USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37)

USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37)

The USS "Tuscaloosa" (CA-37) was a United States Navy "New Orleans"-class heavy cruiser.

She was laid down on 3 September 1931 at Camden, New Jersey, by the New York Shipbuilding Co., launched on 15 November 1933, sponsored by Mrs. Thomas Lee McCann, the wife of Lt. Thomas L. McCann and the niece of William Bacon Oliver, the Representative of the Alabama's 6th congressional district). She was commissioned on 17 August 1934, with Captain John N. Ferguson in command.

1934–1940

"Tuscaloosa" devoted the autumn to a shakedown cruise which took her to Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo, before she returned to the New York Navy Yard shortly before Christmas. She then underwent post-shakedown repairs which kept her in the yard into March 1935.

The heavy cruiser soon shaped a course for the west coast. After a stop at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, she transited the Panama Canal on 7 April and 8 April and then steamed north to San Diego, where she joined Cruiser Division 6 (CruDiv 6) in time to participate in Fleet Problem XVI staged in May in the northern Pacific off the coast of Alaska and in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. This operation was divided into five distinct phases which might be aspects of some real naval campaign of the future in which the United States would take the strategic offensive.

"Tuscaloosa" subsequently was based at San Pedro, California, whence she conducted routine exercises and local operations with CruDiv 6. In the spring of 1936, the heavy cruiser participated in Fleet Problem XVII, taking place off the west coast of the United States, Central America, and the Panama Canal Zone. The five phase exercise was devoted to preparing the fleet for antisubmarine operations, testing communications systems, and training of aircraft patrol squadrons for extended fleet operations.

In May 1937, the Fleet again exercised in Alaskan waters and in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands and Midway, practicing the tactics of seizing advanced base sites - a technique later to be polished to a high degree into close support and amphibious warfare doctrines. "Tuscaloosa", as part of the "augmented" Scouting Force, "battled" the Battle Force that spring.

In April and May 1938, the heavy cruiser participated in Fleet Problem XIX, which was conducted in the vicinity of Hawaii.

"Tuscaloosa" departed San Diego on 3 January 1939 and proceeded, via the Panama Canal, to the Caribbean. She took part in Fleet Problem XX, in the Atlantic to the east of the Lesser Antilles, before undergoing a brief refit at the Norfolk Navy Yard. She than joined in the Denmark Strait and had temporarily eluded pursuit.

"Bismarck's" escape into the swirling mists of the Atlantic prompted orders which sent "Tuscaloosa" to sea immediately. Most of the crew on liberty at the time could not be rounded up in time, so the ship set out for the hunt with personnel "shanghaied" from USS|Vincennes|CA-44|2 and "Quincy" and a group of reserve ensigns who happened to be on board for a reserve cruise. However, before the cruiser reached waters where she hoped to find the "Bismarck", British warships — directed under legally questionable circumstances by an American naval reserve ensign piloting a British PBY—succeeded in attacking "Bismarck" which had to be scuttled by own own crew after rudder jam and loss of her main guns.

"Tuscaloosa" soon returned to the tedium of neutrality patrolling. As the United States continued in a slow but deliberate fashion to become involved, however, the tenor of events soon changed for the heavy cruiser. On 8 August, she departed Bermuda for Newfoundland and soon embarked General Henry H. Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps; Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Director of the War Plans Division of the Navy; and Capt. Forrest Sherman. She joined USS|Augusta|CA-31|2 off New York; and, together, the two ships, escorted by a screen of three destroyers proceeded to NS Argentia, Newfoundland.

"Augusta", bearing President Roosevelt, and her consorts soon arrived in the barren anchorage where the British battleship HMS|Prince of Wales|53|6—with Prime Minister Winston Churchill embarked—awaited her. The ensuing discussions between the two heads of state hammered out the "Atlantic Charter."

Returning from Argentia upon the conclusion of the Anglo-American talks, "Tuscaloosa" conveyed Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles to Portland, Maine. Three weeks later, in September, the cruiser overtook the first American troop convoy to Iceland, as American marines relieved British troops guarding that strategic island.

"Tuscaloosa" soon received new orders which assigned her to a task group built around battleships USS|Idaho|BB-42|2, USS|Mississippi|BB-41|2, and USS|New Mexico|BB-40|2. "Wichita" and two divisions of destroyers joined "Tuscaloosa" in the screen of the men of-war. Under the two-starred flag of Rear Admiral Robert C. Ike Giffen, the Denmark Strait patrol worked out of wind-swept, cold Hvalfjörður, Iceland—known to Americans as "Valley Forge".

