Columbia VI (CL-56)
The capital of South Carolina.
(CL-56: displacement 10,000; length 610'1"; beam 66'6"; draft 20'; speed 33 knots; complement 992; armament 12 6-inch, 12 5-inch; 8 40-millimeter; 13 20-millimeter; aircraft 5; class Cleveland)
The sixth Columbia (CL-56) was laid down on 19 August 1940 at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 17 December 1941; sponsored by Miss Jean Adams Paschal, daughter of Gary Paschal (acting mayor of the ship’s namesake city--Columbia, S.C.); Miss Francis Owens (daughter of the late mayor Lawrence B. Owens—who passed away one week before the ship’s launch) as maid of honor; and commissioned at the Philadelphia [Pa.] Navy Yard, on 29 July 1942, Capt. William A. Heard in command.
Columbia, dubbed “the Gem of the Ocean” by her crew, finished fitting out and performing general crew drills by 14 September 1942, and steamed out of the Philadelphia Navy Yard, arriving in Hampton Roads, Va., on 16 September. Columbia and her crew underwent a series of operational training drills, and especially gunnery practices with the vessel’s 20-millimeter Oerlikon and 40-millimeter Bofors mounts--continuing on with the different batteries. Lt. (later Cmdr.) Gilmer G. Weston, 5th Division and Machine Gun Officer on board Columbia, did not seem impressed with the result as he remarked on 30 September that “there wasn’t much room for bragging. If we could only fire for three or four weeks maybe we could accomplish a great deal more.” The sailors also practiced replenishing underway, calibration of SC and SG radars, navigation, night spotting, shore bombardment, and damage control among others. Practice also included aircraft operations with her initial complement of two Curtiss SO3C-1 Seagulls. Originally, this particular aircraft was named Seamew, but the U.S. Navy kept the Seagull name from other Curtiss SOC models while the British retained the Seamew name.
The ship underwent work on last minute repairs, and equipment installations at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., as well as training exercises, and shakedown trials in the Chesapeake Bay conducted from 16 October through 8 November 1942. Columbia got underway from Hampton Roads at 1029 on 9 November 1942, temporarily anchoring at Lynnhaven Roads, Va. at 1236. She resumed steaming out of the Hampton Roads area at 1440, accompanying Task Group (TG) 2.6—in company with battleship Indiana (BB-58) plus destroyers DeHaven (DD-469), Champlin (DD-601), and Saufley (DD-465). Columbia continued target practice, and tracking exercises as she steamed south, shooting down two drones the afternoon of 9 November. The drills continued through 12 November until Columbia, and her consorts anchored briefly at Limon Bay, Panama at 0823 on 13 November where Champlin was detached from TG 2.6.
Columbia resumed course to transit the canal at 0951 with the other ships of TG 2.6—Indiana, Saufley, and DeHaven. She moored at Balboa, C.Z. [Panama] at 2040 on 13 November 1942. Columbia and TG 2.6 all were underway from Balboa at 1522, on course for Tongatabu Island, Kingdom of Tonga. TG 2.6 held a series of firing, aerial, night battle, and tracking drills daily while en route—Columbia and her entourage arriving on 28 November 1942 with the cruiser dropping anchor at 1426. TG 2.6 was dissolved once the group arrived in Tonga on 28 November. Columbia refueled on 29 November, and by 30 November was attached to TG 66.6 for the voyage to Nouméa, New Caledonia. TG 66.6 included her previous group of Indiana, Saufley, and DeHaven—the task group underway at 0558 on 30 November. As with the trip to Tonga, even the brief trip to Nouméa saw Columbia in the midst of daily drilling with the rest of TG 66.6.
Columbia and TG 66.6 steamed into Nouméa, New Caledonia on 2 December—the task group once again being dissolved upon arrival—Columbia moored to repair ship Prometheus (AR-3) at 1615. The cruiser had developed a problem in her number four engine, but there was no way to repair it onsite at Nouméa. From 3–6 December, Prometheus’ repair crews did what they could to improve the conditions of the problematic turbine so it could operate at least at lower pressure. The ship carried on, still able to reach 30 knots, and a turbine rotor replacement was ordered.
Ashore at Nouméa, headquarters for Adm. William F. Halsey’s forces in the South Pacific, Columbia’s crew cast eyes upon a troubling sight from one of the cruisers moored nearby—the blast damage in Helena’s (CL-50) superstructure, and word of casualties among her crew from the ship’s engagements around Guadalcanal earlier in November.
Columbia departed Nouméa on 7 December 1942 at 0514, temporarily attached to Task Force (TF) 64 under the command of Rear Adm. Willis A. Lee Jr. with battleship Washington (BB-56) as flagship, Indiana, and several destroyers—Balch (DD-363), Cummings (DD-365), Nicholas (DD-449), Woodworth (DD-460), and Dunlap (DD-384). Columbia and TF 64 continued steaming west of New Caledonia, at 15°9'S, 160°54.5'E by 2000 on 8 December heading for a rendezvous with a small group accompanying battleship North Carolina (BB-55).
At 1402 on 9 December 1942, Columbia was joined by North Carolina and destroyers Hull (DD-350), and Monaghan (DD-354). As of 1500 on 9 December 1942, cruisers Honolulu (CL-48), Helena, and Columbia along with destroyers Fletcher (DD-445), Drayton (DD-366), and Hull parted from TF 64 to form up as TG 67.2 under Rear Adm. Mahlon S. Tisdale—suborned to Rear Adm. Walden L. Ainsworth’s TF 67. The TG 67.2 elements broke from the formation on 9 December, including Columbia, heading for Espíritu Santo, New Hebrides Islands [Vanuatu]—Columbia making her anchorage by 1606 on 10 December.
Deeper battle scars from the naval engagements in the Solomon Islands were on display at Espíritu Santo—the base codenamed Button. Columbia’s crew learned of the casualties and damage suffered by cruisers Pensacola (CA-24), and Minneapolis (CA-36) around the Solomon Islands earlier in November when they pulled in on 11 December 1942. The damage inspection was just one of many tasks during Columbia’s maintenance checks in the Segond Channel from 11-16 December 1942.
Columbia remained part of TG 67.2 for the balance of the month (17–31 December 1942) in the region west of Espíritu Santo Island. TF 67 would undergo several reconfigurations. On 17 December 1942, TG 67.2 had two subunits with Ainsworth in overall command. Task Unit (TU) 67.2.1 was led by cruiser Louisville (CA-28) along with Helena. TU 67.2.2 under Tisdale was led by Honolulu followed by Columbia. TG 67.4 also was attached to TF 67 with two destroyer subunits. TU 67.4.1 nominally contained Drayton, Shaw (DD-373), and Perkins (DD-377)—though the latter two were absent from the unit when it first formed. TU 67.4.2 was comprised of Fletcher, Saufley, Long (DMS-12), Nicholas, and DeHaven—the latter two were also not present in the unit when it first formed.
The new TF 67 did not waste time getting to work as Columbia was underway out of Espíritu Santo with her new group at 1025 on 17 December 1942. Plenty of practicing for night combat, aerial combat, tracking, and maneuvering in the waters northwest of the island dominated Columbia’s schedule over the next few days--marked by some hair-raising gunnery drills on 20 December.
The task group for the 20 December 1942 drill was arrayed in a circular formation with Honolulu ahead of Columbia by 800 yards, Helena abeam of Columbia, Louisville abeam of Honolulu by 2,500 yards, and a screen of five destroyers in a ring farther out. The whole task group engaged in the drill while making rapid course changes between 10° and 40° as they fired. The conditions made gunnery difficult—range finding was fouled in 30 seconds, the machine guns were so loud that gunners could not hear any ceasefire orders or signals, and many continued to fire until their magazines were empty. The result was slew of close calls. Helena nearly shot into Columbia, Honolulu hit a destroyer, a destroyer nearly shot down a friendly aircraft, and Columbia fired just over Honolulu.
Other than the day’s nerve-wracking exercise, the only other significant action the task group encountered was an enemy submarine contact in the midst of a battle exercise at 1340 on 21 December 1942—handled mostly by Fletcher employing depth charges while the cruisers including Columbia headed out of danger. The drilling continued through 22 December, until the task group returned to Espíritu Santo—Columbia making her anchorage in Segond Channel by 1716.
The cruiser spent 23–31 December 1942 continuing upkeep and maintenance duties at her port in Espíritu Santo—still attached to TF 67. On 31 December, TF 67 underwent yet another set of changes. TG 67.2 would now have three subunits. TU 67.2.1 now operated with cruisers Honolulu, St. Louis (CL-49), and Helena. TU 67.2.2 was now solely comprised of cruiser Louisville. TU 67.2.3 took on cruisers Nashville (CL-43), New Zealand Achilles (70), and Columbia.
With the New Year upon them, TF 67’s composition on 1 January 1943 included the adjoining TG 67.4’s two destroyer subunits. TU 67.4.1 ran with Lamson (DD-367), Shaw, Perkins, and Drayton. TU 67.4.2 operated with Fletcher, O’Bannon (DD-450), Nicholas, Saufley, and DeHaven.
However, before Columbia’s next deployment, the task force would undergo shuffling again on 2 January 1943. TU 67.2.1 formed up with Nashville, St. Louis, and Helena as before. TU 67.2.2 reincorporated the third subunit so now was made up of Honolulu, Louisville, Achilles, and Columbia. TG 67.4 also underwent changes. TU 67.4.1 now only retained destroyers Fletcher, and O’Bannon. TU 67.4.2 reorganized with Drayton, Lamson, and Nicholas.
TF 67 steamed out of Espíritu Santo on 2 January 1943, Columbia underway at 1215, toward the south and east operational areas of Guadalcanal—continuing to provide support. During the day, Columbia got underway with her fellow cruisers. She distributed all her 6-inch/47 projectiles among Nashville, Helena, and St. Louis. The latter three cruisers were expected to make a bombardment run against the Munda airfield at New Georgia Island. Columbia, Honolulu, Louisville, and Achilles spent 3 January making screening movements in support of the transport landings under command of Gen. Alexander M. Patch on Guadalcanal.
However, 3 January 1943 would not be entirely smooth sailing for Columbia. The sounding of general quarters signaled more than just drills that day. A man also went overboard in the morning at 0445. The sailor had been in one of Columbia’s Seagulls when the plane fell off the catapult. A destroyer escort rescued the sailor, but the plane had to be destroyed by gunfire.
Most of the day from 0834 onward was also spent in maneuvering exercises via TBS between the group vessels. This created some tense moments as uncertainty persisted over whether or not Achilles was communicating properly. The transmitting issues were solved, and the exercise was completed without incident.
The cruiser’s formation would be distracted by some delays due to contacts straying in and out of radar range during the day—all turning out to be friendly including TG 62.7 making contact at 1006 on a parallel course.
On 4 January 1943, Columbia and TF 67 steamed for Guadalcanal’s southwest coast—sighting San Cristobal Island by 0630. The group steamed on into the afternoon through 2000 hours. The three cruisers tasked with the bombardment mission parted from Columbia to resume their duty just as Columbia and her group of cruisers resumed screening. Columbia and her screening group, at 2230, detected two other groups of vessels on radar. Columbia went to general quarters and altered course to parallel one of the groups—the first turning out to be a friendly battleship group, the other a friendly carrier group.
The close calls of 3 and 4 January 1943 would give way to a much harder day. Columbia, on 5 January, sighted Cape Beaufort on Guadalcanal’s southwestern coast at 0710. She rendezvoused with the bombardment cruiser group at 0854—joining the formation while also recovering one of her Seagulls patrolling as part of Cruiser Scouting Squadron (VCS) 12. Columbia resumed course from picking up her plane and accelerated to 15 knots just as four Japanese Aichi D3A Type 99 Val carrier bombers began attacking the group at 0936. The enemy planes dropped three bombs around Honolulu, 1,500 yards ahead of Columbia, resulting in near misses bracketing the cruiser in giant plumes of water the height of her masts. Another Val dropped ordnance on Achilles, 750 yards ahead of Columbia, and hit her number three turret with a bomb. Columbia returned anti-aircraft fire with her 5-inch, 40 millimeter, and 20 millimeter batteries, but did not shoot down any enemy aircraft. Though Columbia did not suffer any direct attack, GM2c William N. Carpenter was treated for flash burns on his face due to blasts from the ship’s number three 5-inch gun—returning to duty after treatment. Friendly fighter aircraft splashed two of the bombers, and pursued the other two out of sight by 0950.
Assessing the aftermath, Columbia’s crew learned of the casualties suffered on Achilles and the wreck of her number three turret. Nevertheless, as the task group changed course back for Espíritu Santo by 1033 that day, Columbia received an intercept on 5 January 1943 from Nashville confirming that the bombardment group had been successful at Munda having met no opposition. The outcome was not quite so settled for the Japanese bomber pilots. On 6 January, Columbia’s task group steamed back over the point they had originally been attacked, and found two of the Japanese airmen—a pilot, and gunner—still alive in the water. As O’Bannon neared the downed Japanese combatants, the two airmen first pretended to be dead. The destroyer continued approaching the two Japanese airmen when the Japanese pilot began firing a revolver. O’Bannon reported that their recovery detail was forced to kill the pilot in self-defense, but the surviving gunner died of his wounds despite the ship’s medical care.
Columbia steamed back into Espíritu Santo on 8 January 1943—anchoring at 0924. She refueled, and replaced one of her lost Seagulls with a Curtiss SOC-2 model, spending the next few days idling at anchor. On 12 January, pilots took up both of her planes for practice, but only one returned. From 12 to 13 January, the search for the missing pilot (Ens. George F. Rush) continued, and was successful. However, more changes were afoot as Columbia, on 13 January, was transferred to TF 18. The missing SO3C-1 plane would be replaced by a Curtiss SOC-1 model Seagull.
TF 18 was led by Adm. Robert C. Giffen with the auxiliary aircraft carriers Sangamon (ACV-26), Santee (ACV-29), and Chenango (ACV-28). TF 18 included several cruisers in addition to Columbia—namely Wichita (CA-45), Chicago (CA-29), Louisville and Columbia’s sister ships Cleveland (CL-55), and Montpelier (CL-57). The task force also had a complement of eight destroyers. The change in task force meant preparing for a change in base from Espíritu Santo to a location 175 miles farther south--on Efate Island also among the islands of the New Hebrides.
TF 18 would be initially organized into three subgroups under Giffen’s overall command. TG 18.1 would include Wichita, Chicago, Louisville, Cleveland, Columbia, and Montpelier. TG 18.2 included Suwanee, Sangamon, and Chenango. TG 18.3 included the group’s destroyers.
Button was relatively quiet in the lead up to the departure for TF 18 apart from a couple of incidents. Columbia saw the badly damaged Pensacola leave on 13 January 1943 to return to the U.S. with Minneapolis for escort. Minneapolis was slated to return immediately to Espíritu Santo, and was still sporting her damage from the earlier engagements around Guadalcanal.
Late on 13 January, Columbia’s crew witnessed a flyover by friendly aircraft when one of the four planes crashed at 2125. The crew searched for and picked up the downed pilot who had crashed 50 yards off Columbia’s starboard quarter. The pilot, from aircraft carrier Saratoga (CV-3), was pronounced dead at the scene from the unidentified remains.
As to the matter of Columbia’s new assignment, the location due to be hosting Columbia and TF 18 turned out to be codenamed Acid which was a point near what was an earlier intended base at Roses. Columbia, on 16 January 1943, got underway from Button at 1614 while temporarily accompanying TG 66.8 along with Louisville, and destroyer Meade (DD-602) en route for her new base. Columbia arrived at Acid, in fact Havannah Harbor [Port Havannah], on 17 January 1943—anchored at 0715. The new base, between Efate, Moso, and Leleppa Islands, was approximately 25–30 miles from Roses—with Roses being at the capital town of Felah [Port Vila].
On 19 January 1943, while Columbia was still at anchor at Havannah Harbor, TF 18 was reorganized considerably. All of the task force cruisers were put into TG 18.1, but then TG 18.1 was divided into two subunits. TU 18.1.1 was made up of heavy cruisers Wichita, Chicago, and Louisville while TU 18.1.2 contained Cleveland, Columbia, and Montpelier. TG 18.2 maintained the task force carriers Suwanee, Sangamon, and Chenango. TG 18.3 had the task force destroyers Edwards (DD-619), Chevalier (DD-451), La Vallette (DD-448), Waller (DD-466), Conway (DD-507), Meade, Taylor (DD-468), and Frazier (DD-607). Chicago, Montpelier, and Chenango had not yet arrived at Acid upon initial formation of the task force—and would not be present until the group was ready to depart on 27 January.
TF 18 steamed out of Havannah Harbor on 22 January 1943 for a series of group gunnery exercises—Columbia underway at 0600. The group trained most of the day until she returned to her anchorage at 1723.
Columbia and the full TF 18 sortied from Havannah Harbor on 27 January 1943—Columbia underway at 1712, and steamed north toward the area around Rennell Island near Guadalcanal—continuing the support campaign for the Solomon Islands. The formation, now minus Sangamon as of midnight, continued steaming toward their operational area through 28 January while running attack drills.
On 29 January 1943, at 1401, the destroyers of 18.3 broke steaming formation to take up their screening posts. At 1410, Columbia took up position with the remaining cruisers. However, starting at 1420, unidentified contacts spent part of the day in and out of radar contact—at 60 miles range—not approaching closer than 40-45 miles before vanishing off the scope. At 1630, and again at 1700, additional unidentified contacts appeared on scope at different points around the edge of radar range—up to four contacts showing up on scope by 1800 ranging from 30 to 50 miles. At 1907, the contacts closed to 37 miles. At 1909 Columbia went to general quarters in preparation for an impending attack as the contacts bore down on her and the group—already at a range of 8-12 miles. Columbia reported all contacts to the flagship under Giffen.
Presently, all the task force carriers were away from the group (occupied by close air support operations elsewhere around the Solomons), so no friendly air cover was available for the cruisers save a passing flight of seven Grumman F4F Wildcats at 1850.
TF 18 (still without carrier support of TG 18.2, and two of their destroyers) continued steaming north, on 29 January at 1909, in what Giffen designed as an east-west split division of cruisers 2,500 yards apart approximately 50 miles north of Rennell Island—steaming northwest at 24 knots. Wichita, Chicago, and Louisville were in the eastern line-ahead formation ComTaskFor18 (CTF18). Montpelier, Cleveland, and Columbia were in the western line (ComCruDiv12). Six of the task force’s destroyers were two miles ahead of the cruiser formation in a semi-circular screen—from east to west they were Waller, La Vallette, Conway, Chevalier, Taylor, and Edwards.
While visual spotting of the Japanese planes was difficult during sunset, radar tracked the incoming attack from the darkening sky at 1930 in an engagement that would become known as the Battle of Rennell Island. The first 16 attacking aircraft, all low-flying twin-engine Mitsubishi G4M Betty torpedo bombers from the 705th Air Group (Dai 705 Kaigun Kōkūtai), were to reach the eastern cruiser division first. The squadron of Betty bombers focused their first runs on Chicago in the middle of the eastward line. Columbia could see Chicago filling the air with tracers as TU 18.1.1 began returning fire in earnest at 1933, and Chicago nearly getting hit by one Betty which exploded just astern of Chicago. Waller dodged a torpedo, Wichita handled strafing attacks, and Louisville veered sharply out of one torpedo’s path.
The evening was far from over for Chicago. At 1931 another squadron of 15 Bettys from the 701st Air Group (Dai 701 Kaigun Kōkūtai) was already starting a run at TF 18 as the sky filled with circling enemy bombers. At 1934, a Betty overflew Columbia’s starboard side and into her anti-aircraft barrage. Columbia missed the plane, and the enemy’s torpedo missed Columbia—just crossing the bow. The missed Betty strafed Columbia’s forecastle on another pass, but escaped to the ship’s port side. At 1936 two more Bettys approached Columbia’s port bow, and two others headed for her port quarter. Columbia divided her fire among all four approaching Bettys while Cleveland, still ahead in line formation, added her anti-aircraft fire to attacking the two planes heading for Columbia’s bow. Columbia hit one enemy aircraft on the port side which fell into the sea, but the rest managed to escape. Chicago, aided by the combined tracer fire of all the division ships, managed to shoot down one of the enemy planes on an attack run while it was still 150 feet in the air—sending the flaming wreck of the aircraft tumbling into the sea. Waller hit one Betty, but suddenly Chicago gave up a ball of fire, and smoke—the splashed Japanese plane failing to clear Chicago’s mast completely, hitting the cruiser, and tumbling into the sea on her port side with fuel spilling on Chicago’s stations and the water around. The persistent enemy managed to get two torpedo strikes into Chicago’s starboard side, at 1942, including one that hit her engine area. Bettys continuing to circle fired off bursts of flares across the formation at 1944. Louisville and Wichita would both endure hits by dud torpedoes from the continuing enemy raid.
At 2009 on 29 January, the light cruisers of Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 12 including Columbia were ordered to stay near Chicago, but operate independently. Bettys were still harassing the formation at 2103, but had stopped torpedo runs, and withdrew at 2130. Combat operations persisted in the division until approximately midnight—anti-aircraft batteries from the cruisers firing on the mere sound of an aircraft engine. Giffen ordered holding of fire unless there were definite targets, but the darkness put an end to fighting for the day along with a changing of course orders. The eastern line of heavy cruisers peeled off south while Columbia and her sister ships sailed east.
The next day, 30 January, Columbia’s division rejoined the heavy cruisers to find Louisville towing the powerless Chicago at an achingly slow 4.5 knots—Columbia spending the morning screening for the wounded cruiser. Tug Navajo (AT-64) came up from Tulagi to tow Chicago—with Wichita, some of the destroyers, and aircraft keeping watch. Columbia rejoined TU 18.1.1 at 1501, and the cruisers stayed with Chicago’s group until 1632. Columbia and her group were bound for Havannah Harbor along with two of the destroyers at 25 knots. At 1840, upon notice that Chicago was under enemy bomber attack yet again, Columbia went to general quarters. Shortly thereafter, Columbia got word Chicago was sinking, and the destroyers LaVallette, and DeHaven were also hit.
