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Vicksburg III (CL-86)

1944-1962

A city in Mississippi located on a bluff at the mouth of the Yazoo River; founded in 1812; and named for Newitt Vick (1766-1819), the owner of a plantation on the present site of the city. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Union General Ulysses S. Grant besieged the city from 19 May to 4 July 1863. The Confederate garrison surrendered, giving the North control of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and contributing greatly to the eventual overall Union victory.

The third ship named Vicksburg. The first Vicksburg, a wooden steamer converted to a screw gunboat, served from 1863-1865. The second Vicksburg (Gunboat No. 11) was reclassified to a patrol gunboat (PG-11) on 17 July 1920, and served from 1897-1921. The name Vicksburg was also assigned to a light cruiser (CL-81) on 28 December 1940, but she was renamed Houston on 12 October 1942, in honor of heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30), sunk by the Japanese in the Battle of Sunda Strait, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), on 1 March 1942.

III

(CL-86: displacement 10,000; length 610'1"; beam 66'4"; draft 25'0"; speed 33 knots; complement 992; armament 12 6-inch, 12 5-inch, 28 40 millimeter, 10 20 millimeter; class Cleveland)

Cheyenne (CL-86) was laid down on 26 October 1942 at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., but, exactly one month later, was renamed Vicksburg. The light cruiser was launched on 14 December 1943; sponsored by Miss Muriel Hamilton, the daughter of Mayor J. C. Hamilton, of Vicksburg, Miss.; and commissioned at Norfolk Navy Yard, Va., on 12 June 1944, Capt. William C. Vose in command.

The ship was fitted out for sea at Norfolk into July and conducted the preliminary phases of her shakedown in Chesapeake Bay prior to sailing for the British West Indies on 7 August. The light cruiser, then operating out of Trinidad, completed her shakedown training in the Gulf of Paria between 12 and 30 August; conducted shore bombardment exercises off Culebra, Puerto Rico, on 1 September and, on the following day, sailed for Hampton Roads in company with flush-decked destroyers Broome (DD-216) and Simpson (DD-221).

Returning to Hampton Roads soon thereafter, Vicksburg then conducted radar spotting practice at YAG-13 and at a battle raft on 9 September, and fired at a drone off Cape May the following day. She underwent a post-shakedown overhaul at Boston Navy Yard, Mass., from 11 to 24 September; ran standardization trials off Rockland, Maine; and then took part in naval radiation laboratory tests in the vicinity of Deer Island in Boston harbor. After an availability at Boston, Vicksburg operated in Narragansett Bay, Block Island Sound, and Long Island Sound, serving as a precommissioning training vessel for crews of large warships between 5 October and 15 December.

Vicksburg returned to the Norfolk Navy Yard on 17 December and remained there until she ran her post-repair trials in the Chesapeake Bay on the last two days of 1944. The warship departed Hampton Roads on New Year's Day 1945 and rendezvoused with destroyers Rodman (DD-456) and Emmons (DD-457) at the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay to form Task Group (TG) 21.12. Vicksburg and her escorts arrived at Cristóbal, Canal Zone, four days later; transited the Panama Canal that afternoon; and moored at NOB Balboa where TG 21.12 was dissolved.

Vicksburg made for the Hawaiian Islands on 6 January 1945, reaching Pearl Harbor on 17 January. The light cruiser then conducted exercises off Oahu tracking aircraft, firing at drones, directing fighters, calibrating radar, and carrying out long and short range battle practices through the end of January.

Vicksburg departed Pearl Harbor at 0800 on 5 February, and arrived at Saipan, in the Marianas, on 13 February. There, she refueled from fleet oiler Enoree (AO-69) and prepared for the ship's upcoming operation, and her baptism of fire: bombarding the shore to support Operation Detachment, landings on Iwo Jima in the Kazan Rettō (Volcano Islands) by the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions.

