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The United States Navy began building a series of battlecruisers in the 1920s, more than a decade after their slower and less heavily armed armored cruisers had been rendered obsolete by the Royal Navy's Invincible-class battlecruisers. Construction of these ships was abandoned under the terms of an armaments limitation treaty, though two were completed as aircraft carriers. The US Navy subsequently ordered six "large cruisers"—which are often considered battlecruisers by historians—in 1940, of which only two entered service.

At first unconvinced of the importance of the superior speed of the British battlecruisers, the US Navy changed its position after evaluating the new type of ship in fleet exercises and Naval War College wargames, and after the Japanese acquisition of four Kongō-class battlecruisers in the early 1910s. The Secretary of the Navy initially refused the General Board's suggested procurement of several battlecruisers,[1] but fleet exercises revealed that the Navy lacked forces that could effectively find and track an enemy fleet in any weather, and a consensus gradually emerged that battlecruisers would be ideal for this role. Battlecruisers were effective when concentrating their fire on an enemy fleet's leading ships, as the Japanese armored cruisers had done to the Russians at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. Another role envisioned was tracking down and destroying enemy commerce raiders. British experience during the Battle of the Falkland Islands in late 1914 and the Battle of Dogger Bank the following year, where British battlecruisers caught and destroyed German armored cruisers, confirmed all these capabilities.

So when Congress authorized a large naval building program in 1916, six Lexington-class battlecruisers were included. None were completed before the arms-limiting Washington Naval Treaty was ratified in 1922; four were broken up on the slipway and two were converted into aircraft carriers.[2] The treaty forestalled any further development of battlecruisers for the next decade and a half, but a number of countries experimented with "cruiser-killer" ships in the late 1930s that were designed to destroy the post-London Naval Treaty heavy cruisers. These designs were formally designated as battlecruisers by the Dutch and Soviets and as large cruisers by the Japanese and Americans, but all were roughly equivalent and all were commonly called battlecruisers. The US Navy's main impetus for the Alaska class was the threat posed by Japanese cruisers raiding its lines of communication in the event of war. Heavy cruisers were also the most likely surface threat to aircraft carriers making independent raids, so a cruiser-killer was also an ideal carrier escort.[3] Reports of a Japanese equivalent[note 1] reinforced the Navy's desire for these ships. Two were commissioned in time to serve during the last year of World War II, but were decommissioned two years after the war.[5][6]


Main guns The number and type of the main battery guns
Armor Waterline belt thickness
Displacement Ship displacement at full load
Propulsion Number of shafts, type of propulsion system, and top speed generated
Service The dates work began and finished on the ship and its ultimate fate
Laid down The date the keel began to be assembled
Launched The date the ship was launched
Commissioned The date the ship was commissioned

Lexington class

see caption

A 1922 painting by Louise Larned depicting the definitive design of the Lexington class, with eight 16-inch guns and two funnels

The design of the Lexington-class battlecruisers was approved on 30 June 1916 and six were planned as part of the massive 1916 building program, but their construction was repeatedly postponed in favor of escort ships and anti-submarine vessels.[7] The original design mounted ten 14-inch (356 mm) and sixteen 5-inch (127 mm) guns on a lightly armored hull with a maximum speed of 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph). The General Board regarded the design's firepower as inadequate and took the opportunity offered by the postponement to order a redesign to improve the ships' armament to include eight 16-inch (406 mm) and sixteen 6-inch (152 mm) guns. After the Americans entered World War I in April 1917, the Royal Navy furnished more information from its analyses of the Battle of Jutland, in which three British battlecruisers were destroyed by magazine explosions, and provided detailed information on the heavily armored design of the Admiral-class battlecruisers then under construction. The General Board then re-evaluated the design and greatly increased the armor protection, at the cost of reducing the maximum speed to 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph). Anti-torpedo bulges, additional torpedo bulkheads and a general increase in armor thicknesses increased the design's beam by 11 feet (3.4 m) and increased its displacement by over 7,000 long tons (7,100 t).[8]

While four of the ships were eventually cancelled and scrapped on their slipways to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty,[9] Lexington and Saratoga, the two most advanced ships, were converted into the United States' first fleet carriers. In World War II, Lexington conducted several raids on Japanese bases before being sunk during the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942.[10] Saratoga sank the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryūjō during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons three months later, then supported a number of American operations in the Pacific before being attached to the British Eastern Fleet for operations in the Indian Ocean. Though she was torpedoed twice, Saratoga survived the war, and was destroyed as a target ship during Operation Crossroads, a series of atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in mid-1946.[11]

