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Old 02-26-2018, 08:48 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Fellows, here's a fact file on the Des Moines class Heavy Cruisers and their war service: RDF Sourcebook users will recognize USS Salem (CA-139).


The Des Moines Class Heavy Cruisers in World War III



The Des Moines class were the last heavy cruisers built by any navy, were the only heavy cruisers in existence in 1985, and were the largest non-missile cruisers afloat. The class was originally planned as a 12-unit class, and only three were completed. The three units built were too late for World War II service, but saw extensive postwar service. Two were decommissioned in 1959-61, while the third unit was decommissioned in 1975 after extensive service in the Vietnam War. Two units were in Mobilization Category B, which meant available for reactivation within 180 days. The third unit had suffered an explosion in its No. 2 main turret in 1972, and had been stricken in 1978, but was retained in storage as a potential parts source for the other two in the event of their reactivation. A plan had been considered in 1981-2 to reactivate the two survivors as part of the initial defense buildup begun by the Reagan Administration, but had been turned down by Congress. However, once war began, orders were quickly issued to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to reactivate the two available ships.


U.S.S. Des Moines (CA-134): Laid down in 1945 and commissioned in 1948, she often served as a Fleet Flagship before being decommissioned in 1961. Placed in reserve at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, she was maintained as a mobilization asset available for reactivation within 180 days. The order to reactivate her was issued only three days after the outbreak of war in September, 1985. Recommissioned in April, 1986, the ship initially saw service escorting convoys from the Mediterranean to the East Coast, and in one famous incident, was covering Convoy AHN-30 (Alexandria/Haifa-Norfolk) when a Soviet convoy en route to Cuba was encountered, and escorts from both convoys engaged each other. The Soviet escorts were distracted by the American and British destroyers and frigates long enough for Des Moines to get into the Soviet convoy and sink five ships. She saw action supporting the Liberation of Iceland in 1987, and also supported the Kola Raid in company with her sister ship Salem, often getting in close to shore to engage Soviet defenses and formations at nearly point-blank range.

After the Kola Raid, Des Moines put into the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a brief refit. The 3-inch 50 AA guns were removed and two quad Mark-141 Harpoon launchers and two Super RBOC Chaff launchers being installed in place of the amidships guns. Two new lattice masts were installed to house new radars and ECM equipment, along with NTDS. The Phalanx system was also installed with two mounts taken from damaged ships, and CEC was installed in the former Flag spaces to control the Harpoons and the ECM equipment. In addition, the “Fem mods” (crew spaces for female officers and crew) prepared. The ship was ready for sea in January, 1988, and Des Moines resumed convoy duty.

Her next combat was in support of Operation GULF HAMMER in 1988, providing Naval Gunfire Support to Marine landings along the Texas coast, and in support of Army and Marine forces operating within range of her guns. Des Moines then saw service interdicting shipping between Cuban ports, Brownsville, and Mexico, and also provided fire support during the final reduction of the Brownsville Pocket. She then participated in several bombardments of targets in Cuba that were intended as preparatory to the planned invasion of Cuba, and was tasked to provide fire support for Marines landing at Tarara Beach, east of Havana, but Castro's acceptance of the Armistice rendered the invasion plan moot.

Though considered for deactivation in 1991, events in the Middle East and Africa reared their head, and Des Moines was retained in service indefinitely. Deployments to Yemen and off the Somali coast followed, escorting shipping threatened by local pirates, and on occasion, bombarding pirate strongholds with her 8-inch guns. In one incident in 1996, a group of Somali pirates at night mistook the cruiser for a tanker, and tried to board her. The pirates were swiftly dealt with, and their mother ship (a captured fishing boat) was destroyed with 5-inch gunfire. Des Moines made her home port in San Diego, switching places with her sister, Salem, in 2000. Her most recent combat duty was in the Baja War in 2010. She is still in service, and when retired, it is planned to donate her to either Seattle or San Francisco as a war memorial.


