USS Birmingham (CL-62)

The USS Birmingham was a Cleveland class light cruiser than served in the Mediterranean and the Pacific during the Second World War, suffering heavy damage from a Japanese air attack in 1943 and again when the light carrier Princeton exploded while she was alongside during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The Birmingham was commissioned on 29 January 1943, and spent the next four months preparing for action, before on 8 June departing for the Mediterranean. She was allocated to Task Group 86.1, part of the naval force supporting Operation Husky, the amphibious landings on Sicily. Her first role, on the morning of 9 July, was to escort three groups of LSTs to their beaches. She then moved to the eastern fire support area, and attempted to bombard enemy artillery positions on Mount Desusino. Her task was made harder by poor communications with the USAAF and RAF. Her spotter aircraft came under Allied anti-aircraft, British Airacobras and German fighters. One spotter plane had to be recovered after suffering damage from AA fire and during a German attack, while a second was forced back after being hit by friendly fire and attacked by a British Airacobra, sadly with the loss of the rear gunner. Despite these problems the Birmingham continued to fire until 9.18am, when the ground troops reached their initial objectives. She then remained off Sicily for nine days, providing naval gunfire to support the fighting.

USS Birmingham (CL-62), Mare Island Navy Yard, 21 January 1945
USS Birmingham (CL-62),
Mare Island Navy Yard,
21 January 1945

After this nine day engagement in the Mediterranean the Birmingham was transferred to the Pacific, reaching Norfolk on 8 August and Pearl Harbor on 5 September. She was then allocated to Task Group 15.1, where she formed part of the cruiser screen for the carriers Lexington, Princeton and Belleau Wood. The Birmingham only served with this powerful group for a short period. In mid September the group launched air attacks on Japanese positions on Tarawa and Makin, two months before the American invasion of those islands, and on 5-6 October it attacked Wake Island. Here the Birmingham took a direct part in the bombardment, and one of her spotter planes survived an attack by a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero.

After returning to Pearl Harbor the Birmingham was ordered to the Solomon Islands, reaching Bougainville on 5 November. On 8 November, while patrolling off the southwest of the island with two other light cruisers and four destroyers, the Birmingham suffered heavy damage. The first Japanese aircraft were spotted at noon, but the first attack, by a dozen Japanese bombers, didn't come until just after 7pm. The Birmingham suffered two hits within a minute. The first came from a Aichi D3A Val which had just been shot down by the Birmingham's AA guns, but not before it could release its bomb. This hit the starboard part of the stern, destroying the float plane hanger. The second came from an aerial torpedo, which blew a 30-foot hole on the port side of the bow and flooded two fuel oil compartments. A third hit followed soon afterwards, when another Val managed to drop its bomb before being destroyed. This time turret #4 was knocked out.

USS Birmingham (CL-62) heading for wrecking yard, 1959
USS Birmingham (CL-62) heading for wrecking yard, 1959

Despite the heavy damage the Birmingham was able to remain in formation throughout the night, shooting down at least two Japanese bombers and helping to keep a number of attacks away from the group. On the next morning the group retired back into the central Solomons, and on 10 November the Birmingham continued on to Florida Island, where she received temporary repairs. On 16 November she left Florida Island, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 1 December and at Mare Island, California on 22 December. Repairs were completed impressively rapidly, and the Birmingham was able to sail back to the Pacific on 18 February 1944, reaching Pearl Harbor once again on 23 February.

After a period of training exercises and a bad outbreak of dysentery the Birmingham joined the fleet allocated to the invasion of the Mariana Islands, serving with Task Group 52.17. On 14 June she covered underwater demolition teams and minesweepers off Saipan. On 15 June she became involved in an artillery duel with half a dozen Japanese gun batteries on the same island, but despite being under fire for two hours she wasn't hit, and after she destroyed Japanese ammo dumps at 10.18am and 10.30am the Japanese fire dwindled. In the afternoon the Birmingham came close inshore, a move that tempted a number of hidden Japanese batteries to open fire, making them easy targets for Allied aircraft. On 16 June the Birmingham provided short range fire support to the troops landings on 'Green' beach, helping them to establish a beachhead.

The American invasion of the Mariana Islands provoked a major Japanese response, which resulted in the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the last major carrier battle of the war. The Birmingham formed part of a covering group of ships whose role was to prevent Japanese aircraft from reaching the carriers, but American air supremacy was so marked that very few attacks ever threatened the carriers. On 20 June the Americans launched a daring long range strike on the Japanese carriers, which ended after dark. The Birmingham was one of a number of ships that lit up their lights to guide the strike aircraft back to their carriers, and then helped pick up the aircrew after they had ditched.

