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  USS Houston (CA-30)
USN
Northampton Class
Heavy Cruiser

9,050 Tons
569' x 600' 3" x 66' 1"
9 × 8" (3x3)
4 × 5" (4x1)
8 × .50 machine guns
6 × 21" torpedo tubes
4 × floatplanes
2 x catapults
Click For Enlargement
USN c1935

Ship History
Built by Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia. Laid down May 1, 1928. Launched September 7, 1929. Commissioned June 17, 1930 as USS Houston CL-30 with Captain Jesse Bishop Gay in command. On July 1, 1931 redesignated CA-30.

Prewar Service
After conducting a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic, Houston returned to the United States in October 1930. Next on January 31, 1931 departed for Shanghai landing U. S. Marine Corps (USMC) and U. S. Navy (USN) personnel and patrolling the area. During 1933, Houston made a good will tour in the Philippines. On November 17, 1933 relieved by USS Augusta (CA-31) and returned to San Francisco.

Stateside, Houston hosted President Roosevelt who boarded at Annapolis on July 1, 1934. Cruised the Caribbean to Portland via Hawaii, then returned to San Diego on May 15, 1935. Next cruised off Alaskan then returned to Seattle and embarked the President again on 3 October for a vacation cruise to the Cerros Islands, Magdalena Bay, Cocos Islands, and Charleston. Houston attended the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco on May 28, 1937, and carried President Roosevelt for a Fleet Review at San Francisco on July 14, 1938 and toured Central America during July-August, 1938.

Houston became flagship of the U.S. Fleet on September 19, 1938 until December 28. Participated in training exercises, including "Fleet Problem XX", on January 4, 1939 traveling from San Francisco to Norfolk and Key West. Embarked the President and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral William D. Leahy, for the duration of the exercise. Next arrived Houston on 7 April 7, 1939 for a brief visit before returning to Seattle on 30 May. Assigned as flagship of the Hawaiian Detachment, arrived Pearl Harbor after a post-overhaul shakedown on December 7, 1939. Returning to the United States on February 17, 1940 to Mare Island.

Wartime History
Departed for Hawaii and the Philippine on November 3, 1940, arriving arriving at Manila Bay on November 19 and became the flagship of Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander Asiatic Fleet based at Cavite Naval Base.

On December 4, 1941 arrived at Ilo Ilo and was fueled and readied for action, then departed on December 7, 1941 at 6:30pm, before Japanese bombers attacked. Joined by the light cruiser, USS Boise, and on the following day by destroyers USS Stewart and USS Edwards, USS Langley and the fleet oilers USS Pecos and USS Trinity. On December 15, the convoy arrived at Balikpapan, then departed for Surabaya and finally arrived at Darwin arriving December 28. After patrol duty, she joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) force at Surabaya.

Battle of Makassar Strait
On February 4, 1942 during the Battle of Makassar Strait Houston was in the Flores Sea off Bali Island and attacked a Japanese convoy. Targeted by 36 G4M1 Betty and 24 G3M2 Nell bombers. Houston took one hit, disabling her No. 3 turret. Her gunners claimed four attacking bombers shot down.

Ship of Ghosts pages 9-10:
"As another formation of the bombers crossed overhead , the antiaircraft officer couldn't stand waiting for the SOC to get airborne. His five-inch guns, elevated high, roared. At once the muzzle blast, just ten feet from the plane, tore the canvas skin right off the plane. As Lt. Harold S. Hamlin recalled, "the pilot found himself sitting on a picked chicken-the blast had removed every stitch of fabric from the plane. Pilot and crewman scrambled out, and the forlorn looking plane, naked as a jay-bird, was jettisoned."

After the battle, Houston went to Australia, then departed February 15 with a small convoy to reinforce the Allied garrison on Timor. That afternoon and the next morning, Japanese aircraft attacked. Houston was able to drive off the aircraft without damage to the transports she was escorting.

Battle of the Java Sea
On February 26, 1942 Houston with HMAS Perth, HNLMS De Ruyter, HMS Exeter, HNLMS Java plus ten destroyers, encountered a Japanese support force of four cruisers and 13 destroyers during the late afternoon. The cruisers of both fleets opened fire and the Japanese made one ineffective torpedo attack, followed by a second at 17:00, sinking HNLMS Kortenaer. Next, HMS Exeter and HMS Electra were hit by gunfire, Electra sustaining several hits and sinking shortly after.

At 17:30 Admiral Doorman turned south toward the Java coast, to attack Japanese transports. With dogged fighting spirit, he dodged another torpedo attack and followed the coastline and evaded another torpedo attack, when HMS Jupiter was sunk.

Now without destroyer protection, the cruisers including Houston attacked the Japanese surface group again. The Japanese fired torpedoes sinking De Ruyter and Java. Houston and Perth were able to retire from the battle.

On February 27, Houston and Perth were in Banten Bay, and evaded nine torpedoes fired by Fubuki then sank one Japanese transport and forced three to beach. Blocked from withdrawing by Japanese warships in Sunda Strait.

The USS Houston and HMAS Perth were at Tanjong Priok at 2.30pm on February 28, 1942 after the Battle of the Java Sea. There they received orders to escape through Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra, and make for Tjilitap on the south coast of Java. At this time, Houston only 50 rounds left per gun.

Battle of Sunda Strait
At 10.30pm Perth and Houston were sighted by the Japanese destroyer Fubuki which quietly shadowed them for the next half hour, the ensuing battle became known as the Battle of Sunda Strait. At 23:55, Houston scored hits on Mikuma causing her to lose electrical power, but this was soon restored. Fubuki fired her torpedoes at HMAS Perth and USS Houston but missed both, instead hitting a Japanese transport. Other Japanese Destroyers engaged and overpowered the two ships. Perth came under fire at 23:36 and in an hour had been sunk from gunfire and torpedo hits. During the battle, Houston's gunners scored hits on three different destroyers and sank a minesweeper.

Sinking History
Houston then fought alone until soon after midnight on February 28, 1942, when she took a torpedo and began to lose headway and sustained three more torpedo hits in rapid succession. Captain Albert Rooks was killed by a bursting shell at 00:30 and as the ship came to a stop Japanese destroyers moved in, machine gunning the decks. Several minutes later, Houston rolled over and sank.

Shipwreck
The shipwreck of the USS Houston is located at Lat 05.48.45S Long 106.7.55E

Fates of the Crew
Of the crew of 1,061, only 368 survived including 24 of the 74-man USMC detachment aboard. The crew became prisoners of the Japanese for the remainder of the war. 77 men died of torture, disease and starvation while working on the "Death Railway" in Burma / Thailand.

Memorials
Memorial plaque at Rockingham Naval Memorial Park in Western Australia.

References
USS Houston CA-30 Association

Ship of Ghosts Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors page 9-10

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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