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90 years ago, on April 25, 1929, USS Pensacola (CL/CA-29), name ship of the Pensacola-class cruisers, was launched.

Despite their reputation in WoWs and being outclassed by many of their successors, their service history demonstrated that they were anything but fragile, and why they are one of my favorite class of warships.

The Pensacola class was the USN's first set of so-called "treaty cruisers", as the Washington Naval Treaty limited their tonnage to a maximum of 10000 long ton and their main armament caliber to 8-in./203 mm. Consequently, although they retained a fairly sizable battery of 10 203mm guns (arranged in an ABXY pattern with the A and Y turrets having 2 barrels while the B and X turrets had 3), the hull was of welded construction and the armor belt was only 2.5 to 4 inches thick (64-102 mm). This meant that her vitals were vulnerable to enemy 8-in. shells and in fact, because of the fact that many 152mm gun-wielding light cruisers had similar armor thicknesses, they were designated as light cruisers until July 1931.

Due to the unusual main battery layout (most other ships with similar gun layouts like the Nevada-class battleships had the larger turrets below the smaller ones), the class was top-heavy, prone to excessive rolling, and had low freeboard, requiring a rework in the 1930s which modified the hull and superstructure to eliminate the rolling.

It's worth noting that the Pensacola class was the first in the line of a USN heavy cruiser evolution that culminated in the Baltimore class by the end of World War 2, and generally speaking each class had greater armor protection, AA, and general sea-handling and fire control abilities than the previous one. (I originally discovered this while researching for the launch days of USS Chicago (CA-29) and USS New Orleans (CA-32), but unfortunately their histories and those of their sisters were simply too much for me to write up in time before their launch anniversaries had passed). The order of evolution went as follows:

  • Pensacola class
  • Northampton class
  • Portland class
  • New Orleans class (last of the treaty cruisers)
  • Wichita (one of a kind)
  • Baltimore class

Much like most of the other USN heavy cruisers classes, Pensacola and her older sister, USS Salt Lake City (CA-25) saw some of the heaviest fighting during the war. Yet, unlike many of the other classes (The Northampton class lost half of the six ships in their class to air and ship-based torpedoes, all 3 (of 7 total built) of the sunk New Orleans-class cruisers were lost at the Battle of Savo Island, and the Portland-class cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35) was sunk by the Japanese submarine I-58 and her crew and captain suffered terrible fates), both ships survived to the end of the war, albeit not totally unscathed. Nevertheless, they proved themselves in some of the toughest surface engagements of the war, and far hardier fighters than what their reputation in WoWs may belie.

Pensacola:

