Phoenix III (CL-46)
The first and second U.S. Navy ships named Phoenix were named for a mythical bird of ancient Egypt which, after living some 500 years, consumes itself in fire, only to rise again rejuvenated from its ashes. The third, fourth, and fifth Phoenixes were named for the capital of Arizona located on the Salt River.
(CL-46: displacement 10,000; length 608'4"; beam 61'9"; draft 19'5" (mean); speed 33.6 knots; complement 868; armament 15 6-inch, 8 5-inch, 8 .50 cal. machine guns; aircraft 4 Curtiss SOC-1 Seagulls; class Brooklyn)
An Act of Congress authorized CL-46 on 13 February 1929; the Navy awarded the contract for CL-46 to the New York Shipbuilding Co., on 3 October 1934; and the following day Secretary of the Navy Claude A. Swanson selected the name Phoenix for her. The third Phoenix was laid down on 15 April 1935, at Camden, N.J.; launched on 12 March 1938; sponsored by Mrs. Dorothea K. Moonan (née Kays), daughter of Cmdr. Harlow T. Kays (Ret.) of Arizona; and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pa., on 3 October 1938, Capt. John W. Rankin in command.
The nine original Brooklyn (CL-40) class light cruisers also comprised Boise (CL-47), Helena (CL-50), Honolulu (CL-48), Philadelphia (CL-41), Nashville (CL-43), St. Louis (CL-49), and Savannah (CL-42). Helena and St. Louis underwent modifications while they were being built and are often considered the separate St. Louis class. The to them changes included twin 5-inch guns and new higher pressure boilers arranged differently than their predecessors, so that the ships could survive a single hit to their engineering spaces that might otherwise render them dead in the water.
Designed and built under the terms of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, the Brooklyn class cruisers displaced less than 10,000 tons and were armed with 6-inch guns as their main battery. The ships were designed largely as a response to heavily-armed Japanese cruisers, however, and as a result, mounted their 6-inch guns in five triple turrets, three forward and two aft, with Turrets II and IV in super-firing (mounted above Turrets I and III) position. The class was also designed with a flush-deck hull, with a high transom and a built-in aircraft hangar aft.
Phoenix initially embarked four Curtiss SOC-1 Seagulls of Cruiser Scouting Squadron (VCS) 8 as her Aviation Unit. The new cruiser set out on her shakedown cruise to Port of Spain, Trinidad; Santos, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; and San Juan, P.R. Phoenix returned to Philadelphia in January 1939. By June of that year, Phoenix routinely embarked four Naval Aircraft Factory SON-1 Seagulls of VCS-9, the squadron led by Lt. Cmdr. Horace B. Butterfield.
Phoenix developed an aircraft cross-catapult launch in 1940. The system enabled her to launch up to four planes in about six minutes without requiring the ship to change direction. The bottom of the Seagulls’ floats cleared the top of the other catapult by about a foot.
Brooklyn held the Light Cruiser 5ʺ/25 Caliber Armament Broadside Gunnery School (17–21 June and 29 June–3 August 1940). At times, the ship hosted gun crews from Boise, Honolulu, Nashville, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Savannah, as well as from aircraft carriers Enterprise (CV-6), Lexington (CV-2), Saratoga (CV-3), and Yorktown (CV-5).
“It is considered that this school was well planned and efficiently conducted,” Rear Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, Commander, Cruisers, Battle Force, United States Fleet, reported to Adm. Stark on 19 August 1940. “The results of this school are very gratifying.” Kimmel elaborated that the surface firings scored about 22% hits, and during the last two firing weeks the 5-inch guns consistently struck the target sleeves in all forms of practices, except ominously in Antiaircraft Battle Practice G, “against which form of attack (glide bombing) the 5-inch/25 battery was relatively ineffective.” The machine guns shot well, however, and splashed a radio controlled target drone in flames, apparently with a punctured gas tank, on its first run. The event also marked the first time that those guns shot down a drone flying at an altitude above 10,000 feet. The students tracked the drone at a mean altitude of 12,300 feet and a true speed of 122 knots, and their shooting hit the target at a position angle of 50°, and it caught fire and crashed.
In addition, Phoenix took part in the Light Cruiser 6-inch/47 Caliber Main Battery Gunnery School (28 May–29 June and 4–26 August 1940). The school’s curriculum was written to instruct gun crews in Brooklyn and St. Louis class cruisers in the “fundamental principles of main battery gunnery” and “to develop the maximum effectiveness of main battery fire”. The school furthermore aimed to determine the desirability of employing a “rate officer” similar to the tradition in the British Royal Navy.
Starting with four Local Control Battle Practices, the firing program included (in order): Day Battle Practice (fired by Phoenix); Night Battle Practices (flank illumination) (St. Louis); Day Battle Practice (St. Louis); Advanced Day Battle Practices (Phoenix); and Night Battle Practices (Phoenix). The instructors explained the acceptable control methods to the students and then permitted them to develop their own procedures for Local Control Battle Practice, noting that their decision raised a “high degree of interest” throughout the exercises.
The evaluators determined a number of conclusions including: stereo spotting was possible at ranges under 12,000 yards; a rate officer equipped with 7x50 binoculars in an aloft observing station did not prove as effective as the spotters in observing target course and speed changes; flank illumination seemed more successful than own ship’s searchlight illumination and they recommended to pursue that tactic whenever possible; and the plot needed to follow the spotter’s estimate of target angles more closely.
Nonetheless, the gun crews made some errors including: under-spotting by failing to cross the target; developing the incorrect rate for range keeping though failing to consider both range and bearing components of the solution; and illumination and control of fire at night by waiting for the rangefinder range before opening fire, after the illuminating ship had opened its searchlights on the target. Phoenix wrapped up the first phase of her gunnery practice in preparation for a voyage and lay to at Lāhainā Roads, a roadstead between Maui, Lāna‘i, Moloka‘I, and Kaho‘olawe, T.H., that the Navy often used as an anchorage. The school temporarily shifted to St. Louis in her absence.
From there she set out on the first leg of a goodwill cruise to the Pacific coast of South America (20 June–7 August 1940). In addition to the normal preparations for such a lengthy cruise, Capt. Herman E. Fischer, the commanding officer, requested $500 “for entertainment purposes under Contingent Navy” from Adm. James O. Richardson, Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, and Richardson granted the request. Fischer also foresightedly sent a dispatch to Adm. Harold R. Stark, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), requesting the latest Foreign Service List, Who’s Who, and “other appropriate information”, and that Stark arrange for the information to be sent via airmail to Balboa in the Panama Canal Zone, where the ship intended to stop on her voyage.
Fischer sent a dispatch to Cmdr. Walter W. Webb, the U.S. Naval Attaché to Chile, on 24 June 1940, in order to give him as much time as possible prior to the ship’s scheduled arrival, suggesting times for exchanging calls, tentative arrangements for the commanding officer’s luncheon and ship’s reception on board, docking arrangements, and the maximum number of officers available for any one occasion. The captain amplified the dispatch by a second letter he ordered sent via airmail through Balboa. In the meanwhile, on the 26th, Stark informed Fischer that “diplomatic arrangements had been completed for informal visits to the aforementioned ports”.
Phoenix turned her prow southward at 0900 on 20 June 1940. During her passage the ship’s company organized committees to address the expected activities that could arise during their port visits. The light cruiser celebrated Independence Day and refueled and provisioned while at Balboa (2–5 July), and then resumed her voyage. The cruiser put in to Valparaiso, Chile, for a six-day visit (12–18 July) to “cultivate friendly relations”. Phoenix fired the national salute to Chile when she reached a point about one and one half miles from Point Angeles light at 0853 on the 12th. A few minutes later 0908, she followed with a 17-gun salute to Vice Adm. Julio P. Allard, Commander-in-Chief of the Armada de Chile [Chilean Navy]. Allard also held the temporary title of the Intendente [governor] of the province during the ship’s stay. Chilean guns at the Naval School Barracks and in the vicinity of Fort Buras returned both salutes. Cmdr. Webb and the port’s pilot boarded the ship about a half mile from the breakwater, and she then continued inbound and moored stern to the mooring jetty.
Fischer and Webb called on Allard, as well as Col. Frederico Japke, Commander-in-Chief of the Garrison, Cristóbal Sáenz C., Minister of Foreign Relations, and Alfredo Duhalde V., Minister of National Defense, and to Claude G. Bowers, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, and Renwick S. McNeice, the American Consul at Valparaiso. Rear Adm. Louis A. Muñoz V, who commanded the local naval station, fell ill just before the ship’s visit and was not available while he recovered. Allard welcomed the ship’s officers at a cocktail party held at that country’s Naval Club, and Phoenix returned the hospitality with a reception on board. The guests who attended the commanding officer’s luncheon in honor of Allard given on board the vessel included Lt. Col. Ralph H. Wooten, USA, the U.S. Military Attaché.
The ship reached Chile during the winter in the southern hemisphere and foul weather plagued the visit. A storm had damaged shipping in Valparaiso harbor in May 1940, blown loose battleship Almirante Latorre from her anchorage, and overturned a 4,000-ton merchantman in a dry dock. The visitors and their hosts accordingly made a number of precautions, which included placing a pilot at the disposal of the cruiser. The action proved prudent when a storm swept through the port on the night of 12 and 13 July 1940. The winds increased until they reached an average velocity of 24 knots, with gusts at frequent intervals from 35 to 45 knots. The sea broke over the landing and rendered boating dangerous, and all small craft took shelter in the small inlet by the landing area, which thus became congested. The pilot stayed on board Phoenix overnight, and the ship kept steam up in the throttles with the intention of being able to sortie within 15 minutes if necessary, but otherwise rode out the storm undamaged. Another tempest struck the area on the 17th with high winds of 18–22 knots and heavy swells.
The warship held her reception from 1530–1730 on the 17th. Phoenix, Bowers, McNeice, and the Chilean Navy sent 500 invitations for the soirée, only about half of whom attended because of communist demonstrations ashore and the worsening weather conditions. Phoenix moored away from the dock and the boats shuffled the guests back and forth. The ship’s company rigged awnings and side curtains on the forecastle, and served sandwiches, salad, ice cream, and punch. The orchestra played during the reception and guests danced on the forward part of the ship. In addition, the crew opened the second deck for inspection and provided coffee in the wardroom, which “was very much in demand by the Chileans”.
In addition to the communist demonstrators, tensions ran high as a result of Axis influence in the country. Thousands of Germans and Italians lived in Chile, and numbers of native Chileans traced their descent from German or Italian immigrants. German and Italian schools and newspapers served some of these communities, and a German Chilean youth organization existed. In some instances, members of these communities espoused Nazi or Fascist Italian ideologies, and the Allies feared that enemy agents and spies infiltrated these communities and operated among them. Allied fears proved justified as the war continued and they uncovered evidence of Operation Bolívar—German espionage in Latin America.
By 1944, the Department of State believed that German and Japanese agents in neutral countries were intensifying their efforts to obtain Allied information. The department instructed posts to review their security measures, and to investigate the associations of all post staff “down to the lowliest members.” Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Vice Consul in Arica, Chile, discovered that his 17-year-old janitor had been selling the Consulate’s trash to the local chief of Investigaciones (Chile’s counterpart to the FBI), a man known to have contacts with Axis agents. One document in the trash identified U.S. Navy codes but did not contain enough information to permit decoding of messages. The Consulate promptly fired the janitor, and later learned that the chief probably gave the documents to his superiors in order to improve his chances for promotion, rather than passing them to Axis agents. The ship’s visit helped to emphasize U.S. support for a democratically elected Chilean government and opposition to the Axis.
Fischer, Webb, a lieutenant commander and a lieutenant from Phoenix meanwhile (14–15 July 1940) accompanied a Chilean naval aide on a train from Valparaiso to Santiago. The party stayed at the Hotel Crillon, and on several occasions and in different locations including the U.S. Embassy dined with diplomatic officials, high ranking Chilean officers, and Americans of prominence. Pisco, a local brandy favored by the American community, also became a popular choice with the ship’s company.
Upon the party’s return to the ship they continued their round of state functions. On the 16th, Fischer laid a wreath at the Heroes of Iquique Monument for Capt. Agustín A. Prat Chacón (3 April 1848–21 May 1878), a Chilean naval hero who was killed at the Battle of Iquique in the War of the Pacific. Phoenix landed a platoon of bluejackets and a platoon of marines for the ceremony, which drew a crowd of nearly 3,000 people. The ship’s orchestra and a Chilean naval band played their respective country’s national anthems, and the sailors and marines then passed in review. “This ceremony was very impressive,” Fischer reported, “and gratefully received by the Chilean Naval officials and the general public.” The ship’s basketball team also played the Chilean Naval Academy’s team on an outside clay court, a game the Chileans won 44 to 20.
The cruiser’s four Seagulls flew ashore to their host’s naval air station at Quintero on 17 July 1940. The naval aviators observed that their counterparts seemed “well acquainted with aviation matters,” though seemed understandably reticent to show their guests too much of the station, which consisted of a large operating hangar, a repair hangar, a storehouse, and a machine shop. The Americans noted limited repair and maintenance facilities, which they described as in “very poor condition,” though adding that “the hangars were large and in fair shape”. The visitors examined a Dornier Do J Wal undergoing repairs after the flying boat made a forced landing in a field short of the station, a trio of Arado Ar 95 reconnaissance and patrol biplanes, one on floats and the other pair on wheels, another couple of Dorniers, and a few light aero club sport planes that Chilean naval officers flew. The foul weather later that day precluded additional inspections, and the wash would have prevented any planes beaching on the small sandy beach north of the air station.
“The Phoenix,” Fischer signaled Allard upon the ship’s departure, “sends sincere expressions of deepest appreciation for the hearty welcome reception and many kindnesses accorded us.”
Allard and the officers of the Armada de Chile responded by extending “their affectionate Godspeed” and “a good voyage” to their “true comrades”.
From there the ship steamed northward and visited to Callao, Peru (22–26 July 1940). On the 25th, the snatch block on a mooring line carried away and the flaying line struck S1c Vernon Le Roy Harrington and threw him against a turret. Harrington died from his injuries, which included a simple fracture to his skull (the left parietal) and a traumatic rupture to a lung. The tragedy marred the ship’s visit but she concluded her goodwill cruise to Peruvian and Chilean waters and charted a course for home. Phoenix refueled at Balboa on 30 July, and rejoined the fleet at San Pedro, Calif. From there she returned to the gunnery school, which shifted back from St. Louis, and completed the second phase of exercises. By November of that year, she embarked an operational average of four SOC-3s of VCS-9, Lt. Cmdr. Clarence E. Ekstrom.
The Allies in the meantime reinforced their Pacific bastions as war clouds loomed in the face of increasing Japanese aggression. The Americans dispatched one such convoy of soldiers on board Army transport Hugh L. Scott to the Philippines (28 August–16 September 1941), and planners debated the security of routing the ship through the Gilbert Islands [Kiribati], Torres Strait, and then northward through the Netherlands East Indies [Indonesia]. The vessel’s passage would thus likely have taken her beyond the range of Japanese air strikes in the event of war, and the planners considered sending the transport without escorts. As the Americans weighted their options, however, they considered deploying escorts from the Asiatic Fleet, and finally shelved those plans altogether and decided instead to direct Hugh L. Scott to chart a direct course across the Central Pacific through the Mariana Islands. German auxiliary cruiser Komet, Kapitän zur See Robert Eyssen in command, had just raided Allied ships and bastions in the Pacific, and in the unlikely prospect that she or another German raider attacked Hugh L. Scott, the Navy decided to assign a close escort to her from Hawaiian waters.
Hugh L. Scott set out from San Francisco but many of the soldiers she embarked struggled with seasickness before she reached Honolulu, Oahu, T.H., on 2 September 1941. The transport disembarked some of her passengers and brought others on board, and the ship, carrying a mix of about 1,100 men from the mainland and the islands including elements of the 1st Battalion, 200th Coast Artillery, 14th Bomb Squadron (ground echelon), and replacements, resumed her westward journey that evening. On the 4th, Phoenix joined her and took station 1,000 yards of Hugh L. Scott’s starboard quarter, and the pair continued their voyage as Task Force (TF) 14. Phoenix and her charge passed through San Bernardino Strait and concluded their journey when they moored to Pier 7 at Manila.
Heavy cruiser Astoria (CA-34) operated as TF 17 as she escorted a second convoy, consisting of oiler Guadalupe (AO-32) and Army transport President Coolidge, from San Francisco via Oahu and the Marianas to the Philippines (8–26 September 1941). The two ships carried approximately 2,000 men including some of the 1st Battalion, 200th Coast Artillery, 54 M-3 light tanks of the 194th Light Tank Battalion, and the 17th Ordnance Company. In addition, Guadalupe carried six motor torpedo (PT) boats of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron (MTBRon) 3, Lt. (j.g.) John D. Bulkeley, as deck cargo. Guadalupe spent several days unloading fuel and then set out for her return voyage. Phoenix rendezvoused with Guadalupe in San Bernardino Strait and screened the ship back to Pearl Harbor.
Upon her return to Hawaiian waters, Phoenix operated administratively under Rear Adm. H. Fairfax Leary, Commander, CruDiv 9, who served double-hatted as Commander Cruisers, Battle Force. Boise, Helena, Honolulu, and St. Louis comprised the other ships of the division, and VCS-9, Lt. Cmdr. Benjamin B.C. Lovett, provided their aircraft. Four of the squadron’s SOC-3s usually operated from Phoenix.
As the sun rose on 7 December 1941, Phoenix lay in berth C-6 northeast of Ford Island, not far from hospital ship Solace (AH-5), which lay astern of the cruiser. Phoenix’s men were moving unhurriedly in their peacetime Sunday morning routine, and some prepared for quarters and colors, while others finished eating or writing letters. The ship’s Turret III was out of commission due to a swollen 6-inch gun barrel. Unbeknownst to the ship’s company, however, Japanese Dai-ichi Kidō Butai (the 1st Mobile Striking Force), Vice Adm. Nagumo Chūichi in command, sailed from Japanese waters and attacked Oahu.
Observers on board Phoenix’s signal bridge sighted strange planes coming in low from north of Ford Island at about 0755. Men observed that one of the aircraft, bearing the rising sun of Japan, swooped over the stern of Raleigh (CL-7), moored off Ford Island to Phoenix’s port quarter, fired all its guns, and flew toward the Ford Island Central Tower and dropped a bomb. Additional Japanese planes thrust toward the battleships moored at Battleship Row, along the south side of Ford Island.
At 0806 Phoenix signaled the other ships in Sector Four to “prepare to get underway”. Gunfire splashed an attacker at the end of the pipe line astern of berth F-8 at 0807, and the plane burned in the water. Phoenix’s men rushed to man their battle stations and her machine gun battery began shooting at the Japanese aircraft three minutes later, followed five minutes after that by the antiaircraft battery. A group of three planes, which observers believed to be Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers, approached from the northeast and attacked Phoenix, a nest of destroyers at berth X-11, and destroyer tender Whitney (AD-4) and some of the ships nested with her—Case (DD-370), Conyngham (DD-371), Reid (DD-369), Selfridge (DD-357), and Tucker (DD-374). Phoenix escaped damage and continued the fray. Shortly after the attack began, Ens. Warren H. Sears, USNR, a turret officer on board West Virginia (BB-48), boarded a boat at the navy yard that took him over to Phoenix instead of Battleship Row at Ford Island, and Sears joined the ship’s company in fighting the ship.
The ship’s engineering sailors worked furiously to get Phoenix ready for sea and at 0845 they reported that she could get underway to escape the carnage. A formation of 11 enemy planes crossed over the fleet at high altitude, which the ship’s spotters estimated at 10,000 feet, on a heading of 070°, 15 minutes later. Phoenix fired 50 5-inch rounds at the aircraft but missed. A second wave of planes roared in at about 0900. Some of the Japanese aircraft dived at about a 30° angle on the ships berthed along the northern side of Ford Island, and Phoenix blasted both her antiaircraft and machine gun batteries at them, firing about 20 5-inch shells. A destroyer’s guns disintegrated one of the enemy planes.
Additional planes attacked the battleships at 0910 and Phoenix swung her guns around to help the battlewagons. The ship shot approximately 60 more 5-inch rounds at the attackers, apparently without effect. After some of the planes pulled out of their dives they turned toward berth C-6 and the ship’s machine guns fired at them. Phoenix also shot periodically at planes that attacked the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard and the vessels there.
Phoenix began to stand down the North Channel at 1010, but received orders not to sortie and returned to her moorings. The ship undauntedly made again for the open sea and again received orders, this time via Tennessee (BB-43)—“From Cincpac [Kimmel] do not sortie”. Phoenix obediently turned around in the channel and started back to berth C-6. Rear Adm. Leary ordered the ship to sortie and she finally did so at 1115, steaming down the South Channel toward the sea. Capt. Fischer did not require an additional turret officer, so as Phoenix passed West Virginia, Ens. Sears dived overboard and swam to the burning battleship.
Fischer reported to Kimmel that although Phoenix joined other ships in firing at three planes, he could not accurately determine if the cruiser damaged any of the attackers. Phoenix fired 353 5-inch, 35 3-inch, and 4,500 .50 cal. rounds during the battle.
Phoenix escaped the disaster unharmed and cleared the channel and began zig zagging at high speed. At half past noon Phoenix joined some other ships that sortied from Pearl Harbor including Detroit (CL-8), St. Louis, and several destroyers and fast minesweepers and they operated as TF 1. Earlier that morning TF 3, Rear Adm. Milo F. Draemel, Commander Destroyers, Battle Force, and Destroyer Flotilla 2, comprising Minneapolis (CA-36), Capt. Frank J. Lowry, and four destroyer minesweepers of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 4, had begun routine maneuvering southwest of Oahu. During the afternoon watch Kimmel ordered TF 1 to rendezvous with TF 3, and they combined under Draemel in an impromptu task force. Minneapolis initially launched some of her four SOC-1s of VCS-6 that searched about 150 miles out from the ship, along an arc of 150° to 180°.
TF 8, Vice Adm. William F. Halsey Jr., in command and formed around Enterprise, had just delivered 12 Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron (VMF) 211, Maj. Paul A. Putnam, USMC, to Wake Island. On that fateful day Enterprise was returning to Pearl Harbor and reached a position about 200 miles to the westward of Oahu as the Japanese attack unfolded.
A report claimed to sight some of the enemy ships south of the island, and toward dusk -- just before 1700 -- Enterprise launched a strike consisting of her 18 operational Douglas TBD-1 Devastators of Torpedo Squadron 6, a half dozen Douglas SBD Dauntlesses fitted with smoke generators to screen the torpedo bombers with smoke, and six escorting Wildcats. The planes searched out to about 100 miles southeast of Enterprise but failed to sight any enemy ships, and then the bombers returned to the carrier and the Wildcats ashore. Halsey directed Draemel to search to the southward of Oahu, until another report claimed to sight them to the northward, and Phoenix and other ships searched for the enemy carriers in an area about 100 miles north of Oahu. The Japanese eluded discovery, however, as Nagumo brought his ships about and sailed from Hawaiian waters.
