|A city in the state of Kansas.|
(CA-45: dp. 10,000; 1. 608'4"; b. 61'9"; dr. 19'10" (mean); s. 32.5 k. (max.); cpl. 929; a. 9 8", 8 5",8 .50-car. mg.; cl. Wichita)
The first Wichita (CA-45) 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, Capt. Thaddeus A. Thomson in command.
After fitting-out, Wichita sailed south for the Gulf of Mexico and arrived at Houston, Tex., 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.
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 Vincennes (CA-44) on Neutrality Patrol that day. She remained at sea until the 9th, when she returned to Hampton Roads. She then shifted to the Norfolk Navy Yard on the 12th and underwent repairs there until 1 December.
Three days later, Wichita got underway for Cuba and arrived at Guantanamo Bay on the 8th. Upon her arrival there, her commanding officer, Capt. Thomson, assumed command of the newly formed Caribbean Patrol which included: Wichita and Vincennes, the flush deck destroyers Borie (DD-215), Broome (DD-210) Lawrence (DD-250), King (DD-242), and Truxtun (DD-229) and patrol plane (VP) squadrons VP-33 and VP-51. All units were based upon Guantanamo Bay or San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Over the ensuing weeks, Wichita and her consorts of the Caribbean Patrol exercised out of Guantanamo Bay. Four days before Christmas, the heavy cruiser departed Cuban waters bound for Puerto Rico and reached San Juan two days later. She then visited St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, briefly on 28 and 29 December 1939 before returning to San Juan and remaining there until 2 January 1940.
Arriving back at Guantanamo Bay on the 3d, Wichita exercised locally from 8 to 24 January and then departed Cuban waters as flagship of the newly constituted Antilles Detachment, which also included Vincennes and Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 10. Two days later, the force separated, with Wichita and Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 82 visiting Willemstad Curacso, Netherlands West Indies from 26 to 30 January before getting underway to rendezvous with Vincennes and her group of destroyers on 31 January, en route back to Puerto Rican waters.
Wichita conducted exercises in the Guantanamo, Culebra, Puerto Rico, area through late February, when she sailed for Hampton Roads. She arrived at Norfolk on 4 March and spent five days before moving north to Philadelphia, where she remained a fortnight. After returning to Norfolk at the end of March, Wichita then operated out of Hampton Roads on exercises well into the spring.
In June, however, the heavy cruiser drew the assignment of "showing the flag" in South American waters to counter German propaganda in some of America's "good neighbors" to the south. As early as mid-May 1940, while the Germans were executing their devastating blitzkrieg against the Low Countries and France, Edwin C. Wilson, the United States Minister to Uruguay, had reported from Montevideo of an upsurge in Nazi propaganda. The State Department and the President himself came to share Wilson's concern over the German effort to extend its influence into the western hemisphere.
Quincy (CA-39) was the first ship dispatched to Uruguay's capital city, Montevideo, reaching that port on 20 June to a tumultuous reception. Ten days later, Wichita--with Rear Admiral A. C. Pickens, Commander, CruDiv 7 embarked--joined Quincy there after stopping at Rio de Janeiro en route.
The influence of those heavy cruisers, ". . . to furnish a reminder of the strength and the range of action of the armed forces of the United States . . ." continued when Wichita and Quincy sailed on 3 July. They visited Rio Grande de Sol; Santos; Rio de Janeiro; Bahia, and Pernambuco, Brazil, before they returned to Montevideo on 23 August. The ships then "showed the flag" at Buenos Aires, Argentina, and at Rio de Janeiro again before they returned to Hampton Roads on 22 September.
Wichita stayed at Norfolk for a week before she proceeded to New York City, arriving there on 30 September. During the next three months, Wichita served as a training ship for Naval Reserve midshipmen of the V-7 reserve program and conducted gunnery practices, primarily in the vicinity of the Southern Drill Grounds off the Virginia capes.
The heavy cruiser departed Hampton Roads on 7 January 1941, bound for Cuban waters, reaching Guantanamo four days later. During the next two and one-half months, Wichita participated in fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean and took part in practice amphibious landings at Puerto Rico. During that time, the ship called at Portland Bight, Jamaica; Culebra; Guayanilla, Fajardo Roads, and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, before she arrived at the New York Navy Yard on 23 March.
