USS Portland (CA-33)

Introduction and Pre-war Service

USS Portland (CA33) was the name ship of the Portland class of heavy cruisers and was heavily involved in the Pacific War, fighting at Midway, the Coral Sea, off Guadalcanal, in the Aleutians, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, supporting operations on New Guinea, at Peleliu, and taking part in the battle of Leyte Gulf and the invasion of Okinawa. The Portland received sixteen battle stars for World War II service.

USS Portland (CA-33) at Mare Island, 7 February 1942
USS Portland (CA-33)
at Mare Island,
7 February 1942

The Portland was laid down in February 1930, launched in May 1943 and commissioned in February 1933.

In 1933 the Portland joined CruDiv 4, part of the Scouting Force. On 4 April 1933 the American airship Akron went down over the sea, with the loss of 73 men (amongst them Admiral William Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics). That evening the Portland was ordered to take part in the rescue efforts, and she was the first naval ship to reach the site of the crash.

In 1934 the Portland was moved to CruDiv 6.

In 1935 the Portland served with CruDiv 5. In October 1935 she escorted USS Houston (CA-30) as she carried President Roosevelt on a trip to Panama, ending at Charleston, South Carolina.

In 1936 the Portland moved to CruDiv 6 then back to CruDiv 5. During the same year she crossed the equator for the first time during Pacific Fleet manoeuvres.

During her time with Cru Div 5 in 1936-40 she performed a mix of goodwill missions and training exercises.

In 1940 the Portland joined CruDiv 4, and remained part of that unit throughout the Second World War.

Wartime Service

Two days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the US carriers left harbour with TF11 to ferry Marine aircraft to Midway. Portland provided part of the escort of the Lexington (CV-2) during this trip, and thus was away from harbour on 7 December 1941.

TF11's next mission was an attempt to relieve Wake Island, then under heavy Japanese attack. After that she operated in the area between the US West Coast, Hawaii and Fiji, helping to protect US lines of communication and supporting the first states of the US military build-up in the Pacific.

USS Portland (CA-33), Mare Island, 30 July 1944
USS Portland (CA-33), Mare Island, 30 July 1944

Through the remainder of December and until 1 May 1942 she operated between the west coast, Hawaii, and Fiji.

The Portland was part of Rear Admiral Kinkaid's Attack Group during the Battle of the Coral Sea (4-8 May 1942), forming part of TF17. Although the Americans successfully repulsed a Japanese fleet attempting to reach Port Moresby, the carrier Lexington (CV-2) was lost during the battle. The Portland rescued 722 survivors from the lost carrier.

During the Battle of Midway of June 1942 the Portland was part of Task Force 17 (Rare Admiral F. J. Fletcher), the carrier screen. The Portland was part of the escort for USS Yorktown (CV-5), lost during the battle.

In August the Portland was sent south to support the Guadalcanal campaign, forming part of Task Force 16. On 7-9 August she helped support the Marine landings on Tulagi and Guadalcanal.

The Portland was part of TF61 during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (23-25 August 1942), a carrier battle that stopped the Japanese reinforcing Guadalcanal and saw them abandon daylight operations in the area.

The Portland was part of the American fleet during the Battle of Santa Cruz (26-27 October 1942), another carrier clash that saw the Hornet lost. The Portland was part of the escort for the Enterprise(CV-6) during this battle.

The Portland suffered a torpedo hit during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (12-15 November 1942). She was hit at 1.58an on 13 November on the starboard side. Both inboard propellers were destroyed and the rudder was jammed to the right. No.3 turret was jammed in place. She found herself steaming in circles within firing range of a Japanese battleship (probably the Hiei), and came under fire. The Japanese shells missed, but Portland recorded several hits with her four salvoes. The battleship then moved on, but the damage proved difficult to repair and the Portland was still circling when a Japanese destroyer was detected at 6.30. The Portland opened fire and sank this destroyer in six salvoes (the Akatsuki was the only Japanese destroyer lost in this part of the battle).

The Portland had to be towed to safely at Tulagi, arriving on 14 November. The damage was too serious to be repaired there, and she then had to be towed to Sydney. After initial repairs in Australia she returned to Mare Island Navy Yard via Samoa and Pearl Harbor, reaching the US on 3 March 1943 

After the repairs were complete the Portland underwent a brief period of training off southern California, before sailing for an entirely different theatre - the icy Aleutian Islands. She reached the theatre on 11 June. On 26 July she took part in a bombardment of Kiska and on 17 August she supported a landing on Little Kiska, but she then sailed south, arriving in Pearl Harbor on 23 September.

From November 1943 to February 1944 the Portland helped support the invasions of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. On 30 March-1 April 1944 she was used to protect carriers attacking Palau, Yap, Ulithi and Woleai.

