Warship Wednesday, April 28, 2021: Kan-do Kangaroo

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday to look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 28, 2021: Kan-do Kangaroo

Official U.S. Navy Photographs NH 98383 and NH 98391, from the Naval History and Heritage Command collections. (Click to big up)

Here we see what a difference 19 years make! The brand-new Baltimore-class heavy cruiser USS Canberra (CA-70) underway in Boston harbor, 14 October 1943, clean and ready for WWII; compared to the Boston-class guided-missile cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2) underway at sea during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 28 October 1962.

When the early shitstorm of 1939 World War II broke out, the U.S. Navy, realized that in the likely coming involvement with Germany in said war– and that country’s huge new 18,000-ton, 8x8inch gunned, 4.1-inches of armor Hipper-class super cruisers– it was outclassed in the big assed heavy cruiser department. When you add to the fire the fact that the Japanese had left all of the Washington and London Naval treaties behind and were building giant Mogami-class vessels (15,000-tons, 3.9-inches of armor), the writing was on the wall.

That’s where the Baltimore class came in.

These 24 envisioned ships of the class looked like an Iowa-class battleship in miniature with three triple turrets, twin stacks, a high central bridge, and two masts– and they were (almost) as powerful. Sheathed in a hefty 6 inches of armor belt (and 3-inches of deck armor), they could take a beating if they had to. They were fast, capable of over 30-knots, which meant they could keep pace with the fast new battlewagons they looked so much like as well as the new fleet carriers that were on the drawing board as well.

While they were more heavily armored than Hipper and Mogami, they also had an extra 8-inch tube, mounting nine new model 8-inch/55 caliber guns whereas the German and Japanese only had 155mm guns (though the Mogamis later picked up 10×8-inchers). A larger suite of AAA guns that included a dozen 5 inch /38 caliber guns in twin mounts and 70+ 40mm and 20mm guns rounded this out.

In short, these ships were deadly to incoming aircraft, could close to the shore as long as there were at least 27 feet of seawater for them to float in and hammer coastal beaches and emplacements for amphibious landings, then take out any enemy surface combatant short of a modern battleship in a one-on-one fight.

Originally laid down on 3 September 1941 by Bethlehem Steel Corp of Quincy, Mass., as the third USS Pittsburgh, the subject of our tale was renamed USS Canberra on 16 October 1942 in honor of the Kent-class heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (D33) of the Royal Australian Navy (while CA-72 would go on to be named Pittsburgh until stricken in 1973).

The move was to pay respect to the cruiser which– struck by two Japanese torpedoes and 20 8-inch salvos of gunfire while fighting alongside American ships and under the tactical command of RADM Richmond K. Turner– was lost at the Battle of Savo Island off the Solomon Islands two months prior and was the first time that a U.S. naval vessel was named for a foreign capital city.

The Australian Minister to Washington, Sir Owen Dixon, somberly presented the American ship with a special plaque to represent its RAN namesake (which had itself been the first to carry the name “Canberra”) and his handsome wife dutifully performed the christening ceremony in 1943.

USS Canberra commissioned on 14 October 1943, CPT Alexander R. Early (USNA 1914) in command. After completing her wartime shakedown in the Caribbean (90 percent of her crew had never been to sea and were fresh “off the farm”) and a yard period in Boston afterward, she was on the way to the Pacific.

USS Canberra (CA-70) underway, circa late 1943. NH 45505

USS Canberra (CA-70) underway in Boston harbor, Massachusetts, 14 October 1943. Note the ship’s two aircraft cranes, stern 40mm quad gun mount offset somewhat to port and arrangement of 8/55, 5/38, and 40mm guns aft and amidships. NH 98386

Her war got real when she escorted the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) to plaster the Japanese stronghold at Eniwetok in February 1944 then proceeded to protect the amphibious landings there.