Wichita sailed for Bermuda on 6 April and reached her destination two days later. Subsequently, in company with Tuscaloosa (CA-37), Wichita operated in the North Atlantic, sailing to within 800 miles of Ireland, she then returned to the New York Navy Yard on 17 May and went into drydock on 21 June.
After finishing that period of repairs on 2 July, Wichita shifted to Newport, R.I., whence she sortied on 27 July and headed for Iceland in the van of Task Force (TF) 16 as part of Operation "Indigo II," the occupation of that strategic island. She arrived at Reykjavik on 6 August but returned to Newport on the 20th. She then shifted to Casco Bay, Maine, from 25 to 27 August before she sailed for Newfoundland reaching Placentia Bay soon thereafter for a month-long stay. American planners, however, fearing a German response to the United States' increasing role in the Battle of the Atlantic, meanwhile authorized the movement of a task force to Iceland, to base there and sweep into the Denmark Strait. As part of this movement, Wichita set sail for Icelandic waters on 23 September--in company with Wasp (CV-7), Mississippi (BB-41), Vulcan (AR-5), and four destroyers--and arrived at Reykjavik on 28 September.
Two days prior to Wichita's arrival, the ships of the Atlantic Fleet received orders to protect all ships engaged in commerce in United States defensive waters. The Navy was authorized to patrol, cover, escort, and report or destroy any German or Italian naval forces encountered. This action came within a week of the first United States Navy-escorted convoy eastbound to Great Britain and within two weeks of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "shoot-on-sight" orders authorizing American naval units to attack any vessel threatening United States shipping or shipping under American escort.
Wichita--as part of Task Group (TG) 7.5 (nicknamed the "White Patrol" )--remained engaged in patrol operations in Icelandic waters through the end of the fateful year 1941, and the ship lay at anchor at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, when the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II on 7 December 1941.
Wichita got underway on 5 January 1942 and made a refresher training and raider sweep into the Denmark Strait before returning to Hvalfjordur on the 10th. Five days later, a hurricane-force storm, with gusts up to 100 knots, hit Iceland. Wichita rode out the storm well until the seaplane tender Albemarle (AV-5) began to drag her anchors in the gale, as did the nearby merchantman SS West Nohno. Wichita maneuvered to avoid Albemarle, but West Nohno fouled the heavy cruiser's anchor cable and struck her side against Wichita's bow. Later Wichita collided with a British trawler, before she ran aground at 1641 on an even keel. The cruiser then spent the rest of the night where she was, in the wind, sleet, and rain that resulted in reduced visibility conditions.
The next day, Wichita took stock of her condition. Investigation disclosed minor damage from the collisions, some leakage, and "repairable" damage to hull and stem from grounding. After effecting temporary repairs, Wichita sailed for the New York Navy Yard and arrived there on 9 February.
After repairs and alterations at the yard, Wichita sailed for Newport, R.I., on the 26th, touching briefly there before moving on to Boston the following day. Shifting from thence to Casco Bay "Base Sail," Maine the heavy cruiser exercised in those waters until 11 March, when she sailed for Boston for ammunition but returned to Casco Bay soon thereafter.
Wichita was then assigned to a task force formed around Wasp and Washington (BB-56), the group coming under the command of Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr., embarked in the latter. Wichita sortied on 26 March, slated to report to Commander, Naval Forces, Europe, for duty, in company with Wasp Washington Tuscaloosa, and eight destroyers. The next day, tee force ran into heavy weather, during which time Admiral Wilcox was washed overboard from his flagship. Despite an intensive search, none of the ships recovered the missing flag officer. Command of the task force thus devolved upon Rear Admiral Robert C. "Ike" Giffen, who flew his flag in Wichita.
On 3 April, Wichita's task force rendezvoused with three British light cruisers, HMS Edinburgh, HMS Gambia, and HMS Frobisher. Edinburgh then guided the American ships into Scapa Flow their new base of operations, arriving there on the 4th. Over the weeks that ensued, Wichita exercised out of Scapa Flow with units of the British Fleet.
The heavy cruiser, her training and indoctrination with the Royal Navy completed, subsequently put to sea on 28 April to cover the movement of Convoys QP 11 and PQ 15--ships sailing to and coming from the vital lend-lease port of Murmansk. Evidence of German activity soon appeared in the form of reports of shadowing aircraft and lurking U boats. Moreover there were problems on the Allied side. On 1 May 1942 the British battleship, HMS King George V, rammed and sank the destroyer HMS Punjabi, necessitating the former's returning to port for repairs. Her place was taken by sistership HMS Duke of York.
