy League Cruise and then on 22 October, entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for a two and half month yard period.

Canberra began 1966, participating in Composite Training Unit Exercise (CompTUEx) 1-66 (17-21 January) and then the following month, on 1 February, entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for another overhaul. On 7 February, the overhaul was unexpectedly cut short “in order to meet an urgent requirement for an 8-inch cruiser on the gunline in Viet Nam.” In response, Canberra stood out for her second WestPac deployment on 9 February, and headed for the waters of Southeast Asia.

Chopping to the Seventh Fleet on 18 February 1966, Canberra then joined TU 70.8, as “a war zone naval gunfire unit.” On 28 February, “as the major gunfire support ship of the task unit,” Canberra assumed command of TU 70.8.9, and was “very much in demand.” In the succeeding weeks, Canberra provided fire support for the I, II and III Corps areas during operations Harrison, Wayne and Nevada. As is aptly pointed out in Canberra’s command history “The ship’s main battery combined the virtues of range (15 miles), accuracy and penetration,” which made her ideal for busting bunkers and tunnels. During this period Canberra also provided gunfire support in three of South Vietnam’s four Corps Tactical Zones. Although her contributions were clearly effective “precise results of gunfire missions were normally unavailable.”

From 28-29 March 1966, Canberra briefly broke away from the firing line for a search and rescue mission. The cruiser located a downed Grumman HU-16 Albatross and recovered her ten-man crew. She then maintained surveillance on the hobbled amphibian until it could be recovered by the seaplane tender Salisbury Sound (AV-13) on the 29th.

With her time in theater coming to an end in May 1966, Canberra steamed to Yokosuka, where she was later relieved by Saint Paul (CA-73) on the 22nd. She then chopped to the First Fleet on 30 May, and arrived back at her homeport in San Diego on 8 June.

Canberra spent the summer of 1966 undergoing maintenance and participating in various fleet exercises. From 13-20 September, she participated in Operation Eager Angler and then from 27-29 September, she conducted a pre-deployment inspection in preparation for her third WestPac deployment.

Standing out of San Diego on 11 October 1966, Canberra headed east, chopping to the Seventh Fleet on the 21st, and then relieving Saint Paul on the 28th. Resuming her post on the Vietnam firing line, Canberra spent November, supporting the 3rd Marine Division during Operation Prairie; undertaken to stem the flow of North Vietnamese troops through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Steaming just south of the DMZ, Canberra fired in support of friendly forces on a nightly basis—expending in total, some 4,000 rounds of 8-inch, 5-inch and 3-inch ammunition.

Serving as the flagship for Capt. George F. Britner, Commander TU 70.8.9, from 7—22 December 1966, Canberra supported U.S. Marines during Operation Glenn, as well as during their truck convoys between Đà Nẵng and Chu Lai, South Vietnam. The cruiser briefly re-fit and re-provisioned at Subic Bay on 25 December, and then on 1 January 1967, got underway for Operation Deck House V, the first major U.S. military action in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.

On 3 January 1967, Canberra, steaming as part of TG 76.5, provided critical fire support to a contingent of U.S. Marines as they executed an amphibious landing in the Thanh Phu Peninsula, “the first attempt of this kind in this area.” Supporting both U.S. and Republic of Vietnam troops Canberra continued to provide “a heavy volume of accurate fire,” through 15 January. Also, during this time, a U.S. Marine Corps attack helicopter had to make an emergency landing on board Canberra. The crew of the helicopter managed to escape without injury and following the incident, Canberra rendezvoused with a U.S. Army helicopter off Vũng Tàu, Republic of Vietnam, to have “the wrecked helo” air-lifted from her flight deck.

During the last few weeks of January 1967, Canberra detached from TG 76.5, and proceeded to join company with TU 70.8.9, to provide naval gunfire support to the I and II Corps Tactical Zones. From 8 to 21 February, Canberra underwent an availability at Subic Bay, and then got underway on the 25th, in support of Operation Sea Dragon; a patrol meant to stop and deter the flow of North Vietnamese waterborne logistics traffic headed south. Expanding the range of Sea Dragon operations, Canberra executed a shore bombardment against “critical logistics and military targets in North Vietnam.”

