Warship Wednesday April 22, 2015: The Music City wingman
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday April 22, 2015: The Music City wingman
Here we see a famous still taken from a 16mm film of a group U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell bombers loaded on the deck of the carrier USS Hornet (CV-8), April 18, 1942– roughly about 73 years ago this week. The ship in the background? The unsung but always there wingman that is the Brooklyn-class light cruiser USS Nashville (CL-43), the hero of our story.
An answer to the Japanese Mogami-class cruisers of the 1930s that carried an impressive 15 6-inch guns, the seven cruisers of the Brooklyn-class were an excellent design that proved more than capable in service. Although a “light” cruiser, these 606-foot long 12,200-ton vessels were among the largest ever built to be called such and took everything the Germans and Japanese could throw at them in WWII.
Carrying an armored belt that ran from 2-inches over the deck to 6.5 on their turrets, they were reasonably well sheathed to take on anything but a heavy cruiser or battleship in a surface action. Eight boilers feeding a quartet of Parsons steam turbines gave these ships an impressive 100,000 shp, which allowed them to touch 33-knots– fast enough to keep up with even the speedy destroyers. Capable of covering 10,000 miles on a single load of fuel oil, they could range the Pacific or escort Atlantic convoys without having to top off every five minutes. Four floatplanes allowed these ships to scout ahead and tell the fleet just what was over the horizon.
Finally, an impressive main battery of 15 6″/47DP (15.2 cm) Mark 16 guns in a distinctive five triple turret scheme introduced with the class, gave them teeth. These guns with their 130-pound super heavy shell had almost double the penetration performance when compared against the older 6″/53 (15.2 cm) AP projectiles used for the Omaha class (CL-4) light cruisers. Further, they could fire them fast. One Brooklyn, USS Savannah (CL-42) during gunnery trials in March 1939 fired 138 6-inch rounds in just 60-seconds.
USS Nashville (CL–43) was laid down 24 January 1935 by New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, NJ, and commissioned 6 June 1938. A quick shakedown in Europe on the brink of WWII saw her bring some $25 million in gold bars back from the UK, which was deposited in US banks.
When the war broke out, she found herself on neutrality patrols in the Northern Atlantic, often popping up in German U-boat periscopes. She escorted Marines to occupy Iceland in 1941 and after Pearl Harbor received orders to link up with the nation’s newest carrier, Hornet, and escort her to the Pacific.
Arriving at Naval Air Station Alameda on 20 March 1942, Nashville stood by while Hornet had part of her Naval airwing offloaded and 16 Army B-25s, 64 modified 500-pound bombs, and 201 USAAF aviators and ground crew transferred aboard.
Putting to sea on April 2, the task force commanded by Vice Adm. Halsey consisted of the Hornet with her escort Nashville, the carrier Enterprise with her three companion heavy cruisers Salt Lake City, Northampton, and Vincennes, as well as a group of destroyers and tankers headed West for points unknown and under great secrecy.
After refueling from the tankers on April 17, the four cruisers and two carriers raced towards Japan. The plan was to launch the first raid on the Home Islands to score a propaganda victory following a string of defeats across the Pacific in the first four months of the war.
However, the group was sighted while still far out to sea. The quick-shooting Nashville rapidly engaged the Japanese ship, Gunboat No. 23 Nittō Maru, and sank her with 6-inch shells, but the little 70-ton boat got off a warning via radio on her way down.
The 16 bombers lead by Jimmy Doolittle quickly launched into history and the six ships of the task force turned back for safer waters.
Nashville however, still had a long war ahead of her.
As the flagship of the pitifully outgunned Task Force 8, she defended Alaska during the Japanese feint there during the Battle of Midway, and soaked the frozen invaders on Attu and Kiska with 6-inch shells before sailing back and joining the main fleet.
She visited the same naval gunfire across the South Pacific and socked Japanese bases at Munda, Kolombangara and New Georgia, covered the landings at Bougainville and the Bismarck Archipelago and just generally popped up everywhere the action was thickest. She covered the raids on the Marcus Islands and Wake; served as McArthur’s flagship for the Hollandia Operations, covered Toem, Wakde, Sarmi Ares, Biak, Mortai, Leyte, Mindoro, et; al.