Bridge and Foremast of USS Portland (CA-33) during 1933 refit
Bridge and Foremast of
USS Portland (CA-33)
during 1933 refit

Next she moved south to support the landings around Hollandia and Tanahmerah on New Guinea (21-24 April 1944). On its way back north the fleet attacked Truk, while Portland was part of a force of six cruisers, supported by destroyers, which bombarded Satawan in the Nomei Islands. This was followed by a brief trip to Mare Island for a refit.

The Portland was back in action by 12-14 September when she took part in the pre-invasion bombardment of Peleliu. She then supported the landing itself (15 September) and helped support the troops fighting on the island. This period ended on 29 September. 

In October 1944 the Portland took part in the first surface attack on targets in the central Philippines. The fleet was off Leyte on 17 October and she entered Leyte Gulf on 19 October. She then spent two days in pre-invasion bombardments.

The Portland fought in the Battle of the Surigao Strait, part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. This saw a Japanese force of two battleships, one heavy cruiser and four destroyers advance through the Surigao Strait as part of a three pronged attack designed to hit the American landing fleet. Instead the Japanese ran into part of Admiral Kinkaid's 7th Fleet, and in particular Admiral Oldendorf's fire support group, built around six 'old' battleships, supported by eight cruisers, twenty eight destroyers and many PT boats. Oldendorf deployed his ships in waves. First the PT boats attacked, followed by the destroyers. They sank the battleship Fuso. The cruisers, including the Portland, were next into action, attacking the flanks of the Japanese fleet. They were followed a few minutes later by the US battleships and the Japanese fleet suffered very heavy loses before retreating (two battleships and three destroyers were sunk).

The Portland remained in the Philippines until March 1945. She took part in operations in Lingayen Gulf on 5 January, but was forced to retire by kamikaze attacks. On 15 February she steamed into Manila Bay and bombarded Corregidor. Finally on 1 March she returned to the now peaceful Leyte Gulf for repairs and replenishment.

USS Portland (CA-33) bombarding Leyte, October 1944
USS Portland (CA-33) bombarding Leyte, October 1944

From 26 March to 20 April the Portland took part in the preparations for the invasion of Okinawa, shooting down four Japanese aircraft during this period. From 8 May to 17 June she took part in the actual invasion of Okinawa. She then returned to Leyte Gulf for general upkeep, and hadn't returned to the fleet when the Japanese surrendered.

After the end of the fighting the Portland became the flagship of Vice Admiral George D. Murray, Commander in the Marianas. She was the site of the surrender of the Japanese military and civilian leads on Truk.

The Portland had a very short post-war career. She took 600 troops home from Pearl Harbor to the US in September-October 1945, then took part in the Navy Day celebrations at Portland, Main, on 8 October. On 11 March 1946 she was inactivated and joined the reserve fleet. She was decommissioned on 12 July and remained in the reserve until she was struck off the Navy List on 1 March 1959. Later in the year she was sold for scrap.

Wartime Modifications

In line with most US warships the Portland received improved anti-aircraft armament during the Second World War. Early in 1942 she received four quadruple 1.1in guns, two on each side of the bridge and two between the groups of 5in guns, and twelve single 20mm guns.

More major modifications were done in 1943. The bridge was extended, a lattice tripod main mast was added around the aft funnel, the aft superstructure was cut down and modern fire control and search radar was installed.

USS Portland (CA-33) at sea, 23 August 1935
USS Portland (CA-33) at sea, 23 August 1935

In 1944 the 1.1inm guns were replaced with four quad and four twin 40mm Bofors gun mountings, with the twin guns mounted on the quarterdeck. The number of 20mm guns was increased to seventeen. The number of aircraft was cut to two and the starboard catapult was removed.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt


 - machinery

0.75in belt
2.5in deck

 - magazines

5.75in belt
2.125in deck

 - barbettes


 - gunhouses

2.5in face
2in roof
0.75in side and rear


610ft oa


Nine 8in guns (three 3-gun turrets)
Eight 5in/25 guns (eight single positions)
Eight 0.5in guns (eight single positions)
Four aircraft

Crew complement

807 (917 Indianapolis)

Laid down

17 February 1930


21 May 1932


23 February 1933


1 March 1959

US Heavy Cruisers 1941-45: Pre War Classes, Mark Stille. Looks at the 'treaty cruisers' built in the US between the wars, limited by treaty to 10,000 tons and 8in guns. Five classes of treaty cruisers were produced and they played a major role in the fighting during the Second World War, despite the limits imposed on them by the treaty restrictions. [read full review]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 November 2014), USS Portland (CA-33) ,

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