no coat of arms
USS BIRMINGHAM was a CLEVELAND - class light cruiser and the second ship in the Navy named after the city in Alabama. Decommissioned on January 2, 1947, and stricken from the Navy list in May 1959, the BIRMINGHAM was sold for scrapping in November 1959.
|General Characteristics:||Awarded: 1940|
|Keel laid: February 17, 1941|
|Launched: March 20, 1942|
|Commissioned: January 29, 1943|
|Decommissioned: January 2, 1947|
|Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding, Newport News, Va.|
|Propulsion system: geared turbines, 100,000 shp|
|Length: 610.2 feet (186 meters)|
|Beam: 66.3 feet (20.2 meters)|
|Draft: 24.6 feet (7.5 meters)|
|Displacement: approx. 14,130 tons fully loaded|
|Speed: 32.5 knots|
|Armament: twelve 15.2cm 6-inch/47 caliber guns in four triple mounts, twelve 12.7cm 5-inch/38 caliber guns in six twin mounts, 28 40mm guns, 21 20mm guns|
|Crew: 70 officers and 1285 enlisted|
This section contains the names of sailors who served aboard USS BIRMINGHAM. It is no official listing but contains the names of sailors who submitted their information.
USS BIRMINGHAM History:
USS BIRMINGHAM was laid down on 17 February 1941 at Newport News, Va.; by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co.; launched on 20 March 1942; sponsored by Mrs. C. Green, wife of the President of the Birmingham City Commission; and commissioned at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 29 January 1943, Capt. John Wilkes in command.
The light cruiser fitted out at Norfolk until 20 February when she began shakedown training in the Chesapeake Bay. This included plane launch and recovery drills, structural test gun firing, day spotting practice and anti aircraft drills. The light cruiser then sailed to Annapolis on 19 March where she was inspected by 180 military and civilian Navy Department personnel. Returning to Norfolk on 3 April, BIRMINGHAM received three weeks of post-shakedown repairs. Moving back to the Chesapeake Bay on 23 April, the warship spent the next four weeks conducting more battle drills and other exercises, including night and day gunnery practice, fueling at sea exercises, and fighter (CAP) director drills. After a short period at Norfolk for upkeep in late May, BIRMINGHAM sailed east for the Mediterranean on 8 June.
Arriving at Mers el Kebit, Algeria, on 22 June, the light cruiser refueled and provisioned in preparation for Operation Husky, the amphibious landings in Sicily. BIRMINGHAM put to sea with TG 86.1 on 29 June and, in company with BROOKLYN (CL 40), BUCK (DD 420) and LUDLOW (DD 438), escorted part of the landing force toward the beaches in the morning on 9 July. After meeting up with the Beach Identification Group - made up of BRISTOL (DD 453), PC-546, and British submarine HMS SAFARI - the warships guided the four Licata LST groups to their assigned beaches. Once the Salso and Falconara attack groups began anchoring and lowering boats, BIRMINGHAM moved to the eastern fire support area and launched two spotting planes to search for enemy artillery batteries on the slopes Mount Desusino.
BIRMINGHAM, screened by LUDLOW and EDISON (DD 439), began firing on these targets just after dawn. Unfortunately, poor visibility and the difficulties of communicating with Army aircraft led to numerous friendly fire attacks on the light cruisers’ spotting planes. At 0715, the warship recovered one plane badly shot up by both friendly anti-aircraft fire and a Messerschmidt Bf-109 fighter. At 0745, the second float plane was recovered after the rear seat gunner was wounded by friendly fire and then killed after being thrown from his seat during the violent maneuvering required to avoid being shot down by two British Bell P-39 Airacobras. BIRMINGHAM ceased firing at 0918 when the troops ashore took their initial objectives. She then spent the next nine days operating up and down the coast, firing shore bombardment and counter-battery missions as needed, and covering minesweeping operations.
On 21 July, BIRMINGHAM steamed west to Bizerte, where she refueled before moving on to Algiers and Mers-el-Kebir. Departing the latter port on the 27th, she sailed across the Atlantic and moored at Norfolk on 8 August. Following ten days of voyage repairs, she put to sea and sailed south to the West Indies. Passing through the Panama Canal on 22 August, the light cruiser arrived at Pearl Harbor on 5 September.