Columbia was back at her anchorage at Acid on 31 January 1943 at 1622, and with a 24-hour turn around, steamed back out on 1 February at 1807 heading north and northeast by the Santa Cruz Islands for what would be the start of several months of operations and then training runs—still using Havannah Harbor as a base.
The cruiser left port with TF 18, though without TG 18.2’s carriers. The formation spent most of 1–3 February 1943 in firing and maneuvering exercises while steaming to their operational zone—sighting Tucopia Island 46 miles away at 1538 on 3 February.
Unidentified radar contacts darted in and out of range late on 3 and 4 February 1943, prompting Columbia to go to general quarters, but no further engagement was made. At 0605 on 4 February, radar detected another group, TF 69, including battleships Maryland (BB-46), New Mexico (BB-40), Colorado (BB-45), and Mississippi (BB-41). The new group on scope also included three converted carriers, and several destroyers. Columbia, as it linked up with the battleship group, steamed between the Solomon Islands and Samoa—the group’s goal being to intercept and engage a Japanese squadron expected to come south from Truk [Chuuk, Micronesia] between 4–12 February.
The following day, 5 February, Columbia and the battleship group were steaming near Tucopia Island to Santa Cruz’s southeast—sighting Tucopia 34 miles away at 0635. Columbia spent some of the day fueling from New Mexico between 1434 and 1710. Columbia rejoined the main formation of TF 18 at 1756, and TU 18.2’s carriers were also back with the group by 5 February.
The expected Japanese group had apparently left Truk, and Columbia’s group was then informed that TF 69 was covering the eastern area of the Solomons while TF 67 including aircraft carriers Enterprise (CV-6), Saratoga, and several newer battleships were defending elsewhere around the island chain. Columbia’s only other news on 5 February, beyond learning of the deployments, was learning that a couple of enemy destroyers and handful of enemy planes were eliminated at the cost of 10 friendly planes.
Nevertheless, the search for the Japanese squadron out of Truk stretched on into 8 February 1943—building tension on the ship as action was anticipated and the group seemed to sail aimlessly around Santa Cruz—sighting Vanikoro Island [Teanu] at 1581, and North Island [Hiw] in the Torres Islands [Vanuatu] at 1840. However, the Japanese squadron proved elusive as the operation continued into 9 February. By now, Columbia’s group had retraced its course and assumed its first position—literally steaming back and forth between Santa Cruz and the Banks Islands. Hampering the effort was the deteriorating weather. Storms limited flight operations, and forced more dependency on radar. The terrible weather on 9 February contributed to one of Columbia’s patrolling Seagulls launched at 1007 to have to emergency land on an island at around 1414 (when word reached Columbia) with a destroyer-tender that could refuel the plane—allowing the aircraft to rejoin Columbia amid the squalls by 1843.
The group was once again in sight of Tucopia Island at 0740 on 10 February 1943, 55 miles away. The night of 10 February, the group’s four battleships with TF 69 left the formation at 1943. Columbia refueled from oiler Kankakee (AO-39) while on station at 0915 until 1130—also receiving notice that sister ship Denver (CL-58) had arrived at Nouméa along with Columbia’s long awaited replacement engine. Columbia additionally received news that the Japanese force they expected to intercept had, in fact, turned around and returned to Truk. This was in conjunction with Japanese withdrawals from New Guinea, and Guadalcanal on 8 February 1943 as part of Japan’s Operation KE. The interception operation was formally cancelled on 11 February, and she resumed exercising with TF 18 while en route back to Acid.
On 13 February 1943, some reshuffling of destroyers that had been screening or intercepting contacts in and out of the task forces occurred while steaming. Columbia and TF 18 rendezvoused with TF 67 at 0700. Taylor, Chevalier were broken off TF 18, and reported to TF 67 which steamed off for other duties at 0710. Fletcher, Radford (DD-446), O’Bannon maintained course with TF 18 for Havannah Harbor.
The weary crew of Columbia, her portion of TF 18 now down to just CruDiv 12 and four destroyers (Fletcher, O’Bannon, Radford, and Nicholas), would reach her anchorage at Havannah Harbor by 14 February 1943 at 1604—though not without one last 6-hour gunnery practice before pulling in.
Columbia, still anchored at Acid, was moved into another task force along with her sister cruisers from CruDiv 12. TF 68 under Rear Adm. Aaron S. Merrill had three subgroups. TG 68.1 contained Montpelier, and Columbia. TG 68.2 ran with Cleveland, and Denver. TG 68.3 operated with the destroyers still attached to Merrill’s command—Fletcher, O’Bannon, Radford, and Nicholas.
The replenishment and respite only lasted a few days as Columbia was underway at 1106 on 19 February 1943—steaming northwest with TF 68.
Steaming through 20 February 1943, Columbia became part of a plan to lure enemy bombers and submarines away from transports landing on the Russell Islands. To that end, she traversed the known submarine markers toward Savo Island, and Tulagi. That same day, Columbia observed one of her group destroyers Fletcher pick up six crewmen from a downed USAAF Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, and received word from repair ship Rigel (AR-11) that it would take 30 days to install the replacement engine turbine—along with a recommendation Columbia report to Pearl Harbor to complete the repair.
By 2135 on 20 February 1943, Columbia and TF 68 sighted San Cristobal Island 30 miles away. Overnight, she steamed through the passage of water that became known as “Iron Bottom Sound”—between Guadalcanal, Florida Island [Nggela Island], and Savo (heading toward Savo with Tulagi to starboard). Columbia was steaming over the sunken wrecks and crews of over half a dozen friendly and enemy warships lost mere months earlier in the fierce naval engagements of the Solomon Islands campaign. She sighted Florida Island at 0331 from 22 miles away.
Upon reaching her anchorage at Purvis Bay at 1122 on 21 February 1943, Columbia joined what Gilmer Weston called a “N. Y. Shipbuilding Corporation parade” referring to TF 68 including all of CruDiv12 with Columbia and her sister ships Montpelier (flagship with Merrill on board), Cleveland, and Denver.
Columbia, while at Purvis Bay, was across from and in view of Henderson Field at Guadalcanal. The crew anticipated enemy attacks, and observed friendly planes leaving Henderson ostensibly en route for a bombing run and air cover for operations against the Russell Islands. Meanwhile, Columbia and the rest of CruDiv 12 were also to provide cover against Japanese surface fleet action while marines, Seabees, and army units carried out landing and securing operations on the Russell Islands to the west—part of Operation Cleanslate. Columbia was set for a 10-minute sailing notice.
Tensions were high while Columbia and CruDiv 12 stayed put in Purvis Bay on 21 February. The hilly terrain around the harbor interfered with radar, and left little time to warn the cruisers of an incoming enemy aerial attack.
These concerns over alertness proved nigh prophetic on 21 February 1943 as the cruisers were warned of an enemy air raid inbound, and went to general quarters—getting underway by 2042. Columbia and CruDiv 12 steamed by Tulagi, Savo, then between the Russell Islands and Santa Isabel. The division remained at general quarters until midnight while a few enemy air contacts were made. Visibility was intermittently good and poor due to the full moon, but squally weather—keeping the cruiser formation generally cloaked from aerial threats. A couple of contacts passed on an opposite course, but eventually were identified as friendly motor torpedo (PT) boats.
Overnight, Columbia got word that at 0230 on 22 February 1943 Japanese bombing groups attacked Florida Island, and struck an ammunition dump—prompting return fire from Henderson Field and friendly units on Florida Island. Columbia had detailed her two Seagulls to serve at Tulagi sea plane base while the cruiser was stationed at Purvis Bay. While the raid on Florida Island persisted, one enemy bomber’s attack on Tulagi resulted in the wounding in the leg by shrapnel of Columbia ARM1c Edmond P. Penders who had been asleep in his tent when the bomb hit nearby. Four others stationed at Tulagi were killed, and another plane was damaged. Fortunately or not, CruDiv 12 itself was not in port for the bombing raid.
By mid-morning on 22 February 1943, CruDiv 12 pulled back into Purvis Bay—Columbia anchored at 1022 and anxious about what threats awaited the cruiser next. Columbia’s two detached Seagulls were returned that afternoon. She got underway once more at 1815, steaming overnight into 23 February still accompanied by TF 68 en route for Nouméa.
On 25 February 1943, while underway, Columbia along with Nicholas were detached from TF 68 at 1945 and ordered to rendezvous with destroyers Mustin (DD-413), Hughes (DD-410) plus carrier Suwanee by 26 February and steam for Nouméa on 27 February. Columbia’s new group, TG 66.4, sighted Hughes and Mustin at 1025 on 26 February. The group conducted exercises while awaiting Suwanee—the carrier not being sighted until 0640 on 27 February.
Columbia and TG 66.4 passed Mare Island by 18 miles at 2152 on 27 February. The cruiser pulled into Nouméa on 28 February 1943 at 1648 to rendezvous and moor to Prometheus—TG 66.4 was dissolved. Prometheus would attempt the 2–3 week process of replacing Columbia’s engine turbine.
The cruiser would be shuffled around task groups even while undergoing engine repair. On 1 March 1943, Columbia was back under Giffen’s overall operational command in TF 18. TF 18 had not changed significantly from its previous configuration. TG 18.1 continued to be composed of cruisers. TU 18.1.1 had heavy cruisers Wichita and Louisville. TU 18.1.2 had the light cruisers of CruDiv 12 as before, Montpelier, Columbia, Cleveland, and Denver. TG 18.2 had the same three carriers with Suwanee, Sangamon, and Chenango. TG 18.3’s destroyers consisted of Edwards, Chevalier, La Vallette, Waller, Conway, Meade, Taylor, and Frazier.
This reorganizing would happen again on 9 March 1943. Columbia and the rest of CruDiv 12 would be put under TF 68 with Giffen in overall command. The basic organization would not change significantly, though the composition of the destroyer subgroup would be altered the most. TG 18.1 kept the cruiser split. TU 18.1.1 still had heavy cruisers Louisville and Wichita. TU 18.1.2 still was operated through CruDiv 12’s light cruisers Montpelier, Columbia, Cleveland, and Denver. However, 18.3’s destroyer unit was now listed with Waller, Saufley, Philip (DD-498), Renshaw (DD-499), Conway, Cony (DD-508), Aulick (DD-569), and Eaton (DD-510). Absent were TU 18.2’s carriers.
Columbia would be fully functional again on 11 March 1943, and depart from Nouméa at 0806 for post-repair trial exercises. This included a successful test at full power—31.15 knots—and follow-up gunnery drills. Columbia was continuing firing practices, but pulled back to her moorings during a replenishment stop at Havannah Harbor at 1448. She stayed at anchor until 15 March, getting underway at 1354 that day with TF 68.
Columbia and the rest of TF 68 spent most of 15 March 1943 engaged in gunnery exercises—including firing against aerial targets. 16 March would a busier day administratively. Columbia received orders that her entire task force had been re-designated as TF 19—though the group organization per ship otherwise had not changed from the 9 March 1943 organization of the units. At 0700, she sighted Saratoga along with TF 14. TF 14 and TF 19 exercised together for the next several days.
Columbia and TF 19 detached from Saratoga’s TF 14 at 1000 on 17 March 1943, and the cruiser pulled up to her Espíritu Santo moorings at 0805 on 18 March for fuel, stores, and ammunition. Most of CruDiv 12 was in need of replenishment. She pulled out of Button on 20 March 1943, underway at 0605, to resume support operations around the Solomons. Initially, she left with only part of the TF 19 elements—CruDiv 12 plus destroyers Conway, Waller, Eaton, Philips, and Renshaw as a screen.
With no significant enemy resistance left in the Solomons since mid-February 1943, there was little for Columbia and TF 19 to do but drill and run exercises while on station. Columbia sprang an oil leak from her number three engine shaft on 22 March 1943 at 0012, but repaired it by 0335. Columbia and her partial task force eventually steamed back to Acid to conclude the operations—sighting Espíritu Santo at 1801 on 29 March and was back at her Havannah Harbor moorings on 30 March 1943 at 1440 to await a change in command and prepare for further exercises.
TF 19’s official organization orders came on 1 April 1943—confirming the subunit designations that had already been in place from 9 March 1943 with split divisions of TG 19.1’s cruisers in TU 19.1.1 and TU 19.1.2 (Columbia and CruDiv 12 in 19.1.2), and the same list of destroyers in TG 19.3. The only addition was heavy cruiser San Francisco (CA-38) to TU 19.1.1.
Columbia got underway at 0705 from her Havannah Harbor anchorage on 5 April 1943—steaming out for a series of exercises at Capt. Heard’s urging as the cruiser was about to experience her first change in command. Capt. Frank E. Beatty Jr., a former aide to both the President, and the Secretary of the Navy, was to assume command. San Francisco, Wichita, and some of the destroyers took part in exercises on 5 April 1943 so Beatty could observe Columbia underway and particularly while firing. The day did not go entirely according to plan. San Francisco lost a man overboard at 1041. Philips attempted to assist in the man’s recovery at 1045, but San Francisco’s own whaleboat picked up the man at 1049. Firing exercises resumed later. By 1912 on 5 April she was back at anchor after the day’s gunnery practices. Beatty officially assumed command at 1030 on 6 April 1943. The cruiser would be underway again on 7 April at 1600, steaming with CruDiv 12 for further exercises. However, 7 April proved significant at least as much for seeing Giffen relieved of command of TF 19—Merrill replacing him as TF 19’s overall commander. Wichita and Louisville were likewise detached from TF 19.
CruDiv 12’s exercises lasted through 7 April 1943, but on 8 April at 0652 they sighted TF 15 led by Enterprise—and combined formations. Word came in of enemy bomber attacks from Val dive bombers around Guadalcanal and Tulagi—part of Japan’s last significant air attack on the Solomons known as Operation I. Expecting another round of Japanese bombardments, Columbia and the combined group steamed toward “the slot” (New Georgia Sound), at 14°53.2'S, 164°47.7'E at 0800 on 8 April. Columbia supported Enterprise’s flight operations around Henderson Field, on 8 April (0924–0944), at 1623, and again (1823–1850). More flight operations were in store for the group on 9 April after steaming overnight to a slightly closer launching point—12°54.5'S, 163°24.8'E at noon. Columbia supported Enterprise (1140–1255), at 1531, and again at 1835. No attack materialized around the group itself on either day. The combined task forces left the engagement area, but took the opportunity to exercise on 10 April. Columbia and TF 19 parted from Enterprise and her TF 15 elements at 1622 that day as Columbia’s division changed course back toward Havannah Harbor—resuming exercises while underway until back at her moorings at 1738 on 13 April.
For the next two months, Columbia took no part in significant forward combat operations, and only engaged in exercises and routine patrols while based out of Havannah Harbor—still attached to TF 19 under Adm. Merrill’s command. On 21 April, Columbia got underway at 0755 for the first of these duties which included night and firing exercises before returning to the moorings at Acid on 22 April at 1431 for refueling, and anchoring at 1608.
By 1 May 1943, TF 19 had been significantly reduced in size to just two groups, including a far smaller destroyer unit. TG 19.1 only had the light cruisers of CruDiv 12—Columbia with her sister ships Montpelier, Cleveland, and Denver. TG 19.3 was composed of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 43’s Waller, Renshaw, Philip, and Saufley. Columbia stayed at anchor until she was able to get some work done with her new-look TF 19 on 6 May, underway at 0806, performing maneuvering and firing exercises. These tests ramped up into battle exercises by late evening—Columbia’s now three Seagulls having roles to play. The battle drills were followed by additional exercises the next day. TF 19 returned to Acid, and Columbia was back at anchor at 1601. She ran additional exercises on 10–11 May, 18–19 May, 21 May, and 26–27 May (TF 19 exercised with TF 11), at anchor in her Havannah Harbor berth when not on the exercising runs during these dates.
Columbia would find additional tweaking to her destroyer accompaniment on 1 June 1943. TF 19 remained unchanged regarding CruDiv 12’s assignment to TG 19.1, but TG 19.3 was recast as containing DesRon 22’s destroyers Pringle (DD-477), Saufley, Philip, Renshaw, and Waller.
Elements of the oft restructured TF 19 were in for another battery of exercises throughout June, and got off to an early start—Columbia underway at 0732 on 2 June. By June 1943, she was bearing five Curtiss SOC-1 Seagulls and they would get use as anti-submarine scouts, fighter director exercise elements, and continue to play roles in the drills throughout the period. Columbia and her group got through a day of gunnery training and she returned to Havannah Harbor that day—back at anchor at 1742.
Columbia would idle at Havannah Harbor until 8 June 1943, steaming out at 0719 with TF 19 minus Denver and Waller for another round of exercises. This training ran quite a variety of tests including gunnery of all Columbia’s batteries (also against aerial targets), radar tracking, evasion of both aerial and torpedo attacks, and tactical maneuvering in formation. Columbia and her exercise group persisted at this into 9 June with the addition of night combat exercises. This round of drills lasted until 1430 on 10 June. Columbia and company steamed back for Acid, and she anchored at 1805.
The ship remained at anchor for several days, only periodically sending up Seagulls for practice and scouting missions. She would round out the month with several sets of drills. The cruiser participated in a series of single day exercises with TF 19 from 16–18 June 1943—round trips out of and back to Havannah Harbor each time. The group went out for drills again on 25 June, but came back that day—Columbia anchored at 1511
The ship would stay anchored for the next two days, until steaming out of Havannah Harbor at 1052 on 27 June 1943 having transferred to TG 36.2 under Adm. Merrill as ultimately part of the Third Fleet. The new task group was divided into two subunits. TU 36.2.1 was designated a covering, and bombardment unit including Columbia and her sister ships Cleveland, Montpelier, and Denver in CruDiv 12 plus DesDiv 43. TU 36.2.2 was a group of light minelayers (converted destroyers) Preble (DM-20), Gamble (DM-15), and Breese (DM-18) and the destroyer Pringle. Columbia kept up the firing exercises while underway, though lost one of her patrolling Seagulls at 1541—recovering the pilot and passenger.
Columbia’s TU 36.2.1 sailed into Purvis Bay on the morning of 29 June 1943 (Columbia anchored at 1011) briefly to allow Waller to refuel, and the cruiser steamed back out at 1317 with the rest of TU 36.2.1 to make the rendezvous with TU 36.2.2 just off Port Purvis at Florida Island at 1442 on 29 June. The task group’s overall mission—in support of the invasion of New Georgia Island known as Operation Toenails—was to mine the area between Alu and Munia Islands while simultaneously attacking Poporong, Faisi, Ballale, and Shortland Islands with bombardment from CruDiv 12.
By 1533, the task group was already in sight of the Russell Islands—Columbia steaming at 26 knots due to the slow speeds of the light minelayers in her company. At 1624, she was 15 miles abeam of Pavuvu (to port). Columbia was heading first to a point five miles northwest of Savo Island with Pringle, Preble, Gamble, and Breese. Progress also was hindered by gradually darkening skies due to cloud cover as the group passed the Russell Islands. Two of DesDiv 43’s destroyers, Renshaw and Waller, broke off for a bombardment of Vila Stanmore [Vila] on Kolombangara at 2118 on 29 June 1943.
The deteriorating weather, and poor visibility forced a canceling of diversionary bombardments that would have supported Columbia’s part of the operation. Similarly, the poor conditions forced an abort of the flights of Consolidated PBY Catalinas or Black Cats to spot for Columbia’s gunnery. Adding to the anxiety on board Columbia for the upcoming attack was the potential for an enemy destroyer attack on top of rumors of a Japanese Kongo-class battleship, and three enemy cruisers in the area.
For the time being, Columbia proceeded on mission with her complement of light minelayers. She started the morning steaming at 26 knots, but slowed to 14 knots at 0037 while the destroyers steamed at 18 knots. The weather became stormy just as the former destroyers turned to the mine-laying course at 0039 on 30 June 1943—the eastern cape of Fauro Island bearing 10.8 miles away at 335°. Pringle came up to lead the column, using her radar as a guide to help the light minelayers sow a three-row minefield across the channel area south from Buin, Faisi, the Shortlands, and Bougainville [Papua New Guinea].
The entire light minelayer formation steamed south at their fastest speed while Columbia and the rest of CruDiv 12 pulled up to the bombardment course with Saufley as a guide from DesDiv 43 at 0154 on 30 June 1943—Moku Island bearing 13° at three miles distance before turning onto the course. All six ships fired at 0155 on the east section of the Shortlands, Poporang, Alu, Faisi, and Ballale. Columbia used 943 rounds of 6-inch/47, and 525 rounds of 5-inch/38 entirely on Faisi. The other destroyers from DesDiv 43 remained in reserve to intercept any surface targets. Approximately a half dozen secondary explosions were observed, and a probable fire in the target area. The bombardment over at 0209, CruDiv 12 turned about on a retirement course at 30 knots to regain friendly fighter cover—attempting to do so between moonrise at 0452 and sunrise at 0650. The cruisers steamed on at 30 knots, still trailing the long departed light minelayer TU 36.2.2 by 20,000 yards (steaming at a best expected speed of 28 knots). At 0302, the cruisers slowed to 28 knots and the two task units met—including the earlier detachment of destroyers Waller and Renshaw. By dawn, CruDiv 12 gained cloud cover and rain instead of fighter cover—though it seemed sufficient to shield them from enemy spotting. The cruisers would not pick up friendly fighters until 0629.
The mining-laying destroyers excepting Pringle left the formation for Tulagi at 1512 on 30 June 1943 for refueling. This preceded a reorganization of the destroyers under TG 36.2 on 30 June with Pringle, Waller, Saufley, Renshaw, and Philip all transferred from TU 36.2.2 and DesRon 43 into DesRon 22 under TG 36.2. Columbia engaged fueled (1320–1521) from oiler Sabine (AO-25) on 1 July. Denver, Cleveland, Saufley, and Renshaw left the task group at 1530 that afternoon for a rendezvous with TU 36.9.3 while Columbia, Montpelier, Waller, Pringle, and Philip formed as TU 36.2.9 to steam on for Espíritu Santo. Columbia anchored at Button at 0911 on 2 July 1943.
