USS Phoenix Survived Pearl Harbor, Sunk by the British as the General Belgrano
USS Phoenix at Pearl Harbor
From World War 2 to the Falklands War
USS Phoenix, a light cruiser in the United States navy, survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. She went on to earn nine battle stars during the Pacific War against the Japanese. Forty-one years later, as the Argentine ARA General Belgrano, she was torpedoed by the British nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarine HMS Conqueror on May 2, 1982 during the Falklands War and sank with a loss of 323 lives.
World War 2 Service
USS Phoenix was launched in 1938, one of seven Brooklyn-class cruisers. She was 600 feet long, weighed 10,000 tons and had 15 six-inch (150 mm) guns in five turrets as her main armament. She was unharmed during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and participated in the futile search for the attacking aircraft carriers. During her long career during World War 2, Phoenix provided convoy escort service in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and participated in many amphibious assaults. She bombarded coastal defenses and provided anti-aircraft support, including actions against kamikaze planes. She also provided cover for mine-sweeping operations. On one occasion, she was attacked by a submarine but managed to dodge its two torpedoes. Some of her actions included the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the invasion of Luzon, Bataan and Corregidor.
Phoenix Renamed General Belgrano
Sold to Argentina
Phoenix was decommissioned in 1946 and anchored at Philadelphia where she remained until sold to Argentina in 1951. The Argentines paid $7.8 million for Phoenix and her sister ship USS Boise. Phoenix was rechristened 17 de Octubre, a symbolic date important to Argentina's president Juan Peron and his followers.
In 1955, she joined in the coup against Peron and was rechristened the General Belgrano after General Manuel Belgrano who fought for Argentina's independence in the early 1800s.
British Sub HMS Conqueror
Sunk During the Falklands War
When the Argentine military junta invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, they didn't expect the British to do much about it other than protest, but the British declared a 200-mile exclusion zone around the islands and sent a naval Task Force south. In response, the Argentine fleet was sent out, including the General Belgrano, though they were careful to stay just outside the zone.
The Belgrano, fully loaded, including British Sea Cat anti-aircraft missiles, was spotted on April 30 by the British submarine HMS Conqueror, who radioed for instructions. Cabinet-level discussions with Margaret Thatcher were held and it was decided that, although the Belgrano was indeed outside the exclusion zone, it presented a very real threat to the Task Force and ordered it sunk. On May 2, the Conqueror fired three conventional torpedoes; two of them struck the Belgrano, one of them ripping a huge hole in her side and knocking out her electrical system. Twenty minutes after the torpedoes hit, Belgrano's Captain Bonzo ordered his crew to abandon ship, which proceeded without panic. Later the Belgrano slipped beneath the waves. Of her complement of 1,093 men, 770 were rescued; 323 men died, most in the initial explosions.
The Exclusion Zone
After losing the Belgrano, the Argentinean Navy was ordered back to port, including their aircraft carrier Veinticinco de Mayo. This meant that only the Argentinean air force could carry on the fight, which, although a formidable and capable force, could not defeat the Task Force's combined force of naval, air and land forces.
Despite the fact that the Belgrano was attacked outside the exclusion zone, both sides understood that it didn't mean that enemy ships could cruise just outside in safety. In effect, the whole of the South Atlantic was a battle zone. The British claimed that the Belgrano presented an immediate threat to the Task Force. Even Captain Bonzo later testified that the attack was legitimate and, in 1994, the Argentine government agreed. The ARA General Belgrano, once the USS Phoenix, having served 44 years in two wars, was a legitimate casualty of war.
The Sinking of the General Belgrano
© 2012 David Hunt