  • 13 battle stars
  • Nicknamed the "Grey Ghost" by the Tokyo Rose
  • From 1930 to the Pearl Harbor attack, she traveled all across the South American coast, from Hawaii to New York, while participating in various fleet exercises
  • In 1940, she was one of six ships to receive the new RCA CXAM radar.
  • From late November 1941 to early February 1942, she was the primary escort fleet for the so-called "Pensacola convoy". which was originally intended to reinforce the defenses in the Philippines, but eventually was diverted to the Australian theater, where many of the ferried units proved important to the defense of the region throughout the entire war.
  • In mid-late February 1942, she and the ships of Carrier Task Force 11 (TF 11), centered around USS Lexington (CV-2), repelled 2 waves of Japanese planes off of Bougainville Island, the group shooting down 17 of the 18 attackers total.
  • From March 6 to April 8 1942, she accompanied USS Lexington and USS Yorktown (CV-5) as they launched multiple raids on Japanese installations and shipping in the South Pacific, including at New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea.
  • At the Battle of Midway, Pensacola broke off from USS Enterprise's (CV-6) defensive screen to assist in fighting off the second Japanese air attack wave on USS Yorktown, shooting down 4 torpedo bombers.
  • In early October 1942, she joined USS Hornet (CV-8) and USS Enterprise during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands which occurred in late October 1942, once again providing AA escort to the carriers as well as rescuing 188 survivors from Hornet in the aftermath and continued to accompany Enterprise as she conducted air operations around Guadalcanal.
  • During the Battle of Tassafaronga in late November 1942, a battle in which a USN radar-assisted ambush went horribly wrong thanks to inexperience with radar and Japanese skill in night-time attacks (especially torpedo attacks), Pensacola assisted in sinking the IJN Yugumo-class destroyer Takanami (although most of the damage is attributed to the New Orleans-class USS Minneapolis CA-36). However, she took a torpedo hit which disabled 3 gun turrets, flooded her engine room, ruptured her oil tank, and started a massive fire which was only prevented from dooming the ship through a skillful 12-hour effort of damage control by her crew. Her casualties numbered 125 dead and 68 injured.
  • Borrowing a trick from a certain Dutch minesweeper, she was able to eventually get emergency repairs from USS Vestal (AR-4) and sail for Pearl Harbor, where she spent until early November 1943 in repairs.
  • From November 1943 until the end of the war, she conducted hard-hitting AA and shore bombardment operations in the following areas:
    • Betio and Tarawa
    • Marshall Islands
    • Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls
    • Caroline Islands
    • Matsuwa, Kuriles
    • Wake Island
    • Cape Engaño
    • Iwo Jima (where she took 6 hits from Japanese shore batteries, killing 17 and injuring 119)
    • Saipan
    • Tinian
    • Okinawa (where she dodged 2 submarine-launched torpedoes)
  • Survived both bombs at Operation Crossroads, although to be eventually sunk in 1948 as a target ship off of Washington coast

Her older sister, Salt Lake City, had an equally impressive list of accolades:

  • 11 battle stars
  • Navy Unit Commendation for her service during the Aleutian campaign, in particular the Battle of the Komandorski Islands in late March 1943
  • (unofficially) participated in more combat engagements than any other USN vessel in the WW2 Pacific fleet
  • John Wayne acted as the captain of a fictional ship sharing her nickname in the 1965 film In Harm's Way
  • Like Pensacola, she traveled all across the Pacific and the Americas for exercises during the pre-war era
  • From the time of the Pearl Harbor attack until early October, she escorted USN Enterprise and her task force during the first American offensives of the war, including the Doolittle Raid, the February 1942 airstrikes on various eastern Marshall Islands (including one attack in which she downed 2 Japanese planes)
  • During the Battle of Cape Esperance in October 1942, Salt Lake City's float plane caught fire while trying to launch, but inadvertently caused the Japanese force sent to bombard Henderson field to reveal their position, allowing the US (with some help from fortuitous communication failures) to successfully ambush the Japanese force, resulting in an American victory which provided a significant morale boost after the debacle at Savo Island. (To the credit of the Japanese force, however, they did almost destroy Henderson field 2 days later and successfully protected their reinforcement convoy)
  • During the Battle of the Komandorski Islands, which earned her the Navy Unit Commendation, she, the Omaha-class cruiser USS Richmond (CL-9), the Benson-class destroyers Bailey (DD-492) and Coghlan (606), and the Farragut-class destroyers Dale (DD-353) and Monaghan (DD-354) fought a larger Japanese force consisting of the heavy cruisers Nachi and Maya, the light cruisers Tama and Abukuma, and the destroyers Wakaba, Hatsushimo, Ikazuchi, and Inazuma to a standstill in one of the last purely gun-based duels between surface combatants in naval history. Although the outgunned USN force survived ultimately by luck, they did manage to turn back the Japanese force and end any further attempts by Japanese surface forces to resupply their Aleutian garrisons. Salt Lake City notably survived 6 hits from Maya during the fight, and managed to deplete her supply of AP shells after firing 806 times, resulting in her firing 26 high-capacity shells as well, and at some points during the battle her crew literally carried ammunition from the forward magazines to the rear turrets in order to keep firing.
  • From the end of the above battle to the end of the war, she followed Pensacola's footsteps in bombardment and AA escort duties in the following areas:
    • Wake Island
    • Rabaul
    • Betio
    • Marshall Islands
    • Caroline Islands Archilpelago
    • Saipan
    • Philippines Islands
    • Iwo Jima
    • Okinawa
  • Like Pensacola, she was sunk as a target ship off of the Southern California coast after surviving both A-bombs during Operation Crossroads

