USS Atlanta CL-51
Atlanta (CL-51: dp. 6,000; 1. 541’0"; b. 52’10"- dr 20’6"- s. 33.6 k. ; cpl.
673; a. 16 5", 9 1.1", 8 21" ~t. ; C*I. Atl~nt,)
The third Atlanta (CL-51) the first of a new class of ships originally conceived as flotilla leaders but which became known as particularly effective antiaircraft cruisers-was laid down on 22 A ‘1 1940 at Kearny, N.J., by the Federal Shipbuilding and
Dry Dock Co. ; launched on 6 September 1941; sponsored by Mrs. John R. Marsh (better known by her pen name, Margaret Mitchell, the author of the novel Gone With the Wind) ; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 24 December 1941; Capt. Samuel P. Jenkins in command.
After fltting out, Atlanta conducted shakedown training until 13 March, first in Chesapeake Bay and then in Maine’s Casco Bay, after which she returned to the New York Navy Yard for post-shakedown repairs and alterations. Adjudged to be "ready for distant service" on 31 March, the new light cruiser departed New York for the Panama Canal Zone on 5 April. She reached Cristobal on the 8th. After transiting the istfimian waterway, Atlanta then cleared Balboa on 12 April with orders to reconnoiter Ch erton Island-a tiny, barren, uninhabited atoll about 670 inifEeps southwest of Acapulco, Mexico-in the course of her voyage to the Hawaiian islands, for any signs of enemy activity. Finding none, she ultimately reached Pearl Harbor on 23 April.
Punctuating her brief stay in Hawaiian waters with an antiaircraft practice off Oahu on 3 May, Atlanta, in company with McCall (DD-400) sailed on 10 May as escort for the ammunition ship Rainier (AE-5) and the oiler Kaskaskia (AO-27), bound for Noumea, New Caledonia. On 16 May, having seen the auxiliaries to their destination, she joined Vice Admiral William F. Halsey’s Task Force (TF) 16, formed around the carriers Enterprise (CV-6) and Hornet (CV-8), as it steamed back to Pearl Harbor, having been summoned back to Hawaiian waters in response to an imminent Japanese thrust in the direction of Midway atoll. TF 16 arrived at Pearl on 26 May.
Atlanta sailed with TF 16 again on the morning of the 28th. Over the days that followed, she screened the carriers as they operated northwest of Midway in anticipation of the enemy’s arrival. At the report of Japanese ships to the southwest, on the morning of 4 June, Atlanta cleared for action as she screened Hornet. Squadrons from the three American carriers sought out the Japanese, and during that day, planes from Yorktown and Enterprise inflicted mortal damage on four irreplaceable enemy flattops. Japanese planes twice hit TF 17, formed around Yorktown (CV-5) and operating independently from TF 16, and it took the brunt of the enemy attacks. Over the days that followed the Battle of Midway, Atlanta remained in the screen of TF 16 until 11 June, when the task force received orders to return to Pearl Harbor.
Reaching her destination on 13 June, Atlanta, outside of a brief period of antiaircraft practice on 21, 25 and 26 June, remained in port, taking on stores and provisions and standing on 24-hour and then 48-hour alert into July 1942. Drydocked on I and 2 July so that her bottom could be scraped, cleaned and painted, the cruiser completed her availability on the 6th, and then resumed a busy schedule of gunnery practice with drone targets, high-speed sleds, and in shore bombardment in the Hawaiian operating area.
On 15 July 1942, Atlanta, again in TF 16, sailed for Tongatabu. Anchoring at Nukualofa, Tonga, on 24 July, where she fueled Maury (DD-401) and then took on fuel from the tanker Mobilube, the light cruiser pushed on later the same day and overtook TF 16. On 29 July, as all preparations proceeded apace for the invasion of Guadalcanal, in the British Solomon Islands, Atlanta was assigned to TF 61.
Screening the carriers as they launched air strikes to support the initial landings on Guadalcanal on 7 and 8 August, Atlanta remained in the vicinity of that isle until the withdrawal of the carrier task forces on the 9th. For the next several days, she
remained at sea, replenishing when necessary while the task force operated near the Solomons.
