Tag Archives: USS South Carolina

Does this cover smell like coffee to you?

Official caption: “U.S. Navy Landing Party. Photographed on board ship, probably at the time of the Vera Cruz incident, circa April 1914.”

Courtesy of Carter Rila, 1986. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 100832

The bluejackets are wearing Marine Corps flannel shirts and khaki trousers, with Dixie Cups (introduced in 1886) that have been dyed with coffee grounds. Among them are a stack of early M1903 Springfield rifles and at least one man is wearing an ammunition belt while most seem to be wearing leggings for shore service.

The ship may be the new dreadnought South Carolina (Battleship No. 26) as she had landed a nearly battalion-strong force to occupy the Mexican port city’s waterfront.

It was certainly a motley look, especially with the Dixie Cups rolled down: 

Vera Cruz Incident, 1914. A landing party of USS SOUTH CAROLINA (BB-26) at Vera Cruz, Mexico, in April 1914. Courtesy of Mr. Earle F. Brookins, Jamestown, N.Y., 1972. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Earle F. Brookins, Jamestown, N.Y., 1972

The fourth South Carolina on the Naval List was constructed at Philadelphia by William Cramp & Sons– ordered just months after HMS Dreadnought joined the Royal Navy– and commissioned on 1 March 1910.

Carrying eight 12″/45s in four twin gun turrets and clad in an armor belt that went a foot thick in places, the 17,000-ton South Carolina and her sistership Michigan were roughly equivalent of heavier Dreadnought, although the British battlewagon carried two extra 12-inchers and could make 21 knots whereas the SoCars were a little slower at 18.5 but could boast a marginally better armor scheme. 

USS MICHIGAN (BB-27) and USS SOUTH CAROLINA (BB-26). Pen and Ink drawing by F. Muller, circa 1907 NH 46272

Just after her shakedown, South Carolina voyaged to Europe and back with the 2d Battleship Division, calling at Cherbourg, Portland, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Kronstadt, and Kiel to let all the players in the Old World know that the New World was hip to the program.

She then spent most of 1913 and 1914 involved in landings in Mexico at Tampico and Vera Cruz as well as Port-au-Prince in Haiti, carrying the Big Stick for America down south.

Her Great War service was limited, spending it mostly in training along the East Coast before escorting a single cross-Atlantic convoy in September 1918.

Obsolete when compared to later battleship construction and taking up valuable tonnage, the 11-year-old warrior decommissioned at Philadelphia, the place of her birth, on 15 December 1921– 100 years ago today– and remained there until her name was struck from the Navy list on 10 November 1923.

USS South Carolina (BB-26) crew manning the rails and firing salutes, 28 April 1921. She was just 11 years old in this image but was headed to the scrappers. NH 97499

Her hulk was sold for scrap on 24 April 1924 in accordance with the terms of the Five-Power Naval Treaty of Washington.

The ‘Cruiser Slaughter,’ or why the Clinton administration hated steam warships

In the late 1950s, the U.S. Navy commissioned two classes of what were termed at the time, Destroyer Leaders, a type of “super destroyer” larger than the late-WWII designed Gearing-class tin cans (3,500-tons, 390-feet, 36.8kts on 60,000 shp worth of GE steam turbines and 4 boilers, 3 twin 5″/38s) and an offshoot of the testbed Mitscher-class destroyers (4,855-tons, 490-feet, experimental steam plants, 2×5-inch singles).

They were beautiful, rakish ships.

An artist's concept of the guided missile cruiser USS LEAHY (CG 16).

An artist’s concept of the guided-missile cruiser USS LEAHY (CG 16).

Almost cruiser-like you could say:

USS LEAHY underway in the Pacific, National Archives K-112673

These two new Destroyer Leaders classes, the 9-ship Leahy and 9-ship Belknap classes, were much larger (7,800-8,000 tons, 547-feet) and, though they packed 85,000shp as a benefit of their four 1200psi boilers, were slower at 32-34kts. However, they did carry giant twin-rail RIM-2 Terrier Mk 10 missile launchers in place of most of the guns carried by their predecessors.

Mk-10 guided missile launching system (GMLS) with reload system aboard USS Worden (CG 18)

These 18 DLGs, augmented by two unique nuclear-plant vessels on similar hulls (Bainbridge and Truxtun) with pressurized-water D2G reactors were completed in just under eight years, with the first laid down 3 December 1959 and the last of the 20 ships commissioned 27 May 1967– surely a remarkable shipbuilding achievement when compared to FY2018, that’s for sure.