The similarities between the Continental Army's historic winter campground and the Icelandic region were not just confined to a homonymous relation of their names. The bitter cold, wind, and snow and the wartime operations seemed similar—the latter in the form of daily patrols, unceasingly vigilant for any signs of the "enemy." "Tuscaloosa" and "Wichita" "stripped ship" for war, removing accumulated coats of paint and other inflammable and nonessential items before they set out for sea on 5 November. As the task force steamed toward Iceland, its warships were constantly alert to the possibility of an imminent sortie by the German battleship Tirpitz, the sister ship of the late "Bismarck".

While "Tirpitz" failed to show herself, the American ships continued to conduct "short of war" operations which became increasingly warlike as time went on. The attempted torpedoing of USS|Greer|DD-145|2, the damaging of "Kearny" in October; the sinking of USS|Reuben James|DD-245|2 by a German U-boat; and the torpedoing of USS|Salinas|AO-19|2 all pointed to the fact that American ships were becoming involved in the fighting.

World War II

The Japanese strike at Pearl Harbor on 7 December plunged the United States into "real" war at last, in both oceans, for Germany and Italy declared war on the United States on 11 December.

On 6 January 1942, "Tuscaloosa" stood out of Hvalfjörður in company with "Wichita" and two destroyers—USS|Grayson|DD-435|2 and USS|Meredith|DD-434|2—for a training cruise to the Denmark Strait. After returning to port three days later, the heavy cruiser moved on to Boston for a navy yard overhaul from 8 February to 20 February. She conducted refresher training out of Casco Bay and then underwent another brief refit at New York before joining Task Group (TG) 39.1, under the command of Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr., whose flag flew in USS|Washington|BB-56|2.

The task group sortied from Casco Bay and struggled through gale-whipped seas, bound for Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands—the British Home Fleet's base. On 27 March, Rear Admiral Wilcox apparently suffered a heart attack and was washed overboard from "Washington". The heavy seas ruled out rescue attempts, and the task group's commanding officer soon disappeared in the stormy Atlantic. With Wilcox' death, Rear Admiral Giffen, whose flag flew in "Wichita", assumed command of TG 39.1.

"Tuscaloosa" arrived at Scapa Flow on 4 April and immediately took on board a British signals and liaison team. She was initially employed with the British Home Fleet on training duties and later took part in covering runs for convoys to north Russia.

At that period, Anglo-American naval operations frequently were mounted in an attempt to lure "Tirpitz" out of her snowy Norwegian lair. One such attempt, Convoy PQ-17, resulted in disaster in June 1942. The following two months found "Tuscaloosa" still active in convoy protection and covering assignments.

In mid-August, "Tuscaloosa" received orders to carry supplies—including aircraft torpedoes, ammunition, and medical equipment—to North Russia. Soon after she and two destroyers set out on the mission, a member of the cruiser's crew developed symptoms of spinal meningitis. The sick man was quickly put ashore at Seyðisfjörður, Iceland, and the group got underway again on 19 August, bound for Kola Inlet.

The next day, "Tuscaloosa" and her screen—which by that time consisted of three destroyers (two American and one British)—were spotted by a snooping German reconnaissance plane. The task force changed course and, assisted by the worsening visibility in the northern latitudes, managed to shake the intruder. On the evening of 22 August, two more British destroyers joined "Tuscaloosa's" screen; and, the following day, a Russian escort guided them to Kola Inlet.

All hands turned-to and unloaded the valuable cargo. The cruiser then took on fuel; prepared to get underway; and, just before departure, embarked 243 passengers, most of whom were survivors of ships which had been sunk while serving in earlier convoys to Russia. Many of them had endured the special tribulation and agony of PQ-17. With her human cargo thus on board, "Tuscaloosa" cleared Kola Inlet on 24 August and reached Seidisfjord on the 28th.

She remained there but briefly before steaming to the mouth of the River Clyde, where she disembarked her passengers. Detached from the Home Fleet shortly thereafter, "Tuscaloosa" headed for Hvalfjord and proceeded thence to the United States for an overhaul.

