American Battlecruiser

American Battlecruiser

By:  Garland Davis

 

The historical HMS Hood and HMS Repulse, the German Scharnhorst and the Japanese Kongo-class were examples of the Battlecruiser.  These were warships with heavier guns and armament than traditional cruisers but lighter and faster than the Battle Ships.  How many of you know the story of the World War II American Battle Cruisers?

USS Alaska (CB-1) was the lead ship of the Alaska class of large cruisers which served with the United States Navy at the end of World War II. She was the first of two ships of her class to be completed, followed only by Guam (CB-2); four other ships were ordered but were not completed before the end of the war. Alaska was the third vessel of the US Navy to be named after what was then the territory of Alaska. She was laid down on 17 December 1941, ten days after the outbreak of war, was launched in August 1943 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, in Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned in June 1944. She was armed with a main battery of nine 12 in guns in three triple turrets and had a top speed of 33 knots (38 mph).

Due to being commissioned late in the war, Alaska saw relatively limited service. She participated in operations off Iwo Jima and Okinawa during February–July 1945, including providing anti-aircraft defense for various carrier task forces and conducting limited shore bombardment operations. She shot down several Japanese aircraft off Okinawa, including a possible Ohka piloted missile. In July–August 1945 she participated in sweeps for Japanese shipping in the East China and Yellow Seas. After the end of the war, she assisted in the occupation of Korea and transported a contingent of US Army troops back to the United States. She was decommissioned in February 1947 and placed in reserve, where she remained until she was stricken in 1960 and sold for scrapping the following year.

Alaska was authorized under the Fleet Expansion Act on 19 July 1940 and ordered on 9 September.[1] On 17 December 1941 she was laid down at New York Shipbuilding in Camden, New Jersey. She was launched on 15 August 1943, sponsored by the wife of the governor of Alaska, before being fitted out. The ship was completed by June 1944 and was commissioned into the US Navy on 17 June, under the command of Captain Peter K. Fischler.

The ship was 808 feet 6 inches long and with a beam of 91 feet 1 in and a draft of 31 feet 10 in. She displaced 34,253 at full combat load. The ship was powered by four-shaft General Electric geared steam turbines and eight oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers rated at 150,000 shaft horsepower, generating a top speed of 33 knots. Alaska had a cruising range of 12,000 nautical miles at a speed of 15 knots. She carried four seaplanes, with a pair of steam catapults mounted amidships.

The ship was armed with a main battery of nine 12 inch guns in three triple gun turrets. The secondary batter consisted of twelve 5 inch guns in twin turrets. Two were placed on the centerline firing over the main battery turrets, fore and aft, and the remaining four turrets were placed on the corners of the superstructure. The light anti-aircraft battery consisted of 56 quad-mounted 40mm Bofors guns and 34 single-mounted 20mm Oerlikon guns. A pair of Mk 34 gun directors aided gun laying for the main battery, while two Mk 37 directors controlled the 5-inch guns and a Mk 57 director aided the 40 mm guns. The main armored belt was 9 in thick, while the gun turrets had 12.8 in thick faces. The main armored deck was 4 in hick.[

After her commissioning, Alaska completed a shakedown cruise and on 12 November she left Philadelphia and after a stop at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, transited the Panama Canal and reached San Diego on 12 December. There her gun crews trained for shore bombardment and anti-aircraft fire.

On 8 January 1945, Alaska left California for Hawaii, arriving in Pearl Harbor on 13 January. There she participated in further training and was assigned to Task Group 12.2, which departed for Ulithi on 29 January. The Task Group reached Ulithi on 6 February and was merged into Task Group 58.5, part of Task Force 58, the Fats Carrier Task Force. Task Group 58.5 was assigned to provide anti-aircraft defense for the aircraft carriers; Alaska was assigned to the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga. The fleet sailed for Japan on 10 February to conduct air strikes against Tokyo and the surrounding airfields. The Japanese did not attack the fleet during the operation. Alaska was then transferred to Task Group 58.4 and assigned to support the assault on Iwo Jima. She served in the screen for the carriers off Iwo Jima for nineteen days, after which time she had to return to Ulithi to replenish fuel and supplies.

 

Alaska remained with TG 58.4 for the Battle of Okinawa. She was assigned to screen the carriers Yorktown and Intrepid; the fleet left Ulithi on 14 March and reached its operational area southeast of Kyushu four days later. The first air strikes on Okinawa began that day and claimed 17 Japanese aircraft destroyed on the ground. Here, Alaska finally saw combat, as the Japanese launched a major air strike on the American fleet. Her anti-aircraft gunners destroyed a kamikaze attempting to crash into Intrepid. Shortly after that, Alaska was warned that American aircraft were in the vicinity. Later that afternoon, Alaska shot down a second Japanese bomber.

