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USS Houston (CA-30)
USS Houston
USS Houston off San Diego, California, in October 1935.
Laid down: 1 May 1928
Launched: 7 September 1929
Commissioned: 17 June 1930
Nickname: "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast"
Honors and
2 × battle stars, 1 × Presidential Unit Citation
Fate: Sunk in the Battle of Sunda Strait, 1 March 1942
General characteristics
Class & type: Northampton-class heavy cruiser
Displacement: 9,200 tons
Length: 570 ft (170 m) (waterline); 600 ft 3 in (182.96 m) (overall)
Beam: 66 ft 1 in (20.14 m)
Draft: 16 ft 6 in (5.03 m) (mean); 23 ft (7.0 m) (maximum)
Propulsion: 4 × Parsons geared turbines,
8 × White-Forster boilers,
4 × shafts,
107,000 ihp (80,000 kW)
Speed: 32.7 kn (37.6 mph; 60.6 km/h)
Range: 13,000 nmi (15,000 mi; 24,000 km) @ 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Capacity: Fuel oil: 1,500 tons
Complement: 1,100
Officers: 105
Enlisted: 995[1]
Armament: 9 × 8 in (200 mm)/55 cal guns (3x3), 8 × 5 in (130 mm)/25 cal AA guns, 32 × 40 mm AA guns, 27 × 20 mm AA cannons
  • Belt: 3 in (76 mm)
  • Deck: 2 in (51 mm) + 1 in (25 mm)
  • Gunhouses: 1.5 in (38 mm)
Aircraft carried: 4 × SOC Seagull scout-observation seaplanes
Aviation facilities: 2 × catapults

USS Houston (CA-30) (originally designated CL-30), nicknamed the "Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast", was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser of the United States Navy. She was the second Navy ship to bear the name "Houston".

She was launched by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia on 7 September 1929, sponsored by Elizabeth Holcombe (daughter of Oscar Holcombe, then-mayor of Houston, Texas), and commissioned as CL-30 on 17 June 1930, Captain Jesse Bishop Gay commanding. Her designation was changed to CA-30 on 1 July 1931.

Inter-war period

After conducting a shakedown cruise in the $3, Houston returned to the United States in October 1930. She then visited her namesake city, and joined the fleet at Hampton Roads. Steaming to New York, the cruiser departed on 10 January 1931 for the Pacific, and after stopping at the Panama Canal and the Hawaiian Islands arrived Manila on 22 February. Houston became flagship of the Asiatic Fleet upon arrival, and for the next year participated in training operations in the Far East.

With the outbreak of war between China and Japan in 1931, Houston got underway on 31 January for Shanghai to protect American interests. She landed Marine and Navy gun platoons to help stabilize the situation and remained in the area, with the exception of a good will cruise to the Philippines in March and one to Japan in May 1933, until being relieved by Augusta on 17 November 1933. The cruiser sailed to San Francisco to join the Scouting Force, and for the years preceding World War II participated in Fleet Problems and maneuvers in the Pacific.

During this period, Houston made several special cruises. President Franklin Roosevelt came aboard on 1 July 1934 at Annapolis, Maryland, for a cruise of almost 12,000 nmi (14,000 mi; 22,000 km) through the Caribbean and to Portland, Oregon, by way of Hawaii. Houston also carried Assistant Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Roosevelt on a tour of the Hawaiian Islands, returning to San Diego on 15 May 1935.

After a short cruise in Alaskan waters, the cruiser returned to Seattle and embarked the President again on 3 October for a vacation cruise to the Cerros Islands, Magdalena Bay, Cocos Islands, and Charleston, South Carolina. Houston also celebrated the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco on 28 May 1937, and carried President Roosevelt for a Fleet Review at the same city on 14 July 1938. Roosevelt's 24-day cruise aboard Houston concluded on 9 August 1938 at Pensacola, Florida.[2]

Houston became flagship of the U.S. Fleet on 19 September, when Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch brought his flag aboard, and maintained that status until 28 December, when she returned to the Scouting Force. Continuing the routine of training exercises, she got underway for Fleet Problem XX, on 4 January 1939 from San Francisco, sailed to Norfolk and Key West, and there embarked the President and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William D. Leahy, for the duration of the problem. She arrived in Houston on 7 April for a brief visit before returning to Seattle, where she arrived on 30 May.