Columbia spent 2-3 July 1943 refueling and rearming in Espíritu Santo. On 3 July, she was underway from Espíritu Santo at 1600 along with TU 36.2.9 comprised of Montpelier, Waller, Pringle, and Philip. Columbia and her consorts were to rendezvous with North Carolina, Cleveland, Denver, and five destroyers to the west of the island. By noon on 5 July, Columbia’s group was at 16°32'S, 157°16'E. By 1520, the group had sighted North Carolina, the cruisers, and the destroyers. At 1525, North Carolina and three of the destroyers broke off for independent action. No sooner had Columbia made this meeting then she was redirected to steam to a point 15 miles west of Rendova to attempt to intercept enemy ships coming down “the Tokyo Express: or the Japanese supply line of ships to Guadalcanal. At 1737 on 5 July, she deployed at 29 knots on the planned course—at 13°22.5'S, 157°28.7'E by 2000. Columbia maintained this overnight, though decelerated to 25 knots at 2130 and 22 knots at 2215.
By 6 July 1943, Columbia clearly could not make the interception point in time, and received new orders to return to Purvis Bay to resume her duties as part of TG 36.2—she also was to refuel. She anchored briefly on 6 July at 1413 between Koli Point and Lunga Point on Guadalcanal while some of the other division ships refueled and Columbia sent one of her Seagulls to Halavo on temporary duty at 1330—Columbia underway again at 1729. Still en route to Purvis Bay on 7 July, Columbia got word of what became known as the Battle of Kula Gulf (5–6 July) and the sinking of Helena by Japanese torpedo attacks as enemy forces attempted to land reinforcements to counter allied landings on New Georgia Island. Columbia received additional orders to move up her arrival at Purvis Bay (ramping up her cruising speed from 22 to 26 knots by 0800), and expect a quick turnaround so she could go up “the slot” as well the night of 7 July.
She passed Savo Island at 1852 (off the starboard beam by 4,000 yards). At 2000, Columbia was at 08°55.1'S, 159°18.4'E. At 2320, Waller broke off to pursue an enemy surface contact. The cruiser would have a long night of intermittent contacts. The radar contacts that could be confirmed turned out to be friendly, and by 0305 on 7 July 1943, Waller had rejoined the formation. TG 36.2 steamed back on a reciprocal course for Port Purvis on the morning of 07 July, with Columbia making her anchorage by 1010.
Between 7 and 11 July 1943, Columbia and elements of TG 36.2 would make repeated round-trips from the Tulagi area to patrol the stretch of waters northwest of New Georgia Island—approximately 10–15 miles north of Point Visuvisu. This route enabled radar to reach to Kula Gulf, and just past Kolombangara into Vella Gulf. For these patrols, Columbia and TG 36.2 sailed out of Purvis Bay at around 1600—not returning until approximately 0900 on the following morning.
On 7 July 1943, Columbia got underway at 1621 from Purvis Bay with Montpelier and destroyers running as a screening force. Cleveland and Denver both joined the group at 1709. Once again, a series of passing air and surface contacts during the evening, and overnight were later confirmed to be friendly. Not so friendly was a Mitsubishi F1M Type 0 Navy Observation Seaplane (Pete) or “snooper” that approached Columbia and the group as they approached Kula Gulf, dropping red and green flares while 2,500 yards off Columbia’s port beam—none of the formation ships were hit. This earned the enemy plane anti-aircraft fire from Columbia’s 5-inch/38 caliber battery and Cleveland’s 5-inch battery between 0137 and 0140 on 8 July. The group returned to Purvis Bay without further incident by 0914 and Columbia was at anchor by 0947.
Columbia briefly shifted her operating base from Port Purvis to Tulagi Harbor on 8 July 1943—leaving Purvis Bay at 1545, and getting to Tulagi Harbor at 1603—anchored again by 1657 and refueling. The cruiser returned on 9 July, leaving Tulagi at 0610 and anchoring in Purvis Bay at 0727. The cruiser also retrieved one of her detached duty Seagulls later that morning at 0930; however, her Seagull would be sent right back out at 1623 that day for detached duty at Guadalcanal. Columbia got underway at 1706 as she steamed out of Purvis Bay on 10 July and headed for Kula Gulf with the rest of TG 36.2 looking for enemy contacts. The round trip on the 10th being uneventful, she returned to her Port Purvis anchorage at 0951 on 11 July—recovering the detached Seagull by 1145, but sending it out at 1406 for duty at Halavo. Columbia raised anchor shortly thereafter, underway and steaming out of Purvis Bay at 1418 on 11 July.
Operations on 11 July 1943 pulled Columbia into the company of TG 36.9—though the cruiser spent the afternoon of 11 July mostly on maneuvering exercises. TG 36.9, under Adm. Merrill, was formed initially with four subunits. Columbia and her sister ships Cleveland, Denver, and Montpelier in CruDiv 12 would make up TU 36.9.1 also known as Fire Support Section One. TU 36.9.2 (Fire Support Section Two) would include the destroyers Farenholt (DD-491), and Buchanan (DD-484). The task group would be including two destroyer screening section units. TU 36.9.3 (Screening Section One) was comprised of Gwin (DD-433), Ralph Talbot (DD-390), and McCalla (DD-488). TU 36.9.4 (Screening Section Two) was formed from the destroyers that had already been accompanying Merrill’s group--Waller, Philip, Renshaw, Saufley, and Pringle.
At midnight on 12 July 1943, Columbia’s CruDiv 12 (TU 36.9.1) steamed for a bombardment mission against Munda on New Georgia Island—the destroyers of TU 36.9.4 providing screening operations. Rear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner’s idea was to send Merrill’s group to clear the jungles of Munda and help the marine and army units trying to secure the beachheads and interior. A limiting factor was the Army’s 43rd division (172nd infantry) so mistrusted naval gunfire support (NGF) that they requested Merrill’s task group aim the bombardment so the estimated impacts were a mile beyond friendly unit front lines. They also asked that the NGF be aligned parallel to the friendly units’ lines instead of perpendicular so there would be no risk of shots over friendly units.
The Army’s impositions compelled Merrill’s other destroyer units, TU 36.9.2 and TU 36.9.3, to both be sent to make soundings and radar sweeps of Blanche Channel (as the only viable launch point for the engagement) ahead of the attacking force. By 0115, Cape Rice was bearing 218°, 3.5 miles away. TU 36.9.4’s Waller, Saufley, and Pringle screened ahead of CruDiv 12, at 0234, while Philip and Renshaw took up positions astern as the formation passed the north tip of Langarana—bearing 65°. By 0257, TU 36.9.1 passed the northeast tip of Bau Island bearing 150° at 1.5 miles distance and onto the firing course. Montpelier was leading the cruiser column and fired first at Munda at 0257, Columbia at 0303—with both her 6-inch and 5-inch batteries, and Cleveland at 0305.The task unit spotted flares off the port bow, and port beam at 0315 and 0350 respectively. Nevertheless, Columbia’s group continued watching as TU 36.9.2’s destroyers began firing. The whole bombardment concluded at 0333.
TG 36.9 changed course after the bombardment at 0409 initially back toward Tulagi with a later destination of Espíritu Santo, but then the task group itself was dissolved as of 12 July 1943. CruDiv 12 including Columbia and DesRon 43 (what had been TU 36.9.1 and TU 36.9.4, respectively) were once again placed in TG 36.2. Columbia passed through the Sealark Channel from 1448 to 1525 on 13 July, and sent a Seagull on detached duty to Halavo Bay at 1530.
Columbia and the rest of TG 36.2 kept steaming toward Espíritu Santo on into 14 July, still alert for enemy contacts—just passing south of New Georgia and Rendova by midnight. The group made the stop at Tulagi on the morning of 14 July, Columbia dropping anchor at Purvis Bay at 1054. She stayed put for three days, getting word of the results of the 13 July Battle of Kolombangara including the casualties suffered by Adm. Ainsworth’s TG 36.1—notably to ships that had accompanied Columbia just days before—such as the loss of Gwin and many of her crew. Columbia and TG 36.2 got underway from Purvis Bay at 0545 on 17 July. By 1001 on 18 July, Columbia made her anchorage in the Segond Channel at Espíritu Santo and took on replenishment.
The cruiser remained stationed out of Espíritu Santo for the next two months—through 5 September 1943--to support patrol operations in the Solomons. She did not first steam out for the first of these cruises until 1630 on 20 July with TG 36.2. The patrol would proceed without incident—replete with drills, and aerial anti-submarine patrols.
On 22 July, TG 36.2 would undergo a minor reorganization that redistributed the cruisers and destroyers among the two subunits instead of keeping CruDiv 12 together. TU 36.2.1 under Merrill now included the cruisers Montpelier, Cleveland, and destroyers Waller, Pringle, and Philip. TU 36.2.2 now not only included Columbia, but was under Capt. Beatty’s overall command. TU 36.2.2 also took in cruiser Denver, and the other destroyers—Saufley, and Renshaw. Columbia’s first round of patrolling wrapped up with her return to her Espíritu Santo anchorage at 1627 on 23 July.
Columbia stayed at anchor for a few days with little to do except training flights for her Seagulls. Her next patrol would commence on 28 July as she got underway from Espíritu Santo at 0800. The day consisted of anti-submarine aerial patrols, and firing drills. The drills proceeded unremarkably, but the day did mark the addition of destroyer Eaton to TU 36.2.2. Columbia would continue firing, and tracking exercises with TU 36.2.2 through the 31 July until returning her moorings at Espíritu Santo on 31 July at 1543.
TG 36.2’s organization was further simplified on 1 August 1943. The subunits were eliminated, and the entirety of Merrill’s group command was now composed of CruDiv 12’s light cruisers Columbia, Montpelier, Cleveland, and Denver plus DesRon 23 destroyers Pringle, Waller, Saufley, Renshaw, and Philip. The condensed task group was back out on patrol on 2 August, Columbia underway at 1149, and tacking on exercises with Saratoga’s TF 38, and TF 39 (3–4 August). TF 38, and TF 39 dispersed during the afternoon of 4 August for other assignments. Later on, TF 37 came along Columbia’s group at 1640 that day. TF 37 was made up of Battleship Division (BatDiv) 4‘s Maryland, and Colorado, plus Australian heavy cruiser Australia (D.84), and a complement of destroyers.
At 1800 on 4 August 1943, Merrill’s group assumed the TF 39 designation—though the order would not take effect until the existing TG 36.2 completed its current cruise. The new TF 39 organization, at first, did not change materially from the August 1943 scheme. Merrill’s group still was made up of the same sister cruisers in CruDiv 12 and five destroyers simply re-designated DesRon 22. TG 36.2 and TF 37 steamed together through 5 August into Espíritu Santo, Columbia dropping anchor at 1001—the TF 39 re-designation now taking effect.
By 8 August 1943, the rest of Columbia’s division was being assigned in and out of Espíritu Santo—leaving Columbia idle for days, and sorted out alone as TU 36.2.2. This lasted until 13 August when Montpelier returned to Espíritu Santo and subsumed Columbia back into TG 36.2. However, the overall TF 39 organization underwent significant changes that day. TF 39, continuing under Adm. Merrill’s command, was to control CruDiv 12, and two destroyer divisions under DesRon 23. CruDiv 12 retained the same four sister cruisers including Columbia with Montpelier as flagship, Cleveland and Denver. DesRon 23 was composed of DesDiv 45’s Charles Ausburne (DD-570), Stanly (DD-478), Aulick, Claxton (DD-571), and Dyson (DD-572). DesDiv 46 was also under DesRon 23 with Foote (DD-511), Converse (DD-509), Spence (DD-512), and Thatcher (DD-514).
Columbia spent nearly a week and a half in port before getting an opportunity to exercise with the new formation on 18 August 1943—underway from Espíritu Santo at 0803, and returning to her anchorage at 1242 on 19 August. Still in port for several days, the entirety of DesDiv 45 was detached from TF 39 on 24 August so it could convoy TU 32.4.2 to Guadalcanal, and then link up with CTF 31 to relieve DesDiv 41. The cruiser sat at anchor for nearly another week, getting underway at 1015 on 30 August and joining the rest of CruDiv 12 for gunnery exercises that day.
With the destroyer units shuffled around for different assignments, TF 39 on 30 August 1943 had another configuration as well. CruDiv 12 remained unchanged, but TF 39 now had the destroyers of DesDiv 46 attached with Foote, Converse, Radford, and Jenkins (DD-447).
TF 39 continued its training run into 31 August 1943, joining with TF 37. An aircraft collision and loss of one plane among TF 37’s squadrons was reported by escort carrier Breton (CVE-23) at 1005. The exercises on 31 August expanded to include Saratoga’s TF 38 through 1 September. This lasted until the evening of 1 September as TF 37 broke off at 1745 for Espíritu Santo. TF 38 and Columbia’s TF 39 received orders to continue support maneuvers through 3 September, and wait for follow up orders—TF 39 heading to Espíritu Santo, and TF 38 to Havannah Harbor. By 0443 on 2 September, Vankoro Island was bearing 356° at 35 miles distance from the combined task forces. Both groups changed course on the evening of 3 September according to plan, and TF 38 and TF 39 parted company at 0703 on 4 September. Columbia and TF 39 continued for Espíritu Santo, passing Vatguna Rock [Vatughahi Rock, Solomon Islands] by 20 miles at 1030 on 4 September at bearing 235°--running a few gunnery practices. The cruiser was back at anchor at 1759 in the Segond Channel of Espíritu Santo on 4 September.
Columbia spent most of 5 September 1943 refueling. On 6 September, she got underway from Espíritu Santo at 0800 en route to Sydney, New South Wales, Australia for an overhaul. Columbia, escorted by Chevalier the entire way, arrived at Port Jackson Harbor at 0628 on 10 September and was at her moorings by 0806 in Woolloomooloo Bay.
After a week and a half moored for her overhaul, Columbia got underway from Woolloomooloo at 1209 on 20 September 1943 for degaussing runs (process of decreasing or eliminating a remnant magnetic field) after engine and gun tests earlier that morning. The crew also went through a few drills that afternoon. The cruiser continued steaming along with Chevalier for Nouméa, exercising along the way, arriving at her Nouméa moorings by 1153 on 22 September. She refueled, and quickly got underway again at 1550 along with Chevalier to rendezvous with TG 39.2 and Kankakee.
Columbia ran drills en route, and rejoined TG 39.2 as flagship at 0530 on 24 September 1943 along with Chevalier—Cleveland, Kankakee, Charles Ausburne, Spence, Claxton, and Dyson the other present elements. TG 39.2 resumed earlier duties to support operations in the Solomons, and patrol for enemy shipping. This was part of the Battle of Vella Lavella, and particularly to seal off Kolombangara with a blockade against “the Tokyo Express.” On 25 September, at 0800, TG 39.2 was at 11°48.7’S, 158°22.8’E. At 1045 on 25 September, Merrill’s TG 39.2 received orders from Rear Adm. (later Vice Adm.) Theodore S. Wilkinson to proceed northwest of Vella Lavella to intercept enemy shipping en route to Kolombangara—the task group subsequently to reroute to Tulagi the morning after.
By 2000 on 25 September 1943, TG 39.2 was steaming toward their northwest operational area of Vella Lavella Island as ordered—at 9°11’S, 156°18’E at 2000. On 26 September, Columbia and the rest of TG 39.2 were searching for enemy contacts northwest of Vella Lavella at 25 knots.
At 0058 on 26 September 1943, Cleveland reported an unidentified aircraft bearing 305° at 14 miles distance with another bearing 000° at 10 miles distance—the hunters, had become the hunted. At 0104, Columbia opened fire on the closing plane until 0106 with her 5-inch 38-caliber gun—the plane retiring. The task group changed course at 0118. From 0136 to 0138, Charles Ausburne opened fire on an unidentified plane closing on bearing 020° at 4.4 miles distance. An unidentified aircraft also approached at 0148 on bearing 220° at 6 miles distance—both Spence and Cleveland fired on this plane (0152–0154). The planes were Japanese reconnaissance aircraft—more Petes or snoopers relaying the fleet’s coordinates to enemy submarines. TG 39.2 changed course again at 0230, and tried to raise contact with TG 39.1 at 0240—the other group 41,000 yards away at bearing 048°.
Columbia and TG 39.2 accelerated to 30 knots at 0303 as they continued course changes, but now started spotting torpedo wakes from Japanese submarine attacks at 0311. Another Japanese reconnaissance plane passed 5 miles distant on bearing 137° at 0316. This was followed by two more torpedo wakes close to Columbia’s port side, just ahead at 0326. Columbia poured on the speed, steaming the task group now up to 32 knots, at 0330. Charles Ausburne began firing on a small surface contact at 0334 off Columbia’s starboard bow. Columbia picked up an intermittent small surface contact at 0335 bearing 245° at 2,000 yards distance—prompting the cruiser to pull an emergency turn to port. A minute later, at 0336, Columbia spotted a torpedo wake just crossing ahead of her bow. Cleveland opened fire on another small surface target, possibly one of the submarines, at the same time Columbia was spotting the torpedo wake. At 0342, Cleveland reported a submarine surfacing.
The harassment seemed to die down within the next hour, TG 39.2 getting back on base course at 0428; however, Columbia and company continued steaming at 30 knots until 0438 and did not secure from general quarters until 0641. By 0800 on 26 September, they reached 8°32’S, 158°59’E. TG 39.2 followed orders to steam for Tulagi after their patrol around Vella Lavella. By 1202 on 26 September 1943, Columbia was at her moorings in Tulagi Harbor and refueling shortly thereafter.
Columbia and TG 39.2 ran out at 1641 on 26 September 1943 for a point northwest of Vella Lavella again—Charles Ausburne, Dyson, and Claxton in a screen around the cruisers. At 1815, the destroyers reformed the screen so Charles Ausburne and Claxon were 6,000 yards ahead of Columbia while Dyson took up position 5,000 yards astern. However, Wilkinson changed his mind about risking Merrill’s cruisers again and ordered a turnabout to Tulagi--at 2000 they would reach 8°29.8’S, 158°53.2’E, and the destroyers would all move to a forward screen at 2115. By 2335, TG 39.2 was back at Tulagi Harbor—Columbia at anchor at 0059 on 27 September 1943.
While Columbia spent 27 September 1943 shifting berths from Tulagi Harbor to Purvis Bay from 1600-1700, the destroyer elements of TG 39.2 spent the day patrolling “the slot.” At 1350, TG 39.2’s destroyers Charles Ausburne, Dyson, Spence, and Foote got underway to pursue Japanese barge traffic and other enemy targets. The Japanese reconnaissance planes harassed the destroyers with flares, and float-lights—limiting them to four sunk barges amid the clutter.
Much the same happened on 28 September 1943 as Columbia got underway with TG 39.2 at 1420 to patrol Rendova, but was ordered back to Tulagi with all of the cruisers—only the destroyers Charles Ausburne, Claxton, Spence, and Dyson steaming for “the slot” and Vella Lavella. Columbia regained her anchorage at Purvis Bay at 1747. The cruiser (and Cleveland) continued idling at Purvis by order of Turner even as, on 1 October, Denver and the destroyer complements of TG 39.1, destroyers of TG 39.2, and five destroyers of DesRon 21 left Purvis Bay and Tulagi for a mission to clear enemy traffic from the waters between Kolombangara and Choiseul.
On 2 October 1943, the groups that had sortied the previous day had returned, but now Columbia was preparing for a move for Espíritu Santo—underway at 1449 from Purvis Bay, and steamed along with TG 39.2. TG 39.2 exercised en route, and Columbia was moored in Segond Channel at Espíritu Santo at 1715 on 3 October 1943. Columbia and TG 39 remained at Espíritu Santo for several days until Columbia got underway at 1330 on 7 October with TF 39 for a series of tactical exercises with TF37, and TF 38.
The exercises starting on 7 October 1943 involved a significant fleet, and several configurations of task forces, and task groups. TF 37, commanded by Rear Adm. Willis Lee (overall commander of the exercise), was operating with battleships Washington, Massachusetts (BB-59), South Dakota (BB-57), Alabama (BB-60), and DesRon 45 without Halford (DD-480) or Braine (DD-630). Depending how the exercise was organized, TF 37 was broken up into two subgroups. TG 37.1—commanded by Rear Adm. Glenn B. Davis--with Massachusetts, Washington, cruisers San Diego, Columbia, escort carrier Breton, two destroyers from TF 38, and DesRon 45 (again without Halford or Braine). TG 37.2—commanded by Rear Adm. Edward W. Hanson--had South Dakota, Alabama, cruisers Montpelier, Denver, San Juan (CL-54), carrier Saratoga, and DesRon 23 (without Aulick).
TF 38—commanded by Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman--was operating with Saratoga, Breton, San Diego, San Juan, Wilson (DD-408), Stack (DD-406), Lardner (DD-487), and DesDiv 23. TF 39, when operating independently, maintained CruDiv 12 (without Cleveland), and DesRon 23 (without Aulick).
At 1508 on 7 October 1943, TF 39 and TF 38 joined formations from the western entrance of Bougainville Strait to start the exercises. Columbia continued the portions of the exercise as part of TF 39 through 0102 on 8 October, then took station with TF 37 at 0110 for the next series. The next set of exercises wrapped up at 0550. Columbia joined TF 38 briefly afterwards, but then resumed formation as part of TF 39. The three task forces (37, 38, 39) steamed together for the subsequent drills. The following set of maneuvers on 9 October included battle simulations of combined task forces attacking each other—TF 38 and TF 39 attacked TF 37 at 0714 on 9 October in one exercise, The subgroups played a role on 9 October as TG 37.1 and 37.2 (including Columbia) formed out of the other task forces for the next set of maneuvers. The three task forces reformed into their distinct groups for another larger battle simulation—TF 38 attacking TF 37 and TF 39 at 0600 on 10 October. TF 33 was also brought in on 10 October to provide additional simulated air attacks against TF 38 and TF 39 starting at 0730. The entirety of the fleet exercise concluded at 1309 on 10 October. The three task forces steamed apart from one another, and Columbia (back in TF 39 proper, with Montpelier as Merrill’s task force flagship) turned back to Espíritu Santo—moored in her Segond Channel berth at 1610.
