Baltimore Class Heavy Cruisers

A single heavy cruiser was allowed by treaty to the US Navy in the late twenties. Launched in 1937, the Wichita was essentially an 8-in gunned version of a Brooklyn. As the Brooklyns spawned the Clevelands, so did the Wichita the Baltimores, series produced throughout the war. Wichita's great improvements had been to mount guns in individual sleeves, permitting the loading of the centre barrel while the outers were firing. Earlier triples either suffered an increased salvo spread through mutual interference when fired together, or had to be fired with delays in the circuits.

Freed from Treaty restriction the Baltimores enjoyed a considerable increase in size, relieving at last the overcrowding common to other classes. Protection was improved only marginally in terms of plate thickness, but was better distributed. The secondary battery paralled that of the Clevelands, with three twin 5-in 38s at either end of the superstructure. Commenced in July 1940, the Baltimores programme ran comparatively slowly with priorities obviously elsewhere. Fourteen were built to the original plan then, like the Clevelands, the class was recast with a single stack and simplified superstructure. Only three of this new group, the Oregon City class, were ever completed as six further units were cancelled with the end of hostilities approaching. Their 8-in gun was not a favoured weapon, with separate ammunition and a loading circle that limited it to what was regarded as an unsatisfactory four rounds per minute.

During the 1950s a number of these cruisers would be converted into Guided Missile armed Cruisers. Between 1951 and 1956 both the USS Boston and USS Canberra were extensively modified with the original twin funnel layout being replaced with a single funnel, and the aft turret removed and replaced by two twin Terrier SAM launchers. In addition the ship’s superstructure was also altered. It was originally intended that all the Baltimores should be converted to this standard, but the conversion of these two vessels proved so expensive and complicated, for the results achieved, that the plan was dropped.

Nevertheless the need to provide air defence to the carrier Task Forces still remained, and so between 1959 and 1964 the USS Chicago, USS Columbus and USS Albany, of the similar Oregon City Class, were completely reconstructed as double-ended Guided Missile Cruisers. This work involved the complete removal of the superstructure and replacement by a new aluminium structure and two tall Macks. A twin Talos SAM launcher was fitted fore and aft, and a twin Terrier SAM launcher mounted on either side of the bridge. The initial conversion design had proposed that space be left amidships to fit Polaris ICBMs, but ultimately these were never carried- the space being used to house an ASROC 8-tube ASM launcher instead. Originally no guns were meant to be mounted, but it was soon discovered that the SAMs could not cope with fast low flying aircraft, or with the even more difficult target posed by small high speed surface vessels, thus two single 5-in 38 calibre guns were retrospectively fitted one on each side of the second Mack.

By 1974 all of the conventionally armed Baltimores including both USS Boston and USS Canberra had been discarded by the navy, leaving just the three Oregon City conversions in service. Of these the USS Columbus was decommissioned in 1975 and the USS Chicago and USS Albany (this latter having undergone a major modernization in 1967-68) serving until March and August 1980 respectively.

Whilst the Baltimore class cruisers were very capable vessels for their day, the money expended on converting them into guided missile cruisers was not well spent. They cost so much, and spent so long on dock, that it would have been wiser to build new ships, especially after the earlier experience with the two Boston single-ended conversions. This fact was belatedly recognized by the Navy, resulting in the cancellation of further conversion of another two vessels of the class.

List of Baltimore and Oregon City Class Cruisers

CA-68 USS Baltimore CA-69 (Later CAG-1) USS Boston CA-70 (Later CAG-2) USS Canberra CA-71 USS Quincy CA-72 USS Pittsburgh
CA-73 USS St Paul CA-74 (Later CG-12) USS Columbus CA-75 USS Helena CA-122 USS Oregon City CA-123 (Later CG-10) USS Albany
CA-124 USS Rochester CA-125 USS Northampton CA-130 USS Bremerton CA-131 USS Fall River CA-132 USS Macon
CA-133 USS Toledo CA-135 USS Los Angeles CA-136 (Later CG-11) USS Chicago

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