On on 8 November 1942, Operation Torch—the code name of the Anglo-American effort to wrest North Africa from the hands of the Vichy French—got underway. Off Casablanca, French Morocco, steamed "Tuscaloosa" and her old companion, "Wichita", joined by the new USS|Massachusetts|BB-59|2 as part of the covering force. As American troops splashed ashore, "Tuscaloosa's" guns, aided by accurate spotting from the cruiser's scout planes, thundered and sent shells whistling shoreward into the French positions. In the harbor, French ships scurried about like tadpoles as they prepared to sortie against the attackers.

The French battleship "Jean Bart", incomplete and immobile, nevertheless packed a powerful punch in her 15 inch (380 mm) guns and loosed heavy and accurate salvoes, straddling the American ships several times with giant shell splashes. French shore batteries at Table d'Aukasha and El Hank also proved troublesome; but the combined might of Allied sea and air power silenced both the shore batteries and "Jean Bart" as well.

After being narrowly missed by torpedoes from a Vichy submarine and shells from "Jean Bart's" heavy rifles, "Tuscaloosa" retired from the battle zone to refuel and to replenish her ammunition. After this, she remained offshore in support of the invasion and then headed back to the United States for refit.

Following repairs, she rejoined in covering convoys bound for the North African front, as American forces and their British and Free French allies sought to push the Germans and Italians out of Tunisia. Next, from March through May 1943, "Tuscaloosa" operated in a task force on training exercises off the east coast of the United States.

Besides honing its fighting edge, this group formed a fast, mobile, and ready striking force, should German surface ships slip through the Allied blockade to terrorize Allied shipping in the Atlantic. In late May, she escorted RMS|Queen Mary, which bore British Prime Minister Churchill to New York City. After rejoining the task force for a brief time, "Tuscaloosa" joined "Augusta" at the Boston Navy Yard for a 10-day work period.

After leaving Boston, she escorted RMS "Queen Elizabeth" to Halifax, Nova Scotia, before rendezvousing with "Ranger" and proceeding to Scapa Flow to resume operations with the British Home Fleet. "Tuscaloosa" conducted sorties into the North Sea, in company with British and American units, in attempts to once again entice German heavy units to sea. However, the hope of drawing the Germans into a decisive sea fight diminished each passing day as the enemy apparently sought to stay in his protected waters.

On 2 October 1943, "Tuscaloosa" formed part of the covering force for "Ranger" while the carrier launched air strikes against port installations and German shipping at Bodo, Norway, in Operation Leader. These first American carrier strikes against European targets lasted from 2 October to 6 October and devastated the area. German shore based aircraft attacked the striking force only to be summarily shot down by covering American fighters.

Shortly afterward, the Germans did elect to come out to sea, conducting a foray against the important Allied weather station on Spitsbergen Island. "Tirpitz" and other heavy units subjected the installation and its garrison to a severe shelling before retiring, unscathed, to their Norwegian lair.

"Tuscaloosa" took part in the relief expedition to reestablish the station before the onset of winter. Assigned to Force One, the cruiser loaded two LCV(P) and cargo and departed Seidisfjord in company with four destroyers—three British and one American—on 17 October. Force Two, covering Force One, consisted of battleship HMS|Anson|79|6, heavy cruiser HMS "Norfolk", "Ranger", and six destroyers.

On the morning of the 19th, "Tuscaloosa's" group arrived at devastated Spitsbergen and immediately commenced unloading operations. While ice "growlers" and pinnacles hampered antisubmarine screening by the destroyers' sound gear, "Tuscaloosa" fielded a party of 160 men on shore to unload supplies and equipment to reestablish the weather station. By nightfall, the cargo had been safely unloaded, and the force left the area. After fueling at Seidisfjord, the cruiser proceeded to the Clyde to disembark the survivors of the original Spitsbergen garrison.

"Tuscaloosa" conducted one more sweep of the Norwegian coast in an attempt to draw German fleet units to sea, but the enemy chose not to give battle. Upon the cruiser's return to Iceland, she was detached from the Home Fleet and proceeded to New York where she began major overhaul on 3 December 1943.

Upon completion of the refit in February 1944, "Tuscaloosa" engaged in Fleet exercises and shore bombardment practice out of Casco Bay until April and then entered the Boston Navy Yard for installation of radio intelligence and electronic countermeasures gear. Later that month, she embarked Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo, Commander, CruDiv 7, and task force commander, and set out for the Clyde to join the Allied Forces massing for the assault on the European continent.