Columbia assumed a lead role again as she was moved into the flagship position of TG 39.2 on 15 October 1943; however, TG 39.2 remained idle at Espíritu Santo until Columbia got underway at 0700 on 20 October—steaming out with her task group for a training cruise. A paired down task group committed to the exercise—Columbia, Denver, Dyson, Claxton, and Foote. At 0800, Columbia suffered a loss in oil pressure on its number two main engine—dropping its speed to 15 knots for a time. The group still managed to complete most of the schedule tests in time to return to Espíritu Santo by 1730 that day, but they had not completed a test regarding errors in fire control while under dynamic course changes. Columbia was back at her berth at 1805.
The cruiser spent several more days idle at Espíritu Santo, marked notably by Adm. Halsey’s visit on Columbia the afternoon of 21 October 1943 to meet with Adm. Merrill, and address those serving on board. Columbia also spent much of 21 October undergoing significant replenishment. On 24 October, TF 39’s flag was transferred from Columbia to Cleveland at 0002. TG 39.3 was designated with Cleveland as flagship, accompanied by Denver, and the destroyers Claxton, Dyson, Spence, Foote, and Charles Ausburne. TG 39.3 steamed out of Espíritu Santo at 0500 on 24 October under orders from Halsey—covering for Operation Goodtime, the invasion of the Treasury Islands on 27 October.
Columbia, still flagship of TG 39.2, got underway at 1700 on 25 October 1943 from Espíritu Santo with orders from Halsey to link with the rest of TG 39 bound first for Port Purvis. This was preparation for an assault on Japanese airfields that could strike Bougainville while Wilkinson’s amphibious forces were invading it during what became known as Operation Cherryblossom. Halsey, consulting with Wilkinson earlier on 12 October, had set 1 November as the date for the invasion. Halsey’s plan for Merrill was for the admiral to take all of TF 39’s cruisers and shell Buka Island [Papua New Guinea] in advance of the assault, off Bougainville’s northwestern tip, to confuse the concentration of Japanese troops there and divert attention from the marines landing at Empress Augusta Bay. The plan also called for DesRon 23, under the command of Capt. Arleigh A. Burke, to accompany TF 39’s cruisers—circumstances that would lead to Burke’s nickname of “31-knot Burke.”
The main Japanese fleet elements in October 1943 were concentrating on defending Rabaul, part of the Imperial Headquarters Operation RO. In any case, the Japanese Navy was not expecting a major action at Empress Augusta Bay.
Columbia, leading TG 39.2, reached Port Purvis on the afternoon of 27 October 1943—anchored at her berth by 1606. The group girded itself for action, and sortied from the Florida Islands on 31 October 1943—Columbia underway at 0222 in company of TF 39.
Merrill’s TF 39, at this point, consisted of Columbia and the rest of CruDiv 12’s complement of her sister cruisers--Montpelier, Cleveland, and Denver. TF 39 also pulled in DesRon 23’s two subdivisions of destroyers. DesDiv 45 steamed with Charles Ausburne, Stanly, Claxton, and Dyson. DesDiv 46 steamed with Converse, Foote, Spence, and Thatcher. The planned bombardment area also had expanded for TF 39. TF 39 now needed to bombard the enemy airfields at Buka and Bonis at the Buka Passage, the installations in the Shortlands of South Bougainville, and to remain the area for covering actions while the landings continued.
The cruiser and her task force steamed on course for support operations through the day, with Rendova Island 10 miles to starboard beam by 1050 and Gizo Island to starboard by 34 miles at 1438. At 1650, TF 39 including Columbia sighted Treasury Island bearing 333° at 38 miles distance. By 2000, Columbia was at 6°55.8'S, 154°45.5'E. As the operation commenced on 1 November 1943, Columbia and TF 39 were steaming at midnight into morning with 1,500 yards distance between the cruisers. Six of the task force destroyers were ahead of the cruisers in a screen, and two trailed astern.
Contacts dogged Merrill’s task force all morning starting at 0030 when Stanly reported a surface contact bearing 042°, and opened fire five minutes later. Flares from Petes sparked white light off Columbia’s starboard quarter, prompting course changes in the fleet and an increased speed from 20 to 28 knots at 0041, and up to 30 knots by 0100 as more surface contacts appeared. Cleveland opened fire on another enemy aerial reconnaissance contact at 0105—the fleet accelerating to 31 knots. Montpelier opened fire on a Pete at 0149, and at 0157 Charles Ausburne spotted float lights. Surface contacts, and Petes dropping flares or float lights to spot the incoming TF 39 continued through the early morning. At 0619, the Japanese shore batteries opened fire on Columbia’s formation. At 0624, it was TF 39’s turn. Columbia opened fire on the shore batteries assaulting her group, and at 0628 fired on Japanese installations on Korovou Peninsula on Shortland Island. At 0641, the cruiser gave the Japanese shore batteries another round of bombardment, ceasing at 0645 to turn her guns on Faisi Island’s installations. Bombardment of Faisi ceased at 0651, and a new round of firing commenced at 0655 against the Poporang Hill shore batteries. All shore installation bombardment ceased at 0658 and Columbia’s formation peeled away to the retirement course—DesDiv 46 steaming briefly for Hathorn Sound to refuel at 0750.
By 1000 on 1 November 1943, Columbia was back in sight of Treasury Island bearing 290° at 40 miles distance. Columbia continued steaming with TF 39 in the support role of TG 31.5’s landing operations, and by 2000 she was at 6°45.0’S, 154°34.4’S. At 2240, DesDiv 46 rejoined TF 39. A hint of trouble to come was buzzing overhead however—another Pete passed low over Columbia at 2300 and was fired on by the destroyers.
At 0055 on 2 November 1943, Merrill had all TF 39 go to general quarters. Columbia made contact with Renshaw and minelayers bearing 010° at 18 miles distance—Renshaw’s group heading south. Columbia pulled into a column formation, third in line with her sister cruisers while DesDiv 45 screened ahead and DesDiv 46 screened astern. Columbia spotted a white flare at 0210 bearing 018° at 11 miles distance. At 0230 an enemy surface fleet hove into view, bearing 275° at 18 miles distance heading for Empress Augusta Bay.
The Battle of Empress Augusta Bay commenced on the morning of 2 November 1943, approximately 40 miles west of Cape Torokina, Bougainville Island, with Merrill ordering Burke’s destroyers--nicknamed the “Little Beavers”—to fire torpedo spreads at the oncoming Japanese fleet at 0230. The enemy fleet’s main threat was comprised of two heavy cruisers under overall command of Vice Adm. Omari Sentaro--Myoko, and Haguro. Also facing Merrill were Rear Adm. Ijuin Matsuji's light cruiser Sendai with destroyers Shigure, Samidare, and Shiratsuyu. Rear Adm. Osugi Morikazu brought light cruiser Agano, and destroyers Naganami, Wakatsuki, Hatsukaze, plus destroyer-transports Amagiri, Yunagi, Uzuki, and Yuzuki.
At 0245 the TF 39 destroyers under Burke’s command launched their torpedoes shortly before Cleveland and Denver opened fire on enemy surface targets to Columbia’s starboard at 0249. Columbia, at 0251, brought her main batteries to bear on the enemy vanguard of destroyers—firing on target group bearing 296° at a range of 21,300 yards—until 0254. At 0257, the target was clearly disabled—moving erratically in a circle. Columbia changed course, opening fire at 0300 on another target in the enemy fleet’s main column of cruisers bearing 278° at a distance of 20,100 yards. While Columbia’s guns still blazed away, at 0305, Foote took an enemy torpedo hit in her aft engine compartment area—the destroyer apparently suffering damage to her shaft and running out of control. Columbia kept firing on her second target until 0307 when the range ran out to 23,850 yards—changing course again at 0310. At 0311, Columbia’s main batteries fired on a third target at 19,000 yards and bearing 268°. The cruiser continued this fire while changing course at 0320, and then cut in her secondary batteries on the same target as the range closed to 17,000 yards—making additional course changes at 0325.
At 0330, she observed Denver suffering a hit on her starboard bow from an enemy’s 8-inch gun. Columbia cut off her secondary batteries from firing on the third target at 0332, and kept changing course. Cleveland contacted Columbia to report that the latter had a light visible on the starboard bow. Columbia had incurred minor damage from a shell fragment that had gone through the starboard bow at frame number ten and lodged into the port bulkhead of a compartment. Other than the hole, and a few damaged tins of canned meat, no other damage or casualties were reported on board Columbia. She continued with evasive course changes at 0335, but all firing ceased at this time and the enemy squadron withdrew in the direction of Rabaul.
The resulting damage to the Japanese fleet included Charles Ausburne, Spence, Dyson, Claxton, and Stanly combining efforts in sinking the enemy destroyer Hatsukaze. TF 39 also combined gunfire to sink the light cruiser Sendai, and damage both heavy cruisers Myoko and Haguro—causing the two cruisers to collide. Japanese destroyers Shiratsuyu and Samidare also suffered damage, though at least some if it was due to collisions with each other.
TF 39 continued fending off intermittent air contacts throughout the morning of 2 November 1943. Columbia fired on a Pete at 0406, and Montpelier fired at an unidentified surface contact at 0455. At 0630, Thatcher (which had a collision with Spence during the prior day’s engagement) took the badly damaged Foote in tow with Dyson and Claxton for escort. The task force continued frequent course changes, and braced for an incoming air attack at 0742 as they sounded general quarters.
At 0800, Columbia was at 6°41.2'S, 154°24.3'E. At 0803, Columbia and TF 39 began evasive maneuvers to avoid the incoming enemy air attack—a squadron of approximately 70 Val dive bombers. Columbia had two near misses. The cruiser returned fire with her 5-inch, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter batteries on the enemy bombers—the Vals retiring at 0820. In total, 17 Vals were shot down by the group. Columbia secured from general quarters at 0904, but kept ready status on her anti-aircraft batteries while she resumed course changes. By 1215, Columbia and her group were steaming on the retirement course and passing Treasury Island to port by 10.5 miles. At 1400, Dyson rejoined Columbia’s group while Spence and Converse steamed ahead for Purvis Bay independently. At 1825, TF 39 sighted the TG 31.5 transport force they had helped cover.
For the performance in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay on 2 November 1943, Capt. Beatty was awarded the Navy Cross. Cmdr. John Sylvester was awarded the Legion of Merit. Cmdr. Karl J. Biederman, Cmdr. George A. Lange, Lt. Cmdr. [Gilmer] G. Weston, Lt. Cmdr. James P. Craft, and Lt. Cmdr. Robert C. Sleight were all awarded Letters of Commendation.
Through 2–3 November 1943, TF 39 steamed back toward Port Purvis as they covered TG 31.5’s withdrawal from Empress Augusta Bay in the early morning. TF 39 passed Rendova abeam to Port by 27 miles at 0850 on 3 November. Columbia pulled into her anchorage at Port Purvis at 1800 on 3 November.
Columbia remained at anchor to quickly take on replenishment, and steamed out again in a paired down TF 39—minus Denver, Foote, Spence, Claxton, and Thatcher. When Columbia got underway on 4 November, at 1752, she at least had Nashville augmenting her force as TF 39 was in for another round of supporting TF 31’s (TG 31.6) operations at Bougainville. In fact, Merrill’s TF 39 would play a significant role protecting multiple echelons of these landings.
Columbia passed the Russell Islands abeam to starboard by 12 miles at 2135 on 4 November 1943. Claxton, and Spence caught up to TF 39 at 2250. TF 39’s support operations continued into 5 November, at 7°12.6'S, 154°59.8'E by 2000.
The evening hours of 5 November 1943 were not going to be routine either. At 2053 an incoming Pete warranted fire from Columbia for a minute along with a change of course. At 2101, Nashville and the destroyer complement fired on a Pete—the destroyers opening up on another enemy reconnaissance plane at 2110 until 2112. At 2119, Converse reported an enemy submarine contact bearing 315°—Columbia pulling an emergency turn. Converse lost the contact at 2127, and was ordered back to the screening position. At 2131, the destroyers fired on another surface contact until 2136. TF 39 continued evasive course maneuvers overnight into 6 November, but managed to secure from general quarters by 0610.
At 0951 on 6 November 1943, Nashville, Cleveland, Spence, Converse, and Stanly formed TG 39.2 to steam for Hathorn Sound and refuel. Columbia remained on station with Montpelier, Charles Ausburne, Claxton, and Dyson in TG 39.1. At 1125, Columbia fired on a passing enemy Mitsubishi G3M Navy Type 96 Nell land attack plane—and resumed course changes. Japanese bombers were still harassing U.S. infantry as landing craft retired from Cape Torokina. The evening of 6 November saw a return to alert conditions on Columbia’s anti-aircraft batteries. She went to general quarters at 1840. At 2000 she was at 6°33.5'S, 154°18.4'E and opened fire on a Pete—doing so on another Pete at 2044.
Columbia and TG 39.1 continued covering TG 31.6’s landing and retirement operations off Empress Augusta Bay into 7 November 1943. The cruiser and her group were on high alert, and quick to intercept any potential enemy contact. At 0057, TG 39.1’s destroyers screened ahead of Columbia and Montpelier as they steamed to intercept a potential enemy surface force heading for Empress Augusta Bay. The group engaged a series of course changes, but did not encounter any contacts until 0259 when Columbia opened fire on an air target—possibly a Pete. The destroyers reformed an anti-submarine screen at 0333, but no other contacts were made except friendly ones later that morning. Columbia secured from general quarters at 0633, and sighted TG 31.6 at 0708 bearing 105° from 12 miles distance. At 0800, Columbia was at 7°04.0'S, 154°35.6'E—making the rendezvous with TG 39.2 at 1043.
TF 39 steamed back for Port Purvis through 8 November 1943, Columbia at anchor at 1018 and took on replenishment. TF 39 continued covering operations on 9 November—Columbia underway at 2147 with TF 39 minus Cleveland, Thatcher, Foote, and Dyson. Columbia’s group was to support TG 31.7’s landings at Empress Augusta Bay. At 0800 she was at 8°41.5'S, 156°56.4'E. Most of the day proved uneventful other than equipment calibrations until 1515 when Spence reported four Japanese sailors in a life raft ahead of the destroyer. Spence attempted to pick up the enemy sailors, but all four shot themselves—Spence rejoined the formation at 1600. The evening proved slight more interesting as Columbia went to general quarters at 1830. She was at 7°18.5'S, 155°02.0'E at 2000, and observed the destroyers from TU 31.1.3 firing on an enemy aerial reconnaissance contact (2033–2034). A few course changes from TF 39 later, Columbia spotted a white flare bearing 160° at 2250. Again, TU 31.1.3’s ships opened fire on a Japanese reconnaissance plane from 2325 until 2330. Covering operations continued with sporadic enemy contacts on 11 November—Montpelier opening fire on an enemy plane at 0010—though all other enemy aerial contacts apparently had withdrawn. Columbia secured from general quarters at 0633. At 1130, TF 39’s destroyers rescued four men who parachuted from a flight of Consolidated B-24 Liberators. At noon, Columbia was at 7°13.0'S, 155°02.0'E. TF 39 also received Eaton as an augment to her force strength—the destroyer joining the formation at 1525.
Enemy aerial harassment was still a problem throughout the evening of 11 November 1943. Squadrons of Bettys that had been engaging other task forces around Bougainville looking for Rear Adm. Alfred E. Montgomery’s carrier task force instead of found Merrill’s cruisers and destroyers. At 1835, Columbia was back at general quarters as the formation was entering the shroud of a thunderstorm. At 1918, Spence opened fire on an enemy bomber. At 1930, Montpelier and Denver took shots on a Betty bearing 270° at four miles distance that dropped two red flares on the TF. The enemy aerial squadron, approximately a dozen in strength, made successive runs at the squadron which was illuminated by the thunderstorm’s lightning. Columbia brought her 5-inch guns to bear and opened fire on a Betty bearing 280° at 7,000 yards from 1945 to 1946. Converse radioed in a torpedo from one of three attacking enemy bombers was heading for Montpelier at 1954, but it was evaded. At 2000, Columbia was at 6°57.2'S, 154°48.0'E. The task force continued evasive course maneuvers, and Columbia fired her 5-inch battery at another enemy bomber bearing 150° at 2031. The Bettys remained in the area until 2050, withdrawing northwest. The TF’s maneuvers continued for a couple of hours beyond this, and after some time with no contact Spence left TF 39 to join TG 31.7 for duty at 2237.
Columbia and TF 39 were still on station for TG 31.7’s withdrawal operation at Empress Augusta Bay through the morning of 12 November 1943. The only aircraft approaching during the morning turned out to be friendly, and Columbia secured from general quarters at 1246. The evening would be a little more interesting. At 1600, she sighted TU 31.5.5 bearing 110° at 16 miles distance, and was back at general quarters at 1835. By 2000, she was at 8°09.1’S, 155°48.8’E. At 2124, Columbia’s radar picked up an aerial contact bearing 330° at 35 miles distance. The cruiser’s formation began radical course changes, and Montpelier opened fire on a Betty at 2250 for a minute. No other enemy contacts were made overnight. As TF 39 steamed on station into 13 November, the early morning suddenly changed that situation as Columbia’s radar picked up ten Bettys on radar at 0304 and TF 39 braced for another round of repelling air attacks.
At 0420, TF 39 at 6°45'S, 154°15'E, a friendly Lockheed PV-1N Ventura guided by Columbia splashed an enemy plane off Columbia’s port beam bearing 263° at 8 miles distance. Columbia and Montpelier both commenced anti-aircraft firing at 0433 on the same Betty until 0434. As the course changes continued, Montpelier called out multiple Bettys bearing 140° at a distance of 40 miles. Converse followed up with a Betty contact at 0453 bearing 080° only 4 miles distant—Columbia and the rest of TF 39 firing on the closer contact. Stanly, at the same time, reported a torpedo crossing her bow heading to TF 39’s formation. TF 39 ramped up speed to 28 knots and kept changing course, but Denver took a torpedo hit in her starboard side around her aft engine room. The hit to Denver appeared to bring the cruiser to a halt after losing control with no steering, and a 7° list to starboard—she lost 20 men, with another 11 wounded. At 0455, Montpelier reported more Bettys bearing down on the formation’s starboard quarter. The group kept up evasive course changes though Eaton and Claxton stayed with Denver. No further air attacks occurred that morning.
TF 39 continued rapid course changes, and by 0730 made contact with tug Sioux (AT-75) which took Denver in tow at 0804—getting 4.5 knots out of Columbia’s wounded sister cruiser as they trekked back to Purvis Bay. Columbia and TF 39 stayed with Denver until the latter was towed out of the area. The morning of 14 November 1943, Columbia and TF 39 including Montpelier, Converse, Claxton, and Charles Ausburne continued covering TU 18.104.22.168’s withdrawal. The group then steamed back for Purvis Bay, Dyson and Eaton exchanging places in the screen in the morning the only eventful moment, with Columbia back at anchor in Purvis Bay at 1943.
Columbia remained anchored at Purvis Bay throughout the rest of November 1943. As 1 December 1943 rolled around, the intense battles around Bougainville left their mark on the reshaped TF 39. CruDiv 12 was down to just Montpelier, Cleveland, and Columbia. DesRon 23’s two subdivisions had been reshuffled countless times to keep strength in the task force or shunt it elsewhere. At the time DesDiv 45 contained Charles Ausburne, Stanly, Claxton—and nominally Aulick though the latter was not present. DesDiv 46 had Converse and Spence, but Foote and Thatcher were still absent. Columbia was to remain in Port Purvis for maintenance, and installation of a new FH radar system on 1 December 1943.
The cruiser got the opportunity to calibrate, and test the new system the next day—underway at 1048 on 2 December 1943. She headed to 9°13.2'S, 160°12.4'E at noon and finished FH radar calibration by 1300 before proceeding to gunnery tests (including against aerial targets) in an area northeast of Savo Island. The full range of her batteries were exercised before she returned to her Port Purvis anchorage at 1814 the same day. More radar calibration, and exercises would follow on 3 December, but she would return to anchor at 1430 and remain in port for several days.
Columbia and TF 39 steamed out of Port Purvis on 7 December 1943 at 0600 for a sweep of the enemy’s shipping traffic between Buka and Rabaul. Columbia sailed south of the Russell and New Georgia Islands, sighting Treasury Island bearing 345° at 48 miles distance by 1805. At 1900, Spence left the group with engine trouble and steamed for Hathorn Sound for repairs. By 2000, Columbia and TF 39 had reached 7°24.0'S, 155°00.3'E. The group remained on station into 8 December; however, TF 39’s cruisers plus Converse were ordered back to Port Purvis while the remainder of DesRon 23 continued an overnight sweep of the area between Buka and Rabaul. Columbia was back at anchor in Port Purvis at 0136 on 9 December.
The cruiser remained idling at Port Purvis for most of December 1943—not steaming again until 22 December. Columbia got underway that evening at 1830 along with CruDiv 12’s Montpelier, Cleveland, and destroyers Wadsworth (DD-516), Eaton, Breese, Crowley (DE-303), and Griswold (DE-7). This was part of more supporting bombardment operations against Japanese installations at Buka.
TF 39 steamed through 23 December 1943 to get into position, sighting Treasury Island bearing 335° at 40 miles distance at 1445. By 1900, Columbia and the group went to general quarters. At 2000, she was at 6°52.8S, 154°21.8'E and TF 39’s elements were on their bombardment approach at 2330. Columbia commenced firing at 0040 on 24 December—hitting Buka until 056 with her 5-inch/38 and 6-inch/47 batteries. Fires were observed at Buka Airfield, but also observed going out between 0110 and 0130. The bombardment over, Columbia and her group steamed back for Port Purvis after DesDiv 45 briefly stopped at Treasury Island to fuel. Columbia, back at anchor on 25 December at 0935, remained so for the end of the year.
The start of 1944 left Adm. Merrill with several missing pieces in TF 39. On 1 January 1944, CruDiv 12 continued to be led by Montpelier along with Columbia, and Cleveland as Denver remained under repair at the Mare Island Navy Yard. DesRon 23 was also with its problems. Capt. Arleigh Burke’s DesDiv 45 was led by Charles Ausburne along with Stanly, Dyson, and Claxton as Aulick also remained at the Mare Island Navy Yard. DesDiv 46, led by Converse along with Spence, had two ships run afoul of the previous season’s fighting—Foote and Thatcher both sitting at Mare Island as well.