After the battle the Birmingham returned to bombard Tinian (26-27 June), Saipan (1-5 July), Tinian (6 July) and Guam (21 July), before supporting the landings on Guam on 22 July. She then returned to Tinian to support the invasion of that island, remaining in place until 1 August. She then took part in a raid that hit Angaur, Peleliu and Babelthuap (6-7 September) and then moved on to attack targets around Sarangani Bay on Mindanao (9 September), to divert Japanese attention away from the Palau Islands. During this raid the Birmingham and four destroyers were detached to attack a Japanese convoy, sinking 29 Japanese ships. The Birmingham claimed three cargo ships, an sampan and a motor boat. The group remained in the Philippines until 15 September, then raided the Caroline Islands before returning to attack Luzon and Manila.

On 10 October the task group took part in an attack on Okinawa, intended to prevent the Japanese from moving aircraft to the Philippines. On the next day they attacked northern Luzon, then on 12 October hit Formosa. On 13-15 October she joined a group of cruisers and destroyers that were shielding the damaged cruiser Canberra (CA-70) against Japanese air attack while she was being towed to safety, then on 15-16 October did the same for the Houston (CL-81).

USS Birmingham fighting fires on USS Princeton
USS Birmingham
fighting fires on
USS Princeton

On 24 October, during the battle of Leyte Gulf, the carrier Princeton (CV-23) was hit by a single bomb from a Yokosuka D4Y Judy dive bomber. The explosion caused fires which triggered further explosions, and the carrier lost speed. The cruisers Birmingham and Reno and three destroyers slowed down to support the carrier, and the Birmingham moved alongside her to help fight the fires. At first it seemed as if the massive damage control effort would save the Princeton, but at 15.22 her aft magazines exploded. The Birmingham was raked by debris, and in an instant half of her crew were killed or wounded – 233 were killed, 211 seriously wounded and 215 lightly wounded. The Birmingham had to limp away from the Princeton to save herself, while the carrier eventually had to be sunk.

The Birmingham reached Mare Island, California in November and underwent a combination of repairs and a refit, as well as being converted into a flagship. She finally reached Saipan on 25 February, four months after being damaged, and was sent on to Iwo Jimo to support the invasion. She then moved on to Okinawa, bombarding Okinawa Gunto on 25 March and Okinawa itself from 26 March.

The Birmingham remained off Okinawa to support the invasion, coming under attack from a series of kamikaze aircraft. On 1 April she narrowly avoided being hit by a Val, while on 6 April she shot down a Val and claimed part of three Judies. She left the beaches to move towards the giant battleship Yamato on 7 April, but returned to her post later in the day after learning that the battleship had been sunk. She then moved on to support the invasion of Ie Shima, then moved back to provide fire support for a 24th Army offensive on Okinawa. After that she remained in the waters around Okinawa supporting the land forces, until early on 4 May she was hit by an Oscar. The explosion destroyed the sick bay, and broke holes in the main, second and third decks as well as punching a five foot wide hole in the hull and flooding the armoury and three ammunition magazines. This effectively ended the Birmingham's war. She reached Guam on 10 May and Pearl Harbor on 28 May, where she underwent six weeks of repairs. She was on her way to Wake Island to take part in a bombardment of the isolated garrison when the Japanese surrender ended the war. The Birmingham was awarded eight battle starts for her service during the Second World War.

Like most American ships the Birmingham began to steam towards Japan, but on 11 September she was assigned to the Commander, US Naval Forces, Australia-New Guinea, reaching Brisbane on 23 September, where she became the flagship of Rear Admiral C. E. Van Hook, Commander of Task Force 91. After five months in Australian waters she returned to San Francisco on 22 March 1946. On 2 April she was inactivated, and on 16 October she was placed in the San Diego Reserve Fleet. She was stricken from the Navy list and broken up during 1959.

Displacement (standard)

11,744t

Displacement (loaded)

14,131t

Top Speed

32.5kts

Range

11,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

3-5in

 - armour deck

2in

 - bulkheads

5in

 - barbettes

6in

 - turrets

6.5in face
3in top
3in side
1.5in rear

 - conning tower

5in
2.25in roof

Length

610ft 1in oa

Armaments

Twelve 6in/47 guns (four triple turrets)
Twelve 5in/38 guns (six double positions)
Twenty eight 40mm guns
Twenty one AA 20mm guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement

1,285

Builder

Newport News

Laid down

17 February 1941

Launched

20 March 1942

Commissioned

29 January 1943

Broken up

1959

US Navy Light Cruisers 1941-45, Mark Stille. Covers the five classes of US Navy light cruisers that saw service during the Second World War, with sections on their design, weaponry, radar, combat experience. Nicely organised, with the wartime service records separated out from the main text, so that the design history of the light cruisers flows nicely. Interesting to see how new roles had to be found for them, after other technology replaced them as reconnaissance aircraft [read full review]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 July 2009), USS Birmingham (CL-62) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Birmingham_CL62.html

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