USS Wilkes-Barre (CL-103)
|Career (United States)|
|Builder:||New York Shipbuilding Corp.|
|Laid down:||14 December 1942|
|Launched:||24 December 1943|
|Commissioned:||1 July 1944|
|Decommissioned:||9 October 1947|
|Struck:||15 January 1971|
|Fate:||Sunk in testing, 1972|
|Class & type:||Cleveland-class cruiser|
|Displacement:||10,000 long tons (10,160 t)|
|Length:||610 ft 1 in (185.95 m)|
|Beam:||66 ft 6 in (20.27 m)|
|Draft:||20 ft (6.1 m)|
|Speed:||33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph)|
|Complement:||992 officers and enlisted|
|Armament:||12 × 6 in (150 mm) guns, 12 × 5 in (130 mm) guns, 20 × 40 mm guns, 10 × 20 mm guns|
|Operations:||World War II|
|Awards:||4 battle stars|
Construction and Commissioning
The ship was laid down on 14 December 1942 at Camden, New Jersey, by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, launched on 24 December 1943, sponsored by Grace Shoemaker Miner (the wife of a prominent Wilkes-Barre doctor), and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 1 July 1944, Captain Robert L. Porter, Jr., in command.
World War II
After fitting-out, Wilkes-Barre conducted her shakedown cruise in Chesapeake Bay and in the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad, British West Indies, before she returned to Philadelphia for post-shakedown availability. Getting underway on 23 October, the new light cruiser conducted training over ensuing days as she headed for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. Soon after transiting the isthmian waterway on 27 October, Wilkes-Barre arrived at San Diego, California, where she loaded provisions and ammunition. Then, following gunnery exercises off San Clemente Island, Calif., the warship headed for Hawaii on 10 November.
Wilkes-Barre reached Pearl Harbor on the 17th, and conducted exercises in the Hawaiian operating area from 19–24 November and 2–3 December, before she left Oahu in her wake on 14 December, bound for the Carolines. Upon her arrival at Ulithi, Wilkes-Barre joined Cruiser Division 17 and sortied on 30 December as part of a support unit for Vice Admiral John S. McCain's Task Force 38.
Planes from TF 38 hit targets on Formosa and in the southern Ryukyus and, later, on Japanese targets on Luzon, in support of the landings on that Philippine island. TF 38 delivered a second strike upon Japanese positions on Formosa on 9 January 1945, before it passed through the Bashi Channel on the night of 9–10 January 1945 and headed into the South China Sea to counter the threat of enemy surface units opposing the Lingayen Gulf landings. On 12 January, the day that Navy aircraft sank 127,000 tons of merchant and naval shipping in the Indochina area, Wilkes-Barre and her sisters in CruDiv 17 were detached from Task Group (TG) 38.2 and became TG 34.5 which was set up to deal with enemy warships reported off Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina. However, search planes from the cruisers found no trace of the supposed enemy force; and Wilkes-Barre, with the rest of CruDiv 17, rejoined TF 38.
On 13–14 January, soon after the abortive Cam Ranh Bay sweep, Wilkes-Barre and her consorts ran into rough weather — a tropical disturbance which caused stormy weather with intermittent squalls, heavy seas, and strong winds from the northeast. Wilkes-Barre rolled as much as 38 degrees to a side as she proceeded on a northeasterly course into the teeth of the gale.
However, the weather soon cleared enough to permit air strikes against Japanese shipping and targets on the coasts of China and French Indochina. Through holes in the thick overcast, American carrier planes bombed Japanese shipping at Takao, Amoy, and Swatow on 15 January and at Hainan Island, Indochina, and Hong Kong on the 16th. Fueling operations for the task group, hampered by the generally bad weather that had prevailed during the period, were finally completed on the 19th, shortly before the ships transited the Balintang Channel.
Strikes against Formosa continued on 21 January, but the enemy drew blood in return, damaging Langley and Ticonderoga. The next day, almost as if in revenge, Navy planes pounded Japanese targets-of-opportunity on the island of Okinawa, in the final act of the 27-day drama.
