USS Wichita (CA-45)


USS Wichita (CA-45)

USS "Wichita" (CA-45), the lead and only ship of the "Wichita"-class of heavy cruiser. The "Wichita" was the first ship of the United States Navy named after the city of Wichita, Kansas.

Initial operations

"Wichita" was laid down on 28 October 1935 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard; launched on 16 November 1937; sponsored by Mrs. William F. Weigester, the daughter of the Honorable W. A. Ayres, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission; and commissioned on 16 February 1939, Captain Thaddeus A. Thomson in command.

The ship's design was a connection between the pre-war cruisers, and those built during the war. She had been conceived as another Brooklyn class light cruiser, and in design, she was very similar to them, but with a new model 8-inch (203mm) turret, built with eight 5 inch (127mm) L/38 dual-purpose guns, four of which were in single enclosed mounts, the other four in open mounts. Two of Wichita's turrets were mounted in a superfiring configuration fore, with the third turret aft. Two of the armored 5" guns were located over the main turrets, fore and aft respectively, with two on either side of the bridge. The four open mounted 5" guns were located just aft of amidships. The Wichita's airplane hangars and catapults were mounted aft, as would be the case with all later cruiser classes.

After fitting-out, "Wichita" sailed south for the Gulf of Mexico and arrived at Houston, Texas, on 20 April to take part in a dedicatory and memorial service at the San Jacinto Battle Monument and War Relic Museum. Ten days later, she received a silver service from representatives of the city government of Wichita, Kansas, the cruiser's namesake city. After leaving Houston on 1 May, "Wichita" conducted her shakedown cruise, visiting the Virgin Islands, Cuba, and the Bahamas before she returned north to her builder's yard for post-shakedown repairs.

Beginning of World War II

She was still undergoing availability when war broke out in Poland on 1 September 1939. Less than a month later, on the 25th, "Wichita" reported for duty to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet and was assigned to Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 7, Atlantic Squadron. She accordingly departed Philadelphia bound for the Virginia Capes, and reached Hampton Roads two days later.

"Wichita" departed Hampton Roads on 4 October and relieved , HMS "Gambia", and . Other ships included the new battleship at 18:40, shortly before nightfall. "Hatsuzuki" put up a stubborn fight but only postponed the inevitable, slowed up by torpedo attacks from some of the screening destroyers, the Japanese man-of-war soon came under fire of the heavier guns of the cruisers. "Wichita" commenced firing on her at 19:10, ultimately, at 20:56, "Hatsuzuki" blew up and sank. She had however, straddled "Wichita" several times, and shell fragments wounded one man, slightly, on board that heavy cruiser.

"Wichita" resumed her screening operations for fast carriers in the aftermath of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, operating primarily east of Samar before supporting ground troops on Leyte on 28 October. She later fought off a determined air attack on the 30th, although the carriers USS|Franklin|CV-13|2 and USS|Belleau Wood|CVL-24|2 were damaged. Heading for Ulithi on the last day of October, "Wichita" reached her destination on 2 November.

"Wichita" then operated off Leyte and Luzon into mid-November, after her replenishment at Ulithi, before she detected very heavy vibrations in number four engine unit. Investigation revealed that the tail shaft had broken, and the propeller was trailing. It was then considered unsafe for the ship to make high speed. Detached as a consequence, "Wichita" headed for Ulithi on the 18th and reached the Carolines on the 20th.

After Commander, Cruiser Division 6, Rear Admiral C. Turner Joy, shifted his flag from "Wichita" to "San Francisco" (CA-38), the former underwent a brief inspection by divers before she was to head "stateside" for repairs. They found that a strut for number three screw was cracked. With only two shafts now, "Wichita" sailed for the United States on the 27th. Fueling at Eniwetok and stopping briefly at Pearl Harbor while en route, "Wichita" pushed on for San Pedro, California, on the 9th of December.

