|USS Savannah (CL-42)|
USS Savannah as photographed by a blimp underway in the Atlantic in 1944.
|Career (United States)|
|Name:||USS Savannah (CL-42)|
|Laid down:||31 May 1934|
|Launched:||8 May 1937|
|Commissioned:||10 March 1938|
|Decommissioned:||3 February 1947|
|Struck:||1 March 1959|
|Three battle stars|
|Fate:||Scrapped in 1966|
|Class & type:||Brooklyn-class light cruiser|
|Length:||608 ft (185 m)|
|Beam:||69 ft (21 m)|
|Draft:||19 ft 2 in (5.84 m)|
|Speed:||32 kn (37 mph; 59 km/h)|
|Complement:||868 officers and enlisted|
|Armament:||15 × 6 in (150 mm)/47 cal guns (5x3), 8 × 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal guns guns (8x1)|
|Aircraft carried:||4 × floatplanes|
|Aviation facilities:||2 × catapults|
USS Savannah (CL-42) was a light cruiser of the Brooklyn class. She was laid down on 31 May 1934 by the New York Shipbuilding Association in Camden, New Jersey; launched on 8 May 1937; sponsored by Miss Jayne Maye Bowden, the niece of Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr., of Georgia; and commissioned in the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 10 March 1938, with Captain Robert C. Griffin in command.
Following a shakedown cruise to Cuba and Haiti in the spring, the USS Savannah returned to Philadelphia on 3 June for alterations followed by final trials off Rockland, Maine. This cruiser, prepared to protect American nationals should war break out in Europe, steamed out from Philadelphia bound for England on 26 September, and she reached Portsmouth on 4 October. However, the Munich agreement had postponed the war, so the Savannah returned to Norfolk on 18 October. Following winter maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea, the Savannah visited her namesake city, Savannah, Georgia, from 12 to 20 April 1939. She got underway from Norfolk on 26 May; transited the Panama Canal on 1 June; and arrived at San Diego on the 17th. Her homeport was soon shifted to Long Beach, California.
The Savannah arrived at Pearl Harbor on 21 May 1940, and then she conducted battle readiness and training operations in Hawaiian waters until 8 November. On 8 August Andrew C. Bennett was given command of the ship. The Savannah returned to Long Beach on 14 November, and soon thereafter, she was overhauled at the Mare Island Navy Yard in San Francisco Bay. The Savannah steamed back into Pearl Harbor on 27 January 1941 and remained there on the U.S. Navy's Hawaiian Sea Frontier until 19 May, when she set course back to the Panama Canal and voyaged to Boston via Cuba, arriving on 17 June.
The Neutrality Patrol
As the flagship of Cruiser Division 8 (CruDiv 8), Savannah conducted Neutrality Patrols in waters ranging south to Cuba and back up the seaboard to the Virginia Capes. On 25 August, she got underway from Norfolk to patrol in the South Atlantic as far as Trindade and Martim Vaz in the screen of Wasp. The task group then swept north from Bermuda to NS Argentia, Newfoundland, where Savannah arrived on 23 September. During the next eight weeks, the cruiser helped cover British merchantmen and Allied convoys to within a few hundred miles of the British Isles, replenishing at Casco Bay, Maine, or at New York.
World War II
North Atlantic operations
The Savannah was in New York Harbor when the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor occurred on 7 December. She steamed that same day toward Casco Bay, Maine, and from there she steamed via Bermuda to Brazil, arriving at Recife on 12 January 1942. She joined the screen of the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4), in patrolling the Atlantic Ocean north of Bermuda. This island became the cruiser's temporary base while she watched over Vichy French warships based at Martinique and Guadeloupe in the French West Indies. The Savannah departed from Shelly Bay, Bermuda, on 7 June, and entered the Boston Navy Yard two days later for an overhaul. This was completed by 15 August. The Savannah received a new commander, Leon S. Fiske, on 12 June. The Savannah next steamed to readiness exercises in Chesapeake Bay that would prepare her for the invasion of North Africa.