Although they may have had numerous design problems and a reputation for fragility both historically and in WoWs, their service records have undoubtedly shown that Pensacola and her sister were some of the hardest-fighting ships in the Pacific theater, and they undoubtedly did their duty (and sometimes even above and beyond) in the Pacific theater of World War 2

And now for the obligatory you-know-what:

Spoiler

Happy (late, for Salt Lake City) birthday to Pensacola and Salt Lake City, two of the grittiest and most tenacious heavy cruisers of the USN!

1985680699_SaltLakeCityVs.Crossroads.thumb.jpg.a993580e74dac08b1da370354151b3cd.jpg__pensacola_warship_girls_r_drawn_by_togenagi_futaba__sample-6c5a96622b0998fcc20cbcaa5774383b.thumb.jpg.a4d07e9108fea717df238cedfc62fb95.jpg__salt_lake_city_warship_girls_r_drawn_by_togenagi_futaba__sample-f9a416ee1489c40972a869ee8ee450c4.thumb.jpg.5e33d79c3af88d68f524703b34630401.jpg__salt_lake_city_azur_lane_drawn_by_zi_se__sample-37f86789871df8fc3a934170f74df9a8.thumb.jpg.4b9309ae2973391c1642a22bd8057b49.jpg__pensacola_azur_lane_drawn_by_zi_se__3af6f179ca572cab75ffbfd34f551ef7.thumb.png.6b36d4a109dad2ac6f6e672a42c77270.png__salt_lake_city_victory_belles_drawn_by_salmon88__ff481504c45a1add8a560ef4be891414.thumb.jpg.31d82e7593006e4120f79c0b2441d66a.jpg

Off-topic: if you're curious as to why I like the class so much (in fact, I place them probably second only to the Pennsylvania class), feel free to read below (or if you want to see the link to a little song I wrote a whiles back)

Spoiler

Admittedly, although I was somewhat of a naval enthusiast before I entered WoWs, I had never heard of the Pensacola-class before then, and when I first entered, Pensacola was always treated derisively. I expected the worst when I first got her.

Yet she was a pleasant surprise. As long as you didn't sail carelessly, she could dance around shells for days and hit incredibly hard—cruiser duels and even sometimes duels against Kongos were some of my favorite things to do in her. I think the moment when I mastered her was when I truly began to climb out of potato-dom; there are just so many tactics she teaches.

My success in her inspired me to look up her history (and that of her sister). The fact that, although she was the first of the treaty cruisers and thus she and her sister were outclassed by a lot of ships, they had fought through all those weaknesses regardless and even tanked 2 atomic bombs greatly impressed me—they are proof that having an older design doesn't preclude a warship from excelling in combat through a combination of luck and skill. 

It's a just a shame that they are frequently overlooked or derided as Pepsi-cola in WoWs. They deserve better

On a side note, almost exactly 1 year ago, I wrote this: 

 

 

  • Cool 5

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@Avenge_December_7

Nice article as always :fish_cute_2:

Just want to ask if you have any good online sources for the battle of the Komandorski Islands? I can't buy books at the moment and Wikipedia has a really bad article on it, so if there are other places to find info on it I will take it. 

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2 hours ago, MS406france1940 said:

@Avenge_December_7

Nice article as always :fish_cute_2:

Just want to ask if you have any good online sources for the battle of the Komandorski Islands? I can't buy books at the moment and Wikipedia has a really bad article on it, so if there are other places to find info on it I will take it. 

Thank you for your kind words :cap_like:

As for online sources, here're some I found:

Obviously, some sources have more useful information than others.

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Damn. Never though they were such busy ships. Nor did I know SLC and an Omaha squared up against a Myoko and Takao Class CA and lived. Impressive to say the least.

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