After a pollywog party while crossing into the South Pacific, she worked interchangeably with the legendary USS Enterprise (CV-6) and the newer Essex-class USS Lexington (CV-16) for attacks on the islands of Palau, Truk, and Yap as well as supporting the troop landings at Tanahmerah Bay on New Guinea. Then came more “softening up” raids on Marcus Island, Wake, Guam, and Iwo Jima.

During the Battle of the Philippine Sea, she was one of the units who used searchlights and star shells to guide American carrier air wings back to the fleet from the “Marianas Turkey Shoot.” Afterward, Canberra and her OS2N Kingfisher floatplanes performed extensive lifeguard duties for aircrews of ditched and lost planes, rescuing young aviators who had started the battle on squadrons from Yorktown, Lexington, Wasp, and Belleau Wood but ended it in life rafts.

Then came more work in the Carolines before shifting back to the PI, where she accompanied her carrier task force to Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Negros, and Bohol Islands.

USS Canberra (CA-70) operating with Task Force 38 in the Western Pacific, 10 October 1944, three days before she was torpedoed off Formosa. Her camouflage is Design 18a in the Measure 31-32-33 series. 80-G-284472

It was while on station roughly equidistant from Okinawa, Formosa, and Northern Luzon– within easy flight range of all three, on Friday the 13th, October 1944, her crew spied a late afternoon/early evening attack at approximately 1833 by a group of Japanese torpedo bombers. Although her AAA crews splashed three of the incoming planes, one was able to drop a fish that contacted our cruiser.

Damage chart from her torpedo strike. Much larger version here. 

Believed to be a Type 91, Mod. 3 torpedo, it hit below her armor belt at the engineering spaces and blew a jagged hole in her side, killing 23 men outright. Due to the location of the wound, a whopping 4,500 tons of water flooded her after fireroom and both engine rooms, leaving the cruiser dead in the water. (Read the extensive damage report, here)

Saved by heroic DC efforts, Canberra, along with the likewise torpedoed light cruiser USS Houston (CL-81), was towed to safety over the next several days under a CAP flown by the aircraft of the carriers Cabot and Cowpens. Nonetheless, during the initial retirement to Ulithi, the crippled cruisers were subjected to repeated Japanese air attacks, with Houston suffering another torpedo hit before it was over.

USS Canberra (CA-70) under tow toward Ulithi Atoll after she was torpedoed while operating off Okinawa. USS Houston (CL-81), also torpedoed and under tow, is in the right background. Canberra was hit amidships on 13 October 1944. Houston was torpedoed twice, amidships on 14 October and aft on 16 October. The tugs may be USS Munsee (ATF-107), which towed Canberra, and USS Pawnee (ATF-74). NH 98343

USS Canberra dry-dock ABSD-2 at Manus after the Japanese torpedo attack.

In the end, Canberra would remain under repair in forward bases then at Boston Naval Yard until after VJ Day. Ordered back to the post-war Pacific Fleet, a refreshed Canberra arrived at San Francisco on 9 January 1946 then was placed out of commission at Bremerton on 7 March 1947 and mothballed.

She earned seven battle stars for her WWII service. Captain Early, her wartime skipper, would earn a Naval Cross and retire as a rear admiral in 1949, a veteran of both world wars in big-gunned ships. 

USS Canberra (CA-70), a chart of the ship’s operations in the Pacific Ocean with the Fifth and Third Fleet, from 14 February to 19 November 1944. Drawn by Quartermaster J.L. Whitmeyer, USNR. NH 78680

The Missile Age

The Baltimore class cost Uncle Sam an estimated $39.3 million per hull in 1940s War Bond-backed dollars. It made sense in the 1950s to try and get some more use out of these all-gun cruisers in an increasingly Atomic world. With that, Canberra and her sister ship USS Boston (CA-69) were tapped in 1951 to become the U.S. Navy’s first guided-missile warships in fleet service, dubbed CAG-1 (Boston) and CAG-2, respectively.