Invasion of North Africa
The Savannah became a unit of Admiral H. Kent Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force which would land some 35,000 Army troops and 250 tanks at three different points on the Atlantic coast of French Morocco. As part of the Northern Attack Group, commanded by Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly, the Savannah departed from Norfolk on 24 October, and then rendezvoused with the Western Naval Task Force four days later at a point about 450 mi (720 km) south southeast of Cape Race. The Task Force, including the outer screen, covered an area approximately 20-30 mi (30–50 km), making it the greatest warship fleet to be sent out by the United States up to that time. Shortly before midnight on the night of 7 – 8 November, three separate task groups closed in on three different points on the Moroccan coast to begin Operation Torch.
The Savannah's Northern Attack Group was to land Brigadier General Lucian K. Truscott's 9,099 officers and men, including 65 light tanks, on five widely separated beaches on either side of Mehedia. Their objectives were the Port Lyautey city and its all-weather airfield, the Wadi Sebou, and the Salé airfield.
On the morning of the 8th, the Savannah commenced firing against Vichy guns near the Kasba, which had been firing on the Army troop's landing boats. She also temporarily silenced a battery which had opened up on the USS Roe, enabling that destroyer to avoid a disaster. By the next morning, the Savannah's 6 in (150 mm) guns had scored a direct hit on one of the two 5.4 in (140 mm) artillery guns in the fortress of Kasba and had silenced the other.
During that same day, the Savannah's scout planes started a new phase of warfare by successfully bombing some tank columns with their depth charges, whose fuses had been set to detonate on impact. The scout planes, maintaining about eight hours of flight time daily, struck at other shore targets, and they also kept up antisubmarine patrols. The Savannah's warplanes located an enemy battery that had been firing on the destroyer USS Dallas, and they eliminated it with two well-placed depth charges.
The Savannah's scout planes again bombed and strafed enemy tanks on the Rabat Road on the morning of 10 November. Throughout this day, her gunfire aided the Army's advance. Hostilities fittingly ended on Armistice Day, 11 November 1942. Four days later, the Savannah headed for home, and she reached Norfolk on 30 November. After brief repairs following her combat missions, at New York City, the Savannah steamed on 25 December to join the U.S. Navy's South Atlantic Patrol, arriving at Recife, Brazil, on 7 January 1943. Robert W. Carey was named commander on 17 February.
South Atlantic patrol
The Savannah's primary mission off Brazil was the destruction of any Nazi German blockade runners spotted in the South Atlantic Ocean. Teamed with the new U.S. Navy escort carrier USS Santee, plus a screen of destroyer, the Savannah put to sea on 12 January on a long patrol that resulted in no combat with the enemy. The Savannah went back into Recife Harbor on 15 February, and next, she steamed out again to search for blockade runners on the 21st. On 11 March, she left the task group along with the USS Eberle to investigate a ship that had been sighted by an aircraft from the USS Santee.
The Kota Tjandi, a former Dutch ship called the Karin by her Kriegsmarine crew, was brought to a halt by shots fired across her bow by the two American warships. Just as a boarding party from the Eberle arrived alongside, powerful time bombs, planted just before Karin's lifeboats got underway, exploded. Eleven sailors of the boarding party were killed, but one of the Savannah's boat rescued three men from the water. The Savannah also took 72 German sailors on board, and quartered them below decks as prisoners-of-war. The Savannah returned to New York Harbor on 28 March, where she was overhauled in preparation for her next assignment in the Mediterranean Sea.