Underway on 11 September, BIRMINGHAM screened LEXINGTON (CV 16), PRINCETON (CVL 23) and BELLEAU WOOD (CVL 24) as Task Group (TG) 15.1 launched air strikes against Japanese gunboats and air defense positions on Tarawa and Makin. After returning to Pearl Harbor on the 23rd to refuel and rearm, the task group was joined by more carriers and got underway six days later for a raid against Wake Island.
Arriving off Wake on 5 October, the light cruiser departed the carriers and closed to attack Japanese positions with gunfire. After launching two spotting planes, she commenced a slow and deliberate bombardment of targets ashore, including gun batteries, warehouse areas and an ammunition dump. During this action, a Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeke made a pass at one of BIRMINGHAM’s spotting planes. Luckily, the fighter only managed to put two bullet holes in the fuselage and the floatplane landed safely. The task group retired the next day and returned to Pearl Harbor on 11 October.
Ordered to the Solomon Islands, the light cruiser departed Hawaii on 21 October and sailed south to the New Hebrides, arriving at Espiritu Santo on 4 November. The next day, she joined the ongoing Bougainville operations and helped cover a reinforcement convoy past Mutupina Point. After escorting the six transports and cargo ships into Empress Augusta Bay on the morning of 8 November, BIRMINGHAM, two other light cruisers and four destroyers then took up a patrol position to the southwest.
Between noon and six that afternoon, BIRMINGHAM and MOBILE (CL 63) picked up thirteen enemy air contacts on their radar screens. None closed and it was not until 1830 that a single Mitsubishi AGM twin-engine bomber approached the task group. While it was circling the American warships, a large raid was picked up on radar at a range of 25,000 yards.
At 1911, the three light cruisers began firing 6-inch gun salvoes at a range of 18,000 yards as the dozen or so Japanese aircraft closed the formation. By the light of green, red, and yellow flares, BIRMINGHAM’s 40-mm and 20-mm gunners picked up an Aichi D3A Val very low and close on the port quarter. Taken under fire, the carrier bomber burst into flames and crashed into the water 750 yards off the port beam. Almost simultaneously, the stricken planes’ bomb skipped into the warships starboard counter, blowing a 15-foot hole in the hull and demolishing her float plane hanger. One minute later, an aerial torpedo dropped from another aircraft exploded on the port bow, splashing seawater up and over the open bridge. The explosion blew a 30-foot hole in the hull just above the chain locker, flooding two fuel oil compartments and buckling numerous decks and bulkheads.
As the light cruiser’s crew struggled to patch holes and put out fires, the warship steamed through a sea lit up by the pyres of six splashed Japanese planes burning on the surface of the sea. Just as the damage and flooding was contained by shoring-up the surrounding bulkheads, another Val swung past a destroyer and made a run against BIRMINGHAM from the port beam. Taken under fire, the bomber exploded over the warship and splashed 100-yards off the starboard beam. The stricken planes’ bomb hit turret #4, damaging the mount and all three gun barrels in the ensuing explosion. Two sailors were killed and 32 wounded in these attacks.
Despite the multiple hits and damage, the light cruiser maintained 30-knots speed and remained in formation. This proved critically important as the task group was plagued by frequent attacks all night long. Nine separate long range targets were engaged by BIRMINGHAM’s radar controlled 5 inch batteries, which helped disrupt and break up Japanese attack runs. At 1958, her forward 5 inch guns shot at a Betty dropping green flares and splashed it at 14,000 yards. Later that night, the leader of four closing Betties was shot down by 5-inch gunfire at 4,000 yards.
No other damage was suffered that night and the task group retired to the central Solomons the next morning. BIRMINGHAM then moved on to Florida Island on 10 November for temporary repairs. After work crews reinforced her damaged bulkheads, the light cruiser’s damage control team constructed an open passageway up to the main deck from the damaged compartments forward. This allowed water to vent from the compartments open to the sea and relieved pressure on the shored-up bulkheads. When underway, this resulted in a geyser of water spouting out the trunk at every pitch, earning BIRMINGHAM the nickname “Old Faithful.” Departing Florida Island on 16 November, she made a short stop at Espiritu Santo before steaming to Hawaii, arriving there on 1 December.