1945

Reaching the west coast six days later, the heavy cruiser entered the Terminal Island Navy Yard soon thereafter. She remained in dockyard hands, undergoing necessary repairs and alterations, until 8 February 1945. Underway for Pearl Harbor on 28 February, "Wichita" arrived in Hawaiian waters on 6 March, remaining at Pearl Harbor only five days before heading for the Carolines, via the Marshalls, on the 11th. Refueling at Eniwetok, the heavy cruiser arrived at Ulithi on the 20th.

The next day, "Wichita", as part of TF 54, set sail for Okinawa in the last great invasion of World War II. As an element of TU 54.2.3, "Wichita" covered minesweeping units in fire support sector four on 25 March, retiring to seaward for the night. As part of Fire Support Unit 3 the following day, "Wichita" was off Okinawa when lookouts spotted a periscope to starboard at 09:32. Making an emergency turn to starboard, the heavy cruiser evaded the torpedo that was fired.

At 13:50, "Wichita" commenced firing with her main battery, shelling Japanese installations on Okinawa, before she ceased fire at 16:30 and retired to sea for the night. Soon after dawn the following morning, 27 March, several Japanese planes attacked the formation in which "Wichita" was proceeding; the heavy cruiser's gunners shot down one. That morning and afternoon, "Wichita" again lent the weight of her salvoes to the "softening-up" process; even her SOC joined in, dropping two bombs.

After floating mines, which had been delaying the start of the morning bombardment, had been cleared, "Wichita" resumed her bombardment activities on the 28th. The next day, the 29th, "Wichita" put into Kerama Retto to replenish ammunition. That rocky outcropping near Okinawa had been invaded to provide an advance base for the operations against the island. It was still in the process of being cleared of defenders even as "Wichita" entered the harbor, among the first ships to utilize the newly secured body of water. "You are the first to receive the keys of Kerama Retto", radioed the senior officer present afloat to "Wichita" "with scenery and sound effects."

When she had replenished her stock of ammunition, "Wichita" resumed her shellings of the Japanese defenders on Okinawa, covering the movement of underwater demolition teams (UDTs). She performed the same covering services for UDTs the next day, 30 March as well as bombarding selected targets ashore. On the 31st, "Wichita" shelled the beach area to breach the sea wall in preparation for the landings. That evening, the heavy cruiser retired to seaward to cover the approaching transports.

On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, the day of the initial assault across the shores of Okinawa, "Wichita" provided neutralization fire on Japanese positions defending the southern beaches. She kept up a rapid, nearly continuous fire with everything from 8 inch to 40 millimeter guns. Near noon, her services temporarily not needed, she replenished ammunition.

After performing a call-fire mission on the 2nd, "Wichita" replenished fuel and ammunition at Kerama Retto on the 3rd. She subsequently took up a fire support station near Ie Shima and supported the minesweepers operating off that point on the 4th. During the night, "Wichita" fired harassment missions against the Japanese defenders. On the 5th, she was to join TG 51.19 east of Okinawa to carry out a bombardment of Tsugen Shima in company with "Tuscaloosa", USS|Maryland|BB-46|2, and USS|Arkansas|BB-33|2, but the approach of enemy planes cancelled the mission. That evening, though, "Wichita" shelled Japanese shore batteries at Chiyama Shima which had taken "Nevada" under fire earlier that day.

On 6 April, "Wichita" searched for troop concentrations, tanks, vehicles, and boat revetments on the east coast of Okinawa—targets of opportunity for her batteries. Shortly before sunset, a "Zeke" (Mitsubishi A6M5) came out of the clouds on the port quarter. The encounter was apparently one of mutual surprise, as "Wichita"s commander later recounted: "We seemed nearly as much of a surprise to the plane as it did to us." As the "Zeke" dove for the heavy cruiser's bridge, antiaircraft fire reached up and tore the plane apart, it disintegrated over the ship and splashed in the sea off the starboard bow. There was no damage to the ship.

