Warship Wednesday June 17, 2015: Big Paul
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday June 17, 2015: Big Paul
Here we see the Baltimore-class cruiser, USS Saint Paul (CA-73) coming at you bow-on. She was a hard charger who never stopped in 26 years at sea.
When the early shitstorm of 1939 World War II broke out, the U.S. Navy, realized that in the likely coming involvement with Germany in said war– and that country’s huge new 18,000-ton, 8x8inch gunned, 4.1-inches of armor Hipper-class super cruisers– it was outclassed in the big assed heavy cruiser department.
When you add to the fire the fact that the Japanese had left all of the Washington and London Naval treaties behind and were building giant Mogami-class vessels (15,000-tons, 3.9-inches of armor), the writing was on the wall.
That’s where the Baltimore-class came in.
These 24 envisioned ships of the class looked like an Iowa-class battleship in miniature with three triple turrets, twin stacks, a high central bridge, and two masts– and they were (almost) as powerful. Sheathed in a hefty 6 inches of armor belt (and 3-inches of deck armor), they could take a beating if they had to. They were fast, capable of over 30-knots, which meant they could keep pace with the fast new battlewagons they looked so much like as well as the new fleet carriers that were on the drawing board as well.
While they were more heavily armored than Hipper and Mogami, they also had an extra 8-inch tube, mounting 9 8 inch/55 caliber guns whereas the German and Japanese only had 155mm guns (though later picked up 10×8-inchers, thanks for keeping me straight Tom!). A larger suite of AAA guns that included a dozen 5 inch /38 caliber guns in twin mounts and 70+ 40mm and 20mm guns rounded this out.
In short, these ships were deadly to incoming aircraft, could close to the shore as long as there was at least 27-feet of seawater for them to float in and hammer coastal beaches and emplacements for amphibious landings, and take out any enemy surface combatant short of a modern battleship in a one-on-one fight.
Class leader Baltimore was laid down 26 May 1941, just six months before Pearl Harbor and was commissioned 15 April 1943.
Saint Paul, the 6th ship of the class, was laid down at Bethlehem Steel Company at Quincy, Mass on 3 February 1943.
As such, Paul, just the 2nd U.S. Naval ship named for the Minnesota city, was completed late in the war, only being commissioned 17 February 1945.
Whereas the original ships of the class mounted Mk 12 8-inch guns, Saint Paul was completed with the more advanced Mk 15 guns in three 300-ton triple turrets. These long barreled 203mm guns could fire a new, “super-heavy” 335-pound shell out to 30,000 yards and penetrate 10-inches of armor at close ranges. It should be noted that the older cruisers used a 260-pound AP shell.
After shakedown, she was off the coast of Japan in July, getting in the last salvos fired by a major warship on a land target in the war when she plastered the steel works in Kamaishi from just offshore, putting those big new 8-inchers to good use.
Then at the end of the war, a funny thing happened: the five almost new Baltimores that came before Saint Paul were decommissioned and laid up in reserve, whereas CA-73 remained on post. Further, many of the follow-on ships that were to come after her were never ordered, and some of these never completed. In all just 14 Baltimore-class cruisers were built, with Saint Paul arguably seeing the most continuous service.
In Korea, Saint Paul saw hard use and made her 8-inchers a regular hitter, completing her first naval gun fire support on Nov. 19, 1950. It would be far from her last.
Hungnam, Songjin, Inchon, Wonsan, Chongjin, Kosong, et. al. She racked up a steady total of hits on shore targets and picked up some Chinese lead in exchange from shore batteries. In all, Saint Paul earned eight Battle stars for her Korean War service, the hard way.
Much like she fired the last shots into Japan, she also completed the last naval gun mission into Korea, at a Chinese emplacement at on 27 July 1953 at 2159– one minute before the truce took effect.
Still, as after WWII, while most of her sisters took up space on red lead row, she remained in service. Tragically, in 1962, 30 of her crewmen were killed in a turret explosion in peacetime drills.After about 1963, when the Iowas were laid up, her guns and those of the few cruisers still left on active duty were the largest ones available to the fleet. This led to her spending most of her service as either a squadron or fleet flag.
This gave her a chance in 1964 to fill in as the battered cruiser “Old Swayback” in the iconic Otto Preminger/John Wayne film In Harm’s Way
By 1966, she earned a regular spot on the gun line off Vietnam, where she spent most of the next four years, earning another 9 Battlestars for an impressive total of 18 (1 WWII, 8 Korea, 9 RVN).
In the late 60s, as part of Project Gunfighter at Indian Head Naval Ordnance Station, Saint Paul picked up an experimental shell to use in her 8-inchers, a saboted 104mm Long Range Bombardment Ammunition (LRBA) round that had an estimated range of 72,000 yards.
In 1970, Big Paul, using LRBA, made some of the longest gunfire missions in history when she fired on Viet Cong targets some 35 miles away, destroying six structures. At the time, she was the last big-gun heavy cruiser in the United States Navy.
Video of her firing after the intro…
Then, on 30 April 1971, for the first time since 1945, Saint Paul was taken out of commission after three Pacific wars. Only sisterships Chicago and Columbus, who had long before traded in their 8-inchers for Tartar and Talos missiles, lasted longer.
In the end, Saint Paul was stricken from the Naval List on 31 July 1978, and scrapped in 1980.
She was remembered in the USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (SSN-708), the twenty-first Los Angeles-class submarine, in commission from 1984 to 2008.
The USS Saint Paul Association keeps her memory alive.
Her 1,000-pound brass bell is located in St. Paul’s city hall, where the city seems to take good care of it.
Displacement: 14,500 long tons (14,733 t) standard
17,000 long tons (17,273 t) full load
Length: 673 ft. 5 in (205.26 m)
Beam: 70 ft. 10 in (21.59 m)
Height: 112 ft. 10 in (34.39 m) (mast)
Draft: 26 ft. 10 in (8.18 m)
Propulsion: Geared steam turbines with four screws
Speed: 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph)
Complement: 61 officers and 1,085 sailors
Armament: 9 × 8 inch/55 caliber guns (3 × 3)
12 × 5 inch/38 caliber guns (6 × 2)
48 × 40 mm Bofors guns
24 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
Armor: Belt Armor: 6 in (150 mm)
Deck: 3 in (76 mm)
Turrets: 3–6 inches (76–152 mm)
Conning Tower: 8 in (200 mm)
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