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CA-32 New Orleans

Due to the length of time between design and final launching (approximately seven years), there was some dispute over the class designation. At one time the class was to be known as the Minneapolis-class, later the Astoria-class, but finally the New Orleans was settled upon as the accepted class title.

On 13 February 1929 the United States Congress passed an act to build 15 light cruisers, five each over the next three years at an average cost of $17,000,000. By 1930, cruisers were segregated into two distinct classes, light and heavy by the London Naval Conference of 1930. In general, those ships with a main battery of 8-in guns were designated as heavy cruisers and those with 6-in guns, light cruisers. By the time that the New Orleans was actually laid down on 9 September 1931, a reinterpretation of the 1929 act had been made and ten heavy cruisers were to be built under the auspices of the same act.

The NEW ORLEANS class heavy cruisers turned out to be the most well balanced design of the treaty heavy cruisers built for the US Navy. All available weight within the 10,000 ton limit was to be used for increased protection, primarily for the magazines. Significant additional plating could be provided there both to protect the magazine and the ammo lifts, and to mount a plotting room within the armored part near the magazines. At the same time, armor protection everywhere else, over and around machinery, guns, important control stations all remained weak and capable at most of stopping five inch destroyer shells; gun houses and command and control facilities being hard-pressed to even handle those.

Another problematical situation was due to the position of the magazine above the waterline, where, though adequately protected against underwater weapons; torpedoes, mines, near misses by bombs --, it would be vulnerable to the fire of surface vessels, especially that of the most likely opponent of theirs, the enemy's cruisers.

The follow on group to the Portland Class cruisers, CA 37-41, exhibited such superior characteristics, that an attempt was made to reorder CA 32-36 to its specifications. However, two ships, the Portland and the Indianapolis had been awarded to private builders and contract changes would be far too expensive. The remaining three ships were all at Navy yards and could be modified without great expense. Thus the Portland Class was relegated to just two ships, while CA 37 became the lead ship for the new New Orleans Class cruisers.

The New Orleans Class cruisers corrected the weight estimation deficiencies of the previous classes, and formed a much better protected and balanced cruiser design. The New Orleans Class was the first US cruisers built without torpedo tubes due to war gaming results from the Naval War College which indicated that the torpedoes were unlikely to be fired from a cruiser, and more a liability than an asset. These academic results were contradicted a number of times during World War II, when both Japanese and British cruisers used torpedoes rather effectively.

The previously scheduled torpedo tubes were subsequently removed and the foremast altered to mimic that of the rebuilt New Mexico, but the major design work had been done and in April 1930, the Bureau of Construction and Repair's design was applied to the cruisers New Orleans, Astoria and Minneapolis, already in the works, accepting a 12-month delay and additional costs to build them into full-grown New Orleans-class ships instead of the inferior Indianapolis standards.

The first five cruisers commissioned in 1934, with one following in 1936 and another in 1937. The first ship of the New Orleans class launched was the USS San Francisco, on March 9, 1933. She had a full load displacement of 11,585 tons, a design speed of 32.7 knots, and a design range of 10,000 nm at 15 knots. She had a main battery of nine 8inch/55 guns and an anti-aircraft battery of eight 5-inch/25 guns and eight 0.50 caliber machine guns.

In the years between World War I and World War II, the U.S. and Japanese navies pursued different technical and tactical solutions to naval surface combat. The U.S. Navy focused on very longrange daylight gunnery, supported by seaplane spotters and sophisticated analog computers. For the computers to calculate a firing solution, the firing ship had to maintain a steady course to allow the computer to "settle down" and provide accurate data to the turrets. The Japanese Navy developed the Type 93 Long Lance torpedo that carried a large warhead and could travel 20,000 yards or more at speeds of up to 45 knots. The Japanese had an ideal fire-and-forget system. In consequence, the Japanese trained to fight at night, with radically maneuvering destroyers and cruisers that fired torpedoes.

Astoria, Quincy, and Vincennes were sunk at the Battle of Savo Island on 9 August 1942; one of the worst disasters of the Pacific war. This short but violent naval engagement, a daring Japanese night surface attack conducted at the beginning of the Guadalcanal campaign on 9 August 1942, was a significant tactical victory for the Imperial Japanese Fleet and has been called the worst blue water defeat in the U.S. Navy's history. The Battle of Savo Island occurred early in the morning on 9 August in 1942 when the Japanese 8th Fleet surprised the Allied Task Force shortly after the landing at Guadalcanal. the Japanese sighted the Allied ships between Savo and Cape Esperance. Still undetected, they fired torpedoes which struck the Chicago and the Canberra. After this attack the Japanese left to strike the American ships between Savo and Florida. They illuminated their targets briefly with searchlights, then put heavy fire into the American cruisers.

The Vincennes and Quincy sank within one hour after being attacked. They, with Astoria and the Australian cruiser Canberra, were the first large ships lost in a body of water that would soon be known as "Iron Bottom Sound". In approximately 37 minutes, the Japanese Navy destroyed four heavy cruisers and killed more than 1000 American and Australian sailors handing the U.S. Navy the worst defeat in its history. There were many reasons for this debacle, however the one common thread through the entire disaster was the poorly framed command and control relationships.

During the war the US Navy lost ten cruisers, seven heavy cruisers (CA 26, 29, 30, 34, 35, 39, and 44), and three light cruisers (CL 50, 51, 52). All but one of these losses was in the area of the Solomon Islands during the struggle for control of those islands. All these cruisers were sunk by hits from the Japanese Long Lance torpedo. The lone exception was the loss of Indianapolis less than two weeks before the end of the war to a submarine in the Philippine Sea after she delivered the atomic bomb material to Tinian. There were no cruisers lost to aircraft bombs or torpedoes, or to the Japanese suicide bombers.

The remaining four were decommissioned in 1946-47 and scrapped in 1960-61.

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:36:27 ZULU