The following day on 8 December 1941, TF 1 worked with TF 8 but Enterprise ran low on fuel and she detached from the formation that afternoon. Six Wildcats flew protectively overhead as she entered Pearl Harbor as the sun set, and after refueling and taking on provisions, the carrier stood back to sea during the morning watch on 9 December. The two task forces rendezvoused at 1235 and until 1705 patrolled the area, when Minneapolis, Detroit, Phoenix, and St. Louis detached and returned to Pearl Harbor. The ships slid back into the harbor through water covered by oil from the sunken ships, and while sailors attempted to rescue men trapped in vessels that capsized during the attack. The air reeked of death and oil, and fires still burned from the stricken ships and ashore, casting an eerie glow over the men. Following her ordeal, Phoenix returned to the west coast and lay briefly at Mare Island Navy Yard, Calif.
The enemy attack caught the Americans in the midst of building up their forces in the Hawaiian Islands, and the Japanese onslaught lent a degree of urgency to their endeavors. In particular, the garrison required additional planes to replace the ones destroyed or damaged by the Japanese, and fighters topped the list. One such contingent consisted of 2,191 men, primarily soldiers but with a handful of sailors, the soldiers from part of the Army’s 161st Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion of the 57th Coast Artillery Regiment. The cargo included 54 Curtiss P-40E Warhawks, two Douglas C-53 Skytroopers, 33 10 5-millimeter howitzers, 28 155-millimeter guns, nine 37-millimeter antitank guns, machine guns, bombs, artillery shells, small arms ammunition, naval supplies, fuel oil, and gasoline.
The reinforcements set out in store ship Aldebaran (AF-10), transport Harris (AP-8), and Army transports President Garfield and Tasker H. Bliss. Phoenix, Cushing (DD-376), and Perkins (DD-377) comprised their escort as Task Group (TG) 15.7 as the ships formed up as Convoy No. 2004. Phoenix fueled and provisioned while moored at Mare Island on 16 December 1941, and installed a new 5-inch gun barrel in her No. 3 gun. She shifted berths and anchored at C-3 in San Francisco at 1757, and at 0630 the following day proceeded out of San Francisco Bay with the convoy. Humphreys (DD-236) acted as a coastal escort, and Harris, Crane (DD-109), Crosby (DD-164), and Kilty (DD-137), along with Platte (AO-24) and Sabine (AO-25), joined the convoy during the morning watch on the 18th. Humphreys, Crane, Crosby, and Kilty steamed with the convoy only briefly (0830–1145) but then all four detached. The cruiser launched her planes daily, weather permitting, for search and antisubmarine patrols, but the convoy continued without incident. Five utility aircraft flew out from Oahu and covered the ships to the off-shore patrol area as they reached Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve 1941.
Phoenix did not enjoy the holidays for long, however, because she helped escort the return convoy as they evacuated people from the Hawaiian Islands to San Francisco (30 December 1941–6 January 1942). Again acting as the flagship of TG 15.7, the cruiser set out in company with Aylwin (DD-355) and Perkins to shepherd Harris, President Garfield, Tasker H. Bliss, and cargo ship Procyon (AK-19). Light minelayers Gamble (DM-15) and Montgomery (DM-17) screened the ships as they moved through Hawaiian coastal waters.
The Americans continued to reinforce their forces across the Pacific Rim, and after a month of convoy duty between the United States and the Hawaiian Islands, Phoenix departed San Francisco as the Escort Commander for Convoy No. 2013 bound for Brisbane, Australia (12 January–2 February 1942). The large convoy carried nearly 7,000 men: 51 P-40Es; 19 Bell P-39D Airacobras; 200 tons of aircraft parts; 20 tons of Prestone ethylene glycol; the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of the 35th Pursuit Group; elements of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Pursuit Squadrons of the 39th Pursuit Group; 16th and 25th Pursuit Squadrons of the 51st Pursuit Group; 808th Engineer Battalion (Aviation); 4th Air Depot Group; 45th and 51st Airbase Group Headquarters; 686th, 688th, and 693rd Ordnance Companies (Pursuit); 711th and 729th Ordnance Companies (Airbase); 43rd, 54th, and 59th Matérial Squadrons; and the “Remember Pearl Harbor” detachment.
Army transports President Coolidge (21,936 tons) and Mariposa (18,017 tons) carried most of the soldiers and their equipment, and President Monroe, a C3-P&C [passenger and cargo] vessel built for American President Lines but acquired by the War Shipping Administration on a bareboat charter for outfitting for war service, joined the convoy for part of the voyage. President Coolidge required work on a vibration problem in one of her shafts in a dry dock before she sailed. As no regular naval officer was attached to the convoy, the master of President Coolidge served as the Convoy Commander. Navy Armed Guard crews manned President Monroe’s guns, but President Coolidge and Mariposa disembarked their naval gunners prior to the voyage and replaced them with Army gun crews.
Phoenix, Aylwin, and Perkins formed TG 15.9 and escorted Convoy No. 2013 as the ships turned their prows from the Bay Area to seaward at 1608 on 12 January 1942. The convoy steamed in a diamond formation, with President Coolidge as the guide, Mariposa 1,000 yards of President Coolidge’s starboard quarter, Phoenix astern, and President Monroe 1,000 yards on President Coolidge’s port quarter. The following morning Fischer observed that the convoy was proceeding at a speed of about 17 ½ knots and spread out over the ocean. In answer to his inquiries, President Monroe informed him that she could only make 17 knots and a result, threw the convoy out of position. Phoenix repeatedly signaled President Coolidge but she failed to respond, so during the forenoon watch an exasperated Fischer took over the duties of the Convoy Commander and they switched stations.
Upon investigation he discovered that F.T.P. 189 (which contained instructions to U.S. flag convoys) had not been issued to President Coolidge and Mariposa, and C.S.P. 950 Auxiliary Signal Book had never been issued to all three of the vessels in the convoy, although they did have copies of the zig-zag diagrams. Since Aylwin and Perkins were scheduled to come about at midnight, that afternoon Fischer ordered them to deliver their copies of F.T.P. 189 to Mariposa and President Coolidge. The destroyers raced in at 16.5 knots and Fischer observed that they “expeditiously” transferred their copies. The opening of the formation would have rendered the convoy temporarily vulnerable if a Japanese submarine had attempted to slip past the screen.
At midnight Fischer released their coastal escort and the ships continued their journey. President Monroe developed engine trouble on the night of the 17th and the convoy temporarily slowed to 12 knots while she struggled to troubleshoot the problem and regain her station. The ship broke down again the following day, and dangerously delayed the vessels for a second time as she accomplished repairs. On the 19th it was Mariposa’s turn when the ship experienced a faulty telemeter system, and after she regained station for the second time, Fischer directed President Coolidge and Mariposa to switch stations, placing the latter in the stern of the formation in an apparently safer position. About half way through the voyage on the 24th, the Allies shifted most of the convoy’s destination to Melbourne. Three mornings later, New Zealand light cruiser Achilles (70) rendezvoused with the convoy, and accompanied President Monroe as she detached and steamed to the Fiji Islands. As the pair sailed off Achilles signaled Phoenix:
“Congratulations on news from Macassar to-day”—a reference to the Battle of Makassar Strait, where the Allies counterattacked Japanese forces invading the Netherlands East Indies.
The three remaining ships of the convoy changed their formation into open order, with Phoenix in the van, followed by President Coolidge and Mariposa. President Monroe meanwhile reached the Fiji Islands on the 29th and unloaded her troops -- 660 men of the 51st Pursuit Group -- at Suva to augment the Allied garrison there. That day an Allied squadron led by Rear Adm. John G. Crace, RN, and comprising Australian heavy cruiser Australia (D.84), Australian light cruisers Perth (D.29) and Adelaide, and New Zealand light cruiser Leander (75), rendezvoused with the convoy. “Am delighted to welcome you to this area,” Crace signaled Fischer. The ships maneuvered with the convoy for a while, and then the admiral came about but detached Adelaide and she operated under Fischer’s orders. Adelaide knew her home waters well and took station ahead of Phoenix at sunset on the last day of the month. The following morning she led them into Melbourne and at 1745 on 1 February Phoenix moored port side to Nelson Pier at Williamstown in the Port of Melbourne. The ship shifted her berth to Princess Pier two days later. After they unloaded their troops and cargoes, Mariposa steamed to Brisbane and President Coolidge to Wellington, New Zealand.
In the interim Allied planners debated how to shore up the rapidly fragmenting defenses of the Malay Barrier and the Netherlands East Indies. Early in 1942 they had established the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Command, led by British Gen. Sir Archibald P. Wavell, to defend the region. Hitherto they had used Australia in a limited capacity as a staging point for reinforcements, especially of aircraft, to the ABDA area and India. The Japanese swept through the ABDA area, however, and the Allied troops fighting for that region desperately needed air support. The Allies thus planned Convoy MS-5 to carry fighter planes to Java or to expand the burgeoning U.S. Tenth Air Force in India.
The convoy comprised 2,953 troops from No. 2013 and additional transits: 69 P-40Es; equipment, jeeps, and stores; the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of the 7th Bomb Group; 9th Bomb Squadron; Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, 35th Intercept Control Squadron; 51st Pursuit Group; 88th Reconnaissance Squadron; 45th and 41st Airbase Groups; and the 36th Signal Platoon.
Seaplane tender Langley (AV-3), the Navy’s first aircraft carrier (ex-CV-1); cargo ship Sea Witch (6,021 tons) and Army transport Willard A. Holbrook (14,812 tons) were to primarily carry the men and cargoes. The Allies originally intended that Mariposa should also accompany the convoy, but they shifted her to other duties and a pair of Australian troop ships, Duntroon (10,346 tons) and Katoomba (9,424 tons), took her place. Langley ferried 32 of the Warhawks, while Sea Witch carried 27 more crated, and Willard A. Holbrook another ten planes. The Army asked the Navy to allow Phoenix to continue her escort services and shepherd the convoy around Australia, and the Navy initially rejected the request but then acquiesced. Throughout the burst of activity, the Allies also notified Dutch Adm. Conrad E.L. Helfrich, RNN, Commander, ABDA Naval Forces, that Phoenix might reinforce the admiral to help defend Java.
Convoy MS-5, Cmdr. Frederick L. Cavaye, RN, who broke his flag in Willard A. Holbrook, set out from Melbourne on 13 February 1942. After clearing Lonsdale Light the convoy intended to form column, but the flagship did not join them until the following morning. Katoomba burned coal and smoked continually, and Fischer also observed that “she was a poor station keeper.” Five days out some Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Lockheed Hudson Is patrolled over the convoy whenever the ships steamed within range. The vessels rounded the southern end of the continent, and put in to Fremantle, Western Australia, where Phoenix moored to a dock at Shed H at 1203. Langley stood in shortly thereafter and at 1402 moored to that dock astern of Phoenix. 1st Lt. Boyd D. Wagner, USAAF, led the 13th Pursuit Squadron (Provisional) as the men assembled their Warhawks and flew them across Australia to meet Langley, which loaded them.
The convoy captains and masters attended a sailing conference at Fremantle on 21 February 1942. The men discussed their orders to steam to Bombay [Mumbai], India, however, time was of the essence and Helfrich requested immediate reinforcements. During the conference they thus learned that the admiral cancelled the convoy’s sailing orders, and ordered Langley and Sea Witch to detach and proceed independently at best speed for Tjilatjap [Cilacap] on southern Java in the Netherlands East Indies. Japanese bombing and their rapid advance left Tjilatjap as the only viable option for unloading aircraft, though the port lacked the facilities to properly handle the planes.
The convoy returned to sea on 22 February 1942, and charted a course for Colombo, Ceylon [Sri Lanka], from where they were to continue to Bombay. During the evening twilight lookouts sighted British refrigerated cargo liner Empire Star (12,656 tons). The ship maneuvered suspiciously and failed to answer any challenges or calls, so Phoenix prepared to open fire. Only then did Empire Star comply with the cruiser’s directive to turn 090° to starboard, and watchstanders used photographs to identify her just as the merchantman belatedly flashed her call. At 2124 Phoenix received a signal directing Langley to detach and make for Tjilatjap “with all dispatch.” Langley thus left the convoy and turned for Java. Phoenix received a “garbled” message three days later directing Sea Witch to also break away and steer toward Java “with all dispatch,” and the freighter detached and proceeded independently.
Planners arranged for a British cruiser of the Eastern Fleet to relieve Phoenix in the vicinity of Cocos Island, and for the American cruiser then to come about or to escort additional ships. On the 26th Phoenix received word that British light cruiser Enterprise (D.52) would be the ship to relieve the U.S. cruiser of her charges.
Edsall (DD-219) and Whipple (DD-217) meanwhile rendezvoused with Langley and Sea Witch but an enemy reconnaissance plane spotted them on 27 February 1942. Nine Japanese two-engine naval land attack planes and six fighters irreparably damaged Langley 74 miles from Tjilatjap. Edsall and Whipple shelled and torpedoed the tender but the possibility of renewed attacks compelled the survivors to retreat and they did not record her sinking. Some of the crewmen were transferred to Pecos (AO-6) and on 1 March endured the demise of another ship when Japanese Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers from carriers Akagi, Kaga, Hiryū, and Sōryū sank Pecos south of Christmas Island. Sixteen men from Langley died altogether. Sea Witch delivered the 27 crated Warhawks to Tjilatjap on 28 February.
While this tragedy played itself out, other Allied ships attempted to escape the debacle or reinforce their far flung bastions. The leading convoys of the “Stepsister” movement carrying Australian troops back from the Middle East to defend their mother country steamed south-eastward for Australia. Such ships of the Eastern Fleet, and other British vessels available in the Indian Ocean, had their hands full escorting the vulnerable troopships.
Enterprise relieved Phoenix at 1621 on 28 February 1942, about 300 miles west of Cocos Island. “Katoomba passed out of sight still smoking and still behind,” Fischer recorded. “What a relief!” The convoy continued on toward Indian waters, while Phoenix, which Allied leaders conceded could not affect the outcome of the ABDA’s collapse, swung around and made for Fremantle. Helfrich ordered Phoenix to proceed to an area at 15°S and 115°E on the 1st, to help gather various small vessels escaping from the enemy and lead them to Exmouth Gulf, Australia.
Japanese ships hunted for these survivors and that morning Phoenix received a chilling message that two enemy cruisers and a pair of “large vessels” had been sighted near 10°20S, 108°32E. The following morning an unidentified plane appeared astern of Phoenix and shadowed her for about an hour before winging off. Phoenix had no choice but to continue and hope that she could elude the enemy net, and on the morning of 3 March the warship encountered patrol vessel Isabel (PY-10) and Sea Witch. Isabel scarcely eluded the hunters, and heavy seas furthermore pounded the converted yacht, and she steamed with some of her plates sprung and deck fittings broken. The previous day, the Dutch had dumped the crated Warhawks that Sea Witch delivered into the harbor to prevent their capture, and the freighter embarked 40 fleeing soldiers and just barely slipped out of Tjilatjap ahead of the enemy.
The Americans met Australian minesweeper Bendigo (J.187) at 1700, which also narrowly skirted death at Tjilatjap. A twin engine plane had also flown over the Australian ship, sometimes referred to as a corvette, earlier that morning, though the American and Australian crewmen were unclear as to whether they sighted the same shadower. All of the vessels nonetheless continued to steam independently at different speeds, and Phoenix reached Freemantle on 5 March. Two days later Isabel slid into the port with barely two hours of fuel remaining, and Bendigo followed suit the following day, carrying her last day of rations.
Convoy MS-5 meanwhile continued uncertain about the movements of Japanese ships and aircraft and consequently charted a course many miles to the south of Christmas Island, in order to avoid detection. Enterprise, Willard A. Holbrook, Duntroon, and Katoomba reached Colombo, also on 5 March, and some of them continued on to Karachi, India [Pakistan], where they arrived on the 13th. Phoenix helped escort a convoy from the Middle East to Australian waters, and lay to at Freemantle on 17 May 1942.
The Japanese continued their tide of conquest as they thrust into the Solomon Islands, and the Allies counterattacked them in Operation Watchtower—landings by the 1st Marine Division on Japanese-held Guadalcanal, Florida, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Tulagi on 7 August 1942. The fighting for possession of the islands seesawed back and forth, and the Pacific Fleet deployed additional forces to the region. TF 17, Rear Adm. George D. Murray, steamed into those contested seas and as the ships crossed the equator, Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, Commander, South Pacific Force (ComSoPac), ordered Murray to “proceed to a prospective rendezvous” with TF-61, Rear Adm. Frank J. Fletcher, in the waters to the eastward of the southern Solomon Islands on 27 August 1942, “prepared for offensive operations to the westward.”
Murray led Hornet (CV-8), Northampton (CA-24), Pensacola (CA-24), San Diego (CL-53), Hughes (DD-410), Morris (DD-417), Mustin (DD-413) O’Brien (DD-415), Russell (DD-414), and Guadalupe to that area at a speed of advance of 16 knots. Two days later Hornet sighted TF-61 approaching, which consisted of two task forces. TF-11, commanded by Vice Adm. Fletcher in Saratoga, also comprised North Carolina (BB-55), Minneapolis, Australia, Australian light cruiser Hobart (D.63), and several destroyers. In addition, TF 18 consisted of Wasp (CV-7), wearing Rear Adm. Leigh Noyes’ flag, Portland (CA-33) and Salt Lake City (CA-25), and several destroyers. Hornet and her attendants thus became TG 61.2, with Salt Lake City being assigned to their number.
Phoenix steered for the combined task forces and at sunset on 30 August 1942, she relieved Salt Lake City in TG 61.2. Salt Lake City, Bagley (DD-386), and Patterson (DD-392) escorted Wasp while she detached to fuel and take on provisions at Nouméa, New Caledonia.
The following morning at 0746, Japanese submarine I-26 (Cmdr. Yokota Minoru, commanding) torpedoed Saratoga’s starboard side, Hornet’s war diarist noting “the column of water rising to a height slightly higher than the height of her mast.” Saratoga came about for repairs, and with Enterprise requiring repairs after having been damaged in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, only Hornet and Wasp remained fully operational in the South Pacific.
Shortly before sunset, Fletcher ordered Murray to proceed independently with TG 61.2, remain in the area, and fuel on 2 September. Phoenix, Bagley, and Patterson were to split off and report to TF 44, then chart a course for Brisbane in company with Australia and Hobart. Monssen (DD-436) kept the enemy submarine down until sunset, but, as Hornet’s chronicler noted, “no indication received by this ship that the submarine had received any damage from our forces.” The day continued to its end, with no further contact with the enemy and the radar picking up occasional unidentified aircraft that turned out to be, upon investigation, “friendly…with ineffective identification equipment…”
Phoenix called at Brisbane and then joined the fighting to clear the Japanese from southeastern New Guinea. In the Battle of Milne Bay, the Allies repelled Operation Re, a Japanese counterattack against the Allied airfields there (24 August–7 September 1942). Early in the battle on the 24th, seven Japanese barges landed approximately 350 men of the Kaigun Rikusentai (Special Naval Landing Forces—SNLF) on Goodenough Island in the D'Entrecasteaux Islands to rest. The Allies discovered the convoy and a dozen RAAF Kittyhawks (Curtiss P-40s) pounced on the barges and sank all seven of them, stranding the enemy ashore. The Japanese operated aggressively, however, and as they evacuated their surviving SNLF from the aborted landings, light cruiser Tatsuta and destroyer Arashi swung around and bombarded the Gili Gili and Waga Waga areas on the night of 7 September 1942. The Japanese sank British armed motor vessel Anshun (3,188-tons), killing two of her gunners and wounding two more, and then came about and retired.
British Rear Adm. Victor A.C. Crutchley, RN, led a strike force from the Southwest Pacific Force, comprising Australia (the flagship), Phoenix, Hobart, Bagley, Helm (DD-388), Henley (DD-391), and Selfridge, from Brisbane on the 7th to deter the thrust and to catch Tatsuta and Arashi. The Allies meanwhile learned that Japanese destroyers Isokaze and Yayoi attempted to slip past the Allied net and rescue their beached men on Goodenough Island, and so Crutchley turned to intercept them. USAAF North American B-25 Mitchells and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses attacked the pair, however, and sank Yayoi about eight miles northwest of Vakuta Island on 11 September. Following additional fighting, the enemy later evacuated the survivors from the island. In the meanwhile, Crutchley charted a new course to an area about 300 miles south of Milne Bay that he believed to be out of range of enemy land-based planes, and the ships patrolled ready to meet any Japanese thrust into those waters. While Phoenix served with the force in November she operated a trio of SOC-3s of VCS-9.
Phoenix, Hobart, Helm, Mugford (DD-389), and Patterson next sailed together as TF 44 and took part in Operation Lilliput, escorting convoys that transported troops and cargoes back-and-forth between Milne Bay and Oro Bay, in southeastern New Guinea. The movements largely supported the 32nd Infantry Division and the 7th Australian Division as they fought a bloody campaign to oust the Japanese from their positions around Buna, Gona, and Sanananda. The many reefs and shoals along the coasts often prevented larger ships from closing the shore, and the task force protected their charges from a distance while the mostly Australian or Dutch vessels, which included a variety of barges, landing craft, and similar lighter draft auxiliaries, plied the coastal waters.
The ship visited Brisbane in April 1943, and then turned eastward from Australian waters for an overhaul at Philadelphia Navy Yard. At that time, she carried a mix of planes from VCS-9: one SOC-1, a single SOC-3, and an SON-1. Helm and Australian destroyer Arunta (I.30) rendezvoused with the cruiser in China Strait at 0640 on the day before Independence Day 1943, and they proceeded together into Milne Bay, where Phoenix moored starboard side to British tanker Bishopdale (A.128) at 1745. Phoenix subsequently headed for home and then (12 May–29 August) accomplished the overhaul at Philadelphia.
The ship completed her post yard work-ups, and then embarked Secretary of State Cordell Hull and carried her important passenger to Casablanca, Morocco (7–15 October 1943). Hull flew on to the Moscow Conference, a series of meetings between key Allied leaders to discuss the war effort against the Axis, held in the Soviet Union. Phoenix was then assigned to the Seventh Fleet and sailed again for the South Pacific via the Panama Canal.
Phoenix moored starboard side to Monongahela (AO-42) and refueled while at Espíritu Santo on 1 December 1943. The ship also loaded 2,000 rounds of 5-inch projectiles for transfer to the Service Force and set out again that evening. Phoenix shifted to berth H-1 on the morning of the 4th and transferred the ammunition. She then (6–7 December) trained with TF 74 in the Coral Sea. The task force also included Australian heavy cruisers Australia and Shropshire (83), Nashville, Helm, Ralph Talbot (DD-390), and Australian destroyers Arunta and Warramunga (I.44). Phoenix returned to Milne Bay and anchored in the now familiar H-1. The ship joined Shropshire in practice shooting at Shortland Island on the 10th, and upon her return shifted to berth K-3. On the 14th she received an air raid warning and manned her air defense stations, though the raiders did not materialize. Nashville and Phoenix carried out antiaircraft practice on 20 December, and during the succeeding days the latter fueled again from Bishopdale and loaded ammunition to prepare for her next endeavor. Rear Adm. Russell S. Berkey, Commander, CruDiv 15, broke his flag in Phoenix on the 23rd.