After the force had completed its coverage of QP-11, it returned toward Seidisfjord, Iceland. The men-of-war from the United States Navy of the mixed American-British force were detached and put into Hvalfjordur where they arrived on 6 May.
Following almost a week in port, Wichita got underway on the 12th and relieved Tuscaloosa on patrol in Denmark Strait, between Iceland and Greenland. A week later, she returned to Hvalfjordur only to put to sea as part of a joint American-British covering force protecting one leg of the movement of Murmansk-bound Convoy PQ-16 and eastbound QP-12 before returning to Scapa Flow, her mission accomplished, on the 29th. While at that port, King George VI inspected Wichita and other ships of the task force, including Washington, on 7 June.
Underway for Hvalfjordur on the 12th and arriving on the 14th, Wichita relieved the heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland on "White Patrol" in Denmark Strait soon thereafter. While on patrol on the 17th, Wichita spotted a Focke-Wulf (FW) 200 "Condor," a four-engined maritime reconnaissance and bomber aircraft, and opened fire, driving off the snooper. Three days later, the heavy cruiser scared off another FW-200.
Enemy activity near the Murmansk convoy routes and in Denmark Strait area did not let up over ensuing days. On the 21st, Wichita sighted a submarine periscope and took evasive action--no attack was forthcoming, though, and the cruiser soon resumed her patrolling. The next day, she spotted her third "Condor" but did not fire.
Wichita then proceeded to Hvalfjordur and steamed thence to Seidisfjordur at the end of June. Underway from the latter port on the 30th to cover Convoy PQ-17, the warship sortied as part of the "Cruiser Covering Force" ( Wichita with three other heavy cruisers and a trio of destroyers). Other support forces included two battleships, a carrier, one heavy and one light cruiser apiece, and nine additional destroyers.
The convoy itself was a large one--36 merchantmen (laden with a variety of war cargo consigned to the Russians under lend-lease) and one "CAM-ship" (a catapult-equipped merchantman with one "Hurricane" fighter for local convoy defense). Unfortunately, an ordeal lay ahead of these Allied ships.
By 1 July, it was evident that the Germans had detected this movement of shipping since direction-finder bearings indicated increasing U-boat activity to the east. One intercepted German message actually told of the convoy's being spotted. Wichita sailors noted that the weather was becoming foul. Visibility was poor; ceilings never rose above 200 feet and sometimes closed down completely.
At 2340 on 2 July, German aircraft--long-range "Condors"--radioed the position of the convoy as it headed through the wintry seas toward Russia. The next day, an intercepted message revealed that the Germans were dispatching a strong surface force--built around the vaunted battleship Tirpitz, the sistership to the late Bismarck--to intercept the convoy. Early in the afternoon, photo reconnaissance of Trondheim (Norway) harbor, confirmed that Tirpitz, the heavy cruiser Admirable Hipper, and four destroyers were at sea.
U-boats and "Condors" consistently shadowed the ships of PQ-17--an ominous portent. On 4 July, Independence Day, Wichita launched two Curtiss SOC Seagull floatplanes, each armed with depth charges, to reconnoiter the fringes of the convoy and attack the shadowing U-boats. The planes returned at 1645 having sighted no enemy submarines but having tangled with some of the enemy's scouting planes.
The feared attacks finally materialized later that day--25 Heinkel (HE) 111 bombers, armed with torpedoes, swarmed against the starboard side of the convoy: three ships took "fish"--they were later abandoned and sunk, one ship had already been torpedoed the previous night. The situation, however, would not get better.
The presence of German heavy units--Tirpitz and Admirable Hipper with their screen--at sea forced the convoy to change course. At 1923, the convoy received the fateful message: "Owing to threats from surface ships, PQ-17 is to disperse and proceed Russian ports." That order sealed the fate of most of the merchantmen. At 1936, the Admiralty message came through: "Convoy is to scatter."
The pell-mell rush to Murmansk was on, unhelped by the covering force, for on the heels of the orders to "scatter" came the dispatch to the cruiser force at 1944: "Withdraw to westward at high speed." Obeying, Wichita and the others came about and, at 2025 on the 4th, increased to 25 knots. The next day while south of Spitzbergen, the ships were spotted and shadowed by a pair of FW-200's. Both Wichita and Tuscaloosa opened fire with their antiaircraft guns, but the elusive "Condors" slipped away.
