Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fighting Tojo, Mussolini, and Juan Peron: The Battles of USS Boise/ ARA Nueve de Julio

Seen here is the Brooklyn-class cruiser Boise (CL-47) on her commissioning day, August 12, 1938, at Pier 7, Naval Station Norfolk.   She was relocated that morning from Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, where her keel was laid on April 1, 1935, and she was launched on December 1, 1936.  The photographic negative has sustained water and/or fungal damage since the photograph was taken  (Courtesy Sargeant Memorial Collection, Norfolk Public Library).
American fighting ships sometimes fight just one war during their existence, only to be scrapped after their service to the nation is complete.  Some are held in reserve in the event they have to fight another day, sometimes seeing service in more than one war.  Yorktown-class aircraft carriers such as USS Enterprise (CV-6) are a well-known example of the former, while Iowa-class battleships are prime examples of the latter.  Over the last century, because of government initiatives such as the Lend-Lease and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Programs, hundreds of former U.S. Navy ships have been transferred to foreign navies, and under their new masters some have fought battles under quite different circumstances than those experienced by Americans.  Our example for today is USS Boise (CL-47), a light cruiser built in Newport News, Virginia, and commissioned at Naval Station Norfolk on August 12, 1938.

USS Boise (CL-47) underway in 1938 ( 
At the outbreak of hostilities with Japan just over five years later, Boise was near the Philippine island of Cebu on December 8, 1941 (local) after arriving in the area with a convoy four days earlier.  As a part of Task Force Five, she was one of the most modern ships in the Southwest Pacific theater at the time, but an accidental grounding in January 1942 resulted in a yard period spent at Mare Island that took her out of the action until June.  After returning to the Southwest Pacific, she took part in providing naval gunfire support for Marine Corps reinforcements taking part in the Guadalcanal Campaign, and conducted raids to draw away counterattacking Japanese forces.

During the Battle of Cape Esperance in October near Savo Island in the Solomons, Boise was one of four cruisers and five destroyers that intercepted and sank one Japanese cruiser and a destroyer as they attempted to bombard Henderson Field and shield a convoy resupplying their forces on Guadalcanal.  During the battle, she took a number of direct hits from Japanese cruisers and destroyers that killed over 100 Sailors and knocked out her forward three turrets, forcing her to withdraw back to the United States for repairs. 

USS Boise arrives at Philadelphia Navy Yard on November 19, 1942, after a month-long voyage from the Solomon Islands.  (Naval History and Heritage Command image via
This overview shows the tremendous damage dealt Boise by seven direct hits, mostly from 8-inch Japanese shells, putting her forward turrets out of action and taking her out of the battle, and the war, until she left Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on March 20, 1943.   Bureau of Ships, War Damage Report No. 24, USS Boise (CL-47) Gunfire Damage, Savo Island 11-12 October, 1942 (NHHC/Hyperwar via Mike Green/
Because of her recuperative sojourn in America, a new mission awaited Boise after she left Philadelphia in March 1943, spending the summer and fall covering the Allied landings in Sicily and on the Italian mainland in Taranto and Salerno before her orders took her back to the South Pacific, arriving in New Guinea at the end of the year. 

