The USS Atlanta was the first ship in her class. In 1940, the 6,000-ton Atlanta-class light cruisers were the U.S. Navy’s attempt to build a fast and maneuverable ship after the 1936 London Naval Treaty banned the construction of the then existing US cruisers. The Navy experimented with a design of a twin-mounted 6-inch gun, which never came to fruition on this particular ship design. After much reiterative effort, the rationale for this cruiser’s design evolved to a ship that could lead the destroyers into battle and provide AA protection for the fleet. The 6,000-ton limit came from treaty limitations. Finally, the Navy settled on a main armament of 5-inch guns that could propel an armor piercing shell in a range of 6,000-16,000 yards with a 60° firing angle.
When the Atlanta finally rolled down the quays at Kearny, New Jersey and the Navy commissioned her on December 24, 1940, she displaced 6,728-tons — more than 700 tons over her intended design — and 8,340 tons fully loaded. Her power plant had four boilers and two steam turbines that drove twin-shaft propellers. Her rated top speed during her shakedown cruiser was 32.5 knots — much slower than her intended 40-knot speed envisaged when the Navy began designing her. She mounted 16 5-inch guns mounted in eight twin turrets, 16 quad mounted 1.1-inch guns, eight 20-mm guns, and eight quad-mounted 21-inch torpedo tubes.
After a four-month shakedown cruise along the Atlantic coast, the Atlanta left the Atlantic to join the Pacific Fleet in early 1942. In early June 1942, she joined Radm. Raymond Spruance’s task force built around the carriers Enterprise and Hornet and battled the Imperial Japanese Navy at Midway.
The cruiser steamed from Pearl Harbor in mid-July 1942 for the South Pacific. She screened Fletcher’s carriers that provided air support for the Guadalcanal and Tulagi landings. Later in August, the Atlanta escorted the Enterprise during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons and protected the Saratoga after a Japanese submarine torpedoed the carrier. For the next two months, she provided an escort to the many transports and warships that fought in the battle to hold onto Guadalcanal.
After the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, she steamed nearer to Guadalcanal on October 30 to bombard Japanese positions of Guadalcanal. Her 5-inch guns repelled Japanese aircraft that attacked American transports and supply ships on November 11-12.
The Atlanta was part of an American naval force on the night of November 12-13 assigned to prevent the Japanese Navy from shelling Henderson Field. The American ships met a powerful force of Japanese ships in one of the bloodiest, frenzied, and destructive naval surface actions fought in World War II — the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. During this confrontation, the Atlanta sustained fatal damage from a Japanese “Long Lance” torpedo and crippling gunfire. Her crew valiantly fought to save her on November 13 but to no avail. As she settled in the water, her captain ordered her torpedoed after making sure all survivors were off her.
She now lies on her port side 500 feet below the surface of Iron Bottom Sound near Lunga Point. Remotely operated deep-sea vehicles examined her wreckage in 1991-1992. A team of civilian divers later went down to view her.
She was a compromise between a destroyer and the American light cruisers of that day. The cruiser and all her sister ships did not have the armor protection to withstand gunfire from other light cruisers. Her 5-inch guns were not powerful enough to inflict heavy damage on more heavily armored light cruisers. Late in the war, the Navy outfitted her sister ships such they primarily became antiaircraft gun platforms to protect the fleet from Japanese air attacks.