On 26 January, TF 38 arrived at Ulithi for replenishment and repairs. At Ulithi, TF 38 became TF 58 when command of the Fast Carrier Task Force passed to Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher. Within two weeks, Wilkes-Barre was at sea again, still with CruDiv 17 but attached to TG 58.3, Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, whose flag as commander of the group flew in Essex. The light cruiser and her consorts appeared off the coast of Honshū, Japan, on 16 February and screened the carriers as their planes bombed Tokyo. The raid served as a diversion for what was taking place to the southward: the invasion of Iwo Jima. Admiral Sherman's planes pounded Japanese airfields and industrial sites near Tokyo in raids that marked the first bombings of their kind since the Doolittle Raid in April 1942.
After two days of strikes against the Japanese capital, the task group headed toward Iwo Jima and conducted strikes on Japanese positions on Chichi Jima and Haha Jima en route. On 19 February 1945, marines left their transports and headed toward the black beaches of Iwo Jima.
It soon became evident that the going would be tough against General Tadamichi Kuribayashi's garrison of defenders on Iwo Jima. On 21 February, Wilkes-Barre was called in to assist in the shore bombardment. The light cruiser, her fire directed by spotters aloft in her OS2U Kingfishers, proceeded to demolish enemy gun positions, pillboxes, fortified caves, and ammunition dumps. On one occasion, her prompt and effective call-fire turned back a Japanese counterattack.
Wilkes-Barre rejoined TG 58.3 on 23 February and screened the group's carriers as their planes hit targets in and near Tokyo on 25 February and on Okinawa on 1 March. Four days after the latter strikes, TG 58.3 put into Ulithi to replenish and refuel.
The light cruiser remained at anchor in Ulithi Lagoon from 5–14 March, before she participated in exercises with TF 59 on the 14th and 15th. The latter day, she was reassigned to TG 58.3 and soon thereafter headed for Japan.
Steaming east of Okinawa on the 18th, the carriers hurled their squadrons against Japanese airfields on Kyushu, and, with bombs and rockets, and strafing with machine guns, the American carrier planes continued their attacks on the following day as well. The raids drew retaliatory strikes, met by the combat air patrol (CAP) and gunfire from the screen. On the 19th, Wilkes-Barre bagged her first aircraft: a Yokosuka D4Y "Judy".
The Japanese managed to draw blood from the American force, however, as two well-dropped bombs turned Franklin into a floating inferno on the 19th. While the task group subsequently retired toward a fueling rendezvous, moving slowly to protect the "cripples", Japanese aircraft continued the harassment.
The air strikes continued in ensuing days. Planes from TG 58.3 hit Japanese targets in the Okinawa area on 23–24 March. On the latter day, Wilkes-Barre's Kingfisher rescued two downed pilots from Bataan off Minami Daito Shima. Three days later, Wilkes-Barre returned to waters near Minami Daito and, in company with a destroyer group and the rest of CruDiv 17, shelled the airfield there.
On the 29th, after a high-speed, night approach toward Kyushu, the carriers, screened by Wilkes-Barre, her sister-ships, and some destroyers, launched dawn searches and strikes against points along the coasts of Kyushu and the Inland Sea. Again, one of Wilkes-Barre's planes performed a rescue mission, rescuing two fliers from Bunker Hill from the waters off Yakushima.
On Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, American troops commenced the invasion of Okinawa. Their accomplishment was one of the most difficult Allied undertakings in the war and the conflict's biggest American amphibious assault. As men and materiel began establishing a beachhead, TF 58, Wilkes-Barre included, began its supporting operations.
Beginning on D-Day, 1 April, the fast carriers flew an extended series of support missions at Okinawa and made neutralizing raids against airfields in Kyushu, Shikoku, and southern Honshū. A key base for Japanese planes turned out to be Sakashima Gunto in the Nansei Shoto group, and that site came under heavy air attacks. Nevertheless, the suiciders, taking off from bases in the Japanese home islands, proved persistent.
Japanese planes attacked TG 58.3 on 11 April; and, from noon until dark, Wilkes-Barre's guns, and those of the other screening ships, put up lethal barrages of antiaircraft fire at the oncoming enemy. She knocked down three A6M Zero and an Aichi D3A "Val", and also scored assists with two more Zeros.