Following a short period in dry dock, where her hull damage was repaired, the light cruiser sailed for San Francisco on the 18th and moored at Mare Island on 22 December. Over the next six weeks, BIRMINGHAM received a major overhaul and battle damage repairs, including the replacement of six of her 6 inch guns and both catapults. While shifting berths on 7 February, she collided with SS MANUKAI, causing further damage to her bow. After another week of repairs and a post overhaul shakedown, BIRMINGHAM departed Mare Island on 18 February and arrived back at Pearl Harbor on the 23rd.
Following several training exercises off Kaloohawe Island, the light cruiser departed Hawaii on 5 March and sailed southwest toward the Ellice Islands. Arriving at Funafuti on the 10th, she refueled and pressed on to the Solomons, anchoring in Purvis Bay on 14 March. Eventually assigned to Task Group 53.1, BIRMINGHAM spent the next ten weeks preparing for upcoming amphibious operations in the central Pacific.
She began this training by conducting shore bombardment exercises off Guadalcanal on 29 March and 2 May, communications drills with shore fire control parties on 11 May, and another gunfire mission against Gatuki Island off New Georgia on the 15th. Five days later, in company with MONTPELIER (CL 57), CLEVELAND (CL 55) and four destroyers, BIRMINGHAM participated in a live-fire “cruiser training mission” against Japanese forces in the Shortland Islands. This included a successful gunnery duel with enemy batteries on Poperang ridge.
On 24 May, the light cruiser covered a practice amphibious landing on Guadalcanal and followed this up with two gunnery shoots in Kula Gulf. Upon returning to Purvis Bay on 3 June, with 50 sailors suffering from bacillary dysentery, the medical department fumigated the warship to kill flies and other disease-carrying insects. She ended her stay in the Solomons on 4 June, when the warship escorted a convoy of transports and LSTs north to the Marshall Islands on 8 June. Despite the dysentery epidemic, which reached 244 cases on the 10th, BIRMINGHAM sailed west that day to participate in the invasion of the Mariana Islands.
Assigned to TG 52.17, the light cruiser steamed to Saipan on 14 June to cover minesweeping operations, support Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) operations, and fire on Japanese positions ashore. On the 15th, the warship steamed off Garapan, firing at enemy anti-aircraft guns and an unmasked enemy shore battery. After the Japanese guns fell silent, BIRMINGHAM closed to 3,000 yards to cover a UDT beach reconaissance mission. Suddenly, at 0846, the light cruiser was fired on by a half-dozen Japanese shore batteries. Bracketed by numerous enemy shells, one of which landed 20-yards over the starboard bow, she was sprayed with shrapnel and suffered light damage to her superstructure and electronics antennas. Over the next two hours, BIRMINGHAM dueled with the persistent Japanese shore batteries, successfully diverting most enemy fire away from the UDT operations ashore. At 1018, her guns blew up a Japanese ammunition dump and, following a second such explosion at 1030, enemy gunfire slackened considerably. By the time BIRMINGHAM and the UDT withdrew at 1130, the light cruiser had expended 1,345 rounds of 6-inch and 1,172 rounds of 5-inch ammunition. That afternoon, she again closed the beaches to 3,000 yards and held position to unmask enemy batteries. The ploy succeeded and she retired under enemy mortar and artillery fire. The Japanese positions were then heavily bombed by friendly planes.
The next morning, the light cruiser returned and gave “Green” beach a heavy working over with 6-inch, 5-inch, and 40-mm fire. As the first wave of landing craft crossed the reef, BIRMINGHAM blanketed nearby Japanese positions until the marines had seized the landing strip and established a beachhead. At 0900, she shifted control of her guns to a shore fire control party and spent the rest of the day responding to call fire missions. Assigned to TU 52.2.1 that evening, BIRMINGHAM joined “Harassing Unit One” and provided illumination and harassing fire against southern Saipan and Tinian for the next two days.
