Shipping & Shipbuilding News -  2 May 2007 - The Brightest Maritime Daily

Photo: US Navy - Shows USS PHOENIX leaving Pearl Harbour to seek the Japanese attackers.

A Brief History of the GENERAL BELGRANO
On the anniversary of her controversial sinking in the South Atlantic, we look at the history of a piece of American as well as Argentine history.

She was built in 1938, survived the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 and went on to steam many miles until 1982 when she became the centre of an international controversy that continues to this day.

On 2nd of May 1982 the ARA GENERAL BELGRANO was sunk by British torpedo fire approx 235 miles off the Falkland Islands. Argentina said the ship was well out of the 200 mile exclusion zone and was heading for Argentina at the time, but the British said she and her escorts had been posing a threat prior to the sinking and that she was only headed in the direction of Argentina, and not actually steaming away.

In the attack, with two torpedoes from the submarine HMS CONQUEROR, 323 persons were killed, of which two were civilians on board the cruiser.

But what of the history of the GENERAL BELGRANO?

She dated back to before WW2, her keel being laid on 15th April 1935 by the New York Shipbuilding Co., Camden. She was one of seven Brooklyn-class light cruisers constructed for the US Navy and was launched as USS PHOENIX on 13th March 1938. Formally accepted into the US Navy on 3rd of October the same year, her first commander was Capt. John W. Rankin.

She was stationed on the West Coast and was at Pearl Harbor on the 7th December 1941, the day that saw the surprise attack by Japanese forces on the naval port. USS PHOENIX survived the attack and went out looking for the aircraft carriers that hosted the Japanese warplanes.

During World War 2 she saw action on many occasions and earned herself 9 battle stars.

When war ended, like many vessels, she was no longer required and was placed in reserve at Philadelphia on 28th February 1946. She was decommissioned on 3rd July that year and remained laid up at Philadelphia when she was sold to the Argentine Navy on 9th April 1951.

When commissioned into the Argentine Navy on the 17th October 1951 she was christened DIECISIETE DE OCTUBRE. In 1956 her name was changed to GENERAL BELGRANO and until 1982 she served with the Argentine Navy. Another Brooklyn-class vessel was also sold along with her to Argentina, the USS BOISE, which became the NUEVE DE JULIO and she remained until 1978 when she was sold to Japan for scrap.

It is ironic that one of the last United States WW2 cruisers, which had witnessed the Pearl Harbour attack and survived,  which fought so many battles alongside other units from Allied fleets would, 37 years after the end of the war, be lost in a scenario few would have thought likely, at the hands of a British submarine in defence of a British overseas territory.


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