USS Canberra (CA-70) (originally Pittsburgh)

USS Canberra (CA-70) was a Baltimore class heavy cruiser that was badly damaged by a Japanese torpedo during the battle off Formosa (12-16 October 1944) but that was towed to safety, a remarkable achievement that also helped to convince the Japanese that they had inflicted heavy damage on the American fleet. She was later converted into a Guided Missile Cruiser (CAG-2) and served in that role until 1970. Canberra received seven battle stars for World War II service.

The Canberra was launched on 19 April 1943 and commissioned on 14 October 1943. She was originally going to be named USS Pittsburgh, but the name was changed to honour HMAS Canberra, an Australian cruiser that was lost at the Battle of Savo Island (9 August 1942).

USS Canberra (CAG-2) and USS Boston (CAG-1) at Norfolk, 1958
USS Canberra (CAG-2)
and USS Boston (CAG-1)
at Norfolk, 1958

The Canberra joined Task Force 58 in the Pacific on 14 February 1944, and almost immediately was thrown into the action during the invasion of Eniwetok. She then joined the Yorktown (CV-10) for a raid on the Palau Islands, Yap, Ulithi and Woleai (30 March-1 April). She then joined the Enterprise (CV-6)for an operation to support troops landing on New Guinea. Carrier aircraft hit Hollandia and Wakde then the major Japanese base at Truk. At the same time a force of cruisers, including the Canberra, took part in a surface bombardment of Satawan Island (29 April-1 May 1944).
In May 1944 the Canberra was part of TG58.2 during a raid on Marcus and Wake Islands. In June she joined TG58.1 for the invasion of the Mariana Islands. She was with the task group during the battle of the Philippine Sea.

In August she supported another raid on the Palau Islands and a raid on the Philippines, then in mid-September helped support the invasion of Morotai.

At the start of October the Canberra joined TF 38 for a series of air strikes on Okinawa and Formosa. These were designed to wear down Japanese air power before the upcoming invasion of Leyte Gulf, and were a great success. The Japanese responded to the American raid with a series of massive air strikes (battle off Formosa, 12-16 October 1944). The Japanese lost over 600 aircraft during this battle, but falsely believed that they had achieved a massive success, claiming to have sunk eleven aircraft carriers and two battleships. This affected their conduct of the upcoming Battle of Leyte Gulf, as they believed they had crippled the American fleet.

USS Canberra (CA-70), 14 October 1943
USS Canberra (CA-70), 14 October 1943

The Canberra was one of the few American ships to be damaged during the battle off Formosa. On 13 October she was hit by an aerial torpedo that struck below the armour belt. No.4 Fire Room was knocked out by the initial explosion and 23 men were killed. 4,500 tons of water flooded in. The water was able to get through gaps caused by a damaged propeller shaft and flooded a second fire room and both of the turbine rooms. The Canberra lost all engine power.

Although she was only ninety miles from the Japanese bases on Formosa, the Canberra was successful rescued. For two days she was towed by the Wichita (CA-45). The small fleet was joined by the Houston (CL-81), which was torpedoed early on 14 October. The damaged ships and their tugs formed 'cripple division 1', and made slowly towards safety at Luilti. Admiral Halsey hoped to use this division to trick the Japanese fleet into coming into range of his aircraft, but he struck too soon and the Japanese retired. Canberra and her escorts managed to fight off one Japanese air attack, although Houston was hit for a second time.

The damaged cruisers reached Ulithi on 27 October. She was then towed to Manus where temporary repairs were carried out. She was then towed back across the Pacific and around to Boston. Full repairs took from 16 February to 17 October 1945, so by the time the Canberra was ready to return to the fleet the war was over. She was decommissioned on 7 March 1947. 

On 4 January 1952 the Canberra was reclassified as CAG-2, in preparation for conversion into a guided missile cruiser, following on from the Boston(CA-69). This was a fairly simple conversion compared to later efforts. The rear 8in turret was removed and two Terrier missile launchers were installed. She was recommissioned in her new configuration on 15 June 1956.

The modified Canberra was selected for a number of high prestige roles. In March 1957 she carried President Eisenhower to Bermuda for a conference with Prime Minister MacMillan. In June she was the reviewing ship for the International Naval Review in Hampton Roads. In the spring of 1958 she was the ceremonial flagship for the flotilla that brought the unknown servicemen from the European and Pacific theatres of the Second World War and the Korean War to Arlington. In 1960 she was the flagship of Rear Admiral J McN Taylor on a goodwill world cruise.

More normal duties saw the Canberra conduct midshipman cruises in the summers of 1957 and 1958.

She served with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean from September 1957 to March 1958.  In 1962 she took part in the naval blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

She served five tours of duty off Vietnam, starting in 1965 and ending in 1969. Here her 8in and 5in guns were far more useful than the Terrier missiles. She was hit herself on 2 March 1967, suffering 5 minor casualties. The third tour, in 1968, saw her take part in the Tet Offensive, firing 35,000 rounds during the battle of Hue.

On 1 May 1968, reflecting the out-of-date nature of the Terrier missile, the Canberra was redesignated as CA-80.

The Canberra was decommissioned on 2 February 1970 after the end of her fifth tour of Vietnam, and struck off the Navy List on 31 July 1978.  

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt


 - armour deck


 - barbettes


 - turrets

8in face
3in roof
2-3.75in sides
1.5 rear

 - conning tower

3in roof

 - underwater magazines

3in side
2.5in deck


673ft 5in oa


Nine 8in guns (three triple turrets)
Twelve 5in/38 guns (six double positions)
Forty eight 40mm guns (11x4, 2x2)
Twenty four 20mm guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement


Laid down

3 September 1941


19 April 1943


14 October 1943


31 July 1978

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 January 2015), USS Canberra (CA-70) (originally Pittsburgh) ,

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