WORDEN (DLG 18) and DALE (DLG 19) at Bath Iron Works.

Painting of USS Bainbridge (DLGN 25)

Aerial photo of USS Horne (DLG-30) taken in March 1967. Photo likely was taken when she was on builders trials.

3 January 1989 – A port beam view of the nuclear-powered guided missile-cruiser USS Truxtun (CGN 35) underway steaming to her homeport of San Diego.
U.S. Navy photo #DN-SC-90-02332 by PH2 Petty.

To this were added two California-class nuclear DLGN’s in the early 1970s and a planned four-ship group of Virginia-class vessels. In all, 26 DLG/DLGNs.

As these 26 mega destroyers came online, the Navy also was rapidly moving away from their remaining WWII-era light and heavy cruiser fleet.

By 1974, the Navy had just eight cruisers in commission: Long Beach (CGN9), Little Rock (CL-92/CLG-4/CG-4), Oklahoma City (CL-91/CLG-5/CG-5), Springfield (CL-66/CLG-7/CG-7), Albany (CA-123/CG-10), Chicago (CA-136/CG-11), Columbus (CA-74/CG-12), and Newport News (CA–148). However, naval analysts were quick to point out that the Soviets had a whopping 40~ “cruisers” ranging from the dated 16,000-ton all-gun Sverdlovs and similar 14,000-ton Chapayevs to the smaller 7,000-ton Krestas and 9,000-ton Kara-class missile boats.

The solution to close the “cruiser gap”? Redesignate the 26 DLG/Ns to CG/CGNs and call it a day.

The 13,600-ton guided missile cruiser USS Columbus (CG-12) underway off San Diego, California (USA), 19 February 1965. The U.S. Ordered a year before Pearl Harbor, Columbus was built as a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser and converted to a missile slinger in 1959. THIS is what the Navy had in mind when someone said “cruiser” until 1975. Navy photo NH 82722-KN.

Thus, our super destroyers magically in 1975 became cruisers, which, when compared to the Karas and Krestas that Moscow called cruisers in their own right, they certainly were. So presto-chango, abracadabra, boom– 26 “new” cruisers.

An aerial bow view of six nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers underway in formation during Exercise READEX 1-81. The ships are, from left to right: USS TEXAS (CGN 39), USS CALIFORNIA (CGN 36), USS SOUTH CAROLINA (CGN 37), USS VIRGINIA (CGN 38), USS ARKANSAS (CGN 41) and USS MISSISSIPPI (CGN 40), background NARA # 6418325 Photo 26 Feb 1981

Leahy-class guided missile destroyer cruiser USS England (CG-22), Pacific Ocean, 10 January 1983. Note the retrofitted Harpoon anti-ship missiles aft

USS Virginia (CGN-38) anchored at Athens, Greece, 18 June 1983.

By the 1980s, the Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers (based on a destroyer hull– the Spruance) were being cranked out to add more missiles and battlespace management to the fleet. By Nov. 1992, some 27 Ticos were in commission (or at least launched) which, along with our 26 frocked DLG/Ns and the old Long Beach, gave the Navy a proud total of 54 cruisers of all sorts in service, which proved to be the high water mark of the post-1945 Navy.

A starboard bow view of the guided-missile destroyer USS FOX (CG-33) underway. DN-SC-93-01175

Further, the old DLGs had been slated for the New Threat Upgrade (NTU) which shelved old sensors like the AN/SPS-40 in place of the much more capable SPS-48E & 49(V)5, upgraded tracking and engagement systems and provided the ability to sling modern Standard missiles, making them more deadly than they had ever been.

Then, the Cold War thawed.

On Christmas Day 1991, the Soviet hammer and sickle flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin. The Red Fleet soon became sidelined and within months the newly reformed Russian Navy began to wither.

The Peace Dividend was duly cashed in and the U.S. Navy’s surface assets were on the chopping block. Just as the Knox-class fast frigates were stacked up in mothballs due to their manpower intensive steam plants (when compared to gas turbine FFG7s), the Clinton administration put a hit out on the Navy’s non-carrier surface assets (psst, the nuclear cruisers) as well as the Leahy/Belknaps.

The first to go, the venerable Leahy herself, was decommissioned along with her sister Worden on 1 October 1993. By 30 July 1999 the last of the active batch of 26 ships envisioned to be DLG/Ns, USS South Carolina (CGN-37), was decommissioned although she had just had her reactor re-cored and was good for another 18 years of service!

