MIGHTY NINETY


Chapter 1:  Beginnings




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The ways at Cramp Shipbuilding Company where USS ASTORIA CL-90 was built. This photo was taken in October 1941, less than one month after her keel was laid and before America became a belligerent in World War II. Note the Defense Bonds poster at far left, the 1941 precursor to War Bond posters.
-photo from NARA Records Group 19-LCM



11 September 1940
With American involvement in the Second World War becoming more and more imminent, the U.S. Navy placed an order for six additional CLEVELAND-class cruisers to be added to their Fiscal Year 1941 building program.  Construction of these six cruisers, pennant numbers CL-89 through CL-94, was awarded to William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company, of Philadelphia, PA.

The six Cramp CLEVELANDs kept with the tradition of naming cruisers after U.S. cities and were to be named:
 
CL-89 USS MIAMI CL-92 USS LITTLE ROCK
CL-90 USS WILKES-BARRE CL-93 USS GALVESTON
CL-91 USS OKLAHOMA CITY CL-94 USS YOUNGSTOWN



Cramp employees working on the inner bottom of Hull 533 on 5 October 1941. Hull 533 was designated to become the CLEVELAND-class light cruiser CL-90 for the United States Navy.
-photo from NARA Records Group 19-LCM


6 September 1941

The keel of hull #533 was laid at William Cramp & Sons Shipbuilding Company, Philadelphia, PA and assigned to CL-90 WILKES-BARRE.  In the months that followed, this hull began to take on the sleek lines of a cruiser. 



7 December 1941
Hull #533 was three months into its construction when the nation learned that U.S. military installations had been attacked by Imperial Japan on the island of Oahu, Territory of Hawaii, most notably at Pearl Harbor.  In the days that followed, Japanese attacks were expanded to American, British, Dutch, and Australian interests across the Pacific.  America became a nation at war.



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USS CALIFORNIA BB-44 is engulfed in an inferno of smoke and flame at left, while at center OKLAHOMA BB-37 lies capsized next to MARYLAND BB-46 on battleship row.  Harbor tug NOKOMIS YT-142 moves in to assist on the morning of 7 December 1941.
-U.S. Navy photo from Brent Jones collection




The sign for Way "E" at Cramp Shipbuilding Company in January 1942. Hull 533 is shown as USS WILKES-BARRE.
-photo from NARA Records Group 19-LCM




Original 1942 Hull 533 plans from Cramp Shipbuilding Company.
-from Brent Jones collection





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By July 1942, the hull of USS WILKES-BARRE has taken the shape of a cruiser. 
-photo from NARA Records Group 19-LCM


7 August 1942
Eight months after declaring war, the United States was finally on the offensive against Japan. First light brought the kickoff of a pivotal invasion of the strategic Solomon Islands of Guadalcanal, Florida, and Tulagi. U.S. heavy cruisers took the lead in preparatory shore bombardment, filling a void created by the absence of battleships badly damaged at Pearl Harbor. Among these ships were three sister NEW ORLEANS-class heavy cruisers: USS VINCENNES CA-44, USS QUINCY CA-39, and USS ASTORIA CA-34.



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USS VINCENNES CA-44 fires her forward main battery in misting rain at dawn on 7 August 1942. The outline of Guadalcanal is just visible in the early morning light, as is the ship's camouflage pattern. This image was taken from HMAS AUSTRALIA.
-
Royal Australian Navy photo from Brent Jones collection


8-9 August 1942
In night action off Guadalcanal near Savo Island, the U.S. Cruisers VINCENNES, QUINCY, and ASTORIA were all sunk by a Japanese task group along with the Australian cruiser HMAS CANBERRA.  ASTORIA CA-34, "Nasty Asty" to her crew, was hit at least 65 times by enemy shells.  In spite of this, her surviving crew worked through the night and morning to save the ship.  Shortly after noon the next day, she gave in to overwhelming fires and slipped beneath the surface.  ASTORIA was the last ship in the battle to sink.



