USS Houston (CL-81)

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USS Houston (CL-81) underway off Norfolk on 12 January 1944 (80-G-214200).jpg
USS Houston (January 1944)
United States
NameUSS Houston (CL-81)
NamesakeCity of Houston, Texas
BuilderNewport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia
Launched19 June 1943
Commissioned20 December 1943
Decommissioned15 December 1947
Stricken1 March 1959
FateSold for scrap on 1 June 1961
General characteristics
Class and type Cleveland-class light cruiser
Length610 ft 1 in (185.95 m)
Beam66 ft 4 in (20.22 m)
Draft24 ft 6 in (7.47 m)
Installed power
Speed32.5 kn (60.2 km/h; 37.4 mph)
Range11,000 nmi (20,000 km; 13,000 mi) at 15 kn (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement1,285 officers and enlisted
Aircraft carried4 × floatplanes
Aviation facilities2 × stern catapults

USS Houston (CL-81), was a Cleveland-class light cruiser and the third vessel in the United States Navy named after Houston, Texas. She was active in the Pacific War and survived two separate aerial torpedo hits in October 1944.


Houston was 610 feet 1 inch (186 m) long overall and had a beam of 66 ft 4 in (20.22 m) and a draft of 24 ft 6 in (7.47 m). Her standard displacement amounted to 11,744 long tons (11,932 t) and increased to 14,131 long tons (14,358 t) at full load. The ship was powered by four General Electric steam turbines, each driving one propeller shaft, using steam provided by four oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers. Rated at 100,000 shaft horsepower (75,000 kW), the turbines were intended to give a top speed of 32.5 knots (60.2 km/h; 37.4 mph). Her crew numbered 1285 officers and enlisted men.[1]

The ship was armed with a main battery of twelve 6 in /47 caliber Mark 16 guns[a] in four 3-gun turrets on the centerline. Two were placed forward in a superfiring pair; the other two turrets were placed aft of the superstructure in another superfiring pair. The secondary battery consisted of twelve 5 in (127 mm) /38 caliber dual purpose guns mounted in twin turrets. Two of these were placed on the centerline, one directly behind the forward main turrets and the other just forward of the aft turrets. Two more were placed abreast of the conning tower and the other pair on either side of the aft superstructure. Anti-aircraft defense consisted of twenty-four Bofors 40 mm (1.6 in) guns in four quadruple and four double mounts and twenty-one Oerlikon 20 mm (0.79 in) guns in single mounts.[1]

The ship's belt armor ranged in thickness from 3.5 to 5 in (89 to 127 mm), with the thicker section amidships where it protected the ammunition magazines and propulsion machinery spaces. Her deck armor was 2 in (51 mm) thick. The main battery turrets were protected with 6.5 in (170 mm) faces and 3 in (76 mm) sides and tops, and they were supported by barbettes 6 inches thick. Houston's conning tower had 5-inch sides.[1]

Construction and renaming[edit]

She was launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia, on 19 June 1943, sponsored by Mrs C B Hamill. Originally named Vicksburg, her name was changed on 12 October 1942 in honor of the USS Houston (CA-30), sunk at the Battle of Sunda Strait. While this ship had received the heavy cruiser designation for her 8-inch guns, CL-81 was designated a light cruiser with a 6-inch main battery but had a greater displacement due to her higher levels of protection.

On 30 May 1942, 1,000 Navy recruits, known as the Houston Volunteers, were sworn in at a dedication ceremony in downtown Houston but with a nineteen-month period between then and commissioning, only one served aboard the new Houston.[2]

She was commissioned on 20 December 1943, with Captain William W. Behrens, USN, in command.[3]

Service history[edit]

Houston departed Norfolk, Virginia on 1 February 1944 for her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean Sea. After a period of training out of Boston, she made for the Pacific on 16 April.[3]


Houston arrived at Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal and San Diego on 6 May, and after more training exercises arrived Majuro Atoll on 31 May to join Vice Admiral Marc Mitscher's Fast Carrier Task Force. From 5 June 1944 Houston took part in the invasion of the Mariana and Palau Islands screening carrier units.[3]

As the forces of Admiral Richmond K. Turner landed on Saipan on 15 June, the Japanese made preparations for a "decisive" naval battle. The two fleets approached each other on 19 June for the largest aircraft carrier battle of the war. Four air raids hit the American fleet but the covering fighters and anti-aircraft fire from screening warships, destroyed many of the Japanese aircraft.[3] Houston remained to screen the carriers and engaged in shore bombardment on Guam and Rota. She returned to Eniwetok on 12 August to prepare for the next operation.[3]