When TF 58 subsequently headed north to launch strikes against the airfields on southern Kyushu, Wilkes-Barre went along. Those bases, thought to be the source of the Japanese air raids upon the joint expeditionary forces on Okinawa, were under attack throughout the 16th. Meanwhile, "flash red" alerts came one after another as the enemy planes attempted to penetrate the umbrella of the CAP. Together with the fighters, Wilkes-Barre and the other ships in the screen swung into action. The cruiser herself bagged a bomber at 1854 on 16 April and a Zero at 0939 on the 17th.
Wilkes-Barre's Kingfisher pilots again showed their skill at rescuing downed pilots, picking up two Navy fliers some 30 miles east of Okinawa on 26 April. Over the first 10 days of May 1945, the fast carriers, operating some 60 miles east of Okinawa, continued to launch strikes against that island. On 10 May, CruDiv 17, with escorting "tin cans," was temporarily detached from TG 58.3 for another night shelling of Minami Daito Shima.
"Snoopers," winging near the task group early the following day, sized up the disposition; and thus gave a hint of what was to come: a lightning-like foray. Two kamikazes plunged through the flak-torn skies and crashed into Bunker Hill, enveloping the flattop's after deck in flame. At 1059, Wilkes-Barre received orders to stand by the critically injured carrier.
Captain Porter brought his light cruiser alongside Bunker Hill at 1115, placing Wilkes-Barre's bow hard against the flattop's starboard quarter. The cruiser played 10 streams of water on the persistent fires, while 40 men, trapped astern in Bunker Hill scrambled to safety. Stembel, Charles S. Sperry, and English also added their fire hoses to the joint effort to save the stricken carrier.
Wilkes-Barre transferred fire-fighting gear, rescue breathing apparatus and handy-billies, to Bunker Hill in exchange for the carrier's injured and dying. At 1534, when the flames finally were well under control and her assistance was no longer needed, Wilkes-Barre finally cleared the blackened flattop.
Bunker Hill's captain later praised the ships which had labored bravely and tirelessly to save the carrier. "The Wilkes-Barre, the Sperry, and Stembel and English did a magnificent job. They came alongside not knowing whether we were likely to have explosions aboard. The Wilkes-Barre evacuated our seriously wounded, and with their able assistance, we got through."
On the 12th, Wilkes-Barre held burial services on board for the 13 men from the carrier who had succumbed to their wounds and transferred their surviving shipmates to Bountiful. That day, TF 58 traveled to Kyushu to launch strikes on the 13th against the network of airfields there. The Japanese air arm responded on the 14th. Commencing at midnight, other task groups came under coordinated assaults; but Japanese planes did not molest Wilkes-Barre's group until dawn. Falling shell fragments, possibly from "friendly" guns, hit the ship during that raid, wounding nine men on the after signal bridge. At 0816, the cruiser claimed an assist in splashing a Zero.
On 28 May, fleet and task force designations were changed to reflect the switch in command when Vice Admiral John S. McCain relieved Vice Admiral Mitscher. Wilkes-Barre, her tour off Okinawa and the Japanese home islands completed, left TG 38.3 on 29 May and headed for the Philippines.
Wilkes-Barre remained in the snug anchorage at San Pedro Bay from 1–20 June, receiving repairs, upkeep, and replenishment. She then conducted gunnery and tactical exercises off Samar from 20–23 June and then returned to anchorage for the remainder of the month.
For the coup de grace administered against Japan's homeland, TF 38 sortied from Leyte Gulf on 1 July. As part of TG 38.3, Wilkes-Barre steamed along with her sisters of CruDiv 17. For the first week of July, the ships engaged in intensive aircraft patrol and firing practice.
Carrier planes struck Hokkaido and Honshū on 10 July. Four days later, Wilkes-Barre and other ships parted company with the task group and conducted antishipping sweeps off northern Honshū and across Kii Suido.
On the 17th, American planes seared the Tokyo plains with incendiaries and rockets. On the night of 24–25 July, Wilkes-Barre and other bombardment ships departed the task group and, at 1210, opened fire with their main batteries on the Kushimoto seaplane base and on the Shionomisaki landing field on the south coast of Honshū.
