The Alaska-class was a large cruiser design originally consisting of six ships planned and ordered in September 1940 under the massive 70% Expansion ("Two Ocean Navy") building program. Due to an immediate need for smaller escort vessels, construction on the ways was stopped for one and cancelled for three before the laying of their keels; the remaining two saw brief service in World War II before their own limitations put them in the reserve fleet for a time before scrapping.
The Navy had been considering since 1938 building ships of this entirely new type, intermediate in size between battleships and heavy cruisers. The new ships were to carry out what were then the two primary missions of heavy cruisers: protecting carrier strike groups against enemy cruisers and aircraft and operating independently against enemy surface forces. Their extra size and larger guns would enhance their value in both these missions and would also provide insurance against reports that Japan was building "super cruisers" more powerful than U.S. heavy cruisers. In fact, Japan developed plans for two such ships in 1941—partly as a response to the Alaskas, but never placed orders for their construction.
As built, the Alaskas were much closer to cruisers in design than to battleships or battlecruisers. They lacked the multiple layers of compartmentation and special armor along the sides below the waterline that protected battleships against torpedoes and underwater hits by gunfire. Other typical cruiser features in their design were the provision of aircraft hangars and the single large rudder. Unlike other U.S. cruisers of the day, the hangars and catapults were located amidships, and the single rudder made them difficult to maneuver. On the other hand, the Alaskas' side armor covered more of the hull than was standard in contemporary U.S. cruisers.
Wartime conditions ultimately reduced the Alaska class to two ships. Construction of CB-3 through CB-6 - along with the five Montana (BB-67) class battleships - was suspended in May 1942 to free up steel and other resources for more urgently needed escorts and landing craft. A year later, CB-4 through CB-6 were definitively cancelled. Hawaii (CB-3), however, was restored to the building program. Launched and partially fitted out, her construction was suspended and she was considered for conversion to a missile ship or command ship, but she was scrapped, still incomplete, in 1959.
After more normal construction periods, Alaska (CB-1) and Guam (CB-2) both arrived in the Pacific theater ready for action in early 1945. There they carried out both of their designed missions - carrier protection and surface strike - although their chances of encountering their primary intended opponents, Japanese heavy cruisers, had long since disappeared. Both returned to the U.S. soon after the war's end and, not finding a place in the postwar active fleet, remained in reserve until scrapped in 1960-61.
The Alaska class consisted of six ships:
- Alaska (CB-1), built at Camden, New Jersey. Keel laid in December 1941; launched in August 1943; commissioned in June 1944.
- Guam (CB-2), built at Camden, New Jersey. Keel laid in February 1942; launched in November 1943; commissioned in September 1944.
- Hawaii (CB-3), built at Camden, New Jersey. Construction suspended between May 1942 and May 1943. Keel laid in December 1943; launched in November 1945; never completed.
- Philippines (CB-4), ordered at Camden, New Jersey. Never begun, suspended in May 1942 and canceled in June 1943.
- Puerto Rico (CB-5), ordered at Camden, New Jersey. Never begun, suspended in May 1942 and canceled in June 1943.
- Samoa (CB-6), ordered at Camden, New Jersey. Never begun, suspended in May 1942 and canceled in June 1943.
- Displacement: 27,000 tons (standard)
- Dimensions: 808' 6"(length overall); 91' 1"(maximum beam)
- Powerplant: 150,000 horsepower steam turbines, producing a 31.4 knot maximum speed
- Armament (Main Battery): Nine 12"/50 guns in three triple turrets
- Armament (Secondary Battery): Twelve 5"/38 guns in six twin mountings.
USS Alaska (CB-1)
USS Alaska was built at Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned in June 1944. After shakedown training in Chesapeake Bay and in the Caribbean with USS Missouri (BB-63), she sailed for the Pacific in December 1944 and joined the fast carrier task forces at Ulithi two months later. Between February and July 1945, Alaska provided anti-aircraft protection for the carriers during raids on the Japanese home islands and during the Okinawa campaign. She also fired two shore bombardment missions with her 12" guns. In July and August 1945, in company with her sister Guam and four light cruisers, she conducted anti-shipping raiding operations in the East China Sea.
After the Japanese surrender, Alaska carried out a show of force off the major ports in the Yellow Sea and supported the landing of occupation troops at Jinsen (Inchon), Korea. The large cruiser returned to the United States in December 1945. USS Alaska was decommissioned at Bayonne, New Jersey in February 1947, and remained there until sold for scrapping in June 1960.
USS Guam (CB-2)
USS Guam was also built and launched at Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned in September 1944. After shakedown training in the Caribbean she left for the Pacific in January 1945 and joined the fast carrier task forces at Ulithi a few months later. Guam provided anti-aircraft protection during a carrier raid on the Japanese home islands in March 1945 and then fired a shore bombardment mission and supported carrier operations during the Okinawa campaign. In July and August 1945 she joined her sister Alaska and four light cruisers in an anti-shipping raid into Japanese home waters.
After the Japanese surrender Guam showed the flag off the major ports in the Yellow Sea and at Jinsen (Inchon), Korea, before returning to the United States in December 1945. She was decommissioned at Bayonne, New Jersey in February 1947 and remained there until sold for scrapping in May 1961.
Hawaii's construction was suspended in May 1942 before work began so that materials and facilities could be used to build more urgently needed ships such as ASW escorts. Hawaii was reinstated in the building program in June 1943 and her keel was laid the following December, almost two years after her sister Guam. She was launched in November 1945, after the end of the war, and little more work was done before construction was suspended in February 1947.
In the later 1940s, Hawaii was considered for conversion to a guided-missile ship. She was later included in the 1952 budget for conversion to a Large Tactical Command Ship and was reclassified CBC-1 in February 1952. This project was subsequently dropped and her classification reverted to CB-3 in September 1954. Her partially-installed secondary armament was removed when she was prepared for mothballing in 1946, and her three 12" turrets were subsequently removed in preparation for conversion. The incomplete Hawaii was sold for scrapping in April 1959.
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