Columbia and TF 39 got underway at 0745 on 3 January 1944 bound for Espíritu Santo. The group exercised en route, and Columbia reached her moorings at Segond Channel in Espíritu Santo by 1340 on 4 January. The cruiser spent most of early-mid January at anchor in Espíritu Santo for logistical purposes including replenishment, crew training, and crew recreation. This lasted until 12 January when TF 39 (minus drydocked Cleveland) held underway training exercises through 15 January—underway at 0730 on 12 January. This involved a brief stop at Havannah Harbor during the evening of 14 January, but once the exercises completed she was back at her moorings in Espíritu Santo at 0941 on 15 January. Columbia remained at anchor briefly, steaming out with TF 39 (Cleveland back in the group) for more underway exercises at 0730 on 17 January until she was back at Espíritu Santo and moored at 1630 on 18 January.
It was Columbia’s turn in dry dock from 19–26 January 1944, in Pallikula Bay, getting her underwater hull inspected along with cleaning and re-painting—returning to her Segond Channel moorings after the process. More exercises awaited the cruiser for the rest of the month. Columbia and TF 39 steamed out of Espíritu Santo on 27 January 1944 to rendezvous with Ainsworth’s TF 38 for joint exercises south of Guadalcanal through 29 January. At the conclusion of the exercises, TF 38 steamed for Espíritu Santo while Columbia and TF 39 made for Port Purvis—Columbia arriving at 0830 on 29 January. She remained at anchor through the end of the month.
The first half of February 1944 saw much of the same for Columbia and CruDiv 12 as DesRon 23 was moved to Hathorn Sound to support the Third Fleet operations against enemy surface traffic between Buka and Rabaul. Columbia and CruDiv 12 (still without Denver) steamed out of Port Purvis at 0800 on 9 February with destroyers Anthony (DD-515), Bennett (DD-473), and Fullam (DD-474) for underway training exercises in the waters north of Savo Island—Columbia back at anchor in Port Purvis that evening at 1600. She remained idle through 17 February.
Merrill’s TF 39 was called upon in mid-February 1944 for major covering operations for Wilkinson’s TF 31 during the occupation of Green Island [Papua New Guinea] that had been in the works since mid-January. The support area would generally be north and east of the landings, with the prime target for Columbia and her group being Nissan Island [Papua New Guinea].
Columbia sortied at 1700 on 13 February 1944 along with TF 39 minus Denver, Aulick, Thatcher, Foote, and Claxton (damaged during raids around Bougainville in early February). The group steamed to a point 50 miles north of the Tauu Islands [Papua New Guinea] by 1600 on 14 February, and arrived at a point 30 miles east of Nissan Island at midnight. TF 39 stayed in the region 20 miles east of Green Island through the morning of 15 February. At 0400 on 15 February, though TF 39 made no definite enemy air contacts, Columbia observed occasional aircraft flares and anti-aircraft tracers bearing 165° at 26 miles distance—thought to be enemy aircraft attacking convoys en route to Nissan. TF 39, with no further enemy contacts of any kind, began a retirement course to 20 miles north east of the Tauu Islands—arriving at 1230 on 15 February, and remaining until 1530. Columbia and the group moved back toward a location 20 miles north of Nissan by midnight on 15 February. The group stayed steaming around the north and east of Nissan at 18 miles distance from the island until 0300 on 16 February—lack of enemy contacts, and need for fuel compelling Columbia and TF 39 to head for a fueling rendezvous 50 miles southeast of the Tauu Islands. The group arrived at the spot at 1045 on 16 February, linking with TU 36.4.1’s oiler Atascosa (AO-66) and destroyer Sampson (DD-394) for the group’s fuel.
By 1700 on 16 February 1944, Halsey ordered TU 34.6.1 back to Purvis Bay and Merrill’s TF 39 back on station northeast of Tauu—though TF 39’s fueling did not actually finish until 1845 before TU 34.6.1 could then part company. By 2000, Columbia and TF 39 were at 4°21.1'S, 156°17.2'E. Merrill’s cruisers, including Columbia, remained on station through 17 February. The group was at 4°24.8'S, 157°05.7'E at noon on 17 February. Halsey, however, sent orders at 1300 on 17 February to detach Capt. Arleigh Burke’s DesRon 23 (reorganized as TF 39.4) so the destroyers could take part in anti-shipping sweeps and bombardment operations of the Kavieng [Papua New Guinea] area. Meanwhile, Columbia and the rest of CruDiv 12 steamed through Indispensable Strait back to Purvis Bay—arriving at 0800 on 18 February.
Columbia remained at anchor in Purvis Bay for the remainder of February 1944 for maintenance, and port based training exercises. TF 39’s detached DesRon 23 continued to operate out of Hathorn Sound under Halsey’s orders—moving against enemy shipping. and shore installations between Truk and Kavieng, as well as around Rabaul, New Ireland coast, and Duke of York Island. The destroyer detachment lasted through 29 February, though the idle status for Columbia persisted into the following month—through 4 March 1944.
The beginning of March 1944 saw TF 39 at least reunited with Burke’s DesRon 23. CruDiv 12 was still missing Denver, DesDiv 45 was still missing Claxton and Aulick (operating elsewhere with CenPac), and DesDiv 46 was still just with Converse and Spence minus Foote and Thatcher—both down for repairs at Mare Island.
Columbia and these present elements of Merrill’s TF 39 got underway at 0700 on 5 March 1944 out of Purvis Bay to perform more sweeps against Japanese shipping between Truk and Kavieng. Fueling and some underway exercises marked 6 March. Columbia and the group steamed 40 miles east past Kapingamarangi [Micronesia], and by 0600 on 7 March arrived at their operational search area.
At 0700, Columbia and Montpelier launched one plane each for scouting. By 0800 on 7 March 1944, Columbia and the group were at 2°15.6'N, 152°46.6'E. At 0915, the VCS 12 squadron had reported flaming wrecking of a large aircraft that had crashed 30 miles ahead of TF 39’s formation. Charles Ausburne reported smoke and masts of a ship at 0932, prompting Columbia and company to go to general quarters. Merrill, at 0947, had Dyson investigate the downed plane from earlier which was now closer. No other threats appeared, and Columbia secured from general quarters by 0950. The search planes were recovered by 1006, though when Dyson returned by 1100, she reported that the flaming plane wreck was a Japanese bomber that had yielded four dead bodies, charts, and additional recovered materials. Search flights continued throughout the next several days from CruDiv 12.
The search mission persisted through 10 March 1944, Columbia and the group at 2°04.2'S, 156°05.4'E at 0800 on 10 March. Without further significant contact, Halsey ordered the group back to Port Purvis. Columbia steamed through Indispensable Strait and north of Savo—arriving at Purvis Bay at 1300 on 11 March. The middle of March was more idling and exercising for Columbia and TF 39. From 12-16 March she remained at anchor at Port Purvis excepting underway exercises on 15 March.
The rest of March 1944 was going to be busier. Merrill’s TF 39, beginning on 17 March, was under orders from Halsey to take part in the occupation of Emirau Island [Papua New Guinea]. Columbia got underway at 1300 with TF 39. She was at 8°02.3'S, 160°25.0'E by 2000 on 17 March. TF 39 spent 18 March on exercises, and by evening of 19 March the group was approaching its operational area—at 1°54.6'S, 151°25.5'E at 2000.
As midnight on 19 March 1944 gave way to 20 March, Columbia and her group made radar contact with Emirau Island bearing 290° at 25 miles distance. Wilkinson’s TG 31.2 landing force also made contact. At 0405, TF 39 took station for fire support if they were needed. Columbia observed the landings at 0600, staying in sight of the landings until 0730 when Wilkinson reported that fire support was unnecessary. Merrill had TF 39 steam in circles around Mussau and Emirau Islands within firing range just in case—until the landing force was set on Emirau. This disposition continued into the next day as Halsey gave orders at 1625 on 20 March for Merrill’s TF 39 to stay in support range of Emirau until 21 March when DesRon 47 would steam up for relief duty.
For the evening of 20 March 1944, Columbia and TF 39 reached 1°54.3’S, 150°55.2’E at 2000. At 2053, Merrill had DesDiv 46’s Converse and Spence sweep the enemy barge routes toward Kavieng. At 0720, the two destroyers rejoined TF 39 without incident. By 1717, DesRon 47 made contact bearing 300° at 15 miles and Merrill had TF 39 steam on its retirement course east of the Solomons to Purvis Bay. The group took on fuel from 0603 to 1014 on 22 March. That day saw a little tension as an unidentified plane made contact at 1406 bearing 309° at 39 miles from Columbia. The plane closed to visual contact by 1418, but still was never identified. At 1630, Halsey sent word that an attack on Merrill’s TF 39 was possible out of Truk. No attack ever materialized. On 23 March, TF 39 held a farewell ceremony as Capt. Arleigh Burke’s venerable DesRon 23 was detached from CruDiv 12 and TF 39 while Columbia entered Port Purvis at 1651.
The waning days of March 1944 were spent by Columbia at anchor in Port Purvis. Columbia remained at anchor through 3 April 1944. TF 39 at this point underwent significant changes including at the command level. Rear Adm. Robert W. Hayler relieved Rear Adm. Aaron S. Merrill of command for both TF 39 and CruDiv 12. CruDiv 12 retained the same configuration; however, with Montpelier as flagship and sister ships Columbia, Cleveland, and the under-repair Denver assigned to the unit. Replacing the destroyers from Burke’s DesRon 23 were the split divisions under Capt. Ira H, Nunn commanding DesRon 47. DesRon 47 contained DesDiv 93 and DesDiv 94. DesDiv 93 steamed with McCord (DD-534), Trathen (DD-530), Hazelwood (DD-531), Heermann (DD-532), and Hoel (DD-533). DesDiv 94 steamed with Haggard (DD-555), Franks (DD-554), Hailey (DD-556), and Johnston (DD-557).
However, Columbia was heading back for the U.S. for a major overhaul per Halsey’s orders on 2 April 1944. On 4 April, at 1600, she got underway from Port Purvis first for Havannah Harbor—arriving at 0800 on 6 April for refueling. She got underway from Havannah Harbor at 0830 on 7 April 1944 bound for Pearl Harbor—exercising while en route and in company of TU 34.9.5 comprised of battleships Tennessee (BB-43), Mississippi, destroyers Lang (DD-399), Wilson (DD-408), and Sterett (DD-407). Columbia moored in Pearl Harbor at 1521 on 16 April—ordered by CinCPac to proceed independently to San Francisco. She got underway at noon on 17 April from Pearl Harbor, en route to San Francisco—moored at 0926 on 22 April 1944.
The cruiser underwent an extensive overhaul beginning 23 April 1944 under the auspices of the Bethlehem Steel Company in San Francisco—the work originally to be completed on 13 June 1944. Columbia also had another change of command during this period. On 3 June 1944, Capt. Maurice E. Curts relieved Capt. Beatty as commanding officer. The overhaul took more time than expected, initial work not completed until 20 June 1944, so Columbia was not ready for full sea duty in June 1944.
The cruiser got underway on 21 June 1944 from San Francisco for post-repair trials and test firings. Problems elevating and training the guns of her main battery turrets number three and four required additional work, but the trial was completed for her secondary batteries. Columbia moored at Mare Island on 21 June 1944 at 1604 to replenish more ammunition. On 22 June, she got underway at 1125 for degaussing calibration and completed this by 1525 before mooring again at 1719. She remained in San Francisco for several more days. Continuing problems with her main turret number four during tests on 27 June delayed her ready date until 1 July 1944.
At 1813 on 29 June, the cruiser got underway from San Francisco bound for Pearl Harbor in company and exercising with destroyers Drayton, Mahan (DD-364), and Buchanan. Columbia was in her berth at Pearl Harbor by 0918 on 6 July 1944. Extra time was needed to repair leaks in her rudder post, and oil seal of her number two turret training pinion—so she put into dry dock at 1000 until 1015 on 9 July.
Columbia remained idle until 13 July when she got underway at 0700 with destroyers Bearss (DD-654) and Buchanan for exercises south of Oahu. During the training, Columbia picked up unusual noise and vibrations in a gear of her number one engine at 0900. The number one engine had its shaft blocked and the exercise was finished on the other three main engines. The training run lasted through 18 July when Columbia returned to her berth at Pearl Harbor at 0900.
She stayed put for a couple of days, but got underway at 0800 on 22 July 1944 to test her number one main engine at high speed. The test was successful, so the cruiser returned to Pearl Harbor at 1617.
Further exercising was in store for Columbia from 23-24 July, and then she ended July 1944 moored at Pearl Harbor--opening August 1944 still part of ComCruPac for training in the area. The start of August saw Columbia still plagued by repairs in the aftermath of her overhaul—spending 2-8 August repairing the gas ejection system of Turret IV.
Columbia commenced further underway exercises on 9 August 1944—underway at 0700 out of Pearl Harbor for the area south of Oahu, and back in her berth at 1704 where she remained for several days. The cruiser, seemingly have sorted out her operational difficulties, was assigned initially to TG 32.12—the Angaur Fire Support Group. Columbia, as part of TG 32.12, was to support the TG 32.2 occupation forces of Angaur Island, Palau.
Angaur, sitting six miles southwest of Pelelieu, would be the stage for one part of Operation Stalemate II. Columbia got underway at 1019 on 12 August 1944 bound first for Guadalcanal, exercising en route with various elements of the large TG. By 1235 on 24 August, Columbia was back at her familiar anchorage in Purvis Bay. The cruiser remained at Purvis Bay through 28 August.
Columbia was now reunited with CruDiv 12 which was back at full strength—Hayler having made the rejoining Denver the unit flagship. At 1500 on 29 August, Columbia got underway with CruDiv 12’s elements and TG 32.12--minus battleships Tennessee and California (BB-44) due to both being delayed at Espíritu Santo.
TG 32.12, Fire Support Group 1, under the command of Rear Adm. Howard F. Kingman was to have two subunits. TU 32.12.1 (Fire Support Unit 1) under Kingman’s direct command operated with battleship Tennessee, cruisers Minneapolis and Cleveland, plus destroyers Guest (DD-472) and Halford. TU 32.12.2 (Fire Support Unit 2) under Hayler’s command steamed with battleship California, cruisers Columbia and Denver, plus destroyers Fullam and Hudson (DD-175).
Columbia and TG 32.12, still missing two battleships, steamed in the area around Cape Esperance overnight 29 August into 30 August 1944—this being the area where a rehearsal landing for the Angaur operation was to be held. At 0400 on 30 August, Columbia and her group took up stations for exercises that were to simulate the fire support mission she was going to later take part in. These firing exercises ran from 0455 until she was back at anchor in Purvis Bay at 1430. The group ran the drills in this fashion once more on 31 August. The training continued south of Guadalcanal into early September, but grew to include joint exercises with Ainsworth’s CruDiv 9 (TG 35.2) and TG 35.4’s destroyer divisions—DesDiv 111 and DesDiv 112. These lasted until Columbia was back in Port Purvis by 1445 on 3 September. She remained idle for a few days.
On 6 September 1944, Columbia got underway in overall company of Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf’s TG 32.5 from Port Purvis at 0934 en route to Palau as part of the plan to bombard enemy installations in support of the TG 32.2 landings on the islands of Angaur, Peleliu, and Ngesebus—the landings scheduled for 15 September (17 September for Anguar). Columbia steamed past 7°21.1'S, 160°07.2'E by 2000 that evening. The ship held exercises as they continued steaming into 7, and 8 September. By 9 September, the fleet had crossed the equator and back again. Columbia and her consorts needed fueled on 10 September (0537–1205)—at 2°06.5'N, 142°22.6'E by noon that day.
On 11 September 1944, Columbia began maneuvering for the bombardment runs to come. At 1630, the bulk of TG 32.5 was in the vanguard while Columbia and the rest of TG 32.12 were steaming 5 miles astern. TU 32.7.1 was steaming five miles farther astern of Columbia’s TG 32.12. At 2000, the group was at 5°51.6'N, 135°49.3'E. At 2330, the formation broke up and TG 32.12 began its bombardment approach to Angaur. At 0150 on 12 September, Columbia spotted a land contact on radar on bearing 336° at 40 miles distance. At 0350, high speed transport Noa (APD-24) and Fullam collided—Fullam was able to continue on station, but Noa sank with no loss of life. Several course changes later, she went to general quarters at 0454. She sent up a Seagull to sight for her gunnery at 0530, and began firing on Angaur at 0600 with her 5-inch and 6-inch mounts. As Columbia’s TU 32.12.2 rested, her group steamed westward. At 1248, her Seagull broke off the left wing pontoon during landing. Columbia steered to attempt a recovery, but the plane capsized. The pilot and observer were saved without incident, but the wayward plane was sunk by Columbia’s gunfire. This SOC-1 would be replaced by a Curtiss SON-1.
At 1751 on 12 September 1944, Columbia and TU 32.12.2 rejoined TG 32.12 and steamed south—reaching 6°26.9'N, 133°47.3'E by 2000. Columbia and TU 32.12.2 were back on station early the morning of 13 September, breaking off of TG 32.12 at 0515 for their respective fire support sector—intending to fire on the same course and target area as the prior day. The group reached 6°50.4'N, 134°07.3'E by noon. At 1418, Columbia observed minesweeper Perry (DMS-17) strike a mine and start sinking 2 miles distant—though several other minesweepers and destroyers were standing by her. Perry was seen to succumb at 1608. Otherwise, Columbia and TU 32.12.2’s bombardment was completed by 1709 without incident and they steamed to rejoin TG 32.12 for retirement south of Angaur.
Bombardment for TU 32.12.2 on 14 September 1944 began mostly the same as the prior two days. At 0450, Columbia and her unit broke off to the previous stations to fire on Angaur, but the afternoon saw a change in target area to clear the areas behind Red Beach. The group cleared the spot of heavy foliage, and provided cover fire for beach reconnaissance performed by underwater demolition teams (UDTs). The Red Beach portion of her mission concluded at 1500, and she resumed bombardment of the main targets on Angaur from the early morning—completing all firing by 1720 before linking up with TG 32.12 to sail back south of Angaur for the night.
The date of the Peleliu invasion on 15 September 1944 was more of a spectacle for Columbia. The bombardment mission of Angaur proceeded on the same schedule as it had the previous day, including bombardment and support periods at Red Beach. During respites, Columbia remained on support station and was able to observe the intense opposed landing of Peleliu. As Columbia returned her attention to shelling Angaur, she inflicted enough damage to set off large explosions and significant oil fires. Her Seagull observer spotted enemy camouflaged provision dumps which the cruiser destroyed. Once the Seagull was recovered at 1700, Columbia and TU 32.12.2 rejoined TG 32.12 for the night retirement cruise south.
The next day, 16 September 1944, mostly proceeded on a routine schedule of bombardments against Angaur—target selection for TU 32.12.2 aided by Columbia’s Seagull. There were a few close calls involving overshooting from TU 32.12.1 on the opposite side of the island exploding near Columbia. Otherwise, no other incidents occurred and the reunited TG 32.12 retired south as prescribed for the night.
With Angaur fairly softened up, the invasion date of 17 September 1944 had arrived. Columbia was on station and commenced bombardment at 0534 ahead of the landing. The first of TG 32.2’s 81st Infantry transports under Rear Adm. William H. P. Blandy unloaded their forces at 0834 on Red Beach with no significant opposition. Columbia held her fire at 0858, but from 1015 onward was on call fire control by shore fire control parties to support troop movements. This lasted until 1151 when Columbia remained loitering in the area as general on-call fire support. At 1800, the cruiser rejoined TG 32.12 to retire south for the night. On-call fire missions were the order of the day again for 18 September as Columbia took station off Red Beach from 0600 through 1100, retiring south with TG 32.12 again for the night.
Columbia spent part of 19 September 1944 serving on-call fire support missions, but none obliged and by 1700 she was back with TG 32.12 and ordered to steam 165 miles east of Angaur to rendezvous with a fueling group. At 0630 on 20 September, Columbia and all of TG 32.12 began replenishing their fuel bunkers—Columbia completing fueling by 1102. The group was at 6°07.8'N, 137°23.0'E by noon, and the whole task group finished fueling by 1310. The task group then began steaming for Kossol Roads, Palau.
The cruiser anchored at Kossol Passage at 0804 on 21 September to complete replenishment. She would remain there through 24 September, though the harbor was hardly a safe one as yet. Mines were exploded on several occasions, and alerts at Peleliu were triggered by an enemy float plane—though no enemy contacts were made during this period.
The ship got underway on 25 September at 1457, bound for the miserably hot and dusty conditions at Seeadler Harbor at Manus Island in the Admiralty Islands [Papua New Guinea]. Columbia was attached to a new subunit under Oldendorf’s command—TU 32.19.9.
TU 32.19.9 initially was composed of Oldendorf’s older battleships Maryland, Pennsylvania (BB-38), Idaho (BB-42), Tennessee, Mississippi, and the cruisers Louisville (the unit flagship for the time being), Minneapolis, Denver, and Columbia. There was also an accompanying destroyer screen made up of Halford, Hudson, Guest, Bennett, Leutze (DD-481), and Bryant (DD-665).
By noon on 26 September 1944, Columbia and the group had reached 3°08.0'N, 136°10.6'E. Louisville and Leutze were dispatched to Hollandia at 1530 and left the formation. Kingman took command of the group with Tennessee. Columbia and TU 32.19.9 crossed the equator once more on 27 September at 2150, and spent most of 28 September exercising before the cruiser moored at Seeadler Harbor that afternoon at 1638—commencing refueling. TU 32.19.9 was dissolved, and Columbia spent the rest of September and early October at anchor in Manus.
Columbia finished minor repairs from 2-5 October 1944 while still anchored at Seeadler Harbor, including topping off her ammunition stores on 3 October. On 6 October, she was fueled to capacity and reassigned to temporary duty with TG 77.2—part of Vice Adm, Thomas C. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet.