Wichita joined up with the rest of the Fleet on 6 July and proceeded thence to Hvalfjordur, arriving two days later. Within a week, the heavy cruiser again became a flagship, this time for Rear Admiral Giffen once more, for TF 99. Underway for Scapa Flow on the 19th, the ship arrived on the 21st, only to set out the next day for the Admiralty dockyard at Rosyth, Scotland. Arriving on the 23d, Wichita was drydocked for repairs on the 24th and remained there until 9 August.
However, the repairs to correct a propeller vibration appeared to be ineffective as the naval attaché in London radioed on 12 August that the ship's combat efficiency was seriously lessened at speeds in excess of 20 knots. Accordingly, two days later, Wichita received orders to head, via Hvalfjordur, for the United States. As she returned homeward, the cruiser was complimented on her "smartness and efficiency" by Admiral John C. Tovey, Commander in Chief, Home Fleet, who visited the ship prior to her departure and addressed her crew.
After a quick stop at Hvalfjordur, Wichita reached New York on 22 August and entered drydock at the New York Navy Yard the same day. Undocked on 5 September, the heavy cruiser underwent post-repair trials before moving down to Hampton Roads within a week. She conducted gunnery exercises in Chesapeake Bay; visited Baltimore from 24 to 28 September; and returned to the Virginia capes operating area to resume exercises and training.
Underway for Casco Bay on 5 October, she reached her destination on the 6th. She then loaded ammunition at Boston and returned to Casco Bay for exercises which lasted into late October, when the cruiser was assigned to TG 34.1. Commanding the task group was Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt in Augusta (CA-31). Other ships included the new battleship Massachusetts (BB-59), Tuscaloosa, Cruiser Division 8, and Destroyer Squadrons 8 and 11. Underway on 24 October, Wichita set course for North African waters, screening the passage of the invasion convoy slated to carry out Operation "Torch."
On the day of the initial assault, 8 November 1942 Wichita went to general quarters at 0540, tasked with neutralizing French shore batteries at Point El Hank and Table d'Aukasha and French warships in Casablanca harbor. Because of the unknown attitude of the French forces toward the landings, Wichita and the other ships were ordered not to open fire "unless and until hostile intent" was indicated.
However, the French decided to resist; and they proved stubborn. Ordered to attack at 0623, Wichita stood toward the North African coast, her spotting planes--Curtiss SOC's--airborne to spot her fall of shot. French fighters--possibly Dewoitine 520's or American-built Curtiss Hawk 75's--attacked the "Seagulls," and one had to make a forced landing. Its crew was picked up by one of the heavy cruiser's escorts.
At 0704, the guns of the French battleship Jean Bart boomed from Casablanca harbor, as did the ones emplaced at El Hank. Although moored to a pier and still incomplete, Jean Bart packed a powerful "punch" with her main battery. Massachusetts subsequently opened fire in return at 0705; and Tuscaloosa did so shortly thereafter.
Wichita's 8-inch battery crashed out at 0706, aimed at El Hank. Checking fire at 0723 when her spotting planes informed her that the French guns appeared to be silenced, the heavy cruiser shifted her 8-inch rifles in the direction of French submarines in Casablanca harbor. Subsequently checking fire at 0740, Wichita began blasting the French guns at Table d'Aukasha shortly before 0800
After resumption of firing on French shipping in Casablanca's harbor, Wichita received orders at 0835 to cease fire. At 0919, however, she opened fire again-- this time directing her guns at French destroyers in harbor and at the light cruiser Primauguet. Later, at 1128 Wichita came within range of the French battery at El Hank, and the Vichy gunners scored a hit on the American cruiser. A 194-millimeter shell hit her port side, passed into the second deck near the mainmast, and detonated in a living compartment. Fragments injured 14 men--none seriously--and the resulting fires were quickly extinguished by Wichita's damage control parties.