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One of the last photos of USS ASTORIA CA-34, 7 August 1942.  Within two days she would be in the depths of what came to be known as "Iron Bottom Sound."
-RAN photo from Brent Jones collection


For two months, the American public was not informed of the losses at Savo. Meanwhile work continued on the two CLEVELAND-class cruisers at Cramp, CL-89 MIAMI and CL-90 WILKES-BARRE.  Although Cramp was also busy building destroyers and submarines,  the shipyard's capacity for cruisers was only two at a time; the keel-laying on CL-91 OKLAHOMA CITY had to wait until CL-89 was launched.



On 13 October 1942 the American public learned of the Battle of Savo Island. By that time there were American victories to announce in the Guadalcanal campaign, lessening the impact of the three lost heavy cruisers.
-from Brent Jones collection



USS ASTORIA had been a proud ship, serving with distinction throughout her career. In the early days of World War II, she performed screen duty for American carriers during the famous actions at the Coral Sea and Midway, and she went down fighting at Guadalcanal. It was only fitting that the Navy would christen a new USS ASTORIA along with other cruisers lost early in the war.

In October 1942, the hull of CL-90 was renamed from WILKES-BARRE to ASTORIA to commemorate the sacrifices of Nasty Asty and her crew. Other "vengeance ships" began to slide down the ways in an American Navy that would come to dwarf its pre-war predecessor in scale.




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 On 8 December 1942, one year to the day after the declaration of war on Imperial Japan, USS MIAMI became the first WWII cruiser launched by Cramp Shipbuilding Company. In the next set of ways, USS ASTORIA neared her own launch.
-photo from Brent Jones collection





ID buttons worn by Cramp employees who built USS ASTORIA, Walter Mikus and Sal Indelicato.
-courtesy of Joe Mikus and Sal Indelicato





Sal Indelicato (right) with buddies from Cramp Shipbuilding Co. in 1943.
-photo courtesy of Sal Indelicato



6 March 1943
After 18 months of construction, the completed hull of USS ASTORIA CL-90 was launched into the Delaware River.  She was sponsored by Mrs. Peggy Lucas, wife of the editor of the Astorian-Budget newspaper and a direct descendent of John Jacob Astor. 



Ship sponsor Peggy Lucas breaks a champagne bottle across the bow of the new USS ASTORIA at Cramp Shipyard, 6 March 1943.
-photo from NARA Records Group 80-G



Cramp employees on the bow of USS ASTORIA as she is launched on 6 March 1943.
-photo from NARA Records Group 80-G





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USS ASTORIA slides down the ways into the Delaware River, 6 March 1943.
-photo from NARA Records Group 80-G





The launching of ASTORIA commemorated in a 1943 Cramp wartime publication.
-from Brent Jones collection





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USS ASTORIA in the Delaware River shortly after launching.  Note the absence of gun turrets, masts, and much of her superstructure.
-photo from NARA Records Group 80-G


Once in the water, the focus of construction shifted to building ASTORIA's superstructure. She was still 14 months from completion and commissioning. Other ships were being built in unprecedented numbers, including more CLEVELAND-class cruisers.

Across the river from ASTORIA at New York Ship, CL-103 was launched several months later with the reassigned name of USS WILKES-BARRE.  Up at the Bethlehem Fore River Yard in Quincy, MA, PASADENA CL-65 and SPRINGFIELD CL-66 were also nearing completion.  These four CLEVELAND-class cruisers would ultimately serve together as Cruiser Division 17 throughout 1945. 



The launchings of future Cruiser Division 17 ships are commemorated on these philatelic envelopes.
-Brent Jones collection




                                         Continue to CHAPTER 2: PLANKOWNERS

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                                                            BACK TO SHIP HISTORY

                                                   
Sources:

Friedman, Norman.  U.S. Cruisers: An Illustrated Design History.   Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984

Jones, Brent.  Private document collection.

MIGHTY NINETY: USS ASTORIA CL-90 cruise book.  Unk. publisher, 1946.

Mikus, Joe.  Private artifact collection.

Schmitt, Ron and Indelicato, Sal.  Private photo and artifact collections.

Schnipper, Herman.  Private photo and document collection.

www.archives.gov National Archives and Records Administration WWII photo archive.
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