The following day, the carrier Franklin was badly damaged by several bomb hits and a kamikaze. Alaska and her sister Guam, two other cruisers, and several destroyers were detached to create Task Group 58.2.9 to escort the crippled Franklin to Ulithi. On the voyage back to port, another Japanese bomber attacked Franklin, though the ships were unable to shoot it down. Gunfire from one of the 5-inch guns accidentally caused flash burns on several men standing nearby; these were the only casualties suffered by her crew during the war. Alaska then took on the role of fighter director; using her anti-air search radar, she vectored fighters to intercept and destroy a Kawasaki Heavy Fighter. On 22 March, the ships reached Ulithi and Alaska was detached to rejoin TG 58.4.[2]

After returning to her unit, Alaska continued to screen for the aircraft carriers off Okinawa. On 27 March she was detached to conduct a bombardment of Minamidaito. She was joined by Guam, two light cruisers, and Destroyer Squadron 47. On the night of 27–28 March, she fired forty-five 12-inch shells and three hundred and fifty-two 5-inch rounds at the island. The ships rejoined TG 58.4 at a refueling point, after which they returned to Okinawa to support the landings when they began on 1 April. On the evening of 11 April, Alaska shot down one Japanese plane, assisted in the destruction of another, and claimed what might have been a piloted rocket-bomb. On 16 April, the ship shot down another three aircraft and assisted with three others. Throughout the rest of the month, her heavy anti-aircraft fire succeeded in driving off Japanese bombers.[2]

Alaska then returned to Ulithi to resupply, arriving on 14 May. She was then assigned to TG 38.4, the reorganized carrier task force. The fleet then returned to Okinawa, where Alaska continued in her anti-aircraft defense role. On 9 June, she and Guam bombarded Oki Daito. TG 38.4 then steamed to San Pedro Bay in Leyte Gulf for rest and maintenance; the ship remained there from 13 June until 13 July, when she was assigned to Cruiser Task Force 95 along with her sister Guam, under the command of Rear Admiral Francis S. Low. On 16 July, Alaska and Guam conducted a sweep into the East China and Yellow Seas to sink Japanese shipping vessels. They had only limited success, however, and returned to the fleet on 23 July. They then joined a major raid, which included three battleships and three escort carriers, into the estuary of the Yangtze River off Shanghai. Again, the operation met with limited success.[9]

In the course of her service during World War II, Alaska was awarded three battle stars. On 30 August Alaska left Okinawa for Japan to participate in the 7th Fleet occupation force. She arrived in Inchon, Korea on 8 September and supported Army operations there until 26 September, when she left for Tsingtao, China, arriving the following day. There, she supported the 6th Marine Division until 13 November, when she returned to Inchon to take on Army soldiers as part of Operation Magic Carpet, the mass repatriation of millions of American servicemen from Asia and Europe. Alaska left Inchon with a contingent of soldiers bound for San Francisco. After reaching San Francisco, she left for the Atlantic, via the Panama Canal, which she transited on 13 December. The ship arrived at the Boston Navy Yard on 18 December, where preparations were made to place the ship in reserve. She left Boston on 1 February 1946 for Bayonne, New Jersey, where she would be berthed in reserve. She arrived there the following day, and on 13 August; she was removed from active service, though she would not be decommissioned until 17 February 1947.

In 1958, the Bureau of Ships prepared two feasibility studies to see if Alaska and Guam were suitable to be converted to guided missile cruisers. The first study involved removing all of the guns for four different missile systems. At $160 million this was seen as too costly, so a second study was conducted. This study left the forward batteries—the two 12″ triple turrets and three of the 5″ dual turrets—in place and added a reduced version of the first plan for the aft. This would have cost $82 million and was still seen as too cost-prohibitive. As a result, the conversion proposal was abandoned, and the ship was instead stricken from the naval registry on 1 June 1960. On 30 June she was sold to the Lipsett Division of Luria Brothers to be broken up for scrap.

A short life for a beautiful class of ship.

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The Missiles of October

The Missiles of October

By:  Garland Davis

During a thirteen-day period fifty-six years ago, the U.S. and the Soviet Union came within hours of going to war.  The pilot of an American U-2 spy plane making a high-altitude pass over Cuba on October 14, 1962, photographed a Soviet SS-4 medium-range ballistic missile being assembled for installation.