The day after Christmas 1943, Phoenix resumed operating with TF 74, which Crutchley divided into two task groups. TG 74.1 consisted of Australia -- his flagship -- Shropshire, Helm, Ralph Talbot, Arunta, and Warramunga. TG 74.2 comprised Nashville, Phoenix, Ammen (DD-527), Bache (DD-470), Bush (DD-529), and Mullany (DD-528). The Seventh Amphibious Force, led by Rear Adm. Daniel E. Barbey, meanwhile hammered the Japanese on Cape Gloucester, New Britain. The sea was smooth and the wind calm on the morning of 26 December, as the 1st Marine Division, Maj. Gen. William H. Rupertus, USMC, landed at the cape during Operation Backhandler.
Phoenix steamed with Fire Support Group Baker, which formed a column (in order) of Bush, Nashville (the officer in tactical command—OTC), Phoenix, and Bache, passed through the Vitiaz Strait at an average speed of 10–12 knots, around Rooke Island to the eastward, to the north of Sakar Island, and entered their firing area before sunrise. Ammen and Mullany broke away from the column and screened the vessels from submarines to the northeast. The ships and landing craft of the Eastern Assault Force passed close aboard on their way to the transport area in Borgen Bay on western New Britain.
Phoenix fired at the Japanese troops defending Yellow Beach Area No. 1, along the northwest perimeter of Borgen Bay (0627–0725 on 26 December 1943). The ship shot mostly as planned, though five Mk 29-1 fuse tips broke off a result of overzealousness on the part of the shellmen, causing three jams. The gunners cleared the jams and continued firing. Phoenix used her SG radar in conjunction with charts of the target area prepared to the same scale as the remote planned position indicators. With the SG designation as a basis, the crew used the Mk VIII radar to furnish an accurate reference point for the actual firing.
The plans called for the warship to continue shooting until 0727, but at 0725 she ceased firing so that USAAF B-25s could bomb and strafe Target Hill on low altitude runs. The Mitchells dropped eight tons of white phosphorous bombs which, combined with the shellfire and other bombing, mostly obscured the enemy’s vision. Planners allotted Phoenix 1,000 6-inch rounds for the bombardment, but the bombers and strafing by other aircraft compelled her to cease fire early and she shot 897 6-inch shells.
Stationing Phoenix so closely to the column of assault vessels (immediately ahead), Capt. Albert G. Noble, her commanding officer, concluded, “did not permit the Task Force to develop fully its potential strength as an advance screen, and further that this close stationing deprived this Task Force of the opportunity for free maneuvering in event of contact with enemy surface forces.” Noble vented his frustration that the cruisers fought for nearly four hours confined within a very small area while travelling at low speed. “It is considered that this employment entails a serious risk to ships of this type, which should be avoided whenever possible.” The captain ended his report on a positive note by adding that Cape Gloucester marked Phoenix’s first battle since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor two years before, “and the conduct of the bombardment reflected accurately the careful preparation and training which had been conducted in all departments for this action”.
The cruiser had no sooner ceased shooting when the threat of an air raid compelled her to man air defense stations and increase speed to 25 knots, but the enemy did not attack the ship. The marines quickly established a beachhead, though encountered stiffening resistance as they pushed inland. The task force thus came about at 0811 and as the ships steamed through Vitiaz Strait during the afternoon watch, Bache sighted enemy planes to the eastward. During one such raid the Japanese tragically sank her former consort Brownson (DD-518) off the cape near 05°20'S, 148°25'E. Enemy aircraft, some of them tentatively identified as Kawasaki Ki-61 Tonys, attacked the column, and one of the planes dropped a 500-pound bomb that splashed in the water near the cruisers. The enemy also inflicted casualties on Mugford and Shaw (DD-373), and some of the ships fired at the attackers without result. Phoenix anchored in Buna Roads, New Guinea, at 2210 that night.
Australia, Shropshire, and Phoenix anchored in Dyke Ackland Bay, approximately 14 miles northeast of Port Harven, New Guinea, over the New Year (31 December 1943–1 January 1944). On New Year’s Day, operations in other areas temporarily denuded them of escorts as all of their destroyers served with TF 76. Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander Seventh Fleet, expressed his concern that the cruisers should be thus exposed and suggested that they shift to a more protected anchorage, and TU 74.1.1 accordingly steamed to Milne Bay, and intermittently operated from there and Porlock Bay. Phoenix sometimes deployed her Seagulls ashore and on 11 January, she transferred one of the two SON-1s there to Nashville. The latter ship picked up the plane while she steamed to Sydney, Australia, for leave and liberty (11–30 January), and Shropshire relieved Nashville within TU 74.2.1. Phoenix operated three Seagulls and Nashville two as a result of the switch. Phoenix’s third aircraft operated ashore until the afternoon of the 16th, when the ship hoisted it on board.
On the night of 25–26 January 1944, the ship took part in a night raid on Madang and Alexishafen, New Guinea. Commodore Homer W. Graf, Kinkaid’s chief of staff, embarked on board Phoenix for the battle. The ship launched her Seagulls ashore to a seaplane base at Samarai Island in the Louisiade Archipelago on the 23rd, and the following day set out in company with Boise and Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 48, which operated as TU 74.2.2. En route the cruiser held antiaircraft target practice against sleeves towed by Grumman J2F Ducks and her own planes. “Marksmanship of [PHOENIX] automatic weapons,” Capt. Noble proudly recorded, “shows splendid improvement as result of daily tracking drills.”
Boise and Mullany sheered off to starboard and raided Alexishafen and then rejoined the column (0100–0330 on 26 January 1944). Ammen, Bush, and Phoenix in the meantime formed a column ahead, and the destroyers steamed in the van and were directed to maneuver with enough freedom from the formation so that all of their guns could bear as the trio blasted the enemy positions (0130–0206). The Japanese did not resist heavily, though they fired tracers from an (estimated) 25-millimeter gun that fell about 2,000 yards short of Phoenix. The left recoil cylinder in a gasket in the cruiser’s No. 3 5-inch gun split during the bombardment and subsequently required repairs that temporarily (30–31 January) put the gun out of commission. Following their shelling, the ships watched Boise and Mullany bombard the enemy. Unidentified aircraft reports repeatedly punctuated the night, and at 0320 Phoenix watchstanders sighted flashes to starboard, which they presumed to be PT boats firing at Japanese planes.
As the ships retired, 16 USAAF Republic P-47s flew a combat air patrol (CAP) protectively overhead, and then 16 Lockheed P-38 Lightnings relieved the Thunderbolts. Many of the sailors considered the extensive fighter cover the strongest they had yet seen over ships in the area. On the morning of the 26th, Boise, Phoenix, Ammen, Bush, and Mullany passed Bache, Beale (DD-471), and Daly (DD-519) at high speed in Vitiaz Strait as they returned from shelling the Japanese on Alexishafen and Madang on the north coast of New Guinea.
Two of the cruiser’s planes returned to her on the 26th and were hoisted on board, followed on the 27th by the third Seagull. Phoenix periodically stood air defense alerts while anchored in Milne Bay, and one such took place (1000–1125) on 2 February 1944, when she intercepted a transmission from Radio Milne that the radio station at the seaplane base at Samarai was shutting down due to an air raid. The ship manned her battle stations and prepared to get underway, but enemy aircraft did not attack the warship and she resumed her normal routine when the “All Clear” sounded.
The crew contended with the Japanese but also with the balmy weather, mosquitoes and a wide variety of tropical insects, and shortages of provisions. “While our lack of provisions has never become acute,” Noble reported, “this is due largely to the fact that we have been able to wheedle some amounts from transports and merchant ships.” Phoenix drew provisions from newly arrived Calamares (AF-18) on 5 February, and the captain elaborated that adding Calamares and Octans (AF-26) to “assist the hard-worked [MIZUR] [Mizar (AP-12] and [MERKUR] [Mercury (AK-42)] should greatly improve what has been an unsatisfactory situation. The [CALAMARES] does not carry a large stock, but it is well-rounded and of good quality.”
Rear Adm. Berkey shifted his flag to Boise on the 10th and the next day Phoenix set out for a well-deserved ten-day period of rest and recreation at Sydney. The admiral and his staff flew to the city to meet the cruiser, which experienced problems with her steering engine en route. An RAAF Bristol Beaufort provided intermittent air cover as Phoenix slid past South Head and the Degaussing Range, and moored port side to berth No. 2 at Sydney’s Circular Quay at 0929 on 13 February. On the morning of the 24th the cruiser turned her prow to sea in company with Beale and Mullany, and made for Brisbane. The destroyers came about and returned to Milne Bay as the cruiser reached the entrance to the city the following day, and she then proceeded up the swept channel of the Brisbane River and at 1220 moored port side to No. 3 Newstead Wharf.
Rear Adm. Berkey and Capt. Noble left the ship soon after she moored to confer with Vice Adm. Kinkaid, who informed them that Phoenix was to take part in Operation Brewer—landings by the 1st Cavalry Division, Maj. Gen. Innis P. Swift, USA, in the Admiralty Islands. The invasion primarily continued the Allied strategic encirclement of the Japanese garrison at Rabaul on New Britain. Kinkaid and Gen. MacArthur, Commander, Southwest Pacific Area, decided to accompany the force for the initial landings on board a warship, and Phoenix was large enough to accommodate the two men and most of their staffs. Phoenix was to set out as soon as possible in order to reach Milne Bay by noon on 27 February.
The cruiser still lay at Brisbane, however, and more than 300 of her men were ashore. At 1505 Phoenix cancelled all liberty, as well as planned target practice for the following afternoon off Cape Morton, and made ready to recall the crew. Shore patrols hurriedly scoured the port, and the ship contacted the naval officer in charge at Brisbane and requested that he pass the code-word for the recall. Trucks with bull horns roamed through the city and broadcast the recall, and Phoenix requested a tug and pilot. The ship cast off her mooring lines and edged away from the pier at 1709 with 22 absentees. Eight men clambered on board from small boats during her progress down the river so that, when the ship held quarters for muster at half past the hour, she counted only 14 absentees. The authorities continued to hunt for the men, and subsequently rounded them up and arranged for a USAAF Douglas C-47 Skytrain to fly them to Milne Bay on the afternoon of the 26th. Phoenix cleared the swept channel at 2111, rang up 27.8 knots, and surged toward her destination. Before the ship entered China Strait she launched a plane carrying flag operations officers to a conference with TF 76 regarding Brewer. The ship slid into Milne Bay and moored port side to Bishopdale at 1209, just nine minutes past her scheduled arrival. Thirteen absentees returned to the ship after she tied up, and the aircraft returned the flag operations officers.
Kinkaid and MacArthur and their aides boarded Phoenix at 1618 on 27 February 1944, and at 1635 the ship cast off her lines and joined Nashville, Bache, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins (DD-476). Phoenix served as the flagship of TG 74.2, Nashville as TU 74.2.1, and the destroyers as TU 74.2.2, with Daly as their flagship. The ships steamed 18 knots through the Raven Channel and anchored in Buna Roads, New Guinea, at 0524 on the 28th. At 0954 Phoenix swung her prow around to seaward again as the ships of the task force set out for the landings. Phoenix moved to the Admiralty Islands via Cape Ward Hunt, Cape Cretin, and Vitiaz Strait to operate with the Seventh Amphibious Force as it landed the reinforced 2nd Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, and supporting elements, including men of the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit, in a reconnaissance in force on Los Negros Island on 29 February.
At 2114 on the night before the landings, 28 February 1944, Phoenix experienced some tense moments as an unidentified vessel appeared out of the darkness. Beale illuminated her with a searchlight and the mysterious vessel turned out to be submarine chaser PC-1123. The ships reached a point about ten miles south of Los Negros Island at 0600 on 29 February 1944. At 0552 they divided to support the landings and Phoenix, Daly, and Hutchins, in column ahead in the order named, tackled Los Negros, while Nashville, Bache, and Beale bombarded the Lorengau area. Phoenix, Daly, and Hutchins steamed at 15 knots (0624–0643) to a point about 5,000 yards south of Southeast Point, Los Negros.
Phoenix reversed course to enable her to reach the first firing point at 0740. At 0711 the ship launched Plane Nos 2 and 4 to spot for both of the cruiser groups. When H-hour arrived at 0740, Phoenix charted a course of 050° at 12 knots as she opened fire to port on Japanese positions southwest of an airstrip at Momote. A Japanese shore battery of two guns, estimated to be 3-inch pieces, returned fire. The cruiser’s 5-inch guns hurled 131 rounds at the enemy and silenced the battery. The ship’s diarist observed that her fire “was rapid and accurate; only one salvo from the beach being observed after opening counter fire.” Kinkaid and MacArthur watched from Phoenix’s flag bridge as the vessels bombarded the enemy, and while the troopers landed.
The ship checked her shooting 15 minutes later while USAAF Consolidated B-24 Liberators bombed and strafed the target area and the beaches. Phoenix swung around again at 0800 to 230° and 12 minutes later (0812–0814) unleashed her 6-inch and 5-inch guns against the Japanese to starboard. Enemy 40 or 25-millimeter rounds splashed close aboard and she immediately replied with counterbattery fire against a 500 yard sector of the beach, and effectively silenced those guns as well after shooting 104 5-inch shells. Berkey abruptly ordered the warship to cease fire to avoid endangering the assault waves.
One of the cruiser’s Seagulls, flown by Lt. Richard W. Molten, USNR, and ACRM Edward G. Berkery, completed its bombardment observation mission and then noticed that heavy Japanese machine gun fire held up several waves of assault boats approaching the landing in Hyane Harbor. No other Allied planes flew nearby, but Molton and Berkery nevertheless disregarded the lack of fighter cover or support, boldly dropped to low altitude, and bombed and strafed the machine guns. The Seagull’s attack destroyed one 25-millimeter emplacement, and drew the fire of the others skyward upon itself, enabling the landing boats to get through. The antiaircraft fire damaged the plane but the Seagull kept shooting until it exhausted its ammunition. Berkery handled his free guns with such consummate skill and energy that the aircraft dealt “damaging punishment with each pull out”. Capt. Noble recommended Molten for the Navy Cross for his “courage and initiative above and beyond the call of duty”, and Berkery the Silver Star for his “extraordinary courage, skill and perseverance”. The Navy instead awarded Molten the Distinguished Flying Cross and Berkery the Air Medal. Their recommendations also noted that they flew the mission in “an obsolete observation seaplane”.
Phoenix came about again at 0934. Hutchins reported a possible Japanese submarine while the attack ships steamed back and forth off the entrance to Hyane Harbor at 1307, and Daly investigated but considered the results negative. Following the landings, the ships retired at 22 knots toward Cape Sudest, New Guinea. During the morning watch on 1 March 1944, Phoenix left the formation and at 0759 rendezvoused with a motor torpedo boat off Nussing Island, in the vicinity of Cape Cretin, where the PT boat eased alongside so that MacArthur, Kinkaid, and their aides could climb into her. “This is an excellent ship,” the general observed as he disembarked. “In my opinion, I have never seen a more efficient ship.” Kinkaid added, “You have a remarkably fine, clean, and efficient ship. I marvel at the quietness with which everything is done.” Phoenix returned to Buna Roads.
Sporadic squalls and heavy clouds provided cover from air attack during the first few days of the month, and the crew thus grew increasingly grateful for the foul weather. The Allies intended to capture the entire eastern end of Manus Island and destroyer minesweepers attempted to sweep the channel into Seeadler [Sea Eagle] Harbor, but enemy 4-inch shore batteries on Hauwei Island twice drove them off. Allied intelligence analysts believed that the Japanese emplaced as many as five guns (of up to 5-inch) on the island, and thus decided to knock out the artillery positions so that they could continue the campaign. On 4 and 7 March 1944, Rear Adm. Crutchley took TF 74, comprising Shropshire, Nashville, Phoenix, Bache, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins, to bombard Hauwei and Norilo Islands of the Admiralty Group. Shropshire, Nashville, and Phoenix used air spots from the ship’s pair of SON-1s to lash the targets to starboard from a range of 4,000 yards during the first battle (1609–1651 on the 4th).
The enemy batteries shot heavily against the ships but ceased firing when shells from the cruisers burst in their vicinity. The vessels then came about and steamed what Capt. Noble described as a “deceptive southward course” to open the area, before reversing course and then steadying up due west. The ship’s watchstanders surmised that their shelling destroyed most of the Japanese batteries because only a single gun resumed fire during the following days. Planners failed to allocate even a single platoon to land and secure the beaches, however, or to direct the destroyer minesweepers to return and complete their sweeps covered by the cruisers, errors that Noble lamented in his report on the actions. Berkey went one better and Noble reported that the admiral “did not consider yesterday’s bombardment of fullest value unless arrangements were made for occupation forces to take advantage of the positions we had neutralized”.
Their estimate of the situation proved overly optimistic, however, when Japanese guns on the island opened fire on Allied ships again on 7 March 1944. Intelligence analysts postulated that the enemy ferried the pieces over from the mainland under cover of darkness. Phoenix and her consorts were zigzagging on patrol north of the Admiralties, and beginning to retire to Buna in time to pass through Vitiaz Strait at daylight the following morning, when they received word of the attacks. Berkey recommended against a second bombardment until the occupation forces were ready to take advantage of the shelling, but stated that a “co-operative consultation” with his Army counterparts seemed indicated. The ships thus swung around and Berkey and his chief of staff transferred to Beale and ashore for the meeting (0956–1500). The Army officers revealed that they lacked the troops and equipment to occupy the neutralized positions before the 10th.
Nashville, Phoenix, and Hutchins therefore used aerial spotting to pound the four “most urgent” targets along the east tip of Hauwei Island, about 50–100 yards along the north coast, and a single gun each on Karuniat, Ndrilo, and Pityilu Islands, and on Mokerang Point, as well as a light antiaircraft gun on Ndrilo, during the 1st dog watch (1635–1712 on 7 March 1944). Nashville fired first from a range of about 5,000 yards, followed by Phoenix with all of her batteries that would bear from 3,550 yards. Both ships shot at Target Nos 1 and 2, and because of their positions in the formation, Phoenix arranged to fire at Target No. 2 while Nashville engaged the first one. The Japanese did not return fire.
Following the assigned barrage, observers peering through optical rangefinders and directors sighted a gun mount through the smoke near Target No. 1, and Nashville resumed firing against the area. Her first 6-inch salvo detonated a large explosion, most likely the battery’s ammunition dump, which blew away its protective camouflage and tilted the gun over on an angle, leading the observers to consider it knocked out. Phoenix’s gunners set two thirds (122) of the 183 6-inch rounds she fired to base detonate after penetration, and the remaining third (61) with steel nose plugs to penetrate any concrete encountered. In addition, one of the ship’s Seagulls spotted a 4-inch gun emplacement and dropped two 100-pound bombs that missed and landed about 40 feet from the gun, and fired 500 rounds of .30 cal. ammunition. The aircrew did not spot any enemy troops manning the gun, though it is likely the gunners sought shelter during the shelling. Following the barrage, Phoenix took station behind Shropshire and opened the range, though an unidentified aircraft triggered an air defense alert (1757–1803) until it passed without attacking.
The ship’s company continued to appreciate the foul weather that helped them to avoid enemy planes but they required accurate meteorological forecasts. The Australians broadcast for the region but Japanese action prevented them from including adequate data on the area northwest of New Guinea. On the 11th, therefore, Phoenix sent her aerologist to the seaplane base at Samarai to gather information on weather broadcasts.
The Japanese repeatedly displayed operational expertise against Allied ships during night fighting, and Phoenix alternatively took part in a series of exercises, broken by periods of upkeep while anchored in Milne Bay. During one such battle problem on the night of 7 April, a Red Force (Phoenix and Nashville’s) plane discovered the opposing Blue Force ships and attempted to drop flares to illuminate them but the flares failed to ignite. Their opponents shot star shells, considerably aided by the light of the full moon, but Phoenix, Nashville, and their destroyer screen laid smoke screens, abetted by a favorable wind. Phoenix evaluated the training and noted that “the result demonstrated to our satisfaction that stack smoke can be a very effective countermeasure to night illumination”.
TF 58, Vice Adm. Marc A. Mitscher, supported the assault of the Army’s I Corps at Aitape and Tanahmerah Bay (Operation Persecution) and at Humboldt Bay on Hollandia (Operation Reckless) on the north coast of New Guinea. Phoenix prepared for the battle as she shifted her berth from Milne Bay to Buna Roads on 15 April 1944. On the 18th, the cruiser stood down the channel as part of TG 75.3, Covering Force Baker (Fire Support Group Charlie) of the Central Attack Group, which also comprised Boise, Nashville, Abner Read (DD-526), Bache, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins. Berkey broke his flag in Phoenix in command of the group. The ships rendezvoused with the balance of the attack force northwest of Manus Island early on the 20th.
They encountered excellent visibility with a clear sky and no moon on 21 April 1944 until about 0300, when a squall overtook the formation from directly astern and reduced visibility to several hundred yards. The squall dogged them until just before 0436, at which time the group detached for their assigned fire support area. Five heavy and seven light carriers launched preliminary strikes on Japanese airfields around Hollandia, Sawar, and Wakde. Phoenix hove to at her station and stopped all engines, and at 0800 opened fire with both her main and secondary batteries to starboard, and 15 minutes later the ship swung around and brought her port guns to bear. In between the salvoes she opened up with 40-millimeter guns against enemy positions ashore. Japanese light machine gun and small arms fire arched out toward the assault troops in Phoenix’s sector, but the warship did not observe heavy enemy resistance. The cruiser shot 363 6-inch, 366 5-inch, and 582 40-millimeter rounds.
The following day the carriers covered landings at Aitape, Tanahmerah Bay, and Humboldt Bay. A possible submarine sound contact compelled the ships to urgently maneuver at various courses and speeds until the sonar teams evaluated the echoes as false. Phoenix logged the weather on 22 April as “intermittently squally’, but added triumphantly that “while sill as much as 40 miles from our objective, the glare of a fire was visible against the sky, apparently a momento [sic – memento] of our recent bombing attacks.” The ship fought as part of the Central Attack Group, TG 77.2, as she shelled the coastline in the Humboldt Bay-Hollandia area that morning when the troops went ashore. Into the following day the light cruiser supported the soldiers as they consolidated their gains and prepared for further attacks along the northwest coast of the larger island.
Boise, Phoenix, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins retired overnight and during the afternoon watch on 23 April entered Seeadler Harbor. Phoenix marked the ship’s first return to the anchorage since she bombarded the enemy, “and the crew was interested in seeing the results of their handiwork still manifest in the broken trees and barren appearance” of Hauwei Island. Several tankers, ammunition ships, and merchantmen also lay anchored in the harbor, but the fledging anchorage’s development left “much to be desired.” Nashville, Abner Read, and Bache returned to Seeadler on the 25th.
The Allies sought to neutralize the danger of air attacks on their newly-won positions on New Guinea and carried out additional operations. Phoenix stood out to sea on 26 April 1944, and at 0710 sighted Indiana (BB-58), screened by Cassin Young (DD-793) and Prichett (DD-561), at a distance of 18,000 yards. The heartening sighting marked the cruiser’s first glimpse of a battleship in that area, and Indiana and her consorts made for Seeadler, where they rendezvoused with other ships of TF 58, and then charted a course to raid Truk Lagoon in the Carolines.