USS South Carolina (CGN-37) cuts through the water of the Atlantic Ocean during transit to the Mediterranean Sea on 9 OCT 1997. Official U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate First Class Petty Officer Gregory Pinkley (971009-N-9975P-001).

Almost as soon as they were stricken these once fine flagships were scrapped, recycled or sunk as targets with the last vestiges erased by 2007.

On 31 May 2001, the guided-missile cruiser Reeves (CG-24) becomes a target for bombs dropped by Royal Australian Airforce F-111s, missiles from U.S. Naval warships and shells from Royal Australian Naval vessels as part of a SINKEX off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

The great cruiser slaughter took just under six years. To boot, by 2005 the first five Ticos– those armed with Mark-26s rather than VLS launchers– were mothballed. Just 22 of 54 cruisers remained.

Still, though they were retired with life left in them and miles left unsailed, they held the line during the Cold War and stood ready to weather a Red Storm that never rose.

Vale to the days of steam, twin-armed Mk.10s, and the iron cruisermen who sailed them.

Terrier Missile Shot Aft, USS Leahy, Painting, Oil on Canvas; by Walter W. Bollendonk; 1965; Framed Dimensions 29H x 40W Accession #: 88-161-DC

Uncle’s nuclear cruisers

With the commissioning of the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise, the world’s largest and fastest super-carrier, able to remain at sea as long as she had food for her crew and jet fuel for her birds, the U.S. Navy needed a group of fast escorts able to keep up with this ship and the follow-on 1970s era Nimitz class of CVNs.

In 1961, to match the Enterprise, the Navy had exactly one nuclear-powered cruiser, the huge 721-foot long, 15,500-ton USS Long Beach (CGN-9) and one nuclear-powered destroyer, the 9100-ton USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25). These three ships formed the all-nuclear-powered Task Force 1 and in 1964 circumnavigated the globe without refueling– going around the world in sixty-five days as part of Operation Sea Orbit.

 Operation Sea Orbit: On 31 July 1964, USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) (bottom), USS Long Beach (CGN-9) (center) and USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) (top) formed "Task Force One," the first nuclear-powered task force, and sailed 26,540 nmi (49,190 km) around the world in 65 days. Accomplished without a single refueling or replenishment, "Operation Sea Orbit" demonstrated the capability of nuclear-powered surface ships.

Operation Sea Orbit: On 31 July 1964, USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) (bottom), USS Long Beach (CGN-9) (center) and USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25) (top) formed “Task Force One,” the first nuclear-powered task force, and sailed 26,540 nmi (49,190 km) around the world in 65 days. Accomplished without a single refueling or replenishment, “Operation Sea Orbit” demonstrated the capability of nuclear-powered surface ships.

Well in the meantime one more nuclear destroyer, the 8500-ton (the smallest U.S. Naval nuclear powered surface combatant ever built) USS Truxtun (DLGN-35) commissioned in 1967 and two follow-on nuclear cruisers USS California (CGN-36) and USS South Carolina (CGN-37) were birthed out in the 70s.

This led to one final class of cruisers, the magnificent 11,600-ton Virginias (Virgina, Texas and Missississpi) who were completed by 1980. This, along with the re-designation of Bainbridge and Truxton to cruisers, gave the Navy a grand total of 9 nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers, or one per each nuclear powered carrier in the Navy by December 1995 when their 9th atomic flattop, USS John C Stennis (CVN-74), was commissioned.

The entire Virginia and California classes CGN

The entire Virginia and California classes CGN

The entire Virginia and California classes CGN, part duex

The entire Virginia and California classes CGN, part duex. So cool I had to give it to you from two angles.

However, as soon as this parity was achieved, it was gone. Truxton, in fact, had struck on Sept 11, 1995, even before Stennis commissioned, while Long Beach had likewise done so on May Day of that year. Bainbridge lasted a minute longer, being struck and decommissioned on 13 September 1996. The four Virginias, newest of the fleet, were all decommissioned by 1998– tragically less than twenty years old at the time and among the most effective anti-air ships in the world. California and South Carolina went hand in hand down the tunnel in 1999 as sister-ships should, the end of an era.

All were disposed of through recycling although some parts, such as the main mast from the  Mississippi, are preserved. I visited the “Big Miss” on her last port call, in Pascagoula, just before she was deactivated in 1996 and her crew were somber. After all, its not often that you scrap an 18-year old battlecruiser.