USS Cleveland (CL-55)

The USS Cleveland (CL-55) was the first member and name-ship of the Cleveland class of light cruisers, the most numerous type of American cruiser of the Second World War. As the first of her class she was also the only one of the twenty nine completed ships to be launched before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Cleveland was authorised in 1939 as a 8,000 ton ten-gun 6in cruiser, limited in size by the terms of the London Naval Treaty of 1936. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that the limits were removed, and a larger design was adopted, but the entire class suffered from the size constraints imposed by the original hull.

The Cleveland was laid down in July 1940, launched sixteen months later and commissioned on 15 June 1942, with E. W. Burrough as her first captain.

As the earliest member of her class the Cleveland had a significantly weaker anti-aircraft armament than became standard, with eight 40mm and thirteen 20mm guns compared to the twenty eight 40mm and ten 20mm guns of most of the class. The Cleveland was one of three members of the class to have their starboard catapult removed early in 1945 to reduce top weight.

The Cleveland made her combat debut during Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. She was part of the fleet that crossed the Atlantic, leaving Norfolk on 10 October 1942. On 8 November the Clevelandopened fire in anger for the first time, when she supported the landings at Fedhala, on the coast of French Morocco. The US Navy's lack of enthusiasm for any campaign away from the Pacific is well demonstrated by the short duration of the Cleveland's involvement in Operation Torch, which ended after only five days (8-12 November), and by 24 November she was back at Norfolk.

USS Cleveland (CL-55) under construction, 1 October 1941
USS Cleveland (CL-55) under
construction, 1 October 1941

The Cleveland departed for the Pacific on 5 December 1942 and reached Efate (the third largest island in Vanuatu, to the south-east of the Solomon Islands.), on 16 January 1943. By this time the battle of Guadalcanal was close to its end, but fighting was still going on, and the Cleveland's first mission was to escort a troop convoy sailing to the island, as part of Task Force 18. On 29-30 January 1943 this convoy came under fierce Japanese attack (battle of Rennell Island). The Cleveland survived a heavy Japanese air attack, although the heavy cruiser USS Chicago was sunk.

The Cleveland then joined Task Force 68, under the command of Rear-Admiral A. S. Merrill (the other 'Merrill's Marauders'). On 6 March TF 68, with three cruisers and six destroyers, steamed up 'the slot' and bombarded the Japanese bases at Vila and Munda. A weaker Japanese naval force, attempting to get supplies to Vila, was found, and two Japanese destroyers were sunk (action of Kula Gulf).

Captain's Inspection on USS Cleveland (CL-55), 28 March 1944
Captain's Inspection on USS Cleveland (CL-55), 28 March 1944

In late June the Americans began Operation Cartwheel, a massive series of interrelated attacks that were originally designed to end with the capture of Rabaul, but that eventually saw that key Japanese base isolated and left to wither on the vine. On the night of 29-30 June the Cleveland, with Task Force 68, took part in a bombardment of the Buin-Shortland area of Bougainville, while other elements of the task force bombarded the southern end of Kolombangara Island, further to the east. The two bombardments were designed to prevent the Japanese interfering with the American landings on Rendova and New Georgia. The task force remained in the area for the next two weeks, and on 12 July the Cleveland provided gun support for the landings at Munda, one of the most important Japanese bases on New Georgia.

After this the Cleveland visited Sydney for some repairs, before sailing north to take part in the pre-invasion bombardment of the Treasury Islands (26-27 October 1943). The invasion itself, led by New Zealand troops, took place on 27 October. The Cleveland was still under the overall command of Admiral Merrill, but was now part of Task Force 39. On 1 November this task force took part in took part in the bombardment of Buka and Shortland Islands, to support the invasion of Bougainville.

Early on 2 November 1943 the Japanese sent a fleet to attack the American beachhead on Bougainville (battle of Empress Augusta Bay). The attacking fleet, under Rear-Admiral Sentaro Omori, consisted of two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers and eleven destroyers, while Task Force 39 contained four light cruisers (Montpelier, Cleveland, Columbia and Denver) and eight destroyers, so the odds slightly favoured the Japanese, but the battle ended with a clear American victory. After an hour long gun battle the Cleveland was able to claim a share in the sinking of the light cruiser Sendai, and the Japanese also lost a destroyer. The American pursuit ended at dawn, when an air attack was expected. At 8am 100 Japanese aircraft attacked the task force, scoring a near-miss on the Cleveland, but at the cost of 25 aircraft, several of which were shot down by the Cleveland's AA guns. The Cleveland was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for her part in this battle.

The Cleveland took part in another bombardment of Buka on 23 December. From 13 to 18 February 1944 she patrolled between Truk and the Green Islands, while other naval forces launched two attacks on the Japanese fleet base at Truk. At the same time New Zealand troops were landed on the Green Islands (15 February). After supporting the invasion of Emirau Island (17-23 March) the Cleveland returned to Sydney.

After a month to refit and repair the Cleveland returned to the Solomons in time to take part in the invasion of the Marianas. She took part in pre-invasion bombardments, and provided fire support during the landings of 15 June. She then joined Task Force 58, and with this great fleet took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June 1944). The Cleveland was credited with the destruction of at least one Japanese aircraft, although American air-superiority meant that very few Japanese attackers ever reached the cruisers.

From 12 to 29 September the Cleveland took part in the bombardment of the Palau Islands. She then returned to the United States for a major overhaul, departing on 5 October and returning to the Pacific theatre on 9 February 1945. She was soon back in action, and on 13 and 14 February 1945 took part in the bombardment of Corregidor that cleared the way for the parachute attack on 16 February. The Cleveland then took part in operations to support landings at Puerto Princesa, the Visayans, Panay and at Malabang and Parang on Mindanao.

The Cleveland then sailed to Borneo (7-15 June) to support the invasion of Brunei (10 June). She then returned to Manila to pick up General Douglas MacArthur and his staff, who were to observe the Australian attack on Balikpapan, a centre of the oil industry on Borneo. The Clevelandtook part in the preliminary bombardment on the morning of 1 July, before the Australian 7th Division landed. MacArthur soon landed to inspect the beach-head, and by 3 July the Cleveland was back at Manila.

The Cleveland's next assignment was to a task force operating in the East China Sea against Japanese shipping. She arrived at their base on Okinawa on 16 July and took part in operations until 7 August, the day after the dropping of the first atomic bomb and only a few days before the Japanese surrender. Her next mission was more peaceful – on 9 September the Cleveland left Okinawa to cover the evacuation of Allied prisoners of war from Wakayama. After that she served with a naval occupation group that filled the gap before the Army could reach Honshu. She then visited Tokyo Bay (28 October-1 November), before finally departed for the US east coast, reaching Boston on 5 December.

During three years of combat the Cleveland had been awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and 13 battle stars. Her long combat record meant that she had a short post-war career – there were plenty of newer cruisers that had barely seen action that were better suited for the peace-time navy. She took part in a number of training exercises, before on 7 February 1947 she was inactivated and placed in the naval reserve at Philadelphia where she remained until she was sold to be broken up on 18 February 1960.

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

1 July 1940


1 November 1941


15 June 1942

Sold to be broken up

18 February 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 (15 July 2009), USS Cleveland (CL-55) ,

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