As the Americans consolidated their gains on Guadalcanal, the Japanese’ critical need for reinforcements prompted Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to send the Combined Fleet south to cover a large troop convoy. American reconnaissance aircraft spotted the Japanese forces on the morning of 23 August. With the enemy convoy reported to the northwest, Enterprise and Saratoga launched search and attack planes, but the aircraft failed to make contact because of deteriorating weather and the fact that the Japanese, knowing that they had been spotted, reversed course.
Throughout the day on 24 August, Atlanta received enemy contact reports and screened Enterprise as she launched a strike group to seek out the Japanese earners. The sighting of an enemy "snooper" at 1328 sent Atlanta’s sailors to general quarters, where they remained for the next five and half hours. At 1530, the cruiser worked up to 20 knots as TF 16 stood roughly north-northwestward "to close [the] reported enemy carrier group." At 1637, with unidentified planes approaching, Atlanta went to 25 knots. Enterprise then launched a strike group shortly thereafter, completing the evolution at 1706.
In the meantime, the incoming enemy strike-bomber and fighter aircraft from Shokaku and Zuikaku-prompted the task force to increase speed to 27 knots; shortly after Enterprise completed launching her own aircraft, the Japanese raid-estimated by Capt. Jenkins to consist of at least 18 Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers ("Vals") _came in from the north northwest at 1710. Over the next 11 minutes, Atlanta’s 5-inch, 1. 1-inch and
20-millimeter batteries contributed to the barrage over Enterprise, as the light cruiser conformed to Enterprise’s every move as she maneuvered violently to avoid the dive bombers.
Despite the heavy antiaircraft fire, though, Enterprise took one hit and suffered some shrapnel damage from an estimated five near misses. Capt. Jenkins later reported that his ship may have shot down five of the attackers.
Atlanta emerged from her baptism in fire unscathed and confident; as her executive officer, Comdr. Campbell D. Emery, wrote after the battle: "Although the Atlanta had been through the Midway campaign... this was the first opportunity the crew has had to actively join the enemy in battle. All hands welcomed the occasion with enthusiasm . . .." Capt. Jenkins concluded: "The ship functioned as designed in all respects and can be considered an efficient unit . . . ."
Reporting to TF 11 for duty the following day, Atlanta operated with that force-redesignated TF 61 on 30 August-over the next few days. When the Japanese submarine 1-26 torpedoed Saratoga on 31 August, the light cruiser screened the stricken flagship as Minneapolis (CA-36) rigged a towline and began taking her out of danger. The force ultimately put into Tongatabu on 6 September, where Atlanta provisioned ship, fueled from New Orleans (CA-32), and enjoyed a period of upkeep.
Underway on 13 September, the light cruiser assumed duty as escort for the Noumea-bound ammunition ship Lassen (AE-3) and the aircraft transport Hammondsport (APV-2) on the 15th. After seeing her charges safely to their destination at Dumbea Bay, Noumea, on the 19th, Atlanta fueled, took on stores and
ammunition, and sailed on the 21st as part of Task Group (TG) 66.4. Becoming part of TF 17 on 23 September, the light cruiser was detached the following day to proceed in company with Washington (BB-56) and the destroyers Walke (DD-416) and Benham (DD-397) to Tongatabu, which she reached on the 26th.
Underway with those same ships on 7 October, Atlanta briefly escorted Guadalcanal-bound transports between 11 and 14 October before putting into Espiritu Santo for fuel on the afternoon of the 15th. Assigned then to Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee’s TF 64, the ship sailed after dark that same day to resume operations covering the ongoing efforts to secure Guadalcanal. Returning briefly to Espiritu Santo for fuel, stores and provisions, the warship stood out from Segond Channel on the afternoon of 23 October.
Two days later, with a Japanese Army offensive having failed to eject the Americans from Guadalcanal, Admiral Yamamoto sent the Combined Fleet south in an attempt to annihilate the American naval forces doggedly supporting the marines. Atlanta operated in TF 64, along with Washington, San Francisco (CA-38), Helena (CL-50) and two destroyers, as the opposing forces engaged in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26 October. That day, Atlanta patrolled astern of the fueling group supporting the two American carrier task forces. On the 27th, when the Japanese submarine 1-15 attacked TF 64-her torpedo missed Washington, exploding some 400 yards beyond her quarry-the force maneuvered at high speed to clear the area.
