Early 1939 saw the Wichita sail to Houston, Texas for a dedicatory and memorial service followed by her shakedown cruise to the Virgin Islands, Cuba, and the Bahamas. She then returned to Philadelphia for post-shakedown repairs.
NEUTRALITY PATROL AND CARIBBEAN PATROL
Following the outbreak of war in Europe, on 25 September she was assigned to Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 7, Atlantic Squadron, and briefly engaged in Neutrality Patrol. Wichita then underwent repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard. On 4 December, Wichita set sail for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to commence operations with the newly formed Caribbean Patrol. She continued in that patrol through the rest of the year.
SOUTH AMERICAN "SHOW THE FLAG" MISSION
June through September saw Wichita, together with Quincy (CA-39), on a "show the flag" mission to South America.
During the last three months of 1940, Wichita served as a training ship for Naval Reserve midshipmen of the V-7 reserve program and conducted gunnery practices, primarily in the vicinity of the Southern Drill Grounds off the Virginia capes.
During Early 1941, Wichita participated in fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean and took part in practice amphibious landings at Puerto Rico. After a brief stay at the New York Navy Yard, Wichita sailed for Bermuda on 6 April and reached her destination two days later. Subsequently, in company with TUSCALOOSA (CA-37), Wichita operated in the North Atlantic, sailing to within 800 miles of Ireland, she then returned to the New York Navy Yard on 17 May and went into drydock on 21 June.
OPERATIONS IN ICELAND
From Late September, Wichita was part of Task Group (TG) 7.55 (nicknamed the "White Patrol"). She engaged in patrol operations in Icelandic waters through the end of 1941. At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Wichita was at anchor at Hvalfjordur, Iceland.
LOSS OF ADMIRAL WILCOX
In March, Wichita was assigned to a task force formed around WASP and WASHINGTON (BB-56), the group coming under the command of Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox, Jr., embarked in the latter. Wichita sortied on 26 March, slated to report to Commander, Naval Forces, Europe, for duty, in company with Wasp, Washington, Tuscaloosa and eight destroyers. The next day, the force ran into heavy weather, during which time Admiral Wilcox was washed overboard from his flagship. Despite an intensive search, none of the ships recovered the missing flag officer. Command of the task force thus devolved upon Rear Admiral Robert C. "Ike" Giffen, who flew his flag in Wichita.
PATROLS AND CONVOY COVERAGE
Wichita reported to the British Fleet base of Scapa Flow, where she exercised. In the coming months, Wichita patrolled the Denmark Strait and covered several of the convoys supplying north Russia. One of the convoys was the ill-fated PQ-17.
During August and Septmber, Wichita received repairs in Scotland and New York. After some exercises, Wichita departed on 24 October for North African waters, screening the passage of the invasion convoy slated to carry out Operation "Torch," the invasion of North Africa.
On the day of the initial assault, 8 November 1942, Wichita went to general quarters at 0540, tasked with neutralizing French shore batteries at Point El Hank and Table d'Aukasha and French warships in Casablanca harbor. Ordered to attack at 0623, Wichita stood toward the North African coast, her spotting planes--Curtiss SOC Seagulls--airborne to spot her fall of shot. French Fighters attacked the "Seagulls," and one had to make a forced landing. Its crew was picked up by one of the heavy cruiser's escorts.
Wichita's 8-inch battery crashed out at 0706, aimed at El Hank. Checking fire at 0723 when her spotting planes informed her that the French guns appeared to be silenced, the heavy cruiser shifted her 8-inch rifles in the direction of French submarines in Casablanca harbor. Subsequently checking fire at 0740, Wichita began blasting the French guns at Table d'Aukasha shortly before 0800.
After resumption of firing on French shipping in Casablanca's harbor, Wichita received orders at 0835 to cease fire. At 0919, however, she opened fire again--this time directing her guns at French destroyers in harbor and at the light cruiser PRIMAUGUET. Later, at 1128, Wichita came within range of the French battery at El Hank, and the Vichy gunners scored a hit on the American cruiser. A 194-millimeter shell hit her port side, passed into the second deck near the mainmast, and detonated in a living compartment. Fragments injured 14 men--none seriously--and the resulting fires were quickly extinguished by Wichita's damage control parties.
Torpedoes from a Vichy French submarine caused Wichita to take evasive action at 1139. Two "fish" went by a length ahead of the ship, and another passed deep under the bow or slightly ahead. After ceasing fire at 1142, Wichita received orders an hour later to attack French ships making for the harbor entrance at Casablanca. Accordingly, the heavy cruiser--aided by improved visibility and air spotting--again battered Primauguet, starting fierce fires that gutted a large part of that ship. At 1505, Wichita ceased fire; and her guns remained quiet for the rest of the day. That evening, she steamed seaward to avoid nocturnal submarine attacks and, over the ensuing days, patrolled offshore between Casablanca and Fedhala. Ordered to return to the United States, her task with "Torch" completed, Wichita sailed to New York for repairs.
Wichita sailed for the Pacific. On 29 January 1943, the heavy cruiser tasted her first action in her new theater during a night torpedo attack by Japanese planes off Rennell Island. That attack sunk CHICAGO (CA-29).