During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. Boise (CL-47) fires on enemy forces near Gela, Sicily, 11 July 1943. Photo taken from LST-325. Note manned .50 caliber machine guns on several of the Army trucks embarked on the  Landing Ship, Tank (LST)'s deck, a precaution against German air attack. According to History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II (Vol. IX, page 107), Boise's targets were enemy tanks. (National Archives via
USS Boise (CL-47) shells the coast of New Guinea in early 1944. Photo is dated 10 February 1944, but may have been taken during the Madang-Alexishafen bombardment of 25-26 January 1944. This view looks forward on the starboard side from the midships 20mm gun gallery. Note tracers, which appear several feet in front of gun muzzles. Those from the four starboard side 5"/25 guns have a higher trajectory than the tracers fired from the forward 6"/47 gun turrets. Tracers from the 6-inch guns appear to wobble slightly (Naval History and Heritage Command image).
Boise spent a good part of 1944 lending gunfire support to a number of amphibious landings on the northern coast of New Guinea.  As the Japanese defense perimeter began to collapse back towards the Philippines, the cruiser followed it, covering the Battle of Morotai in what was then the Netherlands East Indies (Now Indonesia).
Anti-aircraft fire from ships of US Task Force, Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, Philippines on January 10, 1945, as seen from USS Boise (CL-47). (5/22/2014).
The last of her eleven battle stars were earned during General Douglas MacArthur's return to the Philippines at Leyte Gulf in October 1944, including participation in the last major battle between surface combatants in which aviation played no consequential part: The Battle of Surigao Strait.  The cruiser hosted Gen. MacArthur himself during the landings at Lingayen Gulf in January 1945, and again during a tour of the Central and Southern Philippines and Borneo in June.  Boise finally returned to the continental United States in July, undergoing overhaul and training activities in the San Pedro, California area until being dispatched to New York, where she was decommissioned on July 1, 1946.     

Boise Fights Again: RevoluciĆ³n Libertadora (1955-1958)

Although defense links between the American Navy and its Argentine counterpart stretch back to the Taft administration, the remainder of the Argentine military had closer historical links with Germany, and though the country remained neutral in both World War I and II, by the 1950s, the time was ripe for a diplomatic "reset," particularly after Argentina became a signatory of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (commonly known as the Rio Treaty) in 1947.  The necessity of keeping Latin American countries within the American sphere of influence as the Truman Doctrine crystalized, not to mention the surfeit of war material on both coasts, were also important reasons for America to eclipse Britain as Argentina's largest naval supplier after the war.   From 1941 to 1954, American-made warships in the Argentine Navy had gone from just two to 46, ballooning from just 4.4 percent of the fleet to 57.5 percent.  Meanwhile, the British-made percentage of the fleet, which stood at 83.8 percent at the turn of the last century, had dropped from 33.3 percent of the fleet in 1941 to only 15 percent by the mid-1950s.    

A memorandum of understanding is signed between the Argentine government and the U.S. Navy for the transfer of two light cruisers as a part of Hemisphere Defense Plans on January 11, 1951 in the office of the Undersecretary of the Navy Dan A. Kimbell, (right), who is signing the memorandum with Admiral Carlos J. Martinez, Chief of Naval Operations for the Argentine Navy.  USS Phoenix (CL-46) and USS Boise (CL-47) were sold under the terms of the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. Other Brooklyn-class light cruisers were sold to Brazil and Chile. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph/ Naval History and Heritage Command via Flickr).
ARA Nueve de Julio was officially commissioned into the Argentine navy on March 11, 1952.  (Robert Hurst/

The former USS Boise was recomissioned Armada de Republica Argentina (ARA) Nueve de Julio (Ninth of July, the date of the 1816 Argentine declaration of independence) after she and sister ship USS Phoenix (CL-46) were purchased in 1952 for around $7.5 million dollars during the presidency of Juan Domingo Peron, who assumed power in 1946.  From then on, the sister ships would not only be serving a different nation in a different hemisphere, but they would occasionally be used in a different capacity than American warships have ever been used.  That is because the navy that assumed custody of the cruisers and made them their own was a different military and political entity, with a different relationship to civil authority and the state, than the United States Navy.
In June 1955, Peron and his followers were attacked by Argentine naval aircraft on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aireskilling hundreds, during the opening salvos of a military revolt known today as the RevoluciĆ³n Libertadora.  The leaders of the naval conspiracy were arrested and court-martialed, with one of them, the marine commandant, committing suicide.  The renegade navy pilots, along with a few air force pilots who had joined in, were dishonorably discharged.  Measures taken to limit the navy's power in the wake of the attempted coup only served to further estrange it from Peron, whose own entry into politics came via a military takeover of the government in 1943.