U.S.S. Salem (CA-139): Laid down in 1945 and commissioned in 1949, Salem served not only as a Fleet Flagship at times during her active service, but also played the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee in a 1956 movie about the Battle of the River Plate. She was decommissioned in 1959, and maintained at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Mobilization Category B alongside her sister ship Des Moines. She, too, was considered for reactivation in the early 1980s, but remained in mothballs until the outbreak of war, when she was reactivated in September, 1985. Receiving the same minor upgrade as her sister, Salem was recommissioned in May, 1986, and after working up with her sister ship, began duty as a convoy escort. She escorted convoys from the Mediterranean to the East Coast, before taking part in the Naval Gunfire Support Force for both the Liberation of Iceland and the Kola Raid. Salem was so close to shore that at one point, her 3-inch 50 AA guns were used against Soviet ground troops and light armor. After Kola, the ship received a refit identical to her sister, Des Moines.

Salem did not participate in Operation GULF HAMMER, as she was needed in the Pacific, and transited the Panama Canal to join the Pacific Fleet in January, 1988. She took part in several bombardment runs along the Alaska coast, and provided Naval Gunfire Support to the raid on the Kamchatka Peninsula, along with raider hunts in the North Pacific. Salem also took part in a raid on Itirup Island in the Kuriles, bombarding a minor Soviet naval base and a PVO airfield, with SEALS calling in the naval gunfire. She then participated in several bombardment missions along the Mexican Pacific Coast, before once again transiting the Canal and rejoining the Atlantic Fleet for the planned invasion of Cuba. After the Castro Regime's acceptance of the Armistice, Salem was sent back to the Pacific, for anti-piracy operations along the China Coast and in Indonesian waters.

Salem made several deployments to WestPac, with her Home Port at Pearl Harbor, before returning to the East Coast in 2000. She was involved in a number of anti-piracy operations, bombarding a number of pirate strongholds in her WestPac cruises. When she returned to the East Coast, Salem returned to deployments with the Sixth Fleet, with occasional service off of Somalia and Yemen. Salem did not see combat in the Cuban Intervention, or in the Baja War, but was at sea during the Fall of the Rump USSR, though she saw no action. She is still in service, and when she is retired in 2020, she will be donated to the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, as a war memorial, and close to her namesake city.


U.S.S. Newport News (CA-148): Laid down in 1945 and commissioned in 1949, she was the last heavy cruiser in commission anywhere when she was decommissioned in 1975. Serving as a fleet flagship, she saw service in the Sixth Fleet and during both the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1965 Dominican Republic Crisis, then had three deployments to Vietnam between 1967 and 1972. An accidental explosion in her Number Two turret, resulting in the center gun being blown out, and nineteen men were killed and ten wounded. The damage was not repaired, and the turret was sealed off for the remainder of her service. Decommissioned in 1975, she saw no further service, and was used as a parts source for her two sister ships when they were reactivated in 1985. Newport News is still retained as a parts hulk, and is expected to be scrapped when the cruisers are retired. A request from the Mariner's Museum in Norfolk to retain parts of the ship, such as her bridge, as a memorial to the ship and crew is likely to be granted by the Navy.


Ship statistics:


Displacement: 17,000 tons standard, 21,500 full load

Length: 716.5 feet

Beam: 76 feet

Draft: 26 feet

Propulsion: Four GE steam turbines producing 120,000 Shaft Horsepower; 4 shafts.

Boilers: 4 Babcock and Wilcox at 600 psi each

Range: 10,500 Nautical Miles at 15 Knots

Top speed: 32 Knots

Crew: 1,800 (115 Officers and 1,685 Enlisted)

Armament (World War III):

9x 8-inch 55 Mark 16 guns in three triple turrets

12x 5-inch 38 DP Mark 32 guns in six twin turrets

12x 3-inch 50 AA Mark 27 in six twin mounts (removed Fall 1987)

8x Harpoon SSM launchers Mark 141 in four quad mounts (installed Fall 1987)

2x 20-mm Phalanx CIWS mounts (installed Fall 1987)

Several mounts for .50 caliber machine guns or Mark 19 Automatic Grenade Launchers

Helicopters: Pad only with no hangar. UH-1N or SH-2F embarked on occasion.
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