Assigned to the newly designated Task Group 38.2 (TG 38.2) under Rear Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, Houston steamed on 30 August to support air attacks on Palau on 6 September, after which she and a group of destroyers shelled Peleliu and other islands in preparation for the future amphibious landings. The carrier group turned to the Philippines for strikes against airfields and shipping, then returned to Peleliu to support the forces ashore from 17 to 19 September.[3]

Returning to Ulithi on 1 October 1944, Houston and her task group steamed five days later for an operation into the western Pacific, with airstrikes against Okinawa on 10 October. Two days later, the task force moved toward Formosa.[3]

The Battle of Formosa, consisted of Grumman F6F Hellcat fighter sweeps which were intercepted by airborne Japanese aircraft and anti-aircraft fire. Japanese forces retaliated with land-based air attacks against the fleet and Houston claimed four aircraft shot down on 12 October. The following day USS Canberra was hit by an aerial torpedo and Houston took over her station. On 14 October, Houston and other ships endured another air raid claiming three of the attacking twin-engined torpedo bombers, but a fourth aircraft's torpedo hit her forward engine room flooding all four machinery spaces and causing the loss of propulsive power.

During the night Boston took her in tow for retirement to Ulithi. Houston continued with damage control work including jettisoning 122 tons of topside equipment, throughout the fifteenth and the morning of the sixteenth. By noon of the sixteenth, all second deck compartments were dry and several third deck compartments had been made watertight and she was riding easily in tow, now from the fleet tug, Pawnee.

Second torpedo strike on Houston.

Late that afternoon, a Japanese airstrike from Formosa, struck Houston directly on her stern with another torpedo, parallel to her No.2 shaft, flooding her hangar and setting fire to the starboard fuel tank for her scout planes. Ten men were blown over the side by the explosion. Of these, six were killed and the others wounded, one man was killed and six more wounded on board by falling debris.[4]

Evacuating all non-essential crew to the escorting ships, the damage control parties were able to keep Houston afloat. The Japanese believed "Cripple Division I" was the remnants of a Task Force 38 (TF 38) and Admiral William F. Halsey hoped to lure them into an attack to finish off the two damaged cruisers.[3] Part of the Japanese fleet did sortie from the Inland Sea, Japanese home islands, but after air attack, returned to port.

Houston and Canberra were now out of range of Japanese land-based aircraft, and they arrived at Ulithi on 27 October. After temporary repairs, Houston proceeded to Manus Island, and a floating dry dock to begin more substantial repairs, arriving there on 20 December. She steamed first to Pearl Harbor then to New York Navy Yard, due to insufficient repair capacity available on the West Coast and arrived in New York on 24 March 1945.[3]



A H Vedel onboard the USS Houston 1946

After extensive work in New York, Houston steamed out of New York harbor on 11 October 1945. Following refresher training in the Caribbean Sea, she took part in training exercises from Newport, Rhode Island. She steamed on 16 April 1946 for an extended goodwill tour of European and African ports, visiting cities in Scandinavia (Oslo, Gothenburg, Stockholm and Kopenhagen), the Benelux (Antwerpen, Rotterdam), Portugal, Italy, and Egypt.[3]

Houston returned to the US on 14 December 1946 and engaged in training and readiness operations until 17 May 1947, when she steamed with Cruiser Division 12 (CruDiv 12) for a Mediterranean Sea voyage.[3]


Returning to Philadelphia on 16 August 1947, Houston was decommissioned on 15 December 1947, and then was placed in reserve for over a decade, and then finally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 March 1959 and scrapped.[3] Her nameplate is on display at the Freedom Park (Omaha, Nebraska).


Houston received three battle stars for World War II service.[3]



  1. ^ /47 refers to the length of the gun in terms of calibers. A /47 gun is 47 times long as it is in bore diameter.


  1. ^ a b c Friedman 1980, p. 119.
  2. ^ Hornfischer, James D. (2006). Ship of ghosts: the story of the USS Houston, FDR's legendary lost cruiser, and the epic saga of her survivors. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-80390-7. OCLC 69680190.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Houston III (CL-81)". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. 20 July 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015.
  4. ^ War damage report 53 USS Houston (CL-81) at


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

External links[edit]