USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37)

Introduction and Pre-war Service

USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) was a New Orleans class heavy cruiser that served alongside the British Home Fleet on the Russian convoys, took part in Operation Torch, the D-Day landings and Operation Dragoon then swapped to the Pacific for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Tuscaloosa received seven battle stars for her World War II service.

The Tuscaloosa was laid down in September 1931, launched in November 1933 and commissioned in August 1934. Tuscaloosaand San Francisco were given a lighter 8in gun and turret that earlier ships in the class, saving about 40 tons. The extra weight was used to increase the thickness of the barbette armour, but this took them close to the treaty limits and the level of protection had to be reduced on the final ships in the class, Quincy (CA-39) and Vincennes (CA-44).

Tuscaloosa's shakedown cruiser took her around South America and lasted until Christmas 1934. She needed some repairs, before in April 1935 she joined Cruiser Division 6, based at San Diego. She took part in Fleet Problem XVI of May 1935, which took place off the Alaskan coast and in Hawaii. She was then based at San Pedro. In 1936 she took part in Fleet Problem XVII, this time off the US West Coast, Central American and the Panama Canal Zone. May 1937 saw a return to Alaska and Hawaii while Fleet Problem XIX of 1938 was carried out off Hawaii. Fleet Problem XX of 1939 took part in the Atlantic, bringing the Tuscaloosa east for the first time in several years. Afterwards she combining with her sister-ships San Francisco (CA-38) and Quincy (CA-39) on a goodwill tour of South America that also involved a passage around the Strait of Magellan (14-15 May 1939) before she returned to Norfolk, Virginia. In August 1939 the Tuscaloosa carried President Roosevelt to Campobello Island, New Brunswick, before his left the ship at Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

Wartime Service

As a result of these peacetime duties, the Tuscaloosa was on the US East Coast at the outbreak of the Second World War. She was allocated to the Neutrality Patrol, and carried out her first patrol on 6-11 September. This was flowed by a period of training in the Caribbean and off the Virginia Capes which lasted into mid-December.

One of the tasks of the Neutrality Patrol was to monitor German merchant ships. This included the Norddeutcher Lloyd liner Columbus, then the 13th largest steamship in the world. She had been caught in the West Indies and was now attempting to reach German waters. The US Navy kept a close watch on her, and on 16 December the Tuscaloosa took over that duty. She was thus present on 19 December when the Columbus ran into the British destroyer HMS Hyperion. The British ship fired two warning shots across the liner's bows, and in response her captain scuttled the liner. The British destroyer had little spare space, and so her captain asked the Tuscaloosa if she would rescue the German passengers and crew. She took onboard a total of 577 people finding space for them in the seaplane hanger and the sick bay. The Germans were then taken to New York, where they were treated as neutral civilians. Most of the officers and men eventually returned to Germany via the Pacific.

In January 1940 the Tuscaloosa took part in exercises in the Caribbean. She was then modified to serve as a Presidential flagship, and in February 1940 she carried President Roosevelt to Panama and the west coast of Central America, to visit local political leaders. The party returned to the east coast via the Panama Canal. This was followed by a three months in dock for an overhaul. This period saw the war position dramatically change when the Germans overran France. The Neutrality Patrol gained in importance and the Tuscaloosa spent the rest of the summer and autumn of 1940 operating in the Caribbean and around Bermuda.

Although the US was still officially neutral, President Roosevelt had agreed to swap fifty old destroyers in return for a number of naval bases. In December 1940 he embarked on the Tuscaloosa for a third time, this time to inspect the newly acquired sites which were scattered across the Caribbean and other British possessions. Roosevelt also came up with the idea for the 'lend-lease' scheme while onboard the Tuscaloosa.

In late December 1940 the Tuscaloosa departed for Europe, carrying Admiral William D. Leahy, the new US ambassador to Vichy France. She carried him as far as Portugal and then returned to Norfolk, Virginia, in January 1941.

In May 1941 the Tuscaloosa was suddenly sent to sea with a crew taken largely from the Vincennes and Quincy in an attempt to find the German battleship Bismarck, which had just sunk HMS Hood and disappeared into the Atlantic. The crisis was over by the time the Tuscaloosa reached her search area, and the Bismarck was sunk on 27 May. She then returned to the neutrality patrol, but was soon called away again, this time to carry General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, head of the Army Air Corps, Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner, Director of the War Plans Division of the Navy and Capt. Forrest Sherman to the first conference between Roosevelt and Churchill, in Argentia Bay, Newfoundland.

In September the US took over control of Iceland, freeing up British troops. The Tuscaloosa formed by of a naval task force that included the battleships Idaho (BB-40), Mississippi (BB-41), and New Mexico (BB-42), the cruiser Wichita and two divisions of destroyers. This force, which was based at Hvalfjordur, patrolled in the Denmark Strait, greatly extending the area being protected by the United States.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought American into the war in the Pacific, but for a few days the ships at Iceland were in something of a limbo, before Hitler's declaration of war on 11 December ended the period of undeclared naval war and replaced it with open warfare. In February 1942 the Tuscaloosareturned to Boston for an overhaul, then she joined Task Group 39.1 (Rear Admiral John W. Wilcox Jr.). This group, which included the battleship USS Washington (BB-56) crossed the Atlantic to join the British  Home Fleet at Scapa Flow (an echo of the First World War, where a squadron of US battleships operated with the Grand Fleet). Admiral Wilcox himself died on 27 March after suffering an apparent heart-attack and being swept overboard. The group, now commanded by Rear Admiral Giffen, joined the Home Fleet on 4 April. After a spell of training the American ships were used to help to escort the Russian convoys. In August she departed for Russia herself, carrying military equipment to the Soviets and returning with 243 passengers, mainly survivors of ships lost on earlier convoys. After this mission she returned to the US for an overhaul.