During the interim period prior to D-Day, "Tuscaloosa" conducted further shore bombardment practice and engaged in further exercises. Her aviation unit exchanged their venerable Curtiss SOC Seagulls for British Supermarine Spitfires and checked out in them for spotting purposes. Yet, they remained shore-based for the remainder of their time operating in support of the invasion.

On 3 June, "Tuscaloosa" steamed in company with the rest of Task Force 125 bound for the Normandy beaches. At 0550, 6 June 1944, she opened fire with her 8 inch (203 mm) battery and, three minutes later, her 5 inch (127 mm) guns engaged Fort Ile de Tatihou, Baie de la Seine. For the remainder of D-Day, coast defense batteries, artillery positions, troop concentrations, and motor transport all came under the fire of "Tuscaloosa's" guns, which were aided by her air spotters and by fire control parties attached to Army units on shore. VCS-7, a U.S Navy Spotter Squadron flying Supermarine Spitfire VBs and Seafire IIIs, was one of the units which provided targeting coordinates and fire control. [cite web|url=http://spitfiresite.com/history/articles/2008/01/spitfires-in-us-navy.htm|title=VCS-7] Initial enemy return fire was inaccurate, but it improved enough by the middle of the day to force the cruiser to take evasive action.

On the afternoon of 9 June, "Tuscaloosa" returned to Plymouth to replenish her depleted ammunition. Back in the vicinity of the Îles Saint-Marcouf on the evening of the 11th, she remained on station in the fire-support area until 21 June, providing gunfire support on call from her shore fire control party operating with Army units. She then returned to Britain.

Five days later, on 26 June, the Army's VII Corps mounted a landward assault against Cherbourg, supported by ships of the covering force from the seaward side. For four hours, "Tuscaloosa" and her consorts dueled with the accurate German shore batteries. During the action, the enemy frequently straddled the British and American ships and forced them to take evasive action. Great clouds of smoke and dust, kicked up by the intense bombardment conducted from sea and land, initially hampered Allied fire. By noontime, however, visibility improved and greatly aided the accuracy of the bombardment.

In July, with the beachhead secured in Normandy and Allied forces pushing into occupied France, "Tuscaloosa" steamed from Belfast to the Mediterranean to join British, French, and American forces assembling for Operation Anvil/Dragoon, the invasion of southern France.

Following preliminary bombardment exercises off Oran, French North Africa, "Tuscaloosa" was based at Palermo, Italy, and got underway on 13 August. Two days later, "Tuscaloosa" commenced fire at 0635 and continued to pound targets ashore until the combined Allied forces stormed onto the beaches at H-Hour, 0800. Then, moving off the 100 fathom (183 m) curve, "Tuscaloosa" leisurely cruised the shoreline, visually inspecting it for targets of opportunity. A troublesome pillbox at the St. Raphel breakwater provoked "Tuscaloosa"'s attention, and the cruiser's 8 inch (203 mm) shells soon destroyed it. Air spotters located a field battery, and "Tuscaloosa's" gunners promptly knocked it out of action with three direct hits.

For the next 11 days, the cruiser delivered fire support for the right flank of the Army's advance to the Italian frontier. She engaged German shore batteries and fought off air attacks. The raids—conducted by Junkers Ju 88s and Dornier Do 217s singly, or in small groups—usually occurred during the covering force's nightly retirement from the beachheads. Of the high altitude variety, these aerial assaults included the use of radar-controlled glider bombs. However, radar counter-measures and jamming devices, as well as effective evasive action and gunfire, thwarted these twilight and nocturnal attacks.

In September, when Allied forces had secured footholds in both western and southern France, "Tuscaloosa" returned to the United States for refitting at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. After a short exercise period in Chesapeake Bay, she steamed via the Panama Canal to the west coast and reported to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. After stopping briefly at San Diego, she proceeded on westward to Pearl Harbor, where she conducted various exercises before steaming to Ulithi to join Commander, 3rd Fleet in January 1945.

Following her sortie from Ulithi, she joined the bombardment group off Iwo Jima at dawn on 16 February. Three days later, as waves of landing craft bore marines shoreward to invade the island, "Tuscaloosa's" guns pounded Japanese positions inland. Then, after the Americans had reached land, her batteries supported their advances with incessant fire and illumination. This continued from 19 February to 14 March, throughout all phases of the bitterly fought campaign to wrest the island from the Japanese.

