Asbestos in the military

USS Atlanta (CL-51)

USS Atlanta (CL-51)Description:  History of the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Atlanta (CL-51) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Atlanta (CL-51) was ordered for the U.S. Navy before World War II. Her keel was laid down by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on April 22, 1940. She was launched on September 6, 1941 and commissioned on December 24, 1941 under the command of Captain Samuel P. Jenkins.

USS Atlanta arrived at Pearl Harbor on April 23, 1942. After a few weeks of antiaircraft practice, the cruiser set off on May 10 to escort the USS Rainier and USS Kaskaskia to Nouméa. Six days later, she joined Task Force 16, which was built around the USS Enterprise, as they headed for Pearl Harbor. On May 28, she departed with Task Force 16 to screen the carriers as they sailed for Midway. The cruiser remained as part of the screening force for the Battle of Midway until June 11, when the ships returned to Pearl Harbor.

After antiaircraft practice and refitting, the USS Atlanta conducted gunnery practice and shore bombardment training in Hawaiian waters. One July 15, she sailed with Task Force 16 to Tongatapu. The cruiser was transferred to Task Force 61 on July 29 for the invasion of Guadalcanal. She screened the carriers as they supported the troop landings on August 7-8 and remained in the area to support operations for the next few days.

Following the invasion of Guadalcanal, USS Atlanta continued to screen the USS Enterprise as she launched her aircraft against Japanese carriers. She fought off intense enemy air attacks on August 24, but even her heavy antiaircraft fire couldn’t protect the USS Enterprise from one direct hit and five near hits.

The next day, the USS Atlanta joined up with Task Force 11, which was renamed Task Force 61 on August 30. The cruiser screened the USS Saratoga when it was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-26 on August 31, allowing the USS Minneapolis to tow the damaged ship to safety. She and the rest of the task force put in at Tongatapu on September 6 for refitting.

One week later, USS Atlanta escorted the USS Lassen and USS Hammondsport to Nouméa. After refueling, she joined Task Group 66.4 on September 21 and became a member of Task Force 17 two days later. She was then detached to escort the USS Washington, USS Walke, and USS Benham to Tongatapu.

The USS Atlanta escorted transports to Guadalcanal in mid-October. On October 15, she joined Task Force 64 in the ongoing operations at Guadalcanal. She became the flagship for Rear Admiral Norman Scott’s Task Group 64.2 on October 28. Two days later, she bombarded Japanese shore targets at Guadalcanal before putting in at Espiritu Santo on Halloween.

After refitting, USS Atlanta escorted USS Zeilin, USS Libra, and USS Betelgeuse to Guadalcanal as Task Group 62.4. The transports unloaded their troops and supplies on November 12. That morning, enemy aircraft attacked the ships, though the three transports sustained only minor damage. Later that afternoon, a force of 25 Japanese bombers attacked. The cruiser claimed to splash two of the planes. The only damage taken by the U.S. force was when a damaged enemy aircraft crashed into the superstructure of the USS San Francisco.

The attack wasn’t over yet, as Japanese surface forces arrived later that night: two battleships, six destroyers, and one cruiser. During the ensuing Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the USS Atlanta was torpedoes by the Japanese destroyer Akatsuki. In the darkness and confusion of battle, the cruiser was struck by 19 shells from the USS San Francisco, killing Admiral Scott and many other crew members.

The following morning, the USS Bobolink arrived to tow the USS Atlanta to Lunga Point, but it became obvious that the ship was beyond saving. The orders came down to abandon ship, and a demolition party scuttled the ship. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on January 13, 1943. The cruiser earned five battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for her service in World War II.

Like other ships from the World War II era, the USS Atlanta was built using asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos was known for its resistance to heat, fire, water, and corrosion, so the toxic substance could be found in virtually all areas of the cruiser. Anyone who served onboard the USS Atlanta or participated in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses like mesothelioma, throat cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and asbestosis.

USS Atlanta workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma.  Anyone who worked in or around the USS Atlanta, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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