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ASTORIA / CA-34
Notes: The NEW ORLEANS class link the WICHITA and the wartime American cruisers with their lightly-protected predecessors. By the late 1920's, there was growing apprehension concerning the light protection of the large cruisers under construction. However, the Bureau of Construction and Repair maintained that a 10,000-ton ship of high speed, armed with 8" guns, could not be well protected. Not until the NORTHAMPTON class were completed did it become obvious that the U. S. "treaty cruisers" were about 1,000 tons below the treaty limit. In 1929, the U. S. Navy began a program of 15 additional heavy and light cruisers. This program was interrupted by a combination of the London Treaty of 1930 and the Great Depression of 1929. But in 1929, the General Board approved a design very similar to the NORTHAMPTON class. This was not to be. There was considerable pressure within the Navy for a better-protected cruiser, and eventually the Bureau of Construction and Repair had to admit that by making some modifications, a better-protected ship might be achieved. In fact, it proved possible to replace the lightly-armored gunhouses of the NORTHAMPTON class with a true turret, for a great advance in protection.
Wartime modifications were relatively minor, with the main focus being the augmentation of the anti-aircraft battery (and subsequently, the need to reduce topweight). The bridgework was reduced, the armored conning tower was eliminated, and an open bridge was fitted. One crane was removed, and later, one of the two catapults. By the end of the war, the surviving members of the class had 24 - 40mm AA guns in six quad mounts; NEW ORLEANS also had 28 - 20mm AA guns (in 14 twin mounts).
Upon her commissioning in April, 1934, ASTORIA served with the Scouting Force of the U. S. Pacific Fleet. In early 1939, ASTORIA was chosen to carry the remains of the late Japanese Ambassador to his homeland. Following this assignment, ASTORIA resumed her duties. While the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, ASTORIA was at sea with units taking aircraft to Midway. During the first half of 1942, ASTORIA was either directly escorting, or in support of, carrier task forces, usually involving the YORKTOWN. ASTORIA was present at both the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. At Midway, when the YORKTOWN was disabled by a Japanese air attack, ASTORIA became the flagship of Rear Adm. Jack Fletcher. Following several weeks of rest, repairs and training, ASTORIA was sent back to the Solomons in the South Pacific for the invasion of the Guadalcanal. On the night of 8-9 August 1942, ASTORIA (along with her sisters QUINCY and VINCENNES of Task Force 18) were engaged by Vice Admiral Mikawa's Cruiser Division 6 (consisting of the heavy cruisers CHOKAI, AOBA, FURUTAKA, KINUGASA, and KAKO, the light cruisers TENRYU and YUBARI, and two destroyers) at the First Battle of Savo Island. Unseen in the darkness, the Japanese force was able to close to approximately 2,000 yards before opening fire - with devastating results. QUINCY and VINCENNES sank within an hour; ASTORIA's crew, with assistance from the crews of four destroyers, fought valiantly to save her -- but to no avail. ASTORIA sank shortly after noon on 9 August 1942.