On the 27th meanwhile, Berkey suggested that four destroyers should more out to take equidistant stations on Circle 10 during hours of darkness to act as radar picket and marker ships, ordering them to shoot down any “snoopers”. In the event of a concentrated enemy air attack, they were to range on two circles (2½ and 4) in order to provide “defense in depth” instead of the original plan to station all of the cruisers and destroyers together on Circle 2½. Capt. Jack H. Duncan, Phoenix’s commanding officer, concurred with what he summarized as the “constructive changes”. Morris reported a sound contact during the 1st dog watch on the 28th and the ships made an emergency turn and began zigzagging, but her team evaluated the contact as false. At daylight the next day a carrier plane patrolling for submarines reported one bearing due west, but Morris steamed to the area and discovered a floating uprooted tree—which Phoenix had previously sighted. The destroyer attempted to sink the sinister tree with depth charges but it defiantly remained afloat, so carrier aircraft used it for target practice.
Despite the farcical interlude, Japanese submarines prowled the area and so the ship’s diarist comfortingly logged that Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina amphibians arrived on station “promptly” at 2300 that night and searched for the enemy. Phoenix in the meanwhile sent her two Seagulls ashore to Seeadler, from where they flew patrols to act as spotters for the Catalinas.
At midnight on 30 April 1944, Bache formed column astern of Abner Read with Phoenix, Nashville, Boise, Hutchins, Daly, and Beale (in order) astern of Bache. The ships then (0027–0047) fired at a Japanese airstrip and plane dispersal areas on Sawar, where Bache noted that the gunfire ignited a “heavy fire”. They then (0127–0158) changed course and shot at the eastern end of an airfield on Wakde and ignited two fires. The following day Daly maneuvered alongside Phoenix and delivered aerial photographs of Wakde that showed “target areas well pock-mocked with both strips unserviceable,” Berkey told the task force. “It looks like a good job was done by all hands.” The ship also learned that Hutchins never delivered the chart for the cruiser’s targets to the Catalina that was supposed to hold it for the spotting, and the ship fought largely blind as a consequence—a telling example of the deadly earnestness of her gunfire in light of Berkey’s conclusion. Phoenix and her consorts followed that action by patrolling in the Bismarck Sea, and returned to Seeadler on 5 May, where she brought the planes back on board.
Six officers and 20 enlisted troopers of the 7th Cavalry Regiment embarked on 14 May 1944, to act as observers during the forthcoming operation. Phoenix stood out of the harbor the following day with TFs 74 and 75. Crutchley broke his flag in Australia in tactical command of the assemblage as the troopers landed on Arare on the morning of 17 May to secure airdromes to support further operations in the Netherlands New Guinea [Western New Guinea or West Papua] area. Phoenix manned her air defense stations in anticipation of an air attack, but no enemy aircraft materialized overhead of the cruiser. Her own Plane No. 2 did not fare well, however, and fuel pump trouble forced the Seagull down in the vicinity of the beach landing area. A landing craft took the plane in tow to the ship and she hoisted it back on board.
Boise, Phoenix, Bache, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins secured from their gunfire support and at 1145 rendezvoused with Nashville, Abner Read, and Trathen (DD-530). The group originally expected to conclude the battle by no later than 1000, but unexpected opposition in the latter trio’s target area delayed their withdrawal. The ships entered Humboldt Bay by dusk and Phoenix moored alongside Victoria (AO-46), which informed her that enemy planes had raided the area each night for nearly two weeks. The attackers appeared to launch nuisance raids that flew over the airstrips without bothering shipping, usually between 2000–0500. True to form, Japanese planes roared in at ten minutes past midnight and again just before dawn. “This promises to become monotonous” the ship logged. The soldiers later extended the beachhead to include Wadke Island by a shore to shore movement of troops. Phoenix bombarded the Toem area and escorted the troops to the landing beach.
An Army ammunition dump near Humboldt Bay exploded and began burning furiously at 1400 on 18 May 1944. Phoenix and a number of the other ships offered to assist the soldiers to battle the flames but they refused, and despite their best efforts the conflagration continued to spread dangerously. The blaze lighted the entire bay and at 1815 Berkey ordered TF 75 to be ready to sortie within 30 minutes. At 1945 Phoenix cast off her lines and turned to seaward, leaving behind her medical officer and two staff medical aides, who were ashore helping tend the wounded. An air raid alert at 2014 added to the tension because the fire guided the Japanese planes toward the ships, but none attacked the cruiser or her consorts. The ship returned the next day and recovered the three missing members of her medical department.
Transportation between the beach and the airstrips continued to be extremely difficult by the road, and while the distance totaled a scant 18 miles, the poor condition of the road and its division into one-way strips imposed countless delays on traffic. Jeep and truck convoys averaged five to eight hours to drive the distance, and Phoenix advised men who made the trip to bring their own water and provisions. The ship consequently sent one of her planes to the airstrip at Hollandia to pick up the Fifth Air Force’s liaison officer, in order to arrange for air cover over the anchorage. Maj. Gen. Swift heaped praise on his sea-borne counterparts:
“The bald statement, “The naval forces supported the action,” appearing in the chronology, is indeed a masterpiece of understatement. When asked regarding the effect of naval gunfire support the commanding general of one brigade made the laconic reply, “The Navy didn’t support us, they saved our necks!” All commanders firmly believe that, especially during the initial phases, the balance of war was tipped in our favor by the superb support rendered by the naval forces…”The Naval forces supported the action.”
Bache stayed behind for boiler repairs while Phoenix steamed to an area northwest of Wakde for what TF 74’s Operation Order 3-44 aptly stated, “To attain a restful period after 15 air raid alerts during the past 4 nights” (20–24 May 1944). The restful period proved less so, however, when Hutchins made a sound contact off her starboard bow just after midnight on the 22nd. The ships maneuvered to avoid a possible submarine until the destroyer reported the all clear and that the target, if indeed an enemy boat, must have “gone deep”. Catalinas sometimes patrolled overhead during the brief interlude. Phoenix stood into Humboldt Bay on the morning of the 24th, but learned to her dismay that Victoria did not have enough remaining fuel for the cruiser, and Danish ship Aase Maersk (operated by the British Ministry of War Transport) none whatsoever. Storage tanker Alciabiades, a Panamanian-registered ship that supported Allied naval operations, was overdue, while Mizar suffered a casualty to her starboard engine and delayed provisioning Phoenix, all of which added to the crew’s frustration.
Operation Horlicks—an amphibious assault on Biak Island, Schouten Islands, in Geelvink [Cenderawasih] Bay followed. MacArthur planned to establish a forward airfield for heavy bombers on the island. With Boise and Nashville, Phoenix sortied from Humboldt Bay on 25 May 1944, and two days later worked with TF 77, Rear Adm. William M. Fechteler, and supported the landings by the Army’s 41st Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Horace H. Fuller, USA. The weather overnight (26–27 May) was clear to partial overcast, occasional light rain squalls, the wind light from the west, the sea smooth, and there was no moon, which dropped the visibility to 3,000–4,000 yards.
At 0530, an hour before the first wave went in, three of the destroyers detached for their assigned fire support areas, and the remaining three screened the cruisers as they closed the target areas. Phoenix launched two Seagulls, one for spotting and the other to standby. Plane No. 1 spotted for the cruiser as she fired against a number of enemy positions (0630–1337), and dropped two 100-pound bombs on Japanese revetments, though the smoke prevented the aircrew from observing the results. The Japanese resisted stubbornly and while the task force fired on enemy installations, shore batteries returned fire and damaged Bache, Hutchins, and Stockton (DD-646). Phoenix swung her starboard 5-inch guns around and hurled two salvoes into a gun emplacement her observers believed to be one of the culprits, and the enemy artillery fell silent. Phoenix also experienced sighting problems at times, and the Seagull reported that her salvoes fell “short” more than once. In addition, other vessels experienced targeting issues and the cruiser received a report saying that “some ships are firing short and are endangering our [landing] craft”.
The ship sounded air alerts twice and manned her air defense stations, but Japanese planes failed to appear in the first alert during the forenoon watch (1056–1114). During the first dog watch, enemy aircraft appeared in the distance, the cruiser’s weary crewmen returned to their air defense stations, and she rang up 25 knots and maneuvered radically. A plane approached undetected and briefly emerged from the clouds on the ship’s port bow at 1653. Phoenix fired two four gun 5-inch salvoes from her port battery at the intruder, though missed because of the long range, but did not take any chances and zigzagged at high speed while clearing the battle. Destroyers of the main body claimed to splash four Nakajima Ki-49 Donryus -- Helens -- and the cruiser heard that another bomber crashed a submarine chaser. The battle marked Phoenix’s ninth bombardment to date, seven of which had occurred within the preceding three months. “As a result of experience,” Duncan succinctly recorded, “it is considered the ship has become fairly proficient in this type of operation.”
As the ships of TF 75 steamed on the morning of 29 May 1944, they saw the welcome sight of four Thunderbolts fly CAP, relieved by other planes throughout the day. Phoenix returned to Humboldt Bay on the last day of the month, where she gratefully learned that the enemy air raids appeared to be diminishing in frequency. One of the ship’s Seagulls spent 2 June shuttling candidates for the V-12 Training Program (to matriculate in colleges) to the airstrip at Hollandia.
The day did not pass without incident, however, because tank landing craft LCT-981, while operating as a utility boat for Phoenix, rammed the cruiser while sliding alongside her starboard quarter. The boat cut an eight inch by three inch hole in Phoenix’s second deck level, frame 129, which sailors repaired immediately. The cruiser furthermore suffered an engine casualty when her crewmen inspected a cutout valve for bleeder steam from No. 1 high pressure turbine to the second stage feed-water heater, and discovered that a piece of the valve disc guide had broken off. None of the men could find the broken piece, and feared that it might have found its way into the turbine. Phoenix accepted the possible hazard until she felt it would be possible to lift the turbine, which the ship’s company could do in ten days of work.
Eight Japanese single engine fighter bombers surprised TFs 73 and 74, Rear Adm. Crutchley, off Biak on 4 June 1944. Two confined their attention to Phoenix as she maneuvered near 01°00'S, 136°00'E. The Japanese planes turned toward the ship from a range of less than five miles and divided to circle around and attack her from both sides. The first one lunged from out of the sun on Phoenix’s starboard bow while the starboard battery focused on the other planes flying near the horizon. The attacker swooped down to 150 feet and dropped (an estimated 124 to 140-pound) bomb that burst in the water close aboard Phoenix, about 50 yards on the starboard beam (1741–1743). Fragments pierced the topside structure, smoke stacks, director shields, and the starboard side in many places, killing S1c Richard K. Marineau, USNR (who expired at 0012 on the 5th), and wounding four other men: SM3c Homer P. Barrett, S2c James R. Bowersox, USNR, S2c Hurley R. Israel, USNR, and F2c Donald D. Leech, USNR.
The second plane attacked from port less than a minute later and dropped the same type of bomb about 100 yards on her starboard quarter. The resultant explosion caused no casualties but loosened the weld junctions of the struts of Nos 2, 3, and 4 propeller shafts, and caused some underwater damage that resulting in leakage of about three tons of water per hour in Compartment D-610-V, and some in D-6-F. Phoenix reported that she fired 24 5-inch, two 40-millimeter, and 276 20-millimeter rounds at her tormentors “without noticeable effect except probably interference with enemy bombing run”. Phoenix lookouts meanwhile sighted two other planes of the flight circling in the distance that did not attack, and men surmised that they had already dropped their bombs on the soldiers ashore. Nashville suffered damage from a near miss.
A nearly full moon lightened the night sky on 5 June 1944, when aircraft again attacked Phoenix. This time as many as three low-flying torpedo planes struck as she proceeded through the narrowest portion of Japen Strait, between Biak Island and Owi Island, New Guinea. Phoenix steamed last in the column with three other cruisers when the ship’s radar detected the planes at a range of ten miles, and she opened fire when they reached a point about 2,000 yards on her starboard bow (0114–0115). The attackers dropped their torpedoes at the ships maneuvering at the head of the column, but gunfire and evasive tactics prevented damage. Phoenix shot nine 5-inch rounds at the Japanese bombers as they passed but missed and the attackers escaped into the night. The ship sadly held a funeral service for S1c Marineau at 1030, and her companion ships in the column lowered their colors to half-mast.
Four welcome Warhawks flew CAP overhead on the 6th. Motion pictures provided a temporary relief for the horror of the war for the homesick crews, but the enemy attack destroyed Nashville’s films, so she borrowed one from Phoenix that night. The cavalry troopers disembarked Phoenix at Humboldt Bay on the 7th, from where they returned to Manus. A number of the ship’s warrant officers had received commissions, and along with some chief petty officers who had become warrant officers, the men left the cruiser for other assignments.
An overcast sky and low lying clouds girded Phoenix from aerial attack on 8 June 1944, but at 1435 the screening destroyers sighted a Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 attack plane [Betty] hovering directly over the water, bearing 320° at seven miles. The cruiser manned her air defense stations but the bomber quickly vanished from sight, “probably hurrying back to base to report us” the ship’s diarist speculated. “Since we have no fighter cover today, O.T.C. immediately requested cover from army but was told that no fighters were available; presumably all of them are engaged in covering today’s bomber strikes.” The OTC evasively changed the fleet course from 297° to 350° for an hour and a half, then reverted to due west to approach Biak for a night patrol.
The cruiser’s diarist proved prescient because the Japanese repeatedly dispatched reinforcements for their troops on Biak during Operation KON, and Rear Adm. Sakonju Naomasa led one such run overnight on 7 and 8 June 1944. Sakonju took heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Kinu, and six destroyers, Harusame, Samidare, Shigure, Shikinami, Shiratsuyu, and Uranami, three of them with barges laden with soldiers in tow, to sea from Sorong on the Vogelkop Peninsula [Kepala Berung—Bird’s Head Peninsula], located on the west end of New Guinea.
Just after noon on the 8th, ten USAAF B-25s of the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, escorted by seven Lightnings of the 475th Fighter Group, bombed and strafed the Japanese vessels and sank Harusame and three of the barges about 30 miles northwest of Manokwari, 00°05'S, 132°45'E. The Mitchells also damaged Shikinami and Shiratsuyu. Sakonju defiantly pressed on with his remaining ships, with Samidare and Shiratsuyu steaming with the remaining barges in tow.
Crutchley deployed to intercept them and TFs 74 and 75 comprised Australia, Boise, Phoenix, and 13 destroyers: DesDiv 42, Cmdr. Albert E. Jarrell, with Fletcher (DD-445), Jenkins (DD-447), La Vallette (DD-448), and Radford (DD-446); DesDiv 47, Capt. Kenmore M. McManes, consisting of Abner Read, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins; and DesDiv 48, Cmdr. John B. McLean, with Ammen, Mullany, and Trathen; along with their familiar Australian friends, Arunta and Warramunga. The Allied ships steamed at varying speeds in cruising disposition V-3. The Betty’s sighting report meanwhile reached Sakonju at 1900, which alerted him to the Allied ships steaming westward at high speed.
Phoenix prudently set condition of readiness 1-E throughout the ship at sunset on 8 June 1944. At 2200 that night a Consolidated PB4Y-1 Liberator of Bombing Squadron (VB) 106 detected the surviving Japanese ships, about 60 miles to the northwest of the Allied vessels and heading in an easterly direction toward Biak. The Allied vessels swung around to 230° and slowed to 15 knots (2000–2220) while Mullany used her radar to probe Karim Bay for enemy barges there. The destroyer did not discover any Japanese vessels lurking within the bay, but an enemy plane swooped in and dropped a bomb that splashed about 100 yards from the ship. The column resumed its course but four aircraft appeared, and Boise and several destroyers fired at the planes and they winged off.
A full moon brightened the night of 8–9 June 1944, and reduced the chances that either side could surprise their opponent. Boise reported a contact at 26,000 yards at 2320, and at 2232 the Allied ships turned to 270° at 15 knots in a column upon Australia. Nearly simultaneously the Japanese detected the Allies. The enemy cast off their barges, and at 2323 turned to the northward while they made smoke and launched torpedoes, and then came about on a northwestern track. The Japanese destroyers had been making 15 knots when they cast off the barges, and required time to work up to high speed.
Abner Read, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins deployed to the van of the column, Fletcher, Jenkins, La Vallette, and Radford to the port quarter, and Ammen, Mullany, Trathen, Arunta, and Warramunga to the cruisers’ rear. Australia, Boise, and Phoenix rang up 25 knots but a torpedo churned past Boise’s fantail, and the column maneuvered to dodge the (likely) lethal spread. The destroyers in the van raced through the night and fired at the barges as they passed at 2347, but moved so quickly that Fletcher could not bring her machine guns to bear in time. The barges maneuvered initially on Phoenix’s port bow but as the rival forces clashed a barge suddenly loomed up just off the cruiser’s starboard bow, too close for her to fire until it drifted astern. One of the ship’s 20-millimeter guns then shot at the barge for several minutes, though apparently without effect as it drifted out of sight.
Fletcher opened fire with her forward 5-inch guns at seven minutes past midnight on 9 June 1944, intending to compel the enemy ships to zig zag to slow them down. The Japanese returned fire and a running engagement ensued until 1245, by which time the cruisers found it increasingly difficult to keep up the pace as the enemy opened the range. Crutchley signaled Ammen, Mullany, and Trathen to break off their pursuit and screen the cruisers, while Arunta and Warramunga turned to hunt down the barges.
Fletcher, Jenkins, La Vallette, and Radford closed the Japanese ships to 14,000 yards at 0126, and Jarrell ordered them to turn to port and fire full broadsides in an attempt to pin the enemy ships between themselves and McManes and his other four pursuing destroyers. The Japanese retaliated by launching another spread of torpedoes that missed, one of which hurtled past Fletcher at 0144. Abner Read, Beale, Daly, and Hutchins meanwhile closed to 15,000 yards at 0205 and brought their guns to bear as well.
An explosion lighted the night sky at 0211 as a round struck Shigure, and, despite a second hit, the destroyer dropped back about 1,000 yards from the column but then regained the formation and continued to escape with her cohorts. Crutchley grew concerned about the possibility of Allied planes mistakenly attacking his ships as they entered waters hitherto considered to be open only to enemy vessels, and sent messages to the shore command revealing the battle. The admiral reluctantly decided not to further risk the force, and at 0227 disengaged the Japanese and they escaped. The Australian destroyers caught and sank one of the barges, and a handful of Japanese survivors straggled ashore at Karim Bay, but most of the soldiers escaped with the convoy. The enemy claimed to damage a U.S. cruiser but failed to hit any Allied ships. “We shall try again” Phoenix’s diarist wrote.
The ship got her chance the very next night, 10 June 1944, when an Army reconnaissance plane reported sighting three to five Japanese ships. Communication errors compounded the problem in intercepting the enemy in the darkness, however, because the aircraft radioed a “somewhat ambiguous” position. Phoenix attempted to contact the plane for clarification but without success. Thirty-four minutes after midnight she observed at 240° PT boats firing at Japanese troops on Biak. Phoenix and her screening destroyers changed course from 270° at 25 knots to due north at 0048, and 0110 to 310°. “If report originated by plane had proved correct,” her historian logged in frustration, “we should certainly have contacted [the Japanese] force by now.” Seven minutes later the cruiser gave up the chase and swung around to 100° and assumed the guide as the ships shaped a course for Humboldt Bay, where Phoenix anchored in berth C-3 at 1406.
Crutchley ordered the ships of the task force to be ready to return to sea as soon as they refueled and provisioned to intercept Japanese reinforcements to the fighting on Biak. He intended for them to set out no later than noon on 11 June 1944, but when it became apparent that not all of the vessels would be ready to sortie by that time, he divided the force into two groups. The first group, consisting of Australia, Beale, Hutchins, and DesDiv 42 less La Vallette, cast off their lines at noon. The second group comprised Phoenix, Boise, DesRon 24 less Beale and Hutchins, Arunta, and Warramunga, and stood down the channel at 1630, and the following day at 1600 anchored in Seeadler Harbor. Nashville already lay in the anchorage, preparing for her voyage to Naval Base Manus for repairs.
Kinkaid ordered Phoenix to delay her departure for drydocking and repairs until Shropshire and Nashville returned to the area and service (respectively). Berkey cancelled plans to shift his flag to Boise the following afternoon, and Commodore John A. Collins, RAN, hoisted his broad pennant in command of TF 74 from Arunta on the morning of 13 June, and that afternoon from Australia, when Crutchley struck his flag and departed for England. Berkey messaged Crutchley concerning “our real regret that the plank owner of the South Pacific must leave us,” and wished him “Good luck and God bless!”
Divers discovered cracks in the welds on each of Phoenix’s inboard propeller shafts at the juncture of the shell and strut casting, however, confirming what the ship logged as a “chronic” condition. The men also reported a transverse vibration of the strut casting and supporting structure, believed impossible to arrest even by extensive alterations. The inspectors did not consider the leakage serious or likely to increase, that she could continue operations, and that the issues could probably be corrected in several days within a dry dock. The tropics and homesickness also wore sailors and marines, and most of the vessels in the anchorage sent daily working parties ashore to Koruniat Island to hasten completing the new recreational facilities.
Phoenix carried out antiaircraft practice against targets towed by a pair of USAAF Martin B-26 Marauders on the cloudy day of 19 June 1944. As the ship returned to Seeadler just after noon, the pilot on board seaplane tender Wright (AV-1), on the cruiser’s starboard beam, sent her an emergency message that he believed a net had been laid between two buoys ahead of Phoenix. His fears proved groundless but demonstrated the confusion in developing the base, and the cruiser protested to Manus. Phoenix lauded the Army’s efforts at cooperation, however, and dispatched a team of officers for a week’s instruction at the Fifth Air Force’s Fighter Control Sector. The ship planned to embark Army observers during future amphibious landings, and a pair of war correspondents boarded as well.
Berkey’s TF 75 next took part in Operation Cyclone [Tabletennis]—landings by the 158th Regimental Combat Team on Noemfoor, an island to the west of Biak, on 2 July 1944. The Allies required the island’s three airfields to support operations in New Guinea. The task force included Phoenix, Boise, Abner Read, Bache, Beale, Hutchins, and Trathen, and operated with TF 74, Commodore Collins, consisting of Australia, Ammen, Mullany, Arunta, and Warramunga. The two forces stood out from Seeadler on 29 June, and on the 2nd the sun rose over a calm sea and a day with excellent visibility. Phoenix supported the men who landed on Yellow Beach, and the soldiers faced what Bache reported as “slight opposition” and overran an enemy airfield at Kamiri by noon. The cruiser fired 614 6-inch and 496 5-inch shells, and seven rounds of starshell. One 6-inch and three 5-inch rounds burst prematurely, and the case ejector mechanism failed electronically on the port gun of Turret I on the tenth round, so the gunners laboriously continued firing manually. After the battle, the Americans discovered a number of dead Japanese soldiers and wrecked planes in the target area assigned to Phoenix. The ship returned to Humboldt Bay on the morning of the 3rd.
Cmdr. Robert B. Kail received the Bronze Star for his “meritorious service” while serving as the ship’s gunnery officer (26 December 1943–3 July 1944) during eight bombardments, in which Phoenix “won praise for the accuracy of her fire and the satisfactory manner in which she performed her tasks”. Kail’s “effectiveness in indoctrinating new personnel, familiarizing his department with newly installed equipment, and conducting rigid training had beneficial results long beyond his period of duty”. In addition, Kail helped Boise when one of her 6-inch guns frequently jammed early in the New Year (2–9 January 1944).
