Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 period and will 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, Aug.21, 2019: Of Long Lances and Lobsters
In this beautiful original color photograph, we see the modified Brooklyn-class light cruiser USS St. Louis, often also seen written as “Saint Louis”, (CL-49) at Tulagi, Solomon Islands, circa 1943. At the time this image was taken, the cruiser had already seen much of the Pacific War and would see much more.
Significantly different from the seven other ships of the Brooklyn-class, St. Louis and her follow-on sister USS Helena (CL-50) was ordered under the 1934 Naval Plan. While they used the same hull, engineering plant, and general layout as the rest of their class– to include 15 6″/47 caliber Mark 16 guns in five triple turrets– there were enough differences for the two sisters to often be considered a distinct class of their own. This included a better secondary battery (eight 5″/38 DP guns in four double enclosed mounts vs. eight low-angle 5″/25 open singles), a different boat stowage scheme and cranes for the same, a smaller secondary tripod mast in a different location, higher boiler pressure, and a different fire control arrangement.
The whole class could also carry as many as six floatplanes in their below-deck hangar as well as spare parts and engines, although typically would only deploy with four.
Capable of breaking more than 32.5 knots, they also had very long legs, able to make 14,500 nm at 15 knots without refueling.
Laid down on 10 December 1936 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., our cruiser was the fifth U.S. warship vessel to carry the name of the Missouri city and gateway to the West.
Commissioned on 19 May 1939, she was still on her shakedown cruise when Hitler marched into Poland in September, sparking WWII, a move that introduced St. Louis to Neutrality Patrol operations over the next 11 months that took her from the balmy West Indies and British Guiana to the freezing North Atlantic.
However, with tensions ramping up with Imperial Japan over China, Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies, St. Louis received orders to head for the Pacific, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 12 December 1940. From there, she ranged from the West Coast to Manila and back on exercises and patrols in 1941, with stops at Wake, Midway, and Guam.
On the morning of 7 December 1941, St. Louis was at anchor in Pearl Harbor, moored at Berth B-17 in the Southeast Loch since 28 November with two of her eight boilers offline for maintenance. The ship’s aviation detachment was shore-based at Ford Island and many of her crew and Marine det were ashore on libo.
According to the ship’s log, now in the National Archives:
“At 0756 two of the ship’s officers observed a large number of dark-colored planes heading towards Ford Island from the general direction of AIEA. They dropped bombs and made strafing attacks. At the same time, a dark olive drab colored plane bearing the aviation insignia of Japan passed close astern and dropped a torpedo…The ship went to general quarters at once and manned its entire battery.”
By 0800, her skipper was on the bridge and both her .50 caliber and 1.1″ batteries were “already manned and in action delivering a full volume of fire at the attackers,” as steam was ordered up from her six operational boilers.
At 0931, St. Louis got underway, with boiler power for 29 knots, and stood out to sea via South Channel. Just 30 minutes later, she reportedly suffered a near miss from two torpedoes fired from a Japanese midget submarine just inside the channel entrance buoys.
At 1016, St. Louis was the first U.S. Navy ship to clear the channel from Pearl during the attack and she engaged a number of aircraft from the Japanese second wave between then and 1147 with her twin 5″ mounts before joining with the cruisers Montgomery and Minneapolis, along with several destroyers, to proceed “southward with the intention of locating and attacking the [Japanese] carrier.”
Between 1213 and 1234, her guns engaged the Japanese second wave as they withdrew. In all, she fired 207 5″ shells, 3,950 rounds from her 1.1″ battery and a very decent 12,750 .50-cal BMG rounds, claiming at least three probable Japanese planes seen to flame and crash.
Of course, the little force of cruisers and destroyers did not find the Japanese flattops and retired to Pearl Harbor on 10 December. While Battleship Row was the scene of carnage, St. Louis was only very lightly damaged from machine gun rounds and suffered no casualties in the attack.
Joining the shooting war with a bang, St. Louis was used to escort the steamer SS President Coolidge, carrying Philippine President Quezon to San Francisco, as well as riding shotguns on convoys to reinforce Midway and the Aleutians.
She was in the Northern Pacific during the Battle of Midway, missing out on the initial carrier clash, but did her first round of naval gunfire support on 3 August when she plastered the newly Japanese-occupied island of Kiska in the Aleutians. On 16 August, she lost an aircraft with four aviators aboard somewhere between Kodiak and Whitehorse.
