USS Wilkes-Barre (CL-103)

USS Wilkes-Barre (CL-103) was a Cleveland class light cruiser that saw combat in the Pacific during 1945, taking part in the raids on the Japanese home islands and the fighting at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She won four battle stars for her actions in the Pacific.

The Wilkes-Barre was laid down on 14 December 1942, launched one year later and commissioned on 1 July 1944. She had shakedown cruises in Chesapeake Bay and Trinidad. She transited the Panama Canal in October 1944, and reached Pearl Harbor on 17 November 1944. She finally left for the front on 14 December, and joined Cruiser Division 17 at Ulithi. She sortied on her first combat mission on 30 December 1944, forming part of a support unit for Task Force 38 (Vice Admiral John S. McCain).

In the first part of January TF 38 attacked Formosa, the southern Ryukyu islands, Luzon and then Formosa again. On 9-10 January the fleet passed into the South China Sea to prevent any Japanese surface units from interfering in the Lingayen Gulf landings on the Philippines. On 12 January Wilkes-Barre became part of TG 34.5, a temporary group sent to investigate reports of Japanese ships off Cam-ranh Bay, French Indochina. No ships were found and the TG quickly rejoined the main fleet. In the second half of January the Wilkes-Barre escorted the carriers as they attacked Takao, Amoy, Swatow, Indochina, Hong Kong, Formosa and Okinawa. At the end of the month the Third Fleet became the Fifth, and TF 38 became TF 58, under the command of Admiral Marc A. Mitscher.

USS Wilkes Barre (CL-103) at San Pedro, California, 31 January 1946
USS Wilkes Barre (CL-103)
at San Pedro, California,
31 January 1946

The Task Force's first task was to conduct a carrier raid on the Japanese Home Islands in order to distract attention away from the invasion of Iwo Jima. Wilkes-Barre was part of TG 58.3 (Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman) during this operation, and helped screen the fleet carriers during two days of attacks on targets in the Toyko area (16-17 February 1945). The fleet then headed back toward Iwo Jima, attacking Chichi Jima and Haha Jima on the way. On 21 February the Wilkes-Barre took part in a shore bombardment of Iwo Jima, using her Kingfisher floatplanes to spot her fire. One Japanese counterattack was stopped by effective fire from the cruiser. On 23 February she rejoined TG 58.3 to take part in another attack on Tokyo (25 February) and an attack on Okinawa (1 March). After this the task group returned to Ulithi to replenish.

The Wilkes-Barre remained at Ulithi until 15 March, when she was ordered to rejoin TG 58.3 for another attack on Japan. Kyushi was the target on 18-19 March, and on 19 March the Wilkes-Barreachieved her first acknowledge victory, shooting down a Yokosuka D4Y Suisei 'Judy' dive-bomber. Okinawa was the target on 23-24 March. On 24 March the Wilkes-Barreused her Kingfisher for air-sea rescue duties, picking up two pilots. On 27 March she and the rest of CruDiv 17 took part in a shore bombardment, attacking an airfield on Minami Daito Shima. The month finished with another attack on Kyushu and another air-sea rescue.

On 1 April 1945 the invasion of Okinawa began. TF 58 and its carriers played a part in the battle, providing air cover for the troops fighting on the island. The fleet came under heavy air attack, in particular from kamikaze aircraft. The Wilkes-Barrewas part of the anti-aircraft screen which helped keep most of these attacks away from the valuable and vulnerable carriers. In mid-April the carriers carried out a raid on the airfields on the Japanese Home Islands that were believed to be the source of many of these attacks. Once again the fleet came under heavy attack, and Wilkes-Barre claimed a bomber on 16 April and a Zero on 17 April.

Operations off Okinawa continued into May. The cruisers spent most of their time in the carrier screen, but on 10 May Wilkes-Barre and CruDiv 17 took part in a shore bombardment of Minami Daito Shima.

On 11 May the carrier Bunker Hill was hit by two kamikaze aircraft and a fierce fire broke out. The Wilkes-Barre took part in the rescue and fire-fighting operations, placing how bow against the carrier's starboard quarter. She was able to use ten fire hoses to fight fire as well as rescuing the wounded. Eventually the fires were put out and the Bunker Hill was saved, with the assistance of the Wilkes-Barre and the destroyers Stembel (DD-644), Charles S. Sperry (DD-697) and English (DD-696). On 12-13 May the fleet made another attack on Kyushu. The Japanese responded early on 14 May, and the Wilkes-Barre suffered nine wounded when shell fragments hit the aft signal bridge (possible from friendly anti-aircraft fire).  

USS Wilkes Barre (CL-103) alongside Bunker Hill (CV-17) USS Wilkes Barre (CL-103) alongside Bunker Hill (CV-17)

On 28 May the Fifth Fleet became the Third Fleet and TG 58 became TG 38 under Vice Admiral John S. McCain. The Wilkes-Barre spent June resting, replenishing and training in the Philippines, before sailing to rejoin the fleet on 1 July. She took part in the final prolonged campaign of attacks on the Japanese home islands, providing part of the carrier screen for most of the time. There were some breaks from this pattern. On 14 July she was part of a small force that conduced an anti-shipping sweep off northern Honshu and Kii Suido. On the night of 24-25 July she was part of a force that carried out a shore bombardment of the Kushimoto seaplane base and on the Shionomisaki landing field on the south coast of Honshu, firing her main 6in guns.

On 15 August, after the Japanese agreed to surrender, combat operations officially ended. On 27 August the Wilkes-Barre was part of the 3rd Fleet as it entered Sagami Wan, the entrance to Tokyo Bay. On 3 September, the day after the official surrender, she entered Tokyo Bay.  The Wilkes-Barre formed part of the de-militarization forces, serving as the flagship of Task Unit 35.7.2. On 9-10 September she covered the surrender of the midget submarine and suicide boat base at Tateyama Wan. On 12-14 September she took the surrender of the Aburatsubo and Kurihama midge submarine bays at Sagami. She also took part in the occupation of Katsuura Wan.

October was spent in exercises, before on 5 November she sailed for Korea. She spent the rest of the year operating off the Chinese coast, mainly at Tsingtao, still taking part in the surrender of Japanese forces.

The Wilkes-Barre set sail for the United States on 13 January 1946 and reached California at the end of the month. She reached Philadelphia in March, and spent the spring and summer there. Early in 1947 she made a goodwill visit to Britain and Norway, before operating in British waters in March and April. This effectively ended her active military career. On her return to the United States the Wilkes-Barre was put into the Reserve Fleet. She was decommissioned on 9 October 1947 and remained in the reserve until she was struck from the Navy list on 15 January 1971 (at which point she was the last light cruiser still on the Navy List, all other active Cleveland class cruisers having become guided missile cruisers). The Wilkes-Barre was used for underwater explosive tests, and on 12 May 1972 she broke in half. The aft section sank, but the forward section had to be scuttled on the following day.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



11,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt


 - armour deck


 - bulkheads


 - barbettes


 - turrets

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

 - conning tower

2.25in roof


610ft 1in oa


Twelve 6in/47 guns (four triple turrets)
Twelve 5in/38 guns (six double positions)
Twenty eight 40mm guns (4x4, 6x2)
Ten 20mm guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement



New York SB

Laid down

14 December 1942


24 December 1943


1 July 1944


May 1972

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

WWII Home Page | WWII Subject Index | WWII Books | WWII Links | Day by Day

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (12 December 2013), USS Wilkes-Barre (CL-103) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us -  Subscribe in a reader - Join our Google Group - Cookies