USS Columbia (CL-56)

The USS Columbia (CL-56) was the second member of the Cleveland class of light cruisers to enter service. She served in the Pacific theatre throughout the Second World War, winning a Navy Unit Commendation and ten battle stars.

The Columbia was commissioned on 29 July 1942, just over a month after the Cleveland. Unlike her sister-ship the Columbia did not take part in Operation Torch, instead sailing for the Pacific on 9 November 1942, reaching Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides on 10 December. Her combat debut came just a month and a half later. Along with the Cleveland she made up part of Task Force 18, which on 29-30 January 1943 came under heavy Japanese air attack while escorting a convoy to Guadalcanal (battle of Rennell Island). The Columbia shot down three Japanese planes during the battle, in which the heavy cruiser USS Chicago was lost.

After this first battle the Columbiawas based at Efate (the third largest island of Vanuatu, south-east of the Solomons). From there she operated in the Solomons, performing a mix of patrol and bombardment duties. The most important bombardments came on 29-30 June, in support of the landings on New Georgia, and on 11-12 July, when she attacked Munda. After a brief overhaul at Sydney (5-24 September) the Columbia joined Task Force 68, and took part in operations to support the landings on Bougainville. On 1 November she bombarded Buka, Bonis and the Shortland Islands, before on the night of 1-2 November taking part in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay in which the Japanese light cruiser Sendai was sunk. The Columbia continued to support operations on Bougainville to the end of 1943.

USS Columbia (CL-56), heading to Lingayen Gulf
USS Columbia (CL-56),
heading to Lingayen Gulf

Early in 1944 the fighting moved north-west from Bougainville. On 13-18 February the Columbia helped support the invasion of Nissan, in the Green Islands. In early March she took part in a raid into the gap between Kavieng (New Ireland) and Truk to the north, before returning to the southern end of that gap to support the invasion of Emirau Island (17-23 March 1944). After this she returned to San Fransisco for an overhaul, leaving the Pacific theatre on 4 April and returning on 24 August.

Soon after her return the Columbia took part in the invasion of the Palau Islands, spending most of September 1944 off Peleliu providing naval gunfire to support the bitter fighting on land. She then joined the giant fleet involved in the invasion of the Philippines. On 17 October she helped support the invasion of Dinagat and other islands at the entrance to Leyte Gulf, and on 20 October she joined the fleet supporting the main landings.

Five days later, early on 25 October, the Columbia was part of Rear-Admiral Oldendorf's force of six old battleships and eight cruisers, defending the Surigao Strait. She thus found herself directly in the path of the powerful Japanese South Force, built around the battleships Yamashiro and Fuso (battle of Leyte Gulf). In the resulting gun battle both battleships were damaged, before the Yamashiro was sunk by a torpedo. The surviving Japanese ships were forced to retire, but the Fuso sank soon afterwards, while the Columbia was able to deal the final blows to the damaged destroyer Asagumo.

After this crushing defeat the Japanese turning increasingly to suicide weapons in an attempt to neutralise the massive American advantage in ships and aircraft. On 6 January 1945, during the pre-invasion bombardment in the Lingayen Gulf, the Columbia was hit by two kamikaze aircraft in a short period. The second aircraft broke through two decks before exploding, killing 13 and wounding 44 as well as knocking out the aft-turrets and causing a major fire. Amazingly the crew of the Columbia were not only able to put out the fires and save the ship, they were also able to continue firing from their two remaining forward turrets, and she remaining off-shore until 9 January, when she was hit by a third kamikaze. This time 24 men were killed and 97 wounded, but once again the ship was saved and continued firing for the rest of the day. Only at the end of the day did she retire to Leyte for repairs, and even then she escorted a group of transport ships. The Columbia's crew were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for their performance in Lingayen Gulf.

After undergoing emergency repairs at San Pedro Bay, the Columbia returned to the US west coast for an overhaul and full repairs, before returning to Leyte on 16 June. She then sailed for Borneo, where from 28 June she protected a force of minesweepers that were preparing the way for the Australian landings on 1 July. The Columbia provided supporting fire on 1 and 2 July, before joining Task Force 95 to take part in a series of anti-shipping sweeps in the East China Sea.

After the Japanese surrender the Columbia carried an inspection part to Truk, which had remained in Japanese hands to the end of the war. She then operated a ferry service for the Army between Guam, Saipan and Iwo Jima, before sailing for the United States on 31 October. Like most early members of her class the Columbia had a short post-war career. She served as a training ship for the Naval Reserve until 1 July 1946, and was then decommissioned and placed in reserve in Philadelphia on 30 November 1946. She remained in the reserve fleet until 18 February 1959 when she was sold, and was broken up in the following year.

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

19 August 1940


17 December 1941


29 July 1942

Broken up


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 Columbia (CL-56) ,

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