ARA Nueve de Julio and her sister ship would play critical roles during the better-organized September 1955 uprising, when influential commanders from both the army and navy "revolutionized" the forces under their command and attacked those loyal to the former general.  Aboard the former USS Phoenix, now known as ARA 17 de Octubre (named for an important date in Peron's political ascendancy), Admiral Isaac Rojas (who had ironically once been Evita Peron's aide-de-camp) proclaimed a blockade of the Argentine coast on September 18.  In a show of force the following morning, Adm. Rojas aboard 17 de Octubre shelled oil storage tanks at Mar del Plata, while over 150 miles to the north, Nueve de Julio threatened to destroy a refinery at La Plata and the oil storage facility near Buenos Aries, which would cut off the capitol from fuel.  Before the cruiser's 6-inch guns and 130-pound shells could carry out the next destructive step of the revolution, Peron's army minister read a letter from the president over government radio indicating his willingness to negotiate.  During the truce that followed, 17 de Octubre served as the venue for the negotiations between the officers of the victorious Revolutionary Command of the Armed Forces and the Junta Militar, made up mostly of senior officers of the capitol region, to ensure a peaceful end to Peron's presidency.  Soon after Peron's escape from the country on the gunboat Paraguay, 17 de Octubre was renamed ARA General Belgrano (the second ship named after the Argentine founding father, with the first being an Italian-made cruiser).   

Peron's ouster inaugurated a period of political instability in which no less than 10 heads of state (five military and five civilian) ruled Argentina during the former general's 13 years in exile.  Peron's return and reassumption of the presidency in 1973, followed by his death in 1974, only worsened the country's economic and political troubles, especially after his third wife Isabel Peron, who had been his vice-president, took power.  The military, led by the air force this time, moved in again to sweep the Peronists aside during the Proceso Coup of 1976. 

Evidence of widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by members of the Argentine military junta in power during the so-called "Dirty War" (1976-1983) caused the Carter Administration to suspend military assistance to the Argentine government, but not before the decommissioned destroyer USS Collett (DD-730) was recommissioned ARA Peidra Buena in 1977. 

The American-led arms embargo would last until February 1989, after which Argentina sent the only Latin-American vessels to participate in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and contributed three corvettes to help enforce a commercial embargo of Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy in 1994.  Argentine warships, which are now mostly German and French models, resumed joint exercises with their American counterparts once again after the turn of the century.  
Nueve de Julio and sister ship General Belgrano in undated photo taken at Puerto Belgrano Naval Base near the city of Bahia Blanca, Argentina. (Robert Hurst/ INSET: General Belgrano, her bow blown off by a British torpedo, lists to port as her crew abandons ship on the evening of May 2, 1982, about 36 miles outside a 200-mile "Total Exclusion Zone" around the Falkland Islands that was declared by the British Government on April 30.   

Boise's sister ship, ARA General Belgrano, was consigned to the icy South Atlantic's depths on May 2, 1982, by two Mark VIII torpedoes fired by the submarine HMS Conqueror during the Falklands War (or Guerra de las Malvinas), killing 323.  The attack shocked the Argentine public and hastened the downfall of its military leader, Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri, which in turn led the country back towards democracy.  As for Boise, she had already met her end at the hands of ship breakers in Brownsville, Texas, the year before, after being decommissioned from the Argentine navy in 1978.

"Hot" Navy Ships Continue Emigrating

Today, the FMS Program is as popular as ever.  For example, as the last of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, such as the Norfolk-based USS Kauffman (FFG-59), is decommissioned, a number of foreign nations will be waiting in the wings.  Eight frigates have completed or will complete this year, in the terminology of its guiding instruction, a "hot ship transfer," in which foreign sailors and officers, such as those from Pakistan, man the ship literally moments after the departure of her American crew.  

Through a number of officially-sanctioned programs, past and present, decommissioned U.S. Navy vessels have also been transferred to the maritime forces of Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the Republic of China (Taiwan), Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Holland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan,  Korea, Malaysia, the Marshall Islands, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, the Soviet Union, Spain, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and the Republic of Vietnam.    

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