Upon hearing reports that a large Japanese force was closing the Marianas from the Philippines, BIRMINGHAM quickly rearmed and replenished alongside ALHENAR (AKA 9) before putting to sea on the 17th. After rendezvous with TG 58.3, built around ENTERPRISE (CV 6), PRINCETON, and SAN JACINTO (CVL 30) the warships took up a patrol station some 150 miles west of Saipan. From that position, the light cruiser participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. On the morning of the 19th, Japanese patrol aircraft closed the task group and all ships prepared to repel air attack. Although 14 enemy raids registered on radar, most failed to close as American fighters broke up enemy formations and disrupted the resulting Japanese attacks. At 1155, however, at least five Japanese Nakajima B5N Kates swept in astern. All five torpedo bombers were quickly taken under fire and shot down with no loss to the task group. Reports from the carriers indicated American naval aviators had enjoyed striking success, destroying hundreds of enemy planes.
BIRMINGHAM screened the carriers on the 20th as the group steamed west for a second day of battle. The Japanese carriers, however, had begun retiring west the previous evening and American search planes could not find them. Late in the day, after receiving sighting reports after 1600, the American carriers launched a last-ditch 206-plane strike that sank light carrier HIYO. The planes then returned for a difficult night landing, made possible only when the task force turned on its deck and search lights. BIRMINGHAM also lit smoke pots and streamed life rafts to aid ditching aircrews. After a futile stern chase the following day, the American task groups gave up the pursuit and turned back to the Marianas.
On 26 June, BIRMINGHAM and three destroyers sailed to Tinian Island for a shore bombardment mission. The warships heavily damaged Tinian town and used white phosphorous (WP) shells with airburst fuzes to burn nearby sugar cane fields. In addition, the task unit sank five sampans in the harbor. After rearming the next day, the warships returned to Tinian and resumed their work, eventually demolishing about 75% of the buildings in Tinian town. At one point, the shelling drove a squad of Japanese soldiers into the cane fields, which were then set afire by WP shells.
Returning to Saipan the following day, BIRMINGHAM resumed her call fire station off Garapan. On 1 July, she fired on enemy strong points near Mutcho Point. The next day she supported friendly ground attacks along the coast, including the targeting of three Japanese tanks on the morning of 5 July. The light cruiser shifted to Tinian again on the 6th and fired at targets all day until moving into a reserve position that evening.
On 21 July, BIRMINGHAM steamed to Guam and, the following morning, covered American landing craft as they hit the beach. Although the light cruiser spent the day firing at shore targets, sometimes at very close range, the evolution was “relatively uneventful owing to lack of enemy return fire and smoke covering targets.”
Returning to Saipan on the 23rd, BIRMINGHAM almost immediately joined the ongoing pre-invasion bombardment of Tinian Island. At one point, the light cruiser closed the shore line and strafed enemy trenches with 40mm fire. She also covered UDT operations near Gurgan point and, following the troop landings on the 25th, shifted her fire against Japanese troop concentrations further inland. Later that day, a spotting plane reported the light cruiser’s gunnery had killed 250 enemy troops scattering from a wooded area. BIRMINGHAM continued similar fire missions until 1 August when the island was secured. Since 14 June, the warship had fired 7,683 6 inch and 10,875 5 inch rounds.
BIRMINGHAM sailed to Eniwetok on 7 August, arriving there on the 11th. Following three weeks of upkeep and replenishment, she joined TG 38.5 and sailed south on 3 September for a raid against the Palau Islands. The light cruiser helped cover ESSEX (CV 9), LEXINGTON and LANGLEY (CVL 27) as planes from those carriers pounded Japanese installations on Angaur, Peleliu and Babelthuap on 6 and 7 September. These attacks prepared the ground for the upcoming invasion of the Palaus scheduled for a week later.
In order to deceive the Japanese as to the target, and to destroy enemy aircraft from interfering with the invasion, the task group moved north to Mindanao in the Philippines. The carriers struck airfields near Sarangani Bay on the morning of the 9th, destroying dozens of planes and attacking shipping in Philippine waters. One air strike, upon returning from the Cagayan area, spotted an enemy convoy of about 30 small ships off Sanco Point. The task group commander immediately ordered BIRMINGHAM, SANTA FE (CL 60), LAWS (DD 558), LONGSHAW (DD 559), MORRISON (DD 560), and PRITCHETT (DD 561) to close and destroy the convoy.
