Tag Archives: uss alaska

The Devils’ 5-inchers

Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. 80-G-K-3037

Here we see a great image of one of the six twin Mark 32 Mod 4 5″/38 caliber mounts aboard USS Alaska (CB-1), one of the only two operational battlecruisers (though termed just “large cruisers”) ever to serve in the U.S. Navy. The gun’s lookout is Corporal Osborne Cheek, and in the local control position as mount captain is Platoon Sergeant George W. Ewell. Note the local control ring sight and the binoculars and sound powered telephones worn by Ewell. If the ranks sound odd, that’s because they are not Navy GMs or strikers, but Marines.

Since the days of Tun Tavern, Marines often manned naval guns aboard the ships they were assigned. WWII battleships, carriers, and cruisers were no different. Typically each battleship had one 5-inch mount manned by Marines, as well as other mounts.

As noted by the USS North Carolina museum, the ship’s 84-86 man detachment formed the 7th Division in the Gunnery Department and were very busy.

“The Marine Detachment was in the Gunnery Department. The Marines stood lookout watch and in battle manned 20mm and (provided officers in two) 40mm mounts. (They also manned a 5-inch mount early in the ship’s career.) The Marines also furnished twenty-four hour orderly services to the captain and the executive officer. In port the Marines were responsible for the security of the ship. The Marines helped with provisioning the ship and taking on ammunition. All Marines were trained in ship to shore operations, so in addition to helping with the security of the ship in port, we were prepared to be a landing force when necessary. This was necessary near the end of the war when all Marines in our battle group transferred at sea to attack transports and went into Yokosuka, Japan. This preceded the signing of the peace treaty by several days. The Marine officers stood top gunnery watches, officer of the deck and junior officer of the deck watches, and regularly assisted in summary and general courts martials acting either as the prosecuting or defending officer.” -Captain William Romm, USMC, Marine Detachment North Carolina

When the Navy recommissioned the Iowa-class battleships in the early 1980s, the det was smaller, typically platoon-sized, but they still dedicated a 14-man gun crew to control a designated Mk28 5-inch mount, typically marked with an EGA.

As noted in the below video aboard USS Wisconsin, now a museum ship, the MARDET would rotate between manning their 5-incher, manning the ship’s 8 .50-cal M2 single mounts, and serving with the ship’s reaction force.

Warship Wednesday May 8- Baked Alaska

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out 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.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday,  May 8

CB-1  Large Cruiser “Alaska” off Philadelphia, 30 July 1944
Here we see the lead ship of an odd class of warships, the USS Alaska (CB-1). This ship would have made an impressive World War One batttlecruiser, but she was designed some 20-years too late and was underutilized.

Designed in the late 1930s, she was authorized under the Fleet Expansion Act on 19 July 1940. These ships were never intended to be battleships, but instead just really big cruisers with 9x 12-inch guns (most heavy cruisers only had 8-inch guns) and a standard displacement of 29,000-tons. Her mission was to mix it up with such large overgrown cruisers as the German Deutschland-class pocket battleships, the twin 29,000 ton/9×11-inch gunned Scharnhorst class large cruisers, the 18,000-ton Admiral Hipper class and the huge 15,000-ton Japanese Mogami/Tone class. Her overall layout was similar to the South Dakota class battleships only smaller (or alternatively similar to a scaled-up Baltimore class heavy cruiser) using the same below-deck machinery as the Essex-class aircraft carriers

Laid down ten days after Pearl Harbor, where a number of battleships that were more heavily armored than this compromise cruiser design hit the bottom, no one really knew what to do with this ship. This delayed her commissioning until the last half of 1944, at which point all of the Mogami, Tone, Scharnhorst, and Deutschland class pocket battleships had been withdrawn or sunk.

Without a mission, Alaska found herself as a fast carrier escort where her  102 20/40/127mm AAA guns helped keep kamikazes at bay and her 12-inch main battery could be used on shore targets if needed.

She served in 1945 off Iwo and Okinawa then was placed in reserve status and decommissioned in February 1947 after less than three years service. Her sisterhip USS Guam was completed September 1944 and only served for 11 months in WWII while the follow-on ships Hawaii, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Samoa were never finished (and indeed the last three were never even laid down). Hawaii was broken up on the ways when over 80% complete and her machinery was cannibalized and placed in storage for the Alaska and Guam.

In 1960, along with the six mothballed  North Carolina and South Dakota class battleships, the Alaska and Guam were disposed of. Big gun ships in an age of missile armed boats seemingly obsolete. Both of these large cruisers were scrapped.

Outboard profile of USS Alaska (CB-1) in 1944. Camouflage paint scheme is USN Measure 32 1D


29,771 tons
34,253 tons (full load)
Length:     808 ft 6 in (246.43 m) overall
Beam:     91 ft 9.375 in (28.0 m)
Draft:  27 ft 1 in (8.26 m) (mean) 31 ft 9.25 in (9.68 m) (maximum)
Propulsion:     4-shaft General Electric steam turbines, double-reduction gearing, 8 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
150,000 shp (112 MW)
Speed:     31.4 knots (58.2 km/h; 36.1 mph)  to 33 knots (61 km/h; 38 mph)
Range:     12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km) at 15 knots (28 km/h)
Complement:     1,517–1,799–2,251

9 x 12″/50 caliber Mark 8 guns(3×3)
12 x 5-inch (127 mm)/38 caliber dual-purpose guns[4] (6×2)
56 ×40 mm (1.57 in) Bofors (14×4)
34 × 20mm Oerlikon (34×1)

Main side belt: 9″ gradually thinning to 5″
Armor deck: 3.8–4.0″
Weather (main) deck: 1.40″
Splinter (third) deck: 0.625″
Barbettes: 11–13
Turrets: 12.8″ face, 5″ roof, 5.25–6″ side and 5.25″ rear
Conning tower:10.6″ with 5″ roof
Aircraft carried:     4× OS2U Kingfisher or SC Seahawk

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