Navy planes struck Kure and Kobe from 24–27 July in strikes aimed at ferreting out merchant shipping hidden in the Inland Sea. On the 30th, American planes gutted the manufacturing centers of Tokyo and Na-goya; but, horrible as they were, these raids were only a prelude to the awesome air strikes to come, the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Typhoons kept American planes out of the skies for most of the first week of August, but on 7 August, the ships turned north for further strikes on the Honshū-Hokkaido area. Foul weather prevented attacks on the 8th, but the following two days presented favorable conditions for air strikes which continued apace. During that time, the two atomic bombs, Russia's entry into the Far Eastern war, and then nearly incessant pressure kept on the Japanese by ships and planes of the armada massed off her shores, all combined to force Japan to a decision to surrender. On the 15th, the orders finally came through to cease offensive operations: the war was over.
CruDiv 17 was detached from TG 38.3 on 23 August and, on the 27th, after 59 days at sea, formed part of the 3rd Fleet that made its way triumphantly into Sagami Wan, the entrance to Tokyo Bay. Wilkes-Barre was among that procession, and her 6 inch guns covered the occupation of the Yokosuka Naval Base. On 3 September, the day after the official surrender of Japan, Wilkes-Barre moved into Tokyo Bay proper, over 103,000 miles after her commissioning.
As flagship for demilitarization group, Task Unit (TU) 35.7.2, Wilkes-Barre churned out of Tokyo Bay on 9 September, and proceeded to Tateyama Wan, anchoring late that afternoon. On the 10th, she covered the seizure of the former midget submarine and suicide boat base there, before she returned to Tokyo Bay.
Subsequent operations in connection with the occupation of the erstwhile enemy's homeland kept Wilkes-Barre busy. She anchored off Koajiro Ko, Sagami Wan, between 12 September and 14 September to demilitarize the Aburatsubo and Kurihama midget submarine bases on the Sagami peninsula. She next anchored in Tokyo Bay to refuel and take on provisions on the 14th before shifting to Onagawa Wan between the 15th and 17th. She then conducted another demilitarization mission, her guns covering the occupation at Katsuura Wan before turning to Tokyo on 24 September.
From 24 September to 4 October, Wilkes-Barre anchored within sight of Mount Fuji, Japan's sacred mountain, and held gunnery and tactical exercises from 24–28 October. Detached from the 5th Fleet on 5 November, Wilkes-Barre set out on the 9th for Korea and reached Jinsen (now Inchon) on the 13th.
On the 16th, Wilkes-Barre, in company with Hart and Bell, shifted to Tsingtao, China. Further occupation duties kept her at that port until the 19th; but, over the ensuing weeks, she steamed twice to Taku and Chinwangtao, China, before returning to Tsingtao where she spent the remainder of the year 1945.
Finally sailing for the United States on 13 January 1946, Wilkes-Barre proceeded, via Pearl Harbor, and reached San Pedro, California, on the last day of January. Wilkes-Barre got underway on 4 March, bound for the east coast of the United States. Transiting the Panama Canal from 12–14 March, the light cruiser put into Philadelphia on the 18th and remained there through the spring and summer of 1946. She got underway for the Gulf of Mexico on 20 October and reached New Orleans in time to celebrate Navy Day on 27 October.
From New Orleans, Wilkes-Barre sailed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and a period of refresher training in company with Dayton and Providence. After returning to Norfolk, Va., on 13 December, Wilkes-Barre made a goodwill cruise to England and Norway; underway on 17 February 1947, she reached Plymouth, England, on the 27th. She then operated in the waters of the British Isles throughout March and April and made one trip to Bergen, Norway, before returning to the United States for eventual assignment to the United States Reserve Fleet.
Decommissioned on 9 October 1947, Wilkes-Barre was simultaneously placed in reserve at Philadelphia. She remained in "mothballs" at Philadelphia until struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 15 January 1971, the last light cruiser on the Register list. Thereafter, the ship was subjected to underwater explosive tests. On 12 May 1972, her battered hulk broke in two. The after section sank of its own accord on that day; the forward section sank on the 13th, as a result of a scuttling charge.
Wilkes-Barre received four battle stars for her World War II service.
Presently off the Florida Keys, the ship continues to serve society, however, as an artificial reef. The Wilkes-Barre is a popular deep wreck diving site that is split into two sections. The bow rests on the starboard side with the gun turrets resting at 253 feet. The stern rests upright with the deck at 200 feet. Visibility on the wreck can range from 20 feet to over 100 feet though it is normally only 40 feet. This huge wreck abounds with marine life, artifacts and a fascinating history.
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