Detached at 0953, the warships steamed west at 30 knots to hunt for the Japanese coastal convoy. Meanwhile, friendly fighters strafed and damaged many targets. At 1138 BIRMINGHAM spotted five burning ships, two of them apparently loaded with oil or gasoline. Friendly aircraft overhead reported 15 to 20 undamaged cargo ships scattered about Hinatuan Bay attempting to beach, taking cover behind small islands along the coast, or fleeing south toward Bislig Bay. The American warships changed course to parallel the coast outside the 100 fathom line and began firing once the targets came into sight. Over the next three hours, BIRMINGHAM hunted down and sank three cargo ships, a large sampan, and a motor boat. Her guns also helped sink two more luggers and six sampans. By 1345, the American warships had sunk or wrecked a total of 29 cargo ships, sampans and motor launches, completely wiping out the enemy convoy.
Returning to the task group, the light cruiser covered aircraft carriers during more strikes against the central Philippines on 12 September. During these attacks, one of BIRMINGHAM’s float planes rescued a downed aviator from carrier WASP (CV 18). Although Japanese air activity grew in frequency over the next two days, no enemy attacks developed and the task group sailed south on the 15th without incident.
They were not gone for very long, as the task group struck targets in the Carolines for only two days before moving back north to the Philippines. On 21 September, carrier aircraft hit Luzon and the Manila area and followed that up with fighter sweeps over Negros, Panay and Cebu on the 24th that destroyed many Japanese aircraft and sank numerous coastal ships. The force then retired to Kossol Passage in the Palaus to refuel and rearm, arriving there on 27 September.
BIRMINGHAM steamed north to Ulithi and anchored there on 2 October. She joined TG 38.3 and, after a typhoon sortie on the 3rd, proceeded northwest to participate in a raid against the Ryukyu islands. This attack, and further planned attacks on enemy bases in the region, was intended to soften up Japanese defenses in preparation for the upcoming landings on Leyte in the Philippines. In position on the 10th, aircraft from all four carrier task groups pounded shipping and installations on Okinawa. Radio messages from friendly aircraft reported "Fire insurance rates going up... there is practically nothing left to insure in Okinawa."
The next day, the aircraft flew south and hit airfields in northern Luzon. This was followed by heavy attacks on Japanese shipping, airfields and industrial plant on Formosa on the 12th. That night Japanese aircraft began dropping flares around the task group and made several attack runs, but none come within range of BIRMINGHAM’s guns.
Japanese counterattacks intensified the next day and, on Friday the 13th, cruiser CANBERRA (CA 70) was damaged by an aerial torpedo. Detached to cover the crippled warship, BIRMINGHAM made rendezvous with her at 1946 that evening. Joined by several other cruisers and destroyers, the warships circled CANBERRA - which was under tow by WICHITA (CA 45) - and sailed southeast at five knots. Numerous groups of “bogies” appeared on radar the following evening and although BIRMINGHAM received many reports of single bogies trying to infiltrate the fighter screen, no concentrated attacks developed. Tug MUNSEE (AT 107) made rendezvous on the 15th and took over the tow as Japanese air activity waned.
Later that morning, BIRMINGHAM shifted north to rendezvous with torpedoed HOUSTON (CL 81), which was under tow by BOSTON (CA 69). Joining the cruisers at 0950, she helped cover them from air attack as the ships slowly steamed southeast. Although tug PAWNEE (AT 74) took over the Houston tow on the morning of the 16, the warships had not reached safety and, at 1330 that afternoon, numerous Japanese aircraft closed on the attack. Most of the raid was broken up by CAP but a few planes got through and BIRMINGHAM opened fire on a low-flying Nakajima B6N Jill. The aircraft quickly caught fire and crashed, but not before torpedoing the already damaged HOUSTON. BIRMINGHAM also helped shoot down another Jill trying to attack SANTA FE. Despite the torpedo hit, HOUSTON stayed afloat and the task group continued on to safety.
Late on the 17th, BIRMINGHAM detached and proceeded southeast to rendezvous with TG 38.3. After refueling from TAPPAHANNOCK (AO 43), the light cruiser joined the aircraft carriers as they stood by in reserve during the Leyte landings begun on 19 October. Two days later, the task group launched fighter sweeps over the Visayas. Following reports of Japanese warships heading north from Borneo, the carrier groups begin launching attacks against the approaching fleet on 24 October.