The conversion radically changed the aft of the vessels, deleting their 143-ton No. 3 8-inch turret and after twin 5-inch DP mount. Also stripped off were all the 40mm and 20mm AAA guns, replaced by six (later reduced to four) of the new 3″/50 twin Mk. 22s. Also deleted were the seaplane provisions and accompanying hangar, catapults, and crane.

Aerial photographs of USS Canberra in 1943, top, and 1967, bottom. Note her helicopter platform, angled to the starboard to provide for boat storage space. Immediate CAG sistership Boston did not have such an arrangement.

The superstructure was modified with their twin funnel arrangement morphed into a single stack and their pole mast replaced with radar mast topped with a powerful air search radar.

Two giant Terrier missile systems–capable of firing two missiles every 30 seconds– were installed over the stern along with two giant AN/SPQ5 radar directors for them. Below deck, a massive rotating magazine/workroom, capable of holding 144 missiles, was created. Keep in mind that the VLS-equipped Ticonderoga-class cruisers of today only have 122 cells.

USS Canberra (CAG-2) fires a Terrier guided missile during First Fleet demonstrations for Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze, off the U.S. West Coast in December 1963. KN-8743

USS Canberra fires a Terrier guided missile, February 1957. Photo NH 98398

Official period caption: “Super radars (AN/SPQ5) for guidance on terrier missiles installed onboard USS Canberra (CAG-2). The radars have massive, turret-like antennae and resemble giant searchlights. Developed for the U.S. Navy by the Sperry Gyroscope Company, the long-range, high-altitude missile guidance systems are a part of the U.S. Navy’s program directed toward the fleet with highly reliable missiles to combat supersonic jet aircraft. The super radar is giving an exceptionally high performance for tenacious stable guidance of supersonic missiles whether fired singly or in salvoes at individual or multiple enemy attackers. The systems combine many automatic radar functions in each unit and either system can control the missiles from a single launcher or battery, which fires the terrier missile or both radars can track different target groups simultaneously. It also includes flexible modes of scanning the air space many miles beyond the horizon, providing the advantage of early warning. Thus, individual targets can be selected from close flying groups and tracked with great distances while the missiles are launched and guided with extreme accuracy.” USN Photograph 670326 released May 3, 1957.

The two-stage missile weighed 1.5 tons and was 27 feet long over the booster but had a speed of Mach 3 and a range of over 17 miles. Besides the 218-pound warhead, it could carry a W45 tactical nuke in the 1KT range. Not bad for just a decade off WWII.

Terriers were huge!

Seen here aboard the USS Providence (CLG-6) in 1962.

The conversions cost $15 million per hull or about half their original cost. Canberra was re-commissioned on 15 June 1956 at Philadelphia and looked quite different from when she was last with the fleet.

USS CANBERRA (CAG-2) entering Hampton Roads, Virginia, 1950s. K-20598.

The Kangaroo opened her pouch for the brass as needed, hosting Ike for his 1957 Bermuda conference with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower with his Naval Aide, Captain Evan P. Aurand, USN, onboard a launch taking them to USS Canberra (CAG-2), 12 March 1957. NH 68550

USS Canberra CAG-2 carrying President Eisenhower on a trip to Bermuda – March 1957 LIFE Magazine – Hank Walker Photographer

President Dwight D. Eisenhower practicing his golf game, while onboard USS Canberra (CAG 2) en route to Bermuda for a conference, 14 March 1957. The driving target and protective netting have been rigged on the main deck, just to starboard the ship’s Number Two eight-inch gun turret. NH 68555.

After a mid-cruise in the Caribbean and an extended deployment to the Mediterranean, she served as the ceremonial flagship for the selection of the Unknown Serviceman of World War II and Korea in 1958.

