The USS Omaha
The USS Omaha was the first of a series of light cruisers ordered after WWI. The Omaha was laid down on December 6, 1918, in Tacoma, Washington, and launched on December 14, 1920. The ship was commissioned on February 24, 1923.
After her commissioning, the Omaha joined the Atlantic fleet. The ship’s primary objective was training, and made ports-of-call in the Mediterranian and the Carribean.
One month before the US entered the war, the Omaha was on patrol in the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. The crew spotted a merchant vessel named the Willmoto that was flying an American flag. Communications from the Willmoto were unreturned, and the crew of the Omaha became suspicious. A boarding party was organized and headed for the Willmoto.
Before the boarding party reached the vessel, explosions erupted from the Willmoto, and an international distress flag was raised. The Omaha crewman boarding the Willmoto, and thwarted efforts to scuttle the ship. The Willmoto was actually the Odenwald, a German blockade-runner. Because the incident happened prior to US entry into the war, international maritime laws dictated the the situation a case of salvage. Each member of the boarding crew received $3,000 for their efforts.
Man from Omaha on the Omaha
When Webb Warren of Gretna finished his Navy training, he saw his first assignment: “Omaha.” He thought “Son of a gun, I’m going home.” Instead of returning to Omaha for recruitment duty, his assignment was the USS Omaha. He was working in the pharmacy when the crew salvaged the Odenwald. Warren, like the rest of the crew that stayed on the ship, received one month’s pay.
In January of 1944, Omaha encountered two ships while on patrol in the South Atlantic. The first ship, upon being sited by the Omaha, scuttled itself. The second ship attempted the same, only to be fired upon and sank by Omaha crew. Both of these ships carried rubber, a crucial resource to the German war effort.
In April of 1944, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addressed the crew of the USS Omaha while onboard the ship.
In August of 1944, the ship ship protected units attacking the Toulon area during the invasion of southern France, and earned one battle star for her role in the operation.
Webb Warren remembers hearing “Nazi Sal,” a propaganda broadcaster utilized by the Axis powers to frighten Allied forces (similar to “Axis Sally” and “Tokyo Rose”). Warren described getting chills down his spine while traveling onboard the Omaha through the Straits of Gibraltar and heard “Welcome to the Mediterranean, USS Omaha. At 0100 hours you will be met. You will be sunk.” The Germans did drop flares around the ship, but there was no other engagement with the enemy.
The USS Omaha then returned to patrols in the Southern Atlantic.
The Omaha arrived in Philadelphia on September 1, 1945, and was decommissioned two months later. She was scrapped in February in 1946, and only her bell remains.