Assigned as flagship Hawaiian Detachment, the cruiser arrived Pearl Harbor after her post-overhaul shakedown on 7 December 1939, and continued in that capacity until returning to Mare Island on 17 February 1940. Sailing to Hawaii, she departed for the Philippine Islands on 3 November. Arriving Manila on 19 November, she became flagship of Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander Asiatic Fleet.

Shortly before the war in the Pacific broke out, five quad mount 1.1 caliber antiaircraft cannons were shipped to Cavite Naval Yard in the Philippines of which the naval yard fitted four to the Houston for added air defense protection.[3]

World War II

As the war crisis deepened, Admiral Hart deposed his fleet in readiness. On the night of the Pearl Harbor attack, Houston got underway from Panay Island with fleet units bound for Darwin, Australia, where she arrived on 28 December 1941 by way of Balikpapan and Surabaya. After patrol duty, she joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) naval force at Surabaya.

Battle of Makassar Strait

Air raids were frequent in the area, and Houston's gunners shot down four planes in the Battle of Bali Sea (also known as the Battle of Makassar Strait) on 4 February 1942 as Admiral Karel Doorman of the Royal Netherlands Navy took his force to engage a Japanese invasion convoy reported to be at Balikpapan. Houston took one hit, disabling her No. 3 turret. Doorman was forced to abandon his advance following the damage to Houston, as well as damage that forced the cruiser USS Marblehead out of the battle area.

Timor Convoy

Houston arrived at Tjilatjap 5 February and stayed until 10 February when she left for Darwin, Australia to escort a convoy carrying troops to reinforce forces already defending Timor. Escorting USAT Meigs, SS Mauna Loa, Portmar and the Tulagi, Houston with the destroyer USS Peary (DD-226) and sloops HMAS Warrego (U73) and HMAS Swan (U74) departed Darwin before two in the morning of 15 February for Koepang. By eleven in the morning the convoy was being shadowed by a Japanese flying boat that dropped some bombs without causing damage before departing. The next morning another shadowing aircraft had taken position and before noon the convoy was attacked by bombers and flying boats in two waves. During the first attack only Mauna Loa suffered slight damage and two casualties, one killed and Houston's fire showed no effects. During the second attack, Houston distinguished herself with a barrage which made her "like a sheet of flame" (Gill quoting Morrison's History of United States Naval Operations in World War II: The Rising Sun in the Pacific, 1931-April 1942, p. 315) shooting down 7 of the 44 planes of the second wave. The convoy continued toward Timor for a few hours with Houston launching a scout plane seeking the enemy position. ABDA suspected the presence of Japanese carriers, an imminent invasion of Timor and a support fleet lying in wait and thus ordered the convoy back to Darwin which it reached before noon on the 18th. Houston and Peary departed later that day to rejoin combat forces with Peary, after being engaged in an anti-submarine operation off Darwin, returning for fuel. Houston thus escaped the Japanese attack on Darwin on 19 February in which Peary, Meigs and Mauna Loa were among the ships sunk and Portmar was forced to beach.[4][5][6]

Battle of the Java Sea

Receiving word that the major Japanese invasion force was approaching Java protected by a formidable surface unit, Admiral Doorman decided to meet and seek to destroy the main convoy. Sailing on 26 February 1942 with the cruisers Houston, HMAS Perth, HNLMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNLMS Java and 10 destroyers, he met the Japanese support force under Admiral Takeo Takagi consisting of four cruisers and 13 destroyers.

In the battle on 27 February 1942, Doorman's forces met the Japanese fleet for the first time in the late afternoon. As Japanese destroyers laid smoke, the cruisers of both fleets opened fire. After one ineffective torpedo attack, the Japanese light cruisers and destroyers launched a second and sank the destroyer HNLMS Kortenaer. HMS Exeter and the destroyer HMS Electra were hit by gunfire, Electra sinking shortly after. At 17:30 Admiral Doorman turned south toward the Java coast, not wishing to be diverted from his main purpose: the destruction of the convoy itself.

The Allied fleet dodged another torpedo attack and followed the coastline, during which time the destroyer HMS Jupiter was sunk, either by mine or internal explosion. The destroyer HMS Encounter was detached to pick up survivors from Kortenaer, and the American destroyers, their torpedoes expended, were ordered back to Surabaya. With no destroyer protection, Doorman's four remaining ships turned north again in a last attempt to stop the invasion of Java.

