Heavy Cruiser - 1940s: World War II

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1940s: World War II

Heavy cruisers were still being built, and they could be balanced designs when nations decided to skirt the restrictions imposed by the London Naval Treaty.

The Germans built their Hipper class heavy cruisers of 14,000 tons, although the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was supposed to limit their shipbuilding.

The US built the Baltimore class of heavy cruisers during the war. While earlier heavy cruisers were noted for their powerful torpedo armament (especially Japanese heavy cruisers), later ships built by the USN concentrated mainly on anti-aircraft armament, as their main role was escorting aircraft carriers instead of engaging in surface actions. Interestingly, most Japanese heavy cruisers were sunk by aircraft or submarines, instead of during surface engagements.

  • Example of heavy cruiser evolution during the Second World War: Duquesne in original anti-surface layout

  • Tourville after refit: reinforced anti-air armament, removal of sea plane, torpedo launchers and aft mast

The US built the last heavy cruisers, which were finished shortly after the war. The Baltimore class consisted of seventeen ships, including three of the slightly different Oregon City class. The Des Moines class were the last heavy cruisers built: though based on the Baltimores, they were considerably heavier and longer due to their new rapid-firing 203 mm (8-inch) guns. Additionally, two aircraft carriers were built on a Baltimore-derived hull, the Saipan class.

The largest heavy cruisers were the Alaska class of "large cruiser". Though they resembled contemporary battlecruisers or battleships in general appearance, as well as having main armament and displacement equal or greater than that of capital ships of the First World War, they were actually upscaled heavy cruisers. The Alaskas, for instance, lacked the torpedo defence system of true capital ships. They also had proportionately less weight in armour at 28.4% of displacement, in contrast to the British battlecruiser Hood of 30%, and the German Scharnhorst and US North Carolina battleships of 40%. The layout of the Alaskas' machinery and the possession of a single rudder was also based on that of cruisers rather than that of capital ships.

Heavy cruisers fell out of use after the Second World War, with the Royal Navy decommissioning its last three (London, Cumberland, and Devonshire) by the early 1950s. Some existing US heavy cruisers lasted well through the 1970s, with the last all-gun ship USS Newport News decommissioning in 1975. USS Chicago and USS Albany, which had been converted to guided missile cruisers (US hull symbol CG), were laid up in 1980.

The last heavy cruiser in existence is the USS Salem, now a carefully preserved museum ship in Quincy, Massachusetts.

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