USS Boston sailors render honors as the casket is transferred to USS Canberra prior to ceremonies on board Canberra to select the Unknown Serviceman of World War II. Virginia Capes on 26 May 1958. NH 54117

Hospitalman William R. Charette selects the Unknown Serviceman of World War II, during ceremonies on board USS Canberra, 26 May 1958

Then came another mid cruise, and stints in the Med, where she was often used as a flagship. A 1960 circumnavigation saw her visit her “home” in Australia for the first time and the next year she was on the line off Cuba, where she hosted RADM John W. Ailes, head of the blockade err quarantine task force.

A beautiful Kodachrome of USS Canberra (CAG-2) underway on 9 January 1961. KN-1526

Then came her second shooting war, and she did lots of shooting.

Southeast Asia

Off Vietnam in February 1965 screening carriers of TF77, Canberra became the first U.S. Navy vessel to relay an operational message via communication satellite via the Syncom 3 system and prototype Hughes Aircraft terminals to reach the Naval Communications Station in Honolulu, 4,000 miles away. She followed it up with a confirmed xmit to USS Midway (CVA-43), which at the time was some 6,000 miles away.

By March 1965, she shifted away from Yankee Station to take up a spot on the evolving gun line just off the coast of Vietnam during Operation Market Time. This included proving overwatch for air raids into the country and Sea Dragon naval gunfire support, a mission the Navy had thought for sure was dead.

As noted by DANFS, “While supporting these operations Canberra carried out six fire support missions making her the first U.S. Navy cruiser to use her guns in warfare since the Korean War.”

In this role, the old WWII bruiser and others of her kind and vintage found steady employment. Between February 1965 and December 1968, Canberra shipped out for Vietnam’s littoral waters on five deployments, with her guns heavily in demand.

Off the coast of North Vietnam, the eight-inch guns of the USS CANBERRA (CAG-2) frame the “Terrier” missile launchers of the USS LONG BEACH (CGN-9). Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN. USN 1121640

USS Canberra (CAG-2) Eight-inch guns of Turret # 2 firing, during a Vietnam War gunfire support mission, March 1967. Note the two outgoing projectiles in the upper right corner. Photographed by Chief Journalist R.D. Moeser, USN. USN 1142159

USS Canberra (CAG-2) crewmen sponge out an 8/55 gun of Turret # 2, following Vietnam War bombardment operations, March 1967. USN 1122618

USS Canberra (CAG-2): A ball of fire lights up USS Canberra (CAG-2) as a three-gun salvo is fired toward North Vietnamese targets, March 1967. Accession #: L45-42

The POW Savant

One of Canberra’s bluejackets had the misfortune of falling into the hands of the North Vietnamese through a freak accident and became a POW in the Hanoi Hilton.

Seaman Apprentice Douglas Hegdahl spent two years in a hell hole but was released earlier than a lot of other prisoners– as he wasn’t seen as being much of a threat and was one of the few conscripts in NVA hands–and carried irreplaceable intel back home. You see, as an EM in a prison camp full of 256 officers, he was given nearly free rein of the place and could interact with the other Americans. As such he (amazingly) memorized their names, capture dates, method of capture, and personal information despite feigning illiteracy during his captivity.

As described by Erenow:

Petty Officer Second Class Douglas Hegdahl was quiet and self-effacing. Unlike most American prisoners, who had been shot from the sky, he had been rescued from the sea. Serving aboard the USS Canberra, he had disobeyed orders and crept up on deck to watch a night bombardment. As he stepped past a five-inch gun, it discharged. He lost his footing and fell into the Gulf of Tonkin. The warship steamed away into the darkness.

Vietnamese fishermen picked him up and turned him over to the authorities, who thought him so clueless that his North Vietnamese guards called him “the incredibly stupid one.” But once released, he turned out to be a gold mine of information. To the tune of “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” he had memorized the names of more than two hundred prisoners. Thanks to him, scores of American families would find out for the first time that their sons and husbands and fathers were still alive. Within a few days of the press conference, Hanoi’s treatment of the prisoners began to improve— “a lot less brutality,” one captive remembered, “and larger bowls of rice.”