Assuming command of TG 77.1, on 1 March 1967, Canberra continued supporting Sea Dragon operations, during which, she encountered hostile fire from “enemy coastal batteries almost daily.” On two occasions, Canberra received direct hits, which fortunately resulted in only superficial damage to the ship. However, during the latter attack, SN Raymond D. Siemens received a shrapnel wound to his arm, which caused substantial blood loss and resulted in his emergency evacuation to the Subic Bay Naval Hospital. Canberra broke away from Sea Dragon operations on 22 March, and proceeded to Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for an upkeep period. Although she later returned to the firing line for an additional week of operations, Canberra ended the combat portion of her deployment on 8 April.

On 10 April 1967, Canberra conducted turnover with Boston at Subic Bay, and then had a five-day port visit in Hong Kong. On 20 April, she got underway for Australia, and en route on 23 April, crossed the equator, prompting the initiation of 900 members of her crew into “the mysteries of the deep.” Several days later, she arrived in the hallowed waters of the Coral Sea, and on 26 April, stood off Savo Island for a memorial service held in honor of the Battle of Savo Island. Several days later, on the 30th, the cruiser arrived in Melbourne, Australia, for the 25th Annual Celebration of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Canberra made the voyage back to her homeport between 16 May and 1 June 1967.

USS Canberra (CAG-2)
Caption: Canberra off Point Loma, near San Diego, 1 June 1967, in an image captured by PhoM3c L.D. Keller. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 98393)

The following month, on 17 July 1967, she commenced a Restricted Availability at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, which lasted until 16 September. Following a week of intensive refresher training, the cruiser passed an ORI on 27 September, and then on 5 October, got underway on her fourth WestPac deployment. Arriving at Subic Bay on 23 October, Canberra then returned to combat on 28 October, again supporting Operation Sea Dragon. For most of the next month she conducted an average of 5 to10 gunfire missions a day and successfully denied the use of coastal water routes to North Vietnamese vessels.

At Subic Bay for upkeep from 25 November to 8 December 1967, Canberra then visited Hong Kong from 10-15 December. On the 16th, she joined TU 70.8.9, and provided vital naval gunfire support to units of the 3rd Marine Division operating in the vicinity of the DMZ. The cruiser continued to support operations in this capacity until 15 January 1968, at which time she steamed north to Yokosuka, arriving there on the 19th.

While at Yokosuka, Canberra commenced an availability but had to get underway on 27 January 1968, due to a “crisis generated by the seizure of…Pueblo (AGER-2) near Wonsan, North Korea by North Korean air and naval forces.” Commencing Operation Formation Star, Canberra joined TG 70.6 in the Sea of Japan, and thence proceeded to operate with the nuclear-powered attack aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVAN-65) (TU 70.6.5) patrolling and “maintaining a high degree of readiness.” On 6 February, Canberra was designated as the commander of the surface action unit TU 70.6.1, operating with destroyers Ozbourn (DD-846) and Everett F. Larson (DD-830). On 12 February, TG 70.6 became TF 71.

As the situation with North Korea fizzled, the war in Vietnam escalated following the explosive Tet Offensive carried out by North Vietnamese forces south of the DMZ beginning in the end of January 1968. Consequently, Canberra steamed to the vicinity of Huế, South Vietnam (16—19 February), and provided gunfire support for the U.S. Army’s First Calvary Division as it engaged in the bitter fight to re-take Huế. “Five days and 3,018 rounds later,” Canberra departed the area and returned to the DMZ, arriving on 25 February.

Late on the morning of 27 February 1968, Canberra received “an estimated ten to twelve rounds of 85mm fire at about 17,000 yards from an enemy shore battery,” located near Cape Lay. Ship’s company managed to patch the minor damage caused by the hit and an air spotter then assisted Canberra in destroying the battery. Shortly afterwards, Canberra had an availability at Subic Bay (28 February—13 March) and then returned to the DMZ on 14 March, for continued operations with TU 70.8.9. In the weeks that followed, the cruiser experienced the heaviest sustained shooting period of her entire cruise, firing “an incredible 16,984 rounds in a 25-day period.”

Concluding her fourth Vietnam deployment in three years, on 9 April 1968, Canberra got underway for her homeport, voyaging by way of Yokosuka (11—14 April), Pearl Harbor (17—23 April) and then finally mooring in San Diego on the 29th. For her crew’s exemplary devotion to duty during the deployment, Canberra received her second Meritorious Unit Commendation.

On 1 May 1968, Canberra was re-designated, reverting back to her original classification and identification number CA-70—a move meant to re-emphasize her naval gunfire support role, the continuing relevance of which had been highlighted by her time in Vietnam.

