Cruiser? Battleship? Something in between maybe

By looking at the profile of the warship below, you would be likely to think it a late-WWII era U.S. heavy cruiser, perhaps of the big 13,000-ton Oregon City-class or maybe even an example of the hulking 21,000-ton Des Moines-class. Going bigger, she could even be a 45,000-ton North Carolina-class fast battleship.

You would be wrong on all accounts there, buddy.

The below is the Alaska-class large cruiser (naval geeks will fight you to the death if you call her a “battlecruiser”) USS Guam (CB-2) off Trinidad on 13 November 1944 during her shakedown cruise– some 75 years ago this week.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 67519

Guam, the second U.S. Navy warship named after the far-flung strategic territory, commissioned 17 September 1944 and came to WWII much too late to thoroughly prove herself. Armed with nine 12-inch L/50 Mark 8 guns in three triple turrets, the 35,000-ton ship was capable of 33-knots and carried as much as 12-inches of armor. To ward off aircraft, she carried a mix of 102 5-inch, 40mm, and 20mm guns.

She would have been considered a serious dreadnought battlecruiser by Great War terms or even in 1939 but in 1944 was kind of a square peg in a round hole.

Halftone photo of the ship conducting main battery gunnery practice during shakedown off Trinidad, November 1944. Copied from the ship’s wartime cruise book, U.S.S. Guam: Her Story, 1944-1945. NH 90736

With her sister ship, Alaska, Guam joined Task Force 58 in March 1945 and spent her war bombarding Okinawa and fighting off kamikazes.

The “superheavy” Mark 18 AP shells of Guam and her sisters, although fired from 12-inch guns, were capable of a 38,573-yard range and thought to be able to penetrate as much as 18 inches of side armor at 10,000 yards, putting them on par with 14″/50 AP shells. They could fire at a rate of three rounds per minute. Photo caption: Halftone photo of the ship’s bow during main battery gunnery practice, 1944. Copied from the ship’s wartime cruise book, U.S.S. Guam: Her Story, 1944-1945. NH 90740

Decommissioned on 17 February 1947, Guam spent less than 30 months on active duty and was sold for scrap in 1961.

Nonetheless, had she and the rest of the class been afloat in 1941, they no doubt would have written much more in the annals of naval history and surely have shown their value. Further, had they have been better utilized, they would have been popular visitors along the NGFS gun lines off Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s.

But I digress…

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