After staying in Alaskan waters to cover the Allied liberation of Adak, St. Louis caught a refit at Mare Island where she picked up a much better AAA suite of 40mm and 20mm guns.
From there she proceeded to the West Pac where she joined RADM “Pug” Ainsworth’s TF cruiser-destroyer force, dubbed the “Ainsworth Express,” in fighting the Japanese in the near-nightly efforts to prevent the Empire from reinforcing their troops on Guadalcanal and/or wiping out the Marines trying to keep a toe-hold there. The Tokyo Express and Ainsworth Express collided in the high-traffic waterway of New Georgia Sound through the middle of the Solomon Islands, better known as “The Slot,” in a series of pitched battles in the summer of 1943.
At Kula Gulf, Ainsworth’s force of three light cruisers– St. Louis, her sister Helena, and near-sister USS Honolulu (CL-48) — collided with 10 destroyers of RADM Teruo Akiyama’s 3rd Destroyer Squadron off the coast of Kolombangara Island carrying 2,600 Japanese troops. The action, all in pitch darkness, left Akiyama dead, two Japanese destroyers sunk, and Helena lost, a victim of the deadly Type 93 Long Lance torpedo.
Less than a week later, the two opposed Expresses crashed into each other again in the same area with RADM Shunji Isaki’s force, consisting of the cruiser Jintsu, along with five destroyers, duking it out in a night action with Honolulu and St. Louis backed up by the Kiwi light cruiser HMNZS Leander. In the wild fight, which was considered a pyrrhic victory for the Japanese that turned into a strategic defeat as they shifted operations away from the vital Slot moving forward, sent Jintu to the bottom– plastered by radar-directed 6-inch guns from the Allied cruisers, killing Isaki.
However, in her final act, the Japanese cruiser had gone down illuminating her killers with her searchlights and all three of the Allied cruisers as well as the destroyer USS Gwin (DD-433), was hit by Long Lances before the action was over. While Gwin ultimately could not be saved, Honolulu, St. Louis and Leander managed to limp away to fight another day.
St. Louis received a temporary bow at an advanced base in the Pacific. With this bow, the cruiser was able to return to a West Coast navy yard for more permanent repairs. Incredibly, Lucky Lou had come out of both Kula Gulf– where her sister had been sunk– and Kolombangara with no serious casualties.
In mid-November, Lou returned to the Solomons and, from the 20th to the 25th, covered Marines fighting for Bougainville. She would continue to work her way along the Pacific, delivering salvos of accurate 6-inch and 5-inch shells in NGF support.
On 13 January 1944, while operating in the area between Buka and St. George Channel to support landing operations in the Green Islands off New Ireland, she was attacked by five Vals. One managed to make it through flak fire to hit St. Louis in her 40mm clipping room near the number 6 mount and exploded in the midship living compartment, killing 23 and wounding another 20.
Her spell had been broken.
Still, she licked her wounds once more and got back to work, supporting operations on Saipan and Guam, while picking up a new camo pattern.
After her 1944 campaigns, she was beaten and broken, in need of an urgent refit. In Late July she headed for the West Coast to get some work done.
Then, refreshed and ready to go again, it was now time to deliver on MacArthur’s “I Shall Return” promise and Lou made a course for the Philippines, where she felt the Divine Wind.
One of the most effective Japanese kamikaze attacks of the war occurred on 27 November in the Leyte Gulf against Task Group 77.2., when a mixed force of 13 Jills, Kates and Vals came in low at 1125 while the ships were fueling. The task group was composed of four battleships, five cruisers, and seven destroyers, of which the larger ships were singled out for attack. Corresponding hits were scored on Colorado (BB-45), Maryland (BB-46), Montpelier (CL-57), and Aulick (DD-569) as well as St. Louis.
Two suicide planes hit St. Louis, one aft and one amidships, burning the after part of the cruiser, destroying catapults and seaplanes, and damaging her after turrets. She took a hard list to port for nearly an hour and looked in bad shape.
Her crews managed to contain the fires, right the ship, and head for San Pedro Bay for repairs. In the twin kamikaze strike, 16 men were killed or missing and another 43 injured.
After another stint in a California shipyard to fix her back up, St. Louis returned to the battle line in March 1945, bombarding Okinawa, and guarded minesweepers and UDT teams clearing channels to the assault beaches.
By August, the end of the war found her assigned to TF 73, the Yangtze River Patrol Force, and she made Shanghai in October, supporting KMT Chinese forces.