On the morning of the 28th, Atlanta brought on board Rear Admiral Norman Scott from San Francisco, and became the flagship of the newly designated TG 64.2. After fueling from Washington, Atlanta, screened by four destroyers, headed northwest by north to shell Japanese positions on Guadalcanal. Reaching the waters off Lunga Point on the morning of the 30th, Atlanta embarked marine liaison officers at 0550, and then steamed west, commencing her bombardment of Point Cruz at 0629 while the destroyers formed a column astern. Provoking no return fire, TG 64.2 accomplished its mission and returned to Lunga Point, where Atlanta disembarked the liaison officers. She then proceeded, in company with her screen, to Espiritu Santo, where she arrived on the afternoon of 31 October.
Subsequently, Atlanta served as Admiral Scott’s flagship as the light cruiser, accompanied by four destroyers, escorted the transport Zeilin (AP-9) and cargo ships Libra (AK-53) and Betelgeuse (AK-28) to Guadalcanal. The cruiser and her consorts continued to screen those ships-designated TG 62.4-as they lay off Lunga Point unloading supplies and disembarking troops.
At 0905, the task group received a report that nine carrier bombers and 12 fighters were approaching from the northwest and would reach their vicinity at about 0930. At about 0920, Atlanta led the three auxiliaries to the north, in column, with the destroyers spaced in a circle around them. Fifteen minutes later, nine "Vals from the carrier Hiyo emerged from the clouds over Henderson Field; the American ships opened fire soon thereafter, putting up a barrage that downed "several" planes. Fortunately, none of the primary targets of the attack-Zeilin, Libra and Betelgeuse-suffered more than minor damage from several near misses, though Zeilin sustained some flooding. The three auxiliaries returned to the waters off Lunga Point as soon as the attack ended and resumed working cargo and disembarking troops.
A little over an hour later, at 1050, Atlanta received word of another incoming Japanese air raid. Fifteen minutes later, Atlanta led the three auxiliaries north with the destroyers in a circle around the disposition. The "bogeys"-27 Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack planes ("Betty") from Rabaul-closed, sighted bearing west by north, approaching from over Cape Esperance in a very loose "V" formation. Although the destroyers opened fire, the planes proved to be out of range and the ships checked fire. The "Betties", for their part, ignored the ships and continued on to bomb Henderson Field. Upon the disappearance of the planes, TG 62.4 resumed unloading off Lunga Point.
The action on 11 November, however, gave only a foretaste of that ordeal that followed. The next day, Atlanta was still off Lunga Point, screening the unloading, as part of TF 67 under Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan in San Francisco. At about 1310, Atlanta received a warning that 25 enemy planes were headed for Guadalcanal, slated to arrive within 50 minutes. The light cruiser went to general quarters at 1318 and received the signal "prepare to repel air attack . . . ."
Within six minutes, Atlanta and the other combatants of the
support group formed a screen around the transport group (TG 67.1), and the two groups steamed north together at 15 knots. At about 1410, the Americans sighted the incoming raid, consisting of what appeared to be 25 twin-engined bombers ("Betties") which broke up into two groups after clearing Florida Island, came in at altitudes that ranged from 25 to 50 feet. Juneau (CL-52) opened fire at 1412. Atlanta did so a minute later, training her guns at planes headed for the gap in the screen between San Francisco and the destroyer Buchanan (DD-484). Atlanta claimed to have shot down two "Betties" just after they dropped their torpedoes, at about 1415, only three minutes before the attack ended. Once the last Japanese plane had been splashed, the work of unloading the transports and cargo ships resumed. One "Betty," crippled by antiaircraft fire, had crashed the after superstructure of San Francisco, inflicting the only damage on the force.
The abrupt end of the air attack gave Atlanta and her colleagues only a brief respite, however, for trouble approached from yet another quarter. A Japanese surface force, comprising two battleships, one cruiser and six destroyers, was detected steaming south toward Guadalcanal to shell Henderson Fieldthe airstrip on the island. Admiral Callaghan’s support group was to "cover [the retiring transports and cargo vessels] against enemy attack." Accordingly, TG 67.4 departed Lunga Point at about 1800 and steamed eastward through Sealark Channel, covering the withdrawal of TG 67. 1. An hour before midnight, Callaghan’s ships reversed course and headed westward.
Helena’s radar picked up the first contact on the Japanese ships at a range of 26,000 yards. As the range closed, Atlanta’s surface search radar, followed by her gunnery radars, picked up a contact on the enemy ships.
