USS San Diego (CL-53)

USS San Diego (CL-53) was an Atlanta class light cruiser that fought off Guadalcanal, during the advance up the Solomon Islands, the invasion of the Gilbert islands and the Marshall Islands, the battle of the Philippines Sea and the invasions of the Philippines and Okinawa. She was also the first US warship to enter Tokyo Bay after the Japanese surrender. San Diego received 15 battle stars for service in World War II.

The San Diego was launched on 26 July 1941 and commissioned on 10 January 1942. She underwent shakedown training in Chesapeake Bay, and then moved to the Pacific as part of the group escorting USS Saratoga (CV-3) towards the Battle of Midway. She arrived too late to take part in the battle, and instead on 15 June joined the Hornet's (CV-8) escort group.

USS San Juan (CL-54) and USS San Diego (CL-53) under construction
USS San Juan (CL-54)
USS San Diego (CL-53)
under construction

In August 1942 she took part in the invasion of Guadalcanal. She was present when the Japanese sank the carrier Wasp (CV-7). She fought at the battle of the Santa Cruz Islands (26 October 1942), a carrier battle that saw the loss of the Hornet.

The San Diego was part of the anti-aircraft screen for the Enterprise (CV-6) during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (12-15 November 1942). The Enterprise's aircraft played a significant part in the battle, but her escorts had a generally quiet time. After this battle the San Diego was sent to New Zealand to take on fresh supplies.

After this break the San Diego joined TF36.3, built around USS Saratoga, the last operational US fleet carrier in the Pacific, and HMS Victorious. This task force supported the American invasion of New Georgia (Operation Toenails, 30 June-5 August 1943).

In November 1943 she supported TF38, with the carriers Saratoga and Princeton (CVL-23), during an successful raid against Rabaul and Tarawa.

In December 1943 she took part in Operation Galvanic, the invasion of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. She then took part in a carrier raid on Kwajalein in which the Japanese cruisers Isuzu and Nagara were damaged. After that she escorted the damaged carrier Lexington(CV-16) to Pearl Harbor, before continuing on to San Francisco for a refit. During this visit she got new radar and had her 1.1" anti-aircraft guns replaced with more effective 40mm guns.

The San Diego reached Pearl Harbor in January 1944 and joined Task Force 58, Admiral Marc Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force. She formed part of the anti-aircraft screen for the fast carriers for the rest of the war.

USS San Diego (CL-53) after her 1944 overhaul
USS San Diego (CL-53) after her 1944 overhaul

Her first action with the Fast Carriers came during the invasion of the Marshall Islands, when she supported the carriers during Operation Flintlock, the invasion of Majuro and Kwajalein, and Operation Catchpole, the invasion of Eniwetok (31 January-4 March 1944). This campaign also included a powerful raid on Truk, the key Japanese naval base in the Pacific. After this raid the San Diego returned to San Francisco for another update to her radar.

She returned the fleet in time to take part in the May 1944 raids on Marcus and Wake Islands. She took part in the invasion of the Marianna Islands, covering the carriers during the invasion of Saipan and raids on the Bonin Islands. She was part of the carrier screen during the Battle of the Philippine Sea (19-20 June 1944), where the Japanese lost most of their carrier aviators. She then supported the invasions of Guim and Tinian. This was followed by the first carrier raids on targets in the Philippines.

On 6 and 8 August 1944 she supported the carriers as they provided air support for the invasion of Peleliu in the Palau Islands.

The major US target was the Philippines. On 21 September the San Diego supported the carriers during an attack on the Manila Bay area. The fleet then carried out its first attack on Okinawa, before moving to attack Formosa (battle off Formosa, 12-15 October 1944). The Japanese reacted with a series of major air attacks on the American fleet and managed to damage the cruisers Houston (CL-81) and Canberra (CA-70). The San Diego helped escort the two damaged cruisers to safety at Ulithi, and thus missed the Battle of Leyte Gulf (where the Japanese greatly missed the aircraft lost at Formosa).

The San Diego rejoined the fleet just in time to endure the typhoon of 17-18 December.

1945 began with a raid into the South China Sea. In January-February the carriers hit targets on Formosa, Luzon, in Indochina and southern China and Okinawa, then returned to Ulithi to resupply before carrying out the first carrier attacks on the Japanese Home Islands since the Doolittle raid of 1942. Finally Iwo Jima was hit.

The next US target was Okinawa. On 1 March the San Diego was part of a force of cruisers that was detached to conduct a shore bombardment of Okino Daiho island. She then supported the carriers during a raid on Kyushu, carried out to stop home-based Japanese aircraft from interfering on Okinawa. The month ended with a shore bombardment of Minami Daito Jima.

In April she acted as an escort for ships making for safety after suffering kamikaze damage. She then supported the invasion of Okinawa, before returning to the Philippines to spend some time in dry dock.

The San Diego returned to the fast carrier force and took part in operations off the Japanese home islands from 10 July until the end of the war. On 27 August she became the first major Allied warship to enter Tokyo Bay. She took part in the occupation of the Yokosuka Naval Base, and the surrender of the battleship Nagato.

The San Diego's last active service saw her take part in Operation Magic Carpet, transporting US servicemen back home across the Pacific. She entered the reserve at Bremerton, Washington, on 4 November 1946. In 1949, while still in the reserve, she was redesignated as CLAA-53 (light anti-aircraft cruiser). She was struck off the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and sold for scrap. 

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

27 March 1940


26 July 1941


10 January 1942


1 March 1959

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 (18 June 2015), USS San Diego (CL-53) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy