USS San Juan (CL-54)

USS San Juan (CL-54) was an Atlanta class light cruiser that fought in the Guadalcanal campaign, the advance up the Solomon Islands, the invasions of the Marshalls, Mariannas, Philippines, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, as well as fighting at the battle of the Philippine Sea. She received 13 battle stars for her World War II service.

The San Juan was launched on 6 September 1941 and commissioned on 28 February 1942. She was the last of the first batch of Atlanta class ships, and thus the last to serve in the critical early battles in the Pacific. The second batch, the slightly modified Oakland group, didn't begin to appear until 1943.

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

The San Juan left Virginia with the Wasp (CV-7) task group, and accompanied the carrier to the Pacific theatre. They escorted troop transports towards the Solomon Islands, and the upcoming landings on Guadalcanal and Tulagai.

On 7 August 1942 the San Juan provided gun support for the invasion of Tulagi. Although she was in the general area during the Battle of Savo Island (8-9 August 1942), she was with the eastern force and thus missed the actual battle. On the day after the battle the San Juan helped escort the transport ships, which had been missed by the Japanese, back to safety at Noumea.  

The San Juan also missed the battle of the Eastern Solomons (24 August 1942), having withdrawn to refuel before the Japanese attacked. The Enterprise (CV-6) was damaged in the battle, and the San Juan helped escort her back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. She reached Pearl on 10 September, and stayed there until 5 October undergoing repairs of her own. 

She returned to the fighting via the Gilbert Islands, where she sank two Japanese patrols vessels (16 October 1942). She then joined the Enterprise group on 23 October, three days before the battle of Santa Cruz Island. This saw the Hornet sunk and the Enterprise damaged. San Juan was hit by one dive-bomber, but the bomb passed through her stern without exploding. Several areas were flooded and the rudder was damaged. She was forced to go to Noumea for preliminary repairs and then to Sydney for full repairs.

The San Juan joined the Saratoga(CV-3) group in Fiji on 24 November 1942. She operated from Noumea from then until June 1943, generally working in the Coral Sea. During Operation Toenails, the invasion of New Georgia (June 1943), her carrier group patrolled the Coral Sea for 26 continuous days.

USS San Juan (CL-54), San Francisco, 14 October 1944
USS San Juan (CL-54), San Francisco, 14 October 1944

On 1 November the Saratoga hit Japanese airfields on Bougainville and Rabaul as part of the American invasion of Bougainville. San Juan provided part of her escort. In mid-November the same group helped protect the invasion force in the Gilbert Islands.

In early December she joined the Essex (CV-9) for a raid on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands. Here her anti-aircraft firepower came in very useful as she helped fight off Japanese torpedo bombers. After this she returned to the US for a refit that lasted into January 1943.

The San Juan rejoined the fleet off Pearl Harbor on 19 January 1944, once again operating with the Saratoga. She supported the carrier during the invasion of Eniwetok (February 1944).

On 30 March-1 April the San Juan supported the Yorktown (CV-10) and Lexington (CV-16) in a series of raids on Palau, Yap and Ulithi. In April she escorted the new Hornet (CV-12) as she supported the invasion of Hollandia (Operation Reckless) and then took part in a raid on the Japanese fleet base at Truk.

In June she took part in the invasion of the Mariana Islands, again as part of the Hornet escort group. She supported the Hornet while her aircraft attacked Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima in the Bonin Islands, part of the wider operations to support the invasion of Saipan. She fought in the battle of the Philippine Sea, protecting the Hornet from the failed Japanese air attacks that resulted in the destruction of Japanese naval aviation.

In July she escorted the Wasp (CV-18) and Franklin (CV-13) during the invasion of Guam, once again covering a raid on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, and then an attack on Palau and Ulithi. After this she returned to San Francisco for a refit, escorting the Yorktown

After a short stop at Eniwetok, San Juan escorted carriers, Wasp (CV-18) and Franklin (CV-13), during July as they covered the capture of Guam with strikes on Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima. After a strike on Palau and Ulithi, San Juan was ordered to San Francisco for overhaul, and departed from Eniwetok on 4 August escorting Yorktown at the same time.

The San Juan rejoined the fleet at Ulithi on 21 November, where she was allocated to the Lexington group. In December she was part of the carrier screen during attacks on Formosa and Luzon carried out to support the invasion of Mindoro. She was actually used as bait, approaching within attack range of Japanese airfields, but by now the Japanese were too wary and didn't fall for the trap. She rode out a typhoon on 18-19 December but was back at Ulithi by Christmas.

1945 started with a carrier raid on Formosa, Okinawa and Luzon (3-9 January) then a raid into the South China Sea (10-20 January) in which the carriers hit Saigon, Cam Ranh Bay and Hong Kong. These were all carried out to shield the invasion of Luzon.

In February the San Juan escorted the Hornet during a series of carrier attacks on Tokyo, this time to cover the invasion of Iwo Jima. During April the Hornet group supported the invasion of Okinawa, operating in the area to the north and east of Nansei Shoto. As well as her normal duties, the San Juan carried out a shore bombardment of Minami Daito Shima, 180 miles from Okinawa, on 21 April. During this period aircraft from the Hornet sank the battleship Yamato, although this took place far from the San Juan.

For the rest of the war the San Juan supported the carriers during a series of attacks on the Japanese Home Islands. She took part in the entry of the US 3rd Fleet into Sagami Wan, outside Tokyo Bay on 27 August, after almost two months at sea.

In the immediate aftermath of the arrival in Japan, Commodore Rodger W. Simpson, embarked unit commander on the San Juan, was given the task of looking after the Allied prisoners of war who have been brought to Japan, and evacuating them. He began this task in Tokyo Bay, then moved south to the Nagoya-Hamamatsu area, and finally north to the Sendai-Kamaishi area. This duty was over by 23 September, when she docked at Yokosuka (next to the Nagato, the last remaining Japanese battleship). On 14 November she left for the United States. At Pearl Harbor she dropped off Commodore Simpson and collected a load of homeward bound soldiers. She carried out a second 'magic carpet' trip, between Noumea and Tutuila and San Pedro (1 December 1945-9 January 1946).

On 24 January the San Juan was inactivated. She entered the reserve on 9 November 1946 and was struck off on 1 March 1959. Two years later she was 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

15 May 1940


6 September 1941


28 February 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

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (30 June 2015), USS San Juan (CL-54) ,

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