These were the preparatory operations for the eventual assaults on Leyte, Philippines. TG 77.2’s substantial fleet included several bombardment, fire support, harassment, and minesweeping units—Columbia shunted between several. The cruiser would share company in TU 72.2.2 as part of a fire support unit under Ainsworth, TU 77.2.3 a bombardment unit under Hayler’s command that was to target Dinagat, Philiippines, and another Ainsworth-led harassing unit—TU 77.2.4. There were six sub-units in all.
For the early part of the month, through 11 October 1944, Columbia remained at anchor at Manus to conduct training, upkeep, and remain fully fueled. At 0650 on 12 October, the cruiser got underway with TG 77.2 en route to Leyte Gulf with the objective to destroy enemy troop concentrations, installations, and facilities on the operational area’s entry islands.
Columbia and the group exercised en route for the next several days. On 16 October 1944 she made contact with an oiler group, TU 77.7.1, and fueled from oiler Salamonie (AO-26) from 0652 to 0838. At 0800, Columbia had reached 7°55.0'N, 130°13.3'E.
Later on 17 October 1944, at 1300, Columbia and sister ship Denver were re-tasked to join TU 78.4.3 as the group was bound for an attack on Dinagat. Columbia’s TU was a close covering group under Hayler’s command while Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble had overall command of TG 78.4’s attack group on board destroyer Hughes.
From 17-24 October 1944 began an intense series of bombardment missions and periods of fending off enemy air attacks from 20-24 October while covering the landings at Leyte from 20-24 October. Weather was a frustrating factor as well on the first day of bombardments during 17 October—whipping around from west to southeast at 45 knots at 1500, only calming to 32 knots at 1800 and 15 knots at midnight. Visibility the first day was reduced—between 200 to 4,000 yards amid the high winds, heavy seas, and squalls. Weather was more cooperative for the remainder of Columbia’s time on station.
On 17 October 1944, Columbia arrived with TU 78.4.3 at 0600 for fire support operations during the Army Rangers’ attack on Dinagat, as well as the landings on Homohon, and Suluan. At 0800 she was at 10°27.0'N, 126°02.0'E. The cruiser steamed around the operational area on standby support, but the foul weather delayed the landings on Dinagat. Columbia rejoined TG 77.2 at 1945 and retired southeast for the night—reaching 10°15.1'N, 126°21.9'E by 2000.
The morning of 18 October 1944, Columbia approaching with TG 77.2 this time, waited for some time so minesweeping operations could finish (delayed by more bad weather). Columbia herself fired a few shots of her 20 and 40 millimeter guns at mines—streaming paravanes (a towed cable to cut submerged mine moorings) as she steamed ahead. She followed the group in the swept channel into Leyte Gulf, though still ended up having two mines explode astern at 1657—suffering no damage. However, all the delays due mining operations cancelled the day’s bombardment—Columbia retiring with TG 77.2 for the night at 2110.
Columbia remained with TG 77.2 for the bombardment of 19 October, heading for the firing run at 0540 with TU 77.2.2 to Points How (10°57.0'N, 125°05.2'E), and Item (10°56.0'N, 125°05.0'E). The group’s bombardment began at 0646. Columbia targeted runways of the Dulag airfield, gun emplacements, supply dumps, and covered for the UDTs. At 0715, she observed splashes from return enemy mortar fire coming out of Catmon Hill. At 1050, she relieved Pennsylvania at Point How to fire on the mortar position—successfully silencing it. Columbia also recovered one of her observational Seagulls—noting it had suffered some damage due to enemy anti-aircraft fire. The cruiser’s bombardments continued through the afternoon, causing fires at Libernan Head, and then she retired with TG 77.2 southeast for the night.
The ship returned to a new bombardment area, Point George (10°59.5'N, 125°05.5'E), at 0728 on 20 October 1944—though detached for TG 77.2 for this assignment on the day of the bulk landings around Leyte Gulf were to occur. Columbia was to unleash intensive preparatory bombardments on the landing areas until the time of the landings, cover enemy observation posts and defensive areas, then provide on-call fire support or counter-battery fire as requested. At 0728, at 2,400 yards off shore, the cruiser opened fire on the landing beaches with her 5-inch battery—observing the landing craft assembling at 0815. She began pouring in fire with her 6-inch battery at 0820, observing an air strike on Catmon Hill at 0825. At 0911, Columbia added her 40-millimeter machine gun fire to the landing area. The landing boats made their way to the beach by 0933, firing machine guns (40-millimeter) and rockets at the tree line along the beach—the first wave of troops on the beach by 0956. Columbia noticed return fire starting at 1009—six shells landing 200–300 yards off her port quarter in the water, then four more shells landing in the same spot at 1015. She identified a mortar position on Catmon Hill and returned fire on it at 1252, eliminating it by 1330.
Mortars would be the least of the cruiser’s problems that day. At 1600, a Nakajima B5N Kate carrier attack plane from the vicinity of Catmon Hill, was spotted flying at approximately 50 feet. Columbia steered toward the oncoming Kate to evade a broadside torpedo strike. The Kate dropped her deadly payload 3,000 yards away, and strafed Honolulu. Honolulu and the destroyer screen returned anti-aircraft fire to no avail. Honolulu suffered a hit on her port side, just below her number three turret at 1602—causing a 20° list to port. Columbia steamed up to support the badly hit cruiser, and rigged to tow Honolulu once relieved of her fire support mission for the moment. Tugs came up to assist Honolulu, and medical crews from Columbia were sent on board her to aid the crew. Columbia also recovered Honolulu’s aircraft at 1714—keeping it stowed on board.
At 1843 on 20 October 1944, Columbia spotted more enemy aircraft off her port bow and returned anti-aircraft fire. At 2057, she participated in harassment fire activities at Point George—remaining on station overnight.
There was significant confusion reported regarding identifying aircraft flying overhead as friend or foe during the support operation. This especially applied to friendly aircraft that approached to deliver packages with bomb bay doors open that had been warned not to do so. This hampered lookouts trying to spot enemy aircraft, and gauge effectiveness of gunfire.
For 21 October, Columbia remained at Point George so she could supply on-call fire support to army troops on Leyte near Catmon Hill. At 0523, the morning was off to a busy start as TF 77 was put on alert and Columbia spotted anti-aircraft fire in the distance off her port bow. She observed a large explosion which turned out to be an enemy plane hitting Australia’s superstructure. Columbia feared she was next as her lookouts spotted two separate contacts bearing on her at 0618 bearing 140° and 115°. Two long minutes later the planes were identified as Grumman Avengers. At 1109, Columbia received an on-call fire request for more mortar emplacements on the reverse side of Catmon Hill. She attempted to sail into a position to bombard them, but could not do so. By 1930, the cruiser was relieved of her on-call duties by Tennessee and retired for the night with TG 77.2 to the north end of Surigao Strait.
The following day was nearly the same routine as Columbia detached from TG 77.2 and steamed for Point George on the morning of 22 October 1944—her plan of the day to be on-call for fire support around Catmon Hill. She eliminated enemy anti-aircraft emplacements on the northern slope of Catmon Hill into the afternoon. At 1837, TG 77.2 went to alert status and Columbia could see the group firing anti-aircraft batteries on an enemy bomber approaching Columbia from the north. At 1845, Columbia opened fire on the threatening aircraft and it turned west—observing it fall into a hillside in flames. The cruiser rejoined TG 77.2 at 1945 to retire south of Leyte Gulf for the night, still at the north end Surigao Strait—at 10°39.5'N, 125°15.5'E by 2000.
Columbia spent 23 October 1944 on independent duty from TG 77.2 at Point George as before—assuming on-call fire duties at 0628. At 0808, she was already on task with bombardment of enemy troops (estimated at 1,700 men) located in Tabontabon village. She intensified the bombardment at 0835—aided by one of her observation Seagulls. In the afternoon, she relocated to Point Peter (10°56.2.5'N, 125°03.7'E) for further on-call fire support duty. With no support missions for the rest of the evening, Columbia joined TU 77.2.2 on station and retired to the north end of Surigao Strait for the night.
The last day Columbia spent on station, she once again left the main TG 77.2 force, and proceeded to the north of Leyte Gulf to assist in anti-aircraft protection for ships in the vicinity—at 11°01.5'N, 125°07.0'E at 0800. For the late morning, and afternoon, she steamed back to Point George for on-call fire support duties against enemy troop concentrations on the beach and enemy anti-aircraft gun emplacements. One enemy aircraft strayed into the area at 1211, and Columbia opened fire on it. At 1820, Columbia rejoined TG 77.2 for the night—one more enemy aerial contact earned some anti-aircraft fire from the cruiser at 1903, but was not hit. The group reached 10°31.3'N, 125°21.3'E at 2000 as it retired for the night.
The morning of 25 October 1944 would be a very different mission for Columbia with TG 77.2 taking part in what would become one of the major engagements of Battle of Leyte Gulf—the Battle of Surigao Strait. Overnight on 24 October, Kinkaid had warned that one of the major enemy surface forces (Vice Adm. Nishimura Shoji’s “southern force”) would try to pass through Leyte Gulf via Surigao Straight. Kinkaid ordered Oldendorf’s group to patrol the north entrance—including Columbia and Denver as part of his left flank of cruisers. Initial point for the attack was at 10°34'N, 125°19'E. Columbia began her part of the battle at 0351 with the enemy fleet 15,450 yards away initially—ceasing the first round at 0407. A second round of shelling the enemy formation at 21,200 yards took place (0532–0539)—by which time all enemy ships were sunk, on fire, or dead in the water. By dawn, Columbia drew close to the crippled ships and at 0708 fired on the enemy destroyers at 11,650 yards until 0718—delivering some of the final sinking blows to enemy destroyer Asagumo. The cruiser had also contributed to the sinking of enemy battleships Fuso and Yamashiro, and forcing back heavy cruiser Mogami. Columbia suffered no enemy inflicted damage or casualties, though observed plenty of near misses. She did incur minor damage from her own continuous fire to bulkheads, welded joints, blowers, electrical fittings, and other small structural defects.
Both Columbia and sister cruiser Denver had all but exhausted their ammunition in the battle of Surigao Strait and they were detached from TG 77.2 at 1055 on 25 October 1944 so they could steam for a replenishment run at a logistics depot. At noon, the cruiser was at 10°37.7'N, 125°30.2'E, and the air was still buzzing with enemy aircraft. At 1420, Columbia opened fire with her 5-inch guns on a low flying enemy plane off her port quarter until 1421. She rendezvoused, and moored alongside the U.S. freighter Durham Victory, quickly getting ammunition on board and forced to go to general quarters at 1622 and cast off from Durham Victory at 1626 due to an air alert. She formed up with Denver to cruise east and south through Leyte Gulf overnight—at 10°40.0'N, 125°28.6'E at 2000.
This harassment while attempting to resupply continued for Columbia and Denver into 26 October 1944. At 0540, Columbia and the other cruisers in Leyte Gulf were covering each other in anti-aircraft positions. At 0904, Columbia and Denver were once again ordered to the resupply area, but enemy planes in the area forced the cruisers to go to general quarters. Columbia generated a smoke screen at 0910 and began evasive maneuvering to cover the other ships in the logistical area, and opened fire on an enemy plane at 0918 until 0920. She called off the smoke screen at 0937, and was able to secure from general quarters by 1010, mooring to oiler Saranac (AO-74) to refuel. The group reached 11°02.7'N, 125°19.6'E by noon. The frustration was not quite over; however, at 1239 the call for going to general quarters sounded with more enemy planes threatening the logistical area. Columbia was forced to cast off from the oiler at 1305, but secured from general quarters at 1405 without incident—returning to Saranac at 1432, and completing refueling by 1520. With Columbia and Denver partially resupplied, the sister ships took station on the flank of TG 77.2 at 1920—one more enemy plane giving Columbia a need to open fire with her 5-inch gun at 1958 for a minute. TG 77.2 steamed the east and south of Leyte Gulf overnight—reaching 10°41.9'N, 125°31.2'E by 2000.
The following day would not be any more heartening as Columbia’s crew was going to get a sobering look at the horrors of kamikaze attacks. At 0700 on 27 October, Columbia moored to Durham Victory once more to receive ammunition replenishment—completing the resupply by 1305 as the group reached 11°01.7'N, 125°19.0'E by noon. Columbia rejoined TG 77.2’s main formation of cruisers in a circular anti-aircraft position—putting this to the test at 1825 when an enemy plane attempted a suicide dive on the bridge of battleship California—the group combining to shoot it down. TG 77.2 remained in the east and south area of Leyte Gulf overnight. The alarming sight of the suicidal plane was going to be repeated, and sooner than expected. On 28 October, at 0621, the formation went to general quarters and a minute later Columbia’s guns were opening fire on a Val making a suicidal dive toward Denver—crashing 25 yards off her starboard quarter. Columbia secured from general quarters at 0700. She spent much of the morning serving as anti-aircraft protection for the ammunition supply ships in the group, and took on more ammunition herself (1145–1404) from ammunition ship Mazama (AE-9). Columbia took shots at the occasional enemy plane contact straying into range the rest of the evening, but TG 77.2 managed to retire to the east and south of Leyte Gulf without further incident that night.
More nerve-wracking alerts due to enemy plane contacts were waiting for Columbia on the morning of 29 October 1944. These alerts were continuous from 0400 through 0800 as she reached 10°57.1'N, 125°08.4'E at 0800, and recovered her own Seagulls while periodically fending off an enemy plane contact. At 1445, TG 77.2 was dissolved and a temporary group was formed while Columbia steamed into eastern Leyte Gulf streaming paravanes from 1606 until 2012. At 2040, she sailed out of the area bound for Seeadler Harbor.
Columbia linked with TG 77.4 on 30 October 1944 for the cruise back to Manus, continuing on course for Manus through 31 October, moored in Seeadler Harbor by 0824 on 3 November 1944 and refueling. She replenished her ammunition on 5 November, and was reattached to TG 77.2—now under command of Rear Adm. Theodore D. Ruddock on board Maryland.
The cruiser continued replenishment at anchor through 9 November 1944, getting underway at 0602 on 10 November with TG 77.2—first en route to Kossol Roads, exercising during the voyage. Columbia anchored at Kossol Roads at 0910 on 13 November to refuel, and conduct regular maintenance. She was back underway at 1520 on 14 November, along with TG 77.2, heading for Leyte to protect reinforcement convoys.
The approach to Leyte did not take long to provide enemy aerial harassment. On 16 November 1944, the group still on course, Columbia’s crew manned her anti-aircraft batteries at 1748 as enemy planes were spotted in the vicinity. Just when they thought they might stand down, the alert came up again at 1900—ultimately no action was taken. The group steamed to cover the entrances to Leyte Gulf, Columbia reaching 10°40.7'N, 125°16.7'E by 2000. Columbia and TG 77.2 continued providing anti-aircraft fire support in the transport area on 17 November.
On 18 November 1944, after TG 77.2 was on station, Columbia spotted enemy planes intermittently throughout the day, but without incident until the evening. At 1728 Columbia went to general quarters and opened anti-aircraft batteries on a Val making a dive bombing run on the cruiser—a 500-pound bomb missing 300 yards off her starboard quarter. Columbia sustained no damage. There were no further contacts that day, and the group stayed on station to protect Leyte Gulf’s entrances.
Intermittent air contacts dogged the anti-aircraft protection around Leyte Gulf’s entrances while Columbia and TG 77.2 remained on station 19-27 November 1944, with rotations of ships and training exercises during lulls. Activity on 24 November was a bit more intense as two Kates bearing 315° at 8 miles distance were sighted by Columbia—one splashed by a Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The cruiser completed fueling and provisioning exercises at 1600, but was back at firing on enemy air contacts that evening and on station protecting the entrances to Leyte Gulf with TG 77.2.
Enemy air attacks intensified on 27 November 1944. The morning started with fueling exercise at 0845—the group at 10°53.6'N, 125°22.3'E by 0800. The first air attacks, 20–30 bombers and torpedo planes, appeared at 1125. One bomb fell near Denver, but missed—a bomber crashing in the middle of the formation after being shot down by friendly air cover. The formation began dynamic course changes at 1127, and opened fire at 1136 on Yokosuka D4Y Judy dive bombers attacking St. Louis. One Judy crashed on the aft main deck of St. Louis, and another crashed in the sea off her port side. Columbia increased speed and evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit, and bring her batteries to bear on the planes. At 1140, three Judys making attack runs on Columbia’s port side were splashed by the cruiser’s anti-aircraft fire. At 1142, a Judy crashed into Colorado high amidships with a second dive bomber attempting to crash but missing into the sea. At 1144, a Judy on an attack run against Montpelier was shot down by the sister cruiser. At 1220, Minneapolis shot down a Kate after its torpedo had launched. All firing ceased for the moment as the formation steered to avoid the torpedo. All firing ceased at this point, and the group secured from general quarters by 1345. In all, Columbia observed the splashing of 11 enemy bombers, and four that crashed. The group continued course changes through the evening, and resumed protecting the entrances to Leyte Gulf overnight.
Columbia would have 28 November 1944 go relatively smoothly while the group continued patrolling the Leyte Gulf entrances, but 29 November was another tough day. Enemy aerial attacks harassed TG 77.2 the entire day of 29 November, Columbia banging away at them with her anti-aircraft guns along with the rest of the formation as they engaged in high speed evasive maneuvers. At 0908, the cruisers circled Colorado to protect the battleship as they returned fire from an approaching wave of planes. At 1630, another enemy aircraft attempted attacking the formation from astern, but was splashed a couple of minutes later by the group’s combined fire. The formation picked up and lost ships all day to other duties. At 1810, Columbia had another close brush with a kamikaze as she opened fire on an enemy plane diving toward her own starboard bow. Columbia managed to avoid the suicidal plane, but at 1813 the plane struck upon Maryland’s bow in between her number one and number two turrets—causing a fire on her forecastle. The air attacks abated at this point, and allowed Columbia to secure from general quarters by 1855 and take up the regular protection routes over Leyte’s Gulf entrances without further incident that night. Other than an underway replenishment, 30 November proved to be an uneventful patrol of the same area.
Columbia’s vicious dance with the enemy was still ramping up as the calendar turned to December 1944. TG 77.2 remained guarding the south and eastern stretches of Leyte Gulf while reinforcement convoys flowed in, and circular formations for anti-aircraft protection continued to be the order of the day. However, the air was not the only place Columbia’s crews needed to be looking. At 1613, Eaton reported a sonar contact, and the destroyers pounced on the likely enemy submarine. At 1641, DesRon 22 reported a torpedo passing along the port side of Minneapolis—prompting Columbia and company to go to general quarters. At 1708, another torpedo wake was spotted astern of New Mexico. Columbia pulled an emergency turn to parallel the torpedo track. The situation was clear enough to allow Columbia to secure from general quarters at 1718, and resume the normal watch over Leyte Gulf’s entrances at 2055. The submarine threat was not entirely gone; however, as 2 December brought more reports of submarine sonar contacts—this time from Pringle at 1318. The group’s patrol for the day was forced to evade the submarine, but Columbia along with TG 77.2 was to steam out of Leyte Gulf for the time being bound for Kossol Roads. Even this exfiltration course for a resupply run was harried by enemy submarines as Eaton registered another sonar contact at 1845.
TG 77.2 steamed through 3 December 1944 without incident, and into 4 December—passing Angaur Island on bearing 064° at 22 miles distance at 0810 before arriving at Kossol Roads at 1555. Columbia refueled (1632–1845), anchored at a temporary berth overnight and moved to a different one at 0555 the next day. At noon on 5 December, she would also receive a change in task group to 77.12 for the upcoming operation against Mindoro, Philippines.
TG 77.12 had two major components for the operation. TU 77.12.1 was a heavy covering unit under Rear Adm. Ruddock, now operating on board West Virginia along with BatDiv 4—and it was this unit that included Columbia and her sisters Denver and Montpelier. TU 77.12.7 was a carrier unit under Rear Adm. Felix Stump leading CarDiv 24 on board Natoma Bay (CVE-62). Significant destroyer screens accompanied both units.
Columbia remained at anchor for several days of maintenance and training, getting underway at 1207 on 10 December 1944 out of Kossol Roads with TG 77.12 bound for Leyte Gulf. The operational area for her group was going to be around Mindanao and Sulu Seas to serve as a covering force for the landing operations at Mindoro. By 2000, she was at 8°40.5'N, 135°23.8'E. By 2000 on 12 December, Columbia and the group were at 10°36.9’N, 126°40.8’E and entering Leyte Gulf at 0001 on 13 December. They crossed into the familiar waters of Surigao Strait at 0120, and Mindanao Sea by 0335—commencing flight support operations as a group by 0440. It did not take long for them to be necessary.
Throughout 13 December 1944, Columbia and TG 77.12 fended off a concerted kamikaze attack from a squadron of Bettys, Vals, and Mitsubishi Ki-21 Sallys. At 1717, the enemy planes harassment had already dogged the group all day but this time one Val struck Nashville as it was protecting a Mindoro attack convoy—hitting the cruiser port side aft of a cabin with Adm. Struble. The impact also set off both of the Val’s bombs—crippling the cruiser with fires, blowing sailors overboard, and damaging multiple compartments. Stanly steamed up to the badly out of control cruiser to assist. Columbia opened fire on a cluster of Sallys spotted off her own starboard bow at 1718 that were diving on the group—splashing one, observing West Virginia splashing another. While friendly fighters swarmed overhead, one kamikaze broke from the enemy group and made a dash at low altitude for destroyer Haraden (DD-585) which was screening 1,000 yards ahead of Columbia—striking the tin can just aft of her bridge and obscuring her from view briefly in a cloud of smoke and flame. The nightmarish attack was over by 1720, and allowed time for Columbia to steam close to Haraden to observe her forward stack was missing and starboard whaleboat was on fire, dangling over the side. The pilots from the escort carriers reported another ten enemy planes splashed, with another seven probable.