The following day, Vicksburg left Saipan and joined other units of TG 52.19 at sea. On 15 February, the light cruiser became part of Task Unit (TU) 54.9.2, movement group "Baker," consisting of herself; battleships Nevada (BB-36) and Idaho (BB-42); heavy cruisers Chester (CA-27) and Pensacola (CA-24); and their screening destroyers. That force soon split into two fire support units. Vicksburg joined Chester and Pensacola and took station at 0651 to commence bombarding the shore. At 0709, Vicksburg catapult-launched the first of her plane sorties and commenced fire. Directed by the ship's spotter in a Vought OS2U-3 Kingfisher of Cruiser Scouting Squadron (VCS) 14, the light cruiser's 6-inch guns opened up from a range of 12,000 yards, shelling enemy installations on the northern end of the island of Iwo Jima.

Squalls cut down the visibility for the spotting aircraft; but, occasionally, the aircrew managed to glimpse the target area. At 0808, Vicksburg completed the first phase of her bombardment mission and recovered and refueled her plane. At 0947, the light cruiser commenced the second phase of her assigned mission. Still hampered by bad weather over the target, the spotters doggedly remained airborne and directed gunfire as well as they could through the spotty cloud cover. By afternoon, however, visibility had increased markedly, allowing the ship to assess her gunfire as landing "on target," in the third phase.

Vicksburg had launched her Kingfisher at 1249, piloted by Lt. J. B. Nabors, Jr. At 1414, listeners on the radio circuit heard Nabors report that Japanese antiaircraft guns had opened fire on him. Shortly thereafter, a Japanese Mitsubishi A6M5 Type 0 carrier fighter Zeke attacked the slower, more vulnerable Kingfisher. The ensuing air battle did not last long, however, when a VCS-5 Kingfisher flying from Pensacola bagged the Zeke, enabling Vicksburg's plane to resume her air spotting activities unhindered by enemy interference in the air.

One-half hour later, Vicksburg completed Phase III of her gunfire assignment and recovered the Kingfisher. Shortly before 1600, the light cruiser again launched one of her brood of floatplanes and, at 1618, commenced Phase IV from a range of 10,000 yards. After completing the firing at 1727 and subsequently recovering her aircraft, Vicksburg and her consorts were joined by the other fire support ships in retiring for the night at 14 knots.

Vicksburg remained off Iwo Jima, providing gunfire support for the landings, into the following month and headed for Ulithi on 5 March to replenish and provision before putting to sea again on 14 March in TG 58.1, part of the Fifth Fleet’s fast carrier striking arm, to launch air strikes to neutralize Japanese air power as the Allies prepared to invade Okinawa.

Vicksburg's first brush with the Japanese while engaged in that screening duty came on 18 March, 100 miles east of the Japanese home island of Kyūshū. A Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 attack plane Betty made a torpedo attack on the cruiser, dropping her "fish" while the ship carried out a tight emergency turn. The torpedo churned by the bow, some 35 yards ahead of the ship, and proceeded parallel to the cruiser's port side. Within 20 minutes, another enemy plane closed, dropped flares, and departed - hurried along on its way by antiaircraft fire from the ships of TG 58.1. Soon thereafter, Vicksburg-already at general quarters-opened fire with her 40-millimeter battery. The plane came in through the formation, and Vicksburg's Bofors guns began blasting the plane after it had already been set ablaze by fire from other ships. Moments later, it splashed.

At 0600, a Yokosuka P1Y bomber Frances closed the formation and approached one of the carriers in the group from astern. It soon executed a wingover and dived on the carrier through a curtain of flak. The enemy never reached his destination, however, for the heavy wall of gunfire -  probably from the carrier herself - knocked the Frances into the water.

Slightly less than two hours later, a Yokosuka D4Y1 Type 2 carrier bomber Judy bored in for a surprise attack and passed over Vicksburg. The light cruiser's battery blasted away at the intruder and scored three definite hits before 5-inch gunfire (probably from either destroyer Harrison (DD-573) or light cruiser Miami (CL-89)) blasted the enemy from the sky.