After three Magic Carpet runs across the vast expanse of the Pacific to bring returning Vets back home Lou sailed for the East Coast and arrived at Philadelphia for inactivation in February 1946.
In all, from Pearl Harbor to the Japanese Home Islands, St. Louis earned 11 battle stars during her war.
Her payment? She was stricken from the U.S. Naval List on 22 January 1951.
However, Lucky Lou would get a reprieve from the rust squadron and go on to live a very long second career
In the 1900s, a Latin American naval race led South America’s major powers to acquire numerous battleships to include a modicum of dreadnoughts, along with a veneer of escorting armored/protected cruisers. While these vessels had grown quite long in the tooth and put on the list for the breakers by the end of the 1940s, the big regional players still needed ships for prestige and to be taken seriously. The logical replacement for those 30-40-year-old coal burners was relatively new Allied WWII-surplus cruisers which could be bought for a song.
This led to the curious phenomenon that, outside of the U.S., Europe and India/Pakistan, all the world’s cruisers from the 1950s to 1970s were operated by Latin American fleets:
Argentina– Two ex-Brooklyn class light cruisers (Phoenix, Boise, recommissioned as Gen. Belgrano and Nueve de Julio in 1951-52) as well as the old Vickers-made training cruiser La Argentina (8,610-tons, 9×6″ guns)
Chile– Two ex-Brooklyns (Brooklyn, Nashville, recommissioned as Prat and O’Higgins in 1951-52) as well as the Swedish-built Latorre (ex-Gota Lejon) bought in 1971.
Peru– Two ex-British Colony-class light cruisers (ex-HMS Ceylon, Newfoundland recommissioned as Almirante Grau and Col. Bolognesi, in 1959-60) replacing a pair of Vickers built scout cruisers commissioned in 1908. The Dutch De Zeven Provinciën-class cruiser HNLMS De Ruyter later became Peru’s only cruiser, recycling the Grau name, serving until 2017.
As for Brazil, they got the same sweetheart cruiser deal from Uncle Sam hat Argentina and Chile got on their scratch and dent Brooklyns— pay just 10 percent of the vessels’ original cost plus the expense of reconditioning them after their short stint in mothballs.
With that, Rio plunked down cash for the Brooklyn-class USS Philadelphia (CL-41) as well as our St. Louis in 1951 with the latter being transferred on 29 January and the former on 21 August.
While Philly picked up the moniker of NAeL Barroso (C11), St. Louis became Almirante Tamandaré (C12) after the famed 19th Century Brazilian naval hero Joaquim Marques Lisboa, Marquês de Tamandaré, the third vessel to bear this name in the Marinha do Brasil.
In the end, Brazil got a 12-year-old ship that had been hit by Long Lance torpedos, Japanese bombs, and kamikazes, but still looked great.
Other than adding LORAN, halting the operation of seaplanes and landing their catapults (the Brazilians later used Sikorsky H-34 and Westland Wasp helicopters on their cruisers), and getting rid of their Oerlikons, the vessels remained essentially the same as during their WWII service, to include carrying their 40mm Bofors mounts, SPS-12 (surface search), SPS-6C (air search) and SPS-10 (tactical) radar sets.
Taking further advantage of good deals on certified pre-owned naval warships, Brazil also bought 7 surplus Fletcher-class destroyers, a Sumner-class destroyer, 7 Bostwick-class destroyer escorts, and four GUPPY’d fleet boat style diesel submarines from the U.S. Navy. This gave the country two effective surface action groups well into the early 1970s centered around the cruisers with the tin cans and subs in support– even if they did look a repeat of the Pacific War.
Arriving in Rio de Janeiro 20 April 1952 after four months of shakedowns with her new Brazilian crew, Tamandare became the fleet flagship until 1960 when the aircraft carrier NAeL Minas Gerais (A11) joined the fleet. This led to a simple life of friendship missions (she carried President Dr. Café Filho and entourage on an official visit to Portugal in 1955 and a revisit in 1960), midshipman cruises, and regular training exercises such as DRAGÃO, UNITAS, and ASPIRANTEX.
The closest she came to combat in her decades under the Brazilian flag was the 1964 Brazilian coup d’état (Golpe de 64), which started with a sailor’s revolt, and the so-called Lobster War with France.
In the early 1960s, French lobstermen sailing from African waters came increasingly close to Brazil, within about 100 miles of Pernambuco, which became a real issue when Rio kicked their economic exclusion zone out to 200 miles, as is now common. The friction led to the seizure of at least one French fishing boat by the Brazilians and a muscular response from Paris that saw the gunboat Paul Goffeny (A754) sail over from Dakar.