Rumors circulated through the cruiser that she was to visit Australia or even return home, but the crew’s hopes were dashed as news spread of forthcoming operations. Repair ship Medusa (AR-1) slid alongside to work on Phoenix (8–19 June 1944), though the cruiser stood ready to sortie in four hours if necessary. Medusa’s crew estimated that the work would require up to three weeks, but men from crane ship (AB-2) reinforced the repair ship’s crew to enable Phoenix to return to the fighting.
The alterations reflected the ship’s increasing dependence on her Combat Information Center (CIC) and included: enlarging the Flag Plot and extending its plotting facilities so that it could also function as the Flag CIC, which meant removing the bulkheads between the Flag Plot and the Chart House (which became a corner of Flag Plot), as well as those enclosing Flag Radio, and by moving that latter to a compartment forward of Flag Plot and redesignating it the Signal Locker; replacing the Chart Deck on the Open Bridge, which took up too much space in the center of the bridge and handicapped watchstanders, by a simple folding table, hinged to the bulkhead; and interchanging the positions of the Dead Reckoning Tracer and Polar Coordinate Plotting Table in CIC so that the surface plotting officer could view the ship’s track at all times. The cruiser’s diarist observed of Medusa’s crew that “we have been greatly impressed by their industry and efficiency.”
Phoenix received a pair of Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N-1 Kingfishers of VCS-15 in lieu of her more familiar SON-1s on 20 July 1944. The ship transferred her Seagulls to Naval Air Depot Manus, and also sent her new Kingfishers there for an overhaul. Her air detachment discovered that they needed to keep the new planes continuously in the catapults, since they were too large to stow in the hangar, and due to their armor plating and bullet-proof fuel tanks, could potentially be too heavy to be readily used for sleeve towing. Nonetheless, Phoenix reported that her Seagulls “were so obsolete that an order had already been issued that they could be used for nothing but the most routine flights”. The newly overhauled Kingfishers returned the following afternoon, and the ship soon put them to use towing targets during nearly daily antiaircraft practice, though Army planes sometimes also flew the runs.
Phoenix supported TF 77, Rear Adm. William M. Fechteler, when it landed the 6th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Franklin C. Sibert, USA, near Cape Opmari, northwest New Guinea, and on the islands of Amsterdam and Middleburg, in the first phase of Operation Globetrotter on 30 July 1944. The following day she took part in Globetrotter’s second phase when soldiers hit the beach on Cape Sansapor. Phoenix stood by for call fire during both landings but did not unleash her guns in anger, and retired with that task force and TF 78 to Mios Woendi, an island near New Guinea (31 July–2 August). Nashville stood in to the anchorage on the 2nd and moored alongside Phoenix, so that Berkey could shift his flag to the former.
Ammen and Hutchins escorted Phoenix part of the way as she completed an availability at Espíritu Santo (6–12 August). The ship accomplished most of the required strut and shaft repairs while in non self-propelled yard floating drydock YFD-21. Phoenix took advantage of the services provided and sent men ashore to firefighting school, but could not complete additional projects because of the base’s workload. “If you had only come a month ago,” one of the naval contractors lamented to some of the men, “you could have obtained any work that you wanted”. The cruiser gained 63 new recruits, but encountered delays in transferring 60 petty officers in exchange for 120 non-rated men, in order “to relieve congestion in some ratings.” All hands worked with relish because the rumors of their Australian liberty finally achieved fruition as the ship spent some welcome time moored port side to berth 2 at the Circular Quay, Sydney (15–26 August). All of the ships of TFs 74 and 75, less Shropshire and Nashville, respectively, also lay in the bustling port.
Phoenix logged that since her previous visit in February, the Australians and Americans had organized additional facilities to make the city “a highly satisfactory liberty port.” Workers increased housing facilities for enlisted men, established a wine mess for them, and a “Date Bureau.” The ship held three “well-ordered” and “highly successful” dances that the attendees “enjoyed,” and the authorities hosted a party for the combined officers of TF 75, as well as an additional dance for mess attendants and steward’s mates. African Americans served as the latter ratings and furthermore manned some of the ship’s antiaircraft guns during air defense stations. Despite their honorable service, however, they endured the indignation of segregation, and the men greeted the (separate) dance as a welcome break.
A number of distinguished visitors visited the ship during her stay including: Kinkaid; British Brig. Gen. Sir Alexander G.A. Hore-Ruthven (the Lord Gowrie), Governor-General of Australia; British Capt. Sir John de Vere Loder (the Lord Wakehurst), Governor of New South Wales; and U.S. Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary (Australia) Nelson T. Johnson.
A tug rammed Boise as she sought to leave Sydney with the rest of the task force on the 26th, which delayed the cruiser’s departure as she completed repairs. Australia, Phoenix, Abner Read, Ammen, Bache, Beale, Daly, Hutchins, Mullany, Arunta, and Warramunga joined up outside the harbor bar and set a course for Milne Bay. Arunta developed engine trouble and dropped out for repairs, and Boise rejoined the formation on the 27th. The ships exercised at gunnery and antiaircraft drills against sleeves towed by the cruisers’ planes during the voyage, and Phoenix carried out a unique high speed underway replenishment during the afternoon watch on the 29th. The ship rang up 25 knots and passed her first line to Daly as the destroyer approached on her port quarter, but the cruiser’s wake made Daly’s steering difficult and she oscillated continually through five degrees. Phoenix dropped her speed to 24 and then 20 knots, with Daly astern of her wake, but the two vessels abandoned the experiment. Daly afterward messaged Phoenix that she considered the evolution feasible at 20 knots, but that the width of the cruiser’s wake rendered it impossible at high speeds. The ships reached the bay on the morning of the 30th.
A new task organization became effective on 1 September 1944, in which the ships that comprised TF 74 (Australia, Shropshire, Ammen, Mullany, Arunta, and Warramunga) became TG 75.2, and those of TF 75 (Boise, Nashville, Phoenix, Abner Read, Bache, Beale, Bush, Daly, and Hutchins) in turn became TG 75.1 under Rear Adm. Berkey’s command. Phoenix and her screen slipped between anchorages and took part in a series of training exercises, some of which involved Allied fighters flying dummy strafing runs against the ships while they calibrated their radar and practiced their lighter weapons. Adm. Halsey broke his flag in command of the Third Fleet in New Jersey (BB-62), and when the battleship entered Seeadler early on the morning of the 4th, he promptly ordered all the vessels present to get “on their toes” when they were slow in answering a flag-hoist. Phoenix transferred 40 enlisted plank-owners for transportation to the United States for rehabilitation and further assignment on 8 September, 13 enlisted men for additional transportation to naval service schools, and received 63 seamen in replacement. The transfers and replacements resulted from ongoing “negotiations” with the Seventh Fleet, and went some way toward relieving the “congestion” on board and improving morale.
Australia, Shropshire, Boise, Phoenix, Ammen, Bache, Beale, Daly, Hutchins, Mullany, Arunta, and Warramunga joined in Berkey’s TG 77.2 for Operation Trade Wind—landings by the 41st Infantry Regiment (Reinforced), Maj. Gen. John C. Persons, USA, on Morotai, in the Molucca Islands. The ships stood out to sea on 10 September 1944, but Nashville, Abner Read, and Bush temporarily remained behind at Humboldt Bay for a special assignment as TG 75.2 and rejoined them on the 13th.
The weather was calm and clear on 15 September 1944, the sea smooth, wind light from the south, the moon reached its last quarter just above the eastern horizon, and the visibility was 4,000–5,000 yards. Phoenix approached her fire support area in the Galela area by using radar until the sun rose and it became light enough to take bearings and navigation from the open bridge. The target area became clearly discernable, especially the prominent outlines of volcanoes. Per the ship’s accustomed routine, she catapulted both planes aloft and then (0712–0817) fired her main and secondary batteries to port and starboard alternatively as she swung back and forth. The enemy did not return fire at Phoenix but a large camouflaged Japanese barge opened fire on the soldiers as they hit the beach, and the ship’s pair of planes spotted as she blasted the barge and set it afire. One of the Seagulls spotted two grounded Japanese planes, both destroyed and burning from Allied bombing or gunfire. The aviators recommended against firing at a second barge they sighted pulled up on the beach because it appeared as if the enemy abandoned her. They also flew down to investigate a two-masted lugger before they called fire on to it, only to fortuitously discover a native craft. One of the aircraft then sighted a Yokosuka D4Y1 Type 2 on the ground near some slit trenches, and directed the cruiser’s 5-inch salvoes onto the Judy.
The warship did not receive any actionable intelligence concerning the effect of her fire, but her diarist noted that “we were pleased with our rather thorough mauling of the target area and the “Right On!” reported so frequently by our spotting plane”. Phoenix fired 561 6-inch and 401 5-inch rounds, along with eight star shells, and her pair of Seagulls dropped four bombs, one of which failed to explode, and shot 450 rounds of .30 cal. machine gun ammunition. Planes from six escort carriers of Rear Adm. Thomas L. Sprague’s TG 77.1, screened by eight destroyers, also pounded enemy positions. The Allies used airfield facilities on Morotai to support their operations against Japanese forces in the Philippines.
The bombardment vessels came about following the landings, and Nashville, Abner Read, and Bush twice detached for further operations and rejoined the formation each time, and the vessels of both groups (separately) returned to Mios Woendi. The primitive anchorage failed to impress the crew, though officers at the base boasted of enjoying nightly breezes. Poor swimming facilities and scarce boat accommodations aggravated the unpleasant stay. On the final day of the month the CIC officers, two naval aviators, and two additional officers went ashore to return to home, and Naval Academy graduates generally arrived to fill the vacancies in the rosters, though they lacked experience and required further training.
MacArthur intended to develop Leyte in the Philippines as an air and logistics base to support the liberation of the country. During the training and preparations leading up the enterprise, Phoenix received Operation Plan 13-44 and a new task organization on 9 October 1944, which shifted Boise, Phoenix, Bache, Daly, Hutchins, and Killen (DD-593) of DesRon 24 to TU 77.3.1, though still under Berkey’s flag. Logistics backlog meant that Phoenix failed to receive some missing parts for the TBS before she sailed, a crucial tactical omission.
Phoenix stood out from Humbolt Bay at 1530 on 13 October 1944, in company with the transports and amphibious craft of the Northern Attack Force, TF 78, Rear Adm. Barbey. She joined with Australia, Shropshire, and Boise, along with Bache, Beale, Daly, Hutchins, and Killen, and Arunta and Warramunga, as the Close Covering Force TG 77.3 (formerly TFs 74 and 75)—the cruisers served in Berkey’s Close Covering Group. Barbey raised his flag in amphibious force flagship Blue Ridge (AGC-2), and Berkey hoisted his aloft in Phoenix. Bache summarized their undertaking: “to seize and occupy beachheads and airfield on Leyte Island to the NE near SAN JUANICO STRAITS. TF 78 will make up the Northern Attack Force. The mission of TG 77.3 will be one of fire support. Our mission will be to act as A/S [antisubmarine] screen en route Leyte Island, provide initial bombardment, and stand by for call fire from the shore fire control party.”
The weather was fair during the voyage, and destroyers made a few sound contacts but did not conclusively develop them. Some of the ships refueled during the afternoon watch on the 16th, and Phoenix fueled Fletcher and Jenkins, and the latter “insisted on cuddling entirely too close during the entire operation, and we were relieved to see her cast off”, the ship’s historian sardonically reflected. Murray (DD-576) gained a sound contact later that night and moved to investigate, but evaluated the contact as a non-submarine.
Tokyo Rose, one of the enemy’s English-speaking radio propagandists, broadcast that the Japanese had sunk most of the U.S. Navy. Berkey sought to dissuade the crew of such a potentially morale damaging broadcast, and published to the Close Covering Group Halsey’s announcement that “American ships reported sunk by the [Japanese] have been miraculously salvaged and are now retreating toward the enemy”.
The Army’s 6th Ranger Battalion attacked Japanese installations on Dinagat and Suluan Islands at the entrance to Leyte Gulf, capable of providing early warning of a U.S. offensive, on 17 October 1944. Minesweepers swept nearly 200 mines clear of the entrance to Leyte Gulf, and at sundown on the 19th, Phoenix and some of the other vessels of the Close Covering Force streamed paravanes. Several ships picked up mines in their paravanes as they slipped into the gulf during a calm and clear night without moon (2300 on 19 October–0230 on 20 October 1944). The ship’s company had repaired her TBS and the Harbor Entrance Control Group coached advance groups through the extremely narrow entrance via the system. Phoenix navigated by SG radar as she edged through the swept channel, and manned air defense stations at 0630 when a Betty appeared and “cruised leisurely” around the formation. Several ships fired at the intruder before it disengaged and flew out of range. The cruiser continued to Fire Support Area D in San Pedro Bay by her assigned time, but then (0800–0900) stopped while battleships completed their prearranged bombardment.
Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet landed the Sixth Army’s 1st Cavalry and 7th, 24th, and 96th Infantry Divisions, of the X and XXIX Corps. Gen. Walter Krueger, USA, led the Sixth Army, under MacArthur’s overall command. Eighteen escort carriers organized in TUs 77.4.1, 77.4.2, and 77.4.3 supported the landings. Phoenix moved west to a firing point and lying to, and then unleashed her main and secondary batteries to starboard against Japanese troops in the Tacloban area (0907–0947 on 20 October 1944). The enemy did not return fire and the warship ceased shooting and lay to in the same area to be available for call counterbattery fire.
Japanese mortars (and possibly heavier coast defense guns) sited on a hill identified as No. 522 fired at tank landing ships (LST) and infantry landing craft (LCI) as they approached Red Beach subsequent to H-hour at 1000. At 1125, Phoenix began 6-inch counterbattery fire against the position, and eight minutes before noon added her 5-inch guns to the crescendo until five minutes into the afternoon watch. The ship’s guns also silenced an enemy strong point holding up the advance of a battalion of the 19th Infantry Regiment. An air burst apparently wiped out a 75-millimeter gun crew near the ridge, and some “overs” lobbed into the enemy camp and a heavy mortar emplacement on the reverse slope. The Japanese evacuated the area, enabling the soldiers to occupy the hill, which commanded Palo, a town to the south of Tacloban. A Japanese radio circuit very close to Berkey’s frequency evidently caused difficulty, however, and as usual, the TBS became congested and impeded communications. The ship’s historian surmised that since the preponderance of traffic took place between the task force commanders and certain group commanders, established a separate VHF channel among themselves might have alleviated some of the confusion. The ship ceased firing at 1239 after shooting 1,364 6-inch and 645 5-inch rounds, along with four star shells, and her Kingfishers dropped two 100-pound bombs.
The following day at 0605 on the 21st, Phoenix witnessed a heartbreaking scene as a Japanese Aichi D3A crashed her longtime friend Australia. The low flying Val approached from land between Australia and Shropshire, and the Australian cruisers opened fire on the intruder and it retired to the westward. The plane then turned east, however, and flew to port of Phoenix, which opened fire along with the Australian ships, but passed up Australia’s port side and crashed into her foremast. The impact ignited a large fire and heavily damaged the ship, killing Capt. Emile F.V. Dechaineux, RAN, her commanding officer, and 29 of his crew, and wounding Commodore Collins, Commander, Australian Squadron, and 64 men. Warramunga escorted the cruiser to Manus Island and then to Espíritu Santo for repairs. “We were saddened to learn,” Phoenix’s diarist wrote, of the Australian casualties. The ship fired five 5-inch, 54 40-millimeter, and 154 20-millimeter rounds while she attempted to protect her allies.
That afternoon (1303–1354), Phoenix contacted a shore fire control party and began call fire and blasted enemy troop concentrations in the Palo area. The cruiser hurled 129 6-inch shells to port in a slow and deliberate bombardment against the enemy soldiers dug in on Hill 522. Shortly after she ceased fire, another shore party on the hill informed her that fragments from her shelling fell dangerously close to the American troops fighting the Japanese. The cruiser checked with her original shore party, which reported that two observers spotted her firing and that it went “right up the lane”. “Gunfire support furnished was outstanding,” they added. “Bombardment of [PHOENIX] on A+1 day eliminated all obstacles in the way of our advance and made advance possible.” Soldiers later confirmed that she knocked out the emplacement.
The ship stood out to sea and patrolled Leyte Gulf overnight during the succeeding days, and returned each morning to provide additional call fire. The soldiers ashore did not request further fire missions, but Japanese planes appeared more than once and compelled her to man air defense stations. Phoenix shot at the aerial attackers with 20-millimeter, 40-millimeter, and 5-inch guns on more than one occasion, including a Val on her port beam on the morning of the 22nd, but did not score any hits. Increasing numbers of Filipinos encamped on the beach and occasionally rowed out in small boats to wave or to “offer a straggly fighting cock for barter”. The crew reciprocated with candy and cigarettes, and rendered first aid whenever they encountered wounded people.
The Japanese prepared four Shō-gō (Victory) plans to counterattack Allied moves—Shō-gō 1 countered operations against the Philippines, Shō-gō 2 against Taiwan, Shō-gō 3 the Ryūkyūs, and Shō-gō 4 the Kurile Islands, respectively. Their garrison on Suluan transmitted an alert that prompted Adm. Toyoda Soemu, the Japanese Combined Fleet’s Commander in Chief, to order Shō-gō 1, thus helping to bring about the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Most of the larger Japanese ships lay near Lingga Roads off Singapore or in Japanese waters, providing them the strategic flexibility to respond to the various Shō-gō plans and access their dwindling fuel reserves. MacArthur’s landings at Leyte compelled the Japanese to redeploy their forces. South Dakota (BB-57) received information of a sighting of one of the Japanese fleets, at 1644 on 16 October 1944. The fleet comprised an estimated two battleships, one aircraft carrier, one heavy cruiser, two light cruisers, and eight destroyers, and steamed about 300 miles to the north on a southwesterly course. Independence (CVL-22) launched a night search and tasking air group, but the planes failed to make contact with the enemy. The carriers sent additional patrols aloft after sunrise, but the Japanese ships eluded the searchers. TG 38.2, Rear Adm. Gerald F. Bogan, and TG 38.3, Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman, retired to the southeast, commencing at 1500 on 17 October. The two groups steamed for the next week to the eastward of the Philippines.
The Japanese charged Vice Adm. Fukudome Shigeru, Commander Second Air Fleet and Sixth Base Air Force, to provide air support for Shō-gō 1, but the ongoing U.S. raids depleted his air strength. In addition, Japanese shortages of fuel constrained their operations and they dispersed their fleet into the Northern, Central, and Southern Forces, which converged separately on Leyte Gulf. Attrition had reduced the Northern Force’s 1st Mobile Force, Vice Adm. Ozawa Jisaburō, to a strike group whose carriers embarked only 108 planes, and operated as decoys to lure the U.S. carriers from the transports to enable the Central Force, Vice Adm. Kurita Takeo, to savage the auxiliaries.
On the morning of 24 October 1944, Phoenix shifted from her anchorage and moored portside to the port side of Suamico (AO-49) for what should have been a routine refueling. Approximately 40 Japanese Bettys, Mitsubishi Ki-21 Sallies, and Vals, however, attacked the ships in that area while Phoenix lay in such a vulnerable position (1111–1339). Phoenix frantically cast off her mooring and fuel lines in just two minutes (1112–1113), and at 1118 began swinging hard over in sharp turns to evade the attackers. The ship opened fire 16 minutes later and fired 22 5-inch rounds to starboard without splashing any of her foes, but fighters of the CAP and other ships’ gunfire knocked down an estimated 15–20 of the enemy aircraft. The cruiser then moored port side to Salamonie (AO-26) and completed refueling, this time without interruption.
That busy morning Barbey sent Phoenix a message commending the group’s gunfire on Able Day (the day of the landings), and singling out Phoenix for her fire support on the 21st. “Our minds are on the future though,” her diarist recorded, because reports of the approaching Japanese Southern Force, Vice Adm. Nishimura Shoji, and its attached Force C, Vice Adm. Shima Kiyohide, in command, reached the Allies. Carriers launched strikes against these ships as they proceeded through the Sulu Sea, sinking destroyer Wakaba and damaging battleships Fusō and Yamashiro.
Phoenix and her screen received orders directing them to operate in the lower part of Leyte Gulf, while PT boats deployed along the approaches to sound warning, and the auxiliaries and landing craft retired to their respective transport areas. Previous battles revealed that ships’ float planes could became a liability when hits to vessels set them (and their volatile fuel) alight, so that afternoon Phoenix launched her aircraft to operate from ashore, and later that night dumped all of the aviation gasoline over the side.
A low ceiling of clouds drifting overhead made the night black as pitch, but a cool breeze brought a welcome relief from the sweltering tropical weather as they deployed to face the Japanese. Boise, Phoenix (the group’s flagship), Shropshire, Arunta, Bache, Beale, Daly, Hutchins, and Killen fought under Berkey’s command as part of TG 77.3, near the shore of Leyte Island on the right flank. The ships formed on the approximate plan of disposition A-12 (U.S.F. 10-(A), on fleet course and axis of 210°.
Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf, Commander, Bombardment and Fire Support Group, also led the heavy cruisers of CruDiv 4 of the left flank: Louisville (CA-28) (flagship), Minneapolis, and Portland; reinforced by Rear Adm. Robert W. Hayler’s light cruisers of CruDiv 12: Columbia (CL-56) and Denver (CL-58). Additional destroyers screened the cruisers and the heavy firepower of the battle line, Rear Adm. George L. Weyler, which formed behind them and consisted of six battleships from east to west in order: West Virginia, Maryland (BB-46), Mississippi (BB-41—the flagship), Tennessee (BB-43), California (BB-44), and Pennsylvania. Just like Phoenix, all but one of the battleships had been at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked in December 1941. The deployments of these vessels, Phoenix’s chronicler logged, constituted “a happy strategy well suited to the geography.”.
Phoenix manned her air defense stations for the 15th time since her arrival in Leyte Gulf (1714–1924). Oldendorf changed the fleet course an axis to due south at 1806, and at 1834 set the fleet speed at 15 knots. Shropshire, Boise, and Phoenix formed a column in line of bearing 050° with Phoenix as the guide at 1843. The fleet changed course and speed more than once during the preliminary maneuvering, and Phoenix briefly (2031–2039) stopped all engines before resuming the maneuvering.
Allied planes, PT boats, and destroyers attacked the Japanese as they proceeded through the Sulu Sea and then Surigao Strait. Just past midnight at 0108 on 25 October 1944, California sighted flares or starshells lighting the Stygian gloom. Despite the darkness the weather otherwise cleared, with a smooth sea with an eight to ten knot wind from 052°, and a half moon obscured from time to time by moving clouds in a sky five to sixth tenths overcast. The visibility ranged from six to eight miles, but men could see flares, searchlights, and gunfire at some distance. Phoenix fired four spotting salvoes, and when the fourth hit opened up with all of her 6-inch batteries. Her target later proved to be none other than Fusō.
The surviving Japanese ships retired and California ceased shooting only 16 minutes after opening fire, at 0435 adding grimly that “all targets had either disappeared from screens or were retiring at ranges of 30,000 yards or more on a relative bearing of about 180°.” Japanese and friendly fire damaged Albert W. Grant (DD-649) but the Allies defeated the Southern Force, and sank Fusō and Yamashiro, light cruiser Abukuma, and destroyers Asagumo, Michisio, Wakaba, and Yamagumo. Destroyer Akebono later scuttled Mogami, and the enemy lost additional ships during the days following the action. The Battle of Leyte Gulf effectively finished the Japanese surface fleet.
