USS Santa Fe (CL-60)

The USS Santa Fe (CL-60) was the fifth member of the Cleveland class of light cruisers. She went from being laid down to being commissioned in only seventeen months, five to six months quicker than the first four members of the class, and went on to earn the Navy Unit Commendation and thirteen battle stars during the Second World War.

The Santa Fe was laid down in June 1941 and was launched twelve months later, on 10 June 1942. The fitting out process was completed in only five months, and she was commissioned on 24 November 1942, under the command of Captain Russell Berkey. While her sister ships were fighting in the warm waters around the Solomon Islands, the Santa Fe was sent north to Alaska, leaving Pearl Harbor on 22 March 1943 and bombarding the Japanese positions on Attu on 26 April. Four months of operations in the frozen waters of the far north followed, with most of that time filled with patrols off the Aleutian Islands to guard against any further Japanese naval activities in the islands. This routine was only broken by bombardments of Kiska on 6 and 22 July and by a period providing naval gunfire to support the landings on Kiska on 15 August. Ten days after the landings the Santa Fe left for Pearl Harbor.

On her return to Pearl the Santa Fe joined Cruiser Division 13, and she remained with that unit for the rest of the war. The division's role was to protect the fast carrier task forces, which were to become the most important part of the US Navy during the war in the Pacific. During 1943 the Santa Fe escorted the carriers on raids against Tarawa (18-19 September), Wake (5-6 October) and Kwajalein (4 December), taking part in the bombardment of Wake. The Santa Fe was also detached from her division twice – first to escort reinforcements going to Bougainville, spending 7-9 November fighting off Japanese air attacks around the island, and second to escort the invasion fleet heading for the Gilbert Islands (14-26 November), spending three days (20-22 November) bombarding Japanese positions on Tarawa.

USS Santa Fe (CL-60) in the Aleutians, April-August 1943
USS Santa Fe (CL-60)
in the Aleutians,
April-August 1943

The rest of the war saw a similar mix of raiding and invasions, starting with the invasion of the Marshall Islands. The Santa Fe returned to the United States at the end of 1944 to join the invasion force, which sailed on 13 January 1944. On 30 January the cruisers bombarded Wotji, before providing fire support for the invasion of Kwajalein atoll. This was followed by another raid which saw the Santa Fe escort the carriers to Truk (16-17 February) and Saipan (22 February). In late March she escorted the Enterprise and Belleau Wood as they supported the invasion of Emirau Island (20 March), and then launched raids on Palau, Yap and Woleai.

The Santa Fe's next task was to escort a task group centred on the carrier USS Hornet. The group's first duty was to support the invasion of Hollandia, New Guinea. On 21 April the carrier air groups attacked Wakde and Sawar Islands, followed by a cruiser bombardment later on the same day. The task group completed its covering duties on 28 October and carried out raids on Truk, Satawan and Ponape (29 April-1 May) before returning to base on 4 May.

The Santa Fe's next mission saw her become involved in the last great carrier battle of the war as part of a task group centred on the carrier Bunker Hill. This task group was part of the massive fleet that supported the invasion of the Mariana Islands, and on 11-16 June the Bunker Hill and her group launched a series of air attacks on Saipan, Tinian and Guam. The invasion of the Marianas Islands provoked a massive Japanese counterattack (battle of the Philippines Sea), and on 19 June huge numbers of Japanese carrier aircraft attempted to attack the American fleet. The Santa Fe was part of the flak barrier that prevented them getting through. The Americans then launched a daring long range attack on the Japanese carriers, which ended after dark. The Santa Fe was amongst those ships that turned their lights on in an attempt to guide the aircraft back to the fleet, risking attack from any Japanese submarines that might have been in the area. The battle of the Philippines Sea saw the destruction of the last Japanese carrier air groups, ending the threat from their carriers.

After taking part in a raid in Pagan Island on 24 June the Santa Fe rejoined the Hornet's task group. She took part in a surface bombardment of Iwo Jima on 4 July and then provided cover for the carrier group during a series of attacks on Guam and Rota that lasted from 6 to 21 July, on Yap and Ulithi on 25-28 July and on Iwo Jima again on 4-5 August. This last raid included an engagement between the cruisers and a Japanese convoy which saw the Japanese lose the escort vessel Matsu.

USS Santa Fe (CL-60) at sea, 5 March 1943
USS Santa Fe (CL-60) at sea, 5 March 1943

The Santa Fe's next assignment, which lasted from 30 August 1944 to 26 January 1945, was to the carrier group based on the USS Essex. This period began with raids on Peleliu in the Palau Islands (6-8 September), Mindanao in the Philippines (9-10 September), the Visayan Sea (12-14 September) and the Philippines (21-24 September). This was followed by raids on Okinawa and Formosa (10-13 October) designed to prevent Japanese aircraft from those islands interfering in the invasion of the Philippines. After this the Santa Fe was one of three cruisers detached to help tow the damaged Canberra and Houston away from danger, before on 17 October the Santa Fe joined the fleet supporting the landings on Leyte.