Planes from TG 38.3 also launched attacks against enemy airfields and shipping in the north central Philippines, damaging a light cruiser and a destroyer and sinking a Japanese Army ship. These strikes provoked a counterattack by land-based Japanese aircraft from Clark and Nichols fields and many evaded friendly CAP owing to low cloud cover. At 0930 that morning, a single Yokosuka D4Y Judy carrier dive bomber swept down over PRINCETON. A single bomb dropped and hit the carrier between the elevators, penetrated into the hangar and exploded. Severe fires set off secondary explosions and forced her to drop out of formation. BIRMINGHAM, RENO (CL 96) and three destroyers also detached and stood by to render assistance.
Given the fires burning in PRINCETON, the destroyers made repeated attempts to go alongside and spray water hoses on the flames. Heavy seas frustrated these moves, however, and MORRISON, GATLING (DD 671) and IRWIN (DD 794) all took serious damage in collisions with the heaving carrier. For that reason, BIRMINGHAM moved alongside PRINCETON since she could better withstand any blows. Within a short period of time, the light cruiser sent 14 water hoses and 38 men from her damage control teams over to the carrier. This extra assistance helped extinguish one of the two major fires in the carrier.
That afternoon, however, BIRMINGHAM received word that several Japanese planes had broken through CAP and, almost simultaneously, a destroyer reported a submarine contact at a mere 2,000 yards from the light cruiser. The warship quickly pulled in almost all her fire hoses and backed off to gain sea room for maneuvering. Shortly thereafter, one Japanese plane was sighted but did not close to attack. In addition, the sound contact was classified a false alarm. Given the great success in fighting the fire up to that point, BIRMINGHAM again closed to help the still burning PRINCETON.
At 1522, just as the light cruiser was moving back alongside the carrier, flames touched off PRINCETON’s after magazines. The cataclysmic explosion blew off the carriers’ stern and much of the aft flight deck. BIRMINGHAM was raked from stem to stern with steel plate fragments, wooden planking, and all manner of debris. Over half of the light cruisers’ crew became casualties since virtually everyone on the starboard side was killed or wounded. The blast killed 233 men and seriously wounded 211, with another 215 suffering minor wounds.
BIRMINGHAM’s deck literally ran with blood and her surviving crew threw sand on the deck to provide a firm footing amidst the carnage. They then extinguished several fires burning topside and began to care for the hundreds of wounded as the light cruiser limped east out of the battle zone. In the meantime, continuing efforts by the other warships to save PRINCETON failed and RENO and IRWIN eventually scuttled the burning aircraft carrier with torpedoes.
BIRMINGHAM arrived at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, in early November and commenced battle damage repairs and conversion into a flagship soon thereafter. The yard work included an overhaul of her boilers and other machinery, new propellers, the replacement of all 6 and 5 inch gun barrels, and the addition of two more quad 40-mm and four more twin 40-mm mounts.
With repair work complete on 17 January 1945, BIRMINGHAM spent several days calibrating her equipment off San Francisco before sailing south to San Diego on the 24th. She spent a week there, conducting antiaircraft gunnery training, float plane exercises, and communications drills, before steaming for the western Pacific on 4 February. After a brief stop in Pearl Harbor, the warship arrived at Saipan on the 25th and berthed at Tanapag to refuel. Back to sea the next day, BIRMINGHAM arrived off Iwo Jima on 28 February. Assigned to the amphibious support force, she moved to the southern tip of the island and began firing at targets ashore later that morning.
The light cruiser spent the next five days on off the island, hitting Japanese positions as needed during the day and firing illumination shells at night. On 1 March, she fired on and destroyed an enemy pill box, a 5 inch gun emplacement, and a small rocket launcher. No gun fire was requested on the 2nd, as ground forces made very slow going ashore, but the next morning BIRMINGHAM supported an attack along the eastern side of island. On 4 March, the light cruiser closed the beaches and fired on caves from a range of 2,550 yards. That afternoon, the crew saw a damaged B-29 make a successful landing at the southern air strip on Iwo Jima. Much to their surprise, the bomber took off again less than two hours later and lumbered on to the Marianas.