Invasion of Sicily
The USS Savannah departed from Norfolk on 10 May to protect Army troop transports en route to Oran, Algeria. She arrived there on 23 May, and then began preparing for Operation Husky, the amphibious landings on the southern coast of Sicily near Gela. The cliffy coast there was topped by heavy coastal defense batteries, and no landing place could be found besides a 5,000 yd (4,600 m) stretch of shore about 1 mi (2 km) east of the mouth of the Gela River. Poised on the plateau above the beach was the Wehrmacht's Hermann Göring Panzer Division, ready to strike back against any amphibious landing, along with other German and Italian troops.
The Savannah provided naval gunfire support to the American 1st Infantry Division's "Rangers" before dawn on 10 July. As soon as the first light of dawn appeared, the Savannah launched two scout planes. Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf-109s intercepted them, with fatal results. Lieutenant C. A. Anderson was killed in flight, although his radioman, Edward J. True, was able to land the riddled plane on the sea. He was picked up shortly after their airplane sank into the sea. Three of the Savannah's four spotter planes were shot down on that day.
On the morning of 11 July, the Savannah was the first warship to respond to a call for naval gunfire at two points on a road leading into Gela. She knocked out several tanks before shifting her fire to the Butera road to aid advancing American infantry soldiers. Soon friend and foe became so enmeshed in the battle, that her naval gunfire could no longer intervene. The Savannah destroyed more tanks later in the afternoon, however, and next she finished out the remaining hours of daylight by helping the Army Rangers in repelling an Italian infantry attack.
The next morning, the Savannah supported the Army troops with more than 500 rounds of six-inch shells as they advanced toward Butera. That day, the Savannah's doctors and hospital corpsmen also gave medical care to 41 wounded infantrymen, while the warship bombarded enemy troop concentrations far inland, and also shelled their artillery batteries high in the hills. On 13 July, the Savannah had but one call for naval gunfire support. She answered by hurling several salvos on the hill town of Butera. Before the 1st Infantry Division pressed on into the interior, it thanked the Savannah for crushing three infantry attacks and silencing four artillery batteries, as well as for demoralizing the Italian troops by the effect of her fire. On the next day, the Savannah steamed towards Algiers.
The Savannah returned to Sicily on 19 July to support the American 7th Army's drive along the eastern and northern coasts of Sicily. On 30 July, carrying the pennant of Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson, the USS Savannah arrived at Palermo Harbor to provide daily fire support. Her guns helped to repel enemy aircraft raiding the harbor from the first to the fourth of August. On the 8th, her task force supported the landing of the 30th Regimental Combat Team, including army artillery and tanks, on a beach nine miles east of "Monte Fratello".
Invasion of Salerno
The USS Savannah returned to Algiers once again on 10 August in order to train with U.S. Army troops for the Operation Avalanche amphibious landings to be made at Salerno, Italy. Leaving Mers-el-Kebir Harbor on 5 September, her Southern Attack Force entered Salerno Bay a few hours before midnight of the 8th.
The Savannah was the first American ship to open fire against the German shore defenses in Salerno Bay. She silenced a railroad artillery battery with 57 rounds, forced the retirement of enemy tanks, and completed eight more fire support missions that day. She continued her valuable support until the morning of 11 September, when she was put out of action.
A radio-controlled Fritz X glide-bomb had been released at a safe distance by a high-flying German warplane and it exploded 49 ft (15 m) distance from the USS Philadelphia. The Savannah increased her speed to 20 kn (23 mph, 37 km/h) as a Dornier Do 217 K-2 bomber approached from out of the sun. The USAAF's P-38 Lightnings and the Savannah's anti-aircraft gunners, tracking this warplane at 18,700 ft (5,700 m), failed to stop the Fritz X bomb, trailing a stream of smoke. The missile pierced right through the armored turret roof of the No. 3 gun turret of the Savannah, passed through three decks into the lower ammunition-handling room, where it exploded, blowing a gaping hole in her keel, and also tearing open a seam in the cruiser's port side. For at least 30 minutes, secondary explosions in the turret and its ammunition-supply rooms hampered any fire-fighting efforts.