On 13 December 1944, she took a kamikaze hit on her portside while in the PI that caused over 300 casualties- a third of her crew– but she remained afloat and operational, a testament to both the ship and her sailors.
The ships of her class were known to take a licking and keep on ticking.
Sister USS Honolulu (CL-48) was torpedoed at the Battle of Kolombangara on July 12–13, 1943, and again at Leyte in October 1944 but in each case remained afloat and operational. Classmate USS Boise (CL-47) took a number of hard hits at close range during the Battle of Cape Esperance in 1943. Two 7.9-inch shells from the heavy cruiser Kinugasa exploded in Boise ’s main ammunition magazine between turrets one and two. The resulting explosion killed almost 100 men and threatened to blow the ship apart– but she finished the battle under her own steam and survived the war.
Another sister, USS Savannah (CL-42), was clobbered by a massive 3,000-pound German Fritz-X bomb while operating in the Med in 1943. Hitting Savannah amidships, it blew the bottom out of the cruiser but she remained afloat and later returned to operations after a rebuild.
One lucky young Radioman 3rd Class aboard Nashville that day who survived the kamikaze hit, Jason Robards, went on to an acting career and an Oscar. Robards had earlier in the war just missed Pearl Harbor by two days then had his cruiser, fellow Doolittle raid vet Northampton, sunk from under him at the Battle of Tassafaronga. It was while on Nashville that Robards emceed for a Navy band in Pearl Harbor, got a few laughs and decided he liked being in front of an audience.
Following repairs, Nashville was back in the front lines, covering the Balikpapan and Brunei Bay operations in June and July 1945. In the months after the war, she was flag of TF73, made an extensive visit to war torn China, conducted two Magic Carpet rides home (one of which saw her take a foundering troopship with 1200 soldiers aboard under tow in heavy seas) and was decommissioned 24 June 1946, after a very hectic 8-year active duty career.
In all she won 10 battlestars for her active 41-month long Pacific War.
The Navy, flush with more modern cruisers, soon divested themselves of the seven lucky Brooklyn’s.
Two, Honolulu and Savannah, were scrapped, while the other five were part of a large post-war cruiser acquisition by the “ABC Navies” of South America.
USS Boise (CL-47) and Phoenix (CL-46) went to Argentina.
USS Philadelphia (CL-41) went to Brazil.
Class leader Brooklyn along with her wingman Nashville went to Chile in 1951.
While in South America, Nashville served as the Capitán Prat (CL-03) and later as the Chacabuco with the same pennant number. She remained on active duty until 1984 and was scrapped the next year at age 46, one of the last unmodified WWII-era big gun ships afloat at the time.
In all she was one of the most decorated of her class and outlived most of her classmates. She survived her Argentine sisters Boise/ Nueve de Julio (scrapped 1978) and Phoenix/ General Belgrano (sunk in the Falklands May 1982). She also survived her Brazilian partner Philadelphia/Barroso (scrapped in 1973).
Only Brooklyn/O’Higgins, who was finally retired in 1994, outlasted her, although many of Nashville‘s parts were cannibalized to keep that ship afloat for its final decade.
In Chile, her ship’s bell is on display as are two of her main guns.
In the states, Nashville is remembered by a veterans group who maintain an excellent website in her honor and relics from her are on display at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville about a mile from Music City Center.
A book, Humble Heroes has been written about her that is an excellent read.
Displacement: 9,475 tons (8,596 tons)
Length: 608 ft. 4 in (185.42 m)
Beam: 61 ft. 8 in (18.80 m)
Draft: 19 ft. 2 in (5,840 mm)
100,000 hp (75,000 kW)
Speed: 32.5 kn (37.4 mph; 60.2 km/h)
Complement: 868 officers and enlisted
Armament: 15 × 6 in (150 mm)/47 cal guns,
8 × 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal guns,
20 × Bofors 40 mm guns,
10 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
Belt:5 in (130 mm)
Turrets:6.5 in (170 mm)
Deck:2 in (51 mm)
Conning Tower:5 in (130 mm)
Aircraft carried: 4 × floatplanes
Aviation facilities: 2 × catapults
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