Relieved by SALT LAKE CITY (CL 25) on 5 February, BIRMINGHAM sailed for Ulithi and anchored there three days later. After loading supplies and ammunition, she waited there as Allied forces gathered for the upcoming invasion of Okinawa. On 20 March, the crew witnessed an unusual sight for the Pacific when a British task force of two battleships, four carriers and supporting ships stood in to Ulithi. The next day, BIRMINGHAM departed the anchorage and set sail for the Ryukyus. After rendezvous with four destroyers while enroute, the warships closed Okinawa Gunto on the 25th. After a short bombardment of enemy radar positions that morning, they spent the rest of the day screening minesweepers.
On 26 March, BIRMINGHAM joined TENNESSEE (BB 43), NEVADA (BB 36), ST. LOUIS (CL 49), WICHITA and supporting destroyers for a fire support mission off the western beaches of Okinawa. The bombardment got off to a late start after a torpedo passed close by WICHITA, but by 1345 that afternoon the heavy ships began firing at targets near the Machinato airport. While BIRMINGHAM’s guns concentrated on Japanese emplacements along the beach, they also targeted the many sampans hidden along the shore. During this action, each of BIRMINGHAM’s 40 and 20mm mount crews were issued Browning automatic rifles for use against possible Japanese swimmers, mines and suicide boats.
The following morning, a series of Japanese air attacks probed American fighter defenses and numerous planes broke through to attack the ships around Okinawa. BIRMINGHAM’s crew saw two planes shot down by gunfire and watched as a third crashed on NEVADA, which killed 11 men. That afternoon, the warships returned the island and took enemy positions under fire.
On the 28th, the light cruiser moved to another fire support sector and pounded Japanese gun emplacements, pill boxes, and buildings. These attacks were more difficult than usual because some coastal regions were not yet swept for mines and the Japanese were laying new floating mines at night. As if to illustrate this danger, BIRMINGHAM’s crew saw SKYLARK (AM 63) explode that morning, apparently hit by a mine. Radio reports indicated over 60 mines were swept in the waters off Okinawa that day. On the 29, the light cruiser again closed the beach, this time to cover UDT operations and prepare the ground for the upcoming amphibious landings.
At 0608 on 1 April, BIRMINGHAM joined in the massive pre-invasion barrage of the target beaches. Only a few minutes later, the warship was surprised by a Val but a 5 inch proximity fuzed shell damaged and slowed the plane at range of a few hundred yards. The light cruiser’s 40mm and 20mm gunners then shot off the landing gear and one wing, forcing the aircraft, and its bomb, to explode in the water a mere 50 yards off the port bow. Later that morning, the crew watched as a solid line of LCIs, firing rockets and 40mm guns, closed beach and begin landing troops. BIRMINGHAM soon shifted to shore party control and provided call fire for the rest of the day and into the evening. The light cruiser spent the next five days harassing enemy positions and providing call fire to forces ashore.
On 6 April, soon after BIRMINGHAM anchored in the southern transport area, a massive aerial attack by the Japanese struck at the American naval forces around Okinawa. At 1521 that afternoon, some 30 enemy planes broke through friendly fighter defenses and closed the transport area. BIRMINGHAM’s gunners splashed the first Val that approached at 1600 and helped shoot down three Judy’s a few minutes later. They could only watch as three kamikazes crashed NEWCOMB (DD 586) and damaged LEUTZE (DD 481). Later radio reports claimed that CAP had shot down 55 enemy planes while warships had knocked out 35 more.
The next day, as BIRMINGHAM stood by for call fire missions, she heard of the sortie by Japanese battleship YAMATO. The light cruiser quickly joined a hastily assembled battle force and took up a position on the right flank with two other cruisers and ten destroyers. At 1911 that evening, however, she got the news that 385 friendly planes had swarmed the Japanese task group, sinking the battleship, two light cruisers and three destroyers. Returning to Okinawa on 8 April, she spent the next three days providing fire support for troops ashore. On the 12th, she withdrew to sea owing to the approach of a large Japanese air raid and helped fight off attacks by one of the many groups of planes that swarmed over Okinawa. It was later reported that 128 aircraft were shot down by CAP and 36 by gunfire, including one plane shot down by BIRMINGHAM about 3,500 yards off her port bow.
