Alaska-class cruiser

The Alaska class consisted of six cruisers ordered before World War II for the United States Navy. They were officially classed as large cruisers (CB), but others have regarded them as battlecruisers. They were all named after territories or insular areas of the United States, signifying their intermediate status between larger battleships and smaller heavy and lighter cruisers. Of the six planned, two were completed, the third's construction was suspended on 16 April 1947, and the last three were canceled. Alaska and Guam served with the U.S. Navy for the last year of World War II as bombardment ships and fast carrier escorts. They were decommissioned in 1947 after spending only 32 and 29 months in service, respectively.

The idea for a large cruiser class originated in the early 1930s when the U.S. Navy sought to counter Deutschland-class "pocket battleships" being launched by Germany. Planning for ships that eventually evolved into the Alaska class began in the late 1930s after the deployment of Germany's Scharnhorst-class battleships and rumors that Japan was constructing a new battlecruiser class. To serve as "cruiser-killers" capable of seeking out and destroying these post-Treaty heavy cruisers, the class was given large guns of a new and expensive design, limited armor protection against 12-inch shells, and machinery capable of speeds of about 31–33 knots (36–38 mph, 58–61 km/h).

Alaska-class cruiser
Class Ship
Type Cruiser
Manufacturer New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Production Period 1941 - 1945
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1944
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
United States of America 1944 1947 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
New York Shipbuilding Corporation 1941 1945 3 View

One historian described the design process of the Alaska class as "torturous" due to the numerous changes and modifications made to the ship's layouts by numerous departments and individuals. Indeed, there were at least nine different layouts, ranging from 6,000-ton Atlanta-class anti-aircraft cruisers to "overgrown" heavy cruisers and a 38,000-ton mini-battleship that would have been armed with twelve 12-inch and sixteen 5-inch guns. The General Board, in an attempt to keep the displacement under 25,000 tons, allowed the designs to offer only limited underwater protection. As a result, the Alaska class, when built, were vulnerable to torpedoes and shells that fell short of the ship. The final design was a scaled-up Baltimore class that had the same machinery as the Essex-class aircraft carriers. This ship combined a main armament of nine 12-inch guns with protection against 10-inch gunfire into a hull that was capable of 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph).

The Alaskas were officially funded in September 1940 along with a plethora of other ships as a part of the Two-Ocean Navy Act. Their role had been altered slightly: in addition to their surface-to-surface role, they were planned to protect carrier groups. Because of their bigger guns, greater size and increased speed, they would be more valuable in this role than heavy cruisers, and would provide insurance against reports that Japan was building super cruisers more powerful than U.S. heavy cruisers.

Name Namesake Pennant Builder Ordered Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
Alaska Territory of Alaska CB-1 New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden 9 September 1940 17 December 1941 15 August 1943 17 June 1944 Broken up atNewark, 1961
Guam Territory of Guam CB-2 2 February 1942 12 November 1943 17 September 1944 Broken up atBaltimore, 1961
Hawaii Territory of Hawaii CB-3
CBC-1
20 December 1943 3 November 1945 N/A Broken up at Baltimore, 1960
Philippines Commonwealth of the Philippines CB-4 N/A N/A Cancelled June 1943
Puerto Rico Territory of Puerto Rico CB-5
Samoa Territory of American Samoa CB-6

Alaska and Guam served with the U.S. Navy during the last year of World War II. Similar to the Iowa-class fast battleships, their speed made them useful as shore bombardment ships and fast carrier escorts. Both protected Franklin when she was on her way to be repaired in Guam after being hit by two Japanese bombs. Afterward, Alaska supported the landings on Okinawa, while Guam went to San Pedro Bay to become the leader of a new task force, Cruiser Task Force 95. Guam, joined by Alaska, four light cruisers, and nine destroyers, led the task force into the East China and Yellow Seas to conduct raids upon shipping; however, they only encountered Chinese junks. By the end of the war, the two had become celebrated within the fleet as excellent carrier escorts. During the war, both ships were part of Cruiser Division 16 commanded by Rear Admiral Francis S. Low, USN.

After the war, both ships served as part of Task Force 71, the designation for the U.S. Seventh Fleet's North China Naval Force. Its mission was to support the allied occupation of the Korean peninsula. This included executing various show-the-flag operations along the western coast of Korea as well as in the Gulf of Chihli. These naval demonstrations preceded Operation Campus, the amphibious landing of U.S. Army ground forces at Jinsen, Korea, on 8 September 1945. Subsequently, both ships returned to the United States in mid-December 1945, and they were decommissioned and "mothballed" in 1947. after having spent 32 months (Alaska) and 29 months (Guam) in service.

In 1958, the Bureau of Ships prepared two feasibility studies to explore whether Alaska and Guam could be suitably converted into guided-missile cruisers. The first study involved removing all of the guns in favor of four different missile systems. At $160 million, the cost of this proposed removal was seen as prohibitive, so a second study was initiated. The study left the forward batteries (the two 12-inch triple turrets and three of the 5-inch dual turrets) unchanged, and added a reduced version of the first plan on the stern of the ship. Even though the proposals would have cost approximately half as much as the first study's plan ($82 million), it was still seen as too expensive. As a result, both ships were stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1960. Alaska was sold for scrap on 30 June 1960, and Guam on 24 May 1961.

The still-incomplete Hawaii was considered for a conversion to be the Navy's first guided-missile cruiser; this thought lasted until 26 February 1952, when a different conversion to a "large command ship" was contemplated. In anticipation of the conversion, her classification was changed to CBC-1. This would have made her a "larger sister" to Northampton, but a year and a half later (9 October 1954) she was re-designated CB-3. Hawaii was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 9 June 1958 and was sold for scrap in 1959.

Name: Alaska-class
Builders: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Operators: United States Navy
In commission: 17 June 1944 – 17 February 1947
General characteristics
Class and type: Large cruiser
Displacement: 29,771 tons (standard)
34,253 tons (full load)
Length: 808 ft 6 in (246.43 m) overall
791 ft 6 in (241.25 m) waterline
Beam: 91 ft 9.375 in (28.0 m)
Draft: 27 ft 1 in (8.26 m) (mean) 31 ft 9.25 in (9.68 m) (maximum)
Propulsion: 4-shaft General Electric steam turbines, double-reduction gearing, 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
150,000 shp (112 MW)
Speed: 31.4 knots (58.2 km/h; 36.1 mph) to 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph)
Range: 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km; 13,670 miles) at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement: 1,517–1,799–2,251
Armament: 9 × 12"/50 caliber Mark 8 guns (304.8 mm)[4] (3 × 3)
12 × 5-inch (127 mm)/38 caliber dual-purpose guns (6 × 2)
56 × 40 mm (1.57 in) Bofors (14 × 4)
34 × 20mm Oerlikon (34 × 1)
Armor: Main side belt: 9" gradually thinning to 5"
Armor deck: 3.8–4.0"
Weather (main) deck: 1.40"
Splinter (third) deck: 0.625"
Barbettes: 11–13"
Turrets: 12.8" face, 5" roof, 5.25–6" side and 5.25" rear.
Conning tower:10.6" with 5" roof
Aircraft carried: 4 × OS2U Kingfisher or SC Seahawk
Aviation facilities: Enclosed hangar located amidships

End notes