Returning to Ulithi after the Iwo Jima operation, she spent four hectic days replenishing stores, ammunition, and fuel in preparation for the next operation: Okinawa, at the end of the chain of the Japanese home islands. On Palm Sunday, 25 March, "Tuscaloosa's" main and secondary batteries opened fire on shore targets pinpointed by aerial reconnaissance. Time considerations only allowed a six-day respite in the middle of the arduous campaign for replenishment purposes, "Tuscaloosa" stood on duty for the entire operation.

"Tuscaloosa's" charmed life in the face of everything the Axis could throw at her still held through the maelstrom of the kamikazes which came at the invasion ships and their escorts from all quarters. The "Divine Wind" came down from the Japanese home islands, in the form of planes piloted by pilots so loyal to their Emperor that they unhesitatingly gave their lives to defend their home soil.

"Tuscaloosa's" gunners splashed two of the intruders. One, headed for the fantail of USS|Texas|BB-35|2, flew apart as the cruiser's shells splashed her in the old battleship's wake. The other headed for an escorting destroyer in the screen only to be splashed after hitting a curtain of fire from the cruiser's guns.

Only the mop-up of determined resistance ashore remained when "Tuscaloosa" departed from Okinawa on 28 June. Two days later, she arrived in Leyte Gulf, Philippine Islands; there reporting to Commander, 7th Fleet, for duty. Six weeks later, with Allied warships bombarding her shores with near impunity and Allied planes sweeping her skies clear of rapidly dwindling numbers of her defending aircraft, Japan surrendered.

On 27 August, "Tuscaloosa", in company with other units of the 7th Fleet, departed Subic Bay in the Philippines, bound for Korean and Manchurian waters.

China

She touched at Tsingtao, China, en route, and proceeded to cruise off the newly liberated ports of Dairen and Port Arthur, Manchuria; Chefoo, Taku, Weihaiwei and Chinwangtao, China, before finally anchoring off Jinsen (now Inchon), Korea, on 8 September to support the landings of Marines nearby.

After a stay of 22 days, "Tuscaloosa" put to sea once more on 30 September, bound for Taku, China, to support Marines landing there. She next sailed for Chefoo on 6 October but, en route, received orders changing her destination to Jinsen to take on provisions.

As Chinese Nationalist and communist forces jockeyed for position to control formerly Japanese-held territory, American forces stood by in the uneasy role of observers. "Tuscaloosa" arrived off Chefoo, then held by the communists, on 13 October. Remaining until 3 November, she lay at anchor off the port, keeping well informed on the situation ashore through daily conferences with officials of the communist Eighth Route Army. During this period, collaborationist troops who had been loyal to the Japanese during the war, clashed with communist forces near Chefoo.

On 3 November, she put to sea, bound for Tsingtao, where the cruiser spent one evening before proceeding down the Chinese coast to call at Shanghai. There, she took on board 214 army and 118 navy passengers for "Magic Carpet" transportation home for demobilization.

She arrived in Hawaii on 26 November, where additional passenger facilities were installed, and took on board 206 more men before departing Hawaiian waters on the 28th and arriving at San Francisco on 4 December. After voyage repairs, the ship sailed for the South Pacific on 14 December, via the Solomon Islands, and proceeded to Nouméa, New Caledonia.

"Tuscaloosa" embarked troops at Guadalcanal, moved to the Russell Islands where she took on more passengers, and arrived at Nouméa on New Year's Day 1946. By that afternoon, the ship got underway for the west coast with more than 500 passengers.

She arrived at Pearl Harbor nine days into the new year, fueled, and picked up additional demobilized servicemen to transport home. She sailed for San Francisco on 10 January and arrived five days later. On 29 January, the men delivered, "Tuscaloosa" stood out of San Francisco bound for the east coast on her last cruise as an active member of the fleet.

Awards

"Tuscaloosa" received seven battle stars for her World War II service.

Decommissioning

Placed out of commission at Philadelphia on 13 February 1946, "Tuscaloosa" remained in reserve there until she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 March 1959. Her hulk was sold on 25 June 1959 to the Boston Metals Company of Baltimore, Maryland, for scrapping.

Notes

External links

* [http://www.geocities.com/usstuscaloosa/vetassoc.htm USS "Wichita"/USS "Tuscaloosa" Veteran's Association]
* [http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-t/ca37.htm Navy photographs of "Tuscaloosa" (CA-37)]

References

*


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