Admiral Callaghan’s order for a course change to the left caused problems immediately, as Atlanta had to turn left immediately to avoid a collision with one of the four destroyers in the vanthe latter having apparently executed a "ships left" rather than a "column left" movement. As Atlanta began moving to resume her station ahead of San Francisco, the Japanese destroyer Akatsuki illuminated the light cruiser and fired torpedoes. Atlanta shifted her battery to fire at the enemy destroyer, opening fire at a range of about 1,600 yards.
As two other Japanese destroyers crossed her line of fire, Atlanta engaged both with her forward 5-inch mounts, while her after mounts continued to blast away at the illuminating ship. An additional, unidentified, assailant also opened up on the light cruiser from the northeast. At about that time, at least one of Akatsuki’s torpedoes plowed into Atlanta’s forward engine room from the port side. She lost all but auxiliary diesel power, suffered the interruption of her gunfire, and had to shift steeling control to the steering en * ine room aft. As if in retribution, Atlanta shot out Akatsukirs searchlight, and the enemy ship, battered by San Francisco’s gunfire as well, sank with all hands,
Tragedy, thou h struck shortly thereafter. Soon after her duel with Akatsuki ended, Atlanta reeled under the impact of a flurry of what was estimated as 19 8-inch hits when San Francisco, "in the urgency of battle, darkness, and confused intermin
gli n of friend or foe," fired into her. Though almost all of those
shells passed through the thin skin of the ship without detonating and scattered green dye throughout to mark their passage, fragments from their impact killed many men-including Admi. ral Scott and members of his staff. Atlanta prepared to return fire on her new assailant, but San Francisco’s own gun flashes disclosed a distinctly "non-Japanese hull profile" that resulted in a suspension of those efforts.
After the 8-inch fire ceased, Atlanta’s Capt. Jenkins took stock of the situation, and, miraculously having suffered only a minor (but painful) wound in his foot in the carnage forward, made his way aft to Battle 11. Badly battered, largely powerless, down by the head and listin% slightly to port, his ship had been badly hurt, and a third of is crew was dead or missing. As the battle continued in its waning stages, the light cruiser’s men set to work clearing debris, jettisoning topside weight to correct the list, reducing the volume of sea water in the ship, and succoring the many wounded.
Daylight revealed the presence nearby of three burning American destroyers, the disabled Portland, and the crippled Japanese destroyer Yudachi which Portland summarily dispatched with three salvoes. Atlanta, drifting toward the enemy-held shore east of Cape Esperance, dropped her starboard anc or; her captain sent a message to Portland explaining the light cruiser’s
desperate straits. In the meantime, boats from Guadalcanal came out to the ship and took off the more seriously wounded of her men. By midmorning, all of those had been taken off.
Bobolink (AT-131) arrived on the scene at 0930 on 13 November and took Atlanta under tow-an o eration made more difficult by the fact that the cruiser was dragging her anchor-and headed toward Lunga Point. During the voyage, a "Betty" neared the disposition, and one of the two surviving 5-inch mounts-the one powered by a diesel generator-fired and drove it off; the other mount, on manual control, could not be trained around in time.
Atlanta reached Kukuni about 1400, at which point Capt. Jenkins conferred with his remaining officers. As Jenkins, who was later awarded a Navy Cross for his heroism during the battle, later wrote, "It was by now apparent that efforts to save the ship were useless, and that the water was gaining steadily." Even had sufficient salvage facilities been available, he allowed, the severe damage the ship had suffered in battle would have rendered it doubtful whether or not the ship could have been saved. Authorized by Commander, South Pacific Forces, to act at his own discretion regarding the destruction of the ship, Capt. Jenkins ordered that Atlanta be abandoned and sunk with a demolition charge.
Accordingly, all remaining men except the captain and a demolition party boarded Higgins boats sent out from Guadalcanal for the purpose. After the charge had been set and exploded, the last men left the battered ship. Ultimately, at 2015 on 13 November 1942, Atlanta sank three miles west of Lunga Point in 30 fathoms. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 13 January 1943.
Atlanta (CL-51) was awarded five battle stars for her World War I I service and the Presidential Unit Citation for her "heroic example of invincible fighting spirit" in the battle off Guadalcanal on 13 November 1942.