The following day, "Wichita" entered Nakagusuku Wan, a body of water later renamed Buckner Bay, during the morning to bombard a pugnacious shore battery. The enemy managed to land several shots "very close aboard the port side" but was ultimately silenced. For the next two days, "Wichita" carried out a similar slate of harassing fire on Japanese shore batteries, pillboxes and other targets of opportunity. Underway for Kerama Retto on the afternoon of 10 April, the heavy cruiser replenished her ammunition supply that evening and returned to the bombardment areas the following day.

"Wichita" subsequently served four more tours of duty off Okinawa, her 8 inch guns providing part of the heavy volume of firepower necessary to support the troops advancing ashore against the tenacious Japanese defenders. She hit pillboxes, ammunition dumps, troop concentrations, spotted by her observers aloft in one of her SOC's, camouflaged installations and caves, waterfront areas suspected of supporting suicide boat launching ramps and harboring swimmers, as well as trenches and artillery emplacements. During that period of time, she was damaged twice: the first time came when a small caliber shell penetrated a fuel oil tank, five feet below the waterline, on 27 April. After repairs at Kerama Retto on 29 April and 30 April (she had spent the 28th firing harassment rounds against Japanese positions ashore and making unsuccessful attempts to patch the hole), "Wichita" provided more harassment and interdiction fire before being hit by "friendly" fire during an air raid on 12 May. A 5 inch shell hit the port catapult, with fragments striking the shield of an antiaircraft director. Twelve men were injured, one so severely that he died that night.

Withdrawn to Leyte for rest and replenishment, "Wichita" returned to Okinawa on 18 June. For the remainder of the war, the heavy cruiser provided surface and air protection for minesweepers operating to the west of Okinawa. She was off the island when, on 15 August 1945, she received word that the war with Japan was over.

Post war

"Wichita" became part of the occupying force in Japanese waters soon thereafter. She sortied from Buckner Bay on 10 September and reached Nagasaki on the following day as part of TG 55.7. During the ship's first stay at Nagasaki, 10,000 ex-prisoners of war (POWs) were repatriated through that port, their long captivity at the hands of the Japanese over at last.

"Wichita" shifted briefly to Sasebo on the 25th and stayed there for four days before returning to Nagasaki on the 29th. Back to Sasebo shortly thereafter, the heavy cruiser was in port when a severe typhoon struck that area from 9 October to 11 October. "Wichita" was not damaged during those storms.

While at Sasebo, "Wichita" inspected harbor installations and ships to monitor Japanese compliance with the terms of surrender. The heavy cruiser later received orders, on 5 November, her first passengers reported on board for transportation back to the United States. Underway on the latter date, the ship fueled at Tokyo before she headed for San Francisco, reaching that port on 24 November 1945.

Drydocking at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard two days later, "Wichita" underwent repairs and alterations in preparation for further "Magic Carpet" duty, before she was undocked on 1 December. Departing the west coast for the Hawaiian Islands on the 6th, "Wichita" reached Pearl Harbor on the 12th, bound, ultimately, for the Marianas. The heavy cruiser brought back homecoming servicemen from Saipan, arriving at San Francisco on 12 January 1946.

Departing "Frisco" on 27 January, "Wichita" transited the Panama Canal Zone between 5 February and 9 February and reached Philadelphia on the 14th. Assigned to the 16th Fleet, "Wichita" was placed in reserve on 15 July 1946. Decommissioned on 3 February 1947, the heavy cruiser was laid up at Philadelphia. She was struck from the Navy List on 1 March 1959. Later that year, on 14 August, she was sold for scrapping to the Union Minerals and Alloys Corp.

Awards

"Wichita" was awarded 13 battle stars for her World War II service.

See also

*See USS "Wichita" for other ships of the same name.
*List of cruisers of the United States Navy
*Baltimore class cruiser the heavy cruiser class which followed.

External links

* [http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/w7/wichita-i.htm history.navy.mil: USS "Wichita" (CA-45)]
* [http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/045/04045.htm navsource.org: USS "Wichita"]
* [http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/cruisers/ca45.txt hazegray.org: USS "Wichita"]


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