Torpedoes from a Vichy French submarine caused Wichita to take evasive action at 1139. Two "fish" went by a length ahead of the ship, and another passed deep under the bow or slightly ahead. After ceasing fire at 1142, Wichita received orders an hour later to attack French ships making for the harbor entrance at Casablanca. Accordingly, the heavy cruiser--aided by improved visibility and air spotting--again battered Primauguet, starting fierce fires that gutted a large part of that ship. At 1505, Wichita ceased fire; and her guns remained quiet for the rest of the day. That evening, she steamed seaward to avoid nocturnal submarine attacks and, over the ensuing days, patrolled offshore between Casablanca and Fedhala. Ordered to return to the United States, her task with "Torch" completed, Wichita sailed for Hampton Roads on 12 November. Diverted to New York while en route, she reached her revised destination on the 19th for repairs.
Soon thereafter, Wichita sailed for the Pacific. On 29 January 1943, the heavy cruiser tasted her first action in her new theater during the night torpedo attack by Japanese planes off Rennell Island.
Unidentified aircraft had appeared on Wichita's radar screen throughout the afternoon, circling at 40 to 50 miles, sometimes approaching as close as 20 miles before widening the range. Wichita, and the other two heavy cruisers in the force, Louisville (CA-28) and Chicago (CA-29), together with their screen, had zigzagged after nightfall. At 0842 (Z) time, the Japanese "snoopers" closed enough to strafe the ships before retiring. Intermittent attacks followed. Making radar contact on approaching enemy aircraft at 0843 (Z), Wichita opened fire on them a minute later.
Events followed one another in rapid succession. The planes, torpedo-carrying "Betty" bombers, sought out Chicago and illuminated her with flares. That cruiser took two torpedo hits within a minute. Wichita and Chicago nevertheless kept up a heavy barrage in their sector and set two "Betties" ablaze. Wichita then took a "Betty" under fire as it passed overhead from the starboard quarter. One torpedo dropped by that plane broached and ran parallel to the ship to starboard, the other "fish" headed directly for the ship. Fortunately for Wichita, the enemy's torpedo proved to be a dud.
Chicago was later taken in tow by Louisville, and the formation attempted to retire from the area. However, Japanese torpedo planes caught the ships again the next day. Chicago took four more torpedoes and went down quickly.
Wichita then trained out of Efate, in the New Hebrides, before sailing for Oahu on 7 April 1943 and arriving at Pearl Harbor a week later. The heavy cruiser's time in Hawaiian climes was short though, for she was soon underway for the inhospitable Aleutians, heading on 18 April for Adak, Alaska, as flagship for TG 52.10. Reaching her destination six days later, Wichita led an offensive sweep to the west and northwest of the island of Attu as flagship of TG 16.14--Wichita, Louisville, and four destroyers--before returning to Adak on the 26th.
Subsequently underway for the Attu covering area as flagship of TG 16.7, Wichita operated with the battleships New Mexico (BB-40) and Nevada (BB-36) and their screens from 29 May to 18 June. Later in June, she operated to the north of the Aleutian chain with the battleships. She shelled Kiska on 22 July as flagship of TG 16.21 before steaming southwest of that island and returning to Adak at the end of the month.
Wichita remained in the Aleutian theater through mid-August and then steamed south and entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., on 4 September. She underwent repairs and alterations there until 3 December 1943 and, on the following day, sailed for San Francisco. She reached that port on the 6th but sailed for the Hawaiian Islands the next day.
The heavy cruiser trained and exercised in the Hawaiian operating area until she sortied on 16 January 1944 for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. The cruiser was assigned to TG 58.3 which also included one carrier, two light carriers (CVL's), two battleships, and nine destroyers. The group was under the overall command of Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman in Bunker Hill (CV-17).
While Wichita screened the task group, Bunker Hill and the two light fleet carriers launched air strikes that pummeled enemy positions on Kwajalein on 29 January. On the 30th and 31st, they struck Eniwetok while American marines and soldiers were landing on Kwajalein and Majuro.
Subsequently arriving at Majuro Atoll on 4 February, Wichita sortied for Truk on the 12th, attached to TG 58.2. The carriers launched the first strikes against that strategic Japanese base on the 16th. Enemy ships, shore installations, and aircraft all felt the heavy blows of bombs from the American carrier planes as Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's "pet hate" took a pounding from the aviators of TF 58.
The enemy struck back that night with nocturnal air strikes against the American warships and succeeded in torpedoing Intrepid (CV-11) shortly after midnight. Wichita was then assigned to Task Unit (TU) 58.2.4, a new task unit formed to escort the crippled carrier back to safety and repairs. The group reached Majuro on the 20th.
