USS Phoenix Survived Pearl Harbor, Sunk by the British as the General Belgrano

Updated on January 1, 2018
UnnamedHarald profile image

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

USS Phoenix at Pearl Harbor

The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) steams down the channel off Ford Island's "Battleship Row", past the sunken and burning USS West Virginia (BB-48), at left, and USS Arizona (BB-39), at right, 7 December 1941.
The U.S. Navy light cruiser USS Phoenix (CL-46) steams down the channel off Ford Island's "Battleship Row", past the sunken and burning USS West Virginia (BB-48), at left, and USS Arizona (BB-39), at right, 7 December 1941. | Source

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

ARA General Belgrano underway
ARA General Belgrano underway | Source

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

HMS Conqueror (S48) 4 July 1982 returning to the Clyde Submarine base (Faslane) from the Falklands War.
HMS Conqueror (S48) 4 July 1982 returning to the Clyde Submarine base (Faslane) from the Falklands War. | Source

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

The image summarizes the deployment of Ar+Br naval forces around the Falklands Islands before the sinking of the ARA Belgrano during the Falklands War.
The image summarizes the deployment of Ar+Br naval forces around the Falklands Islands before the sinking of the ARA Belgrano during the Falklands War. | Source

Aftermath

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

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 David Hunt

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      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Hi Lions44. As far as I know, Britons haven't forgotten. Last year they celebrated the 30 year anniversary of the Falklands War. The war was a huge undertaking, being so far away and there were many setbacks during the fighting due to the Argentine jets and their Exocet missiles destrying and damaging British ships, but the Brits prevailed, so I don't think it's ever been forgotten. There are, of course, questions regarding the cost of keeping the Falklands under British control, but I think the feeling is the Falklanders should be able to decide and they definitely want to remain British.

      • lions44 profile image

        CJ Kelly 

        5 years ago from Auburn, WA

        UH, maybe you can answer this: Why doesn't Britain celebrate its victory in the Falklands? That victory helped end years of dictatorship in Argentina and reestablished democracy. That junta killed thousands of its own people. So I don't get it. It wasn't about taking back a colony. The people there are British. I'm dismayed that it is forgotten. Maybe as a former Brit, you have some insight?

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Mike, thank you very much for your personal comment about your father. As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea the Belgrano was previously a US cruiser. It must have been very hard on all the surviving USS Phoenix crew when it was sunk. Again, thank you.

      • profile image

        mike cetola 

        6 years ago

        My father Joseph M Cetola was aboard the USS Phoneix at Pearl Harbor , on December 7 1941 . I recall when his ship was sunk in the Falklands Island War he was saddend . he has now passed , but was honered on the Battleship Massachuttes in Fall River Ma. on December 7 2011 . I was allowed and honered along with Capt. Russ Knight from the near by Newport Navel Base to toss a wreath overboard on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor . God Bless America

      • joanveronica profile image

        Joan Veronica Robertson 

        6 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

        In the area of Latin America where I have spent my life, it is a fact of life that whenever a government is failing, they pick on a nearby country and start making war noises, thereby uniting the entire nation behind them, all mistakes forgotten! Chile and Argentine have a long history of incidents, in which mostly Argentine is the agressor. Chileans say: Argentine Tango is so good, because in most of the lyrics, somehow an Argentinian dies. Which says it all!

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thank you again, joanveronica, I'm glad you liked it and especially for your insight on Chile-Argentine relations. I'm afraid I'm very rusty in South American history. I didn't realize they were preparing to go against Chile. Ambitious bunch, weren't they? The junta, as far as I remember, were a piece of work.

      • joanveronica profile image

        Joan Veronica Robertson 

        6 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

        Congratulations once again! Wonderful information! I remember the Belgrano, but I did not know the origin of the ship. I of course also followed the Falkland war with interest, all the more so as the military junta was preparing to declare war on Chile about 1979-1980, just before. As that didn't work, they turned round and invaded the Falklands! Well, they paid for it. Excellent Hub, very interesting and well written.

      • UnnamedHarald profile imageAUTHOR

        David Hunt 

        6 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

        Thought, thanks much for the compliment. I appreciate the feedback very much. I remember following the Falklands War very carefully. I even cut out clippings from our local newspaper. When the war was over, I sent the whole lot in a large envelope to my cousin in England and wrote in large letters on the back "CONGRATULATIONS BRITAIN!". When my cousin got my envelope she was very flattered that the postman was smiling at her and gave her a big wink. When she saw what was on the back of the envelope, she realized it wasn't the kind of wink she'd been hoping for.

        Anyway, I had no idea the Belgrano was the Phoenix till today-- that blew me away. I just had to write this hub.

      • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

        ThoughtSandwiches 

        6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

        Unnamedharald...

        Once again you have done a wonderful job of taking the past and making it very real for your readers. I remember when The General Belgrano went down but somehow missed that it was once the USS Phoenix. I always love reading your stuff!

        Thomas

        PS...voting Up and sharing!

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