USS Atlanta (CL-51)

USS Atlanta (CL-51) was the name ship of the Atlanta class of light cruisers, and had a short wartime career in the Solomon Islands, before being sunk at the naval battle of Guadalcanal (13-15 November 1942). Despite her short active career, the Atlanta was awarded five battle stars.

The Atlanta was launched on 6 September 1941 and commissioned on 24 December 1941, just after the American entry into the Second World War. Her shakedown cruise lasted until 13 March and she was ready for service by the end of the month. On 5 April she left New York heading for the Pacific. On her way across the Pacific she searched Clipperton Islands, 670 miles to the south-west of Acapulco, for any signs of Japanese activity, but found none.

USS Atlanta (CL-51) under construction, 1 October 1941
USS Atlanta (CL-51)
under construction,
1 October 1941

She left Pearl Harbor on 10 May as part of the escort for the ammo ship Rainier (AE-5) and the oiler Kaskaskia (AO-27). After getting them safely to Noumea in New Caledonia, she joined Task Force 16 (Admiral Halsey), built around the carriers Enterprise (CV-6) and Hornet (CV-8). She took part in the battle of Midway (3-7 June 1942), acting as part of the screen for the Hornet. She was thus not involved in the main part of the battle, and didn't fire her guns in anger.

At the end of July the Atlanta was allocated to Task Force 61, part of the fleet that supported the invasion of Guadalcanal. On 7-8 August 1942 she screened the carriers as they carried out strikes in support of the invasion. She stayed with the carriers when they withdrew on 9 August.

The Atlanta took part in the battle of the Eastern Solomons (24-25 August 1942). This was triggered by a Japanese attempt to get a convoy to Guadalcanal, supported by elements of the Combined Fleet. This triggered a carrier battle in which the Enterprise came under heavy attack. The Atlanta formed part of the carrier's anti-aircraft screen during this attack, claiming five victories. The Enterprise suffered several direct hits and near misses in the attack and was out of action until mid-October.

On the day after the battle the Atlanta joined TF 11 (TF 61 from 30 August). On 31 August the Saratoga was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-26. Atlanta formed part of the screen for the damaged carrier as she was towed to safety. In mid-September she escorted an ammo ship and an aircraft transport to Noumea, then in early October acted as an escort for transport ships heading towards Guadalcanal. She was then allocated to Rear Admiral Willis Lee's TF 64, part of the force operating closer to Guadalcanal.

She joined this task force in time to take part in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (26 October 1942), again triggered by an attack by the Japanese Combined Fleet. During the battle the Atlanta operated with the Washington (BB-56), San Francisco(CA-38), Helena (CL-50) and two destroyers. During the battle she provided part of the escort for the fuelling support group. The battle ended with both fleets withdrawing - the Japanese because their land attack on Guadalcanal had failed, the Americans because the carrier Hornet had been sunk and the Enterprise was unable to operate. Admiral Norman Scott transferred his flag to the Atlanta, which became flagship of TG 64.2, and she stayed close to Guadalcanal.

USS Atlanta (CL-51) on trials, November 1941
USS Atlanta (CL-51) on trials, November 1941

On 30 October she took part in a shore bombardment of Guadalcanal. In early November the task group escorted one transport ship and two cargo ships to Guadalcanal, and guarded them as they unloaded their cargoes. On 11 November the Altanta and her destroyer escorts fought off two Japanese air attacks, preventing the valuable transports from suffering any damage. Another air attack on 12 November was no more successful.

These air attacks were the opening phase of another major Japanese naval offensive, which triggered the naval battle of Guadalcanal (13-15 November 1942). The Japanese had four naval forces - a support force, two bombardment forces which were to attack the American positions, and a transport group that was to get reinforcements onto the island. Atlanta was now part of TG 67.4 (Admiral Callaghan), which was given the task of escorting vulnerable transport vessels away from the landing beaches. Once this had been done, the force turned back west to face the Japanese.

The two fleets almost ran into each in the dark. The Atlanta became involved in a duel with the Japanese destroyer Akatsuki. One long lance torpedo from the Japanese destroyer hit the Atlanta in her forward engine room, knocking out all but auxiliary diesel power. In return the Atlanta shot out the Akatsuki's searchlight, and the Japanese destroyer was sunk by a combination of fire from the Atlanta and the San Francisco.

The Atlanta then became a victim of friendly fire. In the confusion of the night battle the San Francisco hit her with nineteen 8-inch shells. Most passed straight through the thinly armoured Atlanta without exploding, but they did fling deadly fragments throughout the vessel. Amongst the dead was Admiral Scott. Captain Jenkins, commander of the ship, was wounded but was able to retain command.

An attempt was made to save the Atlanta. The seriously wounded were evacuated to Gualalcanal, and she was put under tow. By around 2pm it was clear that the ship was sinking. Captain Jenkins was given permission to abandon ship, and she was scuttled three miles west of Lunga Point. Captain Jenkins was awarded the Navy Cross for his efforts during the battle, while the ship was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



8,500 nm @ 15kts

Armour – belt


 - bulkheads


 - armour deck


 - gunhouses


 - deck over underwater magazines



541ft 6in oa


Sixteen 5in/38 guns (eight two-gun turrets)
Sixteen 1.1in guns (four four-gun positions)
Sixteen 40mm guns (eight double mountings)
Eight 20mm guns
Eight 21in torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Laid down

22 April 1940


6 September 1941


24 December 1941


13 November 1942

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 (28 May 2015), USS Atlanta (CL-51) ,

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