The next day was a mixed set of circumstances for Columbia’s crew. The morning of 14 December 1944 went well as the escort carriers’ air cover intercepted all enemy air attacks. The formation reached 10°31.0'N, 121°30.0'E by noon. Enemy air attacks did not penetrate to the group until the afternoon starting at 1345—even evoking the apologies of the fighter director that the combat air patrol (CAP) let them by at 1556. Two minutes later, planes were bearing down on TG 77.12’s port side at low altitude and two torpedo planes were splashed by the CAP. Columbia raked the enemy air group with anti-aircraft fire from 1559 to 1601, and unfortunately, her only casualties of the day would be self-inflicted as a consequence. At 1602, while her crew unloaded her number one 5-inch mount, the gun discharged into the ship’s structure at the port side number two 40-millimeter director. Four crewmen were killed, two other officers and four additional crewmen were injured severely along with 24 others with slight injuries. At 1722, the attack had been turned away to the point Columbia secured from general quarters. The four men killed by the gun misfire were S1c Frank J. Chiaravalle, FC3c Blaine L. Hackett, Y3c Raymond R. Honea, and S1c Darwin T. Wells. All four were later buried at sea at 1500 on 15 December.
The invasion by army troops at San José on Mindoro’s southern tip was done without significant opposition on 15 December 1944—a postponement of 10 days due to delays in air cover development on Leyte. The soldiers, designated the Western Visayan Task Force, were combinations of the 24th Infantry Division and 503rd Parachute Regiment under command of Brig. Gen. William C. Dunckel. In part, the objective was for the base achieved here to provide air cover 90 miles from Manila. The air was filled with attacks from Judys and Bettys. The formation shot down one enemy aircraft at 0812. Two kamikazes made runs on escort carrier Marcus Island (CVE-77), were shot at by Columbia, and missed their intended target—crashing into the sea. More enemy air squadrons closed in at 0907, and the CAP did not intercept them all. At 0913, Columbia fired on one enemy bomber that turned away. The escort carriers sent up more fighters to augment the CAP, but at 0943 five more enemy bombers bore down on TG 77.12. One of the new enemy contacts flew toward the starboard side of the group, and Columbia’s 40-millimeter guns perforated the Japanese plane from tail to cockpit. The enemy plane caught on fire, and exploded. Columbia steamed to port, and her port 40-millimeter battery opened fire on another enemy bomber looming off her port quarter—splashing it too. By 1045, word came in that the landings on Mindoro were successful—releasing TG 77.12 to steam on a retirement course out of the area. A count of 15 enemy planes were shot down by the group for the day. By 1928, Columbia had repositioned to provide support and the group provide air cover for the beach-head in the morning—at 8°51.0'N, 123°00.5'E by 2000.
TG 77.12’s close support duties brought it back on station into different spots to assist the Mindoro beach-head, and also to cover the supply convoys steaming to-and-fro. By 0800 on 16 December 1944, Columbia was at 10°08.0'N, 120°54.9'E. Throughout the morning, the CAP was on the lookout for enemy air attacks and shot down an enemy reconnaissance plane at 0805. At 1112, the group began steaming on a retirement course. TG 77.12 spent one more morning in the Mindanao Sea area, on 17 December, then steamed on course for Kossol Roads at 1440. On 18 December, still en route for Kossol Roads and engaging in fueling the group destroyers, Columbia’s Cmdr. George A. Lange began an investigation into the aforementioned firing of the 5-inch gun which resulted in deaths of four crewmen on 14 December 1944.
Columbia and TG 77.12 got a brief respite from the onslaught of suicidal attacks and air raids as they pulled first into Kossol Roads on 19 December 1944—Columbia anchored at 1845 after refueling. The entire group was sent back to Seeadler Harbor, the cruiser underway at 1202 on 20 December and anchored back at Manus at 1025 on 23 December 1944. She took on replenishment for several days including significant rearming before being back underway with BatDiv4 at 1540 on 26 December—heading for Kossol Roads. Once she arrived at Kossol Roads, anchored at 1415, Columbia focused on training for gunnery, lookouts, as well as overall maintenance to round out the month and year.
Lingayen was another one of the landing targets in the Philippines that Columbia was soon to be supporting as 1945 dawned. As 1 January 1945, the cruiser was back in a TG 77.2 with Oldendorf commanding on battleship California (BatRon 1)--veteran of the Battle of Surigao Strait. TG 77.2’s preparatory work for the Lingayen Gulf landings reshaped the group into a fire support unit against San Fabian Island (TU 77.2.1) under Rear Adm. George R. Weyler’s command, the fire support unit for Lingayen proper (TU 77.2.2 under Weyler) of which Columbia was included, and the attached TG 77.4 escort carrier group under Rear Adm. Calvin T. Durgin.
TG 77.2 steamed out of Kossol Roads on 1 January 1945, Columbia underway at 0550—to bombard ahead of and support the army landings around Lingayen Gulf. The group was on schedule through 2 January, reaching 9°58.1'N, 127°50.2'E by 2000. The next three days would see a bloody escalation of the kamikaze attacks.
TG 77.2 and TG 77.4 formed into two circular formations with the escort carriers split among the vanguard and rear—Columbia in the rear unit. The two groups were ten miles apart while steaming through Surigao Strait, Mindanao Sea, and Sulu Sea. Japanese reconnaissance aircraft were spotted on 3 January 1945, and by 1902 there were enemy bombers in the area. The CAP handled most of them. At 1908, one enemy bomber got through the CAP and just missed a kamikaze run on Australian heavy cruiser Shropshire (73). No other attacks were suffered that day, but this was just a taste of things to come. The morning of 4 January, at 0718, Columbia and the destroyers began replenishing from a fueling unit (TU 77.10.5) at 09°55'N, 121°51'E—completed by 1508 without incident. Shortly thereafter, at 1645, a large group of enemy planes were detected closing on bearing 285° at distance 68 miles. The enemy group split up on an attack run as the CAP moved to intercept them. At 1716, several enemy planes attacked the group from the rear and one kamikaze struck escort carrier Ommaney Bay (CVE-79) just past her island into her flight deck—a bomb from the enemy plane exploding in her hangar deck while the other punctured a whole through to her second deck and started a dangerous oil fire. She lost power, and the exploding ammunition threatening an even heavier loss of life forced her to be abandoned at 1750, and scuttled by destroyer Burns (DD-588) at 1956.
If possible, the next day would be even worse. Overnight from 4 to 5 January 1945, Japanese reconnaissance aircraft continuously monitored TG 77.2’s location—though no attacks came. At 0145 the group passed through Mindoro Strait, and by 0745 were crossing into the South China Sea. At 1505, a large group of Judys and Jills were picked up on bearing 025° at a distance of 80 miles. As before, the attacking group split up and several got through the CAP. At 1718, one kamikaze bore on Louisville and hit her forward superstructure—Capt. Rex L. Hicks among the wounded with burns. Her Turret II suffered some superficial damage, and fires broke out, but were under control quickly. Another kamikaze crashed Australia along with an exploding bomb that was deadly to her crew, but did little to the ship. Australian destroyer Arunta (I30) was hit and suffered casualties (130). Escort carrier Savo Island (CVE-78) swerved out of the way of one kamikaze as her anti-aircraft gunners shot down the diving plane—its wing still clipping the carrier’s radar antenna. Escort carrier Manila Bay (CVE-61) now had to deal with two Mitsubishi A6M1 Type 0 Zekes bearing in on her at 50 to 100 feet in altitude. The Zekes strafed, and maneuvered dynamically before hitting her—the first striking her flight deck at the base of the island, and sending the bomb exploding in the radar transmitter room and hangar. The second plane crashed 30 feet from the ship. Damage control kept the ship operational in a limited capacity. The destroyer screen tried frantically to help as the kamikaze attack reached the formation, but son they were being hit as well. Even as each shot a plane, one got through and hit Stafford (DE-411) on her starboard side—ripping a hole that flooded her number two fire room and engine room. Destroyer Halligan (DD-584) and tug Quapaw (ATF-110) assisted Stafford out of the area, but still had to fend off attacks while looking for a convoy back to Leyte. Destroyer Helm (DD-388) was clipped by another suicidal plane run aimed at the destroyer screen—losing her after mast and a searchlight.
The grueling attacks of 5 January 1945 seemed to be over by the evening, and at 1855 Columbia steamed up to the vanguard group to swap positions with Shropshire. The enemy reconnaissance planes were overhead through the night again.
On 6 January 1945, at 0345, the combined task group was passing Cape Bolinao around Luzon and then broke up at 0416 as TG 77.4 steamed northwest of Lingayen Gulf to serve as air support and run the CAP for TG 77.2. TG 77.2 suffered air attacks the entire day, though at 0916, separated into TU 77.2.1 and TU 77.2.2—Columbia in the latter as it was the Lingayen unit. Columbia was the trailing ship in the unit, and commenced bombardment of Santiago Island at 1023. The air attacks would reach a new level of intensity this day. At 1122 and through 1143 the first waves hit in force. One kamikaze glanced off destroyer Richard P. Leary (DD-684), its wing bouncing off the ship’s gun mounts. A kamikaze already on fire crashed into battleship New Mexico at noon around her port side navigating bridge—killing Capt. Robert W. Fleming, her commanding officer, and British Army Lt. Gen. Herbert W. Lumsden among others. Destroyer Walke (DD-723) had four kamikazes make passes at her at noon—shooting two down. The third hit the port side of her bridge, and mortally wounded Cmdr. George F. Davis, her commanding officer—the destroyer shooting down the fourth plane. Long suffered two kamikaze strikes that would sink her, high speed transport Brooks (APD-10), destroyer Newcomb (DD-586) splashed one and another bound for her missed and struck battleship California. By noon, Columbia and the formation were approaching 16°25.3'N, 119°48.8'E.
At 1424, Columbia and TU 77.2.2 steamed to join TU 77.2.1 in preparation to enter Lingayen Gulf. A kamikaze dove at Columbia, but the Zeke was struck by anti-aircraft fire and forced up enough so that he passed between her foremast and mainmast—clipping Columbia’s radio antennae and crashing 50 feet off starboard side abreast of the signal bridge. Gas from the plane sprayed across Columbia’s superstructure, and personnel, but did not catch fire—nor did his ordnance explode on the ship. An apparent explosion happened below the surface as its effect was felt on board.
By 1525 on 6 January 1945, the reunited TG 77.2 steamed into the swept channel of Lingayen Gulf for further bombardment of the beaches and to support a minesweeping group. Unfortunately for the group, this meant significantly reduction in their maneuvering options in the face of determined kamikaze attacks. At 1615, the group began sustaining a persistent kamikaze assault and would ultimately be forced to abandon the bombardment attack by 1803.
At 1710, TU 77.2.1 cut its speed and TU 77.2.2 was in column formation for the bombardment. At 1713, TU 77.2 reversed course which placed Columbia in the van of the formation. At 1729, a Val bore on Columbia. The Val took a hit, and was seemingly out of control, but hit into the cruiser’s main deck on the port side of the Turret IV. The Val’s engine pierced into the main deck, and the enemy’s 800-kg. armor piercing bomb pushed into the first platform deck up to the barbette turret number four—and exploded. A major fire resulted on the main, and second deck throughout her hangar with heavy damage and casualties—taking out her SON-1 Seagull in the process. Turret IV was out of action, and Turret III unusable because of damage to bulkheads plus electrical failures. Both after turrets were also flooding with a mix of fuel oil and seawater—ironically, the settling slightly by her stern (approximately four feet) and flooding through nine of her aft compartments was helping her damage control parties with eliminating the fires. She ultimately lost 17 killed, 60 wounded, with 20 missing. Columbia’s damage control was so efficient she actually was under control enough to help shoot another kamikaze’s tail off with her 20-millimeter gun as it bore on Australia. She continued the bombardment mission with her two forward turrets.
Despite Columbia’s assistance, Australia still suffered a kamikaze hit on her starboard side forward—making for a bloody two days on the allied cruiser. She lost a gun mount, but was still serviceable. Louisville was not going to fare so well. At 1730, the already wounded cruiser took another hit on her starboard side abreast of her bridge. Louisville’s bridge, sky control, and one of her 40-millimeter mounts were torn apart—inflicting mortal wounds to Rear Adm. Theodore E. Chandler (he would die on 7 January 1945) among others. The cruiser was taken out of formation, scheduled for rendezvous with a returning convoy on 10 January. The evening was not over quite yet. Destroyer O’Brien (DD-725) and high speed minesweeper Southard (DMS-10), and in the end 21 ships would suffer hits from kamikaze attacks since the previous night’s all clear.
The reality of the losses Oldendorf had incurred on 6 January 1945 with Kinkaid’s landings still to come were not lost on the Seventh Fleet command. The Army Air Forces, and carriers of TF 38 were urged to do better on interdicting Luzon’s airfields. Oldendorf also wanted Kinkaid to get Halsey’s Third Fleet into the South China Sea, but Kinkaid did not oblige on this point.
For the next two days, the beleaguered TF 77.2 carried out the shore bombardments and covering fire operations without as much interference—but not zero. At 0430, Chandler (DD-206) detected two low-altitude enemy planes on radar; however, at least three were closing on her and Hovey (DMS-11). Chandler opened up anti-aircraft fire, splashing one plane, but a torpedo was still on its way to Hovey which sank the latter. Chandler recovered the survivors from Hovey, along with the still stranded survivors from Brooks and Long. Air alerts continued to occur, but no substantial attacks followed them other than a few planes the evening of 7 January 1945, and sporadic individual plane attacks on 8 January. Unfortunately, Australia seemed to be the prime target for each of these attacks. A Val eventually made it through, shot but careened into her below the bridge to the side. There were no casualties, but two compartments flooded. The allied cruiser remained on station. Columbia’s damage control parties did what they could to shore up her steering unit on 8 January. Steering was restored to her pilot house from the engines. At 1350, a diver found six holes on her port side at the first platform level around where the Val’s bomb had penetrated. These could not be repaired, but the crew could reduce them and secure them from flooding.
Overnight from 8-9 January 1945, TG 77.2 did not spot any Japanese reconnaissance planes, yet the day of the Lingayen landings on 9 January would be plenty eventful. Columbia and the rest of TG 77.2 were lying off Lingayen Gulf at 0700, awaiting the bombardment scheduled for the day’s landing operation—plus the covering fire for later. While the amphibious crafts steered to the beaches, the task group opened fire at the enemy installations. The kamikazes were already pouncing. Three enemy aircraft singled out destroyer escort Hodges (DE-231), but miscalculated their angle and only clipped her mast and antennas—never inflicting any serious damage. Another was driven off from Wilkinson’s flagship Mount Olympus (AGC-8), and Australia appeared to have been hit again at 0745.
At 0745, Columbia was surrounded by landing craft and unable to maneuver. A Nakajima Ki-44 Shōki Tojo carrying a 250 kg. bomb crashed into Columbia’s forward main battery director—both the director and plane tumbled clear off the ship. The bomb exploded upon impact causing a significant fire, damage, and heavy casualties around the forward superstructure. The forward fire control stations, including her number two 5-inch mount, were destroyed. Many of the gunnery and air defense officers were wounded. She lost 17 killed, 97 wounded, and 6 missing in all on 9 January. This made for 191 casualties suffered on Columbia combined from kamikaze attacks on 6 and 9 January.
Columbia’s Capt. Curts and crew fought on through 9 January 1945 despite the casualties, and damage from three kamikaze hits in as many days. Control was moved aft and Columbia continued on the bombardment mission at 0818 ahead of the scheduled 0930 landings. The amphibious flagship Wasatch (AGC-9) sent a heartening response, “The Wasatch sends sympathy for your losses. We admire your fine spirit and quick comeback.” At 0907, Columbia was able to contribute to the close-in bombardment of the landing beaches. Even Vice Adm. (promoted in December 1944) Oldendorf sung Columbia’s praises after this—sending her the message, “You have shown you have plenty of sand Columbia.” She completed her bombardment schedule, and the landing went on unopposed at 0930. At this point she was sufficiently operable to standby for on-call fire duties for the rest of the day. Casualties were evacuated to attack transport Harris (APA-2) while the dead were removed, and wreckage cleared. Medical resupplies from a support ship came with the message, “Only too glad to assist in [every way] possible a ship which has fought bravely and though battle-scared is unbowed.” The landings were sufficiently completed at Lingayen and San Fabian without much opposition on land. At 1750, Wilkinson ordered Columbia to leave in a convoy with the rest of TF 79’s transports—departures starting at 1830. Oldendorf sent Columbia a follow-up message reading, “Regret to lose you at this time. The courageous conduct of you officers and crew has added to the luster of our Navy.” At 2100, Columbia rendezvoused with TG 79.4.1 at San Fernando point—steaming out for Leyte Gulf by 2130.
Columbia steamed through the Leyte area for the next couple of days, learning that more of her crew died of their wounds on Harris while en route. Burials at sea continued, but by 0140 on 12 January 1945 she was passing through Mindanao Sea. At 1213, several of the ships heavily damaged by kamikaze attacks—Columbia, Louisville, Australia, Arunta—were ordered to steam for San Pedro Bay in Leyte Gulf. Columbia arrived at her San Pedro berth by 1710 that day, and underwent emergency repairs—particularly for two of the holes that could be patched by divers. Yet, she learned of more crew dying from their wounds on Harris. Salvage units and divers returned to tend to Columbia’s battered hull the next day to render what service they could. She left San Pedro on 14 January, underway at 1600, bound for Seeadler Harbor along with a task unit of other damaged ships and a destroyer screen. Once Columbia was moored in her Seeadler berth at 1100 on 18 January, repairs resumed.
From 19-21 January 1945, the repairs to Columbia while at anchor in Seeadler were mostly patching holes with cement and shoring up of weakened supports. Ammunition was removed from damaged areas that were accessible. On 22 January 1945, Columbia got underway at 1008 bound for Pearl Harbor—expecting to rendezvous with Louisville and Walke en route. The trio of damaged ships made it to the Hawaiian Islands by 29 January, and split up for independent operation at 0949—Columbia at her moorings by 1118.
Columbia spent the remainder of January 1945 undergoing damage inspection, and clearing out more of the debris and ammunition from her damaged spaces. The emergency repairs continued through early February 1945, only broken up by a visit from Ainsworth to Curts at 1420 on 2 February. The cruiser got underway at 0705 on 6 February, bound for San Pedro, Calif., and a major overhaul—arriving at her San Pedro moorings at 1431 on 11 February. She put into dry dock at 1512 on 12 February.
The cruiser remained drydocked for the rest of February, March, and most of April 1945 for repairs, alterations, and to complete the overhaul. The first of her post-repair dock trials were held on 17 April 1945, and she got underway at 0740 on 24 April for a full power post-repair trial. After degaussing runs (0808–0915) on 24 April, she began the full power build up at 0920. Problems arose at noon as fires broke out during the full power test on her forward distribution board, and she suffered loss of oil pressure on the number two unit of her starboard engine. The test firing of her 20-millimeter and 40-millimeter guns was successful. She re-ran her post-repair dock trials on 28 April to satisfaction, and re-ran the full power test on 29 April successfully—the start of a five day readiness period for putting to sea. This included successful tests of her 5-inch and 6-inch batteries. By 30 April, she was able to start loading her ammunition stores to capacity.
The overhaul included a number of significant changes to the ship’s configuration. Columbia’s starboard catapult was replaced with a 6-inch catapult gun capable of launching heavier aircraft. As a consequence, her complement of aircraft changed. Her Seagulls were long gone, and now she was assigned three Curtiss SC-1 Seahawks. Her single 20-millimeter Oerlikon mounts were replaced with four twin mounts. Improvements to the main batteries now facilitated night firing. Better director systems were installed on the 40-millimeter Bofors mounts, as well as some reconfiguration of their location around the ship. Upgrades were made to her radars (SP installed aft, SK installed elsewhere, SG removed), combat information center (CIC), pilot house, steering, airplane crane, and even air conditioning systems.
During this overhaul period, awards were also received by a number Columbia’s officers for the action in Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944. Capt. Curts received the Navy Cross. Cmdr. Lange received the Legion of Merit. Cmdr. Francis O. Iffrig, Cmdr. James M. Wolfe Jr., Lt. Cmdr. Clarence Unnevehr, Lt. Cmdr. Robert H. McAleer, Lt. Cmdr. John R. Henry Jr., and Lt. Robert B. Malcolm Jr., all received the Bronze Star. Ens. Thomas J. Feely was awarded an Air Medal.
For Columbia’s actions during the Lingayen Gulf operation in early January 1945, the awards were numerous. Capt. Curts was awarded the Silver Star. Lt. Cmdr. Stephen E. Flynn, Lt. Cmdr. Calrence Unnevehr, Lt. Cmdr. John R. Henry, Lt. Cmdr. Cary H. Hall, Capt. Jeff D. Smith Jr., USMC, CFC Nicholas Adams, EMCM Nicholo Caputo, BMC Raymond N. Sweeney, BM1c Hugh P. Pitts, PhM1c James W. Ryan, S1c Guy Shuford, and Sgt. Shirley W. Ferguson, USMC, all were awarded the Bronze Star. Lt. Charles F. Daniels, FCCM Harold A. Jacob, PhM1c Osborne M. Tribby, BM2c Alvin J. Martell, S1c Edward B. Kruse, and EM2c Aubrey Wright all received Letters of Commendation. The crew earned 170 Purple Hearts. Cmdr. James M. Wolfe Jr., and RM3c Francis B, Carr received Gold Stars instead of a second Purple Heart.
Columbia remained at anchor in Los Angeles Harbor at San Pedro for the start of May 1945 while she topped off her ammunition stores, and fuel. She got underway at 0725 on 4 May and steamed for training areas west of Santa Catalina and San Clemente Islands, Calif. The drills, and exercises ran without incident until 7 May 1945 when a turbine casing leak problem occurred during a full power test. Columbia reported the leak’s extent, but continued the exercises and tests through 10 May. After more full power tests, she was back in dry dock at 2325 at San Pedro to tend to the turbine casing problem with her main engines. The repairs to her engines took a couple of days, and she was back underway at 0902 on 13 May for another full power test at 1110 that morning west of Los Angeles Harbor. She completed the test to satisfaction at 1510, and moored back at San Pedro at 2006. Once re-provisioned, the cruiser got underway at 1424 on 15 May on course for Pearl Harbor.