The Japanese responded to the invasion of the Philippines with a complex multi-pronged assault on the American fleet (battle of Leyte Gulf). The once-mighty Japanese carrier force was used as bait in an attempt to pull the American carriers away from the Japanese battleships, which would then attempt to sink the American invasion fleet. The Santa Fewas part of the American carrier force that took the bait, and dashed north to attack the Japanese carriers. On the morning of 25 October the Santa Fe was part of a group of six battleships and seven cruisers that was sent ahead of the carriers to shield them against any Japanese surface attack, but is soon became clear that the real Japanese attack was coming in to the south. The battleships and most of the cruisers were sent south in an attempt to prevent disaster, although eventually the weakened American forces around Leyte Gulf were able to fight off the Japanese attack. The Santa Fe, by then flagship of Cruiser Division 13, remained in the north, and on the afternoon of 25 October played a part in the sinking of the Japanese carrier Chiyoda and the destroyer Hatsuzuki. Leyte Gulf was the last conventional naval battle of the war. With their carrier air groups lost in the Philippines Sea and many of their surviving ships lost in Leyte Gulf the Japanese Navy was a broke force, and from October until the end of the war the main threat to the American fleet would come from the kamikazes.

This was not clear at the time. The Essex group was meant to have returned to Manus on 1 November, but was called back to search for a new Japanese fleet that was believed to be approaching the Philippines. The group was then forced to remain in action until mid-November to provide air support for the troops fighting on Leyte before returning to Ulithi on 17 November. The Santa Fe was still at Ulithi on 20 November when Japanese midget submarines made one of their more successful attacks of the war, sinking the tanker Mississinewa (AO-59). The Santa Fe took part in the rescue operations. 

The Santa Fe, still part of the Essex group, returned to the action on 25 November, screening the carriers during a week of attacks on the Philippines. In mid-December the group supported the landings on Mindoro, suffering three loses when hit by a typhoon on 18-19 December. Another period raids followed, with attacks on Formosa and Okinawa on 3-4 January 1945, Luzon on 6-7 January and Formosa on 9 January, all designed to prevent Japanese aircraft from interfering with the landings on Luzon. From Formosa the group entered the South China Sea, attacking Japanese shipping during a week-long raid, before attacking Formosa (21 January) and Okinawa (22 January) before returning to base. 

After this raid the Santa Fe transferred to the Yorktown's group, screening the carriers during a raid on Tokyo on 16-17 February. She was then detached to take part in a bombardment of Iwo Jima (19-21 February) to support the invasion, suppressing Japanese artillery batteries on Mt. Suribachi, before returning to the carrier group for a second raid on Tokyo on 25 February.

This was followed by another change of assignment, this time to the Hancock's group. This group attacked Kyushu on 18 March and surviving elements of the Japanese fleet in the anchorages at Kure and Kobe on 19 March. This second raid was costly, for a single Japanese aircraft managed to get through the group's air defences and hit the Franklin with two bombs. The bombs triggered massive explosions onboard the carrier, and set her alight. The Santa Fe moved alongside the burning Franklin, and over three hours helped rescue 833 survivors, while damage control parties managed to put out the most dangerous fires. The badly damaged carrier was then towed back to safety at Ulithi by the USS Pittsburgh, with the Santa Fe in escort. The Santa Fe was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for her part in this rescue, and then returned to San Pedro, California, for a refit.

She returned to Pearl Harbor on 1 August, and was on her way to Wake Island as part of the Antietam's task group, when the Japanese surrender ended the war. The group was sent to Eniwetok, and then on to Okinawa, arriving there on 26 August. The Santa Fe was then sent on to Sasebo, at the western end of the Japanese Home Islands, where she helped with the occupation of Honshu and Hokkaido. She then made two trips across the Pacific carrying American troops home.

The Santa Fe was awarded thirteen battle stars for her service during the Second World War. Like most of the older Cleveland class cruisers she had a short post-war career, entering the Bremerton Group of the US Pacific Reserve Fleet on 19 October 1946. She remained in the reserve until 1959 when she was struck off and sold for scrap, being broken up during 1960.

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 four 40mm guns
Twenty one 20mm guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement

1,285

Builder

New York SB

Laid down

7 June 1941

Launched

10 June 1942

Commissioned

24 November 1942

Broken up

1960

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 Santa Fe (CL-60) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Santa_Fe_CL60.html

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