The USS Wichita was constructed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 10,000-ton cruiser was officially commissioned in February of 1939. The vessel’s initial cruise was to the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. In October of 1939, just after the start of World War II in Europe, the Wichita participated in regular United States fleet activities in the area.
Over the next few years, the USS Wichita was a part of Neutrality Patrols in the West Indies and western Atlantic regions. During this time the vessel also made a diplomatic cruise to South America. The ship also served as a training vessel for the Naval Reserves and was a part of the occupation of Iceland and related operations in the area.
Action in World War II
The USS Wichita remained in Icelandic waters upon the United States entry into World War II in December of 1941. The ship remained in the north Atlantic region through 1942 and served along with the British Fleet as part of the effort to thwart German surface raiders and protect convoys sailing between Iceland, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom.
The Wichita was part of the invasion of North Africa in November of 1942. During this time, the ship engaged French warships and sustained minimal damage. By 1943, the Wichita was sent to the south Pacific as part of the Guadalcanal campaign and was a key player in the Battle of Rennell Island, which involved attacks against Japanese torpedo planes.
In April of 1943, the Wichita left the south Pacific and headed to the north Pacific as part of the Aleutians Campaign. This was followed by combat operations in the central Pacific as part of invasions of the Marshall Islands in early 1944 and the Marianas later that year. The vessel was also a part of strikes on Japanese positions throughout the region and was part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also providing gunfire support to troops ashore on Guam and Saipan.
Toward the end of 1944, the Wichita was part of the Leyte invasion and the Battle off Cape Engano. In the spring of 1945, the ship provided support in the conquest of Okinawa, which involved suicide plane attacks. In the final months of the war, Wichita was part of Japanese occupation, bringing war veterans home before being decommissioned in February of 1947 and sold for scrap in August of 1959.
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.