Meanwhile, the carriers' planes battered Japanese targets ashore on the Japanese home islands. The cruisers and destroyers in the screen had no rest, for the Japanese came back again on the next day. At 0715, a Japanese plane dived toward Wasp (CV-18) and scored one bomb hit. Vicksburg soon opened fire on the enemy plane. As it turned, either to make another attack or to escape the American fighters from the combat air patrol, the Japanese plane was rocked by a proximity burst from one of Vicksburg's shells. The blast knocked off a wing and set the plane afire. It then spun into the sea - a confirmed "kill."

While she was supporting strikes against Japanese targets to weaken the enemy's ability to defend against the impending invasion of the Ryūkyūs, Vicksburg destroyed eight Japanese planes. In addition, one of the ship’s Kingfishers rescued a marine aviator from the waters off the Japanese home islands.

Later detached from service with TG 58.1, Vicksburg shifted to a position off Okinawa for shore bombardment and close support duties. Highlighting the operation for the light cruiser was firing nearly 2,300 rounds of 6-inch and 5-inch projectiles in a six-hour time span, supporting an Army advance up the southern part of the island. Some of her targets lay only a few hundred yards ahead of the advancing troops, a situation that required accurate shooting. Vicksburg's guns blasted Japanese gun positions, caves, and strong-points during the ship's long hours of firing and loading ammunition on the veritable "front lines." After leaving the Ryūkyūs late in the Okinawa campaign, Vicksburg supported a minesweeping operation in the China Sea until 24 June, when she sailed for the Philippine Islands.

Vicksburg remained in Philippine waters through the Japanese capitulation on 15 August 1945. Five days later, the light cruiser departed San Pedro Bay, Leyte, as part of TU 30.3.7, in company with destroyers Lowry (DD-770), Moale (DD-693), and Rowe (DD-564). While the ships proceeded toward a point off the Japanese home islands, where they were to rendezvous with a fast carrier striking force, Lowry sighted and exploded a drifting mine.

Vicksburg joined TG 38.2 on 24 August-part of Vice Adm. John S. McCain’s task force, replenishing and provisioning at sea. TG 38.2 covered the approaches to Tōkyō Bay prior to, and during, the formal Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945. Three days later, Vicksburg entered Tōkyō Bay. There, Rear Adm. I. J. Wiltse, Commander, Cruiser Division 10, shifted his flag to Vicksburg; and, on 20 September, the light cruiser departed Tōkyō Bay as part of a Third Fleet task group under the command of Rear Adm. John F. Shafroth and proceeded to Okinawa, where she anchored at Buckner Bay, on 23 September There, 2,200 passengers boarded for their return home.

Five days after arrival in Pearl Harbor on 4 October, Vicksburg led the sortie of the Third Fleet for the United States. On 15 October, the Fleet passed in review in San Francisco Bay, Calif. Vicksburg remained in that port until 26 October when she got underway to shift to Monterey Bay, Calif., to take part in Navy Day observances there on 27 October. The ship reached Long Beach on 31 October but shifted to Portland, Oreg., on 6 November to participate in Armistice Day services before returning to Long Beach on 16 November.

The ship entered Terminal Island Naval Shipyard in San Francisco Bay on 17 January 1946 for an overhaul and modernization availability, emerging as one of the most modern ship of her class. On 20 May 1946, Vicksburg became the flagship for Vice Adm. Frederick C. Sherman, Commander, Third Fleet, who shifted his flag from Iowa (BB-61) on that date. Two days later, the ship moved to San Diego, where she moored at the Naval Air Station (NAS). She remained there into September, when Vice Adm. A. E. Montgomery temporarily broke his flag in her.

Vicksburg was ultimately decommissioned on 30 June 1947 at San Francisco, Calif. She remained "moth-balled" until stricken from the Navy list on 1 October 1962. Sold to the National Metal and Steep Corp., Terminal Island, Calif., on 25 August 1964, she was then scrapped.

Vicksburg received two battle stars for her World War II service.

Updated and expanded by Mark L. Evans

30 June 2015

Published:Wed Oct 21 15:32:13 EDT 2015