At 23:00 the same night, the cruisers again encountered the Japanese surface group. On parallel courses the opposing units opened fire, and the Japanese launched a torpedo attack 30 minutes later. De Ruyter and Java, caught in a spread of 12 torpedoes, exploded and sank, carrying their captains and Admiral Doorman down with them.

This battle on 27 February 1942 was the largest surface engagement since the Battle of Jutland in World War I. By the end of the day, two cruisers and 3 destroyers of the ABDA naval force had been sunk, the remaining destroyers had been ordered back to Surabaya, the cruiser Exeter had been damaged and, before his own ship was sunk, Doorman had ordered the cruisers Perth and Houston to retire.

Battle of Sunda Strait

Captain Albert H. Rooks, commanding officer of Houston, c. 1940–1942.

On 28 February 1942, the day after the Battle of the Java Sea, the ABDA cruisers Perth and Houston steamed into Banten Bay. It is believed that they had no knowledge of the Japanese battle fleet, their last intelligence report having stated that the only Japanese warships in the area were 50 miles (43 nmi) away and headed away. It is however possible that they were hoping to damage the Japanese invasion forces there. The two ships were attacked as they approached the bay, but evaded the nine torpedoes launched by destroyer Fubuki.[citation needed]

According to ABDA post-battle reports, the cruisers then reportedly sank one transport and forced three others to beach. It is also possible and viewed in some quarters as more likely, however, that the transports were damaged by "friendly fire" in the form of some of the over 90 Long Lance torpedoes fired at the two ABDA cruisers by Japanese destroyers. A Japanese destroyer squadron blocked Sunda Strait, their means of retreat, and the Japanese heavy cruisers Mogami and Mikuma stood dangerously near. The Houston and Perth could not withdraw. Perth came under fire at 23:36 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. On board the Houston, shells were in short supply in the forward turrets, so the crew manhandled shells from the disabled number three turret to the forward turrets. Houston then fought alone until soon after midnight, when she was struck by a torpedo and began to lose headway. Houston's gunners had scored hits on three different destroyers and sunk a minesweeper, but then suffered three more torpedo explosions in quick succession. Captain Albert Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 00:30 and as the ship came to a stop Japanese destroyers moved in, machine gunning the decks. A few minutes later, Houston rolled over and sank, her ensign still flying. Of the original crew of 1,061 men, 368 survived, including 24 of the 74-man USMC detachment, only to be captured by the Japanese and interned in prison camps.


Commander George S. Rentz, Chaplain of Houston 1940–1942.

Houston's fate was not fully known by the world for almost nine months, and the full story of her last fight was not told until after the war was over and her survivors were liberated from the prison camps. Before then, on 30 May 1942, 1,000 new recruits for the Navy, known as the Houston Volunteers, were sworn in at a dedication ceremony in downtown Houston, to replace those believed lost on USS Houston. On 12 October 1942 the light cruiser Vicksburg (CL-81) then under construction was renamed Houston in honor of the old ship, President Roosevelt declaring:

Our enemies have given us the chance to prove that there will be another USS Houston, and yet another USS Houston if that becomes necessary, and still another USS Houston as long as American ideals are in jeopardy.[7][8]

Captain Rooks received posthumously the Medal of Honor for his actions. Chaplain George S. Rentz, who had surrendered his life jacket to a younger sailor after finding himself in the water, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. He was the only Navy Chaplain to be so honored during World War II.

The crew of USS Houston is honored alongside that of HMAS Perth at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, Australia.



In the movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), CDR Shears (William Holden) explains first he was on the USS Houston when the ship was sunk.


  1. Silverstone, Paul H (1965). US Warships of World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-773-9. 
  2. Crestview, Florida, "President Lands At Pensacola", Okaloosa News-Journal, Friday 12 August 1938, Volume 24, Number 32, page 1.
  3. "Waiting for the Main Attack", Fighting For MacArthur, John Gordon, Naval Institute Press, ISBN 978-1-61251-057-6, p. 67
  4. Gill 1957, pp. 581, 585.
  5. Office Of Naval Intelligence 1943, pp. 36—37.
  6. Masterson 1949, p. 26.
  7. Miller 1985, p. 5.
  8. Hornfischer Ship of Ghosts 2006.


External links

Coordinates: 5°48′45″S 106°7′55″E / 5.8125°S 106.13194°E / -5.8125; 106.13194 This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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