From Piloten im Pyjama, an East German propaganda film shot in the glorious Democratic Republic of Vietnam:

“Douglas Brent Hegdahl maintaining the cleanliness of the camp. Hegdahl is the only American draftee in custody in the DRV. The sailor fell overboard from a warship where he was serving as a draftee and was fished out of the water a short time later by Vietnamese fishermen. Now Hegdahl is sharing the life of the captured air pirates.”

The End

By July 1969, Canberra had been redesignated as an all-gun cruiser, picking up her old hull number (CA-70) and her Terrier missile systems and related equipment were removed. Although she was found to still be in good condition, she was instead pulled from service as part of a big pull down by the Navy to liquidate older vessels.

On 2 February 1970, Canberra was decommissioned at San Francisco, was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 July 1978, and sold for scrap two years later.

Epilogue

Doug Hegdahl is still alive, aged 74. He left the Navy in the 1970s after working as a SERE instructor, a job he had particular knowledge. 

One of the USS Canberra’s screws was saved and is on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro.

Her ship’s bell was presented to the Government and Commonwealth of Australia the day before September 11th to mark the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty Alliance in a ceremony between President George W. Bush and Australian Prime Minister John Howard. It is now on display at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney, where Bush visited the bell in 2007.

White House photo by Tina Hager.

Further, in 2000, a plaque commemorating USS Canberra was installed at the Australian War Memorial.

She is also remembered in maritime art.

Painting of USS Canberra (CAG-2) departing San Diego Bay, in 1963 by artist Wayne Scarpaci titled Silvergate Departure

When it comes to such artwork, a 1928 watercolor of HMAS Canberra, which was presented to USS Canberra and carried aboard until she was decommissioned, is now in the custody of the NHHC. 

NH 86171-KN HMAS Canberra (Australian heavy cruiser, 1928) Watercolor by F. Elliott. This painting was received from USS Canberra (CA-70) in 1970.

A vibrant USS Canberra reunion association is set to have their meeting in Pittsburgh this year while the HMAS Canberra association remembers the service of their American cousins fondly.

While the Royal Australian Navy is currently on their third HMAS Canberra, a 28,000-ton LHD, the U.S. Navy is set to soon receive their second. PCS USS Canberra (LCS-30), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, recently took to the water of Mobile Bay and is set to commission in 2023. Her name was announced at a Feb. 2018 meeting between President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Specs:

 

(1946 Jane’s)

(As-built)
Displacement: 14,500 long tons (14,733 t) standard; 16,000 tons full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in
Propulsion: 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, four GE geared steam turbines with four screws = 120,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots
Fuel: 2,500 tons
Complement: 61 officers and 1,085 sailors
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in
Deck: 3 in
Turrets: 3–6 inches
Conning Tower: 8 in
Aircraft: 4 floatplanes (Kingfishers) 2 catapults, one crane over the stern, below deck hangar for two aircraft
Armament:
9 × 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Marks 12s (3 x 3)
12 × 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12s (6 x 2)
48 × 40 mm Bofors guns
28 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons

(As CAG)
Displacement: 17,500 full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in
Propulsion: 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, four GE geared steam turbines with four screws = 120,000 shp
Speed: 33 knots
Fuel: 2,500 tons
Complement: 73 officers, 1,200 enlisted
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in
Deck: 3 in
Turrets: 3–6 inches
Conning Tower: 8 in
Aircraft: Deck space for helicopter
Radar: SPS-43 forward, SPS-30 aft pole mast
Armament:
6 × 8″/55 (20.3 cm) Marks 12s (2 x 3)
10 × 5″/38 (12.7 cm) Mark 12 (2 x 2)
8 × 3″/50 (7.62 cm) Mark 22 AAAs (4 x 2)
2 x Terrier twin rail SAM launchers (144 missile magazine)

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