Her next mission was to support Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa of 8 November 1942. She took part in the landings at Casablanca, alongside the cruiser Wichita and the battleship Massachusetts(BB-59). She was used for shore bombardment, while coming under fire from the 15in guns of the incomplete French battleship Jean Bart and just avoiding a torpedo from a French submarine. After this first battle she returned to the US for another refit, and was then used to escort convoys moving between the US and North Africa. This was followed by a period of exercises, carried out off the US East Coast from March to May 1943.

After escorting RMS Queen Elizabeth to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Tuscaloosa rejoined the British Home Fleet. This time she took part in operations designed to trick the Germans into sending their major warships out to sea (in particular the Tirpitz), but they didn't take the bait. The Tuscaloosa formed part of the covering force for the carrier Ranger when it conducted the first US carrier strikes against German targets, hitting the port at Bodo in Norway (2-6 October 1943). Soon after this the Tirpitz made one of its few combat sorties, attacking and destroying the weather station on Spitzbergen Island. Tuscaloosa took part in the expedition to restore the weather station (19 October 1943). She then took part in one final mission off the Norwegian coast before returning to New York for a major overhaul which lasted from 3 December 1943 to February 1944.

In April 1944 Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo, commander of Cruiser Division 7, boarded the Tuscaloosa, which had now been allocated to the forces to support the D-Day landings. She set sail for Normandy on 3 June, forming part of Force A, supporting the attack on Utah Beach. She opened fire at 5.50am on 6 June 1944, attacking Fort He de Tatihous in the Baye de la Seine and attacking other German defensive positions, troop concentrations and artillery, all aided by her own air spotters and land-based fire control parties. She had to return to Plymouth to collect new ammo (9-11 June) but then remained off the French coast until 21 June, carrying out valuable shore bombardments. On 26 June she took part in the attack on Cherbourg, helping to counter the German shore batteries defending the port.

In July the Tuscaloosa moved to the Mediterranean to take part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France. She opened fire at 6.35am on 15 August and kept firing until the landings began. She then patrolled the area looking for targets, including a pillbox at St. Raphel and an artillery battery.  She supported the fighting for 12 days, helping the advance east towards Italy. Her main tasks were to attack shore batteries in German hands and to provide anti-aircraft support.

By September the fighting in France had moved away from the coasts. Tuscaloosa returned to the US for a refit, and then moved to the Pacific theatre, reaching Ulithi in January 1945. She joined the main fleet in time to take part in the pre-invasion bombardment of Iwo Jima, starting on 16 February. She then supported the fighting on the island from 19 February to 14 March.

Her next mission was to support the invasion of Okinawa. She began to bombard the island on 25 March, and took part in the entire battle (apart from one six day break when she needed to replenish her stocks). She avoided kamikaze damage, and left Okinawa on 28 June. She was in the Philippines when the Japanese surrendered, ending the Second World War.

After the end of the war the Tuscaloosa took part in the surrender of Japanese troops in Korea, Manchuria and along the rest of the Chinese coast. In November she collected 332 American personnel and transported them to Hawaii as part of the Magic-Carpet scheme. At Hawaii she was modified to allow her to carry more passengers, and another 206 men joined her for the cruise back to San Francisco. She returned to the Pacific for a second Magic Carpet trip in December 1945-January 1946, bringing well over 500 men back to San Francisco on 15 January. That was her last active duty. From San Francisco she steamed to Philadelphia, where she entered the reserve on 13 February 1946. She was struck off the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and sold for scrap in June 1959.
  
She arrived at Pearl Harbor nine days into the New Year; fuelled; and picked up additional demobilized servicemen to transport home. She sailed for San Francisco on 10 January and arrived five days later. On 29 January, the men delivered, Tuscaloosa stood out of San Francisco bound for the east coast on her last cruise as an active member of the Fleet.

She was decommissioned on 13 February 1946, struck off the Navy List on 1 March 1959 and sold for scrap on 25 June 1959.

Wartime Modification

All members of the New Orleans class received quad 1.1in gun mounts early in 1942, with two on the quarterdeck and two at the same level as the chart house. They also got search radar and had the foremast reduced in height.

All four of the ships that survived 1942 were given more anti-aircraft guns over time, with six quad 40mm mountings replacing the 1.1in guns and 20mm guns in single mountings added in large numbers. Tuscaloosa had sixteen 20mm guns in October 1942 and more by the end of the war. They didn’t have much spare weight for these additions and so the conning tower and one of the cranes were removed and the bridge lightened. In 1945 one of the aircraft catapults was also removed.

Displacement (standard)

10,136t

Displacement (loaded)

12,463t

Top Speed

32.7kts

Range

10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

5in to 3.25in over 0.75in STS

 - over machinery

2.25in

 - magazines

4in-3in side
2.25in above

 - barbettes

6in-5in

 - turrets

6in face
2.25in roof
1.5in side

Length

588ft oa

Armaments

Nine 8in/55 guns (three 3-gun turrets)
Eight 5in/25 guns (eight single positions)
Eight 0.5in guns (eight single positions)
Four aircraft

Crew complement

868

Laid Down

3 September 1931

Launched

15 November 1933

Completed

17 August 1934

Stricken

1 March 1959

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 December 2014), USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Tuscaloosa_CA37.html

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