The cruiser exercised en route, and was at her Pearl Harbor moorings by 1800 on 20 May 1945. She spent the last weeks of May conducting maintenance at anchor (21–23 May), and exercises (24–30 May)—passing the bombardment exercises in particular with “superior” ratings. She resumed maintenance at anchor on 31 May.
By 2 June 1945, a refurbished Columbia was needed elsewhere and led TU 12.5.5 for a journey to Ulithi in the Caroline Islands [Micronesia]. The cruiser got underway at 1054, joining the task unit which had gotten underway at 0800—making the rendezvous at 1822, and assuming the lead. The group exercised en route, and Columbia arrived through the Mugai Channel at her Ulithi moorings at 1018 on 13 June 1945—anchoring at her berth at 1520 after refueling. TU 12.5.5 was dissolved.
The next day, Columbia got underway at 1413 from Ulithi bound for Leyte with a small group of destroyers—exercising en route. At 1051 on 16 June 1945, the group dispersed, and Columbia refueled at 1647 in San Pedro Bay before anchoring at 1847. The cruiser had business elsewhere and that would be the operation against Borneo [Indonesia]—a small part of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s Operation Montclair formed in February 1945. Once Columbia was rearmed after her exercises, she got underway on 19 June at 1652 bound for Morotai Island [Indonesia]—arriving at anchor at 0922 on 21 June. She took on replenishment, and was underway again by 1825 bound for Balikpapan, Borneo.
She steamed through 22 June 1945 uneventfully, and crossed the equator at 0657 on 23 June. By noon on 23 June, she was at 01°19.3'S, 117°45.5'E, and sighted Balikpapan at 1315 on bearing 312° at 20 miles distance. At 1435 Columbia once more joined her sister ships Denver, and Montpelier in CruDiv 12—now attached to TG 74.2—for operational duty.
TG 74.2 was under the command of Rear Adm. Ralph S. Riggs. Riggs took in CruDiv 12 plus Dutch light cruiser Tromp and a destroyer screen that included several others that sailed alongside Columbia before with DesDiv 44—Conway, Cony, Eaton, Stevens (DD-479), Killen (DD-593), Albert W. Grant (DD-649), and Arunta. Balikpapan, designated target Oboe II, had an important oil center as the main target. MacArthur had not scheduled the landing until 1 July which provided for over two weeks of preparatory bombardments. The operational commander Vice Adm. Daniel E. Barbey put the rest of the attack group under Rear Adm. Albert G. Noble with troops from the 7th Division, I Australian corps, under Maj. Gen. Edward J. Milford.
At 1511 on 23 June 1945 Columbia went to general quarters for her initial round of shore bombardments, in the operational area by 1520. She did not take part in the action that day, but stayed on anti-aircraft alert from 1521 onward and then fueled (1705-1800). TG 74.2 retired without incident at 1910. The next morning, the group maneuvered back into the bombardment area by 0750 and Columbia anchored to her assigned station by 0821. All the cruiser’s bombardments were aided by her new Seahawks—one of which was launched and spotted for each bombardment. She shelled the target area from 0826 until 1145—holding fire due to an incoming air strike. The enemy air attacks and shore fire had been concentrating on the minesweepers, and the attack on 24 June at 1150 struck minesweeper YMS-399 at 1150, and another enemy bomber got closer enough to drop a bomb 3,000 yards from Eaton. Otherwise, no ship other than the minesweepers received direct hits.
The bombardment on 24 June 1945 resumed, but overall firing ended at 1800 and retirement for the night commenced at 1955. The next day saw some cause for anti-aircraft gunners to alert. The bombardments went on as scheduled in the morning, and friendly air strikes against the island’s enemy emplacements took place in between. When TG 74.2 was underway for night retirement at 1805, Columbia’s radar picked up seven Bettys in three groups on bearing 253° at 22 miles distance. At 2028, the cruiser opened fire on one of the planes from astern—4.5 miles distant, driving it away temporarily. At 2030, it appeared to be approaching again and she opened fire once more briefly. At 2035, high speed transport Cofer (APD-62) reported one splashed Japanese plane plus another that had managed to launch a torpedo across her bow. Six remaining enemy planes retired southwest at 2038—Columbia securing from general quarters at 2107.
The bombardment on 26 June 1945 went smoothly, and other than a scare from a friendly plane in the afternoon, the day was mostly uneventful for Columbia. The minesweepers had a harder time as Columbia observed two—YMS-365 and YMS-39 —hitting mines (at 1425 and 1540 respectively, both ended up sinking) and taking on their survivors. Otherwise, she retired safely for the night with TG 74.2 at 1925. The following day was also without incident with regards to the bombardment in the morning. However, one of Columbia’s Seahawks was recovered with some damage from anti-aircraft fire at 1115. Nevertheless, the cruiser retired without further problems at 1905 along with TG 74.2 The bombardment of 28 June was another rough day for the minesweepers as Columbia followed the conclusion of her bombardment with observing YMS-47 hitting a mine at 1415—taking on her wounded at 1556. Columbia retired for the night at 1913 with TG 74.2 and by then TG 74.1 had also joined.
The next two days, 29–30 June 1945, were completely uneventful except for the bombardment mission itself—firing only stopped during the day to fuel. On 1 July, the day of the landings, the Australian forces met light then increasing resistance as they made their way ashore. Columbia had steamed independently to her bombardment station as usual at 0532, anchored at 0618, and started her first firing from 0700 until 0745. The first troops landed at 0855, and she stood by for on-call firing. Throughout the day, the enemy forces resisted the Australian troops from a variety of reinforced hard points that the covering force was now to target. Columbia was among those to oblige with on-call firings from 1034 to 1053, resupplying midday and performing more on-call fire support later that evening at 1905. The cruiser stood by overnight for more on-call fire duty. Though Columbia lost contact with the unit she was supporting, the landings had been a success and MacArthur departed on board Cleveland at 1510 on 1 July.
Columbia was relieved of on-call fire support duties at 0205 on 2 July 1945 (all of CruDiv 12 would be), and the rest of TG 74.2 was for now to patrol the southeast area around Balikpapan to intercept any enemy forces in the area. However, at 1358, Columbia and the rest of CruDiv 12 were ordered to steam for Leyte.
TG 74.2 steamed for several days until arriving in San Pedro Bay in Leyte Gulf—Columbia pulling in at 1115 on 5 July 1945 and refueling. She spent a period of maintenance and training at anchor (6–10 July), but on 7 July Columbia along with CruDiv 12 were detached from the Seventh Fleet and transferred into TF 95.
TF 95’s primary mission was going to be sweeping the East China Sea for Japanese shipping. The task force was broken up into three groups to accomplish this. TG 95.1 (Battle Line) under Rear Adm. Francis S. Low and CruDiv 16’s large cruisers, TG 95.2 (Light Forces) with Riggs still commanding CruDiv 12 including Columbia, and TG 95.3 which was to be the destroyer screen. TG 95.2 was set up to split CruDiv 12 so Riggs had two flanking forces—TU 95.2.1 under his command and TU 95.2.2 under Curts’ command on Columbia. TG 95.3 was carved out of DesRon 24. TU 95.3.1 and TU 95.3.2 comprised two sets of flanking destroyers (DesDiv 47 and DesDiv 48 respectively). TU 95.3.3 was to be a destroyer scouting line with destroyers rotating in and out as designated.
Columbia got underway at 0630 on 11 July 1945 for training in the Leyte Gulf area, returning to anchor for a couple of days. The cruiser got underway at 0704 from San Pedro Bay along with TF 95 bound for the East China Sea for the sweep mission on 13 July. The group exercised en route, and stopped at Buckner Bay, Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands [Japan] for refueling at 0735 on 16 July—Columbia anchored at 0836. She refueled from 1027 to 1245. The cruiser got underway again at 1831 and then continued to the operational areas in the East China Sea—with the secondary objective to mislead the enemy about the next intended assault.
By noon on 17 July 1945 Columbia and the group were at 25°38.5'N, 126°29'E. The threat of a typhoon interfered with operations on 17 and 18 July 1945—forcing retirement of the group east of Okinawa. Weather was a persistent issue even with the typhoon 250 miles away into 19 July—the group at 23°11.5'N, 130°45.5'E at noon that day. Otherwise, stray mines were the only noteworthy action the group took into account—the task group destroyers making short work of them. Stray mines and miserable weather were all that the patrol sweeps offered into 21 July. The evening of 21 July, with the group passing 27°42'N, 124°00'E at 2000, Columbia spotted an enemy aircraft on bearing 090° at 11 miles distance. At 2200 the cruiser observed the main body of TF 95 firing on the plane, and Curts quickly ordered the destroyers of TU 95.3.3 into an anti-aircraft formation with Columbia. By 2218, the plane had vanished on bearing 187° at a distance of 15 miles. Curts then ordered the destroyers in TU 95.3.3 into a scouting formation at 2237.
The following morning saw the group closer to the Chinese coast as Columbia made radar land contact bearing 281° at 91 miles at 0130—and re-fixed radar contact at 0350 on Fuying island while Columbia was at 26°35’N, 121°09’E. She rejoined TF 95 and went to general quarters at 0745. Five sampans (Chinese flat-bottomed boats capable of rigging sail) were spotted off her port bow at 0811 just on the horizon. From 0820 to 0824, the range had dwindled so Columbia could bring her secondary battery to bear and she opened fire on the boats bearing 312° at 14,400 yards. She dismasted one of the sampans at 0828, and at 0829 brought her main batteries to bear on the next sampan on bearing 316° at range 13,200 yards until 0834. She fired a burst of her secondary batteries at another sampan on bearing 318° at 4300 yards (0900–0902). By noon, the group was steaming past 28°18.5'N, 122°03'E. Eight more sampans were sighted at 1205 bearing between 035° and 065° at a distance of seven miles. Columbia and TF 95 retired to Okinawa though still had the odd mine to deal with en route.
Columbia and her group remained in Buckner Bay for a day, but sortied on 26 July 1945—underway at 1525 with TG 95.2 for sweeps—this time focused in the Yellow Sea area. The group ramped up cruising speed on 27 July and steamed for the shipping areas off Shanghai at 1808—passing 31°05'N, 124°36'E by 2000. At this time, it was determined that these boats were likely manned by Chinese citizens, and should not be fired upon without investigation.
By 28 July 1945, Columbia had picked up a series of bogies through the morning, but nothing that warranted pursuit. With nothing further showing up other than land contacts, Columbia and the group turned about at 0342 on a retirement course out of the Shanghai area, contacted TG 95.3 at 0830, and was on course for Buckner Bay without further incident by 1648—Columbia at anchor by 1406 on 29 July.
The next two days were something of a case of whiplash for Columbia and crew. Most of 30 July was spent with repeated alerts for an imminent air attack that never materialized. The cruiser made defense smoke screens, and the crews stayed on alert on her anti-aircraft batteries intermittently from 0205 until a final all clear was given by 2335. The end of July 1945 also marked the end of Curts’ command on board Columbia. On 31 July, Capt. Marcy M. Dupre Jr., boarded the cruiser at noon, and relieved Curts as commanding officer at 1705. Dupre’s assumption of command did not put an end to Columbia’s duties in the sweep operation as the calendar rolled into August 1945.
A typhoon southeast of the area once again threatened operations, but Columbia got underway at 0940 on 1 August 1945—only to be forced to retire south of the operational area anyway at 1930 on 2 August 1945—reaching 31°41'N, 124°08.5'E by 2000 that evening. On station through 3 August, she maneuvered around the area while fueling the group destroyers. Planned exercises were called off due to the worsening weather, but the operation to sweep for enemy shipping overnight proceeded without incident.
By the morning of 4 August 1945, Columbia retired east from the operational area to link with TG 95.2 at 0245. Fueling was the order of the day, only interrupted by a couple of scares that turned out to be an errant friendly aircraft and isolated mine. At 1957, the night sweeps for enemy shipping resumed as Columbia and her group passed 32°01'N, 123°52'E. The next day was slightly more interesting, as while Columbia was fueling at sea, the group CAP intercepted and splashed one of two intercepted enemy planes. The second plane dropped its bombs harmlessly, and escaped. Nevertheless, the night sweeps continued. The group was harried again briefly by two enemy planes on 6 August, but the CAP splashed one and one escaped. The night sweeps of the Yellow Sea for Columbia continued into the morning of 7 August—Columbia and CruDiv 12’s element of TG 95.2.2 retiring once more on course to Buckner Bay—at anchor by 0700.
Columbia’s next few days at anchor involved upkeep and training. However, at 2100 on 12 August 1945, a Japanese torpedo bomber penetrated the bay’s defenses and struck battleship Pennsylvania with a torpedo. The blast caused significant casualties and damage to Pennsylvania, and brought Columbia along with the other ships at anchor to a belated alert in their anti-aircraft batteries at 2155.
From 13 to 14 August 1945, Columbia along with TG 95.2 got underway from Okinawa—steaming east and returning to port by 0730 the following morning. Upon Columbia’s return to Buckner Bay at 0730 on 15 August, she received word of Japan’s surrender. For the remainder of August 1945, Columbia and TG 95.2 held training exercises east of Okinawa when she was not at anchor in Buckner Bay.
While still in Okinawa, Columbia was attached to TF 56 under Oldendorf—a group that was to occupy Kobe, Osaka, and Kure, Japan. Ultimately, Columbia would not participate in this operation. For most of early September 1945, she exercised with CruDiv 12 when not at anchor in Buckner Bay. She briefly accompanied TF 56 for the planned operation, underway at 0550 on 9 September, but had her orders canceled at 0625 and returned to Buckner Bay.
Columbia was detached from the Fifth Fleet and ordered by Vice Adm. George D. Murray (Commander Marianas) to report independently to the Mariana Islands—underway at 1601 bound for Apra Harbor, Guam. On 11 September, she altered course at 2000 to steam as ordered first to Iwo Jima. By 13 September, at 0925, she was anchored at Iwo Jima to take on passengers. By 1203, she was back underway and en route to Saipan—arriving at 1242 on 15 September. She discharged her passengers from Iwo Jima, refueled, and took on 265 army enlisted troops to ferry to Guam. By 1726, she was back underway. At 0910 on 18 September, she was moored to her berth in Port Apra, Guam and discharged the army passengers. The cruiser remained anchored at Port Apra for the remainder of September. Murray visited Columbia the morning of 21 September, inspecting her (0900–1000), hoisting his flag, and designating her his flagship.
After ferrying army troops, Columbia now had the task of carrying inspection parties for Truk starting on 1 October 1945. Brig. Gen. Robert Blake USMC boarded Columbia with a group charged to investigate, and inspect the military, medical, and supply facilities of the installations surrendered at the Truk Island group—including the surrendered troops there. The cruiser got underway from Guam at 1700 en route to Truk, passing 13°11.2'N, 144°58.9'E at 2000.
She steamed through 2 October 1945, and first sighted Tol Island in the Truk Atoll at 0522 on 3 October on bearing 088° at 49 miles distance. At 0900, she came to a halt two miles off the South Pass entrance to await the Japanese delegation. The Japanese group arrived on board at 0930 composed of Lieutenant General Magikura Shunzaburo (Commander 31st Army) with seven adjutants, and Vice Adm. Hara Chūichi (Commander-in-Chief 4th Fleet) with seven adjutants. The inspection members and their Japanese counterparts conferred in the wardroom regarding the work ahead, and the Japanese team departed the ship at 1145. At noon, Columbia retired south—maintaining a position 35 miles off the entrance to South Pass until 1600 on 6 October 1945.
In the interim, Columbia lay off South Pass while landing craft carried the inspection party into the atoll. At 0630 on 4 October 1945, a Japanese pilot in a leading boat met Columbia. The inspection party boarded two landing craft and followed the Japanese pilot boat into Truk. Dublon was the object of the day’s inspection—the inspection group returning on board at 1745, and Columbia retiring to her south fallback position overnight. Much the same schedule was held for 5 October—though Moen Island was being inspected this day.
The last day of inspection, 6 October 1945, was more revealing for the inspection team. At 0600, the team left Columbia as scheduled to inspect the islands of Param and Etten. At 1410, the party returned. The cruiser got underway at 1545 bound for Guam with the inspection detail complete. The team revealed that all major military installations were destroyed or unusable due to frequent bombings. There were coastal defense batteries up to 10-inch in caliber that were still functional, but had their breech blocks removed. There remained 42,000 Japanese army, navy, and labor troops in deteriorating physical condition—without sufficient medical care or supplies to compensate. The approximately 12,000 local inhabitants were still relatively healthy.
Columbia steamed for Guam over the next couple of days, exercising en route, and pulling into her Apra Harbor moorings at 0935 on 8 October 1945. The Truk inspection team departed at 1035. She remained in Guam for several days, but was compelled to enter dry dock on 11 October for repairs to her number three shaft, cleaning of her underwater body, and painting. She left the dry dock on 15 October, remaining at her Guam moorings through 18 October.
The cruiser picked up 485 army passengers from Guam on 19 October 1945, and got underway at 1700—bound for Saipan. The short jaunt saw her arrive at her Saipan anchorage by 0745 on 20 October, and discharge the passengers. She picked up 500 more enlisted army passengers and 6 officers—getting underway at 1700 that evening for Iwo Jima.
The ship did not pull into her Iwo Jima anchorage until 0800 on 22 October 1945—discharging all her passengers. This time she took on a more assorted group—12 naval officers, 299 navy enlisted passengers, and 198 army enlisted passengers. By 1720, Columbia was steaming back for Saipan—arriving at anchor at 0715 on 24 October. Her passengers disembarked, and she took on 492 more enlisted army passengers—steaming out at 1600 for Iwo Jima. At 0800, she arrived at anchor in Iwo Jima and released her passengers. She embarked 25 army officers, and 499 army enlisted troops—underway at 1300 for Saipan. She anchor at Saipan by 0740 on 28 October and her passengers were discharged. One army officer, and 324 enlisted army passengers boarded Columbia on the next transit as she got underway at 1700 for Guam. On 29 October, she pulled into Apra Harbor and moored by 0900—disembarking all her passengers. The cruiser stayed in port for two days before taking on more passengers.
On 31 October 1945, for her final voyage home, 16 navy officers, 3 army officers, 3 Marine Corps officers, 502 enlisted troops from the navy and Marine Corps, plus 15 civilians climbed on board Columbia. At 1649, the cruiser steamed out of Guam en route to Pearl Harbor. She steamed from Guam to Pearl Harbor through early November—exercising en route. She arrived at her moorings in Pearl Harbor at 1258 on 8 November, and discharged some of her passengers.
She remained at Pearl Harbor for three days while replenishing, and got underway at 1140 on 11 November along with sister ship Cleveland en route to Long Beach, Calif. Both cruisers exercised en route, but Cleveland parted ways on 16 November. Columbia made it to her Los Angeles Harbor moorings in San Pedro by 0939 on 17 November 1945. She discharged West Coast officers, and enlisted passengers. The cruiser remained moored for the next three days. On 19 November, crew that were eligible for separation from naval service under the point system were transferred off. On 20 November, she got underway at 1115 bound for the Panama Canal.
Columbia conducted regular exercises while en route to Balboa, C.Z. Cleveland rejoined her in formation briefly on 27 November 1945. The sister ships conducted tactical exercises during the day, but Cleveland was ordered to steam independently once again at 1600. Columbia arrived at her moorings at Balboa Harbor at 0918 on 28 November—embarking passengers heading for the U.S. East Coast. She remained at anchor for another day, and got underway at 0625 on 30 November. The cruiser transited the Panama Canal at 1335 en route for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and reserve status with the Fourth Fleet—arriving at her home port on 5 December 1945 for an overhaul.
On 7 January 1946, Capt. (later Rear Adm.) Bruce B. Adell assumed command of the idle cruiser for a series of training runs with reserve officer midshipmen. She left on 24 February 1946 for a one week training cruise with 168 Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps midshipmen from Villanova College. The cruise saw Columbia steam into Chesapeake Bay, Hampton Roads, and back to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 2 March 1946. On 25 March 1946, the cruiser steamed for Newport, R.I. for another reserve officer training cruise including a stop at New London, Conn. After being assigned to the Sixteenth Fleet for her reserve cruise on 1 June 1946, she returned to Newport, then steamed out to Bermuda [United Kingdom], Casco Bay, Maine, and eventually to her namesake city of Columbia, S. C. to a festive “Columbia Day.” The Columbia residents were able to able to tour Columbia on 2 June 1946. She steamed on to celebrations in New York, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Canada, and returned to Philadelphia Navy Yard on 28 June 1946.
Cmdr. Henry F. Gorski assumed command on 28 June 1946 for the cruiser’s last services, and Columbia reported to the Sixteenth Fleet on 1 July 1946. She would be placed in commissioned reserve on 30 October 1946 while remaining in Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. She was decommissioned on 30 November 1946, and placed in the Atlantic Fleet reserve on 7 February 1947. She was sold for scrap on 18 February 1959 to the Boston Metals Company. She was stricken from the Naval Register on 1 March 1959. Demilitarization, and physical scrapping of her hull took place from November to December 1959.
Of the 27 Cleveland class light cruisers completed between 1942 and 1946, few were retained long beyond World War II. Some received electronic and missile modernizations, but Columbia was scrapped without significant post-war modification as were most of this class.
Columbia received 10 battle stars for her World War II service, in addition to two Navy Unit Commendations. The first, signed in December 1944 by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, was for Columbia’s role as part of CruDiv 12 during the air attacks, and subsequent Battle of Empress Augusta Bay on 1-2 November 1943. The second commendation, presented by Rear Adm. Riggs on 13 August 1946, was for Columbia’s role in the Lingayen Gulf operation from 5-9 January 1945 as a part of TG 77.2, and continuing through the bombardment mission after successive kamikaze attacks on 6 and 9 January 1945.
|Commanding Officers||Date Assumed Command|
|Capt. William A. Heard||29 July 1942|
|Capt. Frank E. Beatty Jr.||6 April 1943|
|Capt. Maurice E. Curts||3 June 1944|
|Capt. Marcy M. Dupre Jr.||31 July 1945|
|Capt. Bruce B. Adell||7 January 1946|
|Cmdr. Henry F. Gorski||28 June 1946|
Gregory N. Stern
5 March 2020