Wichita then trained out of Efate, in the New Hebrides, before sailing for Oahu on 7 April 1943 and arriving at Pearl Harbor a week later. The heavy cruiser's time in Hawaiian climes was short though, for she was soon underway for the inhospitable Aleutians, heading on 18 April for Adak, Alaska, as flagship for TG 52.10. Reaching her destination six days later, Wichita led an offensive sweep to the west and northwest of the island of Attu as flagship of TG 16.14--Wichita, LOUISVILLE, and four destroyers--before returning to Adak on the 26th.
Subsequently underway for the Attu covering area as flagship of TG 16.7, Wichita operated with the battleships NEW MEXICO (BB-40) and NEVADA (BB-36) and their screens from 29 May to 18 June. Later in June, she operated to the north of the Aleutian chain with the battleships. She shelled Kiska on 22 July as flagship of TG 16.21 before steaming southwest of that island and returning to Adak at the end of the month.
Wichita remained in the Aleutian theater through mid-August and then steamed south and entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., on 4 September. She underwent repairs and alterations there until 3 December 1943 and, on the following day, sailed for San Francisco. She reached that port on the 6th but sailed for the Hawaiian Islands the next day.
The heavy cruiser trained and exercised in the Hawaiian operating area until she sortied on 16 January 1944 for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. The cruiser was assigned to TG 58.3 which also included one carrier, two light carriers (CVL's), two battleships, and nine destroyers. The group was under the overall command of Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman in BUNKER HILL (CV-17).
While Wichita screened the task group, Bunker Hill and the two light fleet carriers launched air strikes that pummeled enemy positions on Kwajalein on 29 January. On the 30th and 31st, they struck Eniwetok while American marines and soldiers were landing on Kwajalein and Majuro.
Subsequently arriving at Majuro Atoll on 4 February, Wichita sortied for Truk on the 12th, attached to TG 58.2. The carriers launched the first strikes against that strategic Japanese base on the 16th. The enemy struck back that night with nocturnal air strikes against the American warships and succeeded in torpedoing INTREPID (CV-11) shortly after midnight. Wichita was then assigned to Task Unit (TU) 58.2.4, a new task unit formed to escort the crippled carrier Intrepid back to safety and repairs. The group reached Majuro on the 20th.
NUMEROUS PACIFIC STRIKES
During the Spring, Wichita attacked or supported strikes on numerous Pacific Islands including:
the Nomol group of the Caroline Islands
THE MARIANAS "TURKEY SHOOT"
During the morning and afternoon hours of 19 June, Wichita contributed to the antiaircraft barrage which was so effective in warding off enemy air attacks in an action which came to be known as the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," or the Battle of the Philippine Sea. During that engagement, Wichita's gunners claimed assists on two "Kates" (Japanese torpedo bombers - Nakajima B5N). In the aftermath of the battle, one of the heavy cruiser's floatplanes rescued an American fighter pilot whose plane had been shot down by the Japanese.
MORE PACIFIC TARGETS
In the summer and fall, Wichita attacked or supported attacks on:
Netherlands East Indies
Most of the rest of the year saw Wichita supporting aircraft carriers in their increasingly frequent raids on Pacific targets.
A broken propeller shaft required Wichita to return to the U.S. for repairs until early 1945.
The next day, Wichita, as part of TF 54, set sail for Okinawa in the last great invasion of World War II. As an element of TU 54.2.3, Wichita covered minesweeping units in fire support sector four on 25 March, retiring to seaward for the night. As part of Fire Support Unit 3 the following day, Wichita was off Okinawa when lookouts spotted a periscope to starboard at 0932. Making an emergency turn to starboard, the heavy cruiser evaded the torpedo that was fired.
At 1350, Wichita commenced firing with her main battery, shelling Japanese installations on Okinawa, before she ceased fire at 1630 and retired to sea for the night. Soon after dawn the following morning, 27 March, several Japanese planes attacked the formation in which Wichita was proceeding; the heavy cruiser's gunners shot down one. That morning and afternoon, Wichita again lent the weight of her salvoes to the "softening-up" process; even her SOC Seagull (scouting and observation floatplane) joined in, dropping two bombs. Wichita continued to support the invasion and operate near the island until the conclusion of the war. She was off the island when, on 15 August 1945, she received word that the war with Japan was over.
JAPANESE OCCUPYING FORCE
Wichita became part of the occupying force and reached Nagasaki on 11 September, where she assisted in the repatriation of over 9,000 former POWs through that port. Wichita was based in Nagasaki and Sasebo until 5 November, when her first passengers reported on board for transportation back to the United States. She headed for San Francisco, reaching that port on 24 November 1945.
Drydocking at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard two days later, Wichita underwent repairs and alterations in preparation for further "Magic Carpet" duty, before she was undocked on 1 December. Departing the west coast for the Hawaiian Islands on the 6th, Wichita reached Pearl Harbor on the 12th, bound, ultimately, for the Marianas. The heavy cruiser brought back homecoming servicemen from Saipan, arriving at San Francisco on 12 January 1946.
Wichita was awarded 13 battle stars for her World War II service.