The critical photographs snapped by U-2 reconnaissance planes over Cuba were shipped for analysis to a top-secret CIA facility in a most unlikely location: a building above the Steuart Ford car dealership in a rundown section of Washington, D.C. While used car salesmen were wheeling and dealing downstairs on October 15, 1962, upstairs CIA analysts in the state-of-the-art National Photographic Interpretation Center were working around the clock to scour hundreds of grainy photographs for evidence of a Soviet ballistic missile site under construction.

Two days after the U-2 flight, on the morning of October 16, 1962, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy informed President John F. Kennedy that U.S. surveillance aircraft had discovered the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from American soil. It was the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Just before noon, Kennedy convened the first meeting of fourteen administration officials and advisers. The group became as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council.

Time was of the essence.  Executive Committee members received estimates that the Soviet missiles could be at full operation within fourteen days.  Individual missiles could probably be readied within eighteen hours under a crash program.  Most of the missiles were determined to be SS-4’s with a range of approximately 1,100 nautical miles.  This placed major American cities, including Dallas and Washington, DC, within strike range.  Later photos showed that SS-5’s with a range of 2,200 nautical miles were also included in the arms shipments from the USSR.

For seven days, the Executive Committee debated the merits of three approaches to the developing crisis, while keeping a tight public lid on the Cuban discovery.  The first was a surgical air strike targeting as many of the missiles as possible.  The second was an air strike followed by a U.S. military invasion of the island.  The third was a blockade of Soviet ships thought to be carrying materials in support of the offensive missile systems.

The president opted for the blockade, calling it a termed quarantine so as to avoid warlike connotations.  This was to allow diplomatic approaches to work whereas direct military action wouldn’t.

On October 22, in anticipation of a military reaction to the quarantine, the Joint Chiefs of Staff placed military forces worldwide on a DEFCON 3 alert.  At five that afternoon Kennedy met with the bipartisan leaders of Congress.  At six, the Secretary of state met with the Soviet ambassador and presented him with an advance copy of the President’s upcoming address to the American Public.

In a TV address at seven PM on October 22, 1962, President John Kennedy (1917-63) notified Americans about the presence of the missiles, explained his decision to enact a naval quarantine around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force if necessary to neutralize this perceived threat to national security.

By the evening of October 23, Kennedy and the Executive Committee had new worries.  Earlier in the day, the Central Intelligence Agency began tracking several Soviet submarines unexpectedly moving toward Cuba.  The submarines complicated the Navy’s task of conducting the quarantine, as it now had to track the submarines to ensure the safety of the naval units conducting the quarantine. Also, they were tracking nineteen Soviet cargo ships identified as on course for Cuba.

The quarantine, with the unanimous backing of the Organization of American States, went into effect at 10 AM on October 24.

Early intelligence on that day indicated that sixteen of the nineteen Soviet cargo ships bound for Cuba had reversed course.  The remaining three were nearing the quarantine line, including the ships Gagarin and Komiles.  Naval intelligence reported that a Soviet submarine had taken a position between the two ships.  The president though wanting to avoid conflict authorized the USS Essex to take whatever defensive measures against the submarine.  This was probably the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, as both nations were within mere moments of turning the war hot.

Khrushchev blinked! Just before armed hostilities, both Soviet ships stopped dead in the water and eventually reversed course.

During the next four days, the diplomats crafted an agreement that would remove Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for the United States removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey and a pledge to not invade Cuba.  The situation deteriorated somewhat when a U2 was shot down over Cuba.  Sensing that he was losing control of the crisis, Kennedy decided not to retaliate against the anti-aircraft site, much to the consternation of military leaders.

On the morning of October 28, Radio Moscow broadcast a speech by Khrushchev wherein he stated that all Soviet missiles in Cuba would be dismantled and crated.  The Cuban Missile crisis was over.

I arrived in North Carolina on October 14 on thirty days leave between NAS Lemoore California and USS Vesuvius.  I think I spent a good part of that leave listening to the news waiting for a recall.  There was a fear of nuclear war and the idea that it might happen.  There was also the thought that I was going to miss the action while on leave.  If the Navy had told me to report to Norfolk or Charleston, I would have been on the road immediately.

It was a good time to wear the uniform.  The girls were more than willing to comfort a sailor who might have to go to war soon.  Of course, I tried to refrain from taking any unfair advantage of the girls, but I just couldn’t bring myself to deny them the opportunity to serve their country in some small way during this time of peril.

 

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