The light cruiser then shifted to Ie Shima, where she provided three days of pre-invasion shore bombardment before American troops went ashore on the 16th. After rearming at Kerama Retto, the warship moved back to southern Okinawa to support an all out attack by 24th Army. She continued firing on shore targets near Naha until the 22nd when she retired to refuel and rearm at Kerama Retto. The light cruiser then shifted to Hagushi anchorage off Okinawa for two more days of attacks against the Naha airfield area. On 27 April, she moved to Nakagusuku Wan to fire on caves and anchorages in an attempt to destroy hidden Japanese suicide boats. Her spotting aircraft also directed fire against revetments, trenches and supply further inland.
Moving back to Hagushi anchorage on 1 May, BIRMINGHAM spent three days firing at targets ashore, including harrassing missions against Naha airfield to prevent its use by Japanese aircraft. While at the anchorage in the early morning of 4 May, the light cruiser heard reports of another massive air raid approaching from north. At 0805, radar reported a huge CAP battle taking place some 40 miles to the north and a number of single bogies began infiltrating the area.
At 0840, an Oscar skimmed toward the anchorage and was splashed about 4,000 yards in front of ST. LOUIS. At the same time, a second Oscar quickly closed at about 4,000 feet in altitude and commenced a vertical dive on BIRMINGHAM. As the aircraft was inside the elevation limit stops and cut out cams for most of her antiaircraft guns, her defensive fire was limited to 20-mm guns and they could not prevent the aircraft from plunging through the main deck to starboard. The ensuing explosion and fire wiped out sick bay and ruptured the main, second, and third decks. Bulkheads were blown in and a five foot hole was blown in the starboard side below the waterline. Four living compartments, the armory, and three ammunition magazines were flooded before the water was contained.
All fires were controlled by 0914 and within an hour the more seriously wounded were transferred to MERCY (AH 8) via LCVPs and LCIs. The light cruiser shifted berth alongside SHACKLE (AR 6) after noon and began making temporary repairs shortly thereafter. After repair crews pumped out most flooded compartments and shored up the damaged bulkheads, the warship got underway for Guam on 5 May. Arriving in Apra harbor on the 10th, her crew unloaded wet ammunition before guiding BIRMINGHAM into a floating dry dock on 13 May. Repair crews patched the damage to her hull and drained and cleaned the last flooded compartments. A few more bodies were recovered from these areas, bringing the final tally to 52 killed and 82 wounded.
BIRMINGHAM departed Guam on the 21st and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 28 May. She then moved into the Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, on 7 June for six-weeks of repairs and alterations. Finished with yard work on 22 July, the light cruiser rearmed, replenished and trained in Hawaiian operating areas in preparation for continued operations against Japan. Departing Pearl Harbor on 12 August, BIRMINGHAM joined TG 12.3 and steamed toward Wake Island, where she planned to participate in a “practice” bombardment against the isolated enemy garrison. The news of the Japanese surrender on 15 August canceled this operation and the warship changed course to Eniwetok, arriving there on the 19th. After refueling she moved on to Okinawa and anchored in Buckner Bay on 26 August to await assignment.
Although initially ordered north to Kyushu, toward which she headed on 7 September, the light cruiser was assigned duty with Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Australia-New Guinea, and so proceeded south on the 11th. She stopped at Leyte to refuel on 14 September before arriving in Brisbane, Australia, on the 23rd. Once there, she hoisted the flag of Rear Admiral C. E. Van Hook, Commander, TF 91, and served as the command ship for American forces in Australian waters. BIRMINGHAM spent the next five months either in or steaming between the ports of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane before finally returning to San Francisco on 22 March 1946.
The light cruiser moved to San Diego on 2 April and reported to Commander, 19th Fleet, for inactivation that same day. On 16 October 1946 she was placed in commission in reserve with the San Diego Reserve Fleet and on 2 January 1947 went out of commission in reserve. Her name stricken from the Navy list on 1 March 1959 and she was sold for scrap to National Metals and Steel Corp. on 13 October 1959.
BIRMINGHAM was awarded eight battle stars for her World War II service.
USS BIRMINGHAM Image Gallery: