Highlights from Osprey’s website: “Designed and produced under the regulations of the Washington Naval Treaty, the heavy cruisers of the Pensacola, Northampton, Portland, New Orleans and Wichita classes were exercises in compromise. While they possessed very heavy armament – the Pensacolas, for example, carrying a main battery of ten 8” guns – this came at the cost of protection – armor was the same thickness as a gun cruiser, and incapable of protecting the vessels from enemy 8” fire. As the classes evolved, these flaws began to be corrected, with the main battery being reduced, and increased protection being added to the vital areas of the ship. Despite these drawbacks, the pre-war heavy cruiser classes served with distinction throughout World War II.”
This volume does a good job of informing the largely uninitiated (that would be this reviewer) about the difficulties of designing these large warships and the consequences of the decisions made.
When battleships were limited by the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922, heavy gun cruisers were built to substitute for them. Later, the London Naval Conference of 1930 limited cruisers to a maximum of 10,000 tons and 8 inch guns. Readers of the book will find out that the US Navy stayed within these limitations, sometimes below the allowances, while the Imperial Japanese Navy (INJ) did not bother to be so scrupulous, giving them an advantage in the hostilities to come.
Originally thought of as scouts for the battle fleet, being fast and equipped with embarked float planes for over the horizon reconnaissance, the damage done to the US’s battleships at Pearl Harbor thrust more direct combat duties upon this class of ships. Besides the role of escorting America’s remaining striking force, the carriers, these heavy cruisers were engaged in close combat with the INJ elements around Guadalcanal and the Solomons early in the war, frequently at night. Lacking effective torpedoes or gun control radar, the crews of the ships like the USS Vincennes, Houston and Chicago fought valiantly and paid the price for interwar deal making.
The author gave a clear, understandable narrative of the environment in which the ships were designed and built. Each class is then described from lead ship launch to war time upgrades and eventual retirement. The contemporaneous photographs and illustrations clarify the text and lend images to an interesting story.
In my experience, Osprey books always have at least one thing new for me regardless of the topic. This book is no exception. I recommend it.
Thanks to Osprey for providing the book for review and to IPMS for making it available to me to do so.
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