The USS Cleveland, CL-55

This article appeared in the Mid-June 1949 issue of Our Navy magazine.

1943

January 27 the CLEVELAND began her first combat missions under Admiral Halsey. The purpose of the operation was to shield Allied shipping and troop movements near Guadalcanal from enemy forces. While on the first of those sorties, the force was attacked by Japanese torpedo planes. The CHICAGO, cruising on the CLEVELAND's quarter, was torpedoed and sank the following day.

After this encounter, with mission completed, the CLEVELAND joined "Merrill's Marauders." As a unit of this force, the ship set out March 4 to bombard Japanese airfields and installations at Vila and Munda. Midnight, March 8, steaming into Kula Gulf, the force contacted two enemy destroyers. The nearer destroyer exploded as the first salvos from the CLEVELAND'S batteries hit her squarely. Burning badly, the remaining ship attempted escape, only to founder and follow her companion to the bottom. Their scheduled bombardment completed, the "Marauders" anchored March 9 in Havannah Harbor.

Rest and training followed until June 29 when under command of a new skipper, Captain A. G. Shepherd, the CLEVELAND penetrated deep into enemy-held Solomons to effect a bombardment of the Shortland Islands. This action was a feint to divert attention from the actual objective - invasion of New Georgia. July 11, with the same force, the ship expended 2000 rounds of five and six inch ammunition in thirty minutes to support advancing American armies on Munda Point.

Following a brief repair period in Sydney, Australia, the CLEVELAND supported the landings on Treasury Island, October 26 and 27.

The action on November 1 and 2, 1943, is the most memorable in the history of the ship. Prior to dawn of November 1, in support of an amphibious assault against Torokine Point, she bombarded Buka and Bonis airfields on the northern tip of Bougainville. As a result, the Japanese could not offer serious air opposition to the amphibious operations.

Having completed this bombardment and steamed soutward, this group once again bombarded shore batteries in the Shortlands. Though the attackers encountered heavy return fire without loss, they inflicted material casualties on the enemy, officially listed as ninety percent.

At this time enemy vessels steamed toward Empress Augusta Bay to interrupt the landings. At 0232 November 2, the CLEVELAND, with a force numerically equal to the enemy's, made contact and opened fire twenty minutes later. Guided by star shell and aerial flare illumination, enemy eight-inch salvos came through the drizzly night to fall 2500 yards short of their target. Radar controlled fire from the CLEVELAND and the others hit the enemy before he could correct his error. As the battle progressed, better-aimed salvos frequently straddled the friendly ships. Though their shot pattern was small, the Japanese scored few hits; while many of our shells exploded against the opposing men-of-war. In the official action report Admiral Merrill wrote:

"Had the enemy's luck been as good as his shooting we would have suffered severe casualties. He had straddles with small patterns from which he obtained no hits. His star shell illumination was extraordinary. To counteract the enemy's accurate gunfire and seemingly perfect illumination, we used both chemical and funnel smoke, constant and radical change of course and counter-illumination by star shells short of the enemy. As a result of those two measures, and perhaps because we live purer lives, the enemy registered only three eight-inch hits."

The battle lasted three hours when the enemy finally turned away. The score: one enemy cruiser and four destroyers sunk; two cruisers and two destroyers damaged. The torpedoed destroyer Foote was the only friendly casualty, and she lived to fight another day.

Dawn brought sixty-seven Rabaul based enemy dive bombers to attack the victorious force. CLEVELAND gunners got three of the first wave, but not before one of the plane's well-aimed stick of bombs dropped close aboard to rock the ship severely. Discouraged by the first wave's fate, with only fifty of his number remaining, the enemy circled in indecision and then headed back for Rabual with Army Lightings and Navy Wildcats in hot pursuit.

Commending the force on its performance during November 1 and 2, Admiral Merrill said:

"Seldom has a task force been called upon to accomplish such varied and difficult missions in so brief a period. Seldom, if ever, have those missions been accomplished so thoroughly and at so little cost."

Admiral Halsey's comment:

"Gentlemen, words fail me. I am so proud of you that I cannot express my feelings. My admiration for this Task Force goes beyond words."

No further action occured until CLEVELAND again bombarded Buka airfield, December 23. Christmas Day the ship's crew loaded ammunition in Purvis Bay, Florida Island.