Working quickly, the officers and sailors of the Savannah's crew sealed off flooded and burned compartments, and then corrected her list. With some assistance from the USS Hopi and the USS Moreno, the Savannah got underway on her own steam by 1757 hours, and steamed for the seaport at Malta.
The USS Savannah lost 197 crewmen in this German counterattack. 15 other sailors were seriously wounded, and four more were trapped in a watertight compartment for about 60 hours. These four sailors were not rescued until the Savannah had already arrived at Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta on the 12th of September. After having emergency repairs carried out at Malta, the USS Savannah departed on the 7th of December, bound for the Philadelphia Naval Yard by way of Tunis, Algiers, and Bermuda. She arrived at the Naval Yard on the 23rd of December, just before Christmas, and she remained there, undergoing heavy repair work for the next eight months. While the Savannah's battle damage was being repaired, an additional secondary battery of five-inch naval guns and a new set of up-to-date antiaircraft guns were installed.
Later wartime activities
The USS Savannah's Navy Yard repairs of combat damage, and the upgrading or her weapons, were completed on 4 September 1944. Nonetheless, she was never sent to a combat zone for the remainder of the war. She steamed out of Philadelphia Harbor on the next day, and then reported to the Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command on 10 September for a shakedown cruise and sailor's refresher training. She returned to Norfolk on 12 October for readiness training with CruDiv 8 and sailed on 21 January 1945 to rendezvous with the heavy cruiser USS Quincy, which was carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Mediterranean Sea, en route to Yalta, Crimea, of the Soviet Union for a conference with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.
The Savannah entered Grand Harbor, Valletta, Malta, on 2 February. At that island, the President and his party debarked, and they continued on to Yalta by airplane. A memorial service was held at the graves of the USS Savannah's sailors and marines killed in her bombing off Salerno. Next, the Savannah departed from Malta on 9 February and steamed to Alexandria, Egypt, to await the President when he returned to the USS Quincy on the 12th. The Presidential convoy departed from Alexandria on the 15th, and it arrived back home at Hampton Roads, Virginia on the 27th of February. The Savannah was underway on the next day, and she steamed towards a new homeport, Newport, Rhode Island, on 8 March. Until 24 May 1945, the Savannah was used as a school ship for the nucleus of crews of warships that had not yet been commissioned.
After a visit to New York and installation of radar-guided fire control equipment for her 40 mm anti-aircraft guns, the USS Savannah became the flagship of a midshipmen's training squadron under Rear Admiral Frank E. Beatty. The Savannah departed from Annapolis on 7 June for training at sea with over 400 midshipmen embarked. After two such cruises to Cuba and back, the Savannah debarked the midshipmen at Annapolis on 30 September, took on others, and steamed on 1 October towards Pensacola, Florida. She spent the Navy Day celebrations from the 25th to the 30th of October 1945 in her namesake city of Savannah, Georgia. She then returned to Norfolk on 1 November to prepare for service in the huge "Operation Magic Carpet" naval fleet which was returning hundreds of thousands of overseas war veterans home to the United States
The Savannah departed from Norfolk on 13 November, and she reached Le Havre, France, on 20 November. The following day, she put to sea with 1,370 enlisted men and 67 officer passengers, bringing them to New York Harbor on 28 November. She completed another similar voyage on 17 December.
The USS Savannah's home base was shifted to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 19 December for her deactivation overhaul. She was placed in commission in reserve on 22 April 1946, and was finally decommissioned on 3 February 1947. As one of two Brooklyn-class cruisers to be modernized with twin 5in/38 guns and Mark 37 directors, Savannah was retained by the USN when most of her surviving sister ships were sold to South American navies. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 March 1959, and she was sold for scrapping on 25 January 1966 to the Bethlehem Steel Company.
- Fahey 1941 p. 9
- Fahey, James C. (1941). The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet, Two-Ocean Fleet Edition. Ships and Aircraft.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
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