A little over a week later, on 28 February, Wichita sailed for Hawaii and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 4 March. Becoming the flagship for CruDiv 6 on 9 March, the warship set sail for Majuro on the 15th arriving there on the 20th. She then supported the fast carriers as their planes hit Japanese installations on Yap, Woleali, and in the Palaus; on 30 March, she catapulted off two of her floatplanes, and picked up the three-man crew of a ditched Grumman TBF Avenger from Lexington (CV-16). Wichita subsequently remained with the fast carriers as they continued air strikes against the Palaus and Woleali returning to Majuro each time.
On 13 April, Wichita headed for New Guinea to support strikes on Hollandia and Wakde. A little over a week later, her carriers remained north of Hollandia while conducting air strikes on Japanese positions that were neutralized by the afternoon of the 22d. Wichita then patrolled off the coast of New Guinea.
Task Group 58.2 returned to the vicinity of Truk and launched more air attacks against the Japanese base there on 29 April. Japanese torpedo planes attacked the formation but scored no hits. Because of her position in the formation, Wichita did little firing. Following on the heels of the Truk strike, Wichita, together with other cruisers and a screen of destroyers, left the carriers and shelled Japanese targets on Satawan Island in the Nomol group of the Caroline Islands.
Returning to Majuro on 4 May, Wichita trained there for a month before shifting to Kwajalein, a staging point for operations against the Japanese-held Mariana Islands. As an element of TU 53.10.8, Wichita operated southeast of Saipan, to seaward of the ships shelling the southern part of that island on 14 June. The next day, she, too, added to the destruction wreaked upon Japanese installations ashore, pounding those enemy positions on the south coast of Saipan. That evening, she covered the retirement of empty transports.
The next day, Wichita shelled Japanese gun positions on the west coast of Guam before returning to Saipan later that day, the 16th. On the 17th, the heavy cruiser rendezvoused with TG 58.7 west of the Marianas; over the three days that ensued, she patrolled back and forth, east to west, to the westward of the Marianas, in hope of contacting elements of a large Japanese carrier task force known to be approaching that island group.
During the morning and afternoon hours of 19 June, Wichita contributed to the antiaircraft barrage which was so effective in warding off enemy air attacks in an action which came to be known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," or the Battle of the Philippine Sea. During that engagement, Wichita's gunners claimed assists on two "Kates." In the aftermath of the battle, one of the heavy cruiser's floatplanes rescued an American fighter pilot whose plane had been shot down by the Japanese.
Detached for duty off Saipan, Wichita reached that island on the 25th and covered transports that evening. She remained in the vicinity, covering the vital troopships, as well as escort carriers (CVE's), into the first week of July 1944. Later, after her task unit (TU 52.17.8) was redesignated as TU 53.18.1, Wichita shelled Japanese installations on the west coast of Guam from the 8th through the 12th. After returning to Saipan from the 13th to the 17th, the heavy cruiser took up close-support bombardment chores off Guam on the 18th--remaining thus engaged into early August.
Departing Guam on 10 August, Wichita reached Eniwetok three days later. Underway again on the 29th of that month, the heavy cruiser rendezvoused with TG 38.1 soon thereafter. Wichita screened that fast carrier task group as their planes hit Japanese targets in the Palaus, Carolines, Philippines, and Netherlands East Indies, pounding airfields and shipping and extending their operations as far as the Central Philippines. On 12 September, a Wichita floatplane picked up a ditched pilot from Hornet (CV-12) in the Camotes Sea. Two days later, the cruiser's airmen performed another rescue, saving two pilots and two aircrew from downed planes from Wasp (CV-18).
In mid-September, while TG 38.1's planes were providing air support for the unfolding invasion of Morotai, Wichita was again screening the carriers. The group covered the Morotai landings until the 20th, when it began a high-speed approach toward the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
On 21 September, the group launched aircraft that proceeded toward the vicinity of Manila, leaving destruction in their wakes. Returning strikes reported "considerable damage to enemy aviation and shipping." Shortly after dawn on the 22d however, the Japanese attempted to strike back. At 0734, Wichita splashed an attacker some 50 yards from her, the plane's bomb falling harmlessly into the sea. The heavy cruiser downed a second plane at 0745, splashing the enemy aircraft into the sea some 8,000 yards on her port quarter.