Phoenix fired 528 6-inch and 30 5-inch rounds during the battle. The ship’s guns functioned well except that on the seventh salvo the port gun of Turret I failed to fire due to small pieces of copper preventing the bolt from going all the way home after the plug closed. Gunners twice attempted to fire the gun by reloading with different charges but the bolt would not make contact for either electrical or percussion firing, and the gun stayed inoperative throughout the remainder of the action.
“The general mood this morning seemed more jubilant than ever before”, the ship logged. “There was gratitude that [PHOENIX], after months of obscure bombardments, had suddenly found herself in one of the major -- if not the major surface engagements of the war; there was consciousness that we had done our job well, and thankfulness that this had been accomplished without damage or casualties.”
Capt. Duncan received the Navy Cross for “skillfully” maneuvering Phoenix “into striking position on the enemy’s right flank, and, directing his powerful gun batteries with precise timing in a sudden, smashing bombardment”. Duncan maintained a “high standard of fighting efficiency throughout the furious engagement…and rendered invaluable assistance in destroying” the Japanese vessels and then “retiring from the action before effective return fire could be brought to bear against” the ship and her consorts.
“Good work in the action last night”, Berkey signaled the group. “Well done. May it continue so in the future”.
“The performance of our destroyers in the Battle of [SURIGAO STRAITS]”, Phoenix’s historian reflected, “was a model of courage and aggressiveness”.
Events elsewhere in the battle, however, quickly soured the crew’s jubilation. Ozawa’s Northern Force in the interim threatened the Americans, and Halsey ordered Mitscher to proceed with TF 38 northward to be in position to strike Ozawa the following morning. Throughout the 25th, planes swamped the minimal enemy CAP and pummeled their ships off Cape Engaño, but Kurita meanwhile made a night passage through San Bernardino Strait. The U.S.-held airfields proved incapable of operating night reconnaissance aircraft, and the only carrier equipped to operate such planes, Independence, sailed from the area with Mitscher. Planes attacked Kurita while he crossed the Sibuyan Sea, but he thus gained surprise when he came about overnight, and at daylight off Samar attacked the escort carriers of Rear Adm. Clifton A.F. Sprague’s TU 77.4.3—known as Taffy 3. Valiant rearguard efforts threw Kurita’s ships into disarray and eventually compelled his retirement, despite the Japanese superiority in weight and firepower.
“The word spread quickly,” Phoenix’s diarist recorded, “They’re attacking our baby carriers!” The battleships, cruisers, and destroyers that emerged victorious from the Battle of Surigao Strait, however, did so perilously low on fuel and ammunition. Phoenix manned her air defense stations twice that morning, and twice again that afternoon, while she desperately slid alongside an ammunition ship to replenish her tools of war. Crewmen anxiously awaited news of the fighting off Samar, and only breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that Kurita withdrew.
Rumors then spread that the Japanese intended to attack again that night, so Phoenix and the ships of the group took station in cruising disposition 5-RW, on a starting fleet course and axis of 140° at ten knots, with Mississippi as the guide. Following another air warning, Shropshire and Nashville joined up, and the ships maneuvered on various courses and speeds into the right flank formation on a general plan of Battle Disposition A-2 (U.S.F. 10-A) overnight. Yet another air alert punctuated the night, but the warships patrolled in general northeast to southwest directions at various speeds, interrupted by a submarine contact that Daly and Mullany investigated as false. The night otherwise passed without incident as the Japanese ships continued to withdrawal.
Phoenix sailed in the screen of Petrof Bay (CVE-80) and Sangamon (CVE-26) on 26 October 1944. “Consisting of only two carriers”, her historian observed, “the CVE group is small indeed”. Japanese planes had damaged Chenango (CVE-28) and Santee (CVE-29) and they temporarily retired for repairs, but while Sprague exchanged news with Phoenix, the admiral chillingly warned her of the enemy’s aerial onslaught: “They come in high and attack in a vertical dive.” Chenango and Saginaw Bay (CVE-82) joined the formation the following day, and a number of destroyers at different times protected their vital charges.
Carrier planes following a definite routine in approaching for recovery. In the mornings, they approached from the west, and in the afternoons from the east, always at 1,000 feet in altitude and with their landing gear down. They did so in large measure to avoid misunderstandings, but at 1800 on the 28th, a plane headed straight in at high speed on the wrong course with its landing gear raised, apparently being pursued by one of the carrier fighters. Phoenix manned her air defense stations and fired two 5-inch and 60 20-millimeter rounds at the foe, but thankfully missed as the plane turned out to be American, lost from one of the Third Fleet carriers operating to the north of the formation.
A message reached Phoenix at 0300 on 29 October 1944, directing Berkey to attend a conference at Leyte Gulf. The cruiser swung around and steamed at 30 knots, her diarist noting that the “engines performed gratifyingly considering the strain of operations and bombardments that they have undergone continuously for more than a week.” Japanese submarines prowled the area, however, and the previous day I-45 (Lt. Cmdr. Kawashima Mamoru) torpedoed and sank Eversole (DE-404) off Leyte. Whitehurst (DE-634) in turn sank I-45, but destroyers and escort ships churned the waters searching for more submarines and survivors of Eversole, and “such happenings so close by did not add to our ease of mind while proceeding independently,” Phoenix logged. The ship nonetheless reached the gulf safely and delivered the admiral to the meeting, and recovered her planes from ashore. The air crews told a harrowing tale of taking cover in foxholes as enemy planes and exploding ammunition dumps understatedly made their “life hectic,” but the men had set up an improvised camp and lived comfortably on packaged Army rations.
The admiral sailed to the conference because Japanese resistance, reinforcements of enemy aircraft staged through Luzon, and torrential monsoon rains that turned the ground into a muddy quagmire and washed out bridges, delayed constructing airfields on Leyte. The enemy consequently contested the skies and the advance slowed to a crawl, impeding MacArthur’s plans to develop Leyte as a base. Halsey received orders to deploy the Third Fleet to ease the pressure on MacArthur’s troops by striking Japanese planes and aircraft installations. Phoenix consequently patrolled the mouth of Leyte Gulf to protect Allied positions ashore.
Following the Battle of Leyte Gulf, some ships departed for repairs or maintenance, and others shifted to different groups. Phoenix joined Weyler’s TG 77.1, which also included California, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Shropshire, Boise, Nashville, Abner Read, Ammen, Bryant (DD-665), Claxton (DD-571), Killen, Leutze (DD-481), Newcomb (DD-586), and Arunta. Squally weather with winds of gale force from the north accompanied by heavy raid reduced visibility to zero and made steering and station keeping difficult on the night of 29–30 October.
On the morning of 1 November 1944, ten enemy torpedo-bombers attacked her and some of the accompanying ships. Phoenix opened fire at 0945, and five minutes later a kamikaze (suicide plane) crashed Claxton. The kamikaze struck the water near the destroyer’s starboard side and exploded, killing five men and wounding 23 more. With her after living spaces flooded, Claxton fought her own damage as she rescued 187 survivors of Abner Read, which also fell victim to a suicider.
Almost at the same instant, hits from Phoenix’s 5-inch guns set another plane afire but could not prevent it from diving into Ammens’ starboard bow. At 0957 a plane made a torpedo run on Phoenix but her machine guns splashed the attacker. The enemy continued to assail the ships and a few minutes later a bomber hit Killen’s port side, killing 15 crewmen. The surviving Japanese planes winged off and gave the vessels a brief lull from the carnage but they returned in barely two and a half hours, and, at 1340, scored a hit on Abner Read. Japanese aircraft attacked the other destroyers as they stood by the sinking ship, but Phoenix shot down one of the raiders. The brutal fighting continued almost unabated throughout the month.
As December 1944 opened, Phoenix operated with TF 77.2, Rear Adm. Theodore E. Ruddock Jr., Commander, Battleship Division 4, also consisting of Colorado (BB-45), Maryland, New Mexico (BB-40), West Virginia (flagship), Minneapolis, Portland, Columbia, Denver, Montpelier (CL-57), Allen M. Sumner (DD-692), Conway (DD-507), Cooper (DD-695), Eaton (DD-510), Fletcher, Hopewell (DD-681), Howarth (DD-592), Ingraham (DD-694), La Vallette, Moale (DD-693), Nicholas (DD-449), O’Bannon (DD-450), Pringle (DD-477), Saufley (DD-465), Taylor (DD-468), and Waller (DD-466).
The task group patrolled south of the transport area off Leyte Gulf, and during the afternoon watch on 1 December 1944, Maryland refueled some of the destroyers, while other ships replenished dry provisions, clothing, small stores, and medical supplies from Rutilicus (AK-113). The ships of the screen steamed clockwise on a circular course until about 1400, when they received a report of many Japanese planes approaching from some miles off. The vessels broke away and formed an air defense screen, but the attack did not materialize.
At 1611, however, Eaton reported a sound contact, the first of many to be reported in the area that day. Phoenix and her consorts maneuvered evasively, and Saufley reported a second contact at 1707, followed at 1731 by Coney. Messages suddenly circulated of torpedo tracks sighted ahead of the disposition, but no one spotted the torpedoes as they apparently sliced through the formation without striking any ships. Destroyers formed two antisubmarine patrol lines extending diagonally across the gulf from the southwest to the northeast shore in order to screen the transports and landing craft, and they repeatedly detected what they evaluated as submarines and dropped depth charges for many fruitless hours. Phoenix’s OTC decided not to take chances and ordered the cruiser and her screen to sortie from Leyte Gulf overnight, and steam along the convoy route, then northward, and finally westward before returning to the gulf by dawn. The ruse apparently worked because the ships escaped submarine attacks, though alerts continued for days. Some of Phoenix watchstanders later spotted a large blackfish and surmised that a school of them entered the gulf and caused the rash of sonar contacts.
Ruddock took most of the group to Kossol Roads for repairs and recreation on 2 December 1944, and the command of the Leyte Covering Force devolved upon Berkey, who continued to break in flag in Phoenix. As Allen M. Sumner, Cooper, and Moale passed the ship on their way out of the gulf on a special mission at 1847 that evening, they reported that an enemy plane headed in the cruiser’s direction and dropped a torpedo at her. Phoenix went immediately to air defense, the destroyers splashed the intruder and it fell burning into the sea, and the torpedo missed. Errors in identifying friendly planes from enemy aircraft caused multiple issues, and on the 4th Phoenix received orders to drill all lookouts to recognize Grumman F6F Hellcats and Vought F4U Corsairs, as marines flew those planes in CAP to protect the vessels from the increasing number of night aerial attacks.
Japanese planes again attacked Allied ships on 5 December 1944, and Phoenix assisted in the destruction of two of the attackers. Phoenix manned her air defense stations through numerous aircraft alerts that day, but did not face what her historian logged as the “genuine article” until 1706. A Val dived on the ship on her starboard side and several ships caught the attacker in a cross-fire and splashed the plane at a range of 8,500 yards off Phoenix’s starboard beam. Another dive bomber approached on her port side two minutes later, and Phoenix marked the assailant as her own and brought it down about 300 yards on her port beam. The ship fired 50 5-inch, 754 40-millimeter, and 788 20-millimeter rounds during the battle. The fighters of the CAP claimed to splash two more Japanese planes. A kamikaze struck Mugford and the task group proceeded to the lower gulf and took her tow until the destroyer could proceed on her own power, and escorted the badly damaged ship up the gulf overnight.
The following afternoon on 6 December 1944, Phoenix received a report that 23 enemy bombers escorted by nine fighters headed her way and were expected to reach the ship by 1715. The “ominous time” passed without event, but merely an hour later at 1817, a destroyer picket sighted 18 planes inbound. The cruiser and her screen manned their battle stations and maneuvered at high speed, but only a single Betty crossed the group ahead of the ships. The Japanese plane “absorbed a tremendous amount of fire” including 33 5-inch, 69 40-millimeter, and three 20-millimeter rounds from Phoenix, but the Betty continued until the watchstanders lost sight of the bomber in the poor visibility. The warship observed heavy Allied antiaircraft fire and a number of explosions on the beach area as the Betty attacked the transports there.
Rain cascaded down on Leyte Gulf on 10 December 1944, but by 1700 as the clouds lifted, Japanese aircraft took advantage in the break in the weather and swarmed the ships. Ships’ radars suddenly displayed multiple contacts and four P-38s of the CAP flew out to investigate them, but high flying enemy fighters pounced on the Lightnings and badly shot up three, and the Lightnings also fired all of their ammunition during the mêlée. Phoenix sounded her air defense alert at 1703 and simultaneously opened fire on a Japanese twin-engined bomber observed astern of the cruiser as the attacked headed for her in a glide. The ship’s 40-millimeter fire hit the plane’s port wing and set it ablaze, and the bomber lunged quickly downward, passed very close aboard Phoenix’s starboard side, and crashed into the water about 50 yards of her—as the ship maneuvered at speed to elude the attack. Phoenix shot 19 5-inch, 294 40-millimeter, and 682 20-millimeter rounds to splash her assailant.
The battle did not occur without cost, however, as another plane bombed and then crashed Hughes amidships as she patrolled to the south of Phoenix. The ships of the group rendered assistance, and at 1945 Laffey (DD-724) went alongside Hughes and took her in tow, while the remainder of the group formed a circular screen around the two destroyers. Laffey took the stricken destroyer to an area of comparative safety for repairs. Phoenix and her screen received orders on the 11th to return to San Pedro Bay to prepare for their next operation, but Task Unit (TU) 77.3.2’s return to port overnight denuded the entrance to Leyte Gulf of a combat surface patrol for the first time since the cruiser’s arrival.
Six escort carriers of TU 77.12.1, Rear Adm. Felix B. Stump, combined with marine shore-based aircraft to support Army landings on the southwest coast of Mindoro in the Philippines (12–18 December 1944). Planes covered the passage of the transports and assault shipping through the Visayas, and CAP fighters hearteningly circled overhead as the formations steered successively southerly and westerly courses through Surigao Strait. The Attack Force failed to reach the area as planned, however, which delayed Phoenix from moving ahead of them as soon as expected. Berkey ordered the warship to put on 25 knots, and for the destroyers to “hold your hats and squeeze in tight” as Phoenix steamed around the corner of Homonhon Island with a narrow margin between the island to port and landing craft to starboard.
While the ships proceeded to the assault area off Mindoro on the afternoon of 13 December 1944, they endured nearly constant air attack by single suicide planes. At 1457 a lone kamikaze suddenly hit nearby Nashville on her port side, causing a large explosion and fire, and demolishing half of her 5-inch battery and knocking out both the surface and air search radar. The OTC shifted his flag to Dashiell (DD-659). A plane tentatively identified as a Kawasaki Ki-45 (Toryu) Nick or a Nakajima J1N1 (Gekko) Irving flew through other vessels’ antiaircraft fire as it passed down the starboard side of the formation at 1507. At 1720 lookouts sighted a Nick overhead at about 5,000 feet. The Japanese plane flew down the port side of the formation and Phoenix shot 47 5-inch, 561 40-millimeter, and 625 20-millimeter rounds at the intruder but missed, and the Nick then flew out of range.
Fighters of the CAP chased a Nick over some of the ships and splashed the attacker at 1746, but at 1759 another Nick appeared on Phoenix’s port bow at an altitude of approximately 3,500 feet. The cruiser opened fire and maneuvered at flank speed as the Nick dived but the plane then veered off, eased its glide, and passed from port to starboard across the front of the formation. A fighter brought down the Nick on Phoenix’s starboard beam. Three enemy aircraft attacked the carriers at 1809 and the CAP fighters splashed all three as the finale of the busy day. One of the attackers, a Betty, put up a remarkable fight, and the plane descended again and again to the water, only to rise for another assault, and the cruiser’s watchstanders viewed the entire battle while the Betty flew silhouetted against the sunset. Whenever Phoenix set her air defense during the daytime, she routinely manned the 24- and 36-inch searchlights, because a destroyer reported using her searchlights effectively to blind incoming suicide planes, and the cruiser’s crew desperately sought alternatives to kamikazes. Stanley (DD-478) then escorted Nashville as the damaged cruiser returned to San Pedro Bay for limited repairs.
On the night of the landings seaplanes also joined with operations from Mangarin Bay. During the morning watch on 15 December 1944, antiaircraft fire splashed two Japanese kamikazes that crashed near escort aircraft carrier Marcus Island (CVE-77). Phoenix furnished fire support and covered the landings. Filipino herdsmen drove their cattle onto the beach to welcome their liberators but did so squarely in the middle of Phoenix’s target area, which caused confusing delays until the Americans escorted them out of the line of fire. The ship completed her shooting and came about for Leyte Gulf.
Late in the morning USAAF fighters relieved the naval CAP, but foul weather at Leyte compelled the Army to recall them, so that from the early afternoon onward the ship and her screen sailed without fighter cover. Reports flooded in of enemy aircraft testing the Allied defenses, but none approached the cruiser. That respite changed shortly after 1900, when lookouts sighted several planes in the vicinity. One of them closed Phoenix on her port bow, and she fired 38 5-inch shells and splashed the intruder at a range of about 8,500 yards on her port quarter. Strong winds and low overcast skies provided “a welcome weather condition” that kept Japanese planes away as the ship returned to San Pedro Bay on the morning of the 17th, and the war correspondents and the observer then disembarked. The operation gave the Allies a base from which to strike at Japanese ships passing through the South China Sea, and to soften up their forces on Luzon for forthcoming landings.
On the night of 17 December 1944, Nashville set out from San Pedro Bay for more comprehensive repairs at Manus. The ship sent her long-time friend a poignant message: “Officers and men of the [PHOENIX] wish to express their sympathy to their division mates of the [NASHVILLE] in the disaster they have recently suffered. We join you in mourning your gallant dead and wishing the injured a speedy recovery. During your absence, we shall strive to avenge your losses and hope that we shall be seeing you again soon. Good luck!”
The Japanese counterattacked the landings on Mindoro, and Rear Adm. Kimura Masanori broke his flag in destroyer Kasumi in command of an “Intrusion Force,” which also consisted of heavy cruiser Ashigara, light cruiser Ōyodo, destroyers Asashimo and Kiyoshimo, and escort destroyers Kashi, Kaya, and Sugi. Kimura intended to strike the Allied ships assembled in the roadstead and shell the troops ashore. In addition, enemy soldiers would lunge at the airfield so as to disrupt the progress on the field. The Japanese ships crossed the South China Sea undetected until 1600 on the day after Christmas, when a Navy PB4Y-1, flown by Lt. Paul F. Stevens and returning from a patrol out of Leyte to Cam Ranh Bay, Annam, French Indochina [Vietnam], sighted them about 180 miles west by north of the beachhead. Stevens erroneously identified Ashigara as battleship Yamato, but reported the correct number of vessels. The Liberator landed at San José on Mindoro, reported the sighting, refueled, and loaded four 500-pound bombs, and took off again to shadow the enemy vessels. Brig. Gen. William C. Dunckel, USA, who led the 24th Infantry Division’s landing force, faced what appeared to be overwhelming odds in the event that Kimura broke through, and relied heavily upon air power and some PT boats patrolling the area to avert the crisis.
The enemy eluded further detection until 2030 that evening, however, when a Liberator flown by Lt. (j.g.) Warren M. Cox, USNR, sighted them, only about 50 miles northwest of San José. In the meanwhile, Kinkaid dispatched five Martin PBM-3D Mariners and several Catalinas and Liberators, and the Fifth Air Force hurled more than 100 planes including 13 Mitchells, 92 Lightnings, Thunderbolts, and Warhawks, and some Northrop P-61 Black Widows, against the approaching Japanese. The aircraft pummeled the Japanese and damaged Ashigara by near-misses, as well as Ōyodo, Asashimo, Kasumi, Kiyoshimo, Kashi, and Kaya. Kimura resolutely bombarded the town, airfield, and Beach Red, but inflicted only minor damage, and as the Japanese ships retired and passed Mangarin Bay they lobbed several ineffective salvoes at the vessels assembled there. A handful of enemy planes bombed and strafed the soldiers ashore as well but without significant results. The Japanese ships encountered the motor torpedo boats and a running clash ensued. PT-77 sustained damage, probably accidentally bombed by American planes, and subsequently, PT-223 sank the furiously burning Kiyoshimo off San José near 12°20'N, 121°00'E.
While the air battle raged, Rear Adm. Theodore E. Chandler hurriedly led a task group toward the battle. Chandler gathered 14 ships: Louisville, Minneapolis, Boise, Phoenix, and eight destroyers. Louisville, Boise, Phoenix, Fletcher, Hopewell, O’Bannon, and Radford sortied from San Pedro Bay during the second dog watch on 26 December 1944. Phoenix received orders at 1824 to form on Louisville, the OTC, and rang up 25 knots and crashed through the swells as she made speed to join the battle. The other ships joined them en route but the combined task force reached the area nearly 12 hours after the Japanese departed.
Phoenix stopped engines at 1832 on the 27th as Louisville hove to and picked up some Japanese survivors from Kiyoshimo. Phoenix continued her aggressiveness as the warship logged that she hoped to “pick off some cripples or stragglers”, but men fretted that the enemy landed troops on the southeast tip of Mindoro. Chandler therefore directed her to patrol the west coast of Mindoro into the next day, just in case. A confusing interlude ensued as Army planes repeatedly reported Phoenix and her screen as more Japanese vessels, lookouts failed to properly identify some snoopers as Japanese aircraft, and as conflicting reports appeared to confirm enemy landings—until Chandler learned that Kimura did not land any troops. The cruiser came about at dusk on the 18th and made a high speed retirement to Leyte, heavy weather sometimes leaving the ship without air cover but also shielding her from the enemy, and she slid into the bay on the afternoon of the 29th. Submarine Baya (SS-318) detected but unsuccessfully attacked Kimura as he retired to Cam Ranh Bay.
Lt. (j.g.) Thomas E. Bridges, USNR, stood as the officer of the deck on New Year’s Eve 1945, and Bridges followed a hallowed naval tradition when he appended the ship’s deck log for the mid watch:
“One year ago down at BUNA
The Admiral and “First Looie” fished for tuna
From there to MADANG and HAUWEI ISLE
CruDiv Fifteen Steamed many a mile.
HOLLANDIA, BIAK, NOOEMFOOR with “Moscow Jack,”
“Phoo-bird” bombarded and backed the attack.
SYDNEY in August was a lot of fun.
Then MOROTAI, and back to our gun (s).
LEYTE by day, SURIGAO by night,
Developed into a heluva fight.
Despite “Kami-Kazes” to MINDORO we went
Thence back to SAN PEDRO not too well spent!
“With mingled emotions I review the past
And over events I pass very fast.
Some were work, and some were fun.
Work is well started, but not yet done.
With this in mind and with considerable awe
There’s one conclusion that still I draw:
The sea is an interesting place to roam,
But By Jeepers, By Gosh, how I’d like to be home!”
