Custom Search

Friday, May 08, 2009

Lest We Forget: The Heroic Saga of the Philadelphia V

USS Philadelphia V


A note from Radarsite: Unfortunately, the treasures of history are fragile bequests. Had it not been for my chance encounter with 86 year old ex-Seaman Anthony L. Simone in the laundry room of the apartment complex we share, the illustrious and action-packed career of the WWII light cruiser USS Philadelphia V might, for all intents and purposes, have been lost to all but the most ardent naval historians. And that would be a travesty of justice. For me, the heroic exploits of this fine ship and her loyal crew symbolize the courageous actions of all of our fine American WWII troops, all over the world. Unfortunately, these noble warriors are fast becoming a dying breed. Like so many similar remembrances, this great epic saga has, over the years, been reduced to a handful of all but anonymous family histories, built around these precious but all-too-fragile personal memories. And if we're not careful, if we don't personally take the time to record these precious WWII memories, then these fascinating personal stories, and the greater histories which they entail, will be lost to us forever. Here, thankfully, is one that didn't get away. I feel humbled and honored to be able to bring to you this exclusive Radarsite interview with my friend, ex-Seaman Anthony L. Simone.

First, the history of the ship. Then, the personal remembrances of one of her brave and highly-decorated crewmen. - rg

The fifth Philadelphia, a light cruiser, was laid down 28 May 1935 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard; launched 17 November 1936; and commissioned at Philadelphia 23 September 1937, Captain Jules James in command. After fitting out, the cruiser departed Philadelphia 3 January 1938 for shakedown in the West Indies followed by additional alterations at Philadelphia and further sea trials off the Maine coast. Philadelphia called at Charleston, S.C. 30 April 1938 and hosted President Roosevelt the first week of May for a cruise in Caribbean waters. The President debarked at Charleston 8 May and Philadelphia resumed operations with Cruiser Division 8 off the Atlantic coast. She was designated flagship of Rear Admiral F.A. Todd, Commander Cruiser Division 8 Battle Force, 27 June. In the following months she called at principal ports of the West Indies, and at New York, Boston, and Norfolk. Transiting the Panama Canal 1 June 1939, Philadelphia joined Cruiser Division 8 in San Pedro, Calif. 18 June for Pacific coastal operations. She departed Los Angeles 2 April 1940 for Pearl Harbor, where she engaged in fleet maneuvers until May 1941.

Cruiser Philadelphia stood out of Pearl Harbor 22 May 1941 to resume Atlantic operations, arriving Boston 18 June. At this point she commenced neutrality patrol operations, steaming as far south as Bermuda and as far north as Halifax, Nova Scotia. She entered Boston Navy Yard 25 November for upkeep and was in repair status there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Eleven days after the Japanese attack, Philadelphia steamed for exercises in Casco Bay, after which she joined two destroyers for antisubmarine patrol to Argentia, Newfoundland. Returning to New York 14 February 1942, she made two escort runs to Hafnarfjordur, Iceland. She then joined units of Task Force 22 at Norfolk 16 May, departing two days later for an ASW sweep to the Panama Canal. She then returned to New York, only to depart 1 July as an escort unit for a convoy bond for Greenock, Scotland. The middle of August found her escorting a second convoy to Greenock. Returning to Norfolk, Va. 15 September, she joined Rear Admiral H. Kent Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force. This force was to land some 35,000 troops and 250 tanks of General Patton's Western Task Force at three different points on the Atlantic coast of French Morocco. Philadelphia became flagship of Rear Admiral Lyal A. Davidson, commanding the Southern Attack Group. which was to carry 6,423 troops under Major General E. N. Harmon, USA, with 108 tanks, to the landing at Safi, about 140 miles south of Casablanca.

Philadelphia's task group departed Norfolk 24 October and set course as if bound for the British Isles. The entire Western Naval Task Force, consisting of 102 ships and spanning an ocean area some 20 by 40 miles, combined 450 miles off Cape Race, Newfoundland 28 October. It was to that time, the greatest war fleet sent forth by the United States. The task force swept northward 6 November, thence changed course toward the Straits of Gibraltar. But after dark a southeasterly course was plotted towards Casablanca, and shortly before midnight of 7 November, three separate task groups closed three different points on the Moroccan coast.

Philadelphia took up its fire support station as the transports offloaded troops in the early morning darkness of 8 November. Shore batteries opened fire at 0428, and within two minutes Philadelphia joined New York (BB-34) in bombardment of Batterie Railleuse [manned by our good friends, the Vichy French!] which, with four 130mm. guns, was the strongest defense unit in the Safi area. Later in the morning, Philadelphia bombarded a battery of three 155mm. guns about three miles south of Safi. Spotter planes from the cruiser also got into the act by flying close support missions. One of Philadelphia's aircraft discovered and bombed a Vichy French submarine 9 November in the vicinity of Cape Kantin. The next day the Vichy submarine Medeuse, one of eight that had sortied from Casablanca, was sighted down by the stern and listing badly to port beached at Mazagan, north of Cape Blanco. Thought to be the same submarine previously attacked off Cape Kantin, Medeuse was again spotted by a plane from Philadelphia and was subsequently bombed.
Read the rest at Radarsite.