During the summer, Canberra underwent an overhaul, conducted refresher training, and then on 28 August 1968, completed an ORI. Immensely telling of the incredible demand placed on ships with her firing capabilities during Vietnam, Canberra then stood out from San Diego on 18 September, for her fifth WestPac deployment. She arrived at Yokosuka on 3 October, and then steamed to Subic Bay, where on the 12th, she held a ceremony marking the 25th Anniversary of her commissioning.

At midnight on 13 October 1968, Canberra departed Subic Bay, and proceeded to the coast of North Vietnam where she assumed command of TU 77.1.1, and returned to Sea Dragon operations. On 19 October, Canberra and Leonard F. Mason (DD-852) conducted a fire support mission in the vicinity of the North Vietnamese island of Hon Mat. Despite taking fire from hostile batteries on the island, both warships managed to perform their fire support role and suppress the batteries at the same time. They later retired from the action without suffering any casualties.

On 20 October 1968, Canberra joined TU 70.8.9, at the DMZ, and then on the 25th, headed south with TU 77.1.2. Retuning north again on 1 November, Canberra joined TU 77.1.1, “just in time to participate in the final northern Sea Dragon operation of the war.” Operating in concert with Arnold J. Isbell (DD-869), Ingersoll (DD-652) and Hugh Purvis (DD-709), Canberra supported a combined air and sea strike on the costal defenses of the Island of Hon Mat. Following this overwhelming display of U.S. military power, Canberra and the others proceeded south of the 17th parallel and took up a regular fire support station off the DMZ.

Canberra completed her final gunline period (firing 2,696 rounds) while steaming off Đà Nẵng, South Vietnam, between 30 November—21 December 1968, as a part of TU 70.8.9. On the morning of 22 December, she assisted in the medical evacuation of the survivors of the damaged mechanized landing craft LCM-873. Following the operation, Canberra made her way to Hong Kong for a port visit from 23-29 December, and then moored at Subic Bay on 1 January 1969. Two days later, she got underway for San Diego, ending her fifth WestPac deployment.

After stopping at Guam (6 January 1969) and Pearl Harbor (13 January), for fuel, Canberra moored in San Diego on 18 January. She conducted local operations until 18 March, and then entered the Long Beach Naval Shipyard for an overhaul. On 27 June, she underwent sea trials and later that month received both Red (engineering excellence) and Green (operational excellence) “E” awards. On 1 July, her Terrier missile system was removed and she had two Corvus Chaff rocket launchers installed.

As the summer progressed, Canberra began testing her newly acquired weapons systems in a stint of local operations, however, on 22 August 1969, she received word that she was to be one of more than 100 U.S. Navy ships designated for decommissioning. Despite word of this news, Canberra had a Board of Inspection and Survey from 15—18 September, and was found fit for further service. Nonetheless, the cruiser offloaded her ammunition, and on 1 October, she entered the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, Calif., for inactivation.

Canberra was decommissioned in a ceremony on Monday, 2 February 1970, at the San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard. She was later stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 July 1978.

Ultimately, ex-Canberra was disposed-of, by Navy sale, on 15 July 1980, being acquired by National Metal & Steel Corp., to be broken up for scrap.

Canberra received seven battle stars for her service in World War II.

Commanding Officers

Date Assumed Command

Capt. Alexander R. Early

14 October 1943

Cmdr. Richard B. Levin

25 February 1945

Capt. Russell M. Ihrig

17 July 1945

Cmdr. Stanley F. Quarles

18 May 1946

Cmdr. Williams R. Lowndes

4 December 1946

Capt. Charles T. Mauro

15 June 1956

Capt. Frank H. Brumby

8 August 1957

Capt. Charles H. Smith

4 June 1958

Capt. Paul S. Savidge Jr.

29 July 1959

Capt. Walter H. Baumberger

12 February 1960

Capt. Eli T. Reich

7 November 1960

Capt. Robert K. Irvine

1 December 1961

Capt. Verner J. Soballe

19 January 1963

Capt. Mark W. Woods

11 December 1964

Capt. Edwin M. Rosenberg

18 June 1966

Capt. Oliver D. Compton

9 August 1967

Capt. Worth H. Bagley

23 November 1968

Cmdr. John R. Wettroth

20 September 1969

Jeremiah D. Foster and Robert J. Cressman

16 March 2021

Published: Tue Jun 20 15:03:42 EDT 2023