Phoenix greeted 1945 as part of Rear Adm. Berkey’s TG 77.3, which also comprised Denver, Montpelier, Fletcher, Hopewell, Nicholas, O’Bannon, Radford, and Taylor. Japanese planes struck early in the New Year, and while Phoenix lay anchored in Berth No. 53 in San Pedro Bay she manned her air defense stations when unidentified aircraft appeared in her vicinity at 2339 on 1 January 1945, at 0138 on the 2nd, and at 0620 on the 3rd. Three newspaper correspondents boarded on that date to observe the pending Allied operation—landings in Lingayen Gulf on western Luzon in the Philippines. The commanding officers of the group’s ships boarded Phoenix on the morning of the 4th and conferred with Berkey concerning the forthcoming invasion.
The ship weighed anchor at 1615 on 4 January 1945, in company with the task group, and TU 77.1.2, consisting of Boise, Coghlan (DD-606), and Edwards (DD-619), joined the group. That night the group took position about ten miles ahead of the San Fabian Attack Force of the Luzon Attack Force, which sortied concurrently with them, and steamed as the Close Covering Group while they all made for the gulf. The vessels slowed as they passed through Surigao Strait, and then crossed the Mindanao Sea. The combined forces formed a vast formation that stretched for more than 40 miles.
As the convoy passed about seven miles due south of Apo Island, not far from Siquijor Island, at 1505 on the 5th, Nicholas broke the comparative quiet by reporting: “Torpedo wake from starboard!” Nearly simultaneously, one of Phoenix’s signalmen sighted the conning tower of Japanese midget submarine HA-82, WO Mizuno Aimasa, come to the surface, close to shore, and not one but two torpedoes swishing toward the column. “Torpedoes on course south, headed toward you,” she signaled Boise. Both cruisers swung their rudders hard over on evasive maneuvers and the torpedoes raced past, astern of Phoenix. Taylor rammed and depth charged the submarine at 1530, and a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger from one of the carriers also diverted to the battle and dropped a bomb close aboard the submerging boat. Taylor observed much oil on the water and believed (correctly) that she sank HA-82, and Adm. Toyoda promoted Mizuno and his two crewmen posthumously on 25 May 1945.
The convoy continued on after readjusting the stations they temporarily displaced by their antisubmarine maneuvering, but at 1735 Coghlan made another possible submarine contact astern of the column, only to evaluate the contact as “non-submarine”. The ships steamed off the west coast of Negros through the calm Sulu Sea on the night of the 6th, and a bright moon likely revealed their progress to the Japanese planes that observed them on several occasions but did not attack. The Japanese reacted vigorously to the operation, however, and their planes repeatedly attacked the invasion forces during the transit from Leyte Gulf. Phoenix consequently manned her air defenses each day, a wearisome schedule for her company.
The ship steered a base course of 335° at eight knots and manned her air defense stations as usual on the morning of 7 January 1945, but at 0642 her historian logged that the routine “soon proved to be the genuine article”. A Japanese plane passed over Phoenix from port to starboard at an altitude of 4,000 feet, dropped two bombs near the destroyer on her starboard beam, and flew off. A Nick approached the cruiser from her starboard quarter at 0705. Phoenix fired three 5-inch rounds at the plane and changed course to 160° at ten knots. The Nick veered off, resumed its approach on the cruiser’s port quarter, passed astern to her starboard quarter, and began a dive from approximately 12,000 feet. The ship shot several 5-inch and 82 20-millimeter rounds at the attacker, whereupon the plane turned away and passed astern out of range. The warship secured from air defense stations at 0720 after receiving a “Flash White” from the OTC (in Phoenix).
The Japanese, however, were not finished with the convoy. As Phoenix and her consorts formed a circular screen around Suamico while she refueled some of the destroyers at 0839, ships near the shore on her starboard beam and quarter opened fire on a Nick. The crew did not have time to speculate on whether it was the same adversary as they returned to their air defense stations, but at 0847 a Thunderbolt flying CAP splashed the Nick. The vessels completed refueling just before noon and resumed their formation.
Phoenix manned her air defense stations that evening at 1740 on 7 January 1945, when an enemy aircraft was reported bearing 287° at 15 miles. A plane identified as a Val appeared off the ship’s starboard bow at 1814, and a minute later she opened fire. Phoenix steered 270° at 20 knots and swung left with full rudder to keep her starboard battery unmasked. The Val dived at the cruiser from her starboard bow, apparently aiming for the starboard side of the bridge. Phoenix fired furiously at the attacker and when it closed to barely 50 feet at 1817, gunfire shot off its right wing and the wing fell into the water on her starboard side. The plane went into a snap-roll, cleared the ship, and plunged into the water on her port side just aft of the bridge. The cruiser fired 75 5-inch, 521 40-millimeter, and 651 20-millimeter rounds during her brush with death.
Just after the ship passed “Cease Firing”, S2c R.J. McKeon, USNR, the trainer for No. 3 5-inch gun, stood up in his seat to get a better view and lost his balance as the ship heeled to evade the falling plane and fell overboard. Some of his horrified shipmates threw him empty shell cases to mark his fall. Another plane approached on Phoenix’s starboard beam at 1822 but gunfire from other vessels drove off the less determined attacker. The ship secured from air defense stations at 1915 and came about to search for McKeon. Lookouts sighted the oil slick where the Val crashed but sadly failed to spot McKeon, and Phoenix returned to the formation.
The convoy crossed the South China Sea off lower Luzon on the night of 7 and 8 January 1945. Phoenix steamed at eight knots on a base course of 350°, about ten miles ahead of the San Fabian Attack Force, which plowed ahead of the Lingayen Attack Force. An apparent bomb splashed bearing 030° at 0245, and the crew remanned their air defense stations. An aircraft ahead of the cruiser dropped a white flare and some of the destroyers in the screen opened fire. The plane passed about three miles from Phoenix, but the 5-inch gun director unaccountably failed to detect and track the intruder. Another white flare illuminated the sky ahead at 0308, and at 0313 yet another burst. The crew tensely waited at their stations and a plane passed down the ship’s port side at 0327, though her guns failed to hit the aircraft. The Japanese dropped a final white flare at 0345 but none attacked, and at 0404 the ship secured from air defense.
The cruiser received a report at 0756 on 8 January 1945, of a suicide plane that crashed a transport in the force behind her and consequently manned air defense stations. At 0802 Phoenix lookouts sighted a twin-engine plane, tentatively identified as a Mitsubishi Ki-46 reconnaissance aircraft, on her port beam. The Dinah passed over Denver under heavy fire from Phoenix and other ships, performed violent evasive maneuvers, and at 0809 crashed close aboard Fletcher. Phoenix fired 71 5-inch shells just that busy morning alone. Radford reported a possible sound contact on the cruiser’s starboard bow that afternoon, but upon investigating it discovered a school of fish. The formation dropped back later that day so that the San Fabian Attack Force could pass, and then maneuvered to approach the Lingayen Attack Force.
The ship again manned her air defense stations at 1811 and during the following two minutes witnessed fighters of the CAP splash two Japanese planes. Some of the ships of the Lingayen Attack Force, steaming on Phoenix’s starboard hand, reported sighting two Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusas at 7,000 feet and opened fire, followed by Montpelier and at 1858 Phoenix. An Oscar crashed Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) on her portside amidships at the waterline a minute later. At 1902 Phoenix unleashed her secondary batteries against an enemy plane that flew past her port side and then passed out of range, but other ships astern splashed the attacker. The attack on Kitkun Bay killed 16 men and wounded 37, and although the carrier listed to port she eventually controlled the fires and flooding. Rear Adm. Ralph A. Ofstie, Commander, TU 77.4.6, Lingayen Protective Group, transferred his flag to Shamrock Bay (CVE-84). Hopewell and Taylor left the formation to guide and escort Shamrock Bay into the group, and the carrier joined them during the mid watch. Phoenix fired 28 5-inch rounds during the battle.
The Sixth Army landed in Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945. Phoenix and her consorts battled choppy seas while they alternatively steamed southerly and northerly courses, and screened the carriers as they launched and recovered their strikes. A kamikaze had crashed Kadashan Bay (CVE-76) the day before, and the damaged carrier struggled with delicate stability during the heavy seas. The day after the landings, 10 January, the Close Covering Group patrolled about 50 miles off Luzon in the South China Sea between Lingayen Gulf and Manila, protecting reinforcement convoys that sailed to and from the beachhead. Petrof Bay and Saginaw Bay, escorted by Charrette (DD-581) and Conner (DD-582), joined the formation that morning. At noon Kadashan Bay left the disposition and joined Kitkun Bay for their return to Leyte and repairs. A clear and bright day could not compensate for heavy seas and the carriers experienced multiple problems with flight operations. A short time before sunset, Ofstie requested permission from Rear Adm. Calvin T. Durgin, Commander, the Escort Carrier Group, TG 77.4, to recall all of the aircraft because the landing conditions were “the worst possible” and recovering them after dark would be out of the question.
The U.S. planes began to return at about 1830 on the 10th, and Phoenix set her dusk air defense in the event of an enemy aerial attack. Simultaneously she received a report of an unidentified aircraft about eight and one half miles out, flying at an altitude of 15,000 feet. The plane appeared in sight eight minutes later on the ship’s starboard quarter. Phoenix and a number of other ships opened fire, but within several minutes both TG 77.3 and TU 77.4.6 ordered them to cease fire for fear of hitting a U.S. plane. The intruder performed sharp evasive maneuvers, passed Phoenix overhead from starboard to port, dropped two bombs astern of Saginaw Bay, and disappeared into the setting sun. Multiple watchstanders on several ships agreed that they clearly saw the red Japanese markings on its wings. Phoenix shot 54 5-inch, 507 40-millimeter, and 360 20-millimeter rounds at the attacker. Shortly afterward two ships fired at but missed a returning U.S. fighter. The confusion prompted Phoenix’s historian to recall Sprague’s report when the cruiser first reached Leyte Gulf: “The difficulty is two edged—recognizing and firing on enemy planes and holding fire on the friendlies.”
Japanese air raids continued on an almost daily basis and during one such battle at dusk on 12 January 1945, a CAP fighter reported sighting a torpedo swishing toward the formation. The pilot did not give the direction of the torpedo, however, which hindered ships as they attempted to maneuver out of harm’s way, but an explosion erupted astern of Denver. The cruiser escaped unscathed, and no one ever identified the culprit. The newspaper correspondents on board Phoenix nonetheless felt that they did not receive enough “copy”, and the man from the Chicago Times transferred to a returning convoy in the hope of getting ashore to Mindoro. The other two men chaffed at what they believed to be the ship’s relative inactivity, despite her sounding repeated air alerts.
O’Bannon slid alongside Phoenix on the evening of the 19th and delivered 207 bags of mail, some of it dating back to November. The delivery gave the crew a much needed morale boost, and men enjoyed belatedly seeing photos of loved ones and opening Christmas presents. Phoenix joined other vessels as they patrolled the South China Sea to intercept Japanese ships should they attempt to evacuate their troops from Luzon to French Indochina.
The patrols passed mostly without incident but Nicholas left the formation at 1514 on the 24th to investigate a small boat flying a Japanese flag that a plane from Tulagi (CVE-72) sighted 16 miles to the northeastward. On closing the vessel, the destroyer captured three Japanese prisoners, and at 1621, Coghlan and Edwards screened Phoenix as she broke away and proceeded alongside Nicholas. Guards shifted the three men to the cruiser’s sick bay, where CruDiv 15’s staff intelligence officers placed them in custody. According to the staff interpreter, the Japanese soldiers had set out from the vicinity of Manila to go fishing, but became lost and drifted for 20 days, surviving on only a single fish for their food. The thin and emaciated men lay in such a weakened condition that one of them ended up being a stretcher case. The prisoners gradually improved following medical attention and were shifted to the brig, and they cooperated but provided little intelligence of value. Sailors hoisted the motorboat on board, but upon examining the derelict determined that it was of no further value and cast the craft back into the water. Phoenix sent the Japanese flag to the pilot who sighted the boat, and transferred the prisoners by breeches buoy to Suamico when she refueled from the tanker on the 27th.
In between the patrols Phoenix visited various anchorages such as Mangarin Bay and Subic Bay. Japanese artillery fire echoed from behind the hills where the enemy entrenched along the highway to Manila, but the ship’s diarist noted that Subic Bay provided the “most pleasant anchorage we have seen for some time—cool, scenic, and uncrowded.”
Phoenix next (13–17 February 1945) took part in the fighting to clear Manila Bay of the enemy. The group’s cruisers and destroyers opened fire at 0840 on St. Valentine’s Day 1945. The Japanese returned fire from caves on the south side of Corregidor, from Carabao Island, Caballo, and from the mainland. Minesweepers swept 76 mines under fire before noon, and destroyers then tackled buoys and floats in the harbor to clear the channel for the minesweepers. A 6-inch gun shot at Fletcher as she prepared to send a boat to sink a buoy and the round ripped into the destroyer forward and started a fire. Shell fragments penetrated the No. 1 gun magazine and set fire to powder cases. WT1c Elmer C. Bigelow, time not permitting his donning a rescue-breathing apparatus, plunged into the acrid powder smoke to extinguish the blaze. Bigelow succumbed to smoke inhalation the following day; and for his heroism he received the Medal of Honor posthumously.
While Fletcher battled the blaze, Phoenix and another couple of destroyers swung their guns around and blasted the enemy battery, which lay concealed in a cave on the face of a cliff. Japanese gunfire sank motor minesweeper YMS-48 north of Corregidor, however, and damaged Hopewell as they supported the sweeping of those waters. Mines damaged La Vallette and Radford while they supported the sweeping of a channel into Mariveles harbor. Boise and Phoenix, along with three destroyers, provided call-fire support for continuing operations on Corregidor on 17 February. Cleveland (CL-55), O'Bannon, and Taylor shelled the Ternate area, along the south shore of Manila Bay, and a mine damaged fleet tug Hidatsa (ATF-102) in Mariveles harbor on that busy day.
Phoenix Coxswain James C. Liddle received a Letter of Commendation for “distinguishing himself by excellent service” as one of the ship’s 5-inch gun captains during the bombardments of Corregidor and Marivelles. Liddle’s “effective leadership and thorough training his gun crew” enabled the turret to maintain “a rapid and sustained volume of fire against heavy enemy installations which were harassing minesweeping and landing operations”. The letter further noted that “during numerous aggressive enemy air attacks” Liddle and his gun crew “were always in a high state of efficiency”.
The ship steamed into the fray again during Operation Victor IV—landings by the 41st Infantry Division (Reinforced—less the 186th Regimental Combat Team) near Zamboanga in southwest, Mindanao. Intelligence analysts expected determined enemy resistance on the Zamboanga Peninsula and planes from Marine Aircraft Groups 12, 14, and 32 and the Thirteenth Air Force struck the Japanese troops there beginning on 1 March 1945. Rear Adm. Forrest B. Royal, Commander, TG 78.1 and Amphibious Group 6, hoisted his flag in amphibious force command ship Rocky Mount (AGC-3). Boise, Phoenix, Abbot (DD-629), Fletcher, Jenkins, Nicholas, and Taylor once again served under Berkey’s leadership, in the Cruiser Covering Group, TG 74.3.
Phoenix, Boise, and the six destroyers set out from Mangarin Bay on the morning of 7 March 1945, and just after sunrise at 0622 on 8 March approached San Mateo Point, west of Zamboanga, following an uneventful direct passage. Minesweepers moved in to sweep the area and Phoenix and her faithful shepherds followed them through the “Beachnut”, “Bond Street”, and “Revelation” channels to the “Blackjack” area south of the Santa Cruz Islands. Enemy radar attempted to track the ship more than once, and she sometimes successfully jammed the signals—though lacked the CXGA direction finder that might have enabled her to zero in on signals’ emitters. Japanese light artillery and mortars shot at the minesweepers as they swept the area, and the air strikes also continued throughout the battle. Phoenix took an apparent Japanese observation post under fire with her port 5-inch guns late that afternoon, and came about after sunset.
A Japanese 3-inch gun shot at Cinnamon (YN-69) and Warrego (U.73) while the U.S. net tender and the Australian sloop surveyed the Santa Cruz Bank at 0920 on the 9th. Phoenix’s planes spotted for their ship as she returned fire with both the main and secondary batteries until the enemy ceased shooting.
A USAAF B-24 exploded over the enemy positions about two miles north of Little Santa Cruz at 1050 on 9 March 1945, apparently accidentally struck by a bomb dropped by another Liberator. Plane No. 2, one of Phoenix’s Kingfishers flown by Lt. (j.g.) Robert H. Smyth, USNR, sighted what the aircrew thought might be one of the airmen who escaped the wreck and floated close to the enemy, and discussed rescuing him with the ship, but she ordered the plane not to land. Smyth undauntedly landed in the water about 200 yards from the beach under small arms fire, and rescued the only crewman to survive the harrowing tragedy. Phoenix and the Kingfisher frantically attempted to direct Army fighters to cover the plane, and considered having it taxi over to the cruiser, but the pilot lifted off again, searched unsuccessfully for more survivors, and returned the man, who they reported was “in pretty good shape”, to Phoenix. The ship carried out prearranged fire on known enemy installations that afternoon, and at 1430 touched off an explosion in an ammunition dump that spotters believed served the same coastal gun that had earlier fired at Warrego.
Phoenix returned to her station in Blackjack early on the morning of 10 March 1945. The weather was clear and calm, the wind from the northeast to southeast, and slight swells rolled as the cruiser lashed her assigned target areas behind Beaches Red and Yellow to support the troops as they landed. The enemy opened fire with 75-millimeter guns and small arms, but Allied ships returned fire and silenced them. Phoenix launched two OS2U-1 Kingfishers that spotted main and secondary battery gunfire for the ship and her assigned destroyer, acted as intelligence observers, flew photographic missions, and spotted for mines in the minesweepers’ wakes. The cruiser responded to a shore party’s call that afternoon and blasted a target area to the westward of the Zamboanga Pier. Japanese shore batteries sank tank landing ships LST-591 and LST-626, and infantry landing craft LCI-710 and LCI-779. Phoenix retired after dusk, and the only damage the ship sustained occurred when one of her Kingfishers’ machine guns accidently fired into the plane’s vertical fin, but sailors repaired the damage on board.
Hobart, Fletcher, and Jenkins stood in and anchored in Subic Bay on the morning of 18 March 1945, the Australian light cruiser reporting for duty in TG 74.3. “Most of our crew,” Phoenix logged, “had begun to believe that the [HOBART] was mythical, since we have heard that she was “under repair in Australia and would be completed shortly” ever since we arrived in Sowespac [South West Pacific Area] over 15 months ago! She is a stout ship, though, and we began at once to strike up friendships among her officers.”
The increasingly seasoned Phoenix operated with TG 74.3 as the group joined TG 78.2, Capt. Albert T. Sprague Jr., who broke his flag in Coast Guard-manned communications command ship Spencer (WAGC-36). The vessels took part in Operation Victor II—landings by an Army task force led by Maj. Gen. William H. Arnold, USA, and consisting of the 132nd and 182nd Infantry Regiments of the Americal Division, at Talisay Point four miles southwest of Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines (24–27 March 1945). Berkey’s task group comprised Boise, Phoenix (OTC), Hobart, Abbot, Fletcher, Jenkins, Nicholas, O’Bannon, Taylor, and Warramunga.
The task group stood out of Subic Bay at 0700 on the 24th, and steamed via the Apo East Passage, Sulu Sea, Mindanao Sea, and Bohol Strait to the objective area. When they reached the area near San Jose on Mindoro, early that evening, Boise, Fletcher, and Jenkins detached and sailed to Mangarin Bay in Mindoro, where they anchored to remain in reserve. As the rest of the ships continued their voyage, Taylor detected what her sonar team believed to be a submarine at 1747, only to sheepishly evaluate their contact as shoals. A full moon aided navigation and the ships rendezvoused with the attack group on the evening of the 25th. A suspicious vessel hove in to view during the 1st dog watch, and Taylor investigated and discovered a Filipino sailboat.
The cruiser launched two OS2U-1s to spot cruiser main and secondary battery gunfire for both herself and Hobart. The planes also acted as air observers, flew photographic missions, and stood by for air-sea rescue missions, as needed. Enemy soldiers unsuccessfully directed small arms fire at the Kingfishers. Phoenix meanwhile shaped a course to be in position at 0703, and until the first wave hit the beach at 0830 shot both 6-inch and 5-inch salvoes into the enemy positions with “good results”, as reported by the Kingfishers. The warship knocked out pillboxes located on a sand bar off Talisay with 6-inch rounds at 0720, and at 0755 began to tear-up trenches. The Armed Guard on board the U.S. freighter Michael J. Owens, despite their lack of sophisticated fire control equipment, silenced a Japanese artillery battery on Cebu. The assault waves encountered numerous problems and casualties from mines, obstacles, and accidents, but otherwise light resistance because the enemy deployed most of their forces inland to avoid aerial and naval bombardment, a stratagem they increasingly relied upon in the face of overwhelming Allied firepower.
Phoenix received a report from the CAP of two enemy planes taking off from a field north of Cebu City at 0916, and manned her air defense stations until the danger passed at 0955. Shore spotters requested several call fire missions that afternoon, and the cruiser maneuvered in the fire support area south of the 100-fathom line as she shot at the enemy. One of her Kingfishers spotted some trucks moving and despite garbled communications, directed other planes that bombed and strafed the vehicles. The observers expressed repeated concerns, however, about some tunnels that disappeared into the side of a ridge, their mouths facing toward the shore, but were unable to direct the ship’s fire in to them. American soldiers under enemy fire southwest of one of the roads that dissected the area set off a smoke pot, telling the plane that “Anything forward of that smoke is a good target.”
The Japanese shot down a Mitchell that crashed in the water close aboard Phoenix at 1432, and Nicholas rescued the survivors. Flusser sighted an apparent submarine periscope to the northward of the cruiser at 1600 and opened fire. Phoenix, acting as the OTC, rang up ahead full to clear the area and then ordered the destroyer to do the same. Shortly afterward the task group received orders to proceed south in Bohol Strait. Hobart and Warramunga detached prior to sunset and steered for Leyte, while the remaining ships sailed to Mindoro, where they arrived just before noon on 27 March.
The Japanese bitterly resisted the American advance into Manila and perpetrated horrific atrocities against the Manileros. The fighting devastated the once beautiful city, but sailors and marines even so looked forward to what they hoped would be convivial liberty. Denver and Montpelier made the trip (2–3 April 1945), and then (4–5 April) Boise and Cleveland. Phoenix took her turn over the next couple of days (6–7 April), but rumors could not prepare the men for what greeted them. “[MANILA] itself is a scene of utter desolation and destruction,” Phoenix’s diarist summarized, “a sad sight for those who knew it in better days.” The ship’s company visited the city in four groups supervised by officers, in sojourns averaging four hours. Some 105 passengers sailed with the cruiser and also went ashore.
The fighting to open Manila Bay included a fierce battle for Caballo. The Japanese concentrated their garrison on three hills in the center of the island, and U.S. planes and artillery emplaced ashore bombarded Caballo in advance of the landings. On 27 March, Cony (DD-508), Conway, and three rocket-equipped motor torpedo boats supported the 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, 38th Infantry Division, when they stormed the island. Some of the Japanese dug into a tunnel complex and stubbornly refused to yield through four days of fighting. Army engineers attempted to pour diesel oil into the tunnel and ignite it, however, they could not transport enough oil to the battle. The Navy pumped 2,500 gallons of oil from a rigged-mechanized landing craft (LCM) on 5 April, and touched it off by using white phosphorous rounds. The ghastly expedient worked, though the attackers required two additional days of the method to annihilate the defenders.
