The USS Birmingham was built at Newport News, Virginia, in 1943. The ship was a 10,000 ton Cleveland class light cruiser that took part in a number of military operations from 1943 until 1947. The ship’s first mission came in late January of 1943 when she crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and supported the invasion of Sicily in July of 1943.
Action in World War II
Later in August of the same year the Birmingham was sent to the Pacific Ocean to escort the fast carrier task forces during their raids on Tarawa and Wake islands. The Birmingham was injured on November 8, 1943, while part of the Bougainville operation; the ship was hit by a Japanese aerial torpedo and two bombs.
In 1944 the Birmingham was back in the water and providing support to the invasion of the Marianas in June and July. The ship was responsible for providing extensive gunfire support to troops as they gradually overtook the Japanese defenders of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. Later the USS Birmingham helped to protect United States aircraft carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. The ship stayed with the aircraft carriers into September and October during the raids on the Philippines, Okinawa and Formosa. The Birmingham suffered her worst losses on October 24, 1944, while helping to put out a fire on the carrier Princeton (CVL-23.) While burning, the Princeton blew up next to the Birmingham, which suffered heavy casualties and very serious damage as a result.
In March until May of 1945, the Birmingham was once again repaired and back in the ocean assisting in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. Although just repaired, the Birmingham was once again damaged during Japanese kamikaze attacks on United States ships off of Okinawa on May 4, 1944. More than 50 crewmen were killed and many others injured during this attack. After repairs, she was returned to the Pacific Ocean in late August of 1945.
After the War
After the Japanese surrendered, the ship remained in the area for a number of months before visiting Brisbane, Australia, in November. After its journey from Australia to San Francisco in March of 1946, she was decommissioned there at the beginning of January 1947. After a dozen years in “mothballs,” the Birmingham was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in May of 1959 and sold for scraps that November.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, naval cruisers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.