Wichita continued her screening activities on the 24th, northeast of the island of Samar, while TG 38.1's planes hit Japanese shipping and shore installations on Cebu, Negros, and Coron. On the 25th, the cruiser set course for the Admiralties and reached Manus three days later.
Underway for a raid on Okinawa on 2 October, Wichita encountered heavy seas and high winds en route, through the 7th, and began the high speed approach with the fast carriers on the 9th. The following day, the flattops launched strikes against Okinawa. At 1350 on the 10th, a Vought OS2U Kingfisher from Biloxi (CL-80) ran out of fuel and made a forced landing near Wichita, who obligingly picked her up and repaired the plane.
The next day, the 11th, found Wichita northeast of Cape Engano, on Luzon, while the fast carriers' planes hit Aparri, Luzon. On the 12th, the fast carriers launched strikes against Formosa, pounding Japanese airfields and installations there as part of the overall preparation for the upcoming assault against the Philippine island of Leyte. Although the American ships encountered considerable resistance, they shot down many enemy planes and inflicted heavy damage upon Japanese installations ashore.
The fast carriers inflicted considerable damage upon the enemy throughout the following day, but the enemy managed to strike back and cause enough damage of his own, making determined and skillful attacks against the ships of TG 38.1. After Canberra (CA-70) took torpedoes that flooded her engine rooms and two fire rooms, Wichita took the crippled Canberra in tow and, screened by three light cruisers and five destroyers, steamed for a point east of Luzon.
The following day, the enemy drew blood again, torpedoing Houston (CL-81), forcing that ship to be taken under tow by Canberra's sistership Boston (CA-69). On the morning of the 15th, a tug relieved Wichita of towing Canberra; but, as Wichita headed back to rejoin TG 38.1, she was ordered to form part of the screen for the "cripple division" built around Canberra and Houston.
On the 16th, Japanese planes hit the formation, torpedoing Houston again in spite of the heavy concentration of combat air patrol (CAP) fighters from two light carriers. Fortunately, one plane managed to score a hit--the CAP took care of the rest breaking up the raid before more damage could be inflicted. Wichita launched one of her SOC's at 1522 and rescued the pilot of a fighter from Cabot (CVL-28) who had ditched during the defense of the crippled cruisers.
After evading a typhoon on the 18th, Wichita left the cripples three days later and, after fueling, proceeded for operations in the area west of Luzon. She then turned south toward the waters west of Leyte. The carriers which she was screening launched searches to try to locate enemy ships. Subsequently steaming north in an attempt to close the enemy fleet units, Wichita took station with TF 34, battleships under Vice Admiral Willis A. Lee. When the enemy was reported 140 miles north--a force of three carriers, four cruisers and six destroyers--TF 34 received orders to close at 20 knots. Carrier planes found the Japanese and attacked, scoring hits.
Later, TF 34 received orders detaching them to go to the aid of the escort carriers caught by a superior Japanese surface force off Samar. While en route, Wichita and New Orleans (CA-32) joined a surface striking force to finish off the "cripples" left by the carrier planes to the northward. Some five hours later, the ships sighted a target--the crippled carrier CHIYODA. The 8-inch guns of the two heavy cruisers soon spoke and, within one-half hour's time, had reduced the ship to wreckage, observers reporting "great clouds of smoke with intermingling flashes of fire" boiling upward. Wichita was the last ship to cease fire at 1642; 13 minutes later, Chiyoda sank.
That was not to be the last of Admiral Ozawa's decimated striking force to be dispatched, however, for the cruisers, led to the target by night fighters from Essex (CV-9), soon came upon destroyer Hatsuzukiat 1840, shortly before nightfall. Hatsuzukiput 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 1910--ultimately, at 2056, Hatsuzukiblew 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 Franklin (CV-13) and Belleau Wood (CVL-24) 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, Calif., on the 9th of December. 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 0932. Making an emergency turn to starboard, the heavy cruiser evaded the torpedo that was fired.
At 1350, Wichita commenced firing with her main battery, shelling Japanese installations on Okinawa, before she ceased fire at 1630 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 (UDT's). She performed the same covering services for UDT's 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 2d, Wichita replenished fuel and ammunition at Kerama Retto on the 3d. 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, Maryland (BB-46), and Arkansas (BB-33), 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 A6M-5) 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 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.
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 (POW's) 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 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 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.
Wichita was awarded 13 battle stars for her World War II service.