The Japanese garrison on El Fraile Island also continued to hold out. United States engineers had built Fort Drum on the island before the war, strengthening it with walls 25 to 36-feet thick, shaped like a dreadnaught. The Japanese knocked out the original battery of four 14-inch and four 6-inch guns when they captured the island in 1942, but their determined men intended to sell their lives dearly. During the fighting to clear Manila Bay they fired small arms at PT boats that attempted to land, killing and wounding several sailors. Recapturing El Fraile posed a daunting challenge, and planners decided to repeat the oil operation on Caballo against El Fraile.
Phoenix returned to the entrance to Subic Bay on 11 April 1945, picked up observers, and proceeded at 20 knots in company with Nicholas and O’Bannon toward Manila Bay. The cruiser sought to fire at the southern 6-inch casemate of the fort in an attempt to open it and ignite the magazines. If the ship’s shooting penetrated the casemate, she was to tackle the northern 6-inch casemate. Phoenix reached her firing position at 1342 and launched her spotters, but minesweepers busily went about their dangerous work and delayed the ship from opening her bombardment. Army North American P-51s meanwhile flew through enemy fire and bombed and strafed nearby Carabao Island, but one of the Mustangs suddenly snapped on to its back and plunged at high speed into the water between the island and the mainland. Phoenix’s Kingfishers scanned the area for the pilot without results, and O’Bannon later sent a boat that recovered some debris and made the grisly find of a human scalp.
The minesweepers cleared the area and Phoenix shot 177 6-inch rounds into the casemate (1404–1530). Observers heard some of the shells penetrate and explode inside the fort, but it became evident that the ship could not fire the magazines, and the trio of ships came about and returned to Subic Bay. A ramp on the island’s eastern side provided the only viable way to directly assail the island. A medium landing ship thus lay alongside El Fraile on the 13th and dropped a bridge onto the island. Soldiers assaulted across the improvised gangway onto the island, and poured 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline into a vent shaft and set it off with white phosphorus, incinerating the remaining garrison.
While Phoenix lay at Subic Bay on the 22nd, Brig. Gen. Earl W. Barnes, USAAF, Deputy Commander, 13th Fighter Command, a “special communication observer” from the CNO, and four newspaper correspondents embarked to observe the forthcoming operations. Rudder problems repeatedly plagued Phoenix and while she lay at Subic Bay early the next month (9–10 May 1945), the ship’s diarist bemoaned the ongoing “rudder trouble, which seems to be characteristic of our class.” The rudder post became “wobbly” and stud failures displaced the stuffing box glands. Crewmen frequently renewed the packing but by this point experienced difficulty and only reduced the leakage to below 150 gallons per minute. Berkey recommended “early docking” to Kinkaid.
Also during this period, a baseball struck Phoenix’s RT2c Aaron Abramson in the head while he played in a game ashore. The injury proved fatal, and the ship held funeral services for Abramson on the afternoon of the 11th.
A flurry of messages indicated that the naval base at Manus could not perform the work on Phoenix at that time, and the ship’s company repacked and repaired the gear to enable her to temporarily return to sea. The Pacific Fleet thus intended to send Phoenix back to the United States when Nashville returned from her overhaul at home, but Berkey recommended that Boise should go instead so that she could obtain adequate CIC installations. Nashville stood in on the 16th, and on the 21st Berkey shifted his flag from Phoenix to Nashville.
Capt. Harold L. Challenger relieved Duncan on 20 May 1945, and when, two days later, Duncan walked down the gangway as the ship lay off Sangley Point, the officers cheered the man who had led them through more than 14 months of action from Milne Bay to the Philippines. O’Bannon escorted the ship to the Manila area and back to Subic Bay.
Phoenix next (6–19 June 1945) took part in Operation Oboe, the Allied campaign against the Japanese in Borneo. Oboe comprised the second phase of the overarching Operation Montclair, the clearance of the enemy forces from the Netherlands East Indies, Borneo, Brunei, Sarawak, Labuan, British North Borneo, and the southern Philippines. Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet, the Thirteenth Air Force, and the Australian First Tactical Air Force supported multiple amphibious landings by the Australian I Corps, Lt. Gen. Sir Leslie J. Morshead.
The ship operated as part of the Cruiser Covering Group, TG 74.3, led by Rear Adm. Berkey, who raised his flag in Nashville, during Operation Oboe 6—the landings in Brunei Bay. Berkey divided the group into three fire support units—One, Two, and Three. Fire Support Unit One comprised Boise, Phoenix, Hobart, Albert W. Grant, and Killen. Rear Adm. Royal, Commander, TG 78.1, Amphibious Group 6, was the ship’s next higher level of command and sailed in Rocky Mount.
The task group stood out of Subic Bay early on the morning of 5 June 1945, and shaped a direct course via the South China Sea and Palawan Passage to the battle. The vessels reached the area shortly after dawn two days later, and operated to seaward while minesweepers swept 34 mines from the entrance channel. On the morning of the 8th, Phoenix streamed paravanes and led the cruisers through the swept waters into Brunei Bay. Phoenix and Conner then detached for a special mission and supported an underwater demolition team as they reconnoitered the Brown Beach area. The cruiser fired her main battery at the enemy without opposition, and launched a pair of OS2U-1s to spot cruiser and destroyer gunfire. The Kingfishers also flew reconnaissance and photographic missions, but Plane No. 1 suffered engine failure shortly after becoming airborne, and at 1110 aborted its mission and carried out a forced landing. The Kingfisher was later taken under tow back to the cruiser, but required repairs that kept it out of the remainder of the battle. Australian troops controlled the circuit for the shore fire control party, and the experience worked well with a single exception, when someone violated security and used the ship’s uncoded name. Phoenix destroyed an enemy ammunition dump with 6-inch gunfire, and completed her task and anchored in the southern sector of the bay. That afternoon she headed to seaward to retire to the west.
Japanese mines continued to plague the landings, however, and Salute (AM-294), one of the ships operating with Mine Division 34, struck a contact mine, buckled amidships, and both bow and stern began to sink. Phoenix transferred a junior medical officer and a couple of pharmacist’s mates to the stricken vessel. Two landing craft attempted to salvage Salute, but they were unable to control the minesweeper’s flooding and she sank. Escort ship Cofer (DE-208) rescued 59 survivors, 42 of them wounded—12 of whom were stretcher cases.
The morning of 9 June 1945 dawned a fair day with light air. Phoenix streamed paravanes, reentered the bay, and anchored near the transports while she awaited a scheduled fire mission in support of an underwater demolition team. Midway through the forenoon watch Cofer transferred Salute’s survivors to Phoenix for further treatment. The men from Phoenix also returned to their ship.
The cruiser acted as a receiving ship for a number of casualties from smaller vessels and treated 20 men in total throughout the landings. The swimmers completed their tasks without needing the cruiser’s heavy batteries, so she swung around that afternoon and shot at designated targets on Pappan Island near Labuan Island, in the vicinity of Brown and Blue Beaches. Phoenix also fired at a suspected “flak ship”, a stack aft freighter fitted with antiaircraft guns and beached on the eastern side of Hamilton Point. Brigadier W.J. Victor Windyer, who led the 20th Australian Brigade, expressed his appreciation for the “excellent fire support” of the ships, and observed that the accuracy “of all shooting was of a very high order”. Toward dusk Phoenix sadly carried out the burial service at sea of two of the minesweeper’s men who succumbed to their wounds.
The cruiser stood to sea to the westward overnight and returned to await fire missions during the succeeding days (10–17 June) but saw little action. At times she stood by as a fire support ship in the Northern Sector, and maintained a spotting plane on 30 minutes notice. A Nick approached the invasion anchorage at dusk on the 13th. The ship manned her air defense stations but a Black Widow of the CAP splashed the Nick in flames, about 16 miles to the southwest of the cruiser. Cleveland joined the task group on the 15th, scheduled to take over Boise’s special transportation mission upon the latter’s departure for home. Phoenix weighed anchor on the afternoon of the 17th and proceeded in company with Nashville and their screen to Tawi Tawi in the Sulu Archipelago. Bell sank a drifting mine on the evening of the 18th, and on the next morning they reached their anchorage. The ship’s historian summarized the enemy forces she encountered during the landings as “negligible”. Boise then turned for home via Leyte and Pearl Harbor. “Everyone is hoping our time will come next” the ship’s historian expectantly reflected.
Phoenix followed that by serving in TU 78.4.3, part of TG 74.3, during the landings and minesweeping operations at Balikpapan (28 June–9 July 1945). The group also comprised Nashville, Bell (DD-587), Burns (DD-588), Charrette, and Conner. Noble had been promoted to a rear admiral but kept his familiar association with Phoenix as he broke his flag in amphibious force flagship Wasatch (AGC-9) in command of TG 78.2, the cruiser’s next highest operational commander—Noble later shifted to Spencer.
The task group lay at Tawi Tawi anchorage during the preliminary phases of the battle, and on the 24th Phoenix received orders directing her to steam independently to Morotai in the Halmahera Group of the Moluccas [Indonesia], where Vice Adm. Barbey broke his flag in the warship. Underwater demolition teams, covered by aircraft, began operations on the beaches at Balikpapan on the 25th, in advance of the landings slated to begin there. Bell and Conner escorted Phoenix as she returned to sea on the morning of 28 June, and they rendezvoused with the remaining ships at Point Cecil. Phoenix operated with Block Island (CVE-106), Gilbert Islands (CVE-107), and Suwanee (CVE-27) of the Carrier Support Group, TG 78.4, led by Rear Adm. William D. Sample, and their screen of six destroyers. Lamons (DE-743) operated as one of those destroyers and detected an apparent enemy submarine during the afternoon watch on the 29th. Dale (DD-353) left the formation and assisted her as they tracked the elusive foe without success.
Heavy rain dogged fighters from Tawi Tawi and prevented them from flying a continuous CAP. The carriers nonetheless began hurling their planes against the Japanese garrison at Balikpapan and the surrounding area on 30 June. That day Berkey, who raised his flag in Nashville, reached the area, and a pair of destroyers escorted Cleveland as she arrived carrying Gen. MacArthur. Early the following morning Phoenix, with Burns as her screen, set out ahead of the task force and laid a course for the objective area, where she anchored on Fox Day, 1 July. Light rain touched the early morning on the 1st and the day became mostly overcast, while the sea rolled in a moderate swell from south to southwest.
Phoenix furnished supporting fire as the first wave of the 7th Australian Division landed at Balikpapan at 0900. The Australians seized the assault beaches with minimal casualties, but encountered stiffening resistance as they moved inland. Phoenix primarily covered minesweeping operations—enemy coastal guns and mines sank or damaged 11 minesweepers throughout the landings and the subsequent fighting to expand the beachhead. The deadly devices interfered with the ship’s operations more than once, and Phoenix sensibly developed the habit of verifying that the minesweepers cleared an area before she maneuvered therein.
Prior to dark the ship retired to the eastward to rendezvous with the carriers and operated with them overnight. At dawn the following day TG 74.3 detached from the carriers and relieved the Support and Covering Force, TG 74.2. Barbey shifted his flag from Phoenix to Denver the same morning just before noon. The task group operated at anchor and underway in the objective area, providing naval gunfire as called for. Phoenix launched Plane No. 2, an OS2U-1, to spot destroyer fire, and fly photographic reconnaissance runs over the fighting, on the 2nd. The following day she launched Plane No. 1 to spot for Shropshire.
Through 3 July 1945 the carriers launched close air support missions, local combat air patrols, and strikes against Japanese installations before they came about. A Japanese Aichi E13A1 Type 0 reconnaissance floatplane approached the landing force on the night of the 3rd. Block Island dispatched a Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat night fighter of Marine Fighting Squadron 511 to intercept and shoot down the Jake, which quickly fell in flames about 50 miles from Balikpapan.
Phoenix catapulted Plane No. 2 aloft early on Independence Day 1945, to spot her own fire. Phoenix, Nashville, and five destroyers opened a 21-gun salute in honor of the day at 0938. The ships aimed their rounds at the Japanese positions, and the Australians later reported that the barrage cooked off an enemy ammunition magazine. “They [the Australians] have taken quite a few casualties from this gun,” Shore Fire Control Party No. 4 reported to Phoenix that morning. “Will you shake it up please?” The ship complied and sent multiple salves into the enemy position, though the Japanese realized that the shore party directed the ship’s fire and shelled the spotters without success. “There are five ack ack [antiaircraft] guns in pits and one field gun,” the party called about an hour later. “We have got to keep them quiet.” The cruiser blasted the Japanese battery until Australian artillery deployed into position and began pounding them. Phoenix and Bell alternated salvoes and within the hour the observers told the cruiser that a pillbox fired on them until she sent 6-inch rounds into it with a direct hit that tore off the door. “It is probably caved up” the spotters summarized.
The ship recovered her Kingfisher and launched it again that afternoon. A Japanese shore battery shot at her at 1321, and its rounds passed overhead amidships and splashed close aboard scarcely 350 yards on the port beam. Eyewitnesses estimated that the rounds probably originated from a 75-millimeter or smaller gun, and, since the ship steamed about 12,000 yards from shore, it must have fired at extreme trajectory and long range. “If the single salvo,” Capt. Challenger wryly observed, “was designed to get us moving and perhaps render our beach directed fire less accurate then its purpose was served—we moved!” The cruiser fired 556 6-inch rounds by nightfall.
She hoisted out Plane No. 1, which was disabled, to anchor astern on the morning of the 5th, and used a shore spot to blast enemy positions until Shore Fire Control Party No. 4 reported that she destroyed the target. When Phoenix broke up an enemy concentration, the spotters reported that she did so “beautifully.” The Japanese attempted to jam the circuit between the observers and the vessel, and the warship switched to a spare net to continue the battle. “Thanks for the good shooting” the shore party answered as the ship temporarily shifted fire over lunch. She answered further gunfire calls that afternoon, though without shore fire control party confirmation of their success. During exchanges with the observers, the ship estimated that she could usually respond to calls for fire within ten minutes. Altogether, Phoenix shot 523 6-inch rounds.
The warship launched Plane No. 2 on the morning of the 6th to spot the fall of her shot, and the Kingfisher discovered Japanese soldiers concentrating, most likely for a counterattack, and directed the cruiser as she swung her guns around to starboard and broke up the concentration. Phoenix launched the plane again that afternoon, and enemy antiaircraft guns fired at it but missed. During the afternoon watch the ship replenished ammunition from medium landing ship LSM-129, which lay alongside her disengaged side. The Kingfisher spotted a couple of trucks attempting to escape from the battle and directed the cruiser’s gunfire against them. The aircraft then noted that the last salvo bracketed the road, but Japanese soldiers and trucks hid in several caves, so the vessel fired at them as well. “No change,” the pilot reported. “You are directly on the target now.” Phoenix shot 198 6-inch shells by midnight. The following morning the warship catapulted the aircraft aloft to fly a photographic reconnaissance mission over Pendajam Point.
The ship’s fire discipline and gunnery communications “were excellent,” Capt. Challenger analyzed of her support of the invasion, and she answered all fire “promptly.” A 6-inch round fitted with a steel nose plug exploded prematurely about 1,000 yards from the ship after she fired the projectile from a cold gun, but that proved to be the only serious material deficiency. At noon on 7 July, ships of TG 74.1 relieved TG 74.3, and Phoenix, Bell, and Conner turned away from the battle and proceeded to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Nashville and Burns joined them on the 8th, and at 1402 on the 10th Phoenix anchored in Subic Bay.
Phoenix spent much of the summer of 1945 training in Philippine waters and preparing for what many of her crew believed would be the final invasion of the Japanese home islands. Rear Adm. Berkey left the ship on 15 July for the U.S., and Capt. Challenger assumed temporary command of CruDiv 15. As the war neared its end, Phoenix operated two Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N-1s of VCS-15. Heavy weather swamped the ship’s motor whaleboat as it returned a recreation party of 17 men from Grande Island at 2003 on the 22nd. Two of the recreation party drowned in the tumult, but the other 15 men, along with all three of the boat’s crewmen, were rescued.
Drayton (DD-366) escorted Phoenix as they stood out of San Pedro Bay and turned their prows homeward on 9 August 1945. TU 74.1.1 was routed via Eniwetok [Enewetak] Atoll in the Marshalls for fuel and onward to Pearl Harbor. They were to dissolve the task unit upon reaching that port, and Phoenix would continue on for an overhaul at Naval Drydocks Terminal Island at San Pedro. Drayton was to detach and proceed to the Atlantic Fleet by way of the Panama Canal. The pair refueled at Eniwetok on the 14th, and the following day rejoiced when they learned of the cease fire with the Japanese. Nonetheless, they maintained their vigilance because of the possibility that enemy submarines may not have received the information. Phoenix and Drayton reached Pearl Harbor on 19 August.
The following day they established TG 15.1, also consisting of Allen (DD-66) and Chew (DD-106). Phoenix took on passengers for transportation to the U.S. mainland, and charted a course for home (20–26 August). On 23 August, Chew brushed Phoenix while maneuvering into position to refuel from the light cruiser, sustaining damage to the destroyer’s hull and bridge on the port side and injuring one sailor. As the ships reached San Pedro, Phoenix received a dispatch ordering her to proceed through the Panama Canal and report to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for an availability. The ship’s company, largely from the eastern United States, hailed the change in plans enthusiastically. Some 26 officers and 281 enlisted men left the cruiser on leave with orders to report on board at Philadelphia. Capt. Challenger granted liberty to the second half of the ship’s company, so that all hands enjoyed at least one “stateside” liberty during the last two years.
On the 28th Adm. Royal E. Ingersoll, Commander, Western Sea Frontier, ordered Phoenix, Allen, Chew, and Drayton to form TU 06.11.34. Chew moved to a berth at the California Shipbuilding Company for repairs to her damaged hull. After taking on fuel and provisions, she left San Pedro to rejoin the convoy, which stood out for the Panama Canal by way of a brief refueling stop at Acapulco, Mexico. The four ships anchored in Lucia Bay, where the cruiser refueled the destroyers overnight (1–2 September), and they then resumed their journey and passed through the Panama Canal (6–7 September), with Phoenix refueling at Pier 6 at Balboa and rejoining her screen at Cristóbal.
Allen and Chew then detached and set a course for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The destroyers took on fuel and water there, and steamed together for Pennsylvania on 10 September. The next morning, Chew altered course to avoid a tropical storm and headed toward Jacksonville, Fla., but resumed her northerly track that evening as the storm began to break up well to her east. Allen and Chew reached Philadelphia on 13 September, and prepared to decommission.
As Phoenix and her escort Drayton meanwhile crossed the Caribbean the exigencies of the end of the war and the Navy’s restructuring caught up with them, and Phoenix’s diarist observed that the “yard overhaul is only now a figure of speech. This ship has been assigned category “Baker” by CNO. Only essential repairs will be made. No alterations, at least for the present.” Drayton broke off on the 11th, and the following day Phoenix headed up the Delaware River and moored port side to Fort Mifflin Pier at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The cruiser unloaded ammunition, and on the 13th stood up the river and moored starboard side to Pier 4 at the yard (1148–1220).
The ship’s company engaged in preservation work in preparation for Phoenix’s reduced commission and stowage. Phoenix carried out some of this work in Dry Dock No. 3 (1–19 October 1945), and then undocked and tied up port side to the east side of Pier 5. Twelve officers and 145 enlisted men were transferred to the naval Intake Center in October, for separation from the naval service under the point and dependency systems. Plans revolved around a skeleton crew of five officers and 59 men to remain on board to continue preparing the ship for her reserve status, which primarily involved working on the hull and machinery. Phoenix went back into the dry dock for inclining tests on 27 November, and the following day moved into the reserve basin to Pier B. Through the end of November a total of 18 officers and 272 men left the ship for processing out of the Navy, and approximately 128 more of the ship’s company were to leave by the end of the year. Phoenix’s status was reduced to in commission in reserve at Philadelphia 28 February 1946.
The Navy announced its Postwar Plan Number Two on 29 March 1946. The plan discussed disposing battleships Idaho (BB-42) and New Mexico, originally slated for the Sixteenth (Reserve) Fleet, heavy cruisers Augusta (CA-31), Chester (CA-27), Louisville, and Portland, and Boise, Nashville, Phoenix, and Saint Louis, all already serving with the Sixteenth Fleet. The plan furthermore shifted Massachusetts (BB-59) and South Dakota (BB-57) to the Inactive Atlantic Fleet, and Alabama (BB-60) and Indiana (BB-58) to the Inactive Pacific Fleet. CruDiv-5, comprising Baltimore (CA-68), Boston (CA-69), Canberra (CA-70), and Quincy (CA-71), was to move from the Third Fleet to the Nineteenth Fleet, and CruDiv-14, consisting of Cleveland, Columbia, Denver, Manchester (CL-83), and Montpelier, were to shift from the Fourth Fleet to the Sixteenth Fleet.
Phoenix was decommissioned at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 3 July 1946, and on 25 January 1951 was stricken from the List of Naval Vessels—along with Boise. The ship remained at Philadelphia until transferred to Argentina on 9 April 1951. On 17 October 1951, in honor of Argentina’s People’s Loyalty Day, she was commissioned into that navy as 17 de Octubre (CL.4). The Argentineans renamed her General Belgrano in 1956, in honor of Manuel José Joaquin del Corazón de Jesús Belgrano y González, usually known as Gen. Manuel Belgrano (3 June 1770–20 June 1820), a patriot who established their Escuela de Náutica [School of Navigation] in 1799, and helped the Argentineans gain their independence.
In the spring of 1982 (2–3 April), the Argentineans invaded the British dependent Falklands Islands [Islas Malvinas to the Argentineans] and the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic. The British subsequently declared a 200 nautical mile maritime exclusion zone around the islands in which they could attack any Argentinean naval vessels—and then upgraded it to a total exclusion zone and warned that they could attack any vessels, regardless of their flag, that entered the zone. The British also dispatched a task force to recapture the islands, and as their ships approached the area the Argentineans deployed several task groups to shadow and potentially intercept them. General Belgrano set out as the flagship of TG 79.3, one such group that operated to the south of the islands, just beyond the Burwood Bank. The British grew concerned that the cruiser and her consorts might attack their task force—though both sides debated whether she operated outside of the zone or intended to attack. British submarine Conqueror (S.48) fired three 21-inch torpedoes at General Belgrano at 1557 on 2 May 1982, two of which struck and sank the ship. Argentinean and Chilean ships rescued 772 men from the cold sea, but General Belgrano (ex-Phoenix) took 323 men to the bottom with her.
Phoenix (CL-46) earned nine battle stars for her World War II service.
|Commanding Officers||Dates of Command|
|Capt. John W. Rankin||3 October 1938–3 June 1940|
|Capt. Herman E. Fischer||3 June 1940–24 October 1942|
|Capt. Joseph R. Redman||24 October 1942–2 March 1943|
|Capt. Albert G. Noble||2 March 1943–11 March 1944|
|Capt. Jack H. Duncan||11 March 1944–20 May 1945|
|Capt. Harold L. Challenger||20 May 1945–30 November 1945|
|Cmdr. Clinton J. Heath||30 November 1945–1 February 1946|
|Capt. Richmond K. Kelly||1 February 1946–3 July 1946|
Mark L. Evans
28 June 2019