The heated rhetoric saw a French naval task force sail from Toulon in February 1963– officially for a West African cruise– headed by the brand-new aircraft carrier Clemenceau (who was carrying helicopters only as she would not get her first F-8 Crusaders until the next year), the AAA cruiser De Grasse (12,350-tons, 8 x 5-inch guns), the big destroyers Cassard, Jauréguiberry and Tartu; and the corvettes Le Picard, Le Gascon, L’Agenais, Le Béarnais, and Le Vendéen, along with support vessels.
Rio reciprocated by putting Brazilian Air Force RB-17 Flying Fortresses into the air along with shore-based S-2 Trackers on long-range patrol over the disputed fishing grounds– and mobilizing both the cruisers Barroso and Tamandaré along with six Fletcher-class destroyers.
In terms of guns, the Brazilan fleet had a distinct advantage if it came to a naval clash with the French, who would have been handicapped by the fact that the Latin American country could also bird dog the area of operations with land-based aircraft. Still, the French had more bluewater experience, coupled with better sensors, and may have made it count.
In the end, only the French destroyer Tartu entered the disputed area and remained there for 17 days until 10 March while the Brazilians sent air patrols to keep tabs on the interloping French ship. The two fleets never got within several hundred miles of each other, as the French kept close to Africa, in Dakar and Abidjan, while the Brazilians likewise remained in their coastal waters.
No shots were fired in the surreal crustacean contest known in Brazil as the “Guerra da Lagosta” and both sides de-escalated, later settling the dispute in 1966 amicably.
In all, Tamandaré steamed over 200,000 nautical miles with the Brazilian Navy and served her adopted country proudly.
While Barroso/Philadelphia was scrapped in 1974, Tamandaré endured for another two years and was only decommissioned on 28 June 1976.
Sold for $1.1 million in scrap value to Superwinton Enterprises of Hong Kong, a Philippine-flagged tugboat, Royal, arrived in Brazil to haul the old cruiser to the breakers in Asia in August 1980. However, St. Louis wasn’t feeling another trip to the Pacific via South Africa and, unmanned, on the night of 24 August near -38.8077778°, -001.3997222°, she started to submerge. Unable for Royal to save her, the towline was released, allowing her to settle on the seabed where she remains in deep water.
Today, a WWII St. Louis Veterans’ Association exists, though its ranks are thinning. The U.S. Navy recycled her name for an amphibious cargo ship (LKA-116) and a planned Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS-19) set to commission in 2020.
As for Brazil, that country’s Navy has recently reissued the name Tamandaré to the lead ship of a new class of Meko A100 type corvettes scheduled for delivery between 2024 and 2028.
Standard: 10,000 long tons (10,000 t)
Full load: 13,327 long tons (13,541 t)
Length: 608 ft 8 in
Beam: 61 ft 5 in
19 ft 10 in (6.05 m) (mean)
24 ft (7.3 m) (max)
8 × Babcock & Wilcox Express steam boilers
4 × Parsons geared turbines, 4 × screws, 100,000 shp (75,000 kW)
Speed: 32.5 knots
Range: 14,500nm at 15 knots on 2,100 tons fuel oil
(As designed) 888 officers and enlisted men
(1944) 1070 men, 58 officers, plus Marine and Aviation detachments
(1973, Brazil) 975
Belt: 3 1⁄4–5 in (83–127 mm)
Deck: 2 in (51 mm)
Barbettes: 6 in (150 mm)
Turrets: 1 1⁄4–6 in (32–152 mm)
Conning Tower: 2 1⁄4–5 in (57–127 mm) (although Jane’s states 8)
15 x 6″/47 cal cannons in five triple Mk-16 mounts three at the bow and two at the stern
8 x 5″/38cal guns in four double Mk-38 mounts
16 x 1.1″ AAA guns in four quad mounts
8 x .50-caliber water-cooled machine guns
1 depth charge thrower
15 x 6″/47 cal cannons in five triple Mk-16 mounts three at the bow and two at the stern
8 x 5″/38cal guns in four double Mk-38 mounts,
28 x 40 mm Bofors L60 guns in four Mk 2 quadruple mounts and six Mk 1 doubles
8 x 20 mm Oerlikon submachine guns on single Mk 4 mounts.
(1940s) 4-6 × SOC Seagull floatplanes, 2 catapults
(1958) 2-3 helicopters, first H-34s later Westland Wasps
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