Ship Main guns Armor Displacement Propulsion Service
Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
USS Lexington (CV-2, ex-CC-1) 8 × 16 in (406 mm)[12] 7 in (178 mm)[12] 44,638 long tons
(45,354 t)[9]
4 screws, turbo-electric,
33 kn (61 km/h; 38 mph)[12]
8 January 1921[9] 3 October 1925[10] 14 December 1927[10] Sunk during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 8 May 1942[10]
USS Constellation (CC-2) 8 August 1920[9] Cancelled 17 August 1923[9] and sold for scrap[13]
USS Saratoga (CV-3, ex-CC-3) 25 September 1920[9] 7 April 1925[11] 16 November 1927[11] Sunk as a target ship, 25 July 1946[11]
USS Ranger (CC-4) 23 June 1921[9] Cancelled 17 August 1923[9] and sold for scrap, 8 November 1923[14]
USS Constitution (CC-5) 25 September 1920[9] Cancelled 17 August 1923[9] and sold for scrap[15]
USS United States (CC-6) 25 September 1920[9] Cancelled 17 August 1923[9] and sold for scrap, 25 October 1923[16]

Alaska class


Aerial view of Guam on 13 November 1944

The Alaska-class cruisers were six very large cruisers ordered on 9 September 1940.[17] They were known, popularly and by historians, as "battlecruisers",[18][19] although the Navy discouraged describing them as such and gave them the hull symbol for large cruisers (CB). All were named after territories or insular areas of the United States, unlike battleships, generally named for states, or cruisers, named for cities.[note 2] Initial design work for a "cruiser-killer" began in 1938, although the design was not finalized until June 1941. Of the six ships ordered in September 1940,[20] only three were laid down; two of these were completed,[21] and the third's construction was suspended on 16 April 1947 when she was 84% complete.[22] Alaska and Guam served for the last year of World War II as bombardment ships and fast carrier escorts. Once the two ships reached Bayonne, New Jersey in late 1945 and early 1946, they never left port again.[23][24] Numerous plans to convert Hawaii into a guided-missile cruiser or a large command ship in the years after the war were fruitless, and she was sold for scrap in 1959, two years before her sisters.[25]

Ship Main guns Armor Displacement Propulsion Service
Laid down Launched Commissioned Fate
USS Alaska (CB-1) 9 × 12 in (305 mm)[26] 9 inches (229 mm)[26] 34,253 long tons
(34,803 t)[26]
4 screws, steam turbines
33 kn (61 km/h; 38 mph)[26]
17 December 1941[27] 15 August 1943[27] 17 June 1944[27] Sold for scrap, 30 June 1961[28]
USS Guam (CB-2) 2 February 1942[28] 12 November 1943[28] 17 September 1944[28] Sold for scrap, 24 May 1961[29]
USS Hawaii (CB-3) 20 December 1943[26] 3 November 1945[26] N/A Sold for scrap, 15 April 1959[29]
USS Philippines (CB-4) Cancelled 24 June 1943, before construction began[30]
USS Puerto Rico (CB-5)
USS Samoa (CB-6)

See also


  1. Jane's Fighting Ships thought that this battlecruiser of the mythical Chichibu class would have six 12-inch guns and 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph) speed packed into a 15,000-long-ton (15,000 t) ship.[4]
  2. The Territories of Alaska and Hawaii were admitted to the Union as the forty-ninth and fiftieth states in 1959.


  1. Hone, pp. 8–11
  2. Hone, pp. 11–14
  3. Friedman, p. 288
  4. McMurtrie, p. 292
  5. Friedman, pp. 288, 291
  6. Garzke & Dulin, pp. 185, 187
  7. Friedman 1984, pp. 88, 90
  8. Hone, pp. 14–28
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 Gardiner & Gray, p. 119
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "Lexington". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Naval History & Heritage Command (NH&HC). Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 "Saratoga". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. NH&HC. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Hone, p. 25
  13. "Lexington Class (CC-1 through CC-6)". NH&HC. 26 February 2004. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  14. "Ranger". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. NH&HC. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  15. "USS Constitution (CC-5), 1918 Program – construction cancelled in 1923". NH&HC. 20 February 2000. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  16. "United States". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. NH&HC. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  17. Friedman, p. 301
  18. Garzke & Dulin, p. 179
  19. Silverstone, p. 433
  20. Friedman, pp. 288–301
  21. "Alaska Class (CB-1 through CB-6), 1941 Building Program". NH&HC. 26 March 2001. Retrieved 15 April 2012. 
  22. "Hawaii". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. NH&HC. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  23. "Alaska". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. NH&HC. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  24. "Guam". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. NH&HC. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  25. Whitley, pp. 278–79
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 26.5 Whitley, p. 276
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Garzke & Dulin, p. 185
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Garzke & Dulin, p. 187
  29. 29.0 29.1 Whitley, p. 279
  30. Garzke & Dulin, p. 190


Further reading

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